April 30, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:52 PM

WRONG AND WRONGER (David Hill, The Bronx):

Germany puts its faith in Keynesian (Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, 30/04/2005, Daily Telegraph)

Germany is backing a 1970s-style Keynesian to take over the crucial job of chief economist at the European Central Bank, marking a dramatic shift in Berlin's economic thinking and horrifying the guardians of orthodoxy in Frankfurt.

The post has been held for the last eight years by Dr Otmar Issing, a monetary hawk who has fought off political pressure for lower interest rates and sought to uphold the low-inflation traditions of the former Bundesbank.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder now hopes to replace him early next year with Professor Peter Bofinger, the leading advocate of a ''New Deal'' spending blitz to cut unemployment and lift the country out of protracted slump.

Given the global deflationary cycle European rates are obviously too high while the Hoover/FDR spending blitz did nothing to end the Depression. Forget spending, just cut rates.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 PM


Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas won't run for Jeffords’ Senate seat (Shay Totten, April 30, 2005, Vermont Guardian)

Gov. Jim Douglas ended more than a week of increasing political speculation Saturday, announcing he would not run for U.S. Senate in 2006.

But, his stalwart sidekick, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, quickly stepped up to fill the speculation about who in the GOP will take on U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, who has said he intends to run for the Senate.

“I am thinking about it,” Dubie told reporters in a crowded hallway outside Douglas' announcement.

Dubie said he would consider a run for U.S. Senate or U.S. House, but not without consulting his family first. “For me, it’s not what’s in the best interest of the White House, but what’s in the best interest of my house," he said. [...]

Republicans desperately want to retake the Senate seat they held while Jeffords was in office as a member of the GOP. In 2001, Jeffords made national headlines when he dropped out of the Republican party to become an independent. Jeffords made the switch in opposition to many of then newly-elected Pres. George W. Bush’s policies on education and the environment. The switch threw the control of the Senate into the hands of the Democrats.

Sanders, also an independent, has already stated he intends to run for Jeffords’ open seat, but has not made a formal announcement. Sanders received an early statement of support from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, and from the liberal online advocacy group MoveOn.org.

The national GOP has made a real mistake by not targetting Vermont. Had they pumped a significant amount of money into the '94 congressional race they'd have knocked off Bernie over his gun votes. This race alone makes it worth bringing renewal of the assault weapons ban to a vote.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 PM


Ex-Hostage's Italian Driver Ignored Warning, U.S. Says (RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr. and ROBERT F. WORTH, 5/01/05, NY Times)

The car carrying the Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena that was struck with a deadly hail of gunfire as it sped toward Baghdad International Airport on March 4 ignored warnings from American soldiers who used a spotlight, a green laser pointer and warning shots to try to stop it as it approached a checkpoint, the American military said in a report released Saturday evening.

The gunfire killed Nicola Calipari, an Italian intelligence agent who was in the back seat with Ms. Sgrena. The driver and Ms. Sgrena were wounded. Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, the ground commander in Iraq, has approved a recommendation that soldiers involved in the shooting not be disciplined, the military said.

The report's exoneration of the soldiers, which was made public last week, angered Italian officials and threatened to further inflame relations between the United States and Italy, one of its staunchest allies in the war in Iraq. The findings have created a political problem for the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who faces a public upset by the incident at a time when his own fortunes are sagging.

Italy has kept 3,000 troops in Iraq, but Mr. Berlusconi has suggested that Italy might begin withdrawing them by September.

That would at least get a potential $3 billion worth of hostages out of the theater.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM


Rescuing environmentalism: Market forces could prove the environment's best friend—if only greens could learn to love them (The Economist, Apr 21st 2005)

The coming into force of the UN's Kyoto protocol on climate change might seem a victory for Europe's greens, but it actually masks a larger failure. The most promising aspect of the treaty—its innovative use of market-based instruments such as carbon-emissions trading—was resisted tooth and nail by Europe's greens. With courageous exceptions, American green groups also remain deeply suspicious of market forces.

If environmental groups continue to reject pragmatic solutions and instead drift toward Utopian (or dystopian) visions of the future, they will lose the battle of ideas. And that would be a pity, for the world would benefit from having a thoughtful green movement. It would also be ironic, because far-reaching advances are already under way in the management of the world's natural resources—changes that add up to a different kind of green revolution. This could yet save the greens (as well as doing the planet a world of good). [...]

Rachel Carson meets Adam Smith

If this new green revolution is to succeed, however, three things must happen. The most important is that prices must be set correctly. The best way to do this is through liquid markets, as in the case of emissions trading. Here, politics merely sets the goal. How that goal is achieved is up to the traders.

A proper price, however, requires proper information. So the second goal must be to provide it. The tendency to regard the environment as a “free good” must be tempered with an understanding of what it does for humanity and how. Thanks to the recent Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the World Bank's annual “Little Green Data Book” (released this week), that is happening. More work is needed, but thanks to technologies such as satellite observation, computing and the internet, green accounting is getting cheaper and easier.

Which leads naturally to the third goal, the embrace of cost-benefit analysis. At this, greens roll their eyes, complaining that it reduces nature to dollars and cents. In one sense, they are right. Some things in nature are irreplaceable—literally priceless. Even so, it is essential to consider trade-offs when analysing almost all green problems. The marginal cost of removing the last 5% of a given pollutant is often far higher than removing the first 5% or even 50%: for public policy to ignore such facts would be inexcusable.

If governments invest seriously in green data acquisition and co-ordination, they will no longer be flying blind. And by advocating data-based, analytically rigorous policies rather than pious appeals to “save the planet”, the green movement could overcome the scepticism of the ordinary voter. It might even move from the fringes of politics to the middle ground where most voters reside.

It takes a nearly superhuman efforst for the environmental movement not to turn its broad public support into workable public policy. It leaves the issue wide open for the GOP to claim.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 PM


A Rewrite for Hollywood's Blacklist Saga (Ronald Radosh and Allis Radosh, April 25, 2005, LA Times)

For more than 50 years, the communists and former communists of Hollywood have written the script of the past, telling the story of the blacklist in memoirs and histories, movies and documentaries in which they depict themselves as noble martyrs and champions of democracy. It is time, finally, to put an end to the glorification of this unhappy period and take a cleareyed look at the Hollywood Ten, the blacklist and the movie industry Reds who wielded such influence in the 1930s and 1940s.

According to the familiar but utterly romanticized script, the screenwriters, directors and actors who flirted with and joined the Communist Party are unadulterated heroes — just "liberals in a hurry." It is a simple black-and-white tale, as they tell it: The villains were the Hollywood moguls who blacklisted them, the liberals who abandoned the fight, and most of all, the "friendly" ex-communist witnesses who testified about their lives in the party and named names of old associates to the House Un-American Activities Committee.

It is a fable that has acquired an almost irresistible weight as a result of half a century of telling and retelling. Read Lillian Hellman. Or go see the Irwin Winkler film "Guilty by Suspicion."

But is it true? Certainly the blacklist harmed the careers of some of Hollywood's finest. Its damage extended not only to actual party members but, in some cases, to the well-meaning who joined party-controlled "popular front" organizations. But the accepted narrative obscures the important truth about communist influence in Hollywood. The Hollywood Ten were among the most committed of the party faithful, yet they've been wrapped and protected in a romantic haze, allowed to wear their appearance before HUAC as a badge of honor.

One of the few missteps Jim Carrey has made on the route to being this generation's Jimmy Stewart was the nearly good film, The Majestic, which is marred by a laughable anti-anti-communist plotline.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:20 PM


If not now, when?: In a new report, six think-tanks have slashed their forecast for German economic growth in 2005, citing high oil prices and an unfavourable exchange rate. If Germany’s export-driven economy cannot recover when the world economy is racing along, how will it fare during a slowdown? (The Economist, Apr 29th 2005)

IN THEORY, Germany should be booming by now. Sizzling global economic growth in 2004, and more of the same expected for 2005, has raised demand for its exports, a boon to its large manufacturing sector. The European Central Bank (ECB) has kept interest rates in the euro area at an easy 2% for 22 months, and looks set to keep doing so well into 2005. Fiscal policy is also expansionary: the government’s budget deficit has breached the Maastricht treaty’s 3%-of-GDP limit for three years running, and by all accounts will do so again this year. Yet for all this, for the past four years Germany has struggled to produce GDP growth of even 1% a year.

The future looks little better than the past. This week a consortium of German think-tanks released its semi-annual report, slashing its forecast for German growth this year from a lacklustre 1.5% to an almost pulseless 0.7%. The German government then altered its own forecast to 1.0%, down from its previous one of 1.6%, made in January. More worryingly, the think-tanks' report argues that the German economy is not stuck in a particularly vicious cyclical slowdown. Rather, its structural problems, particularly the highly regulated labour market, have reduced trend growth (the average growth rate of the economy) to a meagre 1.1%, in contrast to roughly 2% for the rest of the euro area, and about 3% for the United States. Unless these trends reverse, Europe’s largest economy could eventually wind up as its economic backwater.

The most stagnant pool is undoubtedly the labour market. Germany’s unemployment rate fell to 11.8% in April from the record 12% it hit in March, pushing the number of jobless back below 5m for the first time in months. However, this may have more to do with changes in benefits for the unemployed, and a cold spell in March that made that month's figures unusually low, than any improvement in hiring conditions. On Tuesday April 26th Bert Rürup, head of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s panel of economic advisers, said that the country will not begin adding significant numbers of jobs until annual economic growth hits 1.5-2%. High unemployment has helped keep consumer spending depressed, leaving the economy dependent on exports to drive recovery. But global economic growth, which the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook puts at 5.1% in 2004, is forecast to slow a bit, to 4.3%, in 2005. If 5.1% wasn’t enough to pull Germany out of its doldrums, what will?

To be fair, Germany knows that it has a problem.

What theory is it that holds that a secular social welfare state whose people aren't having children should ever be booming?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 PM


Florida girl has abortion blocked (Jeremy Cooke, 4/30/05, BBC News)

A pregnant 13-year-old girl in Florida has been told she cannot have an abortion because she lacks the maturity to make such a decision.

A state court granted an injunction which prevents the girl from terminating her pregnancy.

She is three months pregnant and had planned to have an abortion on Tuesday of this week.

The American Civil Liberties Union says it will launch an urgent appeal against the ruling.

She can't buy cigarettes or alcohol, can't drive, can't go to many movies, can't legally have sex in most states, but she should be allowed to kill?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:56 PM


President's Radio Address (George W. Bush, 4/30/05)

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. This past week I addressed the nation to talk about the challenges facing Social Security. The Social Security system that Franklin Roosevelt created was a great moral success of the 20th century. It provided a safety net that ensured dignity and peace of mind to millions of Americans in retirement.

Yet today there is a hole in the safety net for younger workers, because Congress has made promises it cannot keep. We have a duty to save and strengthen Social Security for our children and grandchildren.

In the coming week, I will travel to Mississippi to continue to discuss ways to put Social Security on the path to permanent solvency. I will continue to assure Americans that some parts of Social Security will not change. Seniors and people with disabilities will continue to get their checks, and all Americans born before 1950 will also receive their full benefits. And I will make it clear that as we fix Social Security we have a duty to direct extra help to those most in need, and make Social Security a better deal for younger workers.

We have entered a new phase in this discussion. As members of Congress begin work on Social Security legislation, they should pursue three important goals. First, I understand that millions of Americans depend on Social Security checks as a primary source of retirement income, so we must keep this promise to future retirees, as well. As a matter of fairness, future generations should receive benefits equal to or greater than the benefits today's seniors get.

Second, I believe a reformed system should protect those who depend on Social Security the most. So in the future, benefits for low-income workers should grow faster than benefits for people who are better off. By providing more generous benefits for low-income retirees, we'll make good on this commitment: If you work hard and pay into Social Security your entire life, you will not retire into poverty.

This reform would solve most of the funding challenges facing Social Security. A variety of options are available to solve the rest of the problem. And I will work with Congress on any good-faith proposal that does not raise the payroll tax rate or harm our economy.

Third, any reform of Social Security must replace the empty promises being made to younger workers with real assets, real money. I believe the best way to achieve this goal is to give younger workers the option of putting a portion of their payroll taxes into a voluntary personal retirement account. Because this money is saved and invested, younger workers would have the opportunity to receive a higher rate of return on their money than the current Social Security system can provide.

Some Americans have reservations about investing in the markets because they want a guaranteed return on their money. So one investment option should consist entirely of Treasury bonds, which are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government. Options like this will make voluntary personal retirement accounts a safer investment that will allow you to build a nest egg that you can pass on to your loved ones.

In the days and weeks ahead, I will work to build on the progress we have made in the Social Security discussion. Americans of all ages are beginning to look at Social Security in a new way. Instead of asking whether the system has a problem, they're asking when their leaders are going to fix it. Fixing Social Security must be a bipartisan effort, and I'm willing to listen to a good idea from either party. I'm confident that by working together, we will find a solution that will renew the promise of Social Security for the 21st century.

Thank you for listening.

President's Big Social Security Gamble (RICHARD W. STEVENSON, 4/30/05, NY Times)
In proposing on Thursday night to cut Social Security benefits for future generations of retirees, President Bush made two big bets, one political, one on the substance of his policy, and if he is to succeed in remaking the retirement system, both of them will probably have to break his way.

The political gamble is straightforward. Will putting benefit cuts on the table eventually break the legislative logjam by providing political cover to members of both parties who accept that something painful must be done to set Social Security right? Or, by imposing substantial cuts on middle-income workers relative to what the system currently promises, will the approach endorsed by Mr. Bush so permanently harden the wall of opposition from Democrats, as it seemed initially to have done, that no compromise becomes possible?

Regardless of how it all ends up, it's immensely entertaining to watch him dramatically raise the stakes every time the Democrats think they've backed him into a corner.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:49 PM


US satellite recorded checkpoint shooting, shows speed of Italian car: CBS
(AFP, 4/29/05)

A US satellite reportedly recorded a checkpoint shooting in
Iraq last month, enabling investigators to reconstruct how fast a car carrying a top Italian intelligence official and a freed hostage was traveling when US troops opened fire.

The report, which aired Thursday on CBS News, said US investigators concluded from the recording that the car was traveling at a speed of more than 60 miles (96 km) per hour.

Giuliana Sgrena has said the car was traveling at a normal speed of about 30 miles an hour when the soldiers opened fired, wounding her and killing Nicola Calipari, the Italian agent who had just secured her release from a month's captivity.

Darn, the communist who got the insurgents a large cash payoff seemed so credible....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:57 PM

ARE THE PYGMIES PEPPERED? (via Bruce Cleaver):

Pygmy found near home of hobbits (Sydney Herald Sun, 30apr05)

INDONESIAN scientists have found a community of pygmy people in the eastern island of Flores.

The community is near a village where Australian scientists discovered a dwarf-sized skeleton last year and declared it a new human species.

The latest discovery will likely raise more controversy over the finding of Homo floresiensis, claimed by Australian scientists Mike Morwood and Peter Brown in September. They nick-nam

Only the most credulous Darwinists can have failed to figure out the hobbit was a hoax when the bones were conveniently destroyed. Nothing in life is more certain than that a much heralded evolutionary find will turn out to be man-made.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:00 PM


Oil-rich Norway is taxing on cars (Simon Romero, APRIL 30, 2005, The New York Times)

Norway, the world's third-largest oil exporter, is home to perhaps the world's most expensive gasoline.

But drivers here greet high pump prices of almost 11 kroner a liter, or $6.60 a gallon, with little more than a shrug.

Yes, there was a protest from the Norwegian Automobile Association, which said, "Enough is enough," And a rightist party in Parliament, the Progress Party, once again called for a cut in gasoline taxes, which account for about two-thirds of the price. But "those critics are but voices in the wilderness," said Torgald Sorli, a radio announcer with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corp. who often discusses transportation issues. "We Norwegians are resigned to expensive gasoline. There is no political will to change the system."

Norway, has been made wealthy by oil, trailing only Saudi Arabia and Russia in exports. Last year alone, oil exports jumped 19 percent to $38.4 billion. But no other major oil exporter has attempted to reel in its own fuel consumption with as much zeal as Norway. These policies have resulted in one of the lowest car-ownership rates in Europe and fuel-efficient Volkswagens and Peugeots far outnumber big sport utility vehicles on its roads.

Always strange to hear normally sensible conservatives who rage against the effects of taxation claim that higher gas taxes wouldn't have any effect on driving habits. But then cars, like guns, are an emotional issue, not a logical one.

Taxing America Clean?: The gas tax is still a terrible idea. (Chris Pope, 04/28/2005, Weekly Standard)

AMERICA IS THE LAND OF THE AUTOMOBILE. Cars are the keys to adulthood, the grail of status, the lifeblood of the economy, and the passport to a vast land. They are also Public Enemy Number One.

The automobile has long been blamed for global warming, respiratory diseases, and the destruction of the countryside, but it has also recently been indicted for treason in the war on terror. Though it made possible the most extraordinary social progress, opened up a world outside cramped cities to the millions, and almost every sector of the economy would grind to a halt without it, the internal combustion engine is now almost universally condemned as A Bad Thing.

One need not believe that fear of global warming should motivate an end to car use (or that an end to car use would end global warming) to believe that the "external cost" to society of car use is a potential reason for taxing gas. Conservative economists Martin Feldstein, Gary Becker, and Greg Mankiw have all joined the chorus for a gas tax, though their arguments are admittedly based as much on the income tax being bad for the economy, as they are on the gas tax being good.

Since Thomas Friedman warns us that there is also an imminent groundswell from "an alliance of neocons, evangelicals and greens," surely it is only a matter of time before congressmen swarm to the call of the gas tax?

Like most disastrous liberal schemes, astronomic gas taxes have already been tested on the British, where taxes account for 76 percent of the pump price, and regulation has further forced prices up to £3.73 ($7.13) per gallon. Even though the whole of Britain is essentially urban, and people are never far from a variety of kind of public transportation, roads are just as full in the United Kingdom as they are in the United States. For all the promises of environmental salvation through gas taxation, car use has been limited more by the fact that roads are so jammed that people now get to places quicker by train. Yet despite the enormous popularity of cars in the face of a high gas tax, Britons still hear claims that an even higher tax is what is needed to save the environment. The fig-leaf of economic rationale has, however, fallen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:39 PM


Israel Asks for a King (1 Samuel 8)

1 Samuel 8:1 And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel.

1 Samuel 8:2 Now the name of his firstborn was Joel; and the name of his second, Abiah: [they were] judges in Beersheba.

1 Samuel 8:3 And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.

1 Samuel 8:4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,

1 Samuel 8:5 And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.

1 Samuel 8:6 But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.

1 Samuel 8:7 And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

1 Samuel 8:8 According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.

1 Samuel 8:9 Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.

1 Samuel 8:10 And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king.

1 Samuel 8:11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint [them] for himself, for his chariots, and [to be] his horsemen; and [some] shall run before his chariots.

1 Samuel 8:12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and [will set them] to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.

1 Samuel 8:13 And he will take your daughters [to be] confectionaries, and [to be] cooks, and [to be] bakers.

1 Samuel 8:14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, [even] the best [of them], and give [them] to his servants.

1 Samuel 8:15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.

1 Samuel 8:16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put [them] to his work.

1 Samuel 8:17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.

1 Samuel 8:18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.

1 Samuel 8:19 Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;

1 Samuel 8:20 That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.

1 Samuel 8:21 And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the LORD.

1 Samuel 8:22 And the LORD said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:20 AM


CNN shifts news focus: New boss stresses a more in-depth approach, akin to archrival Fox News. (MIKE TIERNEY, 04/30/05, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

[I]'s not programs or on-air personnel that [Jon] Klein fixated on throughout an interview Friday. [...]

It's how CNN presents the news.

"Dramatically different, certainly in our prime-time approach," contends Klein, 47, who has done the New York-Atlanta shuttle — here one day, gone the next — most weeks since stepping into the revolving-door job in December.

"When I got here, we were doing just straight newscasts with two-minute-long pieces. The problem with that approach is by [midevening], the public already knows what happened. You've got to go beyond the headlines.

"That's what Fox [News] has been doing — discussing stories that you're already familiar with. Now we've started doing stories in our way, not just by talking about them but reporting them in greater depth."

And, with un-CNN-like techniques. One reporter, in a story on a device that shocks the body with an electrical charge, strapped on the belt and absorbed a few thousand volts.

Another, following up on the drowning of a prop plane pilot, donned a survival suit and, accompanied by the Coast Guard, flopped into the lake — where he delivered his report.

"There is a big difference between that and a clown," Klein says. "Reporters must be less stiff, less imperious, less above-it-all, less condescending. More involved and passionate in the stories they do."

Klein's gospel: Pounce on a story and explore it from every angle.

In-depth like Fox? And here we thought Fox was dumbing down the news for its Neanderthal viewers...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:48 AM


Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree (SUSAN FREINKEL, 4/30/05, NY Times)

TO celebrate Arbor Day yesterday, President Bush added a new tree to the White House grounds - an American chestnut. At first glance it may seem an odd choice, since chestnuts have been largely absent from the American landscape for more than half a century. Yet if any species can help us see the importance of trees to humanity, it is the American chestnut, and its story makes it the perfect emblem for Arbor Day.

Chestnuts were once so plentiful along the East Coast that according to legend a squirrel could travel the chestnut canopy from Georgia to Maine without ever touching the ground. The trees grew tall, fast and straight. Many considered it the perfect tree: it produced nourishing food and a rot-resistant wood that was used for everything from furniture to fence posts. Chestnut ties were the sturdy foundation of the ever-expanding railroad lines; chestnut poles held up the lengthening miles of electrical and telephone wire.

Then in the early 20th century a deadly fungus imported from Japan hit American forests. Within 40 years this fast and merciless fungus spread over some 200 million acres and killed nearly four billion trees. The blight brought the chestnut to the brink of extinction. Even today new sprouts continue to shoot up from the roots of seemingly dead trees only to be attacked again by the fungus before they can flower and reproduce.

But, in memory at least, the tree endures. That's particularly true in Appalachia, where the chestnuts were vital to the local culture and economy. The sweet nuts that appeared every fall sustained people and their livestock. Families built their homes from chestnut logs, marked their property with chestnut fences and brewed home remedies for burns from chestnut leaves.

And God designed no better weapon for whipping at your brother than the chestnut.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:42 AM


Bush as Robin Hood (JOHN TIERNEY, 4/30/05, NY Times)

Democrats have good reason to be aghast at President Bush's new proposal for Social Security. Someone has finally called their bluff.

They tried yesterday to portray him as just another cruel, rich Republican for suggesting any cuts in future benefits, but that's not what the prime-time audience saw on Thursday night. By proposing to shore up the system while protecting low-income workers, Mr. Bush raised a supremely awkward question for Democrats: which party really cares about the poor? [...]

As a poverty-fighting program, Social Security is woefully inefficient because most of the money goes to people who aren't poor. It would take just 20 percent of what Social Security dispenses to move every elderly American out of poverty, according to June O'Neill, the former director of the Congressional Budget Office.

C'mon, Democrats can hardly be expected to acknowledge that their very existence requires that the maximum number of people possible be dependent on government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 AM

CONVERGENCE (via Kevin Whited):

Women's rights (Houston Chronicle, 4/29/05)

Who would have thought Iran, for decades synonymous with repression and religious fanaticism, could offer a beacon of sensible discourse for the United States? According to the government news service in Tehran, Iran's Parliament passed a law permitting abortions in cases of danger to the mother or severe disability in the fetus. [...]

Abortion is a serious matter, worthy of mature debate and responsibly crafted law. How ironic that Iran is moving forward toward this goal, while the United States is sliding backward.

Actually we appear to be moving towards identical goals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 AM


Puncturing Another Weapons Myth (NY Times, 4/30/05)

The last refuge of those who continue to insist that Saddam Hussein must have had weapons of mass destruction was virtually eliminated by the chief weapons inspector this week. Not willing to accept the unpalatable truth that the search for W.M.D. in Iraq had come up empty, die-hard supporters of the war had clung to the possibility that Mr. Hussein might have shipped his weapons off to Syria to avoid their capture. Never mind that American military leaders said that he could not have pulled that off during the war, when his regime was collapsing too fast to salvage much of anything, and that reconnaissance craft had seen no major arms shipments at the borders. Perhaps the wily dictator had spirited off the weapons before the war began.

The final report of the Iraq Survey Group, headed by Charles Duelfer, has now declared any mass transfer of illicit weapons improbable.

The World (NPR) did a very fine interview yesterday with Mr. Duelfer in which he stated truths that would be too uncomfortable for the Times to hear. He said that it was indeed true that the sanctions regime and the threat presented by the U.S. and British forces arrayed against him for twelve years had led Saddam to dispose of nearly all of his existing WMD. However, he retained the desire and intent to reconstitute the weapons programs at the first opportunity and the sanctions were so close to fallin g apart that his opportunity was going to be sooner rather than later. As Mr. Duelfer said (or, more accurately, as I recall he said): Saddam was capable of the strategic long-term planning that democracies are incapable of engaging in, so time was on his side.

It isn't anymore.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


U.S. Politics Since September 11: Perspectives for Rebuilding the Left (SHARON SMITH, March–April 2005, nternational Socialist Review)

MORE THAN three years after September 11, it is now possible—and necessary—to define the political character of U.S. politics since this turning point. This article aims to draw some general conclusions about the political period since 9/11 and to suggest some key strategies for rebuilding the Left.

Social polarization and squandered opportunities

The 2004 election took place in the context of sharp social polarization. Roughly equal proportions of the U.S. population stood on opposite sides over the Iraq War, tax cuts, and the Bush administration itself. But the Democrats squandered the opportunity to define themselves as an opposition party—even though opinion polls showed a majority of the U.S. population thought the country was headed “in the wrong direction” and Bush was shown to have lied about the justification for the Iraq War.

This sharp polarization offered an opportunity to strengthen and rebuild the Left among the millions opposed to Bush. Nevertheless, virtually the entire U.S. Left collapsed into supporting the Democratic Party candidate—leaving those against the war and Bush’s domestic policies with no organized expression to the left of the Bush Lite program of John Kerry. Indeed, the Anybody But Bush (ABB) Left assisted the Democrats by policing the movement against the only genuine electoral alternative, accusing the Nader/Camejo campaign of “helping” Bush to get reelected.

The Democrats spent months of effort and millions of dollars to keep Nader’s name off ballots in states across the country. As a result, Nader’s half-million votes had no influence on the outcome of the 2004 election. The reasons for Kerry’s defeat lay elsewhere.

In reality, Kerry’s defeat exposed the reverse logic employed by the ABB Left—when Kerry’s “electability” (that is, his similarity to Bush) failed to get him elected. That is how, in a country where a majority of the population views the Iraq War as a mistake, the man who led the country into that war on false pretenses managed to eke out a victory.

The resulting Bush victory predictably emboldened the Right, while demoralizing the Democratic Party’s most prominent left-wing supporters—who interpreted Bush’s victory as a major breakthrough for the Christian Right. Although the Christian Right has grown modestly in size, its influence in mainstream politics is magnified by the absence of a genuine Left opposition, due to the collapse of the Left into the Democratic Party.

The dynamics of the 2004 election were merely an acceleration of those already in place since 9/11. The terrorist attacks in 2001 provided the excuse for the U.S. ruling class to pursue its imperialist aims more aggressively abroad while escalating its war on the working class at home. In both cases, the U.S. Left has proven both unable and unwilling to build a viable political opposition. [...]

Bill Clinton represented a new breed of Democrat. As a founder of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), he aimed to shift the party away from the Democrats’ -traditional voting base (liberals, Blacks, and labor) to appeal to “swing” voters (white middle-class voters torn between Democrats and Republicans). This strategy required the party to lurch to the right, adopting positions that were unique to the Republican Party during the era of Reaganism.

Clinton’s “I feel your pain” campaign slogan soon proved to be smoke and mirrors as he stole the Republican’s thunder in dismantling welfare, and passing both the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (which paved the way for Bush’s more draconian federal ban on gay marriage proposal) and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (which preceded the yet more repressive Patriot Act).

Clinton’s approach to Iraq, likewise, differed little from his Republican predecessor. He continued the murderous sanctions put in place after the 1991 Gulf War that claimed over a million Iraqi lives—half of them children under age five. In addition, the U.S. and Britain conducted a continuous bombing campaign over Iraq’s “no-fly zone” throughout Clinton’s two terms in office, interrupted only by the more vigorous “Operation Desert Fox” bombing campaign in 1998. Clinton signed the “Iraq Liberation Act” in 1998, calling for the “regime change” carried out by George W. Bush in 2003.

Had Clinton been a Republican, liberals would have protested many of these policies. Because Clinton was a Democrat, however, liberals continued to support Clinton as he embraced a range of conservative positions during his presidency.

The feminist movement never protested against Clinton, even as he allowed the erosion of legal abortion and dismantled welfare for poor women and children. Most gay rights organizations maintained their loyalty even after Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act. Many antiwar activists who had opposed the Gulf War in 1991 remained silent during Clinton’s subsequent “humanitarian” invasions.

The collapse of liberalism during the Clinton era allowed mainstream politics to shift rightward in the years before Bush took office.

The Democrats don't recognize yet that 9-11 worked to their political advantage, forcing them to resuume the national security mantle they'd worn uneasily during the Cold War as well and disguising many of the internal incoherencies of the party. Just imagine a John Kerry nominating convention where he couldn't present himself as the Deer Hunter or Rambo but had to talk about issues? He'd have had to say what he really wanted to do and alienate middle America, or try to fudge to the Middle and infuriate the Party base.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:46 AM


Oil Slides Below $50 Mark: Rising U.S. supplies and worries about the global economy cool the market. Many analysts expect gas prices to fall. (John O'Dell, April 30, 2005, LA Times)

Oil prices plunged below the $50-a-barrel mark Friday for the first time in more than two months, triggering hopes for cheaper gasoline and diesel prices as the summer travel season approaches.

Light crude for June delivery dropped $2.05 to $49.72 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The U.S. benchmark grade, which last settled below $50 on Feb. 18, fell $5.67 a barrel, or about 10%, during the last week amid rising U.S. supplies and fears of a softening world economy that could suppress global demand in coming months.

The $50 mark is a psychological barrier that, once broken, makes its easier for traders to think in terms of lower prices, said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service in New Jersey.

"If there's no contrary news, this thundering herd may stampede to the mid-$40s in relatively short order," he said.

Mid-$40s isn't a floor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:33 AM


Bush Plan Aids Poor, Squeezes the Rest (Peter G. Gosselin, April 30, 2005, LA Times)

As the full dimensions of President Bush's Social Security plan come into view, so too does a broader vision: improving benefits for the poorest Americans while reducing the reliance of everyone else on government programs that long have seen them through economic difficulties.

Although Bush devoted most of his prime-time news conference Thursday to describing how he would expand Social Security protections, virtually all of his improvements would be aimed at the bottom one-third of American wage earners. The remaining two-thirds would see their future Social Security benefits curtailed, a reduction that they'd be encouraged to make up by saving and investing of their own.

The president often portrays his effort as simply trying to accommodate reality; funds to pay full Social Security benefits are expected to run short toward the middle of the century. But his approach also corresponds to a long-held conservative goal of reducing Washington's influence in the lives of ordinary Americans and to the aim of his chief political strategist Karl Rove to realign the nation along Republican principles.

"What you're going to see is an effort to scale back middle-class entitlements that many people do not need and to become more focused on the antipoverty aspects of these programs," said Michael Tanner, an expert on Social Security at the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank that advocates small government.

"We're going to tell non-poor Americans that they are going to have to save more on their own and not depend on a transfer from government," he said.

Interesting how neither the Left nor much of the Right grasps just how ambitious the President's Third Way concept of an Ownership Society is. Both hate the idea of government mandated personal responsibility, though the former because it hates government and the latter because it hates personal responsibility.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 AM


Blair forced to back down over health service targets (JAMES KIRKUP, 4/30/05, The Scotsman)

AN "OUT of touch" Tony Blair was forced into a public retreat yesterday over government health and education targets, an embarrassment that came as Labour members predicted he will quit sooner rather than later.

Labour was thrown on to the defensive by Mr Blair’s appearance on BBC’s Question Time on Thursday night, when he admitted he was "absolutely astonished" by suggestions that some English NHS patients can only book a doctor’s appointment at 48 hours’ notice, so that GPs can meet central government targets.

The Prime Minister’s incredulity gave the Conservatives a perfect opportunity to produce a welter of evidence of misfiring targets and, more damagingly, proof that the government had been well aware of the problem. [...]

[B]y the afternoon, the growing row forced Mr Blair into a public apology over central targets in health and education.

"There is danger that they have been too crude," he told BBC television. "We have to have them, but [need to] make them more flexible. We need to strip the targets down."

Mr Blair’s faltering performance over health yesterday came as members of his own party publicly speculated that he will fail to see through his promise to serve a full third term if re-elected.

Bob Marshall-Andrews, a veteran Labour backbench rebel, suggested Mr Blair could even face a leadership challenge if he tries to stay on for more than a year after the election.

"I see absolutely no reason why that shouldn’t take place. Indeed, I suspect confidently that it will," he said in a Channel Four interview to be broadcast today.

Neil Kinnock, the former Labour leader, suggested that the Prime Minister will not seek to prolong his leadership "for the sake of it. "

"He’s not looking for a page in the history book; he’s got that in any case," Lord Kinnock said in a GM-TV interview to be broadcast tomorrow. "He’s not looking to extend the chapter for the sake of it."

Brown's luster rubs off on protégés (Graham Bowley, APRIL 30, 2005, International Herald Tribune)
In the vote Thursday, it seems a foregone conclusion that voters will return Tony Blair's Labour Party to government.

But since Blair's announcement, on the opening day of the campaign, that "at the election following there will be a different leader," speculation has raged about who could be his successor.

The widespread assumption is Gordon Brown.

But what should the world expect from a man who, despite establishing Britain as one of Europe's best-performing economies, has remained largely hidden by Blair's more charismatic shadow?

And what of the loyal coterie of young supporters who surround Brown - people like Ed Balls - and who are likely to rise with him?

Balls grew up in Nottingham, England, went to Oxford and Harvard, and started his career writing at The Financial Times before Brown hired him as an adviser in 1994.

When Brown took over the Treasury in 1997, Balls in effect became the deputy chancellor of the Exchequer, unelected but ruling over civil servants and British economic policy with notorious muscularity.

He drew up the memo that granted the Bank of England independence in setting interest rates. Brown and Balls set the tests that kept the British pound out of the euro. With Blair focusing on foreign policy, Brown and Balls decided how far free-market forces could invade Britain's public services.

Achieving so much, so young has made Balls "even more charming and self-deprecating" than his famously curt mentor Brown, says one former government colleague, ironically. [...]

One possible date for regime change is the referendum next spring on the European Union's constitutional treaty "because," according to Kampfner, "if Blair loses that, he is finished."

And what would Brown's policies be if he were prime minister?

"There is a moral element to Brown's approach to politics that derived from his father, who was a very hard-working minister in the Church of Scotland who devoted a lot of time to the unemployed," says Robert Peston, a British journalist and author of "Brown's Britain," a book about the chancellor.

On Iraq, most analysts believe Brown would probably have taken Britain to war, just as Blair did, but only after securing wider public backing. While instinctively pro-American, he has become increasingly skeptical about the EU, devotes scant time to visits to Brussels, and rarely mentions Germany and France without a lecture about reforming their stuttering economies.

Because the Third Way is a rejection of Labourism, Mr. Blair has only been popular in his party to the extent that he could win elections. It would be a delightful irony though if they chuck him over for Gordon Brown and get someone even more devoted to the same ideas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


Nepal's state of emergency ended (BBC, 4/30/05)

King Gyanendra of Nepal has lifted a state of emergency he imposed after taking direct control of the country three months ago. [...]

The lifting of the state of emergency has been welcomed by India which, like the US and Britain, has suspended arms supplies to Nepal.

When we three speak with one voice a lot of folks will need to listen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


Is Democracy in the Middle East a Pipedream?: Amidst the first signs of change, longing competes with mistrust of Western democracy (Fawaz Gerges, 25 April 2005, YaleGlobal)

From Baghdad to Beirut and from Cairo to Jerusalem, stirrings of freedom are unsettling deeply entrenched autocratic rulers, as Arab civil societies are beginning to challenge their ruling tormentors. In Egypt, for instance, one of the most populous and important Arab states, President Hosni Mubarak responded to critics of his autocratic style by agreeing to hold free elections Although it is too early to draw any definite conclusions about the nature and substance of recent developments, they point to a more assertive civil society and a real longing for political empowerment and emancipation. Careful support and nurturing by the West will be critical for their success.

Most Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East are fed up with their ruling autocrats, who had promised heaven but delivered dust and tyranny. These sentiments clearly show that there is nothing unique or intrinsic about Arab and Islamic culture that inhibits democratic governance. Like their counterparts elsewhere, Arabs and Muslims have struggled to free themselves from the shackles of political authoritarianism without much success, thanks partly to the support given by the West, particularly the United States, to powerful dictators. [...]

Now, however, we are witnessing the emergence of rudimentary social movements that could dramatically revolutionize Arab and Muslim politics. These movements – be they professional associations, workers organizations, students, or women's groups – are much more assertive, mobilized, and challenging of governments' autocratic methods, thanks to the power of the new media, which has broken official monopoly on the flow of information. As a result, consensus is emerging in the Muslim world regarding respect for human rights, legal transparency, and the peaceful transfer of power.

Even mainstream Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, the most powerful transnational organization, have now come to this very same conclusion: Democracy is the most effective mechanism to guard against political authoritarianism and protect the human rights of the Muslim Ummah (the Muslim community worldwide).

Still, in the minds of many Arabs and Muslims, liberal democracy remains synonymous with Western political hegemony and domination. Democracy tends to be seen as a manipulative tool wielded by Western powers to intervene in Arab/Muslim internal affairs and to divide and conquer. Within the past 10 years, mainstream Islamic voices have worked arduously to redefine liberal democracy in Islamic terms and make it comprehensible and acceptable to Arab and Muslim masses. Simply put, Muslim and Islamic democrats have been trying to Islamize democracy and modernity and strip them of their Western clothing.

All they need do is look at Europe to see that liberal democracy is no panacea. Building on Islamic foundations and towards Islamic ends will give them a far better long term prognosis than that of the already failing secular states.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


In Europe, economic pessimism takes hold (James Kanter, APRIL 30, 2005, International Herald Tribune)

The sick man of Europe, Germany, cut its already meager growth forecast for this year and next on Friday, while a slew of equally dire economic news from elsewhere illustrated that pain is being felt across Europe, even in the relatively dynamic services sector and in the better-performing economies, like Britain.

"Pessimism really is the order of the day," said Ken Wattret, an economist at BNP Paribas in London.

In Germany, the economy minister, Wolfgang Clement, cut 2005 growth forecasts to 1 percent from 1.6 percent, while in Italy, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi cut his country's growth expectations nearly in half, to 1.2 percent.

Meanwhile in France, the unemployment rate rose to 10.2 percent in March - the highest since December 1999 - from 10.1 percent in February.

If they understood demographics they'd not be this sunny.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


Bush finds ally in Hub executive (Michael Kranish and Nina J. Easton, April 30, 2005, Boston Globe)

[Robert C.] Pozen and Bush might seem at first blush to be an odd couple. In 2004, Pozen gave $40,250 to Democrats, including $2,500 to Kerry's presidential bid. His national GOP contributions were $1,000, all of it going to Representative Rob Portman of Ohio, according to campaign finance records. Pozen said he voted for Kerry because ''I'm a Democrat."

But Pozen has a history of working with Republicans, too.

He spent about a year as Governor Romney's director of economic development in 2003. In an interview yesterday, Romney said Pozen spent much of his time working to help close a budget gap, but also played key roles on health and auto insurance overhaul. ''When he came into my administration, the economy was sour, we were trying to get our economic ship right," Romney said. ''He helped lead the economic stimulus plan."

Like others, Romney said Pozen approaches issues analytically, rather than politically. [...]

Pozen, who left Romney's administration to become chairman of MFS Investment Management, first worked with Bush when Pozen served in 2001 on Bush's bipartisan Social Security commission. Blahous, then executive director of the panel, also got to know Pozen at the time.

The panel produced three proposals, including creating private accounts and cutting future benefits, none of which Bush endorsed. But an aide said the president remembered Pozen's service on the commission and was intrigued earlier this year when he heard Pozen was working on a new plan that would ensure that lower-income workers received all currently promised benefits.

For months, Bush aides had said they were studying a change in the way benefits are calculated. Under the current system, annual increases in benefits are based on calculations that show the average yearly increase in wages. Bush aides figured if that calculation, known as a wage index, could be changed to a price index -- a calculation of the average rise in consumer prices, which typically rise more slowly than wages -- then most of the solvency issue might be solved.

Bush has said the government made promises on Social Security that can't be kept under the current system. But many Republicans feared that switching from wage indexing to price indexing would be seen as a huge benefit cut, even though the White House insisted that it simply reduces how fast future benefits will grow and doesn't affect current benefits.

Pozen's plan represents a compromise: It wouldn't change benefits for people who earn an average of $25,000 or less annually, but those earning between $25,000 and $113,000 would get benefits calculated on a sliding scale that blends wage and price indexes. Those who earned more than $113,000 would receive benefits based only on the price index, meaning they would have the biggest cut in future benefits.

Pozen outlined his ideas in various newspapers, including The Globe, earlier this year. His opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal about indexing may have caught the White House's attention.

On March 15, the same day the article appeared, Pozen attended a meeting at the White House with Blahous and other advisers. He spent about an hour explaining his indexing plan in detail. The advisers liked his presentation, setting in motion the events that led to Bush's public embrace of it in the Thursday press conference.

After Pozen described his idea at the White House, other Washington policy analysts quickly took notice.

''People have been talking about wage-price indexing for a while," said Michael Tanner, director of health and welfare studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. But Pozen's idea to make the system progressive was a new and important wrinkle. ''A lot of us said, 'Oh, now that's interesting,' " Tanner added.

Listening to Democrats argue against a more progressive retirement security system is more fun than a bag of cats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


Big boost to Darfur peace force (BBC, 4/29/05)

The African Union has agreed to more than double the number of its peace monitors in the war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur.

By September, the force should be 7,700-strong, which could be further increased to 12,000, an official said.

There are currently just 2,200 troops, with another 1,000 expected next month, to monitor an area the size of France.

Nice to see Africa growing up, finally.

April 29, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:45 PM


Doyle vetoes voter ID, school voucher bills (Associated Press, 4/29/05)

Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed a plan to require voters to show government-issued photo identification, saying Friday the requirement would disenfranchise poor and elderly voters who lack IDs.

The governor's veto came three days after Republicans hand-delivered the bill to Doyle's office as they urged him to sign a law they said would improve the integrity of Wisconsin elections. [...]

Doyle also vetoed a bill Friday to expand a state program that pays for poor Milwaukee students to attend private schools. The bill would have allowed 1,500 more students in Milwaukee to enroll in the school voucher program.

Republicans who control both the Assembly and the Senate said they would immediately schedule votes to try to override Doyle's veto of the voter ID bill, but they did not appear to have enough votes to succeed. The bill passed 21-12 in the Senate and 64-33 in the Assembly, just short in each chamber for the two-thirds necessary.

WI is a state to keep an eye on for a GOP gubernatorial pick-up in '06.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:38 PM


Break the Filibuster: Democrats are looking to the Constitution to preserve the judicial filibuster; the Constitution isn't on their side. (William Kristol, 05/09/2005, Weekly Standard)

As David A. Crockett of Trinity University in San Antonio has explained, the legislative filibuster makes perfect sense. Article 1 of the Constitution gives each house of Congress the power to determine its own rules. Senate Rule XXII establishes the necessity of 60 votes to close off debate. With this rule, the Senate has chosen to allow 40-plus percent of its members to block legislative action, out of respect for the view that delaying, even preventing, hasty action, or action that has only the support of a narrow majority, can be a good thing. As Crockett puts it, "Congress is the active agent in lawmaking, and if it wants to make that process more difficult, it can." One might add that legislative filibusters can often be overcome by offering the minority compromises--revising the underlying legislation with amendments and the like.

There is no rationale for a filibuster, however, when the Senate is acting under Article 2 in advising and consenting to presidential nominations. As Crockett points out, here the president is "the originator and prime mover. If he wants to make the process more burdensome, perhaps through lengthy interviews or extraordinary background checks, he can." The Senate's role is to accept or reject the president's nominees, just as the president has a responsibility to accept or reject a bill approved by both houses of Congress. There he does not have the option of delay. Nor should Congress have the option of delay in what is fundamentally an executive function of filling the nonelected positions in the federal government. In other words--to quote Crockett once more--"it is inappropriate for the Senate to employ a delaying tactic normally used in internal business--the construction of legislation--in a nonlegislative procedure that originates in a coequal branch of government."

This is why the filibuster has historically not been used on nominations. This is the constitutional logic underlying 200-plus years of American political practice. This is why as recently as 14 years ago the possibility of filibustering Clarence Thomas, for example, was not entertained even by a hostile Democratic Senate that was able to muster 48 votes against him. The American people seem to grasp this logic. In one recent poll, 82 percent said the president's nominees deserve an up or down vote on the Senate floor.

They are right. History and the Constitution are on their side, and on majority leader Bill Frist's side.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 PM


Poll: 57% of Americans want Senate rules changed (WorldNetDaily.com, April 29, 2005)

As the battle continues in Washington over President Bush's selections for federal judges, a new poll indicates 57 percent of Americans want Senate rules to be changed so a vote must be taken on every person the president nominates to become a judge.

One nice thing about the rise of a conservative counter-media is we can cook our own polls now too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 PM


Rush to Victory: Why is Harry Reid acting like David Koresh? Because conservatives are winning. (DANIEL HENNINGER, April 29, 2005, Opinion Journal)

In 1987, Rush Limbaugh sat down at a microphone at radio station KFBK-AM in Sacramento and began broadcasting something called "The Rush Limbaugh Show."

The rest is history.

The "rest"--the inexorable 15-year rise of conservative ideas and clout across what Howard Stern calls "all media"--is described in a provocative new book by Brian C. Anderson, "South Park Conservatives." What was once a mostly exclusive liberal country club--television, the press, book publishing, even the campuses--has become heavily integrated with aggressive, even crude, conservatives.

As described by Mr. Anderson, a writer with the Manhattan Institute, conservatives established their first beachhead in the early 1990s with talk radio. Then Fox conquered cable news and finally a virtual Mongol horde of conservative-to-libertarian bloggers swept across the Internet. In the 2004 election, these electric horsemen (apologies to Jane Fonda) pulled down Dan Rather and haunted John Kerry's war hero with Swift-boat ghosts. [...]

Contrary to myth, Roger Ailes didn't do this. Ronald Reagan did. Ronald Reagan may not make it to Mount Rushmore for winning the Cold War. But he secured his place in the conservative pantheon for tearing down another wall: the Fairness Doctrine.

The whole book is excellent, but this portion revelatory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 PM


Opting for Truth Over 'Triumph' (Anne Applebaum, April 27, 2005, Washington Post)

Try, if you can, to picture the scene. A vast crowd in Red Square: Lenin's tomb and Stalin's memorial in the background. Soldiers march in goose step behind rolling tanks, and the air echoes with martial music, occasionally drowned out by the whine of fighter jets. On the reviewing stand, statesmen are gathered: Kim Jong Il, the dictator of North Korea, Alexander Lukashenko, the dictator of Belarus, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, the former dictator of Poland -- and President George W. Bush.

That description may sound fanciful or improbable. It is neither. On the contrary, that is more or less what will appear on your television screen May 9, when the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II is celebrated in Moscow. I have exaggerated only one detail: Although Kim Jong Il has been invited, his attendance has not yet been confirmed. But Jaruzelski is definitely coming, as are Lukashenko, Bush and several dozen other heads of state. President Vladimir Putin of Russia will preside.

Not every European country will be represented, however, because not everybody feels quite the same way about this particular date. In the Baltic states, for example, May 1945 marked the end of the war but also the beginning of nearly a half-century of Soviet occupation, during which one in 10 Balts were murdered or deported to concentration camps and exile villages. The thought of applauding the same Red Army veterans who helped "pacify" their countries after 1945 was too much for the Estonian and Lithuanian presidents, who have refused to attend. Although the Latvian president will attend the Moscow festivities, she's had to declare that she will use her trip to talk about the Soviet occupation. The president of Poland also has spent much of the past month justifying his decision to celebrate this particular anniversary in Moscow. By May 1945, after all, the leaders of what had been the Polish anti-Nazi resistance were already imprisoned in the Lubyanka, the KGB's most notorious Moscow prison.

Part of the Left's pathological hatred of the Poles derives from the prick they represent to conscience and the reminder that WWII was lost.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:12 PM


Ottawa prof dies during Everest ascent (Toronto Star, April 29th, 2005)

An Ottawa university professor who studied mental and physical training for mountain climbers died today after an apparent heart attack on the slopes of Mount Everest, a member of the Canadian expedition team said.

Dr. Sean Egan, 63, was leading his third expedition to the world's highest mountain in Nepal, which would have made him the oldest Canadian to accomplish the feat had he succeeded. [...]

Egan, a professor of human kinetics at the University of Ottawa since 1977, had been preparing for his first actual summit attack. He held a doctorate in sports psychology and his research interests included mental and physical training for mountain climbers, according to the University of Ottawa website.

"Reaching the summit for me is a personal goal," Egan said in an interview with the CBC before the expedition.

"I've been into fitness, health and wellness for many years ...I believe teaching is one thing, but practice is the main thing. And I feel like I'm a model for the general population and the old folks anyway."

What a waste, and what a tragedy that so few both modern young and elderly can recognize it. Even if he had no family, did he ever pause to think of how many kids in the throes of reckless, confused youth he might have guided and mentored if only he had acted his age?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 PM


Dow Ends Up 122 Points As Oil Prices Skid (Michael J. Martinez, 4/29/05, AP)

Wall Street ended a volatile week with a big advance Friday as oil prices tumbled below $50 per barrel and jittery investors took solace in a pair of economic reports that eased their inflation concerns. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 122 points for the session, but the major indexes finished the week mixed.

A late selloff in crude futures helped Wall Street solidify its gains in an otherwise uncertain session. A barrel of light crude settled at $49.72, down $2.05, on the New York Mercantile Exchange, its lowest level since Feb. 18. Oil prices began the week above $55 per barrel.

The buying was further buoyed by economic data that showed prices and labor costs remained in check. The Commerce Department reported a 0.5 percent increase in income and a 0.6 percent hike in spending for March, and the Labor Department said labor costs for businesses were falling. Both are key inflation readings which bode well for interest rates and the economy.

Well, those folks watched long enough for a woodpecker and finally found one. Keep an eye out for a few decades and you'll see inflation again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 PM


Call it zonkey or a deebra? (The Associated Press, April 29, 2005)

It's male. But what is it? A zonkey? A deebra? That's the debate in Barbados since a zebra gave birth to a foal sired by a donkey.

Alex was born April 21, a milk-chocolate brown creature with the black stripes of a zebra on his ears and legs. His face looks more like a horse, with a distinctive black "V" patch on the forehead.

"It's really funny and a little bit freaky," said Natalie Harvey, a 29-year-old waitress. "I was stunned to hear about such a weird thing happening here."

While zebra hybrids are not uncommon, most Barbadians have never seen anything like Alex.

Call it further disproof.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 PM


'Miracle' needed to win back Senate (Charles Hurt, 4/29/05, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid raised a few eyebrows yesterday on the Senate floor when he said it would take a "miracle" for Democrats to win enough races next year to take back the Senate.

"I would like to think a miracle would happen and we would pick up five seats this time," he said during a floor debate over the filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominees. "I guess miracles never cease."

Republicans were delighted by what they called an "admission" from the highest-ranking elected Democrat in the country.

If only the country were a mess they'd have a shot.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 5:17 PM


Same-sex blessings halted (Toronto Star, April 29th, 2005)

Canada's Anglican bishops have passed unanimously a resolution to put a two-year moratorium on future church blessings of same-sex relationships.

The decision, reached after three days of debate at a closed-door conference session, will halt the ritual for two years to give church leaders time to study how it relates to the official doctrine of the faith, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison said.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 3:10 PM


How ice cream tickles your brain
(David Adam, The Guardian, April 29th, 2005)

Eating ice cream really does make you happy. Scientists have found that a spoonful of the cold stuff lights up the same pleasure centre in the brain as winning money or listening to your favourite music.

Neuroscientists at the Institute of Psychiatry in London scanned the brains of people eating vanilla ice cream. They found an immediate effect on parts of the brain known to activate when people enjoy themselves; these include the orbitofrontal cortex, the "processing" area at the front of the brain.

The research was carried out by Unilever, using ice cream made by Walls, which it owns. Don Darling of Unilever said: "This is the first time that we've been able to show that ice cream makes you happy. Just one spoonful lights up the happy zones of the brain in clinical trials."

We assume this means liver and broccoli light up the same brain centers as an IRS audit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:29 PM


Study: Housing price-salary gap widens (SIOBHAN McDONOUGH, 4/29/05, Associated Press)

The American dream of having a job and owning a tidy home is becoming a fantasy for more people.

Housing prices are outstripping wage increases in many areas, meaning more people are either spending above their means or living in dilapidated conditions, according to a pair of studies being released today by the Center for Housing Policy, a coalition pushing for more affordable housing.

Minority homeownership hits new high (Andrea Coombes, April 26, 2005, MarketWatch)
A greater portion of minority Americans own homes now than ever before, but their homeownership rate still lags far behind whites, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau this week.

No one buys a home anymore, they're all taken.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:48 PM


Lexington school calls cops on dad irate over gay book (Laura Crimaldi, April 28, 2005, Boston Herald)

Police arrested a Lexington father who refused to leave the Joseph Estabrook School yesterday after school officials rejected his demands that his 6-year-old son be shielded from any discussions about gay households.

David Parker, 42, confronted officials after his son brought home ``Who's in a Family,'' a storybook that includes characters who are gay parents.

Yesterday, Parker refused to leave a meeting after Lexington Superintendent Bill Hurley rejected his demand that he be notified when his son is exposed to any discussion about same-sex households as part of classroom instruction.

``Our parental requests for our own child were flat-out denied,'' Parker said in a statement.

It's not a culture war though.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:29 AM


Rare treat: Duel of 300-game winners (Paul Sullivan, April 29, 2005, Chicago Tribune)

Of the thousands of pitchers who have appeared in a major-league game, only 22 have achieved the grand milestone of 300 victories.

Two of those immortals will go head to head Friday night in Houston when Greg Maddux is to face Houston's Roger Clemens in the first meeting of 300-game winners in the National League in 113 years.

They seem to be the yin and yang of pitchers, with Clemens (329 victories) relying on his power arm and Maddux (305) on his control and guile. But, as Maddux insists, they are cut from the same cloth.

"I think we do everything exactly the same," Maddux said. "He just does it at faster speeds. You look at me like I'm crazy, but I'm telling you the truth.

"He does it just a little bit better and a little bit longer."

There were four matchups of 300-game winners in the American League from June 28, 1986, to Aug. 4, 1987, all involving California's Don Sutton, who had two starts against Phil Niekro and one apiece against Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton.

The last time two NL pitchers with 300 or more victories faced each other was Philadelphia's Tim O'Keefe against St. Louis' Jim "Pud" Galvin on July 21, 1892.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:46 AM


Why does New Labour stand for nothing?: Blair-bashers ignore New Labour's roots in both its party, and its times. (Josie Appleton, 4/29/05, Spiked)

The features of New Labour so harped upon by critics - its arrogance, superficiality, and managerialism - can all be derived from the fact that it grew in a political vacuum. These weren't traits that the party intentionally sought; indeed, the founders of New Labour went to great lengths to find a substantial, defining concept to keep it together and command people's allegiance.

In search of the 'vision thing'

New Labour looked long and hard for a defining vision. But its problem was that it was little more than a collection of talented and motivated individuals, not a movement with deep roots in society. As such, it drifted from one idea to another, lacking an anchor or an established course.

Blair's regime came in the wake of the collapse of left and right. As a result, it was principally defined by what it was not - not old left, not Thatcherite right, not the past - rather than what it was. It could say what had failed, but found it more difficult to say what would work instead. The result was a pick-and-mix of policies: when he took over as leader, Blair talked about 'breaking through old left-right barriers', saying in 1995 that 'New Labour is neither old left nor new right. We understand and welcome the new global market. We reject go-it-alone policies on inflation and the macro-economy. We stand for a new partnership between government and industry'.

New Labour ideologue Anthony Giddens argued that the Third Way was about 'reconciling opposites', bringing together concepts such as state and market, equality and diversity, rights and responsibility, which had previously been heralded by different political camps. But the primary reason that New Labour could unite these ideas is that they no longer meant anything in society. Because there was no left proposing state socialism, and no right defending the free market, it was easy to say: okay, let's have both. When political movements aren't demanding their right to protest, there appears to be no contradiction between rights and responsibilities. But the fact is that, once these words are no longer political battle cries, they lack broader resonance.

The ties that bound 'the Project' were personal rather than political. Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and Philip Gould went on holiday with one another, and thought up policies in each other's houses and French villas. Because they were working in a vacuum, they saw the development of new political ideas as a question of brainstorming. In his account of the period, The Unfinished Revolution, Gould is constantly moaning that 'we still lacked a defining concept'; 'we needed a central compelling argument'. He and fellow New Labourite David Miliband sat up late at night wondering: what could this defining concept be? Where could they find it?

If they clicked their fingers and got into the right mood, perhaps they could just dream up a new politics. The New Labour phrase was Gould's in 1989: 'I suggested a concept to get Labour on its feet again. I called it New Labour.' The phrase 'A new life for Britain' was invented by Campbell, sitting with Gould on a beach in Majorca - Campbell can also take the credit for the 1997 election slogan 'New Labour, New Britain'. It was Tony Blair's idea to make a show out of abolishing Clause Four, to show definitively that the party had changed.

But while the old Clause Four reflected the ambitions of mass movements in society, the new one was entirely the product of Blair's imagination. Gould describes the debates about the form of the new Clause Four: 'Matters came to a head one Sunday afternoon with Tony Blair sitting on his bed, Alastair Campbell, Jonathan Powell and David Miliband perched around the room, while Blair's daughter Kathryn's party going on downstairs.' In the end, they couldn't agree on the answer, except that they didn't like the draft that had been drawn up by the Labour policy team. In the end, Blair wrote it himself.

Brainstorming can't provide a new politics; if words don't represent movements in society, they are only words. New Labour may have made an effort to be serious and inspiring, but it could only come up with fluff. Compare the old and the new versions of Clause Four. The old was: 'To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.' While it leaves open the form and means of achieving this 'best obtainable' system, the clause is concrete and concise, and would spark disagreement among political rivals.

By contrast, the new Clause Four is vague and inoffensive, as if you had asked the manager of the local charity shop to list their beliefs. It goes: 'The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few. Where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe. And where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.' Most Labour Party members, even MPs, would struggle to remember this.

To mark the tenth anniversary of Blair's first conference speech as leader, when he called for Clause Four to be scrapped, the Fabian Society solicited suggestions for a Clause Four mark three. No doubt partly miffed because the original clause was the work of its old leader, the Fabian Society nonetheless touched a truth in its statement that: 'There is little in the Labour party's statement of values that is seriously objectionable to anyone from the mainstream of British politics. Labour Party members cannot identify enthusiastically with the new Clause because it misses out key elements of what makes politics important to them.'

New Labour's lack of roots led to its strange new language, which tends to resist direct translation. When terms are concocted by an isolated political elite, rather than drawn from common currency, it's no surprise that they are elusive and jargonised. Take the 'progressive consensus', for example, Tony Blair and chancellor Gordon Brown's current description of their project, which seems to be something to do with everybody going forward together.

A number of commentators have noted that Blair's habit of leaving verbs out of sentences makes it unclear exactly who is going to do what to whom. 'Your family better off', 'your child achieving more', 'your community safer', read Labour's 2005 election pledges, as if these things could somehow just occur of their own accord. Vague, feel-good adjectives have multiplied, as have terms for efficient-sounding procedures. In the current Labour manifesto there is a promise to 'make the contract of rights and responsibilities an enduring foundation of community life', to 'strengthen clinical governance in the NHS', and to 'build new ladders of social mobility and advancement on the firm foundations of stability, investment and growth'.

When New Labour tries to put the rhetoric into practice, it crashes against the hard rocks of reality. The Millennium Dome was supposed to be a 'spiritual beacon', an 'opportunity for renewal' - in Blair's words, 'Britain's opportunity to greet the world with a celebration so bold, so beautiful, so inspiring…'. But it's one thing to say you want to give Britain a new sense of purpose, another thing entirely to display that purpose before the nation. Mandelson trotted off around the world looking for ideas, even meeting Mickey Mouse in Disneyland. But somehow that elusive vision just couldn't be found.


The only New Labour ideas with solid content weren't political at all. Instead, they were about managerialism, and the reduction of politics to the day-to-day grind of administering society. 'Modernisation', 'social inclusion', 'community' - all of these key New Labour ideas are basically about keeping society ticking over and holding alienated individuals together. New Labour thinkers defined the point of politics in prosaic terms. In his 1996 book The Blair Revolution, Peter Mandelson said that Blair was 'working through a credible strategy for successful government'. In 1997, New Labour adviser Geoff Mulgan said in Life After Politics that politics was 'a way to solve problems and…a means of providing security and a stable sense of belonging'. The pledge cards with which Labour fought the 1997 election promised small, tangible improvements to the running of things.

Anthony Giddens' The Third Way is perhaps one of the most dispiriting documents in existence: it's basically an instruction manual, a series of sociological recommendations for how it would be possible to run society. Giddens weighs up every issue not on its principles but on its contribution to social order. Meritocracy might seem like a good idea, he says, but it 'would create deep inequalities of income, which would threaten social cohesion'. In another section he ponders which type of family structure would be best: the traditional family is long gone, but you wouldn't want too many unconventional families because of the evidence suggesting that these aren't good for children. Better go for the middle ground, a 'democratised family' that is open and negotiable but where both sides have a sense of responsibility.

As Alan Finlayson argues in his perceptive study, Making Sense of New Labour, the Third Way was a 'description of the present society that could also provide an ethic'; 'political thought is subordinated to sociology'. The Third Way reflects the end of the 'politics of redemption' - rather than aiming towards a transformation in society, it merely seeks to 'update' politics to 'a changed world'.

But the point isn't that New Labour suffered from a pathological lack of imagination, or that its leaders had managerial personalities. Instead, the Third Way reflected the general state of political exhaustion at the turn of end of the twentieth century. With the cessation of the battle between left and right, there was no longer any fundamental choice about how society should be organised. Margaret Thatcher's TINA - there is no alternative - became the order of the day. But while for Thatcher TINA embodied the confidence of free-market fundamentalism, TINA quickly came to represent a shoulder-shrugging acceptance that market economy is here to stay - though nobody was very enthusiastic about it.

Political horizons were lowered to tinkering with what exists. Hence this gloomy prediction from Francis Fukuyama's 1992 End of History: 'The end of history will be a very sad time…. [T]he worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history.' This wasn't just about Blair; it was about the zeitgeist. What New Labour did was turn the temper of the time into a how-to manual for government.

What's most striking here is how similar it all is to the rise and fall of Clintonism and how the same thing could happen to the GOP were a mere technocrat--someone like Rudy Giuliani--to take over the party. What George Bush was able to do--and his successors can easily follow his lead--is to ground the conservative version of the Third Way in the Judeo-Christianity of the culture and the Founding, tapping into the vision that runs deep in the culture--the Biblical vision of a people who have liberty but are obligated to use that liberty to improve society and the lives of their neighbors and to live morally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


Official Pariah Sudan Valuable to America's War on Terrorism: Despite once harboring Bin Laden, Khartoum regime has supplied key intelligence, officials say. (Ken Silverstein, April 29, 2005, LA Times)

The Bush administration has forged a close intelligence partnership with the Islamic regime that once welcomed Osama bin Laden here, even though Sudan continues to come under harsh U.S. and international criticism for human rights violations.

The Sudanese government, an unlikely ally in the U.S. fight against terror, remains on the most recent U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. At the same time, however, it has been providing access to terrorism suspects and sharing intelligence data with the United States.

Last week, the CIA sent an executive jet here to ferry the chief of Sudan's intelligence agency to Washington for secret meetings sealing Khartoum's sensitive and previously veiled partnership with the administration, U.S. government officials confirmed.

A decade ago Bin Laden and his fledgling Al Qaeda network were based in Khartoum. After they left for Afghanistan, the regime of Sudanese strongman Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir retained ties with other groups the U.S. accuses of terrorism.

As recently as September, then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell accused Sudan of committing genocide in putting down an armed rebellion in the western province of Darfur. And the administration warned that the African country's conduct posed "an extraordinary threat to the national security" of the United States.

Behind the scenes, however, Sudan was emerging as a surprisingly valuable ally of the CIA.

The warming relationship has produced significant results, according to interviews with American and Sudanese intelligence and government officials. They disclosed, for example, that:

• Sudan's Mukhabarat, its version of the CIA, has detained Al Qaeda suspects for interrogation by U.S. agents.

• The Sudanese intelligence agency has seized and turned over to the FBI evidence recovered in raids on suspected terrorists' homes, including fake passports.

• Sudan has expelled extremists, putting them into the hands of Arab intelligence agencies working closely with the CIA.

• The regime is credited with foiling attacks against American targets by, among other things, detaining foreign militants moving through Sudan on their way to join forces with Iraqi insurgents.

Sudan has "given us specific information that is … important, functional and current," said a senior State Department official who agreed to discuss intelligence matters on condition of anonymity. The official acknowledged that the Mukhabarat could become a "top tier" partner of the CIA.

The regime also cut the deal we demanded for the Christian/animist South. The only remaining stumbling block is protecting the black Muslims in Darfur, not a group with much of a constituency in the West.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


John Kerry: The first 100 days (David Martin, April 29, 2005, Boston Globe)

Jan. 20 Watch TV as Bush sworn in again. Throw J. Crew socks and Godiva chocolate wrappers at set every time he says ''freedom" or ''democracy." Phone rings, but I don't answer. Call display shows it's Al Gore probably wanting to commiserate again. No way I'm joining that loser in Loserville.

Jan. 26 Channel all energies into tracking down members of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Phone remaining loyal crew members to engage their services in search and destroy mission. Despite generous offer, none is ''reporting for duty." Regrettably, mission is terminated with extreme prejudice.

Jan. 31 Teresa issues ultimatum: Either I stop moping around the house in bathrobe all day or she'll cut off my weekly allowance. Her words hit me like a cold splash of water. Stop watching C-Span in hopes of finding ongoing election recounts. Briefly leave house to avoid Teresa's incessant swearing in Portuguese.

Feb. 2 Groundhog Day. If I see my own shadow, there'll be six more years of Republican rule. If I don't, there'll be eight. Back to bed. What's the point?

Feb. 9 Concerned about Bush's reform proposal, visit local Social Security office and inquire about filing early application for benefits. Informed that qualifying age is 67 and reminded that I am still employed by US Senate. Vow to attend at least one sitting in current session.

The schadenfreudic element of comedy makes it antithetical to modern PC liberalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


To French workers, minutes add up (Thomas Fuller, APRIL 29, 2005, International Herald Tribune)

One minute and 52 seconds is the time it might take an employee to remove his coat and begin booting up his computer, or maybe to dart off for a trip to the water cooler. In France this year, it is the additional time that staff at the national railroad company were asked to work each day as their contribution to a "solidarity fund" for the handicapped and elderly.

The rail workers' response: not unless we get paid for it.

"One minute and 52 seconds doesn't seem like much but it still adds up to 7 or 8 hours a year that would not be paid," said Grégory Roux, secretary of the railroad workers division of the CGT, one of France's largest unions.

The rail workers are not alone. Many are protesting the government's decision to turn a national holiday into a working day, worsening the atmosphere here at a time when President Jacques Chirac is desperately seeking a way to turn around public opinion before the French referendum on the European Union constitution.

The dispute over the solidarity fund is perhaps the best illustration today of the sour mood gripping the country. There is mistrust between bosses and workers, disenchantment with the government and overwhelming hostility toward reform.

No one wants to budge from his position, and everyone, it seems, is complaining.

French jobless rate on the rise (BBC, 4/29/05)
French unemployment has risen to its highest level in five years, increasing concerns about the strength of France's economic growth.

The jobless rate in March, as measured according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) method, rose by 0.1% from February to 10.2%.

It does all add up, huh?

Posted by David Cohen at 8:34 AM


'Miracle' needed to win back Senate (Charles Hurt, The Washington Times, 4/29/05)

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid raised a few eyebrows yesterday on the Senate floor when he said it would take a "miracle" for Democrats to win enough races next year to take back the Senate.

"I would like to think a miracle would happen and we would pick up five seats this time," he said during a floor debate over the filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominees. "I guess miracles never cease."

Here we have the Washington gaffe in its purest form. Senator Reid said what everyone knows to be true but no one would admit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


YABU FITS LIKE A GLOVE: A's reliever blends in with crowd in Bay Area, clubhouse (Susan Slusser, April 29, 2005, SF Chronicle)

In Japan, Keiichi Yabu cannot make a simple trip to the supermarket. He's swamped.

"People follow you to see what you're buying,'' the A's reliever said. "There's very little privacy.''

So he loves his new home in San Mateo, where, Yabu said, he can walk to the park with his wife and three children, "and we're just another Asian family. It's nice. I can relax.''

The first native of Japan to play for the A's, Yabu, 36, has done a terrific job of blending in with his teammates after 11 years of playing with Hanshin of Japan's Central League. After a difficult spring, he's performed pretty well this April, with a 0.96 ERA, and he gained immediate acceptance with his enthusiasm and his wicked sense of humor.

"Yabu's the funniest guy here, which is amazing considering he doesn't speak that much English,'' A's bullpen coach Bob Geren said. "He makes me laugh every day, he's hilarious, but I don't think it's stuff I can repeat.''

Yabu's English is coming along so well that he often bypasses translator Andy Painter when he answers questions from American reporters.

"Pretty soon, I'll be totally unnecessary,'' Painter said with a laugh.

Painter, who is from San Mateo and now lives in Burlingame, is as much a fixture in the clubhouse as Yabu, and just as popular. He has jumped into the job with so much gusto that he warms up coaches before they throw batting practice and he shags flyballs, even diving on occasion. It's quite a sight, the graying 43-year-old anthropology professor (undergraduate degree from UC Santa Cruz; Ph.D. from Michigan) grinning from ear-to-ear as he bounces around the field.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Bush Cites Plan That Would Cut Social Security Benefits (RICHARD W. STEVENSON and ELISABETH BUMILLER, 4/29/05, NY Times)

President Bush called Thursday night for cutting Social Security benefits for future retirees to put the system on sound financial footing, and he proposed doing so in a way that would demand the most sacrifice from higher-income people while insulating low-income workers.

So much for no one being willing to confront the fact that cuts will be part of any deal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Bush would trim benefits of well-to-do: Stands by his Social Security plan with talk in prime time (Michael Kranish and Susan Milligan, April 29, 2005, Boston Globe)

President Bush, in a prime-time effort to reverse the perception that his Social Security plan is faltering, last night proposed cutting currently promised future Social Security benefits for higher-earning workers, modeling the idea on a plan put forward by a Boston investment company executive.

But Bush did not back away from his proposal for private accounts, saying it must be part of any deal. Trying to reassure people concerned about a stock market slide, he said he would allow investment in government bonds as well as stock mutual funds. Democrats have said requiring private accounts would kill chances of their support for a Social Security deal.

''I propose a Social Security system in the future where benefits for low-income workers will grow faster than benefits for people who are better off," Bush said in a nationally televised press conference. ''By providing more generous benefits for low-income retirees, we'll make this commitment: If you work hard and pay into Social Security your entire life, you will not retire into poverty. This reform would solve most of the funding challenges facing Social Security."

Bush did not provide details of his proposal for changing the benefit formula, but the White House released a statement last night saying the idea would be ''similar" to a plan put forward by Robert Pozen, chairman of MFS Investment Management of Massachusetts. Pozen said his plan calls for leaving now-promised benefits intact for those who earned an average of $25,000 annually during their working career, with the increase in benefits ''slowed down" on a sliding scale for those who earned more. Under the Pozen plan, the deepest cuts in future benefits would affect those who earned an average of more than $113,000.

In a telephone interview last night, Pozen said, ''it's ''very satisfying to have the president of the United States say that he is endorsing the plan." But Pozen said he was concerned that Bush's insistence on including his concept of private accounts in the plan might prevent Democrats -- and some Republicans -- from endorsing it.

The President needed to seem flexible, but he can't give in on private accounts until Democrats come to the table, at which point he accepts add-ons in exchange for means-testing and achieves his ends.

Press Conference of the President (George W. Bush, 4/28/05, The East Room)

THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. Tonight I will discuss two vital priorities for the American people, and then I'd be glad to answer some of your questions.

Millions of American families and small businesses are hurting because of higher gasoline prices. My administration is doing everything we can to make gasoline more affordable. In the near-term, we will continue to encourage oil producing nations to maximize their production. Here at home, we'll protect consumers. There will be no price gouging at gas pumps in America.

We must address the root causes that are driving up gas prices. Over the past decade, America's energy consumption has been growing about 40 times faster than our energy production. That means we're relying more on energy produced abroad. To reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy, we must take four key steps. First, we must better use technology to become better conservers of energy. Secondly, we must find innovative and environmentally sensitive ways to make the most of our existing energy resources, including oil, natural gas, coal and safe, clean nuclear power.

Third, we must develop promising new sources of energy, such as hydrogen, ethanol or biodiesel. Fourth, we must help growing energy consumers overseas, like China and India, apply new technologies to use energy more efficiently, and reduce global demand of fossil fuels. I applaud the House for passing a good energy bill. Now the Senate needs to act on this urgent priority. American consumers have waited long enough. To help reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy, Congress needs to get an energy bill to my desk by this summer so I can sign it into law.

Congress also needs to address the challenges facing Social Security. I've traveled the country to talk with the American people. They understand that Social Security is headed for serious financial trouble, and they expect their leaders in Washington to address the problem.

Social Security worked fine during the last century, but the math has changed. A generation of baby boomers is getting ready to retire. I happen to be one of them. Today there are about 40 million retirees receiving benefits; by the time all the baby boomers have retired, there will be more than 72 million retirees drawing Social Security benefits. Baby boomers will be living longer and collecting benefits over long retirements than previous generations. And Congress has ensured that their benefits will rise faster than the rate of inflation.

In other words, there's a lot of us getting ready to retire who will be living longer and receiving greater benefits than the previous generation. And to compound the problem, there are fewer people paying into the system. In 1950, there were 16 workers for every beneficiary; today there are 3.3 workers for every beneficiary; soon there will be two workers for every beneficiary.

These changes have put Social Security on the path to bankruptcy. When the baby boomers start retiring in three years, Social Security will start heading toward the red. In 2017, the system will start paying out more in benefits than it collects in payroll taxes. Every year after that the shortfall will get worse, and by 2041, Social Security will be bankrupt.

Franklin Roosevelt did a wonderful thing when he created Social Security. The system has meant a lot for a lot of people. Social Security has provided a safety net that has provided dignity and peace of mind for millions of Americans in their retirement. Yet there's a hole in the safety net because Congresses have made promises it cannot keep for a younger generation.

As we fix Social Security, some things won't change: Seniors and people with disabilities will get their checks; all Americans born before 1950 will receive the full benefits.

Our duty to save Social Security begins with making the system permanently solvent, but our duty does not end there. We also have a responsibility to improve Social Security, by directing extra help to those most in need and by making it a better deal for younger workers. Now, as Congress begins work on legislation, we must be guided by three goals. First, millions of Americans depend on Social Security checks as a primary source of retirement income, so we must keep this promise to future retirees, as well. As a matter of fairness, I propose that future generations receive benefits equal to or greater than the benefits today's seniors get.

Secondly, I believe a reform system should protect those who depend on Social Security the most. So I propose a Social Security system in the future where benefits for low-income workers will grow faster than benefits for people who are better off. By providing more generous benefits for low-income retirees, we'll make this commitment: If you work hard and pay into Social Security your entire life, you will not retire into poverty. This reform would solve most of the funding challenges facing Social Security. A variety of options are available to solve the rest of the problem, and I will work with Congress on any good-faith proposal that does not raise the payroll tax rate or harm our economy. I know we can find a solution to the financial problems of Social Security that is sensible, permanent, and fair.

Third, any reform of Social Security must replace the empty promises being made to younger workers with real assets, real money. I believe the best way to achieve this goal is to give younger workers the option, the opportunity if they so choose, of putting a portion of their payroll taxes into a voluntary personal retirement account. Because this money is saved and invested, younger workers would have the opportunity to receive a higher rate of return on their money than the current Social Security system can provide.

The money from a voluntary personal retirement account would supplement the check one receives from Social Security. In a reformed Social Security system, voluntary personal retirement accounts would offer workers a number of investment options that are simple and easy to understand. I know some Americans have reservations about investing in the stock market, so I propose that one investment option consist entirely of Treasury bonds, which are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government.

Options like this will make voluntary personal retirement accounts a safer investment that will allow an American to build a nest egg that he or she can pass on to whomever he or she chooses. Americans who would choose not to save in a personal account would still be able to count on a Social Security check equal to or higher than the benefits of today's seniors.

In the coming days and weeks, I will work with both the House and the Senate as they take the next steps in the legislative process. I'm willing to listen to any good idea from either party.

Too often, the temptation in Washington is to look at a major issue only in terms of whether it gives one political party an advantage over the other. Social Security is too important for "politics as usual." We have a shared responsibility to fix Social Security and make the system better; to keep seniors out of poverty and expand ownership for people of every background. And when we do, Republicans and Democrats will be able to stand together and take credit for doing what is right for our children and our grandchildren.

And now I'll be glad to answer some questions, starting with Terry Hunt

Bush Recasts Message on Social Security: He favors a means-based approach to benefits, though he does not offer specifics. It appears to be an effort to gain backing from Senate moderates. (Doyle McManus, April 29, 2005, LA Times)
President Bush, seeking support from Democrats and moderate Republicans for an overhaul of Social Security, said Thursday that he favored changing the pension system so that benefits for low-income workers would grow faster than those for wealthy retirees.

Bush, speaking at a nationally televised news conference, said such a change "would solve most of the funding challenges facing Social Security." He cited a proposal by a Democratic policy expert to reduce the rate of growth in benefits for wealthy workers but did not explicitly endorse the plan, saying it was up to Congress to work out the details.

With the president's ambitions for restructuring Social Security apparently stalled despite weeks of barnstorming to mobilize public support, his endorsement of what he called means-based benefits appeared designed to inject momentum into the debate. Aides said it was also a response to Senate moderates from both parties who had called on Bush to lay out specific steps to shore up the finances of the system. [...]

He repeated, with vigor, many of the lines from his campaign speeches of the last two months to persuade a skeptical public that the Social Security system was in financial trouble because of the coming wave of baby boom retirees and needed an immediate fix.

But he also threw out several signals of what kind of changes he was willing to negotiate with Congress — in phrases that may have sounded obscure to much of the public.

For example, he proposed that in restructuring the program, future retirees should receive benefits "equal to or greater than the benefits today's seniors get" — a promise that sounded generous but left room for a cutback from what workers now expect their future benefits to be. That's because Social Security benefits are constructed to rise over time, and historically have done so faster than the rate of inflation.

He proposed a pledge to increase benefits for low-income workers enough to keep them above the poverty line, a guarantee not in current law. "If you work hard and pay into Social Security your entire life, you will not retire into poverty," he said.

Aides said those proposals were intended to rebut complaints from Democrats and some Republicans that the president had called for major changes in Social Security but had not laid out specific steps that would improve the pension system's solvency. Instead, Bush has focused on adding individually directed investment accounts to Social Security, even though his aides acknowledged that such accounts would not help with solvency.

In addition, the idea of an antipoverty guarantee for low-income workers has been popular among moderate Republicans in the Senate, whose votes Bush will need to pass any overhaul plan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


A Crucial Window for Iraq: 15 Weeks to Pull Together (JOHN F. BURNS, 4/29/05, NY Times)

It was a moment for which Iraqis had yearned for generations: parliamentary approval of a government with a mandate won at the ballot box. For Shiites, especially, Thursday's vote was a moment in history: for generations, going back to Ottoman imperial rule that ended with World War I, Shiites, accounting for 60 percent of the population, have been a political underclass. Until American troops toppled Saddam Hussein two years ago, political power rested with the Sunni minority, accounting for no more than 15 to 20 percent of the country's 25 million people.

The moment found its expression in the new prime minister, Ibrahim Jaafari, a 58-year-old doctor and a devout Shiite, who fled into exile in 1980 on the day an arrest warrant was issued that would probably have sent him to the gallows. Among many Shiites, that has made him and the party he leads, Dawa, totems of repression under Mr. Hussein, especially of religious groups, that led to scores of mass graves.

But Dr. Jaafari and his cabinet, expected to be sworn in next week, face daunting challenges. One reading of Thursday's events was that they were the start of the hardest passage yet in the American enterprise in Iraq: an eight-month period, up to fresh elections for a full, five-year government in December, in which issues basic to Iraq's future and its prospects of emerging as a stable democracy - at worst, of avoiding a civil war among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds - can no longer be papered over. That, in effect, is what occurred during the 15 months of American occupation to last June, and under Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's interim government, appointed by the Americans, which will cede to Dr. Jaafari's.

Dr. Allawi, also a Shiite, will retreat to the sidelines and hope for a comeback for his brand of secular politics after Iraqis have had a taste of being ruled, also for the first time, by a government led by men rooted in Shiite religious politics. The new government, with 17 ministries led by Shiites, 8 by Kurds, 6 by Sunni Arabs, and 1 by a Christian, faces a deadline of Aug. 15, to win parliamentary approval for a permanent constitution. That leaves 15 weeks - not much longer than the 12 weeks it took to form the Jaafari government - to settle issues on which Arabs and Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis, religious politicians land secularists have potentially polarizing views.

Principally, these issues include the role of Islam, and whether future Shiite-led governments should be free to adopt Shariah law and other elements of conservative Islam; the division of powers and oil revenues between central and regional governments; and the geographical boundaries - especially the potentially explosive issue of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, claimed by Sunnis and Kurds alike - to be granted to the proud and wary Kurds.

Overshadowing these issues is the insurgency, and the particular challenges it poses for the Shiites who will dominate the government. The war has been driven by die-hard Hussein loyalists, unreconciled Baathists and Islamic militants, all Sunnis, for whom a Shiite majority government is anathema. Even American officials concede that the accession of the Jaafari government may harden militants' resolve to fight on.

Our love of the dramatic makes us went to see each moment as crucial, but that's not the reality. The history of post-Saddam Iraq is being written a bit more sloppily than we might like, but remains on the track set back in '91.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM

POISED? (via Tom Morin):

Israel's tech titans are challenging Canadian entrepreneurs as a global force (Aron Heller in Tel Aviv and James Bagnall in Ottawa, April 28, 2005,
The Ottawa Citizen)

It's a common Hebrew expression: "holech al gadol," which translates directly to "going for big." In casual usage, the words describe an ambitious person but they also apply in a larger sense to 21st century Israel. Look just about anywhere in this country -- from the heart of the Negev desert in the south to the R&D heartland of Haifa towards the north -- and you'll see signs of a remarkable economic renaissance anchored by Israel's role as a high-tech proving ground.

The new cross-country super-highway, the massive state-of-the-art passenger terminal at Ben Gurion Airport and the sky-scraping Azrieli towers in downtown Tel Aviv are the most obvious manifestations. But you can see it, too, in the clusters of high-tech startups that radiate outward from Tel Aviv in ever-expanding waves.

The country's high-tech economy should be on its knees by now. It was hit by a double-whammy in 2000 when dot-com stocks crashed at almost precisely the same time as the Palestinians launched their second intifada. Israeli's entrepreneurs struggled to make do with meagre financing against the backdrop of a wave of suicide bombings.

Yet, as Israel and the Palestinians take the first tentative steps towards a possible accord, Israel's tech titans are in remarkably good shape -- so good in fact that Israel is starting to challenge Canada as a tech power, not just in relative terms but dollar for dollar.

Consider that Israeli startups last year for the first time attracted more venture capital than Canadian firms -- $1.4 billion compared with $1.36 billion (all figures U.S. dollars). Evidence of the global ambition of Israeli's entrepreneurs can be seen in the fact that more than 70 Israeli technology firms trade on America's two biggest stock exchanges.

Only Canada has more foreign listings on Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange, but many of these are energy, utilities and railway stocks.

When it comes to technology listings, Israel is the leader.

April 28, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 PM


Bush muscles his agenda with tactical flexibility: From Social Security to Tom DeLay, he's projected steely consistency to beat the 'lame duck' rap. (Linda Feldmann, 4/29/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

The vast array of issues George W. Bush faces have enhanced his image for steadfastness - or stubbornness, depending on one's political prism.

President Bush is sticking by John Bolton, his embattled nominee for UN ambassador. He is actively supporting House Republican leader Tom DeLay, under fire on ethics. He is still touring the country to promote major changes to Social Security that include personal investment accounts, despite growing public skepticism and signals from Congress that personal accounts might not make it. He still supports oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He hasn't backed down on judicial nominees.

But Bush's carefully crafted image of constancy belies a suppleness he has long employed to his benefit on matters of policy and personnel. He reversed course on creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the 9/11 commission, after initial opposition. He also at first resisted holding elections in Iraq last January, then came around. When his intelligence bill faced trouble in last December's lame-duck Congress, Bush made the necessary concessions to gain passage.

Now, four months into his second term, the president and his team are working hard to protect his ambitious agenda, including aggressive use of the bully pulpit - and nary a public hint of doubt or acknowledgment of error.

"So far, they're sticking to their public persona of steadfastness, because they think that's their best chance to win enough to avoid being pushed into early lame-duckism," says Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at the University of Texas at Austin. "But behind the scenes, they're calculating carefully where to cave in."

It doesn't really have anything to do with the second term--he happily "caved in" on tax cuts, NCLB, homeland security, intelligence reform, etc. It's just good management and it's been his m.o. all along.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:07 PM


Crisis of Faith: HOW FUNDAMENTALISM IS SPLITTING THE GOP (Andrew Sullivan, 04.25.05, New Republic)

Rich Lowry of National Review recently argued that it is not: "The secularist view misses that freedom is grounded in truths, in the God-given dignity of man as a rational creature and in our fundamental equality. This is why the pope could say, 'God created us to be free.' If the idea of freedom is detached from these truths, it has no secure ground, because the strong will inevitably attempt to dominate the weak unless checked by moral truths (see slavery or segregation or communism)." Without Christianity, Lowry argues, the rights of the individual will be trampled. [...]

The defense of human freedom offered by conservatives of doubt, on the other hand, is founded on more accessible and less contentious arguments. Such conservatives can point to the Constitution itself as the basis of U.S. political life, and its Enlightenment concept of freedom as sturdy enough without extra-Constitutional theology. (The purpose of the Constitution was to preserve the Declaration of Independence's right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." The word "virtue" is not included in that phrase. Its omission is the single greatest innovation of the U.S. founding.) They can point to the astonishing success and durability of the U.S. experiment to buttress the notion that the Constitution is a much more stable defense of human equality than that inherent in any religion. The Constitution itself has far wider support among citizens than any theological argument. To put it another way: You don't need an actual religion when you already have a workable civil version in place.

That would be funnier if Mr. Sullivan hadn't at least made a somewhat fruitful effort for a few years to separate his proclivities from his philosophy. He was, for awhile, worth reading even if your world didn't revolve around your anus. But at the point where he has to edit the Creator out of the Declaration to support his specious argument it's sadder than it is funny.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 PM

DIE, YOU LITTLE S.O.B.! (David Hill, The Bronx):

Complaint Filed on Behalf of Mother Whose Born-Alive Baby Died at Abortion Clinic (Melanie Hunter, April 28, 2005, CNSNews.com)

A conservative legal group has filed two complaints against a Florida abortion clinic claiming the clinic refused to help a mother whose baby was born alive, despite a law that protects babies "accidentally" born during abortion procedures from being killed or left to die.

The mother, Angele, had gone to the EPOC clinic in Orlando, Fla., to get an abortion. After the first day of the procedure, she was required to return to the clinic the following day for an induced abortion. When her baby was born alive, the woman screamed for help, but the clinic workers refused to help her, according to the Liberty Counsel.

Angele was forced to watch her son Rowan die, and during the incident, no doctors were present at the abortion clinic, the legal group said.

The Health and Human Services recently announced it would take steps to improve compliance with the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act after receiving "testimony that some infants who had been born alive after unsuccessful abortions were left to die."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 PM


U.S. Pollution Drops (Ryan Pearson, 28 April 2005, Associated Press)

Fewer Americans have had to breathe unhealthy levels of smog or microscopic soot in recent years, but air pollution remained a threat in counties where more than half the nation lives, the American Lung Association said in an annual report Thursday.

Using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the group found that the number of counties in which unhealthy air was recorded fell significantly for the first time in six years, to 390 from 441 in last year's report. The new report covered 2001 to 2003, while the previous one analyzed pollution levels from 2000 to 2002.

The association attributed the dip to cool and wet weather in the years studied, government controls on Eastern coal-fired power plants and improved vehicle emissions standards. Areas of the Southeast accounted for much of the drop in pollution.

But Janice Nolen, the group's director of national policy, emphasized that the counties where problems persist are home to 152 million people, or 52 percent of the U.S. population.

"People's lives are shortened by months to years because of the air they're breathing,'' she said. "The trend has gotten a little bit better in the last few years ... but we're not out of the woods.''

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 PM


Frist Offers Deal for Vote on Judges (William Branigin, April 28, 2005, Washington Post)

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist today offered extended debate on President Bush's top judicial nominees in return for Democratic agreement to stop using filibuster threats to block confirmation votes. But the chamber's Democratic leader immediately raised objections to the proposal, calling it a sop to the far right.

Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, said on the Senate floor that his offer was aimed at ensuring "an up-or-down vote" by the full Senate for Bush's judicial nominees "after fair, open and, some might say, exhaustive debate."

He said the Senate's majority party is prepared to allot up to 100 hours for debate on each nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court or to a federal appeals court, to be followed by a confirmation vote by the full Senate.

"Judicial nominees deserve up-or-down votes," Frist said. Calling his offer "a compromise that holds to constitutional principles," he said, "It's time for judicial obstruction to end, no matter which party controls the White House or the Senate."

Under his proposal, Frist said, the Judiciary Committee "will no longer be used to obstruct judicial nominees."

But he said he guaranteed that the ability of minority senators to block bills through filibusters "will be protected," and he vowed that filibuster rules "will remain unchanged."

That should allow for all the talk and debate that some filibuster supporters are pretending to defend here, right?

They'd satisfy the Dean of the Washington press corps anyway, A Judicious Compromise (David S. Broder, April 24, 2005, Washington Post)

It is not too late to avoid a Senate-splitting rules fight over President Bush's embattled judicial nominees and achieve something positive for both the public and the cause of good government, if only Democrats and Republicans can free themselves for a moment from the death grip of the opposing outside interest groups.

Here is what should happen: The Democratic Senate leadership should agree voluntarily to set aside the continued threat of filibustering the seven Bush appointees to the federal appeals courts who were blocked in the last Congress and whose names have been resubmitted. In return, they should get a renewed promise from the president that he will not bypass the Senate by offering any more recess appointments to the bench and a pledge from Republican Senate leaders to consider each such nominee individually, carefully and with a guarantee of extensive debate in coming months

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:10 PM


Woodpecker Thought to Be Extinct Is Sighted in Arkansas (JAMES GORMAN, 4/28/05, NY Times)

The ivory-billed woodpecker, a magnificent bird that ornithologists had long given up for extinct, has been sighted in the watery tupelo swampland of a wildlife refuge in Arkansas, scientists announced today.

The birders, ornithologists, government agencies and conservation organizations involved had kept the discovery secret for more than a year, while efforts to protect the bird and its territory went into high gear. Their announcement today provoked rejoicing and excitement among birdwatchers, for whom the ivory bill has long been a holy grail: a creature that has been called the Lord God bird, apparently because when people saw it they would be so impressed they would utter an involuntary "Lord God!"

"This great chieftain of the woodpecker tribe," as John James Audubon described the ivory bill - with its 30-inch wingspan, stunning black and white coloration with red on the male's cockade and a long, powerful bill - was once found in hardwood swamps and bottom land through the Southeast. As the forests were logged the numbers of birds decreased, until the ivory bill, the largest American woodpecker, faded from view. The last documented sighting was in Louisiana in 1944.

Though it appeared lost, the ivory bill haunted birders and ornithologists and others, and over the years there were dozens of reports of sightings. But each effort was unmasked as a hoax or wishful thinking - until Feb. 11, 2004.

On that date Gene M. Sparling III, an amateur birdwatcher from Hot Springs, Ark., sighted a large woodpecker with a red crest in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, about 60 miles northeast of Little Rock. Tim W. Gallagher at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, author of a new book about the ivory bill, "The Grail Bird," saw Mr. Sparling's report on a Web site, and within two weeks he and Bobby R. Harrison of Oakwood College in Huntsville, Ala., were in a canoe in the refuge, with Mr. Sparling guiding them.

They just don't make extinctions like they used to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:01 PM


'ET' Ponies Up for Letourneau Wedding (Zap2it.com, 4/28/05) "Entertainment Tonight" has won the rights to televise the wedding of former schoolteacher Mary Kay Letourneau and her student-turned-fiance, Vili Fualaau. [...]

Letourneau, you'll recall, was a 34-year-old teacher and mother of four when she began having an affair with the then 12-year-old Fualaau, one of her sixth-grade students, about a decade ago. She was convicted of raping the boy and served a 7 1/2-year prison sentence that ended last August.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:52 PM


Europe’s Present, America’s Future? (George Weigel, April 27, 2005, The Catholic Difference)

What do Konrad Adenauer, Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and the two Augustines (Hippo and Canterbury) have in common? Or Bach, Bacon, Becket, Bede, Benedict, Bernini, Bonhoeffer, and Borromeo? What about Calvin, Caravaggio, Charlemagne, Columbus, Constantine, and Cromwell? Or, to stop this promiscuous alphabetizing, what’s the thread linking Dante, William Wilberforce, Galileo, Dominic, Joan of Arc, de Gasperi, Luther, Rublev, Thomas More, John Wesley, Mozart, and Hieronymus Bosch?

The envelope, please.

And the answers are:

1) They are all Christians who, acting precisely as Christians, had a profound impact for better or worse (and sometimes for both) in making "Europe" what it is today.

2) Their contributions to Europe’s evolution as a continent committed to freedom, human rights, democracy, and the rule of law were willfully omitted from the preamble to the new European constitution, which takes the strange position that Christian culture had no significant impact on the civilizational formation of today’s European Union.

Is Europe "Christophobic?" Neither the formulation nor the suggestion are mine; rather, they come from one of the world’s foremost international legal scholars, J.H.H. Weiler of New York University, a practicing Orthodox Jew. I think Professor Weiler is right, at least in terms of European high culture and European public life. I’d take his claim one step further, though, and suggest that Europe’s present incapacities – including the demographic suicide that is stripping the continent of population at a rate unseen since the Black Death in the 14th century – are related to its Christophobia. And that, in turn, is a by-product of what happened in the most influential intellectual circles in 19th century Europe, when atheistic humanism jettisoned the God of the Bible in the name of human liberation.

The problem is they're clear about what they've been liberated from, but have no idea what the liberation is to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:15 PM


Towards a Catholic-Orthodox Alliance (Robert Moynihan, 4/24/05, Orthodoxy Today)

Interview with Hilarion Alfeyev, Bishop of Vienna and Austria, Representative of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions, by Robert Moynihan, editor-in-chief of 'Inside the Vatican', on 24 April 2005, the day of enthronement of Pope Benedict XVI.

What are your hopes for the new pontificate?

As a Russian Orthodox bishop, I hope, first of all, that the new pontificate will be marked by a breakthrough in relations between the Roman Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Churches, and that a meeting of the Pope of Rome with the Patriarch of Moscow does take place. This meeting must be preceded by concrete steps in the direction of a better mutual understanding, and by careful elaboration of a common position on major dividing issues.

I hope, next, that there will be a general amelioration in the relations between the Catholic Church and the world Orthodoxy, and that the Joint Catholic-Orthodox Theological Commission resumes its work after a five-year pause, or that a new commission for bilateral dialogue is formed in order to discuss Uniatism, primacy and other theological and ecclesiological questions which still divide our churches.

As far as the Catholic Church as such is concerned, I hope that it will continue to preserve its traditional social and moral teaching without surrendering to pressures from the 'progressive' groups that demand the ordination of women, the approval of the so-called 'same-sex marriages,' abortion, contraception, euthanasia, etc. There is no doubt that Benedict XVI, who has already made his positions on these issues clear, will continue to oppose such groups, which exist both within the Catholic Church and outside it.

I also hope that the Catholic Church will continue to combat liberalism, secularism and relativism both in Europe and outside it. Just two days before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, the then Cardinal Ratzinger addressed his fellow cardinals with a sermon which, according to some journalists, broke like a thunderclap. 'We are moving,' he said, toward 'a dictatorship of relativism. that recognizes nothing definite and leaves only one's own ego and one's own desires as the final measure.' A sermon on the eve of the conclave was meant to be programmatic, and it is clear that the war against relativism which Cardinal Ratzinger declared did not scare the other cardinals: on the contrary, by electing him as Pope they expressed their readiness to join him in this noble, but extremely painful and difficult combat.

In order for this combat to be more inclusive, I have recently suggested that a European Catholic-Orthodox Alliance be formed. This alliance may enable European Catholics and Orthodox to fight together against secularism, liberalism and relativism prevailing in modern Europe, may help them to speak with one voice in addressing secular society, may provide for them an ample space where they will discuss modern issues and come to common positions. The social and ethical teachings of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches are extremely close, in many cases practically identical.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:09 PM


Springtime for Senators: The 2006 Senate races are underway. (John J. Miller, 4/28/05, National Review)

[T]he GOP performed well in 2002, and there's reason to think the outlook for 2006 is anything but bleak. [...]

CONNECTICUT: Democratic senator Joe Lieberman's job-approval rating among Republicans (72 percent) is higher than it is among members of his own party (66 percent), according to a recent Quinnipiac poll. Will the Greens at least put up a candidate?

FLORIDA: Democratic senator Bill Nelson is a big, fat target for Republicans — neither his approval ratings nor his reelect numbers are especially healthy in this more-red-than-blue state — and the GOP's bench is deep. Looking good in very early polling is Rep. Katherine Harris, who became a household name during the 2000 election controversy. One or more of the candidates now running for governor might switch to the Senate race. The name of retired general Tommy Franks is heard as well. [...]

MICHIGAN: As a first-term senator, Democrat Debbie Stabenow should find herself vulnerable to a Republican challenge. But the GOP's top candidates are staying on the sidelines, in the belief that they're better off waiting for 2008, when they assume Democratic senator Carl Levin will head into retirement. Nationally, Republicans would love to see a potential self-funder, such as Domino's executive David Brandon, jump in — not so much because they think he'll win, but because they believe he would free up cash for more competitive contests. Another possible candidate is Jane Abraham, the wife of the senator Stabenow beat in 2000.

MINNESOTA: With former GOP senator Rod Grams announcing that he won't run for the seat of retiring Democrat Mark Dayton, the Republican primary field is now clear for congressman Mark Kennedy. Think about it: Republicans cheering on a Kennedy. This one, of course, isn't related to that one. Surprisingly, Democrats are having trouble finding a top-notch opponent. (Maybe they think there really is a relation.) This is a very good pickup opportunity for the GOP, and it keeps looking better. [...]

MONTANA: This could be a dark-horse race for Democrats. The incumbent, Republican senator Conrad Burns, is less popular than his Democrat counterpart, Sen. Max Baucus. State auditor John Morrison says he'll take on Burns.

NEBRASKA: Democratic senator Ben Nelson breathed a big sigh of relief when President Bush tapped Gov. Mike Johanns — a possible challenger, and a very strong one — to become secretary of agriculture. Republicans once had high hopes here, and they've by no means abandoned the idea of winning, but the odds are looking longer.

NEW JERSEY: The key question here involves Democratic senator Jon Corzine's bid to become governor this year. If he wins, his seat in the Senate will become available. If he loses, Republicans will consider him battered and weakened. Likely Democratic candidates include congressman Rob Andrews and Bob Menendez; on the GOP side, there's state senator Tom Kean Jr.

NEW MEXICO: Democratic senator Jeff Bingaman is a popular incumbent. Among Republicans, congresswoman Heather Wilson possibly could provide an interesting challenge — but this would require her to quit a competitive House district that the GOP might lose. Denny Hastert won't want her to do that. Moreover, she's not the type of candidate who would excite conservatives, which is probably a prerequisite for beating Bingaman in an upset. [...]

NORTH DAKOTA: Democratic senator Kent Conrad will face a tough fight if Gov. John Hoeven, a Republican, decides to challenge him. [...]

PENNSYLVANIA: Republican senator Rick Santorum is the top target for Democrats, and several polls show him trailing state treasurer Bob Casey Jr. One survey from a couple of weeks ago had Casey ahead by 14 points — seemingly too wide a margin to be credible, but certainly not welcome news for the incumbent. This may become the closest and most-watched race in America.

RHODE ISLAND: Wouldn't it be cool if John Bolton could run against Republican senator Lincoln Chafee in a primary? As it turns out, Chafee may face Cranston mayor Stephen Laffey, who hopes to become the Pat Toomey of 2006. Among Democrats, challengers include former attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse (what a name for a politico!) and secretary of state Matt Brown. [...]

VERMONT: The retirement of "independent" senator Jim Jeffords creates an open-seat opportunity for Republicans, but only if newly elected governor Jim Douglas declares. He'll probably decide this summer. Meanwhile, Democrats are rallying behind socialist congressman Bernie Sanders, another "independent" (who has not yet formally announced). Isn't it at least a little bit embarrassing for DNC chair Howard Dean that he can't get an official Democrat to run for the Senate in his home state? [...]

WASHINGTON: Democratic senator Maria Cantwell barely defeated Sen. Slade Gorton in 2000, and her reelection numbers are best described as fair to middling. This is a blue state and she's the incumbent, which makes her the favorite against just about anybody. Republicans are waiting for Dino Rossi to decide whether he wants to run — and Rossi is still waiting for his challenge to last year's gubernatorial race, which he apparently lost by a handful of votes, to make its way through the courts.

WEST VIRGINIA: If Democratic senator Robert Byrd proposed naming West Virginia after himself, it's possible that most of his constituents would say that's just fine with them. The man won't be defeated, even though a recent poll raised some GOP eyebrows: Tested against Rep. Shelly Capito in March, he led by only 10 points.

So the GOP is vulnerable in PA and RI but the Democrats, with a couple more retirements to come, are vulnerable in as many as 10 races?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:51 PM


Salazar regrets 'Antichrist' barb (M.E. Sprengelmeyer, April 28, 2005, Rocky Mountain News)

Sen. Ken Salazar said Wednesday he regrets referring to Focus on the Family and its founder James Dobson as "the Antichrist" - a term among the worst slurs in Christianity.

How are they ever going to appeal to Evangelicals?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:08 PM


Exploding toads puzzle German scientists (Associated Press, 4/28/05)

More than 1,000 toads have puffed up and exploded in a Hamburg pond in recent weeks, and German scientists have no explanation for what's causing the combustion.

They have, of course, simply evolved a technique like the one dandelions use, to broadcast their selfish genes as widely as possible. New frogs will soon be growing far and wide.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:06 PM


Red state?: West Virginia shift (The Charleston Gazette, 4/27/05)

Several times, we have posed this question for political experts: Why did West Virginia — long a Roosevelt-and-Kennedy Democratic “blue state” — become a Republican “red state” in the past two presidential elections, despite 2-to-1 Democratic registration?

Why did this low-income state vote for the party of the rich — a party openly slashing help for common Americans and giving huge rewards to the wealthy?

We never received an explanation from any of the state’s political professors or other societal analysts. But an answer was offered by one of the world’s premier journals, Le Monde of Paris.

In a long report titled “What’s the matter with West Virginia?” the French newspaper said the Mountain State has been pulled to the right by exaggerated patriotism, love of guns, Bible Belt fundamentalism, resentment of liberal intellectuals, and defense of the coal industry against environmentalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:20 PM


No well-off farmers, no well-off China (Qiu Xin, 4/;29/05, Asia Times)

"The target of a well-off China will never be achieved unless the rural population lives a well-off life; national modernization will never be completed unless rural areas attain modernization," Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao proclaimed in a press conference after the closing of National People's Congress.

These remarks, delivered March 14, are evidently a rebuttal of president Jiang Zemin's claim, made in his 2002 work report, that the underdeveloped People's Republic of China (PRC) was already "well-off" on the whole. Jiang, who also was the general secretary of Chinese Communist Party (CCP), announced in his address to the 16th plenary session of CCP National Congress three years ago that China had "generally accomplished [its] aim of [creating] a well-off society". At the same time, he conceded that "the well-off society is [at a] low level, [with] partial and unbalanced development". The alleged "achievement" did add a glorious feather to the nation's cap, and naturally, to that of president Jiang. However, the feather did not fit according to the incumbent premier, who has been showing growing concern for the 800 million disadvantaged farmers inhabiting the vast countryside.

Man, to have the pitchfork franchise there...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:16 PM


Rasta Republican: Meet Los Angeles's Ted Hayes. He's black, dreadlocked--and belongs to the GOP. (JILL STEWART, April 28, 2005, Opinion Journal)

Condoleezza Rice and Ward Connerly once epitomized black Republicans in California. But their ilk now also includes Ted Hayes, a social activist and inner-city coach whose billowing robes and dreadlocks don't exactly conjure up an image of the GOP.

More blacks than ever support vouchers and faith-based initiatives, and side with President Bush on gay marriage. Mr. Hayes recently made the transition himself, ending a long journey for this former leftist who founded Dome Village, an outcropping of pod-like homeless shelters along the freeway in downtown Los Angeles.

There are other prominent black Republicans in California, of course, such as syndicated radio host Larry Elder and community relations expert Joe Hicks. But even among these unusual thinkers, Mr. Hayes stands out. He's an intense critic of L.A.'s powerful "black old guard"--Democratic politicians, charity bosses and inner-city preachers who, for a generation, have responded to poverty and illiteracy by demanding government programs and blaming white racism.

Not surprisingly, plenty of people wish pesky black Republicans like Mr. Hayes would just slink away. He has skewered L.A.'s entrenched black leaders as "Negro officials," and he has the street cred to get away with it. As L.A. endured another crisis between black leaders and cops recently, he refused to denounce police for shooting dead a 13-year-old, Devin Brown, after a car chase. Instead, Mr. Hayes's press release faulted black church leaders who, despite their great power, rarely point to the lack of parental responsibility.

A totemic figure in L.A., Mr. Hayes has long emphasized problem-solving and individual responsibility. If you want to stop kids from shooting people, Mr. Hayes has told appalled black preachers and activists, stop blaming cops and "white folks" for urban tragedy and start blaming the lackadaisical inner-city family culture you support.

Mr. Hayes spent last fall tooling around the fortified neighborhoods of South Los Angeles, knocking on security screens and urging stunned residents to vote Bush. He explained that the Democratic Party was the Klan's party in the 20th century, and the party of the slave trade before that. A lot of people he met didn't know their pre-1960s history. He's ever unflappable. In early December, he appeared on Fox News to vociferously defend the right of Condi Rice to be Republican. His segment was introduced by a bemused Brit Hume, who hardly knew what to make of the Rasta Republican.

The two parties do rather neatly divide on the question of whether one is responsible for one's own behavior or not (on all issues but corporate responsibility).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Unleash John Bolton (Maureen Dowd, APRIL 28, 2005, The New York Times)

Why are they picking on poor John Bolton? Everyone knows the man is perfect for the UN job. For one thing, his raging-bull temperament is ideally suited to an organization steeped in global pettifoggers and oil-for-food pilferers.

The uncombed, untethered Bolton is fabulously operatic - the Naomi Campbell of the Bush administration, ready at a moment's notice to beat up on underlings.

Who doesn't want to see Old Yeller chasing the Syrian ambassador down the hall, throwing a stapler at his head and biting at his ankles?

Who doesn't want to see him foaming at the mouth - yes, it will be hard to tell - at the Cuban delegate over Castro's imaginary weapons of mass destruction?

Who doesn't want to see him mau-mauing the Iranian mullahs?

Who doesn't want to see him once more misusing National Security Agency eavesdropping technology, this time to spy on Kofi and son?

Who doesn't want to see him outrage North Korea by calling Kim Jong Il a fat, maniacal munchkin?

Even if his suave statesmanship were not so perfectly suited to high-level diplomacy, Bolton should still get the job.

A ruthless ogre who tried to fire intelligence analysts who disagreed with his attempts to stretch the truth on foreign weapons programs deserves to be rewarded as other Bush officials have been.

To begin with, you'd think someone who tries to be so hip would know that we all like ogres these days, but, more importantly, the things she lists are exactly what Americans want to see at the UN (if forced to see the UN).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


Cleaning Up With 'Socks and Knocks' (Bill Paul, April 21, 2005, Motley Fool)

One of the media's favorite themes is that the Bush administration refuses to clean up the environment because it is in bed with the energy industry.

But in fact, the Bush administration is about to require the electric power industry to spend a whopping $40 billion over 10 years to install equipment that significantly cuts the airborne pollution emitted by coal-fired power plants, perhaps 700 in all, that are a key cause of numerous medical and environmental maladies.

As much as environmentalists are unhappy with this new federal initiative because they don't think it goes far enough in reducing the sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and mercury coming out of coal-fired generators, utilities argue that the rule goes too far.

Assuming that spending on equipment to reduce airborne nasties does occur, it could spell opportunities for investing in the companies receiving all those orders.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


Japanese PM due for India talks (BBC, 4/28/05)

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is due to arrive in India on a three-day visit to boost trade and ties between the two countries.

Mr Koizumi will hold talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President APJ Kalam.

The two countries are expected to reiterate support for each other's pursuit for permanent seats on the UN Security Council.

Brazil, Germany, Japan and India have launched a joint bid for the Council.

Not only should Germany not get a seat but France should be booted--China and Russia too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


Jackson not model parent says ex (BBC, 4/28/05)

What was her first clue?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


Crucial warnings Blair kept from MPs (FRASER NELSON AND GERRI PEEV, 4/28/05, The Scotsman)

TONY Blair suffered a devastating blow last night as it emerged that the legal advice he had been given before the Iraq war bore little resemblance to the summary he presented to parliament.

Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, warned Mr Blair he could not bypass the United Nations simply because France threatened to veto a move to war. A court "might well conclude" that war was illegal.

Yet there was no hint of this in the summary of the advice shown to the Cabinet and published - exposing Mr Blair to the charge that he misled both parliament and the public.

The revelation could alter the course of the election campaign - marshalling an anti-Blair vote and bolstering his opponents’ case that he lied on the eve of war.

Tories are prime suspects over bombshell revelation (JAMES KIRKUP , 4/28/05, The Scotsman)
THERE was mounting speculation in political and media circles last night that yesterday’s leak had somehow been engineered by the Conservative Party.

At first glance, such an explanation seems unlikely. The attacks on Tony Blair and his government over the legality of the Iraqi invasion have been principally driven by critics on the left of politics, many within the Labour Party itself.

And the Conservatives did, after all, support the war. Even yesterday morning, Michael Howard, the Tory leader, told journalists in Edinburgh that he still backed the conflict. "It was the right thing to do," he said.

And unlike Charles Kennedy of the Liberal Democrats, Mr Howard has taken pains not to suggest in public that he doubts the legality of the decision to go to war.

Yet for all that, Iraq has undoubtedly been central to the Conservatives’ strategy for the closing stages of the general election campaign. Simply, it acted as a sort of universal adaptor for political issues: every issue, every policy area, could be linked back to Mr Blair’s credibility over the decision to invade.

This week’s election posters linking Mr Blair’s "lies" over Iraq to his entire approach to the campaign are the final evolution of that strategy. They had been prepared weeks ago for deployment at this stage, referred to by the senior party workers who knew about them as "the nuclear option".

So what is the evidence linking the Conservatives to the leak? Perhaps the most convincing is the fact that events surrounding those 13 fateful pages show all the signs of being carefully orchestrated by someone with an acute understanding of Britain’s media and political culture, and the deliberate intention to inflict maximum harm on Mr Blair and his bid for re-election.

Boy, Labour has to be desparate over this leak if they're so far over the edge they're accusing the Tories of competence. Not that anyone could believe such a thing...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Hospital 'left dead baby in the basement' (Debbie Andalo and agencies, April 28, 2005, SocietyGuardian.co.uk)

A hospital has launched an investigation and suspended two of its porters following allegations that a dead baby was left in a basement overnight instead of being taken to a mortuary.

The baby is thought to have died at the maternity unit at New Cross hospital in Wolverhampton over the weekend. It is claimed the body was stored in a box rather than sent to a morgue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


Staff take more time off for ill pets than relatives (ANGIE BROWN, 4/28/05, The Scotsman)

BRITISH people are more likely to take time off work to care for their sick pets than their partners or relatives, new research out today claimed.

The study revealed that dog owners took 2.7 million working days off over the past two years to care for poorly animals.

Of the UK’s estimated 5.4 million dog owners, 10 per cent have missed at least five days of work and 5 per cent have taken two weeks. But the same compassion is not applied to sick partners or relatives - the same owners took only 1.08 million days off in the same period to care for them.

They have pets. They don't have families. Europe is becoming ahuman.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Scotland's population swelled by largest immigration in 50 years (STEPHEN MCGINTY, 4/28/05, The Scotsman)

SCOTLAND’S population increased significantly last year as a result of the largest net rise in immigrants in more than 50 years.

According to new figures published by the General Register Office (GRO) for Scotland, 27,200 more people arrived in Scotland than departed from it between July 2003 and July 2004. This swelled the nation’s population to 5,078,400.

Taking into account births and deaths, the total increase in the Scottish population was about 21,000...

You do the math.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Same-sex fungi can mate: C. neoformans' sexual cycle could shed light on the evolution from asexuality to sex (Charles Q Choi, 4/26/05, BioMedCentral)

Members of the same sex of a pathogenic fungal species can mate and produce offspring, scientists report in the April 21 issue of Nature. The finding suggests for the first time that the fungus has developed a novel type of sexual cycle, according to senior author Joseph Heitman at Duke University in Durham, NC.

Had God wanted us to marry within our sex He'd have given us a similar capability.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Bush Takes Risk With Show of Support for DeLay (Jim VandeHei, April 27, 2005, Washington Post)

President Bush is doing for Tom DeLay what he refused to do for Trent Lott three years ago: taking a political risk to defend an embattled congressional leader's career, several Republican officials and strategists said.

With DeLay facing intense scrutiny of his travel, fundraising practices and relationship with controversial lobbyists, Bush yesterday offered the Texas Republican a timely show of support by inviting him to a public event and aboard Air Force One for a trip back to Washington from Texas. Scott McClellan, speaking to reporters before the flight, said the president supports DeLay "as strongly as he ever has."

While the two men have never been close personally, Bush has told friends he needs DeLay's help enacting a second-term agenda and does not consider the allegations against the House majority leader serious enough to warrant the cold shoulder he delivered to Lott (R-Miss.), then Senate majority leader, in 2002. Lott was forced to step down after making racially insensitive comments, and the president refused to voice support for Lott, which many Republicans said contributed to the Senate leader's fall.

Bush is adopting a markedly different strategy in publicly defending DeLay amid recent allegations that the Texas Republican may have violated House ethics rules by taking a trip to London and Scotland partially charged to the credit cards of two lobbyists, several Republicans said. If the DeLay controversy explodes into a bigger scandal, some said, it could taint the White House, especially with Bush going out of his way to align himself with DeLay.

"He does not think DeLay has done anything wrong," said Charlie Black, a GOP lobbyist with close ties to the White House. "It's Bush's natural instinct to stand with him. There could be a risk, but it's the kind of risk [Bush] takes all the time."

Racism is evil; breaking the ridiculous rules governing modern politics an inevitibility.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Evangelical Bush? (William F. Buckley Jr., April 27, 2005, Sacramento Bee)

Wilfred McClay, who is a learned senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., gave an arresting lecture in February called The Evangelical Conservatism of George W. Bush; Or, How the Republicans Became Red. [...]

McClay lists the energizing discontents of President Bush. "His 'compassionate conservatism,' his relatively favorable view of many federal social and educational programs, his sensitivity to issues of racial injustice and reconciliation, his softness on immigration issues, his promotion of the faith-based initiative, his concern with issues of international religious liberty, his African AIDS initiative, and above all, his enormously ambitious, even seemingly utopian, foreign-policy objectives -- (these) are positions that are best explained by the effects of his evangelical Christian convictions, and by his willingness to allow those convictions to trump more conventional conservative positions."

Mr. McClay darts off here to make different points, entirely engrossing: "It is strange that, of all the things liberals loathe about Bush, his religiousness seems to be at the top of the list. For it is precisely the seriousness of Bush's commitment to his evangelical faith that has made him more 'liberal,' in a certain sense, than many of his party brethren."

But it is high time to pause. The positions listed by McClay as most likely related to evangelicalism are not plausibly removed from a general political idealism that can be said to be rooted in Christian belief, but not exclusively so. The points listed in the Bush agenda are independently backed by many non-Christians, and indeed the most conspicuous of these, the ultra-Wilsonianism of Bush's second Inaugural Address, is most reliably traced not to Christian impulses, but to a non-Christian expression of them. It is the neo-cons, most frequently identified as Jewish in orientation, who are primarily identified with such policies -- so that we have arrived at exactly what, beyond that Jewish idealism and Christian idealism can and often do converge?

How otherwise to ingest the statement by Woodrow Wilson campaigning for the presidency in 1911? "A nation which does not remember what it was yesterday, does not know what it is today, nor what it is trying to do. We are trying to do a futile thing if we do not know where we came from or what we have been about. ... America was born a Christian nation. America was born to exemplify that devotion to the tenets of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture."

Whether Bush owes his election to any explicit connection with evangelical Christianity is sheer speculation, as noted. But a derivative point, made by Wilfred McClay and of quite general interest, is: What has happened to the political idealism associated with the liberals?

Isn't the point here that America is an evangelical (separable from Evangelical) nation? So much so that it makes even Jews into evangelists? And W just happens to tap into that American spirit in a way that is unusual even among presidents, though common to the best.

April 27, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:44 PM


The Latest Returns: How we botched the gubernatorial election of 2004, and why there's no end in sight. (Rick Anderson, 4/27/05, Seattle Weekly)

As you might recall, Rossi initially won the 2004 gubernatorial election by 261 votes, a margin requiring a recount. That's when the fun began. A combination machine and hand recount gave him a narrower, 42-vote win but set off an automatic full and final hand recount. Gregoire wound up ahead by 10 votes. The state Supreme Court then ordered 735 previously rejected King County absentee ballots be counted. When 556 ballots were eventually verified for inclusion in the manual recount, Gregoire wound up with a 129-vote margin statewide. She quickly took office and changed the locks, hanging out the No Realtors sign.

All the reviews of the process in King County and the statewide lawsuit by Republicans could run the year. Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges will hear arguments at a hearing next Monday, May 2, in Wenatchee, where the Republicans filed their suit, leading up to perhaps a two-week trial slated to begin May 23, with the outcome almost certain to be appealed to the state Supreme Court. The GOP wants the courts to effectively evict Gregoire from the Olympia manse and make her stand for re-election in her first year. State GOP Chair Vance says a new vote is warranted on the basis of so many King County ballots lost and found, uncounted and miscounted, and illegally cast by lawbreakers and the dearly departed. Using what's called a "proportional deduction" method (or "guesswork," in the Democrats' lexicon), the party argues that a certain number of the provably illegal votes cast for governor in 2004 should be deducted from each candidate according to the proportion of votes each one carried in the given precincts. The result, theoretically, would demonstrate that it's impossible to prove a clear winner was picked by 2.8 million voters. The GOP has not outright alleged intentional election fraud. But it is convinced that error and incompetence were so prevalent, especially in King County, that a runoff is the only fair resolution.

Thing is, the 2004 King County election was run much like elections past. In fact, up until Nov. 2, the 2004 election system was in better shape than in 2002, if you accept Ron Sims' analysis. After a series of human errors and technical glitches caused mailing delays and left ballots uncounted in 2002, Sims formed a Citizens' Election Oversight Committee in 2003 and brought Logan aboard. In its impressively detailed, 158-page April 2004 report, the committee reviewed a few special elections and found they were "now much more professionally and reliably conducted" and that "absentee ballot processing and tabulating has also improved dramatically." It saw promise of perfection in Logan, whose fixes and advances included a new electronic election management and voter registration system, bilingual ballots, and staff reorganization. The department was already better at managing its absentee mailing system and voter rolls (4,305 dead voters were purged in 2004, along with 605 felons). The potential for widespread failure had been reduced.

Unfortunately, while all that might have improved ballot handling and counting, systemic weakness remained either unfixed or undiscovered. The convergence of extraordinary events in November 2004, Logan now concedes, "exposed the gaps in our systems and limits on our capacity." Besides the closest gubernatorial vote in state history and the rise in accounting fallibility as the historic recounts progressed, King County endured a record voter turnout and was swamped by a bureaucratic nightmare: a record number of county absentee (646,000) and provisional (31,000) ballots issued, all of which had to be counted manually. In the election run-up, more than 138,000 new county voter registrations had to be handled, 40 percent more than in the 2000 election.

At the polls, 540 optical-scanning county computers, which tally hand-marked ballots, got their biggest workout ever, not only by the volume of ballots processed but by thousands of voters who flunked the bubble test. Most people managed to simply fill in the selection circle next to their preferred candidate, as required. But at least 1,600 original King County poll and absentee ballots had to be scrutinized, to determine "voter intent," by two review boards because markings on them were unclear. In the assorted counts, almost 5,000 ballots that were physically distorted or damaged had to be duplicated for recounting, while 55,000 other ballots had to be enhanced so a machine could read them. Rather than coloring inside the bubble lines, quirky voters wrote in the names of candidates already on the ballot, circled the name of their candidate, circled the candidate's party, checked the circles, circled the circles, and even stabbed the circles with pens or knives—in the manner of the old punch-card voting system. Some voters crossed out opponents, leaving the likely candidate uncircled. Others wrote in personal comments, political slogans, and assigned votes to Mickey Mouse and other unannounced candidates—perhaps, understandably, because they were sometimes faced with choosing the lesser liar on the ballot. "We had some very creative voters," Logan says dryly. A number of others asked that their ballots be set aside and counted by hand because they worried the county's AccuVote scanning computers might electronically alter their choices.

To a degree, all those problems show up at every election. But with more voters lured out by a divisive presidential-year election that also produced the hairbreadth gubernatorial vote, foul-ups happened on steroids in 2004. The recounts compounded the error factor. The final tally, handing Gregoire her meager victory, was done all by hand, the least reliable method of tabulating large numbers of votes. The scrutiny brought on by the recounts exposed other failures, including lack of training for part-time (mostly one- or two-day) poll workers. In a vote this close, all it takes for a major snafu is one poll worker or county elections employee overlooking a cache of votes—which, in fact, happened more than a few times. Even without recounts, the record vote likely would have caused systemic glitches. But, like in the past, they would have been at least stage-managed and dealt with by more promised fixes.

In an election as close as this one, and even the presidential in 2000, isn't it fair to say that the voters are fine with either?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:31 PM


Taliban coming in from cold: Citing fatigue, five Taliban commanders have taken an amnesty offer this month. Will more follow? (Scott Baldauf, 4/28/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

When Taliban commander "Dr. Rasheid" handed himself over to the Afghan government three months ago, he half expected to end up in a US plane bound for Guantánamo Bay.

Instead, he was greeted with open arms and invited to help the government persuade his Taliban friends to turn themselves in as well.

His decision to accept Afghan President Hamid Karzai's amnesty offer has been followed in the past three weeks by at least five mid-level Taliban officials. It's too soon to tell if the trickle of hard-line Taliban commanders like Rasheid will become a torrent - and it's premature to declare the demise of the Taliban as a fighting force. With the warmer spring weather, in fact, the frequency and intensity of the Taliban attacks on some 16,000 US and 2,200 NATO forces is rising.

But the tide appears to be shifting. Fatigue is setting in among Taliban fighters. "We are tired of war; we don't want to continue with the destruction of our country," says Rasheid, who used a pseudonym for this interveiw because he continues to cross the border into Pakistan to persuade Taliban members to stop their fighting and support the Afghan government.

The tired, the cold, the hungry/ yearning to breathe free.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:23 PM


US (mostly) lets Iraq form its cabinet: Despite some visible pressuring this week, Washington has taken a light hand in steering the process - wisely, experts say. (Howard LaFranchi, 4/28/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

[T]he government of at least 32 ministers, which could finally be presented for the national assembly's approval Thursday after weeks of haggling among religious factions and political parties, is both a work of promise and of considerable foreboding, say Iraq experts and consultants who have been working with Iraqi leaders.

That the politically ascendant Shiites and Kurds made room for six Sunni ministers, despite their absence from January's elections and association with the former regime, demonstrates the kind of hard power-sharing necessary for national unity. The Sunnis' portfolio even includes the coveted defense minister slot. [...]

For the most part, analysts agree that it's an imperfect political process the US has been right to leave basically to the Iraqis, despite some last-minute phone calls and high-profile public pressure from Washington to get a government going.

The only thing the critics were more wrong about than the President's intentions in Iraq was the maturity of the Shi'a and Kurds.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:20 PM

Herb and Garlic Skirt Steak: Adapted from The Vineyard Kitchen: Menus Inspired by the Seasons by Maria Helm Sinskey (Washington Post, 4/26/05)

6 large garlic cloves

Fresh rosemary from two 5-inch sprigs

8 fresh thyme sprigs

About 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons cracked black pepper, or to taste

2 skirt steaks* (about 2 1/4 pounds total)


Smash the garlic cloves with a heavy knife. Finely chop the rosemary and remove the thyme leaves from the sprigs. In a shallow bowl, combine the garlic, herbs, oil and pepper, and set aside.

Preheat the grill, or place a large skillet over medium-high heat.

Season the steak on both sides with salt and pepper to taste. Grill or cook the steaks over medium-high heat, turning once, for about 4 minutes per side for medium rare. Transfer the steak to a cutting board and set aside to rest for about 10 minutes.

Using a sharp knife, thinly slice the steak against the grain and fan the slices on a platter. Before you spoon the herb sauce over the steak, you may want to remove the smashed garlic cloves or finely chop one of them into the sauce.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:17 PM


Gore Blasts GOP Bid to Block Filibusters (DONNA CASSATA, 4/27/05, Associated Press)

Former Vice President Al Gore on Wednesday blamed Republican "lust for one-party domination" for the GOP campaign to change Senate rules on filibustering judicial nominees, and he assailed religious zealots for driving the effort.

Wading into the political fight that has roiled the Senate, the 2000 Democratic presidential candidate and former Tennessee senator warned that altering rules that have served the nation for 230 years would result in a breakdown in the separation of powers.

You can pretty much schedule the swearing in for Ms Brown and Ms Owens now that old tin ear has entered the fray.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:14 PM

60-40 NATION:

Study: Vast Majority Says News Reporting is Biased (E&P Staff, April 27, 2005, Editor & Publisher)

A national survey conducted by the Missouri School of Journalism's Center for Advanced Social Research has found that 85% detect bias in news reporting. Of those, 48% believe it is liberal bias, 30% conservative -- and 12% both.

Almost two out of three said journalists too often invade people's privacy. About three in four feel the news is too negative. The same number said reporters tend to favor one side over the other when covering political and social issues.

Those numbers seem a pretty good approximation of the electorate's own biases--a troubling thought for the Left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:05 PM


Blair ditches the euro: Tony Blair went as close as he could to ruling out membership of the euro while he is Prime Minister (Philip Webster and Peter Ridd, 4/28/05, Times of London)

The disclosure by Channel 4 of Lord Goldsmith’s advice to Mr Blair electrified the campaign on a day when the Prime Minister also moved towards ruling out British membership of the euro in the next Parliament. [...]

An earlier Populus poll showed a continuing high level of opposition to joining the euro. Some 59 per cent would oppose joining, with just 35 per cent being in favour. Only among Labour supporters is their a narrow majority, 50 to 46 per cent, in favour.

Moreover, only a third of voters think Mr Blair has learnt his lessons from the Iraq war, from the criticisms of his informal style of government, and from people saying that he has not done enough to improve public services. Only just over a quarter say he has learnt the lessons of the criticisms that his Government is too concerned with spin. In last night’s interview on Sky News Mr Blair made plain that if elected he would not be launching another push for entry.

“At the moment it doesn’t look very likely, does it, because the economics aren’t in the right place,” he said.

His comments came after a speech this week by Gordon Brown — who has always been cooler on the euro and is expected to succeed Mr Blair — which emphasised that the five tests would be applied rigidly through the next Parliament and if necessary beyond.

Nothing was ever more certain in this election than that a politician as adept as Tony Blair would get to the Right of the brain-dead Tories on the question of Europe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 PM


Why Beijing May Be Playing With Fire: Protests against Japan could quickly find new targets closer to home (Dexter Roberts, 5/02/05, Business Week)

In China...the winds of protest have a funny way of shifting direction without warning. That's what happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989, when student demonstrators started out commemorating the death of former Party boss Hu Yaobang but ended up demanding democratic change. And on May 4, 1919, protests against concessions given to Japan after World War I exploded into broad demonstrations and spawned a national debate about modernizing China. As the spring wears on, there will be plenty of opportunities for students and workers to voice their complaints: On May 1 there's the international labor holiday. Three days later it's the anniversary of the May 4th Movement. And just a month after that, the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 4, 1989, will have its 16th anniversary. As a sign of just how jittery Beijing has become, the Foreign Ministry on Apr. 19 warned Chinese not to participate in "unapproved demonstrations."

There's no shortage of gripes among China's citizenry. Workers have suffered massive layoffs during the transition to a market economy. They're also feeling more assertive as a result of the new populist stance struck by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. With Beijing pushing to educate workers about everything from overtime pay to occupational safety, laborers are becoming more demanding. According to one mainland magazine, there were 58,000 protests involving 3 million workers in 2003 -- and the true number is probably far higher. "You actually have a labor movement emerging in China today," says Robin Munro, director of research at rights organization China Labor Bulletin in Hong Kong. "That wasn't true five years ago." Even veterans of the People's Liberation Army have started demonstrating for better salaries and pensions.

There's more than just labor unrest. China's runaway economic growth has trashed the environment and left hundreds of thousands homeless. Late last year, Beijing was forced to send in troops and seal off a village in Sichuan Province when thousands demonstrated against plans to force them from their homes to make way for a dam. And in the wealthy coastal province of Zhejiang in April, thousands more overturned police cars and threw stones at officers to protest pollution from local chemical plants that had poisoned their fields and water. The problem is, cleaning up the environment or putting the brakes on projects such as the dam could slow economic growth -- which could lead to fewer jobs and more protests from angry workers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 PM


Stenberg poised to announce Senate bid (DON WALTON, 4/27/05, Lincoln Journal Star)

Former Attorney General Don Stenberg appeared poised Wednesday to jump into the 2006 Republican Senate race and seek a rematch with Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson.

Stenberg, who served as attorney general for 12 years, will hold a news conference today at Republican state headquarters to make "an important announcement about his future political plans." All signs pointed to his third bid for a seat in the Senate.

Stenberg, who left the attorney general's office in 2003 to enter private practice in Omaha, lost to Nelson in 2000 by 15,000 votes.

But Stenberg supporters are quick to point out that was the closest margin since Nebraska began directly electing senators by popular vote in 1916 and that the Republican voter registration advantage over Democrats has grown by 34,000 since 2000.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 PM


Oil: A Bubble, Not a Spike?: Analyst Tim Evans thinks the crude rally isn't justified by fundamentals and expects prices to "fall hard" soon to $26 to $30 a barrel (June Kim, 4/27/05, Business Week)

While the rest of Wall Street just can't seem to get enough of the oil market, energy analyst Tim Evans isn't afraid to go against the tide. Evans, a senior analyst at IFR Energy Services, a division of Thomson Financial, thinks that the current run-up in oil prices is much like the Internet bubble of the late '90s. [...]

Q: Where do you see oil going?

A: [Recently], we saw the highest level of commercial crude oil inventory in the U.S. since June, 2002. Then, we were trading in the range of $26 to $30 per barrel. The current physical fundamentals, not even projecting to a greater surplus down the road, are consistent with a $26 to $30 price.

We first got to $50 at the end of last September after Hurricane Ivan. We've got an all-time high price without a physical shortage.

Q: Then what's driving the uptick in prices?

A: We don't have a physical bull market, but we do have a financial bull market. The measure of the financial market is the open interest on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The futures market is 72% larger than it was 18 months ago. Over that same period, the physical market is maybe 5% larger. What you have on the financial side is a bunch of money being thrown at the energy futures market. It's just pulling in more and more cash. That's the side of the market where we have runaway demand, not on the physical side.

DOE [Energy Dept.] crude inventories have been rising since last September. If demand is outpacing supply, how can inventories rise?

Q: But there's a limited global supply and rising demand in the U.S. and China?

A: First, oil supplies are always finite, and oil reserves are always finite. That's not really headline news.

In terms of rate of growth, world oil demand grew last year by 3.4%. Yes, 3.4% was more yearly growth than we had seen in quite some time. [But] going back to the '50s and '60s, world oil demand during that era was growing an average of 9% per year. We didn't have oil-price shocks then.

Part of our fear really dates back from 1998 and 1999, when we had oil prices down at $12 per barrel. Those prices choked off investment in production capacity. That was the bust part of the cycle, and we're now in the boom part of the cycle. But it's still a cycle. The believers in the long-term steady march to $105 are basically making that it's not a boom-and-bust cycle anymore.

If, as seems the most likely explanation, the President's recent downtick in the polls is almost entirely a function of sticker shock at the gas pump, the what will those polls do when prices plummet? Even though he'll have had nothing to do with the rise or the fall, the goose to his numbers may well help get the remainder of his second term agenda through Congress.

Posted by David Cohen at 3:38 PM



The red-hot rhetoric over Social Security on liberal talkradio network AIR AMERICA has caught the attention of the Secret Service, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned.

Government officials are reviewing a skit which aired on the network Monday evening -- a skit featuring an apparent gunshot warning to the president!

What if a joke fell flat, but nobody heard it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM



ERIC Roberts isn't a creep - he just plays one on TV. And in movies. And in music videos.

The actor brother of Julia, who faded into semi-obscurity after an early '80s heyday...

..just as "Julia" Roberts started appearing in films.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:16 PM


Air India-Boeing deal irks EU (Hindustan Times, April 27, 2005)

EU's resentment regarding Air India's decision to purchase planes from the US Boeing instead of the European Airbus Industry, has exposed a political tussle between the EU and the US.

Air India has decided to purchase 50 planes from Boeing, investing almost Rs 300 billion in upgrading its fleet.

EU continues its protest, although Air India's final decision is in favour of Boeing. Opposing India succumbing to US pressure, EU is hoping to win over the deal by lobbying for Airbus.

With the US granting an unlimited access to many of its airports, Indian carrier will gain tremendously. The issue was discussed between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice during her recent visit to India. Further, US Transportation Secretary, Norman Mineta has supported the signing of the "open sky" policy agreement during his visit to Delhi.

Note how many different themes of the past few years converge in this perfect storm of a story?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:10 PM


U.S., Brazil discuss trade, Chávez: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reached out to Brazil during a five-day trip through Latin America that will also take her to Colombia, Chile, and El Salvador. (PABLO BACHELET, 4/27/05, Miami Herald)

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Brazilian counterpart Tuesday vowed they would work together to shore up democracy and promote free trade in Latin America, but showed subtle differences over how to deal with Venezuela's controversial President Hugo Chávez.

''We have agreed to continue to work together in a way that respects the sovereignty of countries, to favor democracy, especially in our own continent,'' Brazil's foreign minister Celso Amorim said in a joint press conference with Rice.

Rice's five-day trip to Brazil, Colombia, Chile and El Salvador is the latest instance of the Bush administration's efforts to reach out to Latin America, after criticism that it did little in the president's first term to help solve the region's problems. Since President Bush's reelection, Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have twice traveled to the region.

Rice said she talked with Amorim about how ''we might reenergize our efforts to make progress on the FTAA,'' a reference to the stalled drive for an agreement on a Free Trade Area of the Americas. ''There ought to be as much free trade as possible,'' she said.

Rice met with Amorim and President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on the first leg of her swing to push Bush's agenda for more free trade, fewer barriers to business and more transparent governments as a way to ensure that the region becomes more prosperous, less corrupt and more stable.

Brazil should be welcomed into the Axis of Good and if it does prove a consistent ally we should make sure that it gets a Security Council seat to go with India's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:00 PM


Who's Using HSAs (Heritage Foundation, 04/26/05)

Remember that HSA-opponents said that only the young, single, and well-off would use HSAs. That has not been the case:
• 73% of HSA purchasers are families with children;
• 35% of HSA purchasers are from households of four or more people;
• 57% of HSA purchasers are over age 40; and
• 40% of all HSA purchasers have high school or technical school training as their highest level of education.

And the argument that HSAs would just pull the "cream" out of other insurance options hasn't proven true, either. About 40 percent of those who have applied for Assurant's HSAs do not indicate any prior coverage.

Put simply, this consumer-driven option has done exactly what its proponents said it would: lower the cost of care by bringing consumers back into the loop for non-catastrophic care and, in turn, helping many who find traditional insurance too expensive find an alternative that fits them better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:43 PM


Bush wants refineries at ex-defense bases (H. JOSEF HEBERT, 4/27/05, Associated Press)

President Bush, trying to blunt growing unrest over high energy prices, is laying out proposals to speed construction of nuclear power plants and oil refineries and boost sales of energy-efficient vehicles.

Bush is outlining his new proposals in his second energy speech in a week. The increased attention reflects the growing concern in the White House over potential political damage from high energy prices that are beginning to affect economic growth as well as the president's approval rating.

In remarks to small business leaders, Bush will urge using closed military bases as sites for new oil refineries. The Energy Department is being ordered to step up discussions with communities near such bases to try to get refineries built.

"We know we have a capacity problem," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Wednesday. "We haven't built a new refinery since the early 1970s."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:41 PM


Decline in the ranks?: EMILY's list works to train female Democrats for office (Lisa Vorderbrueggen, 4/27/05, CONTRA COSTA TIMES

EMILY's List, a national organization that advocates for the election of pro-choice Democratic women, fears declining numbers of women in the political pipeline could reverse decades of advances for the fairer sex in the California Legislature.

Nearly half of the Legislature's 37 elected women will lose their seats to term limits in 2006, and an additional 11 will see their time run out in 2008.

If women fail to run and win these open seats, the number of women in the Legislature could plummet to 10, or just 8 percent of the 120-member Assembly and Senate.

"Term limits open up seats for women, but it also means that we need to provide support and training at the local level to keep a strong flow of women in the political pipeline," said Cristina Uribe with EMILY's List.

California is not alone.

Declining or stagnant numbers of women willing to participate in political life "is a big concern nationwide," said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Not if you favor liberty over security.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:10 PM


Bush signs bill to let parents strip offensive scenes from films (Associated Press, 4/27/05)

President Bush on Wednesday signed legislation aimed at helping parents keep their children from seeing sex scenes, violence and foul language in movie DVDs.

The bill gives legal protections to the fledgling filtering technology that helps parents automatically skip or mute sections of commercial movie DVDs. Bush signed it privately and without comment, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

The legislation came about because Hollywood studios and directors had sued to stop the manufacture and distribution of such electronic devices for DVD players. The movies' creators had argued that changing the content - even when it is considered offensive - would violate their copyrights.

The legislation, called the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, creates an exemption in copyright laws to make sure companies selling filtering technology won't get sued out of existence.

Another sign of how one-sided the culture war has become as a bill opposed by Hollywood was co-sponsored by Dianne Feinstein and Pat Leahy and pasased by voice vote.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:07 PM


New Boeing jet orders taking off (MATTHEW DALY, April 27, 2005, Chicago Sun-Times)

Buoyed by an influx of new orders, Boeing appears to be turning the corner in its battle with archrival Airbus.

Boeing's commercial airplanes chief, Alan Mulally, conveyed that message in a private meeting with lawmakers Tuesday -- backed by a slew of new orders that testifies to the company's improving jet sales outlook.

The latest evidence came earlier Tuesday when Air India announced plans to order 50 new Boeing jetliners -- a deal worth $6.8 billion minus undisclosed price discounts. On Monday, Air Canada said it had made firm orders for 32 Boeing jets at a list price of $6 billion.

Earlier this month, Korean Air said it will order up to 20 of Boeing's new fuel-efficient 787 aircraft in a deal worth up to $2.6 billion at list prices. Analysts and numerous published reports also have said that Northwest Airlines is negotiating an order for a substantial number of planes.

''The momentum has definitely swung in their favor, in terms of orders,'' analyst J.B. Groh of D.A. Davidson said of Boeing.

All the airlines involved in the recent orders had been committed Airbus clients.

''It's not just sheer volume in customers' orders -- it's penetration deep in the heart of Airbus territory,'' said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst for the Teal Group in Fairfax, Va.

Europe may as well sit back and enjoy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:57 AM


Roads Without the State (Peter Samuel, January 1998, The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty)

Can there be roads if the government doesn’t build them? The first roads were probably not even made by humans but by animals. Herds of buffalo, deer, and other grass foragers pushed aside the shrubs and trampled down the grass to make tracks for their mass migrations—tracks that humans exploited.

Many of the first manmade improvements to those tracks were made by the military because the deployment of armies depended heavily on reliable supplies. There’s a saying among military logisticians that soldiers fight on their stomachs, so in order to keep those stomachs filled, armies needed wheeled carts to bring in the supplies of grain, meat, and other provisions to sustain the bodily energy and the morale of the soldiers. Military engineers were among the first road and bridge builders. Because the state depended on the military for its survival, it has always been interested in roads.

It's no coincidence that a General built the Interstate Highway system--good for the state, bad for society.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:43 AM


Defector says more MPs set to quit Labour (GERRI PEEV, 4/27/05, The Scotsman)

A VETERAN former Labour MP who dramatically defected to the Liberal Democrats warned yesterday that more of his colleagues would jump ship after the election.

Brian Sedgemore, who is standing down after 27 years at Westminster, denounced Tony Blair as an "empty husk who should be thrown on the scrapheap of history".

Mr Sedgemore’s resignation was designed to inflict maximum embarrassment on the Prime Minister and New Labour ahead of the election. The defector warned: "I am not alone. A small group of us - all MPs who are standing down - decided we would leave the Labour party immediately after the election."

He added they had planned to unveil a joint statement directly after the 5 May poll.

But Mr Sedgemore - a long-time critic of the Blair government - said: "I believe I owe it to voters to speak out now.

If Tony Blair's is going to be the most conservative party in Britain then the Left has to go elsewhere. Alernatively, they can remove Mr. Blair and revert to their roots, but then aren't likely to dominate elections in the future.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM

COME BACK, ALL IS FORGIVEN (via Jorge Curioso):

Pope in talks with rebel Anglicans (Christopher Morgan and John Follain, 4/24/05, Times of London)

THE new Pope has established links with a faction of discontented Anglican traditionalists seeking to form their own church affiliated to the Vatican.

Benedict XVI, whose inaugural mass as Bishop of Rome today is expected to be attended by half a million people, has held meetings with representatives of the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), according to Archbishop John Hepworth, the group’s primate.

The TAC represents more than 400,000 Anglicans around the world who have either left their church or are protesting against its liberal policies. It is estimated that 400-500 Church of England parishes may support the group in the long term.

“We are looking at a church which would retain an Anglican liturgy, Anglican spirituality and a married clergy,” said Hepworth, a serving Anglican bishop in Adelaide, Australia. “We dream of this happening soon.” One such community exists in America but so far there are only 14 parishes.

Any hint of a pact between the TAC and Benedict — who has maintained his interest in the group over the past 10 years — would alarm Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and undermine his efforts to maintain the unity of Anglicanism amid squabbles over whether to ordain female bishops or homosexual priests.

Whether it was a mistake in the first place or not, the break with Rome long since served its purpose.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 8:36 AM


We mustn't go too far with our US success, says Toyota
(David Litterick, The Telegraph, April 27th, 2005)

Japanese carmakers should give their US rivals some breathing space or risk a political backlash, the chairman of Toyota said yesterday.

Hiroshi Okuda said he feared the success of Asian companies, which have grabbed nearly a third of the US car market, could prompt a trade war if politicians seek to protect the domestic industry.

General Motors last week posted its largest quarterly loss for over a decade, while rival Ford saw its profits tumble 38pc and said its carmaking business would break even at best this year.

By contrast, Toyota is expected to follow Honda and Nissan in reporting record profits for the past year.

"We need to give time for some American companies to take a breath," Mr Okuda said.

Take a breath? Been working too hard, have they?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Schröder aids Chirac in push for EU charter (Thomas Fuller, APRIL 27, 2005, International Herald Tribune)

The leaders of France and Germany united on Tuesday in appealing to French voters to endorse the European Union's constitution in a May 29 referendum and lamented what President Jacques Chirac described as a "cult of pessimism" stalking Europe.

Visibly frustrated in his campaign to persuade French voters to swing toward acceptance of the constitution, Chirac warned of a weakened France if voters say no.

He spoke in a gilded hall of the Élysée Palace beside the German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, the latest European leader seeking to sell French voters on the idea of approving the constitution next month.

If France voted no, Schröder said, "Europe's voice would weaken, it would have trouble making itself heard."

Other Europeans were hoping that France "remains true to its promises" of European unity, he said.

The meeting between Chirac and Schröder, which involved a retinue of ministers, is part of a program of periodic joint cabinet meetings meant to symbolize the close links between France and Germany.

A Tory party that can't figure out how to use this to their advantage needs to be Schiavoed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


As Poles take jobs, bitterness in Germany (Carter Dougherty, APRIL 27, 2005, International Herald Tribune)

The new Europe only arrived last year, but Boris Ried is already pining for the familiar old version.

Ludwig Ried & Sohn, a Frankfurt tile-laying company in its fourth generation, needs to charge €43.65, or $56.72, an hour to make ends meet, said Ried, its general manager.

But the enlargement of the European Union, which has brought to Frankfurt hundreds of Poles who are willing to work for half that, may now do what depression and war could not, he fears: put the Rieds out of business.

"I'd be happy if we could close Germany's doors right now and wait a while," Ried said.

But don't ask the Poles to apologize.

"Why shouldn't the Poles have more work than the Germans?" said Rafal Boroweic, a Polish tile-layer who came to Frankfurt in July and now lives a 10-minute walk away from the Rieds.

"They're doing good work, and the customers are happy."

Bitter Germans. Hard-working Poles. Happy customers. The system has reached its natural equilibrium point. Everything is as God deemed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


Word of the Day (Wordsmith.org, 4/27/05)

perpend (pur-PEND) verb tr. and intr.

To reflect upon; to consider; to ponder.

[From Latin perpendere (to weigh thoroughly), from per- (thoroughly) +
pendere (to weigh), ultimately from Indo-European root (s)pen- (to draw,
to spin) that is also the source of pendulum, spider, pound, pansy,
pendant, ponder, appendix, penthouse, depend, and spontaneous.]

Yet, sadly, the reflections one has when rendered perpendicular tend to have been forgotten when sobriety sets in.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 7:06 AM


U.S. vigilante group targets Canada
(Associated Press, April 26th, 2005)

A civilian patrol group that has been monitoring the Mexican border for illegal immigrants wants to expand its mission to the Canadian border, organizers said Tuesday.

Minuteman Project leaders said their volunteers alerted U.S. authorities to more than 330 cases this month of illegal immigrants crossing into the United States across a 37-kilometre stretch of Arizona's southern border. Now they plan to extend their patrol along the rest of the border with Mexico and are helping organize similar efforts in four states that neighbour Canada.

“In the absence of the federal government doing its mandated duty to secure our borders, we will pick up the slack. Reluctantly,” said Chris Simcox, a Minuteman co-organizer who also operates Civil Homeland Defense, another Arizona group that monitors illegal immigration.

On their first day, they intercepted four doctors and sent them packing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


The Best Man for the U.N. (THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN , 4/27/05, NY Times)

My biggest problem with nominating John Bolton as U.N. ambassador boils down to one simple fact: he's not the best person for the job - not even close. If President George W. Bush wants a die-hard Republican at the U.N., one who has a conservative pedigree he can trust, who is close to the president, who can really build coalitions, who knows the U.N. building and bureaucracy inside out, who can work well with the State Department and who has the respect of America's friends and foes alike, the choice is obvious, and it's not John Bolton.

It's George H. W. Bush, a k a 41. No one would make a better U.N. ambassador for Bush 43 than Bush 41.

Wouldn't you rather have Oedipus for a son than one who'd ask you to take that godforsaken job?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM



Last month, [a] MoveOn rally in support of filibusters, held at a hotel near the Capitol, featured an appearance by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, along with Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Charles Schumer, Robert Byrd, Edward Kennedy and others. The 87-year-old Byrd worked the crowd into an almost evangelical fervor, waving his copy of the Constitution and yelling, "Praise God!" and "Hallelujah!" as he denounced Republicans.

The turnout of top Democrats, the enthusiasm and the lineup of rallies today are all indicators of MoveOn's growing profile in national politics. That growth is likely to continue. For one thing MoveOn boasts nearly 3 million highly-motivated members who are generous with their contributions to its causes. For another, it has mastered the art of attention-getting political theater. Together, that equals political power.

It's no wonder that MoveOn's leaders have come to see themselves as Democratic leaders. "Now it's our party," Eli Pariser, head of MoveOn's political operations, wrote last December. "We bought it, we own it and we're going to take it back."

The prospect horrifies some centrist Democrats who have urged the party to steer clear of MoveOn. "You've got to reject [filmmaker] Michael Moore and the MoveOn crowd," Al From, head of the Democratic Leadership Council, said recently, calling MoveOn's members "elites, people who sit in their basements all the time and play on their computers."

The problem for Democrats is that both Pariser and From might be right. MoveOn has become quite powerful while at the same time representing a fairly narrow slice of the Democratic electorate.

The Left deserves and is going to have a political party. If it's not the Democrats it will be a third party. Either outcome means a permanent Republican majority.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Osvaldo Golijov's star continues to rise: He's an Eastern European-Argentinean-American Jew who mixes Klezmer and tango with classical styles — and is taking the music world by storm (Paul Horsley, 4/27/05, JewishWorldReview.com)

An Eastern European-Argentinean-American Jew who mixed Klezmer and tango with classical styles? Come on.

But Osvaldo Golijov was "their" composer, and they waited expectantly for the piece. And waited.

Finally the composition arrived in dribs and drabs. As they played it, anxiety turned to despair. They could make no sense of it.

"It was hate at first sight," the 44-year-old Golijov said recently with a laugh. "I was late with the piece, they were totally distrustful, there was a lot of tension."

The Argentinean-born composer recalled the moment recently from his adopted home of Boston, where he teaches at Holy Cross and Boston Conservatory.

The quartet panicked.

"Suddenly you get this piece that, for us, an inexperienced group, looked like cacophony on the page," said St. Lawrence second violinist Barry Schiffman. "Plus there was more of it coming in all the time. I was a little hostile at first."

The decisive moment in the development of "Yiddishbbuk" came when Golijov arrived in Tanglewood and attended the quartet's rehearsal.

"After you speak to Osvaldo for a few minutes, you're his friend," Schiffman said. By the end of the rehearsal, he said, all was forgiven.

"One of us asked him, 'Ozzie can you sing it?'" Schiffman said. "What he's written, you have to know, is impossible to sing. But as he sang, he became transformed, he was in another world."

The musicians were in awe, he said, "not just of how beautiful the music was, but of how convinced he was of his compositional voice. We were humbled."

And his best work is a Passion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Confirm Janice Brown now (Terence Jeffrey, April 27, 2005, Townhall)

When California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown faced a retention vote in 1998, 76 percent of Californians voted to keep her on their state's highest court. In San Francisco, perhaps America's most liberal city, she won 79.4 percent.

Brown won more votes statewide than any of the other three justices up for retention that year -- even though she had cast a (dissenting) vote in favor of upholding the state's parental-consent law.

But when President Bush nominated Brown to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 2003, her demonstrated support in places like San Francisco did not matter to Senate Democrats.

At the beginning of her confirmation hearing, Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois lectured Brown about her worldview. "Let me talk to you for a minute about the world according to you as you see it," said Durbin. "It is a world, in my opinion, that is outside the mainstream of America."

What Durbin really meant is that Brown is the Senate Democrats' worst nightmare

This is why it's absurd to argue that breaking the filibuster might harm Senate Republicans. They should welcome the chance that opponenents could attack them for getting the likes of Judge Brown confirmed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Jurors Convict Muslim Leader in Terrorism Case (Jerry Markon, April 27, 2005, Washington Post)

A prominent Muslim spiritual leader from Fairfax County was convicted yesterday of inciting his followers to train overseas for violent jihad against the United States.

The jury in U.S. District Court in Alexandria decided that Ali Al-Timimi's words, coming shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, were enough to send him to prison for what prosecutors said will be a mandatory life sentence.

Timimi, 41, who was born and raised in the Washington area and has lectured on Islam around the world, was convicted of inspiring a group of his Northern Virginia followers to attend terrorist training camps abroad and prepare to battle American troops. He was found guilty of all 10 charges against him, including soliciting others to levy war against the United States and contributing services to Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers.

The heart of the government's case against Timimi was a meeting he attended in Fairfax on Sept. 16, 2001 -- five days after the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Timimi told his followers that "the time had come for them to go abroad and join the mujahideen engaged in violent jihad in Afghanistan," according to court papers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


Whose nation under God? (Robert Kuttner, April 27, 2005, Boston Globe)

WHEN John Kennedy was running for president and passions were running high about whether a Catholic could serve both the American citizenry and Rome, a joke made the rounds about a priest and a minister whose friendship nearly came to blows. Finally the priest phoned his old friend. ''What a pity," he said. ''Here we are, both men of the cloth, fighting over politics." ''It's true," said the minister. ''We're both Christians. We both worship the same God -- you in your way, and I in His."

America, which separated church and state precisely to protect the private right to worship, has long had its share of religious absolutists who have wanted to harness the power of the state to their own view of revealed truth. But never before in our history has the government deliberately and cynically intervened on the side of the zealots.

President Bush, Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, and company are playing with serious fire. As the joke suggests, there is no challenging revealed truth. That's why the state stays neutral.

What's under siege here is nothing less than the Enlightenment

Didn't he get the memo? The siege is over--we won.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


No choice but to deal with Kim Jong Il (Jason T. Shaplen and James Laney, APRIL 27, 2005, The Boston Globe )

[T]he only option is meaningful engagement, a policy we have avoided by demanding that the North dismantle its entire nuclear program before it receives anything concrete in return other than heavy fuel oil. But there are few leaders foolish enough to give up the one card that guarantees their nation's survival based only on promises of future concessions by an adversary they don't trust.

Presumably all of us are old enough to remember when the "only option" was to deal with Saddam and Arafat too?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Not-So-Great Divorce: Multiculturalism and liberalism look toward splitting up. (John O'Sullivan, 4/25/05, National Review)

Multiculturalism is easy enough to grasp. It is the doctrine that all cultures are equal and must be given equal respect and protection by government. It was fueled by the arrival in Britain of immigrant groups with different religious cultures. And it has led to such social changes as rewriting British history and allowing strict Muslim dress in school.

Cultural liberalism is a larger and vaguer concept. Its essential meaning is that people should be helped to free themselves from irksome traditional moral customs and cultural restraints. And in the last 30 years it has affected a quiet revolution in Britain — in religion, family life, national identity, and moral values.

Religion has declined; fewer people go to church; the national (Anglican) church has less social and political influence. But its place has not been taken by any other denomination. Public life is increasingly and aggressively secular. In one revealing incident, Tony Blair was bullied by his subordinates out of ending a television address on Iraq with the words "God Bless you."

Family life has been devalued: Fewer people get married; more get divorced; more children are born out of wedlock. All in all, "alternative" lifestyles from gay couples to cohabiting ones compete with the traditional family.

Patriotism is no longer a simple virtue. It is seen as a problem for a "diverse" or multicultural society, unwelcoming to immigrants, and an obstacle to Britain's full commitment to a European identity. All too often it is treated as synonymous with xenophobia. In another minor but typical incident, magistrates refused a pub owner's request for a late license to celebrate St. George's Day — the English equivalent of the Fourth of July — because it was an unimportant occasion.

And a whole battery of long-standing moral restraints — on idleness, gambling, public drunkenness, drug-taking, pornography, illegitimacy, profane language, and sexual coarseness — have simply evaporated. [...]

Cultural liberalism also changes the terms of trade for political parties. For the Tories it makes politics more difficult. When young men felt obliged to marry their pregnant girlfriends, they paid for their children's upbringing; when they don't, the government picks up the tab, public spending rises, and higher taxes follow inevitably. When patriotism was an uncomplicated virtue, the party of One Nation benefited. And when religion shaped political attitudes, it encouraged people to be law-abiding, self-reliant, gratification-delaying, and generally conservative. (American conservatism is stronger precisely because American Christianity is stronger.)

Conversely Labour, as the party of bureaucratic compassion, tends to benefit when people are dependent on government aid and when religion stresses welfare rather than salvation. [...]

For a long time, it seemed that multiculturalism was simply one ingredient in cultural liberalism. But this was a delusion resting on three errors: First, it did not take into account that a nation, society, or community is held together by a common culture and common moral values — often values that its members are not conscious of holding until they are challenged. That common culture had already been subtly undermined by cultural liberalism; it was now directly assaulted by multiculturalism. An official report even concluded that the very concept of "Britishness" was racist. And one of the most frequent complaints of voters in this election (at least as reported by the newspapers) is that their country has been stolen from them.

Second, it did not take into account that some of these cultures and multiculturalism itself were incompatible with liberalism. Multiculturalism holds that all cultures are equal; liberalism is the doctrine that all human beings have equal rights; so if a culture holds that some human beings, (e.g., women) have fewer rights than others, then liberalism has to confront that culture and reject the multiculturalism sheltering it. On some issues liberal society can reach a modus vivendi with other cultures — for instance, by designing school uniforms that conform to Muslim views of female modesty. On really important questions such as "honor killings," however, liberal society has to impose its own values without apology, if necessary in condign ways. In practice it has been nervous of doing so, and the authorities have until recently turned a blind eye to such things.

And, third, liberals have failed to persuade these other cultures that the liberal theory of universal human rights is an entirely secular one posing no threat to their religion. Muslims in particular persist in seeing it as an expression of Christian civilization — which, historically, it is certainly is — and thus tainted at best. They also trace what they see as the moral decadence of Western society — the cultural liberalism described above — back to this Christian heritage. They accordingly seek to protect Muslims from both cultural pollution and the political results of such liberal heresies as free speech.

At the urging of mainstream Muslim leaders, for instance, the Blair government recently introduced legislation to restrict criticism of religion. Since no other religion was seeking this protection, the bill was reasonably seen as a sectarian measure to protect Islam from the robust British traditions of free speech. (The bill fell by the wayside when parliament was prorogued, but it will be reintroduced if Labour wins the election.)

The reductio ad absurdum of these developments was the scene in Bethnal Green where the Muslim fundamentalists threatened to murder George Galloway for encouraging pious Muslims to commit the "sin" of democratic voting.

Several years ago, John Gray tied himself in knots trying to reconcile the two.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Each spring, Dad and I set sail - in Nebraska (John Leeke, 4/27/05, CS Monitor)

I inherited the awning job from my older brother when he left home to join the Navy. It became a familiar routine: Put them up in the spring, take them down in the fall. Those red-and-green awnings shaded the windows to keep the blazing heat of the Nebraska prairie summers out of my folks' old home.

My dad showed me the ropes. For some reason, chores like this always seemed like a lark when I was working with Dad.

In late spring we hauled the awnings out of the attic, dusted them off, and hung them on the windows. This was my introduction to working with ropes and pulleys.

It was a lot like rigging on a ship. The only way to untangle the lines was to understand how each line passed through the various eyelets and pulleys that would give a mechanical advantage in lifting the heavy iron framework of the awning.

I learned to handle a ladder and discovered the thrill of high places and dangerous work.

During the summer, a prairie thunderstorm could rip the awnings to shreds. With thunder booming like canons, I would dash around the house, walk on beds (not otherwise allowed), and leap in and out of windows to furl up and secure the awnings. A heroic effort could save the day, and an afternoon of canvas repairs later on.

Early in the fall I hauled down the awnings, made repairs, and stowed them away. Dad taught me how to stitch loose seams and ripped canvas. I still have the sailmaker's kit he put together for me: leather palm thimble, hook knife, awl, bone burnisher, marlin pin, needles, spool of Irish linen cord, and a ball of beeswax.

A few years ago, I was back home visiting my folks and helping my dad take down the awnings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Ethics war feared in wake of DeLay controversy: Congressmen scramble to correct omissions, 'clerical errors.' (The Washington Post, 4/26/05)

Members of Congress are rushing to amend their travel and campaign records, fearing that the controversy over House Majority Leader Tom DeLay will trigger an ethics war that will bring greater scrutiny to their own travel and official activities.

Some offices have sharply limited staff travel, and some members are not traveling at all because of the intense review they believe they will face in coming months.

Lawmakers are paying old restaurant bills, filing missing forms and correcting erroneous ones as journalists and political opponents comb through records and DeLay, R-Texas, attempts to answer questions about travel financing and his past relationships with lobbyists.

No, no, no, we meant scrutinize him, not us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


A new federal move to limit teen abortions: The House considers new out-of-state restrictions. (Linda Feldmann, 4/27/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

The abortion issue has long undergirded some of the biggest political questions of the day - from how federal judges are confirmed to whether a politician can credibly compete for the presidency. Now, with little fanfare, the House of Representatives is set to take up legislation Wednesday that would impose new restrictions on access to abortion itself, specifically, in the case of minors.

The bill, called the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, or CIANA, would make it a federal offense to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion in order to evade a parental notification law, unless she has obtained a waiver from a judge. The bill would also require a doctor to notify a minor's parent before performing an abortion, if that girl is a resident of another state. The second part also contains provisions that allow a minor to get around parental notification.

In contrast with the ban on so-called "partial-birth abortions," which is not in effect as it faces continued court action, legal experts say that the new teen abortion restrictions have a much better chance of becoming the law of the land and would have broad impact. [...]

Abortion-rights advocates are caught in a bind: The bill goes to the heart of parental rights, an emotional issue particularly for social conservatives. Historically, the public has strongly supported parental involvement in decisions related to minors' abortions, as long as there is a judicial bypass procedure for girls in abusive families.

Furthermore, abortion-rights supporters are focused on preserving the right of the Senate to filibuster judicial nominees - a procedure they believe is crucial to keeping antiabortion judges out of federal courts, and, ultimately, preserving the existence of the constitutional right to abortion. [...]

As for CIANA, "this is tough legislation to argue against on its face," says Helena Silverstein, a political scientist at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., and author of a forthcoming book on judicial bypasses. "The appeal of parental-involvement mandates is so strong, and this legislation appears to bolster that."

Now there's a balancing act--how do you fight to shaft parents and preserve a religious test for judges at the same time without completely repelling the citizenry?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Founders' intentions may be casualty in fight over judges (USA Today, 4/26/05)

When the Founding Fathers were establishing the political ground rules for a new nation more than 215 years ago, they were determined not to give anyone, or any group, too much power. That sound principle is under attack in Washington in the fight over filling federal judgeships.

The Founders deliberately divided authority among Congress, the president and the courts, each to be a check on the others. They split Congress into a House and a Senate that would have to agree on all legislation, a defense against political stampedes. And the Senate, which they called "the saucer that cools the tea," was created with no limit on debate.

Any senator could, by continuing to talk, prevent any issue from being brought to a vote. That check, which later became known as the filibuster, ensured that the majority of the moment couldn't ride roughshod over a concerned minority. Over time, Senate rules were modified to permit 60 members to cut off debate and order a vote. But the principle of deferring to a significant minority has been honored — until now.

What a bunch of ahistorical twaddle. Not only was the filibuster not a part of the constitutional framework, the appointment power was quite specifically concentrated in the president's hands and the sole concerns about that delegation have nothing to do with the current controversy, Federalist No. 76: The Appointing Power of the Executive (Alexander Hamilton, April 1, 1788, New York Packet)
To the People of the State of New York:

THE President is ``to NOMINATE, and, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States whose appointments are not otherwise provided for in the Constitution. But the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers as they think proper, in the President alone, or in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments. The President shall have power to fill up ALL VACANCIES which may happen DURING THE RECESS OF THE SENATE, by granting commissions which shall EXPIRE at the end of their next session.''

It has been observed in a former paper, that ``the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration.'' If the justness of this observation be admitted, the mode of appointing the officers of the United States contained in the foregoing clauses, must, when examined, be allowed to be entitled to particular commendation. It is not easy to conceive a plan better calculated than this to promote a judicious choice of men for filling the offices of the Union; and it will not need proof, that on this point must essentially depend the character of its administration.

It will be agreed on all hands, that the power of appointment, in ordinary cases, ought to be modified in one of three ways. It ought either to be vested in a single man, or in a SELECT assembly of a moderate number; or in a single man, with the concurrence of such an assembly. The exercise of it by the people at large will be readily admitted to be impracticable; as waiving every other consideration, it would leave them little time to do anything else. When, therefore, mention is made in the subsequent reasonings of an assembly or body of men, what is said must be understood to relate to a select body or assembly, of the description already given. The people collectively, from their number and from their dispersed situation, cannot be regulated in their movements by that systematic spirit of cabal and intrigue, which will be urged as the chief objections to reposing the power in question in a body of men.

Those who have themselves reflected upon the subject, or who have attended to the observations made in other parts of these papers, in relation to the appointment of the President, will, I presume, agree to the position, that there would always be great probability of having the place supplied by a man of abilities, at least respectable. Premising this, I proceed to lay it down as a rule, that one man of discernment is better fitted to analyze and estimate the peculiar qualities adapted to particular offices, than a body of men of equal or perhaps even of superior discernment.

The sole and undivided responsibility of one man will naturally beget a livelier sense of duty and a more exact regard to reputation. He will, on this account, feel himself under stronger obligations, and more interested to investigate with care the qualities requisite to the stations to be filled, and to prefer with impartiality the persons who may have the fairest pretensions to them. He will have FEWER personal attachments to gratify, than a body of men who may each be supposed to have an equal number; and will be so much the less liable to be misled by the sentiments of friendship and of affection. A single well-directed man, by a single understanding, cannot be distracted and warped by that diversity of views, feelings, and interests, which frequently distract and warp the resolutions of a collective body. There is nothing so apt to agitate the passions of mankind as personal considerations whether they relate to ourselves or to others, who are to be the objects of our choice or preference. Hence, in every exercise of the power of appointing to offices, by an assembly of men, we must expect to see a full display of all the private and party likings and dislikes, partialities and antipathies, attachments and animosities, which are felt by those who compose the assembly. The choice which may at any time happen to be made under such circumstances, will of course be the result either of a victory gained by one party over the other, or of a compromise between the parties. In either case, the intrinsic merit of the candidate will be too often out of sight. In the first, the qualifications best adapted to uniting the suffrages of the party, will be more considered than those which fit the person for the station. In the last, the coalition will commonly turn upon some interested equivalent: ``Give us the man we wish for this office, and you shall have the one you wish for that.'' This will be the usual condition of the bargain. And it will rarely happen that the advancement of the public service will be the primary object either of party victories or of party negotiations.

The truth of the principles here advanced seems to have been felt by the most intelligent of those who have found fault with the provision made, in this respect, by the convention. They contend that the President ought solely to have been authorized to make the appointments under the federal government. But it is easy to show, that every advantage to be expected from such an arrangement would, in substance, be derived from the power of NOMINATION, which is proposed to be conferred upon him; while several disadvantages which might attend the absolute power of appointment in the hands of that officer would be avoided. In the act of nomination, his judgment alone would be exercised; and as it would be his sole duty to point out the man who, with the approbation of the Senate, should fill an office, his responsibility would be as complete as if he were to make the final appointment. There can, in this view, be no difference others, who are to be the objects of our choice or preference. Hence, in every exercise of the power of appointing to offices, by an assembly of men, we must expect to see a full display of all the private and party likings and dislikes, partialities and antipathies, attachments and animosities, which are felt by those who compose the assembly. The choice which may at any time happen to be made under such circumstances, will of course be the result either of a victory gained by one party over the other, or of a compromise between the parties. In either case, the intrinsic merit of the candidate will be too often out of sight. In the first, the qualifications best adapted to uniting the suffrages of the party, will be more considered than those which fit the person for the station. In the last, the coalition will commonly turn upon some interested equivalent: ``Give us the man we wish for this office, and you shall have the one you wish for that.'' This will be the usual condition of the bargain. And it will rarely happen that the advancement of the public service will be the primary object either of party victories or of party negotiations.

The truth of the principles here advanced seems to have been felt by the most intelligent of those who have found fault with the provision made, in this respect, by the convention. They contend that the President ought solely to have been authorized to make the appointments under the federal government. But it is easy to show, that every advantage to be expected from such an arrangement would, in substance, be derived from the power of NOMINATION, which is proposed to be conferred upon him; while several disadvantages which might attend the absolute power of appointment in the hands of that officer would be avoided. In the act of nomination, his judgment alone would be exercised; and as it would be his sole duty to point out the man who, with the approbation of the Senate, should fill an office, his responsibility would be as complete as if he were to make the final appointment. There can, in this view, be no difference between nominating and appointing. The same motives which would influence a proper discharge of his duty in one case, would exist in the other. And as no man could be appointed but on his previous nomination, every man who might be appointed would be, in fact, his choice.

But might not his nomination be overruled? I grant it might, yet this could only be to make place for another nomination by himself. The person ultimately appointed must be the object of his preference, though perhaps not in the first degree. It is also not very probable that his nomination would often be overruled. The Senate could not be tempted, by the preference they might feel to another, to reject the one proposed; because they could not assure themselves, that the person they might wish would be brought forward by a second or by any subsequent nomination. They could not even be certain, that a future nomination would present a candidate in any degree more acceptable to them; and as their dissent might cast a kind of stigma upon the individual rejected, and might have the appearance of a reflection upon the judgment of the chief magistrate, it is not likely that their sanction would often be refused, where there were not special and strong reasons for the refusal.

To what purpose then require the co-operation of the Senate? I answer, that the necessity of their concurrence would have a powerful, though, in general, a silent operation. It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity. In addition to this, it would be an efficacious source of stability in the administration.

It will readily be comprehended, that a man who had himself the sole disposition of offices, would be governed much more by his private inclinations and interests, than when he was bound to submit the propriety of his choice to the discussion and determination of a different and independent body, and that body an entire branch of the legislature. The possibility of rejection would be a strong motive to care in proposing. The danger to his own reputation, and, in the case of an elective magistrate, to his political existence, from betraying a spirit of favoritism, or an unbecoming pursuit of popularity, to the observation of a body whose opinion would have great weight in forming that of the public, could not fail to operate as a barrier to the one and to the other. He would be both ashamed and afraid to bring forward, for the most distinguished or lucrative stations, candidates who had no other merit than that of coming from the same State to which he particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him, or of possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Columbia Unbecoming (Jennifer Washburn, 4/25/05, The Nation)

In recent months, a growing chorus of conservative critics has decried the existence of a liberal orthodoxy on college campuses and called for new measures to safeguard students' free speech. Curiously, however, these critics are silent regarding the free speech rights of graduate student employees, including teaching assistants (TAs) and research assistants (RAs) who have been trying to hold union elections and have been censored by their university employers. In recent years, in fact, Columbia, Tufts, Penn, Brown and other prestigious private colleges have responded to student organizing drives with tactics that can only be described as profoundly illiberal and undemocratic.

At Columbia, where the students just concluded a weeklong strike in tandem with their brethren at Yale, a previously undisclosed internal memo (just obtained by The Nation) reveals that the administration has been flirting with union-busting tactics that go well beyond anything an academic institution should contemplate. The memo, dated February 16, 2005, is signed by none other than Alan Brinkley, a well-known liberal historian who is now serving as Columbia's provost. Brinkley has gone out of his way to assure outside observers, including New York State Senator David Paterson, that "students are free to join or advocate a union, and even to strike, without retribution." Yet his February 16 memo, addressed to seventeen deans, professors and university leaders, lists retaliatory actions that might be taken against students "to discourage" them from striking. Several of these measures would likely rise to the level of illegality if graduate student employees were covered under the National Labor Relations Act.

Such measures include telling graduate student teachers and researchers who contemplate striking that they could "lose their eligibility for summer stipends" (i.e., future work opportunities) and also "lose their eligibility for special awards, such as the Whitings" (a prestigious scholarship and award program). Yet another proposal cited in the memo would require students who participated in the strike "to teach an extra semester or a year" as a condition for receiving their scholarly degree.

It's unclear whether Columbia's deans and department chairs ever deployed any of these punitive measures--or threatened to deploy them--during the most recent strike, where hundreds of students, joined by other union sympathizers, participated in rowdy demonstrations along Broadway. But the fact that Brinkley proposed such illiberal tactics is itself highly revealing. It suggests that, when it comes to the universities' current administrations, the conservatives have it wrong.

True, college professors in the United States overwhelmingly vote Democratic. But it is hard to make the case that the governance of these institutions--most of whose trustees and regents have backgrounds in business, not education--can be classified as "liberal."

How does the fact that even liberal administrators have to fight their radical staffs for the good of the universities disprove the point that those staffs are damaging the institutions and doing a disservice to the students?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


With Syria out, Lebanon clout grows: The last Syrian troops left Lebanon Tuesday, ending 29 years of military domination. (Nicholas Blanford, 4/27/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

Elite Syrian paratroops in pressed camouflage uniforms and red berets marched alongside their Lebanese counterparts at an old airfield here Tuesday in a colorful farewell ceremony that formally ended Syria's 29-year military presence in Lebanon.

The departure of the last batch of Syrian troops was a historic moment for the Lebanese and underlined just how dramatically and quickly Syria's grip on this tiny Mediterranean country has weakened after 15 years of near-total domination.

With the pro-Syrian establishment in Beirut continuing to unravel by the day, any hope that Damascus might have harbored of retaining some level of influence in Lebanon appears to be fading fast. "The question should be what influence will Lebanon have on Syria," says Michael Young, a Lebanese political analyst.

"Syria was stronger militarily but it was never stronger politically, economically, culturally ... in all the domains Syria imposed its order through force," Mr. Young says. "At this point, to my mind, Lebanon is stronger."

From the Nazis to the various Communist regimes to the Ba'athists to the tyrants of Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia and beyond--folks are always surprised afterwards that the monster turned out to be so easily disposed of once someone decided to confront it.

April 26, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:58 PM

TIME FOR A REDEAL (via Tom Corcoran):

FDR's Card Trick: The cynical idealism behind Social Security. (WILLIAM VOEGELI, April 26, 2005, Opinion Journal)

We know at least two things about the Democratic Party. First, it is preoccupied with economic inequality. Implying that the middle class had somehow vanished, Sen. John Edwards campaigned for a year with a showcase speech about two Americas, "one for people who are set for life, [who] know their kids and their grandkids are going to be just fine; and then one for most Americans, people who live paycheck to paycheck." Second, it is unyielding in its defense of Social Security--a defense that rejects the idea of reducing by a penny the pension checks the government sends to Warren Buffett. (Twenty years ago Paul Kirk, then chairman of the Democratic National Committee, suggested publicly that the party ought to consider means-testing Social Security benefits. He was forced--before the end of the day--to issue a statement of regret for even mentioning the subject.)

To make sense of this apparent contradiction is to make some sense of the ongoing debate over Social Security and the meaning of modern liberalism. One can begin by imagining a government program to prevent poverty among the aged, one that would be both simpler than Social Security and more aligned with liberals' desire to tax the rich and help the poor. It would derive its revenue from the progressive income tax rather than Social Security's regressive payroll tax. It would pay its benefits according to individual need. And for the majority of people who--John Edwards notwithstanding--are neither rich nor poor, it would devise incentives and requirements that would encourage them to provide secure retirements for themselves from pensions and savings.

What's wrong with such an approach? Wilbur Cohen, who devoted half a century in government to designing and defending America's social insurance programs, gave his answer in a 1972 debate with Milton Friedman on Social Security: "I am convinced that, in the United States, a program that deals only with the poor will end up being a poor program. . . . Ever since the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601, programs only for the poor have been lousy, no good, poor programs. And a program that is only for the poor--one that has nothing in it for the middle income and the upper income--is, in the long run, a program the American public won't support." In other words, people who don't need Social Security and Medicare are enrolled as beneficiaries for the sake of people who do. Cohen doubted that people could be persuaded to support programs to help the poor, but he was confident that they could be induced to support them.

There is cynical calculation in Cohen's position, and also some idealism. Chris Suellentrop, a political writer for the webzine Slate, captures the former when he says, "Liberals are willing to keep paying rich people Social Security in the hopes that the payments will keep those rich people from figuring out that Social Security is a redistributive transfer program." [...]

A further, powerful inducement to support the welfare state comes from the logic and rhetoric of social insurance. Franklin D. Roosevelt had stipulated in advance that any federal pension system had to be based on funds "raised by contributions rather than an increase in general taxation." According to "Freedom From Fear" (1999) by Stanford historian David M. Kennedy, FDR's advisers understood that his insistence on following the model of private insurance "meant that, virtually alone among modern nations, the United States would offer its workers an old-age maintenance system financed by a regressive tax on the workers themselves."

Roosevelt, as usual, was thinking farther ahead than his aides. In 1941, after the law had been passed and the first pension benefit checks had been issued, he defended the system when someone complained about its regressivity: "Those taxes were never a problem of economics. They are politics all the way through. We put those payroll taxes there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program."

Nor was it simply the structure of Social Security that encouraged Americans to believe that its benefits were a return on their own money, not welfare. The government's subsequent public information efforts amounted to a vast marketing campaign for the idea that there was no contradiction between the American tradition of self-reliance and receiving Social Security.

The genius of privatizing Social Security, but keeping it universal, is that it actually would be a form of sel;f-reliance, for the most part, and would redistribute small amounts up front, for those who can't afford full contributions in given years, rather than huge amounts later.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:48 PM

WHY BE PRESIDENT? (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Opening Day in Washington, D.C. (MLB.com, 10/01/04)

Each Major League Club has its own unique celebration to mark the opening of the Major League Baseball season, but Opening Day in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., was always a special and sometimes historic event.

Washington, D.C.'s Opening Day tradition dates back to April 14, 1910. William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States, attended the home opener of the Washington Senators against the Philadelphia Athletics. Numerous other government officials including Vice President James Sherman and Charley Bennett, secretary of the U.S. Senate, joined President Taft at the ballpark.

An overflow crowd of 12,000 fans - the largest baseball crowd in Washington at that time - gave President Taft an enormous standing ovation as he made his way to his seats on the first base side. Senators team president Thomas C. Noyes then took the two managers - Washington's Jimmy McAleer and Philadelphia's legendary Connie Mack - to meet the President.

Just prior to the start of the game, umpire Billy Evans walked over to President Taft's box and presented him with a new baseball. Evans instructed President Taft that he was to throw the ball from his seat in the stands to Senators pitcher Walter Johnson, who was standing at home plate, to officially commence the start of the American League championship season. After giving the ball briefly to First Lady Helen Taft, the President adjusted his gloves and made a good throw to Johnson, who immediately gave the ball to catcher Charles Street to have it secured in a safe place.

President Taft watched the entire game, a 3-0 Washington victory in which Johnson hurled a one-hit, complete game shutout. After the game, Johnson sent the historic ball to the White House accompanied by a note to President Taft asking for his autograph on the ball. President Taft returned the ball after penning the following on it:

"For Walter Johnson, with the hope that he may continue to be as formidable as in yesterday's game. William H. Taft." [...]

The only President to never throw out a ceremonial first pitch at an Opening Day game was Jimmy Carter.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:43 PM


'A slap in the face' as US clears troops who killed hostage hero (Richard Owen, 4/27/05, Times of London)

A FIERCE row erupted in Italy yesterday after a US military investigation cleared American soldiers of any wrongdoing in the killing of a top Italian intelligence agent as he escorted a hostage to safety.

The US Ambassador to Rome was summoned for urgent talks with Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, while opponents of the war in Iraq condemned the draft US report as a “slap in the face” for Italy.

In a sign of how deep Italian anger was running over the exoneration by Washington of its troops, Italy was reported to be drawing up a “counter report” pinning the blame on the US.

Italian anger? That hasn't scared anyone in, what, 1500 years?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:40 PM


Time unravels Whitlam's liberation theology: The Left got it badly wrong about Vietnam, yet few will admit it. (Gerard Henderson, April 26, 2005, The Age)

Three decades ago - after the fall of Saigon and Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge coming to power in Cambodia two weeks earlier - Gough Whitlam's Labor government welcomed what was then fashionably termed the "liberation" of Indochina.

Jim Cairns, Whitlam's deputy prime minister and the (then) guru of the Australian left, on April 8, 1975, had looked forward to communist victories in Vietnam and Cambodia, maintaining that this was "the only way to stop the carnage, the bloodshed and the suffering" in Indochina. On May 26, 1975 - two months after Saigon fell - Whitlam told the Parliament that "the changeover has been peaceful and effective". [...]

Once it was fashionable to support the communist victories in Indochina. This was the position of most leading ALP figures (Whitlam, Cairns, Tom Uren) and also of the overwhelming majority of academics, journalists and other opinion leaders involved in the public debate on our Vietnam commitment.

On January 26, 1978, Uren and some fellow Labor comrades issued a statement addressed to Pol Pot in Cambodia (then Kampuchea) and Phan Van Dong in Vietnam. The leftist signatories declared their support for the "national liberation struggles of both Vietnam and Kampuchea" and urged both leaders to resolve their "current border conflict". No mention was made about the human rights violations then taking place in both countries.

In September 1978, Whitlam addressed a conference in Canberra where he declared that he did not accept the validity of any of the reports about human rights violations in Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos. He was particularly emphatic about Cambodia, declaring: "I make bold to doubt all the stories that appear in the newspapers about the treatment of people in Cambodia." [...]

It is true that the regime that came to power in Saigon in 1975, assisted by the communist leadership in the Soviet Union and China, did not engage in wide-scale killings. But it did incarcerate about 1 million South Vietnamese in Hanoi's own gulag.

Our own Left sang from the same hymnal, as witness this priceless George McGovern quote:
The growing hysteria of the administration's posture on Cambodia seems to me to reflect a determined refusal to consider what the fall of the existing government in Phnom Penh would actually mean.... We should be able to see that the kind of government which would succeed Lon Nol's forces would most likely be a government ... run by some of the best-educated, most able intellectuals in Cambodia.

Who in their right mind would welcome government by intellectuals?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:19 PM

Play ball! (Nancy M. Kendall, 4/27/05, CS Monitor)

Each word or phrase below can be completed with a word that comes from baseball. Read the clues, and check your answers at the bottom. Batter up!

1. Plain and simple; _ _ _ _ spun

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 PM


Today anti-Japan, tomorrow anti-Beijing? (Aaron Kyle Dennis , 4/27/05, Asia Times)

The flood of anti-Japan demonstrations then spread to Shanghai, Tianjin and Hangzhou. Waving banners that read "The anti-Japan war is not over yet," and chanting "We love our China, we hate your Japan," and in English "We want war," demonstrators made it undeniably clear they were not merely marching in protest of a textbook or in denunciation of Japan's bid for permanent Security Council membership. More than a dozen Japanese restaurants, shops and bars (many of them Chinese-owned) had rocks flung through their windows and were pelted with crimson-red paint bombs; a Nissan sedan (Chinese-owned) was smashed and overturned, and a police car alleged to be protecting a Japanese passenger had its windshield broken out while onlookers chanted "Kill the Japanese!" Police were standing in lines three-deep, not with the intention to block demonstrators, but to guide them; police behind a professionally printed blue-and-white sign reading; "March route continues in this direction"; police sipping lattes with demonstrators in cafes - these scenes do not even hint at an urge toward suppressing anti-Japanese hostilities.

The question that has arisen out of the big Shanghai demonstration - and those leading up to it over the past few weeks in Chengdu, Shenzhen and Beijing, among others - concerns whether it is on the Chinese government's agenda to allow anti-Japan protesters to voice their opinion publicly. But the bigger question is this: in a new era of online petitions with 22 million signatories and of public demonstrations of 20,000 organized primarily by SMS (short message service) and e-mail, in what ways will Chinese citizens be able to shape future government agendas? It is possible that equipped with an understanding of how to organize en masse and seemingly under the radar of Beijing's censors, younger Chinese may begin encouraging others to take to the streets against corruption and government land seizures, to complain about economic inequality or ideological repression. That is to say, with a slight change of focus, Beijing may see a change of course in its internal affairs towards more turbulent political waters.

Dictators can never afford to empower the people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:02 PM


Air America’s Year of Decline: The liberal network scores its lowest-ever ratings. (Byron York, 4/26/05, National Review)

The latest radio ratings are in, and they show continued bad news for Air America, the liberal talk-radio network featuring Al Franken, Randi Rhodes, Janeane Garofolo, and others.

While it is difficult to pinpoint Air America's ratings nationally — it is on the air in about 50 stations across the country, and has been on some of them for just the last few months — it is possible to measure the network's performance in the nation's number-one market, New York City.

The new Arbitron ratings for Winter 2005, which covers January, February, and March, show that WLIB, the station which carries Air America in New York, won a 1.2-percent share of all listeners 12 years and older. That is down one tenth of one point from the station's 1.3 percent share in Winter 2004, the last period when it aired its old format of Caribbean music and talk. [...]

The ratings also show WABC radio, which airs Rush Limbaugh, consistently beating Air America in New York City even though Franken had at one time claimed to be beating the conservative host there. In the 10 a.m. to 3 P.M. period in the Winter of 2005, WABC (and Limbaugh) won 2.7 percent of the audience to Air America's 1.4 percent. In Spring 2004, WABC beat Air America 2.7 percent to 2.2 percent. In Summer 2004, WABC won 2.7 percent to 2.3 percent. In Fall 2004, WABC won 3.6 percent to 1.6 percent.

That last number surprised some observers because it showed Air America faltering in October and November 2004, the period when the presidential election was reaching its finish and political passions were presumably at their highest.

The surest sign that the Left can't compete in the marketplace of ideas has to be Al Gore entering the field.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:54 PM


Fallout for Syria's Assad could be brutal (DONNA ABU-NASR, 4/25/05, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Syrian President Bashar Assad will always be remembered as the leader who lost Lebanon, one of the strongest cards Syria ever held in its standoff with Israel.

What was a policy coup 29 years ago for his father, the late President Hafez Assad - the dispatch of troops to a country that Syria had long coveted - turned into a disaster for the son, alienating the world's most powerful nations and threatening his own political future.

On Tuesday, after the last Syrian soldiers left Lebanon, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan dispatched a team to verify the withdrawal. Syria's compliance with the U.N. demand for withdrawal could relieve some of the pressure it has faced since the Feb. 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The Lebanese opposition blames Syria and its Lebanese allies for the slaying.

But the pullout won't end all of Syria's woes nor Assad's. It could weaken Assad at home. Or it could give him a chance to move against opponents within his regime by blaming them for a series of recent mistakes.

Either way, Syria faces trouble on all fronts.

It's always seemed unlikely that he'd survive the Bush presidency, but you'd have to say now that it would be unsurprising if he didn't make it to the end of 2005.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:38 PM


Air India to purchase 50 new Boeing jets
(The Associated Press, 4/25/05)

Air India announced today a $6 billion order for 50 new Boeing jetliners.

State-owned Air India said it would purchase eight 777-300 long-haul jetliners, 15 737-200 medium range aircraft and 27 787s — Boeing's newest jet, the Dreamliner.

The announcement came one day after Air Canada said it would purchase up to 96 Boeing jets.

Air India spokesman Jeetendra Bhargava said the board had reviewed purchase proposals from both Boeing and rival Airbus SAS before making a decision.

Earlier this month, Boeing's senior vice president of sales Dinesh Keskar said his company had offered "comprehensive and competitive bids" for the planes and last week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta visited New Delhi and said relations between the United States and India would benefit if Boeing gets the order.

It's too faint praise, but Mr. Mineta is surely the best Transportation Secretary we've ever had.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:34 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:27 PM


Japanese economy stuck in deflation (David Pilling, April 26 2005, Financial Times)

Consumer prices fell for a seventh straight year in the 12 months to end-March 2005, confirming that the economy remains stuck in deflation in spite of three years of stop-start growth.

The decline in the core consumer price index, of 0.2 per cent, was far less severe than the 0.8 per cent of the previous two years.

But a sharp fall in the price of deregulated utilities, including electricity and fixed-line telephone charges, may have added fresh impetus to deflation. The CPI for Tokyo in April, which comes out a month ahead of nationwide statistics, fell by 0.5 per cent.

The Bank of Japan is on Thursday widely expected to put back its prediction of a return to inflation from this year to next when it publishes a six-monthly report on future trends in prices and economic activity. Last October, the BoJ forecast a return to mild inflation, of 0.1 per cent, in the year to end-March 2006.

Prices aren't going to head up as their population declines.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:07 PM

Word of the Day (April 26, 2005)

matutinal \muh-TOOT-n-uhl\, adjective:

Relating to or occurring in the morning; early.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:15 PM


Actor-comedian George Lopez has kidney transplant from wife (AP, 4/25/05)

George Lopez underwent a kidney transplant with an organ donated by his wife, a publicist for the actor-comedian said Monday.

I'd like to think that if The Wife ever needed an organ transplant I'd have the courage to ask George Lopez's wife to give her one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 PM


The prime minister is a war criminal: Like Chamberlain in the 30s, Blair is an appeaser of a dangerous global power. He should be in prison, not standing for election (Richard Gott, April 26, 2005, The Guardian)

Tony Blair has been the worst prime minister since Neville Chamberlain, a figure with whom he shares a number of significant characteristics. Chamberlain was a supremely confident and arrogant politician, an excellent speaker and a deeply religious man with a hotline to God. He had an unassailable majority in parliament, was popular in the country and presided over a cabinet stuffed with nonentities.

Unfamiliar with the outside world, he conducted his own disastrous foreign policy with the help of backroom advisers as ignorant as himself. By seeking to appease the German government, the principal threat to world peace at the time, he onlysucceeded in encouraging that country's appetite for aggression and expansionism. His egregious errors played a not insignificant role in the outbreak of the second world war, the principal tragedy of the 20th century.

Blair has followed in his footsteps, and is destined for the same place in history's hall of infamy. Like Chamberlain, he is an arrogant and God-fuelled appeaser, the unseemly ally of an unbridled country that presents a global threat similar to Germany in the 1930s.

Instead of seeking a grand alliance to confront this new danger - "a coalition of the unwilling" that would include the Europeans, the Russians and the Chinese - Blair has sided with the evil empire.

Then why do the Iraqi people want to try and execute Saddam Hussein, not Tony Blair?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 PM


Oil Prices Slip After Saudi Assurance (Reuters, 4/26/05)

OPEC's acting Secretary General Adnan Shihab-Eldin said that oil prices much above $50 will start to hurt world economic growth.

The comments followed assurances from Saudi Arabia on Monday that it would provide buyers with all the crude they need, serving as a cue for traders to take profits after a week of gains and a price rise of nearly $5.

Adel al-Jubeir, foreign affairs adviser to Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah, said after a meeting between President Bush and Abdullah in Texas that world oil supplies were adequate, but the kingdom was willing to provide as much crude oil as buyers wanted.

The kingdom is producing slightly over 9.5 million bpd, with between 1.3 million and 1.4 million bpd in spare production capacity that could quickly be tapped, Jubeir said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:29 AM


The Moral Complexity of War: A conversation with Max Hastings. (Interview by Donald A. Yerxa, March/April 2005, Books & Culture)

Can there be anything else to say about the collapse of the Third Reich—anything worth saying, that is? Sir Max Hastings, one of Great Britain's most respected military historians, convincingly shows that there is much more to the end of the Third Reich than speculations about mystery weapons and accounts of those murky final days in Hitler's Berlin bunker. Hastings' new book, Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944–1945 (Knopf), is an impressive and disturbing account of the last stage of the European war. This was nothing short of a cataclysm, and Hastings recounts some of the "extraordinary things that happened to ordinary people" on both fronts. What emerges is a picture of suffering, degradation, dignity, and profound moral complexity. [...]

What about the other side of this coin? What about those writers who are also unwilling to embrace moral complexities not because of celebratory sentiments, but because they want war to yield to purist moral standards?

I don't buy such arguments at all. Of course, no war is morally perfect. One of the worst diseases of our time is the notion that we must pursue moral absolutes. Most of life is about making very difficult marginal choices about morality. It is never going to be 100 percent, and that's why we should always exhibit some sympathy for our rulers when they make decisions about peace or war. I happen to be a critic of the Iraq business. There well might be a case to be made for using force against the North Koreans, Iranians, or someone else who threatens the peace of the world with weapons of mass destruction. What caused some of us to say before the Iraq war began that we were skeptical about going in was that we were fearful that it would compromise the case for using force in a better cause. So it is madness, I think, to say that nothing is worth the use of force. When civilized societies lose the strength of purpose to be prepared to use force for relatively good causes, we might as well all give up. We must have the confidence to make these decisions, but obviously every time we use force in a cause that is not very good, it weakens our ability to muster the will of our society to use force in a better cause. In the current situation, a lot of us are very worried about what the Iranians are doing with their nuclear capability. And we do feel pretty sore toward Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld because we feel they have made it harder to use force on something that looks as if it may really matter.

You rarely hear someone so directly accuse himself of making the better the enemy of the good.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:46 AM

فُولاذِيّ ? (via Kevin Whited):

United States pursues more free-trade agreements in the Middle East: Washington is trying to entrench its economic and political ties in the region (Peyman Pejman, April 26, 2005, The Daily Star)

Trying to entrench its economic and political ties in the region, and blaming the Gulf Cooperation Council's slowness in devising region-wide economic measures, the United States is aggressively pursuing a number of free-trade agreements in this part of the Middle East.

The latest chapter in this effort started in March when Washington initiated free-trade agreement (FTA) negotiations with the United Arab Emirates and Oman, two politically moderate countries in the region considered to be U.S. allies in the Middle East.

So far only Jordan and Morocco have signed an FTA with Washington, although the U.S. Congress is likely to ratify soon a similar agreement the United States has signed with Bahrain. Other countries in "serious discussions'' with the United States are Kuwait and Qatar. Many in the Middle East argue - and some in the U.S. agree - that FTAs with governments here are more a matter of politics, although no one denies that in the long term they can be a powerful tool for the countries that sign them.

In 2004, total exports to the U.S. from the six Middle Eastern countries - U.A.E., Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Jordan - amounted to $6.6 billion. Total imports from the U.S. were estimated at $7.2 billion.

Even without an FTA, bilateral trade with those six countries has increased in the past few years, jumping about 30 percent since 2002, although most of that have been U.S. exports rather than imports.

U.S. officials in the region emphasize the worthiness of FTAs from an economic perspective but quickly add that if they result in political freedom and accounting transparency in the Middle East, those are valuable end-results in themselves.

How do you say "What about the steel tariffs?" in Arabic?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 AM


The Proof's in the Pension (JOHN TIERNEY, 4/26/05, NY Times)

I made a pilgrimage to Santiago seeking to resolve the Social Security debate with a simple question: What would Pablo Serra do?

I wanted to compare our pensions to see the results of an accidental experiment that began in 1961, when he and I were friends in second grade at a school in Chile. He remained in Chile and became the test subject; I returned to America as the control group. [...]

After comparing our relative payments to our pension systems (since salaries are higher in America, I had contributed more), we extrapolated what would have happened if I'd put my money into Pablo's mutual fund instead of the Social Security trust fund. We came up with three projections for my old age, each one offering a pension that, like Social Security's, would be indexed to compensate for inflation:

(1) Retire in 10 years, at age 62, with an annual pension of $55,000. That would be more than triple the $18,000 I can expect from Social Security at that age.

(2) Retire at age 65 with an annual pension of $70,000. That would be almost triple the $25,000 pension promised by Social Security starting a year later, at age 66.

(3)Retire at age 65 with an annual pension of $53,000 and a one-time cash payment of $223,000.

You may suspect that Pablo has prospered only because he's a sophisticated investor, but he simply put his money into one of the most popular mutual funds. He has more money in it than most Chileans because his salary is above average, but lower-paid workers who contributed to that fund for the same period of time would be in relatively good shape, too, because their projected pension would amount to more than 90 percent of their salaries.

By contrast, Social Security replaces less than 60 percent of your salary - and that's only if you were a low-income worker. Typical recipients get back less than half of their salaries.

Mr. Tierney's column begins to fulfill its promise.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 AM


Protest in Urals Seeks Ouster of a Putin Ally (STEVEN LEE MYERS, 4/26/05, NY Times)

Heartened by the political upheavals in two of Russia's neighbors, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, thousands here have staged a series of demonstrations since February calling for the ouster of the president of the Bashkortostan region, Murtaza G. Rakhimov.

An ally of President Putin, he has served as the leader of this largely Muslim region, formally an autonomous republic within Russia, since the collapse of the Soviet Union. He won re-election in 2003 in a contest in which his chief opponent withdrew from campaigning, reportedly at the urging of the Kremlin.

The issues are largely local, but the complaints against Mr. Rakhimov's government evoke those that were raised against the recently ousted leaders in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan and are now increasingly heard about Mr. Putin. They include allegations of manipulated elections, increasing state control of business, and corruption. [...]

"An end will come," Ramil I. Bignov, a businessman and leader of a diverse coalition of Mr. Rakhimov's opponents, said after the latest protest, on April 16. "And it will come soon."

Although Mr. Bignov limited his comments to his hopes for Mr. Rakhimov's political demise, the implications of a successful street campaign against the regional leader would reach Mr. Putin as well, most obviously because Mr. Putin has supported Mr. Rakhimov and because Bashkortostan, like the rebellious Chechen republic, is a part of Russia.

No they aren't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM


Senate Committee Takes Up Bid to Overhaul Social Security (ROBIN TONER and DAVID E. ROSENBAUM, 4/26/05, NY Times)

After months of political maneuvering, presidential campaigning, advertising and ultimatums, the 20-member Senate Finance Committee plans to start grappling this week with overhauling the Social Security system.

So far, the committee has proven to be just about as divided - and stalled - as the Senate at large. Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the committee, says somewhat ruefully that most of his committee members simply wish the issue would go away.

Dang! You mean they have to do their jobs?

Of course, if they do them right they can make the issue go away.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM


Honda collaborates on a hybrid for the home: Heating device that creates electricity as a bonus unveils today (Chris Reidy, April 26, 2005, Boston Globe)

American Honda Motor Co., which has been working on hybrid cars, is collaborating on a hybrid of sorts for the home: a roughly $8,000 natural gas system that ''co-generates" heat and electricity.

For consumers willing to invest $3,000 to $4,000 more than the cost of a conventional heating system, there's a potential for savings when it comes to paying energy bills down the road, according to Climate Energy LLC of Medfield, one of Honda's partners. With the new system, called a Micro-CHP System, natural gas that home owners buy to convert to heat creates electricity as a bonus byproduct.

At an event set for today at the Museum of Science, Climate Energy, and Honda plan to unveil a combined heat-and-power appliance that Climate Energy claims can shave about $600 off a local consumer's annual electricity bill.

According to the two companies, this is the first time such an appliance will be available at affordable prices to US home owners.

Since so much of the hybrid craze has been driven by social cache, they ought to create a little plate that you can put on your front door when you install one of these: Hybrid Home!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


Some fear law would create national ID card (Charlie Savage, April 26, 2005, Boston Globe)

Congress is poised to pass a law that would make sweeping changes to the nation's system for issuing driver's licenses by imposing stringent requirements on states to verify the authenticity of birth certificates, Social Security cards, legal residency visas, and bank and utility records used to obtain a license.

House Republicans attached the bill to a must-pass supplemental spending package for troops in Iraq without first putting it through the usual legislative scrutiny of hearings and debate. Should it emerge intact from House-Senate negotiations over the spending package, it could be law next month.

Touted as an antiterrorism measure, the ''Real ID Act" would also overturn laws in nine states that allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses. If a state does not comply with any provision of the law, its residents would no longer be able to use their driver's licenses for federal identification purposes, such as for boarding a plane.

The law, some say, would effectively turn the new driver's license into a national identification card. Its chief champion, House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, says the measure would help prevent terrorists from fraudulently gaining official documents that would allow them to enter the country and move freely.

From whence arises the absurd notion that you have some reasonable expectancy that your very identity can be kept private?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Faith 'War' Rages in U.S., Judge Says: A Bush nominee central to the Senate's judicial controversy criticizes secular humanists. (Peter Wallsten, April 26, 2005, LA Times)

Just days after a bitterly divided Senate committee voted along party lines to approve her nomination as a federal appellate court judge, California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown told an audience Sunday that people of faith were embroiled in a "war" against secular humanists who threatened to divorce America from its religious roots, according to a newspaper account of the speech. [...]

"There seems to have been no time since the Civil War that this country was so bitterly divided. It's not a shooting war, but it is a war," she said, according to a report published Monday in the Stamford Advocate.

"These are perilous times for people of faith," she said, "not in the sense that we are going to lose our lives, but in the sense that it will cost you something if you are a person of faith who stands up for what you believe in and say those things out loud." [...]

The Advocate quoted Brown as lamenting that America had moved away from the religious traditions on which it was founded.

"When we move away from that, we change our whole conception of the most significant idea that America has to offer, which is this idea of human freedom and this notion of liberty," she said.

She added that atheism "handed human destiny over to the great god, autonomy, and this is quite a different idea of freedom…. Freedom then becomes willfulness."

Brown's remarks drew praise Monday from one of the nation's most prominent evangelical leaders, Gary Bauer, president of the socially conservative advocacy group American Values.

"No wonder the radical left opposes her," Bauer wrote in an e-mail to supporters. "Janice Rogers Brown understands the great culture war raging in America. That is why the abortion crowd, the homosexual rights movement and the radical secularists are all demanding that Senate liberals block her confirmation."

Radical Left? It's the Democratic caucus.

The war on religion (Paul Greenberg, 4/26/05, Jewish World Review)

Mark Pryor, the junior senator from Arkansas, may not make the news very often, but when he does say something newsworthy, it's a doozy.

The other day, he strongly objected to those religious fanatics (fa-nat-ic — anyone who disagrees with you strongly) who have been campaigning against the never-ending filibuster that is denying the president's judicial nominees a straight up-or-down vote in the United States Senate.

Mark Pryor wasn't so much challenging these folks' political views but their daring to express them. It's unbecoming, you see, for church people to participate in the low rough-and-tumble of politics. Their tactics, he says, could "make the followers of Jesus Christ just another special interest group."

So shut up, he explained.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


The Soul of a Lost Cause: Ernesto Cardenal is still the poet-priest of Nicaragua's Sandinistas. But he knows that the church and the times have turned against him. (Reed Johnson, April 26, 2005, LA Times)

The radical priest who once bucked the will of Pope John Paul II looks old and frail now, with his wintry beard and shuffling gait.

He's still wearing his beatnik beret, and when he speaks of the glory days of the '70s and '80s his eyes blaze with an apostle's ardor. But Father Ernesto Cardenal's fiery eloquence can't burn away this stubborn thought: that the Nicaraguan revolution, the cause that Cardenal served so devoutly, through so many years of sacrifice and spilled blood, is a ghost of its former self.

Sitting beside his living-room wall, with its eerie photo montage of fallen comrades, Cardenal offers a thudding assessment of what happened to that distant revolutionary dream.

"For now it would seem that it wasn't worthwhile, the death of anyone," says Cardenal, a Roman Catholic priest and one of the most renowned Central American poets of the last half-century. "But in that time it was felt that they had died for a better country, in order to create a better country."

The revolution that brought the leftist Sandinistas to power, and the civil war that followed, left tens of thousands dead and laid waste to this majestically beautiful land. As Cardenal, 80, chronicles in his latest volume of memoirs, "La Revolucion Perdida" (The Lost Revolution), revolutions sometimes have an odd way of turning the tables on their inventors.

Sometimes? All violent revolutions are mistakes.

April 25, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:34 PM


For Suzuki, Hits Keep On Coming (BOB SHERWIN, April 26, 2005, NY Times)

Ichiro Suzuki, whose adjustments as a hitter can be as minute as subtle pressure from one finger on his bat, caused a stir among Japanese reporters before spring training when he revealed, "I have nothing to find."

The cryptic message was Suzuki's way of disclosing that he had successfully changed his batting stance in the middle of last season - a change that was nearly imperceptible but nevertheless instrumental in breaking the 84-year-old single-season hit record and reaching 262.

"I was thinking a lot about hitting and trying many, many things," said Suzuki, the Seattle Mariners right fielder. "For years, I don't think I was able to get it. It just didn't come to me."

But June 24 was the night of his breakthrough, he said. During batting practice, he experimented by moving his right foot - the front foot in his batting stance - a couple of inches away from the plate, opening his stance and spreading his legs four more inches apart. He said those minor changes allowed him to lower his bat angle slightly.

"It was nothing that I wasn't aware of," Suzuki said through the interpreter Allen Turner. "It just feels like baseball when I was really young, that type of feeling came back to me."

The difference was instantaneous, Suzuki said.

"When I took a practice swing, I already felt comfortable," he said. "Then when I hit a couple balls, I felt the same way. It was really comfortable."

Suzuki went on to collect 51 hits in July, 56 in August and 50 combined in September and October. He won his second American League batting title with a .372 average, hitting .429 after the All-Star Game break.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:25 PM


Three key US election races to keep in mind: Elected African American Republicans have been nearly a non-entity since Reconstruction, but that could change (Dr. Mark Byron, April 25, 2005, Spero Forum)

Republicans have made major inroads into the Hispanic vote in the last decade, often appealing to a Catholic family values in doing so, but have yet to make their 10% percentage among African-Americans budge much. Blacks are more devout - recall that it was the black church, personified by Martin Luther King, that spearheaded and won the Civil Rights battles of the 50s and 60s - and more culturally conservative on sexual issues than whites, yet the civil rights and economic liberal planks of the Democrats have kept blacks voting Democratic until now.

The 2006 elections may well see that start to change.

Three black Republican candidates stand a good chance of being elected to statewide posts. In Maryland, Lt. Governor Michael Steele is the likely GOP senate candidate. Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell is the early favorite to be the next governor. Mega-church pastor and former Detroit city councilman Keith Butler has broad support to get the Republican US Senate nomination in Michigan.

All three stand a good chance of being the first black Republican since Brooke to win a top-of-the-ticket state race.

Steele is currently within the margin of error in recent polls - this in a state that went 56-43 for Kerry in the last election. He's a Catholic in a state with a very large Catholic population. He's also from the multi-racial Prince Georges county in the Washington suburbs, which might given him an advantage there over a Baltimore-based candidate. Steele's been given a high-profile spot as part of the White House delegation to Pope Benedict XVI’s inaugural mass. That will both give him exposure and remind Maryland voters of his Catholic faith.

Steele's a conservative on social issues, contrasting with Governor Bob Ehrlich, who comes from the moderate wing of the GOP. [...]

Ken Blackwell has been a Great Black Hope of the GOP for over two decades, having served as mayor of Cincinnati and as Secretary of State. He distanced himself from Gov. Robert Taft and other Republican leaders by supporting an anti-same-sex-marriage amendment in 2004. The amendment passed with 62% of the vote. He's currently leading in polls for the Republican nomination for governor in 2006. Taft is term-limited.

Blackwell got fifteen minutes of fame in November, as Ohio became the pivotal state in the presidential election. The relatively large margin of victory - at least when compared to Florida in 2000 - saved Blackwell from being 2004's Katherine Harris, as Kerry took only until Wednesday afternoon to concede. There are some folks who think that Bush's 2% Ohio margin was bogus and hold Blackwell among others to blame, but they're unlikely to be swing voters next year.

Keith Butler has less of an elective track record, having only served a term as a Detroit city councilman, but has become part of the Republican establishment in Michigan. He's a pastor/bishop of World of Faith International Christian Center a 21,000 member megachurch in suburban Southfield. Butler is getting more than just theocon support in the Michigan GOP mainstream Republicans such as state Attorney General Mike Cox and former Lt. Governor Dick Postumus were introducing - but stopping short of endorsing - Butler in his candidacy announcement tour earlier this month.

If he gets the nomination, he'll create a different dynamic than Michigan's used to.

The network anchors wouldn't know what to say on Election Night if even two of the three come in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:18 PM


Interview with Brian C. Anderson, author of South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias (Orrin C. Judd, 4/25/05, Spero Forum)

Q: One of the things that connects various media that you cite in the revolt against liberal bias is the use of humor to skewer political correctness and the Left's dogmas, is there something about comedy in particular that makes it a better weapon for the Right than the Left?

BA: Humor is a powerful weapon for the Right these days in part because the cultural establishment in this country has been liberal for so long—and it almost never pokes fun at itself. For decades of network programming, it’s always been the priest or the businessman or the general or the adherent of traditional values who turns out to be the bad guy, the repressed maniac, the hypocrite, the butt of humor. The liberal do-gooder, the social worker, the progressive teacher, the wise, straight-talkin’ minority—they’ve all been celebrated, held up as paragons of meaningful life.

Reality isn’t like that. Liberals in entertainment and the news media have created a kind of ideological construct, a narcissistic bubble just begging to be burst. The liberal do-gooder might be driven by rage and resentment, might be a kind of micro-fascist; the minority might be a racist thug; maybe the social worker abets self- and community destroying behavior. Perhaps not all businessmen are evil! Maybe some of them legitimately practice business as a moral calling, as Michael Novak argues. Maybe the general is both moral and a hero. Maybe the priest is holy.

That’s why South Park is so satirically powerful—it pops that liberal bubble and let’s some truth in: tolerance can be carried to the point of oppressiveness; rights can be extended in ways that are morally indefensible; anti-business protesters can be mindlessly misguided; hippies are selfish narcissists. My book offers plenty of examples. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park’s creators, go after conservatives too—I don’t mean to suggest they’re across-the-board right-wingers. But going after the Right is nothing new. What is new, especially in television humor, is skewering the Left so savagely.

As I mentioned earlier, a key reason the Left hasn’t done well in talk radio is its lack of humor. Jonah Goldberg, a pretty funny guy, makes the point that liberals have this "Coalition of the Oppressed" as their constituency, and if a liberal humorist targeted blacks or gays or animal rights activists, he’d be bombarded with complaints from his "base" saying: "How dare you laugh! That’s not sensitive!"

Conservatives have—or should have-a keen understanding of man’s propensity for evil, of the complexity of human motivations in a fallen world. They thus should have a proper dose of cynicism in their worldview, which makes it easier to laugh at human foibles, their own included.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:04 PM


Libya stepping into open market economy (SADEK TARHONI, 4/25/05, UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL)

Libya is moving slowly but surely into an open-market economy after decades of socialist-style policies.

Products from all over the world have become largely available as billboards for Western goods now fill the streets of the capital, Tripoli, and other large Libyan cities. Shopping outlets, previously called cooperatives, are now known as supermarkets and posters promote previously unseen brand names such as "White Westinghouse," "Nokia," and "Carrier."

The changes began two years ago after Libya said it would pursue "popular capitalism." The policy was boosted by Prime Minister Shukri Ghanem, a staunch advocate of an open economy.

Economic experts say the aim of the new policies is to ensure economic stability and create new sources of income for a country that is heavily dependent on oil. Free-trade zones are being created, foreign investment encouraged, and service and tourism boosted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:01 PM


Nightmare of social Europe (Martin Walker, 4/24/05, UPI)

Social affairs has become the most controversial issue of public policy all across Europe. Having defined itself for a generation by the generosity of their welfare states and an insistence of "social solidarity" rather than a robust clash of interests between labor and capital, Europe is grappling with three separate threats to its future. Any one of them could well prove fatal to the EU's social model. Combined, they are devastating.

The first has been the sharpening of competition, with its consequent pressure on wages and on employment, which helps explain why France and Germany are grappling with double-digit unemployment. The competition has been made more ferocious by Europe's enlargement. The EU was joined last year by 10 new member states, mostly from low-wage Central and Eastern Europe, where salaries are one-third to one half those of Western Europe and taxes even lower. So the new Volkswagen and Peugeot factories in the Czech Republic and Slovakia represent growth for them, but unemployment back in France and Germany.

The second threat to Europe's social model is the demographic disaster. This is far more serious than America's concern with the future of Social Security as the baby boomers retire. Europeans are about to start dying out. By the end of this decade, the populations of Italy and Germany will start to shrink because Europeans have almost stopped breeding. The Russian population is already shrinking by more than a million a year. Without some dramatic changes in the birth rate, Europeans will become in this century an endangered species.

To maintain a constant population requires an average 2.1 children from each woman of child-bearing age. In today's EU, the average woman bears 1.3 children. In Italy and Lithuania (both overwhelmingly Roman Catholic countries) the figure is down to 1.1. The only countries close to replacing themselves are France and Britain, thanks in part to the higher birthrates of immigrant mothers.

So while Americans might face some discomfort in paying for Social Security after the 2040s, disaster hits Europe in the next 10-15 years. By 2020, on current trends, there will be one German worker for every pensioner. So already German pensioners are paying the price as neither the state nor young workers can afford to keep them in the style to which they have become accustomed. For example, the health insurance payments of German pensioners now rise the older they get. The long-term unemployed no longer get state payments in generous proportion to their last working salary, but a standard $450 a month plus their rent.

The third threat to the European social model is immigration, which is ironic, because immigration was supposed to be part of the solution to the demographic disaster. Were Europe's immigrants solely young Arabs and Asians seeking work, and paying taxes while they did so, that would help Europe's problem. But many of those young workers then bring their parents, and marry a young woman from their home country, who brings her own parents and so on. The result is that in Belgium, for example, more than half the immigrants over the age of 40 are unemployed and dependent on social security payments.

But the deeper problem with immigration is political. Europe's home-grown population resents it.

Socialism, secularism, and multiculturalism--the waves of the future...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:55 PM


RNC finds Bush-Reid tit-for-tat (Alexander Bolton, 4/26/05, The Hill)

The Republican National Committee (RNC) has resurrected a bill Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) sponsored when he was in the House more than 20 years ago that would have kept members of Congress out of the Social Security program.

RNC researchers contend that the 1983 bill belies Reid’s repeated claim that Social Security is the “most successful program in the history of the world.”

The Republican salvo is in response to Democrats’ frequent use of a statement President Bush made in 1978 during his unsuccessful campaign for Congress that Social Security will “go bust in 10 years unless there are some changes.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:53 PM


Fischer fails to deflect attack over visa scandal (Roger Boyes, 4/26/05, Times of London)

JOSCHKA FISCHER, the embattled German Foreign Minister, failed to quell doubts about his political future yesterday with an irritable performance before a parliamentary investigation into an immigration scandal.

Herr Fischer could yet be brought down by the controversy over a relaxation of visa rules that led to an influx of Ukrainian prostitutes and gangs into Germany and other European countries.

The controversy also threatens to undermine the country’s ruling coalition, in which the Green party, which he leads, is the junior partner.

The "Herr" is a nice touch. Even the Times grasps how much the nation disdains Europe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 PM


Syria Ends 29-Year Presence in Lebanon (DONNA ABU-NASR, 4/24/05, AP)

As soon as the truckloads of Syrian soldiers had left for home, Mariam Majzoub started dishing out paint to erase the last vestiges of their 29-year presence.

Her children, nephews, nieces and neighbors stuck Lebanese flags on top of the abandoned posts near her home in this tiny Bekaa Valley village, slapped whitewash on the walls and celebrated the departure date in green paint: "Independence 2005, Sunday, April 17."

"We started dancing in the street even before they turned the corner," said Majzoub, her plump face glowing with joy. "We could finally express ourselves, and there was nothing they could do about it."

Syria ended its three-decade presence in Lebanon on Sunday, leaving behind only a few score troops who will attend a farewell ceremony Tuesday.

As a succession of Iron Curtain governments fell each received diminishing attention--a region with which we'd been obsessed for five decades becoming an afterthought once it became clear we'd won the Cold War. Has the Middle East already reached that point just three plus years into the War on Terror?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 PM

TURN THE CRANK (via Steve Jacobson):

Frist, Reid Work on Judge-Approval Deal (DAVID ESPO and JESSE J. HOLLAND, Associated Press)

In private talks with Majority Leader Bill Frist, the Senate's top Democrat has indicated a willingness to allow confirmation of at least two of President Bush's seven controversial appeals court nominees, but only as part of a broader compromise requiring Republicans to abandon threats to ban judicial filibusters, officials said Monday.

At the same time he offers to clear two nominees to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals for approval, officials said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., wants a third appointee to be replaced by an alternative who is preferred by Michigan's two Democratic senators.

The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity, citing the confidential nature of the conversations between the two leaders.

Reid issued a statement during the day saying he has had numerous conversations with senators in both parties in hopes of avoiding a showdown. "As part of any resolution, the nuclear option must be off the table," the statement concluded, referring to the GOP threat of banning judicial filibusters. [...]

Officials said as part of an overall deal, Reid has indicated he is willing to allow the confirmation of Richard Griffin and David McKeague, both of whom Bush has twice nominated for the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. At the same time, the Democratic leader wants the nomination of Henry Saad scuttled. Democrats succeeded in blocking all three men from coming to a vote in 2004 in a struggle that turned on issues of senatorial prerogatives as well as ideology.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., has led the opposition to all three men. [...]

Democrats drew criticism when they threatened to stop or slow the Senate's business if Republicans ban judicial filibusters. Party leaders began stressing an alternative approach during the day, attempting to force debate on their own agenda rather than the president's

The Democratic scramble to compromise suggests that Mr. Frist has the whip hand. He ought to learn from predecessors LBJ & George Mitchell and wield it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 PM


How the baseball card game is played (Robert Tuttle, 4/26/05, CS Monitor)

Shortly after the 1952 World Series, executives at the Topps Co. had a problem. They had boxes and boxes of baseball cards that nobody wanted to buy. So, in a decision that would echo through the baseball-card market for decades to come, they tossed the extras into the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

And so, only a fortunate few ended up with that year's Mickey Mantle rookie card. Today, a near-mint condition Topps No. 311 Mickey Mantle from 1952 is worth more than $20,000.

Back then, baseball cards were for kids. They were made of cardboard. Each one-cent pack of cards included a wide stick of (usually dried-out) bubble gum. Kids would wrap their stacks of cards with rubber bands and stash them in shoe boxes. Cards got lost, worn, and thrown out. Few knew they'd be valuable. Not many of those cards survived to the present.

Today baseball cards are mostly a grownup hobby. Twenty or 30 years ago, the cards were marketed mostly to kids. Most collectors now are over 30. And in this age of PlayStations and the Internet, kids are less interested in baseball cards.

"We are competing with lot of other things that get the kids' attention these days," says Lloyd Pawlak. He's senior vice president of sales and marketing for cardmaking company Fleer.

Trading-card companies like Fleer, Topps, Upper Deck, and Donruss still make cardboard varieties (for $1 to $2 a pack), but they also make lots of expensive cards designed to appeal to older collectors. Topps removed the bubble gum from most packs of cards in 1991 after numerous complaints from collectors that the gum was staining the cards.

No gum. No scaling on the playground. No putting them in your bike spokes. What's the point?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 PM


Florida economy blows past hurricanes (Jacqui Goddard and Richard Luscombe, 4/26/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

A few short months ago, the outlook for Florida's job seekers looked every bit as black as the dark clouds blown in by last year's unprecedented four major hurricanes.

The storms caused billions of dollars of damage to the state's staple industries of tourism and agriculture and put more than 100,000 out of work - spiking an unemployment rate that had been steadily falling since Sept. 11.

But now, after a remarkable economic recovery that has stunned observers by its speed and intensity, the blue skies are back over the Sunshine State. Business is experiencing its biggest boom in at least a quarter century, driven by a state economy that is equipped to rebound from disaster - and that even before the hurricanes had the right combination of elements to flourish.

Consider that Florida:

• Leads the nation in jobs growth.

• Is attracting tourists in record numbers.

• Has one of the hottest real estate construction and sales markets in the country.

• Has just handed its governor a $2.2 billion windfall to spend on tax cuts and services.

"It's just unbelievable," says Frank Ryll, president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. "Tell me where else in the country this is happening."

Indeed, Florida enjoys a unique set of economic factors. The population flow into the state has been largely undeterred by the hurricanes, as workers, baby boomers, and others bank on the region's warm climate and reasonable cost of living. And this burgeoning population has plenty of economic sectors to buoy it: Everything from tourism to agriculture to high tech is booming in the Florida, as state incentives and relatively low wages attract business to the region.

Of course, other parts of the United States have also experienced devastation from natural disasters, and then a boost from recovery efforts. But the phenomenon taking place in Florida is on a scale larger than most.

It'll be decades before economists can even come close to quantifying it, but a similar, though man-made, effect seems to have ovccurred in the late '90s as a result of the Y2K scare, which forced businesses across the country to replace and upgrade existing technology systems. The effect is oft-noted with regard to the closing of military bases, which causes brief dislocations but then leads to new opportunities and growth. It's worth considering then whether it might not be in the interest of those for whom economic growth is a central concern--typically conservatives--to embrace some of the more radical seeming projects of the environmentalists--like the Kyoto Protocol and doing away with the internal combustion engine--precisely because there is so much creative force unleashed from the ashes of such destruction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 PM


Anti-Voinovich Ads HALTED! (Move America Forward)

*UPDATE* - TERRIFIC NEWS!!!! New information into Move America Forward officials confirms that Senator Voinovich is taking a 'new' and 'fair' look at John Bolton - the man President Bush has nominated to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. We are confident Senator Voinovich will vote 'YES' to allow Mr. Bolton's nomination to proceed from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. MAF's principals are not at liberty to disclose who they've heard from and specifically what was said - under promise of confidentiality - but the organization is now confident that John Bolton's nomination will make it to the floor for a vote by the full U.S. Senate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:44 PM


Turkeys OKs U.S. Request on Air Base Use (SELCAN HACAOGLU, 4/25/05, Associated Press)

After months of delay, Turkey's Cabinet on Monday approved a long-standing U.S. request to have increased access to a strategic air base for flying into Iraq and Afghanistan.

The decision was another step toward improving relations with Washington that were strained when Turkey refused to allow U.S. troops to stage an invasion of Iraq from Turkish territory in March 2003.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:27 PM


Moussaoui's Mom Urges France to Save Son (ANNE DEVAILLY, 4/25/05, Associated Press)

The mother of the only person convicted in the United States for participating in the Sept. 11 attacks urged France on Monday to take a firmer stand in opposing the death penalty for her son.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:24 PM


Forests grow, owls decline under plan (JEFF BARNARD, 4/21/05, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

A decade after the Clinton administration reduced logging in national forests in the Northwest, scientists have concluded the forests are growing, but the population of the threatened northern spotted owl has declined. [...]

Scientists are not sure what is causing the declines, but possible factors include invasion of the spotted owl's habitat by the barred owl, an aggressive cousin from Canada that often drives them off...

Fortunately, it turns out they're the same species.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:23 PM


Slow population growth threatens N.E. political clout: Census paints a graying region (Matt Apuzzo, 4/21/05, Associated Press)

New England stands to lose about 20 percent of its congressional seats over the next quarter-century as political power follows population booms in the South and West, newly released census data indicate.

Population projections released today by the US Census Bureau project much slower growth in New England. They also paint a picture of a region that is increasingly elderly, especially in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, where statisticians expect a dramatic spike in the number of residents 65 and older.

If the projections hold true, Massachusetts would lose two of its 10 congressional seats, Connecticut would lose one of its five, and Rhode Island would lose one of its two, according to an Associated Press analysis of the data.

That diminished political clout threatens to make it harder for New England lawmakers to push regional issues such as transportation and home heating costs onto the national agenda.

The states also will have to grapple with how to afford the costly social services required by their aging population.

Specialists say lawmakers won't be able to rely on Washington to fund those programs, as states around the country jockey for money to deal with aging baby boomers.

The Census Bureau projects that by 2030, 26.5 percent of people living in Maine will be 65 and older, a percentage that would trail only Florida's projected 27.1 percent.

''That means more concerns about budget pressures for healthcare, more concerns over rising housing costs when it's already getting difficult to add to the supply," said Jeffrey Carr, the state economic forecaster in Vermont. ''There's a million ramifications to this."

The federal government allocates seats in the House of Representatives every 10 years based on census data. Massachusetts lost a seat in 1980 and another in 1990, and Connecticut lost one in 2000.

In 2030, according to census estimates, New England will have about 15.6 million residents, up about 12 percent from 2000. That compares with 51 percent growth projected in the South Atlantic states and 65 percent growth projected in the Mountain region.

''New England is on the edge of a precipice here because of the political shifts dictated by population growth," said Darrell West, a Brown University political scientist. ''There are going to be stark political consequences. As we lose political representation in the House, it affects which laws get passed and how the federal budget gets divided up."

The realignment towards the Republicans is only in its earliest stage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:45 PM


If Senate shuts down, who's to blame?: Facing Bush judicial nominees, eager interest groups, and the 'nuclear option,' a divided Senate keeps raising the stakes. (Gail Russell Chaddock, 4/26/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

As the Senate moves toward a showdown over the so-called nuclear option, risks and rewards confront both Republicans and Democrats, whatever the outcome.

Both sides concede that the move to lower the threshold required to end a filibuster from 60 votes to a simple majority could shut down the Senate. But it's not clear for how long, with what consequences, and who would be blamed if the Senate's work grinds to a halt.

The question isn't who'll be blamed but who'll care. The answer is: only the Left

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:07 AM


The Dems' integrity act will fail (David Hill, 4/20/05, The Hill)

[T]he softness of the Democrats’ political integrity initiative is not its greatest defect. More damning is that it suffers from a lack of relevance for most voters. Probably no ordinary American voter anywhere in our great nation awoke this morning thinking that his or her family needs congressional lobbying reform. Some voters woke up hoping for a better job. Or praying for peace. But no one was really thinking about political reform.

A recent release of the Harris poll’s long-running examination of public confidence in American institutions explains why so few Americans care much about what the Democrats consider such a sizzling issue. While just 16 percent of Americans say they have a great deal of confidence in the people in charge of running Congress, that’s about par for the course since Watergate.

The average percentage of Americans expressing a great deal of confidence in congressional leaders from 1974 to 1979 was 14 percent. The 1980s saw the average rise to 18 percent. Then, in the 1990s, it fell again to 12 percent. Since 2000, it has averaged 17 percent. So there is no trend in voter cynicism about Congress.

The truth of the matter — and the Harris data make this point — is that few Americans expect Congress to be especially worthy of exceptional trust and confidence. So when one party tries to tell voters that it’s so much more trustworthy than the other party, voters are naturally going to be very skeptical. Voters aren’t about to believe that any politician or political party in Congress is really very pure. The politicians may, in fact, be clean, but almost no one will believe it. Most Americans don’t want to think of themselves as being that naive.

The Democrats’ strategy has other shortcomings, too. By focusing so much on DeLay, they are not making any broader points.

Suppose DeLay just up and quit. Where would the Democrats be then?

Only inside the Democratic cloakrooms does anyone believe that the 1994 GOP Revolution happened because of Jim Wright's ethical problems. Keep in mind that this permanent GOP majority has already had two Speakers resign in disgrace, nevermind a leader no one's ever heard of, and Democrats have nothing to show for it.

Posted by David Cohen at 10:06 AM


CLARIFICATION: Sinners unhappy with new pope (Grand Forks Herald, 4/22/05)

Posted by Peter Burnet at 9:30 AM


Good Book too good at spreading germs, hospital feels (Canadian Press, April 22nd, 2005)

A hospital in Fredericton has removed bedside Bibles out of fears they might be spreading germs.

A spokeswoman for the River Valley Health Authority, Jane Stafford, told the CBC that the decision to remove the Bibles from the Chalmers Hospital was made strictly for health reasons.

She said it was a matter of common sense and infection control.
Some bugs viruses such as C. difficile, can live for months on telephones, toilets, stethoscopes and books, Ms. Stafford said.

Some people, however, were suspicious of the hospital's motives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


Fischer faces a test in inquiry on visas (Judy Dempsey, APRIL 25, 2005, International Herald Tribune)

The political future of Germany's foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, and even the government of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, hangs in the balance Monday, when Fischer will be questioned by a special parliamentary committee examining lax visa regulations that allowed tens of thousands of people to enter the country under dubious circumstances.

The case has generated such controversy that the opposition Christian Democrats, desperate to unseat Schröder's coalition of Social Democrats and Fischer's Greens party, succeeded in having the entire proceedings broadcast live on television. This means that Fischer, until recently Germany's most popular politician and almost beyond criticism because of his charisma and temperament, faces one of his most crucial tests since becoming a Green politician more than two decades ago.

If he is to survive and if Schröder's coalition hopes to win regional elections next month in North Rhine-Westphalia, Fischer will have to use his television appearance to salvage his reputation and rescue the government, which also faces a federal election next year.

His supporters say he will have to walk a fine line explaining how much he was responsible for ignoring the pleas for more help by the German embassies in Ukraine and the Balkans in dealing with the huge demand for visas and how such lax regulations led to a proliferation of human trafficking and an influx of illegal workers into Germany.

The opposition has gnawed away at the visa issue, convinced that if it can expose Fischer as a weak foreign minister, it will have struck at the coalition's Achilles' heel. Schröder's Social Democrats would not have won power in 1998 or 2002 without Fischer.

As Tony Blair coasts to re-election, joining fellow warmongers John Howard and George W. Bush in posting historic victories, the Axis of Weasel implodes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


Internet, Polarized Politics Create an Opening for a Third Party (Ronald Brownstein, April 25, 2005, LA Times)

The Internet is a leveling force. It diffuses power and empowers new competitors to challenge old arrangements.

Elite newspapers and magazines, for instance, dominate their markets partly because it costs so much to build conventional hard-copy competitors. But the Internet has allowed thousands of new voices to find audiences at little cost for a panoramic assortment of news and opinions in Web logs and online magazines.

Some of the same effect is already evident in politics. Once it took years of heavy spending on direct mail and other recruitment methods to build a national membership organization; MoveOn.org, the online liberal advocacy group, acquired half a million names — with virtually no investment — just months after posting an Internet petition opposing President Clinton's impeachment in 1998.

MoveOn, and groups like it on the left and right, chisel at the power of the major political parties by providing an alternative source of campaign funds and volunteers. But otherwise, the two parties that have defined American political life since the 1850s have been largely immune from the centrifugal current of the Internet era.

Joe Trippi, a principal architect of Howard Dean's breakthrough Internet strategy in the 2004 Democratic presidential campaign, is one of many analysts who believe that may soon change. The Internet, he says, could ignite a serious third-party presidential bid in 2008.

"This is a very disruptive technology," says Trippi. "And it is going to be very destabilizing to the political establishment of both parties."

Other parties though will not arise because of the pronounced differences between the parties bit because of their similarities, which leave some voices unheard. And on no other issue is there greater commonality than the failure of socialism and the success of capitalism--it seems impossible that there will be no true party of the Left in this regard. To the extent that Democrats accept the End of History they would seem to court a split with their own Left. This would be catastrophic because it would weaken them in precisely those states where they're strongest--the Blues.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


Why China Has to Steal Technology (Judith Apter Klinghoffer, 4/25/05, History News Network)

All in all, it seems that at least in principle the Europeans have decided on a Helsinki agreement type linkage policy which helped end Communist Party monopoly of power in the USSR.

But is China vulnerable to such a linkage policy? The short answer is yes because Communist China, like its Soviet predecessor, has hit the innovation roadblock. In his 1968 essay directed to his country’s leadership, the premier Soviet nuclear scientist Andrei Sakharov warned “that a society that restricts intellectual freedom and prevents the free exchange of ideas would be unable to compete with societies that unleash the creative potential of their people.” He went on to compare the race between the US and the USSR to one between two cross country skiers traversing deep snow. If the dictatorships seem to be catching up fast, it is only because they follow in the tracks already smoothed out by democracies. Lack of freedom consigns “fear societies” to the role of followers, never leaders since “a fear society must parasitically feed off the resources of others to recharge its batteries.”

If Chinese military buildup is moving faster than some expected, it is because “European nations have been selling China hundreds of millions of dollars worth of dual use military equipment each year, but as long as the embargo is in force, explicitly military gear can only be sold under the table and smuggled in.” In “China’s Secret War,” Patrick Devenny, lays out the variety of ways, China goes about acquiring the technologies it needs but cannot produce.

The degree to which the continued existence of the Chinese totalitarian system depends on continued democratic aid comes into particularly sharp focus in the following Washington Post report: Web Censors In China Find Success:

Chinese authorities perform these tasks largely using U.S. hardware and software. For example, Cisco Systems Inc. routers, machines that move Internet traffic around, are capable of recognizing individual portions of data, a technology that helps battle worms and viruses. That same technology can be used to distinguish certain content.

Companies such as Cisco and Google Inc. have been accused of aiding China's censorship by tailoring their products to suit the government's needs. The study did not confirm those allegations, which the companies have denied.

According to the Economist, the Chinese problem even extends to the economic sphere as an article entitled “China's people problem” reveals: “The particular shortages mentioned most often are of creativity, of an aptitude for risk-taking and, above all, of an ability to manage—in everything from human resources and accounting to sales, distribution, branding and project-management.” Interestingly, just as the Soviet leadership was more aware of the problem than its Western counterparts, so is the Chinese leadership. Thus, Hu Jintau, general secretary of the Communist Party of China, identified “increasing the capabilities of innovation in science development” and rural development as the two central challenges facing China.

China is desperately hoping to find a way to institutionalize innovation which is based on risk taking without giving up significant control.

As the Japanese found, merely assembling stuff invented and designed by Americans isn't a recipe for long term economic success.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


Blair 'to debate nuclear power' (BBC, 4/25/05)

A re-elected Labour government would put nuclear power back on the agenda in an effort to meet targets on climate change, government sources have said.

The sources told BBC News Tony Blair wanted a national debate on the issue.

He would raise the issue when ministers responded to a climate change policy review in June or July, they said.

The Tories say there should be new nuclear stations provided they meet cost and waste concerns but the Lib Dems oppose the idea.

How delicious if Kyoto leads to the resurgence of nuclear power.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


His Brain, Her Brain: It turns out that male and female brains differ quite a bit in architecture and activity. Research into these variations could lead to sex-specific treatments for disorders such as depression and schizophrenia (Larry Cahill, April 2005, Scientific American)

On a gray day in mid-January, Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard University, suggested that innate differences in the build of the male and female brain might be one factor underlying the relative scarcity of women in science. His remarks reignited a debate that has been smoldering for a century, ever since some scientists sizing up the brains of both sexes began using their main finding--that female brains tend to be smaller--to bolster the view that women are intellectually inferior to men.

To date, no one has uncovered any evidence that anatomical disparities might render women incapable of achieving academic distinction in math, physics or engineering. And the brains of men and women have been shown to be quite clearly similar in many ways. Nevertheless, over the past decade investigators have documented an astonishing array of structural, chemical and functional variations in the brains of males and females.

These inequities are not just interesting idiosyncrasies that might explain why more men than women enjoy the Three Stooges. They raise the possibility that we might need to develop sex-specific treatments for a host of conditions, including depression, addiction, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Furthermore, the differences imply that researchers exploring the structure and function of the brain must take into account the sex of their subjects when analyzing their data--and include both women and men in future studies or risk obtaining misleading results.

The problem with the whole conversation is that it assumes that the obvious differences mean the two sexes are unequal. In reality, they are just better suited to different tasks, which is why we are only whole within a marriage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


The Paq-Man’s Half-Century: Saxophone virtuoso Paquito D’Rivera receives the coveted “Jazz Masters” Award 50 years after his debut as a child prodigy. (Mark Holston, March 2005, Hispanic Magazine)

Even on the most important night of his professional life, Havana-born saxophone and clarinet virtuoso Paquito D’Rivera can’t avoid the kind of lighthearted quip that has become his calling card. “We could only get Carnegie Hall on January 10, not December 31, so we decided to call the concert ‘50 Years and 10 Nights,’ ” he wisecracks of the lavish, all-star studded extravaganza that was created to observe his half-century in music. He first took to the stage, a tiny curved soprano saxophone in hand, in 1954 at the age of 6 after several months of intensive tutoring by his father Tito, a classical saxophonist. Today, he’s widely regarded as one of the top woodwind artists in the world.

The choice of the planet’s most revered concert venue for the event was more than symbolic. “My fascination with Carnegie Hall came when my father played for me the historic recording of clarinetist Benny Goodman and his orchestra, recorded there in 1938,” he recalls. “I said, ‘Wow, what is that?’ At the time, I understood ‘Carnegie Hall’ as carne frijol! I was a stupid kid! But ever since then, I dreamed about being a musician in New York.”

D’Rivera’s special night featured a once-in-a-lifetime assembly of stellar talent, ranging from classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Dominican pianist Michel Camilo to Cuban conga legend Cándido and Brazilian vocalist Rosa Passos, his wife Brenda Feliciano, an opera singer, and members of The Youth Orchestra of the Americas. Also on hand was a trio of octogenarian Cuban artists—Bebo Valdés, a storied pianist, and Las Hermanas Márquez, master practitioners of the Cuban guaracha. “I’ve never seen a concert event that put together so many different kinds of music,” D’Rivera proudly says. “From classical to Brazilian, Cuban and jazz, we had everything.”

As documented by the unending series of accolades and awards he has accumulated since arriving in the U.S., D’Rivera enjoys a stature virtually unparalleled in the history of Hispanic musicians in the U.S. [...]

Although he has lived in the U.S. for almost a quarter of a century, D’Rivera still finds some characteristics of his adopted homeland perplexing. “One of the amusing aspects of living in a democracy,” he observes from his home in Weehawken, New Jersey, “is that Americans like to complain about everything. But, perhaps the point of it is that they can. They have freedom. But every time I think about complaining about something, I’m reminded of the political prisoners in Cuba, especially the poets and writers. These people are in jail just for speaking their hearts. ”

Indeed, on most days, you won’t hear Paquito D’Rivera complaining. Universally admired, at the peak of his career, and scoring one success after another, his world is filled with triumphs, artistic collaborations and friendships with today’s most renowned musicians. “Almost every day,” he happily admits, “I ask myself, ‘Am I dreaming?’ ”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


Reform Social Security:
Latinos have a big stake in the outcome of this policy fight
(Ruben Navarrette, Hispanic Magazine)

[T]his debate isn’t really so complicated. What you have is a casita with a leaky roof. On one side, there are those who want to put in the effort to fix it before the storm clouds gather. On the other side, you have those who don’t want to do anything because, they insist, doing so would be costly and painful and, besides, it may never rain.

The first group includes President Bush, who insists that, unless something is done, young people (let’s say, anyone born after 1970) won’t see a dime of the money they’re contributing to the system. At present, workers contribute about 6.2 percent of earnings into the system. Employers match that. Bush wants to let workers siphon off part of their contribution and invest it in personal accounts that would offer a higher return that the government does.

The do-nothing defenders of the status quo insist that Social Security is in fine shape and that there is no crisis. And, they charge, what the Republicans really want to do is dismantle the nation’s most beloved entitlement program, provide a windfall for Wall Street and the rest of the private sector, and push senior citizens onto the streets and into soup kitchens.

Don’t laugh. That’s pretty much the line they’re pitching. Further, they want to come off like all they really care about is giving voice to the voiceless.

That’s where Hispanics come in. Consider the bilingual press release sent out earlier this year by Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. In it, Reid insists, “Bush’s plan to cut benefits will be particularly damaging for the Hispanic community, which relies on Social Security … more than other Americans.”

It's an interesting argument. But it’s also disingenuous. What matters in all this isn’t dependence but demographics. Hispanics are above all a young population, especially when compared to the rest of the country. The average age of a Hispanic person in the United States is 25 years old. That’s almost 15 years younger than the white population. That means anything that hurts young people can be expected to take an especially high toll on the Hispanic population. And, make no mistake: The current system hurts young people.

Democrats are playing with demographic fire in attempting to freeze the status quo in place. They can prevail in the very short term, but only at their own expense down the road, as the Greatest Generation dies off.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 8:46 AM


Hijacking Christianity . . . (Colbert I. King, Washington Post, April 23, 2005)

Emboldened by their appropriation of the flag, ideologues on the right have now set their sights on religion, and specifically Christianity, as the means to promote their political agenda. And as the promoters of tomorrow's "Justice Sunday" national telecast have demonstrated, there is no depth to which they won't sink in their campaign to seize the country.

The statement by one of the sponsors of tomorrow's event, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, is an example of the Holy War that is being launched by the right. In one of the most outrageous smears to be uttered by a so-called religious leader, Perkins said that "activist courts, aided by liberal interest groups . . . have been quietly working under the veil of the judiciary, like thieves in the night, to rob us of our Christian heritage and our religious freedoms." That is an unmitigated lie that should not be allowed to stand.

Which judges are out to rob Christians of their heritage? That is religious McCarthyism. Perkins should name them, provide evidence of their attempted theft of "our Christian heritage" or retract that statement with an apology. Don't count on that happening.

Angered by Democratic opposition to some of President Bush's judicial nominees, Perkins's group has also put out a flier charging that "the filibuster . . . is being used against people of faith." To suggest Democrats are out to get "people of faith" is despicable demagoguery that the truly faithful ought to rise up and reject.

But will that occur in American pulpits tomorrow? The Christian right counts on the religiously timid to keep their mouths shut. So why not exploit religion for their own ends? They will if we let them.

And that's just it. Americans of faith -- and those lacking one -- ought to vigorously resist attempts by power-hungry zealots to impose their religious views on the nation. That means standing up to them at every turn.

It means challenging them when they say of Americans who support a woman's right to choose; the right of two adults to enter into a loving, committed, state-sanctioned, monogamous relationship; the right to pursue science in support of life; the right of the aggrieved to launch aggressive assaults against racism, sexism and homophobia, that they are not legitimate members of the flock. Where do those on the religious right get off thinking they have the right to decide who is in and who is out? Who appointed them sole promoters and defenders of the faith? What makes them think they are more holy and righteous than the rest of us?

They are not now and never will be the final arbiters of Christian beliefs and values. They warrant as much deference as religious leaders as do members of the Ku Klux Klan, who also marched under the cross.

The left seems terribly confused these days as to whether they should be trying to co-opt religion or battling it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


Terri Schiavo, political prisoner (Nicholas Stix, April 25, 2005, Enter Stage Right)

I know what you're thinking. Terri Schiavo, may she rest in peace, died on March 31. But indeed, she still "lives," and still functions in the same way she did before her passing, for partisans on the Left and Right alike: As a symbol for their respective causes.

The Right, Part I: I know, I know. You cared so much about Mrs. Schiavo that you obsessively called her "Terri," as if she were your sister or daughter or best friend. You claimed she "taught" us so much. What did she teach you? Anyone who claimed that Mrs. Schiavo taught him something was either projecting his own fantasies onto her, or insane. I don't see how either position shows any respect for the person that was Terri Schiavo.

Folks on the Right decided that morality trumped the law, so we didn't need to bother ourselves with legalistic fine points like Mr. Schiavo's legal rights, because he was a bad guy. Well, you know what? I've got morality and God on my side, so the next time one of you disagrees with me, I think I'll just blow your head off, because I too am above the law.

Libertarianism--which can be a noble and defensible, if ultimately incoherent and unsustainable, philosophy-- has an unfortunate tendency to degrade into this kind of extremism, where it means nothing more than the freedom to do whatever you want. Of course, Judeo-Christian morality, which requires consistent application of eternal standards, covers both Mr. Schiavo and Mr. Stixx and forbids them both to deprive others of the inalienable right to Life. It quite explicitly places men under the Law.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


Musician's music tapestry of Miami (JORDAN LEVIN, 4/25/05, Miami Herald)

Javier García is not afraid of heights, or of taking chances, musical or physical. [...]

García, 30, has invented a musical narrative for Miami on 13, as sweet as kissing your honey on the beach to a swaying reggae beat, as danceable as a 3 a.m. Cuban jam session. And as eclectic as García himself, the son of a Cuban father and an Irish mother, born and raised in Madrid, who came to Miami at 15 and discovered himself and his musical identity. [...]

García's flavor attracted Gustavo Santaolalla, the producer of Juanes and Molotov, who produced 13 and signed García to his label. He has ''great songs, great sensibility, incredible sense of rhythm,'' says Santaolalla from his Los Angeles home. ''A lot of spirit, tremendous soul that projects in everything he does.'' Santaolalla also believes García's music is the next step from the Afro-Cuban pop sound that has dominated Latin music in Miami.

''He shows you Miami from a different angle,'' Santaolalla says. ``He does have an Afro-Cuban influence, but there's rock and soul and ska and reggae and cuarteto [Argentina's hyped-up dance music], and yet he is Miami too.''

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


LYME SUFFERERS RECLAIM LIVES: Knowledge lets them fight tick-borne illness (Joan Morris, 4/25/05, CONTRA COSTA TIMES)

Although doctors in the early 20th century recognized Lyme disease -- called erythema migrans -- as a bacterial infection spread by ticks, it wasn't until the early 1980s that researchers got a firm grasp on how the disease progresses. But more than 25 years later, the disease often remains undiagnosed and misunderstood. And even though antibiotics can be effective, some cases require years of treatment.

In the United States, an average of about 23,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, but researchers estimate that the number of people who actually have the disease and don't know it is far greater. More than half of those who have been diagnosed with the disease have no recollection of having been bitten, and many did not develop what doctors consider the telltale sign of the illness, a red rash.

The symptoms of Lyme disease are many and varied, and shared by a number of other common ailments. Is it the flu or is it Lyme disease? By the time a patient sees a doctor and gets a diagnosis, precious time has been lost.

What's maddening for those involved in treatment and education, is that if caught early, Lyme disease often can be successfully treated with a strong course of antibiotics. If administered within 72 hours of exposure, chances for a full recovery are excellent.

One problem, says Sheri Miller of Walnut Creek, is that even when patients go to doctors for immediate treatment, their concerns can be dismissed. Miller, who with Selvig is part of the East Bay Lyme Disease Support Group, recommends patients seek "Lyme literate" doctors -- physicians who are especially knowledgeable about the disease and treatments.

"Some doctors," Miller says, "are still telling patients we don't have Lyme disease in California."

Although the disease is more prevalent on the East Coast, where about 25 percent of deer ticks carry the disease, California has a number of cases each year. About 5 percent of deer ticks can carry the bacteria that causes the disease. [...]

For more info

• LymeDisease.org

• LymeGroups.org/EastBay

• igenex.com

• ilads.org

• www.lyme.org

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Syria's Ba'athists loosen the reins (Sami Moubayed, 4/26/05, Asia Times)

A new Ba'ath Party law is to be created in Syria, breaking the socialist parties' monopoly over politics in that country, in place (with the exception of the years 1961-63) since 1958. The move is a calculated gamble on the part of the government, and will also challenge a US bill against Syria calling for "Assistance to Support a Transition to Democracy in Syria." [...]

The question that many are asking: "Why now?" Why has the Syrian government decided to create a multiparty system which might challenge the power of the Ba'athists? Contrary to what many believe, the Ba'ath Party is very strong in Syria, and has a lot of active supporters. Changing the views of a society indoctrinated with Ba'athist views since 1963 will not be easy. The masses, who generally lack a proper democratic culture, will not readily join other political parties, especially ones that challenge Ba'athist ideology.

This is the exact reason. The state is confident enough that no real threat will be presented to its power if a multi-party system emerges in Syria. Let the parties operate, and let them win parliamentary seats. The ruling party of the state and society will still be the Ba'ath Party, since amending Article 8 of the constitution, which gives it that leadership status, will not be discussed at the upcoming conference. A multi-party system will threaten nobody, and yet be greatly welcomed by the Syrian masses, who are demanding such a kind of political reform in Syria.

The Syrian masses will be pleased, and the Syrian government will get good public relations credit for it. It will also challenge a US bill against Syria, presented on March 8 in the House of Representatives, calling for "Assistance to Support a Transition to Democracy in Syria". It reads: "The president is authorized to provide assistance and other support for individuals and independent non-governmental organizations to support transition to a freely elected, internationally recognized democratic government in Syria."

The message from the public and government alike in Damascus is clear: there is no need for US help, the Syrians will democratize on their own, at will.

Mikhail Gorbachev likewise understood that after 70 years of Bolshevik rule and indoctrination the party was so powerful and popular that the Russian people would choose to be governed by it if given the opportunity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Sales of hybrid cars sizzling in California (Mercury News Wire Services, 4/25/05)

One of the few things rising faster than gas prices is -- not coincidentally -- sales of hybrid vehicles in California.

More than 25,000 new hybrids were registered in the state in 2004, a 102 percent increase over 2003. The national figure was 81 percent, according to figures released today by R.L. Polk & Co., which collects and interprets automotive data.

The combination gas-electric vehicles represent less than 1 percent of the 17 million new vehicles sold in the United States in 2004, but major automakers are planning to introduce about a dozen new such models in the next three years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


Pope Issues Call for Unity: Benedict XVI reaches out to 'the whole church' at a colorful inauguration but offers few hints of his agenda for the new papacy. (Tracy Wilkinson and Richard Boudreaux, April 25, 2005, LA Times)

In golden robes and crown, Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday took on the ancient trappings of a troubled Roman Catholic Church and sketched the spiritual outline of his papacy, telling followers that only by embracing God can mankind escape a wasteland that haunts this Earth.

The inauguration of Benedict in a sun-streaked ceremony in St. Peter's Square was regal and subdued. It capped an emotionally charged three-week interregnum that started with the death of Pope John Paul II and ended with the election and installation of his controversial successor.

The German-born Benedict delivered a homily in accented but clear Italian, a speech laden with grim pictures of humanity's plight but also hopeful hints of redemption. There was little indication what shape his papacy might take, however, and only brief mention of some of John Paul's initiatives, such as dialogue with other faiths.

Instead, Benedict focused on moral and spiritual directives.

"We are living in alienation, in the salt waters of suffering and death, in the sea of darkness without light," the 78-year-old pontiff said in his first public Mass since his election Tuesday. "The net of the Gospel pulls us out of the waters of death and brings us into the splendor of God's light, into true life."

He said his government plan was "not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas," but to "listen, together with the whole church, to the word and will of the Lord." [...]

In his homily, Benedict occasionally struck a more upbeat note than was typically associated with his role as austere enforcer of orthodoxy. Where he previously portrayed the church as a victim under siege, he used the inaugural Mass to assert the vitality of Roman Catholicism.

"The church is alive!" he repeated five times. "And the church is young. She holds within herself the future of the world and therefore shows each of us the way toward the future."

Benedict issued a call for unity among Christians, lamenting that the "fisherman's net" had been broken as it cast about for men and women to follow God. He also saluted those of other faiths in a clear attempt to dispel fears about his past assertions of Catholic primacy and condemnations of other faiths as inferior. However, he did not retract those earlier judgments.

He said Jews were Christians' brothers, "to whom we are joined by a great shared spiritual heritage, one rooted in God's irrevocable promises."

In a darker side of his homily, Benedict used the bleak imagery that often characterized the speeches he made before becoming pope. He described a world of dark, empty souls and "external deserts" of poverty, hunger, abandonment and loneliness.

"The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast," he said.

"The human race — every one of us — is the sheep lost in the desert which no longer knows the way. The son of God will not let this happen; he cannot abandon humanity in so wretched a condition. He leaps to his feet and abandons the glory of heaven, in order to go in search of the sheep and pursue it, all the way to the cross. He takes it upon his shoulders and carries our humanity; he carries us all; he is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Gas bubble ‘will deflate UK prices by a third’ (Carl Mortished, 4/25/05, Times of London)

BRITAIN’S natural gas market will become oversupplied within two years, transforming a worrying winter shortage of fuel into a glut. The potential gas surplus emerges from a series of massive import schemes, including the world’s longest sub-sea gas pipeline, linking Norway with Britain.

Together these plans will create a gas bubble of more than two billion cubic feet per day by 2007 and send wholesale gas prices into decline for several years. Within two to three years the infrastructure building boom will have created additional gas import capacity roughly equal to Britain’s current annual demand, the Energy Contract Company’s report Gas Market Review 2005 says.

“It’s a massive fluctuation and it will depress gas prices,” Niall Trimble, director of the global consultancy, said. He expected wholesale gas prices to fall by about a third over the three winters after this year’s

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM

PICK THE 60%, NOT THE 40%:

'NYT' Preview: New Public Broadcasting Chief Wants Conservative Viewers (E&P Staff, April 22, 2005)

In this Sunday's New York Times Magazine, Ken Ferree, the new president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, says he wants PBS, long considered a liberal bastion, to attract more conservative viewers. "Does public television belong to the Democrats?" he asks. [...]

Asked if he is worried that liberal PBS loyalists may exit, he says: "Well, maybe we can attract some new viewers." More conservative ones? Deborah Solomon asks. "Yeah! I would hope that in the long run we can attract new viewers, and we shouldn't limit ourselves to a particular demographic."

Here are a couple handy rules to keep in kind:

(1) If you're a business and you are going to limit yourself to one demographic make it the larger one, not the smaller one.

(2) If you're there to serve the public, limit yourself to the one that includes most of the public, not the elites.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


Preserving the Right to a Lawyer (NY Times, 4/25/05)

Criminal defendants who cannot afford a lawyer have the right to have one appointed to represent them. In Michigan, however, some poor defendants are denied appointed counsel at a critical stage: when they want to challenge the sentence imposed on them. The Supreme Court hears arguments today in a challenge to this rule. It should order Michigan to provide defendants in this position with appointed lawyers.

The Supreme Court ruled in the landmark 1963 case of Gideon v. Wainwright that poor defendants have a constitutional right to appointed counsel. The court has held that this right generally extends to a defendant's first appeal after a criminal conviction.

In virtually every state, poor defendants are appointed lawyers for their first appeals. But in Michigan, they do not have the right to a lawyer on appeal if they have pleaded guilty. Normally, defendants who plead guilty do not appeal, but there are times when they do, like when they want to challenge the sentence that they receive. In the case the court is hearing today, a mentally impaired defendant had to appeal without a lawyer when he was given a prison sentence of up to 30 years that he maintains was improperly calculated.

For the right to counsel to be meaningful, it must apply to the initial trial and to one appeal before a different judge.

The Constitution provides you with the right to be assisted by Counsel, not a right to one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Democrats See Rift In House (Erin P. Billings, April 25, 2005, Roll Call)

A major rift has developed within the House Democratic Caucus, as moderates and liberals wage a war over influence and questions mount over the leadership's direction for the minority party. [...]

Tensions flared at the gathering over recent defections by moderate Democrats on key votes, most particularly the recent bankruptcy bill, in which 73 Members including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) sided with the GOP. The meeting left Hoyer defending the moderates' votes and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) siding with progressives and criticizing centrists.

"People are frustrated we had a divided leadership on this bill and they were very outspoken on the opposite sides. Maybe that's what helped this meeting turn into what it turned into," said a senior Democratic staffer. "It's possible this was the final straw for many."

Numerous House Democratic sources said the meeting simply underscored broader tensions between a growing and emboldened centrist faction and the traditionally dominant liberal wing of the Caucus. [...]

"There is a feeling that there is nothing to unite this party right now," said another senior Democratic staffer of the Caucus' failure to take strong, detailed positions on issues. "There is Social Security, and we're doing a good job on that, but that's it. There are no grand ideas or principles for the party. [...]

Even before Tuesday's dust-up, a veteran Democratic House Member summed up the 109th Congress this way: "There is heavy division in the Democratic Party over virtually every policy issue." [...]

One aide said while it's unclear how things will play out, there is a recipe in place for the frustrations of conservative and moderate Democrats to explode. ... But another Democratic source countered: "We aren't going to win by being Republican lite. If we're going to be the opposition party, let's be an opposition party."

Opposing the war on terror, the Ownership Society, a law-and-order judiciary, and Judeo-Christianity doesn't seem likely to win them much either.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Putin says Russia Remains Committed to Democratic Course (Lisa McAdams, 25 April 2005, VOA News)

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia has no future, if it turns its back on democracy. In his annual state-of-the-nation address Monday at the Kremlin's Marble Hall, he urged lawmakers and the public to strengthen democracy and rule of law.

President Putin says freedom, rule of law and a basic respect for human rights must be the hallmark of Russian institutions and society, as the nation works toward his promise of a better future.

In remarks broadcast live on state television, President Putin said Russia's place in the world will be defined by strength and success in both democratic and economic gains

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


A Jazz Discovery Adds a New Note to the Historical Record (BEN RATLIFF, 4/25/05, NY Times)

[N]ow this: tapes bearing nearly a full hour of the Thelonious Monk quartet with John Coltrane, found at the Library of Congress in January. The library made the announcement this month.

The tapes come from a concert at Carnegie Hall on Nov. 29, 1957, a benefit for a community center. The concert was recorded by the Voice of America, the international broadcasting service, and the tapes also include sets by the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra, Ray Charles with a backing sextet, the Zoot Sims Quartet with Chet Baker, and the Sonny Rollins Trio. (Newspaper accounts of the concert indicate that Billie Holiday appeared as well, though she is not on the Voice of America tapes.)

But it is Monk with Coltrane that constitutes the real find. That band existed for only six months in 1957, mostly through long and celebrated runs at the East Village club the Five Spot. During this period, Coltrane fully collected himself as an improviser, challenged by Monk and the discipline of his unusual harmonic sense. Thus began the 10-year sprint during which he changed jazz completely, before his death in 1967. The Monk quartet with Coltrane did record three numbers in a studio in 1957, but remarkably little material, and only with fairly low audience-tape fidelity, is known to exist from the Five Spot engagement.

The eight and a half Monk performances found at the Library of Congress, by contrast, are professionally recorded, strong and clear; you can hear the full dimensions of Shadow Wilson's drum kit and Ahmed Abdul-Malik's bass. It is certainly good enough for commercial release, though none has yet been negotiated.

How about in time for Christmas?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Bright Future for Solar Power Satellites (Leonard David, 17 October 2001, Space.com)

Two new studies looking at the feasibility of space-based solar power - orbiting satellites that would serve as high-tech space dams - suggest the concept shouldn't be readily dismissed and could generate both Earth-bound and space-based benefits.

These "powersats" would catch the flood of energy flowing from the Sun and then pump it to Earth via laser or microwave beam. On earth it would be converted to electricity and fed into power grids to be tapped by terrestrial customers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Labour invoke Thatcher memories (BBC, 4/25/05)

Margaret Thatcher would have been appalled by the economic pledges being made by her Conservative successors, Labour ministers have claimed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


With the recent scandals involving steroids in Major League Baseball, my company, WebSurveyor, has created a survey to find out how baseball fans are reacting to this situation. I found your website and thought you might be interested in telling your readers about it. As a bonus, to get as many responses as we can, the company is giving away a free Sony PSP to the website owner that refers the most survey respondents to the Steroids in Major League Baseball survey. If you’re interested in signing up, you can sign up for the contest at:

"Steroids in Baseball Online Survey"

Results from the survey will be posted in real time at:


Thanks so much.

I don't even know what a Sony PSP is--some kind of tv?--but if you help us win I promise to share.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:07 AM


Republicans Say Have Votes to Ban Filibusters (Thomas Ferraro, 4/24/05, Reuters)

U.S. Senate Republicans have the votes to ban any more Democratic procedural roadblocks against President Bush's judicial nominees, a top Republican said on Sunday.

A spokesman for Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada promptly questioned the claim, while another Democrat, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, floated a possible compromise to avert a fight that could bring the Senate to a near halt. [...]

The key question is whether Republicans can muster the support needed to change Senate rules to ban procedural roadblocks known as filibusters against judicial nominees.

"There's no doubt in my mind, and I'm a pretty good counter of votes ... that we have the votes we need," Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told CBS's "Face the Nation."

Senator Biden's sudden willingness to "compromise" suggests Mr. McConnell's vote count is right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM

W, F.O.B.:

Bush picks brains of Clinton, father (Bill Sammon, 4/08/05, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

President Bush solicited foreign policy advice from former President Bill Clinton at CIA briefings this week and even told Mr. Clinton that he liked his approach to reforming Social Security.

'It was really a lot of fun, Mr. Bush told reporters yesterday after spending three days with Mr. Clinton and former President George Bush in Rome.

'These CIA briefings a lot of time prompt policy discussions,' he added. 'It's interesting to get their points of view about their experiences in particular countries.'

The president also praised one of Mr. Clinton's domestic policies -- trying to reform Social Security. Both men have proposed personal savings accounts as part of the solution, an idea that is vociferously opposed by congressional Democrats.

'I was telling President Clinton I remember watching one of his town hall meetings in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on this very subject,' Mr. Bush said just hours after bidding farewell to his predecessor at the Rome airport.

'And I thought it was a very impressive presentation,' he added. 'By the way, a lot of the language happens to be pretty close to some of the town hall meetings we've had.'

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Last European Pope?: The mission of Benedict XVI. (Joseph Bottum, 05/02/2005, Weekly Standard)

A FAILING CIVILIZATION CAN'T BE argued out of its failing. It can be led, perhaps, or inspired, or converted and reformed. But argument requires the application of universal truths to the particular facts of the moment, and when a culture is tumbling downward, all its truths and facts--indeed, the whole idea of truth and fact and argument--are exactly what its people increasingly disbelieve.

Does anyone doubt that Western Europe is tumbling downward? It cannot summon the will to reproduce itself. It has aborted and contracepted its birthrate down toward demographic disaster: perhaps 1.4 children per couple across the western end of the continent, when simple replacement requires a rate around 2.1. It can discover neither how to absorb nor how to halt the waves of Islamic immigrants swamping its cities, and it has proved supine in the face of those immigrants' anti-Semitism, anti-Christianism, and even anti-Europeanism.

Meanwhile, Western Europe's economies are soft, its unemployment rates are shocking, and its emerging continent-wide government is elitist and antidemocratic. Its people are hedonists and materialists, its soccer clubs are nativist militias in waiting, its churches are empty, and--well, that's the problem Joseph Ratzinger faces, isn't it? The newly elected Pope Benedict XVI has just inherited the world's greatest pulpit, but, on his home continent at least, there's hardly anyone in the pews to listen.

He can preach to the choir, of course: After nearly three centuries of enlightened disdain for religion, Europe is about as dechristianized as it's likely to get; everyone who's going to leave the Church already has, and still there are millions of believers scattered across the continent--to say nothing of the billion or so who don't happen to live a train ride away from Rome. In all likelihood, the European Union and the national governments will soon cave in and grant their Muslim immigrants the religious exemptions those governments have consistently refused to grant Catholics. And that will prove what the Vatican claimed all the way back in its struggles with the French Revolution: The European form of Enlightenment secularism and laïcité was never some purely philosophical stand on the necessary political separation of church and state; it always began and ended with anti-Catholicism.

You'd have to think one of the main sources of the Left's anger at the choice of Pope Benedict XVI was indeed that the Church marches into the 21st Century little changed from what it was centuries ago while the secularist project in Europe (and on America's Coasts) is dying before our eyes.

Behind the rage at Benedict XVI (Patrick J. Buchanan, April 25, 2005, Creators Syndicate)

"Except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you have no life in you."

Hearing Jesus' words in the synagogue at Capharnum, many of his disciples said, "'This is a hard saying, who can hear it?' ... From that time many ... walked no more with him."

This episode from the Gospel of St. John is instructive. For today, scores of millions do not believe that John Paul II taught infallibly when he condemned abortion, contraception, homosexuality and the idea of women-priests. They cannot accept church teaching as settled and final, and want it changed to reflect their own beliefs. Yet, all the modern popes, and now Benedict XVI, refuse to change doctrine to accommodate them.

Thus, the rage, resentment and frustration that the conclave chose Cardinal Ratzinger as pope. They are like children who have been told by a stern but loving father that their tantrums are to no avail and they are not going to get their way, though they have been used to getting their way for most of their pampered lives.

And so the new pope is denounced as "God's rottweiler," "der PanzerKardinal," John Paul II's enforcer and the chief inquisitor who cruelly silenced the voices of dissent after Vatican II. What the hostility of the liberal media to the selection of Cardinal Ratzinger tells us is that the conclave got it right.

The secular world, too, hoped the church would alter its doctrines to conform to a moral relativism that teaches there is no law above manmade law, and that what is right and wrong is decided by each generation. The notion that there is a higher law – God's law, permanent law – to which all manmade law and human conduct must conform is anathema.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Mother sues NHS after twin survives abortion (David Lister, 4/25/05, Times of London)

A MOTHER who underwent an abortion after learning that she was pregnant with twins is suing the NHS for £250,000 after one of the babies survived.

Stacy Dow, who was 16 when she found out that she was pregnant, is seeking compensation and damages for the “financial burden” of raising her daughter. Miss Dow, whose father has had to take on a second job to help to pay for his granddaughter, is claiming for “loss, injury and damage” suffered at the hands of Tayside University Hospitals NHS Trust.

The teenager, who hoped to train as a nurse...

April 24, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:59 PM


Why Drug Dealers Live With Their Moms: If you had a job paying $3.30 an hour, you'd be bunking at home too. (Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, April 24, 2005, LA Times)

During the crack cocaine boom of the 1990s, the image of the millionaire crack dealer implanted itself on the public consciousness. But anyone who spent time around the Crips or Bloods or any other crack-selling gang might have noticed something odd: A great many crack dealers still lived at home with their moms. Why was that?

Sudhir Venkatesh, a University of Chicago graduate student at the time, discovered the answer.

He had originally been sent by his thesis advisor into a Chicago housing project to administer a sociological survey. But after a harrowing encounter with a local crack gang, he befriended its leader and virtually embedded himself with the gang for six years. He was given a pile of notebooks containing four years' worth of the gang's financial transactions — a trove of data that, when subjected to an economic analysis, proved incredibly revealing.

At root, economics is the study of incentives — how people get what they want, or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing. The rules apply just as well to a crack gang as to a Fortune 500 business.

As it turned out, the gang worked a lot like most American businesses, though perhaps none more so than McDonald's. If you were to hold a McDonald's organizational chart and the crack gang's organizational chart side by side, you could hardly tell the difference.

This is drawn from just one fascinating chapter in their excellent book, though the truth it reveals is well known to viewers of The Wire.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:53 PM


Absolutely, Power Corrupts (MICHAEL LEWIS, 4/24/05, NY Times Magazine)

In February 2004, a 24-year-old minor-league baseball player named Steve Stanley sat down and wrote a letter to President Bush. He had no talent with a pen, and he wanted badly to be understood, so he asked his wife, Brooke, to put what he had to say into words. He wanted to thank the president, whom he admired, for mentioning steroids in his State of the Union address, but he was also hoping to use his own case to advance the discussion. He was a small-boned, 5-foot-7, 155-pound center fielder who, even as he wrote, was succeeding in baseball because of his speed and his abilities to play defense and get on base. Even so, just over a year into his pro career, he was beginning to feel like a freak. He could live with being the least likely player on the field to hit the ball over the wall; what drove him nuts was the thought of bigger players using drugs to widen the power gap even further between him and them. The season before, he'd actually watched some hulking bomber taking batting practice hit a high fly ball to the warning track, turn to a teammate and, referring to a steroid, say, ''One cycle of Deca and that's out.'' And he had no doubt that the slugger would make sure that, next time, the ball left the park.

The putatively rigorous drug testing in the minor leagues, in Stanley's view, didn't reduce the use of steroids so much as it increased the energy players put into not getting caught. In 2003, players were going off into a separate room to fill a cup with urine; that was a joke. Last year, the testers followed the players into the bathroom; steroid users were said to fill false penises -- whizzinators, they called them -- with clean urine and stick them down their pants. The testing wasn't designed to catch cheaters but to create the illusion of trying to catch them. And never mind the biggest loophole of all: the off-season, when the testing of players was haphazard at best.

As the 2003 season's end approached, players could contact their dealers and arranged for shipments of Winstrol -- a kind of steroid with a half-life sufficiently short that it was undetectable a few weeks after the final dosage. A year into his professional baseball career, Steve Stanley had seen enough. In his letter to the president he -- or his wife -- made three observations: 1) the higher the level of the game, the more steroid-aided power he seemed to encounter; 2) steroids put a player like him, who refused to take them, at a competitive disadvantage; and 3) steroids were so deeply embedded in the game that the only way for baseball to be cleansed of them was for outsiders to take matters out of baseball hands.

When he mailed his letter to the president, steroids seemed to be Steve Stanley's problem more than baseball's. The people who judged baseball players, and made decisions about their careers, hardly gave steroids a second thought. Never knowing for sure who was on them, and having no good way of finding out, they were unable to calculate their importance. Anyone with eyes could see that, since the late 1980's, the shape of baseball players had changed. Anyone with a record book could see that, since the late 1980's, there had been a widespread increase in power, as measured by the number of doubles and home runs. But who was to say what caused the one, or that the one caused the other?

Of course, there's now some sketchy evidence that steroids have contributed mightily to the power surge. Clay Davenport, who studies minor-league players for the Web site Baseball Prospectus, has found that three of the four players with the most remarkable midcareer power surges in the last two decades are now famously linked to steroid use: Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi. (Giambi has gone from hitting 10 home runs in his entire college career to hitting 43 home runs off major-league pitching in a single season.) Ron Shandler, who has worked as a statistical analyst for the St. Louis Cardinals and publishes Baseball Forecaster, an annual survey of major- and minor-league players for fantasy leaguers, expresses his suspicions another way: he flags players who acquire power the same season that they've come back from vacation 20 pounds or more heavier. For instance, Shandler has noted that last season Adrian Beltre, in his final year with the Dodgers before becoming a free agent, reportedly showed up 20 pounds heavier than the year before. Beltre, whose career up to that point had been a story of unfulfilled promise, blasted 48 home runs, 25 more than he had ever hit in a single season -- for which he was rewarded, by the Seattle Mariners, with a new five-year, $64 million contract. (When a Tacoma, Wash., reporter asked if he had used steroids, Beltre laughed in denial.)

Another piece of evidence that steroids work is the reluctance of the players to part with their drugs.

Hard to say "no" to drugs when that $64 million waits.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:50 PM


Democratic Moral Values? (MATT BAI, 4/24/05, NY Times Magazine)

You can forgive Democrats in Washington for feeling somewhat vindicated by the way the controversy over Terri Schiavo played out. For years, after all, they waited in vain for the moment when Republicans might trip over their own arrogance while crusading for moral values, and finally, if polls are to be believed, it happened. Spurred by opportunism and more than a little genuine religious fervor, the heirs to Goldwater and Reagan seemed to forget how they came to control the values debate in America in the first place: not by interfering in the moral choices of families but by promising to stop government from doing exactly that. In truth, it had been a long time since Republican leaders paid more than superficial tribute to their libertarian creed, but it was only now, in the battle over a dying woman's wishes, that the public seemed to call them on it.

And yet, satisfying as it was for Democrats to watch Bill Frist and George W. Bush grow mute in the face of voter unease, they couldn't escape from the fact that the Schiavo episode exposed something hollow in their party too. Far from having made a compelling case for euthanasia or against morality by fiat, Democrats, with a few notable exceptions, pretty much became bystanders to the whole unseemly affair. And while Republicans managed to further define themselves as a party that would even go to unpopular lengths to defend the sanctity of ravaged and unborn souls alike, Democrats were again left to ponder their own identity in an age in which religious values and scientific insight seem increasingly to be hurtling toward collision. Even in defeat, Republicans emerged as ''the party of life.'' And as one leading Democratic operative privately warned a roomful of allies, ''We can't just be the party of death.''

Don't be silly--they've got taxes too!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:40 PM


Cardinal Ratzinger had websites dedicated to boosting him for Pope. Lawrence Tribe has one tracking his plagiarism mess.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:18 PM


What Living Wills Won't Do: The limits of autonomy (Eric Cohen, April 12, 2005, Weekly Standard)

For decades, we have deluded ourselves into believing that living wills would solve our caregiving problems; that healthy individuals could provide advance instructions for what to do if they became incompetent; that such a system would ensure that no one is mistreated and that everyone defines the meaning of life for himself until the very end. But it is now clear that living wills have failed, both practically and morally.

In the March-April 2004 issue of the Hastings Center Report, Angela Fagerlin and Carl E. Schneider survey the social science data, and their conclusions are damning: Most people do not have living wills, despite a very active campaign to promote them; those who do usually provide vague and conflicting instructions; people's opinions often change from experience to experience; and people's instructions are easily influenced by how a given scenario is described. These are not problems that any reform can fix. A person simply can't grasp in the present every medical and moral nuance of his own future case.

The dream of perfect autonomy--everyone speaking for himself, never deciding for another--should fade each time we change a parent's diaper, or visit a grandparent who does not recognize us, or sell an uncle's property to pay for the nursing home. After all, the only fully autonomous death--with every detail governed by individual will--is suicide. And suicide is hardly a basis for dealing more responsibly with the burdens of caregiving.

As the baby boomers age, we are entering a period when long-term dementia will often be the prelude to death, and when caregivers will regularly have to make decisions about how or whether to treat intervening illnesses like infections, heart trouble, or cancer. When should we accept that death has arrived, and when does stopping treatment entail a judgment that Alzheimer's patients are "better off dead"? What do we owe those who are cognitively disabled and totally dependent?

On these hard questions, the most vocal critics of Congress and "the religious right" in the Schiavo case have revealed the shallowness of their own thinking. Defending the "right to privacy" ignores the moral challenge of deciding how we should act in private, as both patients and caregivers. Asserting that "the state should stay out" of these decisions ignores the fact that some hard cases will always end up in court; that legislatures have a civic responsibility to pass the laws that courts apply; and that a decent society should set some minimum moral boundaries, such as laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide. And claiming that we should "defer to medical experts" ignores the potential conflict between the ideology of living wills and the ethic of medicine, since some people will leave instructions that no principled physician could execute.

In the end, the retreat to moral libertarianism and liberal proceduralism is inadequate. We need, instead, a moral philosophy, a political philosophy, and a medical philosophy that clarify our roles as caregivers, citizens, and doctors attending to those who cannot speak for themselves.

ANY MORAL PHILOSOPHY of care should begin with the premise that disability--even profound disability--is not grounds for seeking someone's death. But seeking death and accepting death when it arrives are very different matters. And while we should not seek death, neither should we see extending life at all costs as the supreme goal of care.

Just as the normalizing of abortion in the early 70's was fueled by the mistaken belief that it would be used mostly to kill black children, so too is the popularity of euthanasia driven by simple-minded bigotry towards disability.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:13 PM


US begins to be more assertive with China as terror, Iraq concerns ease (AFP, Apr 24, 2005)

The Bush administration is becoming more assertive with China on issues ranging from trade and currency to nuclear proliferation as concerns over Iraq and terrorism begin to ease. [...]

"I see new energy and interest in addressing what the United States perceives to be its top priority in US-China relationship -- namely rectifying trade imbalance and dealing with North Korea's nuclear proliferation," said Elizabeth Economy, an expert on US-China relations at the influential US Council on Foreign Relations.

The shift reflects a "return to the more traditional kind of US-China relationship rather than something very new and startling" and part of it has to do with less attention focused now on the war on terror and Iraq, she said.

Bush abandoned his aggressive China policy after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States.

He downplayed key bilateral differences as a trade off for Chinese support for Washington's war on terror and tacit backing for the US-led war on Iraq.

Nearly four years later, as Bush trumpets gains in Iraq and the war on terrorism and faces an increasingly impatient Congress over his China policy, the administration is slowly turning the screws on Beijing.

A Hundred Cellphones Bloom, and Chinese Take to the Streets (JIM YARDLEY, 4/25/05, NY Times)
The thousands of people who poured onto the streets of China this month for the anti-Japanese protests that shook Asia were bound by nationalist anger but also by a more mundane fact: they are China's cellphone and computer generation.

For several weeks as the protests grew larger and more unruly, China banned almost all coverage in the state media. It hardly mattered. An underground conversation was raging via e-mail, text message and instant online messaging that inflamed public opinion and served as an organizing tool for protesters.

The underground noise grew so loud that last Friday the Chinese government moved to silence it by banning the use of text messages or e-mail to organize protests. It was part of a broader curb on the anti-Japanese movement but it also seemed the Communist Party had self-interest in mind.

"They are afraid the Chinese people will think, O.K., today we protest Japan; tomorrow, Japan," said an Asian diplomat who has watched the protests closely. "But the day after tomorrow, how about we protest against the government?"

Nondemocratic governments elsewhere are already learning that lesson. Cellphone messaging is an important communications channel in nascent democracy movements in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East. Ukraine's Orange Revolution used online forums and messaging to help topple a corrupt regime.

Few countries censor information and communications as tightly as China, which has as many as 50,000 people policing the Internet. Yet China is also now the largest cellphone market, with nearly 350 million users, while the number of Internet users is roughly 100 million and growing at 30 percent a year.

The result is a constant tension between a population hungry for freer communication and a government that regards information control as essential to its power. Anti-Japanese protesters have been able to spread information and loosely coordinate marches in a country where political organizing is illegal.

"That has to put the government on guard," said Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the University of California at Berkeley. He said the recent organizing effort was even more notable because no one had been able to identify any of its leaders.

Given the internal unrest and the ongoing confrontations with neighbors like Taiwan and Japan, it shouldn't be hard to destabilize the PRC.

China's hardly in a position to lecture Japan (Ross Terrill, 22apr05, The Australian)

East Asia is the axis of world power, because the US, China, Japan, and Russia intersect here as nowhere else.

Coiled Japan and theatrical China have seldom got on well. War between them in 1894-95, starting over Korea, undermined China's last dynasty and gave Taiwan to Japan. Widespread war again occurred from 1937 to 1945, as Japan's armies sought to put China under Japanese tutelage. Japan's attack doomed Chiang Kai-shek's rule and fuelled Mao Zedong's victory - and Tokyo lost control of Korea as well as Taiwan. Since 1945 only US power has prevented a resurgence of China-Japan rivalry, with all that would mean for Australia and other countries in the region.

Although the issues seem genteel, the China-Japan crisis is not really a surprise. China, buoyed by the world's gushing endorsement of its "rise"', believes it can lecture Japan with impunity. Just at this time Tokyo, thanks to North Korea's craziness, generational change in Japan, China's economic clout, and the flourishing Koizumi-Bush relationship, has forsaken bowing and scraping and become hard-nosed in its foreign policy.

Beijing's gripes with Tokyo are mostly spiritual. Younger Japanese are not willing to kowtow in unending shame for World War II. Japan has an economy three times the size of China's (with 10per cent of China's population), which rankles a Middle Kingdom used, until the 19th century, to being No.1. It judges Japan morally unfit for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

Japan says it is graduation time for China. No longer poor and a victim, Beijing is seen to be shamelessly milking the World War II issue for concessionary loans and self-esteem. Many Japanese also see China's anti-Japan rhetoric as calculated political mythology -- and this indeed is the heart of the matter.

China's diplomatic awkwardness in the world is inseparable from its tight political control at home. Apologies, textbooks, uninhabited islands, war memories -- all become painted faces and props in the Beijing opera of the paternalistic Chinese state's cultural and foreign policies. Marxism has mostly lost its hold over Chinese minds. But truth and power emanate from one fount: historically the emperor's court, today the Communist Party. The hold of the Chinese Communist regime over its people depends on belief in the cries and groans of the Beijing opera.

One opera act can give way to a surprising sequel. Folk in the People's Republic were taught to love the Soviet Union and then to hate it. India was esteemed in the 1950s and vilified in the '60s. Vietnam was "as close as lips and teeth" in the '60s yet invaded by Chinese armies in 1979. When Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka tried to apologise directly to Mao for World War II in 1972, Mao brushed him off, saying the "help" provided by Japan's invasion of China made possible the Communist victory in 1949.

The moment's raison d'etat is supreme. Turning on rhetoric, emotion, and government-sanctioned demonstrations is an easy trick. Since political safety valves are lacking in Chinese society, no one knows the relative weight in the anti-Japan demonstrators' motivations among (a) dislike of Japan, (b) doing what supervisors prompt and (c) letting off steam by shouting slogans in the street (normally forbidden in China) that might end up annoying a Chinese government seen as condescending and corrupt.

On textbooks, a projection identification occurs. Dynastic regimes in East Asia all viewed history as the province of state orthodoxy. China and Vietnam, putting Leninist dress on the skeleton of traditional autocracy, still do. Japan and Taiwan, as democracies, do not.

No book of any kind attacking the Communist Party's monopoly of power in China has been published in China in the 56 years of the PRC. Some of the most trenchant books anywhere in the world on Japanese war atrocities have been written, published, and widely read in Japan. Beijing seems to think that because its textbooks jump to government policy, Japan's do too. But they do not. In Japan, unlike in China, there are government-sponsored textbooks as well as independent ones.

The blunt truth is that reasonable Chinese, Japanese, and other scholarly estimates vary widely for Chinese killed by Japan in the Nanjing Massacre of 1937 and in World War II. They also do for Chinese killed by their own Communist government in the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution (no apologies, yet, for these mishaps; what's a million here, 10million there, among comrades?). No one textbook can embody final truth.

The main text for middle-school history in China devotes nine chapters to Japan's aggression against China in the 19th and 20th centuries, but does not mention China's invasion of Japan under the Yuan Dynasty. (Vietnam comes off even worse than Japan. Nothing is said of the Han Dynasty's conquest of Vietnam or of China's 1000-year colonisation of thecountry.)

China has enjoyed a good run in relations with Japan and reaped economic benefit. The very real horror of war is one reason and the skilful political theatre practised by Beijing is another. But the mood in Japan toward China has changed and Beijing may be miscalculating. China will certainly pull back from the brink of a real rupture; it has too much to lose. But it is not certain that Tokyo will lie down and take any more abuse, vandalism, and Chinese distortions of history.

Australia and other friends of China and Japan should talk earnestly to both powers about the crucial role of the Japan-China relationship for peace in East Asia.

That assumes we want peace.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 PM


'My lesbian marriage was snatched away' (Matthew Davis, 4/22/05, BBC News)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 PM


Bush Boosting Hillary in '08? (NewsMax, 4/24/05)

By befriending Bill Clinton so enthusiastically, ex-President George H.W. Bush is inadvertently helping Hillary Clinton to reclaim the White House in 2008, a longtime Bush family confidante said Sunday.

"They're trying to move Hillary to the center for 2008, and this helps de-demonize her and her husband," the unnamed Bush insider tells the New York Daily News.

An unidentified Clinton aide agreed that the ex-presidents' warm relationship is giving Hillary's presidential bid a big boost, proclaiming, "It gives [Mr.] Clinton back some legitimacy."

Sen. Clinton certainly left no doubt that she approves of her husband's new pal, telling the News, "They really have been having a great time together."


Posted by Peter Burnet at 7:31 PM


Republican joins Bolton hearing monkey biz
(Mark Steyn, Chicago Sun-Times, April 24th, 2005)

I'll bet Pope Benedict XVI is glad that his conclave doesn't include either Cardinal Biden or Cardinal Voinovich, or his church would be pontiff-less indefinitely while they ''investigated'' last-minute rumors that he'd been off-hand to some guy in seminary 55 years ago. I had no strong views about the new pope one way or another, but I'd have voted for him just for the pleasure of seeing him drive the U.S. media bananas. Apparently, the New York Times was stunned that their short list of Cardinal Gloria Steinem, Cardinal Rupert Everett and Cardinal Rosie O'Donnell were defeated at the last moment by some guy who came out of left field and isn't even gay or female but instead belongs to the discredited ''Catholic'' faction of the Catholic Church.

Unlike the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the conclave of cardinals takes its job seriously. They understand the demands of the New York Times: women priests, gay sex, condoms for all. But, as befits an ancient institution, they take the long view: They think that radical secularism is weak and that the consequences of its weakness will prove dangerous and possibly fatal for the Western world. Therefore, there's no point accommodating it -- and, after all, those churches that do (the Episcopalians, for example) are already in steep decline. You can disagree with this, particularly if you're as shrill and parochial as Pope Benedict's American critics. But the conclave at least addressed the big issues.

By contrast, at a time of great geopolitical turbulence, all the senior foreign relations figures in the upper house of the national legislature of the most powerful nation on the face of the Earth can do is retail lame smears from the early '90s and late '80s. Last week, Newt Gingrich visited New Hampshire -- strictly for the beautiful defoliated trees and meandering washed-out washboard roads of scenic late-April Mud Season, you understand; nothing to do with putative presidential campaigns or anything like that. Anyway, a surprisingly large number of hitherto quiescent Granite State Republicans demanded to know what's the deal with the inept and unreliable GOP senators. Newt gave pretty much the standard reply: Well, you must understand the party's still not used to being in charge of Congress. If they'd taken the first poll of the 2008 primary right there and then, he'd have dropped off the graph.

Newt's answer was just about plausible in 1995. But after a decade in charge? The Iraqi people are expected to get the hang of this self-government thing in 20 minutes, but the Republican Party requires another decade or three? The Democrats lost in 2004 for two reasons: their lack of credibility on national security issues, and their descent into mindless obstructionism. Remember Tom Daschle? Me neither. But if you go to the local library and dig up all the yellowing clippings, you'll find he used to be in the papers pretty much every day until the second week of November.

The weak bromides touted by the Dems in lieu of a policy -- a legalistic approach to the war on terror, greater deference to the U.N. and America's ''friends'' -- were defeated at the polls. Since then, they've been further discredited: The failure of terrorist prosecutions in Europe underlines how disastrous John Kerry's serve-'em-with-subpoenas approach would be; the sewer of the Oil-for-Food scandal and the attempts by Kofi Annan to castrate the investigation into it demonstrate yet again that there is no problem in the world today that can't be made worse by letting the U.N. have a hand in solving it; and America's ''friends'' -- by which Kerry meant not allies like Britain and Australia but the likes of France and Canada -- turn out to be some of the countries most implicated in the corruption of U.N. ''humanitarianism.''

Republican voters understand this. Why don't Republican senators? The rap against John Bolton is that he gets annoyed with do-nothing bureaucrats. If that's enough to disqualify you from government service, then 70 percent of citizens who've visited the DMV in John Kerry's Massachusetts are ineligible. Sinking Bolton means handing a huge psychological victory to a federal bureaucracy that so spectacularly failed America on 9/11 and to a U.N. bureaucracy eager for any distraction from its own mess. The Democrats' interest in derailing Bush foreign policy is crude but understandable. But why would even the wimpiest Republican ''moderate'' want to help them out? Who needs capuchin monkeys in the Senate when GOP squishes are so eager to tap-dance for Democrat organ grinders?

Do these senators think that the UN can be charmed into reform by a kind of earnest diplomatic collegiality? How positively Canadian of them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 PM


Two, four, six, eight: time to transubstantiate (Kevin Myers, 10/04/2005, Daily Telegraph)

[P]olly Toynbee's hate-flecked diatribe in The Guardian against the Pope and the Catholic Church probably spoke for a sizeable community of intolerant feminist liberals.

Even by her usual intellectual incoherence, the following sentence sets positively Olympian standards of doctrinaire witlessness: "With its ban on condoms, the Church has caused the death of millions of Catholics and others in areas dominated by Catholic missionaries in Africa and right across the globe."

So there you have it: not merely is the Catholic Church in political power in all those states in sub-Saharan Africa, but also, its ban on condoms actually causes the deaths of millions. And bizarre though it is, such toxic mumbo-jumbo is probably well-received in certain corners of Hampstead, where bigoted, sectarian secularism disdains the affections of the masses and curses simple, celibate virtue such as the Pope's.

But it is not his goodness alone that has commended itself to the people of Britain: the Catholic Church seems to have established a moral primacy within the British Christian community. Cardinal Basil Hume and now Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor have achieved an authority far greater than their equivalents in Canterbury, even though the Catholic Church has been rocked with both the evils of child-abuse and by falling vocations.

People apparently crave what it stands for - unbending moral authority in personal and public life - even if they do not comply with every instruction it issues.

Hypocrisy is perfectly healthy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 PM


So, marital amity required a trip to MA this weekend for Passover and served up a number of reminders of why you should never leave your house.

(1) Did you know the Post Office doesn't have a Book Rate anymore? It's called Media Rate now.

(2) A package of razor blade refills now costs $10 for like four of them? You used to be able to get a whole sack of Bic shavers for less.

(3) One of The Wife's cousins is getting married but the rabbi won't do the service, not because the spouse is also a male, which is permissible, but because he's not Jewish.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 PM


Politics is no longer Britain's cup of tea: Experts say voter turnout in the May 5 general election could plunge to a century-low 53 percent. (Mark Rice-Oxley, 4/25/05, f The Christian Science Monitor)

With less than two weeks to the May 5 vote, the big question facing British politicians is not who votes for them, but who votes at all. Experts predict the lowest participation in a century.

Turnout that persisted above 70 percent for decades after World War II is expected to plunge to 53 percent this cycle, according to Professor Paul Whiteley of England's Essex University. Turnout in the 2004 US presidential vote was 61 percent.

Anatole Kaletsky nailed the surprising reason why this is a good rather than a bad sign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 PM


Under siege (Melanie Phillips, 4/24/05)

Jews are currently celebrating the festival of Passover. This commemorates the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, the point at which they gained their freedom and became a nation. The two concepts are intimately connected. On Friday afternoon, when orthodox Jews preparing for both the Sabbath and Passover would have been unable to attend, the Association of University Teachers took a large step towards delegitimising the Jewish national homeland as a prelude to its destruction. It passed a motion calling for a boycott of two Israeli universities, Haifa and Bar Ilan, which it accused of being complicit in the abuse of Palestinians in the occupied territories, and agreed to circulate a Palestinian call for a total university boycott.

The targeted Israeli institutions have denied the specific charges. They were given no opportunity to put their case; indeed, a request from Bar Ilan to send someone to do so at the conference was turned down. This was not surprising to anyone who has grasped what is going on here. For it was not these universities which were on trial, but Israel itself. And for the stupid and vicious people who now pass for our intelligentsia, Israel is a pariah nation — an ‘apartheid state’ — simply because the Arabs who are trying to exterminate it say that this is so.

The vote has drawn immediate protests at the denial of academic freedom that it embodies. I have already commented in posts below on this particular aspect, along with the disgusting requirement for Israeli academics to side with those who would exterminate their nation in order to avoid this punishment. In these circumstances, it was astonishing to hear Steven Rose, the original begetter of the boycott movement three years ago, adduce on BBC Radio Four’s The World Tonight as a reason for this action the ‘appalling’ restrictions by the Israeli authorities on the academic freedom of his Palestinian colleagues who were prevented from moving freely between universities in the territories. No mention by Rose, of course, of the 50-year Arab war against Israel and the systematic mass murder of Israeli citizens by Palestinians — the only reason for those restrictions being applied.

But then, the whole premise of the motion is a truly monstrous lie about who is the aggressor and who the victim in the Middle East, with Israel being wickedly blamed for having the temerity to defend itself against annihilation and genocide. Susan Blackwell, the Birmingham university lecturer (described in David Aaronovitch’s Observer column as a former Christian turned revolutionary socialist who co-wrote the motion, said the union was ‘standing up for human rights’. What is so terrifying is that, in stamping on the human right to life of the Israelis, she probably sincerely believes this Orwellian inversion of the truth. And these people are teaching our young. [...]

The AUT motion cannot be dismissed as the ravings of a tiny minority of far-left academics in a marginal union. It may be that other academics, appalled by what has occurred, will resign from that union or protest in other ways. But this development is merely the latest in an apparently unstoppable stream of comments and incidents of an anti-Jewish nature. And the crucial thing is the absence of outrage in the wider community — indeed, on occasion, it provides its endorsement. The AUT motion came at the end of a week which saw the award of the MBE to Orla Guerin, the BBC reporter whose venomous dispatches from Israel have come to epitomise the virulent anti-Israel hatred at the BBC. For her to be given this award, presented by Baroness Symons, the junior Foreign Office minister, is a calculated kick in the teeth by the labour government towards the Jewish community in Britain, where feeling about Guerin’s reporting runs very high as the government well knows.

The Jewish community in Britain is under siege.

Academia, the media, and parties of the Left--the new home of anti-Semitism.

Why Israel will always be vilified: It is convenient for many British liberals that Israel exists. It saves them from examining the manifest failings in their own actions (David Aaronovitch, April 24, 2005, Observer)

In itself, Israel is not anything like South Africa, where a majority was denied all political and civic rights on the grounds of race. What is analogous, however, is Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories, which bears comparison with South Africa's occupation of Namibia or, some might say, Serbia's occupation of Kosovo.

So the object of those wanting peace and justice in the Middle East is to bring about an end to that occupation, and enable the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state. It is to persuade both sides that such a settlement is practical and to persuade both sides to make the difficult sacrifices that are necessary. It is to build confidence between Jews and Palestinians, and to strengthen, always, the hand of the peacemakers.

Unless, of course, you don't believe that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state at all within any borders. And this, as it happens, seems to be the view of Sue Blackwell, who describes Israel as 'an illegitimate state'. Unlike the United Nations, she does not believe it should have been set up and she would rather it disappeared. As she pointed out in 2003 to a previous AUT council: 'From its very inception, the state of Israel has attracted international condemnation for violating the human rights of the Palestinian people and making war on its neighbours.' Or, to put it even more bluntly, everything is all the fault of the Israelis.

The problem is that many Jews understand very well that this is her view and, unfortunately, will believe that it is also the view of all her fellow campaigners. Consequently, there will now be a battle royal (of which this article is part) about the rights and wrongs of these particular tactics, and the bigger picture will inevitably be lost. Everyone will return to their trenches and take the tarpaulins off their heaviest and most inaccurate artillery.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 PM


Bush's Most Radical Plan Yet: With a vote of hand-picked lobbyists, the president could terminate any federal agency he dislikes (OSHA GRAY DAVIDSON, Rolling Stone)

If you've got something to hide in Washington, the best place to bury it is in the federal budget. The spending plan that President Bush submitted to Congress this year contains 2,000 pages that outline funding to safeguard the environment, protect workers from injury and death, crack down on securities fraud and ensure the safety of prescription drugs. But almost unnoticed in the budget, tucked away in a single paragraph, is a provision that could make every one of those protections a thing of the past.

The proposal, spelled out in three short sentences, would give the president the power to appoint an eight-member panel called the "Sunset Commission," which would systematically review federal programs every ten years and decide whether they should be eliminated. Any programs that are not "producing results," in the eyes of the commission, would "automatically terminate unless the Congress took action to continue them."

The administration portrays the commission as a well-intentioned effort to make sure that federal agencies are actually doing their job. "We just think it makes sense," says Clay Johnson, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, which crafted the provision. "The goal isn't to get rid of a program -- it's to make it work better."

In practice, however, the commission would enable the Bush administration to achieve what Ronald Reagan only dreamed of: the end of government regulation as we know it. With a simple vote of five commissioners -- many of them likely to be lobbyists and executives from major corporations currently subject to federal oversight -- the president could terminate any program or agency he dislikes. No more Environmental Protection Agency. No more Food and Drug Administration. No more Securities and Exchange Commission.

"Ronald Reagan once observed, 'The closest thing to immortality on this earth is a federal government program,' " says Rep. Kevin Brady, a Republican from Texas who has been working for the past nine years to establish a sunset commission. "We need it to clear out the deadwood."

The author may have misunderstood and thought the commission was aimed at him personally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 PM

ET TUTU? (via Kevin Whited):

Africans hail conservative Pope (BBC, 4/20/05)

African church leaders have welcomed the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI.

Archbishop John Onayekon of Nigeria told the BBC that African Catholics supported his conservative views on social and sexual issues.

However, South Africa's Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu said he was sad that the new pope was unlikely to end the church's opposition to condoms.

He said this was more important than the fact that the Pope was not African.

"We would have hoped for someone more open to the more recent developments in the world, the whole question of the ministry of women and a more reasonable position with regards to condoms and HIV/Aids," Archbishop Tutu said.

Surprising, eh, that Catholicism is thriving and Angicanism dying?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 PM

YOU ARE HOW YOU THROW (via brian boys):

Wide World of Sports: Soccer mirrors globalization and its discontents.: a review of How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, by Franklin Foer (Michael Young, April 2005, Reason)

In one chapter of How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, Franklin Foer evokes this alleged effetism by using soccer to help explain America’s culture wars. Foer distinguishes two camps that emerged in the U.S. after 9/11. One is cosmopolitan, shares values with Europe, opposes war in Iraq, and, presumably, is amenable to soccer; the other believes in American exceptionalism, views Europeans as lax and degraded, and regards soccer as “a symbol of the U.S. junking its tradition to ‘get with the rest of the world’s program.’”

The distinction is even simpler: there are people who throw like men and people who throw like girls.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:10 PM


The Fever Swamp: “Don’t You Want to Be Prepared?” (Meghan Cox Gurdon, April 22, 2005, National Review)

I don’t want to sound unpatriotic, and I realize that this is not a wildly original point, but there is something creepy about how risk aversion has become a kind of unofficial American creed.

It’s creepy in the way that it has crept stealthily into our national life, and creepier still in its sinister, innumerate, fear-fanning, joy-squashing effects. There have been days lately when I have caught myself wondering aloud, “Can we really be the people who settled the Great Plains?”

Spend a few hours at the park and you’ll hear the endless gull-like cries of fretful parents and nannies: “Don’t climb so high! Watch out with that stick! No running! No pushing! Don’t get on the slide until everyone’s off it!” Of course children can get hurt, but really, they usually bounce. Go to a swimming pool and it’s all, “No running! No diving! No jumping! Stop splashing!”

When Paris went recently to his pal Emma’s 8th birthday party — “Laser tag, wow!” — he came out cheerful and sweaty but slightly crestfallen. “It was fun,” he told me, “but not as exciting as I expected. We weren’t allowed to run or jump, so everyone just walked around slowly, shooting each other with beams of light.”

The next day Molly returned from a field trip to a D.C government office and informed us that a new municipal regulation requires children to wear protective headgear when…sledding! To grasp the full craziness of this rule, you must understand that we get sled-worthy snow maybe three times a winter — at which point school is invariably cancelled due to the peril of slippage — and that Washington, D.C. is not exactly Alpine. Them thar hillocks is hazardous, m’am! Them moguls is downright deadly!

It seems a no-fun approach to life to me, but then I come from a generation that knew not the steel-reinforced child car seat, the bicycle helmet, or that antibiotic gel that conscientious mothers rub on their toddlers’ hands when they’ve been playing in a sandbox.

The Wife and I have a fairly basic theory when it comes to fretting over stuff that could happen to the kids and whether we're fulfilling our parental duties: there have been 10 to 12 billion humans born and raised so far--many, if not most, to idiots--it just can't be that hard.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:02 PM


States Rein In Health Costs: Legislatures are looking to cut Medicaid or add fees. Missouri is poised to end the program, which many of the poor rely upon for care. (Stephanie Simon, April 24, 2005, LA Times)

Hundreds of thousands of poor people across the nation will lose their state-subsidized health insurance in the coming months as legislators scramble to hold down the enormous — and ever-escalating — cost of Medicaid.

Here in impoverished southeast Missouri, nurses at a family health clinic stash drug samples for patients they know won't be able to afford their prescriptions after their coverage is eliminated this summer. Doctors try to comfort waitresses, sales clerks and others who will soon lose coverage for medical, dental and mental healthcare.

"I don't know what cure to offer them," Dr. Hameed Khaja said.

Lawmakers say they feel for those who will lose coverage. But they say also that they have no alternative.

Prenatal checkups, care in nursing homes and other health services for the poor and disabled account for more than 25% of total spending in many states. Medicaid is often a state's single biggest budget item, more expensive even than K-12 education. And the price of services, especially prescription drugs and skilled nursing for the elderly, continues to soar.

The federal government helps pay for Medicaid, but in the coming fiscal year, the federal contribution will drop by more than $1 billion because of changes in the cost-share formula. President Bush has warned of far deeper cuts to come; he aims to reduce federal spending on Medicaid by as much as $40 billion over the next decade.

"It's frightening a lot of governors," said Diane Rowland, executive director of the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured.

You could put every Medicaid recipient in a lucrative Health Savings Account for a fraction of what the current program costs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:53 PM


Watching TV Makes You Smarter (STEVEN JOHNSON, 4/24/05, NY Times Magazine)

SCIENTIST A: Has he asked for anything special?

SCIENTIST B: Yes, this morning for breakfast . . . he requested something called ''wheat germ, organic honey and tiger's milk.''

SCIENTIST A: Oh, yes. Those were the charmed substances that some years ago were felt to contain life-preserving properties.

SCIENTIST B: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or . . . hot fudge?

SCIENTIST A: Those were thought to be unhealthy.
— From Woody Allen's ''Sleeper''

On Jan. 24, the Fox network showed an episode of its hit drama ''24,'' the real-time thriller known for its cliffhanger tension and often- gruesome violence. Over the preceding weeks, a number of public controversies had erupted around ''24,'' mostly focused on its portrait of Muslim terrorists and its penchant for torture scenes. The episode that was shown on the 24th only fanned the flames higher: in one scene, a terrorist enlists a hit man to kill his child for not fully supporting the jihadist cause; in another scene, the secretary of defense authorizes the torture of his son to uncover evidence of a terrorist plot.

But the explicit violence and the post-9/11 terrorist anxiety are not the only elements of ''24'' that would have been unthinkable on prime-time network television 20 years ago. Alongside the notable change in content lies an equally notable change in form. During its 44 minutes -- a real-time hour, minus 16 minutes for commercials -- the episode connects the lives of 21 distinct characters, each with a clearly defined ''story arc,'' as the Hollywood jargon has it: a defined personality with motivations and obstacles and specific relationships with other characters. Nine primary narrative threads wind their way through those 44 minutes, each drawing extensively upon events and information revealed in earlier episodes. Draw a map of all those intersecting plots and personalities, and you get structure that -- where formal complexity is concerned -- more closely resembles ''Middlemarch'' than a hit TV drama of years past like ''Bonanza.''

For decades, we've worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a path declining steadily toward lowest-common-denominator standards, presumably because the ''masses'' want dumb, simple pleasures and big media companies try to give the masses what they want. But as that ''24'' episode suggests, the exact opposite is happening: the culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less. To make sense of an episode of ''24,'' you have to integrate far more information than you would have a few decades ago watching a comparable show. Beneath the violence and the ethnic stereotypes, another trend appears: to keep up with entertainment like ''24,'' you have to pay attention, make inferences, track shifting social relationships. This is what I call the Sleeper Curve: the most debased forms of mass diversion -- video games and violent television dramas and juvenile sitcoms -- turn out to be nutritional after all.

I believe that the Sleeper Curve is the single most important new force altering the mental development of young people today, and I believe it is largely a force for good: enhancing our cognitive faculties, not dumbing them down.

Except that young men watch it for the violence and the jiggly daughter. They could no more explain what's going on than tell you the plot of Middlemarch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:46 PM


Bruce Almighty (JON PARELES, 4/24/05, NY Times)

WHEN Bruce Springsteen talks about his new album, he can sound more like a preacher than a rock star. Soul and spirit, God and family; that's what's on his mind in the quiet, folky songs on Devils & Dust. He sings, reverently, about Jesus and his mother, Mary; he also sings about a man with a hooker in a hotel room.

"I like to write about people whose souls are in danger, who are at risk," Mr. Springsteen said. At rehearsals for a solo tour that starts on Monday in Detroit, he and his crew were fine-tuning technical details here at the Paramount Theater, the faded movie palace at the Asbury Park Convention Hall.

"In every song on this record," he added, "somebody's in some spiritual struggle between the worst of themselves and the best of themselves, and everybody comes out in a slightly different place. That thread runs through the record, and it's what gives the record its grounding in the spirit."

In a way, "Devils & Dust" is Mr. Springsteen's family-values album, filled with reflections on God, motherhood and the meaning of home. [...]

Thoughts of redemption, moral choices and invocations of God have been part of Springsteen songs throughout his career, but they have grown stronger and more explicitly Christian on his 21st-century albums. "It was something I pushed off for a long time," he said, "but I've been thinking about it a lot lately." He has a trinity of reasons for his connection to Christian imagery and concepts: "Catholic school, Catholic school, Catholic school," he said. "You're indoctrinated. It's a none-too subtle form of brainwashing, and of course, it works very well."

Mr. Springsteen grew up half a block away from his Catholic church, convent and rectory. "I'm not a churchgoer," he said, "but I realized, as time passed, that my music is filled with Catholic imagery. It's not a negative thing. There was a powerful world of potent imagery that became alive and vital and vibrant, and was both very frightening and held out the promise of ecstasies and paradise. There was this incredible internal landscape that they created in you."

"As I got older, I got a lot less defensive about it," he continued. "I thought, I've inherited this particular landscape and I can build it into something of my own. I've been back to the church on many occasions, and I have a lot of friendships with priests. And I've been to the convent where the nuns now give me beer, which they have in the refrigerator. I don't think they had that when I was going to school there."

The album includes "Jesus Was an Only Son," a hymnlike song about Mary's love that ends with Jesus consoling her, saying, "Remember the soul of the universe/Willed a world and it appeared." But "Devils & Dust" also includes "Reno," which has lyrics explicit enough to prompt a warning on the album package that it "contains some adult imagery." Its narrator visits a prostitute who resembles his ex-lover, only to feel more desolate afterward.

"He's in this room with this proxy because he couldn't handle the real thing," Mr. Springsteen said. "The physicality, the sexual content of the song was important, because casual sex is kind of closing the book of you. It's ecstasy, and it's release. Sex with somebody you love is opening the book of you, which is always a risky and frightening read."

The other kind of love on "Devils & Dust" is maternal and filial. Half the songs on the album, like "Jesus Was an Only Son," ponder relationships between mothers and sons. Mr. Springsteen has written often about his uneasy ties to his father, who died in 1998, but rarely about his mother, who is still, he said, "alive and kicking."

In "Black Cowboys," a ghetto teenager leaves his mother and her drug-dealer boyfriend and heads west; in "The Hitter," a broken-down boxer shows up at his mother's door and begs her to let him in. And in "Long Time Comin,' " a man feels his pregnant wife's belly and hopes, for his children, that "your mistakes would be your own/Yea your sins would be your own," once again connecting family and faith.

"Pete Townshend said that rock music was one of the big spiritual movements of the second half of the 20th century," Mr. Springsteen said. "It is medicinal and it does address your spirit, there's no two ways about it. And it came out of the church. Who were the first frontmen? The preachers!"

Given his politics, Mr. Springsteen generally makes you put up with an aw3ful lot of nonsensde, but The Rising too was a moving and deeply spiritual disc.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:32 PM


Fury at BBC sabotage of Tory speech (MURDO MACLEOD, 4/24/05, The Scotsman)

FURIOUS Tory chiefs have accused the BBC of trying to sabotage their election campaign by sending hecklers equipped with microphones to a meeting addressed by Michael Howard.

The Conservatives have made an official complaint to the corporation after the hecklers - who were ‘miked-up’ by corporation technicians - were caught at a party event last week.

The Tories accuse the BBC of a "premeditated" attempt to disrupt the meeting and say the corporation should not be involved in creating news.

The BBC last night insisted the filming formed part of a programme on the history of heckling, but the revelation threatened to plunge the organisation into its biggest crisis since the David Kelly affair in 2003.

The admission that hecklers were equipped with microphones for a programme that will be viewed before polling day on May 5 leaves the BBC open to allegations that staff showed political bias, in breach of corporation regulations.

At least PBS is subtle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:00 PM


Weld talking to GOP about New York run (MARC HUMBERT, April 24, 2005, AP)

Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld has had discussions with New York Republican officials about a possible run for governor or the U.S. Senate next year in the state where he has lived since 2000, a top GOP official said Sunday.

The party official, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said there have been staff-level discussions between the two camps and direct conversations between at least one other top GOP official and Weld.

The primary interest is in Weld running for governor, the source said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:31 AM


Benefit Burden Puts GM in Slow Lane: The automaker has ample financial reserves for now. But CEO Rick Wagoner must find a way to cut pension obligations and retiree health costs. (John O'Dell, April 24, 2005, LA Times)

Like the Social Security system, GM has ample financial reserves — for now. The company has $19.8 billion in cash reserves, more than enough to fund this year's $5.5 billion in healthcare costs.

But Wagoner, who declined to be interviewed, must find a way to reduce the company's so-called legacy costs: $87 billion in pension obligations and $60 billion in retiree healthcare benefits. He has said that healthcare costs have reached a "crisis" stage and that GM needs to talk candidly with the United Auto Workers about finding a solution; the company also has suggested reducing other benefits.

GM says it has 2.5 retired workers for every 1 active employee — a ratio much greater than the forecast for the Social Security program when baby boomers have retired and there will be an estimated 1 beneficiary for every 2.1 active workers.

All told, Wagoner said, these costs add $1,500 to the price of each GM vehicle; that compares with about $300 for Toyota Motor Corp. in this country.

GM needs a considerable amount of outside help, especially from the UAW — which represents 120,000 hourly GM workers in the United States — to make a dent in its liabilities, analysts say. For example, the company would save more than $900 million a year if its hourly employees paid for the same share of healthcare costs as do its 40,000 salaried workers, said John Devine, the company's chief financial officer.

If you want to compete with the Third World in the parts assembley business pay the workers like they're Chinese.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:27 AM


Is There a Biblical Metaphysic? (Edmond Lab. Cherbonnier, January 1959, Theology Today)

Is there such a thing as a Biblical metaphysic? It is sometimes held that the very phrase itself is a contradiction in terms, that the words "Biblical" and "metaphysics" are mutually exclusive The present article will attempt to dispel this notion, and to show how the development of a Biblical metaphysic could contribute to current theological and philosophical discussion.

The first step is to clarify the meaning of the term "metaphysics" It belongs to a family of words which are used in two distinct senses the one general (or formal), the other specific (or material). The general sense stands for a particular kind of inquiry, as "astronomy." for example, refers to the investigation of the stars. The specific meaning, however, denotes the results of the inquiry. In this sense, there are as many different "astronomies" as there are plausible answers to the astronomer's question, such as Ptolemaic, Copernican, or Aztec. Similarly, the inquiry called "physics" has received several alternative answers, each of which is itself a "physics," whether Aristotelian, Newtonian, or quantum.

Metaphysics, likewise, in its general sense, refers to a particular inquiry. The metaphysician asks: "What is true always and every where, regardless of time or place? And how is this truth related to the particular truths of determinate times and places?" Possible answers, from the atomic theory of Democritus to the idealism of Hegel, are also "metaphysics," in the specific sense. When this sense is intended, the word is often spelled "metaphysic," without the final s. The Biblical metaphysic is simply the systematic development of one possible answer to the metaphysician's question, based upon hints and latent assumptions within the Bible. [...]

Correctly perceiving that the Bible is not Platonic, Spinoza concludes that it therefore has no philosophic import at all.

Because a majority of theologians have tacitly concurred in his verdict, Christian thought has frequently been at war with itself. This inner conflict has finally come to a head in the present day, with the sharp division of Protestant theology into two camps. On the one hand, the philosophical theologian recognizes that if Christianity is to be rational, it must contain a metaphysic. He thereupon performs a tour de force which purports to reconcile the Bible with Plato, but which in fact simply obscures what the Bible is saying. He is easily convicted by his counterpart, the orthodox theologian, of violating the elementary canons of scientific exegesis.

The orthodox, however, in order to keep Plato out of the Bible, has felt obliged to repudiate all metaphysics whatever, and even to denounce rational theology as a kind of idolatry. Having forfeited human reason to his opponent, he can scarcely hope to win an argument, except by recourse to dubious methods. The theological ferment of recent years has thus issued in a stalemate. The philosophical party, despite its defense of reason, reads into the Bible a metaphysic which has no place there. The orthodox party, despite a more respectable exegesis, replaces argument with a mixture of dogmatism and poetry.


Actually the present stalemate is merely the logical outcome of the basic cleavage which haunts the entire history of Christian thought. Today's philosophical camp is the lineal descendant of men like Oriogen and Erigena, whose Platonism could scarcely accommodate the Bible, while the orthodox follow the example of Tertullian and Luther, who were prepared to sacrifice reason to Scripture. Despite their differences, these men all shared one prior assumption. Or rather, their differences were due to this assumption. Agreeing with Spinoza that the Bible carries no philosophic import, they were obliged either to subordinate revelation to reason, or vice versa. [...]

[T]he hegemony of Platonic metaphysics has been due in part to the absence of adequate competition. The following pages will suggest, in barest outline, how a respectable alternative might be derived from the philosophical implications of the Bible, and will also indicate some of its advantages over Plato.

The nature of God. At no point is the contrast between Biblical and Platonic metaphysics more obvious than in their respective conceptions of "god." The Platonist, in his search for what is true always and everywhere, concludes that nothing can fill the bill save what is itself non-temporal and non-spatial. Nothing can be universally true save that which is itself "a universal." Hence the famous formula, "the most universal is the most real." Impelled by this rubric, his "quest for ultimate reality" finally ends with the most universal of all concepts, known variously, and apparently without embarrassment, as either Being, or Non-Being, or both.

A "divinity" which excludes space, time, and matter is best described in terms which negate the everyday world. Its relation to the world is that of the Absolute to the relative, the Infinite to the finite, the Timeless to the temporal. None of these designations is compatible with the God of the Bible. The Biblical God is not a universal, but a particular-a Being, not Being-Itself. The incarnation of Christ is no paradox. To describe it as such is to betray a Platonic point of departure. What the Biblical conception of incarnation is shouting at the top of its lungs is that whatever the difference between God and man may be, it has nothing to do with space, time, or matter. It reaffirms the contention of the book of Genesis that the nature of God himself is not incompatible with the nature of man. That is, the difference between God and man is not primarily a metaphysical difference. Though he exists only at the pleasure of his Creator, a living man is quite as "real" as the living God. Any attempt to combine this God with Plato's in a single system" is destined, under the logician's scrutiny, to split in half. The two "theologies" are in competition with each other. In metaphysics, as in life, there is a battle of the gods.

In plain words, the Biblical alternative to Plato's "Being-Itself" is a bold anthropomorphism. There is no a priori reason why this metaphysical hypothesis should not receive the same consideration as any other. The present writer, however, has made a careful search for a single rational refutation of it. His findings are exhausted by a catalogue of phrases like "subjective," "projection," "wishful thinking," "narrow," " crude anthropomorphism," "primitive superstition," "beneath a philosopher's dignity," " a fog of absurd notions," and other similar epithets, none of which contributes a great deal to testing the Biblical answer to the metaphysician's question.

Not only is the conception of God as Someone remarkably free from legitimate metaphysical objection; it also possesses a positive strength of its own, a strength described in the following words by the British philosopher, W. H. V. Reade:

"When fear of anthropomorphism induces men to reject the idea of a personal God, they simply delude themselves. What they propose is just as anthropomorphic as what they reject, and the only evident result will be that they have provided an inferior substitute for God. Whether it be the "unmoved Mover" of Aristotle, the id quo maius nihil of Anselm, or any similar abstraction, no hypothesis of that kind will ever prove anything but the failure of logical ingenuity to establish the existence of any Being who can be worshipped as God. The reason is that personality, however indefinable, is the highest "category" that we possess. Whenever we are promised something supra-personal, we may be certain that something infra-personal is what we shall get. Between divine and human personality the distance is doubtless immeasurable, but to attempt to improve the situation by taking refuge in the impersonal is a counsel of despair. . . . The savage makes a debased idol because his notion of human personality is debased."

While the Platonist, in his search for what is true regardless of place or time, postulates a realm of being beyond space and time, the Bible's answer to the same question is the "Living God." As the participle "living" implies, timeless categories are far less applicable to such a God than frankly temporal words. He speaks," acts, judges, forgives, loves, creates, redeems-in short, lie engages in those purposive, intelligent activities which are distinctive of a free agent. The key words by which the Bible describes God are all verbs.

When the Christian theologian objects, as even Calvin did, that a God who "does things" cannot be "the infinite" or "the absolute," he is simply saying that if Plato's metaphysic is correct, then the Bible's is false. But he sometimes forgets to add, "and vice versa."

One may readily agree with Plato that "ultimate reality," whatever its nature, must provide the philosopher with a fixed point' of reference, a lodestar around which his system may be securely oriented. But where Plato concludes that these "eternal verities" can be found only outside the flux of time, the Biblical metaphysic is focused upon the person of God. It does not look beyond time, but focuses upon his steadfastness within time.

"He is the living God, and steadfast forever" (Dan. 6: 26).

. . . with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." (James 1: 17).

"For I am the Lord, I change not" (Mal. 3:6).

"Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8).

This is the Bible's answer to the metaphysician's quest for a truth. which never fails. The difference between this answer and Plato's is the difference between that which, by definition, cannot change, and him who, de facto, does not change. Until anthropomorphism is found wanting on logical grounds, there is no reason of principle why the "quest for ultimate reality" should not lead the metaphysician to look for the kind of God who could say, "I am the Truth."

To object that terms like "the absolute" and "the infinite" are" necessary principles of thought" is really to beg the question. They are simply corollaries of the Platonist's prior premise that "the most universal is the most real." The adequacy of this premise is the point at issue: does it satisfy the criteria of Metaphysical inquiry? Its record is not unimpeachable. For thoroughgoing Platonism regularly obscures or denies the distinction between "being" and its opposite, "non-being," thereby violating the most important of all logical rules, the principle of consistency. And self-contradiction remains self-contradiction, whether marketed as "the courage to embrace tension" or "the humility to accept paradox." Prima facie evidence thus suggests that the Platonic, rather than the Biblical God, obliges its followers to contravene the principles of thought.


Faith and reason. The whole problem of "faith and reason" is radically recast within a Biblical context. Or rather, it ceases to be a problem at all. The problem only arises within a Platonic framework, where faith acquires either of two meanings. Either it is a kind of half-way house between doubt and certainty, and definitely subordinate to the latter, or it is equated with the extra-cognitive moment of mystical illumination, which allegedly transcends the distinction between subject and object. In either case, it has been reduced to a kind of apprehension, and in neither case can it be reconciled with reason.

Within the Biblical metaphysic, however, faith is not reducible to a mixture of certainty and doubt, or to any special mode of apprehension. Rather, it is a voluntary relation of absolute trust in him who alone holds the answers to Plato's questions. As Reade describes it:

"Faith is neither what Plato and Aristotle understood by 'knowledge,' nor what they meant by 'opinion'; neither the certitude of exact science, nor the state of uncertainty which prevails when science is lacking. . . . Faith . . . is not in essence an attitude or mental condition relative to any kind of impersonal facts, but rather a vivid consciousness of absolute trust in a Person."

In the Biblical world-view, the primary words all refer to those activities which distinguish persons from the impersonal, and especially to those which characterize relations between persons. The metaphysical priority is reserved for transactions between free agents: purpose, covenant, loyalty, promise, love, trust, forgiveness, repentance, gratitude, deception, betrayal, sin, and judgment.

Once this metaphysic is established, the "problem" of faith and reason disappears. The only question is whether God is in fact trustworthy. Once a person asks this question, he is prepared to receive the Biblical proof for the existence of God. It is neither the ontological argument nor any variation of the cosmological argument, both of which presuppose an un-Biblical conception of God. The Biblical God never asks men to believe without evidence, from the burning bush to doubting Thomas, but the evidence is of a kind appropriate to a Living God: the fulfillment of his promises. Hence, the very great significance which the Biblical writer attach to the fulfillment of prophecy:

"Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled: who among them can declare this, and show us former things? Show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods. . . .

"I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient time the things that are not yet done saying, My counsel shall stand, I will do all my pleasure. . . . I have purposed it, I will also do it" (Is. 43: 9, 41: 22; 46: 9-11).

God's existence is proved, not by the philosopher's ingenuity, but by God himself. The only problem is to persuade the philosopher to ask the right question.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


He Was My Pope, Too: Now that John Paul II is gone, I am even more of an orphan than the Christians in the Roman church. (Uwe Siemon-Netto, 04/04/2005, Christianity Today)

For the last quarter of a century, this non-Catholic has had a pope. Now that John Paul II is gone, I am even more of an orphan than the Christians in the Roman church. For they will surely have another pope, but that one may not be mine, since I haven't converted.

I am sure I am reflecting the views of many Protestants. Who else but John Paul II gave voice to my faith and my values in 130 countries? Who else posited personal holiness and theological clarity against postmodern self-deception and egotism? Who else preached the gospel as tirelessly as this man?

What other clergyman played any comparable role in bringing down communism, a godless system? What other world leader—spiritual or secular—understood so profoundly how hollow and bankrupt the Soviet empire was, so much so that this tireless writer never bothered to pen an encyclical against Marxism-Leninism because he knew it was moribund?

Has there been a more powerful defender of the sanctity of life than this Pole, in whose pontificate nearly 40 million unborn babies wound up in trashcans and furnaces in the United States alone? What more fitting insight than John Paul II's definition of our culture as a culture of death—an insight that is now clearly sinking in, to wit the declining abortion rates in the United States?

In Europe some time ago, a debate occurred in Protestant churches: Should John Paul II be considered the world's spokesman for all of Christianity? This was an absurd question. Of course he spoke for all believers. Who else had such global appeal and credibility, even to non-Christians and non-believers?

Of course, there was the inveterate Billy Graham. There were many faithful Orthodox and Protestant bishops, pastors and evangelists. But there was only one truly catholic (lower-case "c," meaning universal) voice of discipleship, only one determined to pursue this discipleship to the bitter end. And that was John Paul II.

Cardinal Ratzinger would seem to have been the one most likely to continue in this vein.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


How 'Hitchhiker's' got picked up: It was an ironically circuitous path to the big screen for Douglas Adams' offbeat guide. In the end, a pair of London video wizards took it under their wings. (David Gritten, April 24, 2005, LA Times)

Fans of Douglas Adams, the British writer who created the beloved science fiction comedy "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," were stunned by his sudden death from a heart attack, at age 49, in a Santa Barbara gym four years ago.

There was an extra dimension to the sadness surrounding the author's demise. Two years earlier, he had moved from his north London home to California, having signed a deal with Disney to create a feature film of "The Hitchhiker's Guide." It had been a long time coming; the radio series was first broadcast in Britain in 1978, and the "Guide" empire included books and a TV sitcom. But at the time of his death, Adams was still struggling to create a workable script.

"Douglas always wanted there to be a movie," observes Robbie Stamp, Adams' friend and business partner. "He believed a movie should be taking its place in the canon of his works." Finally, it has happened, but only after plenty of hectic behind-the-scenes maneuvering, with new principals replacing old. Yet there has been a constant determination to keep the film true to the irreverent spirit in which Adams created the story.

"We've worked hard to make sure [the film is] true to itself," observes Stamp, who is now its executive producer. "It's a strange, unique thing. I've always loved the fact that you can't ever describe it as a cross between one movie and another."

There's a sound commercial logic in this approach. "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" has become a modern classic, translated into 25 languages. It has sold more than 2 million copies in Britain alone and, according to a spokeswoman for Adams' London-based literary agent, Ed Victor, "16 million copies worldwide thus far."

Its hero is a diffident Englishman, Arthur Dent, who becomes the last surviving man on Earth after the planet is destroyed. He finds himself traveling around space (dressed in a robe and pajamas and clutching a towel) with his best friend, Ford Prefect (who turns out to be an alien), Zaphod Beeblebrox (president of the galaxy) and Trillian, a young woman Arthur met at a fancy-dress party, his last on Earth. "The Hitchhiker's Guide" has a philosophical bent, but its wit is light and brilliant; Adams' humor is self-deprecating and distinctly British.

After his premature death threw film plans into disarray, Disney asked writer Karey Kirkpatrick (who took the screenplay credit on "Chicken Run," another film comedy with a heavily British accent) to work from Adams' last revisions to his story and turn them into a coherent narrative.

We'll keep an open mind, but these kind of cult projects are easy to biff. Remember Howard the Duck?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Fingering 'Nails': Former outfielder Dykstra is alleged to have taken steroids before 1993 season and to have helped a friend with bets on games. (Lance Pugmire, April 24, 2005, LA Times)

Lenny Dykstra had a dream season in 1993.

He led the National League in hits, walks and runs, nearly doubled his previous high in home runs, finished second to Barry Bonds for most valuable player and led the Philadelphia Phillies to the World Series. After the season, the center fielder signed a multiyear contract worth almost $25 million, making him baseball's highest-paid leadoff batter ever.

Now, in court documents and interviews, former associates allege that during that magical season, "Nails" — as he was known because of his intense style of play — indulged in two of baseball's biggest sins: steroid use and illegal gambling.

A longtime friend and business partner is suing Dykstra in Ventura County, seeking to regain an interest in their lucrative Southern California car wash business. In the suit, Lindsay Jones, 42, of Irvine, alleges that Dykstra advised him to bet thousands of dollars with a bookmaker on selected Phillie games in 1993.

Jones said in a sworn statement that his baseball wagers were a form of payment to him, made "on the basis that Lenny would cover all losses, and I would use the winnings to live on."

Dykstra's lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli, said the three-time All-Star "absolutely denies" the allegation, calling it "unsubstantiated" and "a fabricated story from a disgruntled partner."

The suit includes a sworn declaration from a Florida bodybuilder — a convicted drug dealer — who said Dykstra paid him $20,000 plus "special perks" during their eight-year association to "bulk up" the once-slight ballplayer. In an interview, Jeff Scott said he injected Dykstra with steroids "more times than I can count," and that Dykstra stepped up his steroid use in spring training of 1993 because "it was a contract year."

Petrocelli, citing Scott's criminal past, said the steroid allegation was not "reliable or credible," and called the former bodybuilder "biased and aligned with Jones." In the past, Dykstra has denied using steroids.

Are we supposed to believe he put on that much bulk that fast by exercising?

Posted by Peter Burnet at 7:14 AM


Trouble in geriatric Europe (Emma-Kate Symons, The Australian, April 23rd, 2005)

Despite belated attempts at reform, being in your 50s or 60s in Europe's largest economies is still a saunter in the continental pleasure park. According to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development figures, public spending on pensions in France and Germany is among the highest in the OECD, up there with Italy, Greece, Switzerland and Austria, at 11.9 per cent and 11.2 per cent of gross domestic product respectively. In Australia we spend only a modest 4.3 per cent.

After decades spent fudging structural reforms first undertaken in Australia and Britain in the 1980s, unemployment in Old Europe is at record highs. Not since the '30s has Germany endured an unemployment rate of 12 per cent or five million. The French are at 10 per cent.

Such alarming figures could have nothing to do with Germany and France's fading love affair with the 35-hour week and six weeks or more of holidays. As the population ages, who are the hardest hit by the jobs crisis? Younger people, who are battling unemployment levels in the double digits sometimes years after graduation even from elite universities.

OECD social affairs ministers recently met in Paris, including our Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews and Family and Community Services Minister Kay Patterson. Andrews and Patterson laboured to focus discussion on the need for strong economic growth to support good social policy, and partnerships between government, non-government organisations and the private sector in delivering welfare. Yet all some of the Europeans could do was deride a delegate who dared raise the spectre of the ageing-population crunch. Ann Mettler, a Swedish and German citizen who heads the reform-minded Lisbon Council, warned that the European social model, despite its proud history, was an anachronism better suited to the 19th-century industrial age.

"The European social model is increasingly becoming a euphemism for protecting incumbents, people with a job, at the expense of people without a job," Mettler declared to audible snorts from OECD delegates. "And, frankly, it protects baby boomers at the expense of young people. What has this led to? Europe prides itself on being inclusive and social. But look around yourself: we have 19 million unemployed; 18 per cent of them are under the age of 25; we have ballooning and in fact unsustainable budget deficits; and we have deteriorating if not collapsing social security systems. Now add to that a demographic challenge that is awaiting us that is unprecedented.

"Europe has not experienced such a demographic change since the Black Death ravaged our continent."

A privileged generation that has always believed life was about securing its comfort and licensing its appetites can hardly be expected to give up its perks for such nebulous causes as economic growth and job opportunities for immigrants and the young.

April 23, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 PM


Private eyes fix relationships (MICHAEL HOFFMAN, 4/24/05, Japan Times)

"He showed me a picture of his wife," recalls Mr. M, a private detective. "Gorgeous."

M, 32, has been in business five years, spent mostly tailing unfaithful husbands or wives and reporting the sordid details back to the deserted party.

But lately, says Shukan Taishu, a new twist has crept into the profession. Investigators not only investigate, they try to bring estranged couples back together again.

Like many social trends, this one owes its spark to a TV drama. Four years ago a program showed a wronged wife instructing the detective who had identified her husband's new girlfriend, "Break them up!" Which the detective did, essentially by seducing the girlfriend, who ditched the husband, who returned to his wife, and all lived happily ever after -- except the girlfriend, ditched in turn when the detective moved on to his next case.

Clients inspired by the program began charging their private detectives with breaking up adulterous couples. From there, a logical progression turned detectives into fukuenya, experts in patching up damaged marriages.

That's also essentially the role played by the private eye in the lovely Japanese film, Shall We Dance?

Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:19 PM


Hate mob attacks Galloway
(Paul Waugh and Flora Stubbs, Evening Standard, April 20th 2005)

The bitter election battle in the East End has spilled into violence, with extremist Muslims and anti-war protesters targeting George Galloway and Oona King.

Anti-war campaigner Mr Galloway was forced to take refuge from Islamic militants who denounced him as a "false prophet".

The former Labour MP said "the police saved my life" after supporters of radical group Hizb-Ut-Tahrir clashed with members of his Respect party last night.

Labour's Ms King had her car tyres slashed and the vehicle was pelted with eggs by a gang of youths angry at her support for the Iraq war. Both incidents triggered fears for the safety of Mr Galloway and Ms King as they prepared for a stormy hustings meeting in Bethnal Green and Bow tonight.

Labour's 10,000 majority in the seat is under serious threat from Respect and the contest has been marked by some of the most vitriolic campaigning in the general election.

Mr Galloway was electioneering on the Osier council estate in Bethnal Green last night when a gang of 30 Muslim fundamentalists, who claim voting is un-Islamic, surrounded him and his supporters.

The men said they were angry at Mr Galloway's attempt to woo Muslim voters.

They said they were "setting up the gallows" for him and warned any Muslim who voted for his anti-war Respect party that they faced a "sentence of death".

The left never understands why embracing anti-Western, anti-democratic extremists only makes them hate you more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:38 PM


Mubarak to make 'surprise' announcement: President to reveal if he will seek fifth term (Agence France Presse, April 23, 2005)

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak could reveal whether or not he will seek a fifth mandate in this year's elections during a landmark seven-hour interview which public television will start airing on Sunday. According to the official Al-Ahram daily's Friday issue, the 76-year-old president, who has ruled Egypt for 24 years, will answer a question on his candidacy in the presidential polls, slated for September.

The president will also "announce a big surprise," said the newspaper without further elaborating. Political observers have speculated recently that Mubarak could appoint a vice president in response to international demands.

Can't you say "vote for my son" in under seven hours?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:21 PM


Poll puts French opposition to EU constitution at 60 per cent (John Lichfield, 23 April 2005, The Independent)

Signs of deep alarm have appeared in the leadership of the European Union as new polls show a hardening of French opposition to the EU constitution.

A European Commission spokeswoman said: "It is clear the Commission is worried by the statistics." Peter Mandelson, the EU trade commissioner, said of rejection: "At best [the EU], would stagnate. At worst, we would see a form of chaos. It could have damaging economic consequences."

There has been a flurry of contradictory opinion polls in France. Two found the "no" vote had strengthened to 58 per cent, or even 62 per cent, of those likely to turn out for the referendum on 29 May.

Another survey, by one of the most reliable French polling organisations, found the no vote had fallen back for the first time in a month. The CSA/Le Parisien poll suggested that likely votes were neck and neck again: 52 per cent "yes'' and 48 per cent for no.

France hasn't done anything worthwhile as a nation in centuries, but this would be praiseworthy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:08 PM


Private healthcare business booming (Tom Blackwell, April 23, 2005, National Post)

Patients fed up with long waiting lists in Canada are fuelling a fast-growing demand for brokerages that arrange speedy service in the United States as well as in Quebec's burgeoning for-profit medical industry.

Brokers and other similar companies say business has as much as tripled over the past year as Canadians apparently become more comfortable with paying for diagnostic tests, second opinions and even surgery.

They say their patients include not only the wealthy but also middle-class people willing to take out second mortgages or lines of credit to pay for faster care.

Driving the move are Canada's lengthy waiting lists for many medical procedures. A study last year found Canadians waited an average of 8.4 weeks from their general practitioner's referral to an appointment with a specialist in 12 different medical specialties, then waited another 9.5 weeks for their treatment. Those wait times are almost double what a similar study found in 1993.

An increasing number of patients looking to skirt the public system are being referred to physicians in Quebec's private health care sector, where operations such as hip replacements can be bought out of pocket -- and where the federal government has done little to intervene.

Patients approach the agencies in need of everything from joint replacements to diagnostic work and cancer treatment.

The number that OneWorld Medicare of B.C. sends to the United States for at least a consultation has jumped three-fold over the past 12 months, while the company fielded twice as many inquiries between January and March as it did in all of 2004.

"We have seen a very large growth in the last year," said Mike Starko of OneWorld.

"We shouldn't have to be sending people down to the U.S., we really shouldn't. But that's the unfortunate reality at this point."

Meanwhile, those poor Dutch immigrants think they're headed to a developed nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:00 PM


'It just doesn't feel like Holland any more': Troubled by the changes immigration has brought to their country, the van Ramhorst family is coming to Canada (DOUG SAUNDERS, April 23, 2005, Globe and Mail)

To a visitor, the village of Nijkerk looks like a model of Dutch calm and order, its neat streets filled with cyclists and lined with tiny townhouses.

But to Bert van Ramshorst and his family, the town no longer feels like home. Its citizens now come in a variety of hues and hold a wide range of beliefs, some of them deeply at odds with the pacifism and expansive liberalism that has long characterized Dutch society.

"I've lived here, in this town, almost all of my life, and it just doesn't feel like Holland any more," the 42-year-old electrical contractor said, as he took a break from packing to sit with his wife and three young children in their narrow, cozy living room. "It doesn't feel like the place where I want to raise my family."

So the van Ramshorst family, troubled by the changes brought about by immigration, have decided to become immigrants themselves.

With their move to Vancouver this summer, they are joining an unprecedented number of people from the Netherlands who have decided, in recent months, to make a new home in what they see as the more comforting and less divisive Canada.

The sudden exodus to Canada has taken the Dutch government entirely by surprise.

During the past year, and especially during the past five months, the number of Dutch citizens applying to depart for faraway countries -- notably Canada, as well as New Zealand and Australia -- has increased to levels not seen in the tiny nation's modern history.

Most of those emigrants, according to the people who help them make their moves, are leaving because of their complex and surprising feelings about the changes to Dutch society brought about by immigration.

As Europe loses its young families the demographic implosion only picks up pace.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:55 PM


Senior Taliban official gives up (April 24, 2005, Reuters)

A SENIOR member of the ousted Taliban movement surrendered today, the latest in a series of defections to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government by Taliban commanders.
Mofti Habibur Rahman, chief of the criminal department at Taliban's interior ministry, also said other high-level and low-ranking Taliban officials inside and outside Afghanistan would take advantage of a government amnesty offer.

"The reason is that we now have an elected and legitimate government," Rahman told reporters after surrendering to local authorities in Khost, the south-eastern province near the border with Pakistan, which is a hotbed of Taliban activity. [...]

His defection comes days after local officials in the southern province of Helmand said two senior Taliban members had surrendered under Karzai's amnesty offer.

Another Taliban commander in Helmand also surrendered this month.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:44 PM



A fuming John Kerry had "daggers in his eyes" after a fellow Democrat promoted Hillary Rodham Clinton for president — suggesting the 2004 loser is green with envy at a potential rival.

The flap was touched off two weeks ago when Clinton spoke at a Minneapolis Democratic dinner and Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) told the cheering crowd that he was introducing "the next great president of the United States."

Two days later, Kerry came over to Dayton on the Senate floor "with daggers in his eyes and said, 'What are you doing endorsing my 2008 presidential opponent?' . . . He was very serious," Dayton told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Clinton's office declined comment but a friend tut-tutted: "Boys will be boys, even when they are senators."

You know, there's a surprisingly easy solution to a number of peoples' problems available here. The Clintons and Jerrys should spouse swap. Mrs. Heinz wants nothing more than to the wife of a president. Mr. Kerry is a natural cabana boy. Bill Clinton would welcome the cash. Hillary would be rid of Bubba. Everybody wins.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:28 PM


Berlusconi Returns to Power with New Italian Govt (Crispian Balmer, 4/23/05, Reuters)

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi resolved a bruising row with his coalition partners on Saturday and named a new government tasked with reviving the sluggish economy ahead of next year's general elections.

The cabinet will be sworn into office later on Saturday and will include new health, industry and communications ministers.

It will also mark a return to frontline politics for Berlusconi's long time ally, Giulio Tremonti, who was named deputy prime minister just 10 months after being ousted as economy minister during ferocious coalition feuding. [...]

Berlusconi's political woes have grown out of Italy's economic troubles. Latest data suggests the economy fell into recession in the first quarter of 2005, the trade deficit is climbing and business confidence is at a 20-month low.

However, Berlusconi's cash-strapped government will struggle to find fresh funds to finance any meaningful new projects ahead of the elections, which must take place by May 2006.

Projects? How about fundamental reform?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:23 PM


With Pope Benedict's Ascent, American Cultural Conservatives Scored a Big One (Richard N. Ostling, 4/23/05, The Associated Press)

Now that Americans have had a few days to absorb the election of Pope Benedict XVI, it's clear that conservative Christians - whether Roman Catholic or not - feel they've won another battle in the nation's culture wars. Liberals seem to ready to concede the point, but they aren't happy about it.

The Vatican bells had barely stopped clanging when the Rev. John Thomas, president of the left-leaning United Church of Christ, was denouncing the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Though Thomas once served as his denomination's envoy to other Christians, he abandoned all pretense of the politesse that's expected at such ecumenical moments.

"Cardinal Ratzinger's long tenure in the Vatican has been marked by a theological tone that is rigid, conservative and confrontational," said Thomas, whose denomination will consider a resolution supporting same-sex marriage at its July convention.

The pope has lacked "the warm pastoral heart" that bishops need, Thomas charged, his "harsh treatment" of liberal theologians as head of the Vatican's orthodoxy watchdog agency was "profoundly troubling" and his attitude toward non-Catholics has been "narrow," "constrained," "insensitive" and "demeaning."

In other words, this pope is no liberal Protestant.

A competing assessment: "Faithful Christians ought to be thrilled," declared Charles Colson, the prison evangelist who's among the best-known members of America's largest Protestant group, the Southern Baptist Convention.

Colson is especially pleased because, as he sees it, America's cultural elite is alarmed by the cardinals' choice.

The Aughts stand fair to make up for the 60s. Now if we can just expunge the 70s...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:58 PM


Released E-Mail Exchanges Reveal More Bolton Battles (DOUGLAS JEHL, 4/23/05, NY Times)

Recently declassified e-mail messages provide new details of the bruising battle that John R. Bolton, then an under secretary of state, waged with analysts at the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency in 2002 as he sought to deliver a speech reflecting a hard-line view of Cuba and its possible efforts to acquire biological weapons.

The messages, provided to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, are surfacing during a firestorm over Mr. Bolton's nomination as ambassador to the United Nations. Democrats and some Republicans have raised concerns about Mr. Bolton's temperament and tactics, and have called particular attention to his harsh treatment of intelligence analysts, suggesting that it may have amounted to political interference.

The declassified e-mail messages suggest animosity between Mr. Bolton and his staff on the one hand, and intelligence analysts on the other, at levels even greater than have emerged from recent public testimony by Mr. Bolton and others. A Congressional official provided some of the messages to The New York Times, saying they should be made available to the public because they had been declassified.

None of the dozens of messages reviewed by The New York Times were from Mr. Bolton...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:54 PM


Medicare Change Will Limit Access to Claim Hearing (ROBERT PEAR, 4/24/05, NY Times)

A new federal policy will make it significantly more difficult for Medicare beneficiaries to obtain hearings in person before a judge when the government denies their claims for home care, nursing home services, prescription drugs and other treatments.

For years, hearings have been held at more than 140 Social Security offices around the country. In July, the Department of Health and Human Services will take over the responsibility, and department officials said all judges would then be located at just four sites - in Cleveland; Miami; Irvine, Calif.; and Arlington, Va.

Under the new policy, Medicare officials said, most hearings will be held with videoconference equipment or by telephone. A beneficiary who wants to appear in person before a judge must show that "special or extraordinary circumstances exist," the rules say.

But a beneficiary who insists on a face-to-face hearing will lose the right to receive a decision within 90 days, the deadline set by statute.

Has any president ever been more effective at enacting his agenda via the rule-making power and executive order?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:43 PM


Altered Pledge of Allegiance stuns students (Valerie Richardson, 4/23/05, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

The students in Vincent Pulciani's seventh-grade class were reciting the Pledge of Allegiance this week when they heard the voice over the intercom say something they'd never heard before, at least not during the Pledge.

Instead of "one nation, under God," the voice said, "one nation, under your belief system."

The bewildered students at Everitt Middle School in Wheat Ridge never even got to "indivisible," according to Vincent's mother, Christina Pulciani-Johnson.

Nothing fuels intolerance like the tolerant.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 11:05 AM


Uncle Dick and Papa (Maureen Dowd, New York Times, April 23rd, 2005)

Just like Mr. Cheney, once the quintessentially deferential staff man with the Secret Service code name "Back Seat," the self-effacing Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has clambered over the back seat to seize the wheel (or Commonweal). Mr. Cheney played the tough cop to W.'s boyish, genial pol, just as Cardinal Ratzinger played the tough cop to John Paul's gentle soul.

And just like the vice president, the new pope is a Jurassic archconservative who disdains the "if it feels good do it" culture and the revolutionary trends toward diversity and cultural openness since the 60's.

The two leaders are a match - absolutists who view the world in stark terms of good and evil, eager to prolong a patriarchal society that prohibits gay marriage and slices up pro-choice U.S. Democratic candidates.

The two, from rural, conservative parts of their countries, want to turn back the clock and exorcise New Age silliness. Mr. Cheney wants to dismantle the New Deal and go back to 1937. Pope Benedict XVI wants to dismantle Vatican II and go back to 1397. As a scholar, his specialty was "patristics," the study of the key thinkers in the first eight centuries of the church.

They are both old hands at operating in secrecy and using the levers of power for ideological advantage. They want to enlist Catholics in the conservative cause, turning confession boxes into ballot boxes with the threat that a vote for a liberal Democrat could lead to eternal damnation.

...our latest theory is that Maureen Dowd and Harry Eagar are one and the same.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 AM


New View of FDR Includes Disability: TV audiences will see a different side of a polio survivor who contrived to hide his paralysis. (Lynn Smith, April 23, 2005, LA Times)

[F]DR is being reimagined for television audiences in the very way he went to extraordinary lengths to hide — as a polio survivor whose paralysis formed the core of his adult experience. The result is a much more visceral impression of Roosevelt's day-to-day life after he contracted the disease at 39, showing how, through an unprecedented four terms and four election campaigns, he had to be carried up and down stairs and required locked leg braces and bolted-down lecterns so that he could appear to be standing when he gave speeches.

In the HBO drama "Warm Springs," which airs next Saturday and depicts the little-discussed years he spent recovering at a rundown rural spa in Georgia, TV viewers will see a Roosevelt who needed help with intimate routines such as getting dressed or going to the bathroom.

Along with a new History Channel documentary, "FDR: A Presidency Revealed," which re-airs Sunday night on the basic cable channel, the HBO movie completes an image shift that brings Roosevelt squarely into the post-Lewinsky media age, in which presidents' private struggles and foibles are automatically offered up for public consumption. These shows, continuing the work of recent advocacy campaigns and biographies, paint vivid portraits of a gregarious but lonely paraplegic whose character and political successes emanated from, as much as they signaled a triumph over, his disability.

"I wanted to out him as a disabled man," said Margaret Nagle, the screenwriter of "Warm Springs," who grew up with a disabled brother. "Historians say his personality is worth endless examination…. My argument is if we understand his disability, we would understand a lot more about him." Her film is an attempt to show, she said, how a man like Roosevelt made sense of his life after being dealt a tragic blow. "It's about how a great man is made," she said.

Studying FDR from this angle is certainly long overdue, after all he governed as if everyone were as helpless as he.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


India presses Nepal on democracy (BBC, 4/23/05)

India has told King Gyanendra of Nepal to lift a state of emergency and free detainees held after his February coup.

Foreign Minister Natwar Singh met the king on Friday on the sidelines of an Asian-African summit in Indonesia.

It was India's first high-level contact with the king since he seized power. Earlier on Friday a former deputy PM and 60 others were freed in Nepal.

They can be a hugely important voice and force for democratization.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Pope Has Gained the Insight to Address Abuse, Aides Say (LAURIE GOODSTEIN, 4/23/05, NY Times)

For the past four years, the man who is now Pope Benedict XVI had more responsibility than any other cardinal for deciding whether and how to discipline Roman Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse.

On Friday mornings, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sat in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith poring over dossiers detailing allegations of abuse sent in by bishops from around the world, according to two top officials in his office. He found the cases so disturbing that he called the work "our Friday penance."

The scandal changed the church in the United States, and it may have changed the new pope as well.

When the scandal was snowballing in 2002, Cardinal Ratzinger was among several Vatican officials who appeared to minimize the problem.

"In the United States, there is constant news on this topic, but less than 1 percent of priests are guilty of acts of this type," he said in November 2002 during a visit to Spain. "Therefore, one comes to the conclusion that it is intentional, manipulated - that there is a desire to discredit the church."

But as the cases began to flood into his office, he learned that the problem was both broader and deeper, according to co-workers and American church officials.

"If there's any pope who knows what he's talking about when we're talking about this, it is Cardinal Ratzinger," said Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, promoter of justice at the Congregation. "We would have to go through the cases, and reading through the hurt this misconduct creates was obviously a great source of spiritual and moral suffering."

It'll be useful to have a Pope who realizes that, in the media age, perception is reality. The smallness of the problem just didn't matter when the media started running with it.

April 22, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:16 PM


Saddam invested one million dollars in Paul Martin-owned Cordex (Judi McLeod, April 22, 2005, Canadafreepress.com)

The Canadian company that Saddam Hussein invested a million dollars in belonged to the Prime Minister of Canada, canadafreepress.com has discovered.

Cordex Petroleum Inc., launched with Saddam’s million by Prime Minister Paul Martin’s mentor Maurice Strong’s son Fred Strong, is listed among Martin’s assets to the Federal Ethics committee on November 4, 2003.

Among Martin’s Public Declaration of Declarable Assets are: "The Canada Steamship Lines Group Inc. (Montreal, Canada) 100 percent owned"; "Canada Steamship Lines Inc. (Montreal, Canada) 100 percent owned"–Cordex Petroleums Inc. (Alberta, Canada) 4.6 percent owned by the CSL Group Inc."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:11 PM


Bush Likely to Get Confirmation on Bolton (DONNA CASSATA, 4/22/05, AP)

Beyond the sound and fury of the Senate fight over U.N. ambassador-nominee John R. Bolton is the reality that presidents typically get their man - or woman - and President Bush boasts one of the better records on high-level appointments. [...]

Since 1789, presidents have made hundreds of Cabinet appointments, and the Senate failed to confirm just 15 - nine rejections, four withdrawals, two died in committee, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The last failed Cabinet nominee is one Bush would remember - his father's choice of former Texas Sen. John G. Tower to be defense secretary. [...]

Two of Bush's picks - Linda Chavez for Labor secretary in 2001 and Bernard Kerik for Homeland Security in 2004 - withdrew their names due to potential problems involving hired help.

Even more remarkable than his record on nominees is that no cabinet member has had to resign due to scandal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:44 AM


Negroponte Sworn in as First US National Intelligence Director (Deborah Tate, 21 April 2005, VOA News)

U.S. lawmakers, concerned about intelligence lapses prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and faulty intelligence about Iraq's weapons in the run-up to the U.S.-led war in that country, created the national director position as part of a broader intelligence reform initiative.

In his new post, Mr. Negroponte will coordinate the gathering and sharing of intelligence by the nation's 15 spy agencies. [...]

Some Democrats are concerned by Ambassador Negroponte's tenure in Honduras, from 1981 to 1985, when human rights groups say he turned a blind eye to human rights abuses.

"I find it especially troubling that the Ambassador's perception of the human rights situation in Honduras differs so dramatically from that expressed by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Inter-American Court, the Honduras Human Rights Commission, and others," said Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon (D), who voted against the nominee

All that attention on a cipher like John Bolton allowed a true Cold Warrior to slip by with a free pass.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:40 AM


Strict Construction (Ross Douthat, 04.21.05, New Republic)

The problem for liberals is that their preferred path to the Catholic future has already been tried, and with less-than-encouraging results. In America, the Church's decades-long slide in mass attendance and ordinations to the priesthood is at its worst not in Catholicism's more conservative precincts but in the liberal-minded dioceses and religious orders--the places where implementing the spirit of Vatican II has meant ignoring the actual Vatican on matters of liturgy, theology, and morality. The once-rigorous, now-latitudinarian Jesuits, for instance, have seen ordinations slow to a trickle, whereas self-consciously traditional orders like the Legionaries of Christ (and, of course, the notorious albino monks of Opus Dei) are growing rapidly. When a recent survey compared 15 "progressive" dioceses to 15 "orthodox" dioceses, it found that the proportion of priests to practicing Catholics in conservative dioceses actually grew slightly between 1956 and 1996, while the proportion in the more liberal dioceses steadily dropped.

It might be argued, of course, that these numbers reflect the negative impact of John Paul's traditionalism--that the liberal dioceses and liberal orders would be bursting with vocations, for instance, if only they were allowed to ordain married men and women, or if the Church took a less hard line tack on contraception or homosexuality or abortion. But in fact, exactly this experiment has already been carried out--by the mainline Protestant denominations, which have spent the last half-century moving to ordain women, accept homosexuality, endorse birth control, remarriage, and even in some cases abortion, and to permit local congregations to manage their own affairs with little or no interference from above. And over the same progressive half-century, mainline Protestantism has endured a slow-motion collapse--in influence, prestige, and membership.

The Episcopal Church offers the most striking example of this phenomenon, since it would seem to embody everything that a Garry Wills or a Maureen Dowd would like Catholicism to be--the liturgy and tradition, that is, without the sexual prohibitions and inconvenient dogmas. Yet in an era when John Paul II supposedly alienated so many otherwise faithful Catholics, it's Episcopalianism, not Catholicism, that's been hemorrhaging members, dropping from over 3.5 million American communicants in 1965 to under 2.5 million today. Far from making itself more appealing and more relevant, the Episcopal Church's reforms seemed to have decreased its ranks in the United States.

At the very least, though, one would expect the progressive Protestant denominations, with their married clergy and female pastors, to have avoided Catholicism's vocation crisis. But even here, the picture for the liberal churches is increasingly grim. In the American Catholic Church, roughly one in four parishes is without a resident priest, which is a dire situation indeed--but in the Presbyterian Church, one in three churches lacks a pastor, and there is a similar clergy shortage across nearly all the mainline denominations.

Tellingly, only Protestantism's Evangelical churches, which tend to be as morally conservative as orthodox Catholicism, can claim a surplus of clergy. Only Evangelical Protestantism, too, can claim growth rates that outstrip the Catholic Church. Some of this growth is the fruit of conversions--from Catholicism itself, but largely from the dwindling mainline churches. Some, too, is simple demographics: It doesn't help the would-be-liberalizers' hopes of embodying the future of Christianity that they're less likely to have large families than more conservative believers.

Even in Europe, where Catholicism virtually collapsed during John Paul's pontificate, liberal Protestantism is weaker still. Perhaps if the European Church were to heed its critics and drop its ban on, say, married priests and birth control, it would be rewarded by a surge in mass attendance or vocations. But it's more likely that it would quickly come to resemble the Lutherans in Scandinavia, or the Anglicans in England, both of which have seen their congregations dwindle even as their teachings have become increasingly in tune with the continental zeitgeist.

The problem for liberal Christians is that they have to choose one or the other.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:40 AM


Passing the Buck (PAUL KRUGMAN, 4/22/05, NY Times)

[M]uch of our health care spending is devoted to passing the buck: trying to get someone else to pay the bills.

Hey, even Paul Krugman can figure out why we need universal Health Savings Accounts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:37 AM


US hawks face defeat in Bolton debacle (Jim Lobe, 4/22/05, Asia Times)

Demands by a key Republican senator for a two-week delay in the vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on John Bolton as Washington's next UN ambassador mark a significant and potentially strategic defeat for Vice President Dick Cheney and the administration hawks he led during George W Bush's first presidential term.

There's no surer sign that neocons are winning than that Jim Lobe thinks they're losing.

However, if Mr. Bolton doesn't get confirmed the President could really shaft Democrats by picking Joe Lieberman for the UN instead, giving the GOP another Senate seat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 AM


Four killed in Mecca gun battle (BBC, 4/22/05)

A gunfight on the edge of the Saudi city of Mecca has left two militants and two members of the security forces dead, Saudi officials say.

The group of four militants, some disguised as women, are said to have failed to stop at a checkpoint.

They were pursued by the security forces, and the gun battle ensued. One militant was shot and arrested.

The clashes took place hours after voting ended in the country's first nationwide elections.

These included polls in Mecca and Medina, the two holiest cities in Islam.

As democracy penetrates to the heart of Islam...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 AM


Stained by permanent ink: Bestselling writer and beloved Detroit sports columnist Mitch Albom finds himself in an odd position: under fire. (David Lyman, April 22, 2005, LA Times)

There's a new chapter being written in the Cult of Celebrity handbook — one with no spoiled athletes, playgirl heiresses or adulterous movie stars involved.

It's taking place in the unlikely world of newspapers, a field with so few national superstars that it is usually hard-pressed to come up with a decent scandal. True, there were the Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair affairs. But they were just promising up-and-comers, unknown to the general public until they went bad.

This one involves an honest-to-goodness luminary: Mitch Albom.

He's won every award that sports journalism has to offer. But what elevates Albom's indiscretion into the realm of celebrity scandal is that his fame goes way beyond the world of newspapers. This is the guy who wrote "Tuesdays With Morrie" and "The Five People You Meet in Heaven," both inspirational mega-sellers. He's a playwright, a syndicated radio host and a regular on ESPN's "The Sports Reporters."

And he's one of Oprah's pals.

So when parts of one of Albom's columns turned out to be fictional, people took notice.

Two thoughts about the incident: (1) It's 2005, can't the Free Press let a big-timer like Albom file electronically just before they go to press instead of two days earlier? It's not like anyone edits him anyway. (2) Sports columns have always been even more fictional than the rest of the paper--why change?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM

SO 1998 (via Tom Corcoran):

An IRS Cover-Up? Senators Dorgan and Kerry try to block a report on Clinton-era abuses. (Opinion Journal, 4/22/05)

Perhaps you remember Henry Cisneros. He's the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development who pleaded guilty in 1999 to lying to FBI investigators during his pre-appointment background check about hush payments to a former mistress, on which it also happens he hadn't paid the requisite taxes.

Well, the special counsel report investigating all this still hasn't been made public, thanks largely to procedural roadblocks by Mr. Cisneros's attorneys. And now, all of a sudden, a rash of news stories and editorials are urging Independent Counsel David Barrett to wrap up his investigation forthwith, without releasing his findings.

Then there's the amendment that North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan and co-sponsors John Kerry and Richard Durbin are trying to attach to the latest supplemental war appropriations bill that would de-fund Mr. Barrett immediately. This would have the practical effect of making sure that Mr. Barrett's report never sees the light of day. After 10 long years and $21 million, don't they think taxpayers deserve to see what the special counsel has learned? [...]

So what don't Democrats want everyone to know? We're told that early on the Barrett probe moved away from Mr. Cisneros and his mistress and focused on an attempted cover-up by the Clinton Administration, especially involving the IRS

Mr. Clinton wasn't removed from office after it became public that he raped and otherwise assaulted subordinates--who cares if he diddled the IRS?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


It's not clever to send too many texts and e-mails (ALASTAIR JAMIESON, 4/22/05, The Scotsman)

CONSTANT text messaging and e-mailing causes a reduction in mental capability equivalent to the loss of ten IQ points, according to research.

Tapping away on a mobile phone or computer keypad or checking messages on a handheld gadget temporarily reduces the performance of the brain, according to the study into the effects of "infomania".

Tell us about it. Try answering 60,000 comments from: soccer fans; nativists; auto freaks; fatherles; Stalinists; Darwinists; and folks who think Julia and Eric Roberts are two different people. You can feel the gray matter ooze out your ears...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


With high public spending, Britain is ‘Europeanizing’ (Graham Bowley, April 22, 2005, International Herald Tribune)

Whoever Britons choose in their general election on May 5, they will get an economy that might surprise outsiders.

Never mind Margaret Thatcher's tax and spending squeezes and Prime Minister Tony Blair's pledge, at least in the short term, to emulate her fiscal orthodoxies.

Since the beginning of the decade, public spending in Britain as a share of gross domestic product has experienced one of its most rapid accelerations in recent history, outpacing Germany, France, the United States and even traditionally high-spending Canada.

The tax burden is now nearly the heaviest in two decades, and the worsening of the fiscal balance has exceeded every other major industrial country except the United States.

"In some respects Britain's economy is becoming more 'European,' and this is the wrong direction if this country is to continue to be an attractive place to do business and create jobs," said Derek Scott, a former economic adviser to Blair who since leaving government has been a severe critic of some of its policies.

The best part of the story is that "europeanizing" is derogatory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


Poll indicates gas prices force changes in lifestyles (Will Lester, 4/22/05, The Associated Press)

Half of the people in a nationwide poll say record-high gas prices are starting to cause them problems. Who's to blame? They point a finger at oil companies, foreign nations that control the oil supply, and politicians.

More than half say they're cutting back on driving, and many plan to stay closer to home on their summer vacations.

The only way the situation could be better is if the higher costs were funding the government instead of other taxes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Light in a New Dark Age: Pope Benedict XVI -- The Man and the Mission (George Weigel, April 21, 2005, Wall Street Journal)

As with the program, so with the man: He is a Benedict in the depths of his interior life and in his intellectual accomplishment. Benedict XVI has an encyclopedic knowledge of two millennia of theology, and indeed of the cultural history of the West. He is more the shy, monastic scholar than the ebullient public personality of his predecessor; yet he has shown an impressive capacity for a different type of public "presence" in his brilliantly simple homily at John Paul II's funeral and in his first appearance as pope. He has known hardship: He knows the modern temptations of totalitarianism (paganism wedded to technology) from inside the Third Reich; he has been betrayed by former students (like the splenetic Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff) and former colleagues (like Hans Kung, a man of far less scholarly accomplishment and infinitely less charity). His critics say he is dour and pessimistic. Yet I take it as an iron law of human personality that a man is known by his musical preferences; and Benedict XVI is a Mozart man, who knows that Mozart is what the angels play when they perform for the sheer joy of it. Indeed, and notwithstanding the cartoon Joseph Ratzinger, the new pope is a man of Christian happiness who has long asked why, in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, summoned to be a "new Pentecost" for the Catholic Church, so much of the joy has gone out of Catholicism. Over some 17 years of conversation with him, I have come to know him as a man who likes to laugh, and who can laugh because he is convinced that the human drama is, in the final analysis, a divine comedy.

He once called himself a "donkey," a "draft animal" who had been called to a work not of his choosing. Yet when Joseph Ratzinger stepped out onto the loggia of St. Peter's to begin a work he never sought, I couldn't help think of the conclusion of Alasdair MacIntyre's penetrating study of the moral confusions of the West, "After Virtue." In a time when willfulness and relativism had led to a frigid and joyless cultural climate, MacIntyre wrote, the world was not waiting for Godot, "but for another -- doubtless very different -- St. Benedict." The world now has a new Benedict. We can be sure that he will challenge us all to the noble human adventure that has no better name than sanctity.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:38 AM


Stifling Intellectual Inquiry (Richard John Neuhaus, First Things, April, 2005)

“In fact, the breadth and extent of the anti-evolutionary movement that has spread almost unnoticed across the country should force American politicians to think twice about how their public expressions of religious belief are beginning to affect education and science. The deeply religious nature of the United States should not be allowed to stand in the way of the thirst for knowledge or the pursuit of science. Once it does, it won’t be long before the American scientific community—which already has trouble finding enough young Americans to fill its graduate schools—ceases to lead the world.” That is the editorial voice of the Washington Post which, on this subject as well as most others, is temperate compared with many others in the liberal establishment.

The alarm is prompted, of course, by the efforts of school districts to teach students that evolution is a theory. That evolution is a theory is a fact, unless somebody has changed the definition of theory without notifying the makers of dictionaries. The “search for knowledge” and “the pursuit of science,” one might suggest, will suffer grievously if we no longer respect the distinction between theory and fact. To argue that skepticism about the theory of evolution is inadmissible if it is motivated by religion is simply a form of antireligious bigotry. It is a fact that many devout Christians, many of whom are engaged in the relevant sciences, subscribe to the theory of evolution. It is also a fact that some scientists who reject religion also reject evolution, or think the theory highly dubious. That is the way it is with theories.

Theories are proposed principles or narratives that are both arrived at and tested by their explanatory force relative to what are taken to be known facts. To simply equate evolutionary theory with science is a form of dogmatism that has no place in the pursuit of truth. The problems with that approach are multiplied by the fact that there are such starkly conflicting versions of what is meant by evolution. The resistance to the theory is almost inevitable when it is propounded, as it often is, in an atheistic and materialistic form. Atheism and materialism are not science but ideologies that most people of all times and places, not just “red state” Americans, deem to be false. Proponents of “intelligent design” and other approaches, who are frequently well-certified scientists, contend that their theories possess greater explanatory power.

If someone claims the theory of evolution is false because it contradicts their understanding of what the Bible says, that is not a scientific argument in the ordinary meaning of science. It is an argument from the authority of the Bible, or at least from a certain interpretation of the Bible. One may make that argument in an eminently rational way, although in a way that will not be convincing to many people. Just as the theory of evolution is not convincing to many people. That is the way it is with arguments. The proponents of intelligent design, however, are not making their argument from the authority of the Bible but from what they are persuaded is the scientific evidence. Their opponents contend that their argument is discredited because most of them are Christian believers. Turnaround being fair play, one might answer that the more aggressive proponents of evolution are discredited because they are typically ideological atheists and materialists. These are religio-philosophical disputations of a low and ad hominem sort and have no place in what is, or should be, scientific methodology.

It is easy to imagine this argument being made almost word for word by 19th century skeptics or even materialists arguing for free scientific inquiry in the face of theological opposition. The fact that it is now being made by the Catholic Church speaks volumes about both modern religious thinking and the rather desperate rearguard posturing of the orthodox scientific establishment. In recent years, the materialist argument over teaching evolution in schools has shifted slowly from arguing for the complete exclusion of creationist and ID theories from the general curriculum on the grounds that such would be an imposition of religion to arguing for the purity and isolation of the science classroom, a circling of the wagons if there ever was one. It is pathetic to see calls for censorship and indoctrination from so many who think they stand for truth emerging from the free exchange of ideas, and who never seem to ask themselves why defensive anger or patronizing dismissal is their most common response to an intellectual challenge.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Cincy's Wily Mo flexes star power (Tom Archdeacon, 4/22/05, Dayton Daily News)

The chants began before the game was five minutes old:

"Wil ... eee ... Mo!"

"Wil ... eee ... Mo!"

The dozens of Covington Catholic students — including eight shirtless boys whose bare chests spelled out Go Reds!! on this rainy, 52-degree day — stood along the upper deck railing in left field and began the full-throated salute that soon was being picked up many in Thursday's crowd of 16,218 at Great American Ball Park.

Never mind that it was the top half of the first inning and the Pittsburgh Pirates were still at bat.

The fans — like many of the Cincinnati players themselves — couldn't wait for Wily Mo Pena, the marble-statue-come-to-life of a right fielder, to come to the plate for the Reds.

"I've never seen Barry Bonds play in person, but I've watched him plenty on TV and Wily Mo looks exactly the same," said Todd Coffey, the rookie reliever who just joined the Reds five days ago. "I love watching Wily Mo hit the ball."

Little more than a week ago, Wily Mo was the team's fourth outfielder. Now, he's its marquee player, the spotlight having gone from Ken Griffey Jr.'s smoothness to the Bunyanesque image of Adam Dunn to the sculpted Pena, who has more breath-taking power than either of them.

In the past week in Cincinnati, he's put on the same kind of long-range display — including Sunday's 498-foot blast, second-longest in GABP history — that he did with the Dayton Dragons in 2001 when he launched balls out of Fifth Third Field with such regularity that he ended the season as the team's MVP and second in the Midwest League in home runs.

Counting Thursday's 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh — when he doubled in the Reds' first run — he's now started six straight games. He's hit safely in all of them, had three home runs and nine RBIs. Coming into Thursday, his five home runs on the season were tied for best in the National League.

"By far, he's the most explosive individual I've ever been around," said Reds' third baseman Joe Randa, who's in his 15th pro season. "He's got bat speed like Carlos Beltran, but he's got more strength, more power. He hits the ball farther than anybody I've seen. He's got just about everything."

This is the same guy who — growing up some seven years ago in Laguna Salada, Dominican Republic — had nothing.

He's going to be a staple of ESPN highlight reels for a while.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Post-9/11 security cuts into Ecstasy (Donna Leinwand, 4/22/05, USA TODAY)

Ecstasy, the illegal stimulant that has helped to define the rave party culture for teens and young adults, is fading in popularity in part because post-9/11 improvements in airport security have made it tougher to smuggle the drug into the USA from Europe.

Mohammed Atta may yet save more lives than he took.

April 21, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 PM


For Republicans, 2 Women Are Exhibits A and B in Battle on Judicial Appointments (NEIL A. LEWIS, 04/21/2005, NY Times)

As the Senate moves ever closer to a partisan showdown over confirming President Bush's judicial choices, the Judiciary Committee is expected to vote along party lines on Thursday to approve at least two nominees certain to attract a Democratic filibuster in the full Senate.

That is fine with those Republicans and their conservative allies who are pressing for a change in Senate rules to prevent filibusters on judicial nominees, an action that could plunge the chamber into an angry deadlock. The reason the champions of a rule change are pleased is that they believe the two candidates will serve as sympathetic figures and rallying points for their case.

Both nominees are women and state supreme court judges, Priscilla R. Owen of the Texas Supreme Court and Janice Rogers Brown of the California Supreme Court. Democrats mounted filibusters against them in Mr. Bush's first term, blocking them from taking seats on the federal appeals courts.

Because Justice Brown is an outspoken, conservative African-American, her candidacy has evoked comparisons to the bruising confirmation battle in 1991 involving the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

When she went before the Judiciary Committee in 2003, she was, like Justice Thomas at his confirmation hearing, questioned closely over her speeches, which are often laced with vivid and attention-getting language. In April 2000, she told a meeting of the Federalist Society that "where government moves in, community retreats, civil society disintegrates and ability to control our own destiny atrophies." A result, she said, "is a debased, debauched culture which finds moral depravity entertaining and virtue contemptible."

Sing out, Sister.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 PM


The man with a plan: A new Jeffrey Sachs book on how to end global poverty provides fresh insights but stale solutions (Salil Tripathi, April 21, 2005, Guardian Unlimited)

Like No Logo or Globalisation and its Discontents, Sachs's The End of Poverty is ubiquitous among development practitioners and students fed up with the state of the world. And quite rightly, too.

The dire poverty in which one-sixth of humanity lives is a matter of deep shame. And Sachs eloquently presents their stories, telling us of the nearly 20,000 people who die daily because of extreme poverty; of a grandmother who is looking after nearly two dozen Aids orphans, of women who spend up to seven hours a day walking miles to collect water and cook for the family.

He issues a challenge to the Department of International Development, which wants to sell mosquito nets in malaria-prone regions of Africa as a social marketing experiment. These people can't afford to buy the nets - just give them to them, Sachs pleads.

Sachs has little time for those who talk of tough love; still less for those who are worried that someone will sell the nets on the black market, pocket the money and transfer it to a Swiss bank account. He acknowledges that corruption is a problem, but insists it is not the sole cause of poverty. Many other factors are at work, he says, including bad climate, geography, politics, international trade policies, the burden of debt and the absence of relief.

When the G8 leaders meet in Gleneagles, Scotland, in July, Sachs wants them to come with their chequebooks. Excuses won't do. States in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) must live up to the widely-accepted standard of 0.7% of gross domestic product to be given as aid.

Few would quarrel with the problems and priorities Sachs identifies; few would question the basic assumption that greater flow of resources is desirable, other things being equal. But the solutions have been tried before.

The question is, will it work now? Sachs suggests that if the detailed suggestions he has made about micromanaging agricultural, health, technological and fiscal policies in the developing world are carried out properly, extreme poverty will vanish by 2025.

Because, after all, when has centralized micromanagement ever failed to solve a problem?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 PM


Soldier Convicted for Attacking Fellow Troops (Estes Thompson, April 21, 2005, The Associated Press)

An Army sergeant was convicted Thursday by a military jury of premeditated murder and attempted murder in a grenade and rifle attack that killed two of his comrades and wounded 14 others in Kuwait during the opening days of the Iraq war.

Hasan Akbar, 34, now faces a possible death penalty, which the 15-member jury will consider at a hearing that begins Monday.

Prosecutors say Hasan Akbar, 33, told investigators he launched the attack because he was concerned U.S. troops would kill fellow Muslims in Iraq. They said he coolly carried out the attack to achieve "maximum carnage" on his comrades in the 101st Airborne Division. [...]

Killed in the middle-of-the-night attack were Army Capt. Christopher Seifert, 27, who was shot in the back, and Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40, who suffered 83 shrapnel wounds. The 101st was preparing to move into Iraq in support of the U.S. invasion when the attack occurred in March 2003.

"Sgt. Akbar executed that attack with a cool mind," prosecutor Capt. Robert McGovern said during closing arguments, cocking Akbar's unloaded M-4 rifle and pulling the trigger twice for emphasis. "He sought maximum carnage."

The prosecutor said Akbar planned carefully and stole grenades that would achieve maximum destruction in the brigade command section of Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait.

That was a really scary moment, on its surface seemingly raising the possibility that there could be a Fifth Column within the U.S. and most importantly its military. What's most notable is how calmly we reacted to it. Imagine the reprisals that would have followed in most other times and places? Heck, FDR launched reprisals against the Nisei and none of them had done anything wrong.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 PM


Judicial Nominees May Force Filibuster Fight (William Branigin, April 21, 2005, Washington Post)

The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved two of President Bush's controversial nominees for seats on federal appeals courts, setting up a showdown between the Republican majority and Democrats who threaten to use filibusters to block the appointments.

In a 10-8 party-line vote, the committee approved for the third time the nomination of a Texas judge, Priscilla Owen, to join the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit based in New Orleans. By the same margin -- with the committee's 10 Republicans voting in favor and all eight Democrats in opposition -- the panel later approved a California judge, Janice Rogers Brown, for a seat on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. [...]

Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), the Senate majority leader, has indicated he might press for a rule change that would ban filibusters of judicial nominations, a move that Democrats denounce as a "nuclear option" that would trigger a harsh backlash and paralyze the Senate.

To overcome a filibuster -- a parliamentary maneuver in which senators can prolong debate, and thus block legislation, by making marathon speeches -- 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate are required to invoke "cloture" and cut off debate. With 55 Senate seats, Republicans can easily win majority votes but are hard-pressed to defeat filibusters.

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee said Owen and Brown deserve up-or-down votes by the full Senate. But Democrats again held out the threat of filibusters to block them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 PM


Powell Plays Behind the Scenes Role in Bolton Debate (Jim VandeHei and Robin Wright, April 22, 2005, Washington Post)

Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell is emerging as a behind the scenes player in the battle over John Bolton's nomination to the United Nations, privately telling at least two key Republican lawmakers that Bolton is smart, but a very problematic government official, according to Republican sources.

Powell spoke in recent days with Sens. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), two of three GOP members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who have raised concerns about Bolton's confirmation, the sources said. Powell did not advise the senators to oppose Bolton, but offered a frank assessment of the nominee as a man who was challenging to work with on personnel and policy matters, according to two people familiar with the conversation.

At any rate, whil Democrats try to protect the UN, Oil-for-food inquiry pair quit over Annan report (Francis Harris, 22/04/2005, Daily Telegraph)
Two senior investigators examining the Iraqi oil-for-food programme have resigned, complaining that their findings on the United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan were toned down.

The resignations left the UN-appointed inquiry into the conduct of the $64 billion (£35 billion) programme in disarray. Not only did it reveal serious dissent within the independent inquiry, but it will also fuel angry criticism from Washington over the conduct of the investigation, led by the former United States Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 PM


US police force to recruit capuchin monkey for 'intelligence' work (Tom Leonard, 21/04/2005, Daily Telegraph)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


Soft vs. hard energy path: the political lines harden: House was set to pass a bill Thursday that supporters say will boost supplies, but critics worry about smog and ANWR. (Brad Knickerbocker, 4/22/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

In Washington this week, President Bush and lawmakers of both parties are pushing their energy agendas. Mr. Bush, who began developing his still-languishing energy strategy shortly after he took office in 2001, prodded Congress to "get a bill to my desk before the summer recess."

The measure debated before the full House of Representatives Wednesday and Thursday - with passage expected Thursday afternoon - contains much of what Bush wants. But critics say it's also filled with unnecessary subsidies, over-reliance on nonrenewable resources like oil and coal, and an overall philosophy that even Energy Department economic analysts say won't significantly reduce dependence on foreign oil or affect the price at the pump.

The road to a new comprehensive energy program has been a long, hard slog.

"Traditionally, energy legislation has been contentious, and, in fact, major energy legislation has not been passed since 1992," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said this week in an online White House forum.

The President never aims low, does he?

Posted by Peter Burnet at 5:58 PM


Can Condoleezza Rice speak Russian? (Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey, Pravda, April 21st, 2005)

For the information of Condoleezza Rice, who despite being Secretary of State of her country, continues to demonstrate an ignorance of world affairs at a shockingly consistent level, the notion that the Kremlin exerts a grip on the media is a fairy tale invented in the gardens of Washington. As correspondent of the English version of Pravda.Ru, director and chief editor of the Portuguese version and collaborator for three other Russian publications, two of these being official media organs, I have frequently asked for guidelines from the Kremlin on what line to follow.

The answer: "We are afraid we cannot give you any guidelines as you request. You will have to write the truth, after checking your sources, obviously", or words to this effect every time the question is posed.

Stalin had the same problem. Eventually he got so tired of journalists asking for guidelines he shot them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 PM


Moussaoui: a window on terror trials: Suspect is scheduled to plead guilty Friday in a bizarre case raising questions about how justice system handles terrorism. (Peter Grier and Faye Bowers, 4/22/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

If nothing else, the bizarre trial of Zacarias Moussaoui - the only person in the US charged in connection with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 - may have highlighted the difficulties of trying suspected terrorists in established civilian courts.

Mr. Moussaoui himself has been erratic and belligerent. He has filed rambling letters with the court railing against US policies and castigating all manner of public figures, at times inaccurately. For instance, he once referred to ex-Attorney General John Ashcroft, a Republican, as "the Democratic jerk."

The case has also raised serious legal issues, notably the degree to which an accused terrorist can have access to the testimony of other imprisoned terrorist suspects.

Now Moussaoui is scheduled to stand up Friday in open court in Arlington, Va., where he is expected to (again) plead guilty. Judge Leonie Brinkema has ruled that he is mentally competent to make such a plea, and if he does in fact do so he could be sentenced to death.

Yet the nature of his ties to the Sept. 11 hijackers may remain unresolved. It is possible that "everyone has come to the conclusion, including the judge, that there is no good way to get rid of this case," says Juliette Kayyem, a homeland security and law-enforcement specialist at Harvard University.

No one holds that Moussaoui is an innocent.

So what's the problem? A guilty man is being punished. Smells like justice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 PM


Opera and Film: Can This Union Be Saved? (Philip Kennicott, January 9, 2005, Washington Post)

Opera and film are invented art forms, cobbled together from disparate elements. It doesn't make much sense to talk of the invention of sculpture, or music, or dance, all of which have origins so far in the past as to be immemorial. But with both film and opera we can put a mark on the timeline and say, there, that's when the art form began.

With opera, it's at the beginning of the 17th century, when the Florentine Camerata, a group of Renaissance intellectuals who thought they were reinventing Greek tragedy, put together the first recognizably operatic music dramas of modern times. With film, it's at the turn of the last century, as various inventors and tinkerers realized that by passing light through a sequence of transparent photographic images, one could capture the illusion of motion in real time.

Perhaps because they're both invented, and because both art forms are essentially amalgams of other arts -- music, theater, dance, design, photography -- film and opera have had curiously parallel histories. Each has inspired impassioned generations of reformers, who seek to rebalance the weight given to the various constituent elements. In opera, Gluck and Wagner believed themselves advocates of the proper theatrical focus of the art form. In film, the cycles of reform and reaction have been dizzying over the past century. The visual daring of expressionist movements (in Germany, in the 1920s, for instance) yield to new forms of cool presentation and objectivity; the polish and glibness of big studio productions spawn new-wave movements, whose quirkiness and messiness appeal for a while until someone produces a sprawling, slickly made, old-style blockbuster and refreshes the form. While composers struggle over the balance among music, the flashiness of singing and the importance of drama, filmmakers seek to balance the virtues of storytelling with the sumptuousness of imagery, the clarity of theatrical dialogue with the possibilities of lingering over visual nuance.

Given their similarities, one might expect a long and fruitful relationship between opera and film. The relationship is certainly long-standing, but whether it's been fruitful is another question. A four-part festival of opera on film and video, sponsored by the Washington National Opera and the AFI Silver Theatre and running from tomorrow to Feb. 14, will nibble around the edges of the question, showing a small range of the theoretical problems and possibilities. [...]

But the larger question -- can opera and film be joined into more than a sum of their parts? -- remains relevant in part because of the DVD, which has made opera on film (or video) more available than ever, and home theater technology, which makes listening to opera on screen more satisfying than in the bad old days of VCRs. Even more important, the promise of filming opera has never been more tantalizing. Opera is an expensive art form, and when limited to those who can afford seats in the opera house, it is an elitist one. Film is expensive to make but easy to distribute, with the potential to bring a mass audience to opera.

The camera can also (potentially) "solve" some of the basic problems of opera, making its gestures more intimate, its theater more detailed and lively, and its narrative adventures more believable. An ideal experience of Wagner's "Ring" cycle, for instance, demands that the listener see the smallest nuance of facial expression, as well as experience epic floods and fires and rapid changes of place and scene. From no single seat in any opera house are those two extremes possible.

Opera also has the potential to revivify film, to force it out of the complacent rut of easy realism. The imaginative challenge Wagner puts to the audience in the "Ring" cycle, if demanded of cinema audiences, might result in a cinema of breathtaking daring. The abstraction and suggestiveness that mainstream filmmakers often avoid are the basic aesthetic starting point for the opera audience.

So where are the great films of opera? Yet to be made.

There's Peter Jackson's next project...or Baz Luhrman's...or both...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:21 PM


Governor apologizes for border comments (Andy Furillo, April 21, 2005, Sacramento Bee)

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger apologized Wednesday for saying the United States should "close" its border with Mexico when he meant to say the barrier should only be "secured" to prevent illegal immigration.

Schwarzenegger, a non-native English speaker, attributed his misstatement during a speech in San Francisco on Tuesday to a "language problem."

"And the bottom line is that I misspoke, and I'm sorry if that offended anyone," Schwarzenegger told reporters during a question-and-answer period at an Earth Day event in Sacramento, according to a transcript issued by the Governor's Office.

"But it was a language problem, because I meant 'securing our borders' rather than 'closing our borders.' Because, of course, we don't want to close the borders, because I think that we have a terrific relationship with Mexico."

Hasn't he heard? The Minutemen closed it.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 4:16 PM


Health Canada approves morning-after pill for sale over-the-counter (National Post, April 21st, 2005)

Doctors are lauding a Health Canada decision that will make emergency contraception available to women directly from pharmacists without a prescription. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada says the availability of the drug levonorgestrel, known as Plan B or the "morning-after pill," over-the-counter will improve timely access, especially over weekends, when it can be difficult for women in some communities to see a doctor. "Given the significant psychological, social and economic impact of improving access to emergency contraception for women across Canada, this is a significant step forward in women's rights and health," said Dr. Andre Lalonde, the society's executive vice-president.

Don’t know about women’s rights and health, but it sure will make a lot of men very happy.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 3:42 PM


UN condemns Sudan rights abuses (Globe and Mail, April 21st, 2005)

The UN Human Rights Commissioner approved on Thursday a resolution condemning abuses in Sudan, passing by consensus compromise wording on how to improve the situation in the embattled Darfur region.

The resolution had support from Sudan and other African nations, the United States, the European Union and others. It was approved after the EU withdrew a more stiffly worded document.

The final resolution was the result of weeks of heavy negotiations between the EU, the United States and African nations.

The Africans agreed to remove wording that praised the Sudanese governments steps to improve the situation in Darfur, while the Western countries dropped specific condemnation of the Sudanese government.

It's a relief that is over. Now they can start working on getting Havana's support for their resolution condemning human rights abuses in Cuba.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:38 PM

BLUE BLUES, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH.... (via Rick Turley):

Reverence Gone Up in Smoke (Tina Brown, April 21, 2005, Washington Post)

"Secular and the City" is a weird show to be in at the moment. For those of us who came to Manhattan precisely because you're guaranteed never to meet anyone who has read the "Left Behind" series, America's much-celebrated spiritual revival can have its trying moments. [...]

Oh no! Cardinal Ratzinger! His very name was ominous, a cross between Ratso Rizzo and William Zanzinger. His election was like the sharp rap of a ruler across the knuckles by a punitive nun. It was as if you expected Barack Obama and got Bob Dole. The more that cardinals and Vatican watchers lined up on "Larry King Live" to say what a friendly, conciliatory guy he really is (the most appealing detail that emerged the next day was that he looked "a little forlorn" as he entered the Room of Tears to change into his papal vestments), the more he seemed to emerge as a 19th-century throwback, stridently opposed to liberalism, doubt, internal argument within the church. And the Bavarian background doesn't help. As one of Larry's callers who identified himself as an amateur historian of the Holocaust put it, "Couldn't we have let this generation of Germans pass into history?"

"I am so bummed out," the writer Dominick Dunne, who is Catholic, told me. "I had gotten all excited about Catholicism again. I just loved all the people and ceremony of the last few weeks, all the hundreds of thousands in the square. I was out to lunch when I heard, 'It's the German.' You could just feel everyone groan."

That there has been such a sense of letdown among some New Yorkers who aren't even Catholic, as well as many who are, is a little surprising, given all the expert papal handicapping that had long made the "Panzer Cardinal" the favorite in the race. It probably reflected the airbrushing that had gone on all through the gauzy weeks of emotion-driven commentary. It was easier to focus on John Paul's reversal of the church's historic anti-Semitism, his outreach to other faiths and his defiance of communist tyranny.

The funny thing about these people is they think there were two sides of Pope John Paul II when it's all the same side.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:18 PM


Jeffords Won't Run Next Year (John P. Gregg, 4/21/05, Valley News)

Jeffords' announcement, wistful as it was, also served as the starting gun for what could be the most frenzied election cycle Vermont has seen in decades.

“I think it unleashes a lot of pent-up political ambition in Vermont. And it's going to be fascinating to watch this unfold,” said Bob Rogan, a longtime aide to former Gov. Howard Dean and now a Verizon consultant. “It's the great domino effect that everyone has been predicting for years, and I think everyone now who has an interest in moving up is taking stock, and in the next two or three days we'll see if things take shape.”

Dean, recently elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee, intends to honor his commitment to lead the party and does not plan to run for Jeffords' seat, an aide told The Associated Press.

But U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, acknowledged that his previous plans to run for the Senate if a seat opened still hold true.

“I have been clear about my intentions, which have not changed, but today is not the time to talk about politics or elections,” said Sanders, who praised Jeffords for his “basic decency” and “down-to-earthness.”

Sanders said he would not run as a Democrat. “I am an independent, but I work very closely with Democrats in the House,” he said.

Steve Terry, a former aide to Aiken and a senior vice president at Green Mountain Power, said Douglas could come under pressure from national Republicans to run for the seat, though Terry predicted Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, also a Republican, might run for the Senate instead.

“Obviously, Governor Douglas is very popular in our state, and has a long record of winning, and so that tends to have the effect of getting people's attention,” said Vermont Republican Party Chairman Jim Barnett.

For Democrats, who have been stymied by other recent three-way statewide elections in Vermont, Sanders' likely candidacy raises the question of whether they would want to run their own candidate or simply back Sanders, a former Burlington mayor and one of the more liberal members of Congress.

“It's unclear what the landscape is going to be,” said Peter Mallary, a Fairlee resident and chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party. “Obviously, three-way races are problematic. … If Jim Douglas is the Republican candidate and Congressman Sanders is a candidate, that's a pretty titanic conversation for starters.”

Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs said the second-term governor is focused on his current job and has been raising money for re-election.

“There's plenty of time for people to think about exactly what they want to do in 2006,” Gibbs said. “Right now, the governor is focused on being governor.”

Barnett said along with Dubie and Douglas, another possible Republican candidate would be Richard Tarrant, the founder of IDX Systems Corp. in Burlington, who has previously considered running for the Senate.

If either Sanders or Douglas gave up their current seats, it would create heated races lower down the political ladder.

Welch, the Hartland Democrat who previously has run both for the U.S. House and for governor, acknowledged yesterday that he is giving serious thought to running for higher office.

“Jeffords' decision to retire is relevant to my plans for the future, but I am not going to give it much thought until after the (legislative) session is over, for obvious reasons,” said Welch. “We have to land the plane on health care and the budget.”

Hard to believe the Democrats can just walk away from the race. Imagine their best case scenario in '06, picking up enough seats to tie the Senate again, but to have 51 they need Bernie. He'd be able to dictate his choice of committee chairmanships and be a de facto face of the party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


McCain's hug in '04 may help him in '08 (Geoff Earle, 4/21/05, The Hill)

For those “McCainiacs” still nursing wounds from the 2000 South Carolina Republican primary, the scene was among the most searing images of the 2004 campaign.

President Bush, at the height of a tough reelection fight, hugged Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), his former primary opponent, at a campaign event in Pensacola, Fla., and then gave him a kiss on the side of the head.

The gesture of GOP solidarity was a carefully orchestrated coup for Bush, who had his hands full fending off a Vietnam veteran from the left, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). It signaled to Republicans — even those harboring doubts about some of Bush’s policies on the war and the economy — that they should rally around the president to advance the overall Republican agenda.

But over time, the gesture might prove to be equally important to McCain, who could once again make a run for the presidency in 2008.

If he does run a successful campaign to capture the GOP nomination, McCain will need to reach out beyond his unique base of support among Democrats, independents and Republicans (his popular appeal divides about evenly among all three groups in polls). This time, he will need to do a better job of winning over some of the GOP establishment voters who turned against him in South Carolina after a series of negative attacks by Bush campaign surrogates.

Already, some are predicting that McCain — who is one of the best-known and most-liked Republicans in the country — will fashion a campaign aimed at winning over GOP standard-bearers.

Then he needs to help get the judges through, perhaps with a compromise that only changes the filibuster rule for appointments. He'd win the presidency so easily though that it will be hard for the GOP not to go with him absent a Jeb candidacy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 AM


Bahraini woman chairs parliament (Magdi Abdelhadi, 4/21/05, BBC)

For the first time in the Arab world, a woman has chaired a parliamentary session in the Gulf state of Bahrain.

Alees Samaan, who is Christian, also became the first non-Muslim to act as speaker in predominantly Muslim Bahrain, if only for a few hours.

Details of the story are published on the front page of Bahraini newspapers, which describe the event as historic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:42 AM


Districts and Teachers' Union Sue Over Bush Law (SAM DILLON, 4/21/05, NY Times)

Opening a new front in the growing rebellion against President Bush's signature education law, the nation's largest teachers' union and eight school districts in Michigan, Texas and Vermont sued the Department of Education yesterday, accusing it of violating a passage in the law that says states cannot be forced to spend their own money to meet federal requirements.

The Administration should join the suit and get the Court to rule that no Federal regulations need be followed by the states unless accompanied by sufficient federal funding to do so. That would truly end the era of big government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 AM


Growing up in the Nazi era (Richard Bernstein and Mark Landler, April 21, 2005, The New York Times)

[H]istorians and Jewish groups agree that Ratzinger's wartime record, which was common to young men of his generation, has little if any significance today.

Moreover, they make a point about his time as chief adviser to Pope John Paul II in matters of doctrine.

Ratzinger was a central figure in one of the late pope's most highly publicized gestures, not just to build ties with the Jewish community but to apologize for the role that Catholics played in the Holocaust.

"Everybody was in the Hitler Youth," Olaf Blaschke, a specialist on modern church history from Trier University, said in a telephone interview. "Some very strong Catholics didn't go to the Hitler Youth, that's true. But it was sort of mandatory, difficult to evade. And those people who were in the Hitler Youth and were indoctrinated by those ideologies were the very people who later on built the Federal Republic of Germany and fought against every type of totalitarianism."

Other examples of people who in their young years were obligated to be members of the Hitler Youth were the novelist Günter Grass and the philosopher Jürgen Habermas, both intellectual pillars of German democracy, Blaschke said. [...]

[A]s the right-hand man to Pope John Paul II, he was widely assumed to have played a major role in drafting "We Remember," and he was clearly involved in other pathbreaking gestures that John Paul II made toward reconciliation with Jews, such as praying in a synagogue.

"It cannot be denied," he said last year, in a statement that mirrored the main concept of 'We Remember,' "that a certain insufficient resistance by Christians to this atrocity is explained by the anti-Judaism present in the soul of more than a few Christians."

It's indecent to compare him to Gunter Grass.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


Border-Watch Group to Stop Patrols: The Minuteman Project says it will focus on protesting businesses that employ illegal migrants and push for immigration reform. (David Kelly, April 21, 2005, LA Times)

The Minuteman Project, which attracted international attention by putting armed civilians along the Arizona-Mexico border to deter illegal immigration, announced Wednesday that it was entering a new phase and would stop its patrol activities. [...]

The project will focus on protesting businesses that employ illegal immigrants, pushing for immigration reform and organizing Minuteman branches nationwide.

[Leader Jim] Gilchrist, a retired accountant from Aliso Viejo, Calif., said his goals had been accomplished sooner than expected.

"Because of the phenomenal success of this grass-roots project in such a short time, the Minuteman Project has declared an unconditional victory in its efforts," he said in an open letter to supporters Wednesday.

I'm ashamed to think how hard I said it would be to close the border when these guys pulled it off in just a week.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Orphaned by the church (Joan Vennochi, April 21, 2005, Boston Globe)

THIS STRANGER, our church.

With news of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's selection as the new pope, the phrase ''progressive Catholic" sounds more and more like an oxymoron.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Conn. approves gay civil unions: Advocates and opponents criticize compromise law (Sarah Schweitzer, April 21, 2005, Boston Globe)

Connecticut became the second state in the nation yesterday to create civil unions for gays and lesbians. The move disappointed some gay-rights activists who had hoped to see the state follow Massachusetts' lead in creating same-sex marriage and angered some conservatives who said the measure was a step in the direction of gay nuptials.

The legislation was approved by a wide margin in the Senate and enacted swiftly by Governor M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, late yesterday afternoon. [...]

The Connecticut legislation is similar to Vermont's and extends all the rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, except for the right to marry. An amendment to the legislation defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The additional language was inserted to make the bill amenable to conservative lawmakers.

Connecticut's civil unions will not be recognized by the federal government and will carry no weight in the 49 other states, including Vermont.

If we're going to tolerate homosexuality some kind of institutionalized contractual obligation will be adopted in at least the Blue states. One like this which makes clear that it's an inferior institution is probably the best that can be hoped.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


The surge to victory: Cardinal's deft steps (Daniel J. Wakin, April 21, 2005, The New York Times)

Joseph Ratzinger of Germany became Pope Benedict XVI in rapid fashion, rushing to election by a scant four votes over less than 24 hours in conclave. How it happened began to emerge Wednesday once the cardinals who chose him left the secret gathering and were no longer bound by a gag order imposed by Ratzinger the week before it started.

It was, several cardinals said, his brilliant performance in the weeks leading up to the conclave that helped make his election more probable than had been expected, several cardinals said Wednesday.

His deep knowledge of the Vatican bureaucracy, linguistic ability and intellectual heft also played important roles, the cardinals said in interviews and news conferences. [...]

In picking Ratzinger, they were clearly drawn to his defense of traditional Roman Catholic doctrine in the face of what he called the "dictatorship of relativism," or shifting winds of belief in a secular society, during the Mass that opened the conclave on Monday.

His choice also indicated that they believed shoring up the fundamentals of the faith was a main priority, despite extensive discussion about the needs of the church in Latin America and elsewhere outside Europe.

But it was also his dignified celebration of John Paul's funeral Mass on April 8; his guiding hand in the cardinals' daily meetings during the interregnum, or period between popes; and the preconclave Mass that helped to convince the cardinals. Ratzinger fulfilled those roles by virtue of his position as dean of the college.

"When one keeps in mind the way in which Cardinal Ratzinger led the funeral mass and also the way he led the cardinals' college when they had their meetings," said Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier of South Africa, "I think he showed great leadership quality, which must obviously have influenced what people thought about him."

Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:06 AM


Labour vows to cut crime by 15% (Hélène Mulholland, The Guardian, April, 21st, 2005)

The prime minister, Tony Blair, this morning promised to reduce crime by 15% if Labour wins a third term in office.

As the Conservatives are expected to respond by promising to increase civility by 17%, this will be a battle worth watching.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Debate Over Nest Egg Math: Economists who closely study retirement savings widely disagree when it comes to even the most basic assumptions (Howard Gleckman, 4/25/05, Business Week)

Are American workers saving enough for retirement? For years, the conventional wisdom has been no. But now, just as companies finally are trying to get people to save more, a provocative study is questioning just how bad the problem is. [...]

[U]niversity of Wisconsin economist John Karl Scholz figures that at least 80% of Americans are squirreling away enough to reach optimal retirement targets. And even many of the 20% who are undersaving are close to reaching their goals. "Finding gloom and doom stories about Americans heading over a cliff is like catching fish in a rainbarrel," says Scholz. "I'm a skeptic." [...]

If the test is 75% of preretirement income, just 48% of households age 47-64 would pass, Wolff figures. But 70% of families could meet a far more modest goal: annual income of at least twice the poverty level -- enough for a decent, if not lavish, retirement, when supplemented with Medicare/Medicaid health benefits and other senior subsidies. [...]

Another question: What to count when figuring out how much wealth retirees actually have? All economists include 401(k) and IRA accounts, benefits from traditional pensions, and Social Security income, as well as other financial assets. But many exclude the value of owner-occupied homes, arguing that seniors must still pay to live somewhere.

But others say many elderly will sell their homes, move into less costly residences, and cash out hefty capital gains. Or they could take out reverse mortgages -- a technique where seniors sell their ownership in a home to an investor who agrees to pay them a fixed monthly sum for as long as they live in it.

Americans save more than any other people, but we could be better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The flat-tax revolution: Fine in theory, but it will never happen. Oh really? (The Economist, Apr 14th 2005)

THE more complicated a country's tax system becomes, the easier it is for governments to make it more complicated still, in an accelerating process of proliferating insanity—until, perhaps, a limit of madness is reached and a spasm of radical simplification is demanded. In 2005, many of the world's rich countries seem far along this curve. The United States, which last simplified its tax code in 1986, and which spent the next two decades feverishly unsimplifying it, may soon be coming to a point of renewed fiscal catharsis. Other rich countries, with a tolerance for tax-code sclerosis even greater than America's, may not be so far behind. Revenue must be raised, of course. But is there no realistic alternative to tax codes which, as they discharge that sad but necessary function, squander resources on an epic scale and grind the spirit of the helpless taxpayer as well?

The answer is yes: there is indeed an alternative, and experience is proving that it is an eminently realistic one. The experiment started in a small way in 1994, when Estonia became the first country in Europe to introduce a “flat tax” on personal and corporate income. Income is taxed at a single uniform rate of 26%: no schedule of rates, no deductions. The economy has flourished. Others followed: first, Latvia and Lithuania, Estonia's Baltic neighbours; later Russia (with a rate of 13% on personal income), then Slovakia (19% on personal and corporate income). One of Poland's centre-right opposition parties is campaigning for a similar code (with a rate of 15%). So far eight countries have followed Estonia's example (see article). An old idea that for decades elicited the response, “Fine in theory, just not practical in the real world,” seems to be working as well in practice as it does on the blackboard.

Practical types who said that flat taxes cannot work offer a further instant objection, once they are shown such taxes working—namely, that they are unfair. Enlightened countries, it is argued, have “progressive” tax systems, requiring the rich to forfeit a bigger share of their incomes in tax than the poor are called upon to pay. A flat tax seems to rule this out in principle.

Not so. A flat tax on personal incomes combines a threshold (that is, an exempt amount) with a single rate of tax on all income above it. The progressivity of such a system can be varied within wide limits using just these two variables. Under systems such as America's, or those operating in most of western Europe, the incentives for the rich to avoid tax (legally or otherwise) are enormous; and the opportunities to do so, which arise from the very complexity of the codes, are commensurately large. So it is unsurprising to discover, as experience suggests, that the rich usually pay about as much tax under a flat-tax regime as they do under an orthodox code.

You can't be falling behind Romania...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


China's Selective Memory (Fred Hiatt, April 18, 2005, washington Post)

[H]ere's the problem, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao explained last week: "Japan needs to face up to history squarely." After another weekend of anti-Japanese protests and riots in China, China's foreign minister yesterday amplified that "the main problem now is that the Japanese government has done a series of things that have hurt the feelings of the Chinese people . . . especially in its treatment of history."

Truth in history is an interesting standard for great-power status. One intriguing response would be for Japan to embrace it and suggest politely that, if China wants to keep its Security Council seat, it ought to do the same. [...]

There is only one acceptable version of history, at least at any given time; history often changes, but only when the Communist Party decides to change it.

For example, according to a report by Howard W. French in the New York Times last December, many textbooks don't mention that anyone died at what the outside world knows as the 1989 massacre of student demonstrators near Tiananmen Square. One 1998 text notes only that "the Central Committee took action in time and restored calm." Anyone who challenges the official fiction is subject to harsh punishment, including beatings, house arrest or imprisonment.

And if the 300,000 victims of the Nanjing Massacre are slighted in some Japanese textbooks, what of the 30 million Chinese who died in famines created by Mao Zedong's lunatic Great Leap Forward between 1958 and 1962? No mention in Chinese texts; didn't happen.

Well, you might say, how a nation treats its internal history is less relevant to its qualifications for the Security Council than whether it teaches its children honestly about its wars with other nations. A dubious proposition, but no matter; as the Times found in its review of textbooks, Chinese children do not learn of their nation's invasion of Tibet (1950) or aggression against Vietnam (1979). And they are taught that Japan was defeated in World War II by Chinese Communist guerrillas; Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima and Midway don't figure in.

How about using that stunt of Bill Bradley's where he tapped out with his pencil the number of blows that Rodney King took? By the time you'd tapped 35 million times even the Chinese might have the decency to shut up.

April 20, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:44 PM


A Group at Princeton Where 'No' Means 'Entirely No' (IVER PETERSON, 4/18/05, NY Times)

Yet another alternate sexual lifestyle is being promoted by a group of Princeton undergraduates: one of chastity and abstinence outside of marriage.

Members of the Anscombe Society maintain that campus life has become so drenched in sexuality, from the flavored condoms handed out by a resident adviser to the social pressure of the hook-up scene, that Princeton needs a voice arguing for traditional sexual values. Traditional, at least, from the days before their parents went to college.

Their aim is not to pass moral judgment, they say, only to inform.

"Even though morality does factor into it, we want to enrich the discussion of sexual issues and family," said Cassandra Debenedetto, a sophomore from Stow, Mass., who was one of the founders of the group last fall. "So we also present sociological data and medical research. We want to bring all of those issues in."

The group is named after Elizabeth Anscombe, the Cambridge University Anglo-Catholic whose 1977 essay "Contraception and Chastity" is famous among conservative Roman Catholics for setting out a philosophical defense of the papacy's strictures on sexual behavior. She died in 2001.

For the Princeton students, the idea is simply to be heard in an atmosphere that not only condones sexual activity among young adults, but, they maintain, expects it.

Geez, there was no club for it when I was in school.

Contraception and Chastity (Elizabeth Anscombe, 1977)

There always used to be a colossal strain in ancient times; between heathen morality and Christian morality, and one of the things pagan converts had to be told about the way they were entering on was that they must abstain from fornication. This peculiarity of the Christian life was taught in a precept issued by the Council of Jerusalem, the very first council of the Christian Church. The prohibition was issued in the same breath as the merely temporary retention of Judaic laws prohibiting the eating of blood - no black pudding! - and the prohibition on eating the flesh of animals that had been sacrificed to idols. And in one way these may have been psychologically the same sort of prohibition to a pagan convert. The Christian life simply imposed these peculiar restrictions on you. All the same the prohibition on fornication must have stood out; it must have meant a very serious change of life to many, as it would today. Christian life meant a separation from the standards of that world: you couldn't be a Baal-worshipper, you couldn't sacrifice to idols, be a sodomite, practice infanticide, compatibly with the Christian allegiance. That is not to say that Christians were good; we humans are a bad lot and our lives as Christians even if not blackly and grossly wicked are usually very mediocre. But the Catholic Christian badge now again means separation, even for such poor mediocrities, from what the unchristian world in the West approves and professes.

Christianity was at odds with the heathen world, not only about fornication, infanticide and idolatry; but also about marriage. Christians were taught that husband and wife had equal rights in one another's bodies; a wife is wronged by her husband's adultery as well as a husband by his wife's. And Christianity involved non-acceptance of the contemptible role of the female partner in fornication, calling the prostitute to repentance and repudiating respectable concubinage. And finally for Christians divorce was excluded. These differences were the measure, great enough, of the separation between Christianity and the pagan world in these matters. By now, Christian teaching is, of course, known all over the world; and it goes without saying for those in the West that what they call "accepting traditional morals" means counting fornication as wrong - it's just not a respectable thing. But we ought to be conscious that, like the objection to infanticide, this is a Jewish Christian inheritance. And we should realize that heathen humanity tends to have a different attitude towards both. In Christian teaching a value is set on every human life and on men's chastity as well as on women's and this as part of the ordinary calling of a Christian, not just in connexion with the austerity of monks. Faithfulness, by which a man turned only to his spouse, forswearing all other women, was counted as one of the great goods of marriage.

But the quarrel is far greater between Christianity and the present-day heathen, post Christian, morality that has sprung up as a result of contraception. In one word: Christianity taught that men ought to be as chaste as pagans thought honest women ought to be; the contraceptive morality teaches that women need to be as little chaste as pagans thought men need be. [...]

The trouble about the Christian standard of chastity is that it isn't and never has been generally lived by; not that it would be profitless if it were. Quite the contrary: it would be colossally productive of earthly happiness. All the same it is a virtue, not like temperance in eating and drinking, not like honesty about property, for these have a purely utilitarian justification. But it, like the respect for life, is a supra-utilitarian value, connected with the substance of life, and this is what comes out in the perception that the life of lust is one in which we dishonour our bodies. Implicitly, lasciviousness is over and over again treated as hateful, even by those who would dislike such an explicit judgment on it. Just listen, witness the scurrility when it's hinted at; disgust when it's portrayed as the stuff of life; shame when it's exposed, the leer of complicity when it's approved. You don't get these attitudes with everybody all of the time; but you do get them with everybody. (It's much too hard work to keep up the façade of the Playboy philosophy, according to which all this is just an unfortunate mistake, to be replaced by healthy-minded wholehearted praise of sexual fun.)

And here we're in the region of that constant Christian teaching, which we've noticed, that intercourse "merely for the sake of pleasure" is wrong.

This can mislead and perturb. For when is intercourse purely for the sake of pleasure? Some have thought this must mean: when it's not for the sake of getting a child. And so, I believe, I have been told, some Catholic women have actually feared the pleasure of orgasm and thought it wrong, or thought it wrong to look for it or allow oneself to respond to feelings of physical desire. But this is unreasonable and ungrateful to God. Copulation, like eating, is of itself a good kind of action: it preserves human existence. An individual act of eating or copulation, then, can be bad only because something about it or the circumstances of it make it bad. And all the pleasure specific to it will be just as good as it is.

A severe morality holds that intercourse (and may hold this of eating, too) has something wrong about it if it is ever done except explicitly as being required for that preservation of human life which is what makes intercourse a good kind of action. But this involves thoroughly faulty moral psychology. God gave us our physical appetite, and its arousal without our calculation is part of the working of our sort of life. Given moderation and right circumstances, acts prompted by inclination can be taken in a general way to accomplish what makes them good in kind and there's no need for them to be individually necessary or useful for the end that makes them good kinds of action. Intercourse is a normal part of married life through the whole life of the partners in a marriage and is normally engaged in without any distinct purpose other than to have it, just as such a part of married life.

Such acts will usually take place only when desire prompts, and desire is for intercourse as pleasurable; the pleasure, as Aristotle says, perfects the act. But that does not mean that it is done "purely for pleasure". For what that expression means is that sensuality is in command: but that one has intercourse when desire prompts and the desire is for pleasure, does not prove, does not mean, that sensuality is in command. One may rightly and reasonably be willing to respond to the promptings of desire. When that is so, the act is governed by a reasonable mind, even though no considering or reasoning is going on. The fact that one is thus having intercourse when, as one knows, there's nothing against it, makes it a good and a chaste marriage act and a rendering of the marriage debt.

There is indeed such a thing in marriage as intercourse "purely for pleasure"; this is what the Christian tradition did condemn. Marks of it could be: immoderate pursuit of, or preoccupation with sexual pleasure; succumbing to desire against wisdom; insisting against serious reluctance of one's partner. In all these cases but the last both parties may of course be consenting. For human beings often tend to be disorderly and extreme in their sensuality. A simple test of whether one is so is this: could one do without for a few weeks or months in case of need? For anyone may be faced with a situation in which he ought to do without; and he should watch that he does not get into a state in which it is impossible for him. But we ought to remember also, what isn't always remembered, that insensibility and unjustified abstention is also a sin against moderation, and is a defrauding of one's partner.

Well now, people raise the cry of "legalism" (one of the regular accusations of the present day) against this idea which I have taken from the old theologians of "rendering what is owing", the giving the other person this part of married life, which is owing. It embodies the one notion, I would say, that is honest, truthful and quite general. People would rather speak of the expression of mutual love. But what do they mean by "love"? Do they mean "being in love"? Do they mean a natural conjugal affection?

Either of these may be lacking or onesided. If a kind of love cannot be commanded, we can't build our moral theology of marriage on the presumption that it will be present. Its absence is sad, but this sadness exists, it is very common. We should avoid, I think, using the indicative mood for what is really a commandment like the Scout Law ("A Boy Scout is kind to animals" - it means a Boy Scout ought to be kind to animals). For if we hear: "a Christian couple grow in grace and love together" doesn't the question arise "supposing they don't?" It clears the air to substitute the bite of what is clearly a precept for the sweetness of a rosy picture. The command to a Christian couple is: "Grow in grace and love together." But a joint command can only be jointly obeyed. Suppose it isn't? Well, there remains the separate precept to each and in an irremediably unhappy marriage, one ought still to love the other, though not perhaps feeling the affection that cannot be commanded. Thus the notion of the "marriage debt" is a very necessary one, and it alone is realistic: because it makes no assumption as to the state of the affections.

Looking at the rightness of the marriage act like this will help in another way. It will prevent us from assuming that the pleasant affection which exists between a happy and congenial pair is the fulfilment of the precept of love. (It may after all only be a complacent hiving off together in a narrow love.) We ought absolutely not to give out a teaching which is flattering to the lucky, and irrelevant to the unhappy. Looked at carefully, too, such teaching is altogether too rigorist in a new direction. People who are not quite happily married, not lucky in their married life, but nevertheless have a loyalty to the bond, are not, therefore, bound to abstain from intercourse.

The meaning of this teaching "not purely for pleasure" should, I think, have a great appeal for the Catholic thinking of today that is greatly concerned for the laity. We want to stress nowadays, that the one vocation that is spoken of in the New Testament is the calling of a Christian. All are called with the same calling. The life of monks and nuns and of celibate priesthood is a higher kind of life than that of the married, not because there are two grades of Christian, but because their form of life is one in which one has a greater chance of living according to truth and the laws of goodness; by their profession, those who take the vows of religion have set out to please God alone. But we lay people are not less called to the Christian life, in which the critical question is: "Where does the compass-needle of your mind and will point?" This is tested above all by our reactions when it costs or threatens to cost something to be a Christian. One should be glad if it does, rather than complain! If we will not let it cost anything; if we succumb to the threat of "losing our life", then our religion is indistinguishable from pure worldliness.

This is very far-reaching. But in the matter in hand, it means that we have got not to be the servants of our sensuality but to bring it into subjection. Thus, those who marry have, as we have the right to do, chosen a life in which, as St. Paul drily says, "the husband aims to please his wife rather than the Lord, and the wife her husband, rather than the Lord" - but although we have chosen a life to please ourselves and one another, still we know we are called with that special calling, and are bound not to be conformed to the world, friendship to which is enmity to God. And so also we ought to help one another and have co-operative pools of help: help people who are stuck in family difficulties; and have practical resources in our parishes for one another's needs when we get into difficult patches.

The teaching which I have rehearsed is indeed against the grain of the world, against the current of our time. But that, after all, is what the Church as teacher is for. The truths that are acceptable to a time - as, that we owe it as a debt of justice to provide out of our superfluity for the destitute and the starving - these will be proclaimed not only by the Church: the Church teaches also those truths that are hateful to the spirit of an age.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:34 PM


Wall Street speculates on General Motors bankruptcy (SupplierBusiness.com, 18 April 2005)

The speculation on Wall Street last week was how long it would be before General Motors declared bankruptcy. [...]

[I]t is difficult to see a long-term turnaround path for the group. The problems of General Motors have been widely known and recognised for at least a decade, but the company seems incapable of taking effective action.

Almost no one outside the company expects GM to reverse its steady long-term secular decline in market share in North America.

The company's products are widely panned as uninspiring. The discounting and incentivisation of the last three years has flooded the market with nearly new GM products.

Fully a third of GM's new vehicle sales are to employees, their relatives or fleet rental buyers, while private new-car buyers are staying away from GM's profile in droves.

The company is suffering from the liabilities and attitudes that entrenched themselves decades ago when the company dominated the North American market. GM has studied Toyota but not taken any effective action to adapt its own culture to complete.

The company carries a heavy burden of health care costs and pension liabilities that represent a structural disadvantage on every car produced that the company seems powerless to address. The company persists in a confrontational approach to negotiations with suppliers that may have made sense when the company was the leader of an oligopoly and was seeking to extract monopoly rent from suppliers that had nowhere else to go, but which is perverse as a strategy when new domestic assemblers already represent a much more attractive prospect as a customer.

Advanced nations don't belong in the parts assembly business.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:27 PM


Plato, Anyone? (Paul Starobin, April 1, 2005 , National Journal)

At times like these, the abstract concerns of those known as political philosophers -- from Plato down through the ages -- might seem quaint and irrelevant. Our senses are engaged, and our attention claimed, by a seemingly nonstop succession of big events -- in some instances grim, in some instances hopeful, but in all instances, unmistakably concrete. Whether the headlines tell of a suicide car bombing in Iraq or a pro-democracy demonstration in Lebanon, the events seem to speak for themselves.

And yet, it is precisely these sorts of occurrences that open a door to political philosophers. These events do not, in fact, speak for themselves; they cannot be coherently understood without mental reference points, gained from an understanding of history, or moral law, or other sources of wisdom. Political philosophers, and others whose thinking incorporates a measure of political philosophy, are in the orientation business -- they offer a kind of compass. And whether we realize it or not, our own attempts to make sense of things -- for how else can we live? -- are often echoes of their musings.

Consider, for example, The Concept of the Political, a 1932 treatise by Carl Schmitt, a prominent thinker in Weimar Germany. Schmitt later joined the Nazi Party and defended Hitler's policies, but put that aside for the moment. Schmitt's central argument is that all politics can be reduced to a core distinction between friend and enemy. And making this distinction, he maintains, is the principal task of people in a political community: "Therein resides the essence of its political existence." He writes:

The political enemy need not be morally evil or aesthetically ugly; he need not appear as an economic competitor, and it may even be advantageous to engage with him in business transactions. But he is, nevertheless, the other, the stranger; and it is sufficient for his nature that he is, in a specially intense way, existentially something different and alien, so that in the extreme case, conflicts with him are possible.

I encountered this passage a few days after attending a roundtable at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research -- a stronghold of so-called neoconservative political activists. The seminar was called "Saudi Government Propaganda in the United States: Avowed Ally or Secret Enemy?" The focus was on the Saudis' dissemination of religious "hate propaganda" in American mosques. But the deep question raised by the panelists -- who included former CIA Director James Woolsey -- came straight, if not consciously, from the writings of Schmitt: Is Saudi Arabia a friend or an enemy of America? Indeed, much of American foreign policy these days -- Is the new Iraq our friend? Is France no longer our friend? Can Iran ever be? -- resembles an exercise in Schmitt-style questioning.

We may be living in a time -- an era of deep, fundamental insecurity, of worries about things like whether a terrorist equipped with a suitcase-size "dirty" nuclear bomb is at this very moment crossing the Mexican border -- when only the political philosophers (a category, defined expansively, that can include those of a theological bent) have something relevant to say. The rest is noise.

Some folks get this; others do not. George W. Bush and his speechwriters certainly get it. Critics found his second Inaugural Address hopelessly abstract. It did stray into dogma, and maybe even into theology, but even so, Plato might have liked it. The speech was stocked with the very sorts of enticing (and debatable) assertions -- "In the long run, there is no justice without freedom" -- that are the subject of his Dialogues.

The much-maligned "neocons" -- many of them Republicans -- get it, too. One of their distinguishing characteristics is an interest in old-fashioned, values-laden political philosophy (even if they don't generally acknowledge an influence from the controversial Schmitt). The neocons greatly admire the savant Leo Strauss, a German Jew who taught political philosophy at the University of Chicago and other haunts, and who died in 1973. Despite some critics' assertions, his teachings are not particularly esoteric. Against the fashion of the times, especially the turbulent '60s, Strauss insisted that the Ancients -- the Greek philosophers of Athens and the biblical prophets of Jerusalem -- remained the West's primal source of orientation. A group of devoted students, some of whom became active in neocon political circles, took him seriously.

By contrast, the Democrats -- and liberals, in particular -- seem lost in Dante's woods. They appear to lack not only ideas but, even more than that, a philosophical well from which ideas can be drawn. Or to put this in Socratic terms, they often seem to be living the unexamined life. The challenge for Democrats is to dig deep. They need to find their philosophers.

Context is an awfully tough sell in a nation where 90% of us believe in God, but it's the core of the Democrats secularist message.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:58 PM


Dangerous democracy: Imperial America won't like the free Arabia that missionary America will have helped to spawn (David Hirst, April 20, 2005, Guardian)

At last month's anti-war conference in Cairo, Egyptian delegate Kamal Khalil excoriated President Mubarak's regime over "torture, poverty, unemployment, corruption, tyranny and despotism" - then added that the "liberation of Jerusalem starts here with the liberation of the people in Cairo". This linkage of domestic reform with the external foe dramatised the quandary lying in wait for President Bush's crusade for "freedom and democracy". God-given rights of all peoples are the panacea that will, among other things, end international terror and induce the Arabs to make their peace with Israel. So what, in this era of American-sponsored diplomacy and reconciliation, could this self-styled democrat possibly have meant by this reversion to the militant rhetoric of yesteryear?

The extent to which Bush is contributing to the winds of change now blowing across the world's last monolithically tyrannical region is passionately debated by the Arabs, perplexingly confronted, as they feel themselves to be, by two Americas, the new missionary one of Bush's second term and the old unrepentant superpower. The US as a promoter of democracy is a far from new idea. But the scope, fervour and lofty expectations Bush has invested in it are new. Yet, at the same time, never has imperial America, with which the missionary one is inextricably intertwined, been as rampant and detested as it is today.

For Bush didn't embark on this radically interventionist, quasi-colonial phase of America's relations with the Middle East only, or even mainly, to confer democracy on it. He did so for other reasons, too, that had far more to do with the traditional drive for strategic and economic dominance - as well as with an Israel whose influence on US policy has reached unprecedented levels.

Mr. Hirst would do well to look around him: America had little trouble establishing strategic and economic dominance over the nations it freed in its 20th Century Crusades. It has nothing to fear from a liberated Arabia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 PM


The Tease of Memory: Psychologists are dusting off 19th-century explanations of déjà vu. Have we been here before? (DAVID GLENN, 7/23/04, Chronicle Review)

In the summer of 1856, Nathaniel Hawthorne visited a decaying English manor house known as Stanton Harcourt, not far from Oxford. He was struck by the vast kitchen, which occupied the bottom of a 70-foot tower. "Here, no doubt, they were accustomed to roast oxen whole, with as little fuss and ado as a modern cook would roast a fowl," he wrote in an 1863 travelogue, Our Old Home.

Hawthorne wrote that as he stood in that kitchen, he was seized by an uncanny feeling: "I was haunted and perplexed by an idea that somewhere or other I had seen just this strange spectacle before. The height, the blackness, the dismal void, before my eyes, seemed as familiar as the decorous neatness of my grandmother's kitchen." He was certain that he had never actually seen this room or anything like it. And yet for a moment he was caught in what he described as "that odd state of mind wherein we fitfully and teasingly remember some previous scene or incident, of which the one now passing appears to be but the echo and reduplication."

When Hawthorne wrote that passage there was no common term for such an experience. But by the end of the 19th century, after discarding "false recognition," "paramnesia," and "promnesia," scholars had settled on a French candidate: "déjà vu," or "already seen."

The fleeting melancholy and euphoria associated with déjà vu have attracted the interest of poets, novelists, and occultists of many stripes. St. Augustine, Sir Walter Scott, Dickens, and Tolstoy all wrote detailed accounts of such experiences. (We will politely leave aside a certain woozy song by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.)

Most academic psychologists, however, have ignored the topic since around 1890, when there was a brief flurry of interest. The phenomenon seems at once too rare and too ephemeral to capture in a laboratory. And even if it were as common as sneezing, déjà vu would still be difficult to study because it produces no measurable external behaviors. Researchers must trust their subjects' personal descriptions of what is going on inside their minds, and few people are as eloquent as Hawthorne. Psychology has generally filed déjà vu away in a drawer marked "Interesting but Insoluble."

During the past two decades, however, a few hardy souls have reopened the scientific study of déjà vu. They hope to nail down a persuasive explanation of the phenomenon, as well as shed light on some fundamental elements of memory and cognition. In the new book The Déjà Vu Experience: Essays in Cognitive Psychology (Psychology Press), Alan S. Brown, a professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University, surveys the fledgling subfield. "What we can try to do is zero in on it from a variety of different angles," he says. "It won't be something like, 'Boom! The explanation is there.' But we can get gradual clarity through some hard work." [...]

Most of today's déjà vu scholars have chucked primal-preobject-libidinal representations in favor of brain scans and neuroimaging. Taking advantage of a recent explosion of experimental research on memory errors, Mr. Brown and a few like-minded colleagues have dusted off the theories of déjà vu proposed during the late Victorian era. At last, he hopes, such hypotheses can be subject to rigorous experimental tests. He warns, however, not to expect quick results: "A lot of science is geared at, How can I get tenure? How can I crank out a study in a year? The luxury of being able to attack difficult problems is often more risky. There's a little more investment of your personal resources, a little bit of gambling."

In Mr. Brown's account, scientific theories of déjà vu fall into four broad families. The first are theories of "dual processing." The late neuropsychiatrist Pierre Gloor conducted experiments in the 1990s strongly suggesting that memory involves distinct systems of "retrieval" and "familiarity." In a 1997 paper, he speculated that déjà vu occurs at rare moments when our familiarity system is activated but our retrieval system is not. Other scholars argue that the retrieval system is not shut off entirely but simply fires out of sync, evoking the fatigue theory of a century earlier.

In the second category are more purely neurological explanations. One such theory holds that déjà vu experiences are caused by small, brief seizures, akin to those caused by epilepsy. That idea is buttressed by the fact that people with epilepsy often report having déjà vu just before going into full-blown seizures. Researchers have also found that déjà vu can be elicited by electrically stimulating certain regions of the brain. In a 2002 paper, the Austrian physician Josef Spatt, who works with epilepsy patients, argued that déjà vu is caused by brief, inappropriate firing in the parahippocampal cortex, which is known to be associated with the ability to detect familiarity.

Mr. Brown's third category consists of memory theories. These propose that déjà vu is triggered by something we have actually seen or imagined before, either in waking life, in literature or film, or in a dream. Some of these theories hold that a single element, perhaps familiar from some other context, is enough to spark a déjà vu experience. (Suppose, for example, that the chairs in Stanton Harcourt's kitchen were identical in color and shape to Hawthorne's decorously neat grandmother's, but that he didn't recognize them in this new context.) At the other end of the scale are gestalt theories, which suggest that we sometimes falsely recognize a general visual or audio pattern. (Suppose that the Stanton Harcourt kitchen looked similar, in broad visual outline, to a long-forgotten church that Hawthorne had once attended.)

In the final box are "double perception" theories of déjà vu, which descend from Allin's 1896 suggestion that a brief interruption in our normal process of perception might make something appear falsely familiar. In 1989, in one of the first laboratory studies that tried to induce something like déjà vu, the cognitive psychologists Larry L. Jacoby and Kevin Whitehouse, of Washington University in St. Louis, showed their subjects a long list of words on a screen. The subjects then returned a day or a week later and were shown another long list of words, half of which had also been on the first list. They were asked to identify which words they had seen during the first round.

The experimenters found that if they flashed a word at extremely quick, subliminal speeds (20 milliseconds) shortly before its "official" appearance on the screen during the second round, their subjects were very likely to incorrectly say that it had appeared on the first list. Those results lent at least indirect support to the notion that if we attend to something half-consciously and then give it our full attention, it can appear falsely familiar.

The study is one of many that demonstrate the potential pitfalls of everyday memory and cognition, says Mr. Jacoby. "At our core, I think all of us are naïve realists. We believe the world is as it presents itself," he says. "All of these experiments are a little unsettling if you're a naïve realist."

But amusing if you think empiricism is bunk.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 PM


Itching To Ditch The Slow Lane (David Welch and Chester Dawson, 4/25/05, Business Week)

[T]echnology will have to deliver more -- and for less money -- if hybrids are going to penetrate deeper into the market than just 0.5% of the 17 million U.S. car-buying consumers every year. To boost that share, carmakers must overcome daunting technological hurdles -- most of all, making hybrids' battery systems smaller, less costly, and more powerful. That would cut the nearly $4,000 price premium hybrids command and boost mileage. It could also deliver a big payoff in driver comfort. "Improving driving performance and pleasure is the next frontier for hybrids," says Takehisa Yaegashi, Toyota's senior manager for hybrid power train development.

Battery technology has already made great strides from the early days. Today's nickel metal hydride battery systems cost about $2,000 to $3,000 a car -- less than half the price of the first Prius power packs back in 1997. And they weigh half the 170 pounds of the batteries in that first generation.

Even so, better batteries may be the biggest barrier in reducing the cost of hybrids. Honda estimates that the battery accounts for about 60% of the $3,300 extra cost of its Accord Hybrid. One company insider says if the hybrid price premium could be halved, the technology could grab two-thirds of auto sales. For now, battery raw materials are expensive and, despite improvements, batteries still must be big to store a lot of energy. [...]

Battery technology has already made great strides from the early days. Today's nickel metal hydride battery systems cost about $2,000 to $3,000 a car -- less than half the price of the first Prius power packs back in 1997. And they weigh half the 170 pounds of the batteries in that first generation.

Even so, better batteries may be the biggest barrier in reducing the cost of hybrids. Honda estimates that the battery accounts for about 60% of the $3,300 extra cost of its Accord Hybrid. One company insider says if the hybrid price premium could be halved, the technology could grab two-thirds of auto sales. For now, battery raw materials are expensive and, despite improvements, batteries still must be big to store a lot of energy.

Rising car sales spread those high costs over more units, but battery manufacturing capacity is still constrained. [...]

As batteries improve, they will do more than save space. They could allow cars to drive in ghostly quiet electric mode longer. With faster computer processors, future hybrids should manage a smoother transition between electric power and gas. The goal: a switchover to gas that is barely noticeable to the driver. When hybrids are given cheaper, more powerful electrical guts, their popularity will really take off.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 PM


Students tell of tension on gay tolerance day: 'Gay shirts' outnumbered by those with 'God shirts' at Homewood-Flossmoor (Kati Phillips, April 20, 2005, Daily Southtown)

A student-led effort to oppose homophobia at Homewood-Flossmoor High School may have backfired Tuesday when hundreds of students donned shirts with Christian and anti-gay slogans.

Student activists who wore shirts emblazoned with the words "gay? fine by me" said they were outnumbered by peers wearing hateful messages and were targeted for harassment.

The T-shirt drive was intended to create a safe place for gay students and to put a human face on gays, lesbians and their allies.

But student journalists covering the event described the atmosphere as "tense."

"It was crazy. There were all these students with gay shirts and God shirts," said student newspaper reporter Joe Maloney. "In my first-period class, debate class, there were way more God shirts."

Chelsea Lavin, a broadcast student, was more pragmatic."People that you normally would say 'Hi' to in the halls were wearing shirts opposite of you, so you looked in the opposite direction," she said.

Alissa Norby, one of the T-shirt day's organizers, said she didn't know whether to define the project as a success or failure.

"If I was still in the closet and came to school (Tuesday) and saw hundreds of kids wearing anti-gay shirts, I'd probably go home crying and begging my parents to let me transfer," she said.

Students estimated more than 100 students wore anti-homophobia shirts, and more than 200 students wore shirts that listed "Crimes committed against God."


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


Not Sure If You're Catholic? Try Belief-o-matic (Der Spiegel)

Religion isn't always just a matter of whether or not you believe God is your co-pilot or wonder what Jesus would do. There are many shades of grey when it comes to belief -- do you know how your own deeply-held beliefs actually square up with dogma? Now you can find out.

Deciding on what to believe in amid these troubled times isn't easy. The modern world doesn't leave us a lot of time to ponder the Big Questions like "Why is there so much evil in the world?" But, never fear, Belief-o-matic is here: by asking you 20 questions on "your concept of God, the afterlife, human nature, and more," Belief-o-matic can tell you if you're a Roman Catholic, a secular humanist, or a reform Jew. Be careful, though. Belief-O-Matic, as the Web site points out, "assumes no legal liability for the ultimate fate of your soul."

Your Results:

The top score on the list below represents the faith that Belief-O-Matic, in its less than infinite wisdom, thinks most closely matches your beliefs. However, even a score of 100% does not mean that your views are all shared by this faith, or vice versa.

Belief-O-Matic then lists another 26 faiths in order of how much they have in common with your professed beliefs. The higher a faith appears on this list, the more closely it aligns with your thinking.

How did the Belief-O-Matic do? Discuss your results on our message boards.

1. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (100%)
2. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (98%)
3. Jehovah's Witness (89%)
4. Eastern Orthodox (86%)
5. Roman Catholic (86%)
6. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (80%)
7. Bah�'� Faith (77%)
8. Orthodox Judaism (77%)
9. Orthodox Quaker (73%)
10. Seventh Day Adventist (70%)
11. Islam (65%)
12. Sikhism (53%)
13. Liberal Quakers (47%)
14. Hinduism (46%)
15. Jainism (46%)
16. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (41%)
17. Reform Judaism (40%)
18. Mahayana Buddhism (39%)
19. Theravada Buddhism (37%)
20. Unitarian Universalism (37%)
21. Neo-Pagan (30%)
22. New Age (23%)
23. Nontheist (23%)
24. New Thought (22%)
25. Secular Humanism (18%)
26. Taoism (17%)
27. Scientology (17%)

Meanwhile, we're going to have to buy The Wife some incense or something:

How did the Belief-O-Matic do? Discuss your results on our message boards.

1. Bah�'� Faith (100%)
2. Reform Judaism (96%)
3. Sikhism (92%)
4. Orthodox Judaism (90%)
5. Islam (86%)
6. Liberal Quakers (75%)
7. Jainism (73%)
8. Unitarian Universalism (72%)
9. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (66%)
10. Neo-Pagan (62%)
11. Mahayana Buddhism (60%)
12. Hinduism (58%)
13. Orthodox Quaker (55%)
14. New Age (54%)
15. New Thought (53%)
16. Scientology (51%)
17. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (48%)
18. Theravada Buddhism (48%)
19. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (46%)
20. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (42%)
21. Secular Humanism (39%)
22. Eastern Orthodox (38%)
23. Roman Catholic (38%)
24. Taoism (37%)
25. Seventh Day Adventist (35%)
26. Jehovah's Witness (32%)
27. Nontheist (27%)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 PM


The Sun backs Blair (Nicholas Watt, April 20, 2005, Guardian Unlimited)

Tony Blair will receive a major boost tomorrow when the Sun endorses Labour for the general election on May 5, citing the prime minister's bravery over the Iraq war.

Labour strategists, who regarded the Sun's endorsement in 1997 as one of the key moments of the campaign, will sigh with relief that Rupert Murdoch has not consummated his flirtation with Michael Howard. No Tory leader since Margaret Thatcher has been wooed in the same way as Mr Howard, who was invited to address the News Corporation annual jamboree in Cancun, Mexico.

The decision by the Sun editor, Rebekah Wade, after close consultation with her Australian born boss, will come as little surprise to Labour and the Conservatives. Mr Murdoch is always careful to back winners and he has regularly lavished praise on the prime minister for standing firm during the Iraq war.

But speculation that the Sun might return to the Tory fold for the first time since 1992 was fuelled when Mr Murdoch told the BBC's business editor, Jeff Randall, that he was impressed by Mr Howard's leadership of the Tory party. But in remarks which received little attention at the time, he also said he would never forget Mr Blair's steadfastness during the Iraq war.

The cold hard fact is that the Tories still don't offer a big enough difference from Tony Blair to warrant backing them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 PM


The Autumn of the Autocrats (Fouad Ajami, May/June 2005, Foreign Affairs)

If the outrage within Lebanon broke through the old taboos of the Syrian-Lebanese relationship, the international setting has been dramatically transformed as well. France and the United States feuded over Iraq; Syria's occupation of Lebanon has provided them with an opportunity for common purpose. Assad's inexperienced heir, his son Bashar, is now caught in an international storm destined to be the test of his regime.

In 1990-91, in the context of a radically different international order, the world averted its gaze as Syria destroyed the last vestiges of Lebanon's independence. That was the price willingly paid by President George H.W. Bush for enlisting Damascus in the first campaign against Saddam. Those were good wages garnered by the Syrians. Syria did little for the coalition but was accepted as the gendarmerie of a volatile Lebanese polity. Then the outside world forgot about Lebanon. The missionaries, businesspeople, writers, and spooks who had known the country wandered away or aged. The dominant impression of Lebanon became that of a country given to tribal atavisms and bottomless feuds.

But more than a decade later, U.S. power positioned itself in Iraq, directly on Syria's eastern border. Pax Americana's tolerance for bargains with strongmen had substantially eroded since the September 11 attacks. True, Syria had not merited charter membership in President George W. Bush's "axis of evil." The Syrians warded off danger by "turning state's evidence" -- sharing what intelligence they had about the countless jihadists who hailed from Syria. But even as Syria tried to sit out the campaign in Iraq, it could not do so entirely. The lucrative Syrian trade of reexporting Iraqi oil in violation of international sanctions -- bringing in a windfall of some $1 billion a year -- was one casualty of this war. The other was most of Syria's leverage with the United States. Damascus had no real claims on Washington's loyalty and indulgence. The sort of access to the Pax Americana enjoyed by Cairo and Riyadh was not available to Syria's rulers. In the run-up to the Iraq war, Damascus had voted for a Security Council resolution authorizing Iraq's disarmament. But that could not buy Syria indefinite protection against the United States' wrath. Indeed, Bashar al-Assad and his cronies could be forgiven their worries that their regime could be the next target in U.S. cross hairs. The spectacle of the Iraqi dictator chased into his "spider hole" provided a cautionary tale. Hard as Damascus may have tried to maintain that Iraq was not its affair, the toppling of the Baathist tyranny next door was a crystal ball in which Syria's rulers could glimpse intimations of their own demise.

No one in the Arab world would shed tears for Assad and his political dynasty, and he and his men knew that. Theirs was a minority regime, the dominion of the Alawis, a heterodox Muslim community from Syria's northern mountains, over a principally Sunni Muslim society. Hafiz al-Assad, who established the regime, may have lacked Saddam's megalomania, but at the heart of his government was the cult of the ruler and his iron fist. In Syria as in Iraq, a generation of peasant soldiers and merciless ideologues took the society apart and trumpeted their pursuit of a new social order, only to create a system of political sterility and economic plunder.

Although Assad's regime had shut down its critics at home and had seemingly subdued Lebanon, the new security doctrine of the United States held dangers aplenty for it. Wars of pre-emption were now a distinct possibility. Washington had its hands full in Iraq, but no one in Damascus could be certain that the U.S. drive to finish off Arab dictators would come to a halt in Iraq. And there were Washington's "neocons" -- a veritable obsession of the Arab intellectual and political class, in Damascus and beyond. Who knew what they had in mind? There was unsettling talk of "low-hanging fruit" and "phase two" of the U.S. military effort. There was paranoia to spare in Arab political circles about a new American imperial bid to remake the Arab world.

As Syria's rulers hunkered down and waited to see the unfolding of the U.S. project in Iraq, they did their best to aid and abet the anti-U.S. insurgency there, while still maintaining the necessary fiction of their neutrality, doing what they could to avoid open confrontation with Washington. It was a game of cat and mouse: it was known that Arab jihadists from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan traveled to Mosul and the Sunni Triangle from Syria. There was irony here: an Alawite regime that was at odds with Sunni Islamists at home was feeding a Sunni insurgency next door. The jihadists dreaded the Syrian regime as a "godless tyranny" but took its favors. The 400-mile border was porous, and the Syrians had no interest in securing it. There were loyalists of the decapitated Iraqi regime with money to spare; they were looking for sanctuary, and the Syrians would provide it.

It was important for Syria that this heady U.S. bid to change the politics of the Arab states be thwarted. The more blood and treasure the United States expended in Iraq, the safer it was for Damascus. The new U.S. reach into the Arab world was a transient affair, the Syrians hoped. In time, Washington would grow weary of its burdens and pack up the military gear, along with U.S. designs for the region and its people. In the interim, Syria would punctuate its steady undermining of the U.S. operation with small favors and concessions to the U.S. military authorities. The Syrians could also plead that sealing the Syrian-Iraqi border was beyond their power and that they lacked the means and technology to monitor the age-old traffic on their frontier.

The Bush administration had announced nothing less than the obsolescence of the Arab world's old authoritarian order. [...]

The current Syrian regime is truly alone in the world. In the Arab world itself, the isolation of Damascus is easy to see. Arab public opinion has never taken to Syria's rulers. Before the destruction of his regime, Saddam was accepted as defender of the Arabs, a son of the "Arab nation," fighting its wars and sharing its atavisms. But he was a Sunni Arab; Syria's rulers are cut of a different cloth. Perhaps their esoteric Alawite faith is, in part, a factor in their estrangement. More important, they are people of stealth who have waged their own wars against the Palestinians and cut down to size Beirut's pan-Arabists in pursuit of Syrian hegemony.

Nor can the established Arab order do much for the Syrians. Cairo will not intercede on behalf of Damascus. If the Egyptians attempt it, their intervention will come without conviction. U.S. policy owes no deference to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. If anything, the Bush administration's new emphasis on reform and liberty only highlights the inadequacy of Mubarak's own regime.

Riyadh will not intercede either, but for different reasons. Hariri held Saudi citizenship, and his ties to the House of Saud ran to the very heart of the dynasty. Hariri had brought to Beirut not only Saudi money and investments, but also the Saudi way -- an aversion to ideology, a businessman's peace, and a belief in the power of wealth and caution. The Saudis are not given to expressions of public outrage, but one of their own was struck down in Beirut. A huge contingent of Saudi princes came to Beirut for Hariri's funeral; the de facto ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah, went to the Hariri home in Riyadh to offer condolences to his two older sons. Saudi Arabia will not trumpet Syria's culpability in his death. But the reserve that Saudi Arabia has displayed toward Syrian officialdom since the murder has conveyed the House of Saud's unease. Plainly, there is no faith in Riyadh that Assad, the young Syrian ruler, knows the intricacies of power.

Lebanon has long been ignored in the Arab circles of power, but the wind now blows its way. [...]

The entrenched systems of control in the Arab world are beginning to give way. It is a terrible storm, but the perfect antidote to a foul sky. The old Arab The entrenched systems of control in the Arab world are beginning to give way. It is a terrible storm, but the perfect antidote to a foul sky. The old Arab edifice of power, it is true, has had a way of surviving many storms. It has outwitted and outlived many predictions of its imminent demise.

But suddenly it seems like the autumn of the dictators. Something different has been injected into this fight. The United States -- a great foreign power that once upheld the Arab autocrats, fearing what mass politics would bring -- now braves the storm. It has signaled its willingness to gamble on the young, the new, and the unknown. Autocracy was once deemed tolerable, but terrorists, nurtured in the shadow of such rule, attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. Now the Arabs, grasping for a new world, and the Americans, who have helped usher in this unprecedented moment, together ride this storm wave of freedom.

It is certainly the case that neither George W. Bush nor Babnny Assad is much like his father.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 PM


FLATHEAD: The peculiar genius of Thomas L. Friedman. (Matt Taibbi, 4/20/05, NY Press)

I think it was about five months ago that Press editor Alex Zaitchik whispered to me in the office hallway that Thomas Friedman had a new book coming out. All he knew about it was the title, but that was enough; he approached me with the chilled demeanor of a British spy who has just discovered that Hitler was secretly buying up the world’s manganese supply. Who knew what it meant—but one had to assume the worst

"It's going to be called The Flattening," he whispered. Then he stood there, eyebrows raised, staring at me, waiting to see the effect of the news when it landed. I said nothing.

It turned out Alex had bad information; the book that ultimately came out would be called The World Is Flat. It didn't matter. Either version suggested the same horrifying possibility. Thomas Friedman in possession of 500 pages of ruminations on the metaphorical theme of flatness would be a very dangerous thing indeed. It would be like letting a chimpanzee loose in the NORAD control room; even the best-case scenario is an image that could keep you awake well into your 50s.

So I tried not to think about it. But when I heard the book was actually coming out, I started to worry. Among other things, I knew I would be asked to write the review. The usual ratio of Friedman criticism is 2:1, i.e., two human words to make sense of each single word of Friedmanese. Friedman is such a genius of literary incompetence that even his most innocent passages invite feature-length essays. I'll give you an example, drawn at random from The World Is Flat. On page 174, Friedman is describing a flight he took on Southwest Airlines from Baltimore to Hartford, Connecticut. (Friedman never forgets to name the company or the brand name; if he had written The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa would have awoken from uneasy dreams in a Sealy Posturepedic.) Here's what he says:

I stomped off, went through security, bought a Cinnabon, and glumly sat at the back of the B line, waiting to be herded on board so that I could hunt for space in the overhead bins.

Forget the Cinnabon. Name me a herd animal that hunts. Name me one.

This would be a small thing were it not for the overall pattern. Thomas Friedman does not get these things right even by accident. It's not that he occasionally screws up and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It's that he always screws it up. He has an anti-ear, and it's absolutely infallible; he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius.

Deliciously savage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:55 PM


Some Extra Heft May Be Helpful, New Study Says (GINA KOLATA, 4/20/05, NY Times)

People who are overweight but not obese have a lower risk of death than those of normal weight, federal researchers are reporting today.

The researchers - statisticians and epidemiologists from the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - also found that increased risk of death from obesity was seen for the most part in the extremely obese, a group constituting only 8 percent of Americans.

And being very thin, even though the thinness was longstanding and unlikely to stem from disease, caused a slight increase in the risk of death, the researchers said.

The new study, considered by many independent scientists to be the most rigorous yet on the effects of weight, controlled for factors like smoking, age, race and alcohol consumption in a sophisticated analysis derived from a well-known method that has been used to predict cancer risk. [...]

The study did not explain why overweight appeared best as far as mortality was concerned.

Who cares why? Just pass the bucket of KFC.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:47 PM


Sex, Age And Sun Exposure Linked To Frequency Of Sunburns (Science Daily, 4/20/05)

In Danish volunteers, sunburn was typically associated with female sex, younger age, high risk behaviors like sunbathing, and long hours exposed to the sun, according to an article in the April issue of the Archives of Dermatology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:39 PM


Stage set for June 27 election (BILL CURRY AND GLORIA GALLOWAY, April 20, 2005, Globe and Mail)

The Conservatives have secured May 19 as the day they will most likely defeat the minority government, paving the way for a June 27 election.

One day after the government postponed the Conservatives' opposition day scheduled for today and attempted to push back all the opposition days that had been set for the first three weeks of May, the Tories managed to use a backdoor route to salvage one of them.

On that day, May 19, the Conservatives can bring forward a no-confidence motion.

The firm date, coupled with signals from all three opposition parties that they are willing to defeat the government, suggests the minority Parliament is in its final days.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 PM


Germans relive Soviet mass rapes (Allan Hall, April 21, 2005, The Age)

German women who endured mass rape by Soviet soldiers at the end of World War II are breaking the silence of six decades to speak of the horror of their experiences.

As the liberation of cities and concentration and POW camps are commemorated on the 60th anniversary of Germany's surrender, the raped women of Berlin say it is essential their fate is not forgotten.

In newspapers, on TV and radio, they recount the price they paid for being female and German at the hands of the Red Army soldiers who captured Berlin.

Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin authorised his army to look on women as spoils of war. Hitler's war had cost 22 million Russian civilians their lives, often in barbarous circumstances. But few could have foreseen the extent of the revenge.

At least 2 million German women are thought to have been raped.

One doctor deduced that of about 100,000 women raped in Berlin, 10,000 died as a result, mostly from suicide. An estimated 10 per cent gave birth. The death rate was thought to have been much higher among the 1.4 million victims in East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia.

Former Soviet war correspondent Natalya Gesse recalled: "The Russian soldiers were raping every German female from eight to 80... It was an army of rapists."

But they were our rapists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:22 PM


Kuwaiti women get voting rights (Reuters, 20 April 2005)

Kuwait’s parliament approved a law yesterday allowing women to vote and run for the first time in municipal elections in the country, fuelling hopes for wider female suffrage.

“The National Assembly approves women’s participation in the Municipal Council elections,” state news agency Kuna reported.

Kuwaiti women are not allowed to vote or run in parliamentary polls but the government has introduced a bill to grant full female suffrage that has yet to be approved by the 50-man house.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:16 PM


Benedict XVI and Freedom (Alejandro A. Chafuen, 4/20/05, Acton Institute)

On November 6, 1992, at the ceremony where Ratzinger was inducted into the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences of the Institute of France, he explained that a free society can only subsist where people share basic moral convictions and high moral standards. He further argued that these convictions need not be “imposed or even arbitrarily defined by external coercion.”

Ratzinger found part of the answer in the work of Tocqueville. “Democracy in America has always made a strong impression on me,” the cardinal said. He added that to make possible, “an order of liberties in freedom lived in community, the great political thinker [Tocqueville] saw as an essential condition the fact that a basic moral conviction was alive in America, one which, nourished by Protestant Christianity, supplied the foundations for institutions and democratic mechanisms.”

In his work as a theologian, Benedict XVI places freedom at the core of his teachings. He has a beautiful way of explaining creation, which according to him should be understood not with the model of a craftsman, “but the creative mind, creative thinking.” The beginning of creation is a “creative freedom which creates further freedoms. To this extent one could very well describe Christianity as a philosophy of freedom.” Christianity explains a reality that “at the summit stands a freedom that thinks and, thinking, creates freedoms, thus making freedom the structural form of all being.” This freedom is embodied in the human person, the only “irreducible, infinity-related being. And here once again, it is the option for the primacy of freedom as against the primacy of some cosmic necessity or natural law.” Human freedom pushes Christianity away from idealism.

Benedict XVI argues that freedom, coupled with consciousness and love, comprise the essence of being. With freedom comes an incalculability -- and thus the world can never be reduced to mathematical logic. In his view, where the particular is more important than the universal, “the person, the unique and unrepeatable, is at the same time the ultimate and highest thing. In such view of the world, the person is not just an individual; a reproduction arising from the diffusion of the idea into matter, but rather, precisely, a “person.”

According to Benedict XVI, the Greeks saw human beings as mere individuals, subject to the polis (city-state). Christianity, however, sees man as a person more than an individual. This passage from individual to the person is what led the change from antiquity to Christianity. Or, as the cardinal put it, “from Plato to faith.”

It doesn't get any better than a Tocquevillian pope to go with a Tocquevillian President.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:01 PM


Apolitical economy: The end of boom and bust means the politics has been taken out of economics. How? (Anatole Kaletsky, May 2005, Prospect)

With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that the slogan which famously won Bill Clinton the 1992 US presidential election—"It's the economy, stupid"—marked the zenith of the political ascendancy of economics. While conventional wisdom still holds that Americans ejected the first President Bush in November 1992 because they were smarting from the after-effects of a mild recession, this kind of naive economic determinism had already been refuted in Britain. In April, John Major had been re-elected in the midst of the longest and most painful economic downturn in a generation. Back then, economic determinists could still defend their position by claiming that Major did not really win the 1992 election; it was John Smith who lost it, by threatening to increase by half the marginal tax rate on upper middle-class voters. Since the mid-1990s, however, the idea of economics as the dominant factor in British, American or European elections has become untenable, as in country after country economic and electoral performance have diverged.

The waning power of economics to decide elections since 1992 is first and foremost a function of the worldwide ideological transformation that began in 1989. This was the moment when the only alternative economic model to modern capitalism disappeared. The end of communism and the rottenness revealed in the heart of every communist regime destroyed the last remaining hopes among socialists of creating an economic system that was fundamentally different from capitalism. Of course, politicians could continue to disagree over differences in taxation or public finance, but it was almost impossible for any serious politician to question the bedrock principles of the capitalist economy: private ownership, competition and the profit motive.

At the same time as the only theoretical alternative to capitalism was self-destructing, another very practical change was happening in the nature of capitalism itself. From its earliest days, the political hegemony of capitalism had been marred by a seemingly incurable flaw—the booms and busts which seemed to get wilder and more unpredictable with each economic cycle. Today, this Achilles heel of the capitalist system, if not quite eliminated, seems to have been safely bandaged up.

The fact that Britain has been enjoying one of its longest ever periods of uninterrupted growth reflects not only the good husbandry of the Labour government and the competence of the Bank of England, but also some profound changes in the nature of market economics in the world as a whole.

The clearest reason for Britain's unaccustomed economic stability is the new approach to the management of fluctuations in demand and employment, which has been seen as the core problem of macroeconomics since Keynes wrote his General Theory in 1936. This new approach to demand management was led by the US and Britain, but has now become a worldwide trend. Only continental Europe is still moving in the opposite direction because of the institutional rigidities built into the eurozone.

Based on a long overdue synthesis between the monetarist obsession with stable prices and the Keynesian preoccupation with growth and employment, the new approach to demand management has kept the US and British economies very close to full employment and their long-term paths of growth trend. After decades of unproductive debate between Keynesians, who believed that business cycles could only be tamed with stimulative public spending, and monetarists, who insisted that using government borrowing to boost the economy would only produce inflation, it turned out that both sides were right—and wrong. A synthesis has emerged, in which active demand management plays a crucial role in stabilising the business cycle and sustaining growth, but in contrast to the old Keynesian approach, this stabilisation is performed by manipulating interest rates instead of public borrowing and spending. Moreover, the responsibility for managing demand now falls on an independent central bank.

This new neo-Keynesian or post-monetarist approach to demand management has been the proximate cause of the remarkable growth and stability enjoyed by the British economy since the mid-1990s, but the new methods could not have been attempted before several anterior conditions were satisfied.

On the one hand its the kind of theory you expect to read just before a great depression, but on the other it does describe the politics and economics of the past 25 years pretty well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM

FIRE UP A DUBIE (via mc):

Sen. Jeffords Won't Seek Re-Election (CHRISTOPHER GRAFF, 4/20/05, Associated Press)

Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords, an independent who triggered one of the most dramatic upheavals in Senate history when he quit the GOP four years ago, intends to retire at the end of his term next year, The Associated Press learned Wednesday.

Jeffords will make the announcement Wednesday afternoon in Burlington, multiple sources in Vermont and Washington told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity. [...]

Jeffords' surprise decision will unleash a host of candidates to replace him. U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, the state's only congressman and the only independent in the House, has said he would run if Jeffords did not. Like Jeffords, he votes with the Democrats.

Republicans Richard Tarrant, a business executive, and Gov. James Douglas are also possible contenders.

Former Gov. Howard Dean, now the chair of the Democratic National Committee, had long been rumored as a possible candidate. But Karen Finney, a top aide to Dean, said the former Vermont governor and 2004 presidential hopeful will not be running for the Senate because he's committed to his new duties at the DNC.

Lt. Governor Brian Dubie would be ideal and with Bernie and a Democrat splitting the vote he'd win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:53 PM


Italy's Berlusconi hands in resignation (ALESSANDRA RIZZO, 4/20/05, Associated Press)

Premier Silvio Berlusconi handed the president his resignation Wednesday and pledged to form a new government to strengthen his coalition, which has been weakened by a sluggish economy and opposition to Italian involvement in Iraq.

The premier's resignation brings to an end to Italy's longest-serving government since World War II. Berlusconi had been under pressure to resign since a stinging defeat in regional elections earlier this month.

President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi's office said in a statement that Berlusconi had tendered the resignation of his Cabinet, and added the government would stay on as caretaker.

Earlier, Berlusconi had addressed the Senate and told the country of his plan to step down and form a new government and platform.

It is now up to Ciampi to designate a candidate to assemble a new government, or else dissolve parliament and call early elections. Ciampi, who begins formal political consultations Thursday, is expected to give Berlusconi the mandate to form a new Cabinet.

"The regional elections showed a clear sign of discomfort," Berlusconi said in his Senate address. "I want to give an adequate political response."

Government partners "have all demanded a new government, to be based on the same coalition," Berlusconi said. "I accept this challenge."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:19 PM


Upright But No Panzer Pope: Why he was chosen—and why he's no narrow-minded blockhead. (Uwe Siemon-Netto, 04/20/2005, UPI)

You don't have to be a soothsayer to guess why Ratzinger was chosen over Italian, Latin American, and African candidates to lead the church. As the Rev. Anthony Figueirero, an Indian-born former papal adviser, said Tuesday prior to Ratzinger's elevation, "Let the Church in the Third World continue its growth—it is the global North that has to be re-evangelized," meaning it is that part of the globe the pope must be particularly familiar with.

Hence a pope from an almost post-Christian country was needed to continue the missionary dynamism John Paul II gave top priority to during his long ministry. John Paul, even as an old man, was stellar in the eyes of young people. He had promised to travel to Cologne, Germany, in August to be with the hundreds and thousands of young people attending World Youth Day in that ancient Roman city on the Rhine.

Now Ratzinger, as Benedict XVI, will undertake his first journey abroad since his election to that very place where he was once a priest. And there he will address his fellow Germans—and others—not in the snarling tone of a Panzer officer but with the mild and melodious voice that always seems to surprise those who meet him for the first time.

He will doubtless baffle many of his former detractors by stressing the need for a return to reason, which is a central theme of his theology. For Ratzinger, the significance of reason was precisely why John the Evangelist used the word, "Logos," in referring to Christ in the opening sentence of his Gospel.

"'Logos' denotes reason and meaning, but also Word," Ratzinger wrote. "The God, who is Logos, assures us of the rationality of the world, the rationality of our being, the divine character of reason, and the reasonable character of God, even though God's rationality surpasses ours immeasurably and appears to us as darkness."

Ratzinger insists, "Rationality has been the postulate and the condition of Christianity and will remain a European legacy with which we can confront peacefully and positively Islam as well as the great Asian religions."

But where this rationality "reduces the great values of our being to subjectivity, then it will endanger and destroy man, it will amputate man."

Hence, he continued, "Europe must defend reason. To this extent we must be grateful to secular society and the Enlightenment. It must remain a thorn in our side, as secular society must accept the (Christian) thorn it its side—meaning the founding power of the Christian religion in Europe."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


Rome's Radical Conservative (MICHAEL NOVAK, 4/20/05, NY Times)

THE election of Cardinal Josef Ratzinger as pope was John Paul II's last gift to the Roman Catholic Church. No cardinal was closer to John Paul II, or talked at length with him more often. In his sermon at the memorial for the late pope, Cardinal Ratzinger, with perfect pitch, praised his predecessor's gifts in poetry, drama and art, and the sweep of his vision and accomplishments. The sermon was interrupted many times by hearty applause, especially from the young.

Cardinal Ratzinger's selection as pope, however, has been less heartily welcomed by many commentators in Europe and the United States, who have quickly characterized him as an "authoritarian," a "watchdog" and, most peculiarly, a "neoconservative." [...]

One of Cardinal Ratzinger's central, and most misunderstood, notions is his conception of liberty, and he is very jealous in thinking deeply about it, pointing often to Tocqueville. He is a strong foe of socialism, statism and authoritarianism, but he also worries that democracy, despite its great promise, is exceedingly vulnerable to the tyranny of the majority, to "the new soft despotism" of the all-mothering state, and to the common belief that liberty means doing whatever you please. Following Lord Acton and James Madison, Cardinal Ratzinger has written of the need of humans to practice self-government over their passions in private life.

He also fears that Europe, especially, is abandoning the search for objective truth and sliding into pure subjectivism. That is how the Nazis arose, he believes, and the Leninists. When all opinions are considered subjective, no moral ground remains for protesting against lies and injustices.

You have to be pretty far gone down the slope to find morality to be new.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


Real men exfoliate: Companies leap into the growing market for male skin-care products (Naomi Aoki, Globe Staff | April 19, 2005, Boston Globe)

Eric Rollins' idea of skin care was washing his face with the same bar of soap he used to wash the rest of his body -- until five years ago when a girlfriend reacted with horror to his daily regimen.

''Hopefully, it wasn't that my skin was so bad," Rollins said.

As the women's market becomes saturated with every kind of product imaginable to eliminate wrinkles and shed dead skin cells, companies are looking to men like 23-year-old Rollins to drive sales. From Boston's Gillette Co. to Britain's King of Shaves, companies are pushing cleansers, moisturizers, antiaging lotions and body sprays made just for men. Meanwhile, retailers like CVS Corp. are quadrupling shelf space for men's skin care.

At $108 million last year, the men's market is a relatively small part of the $8 billion total skin-care market. But that's changing quickly in an age when makeover show ''Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" has turned style and smooth skin into virtues. Men's skin care is the fastest growing segment in all of personal care.

Real men would require a defoliant, not exfoliation, and Agent Orange's one genune side effect is acne, so it would be self-defeating to apply it to the pelt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


An Evangelizer on the Right, With His Eye on the Future (LAURIE GOODSTEIN, 4/20/05, NY Times)

As John Paul's alter ego, the new German pope has been training for this role for decades and knows how all the levers of Vatican power work.

"This man is not just going to mind the store," said George Weigel, a conservative American scholar who knows both the former and new popes. "He is going to take re-evangelization, especially of Europe, very seriously. I think this represents a recognition on the part of the cardinals that the great battle in the world remains inside the heads of human beings - that it's a battle of ideas."

Sandro Magister, a Vatican expert at the Italian magazine L'Espresso, said he expected a thorough housecleaning not unlike the Gregorian reforms of the church begun under Pope Gregory VII, who ruled from 1073 to 1085. Those reforms led to the end of both the married clergy and the buying and selling of spiritual favors like indulgences.

Cardinal Ratzinger had spoken and written forcefully about his sense of the threats to the church, both internal and external. Whether they are dissident theologians, pedophile priests, "cafeteria Catholics" who disregard the ban on artificial birth control, or "celibate" third world clergy who keep mistresses, the new pope's solution is likely to be a more forceful reiteration of the church's creed and the necessity of either living by it, or leaving it.

"How much filth there is in the church, even among those who, in the priesthood, should belong entirely" to God, he said in Rome on Good Friday last month.

He has singled out the spread of "aggressive secularism," especially in Europe and North America. In the homily he gave Monday, just before the cardinals entered the conclave in which he was chosen, he warned about rival forms of belief, from "a vague religious mysticism" to "syncretism" to "new sects," a term that Catholics in Latin America use to refer to evangelical and Pentecostal churches.

The new pope is not likely to yield on the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, whether dealing with other Christian denominations or Islam. In a document issued in 2000, "Dominus Jesus," the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that Cardinal Ratzinger headed said the Catholic Church was the only true path to salvation and called other faiths "gravely deficient."

In choosing the name Benedict, this German theologian linked himself not only to a long line of former popes but also to St. Benedict, the founder of Christian monasticism, who was proclaimed by Pope Paul VI in 1964 to be the "patron and protector of Europe." The monasteries that St. Benedict founded - and for which he wrote the "Rule," the basic guide to monastic living - became the keepers of culture and piety in medieval Europe.

Church scholars suggested that Pope Benedict XVI may be positioning himself as the new savior of Europe, rescuing the Continent from what he called in his homily on Monday "the dictatorship of relativism."

A Theological Visionary With Roots in Wartime Germany (DANIEL J. WAKIN, 4/20/05, NY Times)
The Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Ratzinger recalled, was his bulwark against the Nazi regime, "a citadel of truth and righteousness against the realm of atheism and deceit."

But he could not avoid the realities of the day. In an episode certain to be scrutinized anew, Joseph Ratzinger was briefly and unenthusiastically a member of the Hitler Youth in his early teens, after membership became mandatory in 1941, according to a biography by John L. Allen Jr., who covers the Vatican for The National Catholic Reporter.

In 1943, he and fellow seminarians were drafted. He deserted in 1945 and returned home, but was captured by American soldiers and held as a prisoner of war for several months, Mr. Allen wrote.

Along his way to the papacy, he built a distinguished academic career as a theologian, and then spent nearly a quarter century as Pope John Paul II's theological visionary - and enforcer of strict positions on doctrine, morality and the primacy of the faith.

In addition to his subtle and powerful intellect lies a spiritual, almost mystical side rooted in the traditional Bavarian landscape of processions, devotions to Mary and small country parishes, said John-Peter Pham, a former Vatican diplomat who has written about Cardinal Ratzinger.

"It's a Christianity of the heart, not unlike that of the late pope's Poland," he said. "It's much different than the cerebral theology traditionally associated with German theology."

His experience under the Nazis - he was 18 when the war ended - was formative in his view of the function of the church, Mr. Allen said.

"Having seen fascism in action, Ratzinger today believes that the best antidote to political totalitarianism is ecclesiastical totalitarianism," he wrote. "In other words, he believes the Catholic Church serves the cause of human freedom by restricting freedom in its internal life, thereby remaining clear about what it teaches and believes."

It's worth keeping in mind, we had to kill an awful lot of people to defeat those prior isms.

Benedict XVI, 78, Was John Paul II's Strict Defender of the Faith (IAN FISHER, 4/20/05, NY Times)
It was not clear, however, how popular a choice he was on St. Peter's Square. The applause for the new pope, while genuine and sustained among many, tapered off decisively in large pockets, which some assembled there said reflected their reservations about his doctrinal rigidity and whether, under Benedict XVI, an already polarized church will now find less to bind it together.

"I kind of do think he will try to unite Catholics," said Linda Nguyen, 20, an American student studying in Rome who had wrapped six rosaries around her hands. "But he might scare people away."

Vincenzo Jammace, a teacher from Rome, stood up on a plastic chair below the balcony and intoned, "This is the gravest error!"

Pope Benedict's well-known stands include the assertion that Catholicism is "true" and other religions are "deficient"; that the modern, secular world, especially in Europe, is spiritually weak; and that Catholicism is in competition with Islam. He has also strongly opposed homosexuality, women as priests and stem cell research.

His many supporters said they believed that the rule of Benedict XVI - a scholar who reportedly speaks 10 languages, including excellent English - would be clear and uncompromising about what it means to be a Roman Catholic.

"It would be more popular to be more liberal, but it's not the best way for the church," said Martin Sturm, 20, a student from Germany. "The church must tell the truth, even if it is not what the people want to hear. And he will tell the truth."

While Pope Benedict's views are upsetting to many Catholics in Europe and among liberal Americans, they are likely to find a receptive audience among the young and conservative Catholics whom John Paul II energized. His conservatism on moral issues may also play well in developing countries, where the church is growing rapidly, but where issues of poverty and social justice are also important. It is unclear how much Cardinal Ratzinger, a man with limited pastoral experience, and that spent in rich Europe, will speak to those concerns.
He's only popular among the vital, not the dying? Guess how they got that way in the first place.

A papal confidant faithful to doctrine (Charles M. Sennott, April 20, 2005, Boston Globe)

The white-haired Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 78, traces his conservatism to his reaction to violent student protests that swept Europe in 1968.

Ah, the student movements--the gift that keeps on giving...to conservatism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Prices help tame inflation (ASSOCIATED PRESS and REUTERS, April 20, 2005)

In a much-anticipated report on inflation, the Labor Department said yesterday that wholesale price increases apart from volatile food and energy costs remained mild last month, helping ease inflation jitters and giving a boost to financial markets.

The Labor Department reported a 0.7 percent increase in March for its Producer Price Index, designed to track inflation pressures before they reach the consumer. It was the index's biggest gain since November and was led by a 3.3 percent increase in energy prices, reflecting soaring global oil prices.

However, apart from food and energy, inflation at the wholesale level rose by just 0.1 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Last Benedict shepherded Catholic countries in World War (STEPHEN MCGINTY, 4/20/05, The Scotsman)

THE choice of papal names is often scrutinised for hints on what the new pontiff might have admired in previous popes with those same names.

As Pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has taken the name Benedict XVI.

His predecessor, Benedict XV, who was pontiff from 1914 to 1922, had the task of providing leadership for Catholic countries arrayed on opposite sides of the First World War, each claiming a just war and praying for victory.

He declared neutrality, and made repeated protests against weapons such as poison gas, a move which angered both sides. Benedict XV strove to aid the innocent victims of war and offered a seven-point peace plan. It failed, but some of his proposals were included in Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, the US president’s wartime call for peace in January 1918.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


Schröder's party pitches to left (Judy Dempsey, April 20, 2005, International Herald Tribune)

With just weeks to go before a crucial state election, Germany's governing Social Democrats are reviving the leftist talk of class struggle, hitting out strongly against unbridled capitalism and companies that move around the world, closing factories whenever they can obtain lower labor costs elsewhere.

The sharp criticism of the capitalist system and globalization is being led by Franz Müntefering, leader of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democratic Party - even though Schröder himself has introduced reforms designed to reduce the country's generous social welfare system and make the labor market more flexible.

In speeches and interviews over the past few days, Müntefering, who represents the traditional left wing of the Social Democrats, singled out financial investors and company managers for lacking "the right company ethics" in dealing with employees and globalization. Müntefering told the mass-circulation tabloid Bild that some of them act "like swarms of locusts."

Such sharp, traditionally leftist rhetoric has been rare, and muted, in the years since 1998, when Schröder defeated the conservative Helmut Kohl, who had been in power for 16 years, and moved the Social Democrats to a more centrist position.

In the history books Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroder will be seen to have represented but an interlude of sanity for their Left wing parties. Here George Bush has claimed the Third Way turf but it doesn't seem that the conservative parties overseas are capable of the same.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Pope Benedict XVI: Enemy of Jihad (Robert Spencer, April 20, 2005, FrontPageMagazine.com)

In choosing Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to succeed Pope John Paul II as Pope Benedict XVI, the Catholic Church has cast a vote for the survival of Europe and the West. “Europe will be Islamic by the end of the century,” historian Bernard Lewis predicted not long ago; however, judging from the writings of the new Pope, he is not likely to be sanguine about this transition. For one thing, the new Pope seems to be aware of the grave danger Europeans face: he has called upon Europe to recover its Christian roots “if it truly wants to survive.”

For while his predecessor kissed the Qur’an and pursued a consistent line of conciliation toward the Islamic world, despite numerous provocations and attacks against Catholics in Muslim countries, the new Pope Benedict XVI, while no less charitable, has been a bit more forthcoming about the reality of how Islam challenges the Catholic Church, Christianity, and even the post-Christian West. He has spoken up for the rights of converts from Islam to Christianity, who live under a death sentence in Islamic countries and increasingly live in fear even in the West. He has even spoken approvingly of Christians proselytizing Muslims — a practice that enrages Muslims and is against the law in many Islamic countries.
The new Pope has criticized Europe’s reluctance to acknowledge its Christian roots for fear of offending Islam’s rapidly growing and increasingly influential presence in European countries — a presence which, as historian Bat Ye’or demonstrates in her book Eurabia, has been actively encouraged and facilitated by European leaders for over three decades. “What offends Islam,” said Cardinal Ratzinger, “is the lack of reference to God, the arrogance of reason, which provokes fundamentalism.” He has criticized multiculturalism, “which is so constantly and passionately encouraged and supported,” because it “sometimes amounts to an abandonment and disavowal of what is our own.”

He contrasts the modern-day resurgence of Islam with the enervation of Europe. In old Europe, he has said, “we are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest value one’s own ego and one's own desires.” Islam, on the other hand, is anything but relativistic: “The rebirth of Islam is due in part to the new material richness acquired by Muslim countries, but mainly to the knowledge that it is able to offer a valid spiritual foundation for the life of its people, a foundation that seems to have escaped from the hands of old Europe.”

Of this much we can be certain: the future of Europe isn't secular.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Durable Wakefield is here for duration (Dan Shaughnessy, April 20, 2005, Boston Globe)

He was a Red Sox player when Dwayne Hosey was a Red Sox player. He played under Kevin Kennedy, Jimy Williams, and Joe Kerrigan. While the torch was passed from Clemens to Martinez to Schilling, Tim Wakefield was the ever-ready wingman, always wearing his spikes, able to take the baseball and pitch a few innings.

It's almost 10 years exactly since Dan Duquette signed Wakefield to a minor league contract after he'd been released by the Pirates, and now Wakefield has pitched in more Red Sox games than anyone other than Bob Stanley. In Sox history, he has pitched more innings than anyone other than Roger Clemens and Cy Young.

Yesterday Wakefield got his "reward" in the form of a one-year contract extension that includes club options from here to eternity. It's an odd little agreement in this day and age.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Bush Harks Back to Lincoln's Example (Warren Vieth, April 20, 2005, LA Times)

President Bush dedicated a presidential museum Tuesday in Abraham Lincoln's adopted hometown, and said that Lincoln's ideals were a source of inspiration for policies his own administration was pursuing.

Opening the $90-million Lincoln museum, Bush sought to draw a connection between Lincoln's efforts to expand the concept of liberty by abolishing slavery and America's current initiatives to promote democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries with authoritarian pasts.

"American interests and values are both served by standing for liberty in every part of the world," Bush said. "Our interests are served when former enemies become democratic partners…. Our deepest values are also served when we take part in freedom's advance, when the chains of millions are broken and the captives are set free."

Bush, who has called Lincoln his favorite president, said the opening of the museum in downtown Springfield was a reminder that Lincoln had helped the nation confront its unresolved conflict between the Founding Fathers' promise of liberty and the continuing acceptance of slavery during Lincoln's time.

"None of us can claim his legacy as our own, but all of us can learn from the faith that guided him," Bush said.

"Whenever freedom is challenged, the proper response is to go forward with confidence in freedom's power," he said

Lincoln was kind of a more parochial version of President Bush.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Bridge from Seoul to the Bosporus (Altay Atli, 4/21/05, Asia Times)

Travelers arriving here in the Turkish capital by train are greeted by an extraordinary monument. It is a tall pagoda in the middle of an Asian-style garden right in front of the train station. The monument, which is dedicated to the Turkish soldiers who fought in the Korean War in 1950-53 to support the efforts of the US-led coalition to rid the peninsula of the communist threat, had a very special visitor last weekend: Roh Moo-hyun, president of the Republic of Korea.

Roh became the first South Korean president to visit Turkey since 1957, when diplomatic relations were established between two countries. He took with him not only dozens of Korean businessmen with plans to invest in Turkey and the traditional messages of friendship and solidarity, but also memories of the Korean War, the forgotten conflict of the last century. [...]

In August 1950, a 4,500-man Turkish brigade under the command of General Tahsin Yazici sailed for Korea aboard US battleships and arrived in Busan after 22 days at sea. The Turkish brigade, code-named "North Star", joined the UN army commanded by General Douglas MacArthur. By the time the Turkish troops had arrived, MacArthur was planning a massive invasion of North Korea, the objective being the Yalu River forming the Chinese-Korean border. However, the Chinese offensive that was launched on the night of November 25-26, 1950, caused great surprise and confusion among the UN ranks. On the following morning, Chinese forces had broken through the front line and annihilated the II Corps of the South Korean army. The Chinese were flowing in through the gap near the town of Kunuri, and the Turkish brigade was the closest UN force to hold them. Fierce fighting between the Chinese and Turkish troops took place around Kunuri for three days and, although suffering heavy losses, the Turks managed to delay the Chinese advance and prevent the encirclement and possible destruction of the 8th US Army. Kunuri was the Turks' baptism by fire, with 218 dead, 455 wounded and 94 missing in action. After the battle, the Washington Tribune reported that "4,500 soldiers in the middle of the firing line have known how to create a miracle. The sacrifices of Turks will eternally remain in our minds."

After Kunuri, the Turkish brigade saw other major battles that affected the course of war, such as the battles of Kumjangjangni, Taegyewonni and Vegas. As an armistice was concluded on the peninsula on June 18, 1953, and hostilities ceased on June 27, three Turkish brigades with more than 15,000 troops had taken part in the war. The total casualty toll for the "North Star" operation was 741 dead, 2,068 wounded and 407 missing in action.

Their contribution seems to be remembered only in Turkey, Korea and among the Americans who fought with them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


ADL Welcomes Election of Cardinal Ratzinger as New Pope (ADL, April 19, 2005)

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today welcomed the election of German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the new Pope, Benedict XVI. Under his leadership in Germany and Rome, the Catholic Church made important strides in improving Catholic-Jewish relations and atoning for the sin of anti-Semitism. Cardinal Ratzinger has been a leader in this effort and has made important statements in the spirit of sensitivity and reconciliation with the Jewish people.

Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, issued the following statement:

We welcome the new Papacy of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. From the Jewish perspective, the fact that he comes from Europe is important, because he brings with him an understanding and memory of the painful history of Europe and of the 20th Century experience of European Jewry.

Having lived through World War II, Cardinal Ratzinger has great sensitivity to Jewish history and the Holocaust. He has shown this sensitivity countless times, in meetings with Jewish leadership and in important statements condemning anti-Semitism and expressing profound sorrow for the Holocaust. We remember with great appreciation his Christmas reflections on December 29, 2000, when he memorably expressed remorse for the anti-Jewish attitudes that persisted through history, leading to "deplorable acts of violence" and the Holocaust. Cardinal Ratzinger said: "Even if the most recent, loathsome experience of the Shoah (Holocaust) was perpetrated in the name of an anti-Christian ideology, which tried to strike the Christian faith at its Abrahamic roots in the people of Israel, it cannot be denied that a certain insufficient resistance to this atrocity on the part of Christians can be explained by an inherited anti-Judaism present in the hearts of not a few Christians."

Though as a teenager he was a member of the Hitler Youth, all his life Cardinal Ratzinger has atoned for the fact. In our years of working on improving Catholic-Jewish ties, ADL has had opportunities to work with Cardinal Ratzinger. We look forward to continuing that relationship.

The Gentle Watchdog: Ratzinger is known as a steadfast enforcer, but his personality and his past belie stereotypes (Jeffrey Fleishman and Sebastian Rotella, April 20, 2005, LA Times)

Vibrant and strong in his beliefs, Ratzinger is also known as a quiet, almost shy man, with hard, blue eyes. Friends and critics alike describe him as an engaging man who can discuss topics ranging from classical music to the Gospels.

"Cardinal Ratzinger is known for his gentleness and timidity," said Mario Marazziti, a spokesman for Community of Sant' Egidio, a Catholic movement that works with the poor. "When people greeted him crossing St. Peter's [Square], he seemed almost stunned that people recognized him."

Father Caesar Atuire, who organizes pilgrimages to the Vatican, said: "Before you meet him, you hear he is … one of the watchdogs of faith. And then you meet a simple guy, with almost a simple smile on his face, as if he's scared to hurt anybody."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Citizens and exiles: an edifying conversation (Mansour Farhang, 13 - 4 - 2005, Open Democracy)

A coalition of Iranian dissidents inside the country have issued an appeal for a nationwide referendum to choose between the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran and a new constitution based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This invitation is a veiled method of announcing that the reform movement of the Khatami era is dead and nothing but a secular democracy can liberate the Iranian people from the grip of their tyrannical rulers.

Since many signatories of the appeal began their opposition to the reigning ayatollahs as reformers, their call for a plebiscite on the essential claims of the theocratic order is equivalent to rejecting the legitimacy of the regime and embracing the democratic path.

It would be a tragedy if in their eagerness to shuck themselves of the mullahcracy they were to deny that the rights they seek come from God, not from transnationalist pabulum.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Ohio Senator Again Clashes Over Bush Pick (MALIA RULON, April 19, 2005,
Associated Press)

The Ohio senator who surprised fellow Republicans on Tuesday with his sudden concerns about President Bush's nominee for ambassador to the United Nations is known as a maverick.

Sen. George Voinovich was the rare Republican holdout against Bush's 2003 tax cut plan, an administration priority. Despite intense lobbying from the White House, he stood firm. The president had to settle for a smaller tax cut package.

This time, inside the packed Senate Foreign Relations Committee room, Voinovich took another stand against the administration by suggesting the committee delay a vote on Bush's nomination of John Bolton as U.N. ambassador.

"I've heard enough today that I don't feel comfortable about voting for Mr. Bolton," Voinovich told fellow committee members. He previously had said he would vote for Bolton.

After Voinovich's statement, Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who also had expressed reservations about Bolton's nomination, also asked for a delay on the vote.

Republicans hold a 10-8 majority on the panel, which was expected to pass Bolton's nomination quickly. Voinovich's change of mind came after Democrats brought up fresh allegations of unbecoming conduct by Bolton toward subordinates.

"I think one's interpersonal skills and their relationship with their fellow man is a very important ingredient in anyone that works for me. I call it the kitchen test. Do we feel comfortable about the kitchen test?" Voinovich said.

The nominee does sound like quite a phallus, but the question is: mightn't he be exactly the kind of s.o.b. the U.N. needs in its kitchen right now?

April 19, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:55 PM


India makes tracks for the train: The fast-growing country upgrades its rail services to meet travel demands, even as other infrastructure lags. (Nachammai Raman, 4/20/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

The country's strong growth rate and sheer size has many grouping it with China as this century's future superpowers. But India has so far not made the same massive infrastructure investments, especially in the area of transportation.

The one exception is the national railroad. The addition of 46 new passenger trains in this fiscal year's Indian Railways budget - including upgraded service to Bangalore - has raised eyebrows. Indian trains, however, are in business because road and air remains so underdeveloped. [...]

"Indian Railways always makes a profit. We have never gone into the red," boasts S. Gagarin, the railroad's senior division commercial manager in Bangalore. According to government estimates, the return on rail investments is nearly three times that of other transportation investments.

With 67,941 miles of tracks, 7,000 passenger trains, and 4,000 freight trains per day, as well as 6,853 stations, the 152-year-old train system is one of the largest in the world. Its workforce of 1.5 million also makes it India's single largest employer.

Uvais Ahmed is a frequent passenger on the increasingly important Madras-Bangalore route of the Shatabdi Express, to which an additional service was announced in the budget. Being a businessman, he finds the train schedule convenient. He boards the train in Madras in the morning, which gives him five working hours in Bangalore before he rides the train back. He's home the same night.

Although Mr. Ahmed owns a car, he doesn't drive to Bangalore unless he anticipates staying over for three or four days. And that's only to help him get around in Bangalore. "Trains are the cheapest and safest," he says. "Highways are not so safe."

"Indian Railways has the lowest accident rate at 0.6 per million kilometers," says Mr. Gagarin. This is a far cry from when the Indian railroad, infamous for head-on collisions and slips, served as a favorite Bollywood subterfuge to turn plots and dispense with characters. Now, it's road accidents that seem to capture Bollywood's imagination. Indian road accidents grievously injure an estimated 1.275 million per year and contribute to 10 percent of road accident fatalities worldwide, according to the Delhi-based Institute of Road Traffic Education.

Many travelers also choose the train for economy. On average, flights on the Madras-Bangalore sector cost four to 10 times as much as rail trips. "If you have less time, then you fly. Otherwise, you take the train to save money. We Indians like to save money," says Ahmed.

A sensible people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:47 PM


Three judges are flash points in Senate clash: A vote on their nominations Thursday could lead to long-awaited showdown over the federal courts. (Gail Russell Chaddock, 4/20/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

With tomorrow's committee vote on three of President Bush's most controversial judicial nominations, the Senate - urged on by some of the most powerful interests in Washington - is poised for a long-awaited showdown over the federal courts. [...]

By the pound, Priscilla Owen, nominee for the US Court of Appeals to the Fifth Circuit, faces the toughest confirmation fight. Her bulging opposition file, provided by minority Democrats, weighs in at 4.8 lbs and includes letters from more than 40 national groups ranging from Planned Parenthood and Friends of the Earth to the United Auto Workers. The opposition file for Janice Rogers Brown, a nominee to the District of Columbia Circuit, tops 3.5 lbs. In contrast, the file for Terrence Boyle, a nominee to the 4th Circuit, weighs less than a pound. [...]

A filibuster of any one of the president's nominees could provide the context for invoking the nuclear option, but the two women nominees, Ms. Owen and Ms. Brown, are the highest-profile cases.

From a GOP perspective you can't beat going nuclear over two women, one of them black.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:38 PM


It Really Is Black and White . . .: Private Social Security accounts will help lift minorities out of poverty. (ALPHONSO JACKSON, April 19, 2005, Opinion Journal)

Today, the typical black household has a net worth of only $6,100, while a typical white household has $67,000. In recent years, the wealth gap between blacks and whites has been intensifying. Blacks are more likely to be unemployed, living in poverty, and in need of government assistance.

We can begin reversing these trends and erasing today's racial inequities by encouraging black participation in what President Bush calls America's "ownership society." Through ownership, more Americans will accumulate wealth, become financially independent, and take a more active role in their futures, their children's futures, and the future of our country.

Homeownership is the most powerful ownership tool, and its effects are both measurable and impressive. When a family owns a home, its children score about 9% higher in math and 7% higher in reading. Children of homeowners are 25% more likely to graduate from high school, and more than twice as likely to graduate from college. Moreover, homeownership enables families to build significant equity.

Thanks in part to our efforts, a record number of American households--nearly 70%--now own their homes. Since June 2002, more than 2.2 million minority families have purchased homes, and minority homeownership is greater than 51% for the first time.

Yet the wealth-creating power of ownership is not limited to owning homes. An individual who owns his retirement security--a concept central to the president's plan for reforming Social Security--would enjoy many of the same benefits homeownership provides. And under the plan, even the lowest-income workers would have the opportunity to build equity.

Black Americans have the most to gain from the proposals.

One nice thing about the arguments over the ownership society is that they've made more explicit what has been implicit in the left/Right divide; the GOP supports ownership, at least in part, because it will make minorities wealthier and more conservative while Democrats prefer them poor and dependent on the State.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:25 PM


New pope intervened against Kerry in US 2004 election campaign (AFP, 4/19/05)

German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican theologian who was elected Pope Benedict XVI, intervened in the 2004 US election campaign ordering bishops to deny communion to abortion rights supporters including presidential candidate John Kerry.

In a June 2004 letter to US bishops enunciating principles of worthiness for communion recipients, Ratzinger specified that strong and open supporters of abortion should be denied the Catholic sacrament, for being guilty of a "grave sin."

He specifically mentioned "the case of a Catholic politician consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws," a reference widely understood to mean Democratic candidate Kerry, a Catholic who has defended abortion rights.

The letter said a priest confronted with such a person seeking communion "must refuse to distribute it."

A footnote to the letter also condemned any Catholic who votes specifically for a candidate because the candidate holds a pro-abortion position. Such a voter "would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for holy communion," the letter read.

The Other Catholic Issues (James K. Fitzpatrick, 09/22/04, Catholic Exchange)
A letter that Ratzinger wrote in June to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has recently been made public. The letter makes clear the difference between the way a Catholic must respond to the pope’s pronouncements on abortion and the way we must respond to his positions on issues such as capital punishment and the war in Iraq. (The existence of this letter was reported by the Italian daily La Repubblica, and subsequently confirmed by informed sources at the Vatican.)

The central theme of Ratzinger’s letter was whether Communion should be withheld from pro-abortion politicians. But in the course of dealing with that issue, Ratzinger also explained why the Church’s teaching on abortion is different from its position on capital punishment and Iraq. Said Ratzinger,Not all moral issues have the same weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to go to war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.Ratzinger saw no need to go into detail about why it is not inherently immoral to “be at odds with the Holy Father” on capital punishment and the war in Iraq. He was speaking to bishops. One can assume that they understand why room must be left for the application of prudential judgment on these matters, but not on abortion. But, judging from the letters I receive, there is a need to say more on this topic for many ordinary Catholics who cannot see the difference.

Here is the key: On the question of abortion, there is no possible way for a Catholic politician to say that he is following the teachings of the Church, while at the same time defending legal abortion. If you admit that you are committed to keeping abortion legal, you are saying that you intend to do nothing to stop the killing of millions of unborn children.

In contrast, on the question of capital punishment, it is possible for a person to maintain that he accepts the pope’s teaching that capital punishment should be applied rarely and only when absolutely necessary to protect society — while at the same time calling for it in a certain case. In other words, a Catholic who sincerely ponders the pope’s guidelines on capital punishment, but nonetheless comes to the conclusion that the death penalty is appropriate for a particular crime and a particular criminal, is not ignoring the Church’s teachings. He is applying them. There is no reason to assume otherwise. Where does one draw the line on “rare” and “absolutely necessary”? It is a question that can be debated in good faith.

The same logic holds on the war in Iraq. Catholics are obliged to accept the just war theory: that war should be a last resort, waged with proportionate means, against an identifiable evil and with great care to protect the lives of non-combatants. That is a matter of faith and morals. It is not debatable for a Catholic. But we are free to use prudential judgment to conclude that the Bush administration is doing all those things, to conclude that the United States is proceeding within these guidelines in Iraq; i.e., to conclude that Saddam Hussein was a genuine threat to world peace, that we gave him more than enough time to comply with the United Nations’ mandate, and that American forces are going to the proper lengths to minimize civilian casualties.

Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion. General Principles (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, July 2004)
1. Presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion should be a conscious decision, based on a reasoned judgement regarding one’s worthiness to do so, according to the Church’s objective criteria, asking such questions as: "Am I in full communion with the Catholic Church? Am I guilty of grave sin? Have I incurred a penalty (e.g. excommunication, interdict) that forbids me to receive Holy Communion? Have I prepared myself by fasting for at least an hour?" The practice of indiscriminately presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion, merely as a consequence of being present at Mass, is an abuse that must be corrected (cf. Instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," nos. 81, 83).

2. The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. The Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, with reference to judicial decisions or civil laws that authorise or promote abortion or euthanasia, states that there is a "grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. [...] In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to ‘take part in a propoganda campaign in favour of such a law or vote for it’" (no. 73). Christians have a "grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. [...] This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it" (no. 74).

3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

4. Apart from an individuals’s judgement about his worthiness to present himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin (cf. can. 915).

5. Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.

6. When "these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible," and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, "the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it" (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts Declaration "Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics" [2002], nos. 3-4). This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgement on the person’s subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person’s public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin.

[N.B. A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:13 PM


Fighting for a Principle, for Free (John Thor-Dahlburg, April 17, 2005, LA Times)

For the final two weeks of Terri Schiavo's life, Jon B. Eisenberg was part of her husband's legal team. But he knew he wouldn't walk away with a fee.

Instead, the California lawyer said, he spent $2,800 of his own money to travel to Washington when it looked as if the Supreme Court might agree to hear the case.

"Flight, hotels, food, cab, Alka-Seltzer, coffee — it all came from my pocket," said Eisenberg, an appellate attorney from Oakland. "As someone who believes in the Constitution, it was an obligation — it was an honor."

That must be a great comfort to her.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:59 PM


Losing our religion (Jonathan Zimmerman, 4/20/05, CS Monitor)

They still don't get it. If you want to see why Democrats keep losing national elections, look no further than the most recent controversy over President Bush's judicial nominations.

GOP majority leader Bill Frist will participate this Sunday in a conservative Christian telecast that denounces Democrats for threatening to filibuster the nominations. "The filibuster was once abused to protect racial bias," declared the Family Research Council, which is sponsoring the telecast, "and it is now being used against people of faith."

And the Democrats' response? "I cannot imagine that God ... is going to take the time to debate the filibuster in heaven," Sen. Richard Durbin (D) of Illinois said Friday, denouncing Senator Frist for lending his name to the campaign. "God does not take part in partisan politics," echoed Senate minority leader Harry Reid.

That's bad history, and even worse politics. Every great movement for social justice in America has been powered by religious sentiment.

...and the great injustices for the most part by science, secularism, and pragmatism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 PM


Rabbi, Olathe man cited in KCI dispute (MIKE RICE, JUDY THOMAS and HELEN GRAY, 4/19/05, The Kansas City Star)

A rabbi and a man wearing Nazi insignias were cited for disorderly conduct Sunday after an alleged fight at Kansas City International Airport.

Rabbi David S. Fine, 36, of Congregation Beth Israel Abraham & Voliner in Overland Park and Steven T. Boswell, 30, of Olathe were released at the airport on a personal recognizance bond. They are scheduled to appear June 22 in Kansas City Municipal Court.

In an interview Monday, Fine said he was arrested but was released in time to catch his flight to New York.

Boswell could not be reached for comment, but a spokesman for a neo-Nazi organization confirmed that the incident occurred as members of the group were leaving the Kansas City area after attending their national convention here. Boswell was at the airport to drop off one of the convention's speakers, the spokesman said.

The incident occurred about 5:40 p.m. in Terminal C when Fine encountered Boswell, who was wearing a red shirt with a swastika logo and a necklace with a swastika on it, according to airport police reports.

“I told him that he should be ashamed himself for wearing those symbols in public,” Fine said Monday from New York.

According to the police report, Boswell responded by calling Fine “unhuman.”

The report said Fine, who was wearing a black business suit and yarmulke, then threw a cup of coffee at Boswell and punched him in the face.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 PM


John Paul II: Assessing His Legacy (Stanley Hauerwas, Commonweal)

In the last chapter of my Gifford Lecturers (With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology), I suggested that the great Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder and John Paul II represent the theological politics necessary to sustain the work of theology in our time. I am sure many thought I was being disingenuous. Anabaptist and pope are surely strange bedfellows. But I had no devious intentions. I believe that John Paul II’s reassertion of the Christological center for Roman Catholic theology has ecclesiological implications that are not unlike those represented by Yoder.

In his first encyclical, Redemptor hominis, John Paul II made Christ the center of the church’s witness in a manner that shaped all his papacy. Those external to the Catholic world may think it odd to congratulate a pope for being “Christological.” But John Paul II, schooled on the resources needed to oppose totalitarians, called Catholic theology back to its animating center with a renewed sense that Jesus matters. I think, moreover, it is no accident that John Paul II later issued Fides et ratio, for he rightly understood that any recovery of right reason requires an uncompromising recognition that the God who can be known through reason is the God who has made himself known in Christ.

A Christological Catholic Church gets it much closer to its lost Protestant sheep.

Conservative Evangelicals Say New Pope Speaks Their Moral Language (Adelle M. Banks, 04/20/2005, Religion News Service)

The day before Roman Catholic Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, he declared in a public Mass that a "dictatorship of relativism" threatens the absolute truth claims of the church.

That statement could easily have been made by conservative evangelical leaders in the United States. Despite theological differences, they're cheering the choice of a pontiff who seems to speak the same moral language they do.

"Relativism, pluralism and naturalism are the three main foes of evangelicalism today and they're the main foes of conservative Roman Catholics," said Norman Geisler, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., and co-author of Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences.

"We rejoice in the choice because he's going to hold the line and he's not going to allow the liberal element in the Catholic Church to reverse any of those things."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 PM


How long can the big airlines survive?: Competition from low-cost carriers and high oil prices threaten as summer travel nears (Alexandra Marks, 4/20/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

Air travel has been undergoing a steady metamorphosis since 9/11, with carriers shrinking legroom, pulling free meals, and even eliminating complimentary pillows. And thanks to high oil prices and intense competition from upstarts like Jet Blue and Southwest, the process is only accelerating.

That's put the so-called legacy carriers in a position that some analysts say just isn't sustainable. A few, like US Airways or United, may go under in the next few months. Others could suffer a slow, steady decline, while the most successful of the former giants in the sky may simply morph into bigger versions of their low-cost nemeses.

"It's good news for the airlines that they've been able to accomplish what they have in terms of cost-cutting," says Kevin Mitchell, president of the Business Travel Coalition, which represents corporate travel executives. "But the long-term trend is still declining yields, so it's not a pretty picture." [...]

JetBlue and Southwest fly primarily point to point, in other words, direct from one destination to another. As soon as their planes land, they clean them and fill them back up again. The legacy carriers operate in what's called the hub-and-spoke system. They bring in as many planes from different locations as possible into a central hub location and give them an hour or more to unload so people can make connections. That's good for the consumer who doesn't have to wait around too long to catch a connecting flight, and it gives the airlines a much bigger network and geographic reach. But the downside is that it's inefficient: The planes sit on the tarmac unused, and crews have longer waits between flights.

The legacy carriers premised their hub-and-spoke systems on the notion that business passengers would pay a premium for the convenience of more connecting flights. Some, like Delta, are now scheduling their flights to use their aircraft and personnel more efficiently.

Especially in the Communications Age, business travel makes no sense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 PM


Rove backs up DeLay, calls critics 'desperate' (Bill Sammon, 4/18/05, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

"They're just desperate," Mr. Rove said of Democrats on CNN. "They're not offering ideas in the debate, they're not being constructive, and so some of their members are taking potshots at Tom DeLay." [...]

Mr. Rove criticized Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean for saying recently that his party would exploit Mr. DeLay's support for Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman who died last month after her feeding tube was removed amid a bitter family dispute.

"This is going to be an issue in 2006, and it's going to be an issue in 2008, because we're going to have an ad, with a picture of Tom Delay, saying, 'Do you want this guy to decide whether you die or not?' "Mr. Dean said.

Yesterday, Mr. Rove returned fire.

"I'm sorry that the Democratic Party has been reduced to this kind of drivel," he said. "If you don't have ideas, if you're not articulating a vision for America, if you're doing nothing but obstructing as Dean and others in his party seem to be intent upon doing, I guess you're stuck doing this kind of thing."

it's pretty funny to hear Democrats say they'
re going to stage a comeback by imitating Newt Gingrich. They're so indide-the-Beltway they think the '94 revolution was a product of attacks on their leadership--who even after they'd been removed no one had ever heard of--when in fact it was a function of the Contract with America and revulsion at the first two years of Clintonism. Ideas won, not scandal. They have no ideas and a trumped up scandal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 PM


Outline of a Ratzinger papacy (John L. Allen, Jr., 4/16/05, National Catholic Reporter)

What would a Ratzinger papacy look like?

In the main, it would likely take shape along predictable lines. Ratzinger would mount a strenuous defense of Catholic identity, resisting enticements from secular culture to water down church teaching and practice; he would stress “Culture of Life” issues, doing battle against gay marriage, euthanasia and stem cell research; he would ensure that theological speculation is contained within narrow limits. He would likely travel less, and project a more ethereal style reminiscent of Pius XII. Ratzinger’s governing metaphor for the church of the future is the mustard seed – it may have to be smaller to be faithful, what he calls a “creative minority.” [...]

Under Ratzinger, the Vatican would be less likely to expend resources to preserve institutions it perceives as already lost to secularism. In his memoirs Milestones, Ratzinger reflected on the German church’s struggle to hold onto its schools under the Nazis. “It dawned on me that, with their insistence on preserving institutions, [the bishops] in part misread the reality. Merely to guarantee institutions is useless if there are no people to support those institutions from inner conviction.” [...]

Because Ratzinger is the prime theoretician of papal authority, it is often assumed that under him the Vatican would take on even more massive proportions. In fact, like most conservatives, Ratzinger feels an instinctive aversion to big government. He believes that bureaucracies become self-perpetuating and take on their own agendas, rarely reflecting the best interests of the people they are intended to serve.

“The power typical of political rule or technical management cannot be and must not be the style of the church’s power," Ratzinger wrote in 1988’s A New Song for the Lord. “In the past two decades an excessive amount of institutionalization has come about in the church, which is alarming. … Future reforms should therefore aim not at the creation of yet more institutions, but at their reduction.”

While Ratzinger would not hesitate to make decisions in Rome that others believe should be the province of the local church – revoking imprimaturs, replacing translations, dismissing theologians – he would not erect a large new Vatican apparatus for this purpose. Ratzinger would encourage bishops’ conferences and dioceses to shed layers of bureaucracy where possible. The overall thrust would be for smaller size, less paperwork, and more focus on core concerns.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 PM


Culture in Crisis: Cardinal Ratzinger has diagnosed relativism’s evils, and offers an alternative. (Michael Novak, 4/19/05, National Review)

In today’s liberal democracies, Ratzinger has observed, the move to atheism is not, as it was in the 19th century, a move toward the objective world of the scientific rationalist. That was the “modern” way, and it is now being rejected, in favor of a new “post-modern” way. The new way is not toward objectivity, but toward subjectivism; not toward truth as its criterion, but toward power. This, Ratzinger fears, is a move back toward the justification of murder in the name of “tolerance” and subjective choice.

Along with that move, he has observed (haven’t we all?), comes a dictatorial impulse, to treat anyone who has a different view as “intolerant.” For instance, those (on the “religious right”) who hold that there are truths worth dying for, and objective goods to be pursued and objective evils to be avoided, are now held to be “intolerant” fundamentalists, guilty of “discrimination.”

In other words, the new dictatorial impulse declares that the only view permissible among reasonable people is the view that all subjective choices are equally valid. It declares, further, that anyone who claims that there are objective truths and objective goods and evils is “intolerant.” Such persons are to be expelled from the community, or at a minimum re-educated. That is to say, all Catholics and others like them must be converted to relativism or else sent into cultural re-training camps.

On the basis of relativism, however, no culture can long defend itself or justify its own values. If everything is relative, even tolerance is only a subjective choice, not an objective mandatory value. Ironically, though, what post-moderns call “tolerance” is actually radically intolerant of any view contrary to its own.

Most of the commentators, however, even those who support him, are misinterpreting Ratzinger’s point. They are getting him wrong.

What Ratzinger defends is not dogmatism against relativism. What he defends is not absolutism against relativism. These are false alternatives.

What Ratzinger attacks as relativism is the regulative principle that all thought is and must remain subjective. What he defends against such relativism is the contrary regulative principle, namely, that each human subject must continue to inquire incessantly, and to bow to the evidence of fact and reason.

The fact that we each see things differently does not imply that there is no truth. It implies, rather, that each of us may have a portion of the truth, and that in this or that matter some of us may hold more (or less) truth than others. Therefore, since each of us has only part of all the truth we seek, we must work hard together to discern in all things wherein lies the truth, and wherein the error.

Ratzinger wishes to defend the imperative of seeking the truth in all things, the imperative to follow the evidence.

This is where post-modernists fail to understand the critique they borrowed from pre-modernists: hat Reason can not yield truth doesn't mean there is none.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 PM


Inside the Vatican: The pope's chief doctrinal officer has always been in dialogue with the Reformation traditions. Now he reveals his vision for Christianity in the new millennium. A review of Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millenium, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Richard John Neuhaus, Christianity Today)

He is not above addressing the issues that preoccupy the popular press. He refers, for instance, to "the canon of criticism"—women's ordination, contraception, celibacy, and the remarriage of divorced persons. On these issues, liberal reformers insist, the Catholic church must change if it is to reach the people of our time effectively. Here the cardinal becomes the skeptic. He notes an obvious factor that is often overlooked: "On these points Protestantism has taken the other path, and it is quite plain that it hasn't thereby solved the problem of being a Christian in today's world and that the problem of Christianity, the effort of being a Christian, remains just as dramatic as before." He sympathetically cites another theologian, Johannes Metz, who says that it was actually a good thing the Protestant experiment was made. Ratzinger observes, "It shows that being a Christian today does not stand or fall on these questions."

In conversations with evangelical thinkers, I am impressed by how many have been influenced by Ratzinger's much earlier book, Introduction to Christianity, published in English in 1970. For some, that encounter was the first dawning of an awareness that Catholics and evangelicals can affirm core beliefs about "the gift of salvation," to employ the title of the recent statement issuing from the project of Evangelicals and Catholics Together. As off-putting as it is to Protestants, for many Catholic theologians the Reformation is not a formative event. In the worlds of Catholic faith and life, they believe, other things of equal or greater importance were happening in the sixteenth century. That is not the case with Cardinal Ratzinger. In part, no doubt, because he was born and reared in Germany, his theology has always been in intense conversation with the Reformation traditions.

He is not, of course, a "minimalist" theologian who is inclined to tailor Catholic teaching to fit Protestant tastes. But he has intimate understanding and appreciation of the religious and theological genius of figures such as Luther. He believes that what is true in the Protestant critique can and should be embraced by what he calls "the structure of faith." At the same time, he does not seem to expect too much in the healing of the breach between Rome and the Reformation. Speaking of the prospects for Christian unity, he says at one point that perhaps the most we should hope for is that there will be no new schisms. At another point, however, he speaks of Catholic "responsibility for the unity of the Church, her faith, and her morals," and he envisions the ways in which the exercise of the office of the papacy will change "when hitherto separated communities enter into unity with the Pope."

As might be expected, Salt of the Earth pays extensive attention to the office of the papacy. It is assumed that the New Testament intends a continuing "Petrine Ministry" in the church. The question is the relationship, if any, between that ministry and the ministry of the bishop of Rome, who, it is claimed, is the successor of Peter. Some Protestants, Ratzinger notes, "are ready to acknowledge providential guidance in tying the tradition of primacy to Rome, without wanting to refer the promise to Peter directly to the Pope." Many others, he says, recognize that Christianity ought to have a spokesman who can personally and authoritatively articulate the faith both to the world and to the Christian community.

In 1995, John Paul II issued the encyclical letter Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One). In an unprecedented way that astonished many (including many Catholics), he invited non-Catholics to join in rethinking the exercise of the papal office so that it might become an instrument of, rather than an obstacle to, Christian unity. As Ratzinger notes, the invitation is addressed first of all to the Orthodox East, but it also has large ramifications for the separated communities of the West. It is a source of considerable disappointment in Rome, a disappointment reflected in this book, that other Christians have not taken up that invitation. But, as it is said, Rome thinks in terms of centuries—and, as is evident in this book, in terms of millennia.

When the cardinal turns his attention to the next millennium, now only months away, the tone is sober, even somber. He envisions a largely post-Christian world in which the church will be on the defensive, smaller in numbers, but, he hopes, more coherent and committed in its faith. This is in contrast with John Paul II's frequently expressed vision of the third millennium as a "springtime"—a springtime of world evangelization, a springtime of Christian unity, a springtime of the renewal of human dignity.

The difference in expectations is undoubtedly related in part to personal disposition and experience. Ratzinger's world is chiefly that of a dismally secularized Western Europe. The pope's experience is that of Central and Eastern Europe, where a vibrant, if often contentious, Christianity has risen from beneath the rubble of Nazism and communism's evil empire.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 PM


Cardinal Ratzinger's Challenge (E. J. Dionne Jr., April 19, 2005, Washington Post)

The words broke like a thunderclap inside St. Peter's Basilica. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, addressing the world's cardinals just hours before they sequestered themselves Monday to choose the next leader of the world's 1 billion Catholics, decided to define this conclave.

"We are moving," he declared, toward "a dictatorship of relativism . . . that recognizes nothing definite and leaves only one's own ego and one's own desires as the final measure."

The modern world, Ratzinger insisted, has jumped "from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, up to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and on and on."

Those are fighting words. They guaranteed that Ratzinger, who was Pope John Paul II's enforcer of orthodoxy, will either set the church's course -- or offer his fellow cardinals the ideas they choose to react against. Decades from now many conservative Catholics will see the war against the "dictatorship of relativism" as their central mission. It's not a line you forget.

What makes this papal election so unusual is not the normal disagreement over specific issues. The odd part is that the cardinals disagree fundamentally over what the election is really about because they differ in their judgments of what are the most important issues confronting the church.

Ratzinger, who is German, spoke for the conservative side of a culture-war argument that is of primary interest to Europe and North America. When Ratzinger said on Monday that "to have a clear faith according to the church's creed is today often labeled fundamentalism," his words were undoubtedly welcomed by religious conservatives far outside the ranks of the Catholic Church. One can also imagine that liberals of various stripes shuddered.

Lord, forgive us, but we do so love those shudders.

Posted by David Cohen at 7:18 PM


New pope hailed for strong Jewish ties (Ap and Herb Keinon, and Sam Ser, Jerusalem Post, 4/19/05)

"We are certain that he will continue on the path of reconciliation between Christians and Jews that John Paul II began," Paul Spiegel, head of Germany's main Jewish organization, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Throughout his service in the church, Ratzinger has distinguished himself in the field of Jewish-Catholic relations. As prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger played an instrumental role in the Vatican's revolutionary reconciliation with the Jews under John Paul II. He personally prepared Memory and Reconciliation, the 2000 document outlining the church's historical "errors" in its treatment of Jews.

Abraham H. Foxman, Anti-Defamation League National Director, said that having lived through World War II, Ratzinger has great sensitivity to Jewish history and the Holocaust.

"He has shown this sensitivity countless times, in meetings with Jewish leadership and in important statements condemning anti-Semitism and expressing profound sorrow for the Holocaust. We remember with great appreciation his Christmas reflections on December 29, 2000, when he memorably expressed remorse for the anti-Jewish attitudes that persisted through history, leading to 'deplorable acts of violence' and the Holocaust.

"Cardinal Ratzinger said: 'Even if the most recent, loathsome experience of the Shoah (Holocaust) was perpetrated in the name of an anti-Christian ideology, which tried to strike the Christian faith at its Abrahamic roots in the people of Israel, it cannot be denied that a certain insufficient resistance to this atrocity on the part of Christians can be explained by an inherited anti-Judaism present in the hearts of not a few Christians.'"

Ratzinger's grasp of Judaism is reflected by this passage from that document.

"I think we could say that two things are essential to Israel's faith. The first is the Torah, commitment to God's will, and thus the establishment of his dominion, his kingdom, in this world. The second is the prospect of hope, the expectation of the Messiah – the expectation, indeed the certainty, that God himself will enter into this history and create justice, which we can only approximate very imperfectly. The three dimensions of time are thus connected: obedience to God's will bears on an already spoken word that now exists in history and at each new moment has to be made present again in obedience. This obedience, which makes present a bit of God's justice in time, is oriented toward a future when God will gather up the fragments of time and usher them as a whole into his justice."

Congratulations to all of our friends who now have a new Apostle to help guide them. This is an inspired choice for all those who wish the Catholic Church well.

It is also appropriate here to praise John Paul the Great, who brought us to the point where the elevation of a new Bishop of Rome is a matter of friendly interest and spiritual moment for the entirety of a well-disposed world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 PM


New pope a conservative who divided Germans: But Ratzinger a favorite son in Alpine hills of Bavaria (The Associated Press, April 19, 2005)

Actually, FDR, Churchill and Stalin divided Germany. Pope John Paul II reunited them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:58 PM


Left Behind: Daniel Bell and the Class of '68 (Paul Berman, April/May 2005, Book Forum)

On cultural matters, something in our cocky self-confidence turned out to be true and justified. And in this mood of anger and utopian expectation, we swelled with disdain for our critics and opponents—and above all for our professors, except for the very few who stood loyally on our side. We looked on the professors as either uncomprehending Mr. Joneses from a Dylan lyric or sinister enemies. We were indignant at the Olympians of Claremont Avenue—at Lionel Trilling (some of my friends drew up a "Wanted" poster of him and pasted it to the walls) and the champions of irony and sophistication, not to mention at Richard Hofstadter and his theories of status anxiety. But I think that the professor who aroused the sharpest indignation may have been Daniel Bell. This was because, in the circles of the Left in the late '60s, sociology was the king of academic disciplines, which had the unfortunate effect of focusing a lot of undiscriminating student wrath on the elders of the field. Then, too, in the '50s Bell had played a role in the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, an organization of anti-Communist intellectuals, and to quite a few SDSers this seemed like the epitome of evil. But Bell's gravest sin of all was to have written The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties. The very title suggested that Bell was trying to tamp down the possibility of a new surge in radical intellectual thought—of any new possibility of a systematic radical challenge to the dominant views of the moment.

Now all this was fairly idiotic. Nothing is more bovine than a student movement, with the uneducated leading the anti-educated and mooing all the way. I'm glad to recall, looking back at those times, that my own radical activities pretty much avoided the student custom of persecuting the professors. I was much too fascinated by them to want to rail against them, except now and then. Besides, the anti-intellectual atmosphere began to weigh a little heavy on the bookish students. Hofstadter, in his study of American anti-intellectualism, had already put his finger on these moods and fads, as if predicting the uprising at his own university. And so I can understand, in restrospect, why Bell chose to flee Morningside Heights. To be sure, though, the student uprisings spread to Cambridge, too. There was no escape. [...]

Marxian Socialism in the United States is a work of great psychological acuity. Martin Luther said of the church that it was "in the world, but not of it," and Bell quoted this remark to evoke a quality of unworldliness in the American Left. He meant that, over the decades, the socialist movement in America had never quite been able to accept the political world as it was, preferring instead to dwell apart, in a world of dreams and moral postures. Marxian Socialism in the United States has received, over the years, mountains of criticism for this one quotation from Luther. And yet something about that phrase has always been on the mark, as I think anyone can see, with a glance at Debs's four presidential campaigns at the start of the twentieth century, and at Ralph Nader's two campaigns at the start of the twenty-first.

The phrase "in the world, but not of it" strikes me as pretty astute on the topic of the New Left, too—the New Left that commanded the allegiance of several million Americans in the '60s and '70s but was never able to break into conventional political life, with a couple of exceptions. For the New Left too preferred to dwell apart, in its own world of dreams and moral postures. This habit did the movement no harm at all, by the way, in regard to cultural issues—which is why it succeeded in capturing whole neighborhoods in a number of cities, and used those neighborhoods to conduct experiments on cultural matters, and sent those experiments orbiting outward to the rest of American society. Nor did a few unworldly habits do the New Left any harm at the universities, once the graduate-student militants had succeeded in shoving aside the populist anti-intellectuals. But the kind of movement that was capable of capturing a student neighborhood or an English department was never going to capture a state assembly.

Bell's book made two additional observations that seem to me on the mark. He noted a strange and repeated tendency on the part of the American Left to lose the thread of continuity from one generation to the next, such that each new generation feels impelled to reinvent the entire political tradition. This was true of his own generation, the young radicals of the '30s, who brought to bear very little knowledge of what their own parents had done in the 1910s. The same observation applied in spades to the '60s and '70s—which is why so many young intellectuals of the New Left dismissed Marxian Socialism in the United States as merely a dusty relic of the discredited anti-Communist past. But I am struck still more powerfully by Bell's third observation.

"Among the radical, as among the religious minded," he wrote, "there are the once born and the twice born. The former is the enthusiast, the ‘sky-blue healthy-minded moralist' to whom sin and evil—the ‘soul's mumps and measles and whooping coughs,' in Emerson's phrase—are merely transient episodes to be glanced at and ignored in the cheerful saunter of life. To the twice born, the world is ‘a double-storied mystery' which shrouds the evil and renders false the good; and in order to find truth, one must lift the veil and look Medusa in the face." [...]

In modern America, an amazing number of people have thrown themselves into the work of researching and writing the history of the American Left—many more than are justified by the relative importance of the topic. These scholars have taken up the subject in order to understand something about their own lives—to explain how and why they came to feel so alienated from the mainstream of American politics, and what their alienation was like, and what uses might be drawn from their experiences. Books on these themes—on the history of the Communist Party USA, on the old Socialists, on the New Left, and so on—make up a main current of the modern historical literature. Yet none of these books has ever managed to eclipse Marxian Socialism in the United States—the classic of classics in this particular field. In any case, as I glance back at Bell's book today, I see in it one of the inspirations for my own adult life and work.

My transition from once-born to twice-born turned me into someone who was curious and eager to write about the history of the Left—sometimes in order to promote a political agenda, but mostly for another reason: I wanted to discover truths, if I possibly could—about America and other parts of the world; about political movements; about social theory; about human nature. This is a gloomier project than merely advancing a political agenda. Agendas tend to be hopeful; truths, not so hopeful. A triumphal spirit runs through a great deal of American history, but not through the particular subset of American history that contains the political Left.

Falling Into the Generation Gap (Scott McLemee, 3/24/05, Inside Higher Ed)
A few weeks ago, sitting over a cup of coffee, a writer in his twenties told me what it had been like to attend a fairly sedate university (I think he used the word “dull") that had a few old-time New Left activists on its faculty.
Intellectual Affairs

“If they thought you were interested in anything besides just your career,” he said, “if you cared about ideas or issues, they got really excited. They sort of jumped on you.”

Now, I expected this to be the prelude to a little tribute to his professors – how they had taken him seriously, opened his mind to an earlier generation’s experience, etc. But no.

“It was like they wanted to finish their youth through you, somehow,” he said. “They needed your energy. They needed you to admire them. They were hungry for it. It felt like I had wandered into a crypt full of vampires. After a while, I just wanted to flee.”

It was disconcerting to hear. My friend is not a conservative. And in any case, this was not the usual boilerplate about tenured radicals seeking to brainwash their students. [...]

[Daniel] Bell’s book The End of Ideology was the bete noir of young radicals. (It was the kind of book that made people so furious that they refused to read it – always the sign of the true-believer mentality in full effect.) But it was Bell’s writing on the history of the left in the United States that had the deepest effect on [Paul] Berman’s own thinking.

Bell noticed, as Berman puts it, “a strange and repeated tendency on the part of the American Left to lose the thread of continuity from one generation to the next, such that each new generation feels impelled to reinvent the entire political tradition.”

There is certainly something to this. It applies to Berman himself. After all, Terror and Liberalism is pretty much a jerry-rigged version of the Whig interpretation of history, updated for duty in the War on Terror. And the memoiristic passages in his Bookforum essay are, in part, a record of his own effort to find “the thread of continuity from one generation to the next.”

But something else may be implicit in Bell’s insight about the “strange and repeated tendency” to lose that thread. It is a puzzle for which I have no solution readily at hand. Namely: Why is this tendency limited to the left?

Why is it that young conservatives tend to know who Russell Kirk was, and what Hayek thought, and how Barry Goldwater’s defeat in 1964 prepared the way for Reagan’s victory in 1980? Karl Marx once wrote that “the tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.” So how come the conservatives are so well-rested and energetic, while the left has all the bad dreams?

The answer is so obvious the question seems like it must be rhetorical, but: the Right better knows history generally and its own specifically because history confirms rather than refutes its ideas. There is continuity on the Right because its ideas are universal, timeless, and true.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 1:54 PM


Ottawa Revamps Foreign Policy
(Terry Weber, Globe and Mail, April 19th, 2005)

Ottawa delivered a broad rethink of its foreign policy Tuesday, promising a beefed up military, "targeted and effective" aid to needy countries and stronger ties with its North American neighbours.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:35 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:33 PM


Citizen and Scholar of the World: An Interview with Dr. Theodore Dalrymple (Bernard Chapin, April 9, 2005, Men's News Daily)

Dr. Theodore Dalrymple is one of the few writers who excels in practically every endeavor attempted and never descends into mediocrity, regardless of his subject matter. Along with being an established writer, he is also a psychiatrist. Currently, he is a Contributing Editor for City Journalwhere he generally writes a couple of essays per quarterly issue, one is entitled, “Oh, to be in England ”. Dr. Dalrymple is a frequent contributor to The New Criterion as well. He writes for a variety of publications including The Spectatorand the Daily Telegraph. Dr. Dalrymple has published numerous books such as Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass and Intelligent Person's Guide to Medicine. A new work, Our Culture, What's Left of It : The Mandarins and the Masses, is set to be released in May of 2005. [...]

BC: How difficult is it to be a conservative in England today? An entirely different set of beliefs are required than those in America. As a non-European, the extent with which the continent accepts socialism reliably baffles me.

TD: The main difficulty is in finding institutions worthy of preservation, or that have not been distorted out of all preservation. We do not have socialism, we have the corporate state, in which the distinction between the private and public is eroded. I think we are actually nearer to fascism than socialism. I could give quite a few examples.

BC: Yes, is it probable that the eventual outcome of the European Union be fascism? Is it not the greatest experience with bureaucracy ever attempted?

TD:I think the outcome could have resemblance to fascism, though it will be more touchy-feely than boot in the face. You will not be allowed to say certain things allegedly to spare other people's feelings, but in reality it will preserve the corporatist power structure intact. It will be more Kafka than Nineteen Eighty-Four. I also think that it all might end in civil war, though the political classes in each European country present it as the sovereign remedy to war. Ultimately, two things are driving the union: unfulfilled megalomania, and the personal greed of politicians, for whom it represents a giant pension fund.

BC: Your father was a Marxist. How did his political preferences affect you? Was your early exposure to communism a healthy inoculation against buying into the socialist idea?

TD: I think children often react against the ideas of their parents. Perhaps if I had children, which I don’t, they’d be Marxists. However, in my father’s case, I was aided by the clear disjunction between his protestations of concern for humanity as a whole, and his inability to treat anyone as an equal.

BC: Here’s a question everybody on this side of the pond would like to know, why are you choosing France for retirement exile? It certainly cannot be due to the tax rates.

TD: France is still in many ways a very pleasant country. Besides, my wife is French. France is twenty years behind Britain in social decomposition, and there is at least still a public commitment to intelligence and culture. The people are better mannered on the whole. The weather is better. I prefer Chirac to Blair: at least he knows he is an unprincipled unscrupulous ruthless villain, whereas Blair does not. I recognise that France is not paradise, but nowhere is. Finally, with regard to tax every Frenchman regards it as his patriotic duty to cheat the taxman. I will say no more.

France? They don't deserve him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:02 PM


Cardinal Ratzinger Chosen as New Pope: German Successor to John Paul II Will Be Called Benedict XVI (Daniel Williams and Alan Cooperman, April 19, 2005, Washington Post)

Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany Tuesday as the new pope to succeed John Paul II, reaching an early agreement on the second day of voting.

He took the name of Benedict XVI.

A cardinal from Chile, Jorge Medina Estevez, the Senior Cardinal Deacon, made the announcement before thousands of cheering spectators.

Earlier, white smoke from the Sistine Chapel's chimney and the pealing of bells signaled the election of the new pope in a secret conclave.

There was initial confusion because of a false alarm Monday after the first ballot, when the smoke initially appeared to be white but then became black, indicating that no new pope had been elected. Although the smoke was white as it began flowing from the chimney shortly before 6 p.m. local time (noon EDT), it took several more minutes for the church bells to begin tolling -- a second and newly instituted signal to confirm a conclusive vote.

As the white smoke rose, the assembled crowd in St. Peter's Square burst into cheers and applause.

As Spengler suggested yesterday, this may come to be seen as another case of a conservative winning election in the wake of 9-11.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:57 PM


Americans expressed no opposition when conquered, Columbus reported (Carl Hartman, April 19, 2005, Associated Press)

When Christopher Columbus came home, he thanked King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain in a way that should have made them happy even though he didn't bring back the treasures of the Indies — just a few gold bracelets and a group of Arawak Indians.

One of the earliest printed copies of the letter that Columbus wrote goes on display Wednesday at the Library of Congress, appearing there with other sidelights on the history of the Americas that is not found in many school textbooks.

"There I found very many islands,'' Columbus wrote, describing the Bahamas and the Caribbean, "filled with innumerable people, and I have taken possession of them all for their Highnesses, done by proclamation and with the royal standard unfurled, and no opposition was offered to me.''

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:12 PM


Compassion Capital: Bush’s faith-based initiative is bigger than you think (Lew Daly, April/May 2005, Boston Review)

Quietly but steadily, the Bush administration is pursuing a seismic change in American politics and policy through its so-called faith-based initiative.

When it was announced early in Bush’s first term, the faith-based initiative met with broad controversy. Some critics—both secular and religious—raised concerns that such a program would violate the church–state divide, while others suggested that it would amount to vote-buying among poor constituencies. The Reverend Herbert Lusk of North Philadelphia’s Greater Exodus Baptist Church, for example, endorsed Bush during the Republican National Convention of 2000; in 2002 the social-service arm of his church received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Administration for Children and Families.

Today this attention has largely subsided, and the initiative is moving forward, principally through administrative fiat. Its ultimate goal, President Bush announced in a 2001 speech at the University of Notre Dame, is to make “a determined assault on poverty”: to bring the war on poverty into a third phase, beyond the Great Society and Clinton-era welfare reform. The central idea is not to spend more or less, but to spend differently, with the government providing the resources and private agencies delivering the services. More particularly, the Bush administration proposes to “level the playing field” for religious institutions in the government’s procurement of social services. It officially asks for government “neutrality” toward churches, to “bring the days of discrimination against religious groups” to an end, as President Bush put it in 2002.

President Bush wants to “enlist, equip, enable, empower, and expand” the participation of religious organizations wherever their approaches are deemed relevant to the ends of government. Building on what the president has described as the “long tradition of accommodating and encouraging religious institutions when they pursue public goals,” the faith-based initiative is guided by a theory of the limited state that was evident in the work of Bush’s religious advisers long before 2001. A product of serious thinkers with precise theological convictions, the initiative draws on doctrines that first emerged in European Christianity’s conflict with liberalism and socialism in the late 19th century. Rooted in Calvinism and Catholicism, these doctrines assign a public purpose to religious organizations and ordain government to help those organizations fulfill their public purpose without interference. If implemented in the United States, a sustained program animated by these doctrines could mean a truly radical change in governance. [...]

If we recognize the present-day efforts to bring religious groups and government together as an outgrowth of Christian-democratic principles, we then see that the Bush administration’s “faith-based initiative” is a serious theological effort. In theory at least, this is not simply a bid to replace public welfare with religious charity, or to leave individuals alone, atomized, stranded in the market, as Barbara Ehrenreich and others have argued. Rather, it is an effort to hollow out the welfare state by relinquishing its public authority to religious groups. As Coats put it at a 1996 Heritage Foundation symposium, there is a need to “creatively surrender federal authority to civil society” and encourage a “transfer of resources and authority . . . to those private and religious institutions that shape, direct, and reclaim individual lives.” The result could be well financed or poorly financed; in either case, control over the provision of services will be transferred to religious groups.

These groups, ordained by God to foster a well-balanced social order, are self-governing entities, operating through public power but not under it, with an independent life and a social purpose essential to their mission. By transferring resources to religious groups while relinquishing powers of governance over them, the state fulfills what some religious thinkers see as its ordained role as a support system for religion—a “subsidium,” in the Catholic view, to help religion do its work.

In its emphasis on the organization of public authority in the social realm, the faith-based initiative is different from anything the religious right has previously promoted, and unlike any program an American president has ever enacted from within the executive branch. It also reflects a substantial expansion and refinement of conservative religious influence, running counter to declining grass-roots numbers on the issues (by some measures) and the obvious decline (by any measure) of the major groups that made the religious right a household name in the 1980s. The elite restructuring of conservative religious influence in the United States, including the faith-based initiative, the intelligent-design movement, the revival of natural-law theory, and the growing influence of religious associations within medicine and many other professions—these are subjects for a much broader analysis that cannot be undertaken here. But if the proliferation of the faith-based initiative across virtually all the major executive-branch agencies in the last four years tells us anything, it is that the political influence of conservative religion is not simply growing, but becoming part of the public routine.

Here too Mr. Bush can be said to be a Tocquevillian.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:58 AM


Chirac Cabinet tears itself apart over EU constitution (Charles Bremner, 4/19/05, Times of London)

THE prospect of France rejecting the European constitution ignited a blazing Cabinet row yesterday after President Chirac signalled that he aims to sack Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the Prime Minister, whether the country votes “yes” or “no”.

M Raffarin, whose unpopularity is deemed to be a big factor in the troubles of the “yes” campaign for the May 29 referendum, rounded on Dominique de Villepin, the Interior Minister and close ally of the President, over damning remarks that he made against his own Government.

After a meeting with M Chirac, M de Villepin said that whatever the result in the referendum, “we will need policies that are much more determined, bolder and more socially conscious . . . in order to take into account the feelings, aspirations and frustrations which are being expressed”.

His words, on national radio, were interpreted as a message to voters from M Chirac that he had understood their grievances against his Government and would sacrifice M Raffarin after the referendum.

At a breakfast Cabinet meeting yesterday, M Raffarin tore into M de Villepin and the two had what officials called “a very violent dispute”.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:33 AM


Blair refuses to rule out means testing of pensions (George Jones, 19/04/2005, Daily Telegraph)

The future of the state retirement pension was thrust to the centre of the election campaign last night, as Tony Blair refused to rule out means testing for the better off. [...]

The Conservatives, who have announced a £1.7 billion tax rebate to tackle the pensions crisis, claimed Labour was considering means testing pensions and was split over the idea of forcing people to save for a pension.

Labour's manifesto, published last week, set out broad aims for a reformed pension system, but said the key decisions would not be taken until the autumn when the Government receives the report of a pensions commission.

David Willetts, the Tory pensions spokesman, said ministers had expressed support for switching from a state pension based on NI contributions to a "citizen's pension", paid to everyone who had lived in this country. It would cost billions of pounds extra, and taxes would have to rise unless it was means-tested.

Mr Willetts said that a citizen's pension would be just another benefit, not something people had earned by their contributions. "Once the link with contributions has gone, no one will have a pension as of right."

The Tories challenged Mr Blair to rule out means testing, but he refused to do so when questioned at Labour's daily press conference.

We've already let too many countries get to our Right on economics--it'd be really embarrassing if Labour reformed pensions before we reformed SS.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:20 AM


Illegal Immigration Policy Is at Crossroads in Senate: One plan could legalize half a million workers, another would tighten border controls. (Mary Curtius, April 19, 2005, LA Times)

The Senate is set to vote today on measures that could open the door to legalizing an estimated 500,000 immigrant farmworkers and their families.

It will be the first test of strength in years between senators who support legalized status for at least some of the estimated 10 million illegal immigrants in this country and senators who advocate reducing illegal immigration by tightening enforcement and border controls.

Each side said today's votes also could signal how much support there was in the Senate for the sort of comprehensive immigration reform President Bush had said he wanted Congress to enact this session.

Bush's proposals have met stiff opposition from some Republicans, particularly in the House, who say the measures would amount to amnesty for the majority of the nation's illegal workforce.

At the core of the Senate debate, which opened Monday, is a provision sponsored by Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) dubbed AgJobs. It would provide a two-step process for illegal farmworkers to achieve permanent residency. Any permanent resident then could apply for citizenship.

Under AgJobs, those who did at least 100 hours of agricultural work in the 18 months before the legislation became law could apply for temporary residency. If that status is granted, workers who then put in 360 days in agriculture over the next three to six years could gain permanent residency. Their spouses and children also could apply for permanent residency.

Just do both; that's how Reagan got an immigration reform bill. That way you legalize the ones who are here and the enforcement provisions fall through the cracks later. No one's willing to pay for real enforcement for one thing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 AM


Israel, on Its Own, Is Shaping the Borders of the West Bank (STEVEN ERLANGER, 4/19/05, NY Times)

They're building away here in Israel's largest settlement, with Palestinian workers laboring on new apartment houses overlooking the red-brown hills of the West Bank.

Israel's intentions to keep building next to this suburb about three miles from Jerusalem have set off a small furor with the Bush administration, which is putting pressure on Israel to keep a commitment to freeze settlement growth.

But the construction and planning at Maale Adumim and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to pull 9,000 Israeli settlers out of the Gaza Strip this summer are only parts of a far larger and more complex transformation of the Israeli-Palestinian landscape, and of Mr. Sharon's policies themselves.

In effect, Israel under Mr. Sharon is unilaterally moving to define its future borders with a Palestinian state - with the scheduled withdrawal from Gaza and from four small settlements in the northern West Bank, with the "thickening" of settlements near Jerusalem and the Israeli border, and with a new route for the Israeli separation barrier approved by the cabinet on Feb. 20.

Palestinians are furious that Israel is moving without waiting for negotiations. But the likely impact of the provisional new border on Palestinian life is, perhaps surprisingly, smaller than generally assumed, and it would leave about a quarter of Israeli settlers on the Palestinian side.

Amazing that folks still can't grasp that all the progress in the Middle East has been a function of Israel and the U.S. not negotiating anymore and imposing a settlement on a state of Palestine.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:57 AM


Iran closes al-Jazeera offices (Stephen Brook, April 19, 2005, MediaGuardian.co.uk)

The Iranian authorities have shut down the Tehran offices of al-Jazeera, accusing the broadcaster of inflaming ethnic riots in the south of the country.

Al-Jazeera said today it had been told to stop broadcasting in Iran and had appealed to the government to reverse its decision.

"Al-Jazeera assures its audience that it will continue to cover Iranian affairs objectively, comprehensively and in a balanced way, and calls on the relevant Iranian authorities to reconsider the decision to suspend its bureau's activities," the broadcaster said.

The Arabic news network was first to report the unrest in Iran's south-west Khuzestan province near the Iraq border, which has led to 200 arrests over the past few days.

Not reporting unrest won't get rid of the unrest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:51 AM


If democracy worked, there'd be no king (Toni Momiroski, 4/20/05, Asia Times)

Speaking at the White House Rose Garden after the new Iraqi parliament's second session ended in chaos, US President George W Bush spoke about democracy at length. He argued that he and the United States were "confident that this new government will be inclusive, will respect human rights and will uphold fundamental freedoms for all Iraqis". He seemed to hope that in "a democratic Iraq, these differences will be resolved through debate and persuasion instead of force and intimidation". And he lectured on democratic ideals with these words: "In a democracy, the government must uphold the will of the majority while respecting the rights of minorities."

But a note of caution is prescribed for Bush and his speechwriters and all those who would put forward democracy as the ideal mode of conduct for society without reservation. The following questions stand out for attention: If democracy pure and simple works, why does it not feature in the most important and key institutions in society? Why is there no democracy in the armed services. There is no democracy in the president's office. There is no democracy in business. There is no democracy at the United Nations. There is not even democracy in elections. In each of the above, corporate and institutional Darwinism is rampant and the "cult of leadership" reigns supreme. We don't follow democracy per se in the West, yet we continue to force it on others without question, as though the rules themselves, whatever they might be, are sacred and were dictated by God himself.

Where? It's certainly the case that they, and we for that matter, would be better off with monarchical constitutional republics--we've known that since Aristotle's time--but upon whom have we forced pure democracy?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:45 AM


The waxing of the Shi'ite crescent: The idea of a "fertile crescent" uniting Shi'ites across the Middle East dates back many decades. With the Shi'ites emerging as the power center in Iraq, the notion has gained new impetus, with notable support in Iran, Lebanon and Syria, and of course Iraq. (Sami Moubayed, 4/20/05, Asia Times)

Since the Islamic revolution took place in Iran in 1979, one of its prime objectives was to strengthen Shi'ites all over the Muslim world. Before that revolution, they were a disinherited, underprivileged and neglected community in Lebanon and Iraq.

This "Shi'ite emancipation" was first done in Lebanon, through the charismatic cleric Musa al-Sadr, who was funded and supported by the mullahs of Tehran in his "Movement of the Dispossessed" and its military branch, Amal, created in 1974 and 1975, respectively.

They later supported Hezbollah, a pure Iranian creation, that strove at first to establish a theocracy in Lebanon, similar to the one in Iran. In time, the role of Hezbollah became to defend the Shi'ite community in Lebanon, rather than bring them to power in Beirut, and safeguard their political rights in the complex confessional system of Lebanon.

In Iraq, the mullahs began to fund, train, protect and harbor Shi'ite dissidents opposed to the regime of Saddam Hussein, where they were oppressed by the Sunni minority. Ibrahim Jaafari, the new prime minister, who is the de facto ruler of the new Iraq, spent the years 1980-89 as a fugitive in Iran.

After 25 years of underground struggle, this community succeeded in toppling Saddam, ironically, with the help of the US. [...]

Two years after the fall of Saddam's regime in Iraq, it is safe to ask: Who were the real victors in this bloody war of the Middle East in 2003? At first glance, the only victors were George W Bush and the neo-conservatives at the White House. A closer look would show, however, that Iran as well, ironically, has a lot to gain from the new Middle East.

Or more specifically, the real victors are the Shi'ites of Iran and the Muslim world. They will enjoy the fruits of the post-Saddam order long after Bush's army leaves Iraq. This region, many fear, is now dominated by a "Shi'ite crescent" uniting the Shi'ites of Iran, Lebanon, Iraq and the Arab Gulf region.

There's nothing ironic about it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:40 AM


Moussaoui Planning To Admit 9/11 Role (Jerry Markon, April 19, 2005, Washington Post)

Zacarias Moussaoui has notified the government that he intends to plead guilty to his alleged role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and could enter the plea as early as this week if a judge finds him mentally competent, sources familiar with the case said yesterday.

Moussaoui's plan to plead guilty comes over his attorneys' objections and still has several obstacles -- including Moussaoui's own whim. The French citizen, the only person charged in the United States in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, tried to plead guilty in 2002, claiming an intimate knowledge of the plane hijackings. But he rescinded his plea a week later. His mental state has been an issue in the case ever since, and U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema in Alexandria is scheduled to meet with Moussaoui this week to determine if he has the mental capacity to enter a plea now, the sources said.

In recent letters to the government and to Brinkema, Moussaoui said he is willing to accept the possibility of a death sentence, which sources said could resolve a key point of contention: Prosecutors are unlikely to drop their insistence on capital punishment. If Brinkema accepts a plea, she would then probably set a death penalty trial, at which jurors would decide if Moussaoui should be executed.

One of the things that seems to have confused folks is that there were several 20th hijackers, because they kept getting caught for one thing or another, but there was never any serious doubt that Moussaoui was part of the conspiracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 AM


Saddam must die, president of Iraq told (JAMIE TARABAY, April 19, 2005, Chicago Sun-Times)

The largest political bloc in Iraq's new government demanded the execution of Saddam Hussein if the ousted leader is convicted of war crimes, and said Monday that President Jalal Talabani should step down if he is not prepared to sign the death warrant.

''This is something that cannot be discussed at all,'' said Ali al-Dabagh, a spokesman for the clergy-led United Iraqi Alliance, which holds 140 seats in Iraq's 275-member National Assembly. ''We feel he is a criminal. He is the No. 1 criminal in the world. He is a murderer.''

Where's Herbert Lee Stivers when you need him?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:25 AM


Rice to push democracy in Russia (BBC, 4/19/05)

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has arrived in Moscow for her first visit to Russia as the top US diplomat.

Ms Rice is expected to express concern about the Kremlin's consolidation of power and constraints on the media.

Remember after the Inauguration and State of the Union how the Realists and Isolationists assured us all that the President would never pressure allies, like the Sa'uds, Egypt, Russia, etc.?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


Euro zone's pick-up looks like just a blip (Paul Meller, April 19, 2005, International Herald Tribune)

Surprisingly upbeat assessments of the euro-zone economy's first-quarter performance were discounted on Monday even by those issuing them, with some of the largest countries teetering on the edge of recession and warnings that a renewed climb in oil prices and the strong euro would drag on growth again.

Both the European Commission and the central bank in Germany - Europe's largest economy - reported a spurt in first-quarter growth after the sharp slowdown at the end of 2004.

The Bundesbank said on Monday that the German economy "probably grew markedly in the first quarter." Its president, Axel Weber, told reporters in Washington on Sunday that the rate was estimated at 0.5 percent.

Half a percent is markedly and overstated?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


Taking Faith Seriously: Contempt for religion costs Democrats more than votes (Mike Gecan, April/May 2005, Boston Review)

What I experienced at Yale—and never forgot—was not just the haughtiness of the rich on the right (which I expected), but the contempt and superiority of the newly emerging elite on the left. Both groups tended to treat cafeteria workers like me, the Puerto Ricans who bused trays and washed dishes in the dining halls, and the blacks who cleaned the rooms and hallways as servants or worse. I expected the wealthy to act this way. I was surprised to hear many on the left, antiwar to the bone, talk about those who went to Vietnam, particularly the white working class, with utter disdain.

On the most basic level, the contempt of the progressive elite for ordinary people—for their faiths, their speech patterns, their clothes, their hobbies, their hopes, and their aspirations—has driven scores of millions of Americans out of the Democratic Party and into either the Republican Party or a no man’s land between the two. The willingness of many Republicans to simply show respect for the habits and interests of these mixed and moderate Americans has paid growing political dividends. The Republicans have understood that communicating respect is more important than offering programs or incentives. The Democrats have failed to realize that multiplying programs or policies designed to meet people’s needs is doomed to fail unless and until those people sense a fundamental level of recognition of who they are, not just what they need. The medium may not be the message. But a medium of respect and recognition is what makes the reception of the message possible.

The question, of course, is whether it's possible for the demoralized Left to be respectful to the moralist majority. The Right, after all, pays almost no price for its contempt of secularism and moral relativism. But the Left, which has made a fetish out of "toleration," is threatened to its core by the universalism of Judeo-Christianity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


Howard sparks TV storm with 'fears of new race riots' (FRASER NELSON, 4/19/05, The Scotsman)

BRITAIN faces a fresh wave of race riots unless immigration is brought under control, Michael Howard warned last night, in a dramatic escalation of the stakes in the general election.

The disturbances seen in Burnley and Bradford four years ago could set a template for what is to come, warned the Conservative leader, if immigration continues to be "out of control".

But Mr Howard was savaged on television last night by an audience which accused him of stirring up racial tensions before the general election - and seeking to scare voters into believing asylum is out of control.

Is that really a moreeffective line than coming out against the EU?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


On brink, Berlusconi hangs on (Elisabetta Povoledo, April 19, 2005, International Herald Tribune)

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was believed ready to resign and present a reshuffled cabinet, said after meeting Italy's president Monday night that he had not quit.

Asked if he had handed in his resignation during the talks, Berlusconi responded "no," the ANSA news agency reported.

Berlusconi said a cabinet reshuffle or a trip to the polls would depend "on the reaction of Parliament," ANSA reported. The discussion in the Senate will be put on the agenda this week.

"The crisis is turning into an indecent farce," said Piero Fassino, leader of the Democratic Left, the largest opposition party.

Isn't that the technical name for their form of government?

Posted by Peter Burnet at 7:14 AM


Holding on to all that humanity can mean (Thomas Hopko, International Herald Tribune, April 18th, 2005)

As the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church cloister themselves to choose a successor to John Paul II, we may ask one more time what it was about the late pope that elicited the love and respect of millions of people, including many not sharing his convictions. And what it was about him that also produced the confusion, as well as the contempt, of many, including some identifying themselves as Christians, and Catholics.

I'm convinced that the answer to this question is found in a little book by C.S. Lewis, published in 1944, "The Abolition of Man." It is also found in Karl Stern's spiritual autobiography "The Pillar of Fire," first printed in 1951, especially in the addendum called a "Letter To My Brother." And it is found in the early writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Lewis, Stern and Solzhenitsyn were all committed Christians. But these writings are not about Christianity as such. They are about a vision and experience of human life in our modern, and now postmodern, European and North American worlds that are being enforced, and emulated, all over the earth.

The conclusions of Lewis's "reflections on education" may be clearly stated. If students absorb, however unconsciously, what they are taught in modern schools, the result will be a world of "men without chests." People will no longer be human in the traditional sense, he said. They will be deprived of the uniquely human intuitions of goodness, truth and beauty that their humanity obliges them to acknowledge, honor and serve. They will be nothing but brains and bodies, computers and consumers, calculators and copulators. They will be conquered by the very nature they strive to conquer in the name of freedom and autonomy, as they constantly reinvent humanity under the enslaving control of their elite conditioners.

Karl Stern put it a bit differently. In 1951, before the self-destruction of Communism, the mass production of computers, the construction of the Internet and the proliferation of genetic projects, Stern claimed that Western societies, and the societies that they would inevitably come to influence and control, held out only four possibilities for human beings. One is despair, moral nihilism and suicide. Another is nationalist ideology and sentiment that would bring nothing but suffering, destruction and death. Another is the Marxist materialism that would attract myriads of good-willed idealists but would prove itself corrupt to the core. The fourth possibility was what Stern called "rationalist pragmatism" and "scientism," which he predicted would be actualized in a "global experiment" that would produce a "form of nihilism unequaled in history." "Compared with it," he wrote, Nazi Germany and Communist Russia, "would look like children's playgrounds. Man's life on this earth would come about as close to the idea of hell as anything on earth may."

Solzhenitsyn described the same thing artistically. His world was not only Communist Russia; it was humanity as such. His heroes are human beings who in Lewis's terms still have "chests." His villains are ideologues, hypocrites and liars, whom he characterizes as wholly "without an upper story." He said that the Russian "Baba" identified the cause of the world's problems when, seeing evil in the village, she would shake her head and solemnly declare that we "have lost the likeness."

Whatever, Dude.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Controversial Opus Dei Has Stake in Papal Vote (Larry B. Stammer and Tracy Wilkinson, April 19, 2005, LA Times)

When Pope John Paul II arrived at Opus Dei headquarters one March day 11 years ago, even members of the ultraconservative lay religious movement long accustomed to Vatican favor saw the visit as a singular moment in the group's ascendancy within the Roman Catholic Church.

The pope had come to pay his respects to Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, the prelate of Opus Dei, who had died that day.

"He came over to pray before the body of Don Alvaro, which is a very unusual thing, to have a pope come over to your house to pray," said Father John Wauck, a professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, an Opus Dei institution in Rome. [...]

Others note that for the first time, two of the 115 voting cardinals — Julian Herranz of Spain and Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne of Peru — are members of Opus Dei, giving the group the ability to work inside the conclave.

"They have a chance to lobby the other cardinals from an inside position," said an official with a lay organization that has close ties to the Vatican. "Opus Dei has international connections, they know many cardinals, are appreciated by some. They are entitled to talk to cardinals, to invite them to dinner, all with authority."

Several European cardinals are sympathetic to Opus Dei, among them Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Italian prelate who runs the Diocese of Rome on behalf of the pope, and a contender to succeed John Paul. Ruini last year opened proceedings to declare Opus Dei's Del Portillo a saint.

But recently, several Italian newspapers breathlessly reported that the two Opus Dei cardinals were throwing their support behind the candidacy of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a German-born traditionalist who has served as chief enforcer of church doctrine for two decades.

Pope John Paul II understood the value of keeping the Puritans inside the Church.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Woe Canada (DAVID FRUM, 4/19/05, NY Times)

Over the past few weeks, a judicial inquiry in Montreal has heard charges that Canada's governing Liberal Party was running a system of extortion, embezzlement, kickbacks and graft as dirty as anything Americans might expect to find in your run-of-the-mill banana republic.

Just last week, for example, Canadians learned that one of the closest friends of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was paid more than $5 million for work that was never done and on the authority of invoices that were forged or faked. It is charged that this same friend then arranged for up to $1 million to be kicked back in campaign contributions to Mr. Chrétien's Liberal party.

Corruption charges have dogged the Chrétien Liberals for years. Mr. Chrétien left office in 2003 under suspicion that he had pressured a government-owned bank to lend money to businesses in which he held an interest. But until recently, nobody was able to prove anything worse than carelessness and waste. Now, though, the improper flood of money from the public treasury is being connected to a reciprocal flow of money to the Liberal Party and favored insiders, including Mr. Chrétien's brother.

And because Mr. Chrétien's successor, Paul Martin, failed to win a parliamentary majority in last year's federal election, Mr. Chrétien's old survival strategy of denial and delay no longer works. Together, the opposition Conservative and Bloc Québécois parties could force an election call at any time. Opinion polls suggest that if an election were held now, the Liberals would lose decisively.

The discrediting and defeat of Canada's Liberal government would constitute a grand event in Canadian history: after all, the Liberals have ruled Canada almost without challenge for the past 12 years and for almost 80 of the past 109 years. But the kickback scandal could reverberate outside Canada's borders too.

Many Americans see Canada as a kind of utopian alternative to the United States: a North American democracy with socialized medicine, same-sex marriage, empty prisons, strict gun laws and no troops in Iraq.

Isn't that dystopian?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


The Railroad to Nowhere (JOHN TIERNEY, 4/19/05, NY Times)

Nearly five years ago, as Amtrak officials were hailing their new Acela train as "a giant step forward" for America and "the kind of rail system we've all been dreaming about for decades," a former Amtrak official named Joseph Vranich offered another perspective.

"I say without equivocation," he told The Hartford Courant, "that the Acela program is turning into the world's worst high-speed program."

I quote him now not merely because he was right, but because he offers a useful model for coping with the latest Acela fiasco, the shutdown of service because of faulty brakes. The passengers left stranded are still stuck in stages of anger and depression; the politicians vowing to fix the Acela are still working through the stages of denial and bargaining.

Mr. Vranich has moved beyond all that and reached acceptance. He now sees that the dream of decent Amtrak service is dead. [...]

But in the 1990's, after writing a book on foreign trains, he finally gave up hope. Japan and other countries were setting rail speed records and reviving their rail systems by turning them over to private companies, but Amtrak was still going nowhere. Mr. Vranich made the conversion from spokesman to scourge, arguing in books titled "Derailed" and "End of the Line" that train service would never improve as long as Amtrak had a monopoly on it.

Socialism doesn't work? Stop the presses!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Bush Finds Affirmation in a Frenchman's Words (ELISABETH BUMILLER, 3/14/05, NY Times)

The story begins on March 1, when a president who prides himself on his unpretentious Texas style mentioned Tocqueville in a speech to 300 leaders of charitable religious organizations at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington. In off-the-cuff and slightly confusing remarks, Mr. Bush said that "de Tocqueville, the Frenchman who came to America in the early 1800's, really figured out America in a unique way" because he saw that "Americans form association in order to channel the individualistic inputs of our society to enable people to serve a cause greater than themselves."

On March 7, in unprepared remarks introducing his wife at an event to help troubled children in Pittsburgh, Mr. Bush again mentioned Tocqueville, this time saying that the Frenchman had written about Americans who were able "to associate in a voluntary way to kind of transcend individualism."

Before going further, it must be said that Mr. Bush's comments may have been rare for him, but not for the collective occupants of his office. Modern American presidents of both parties have always quoted Tocqueville, the French aristocrat who landed on these shores in 1831 at the age of 25, spent nine months traveling from New York to the Great Lakes to New Orleans and back, then produced the classic "Democracy in America." The work is still lauded, in the most recent English translation by Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop, as "the best book ever written on democracy and the best book ever written on America."

Mr. Mansfield and Ms. Winthrop point out in their introduction that politicians of the left and of the right have long looked to Tocqueville for affirmation of contrary policies. Liberals like his warnings about the dangers of industrial aristocracy and American materialism; conservatives like his concerns about big government and, these days, his admiration for the ability of Americans to unite in what Tocqueville called "associations," which in the early 19th century meant all manner of temperance clubs, religious organizations and community groups.

It should also be noted that Mr. Mansfield - a professor of government at Harvard and a translator of Machiavelli - is a well-known conservative who has shaped the thinking of a conservative generation, including William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, and former Vice President Dan Quayle.

Which brings us back to Mr. Bush.

If his words about "association" perplexed some in his audience, authorities on Tocqueville knew where the president was headed. He was using Tocqueville, they said, to underscore the philosophy behind his religion-based initiative, the expanding $2 billion program that makes it easier for religious groups to get government money for social programs.

"Tocqueville latched right on to the idea that you can have a limited government that really works as long as you've got healthy institutions of civil society which perform character-shaping functions," said Robert P. George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton, the director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at the university, and a member of the President's Council on Bioethics.

"This is the idea behind the faith-based initiative," Mr. George said. "Bush wants to be an exponent of limited government but at the same time a compassionate conservative, because he's interested in escaping the dilemma that links limited government with radical individualism. So Bush says that government just can't retreat from the social sphere altogether; government must cooperate with the institutions of civil society in a kind of partnership that brings compassion to people in need."

But the conservatrism of compassionate conservatism lies in the recognition that only if government retreats somewhat from the social sphere will the civil society, institutions, and associations be revitalized.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


No horses (or severed heads) in this brand of polo (JOSH SENS, 4/06/05, New York Times News Service

When Alex Ko and his companions took up polo, they made some subtle changes to the sport once enjoyed by ancient Mongol warriors, who are said to have played with the severed heads of their enemies.

Ko and his friends opted for a 6-inch-diameter Nerf ball.

And instead of horses, they chose to ride Segways, the self-balancing transportation devices first developed as a short-distance alternative to the automobile.

“It's similar to real polo,” Ko said, “but without the manure.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM

A WANTING THEORY (via Emily Bourie):

Pre-emptive Executions?: The notion that legalizing abortion drives down crime rates is logically flawed and morally repugnant. (Steve Sailer, 5/09/05, American Conservative)

Did legalizing abortion in the early ’70s reduce crime in the late ’90s by allowing “pre-emptive capital punishment” of potential troublemakers? Or did the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, by outmoding shotgun weddings, adoption, and respect for life, instead make more murderous the early ’90s crack wars fought by the first generation of youths to survive legalized abortion?

Since 1999, the University of Chicago economist Steven D. Levitt has been pushing his theory that legal abortion is responsible for half of the recent fall in crime. This assertion is the most prominent element in Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, the entertaining new book Levitt co-wrote with journalist Stephen J. Dubner. [...]

Levitt’s theory rests on two plausible-sounding statements. First, he claims that abortion lowers the number of “unwanted” babies, who would be more likely to commit crimes someday. Second, crime did fall. Levitt writes, “In the early 1990s, just as the first cohort of children born after Roe v. Wade was hitting its late teen years—the years during which young men enter their criminal prime—the rate of crime began to fall. What this cohort was missing, of course, were the children who stood the greatest chance of becoming criminals.”

Although Levitt’s research has been praised by normally hardheaded gentlemen such as George Will and Robert Samuelson, few have probed its statistical complexities. [...]

The most striking fact about legalized abortion, but also the least discussed, is its pointlessness. Levitt himself notes that following Roe, “Conceptions rose by nearly 30 percent, but births actually fell by 6 percent …” So for every six fetuses aborted in the 1970s, five would never have been conceived except for Roe! This ratio makes a sick joke out of Levitt’s assumption that legalization made a significant difference in how “wanted” children were. Indeed, perhaps the increase in the number of women who got pregnant figuring they would get an abortion but then were too drunk or drugged or distracted to get to the clinic has meant that the “wantedness” of surviving babies has declined.

Interesting the way Mr. Levitt's theory brings us full circle--middle class America was sold abortion on the basis that poor blacks would kill their unwanted kids instead of having all of us support them via welfare. Apparently some folks still feel the need to believe that Roe v. Wade only culled the "unwanted"--and minorities at that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Johnson's Dictionary (VERLYN KLINKENBORG, 4/17/05, NY Times)

Two hundred fifty years ago, on April 15, 1755, Samuel Johnson published the first edition of his Dictionary of the English Language, compiled and written almost wholly by himself. It appeared in London in two folio volumes. Like most dictionaries, there is a rigorous serenity in the look of its pages. The language has been laid out in alphabetical order. The etymologies and definitions bristle with italics and abbreviations. The quotations that exemplify the meanings of the words present a bottomless fund of good sense and literary beauty.

But I wonder whether anyone has ever had a more dynamic or volatile sense of the language than Johnson did. We tend to remember him as an older man, grown heavy, his face weighed down as much by indolence as industry. But in April 1755 he was not yet 46. With the publication of his dictionary, he returned from his researches into the English language the way an explorer returns from the North Pole, with a sense of having seen a terrain that others can see only through his account of what he found there. Instead of a wilderness of ice, he faced what he called, in his preface to the dictionary, "the boundless chaos of a living speech."

The Most Misused Words (Laura Knoy, 2005-04-15, NHPR)
Lay or lie? Among, amongst, or between? Affect or effect? We're talking with Steve Kleinedler, the author of "100 Words Almost Everyone Confuses and Misuses". Mr. Kleinedler is also the Senior Editor of the American Heritage Dictionary and author of the recently published book "100 Words Every Word Lover Should Know".

Ms Knoy and her show are Public Radio at its best, informative and non-partisan, sometimes a bit goo-goo but often fascinating. So it was just appalling at the beginning of this broadcast when she asked Mr. Kleinedler what his personal pet peeve was as regards language misuse and he said the substitution of literally for figuratively. She asked what he meant and he said: Well, when someone says they were so angry that their head was literally going to explode. She still didn't get it. Doesn't NPR have a style book?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The crescent and the conclave (Spengler, 4/19/05, Asia Times)

Now that everyone is talking about Europe's demographic death, it is time to point out that there exists a way out: convert European Muslims to Christianity. The reported front-runner at the Vatican conclave that began on Monday, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, is one of the few Church leaders unafraid to raise the subject. Hedonistic dissipation well may have condemned the existing Europeans to infecundity and extinction, but that does not prevent Europe from getting new ones. It has been done before.

Europe in the 8th century was a depopulated ruin. The loss of half the Roman Empire's population by the 7th century left vast territories open to Islam, which rapidly absorbed the formerly Christian Levant, North Africa and Spain. By converting successive waves of invading pagans - Lombards, Magyars, Vikings, Celts, Saxons, Slavs - Christianity reinvented Europe, and held Islam at bay. [...]

Christian missionaries will get nowhere in Muslim countries except into trouble. But Muslims in Europe no longer live in traditional society, much as they might attempt to re-create it on European soil. As long as they are strangers on European soil, they are vulnerable to Christian proselytizing, if there exist a Christian agency with the temerity to attempt it. [...]

As the late pope's adviser, Cardinal Ratzinger shares responsibility for past Vatican policies, but his tone has changed during the past six months. He opposed Turkey's entry into the European Union. Last week he published a tract titled Werte in Zeiten des Umbruchs ("Values in Times of Upheaval"), calling for Europe to return to its core Christian values. He denounced Europe's "incomprehensible self-hatred", adding that if Europe wants to survive, "it must consciously seek to rediscover its own soul". He wrote, "Multiculturalism cannot survive without common constants, without taking one's own culture as a point of departure."

Ratzinger deplored the exclusion of Christianity from the proposed European Constitution. Unlike the United States, where politicians of both parties agree that revelation is the source of virtue, secular Europe insists upon an entirely secular approach to ethics. In this regard I sympathize with Ratzinger, and refer readers to an extensive debate on the subject of Kant's Categorical Imperative in the Asia Times Online Forum. Kant initiated the modern attempt to derive ethics from reason. His approach (oversimplified) is to ask, "What if everybody did?" You are not supposed to do something to which you would object were someone else to do it. This approach has some obvious weaknesses. Bertrand Russell observed in his History of Western Philosophy that a depressive very well might wish for everyone to commit suicide, and thus commit suicide himself with perfect justification. Just that attitude describes the mindset of today's Europeans, who naturally prefer a Kantian approach to a religious one.

That earlier phenomenon is why the "Dark Ages" were the true period of enlightenment. Similarly, a Europe that is taken over by a Reformed Islam will be vastly preferable to the one that exists today.

Vatican Is Rethinking Relations With Islam (Daniel Williams and Alan Cooperman, April 15, 2005, Washington Post)

After two decades of contact and dialogue with the Islamic world under Pope John Paul II, the Vatican is rethinking an outreach program that critics say is diluting Catholicism and has brought almost no benefits to beleaguered Catholic minorities in Muslim countries.

The late pontiff undertook the drive as part of a broad effort to open channels to other religions. He applied a personal stamp by stepping into a mosque in Damascus and meeting with Muslim groups more than 60 times. He also visited a synagogue in Rome and Jerusalem's Western Wall.

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, said the next pope might more emphatically demand rights for Christian minorities in Islamic countries and the freedom of all people to choose their faith.

"There may be a greater insistence on religious liberty," said Fitzgerald, the church's point man on Islamic relations. "But I don't think we're going to go to war. The times of the Crusades are over. . . . I don't see any fundamental change in the way the church has been dealing with these questions."

Justo Lacunza Balda, who heads the Pontifical Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies, a Vatican research group, said criticism was focused on the lack of reciprocal goodwill gestures in many Muslim countries. "Humanly speaking, it is of course important to see some payback," he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Decline of the Liberal Faith (Tom Bethell, 3/23/2005, The Spectator)

LIBERALISM, AMERICAN-STYLE, is dying on the vine. I refer to the faith of liberalism -- the belief in "the redemptive transformation of human society through political means," as William Pfaff puts it in his new book, The Bullet's Song. Programmatic liberalism -- Social Security, Medicare, government schooling, government science, and the like -- will continue, and on an expansionist path. But as a faith, liberalism is set to decline in the years ahead. It is already doing so, perhaps more swiftly than we know. What is left of it is filled with darkness and pessimism: sex, abortion, euthanasia, and death.

Like Communism, liberalism was put into practice. Better for the idealists if it had remained a dream. But as anyone who has lived within a mile of a government-housing project will know, real-life liberalism is a menacing thing -- anti-utopia. Neighborhoods menaced by young men without fathers, their mothers financed by the state, should by now have disillusioned even the most progressive minded. So should inner-city state schools, where parents play little or no role, and perhaps don't even know where the school is.

Although its adherents don't like to discuss the point, the liberal faith has much in common with Communism, including shared roots in the Enlightenment. Human nature, philosophers once believed, could be remade in the classroom. People could be improved by "legislation alone," to quote the 18th-century philosophe Claude Helvetius. Influenced by John Locke, he was in turn studied by the founder of Russian Marxism, G.V. Plekhanov, who befriended Lenin in Zurich.

Liberalism and Communism both regarded egalitarianism as an ideal and both were godless; Communism openly so, liberalism more obscurely. Democracy admittedly distinguished between them, but the liberal admiration for an ideological judiciary shows that they, too, would like nothing more than a government that is free to impose its will by fiat (provided it is run by the right people).

The liberal faith fell with Communism. Both were based on extravagant optimism -- admittedly an unwarranted optimism. Human nature was on the verge of transformation. Nineteenth-century thinkers really believed that people would soon be so good that the boundaries of property would no longer be required. [...]

LIBERALISM IS DYING OF OLD AGE. It has gone on for too long and the world is changing. At its core, it was based on the idea that religious belief would give way to Enlightenment values. Faith would succumb to reason. Shorn of superstition, the human race would make its stately progress toward a brighter future. Well, that hasn't worked out.

You can hardly blame the Left for its apparent brain death--they put all their eggs in the basket of Reason and it hatched nought but monstrosities. It'll take them awhile to recover.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM

RERENAISSANCE (via Mike Daley)

Eureka! Extraordinary discovery unlocks secrets of the ancients: Decoded at last: the 'classical holy grail' that may rewrite the history of the world (David Keys and Nicholas Pyke, 17 April 2005, Independent)

For more than a century, it has caused excitement and frustration in equal measure - a collection of Greek and Roman writings so vast it could redraw the map of classical civilisation. If only it was legible.

Now, in a breakthrough described as the classical equivalent of finding the holy grail, Oxford University scientists have employed infra-red technology to open up the hoard, known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, and with it the prospect that hundreds of lost Greek comedies, tragedies and epic poems will soon be revealed.

In the past four days alone, Oxford's classicists have used it to make a series of astonishing discoveries, including writing by Sophocles, Euripides, Hesiod and other literary giants of the ancient world, lost for millennia. They even believe they are likely to find lost Christian gospels, the originals of which were written around the time of the earliest books of the New Testament.

The original papyrus documents, discovered in an ancient rubbish dump in central Egypt, are often meaningless to the naked eye - decayed, worm-eaten and blackened by the passage of time. But scientists using the new photographic technique, developed from satellite imaging, are bringing the original writing back into view. Academics have hailed it as a development which could lead to a 20 per cent increase in the number of great Greek and Roman works in existence. Some are even predicting a "second Renaissance".

Christopher Pelling, Regius Professor of Greek at the University of Oxford, described the new works as "central texts which scholars have been speculating about for centuries".

Professor Richard Janko, a leading British scholar, formerly of University College London, now head of classics at the University of Michigan, said: "Normally we are lucky to get one such find per decade." One discovery in particular, a 30-line passage from the poet Archilocos, of whom only 500 lines survive in total, is described as "invaluable" by Dr Peter Jones, author and co-founder of the Friends of Classics campaign.

The papyrus fragments were discovered in historic dumps outside the Graeco-Egyptian town of Oxyrhynchus ("city of the sharp-nosed fish") in central Egypt at the end of the 19th century. Running to 400,000 fragments, stored in 800 boxes at Oxford's Sackler Library, it is the biggest hoard of classical manuscripts in the world.

They just don't give towns cool names like that anymore.

April 18, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:54 PM


Our fight is over, say India and Pakistan (Richard Beeston, 4/19/05, Times of London)

General Pervez Musharraf, the visiting President of Pakistan, and Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister, pledged a series of confidence-building measures to improve trade and travel between the two states and in particular defuse the potentially explosive conflict in the disputed region of Kashmir.

Originally the three-day visit by General Musharraf to India was supposed to be an informal chance for the two leaders to meet at a one-day cricket international between India and Pakistan.

But, as Mr Singh explained yesterday, the game opened the way for four rounds of diplomatic talks that have improved relations between the two countries to their best level in years.

“Conscious of the historic opportunity created by the improved environment in relations . . . the two leaders had substantive talks on all issues,” the Indian leader, reading from a joint statement, said. “They determined that the peace process was now irreversible.”

The two sides agreed to increase the frequency of a cross-Kashmir bus service, encourage family reunification, open other border crossings to civilian traffic, revive joint trade ties, open consulates in Bombay and Karachi, and explore building a pipeline to carry gas from Iran via Pakistan to India.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:50 PM


Democrats search for a party path: The party has failed to convert a recent string of Republican stumbles to its own gain. (Linda Feldmann, 4/19/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

Life in the political wilderness can be tough. Some Republicans here still know what that's like - though at this point, 10-plus years after Newt Gingrich & Co. swept the Democrats out of power on Capitol Hill, a majority of House GOP members have no firsthand experience of being in the minority.

Democrats, in fact, are counting on those dwindling numbers to help them as they look for that right combination of message, candidates, infrastructure, and opposition stumbles - with a dash of opposition hubris - to win back their mojo in 2006, if not 2008. So far, the party in power has obliged on that last score: House GOP leader Tom DeLay is under siege over ethics. President Bush faces an uphill climb with his No. 1 domestic priority, remaking Social Security. A majority of Americans objected to Congress and Bush turning the Terri Schiavo tragedy into a federal case.

But Democrats aren't gaining from the other side's losses. Polls show the GOP congressional leadership is less popular than the president - but the Democratic leadership fares still worse. And even among rank-and-file Democrats, only 56 percent approve of their own congressional leadership, according to the Pew Research Center. Among Republicans, the analogous number is 76 percent.

Bottom line: It's hard to project power when you're out of power.

There's your Democratic platform:

(1) Against what's-his-face

(2) Against Social Security reform

(3) For killing the sick

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 PM


Why Logic Often Takes A Backseat: The study of neuroeconomics may topple the notion of rational decision-making (Peter Coy, 3/28/05, Business Week)

Neuroeconomics, while still regarded skeptically by mainstream economists, could be the next big thing in the field. It promises to put economics on a firmer footing by describing people as they really are, not as some oversimplified mathematical model would have them be. Eventually it could help economists design incentives that gently guide people toward making decisions that are in their long-term best interests in everything from labor negotiations to diets to 401(k) plans. Says Harvard University economist David I. Laibson, another leading researcher: "To understand the real foundations of our behavior and our choices, we need to get inside the black box."

Neuroeconomics could also give economics an alternative theoretical framework. Since the early 1900s, economists have mainly assumed that people have a stable and consistent set of preferences that they try to satisfy. When faced with an apparently illogical outcome -- such as the cancellation of the hockey season -- they try to explain it as the result of a reasoned decision process. Such top economists as Gary S. Becker, Milton Friedman, and Robert E. Lucas Jr., all Nobel prize winners, have argued that discrimination, unemployment, and stock market gyrations can have rational origins.

In recent years, the assumption of rationality has taken some hard shots as economists have shown that people often lack self-control, are shortsighted, and overreact to the fear of losses. But to date, these attacks on rationality -- under the broad heading of "behavioral economics" -- have seemed more like a grab bag of anomalies than a consistent alternative theory. So the assumption of rationality survives.

By linking economic behavior to brain activity, however, neuroeconomics may finally supply the model that knocks mainstream economics off its throne. The new theory should fit better with reality, but it won't be as mathematically clean -- because the brain is a confusing place, with different parts handling different jobs. Says Camerer: "You are forced to think about a brain which has many somewhat modular circuits."

One of the most fruitful avenues of neuro research is "time inconsistency." When people decide about the distant future, they're roughly as rational as economic textbooks assume. But when faced with a choice of whether to consume something now or delay gratification, they can be as impulsive as chimps. Harvard's Laibson coined "quasi-hyperbolic discounting" to describe the behavior, but that was just a label, not an explanation.

So Laibson and others scanned people inside MRI machines and discovered two parts of the brain operating in radically different ways. For decisions about the far-off future, the prefrontal cortex takes a long-term perspective. But for decisions such as whether to buy another chocolate bar right now, the limbic system takes over and demands immediate gratification. Last year the journal Science published the research by Laibson, Princeton University neuroscientists Samuel M. McClure and Jonathan D. Cohen, and Carnegie-Mellon University economist George Loewenstein.

How does it help to know that you're literally "of two minds"? You could arrange your affairs to make sure that your rational brain stays in control -- for example, by committing now to saving a certain percentage of your paycheck each month in the future. Many people already do that. Trouble is, long-term commitments can be too rigid if circumstances change. Ideally, you'd like to wait to commit to a savings plan until you see whether you can afford it -- but not wait so long that your animal brain takes over and you lose the will to save. The new research could help get that balance right.

A key tenet of standard economics is that making people happy is a simple matter of giving them more of what they like. But neuroscience shows that's not true. The brain's striatum quickly gets used to new stimuli and expects them to continue. People are on a treadmill in which only unexpected pleasures can make them happier. That explains why happiness of people in rich countries hasn't increased despite higher living standards.

Odd to think you could both be a human being and believe men to be rational actors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:49 PM


(J. Richard Gott III, New Scientist)

In 1969, after graduating from Harvard but before starting further study in astro-physics at Princeton University, I took a summer holiday in Europe and visited the Berlin Wall. It was the height of the Cold War, and the wall was then eight years old. Standing in it ominous shadow, I began to wonder how long it would last. Having no special knowledge of East-West relations, I hadn't much to go on. But I hit on a curious way to estimate the wall's likely lifetime knowing only its age.

I reasoned, first of all, that there was nothing special about my visit. That is, I didn't come to see the wall being erected or demolished--I just happened to have a holiday, and came to stand there at some random moment during the wall's existence. So, I thought, there was a 50 per cent chance that I was seeing the wall during the middle two quarters of its lifetime (see Diagram, below). If I was at the beginning of this interval, then one-quarter of the wall's life had passed and three-quarters remained. On the other hand, if I was at the end of of this interval, then three-quarters had passed and only one-quarter lay in the future. In this way I reckoned that there was a 50 per cent chance the wall would last from 1/3 to 3 times as long as it had already.

Before leaving the wall, I predicted to a friend, that it would with 50 per cent likelihood, last more than two and two-thirds years but less than 24. I then returned from holiday and went on to other things. But my prediction, and the peculiar line of reasoning that lay behind it, stayed with me. Twenty years later, in November 1989 the Berlin Wall cam down--unexpectedly, but in line with my prediction.

Intrigued that the approach seemed to work, I eventually set out its logic in Nature(vol 363, p315, 1993). There, instead of using the 50 percent mark, I adopted the more standards scientific criterion that the prediction should have at least a 95 per cent chance of being correct. This makes the numbers in the formula come out a bit different, but the argument remains the same. If there is nothing special about your observation of something, then there is a 95 per cent chance that you are seeing it during the middle 95 per cent of its observable lifetime, rather than during the first or last 2.5 per cent (see Diagram, p 38). At one extreme the future is only 1/39 as long as the past. At the other, it is 39 times as long. With 95 per cent certainty, this fixes the future longevity of whatever you observe as being between 1/39 and 39 times as long as its past. [...]

As another test, I used my formula on the day my Nature paper was published to predict the future longevities of the 44 Broadway and off-Broadway plays and musicals in New York; 36 have now closed--all in a agreement with the predictions. The Will Rogers Follies, which had been open for 757 days, closed after another 101 days, and the Kiss of the Spider Woman open for 24 days, closed in another 765 days. In each case the future longevity was within a factor of 39 of the past longevity, as predicted.

This is all good fun. You can predict approximately how long something will last without knowing anything that its current age. But in the past few months, in the light of the spectacular success of NASA's Mars Pathfinder mission, I've been reminded of of a far more serious implication of this way of thinking. Applying it to the human race forces mt to conclude that our extinction as a species is a very real possibility, and that we had better take steps to improve our survival prospects before it's too late. Let me explain why I have such a sense of urgency, wand why we had better begin colonising space--and very soon.

In the 16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus pointed out that the Earth revolved about the Sun, rather than vice versa, and in one swift move, displaced humanity from its privileged place at the centre of the Universe. We now see the Earth as circling an unexceptional star among thousands of millions of others in our unexceptional Galaxy. This perspective is summed up more generally in the "Copernican Principle", which is the position that one's location is unlikely to be special.

Early this century, when astronomer Edwin Hubble observed approximately the same number of galaxies receding from Earth in all directions, it looked as if our Galaxy was at the exact centre of a great explosion. But reasoning with the Copernican principle, scientists concluded instead that the Universe must look that way to observers in every galaxy--it would be presumptuous to think that out galaxy is special. As a working hypothesis, the Copernican principle has been enormously successful because, out of all the places intelligent observers could be, there are only a few special places and many nonspecial places. A person is simply more likely to be in one of the many nonspecial places. but the Copernican principle doesn't apply only to placement of galaxies in space-- it works for placement of moments of time as well. Inset 1

What does it imply for Homo sapiens? We have been around for about 200 000 years. If there is nothing special about the present moment, then it is 95 per cent certain that the future duration of our species is between 1/39 and 39 times 200 000 years. That is, we should last for at least another 5100 years but less than 7.8 million years.

Since we have no actuarial data on other intelligent species, this Copernican estimate may be the best we can find. It gives our species a likely longevity of between 0.205 million and 8 million years, which is quite in line with those for other hominids and mammals. The Earth is littered with the bones of extinct species and it doesn't take much to see that we could meet the same fate. Our ancestor H. erectus last 1.6 million years, while H. neanderthalensis lasted 0.3 million years. The mean duration of mammal species is 2 million years, and even the great Tyrannosaurus rex lasted only 2.5 million years.

For us, the end might come from a drastic climate change, nuclear war, a wandering asteroid or comet, or some other catastrophe that catches us by surprise, such as a bad epidemic. If remain a one-planet species, we are exposed to the same risk as other species, and are likely to perish on the same timescale.

Of course, we've already made it 4 million years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:04 PM


Why literature matters: Good books help make a civil society (Dana Gioia, April 10, 2005, Boston Globe)

Unlike the passive activities of watching television and DVDs or surfing the Web, reading is actually a highly active enterprise. Reading requires sustained and focused attention as well as active use of memory and imagination. Literary reading also enhances and enlarges our humility by helping us imagine and understand lives quite different from our own.

Indeed, we sometimes underestimate how large a role literature has played in the evolution of our national identity, especially in that literature often has served to introduce young people to events from the past and principles of civil society and governance. Just as more ancient Greeks learned about moral and political conduct from the epics of Homer than from the dialogues of Plato, so the most important work in the abolitionist movement was the novel ''Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Likewise our notions of American populism come more from Walt Whitman's poetic vision than from any political tracts. Today when people recall the Depression, the images that most come to mind are of the travails of John Steinbeck's Joad family from ''The Grapes of Wrath." Without a literary inheritance, the historical past is impoverished. [...]

The evidence of literature's importance to civic, personal, and economic health is too strong to ignore. The decline of literary reading foreshadows serious long-term social and economic problems, and it is time to bring literature and the other arts into discussions of public policy. Libraries, schools, and public agencies do noble work, but addressing the reading issue will require the leadership of politicians and the business community as well.

Literature now competes with an enormous array of electronic media. While no single activity is responsible for the decline in reading, the cumulative presence and availability of electronic alternatives increasingly have drawn Americans away from reading.

Reading is not a timeless, universal capability. Advanced literacy is a specific intellectual skill and social habit that depends on a great many educational, cultural, and economic factors. As more Americans lose this capability, our nation becomes less informed, active, and independent-minded. These are not the qualities that a free, innovative, or productive society can afford to lose.

I'm as prepared as anyone to find rot at the core of the culture, but it just seems impossible that we read less than our elders did. The recourse to reading was especially noticable after 9-11 and spoke quite well of our curiosity and seriousness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 PM


The GOP's Favorite Democrat (Ari Berman, 04/18/2005, The Nation)

"You're like Zell Miller without the crack," Jon Stewart once told Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson. Lately, though, it looks like Nelson may be taking hits from the pipe.

Nelson, the Senate's most conservative Democrat, is drafting legislation to give bipartisan cover to Bill Frist's plan to outlaw the filibuster of judicial nominees, known as the "nuclear option." Nelson's proposal would bar the use of the filibuster and allow any Senator to call an up-or-down floor vote on any judicial nominee, even if the Senate Judiciary Committee blocks the nomination.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:49 PM


From spitters to knucklers to screwballs (T.R. Sullivan, 4/15/05, Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Ryan Drese pitches tonight for the Rangers. If his sinker is working, he could be in for a good night.

The sinker, as taught by pitching coach Orel Hershiser, is the pitch du jour for the Rangers in their attempt to be more successful at Ameriquest Field in Arlington.

There have been many pitches of renown for the Rangers -- and Kenny Rogers has thrown just about all of them -- but you are indeed a devoted fan if you recall that reliever Jose Cecena was the last Rangers pitcher to throw the screwball.

The best pitches ever thrown in Arlington?

Drum roll, please:

10. Francisco Cordero


Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:39 PM


In the beginning was ... a perfect liquid?: ‘Big Bang soup’ really behaves like fluid, scientists say (Reuters, April 18, 2005)

Scientists using a giant atom smasher said on Monday they have created a new state of matter — a hot, dense liquid made out of basic atomic particles — and said it shows what the early universe looked like for a very, very brief time.

For a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang that scientists say gave rise to the universe, all matter was in the form of this liquid, called a quark-gluon plasma, the researchers said.

"We have a new state of matter," said Sam Aronson, associate laboratory director for high-energy and nuclear physics at the Brookhaven National Laboratory.

"We think we are looking at a phenomenon ... in the universe 13 billion years ago when free quarks and gluons ... cooled down to the particles that we know today," Aronson told a news conference carried by telephone from a meeting of the American Physical Society in Tampa, Fla.

The quark-gluon plasma was made in the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider — a powerful atom smasher at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y. Unexpectedly, the quark-gluon plasma behaved like a perfect liquid of quarks, instead of a gas, the physicists said.

And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:01 PM


The Not So Dirty Dozen: They're the undercard to the fight over a high court nomination. (Jonathan Turley, April 18, 2005, LA Times)

The decision to nuke or not to nuke has obscured the real issue: Are the Republican nominees qualified or are they flat-Earth idiots? As a pro-choice social liberal, I didn't find much reason to like these nominees. However, I also found little basis for a filibuster in most cases. Indeed, for senators not eager to trigger mutually assured destruction, there is room for compromise. [...]

For nine of the Republican nominees, Democratic opposition looks as principled as a drive-by shooting. In fairness, the remaining three nominees raise legitimate concerns.

Democrats are on good ground in filibustering William J. Haynes II, who signed a memo that appeared to justify torture of POWs and suggest that the president could override federal law — an extreme view that preceded abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

Then there's 9th Circuit nominee William G. Myers III, a former mining lobbyist who, as an Interior Department official, advocated extreme-right positions on Native American and environmental issues, often in contravention of accepted law. Given the centrality of such issues to the 9th Circuit, there is reason to bar his confirmation.

Finally, there is the closer case of Priscilla R. Owen. She has a "well qualified" ABA rating but she is also indelibly marked by a prior public rebuke. Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales, her colleague on the Texas Supreme Court, said she engaged in "an unconscionable act of judicial activism" in restricting a minor's access to an abortion. That and other charges of activism leave Owen damaged goods for confirmation.

Democrats aren't going to leave themselves in a postion where the reason they're opposing the judges are: being mean to terrorists; being mean to Indians; and restricting abortion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:56 PM


Why the Liberals Can't Keep Air America From Spiraling In (Brian C. Anderson, April 18, 2005, LA Times)

The liberal Air America Radio, just past its first birthday, has probably enjoyed more free publicity than any enterprise in recent history. But don't believe the hype: Air America's left-wing answer to conservative talk radio is failing, just as previous efforts to find liberal Rush Limbaughs have failed. [...]

Successful talk radio is conservative for three reasons:

• Entertainment value. The top conservative hosts put on snazzy, frequently humorous shows. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication, observes: "The parody, the asides, the self-effacing humor, the bluster are all part of the packaging that makes the political message palatable." Besides, the triumph of political correctness on the left makes it hard for on-air liberals to lighten things up without offending anyone.

• Fragmentation of the potential audience. Political consultant Dick Morris explains: "Large percentages of liberals are black and Hispanic, and they now have their own specialized entertainment radio outlets, which they aren't likely to leave for liberal talk radio." The potential audience for Air America or similar ventures is thus pretty small — white liberals, basically. And they've already got NPR.

• Liberal bias in the old media. That's what birthed talk radio in the first place. People turn to it to help right the imbalance. Political scientist William Mayer, writing in the Public Interest, recently observed that liberals don't need talk radio because they've got the big three networks, most national and local daily newspapers and NPR.

Unable to prosper in the medium, liberals have taken to denouncing talk radio as a threat to democracy.

For more, check out Mr. Anderson's very fine book.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:37 PM


Iraq key to US-Iran engagement (M K Bhadrakumar, 4/19/05, Asia Times)

President Mohammad Khatami was among the first world leaders to felicitate the newly elected political leadership in Baghdad. In a congratulatory message of undisguised happiness over the occasion, Khatami conveyed to Iraqi President-elect Jalal Talabani that it was a "magnificent electoral show" that brought the new government into office. Offering Iran's hand of cooperation, Khatami expressed optimism that "a secure, free and independent Iraq" would emerge and that with "vigilance and unity of the entire Iraqi nation" this could be realized. He expressed satisfaction that the democratic process in Iraq was running its course "without outside interference".

Khatami's message disregarded the US military presence in Iraq or any sense of Islamic brotherhood with the regime in Baghdad.

Iranian media commentaries have been equally revealing. The Tehran Times lauded the fact that first and foremost, Baghdad had liberated itself from the "chauvinistic atmosphere of pan-Arabism" and had broken loose from "false Arab nationalism" - the "idea that Arabic nationalism was the cornerstone of patriotism". (Will the US neo-conservatives - and Israel - take note?)

The commentary went on to stress that Kurds and Shi'ites alike were victims of Ba'athist ideology and had been all these years "encircled in the web of pan-Arabist tendencies".

The Iran Daily hailed Talabani as the "first non-Arab president" of Iraq and noted that Kurdish-Shi'ite solidarity in Iraq was "clearly a positive development for Iran that has more commonalities with Kurds than other regional countries". It advised Sunni Arabs to "come to terms with and accept the ground realities".

The Iranian commentaries sidestepped recent demonstrations organized by Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr against the US military presence.

Thus, paradoxically, Washington and Tehran find themselves providing by far the staunchest outside support for the Kurdish-Shi'ite political axis that has emerged in the Iraqi leadership - that is, Israel's shadowy influence with the Iraqi Kurds apart.

What's paradoxical about the converging interests of inevitable allies?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 PM


Once Moderates Built Bridges; Now They Must Burn Them (Ronald Brownstein, April 18, 2005, LA Times)

There was something poignant and powerfully revealing about the public agonizing last week of Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) over John R. Bolton, President Bush's nominee as ambassador to the United Nations.

Chafee, an iconoclastic moderate, is a swing vote as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee considers Bolton's nomination this week. Every committee Democrat is likely to oppose Bolton; if Chafee — or conceivably another Republican, such as Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska — joins them, the nomination would die without ever reaching the full Senate.

Chafee isn't likely to bury Bolton. The senator believes presidents deserve to pick their advisors, absent some overwhelming reason to the contrary. Chafee was appointed to the Senate in 1999 after the death of his father, John Chafee, and elected in 2000. In that brief Senate career, the younger Chafee has voted to confirm every executive branch nominee he's considered for both Presidents Clinton and Bush.

During the contentious Foreign Relations hearings last week, Chafee gave every indication he intended to back Bolton. Chafee says he's waiting to hear all the evidence. But his press secretary, Stephen Hourahan, says the senator "is inclined" to give Bush his choice at the U.N. Yet Chafee also made it abundantly clear last week that Bolton would not be his choice. "I wish this wasn't the nominee to the United Nations," Chafee said plaintively.

Chafee's lament captured a dynamic much larger than the struggle over Bolton. This is a miserable moment for centrist senators. They are caught between a president pursuing an aggressive, even crusading, conservative agenda and a Democratic Party fighting ferociously to block it. That frequently leaves the centrists, like Chafee with Bolton, wishing for an alternative that isn't available.

it's a problem for individuals, but not much of one for the GOP in general, because in a 60-40 country they won't need bridges much. Meanwhile, the idea that even Rhode Islanders will be upset that Mr. Chaffee is insufficiently pro-U.N. seems implausible.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:51 AM


Environmental Heresies (Stewart Brand, May 2005, Technology Review)

Over the next ten years, I predict, the mainstream of the environmental movement will reverse its opinion and activism in four major areas: population growth, urbani­zation, genetically engineered organisms, and nuclear power. [...]

Take population growth. For 50 years, the demographers in charge of human population projections for the United Nations released hard numbers that substantiated environmentalists’ greatest fears about indefinite exponential population increase. For a while, those projections proved fairly accurate. However, in the 1990s, the U.N. started taking a closer look at fertility patterns, and in 2002, it adopted a new theory that shocked many demographers: human population is leveling off rapidly, even precipitously, in developed countries, with the rest of the world soon to follow. Most environmentalists still haven't got the word. Worldwide, birthrates are in free fall. Around one-third of countries now have birthrates below replacement level (2.1 children per woman) and sinking. Nowhere does the downward trend show signs of leveling off. Nations already in a birth dearth crisis include Japan, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Russia—whose population is now in absolute decline and is expected to be 30 percent lower by 2050. On every part of every continent and in every culture (even Mormon), birthrates are headed down. They reach replacement level and keep on dropping. It turns out that population decrease accelerates downward just as fiercely as population increase accelerated upward, for the same reason. Any variation from the 2.1 rate compounds over time.

That’s great news for environmentalists (or it will be when finally noticed), but they need to recognize what caused the turnaround. The world population growth rate actually peaked at 2 percent way back in 1968, the very year my old teacher Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb. The world’s women didn’t suddenly have fewer kids because of his book, though. They had fewer kids because they moved to town.

Cities are population sinks-always have been. Although more children are an asset in the countryside, they’re a liability in the city. A global tipping point in urbanization is what stopped the population explosion. As of this year, 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities, with 61 percent expected by 2030. In 1800 it was 3 percent; in 1900 it was 14 percent.

The environmentalist aesthetic is to love villages and despise cities. My mind got changed on the subject a few years ago by an Indian acquaintance who told me that in Indian villages the women obeyed their husbands and family elders, pounded grain, and sang. But, the acquaintance explained, when Indian women immigrated to cities, they got jobs, started businesses, and demanded their children be educated. They became more independent, as they became less fundamentalist in their religious beliefs. Urbanization is the most massive and sudden shift of humanity in its history. Environmentalists will be rewarded if they welcome it and get out in front of it. In every single region in the world, including the U.S., small towns and rural areas are emptying out. The trees and wildlife are returning. Now is the time to put in place permanent protection for those rural environments. Meanwhile, the global population of illegal urban squatters—which Robert Neuwirth’s book Shadow Cities already estimates at a billion—is growing fast. Environmentalists could help ensure that the new dominant human habitat is humane and has a reduced footprint of overall environmental impact.

Along with rethinking cities, environmentalists will need to rethink biotechnology. One area of biotech with huge promise and some drawbacks is genetic engineering, so far violently rejected by the environmental movement. That rejection is, I think, a mistake. Why was water fluoridization rejected by the political right and “frankenfood” by the political left? The answer, I suspect, is that fluoridization came from government and genetically modified (GM) crops from corporations. If the origins had been reversed—as they could have been—the positions would be reversed, too.

That's an especially useful insight.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 AM


Losing sight of Patriots Day (Theodore K. Rabb, April 18, 2005, Boston Globe)

PATRIOTS DAY, April 19, is a date that ought to have particular resonance in the history of the republic. It commemorates the beginning of our first war: the day in 1775 when the first shots were fired, in Concord, on America's path to independence. If in recent years the most widely reported event of that day has been the Boston Marathon, it is surely time to put its larger meaning front and center in the nation's consciousness.

Get serious--it's the 11am start at Fenway.


Paul Revere's Ride (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."

Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,--
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,--
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse's side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer's dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,---
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
>From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,---
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 AM


Military Report on Guantanamo Highlights Danger of Al Qaeda
: As Camp Delta's legality is challenged, a chilling portrait of its detainees is offered by the U.S. (Richard A. Serrano, April 18, 2005, LA Times)

Three years after it began, the prison experiment known as Camp Delta at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has reached a crossroads in its incarceration of those captured in the war brought on by Sept. 11.

Military officials have completed tribunal hearings for all 558 detainees and have compiled their most comprehensive report detailing what they have learned about potential future terrorist attacks. But the Bush administration now is battling efforts by lawyers for some of the prisoners to have the cases moved to federal courts in Washington.

Should that happen, it could end the military's long-held goal of keeping those it has identified as "enemy combatants" out of the public spotlight and ensconced in the island prison.

The new report appears to buttress the military's claim that it should be allowed to run Camp Delta without outside intervention because the camp has become "the single best repository of Al Qaeda information."

The declassified summary cites more than 4,000 interrogation reports and says that some indicated Al Qaeda operatives were pursuing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The summary does not elaborate on what that information is or how close the terrorist organization might be to getting such weapons.

According to the report, captives have described how Al Qaeda trained them to spread deadly poisons, and at other times armed them with grenades stuffed inside soda cans, bombs hidden in pagers and cellphones and wristwatches that could trigger remote control explosions on a 24-hour countdown.

The report also showed that not all those being held were suspected of being front-line soldiers and that 1 in 10 of the captives were well-educated — often at U.S. colleges — in fields such as medicine and law.

More than 20 detainees have been positively identified as Osama bin Laden's personal bodyguards and one as his close "spiritual advisor," according to the report. Another is listed as the "probable 20th 9/11 hijacker" — a Saudi man named Mohamed al-Kahtani who made it to Orlando, Fla., before being deported just a month before the Sept. 11 attacks.

One detainee vowed to his captors that U.S. citizens in Saudi Arabia "will have their heads cut off." Another prisoner, this one with strong ties to Bin Laden, the Taliban and the Chechen mujahedin leadership, said of Americans everywhere: "Their day is coming…. One day I will enjoy sucking their blood."

Just because we've won the war on terror so easily doesn't mean these nutbags aren't genuine threats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


On the Sidelines of the Most Important Civil Rights Battle Since 'Brown' (BRENT STAPLES, 4/18/05, NY Times)

The civil rights establishment was once a fiercely independent force that bedeviled politicians on both sides of the aisle and evaluated policies based on whether those policies harmed or helped the poor. This tradition of independence has disappeared. Over the last two decades, in fact, the old-line civil rights groups have evolved into wholly owned subsidiaries of the Democratic Party. The groups are disinclined to turn on their friends - or to openly embrace even beneficial policies that happen to have a Republican face.

This posture has been painfully evident in the debate surrounding the No Child Left Behind education law, a signature Bush administration reform that also happens to be the best hope for guaranteeing black and Latino children a chance at equal education. The law is not perfect and will need adjustments. But its core requirement that the states educate minority children to the same standards as white children breaks with a century-old tradition of educational unfairness. The new law could potentially surpass Brown v. Board of Education in terms of widening access to high-quality public education.

The same civil rights groups that sing hosannas to Brown have been curiously muted - and occasionally even hostile - to No Child Left Behind. But the groups have mainly been missing from the debate, according to Dr. James Comer, the educational reformer and Yale University psychiatrist. "They have been absent," Dr. Comer told me last week. "They need to pay attention to what works. They need to be in the middle of the fight because these are our kids."

Why are civil rights groups standing on the sidelines instead of fighting to ensure that this law succeeds? The reasons are numerous and complex. One of the most obvious is that civil rights officials and some black lawmakers are wary of embracing a law associated with a conservative Republican president.

Most Republicans are lukewarm because their constituents don't much want more minority kids in their schools; the Democratic Party opposes it because the Teachers Unions require them to; and the Civil Rights groups oppose it because they hate Republicans. The only supporters are minority parents and theocons--an increasingly important alliance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


Basque nationalists win election (BBC, 4/18/05)

Ruling nationalists have won regional elections in Spain's Basque country.

But voters have dented their autonomy plan by denying them an absolute majority in the regional assembly.

The ruling moderate coalition, led by the Nationalist Basque Party's Juan Jose Ibarretxe, won 29 of the 75 seats, gaining just over 38% of the vote.

It lost four seats it won in 2001 elections, while candidates endorsed by a banned pro-independence party won a surprise nine seats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


Oil falls back below $50 a barrel (BBC, 4/18/05)

US oil prices have slipped to below $50 a barrel, an eight-week low, on sharp words from global finance chiefs about the threat to growth.

Ministers of the G7 group of industrial states over the weekend urged action over the "headwind" of energy costs.

US oil dipped as low as $49.66 a barrel, down 82 cents, while London's Brent crude fell 39 cents to $51.22.

Growing US stockpiles have eased oil price pressures, but concerns remain about strong global demand.

This is an ideal time to crank gas taxes, while folks have adjusted psychologically to higher prices.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


Young Activist's Life Cut Short in Iraq Blast (Doug Smith, April 18, 2005, LA Times)

She hugged and laughed her way through war zones with an effervescence belying her seriousness of purpose.

No pass to get through a checkpoint? She leaned across her Iraqi driver to show the stern American guard the shock of blond hair beneath her flowing black robes.

"Please, please, please, please, please," she said, and then, "Where are you from?"

She waved aside tough-looking guards from all corners of the world, never looking back to see if they had raised an AK-47 in her direction. In her one-woman mission to make the United States take responsibility for the innocent victims of its wars, 28-year-old Marla Ruzicka bubbled with a passion that seemed to lift her beyond danger.

Iraq's random violence caught up with Ruzicka on Saturday. Her car pulled alongside a convoy of U.S. contractors just as a suicide bomber detonated his car. Ruzicka, her driver-translator and one guard on the convoy were killed. Five other people were wounded.

Her death stunned a wide circle of diplomats, government officials, soldiers, journalists and ordinary people from Baghdad to Kabul.

"God bless her pure soul, she was trying to help us," said Haj Natheer Bashir, the brother-in-law of an Iraqi teenager Ruzicka was trying to evacuate to the Bay Area for surgery. "She was just a kind lady."

Tough way to find out who the real enemies of the innocent are.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


Fox's Sandstorm (William Raspberry, April 18, 2005, Washington Post)

The in-your-face right-wing partisanship that marks Fox News Channel's news broadcasts is having two dangerous effects.

The first is that the popularity of the approach -- Fox is clobbering its direct competition (CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, etc.) -- leads other cable broadcasters to mimic it, which in turn debases the quality of the news available to that segment of the TV audience.

The second, far more dangerous, effect is that it threatens to destroy public confidence in all news.

The latter, I admit, is more fear than prediction, but let me tell you what produces that fear. Fox News Channel -- though the people who run the operation are at great pains to insist otherwise -- is deliberately partisan.

He means openly, not deliberately. People trust Fox more precisely because it announces its biases--like thinking America should prevail in the war or that Palestinian bombers are terrorists--than they do the MSM outlets that pretend they're nonpartisan, lying either to themselves, to us, or both.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


North Koreans think the unthinkable (Andrei Lankov, 4/19/05, Asia Times)

In the middle of the game, there was a heated argument between a North Korean player and a referee. Passions boiled over and Korean defender Nam Song-chol shoved Syrian referee Mohamed Kousa. The player was sent off, as is customary in such situations.

And then the violence erupted. The North Korean fans began to throw bottles, chairs and everything they could find at the Iranian players and referees. It took a few minutes before order was restored while the stadium loudspeakers demanded that fans stay calm.

The game was resumed and the North Korean team eventually lost 2-0, but the violence continued for almost two hours after the match. There were clashes between police and fans, and for a longtime Iranian players could not leave the stadium because of the unruly and outraged crowds outside. Eventually, order was restored, but the Iranian team's coach Branko Ivankovic told Reuters news agency: "We felt our lives were not safe. We tried to get on the bus after the game, but it was not possible. It was a very dangerous situation."

The official Korean Central News Agency described the match and inserted in the official report an unusual sentence: "At the end of the match, all the spectators were angered and vigorously protested the wrong refereeing by the Syrian referee and linesmen."

Meanwhile, Japanese soccer organizations have demanded that North Korean authorities improve security for a coming match with Japan's team. They also expressed concerns about the personal safety of Japanese fans, some of whom are likely to fly to Pyongyang.

As soccer riots go, the Kim Il-sung Stadium incident was definitely a moderate affair. Pyongyang "rioters" were very tame in comparison with like-minded fans in, say, Britain. There is also nothing new in the emergence of soccer hooliganism in a communist country; after all, the first soccer riots in the Soviet Union occurred in the 1970s - and initially they were relatively small-scale affairs, not unlike the violence in the Pyongyang stadium.

However, the violence in Kim Il-sung Stadium has major internal political implications that in the long term are probably far more important than all the justified worries of the Japanese fans. A soccer riot itself is hardly an exceptional event, but it is truly unusual that this time the violence erupted in Pyongyang, where residents for decades could not even think about breaking the public order and disobeying police and soldiers.

Ah, the sociology of soccer riots...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


China-Japan flames scald business (J Sean Curtin, 4/19/05, Asia Times)

The angry wave of anti-Japanese protests sweeping China for the past three weeks has generated a deep sense of unease in the business community as it threatens bilateral economic ties. Many fear that the current tensions, sparked initially by the approval of eight revisionist Japanese history textbooks, could significantly disrupt booming trade and investment flows.

Tokyo stocks plummeted across the board on Monday, with the key Nikkei index recording its biggest one-day loss in 11 months and ending at a four-month low. About 81 stocks fell for every one that gained on the Tokyo Stock Exchange's first section, its broadest decline since September 12, 2001, the day after the terror strikes in the United States. Monday's drop wiped US$115 billion off the value of stocks included in the Topix, reported Bloomberg.

Since the demonstrations begun, Japanese nationals working in China have begun to feel increasingly uneasy, and some are already planning to leave. Business confidence has taken a severe knock, especially after this weekend's violent anti-Japanese disturbances in Shanghai, a city where more than 40,000 Japanese expatriates live. Chinese threats to boycott Japanese goods as well as an escalating dispute about exploration rights in the East China Sea are edging a tense situation toward breaking point.

Until now, healthy bilateral trade volumes have been largely unaffected by poor Sino-Japanese political dialogue. However, there are very real indications that unless political leaders moderate their tough nationalist rhetoric, mutually beneficial economic bonds could start to deteriorate.

The Chinese collapse will also take pressure off oil prices.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


Measuring the Bush Family History, and the President's Political Career, in Innings (ELISABETH BUMILLER, 4/18/05, NY Times)

President Bush's ceremonial first pitch last week at the home opener of the fledgling Washington Nationals baseball team was high and a little inside. In short, it was no match for the strike Mr. Bush threw to start Game 3 of the World Series in Yankee Stadium when the World Trade Center lay in ruins in the fall of 2001.

But the president's 60-foot throw from the top of the mound on a glorious spring evening in the capital was still a reminder that Mr. Bush, a former owner of the Texas Rangers and a self-described mediocre pitcher for a short time at Yale, owes much in his life - if not the presidency itself - to baseball.

When he was a child, the game was an obsession and a link to his father, the captain and first baseman on the Yale team. When he became an adult, the game made Mr. Bush a multimillionaire and helped start his political career, and now serves as an escape from the pressures of the White House. As Mr. Bush told sportswriters from The Washington Post, USA Today and The Washington Times last week, he spends "a fair amount of time" reading the box scores each day because it is "one way to take your mind off your job."

Mr. Bush also told them that he started paying attention to the Nationals lineup during spring training, that he kept close track of Rangers games (and the Houston Astros and others) via his White House satellite dish and that while he did not know if he would have won the presidency without his experience in baseball, it was a "good question."

It is in fact a better question than most people realize, as interviews last week attest. Anyone who knew Mr. Bush as an owner of the Rangers invariably described a man who was not just promoting a team but also building the image and political skills necessary to win the Texas governorship and the White House.

Beats the heck out of being a junior Senator.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


Take Me Out to the Opera: In Chicago, a Fan Is a Fan (BRUCE WEBER, 4/16/05, NY Times)

On Tuesday night, between Acts I and II of "Die Walküre" at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Plácido Domingo was backstage talking about the Chicago Cubs.

"I wish they could have more satisfaction," he said.

The great tenor was speaking from the vortex of a rare cultural confluence. Over the last week, the Cubs opened their home season at Wrigley Field, and the city's Lyric Opera was presenting Richard Wagner's four-opera "Ring des Nibelungen," which meant that two of the world's most fervid fan bases were simultaneously encamped on opposite sides of the Chicago River. (The Cubs left town on Tuesday; the "Ring" concludes on Saturday night.)

As Siegmund, Mr. Domingo was fresh from a standing ovation from the Ringheads, as the most obsessive Wagnerites somewhat sheepishly call themselves.

But as he was preparing to die heroically in the second act, what came to his mind was the night two Octobers ago when an oblivious fan at Wrigley Field interfered with a foul fly ball and cost the Cubs a shot at the World Series, the umpteenth disappointment for a franchise that has not won a championship since 1908. Not even Wagner, Mr. Domingo acknowledged, breaks your heart like the Cubs. "It makes me so sad," said Mr. Domingo, who is actually a Yankee rooter. "It's a much longer journey for them."

Perhaps it's a stretch to insist that a passion for baseball and a passion for opera are related, though the link is documented. For years, after all, Robert Merrill sang the national anthem at Yankee Stadium. But as Mr. Domingo intimated, the link seems most intense in Chicago, where the ache for a baseball victory is palpable (the White Sox are virtually as hapless as the Cubs), where theater, the symphony and the opera are virulent inspirers of local pride, and where a recent newspaper poll asking whether sports or the arts were more thrilling ended in a dead heat.

However, Siegmund, being European, threw like a girl.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Fossils Shed Light on Sea Turtle Evolution (AFP, Feb. 24, 2005)

Australian scientists Wednesday announced the discovery of a dozen fossils from some of the earliest species of sea turtle, which are believed to be 110 million years old.

Paleontologist Ben Kear said the fossils, found late last year in the northeastern state of Queensland, would help scientists understand why sea turtles have remained virtually unchanged for over 100 million years.

"For all intents and purposes, if you were to see one (it) would look basically the same as sea turtles do today," Kear said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Nationals unveil their mascot (Associated Press, 4/17/05)

The Washington Nationals hatched their new mascot about 25 minutes before their victory over Arizona on Sunday: Screech, an oversized baby eagle.

The other symbol it would make sense for them to use is Uncle Sam.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Brown insists IMF sums wrong after claim of budget black hole (FRASER NELSON AND GERRI PEEV, 4/18/05, The Scotsman)

GORDON Brown has launched an extraordinary attack on the International Monetary Fund, rubbishing its claim that he has a black hole in his budget and dismissing its British data as unreliable.

The Chancellor was in Washington sitting next to the IMF managing director when he said the global economic watchdog was incorrect in its prediction that he will either have to cut spending or raise taxes by £12billion.

His comments were even more remarkable as Mr Brown holds the rotating chairmanship of the IMF policy committee - and his remarks cast doubt on the accuracy of the entire range of data that it produces.

If you want to deficit spend just say so--don't blame the number crunchers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Rereading Saul Bellow (Philip Roth, 2000-10-09, The New Yorker)

“The Adventures of Augie March” (1953)

The transformation of the novelist who published “Dangling Man” in 1944 and “The Victim” in 1947 into the novelist who published “The Adventures of Augie March” in ’53 is revolutionary. Bellow overthrows everything: compositional choices grounded in narrative principles of harmony and order, a novelistic ethos indebted to Kafka’s “The Trial” and Dostoyevsky’s “The Double” and “The Eternal Husband,” as well as a moral perspective that can hardly be said to derive from delight in the flash, color, and plenty of existence. In “Augie March,” a very grand, assertive, freewheeling conception of both the novel and the world the novel represents breaks loose from all sorts of self-imposed strictures, the beginner’s principles of composition are subverted, and, like the character of Five Properties in “Augie March,” the writer is himself “hipped on superabundance.” The pervasive threat that organized the outlook of the hero and the action of the novel in “The Victim” and “Dangling Man” disappears, and the bottled-up aggression that was “The Victim” ’s Asa Leventhal and the obstructed will that was Joseph in “Dangling Man” emerge as voracious appetite. There is the narcissistic enthusiasm for life in all its hybrid forms propelling Augie March, and there is an inexhaustible passion for a teemingness of dazzling specifics driving Saul Bellow. [...]

Engorged sentences had existed before in American fiction—notably in Melville and Faulkner—but not quite like those in “Augie March,” which strike me as more than liberty-taking; when mere liberty-taking is driving a writer, it can easily lead to the empty flamboyance of some of “Augie March” ’s imitators. I read Bellow’s liberty-taking prose as the syntactical manifestation of Augie’s large, robust ego, that attentive ego roving and evolving, always in motion, alternately mastered by the force of others and escaping from it. There are sentences in the book whose effervescence, whose undercurrent of buoyancy leave one with the sense of so much going on, a theatrical, exhibitionistic, ardent prose tangle that lets in the dynamism of living without driving mentalness out. This voice no longer encountering resistance is permeated by mind while connected also to the mysteries of feeling. It’s a voice unbridled and intelligent both, going at full force and yet always sharp enough to sensibly size things up.

Put another way: narcissism and specificity rendered with indisciple.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Residents say reports of hostage-taking in Iraqi town were hoax (KHALID MOHAMMED, 4/17/05, The Associated Press)Iraqi security forces backed by U.S. troops had the town of Madain surrounded today after reports of Sunni militant kidnappings of as many as 100 Shiite residents, but there were growing indications the incident had been grossly exaggerated, perhaps an outgrowth of a tribal dispute or political maneuvering.

The town of about 1,000 families, evenly divided between Shiites and Sunnis, sits about 15 miles south of the capital in what the U.S. military has called the "Triangle of Death" because it has become a roiling stronghold of the militant insurgency.

An AP photographer and television cameraman who were in or near the town Sunday said large numbers of Iraqi forces had sealed it off, supported by U.S. forces farther away outside Madain.

The cameraman said he toured the town Sunday morning. People were going about their business normally, shops were open and tea houses were full, he said. Residents contacted by telephone also said everything was normal in Madain.

And American military officials said they were unaware of any U.S. role in what had been described as a tense sectarian standoff in which the Sunni militants were threatening to kill their Shiite captives if all other Shiites did not leave the town.
Thank goodness; an enemy that would do something that stupid is barely even worthy of killing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Risk-taking boys do not get the girls (Kurt Kleiner, 4/17/05, New Scientist)

WHETHER it's driving too fast, bungee-jumping or reckless skateboarding, young men will try almost anything to be noticed by the opposite sex. But a study of attitudes to risk suggests that the only people impressed by their stunts are other men.

Futile risk-taking might seem to have little going for it in Darwinian terms. So why were our rash ancestors not replaced by more cautious contemporaries?

One idea is that risk-takers are advertising their fitness to potential mates by showing off their strength and bravery. This fits with the fact that men in their prime reproductive years take more risks. To test this idea, William Farthing of the University of Maine in Orono surveyed 48 young men and 52 young women on their attitudes to risky scenarios. Men thought women would be impressed by pointless gambles, but women in fact preferred cautious men (Evolution and Human Behaviour, vol 26, p 171).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Shrinking pains (Robert David Sullivan, April 17, 2005, Boston Globe)

MASSACHUSETTS IS a loser. According to figures released on Thursday by the US Census Bureau, the Bay State ranked 50th in population growth last year, and was the only state to suffer a population decline - losing 3,852 out of some 6.4 million people.

''Good!'' you might say, especially if you're someone who fights traffic on Route 128 every day or worries about all our open space being gobbled up by developers. Massachusetts is the third most densely populated state in the United States (behind New Jersey and Rhode Island), so it may seem a matter of fairness to shove some people elsewhere - even if the logical extension of this argument is to build more homes in the Everglades or the White Mountains.

But a stagnant population does Massachusetts little good, and may actually do harm.

How fitting it was that the Democrats chose a presidential candidate from our most European state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Support for War Puts Labor MP's Seat in Jeopardy: Blair's Party Falters, Even in Stronghold (Glenn Frankel, April 18, 2005, Washington Post)

For Britain's ruling Labor Party there are few more loyal strongholds than the Bethnal Green and Bow district in London's East End, a blue-collar enclave of public housing complexes, small shops and recent immigrants. But this time around the party's candidate is in trouble here, and the reason is simple: the war in Iraq.

Two years ago, Oona King, the Labor incumbent and one of only two black women in Parliament, backed Prime Minister Tony Blair in supporting the war. King, who is Jewish, survived a subsequent attempt by her constituents in the party to depose her as their candidate, but now she faces a stiff challenge from a Labor heretic who has come to Bethnal Green for the express purpose of evicting her from office.

George Galloway, a colorful dissident who sports impeccable left-wing credentials, tailored suits and the nickname "Gorgeous George," was drummed out of the party two years ago after vituperatively denouncing Blair over the war. He helped found a splinter party called Respect, which has decided its best chance to win a House of Commons seat in the May 5 general elections is here in Labor's urban heartland, where more than 40 percent of the population is Muslim.

The result has been an increasingly nasty contest. Galloway has branded King "a new Labor stooge" and claimed at a recent debate that "100,000 people lie dead as a result of the decisions she made." King responded by citing Galloway's two trips to Baghdad to meet with Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi president, in the years before the war led to his ouster. "When I come across someone who is guilty of genocide I do not get on a plane and go to Baghdad and grovel at his feet," she said.

Analysts say the contest is too close to call...

Well, they survived Mosley...

April 17, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:55 PM


First Fan Knows His Way Around the Diamond (Al Kamen, April 18, 2005, Washington Post)

And now, the In the Loop Award for political reporting goes to Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell for his insightful coverage of opening day for the Washington Nationals at RFK Stadium and particularly his interview of Nationals President Tony Tavares.

Tavares, who had chatted with President Bush and Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, said Bush was "so up on the game that it's astounding." At one point, he said by way of example, a question arose as to who was the best catcher in the National League.

"I blanked on who catches for the Phillies," Tavares said. "I asked the commissioner. He didn't know. The president said, '[Mike] Lieberthal.' "

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:53 PM


Bush's 'Competitive Sourcing' Worries Disabled Workers: Initiative May Put Employees With Special Needs At a Decided Disadvantage, Their Advocates Say (Christopher Lee, April 18, 2005, Washington Post)

David Goodman, a clerk at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, is caught between two conflicting federal policies, one that helped him get his federal job 14 years ago and another that soon may take it away.

Goodman, 34, has autism, a developmental disability that affects the brain and impairs a person's social skills and reasoning. He landed his job in NIH's Occupational Health and Safety Division in 1991 as a "Schedule A" appointee, the beneficiary of long-standing government policies that promote the employment of people with disabilities in federal agencies.

"It's a nice job. I like the people that work there. They are nice to me," said Goodman, who works from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. every weekday and lives independently in an apartment in Rockville.

Last month, his family learned that Goodman is among tens of thousands of federal employees, the vast majority of them not disabled, whose agencies are evaluating whether their jobs could be performed better and more cheaply by a private contractor. It is all part of President Bush's "competitive sourcing" initiative, which requires civil servants across the government to prove they can do their work more efficiently than private contractors, or risk seeing the work outsourced.

The initiative has thrown a scare into many federal workers, who are anxious about whether they will be forced to go to work for a private contractor or find themselves with no job at all. But the policy is especially vexing for employees with disabilities and their advocates. They fear that a strict economic comparison puts such workers at a decided disadvantage because they often require more supervision and extra help, and therefore cost more to employ.

It's typical that they focus here on what even the author acknowledges is a rather marginal effect of the reform.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:45 PM


Can We Make Boys and Girls Alike? (Stanley Kurtz, Spring 2005, City Journal)

What if a society existed whose citizens, motivated by a burning passion for perfect justice, committed themselves to a total reorganization of the traditional family system, with the express purpose of eliminating gender? Such a society has existed, of course: the early Israeli kibbutz movement. The movement wasn’t just a precursor to modern feminism, it’s important to add. The kibbutzniks were utopian socialists who wanted to construct a society where the ideal of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” would govern the production and distribution of goods. It was as part of this larger socialist vision that the kibbutzniks set out to wipe away gender.

Kibbutz parents agreed to see their own children only two hours a day, and for the remaining 22 hours to surrender them to the collective, which would raise them androgynously (trying more to “masculinize” women than “feminize” men). Boys and girls would henceforth do the same kind of work and wear the same kind of clothes. Girls would learn to be soldiers, just like boys. Signs of “bourgeois” femininity—makeup, say—would now be taboo. As if they had stepped out of Plato’s Republic, the children would dress and undress together and even use the same showers.

The experiment collapsed within a generation, and a traditional family and gender system reasserted itself. Why? Those who believe in hardwired natural differences obviously would say that cultural conditioning couldn’t remove the sexes’ genetic programming. Indeed, in his now-infamous conference remarks, Lawrence Summers invoked the history of the kibbutz movement to help make his case that biology might partially explain sex roles.

Feminists, though, say that the kibbutz experiment didn’t get a fair chance. However committed to gender justice the kibbutzniks might have been, they were all traditional Europeans by upbringing. Somehow they must have transmitted the old cultural messages about gender to the children. Perhaps, too, those messages came from the larger Israeli society, from which it was impossible to shelter the boys and girls entirely. What’s more—and Chodorow would doubtless emphasize this fact—the kibbutz child-care nurses were all women. A 50/50 male-female mix might have done the trick.

Yet American androgyny proponents rarely refer to the kibbutz experiment—for understandable reasons. Its failure—even if you accept their own cultural explanation for it—puts a serious damper on the idea of androgynizing America. In the U.S., after all, there’s nothing remotely approaching the level of commitment to surmounting gender found among the early kibbutzniks. If androgyny proved unattainable in a small socialist society whose citizens self-selected for radical feminist convictions, how could one bring it about in contemporary America, where most people don’t want it? It would take a massive amount of coercion—unacceptable in any democracy—to get us even to the point where the kibbutzniks were when they failed to build a post-gender society.

The best account of the experiment’s breakdown, offered by anthropologist Melford Spiro in his books Gender and Culture and Children of the Kibbutz, points out an even bigger obstacle to androgyny. Ultimately, Spiro argues, the kibbutzniks didn’t succeed because the mothers wanted their kids back. They wanted to take care of their young children in the old-fashioned way, themselves. Two hours a day with their kids wasn’t enough. Even among the kibbutz founders, Spiro notes, women often agonized over the sacrifice of maternal pleasure that their egalitarian ideology demanded. He quotes from one mother’s autobiography: “Is it right to make the child return for the night to the children’s home, to say goodnight to it and send it back to sleep among the fifteen or twenty others? This parting from the child before sleep is so unjust!” Such feelings persisted and intensified, until collective pressure forced the kibbutz to let parents spend extra time with their kids.

Spiro holds that a pre-cultural form of maternal instinct subverted the kibbutz’s child-rearing approach. But a plausible cultural explanation is even more devastating to feminist hopes for a gender-free America. What really defeated androgyny on the kibbutz, this interpretation posits, was the profound tension built in to the very culture of modern democratic individualism that the kibbutzniks embraced—the tension between liberty and equality. As part of their insistence on their unique individuality, the kibbutzniks recognized the unabridgeable unique individuality of everyone else. Hence, their insistence on radical equality. Full equality meant that everyone had to treat everyone else the same way. Even the differences between my children and the neighbors’ kids would have to go. They pretended that their children belonged to the collective—“child of the kibbutz,” they would say, not “my child.”

But the other side of democratic individualism is the idea that each of us is uniquely individual. And inseparable from this individualism are certain aspirations—to express yourself personally, and to treat yourself, your possessions, and your family differently from how you treat everyone else. Child rearing doesn’t escape these aspirations. In fact, in modern societies people pay far greater attention to the unique characters of their children than people do in traditional, group-oriented societies. Lavishing intense, personal attention on their kids is a favorite way for modern individuals to exercise personal liberty.

Kibbutz mothers who hoped to treat everyone the same thus also wanted to express their individual characters by molding their own kids. The two goals—reflecting the two sides of modern democratic individualism—were finally incommensurable. Eventually, the desire for personal expression trumped the quest for radical equality. The parents decided to raise their own kids in their own way. No one ever got the chance to find out if further tinkering might have eliminated their children’s gender differences.

The culture of democratic individualism characterizes contemporary America, too, of course, and it still cuts two ways. Feminists insist on radical equality, and androgyny is the logical outcome of that drive for equality. Yet at the same time, especially since the baby boomers came on the scene, many American women have treated the experience of motherhood as an exercise in self-expression—indeed, they do so more fervently than the kibbutzniks.

A modern, self-expressive, committed-to-full-equality American mother might know that her child is getting quality care from a relative, a nanny, or a nursery, but she’ll often feel dissatisfied, since the care isn’t hers. Part of the point of being a parent, she’ll feel, is to express one’s unique personality through how one cares for and shapes one’s children. In practical terms, she’ll be reluctant to give up her kids long enough to break the cycle of “gender reproduction.”

True, the last 40 years have seen tremendous changes in the social roles of men and women—changes that could never have happened were there not significant flexibility in gender roles. From the standpoint of feminism’s ideal of androgyny, though, the shift is still very partial. Until the link between women and child rearing completely breaks down, neither corporate boardrooms nor Harvard professorships of mathematics will see numerical parity between men and women. In the meantime, in disproportionate numbers, at critical points in their careers, women will continue to choose mothering over professional work.

From either a biological or cultural point of view, then, the feminist project of androgyny is ultimately doomed.

In the end, every question of human affairs comes down to nothing but the tension between freedom and security (liberty and equality).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:37 PM


Musharraf cheered by Indian cricket fans (Peter Foster, 18/04/2005, Daily Telegraph)

Indians gave Gen Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, a rousing reception at a New Delhi cricket match yesterday in a show of support for detente between the two nations.

Gen Musharraf, an ardent cricket fan, watched two hours of a one-day international with his Indian counterpart, Dr Manmohan Singh, before talks aimed at improving relations between the old enemies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 PM


Why John Stewart Is All the Rage (Harry Stein, Spring 2005, City Journal)

To say Jon Stewart enjoys an adoring press is like saying Bill Gates has a few bucks. In story after glowing story, the boyish 42-year-old host of Comedy Central’s hit fake newscast, The Daily Show, and author of the best-selling fake history text America (The Book) comes off as a lighthearted, twenty-first-century Diogenes: a fearless truth teller in an age of shameless pandering.

As Newsweek had it in a typically rapturous cover story, Stewart is a man “bravely battling pomposity and misinformation,” his TV show “a fearless social satire” and a “work of genius.” “When future historians come to write the political story of our times,” intoned Bill Moyers on his recently ended PBS show, “they will first have to review hundreds of hours of a cable television program called The Daily Show. You simply can’t understand American politics in the new millennium without The Daily Show.” “Mr. Stewart has turned his parodistic TV news show into a cultural force significantly larger than any mere satire of media idiocies,” chimed in the New York Times’s Frank Rich in a column entitled jon stewart’s perfect pitch, one of—count ‘em— 16 he’s written lauding the comedian. Along with such over-the-top encomia, The Daily Show has won multiple Emmys and even several prestigious journalism prizes, including a Peabody Award and the Television Critics Association Award for Outstanding Achievement in News and Information (beating out real news shows).

While all this is certainly heady for Stewart and his fans, what does it mean? After all, the fair-minded viewer might find the half-hour show intermittently humorous, but he won’t detect anything “fearless” or even especially original in it. In truth, Stewart’s elevation to near-iconic status says more about those doing the elevating than about the comedian himself. His “bravery” and much-vaunted grasp of political nuance consists mostly of his embrace of every reflexive assumption shared by every litmus-tested liberal holding forth at every chic Manhattan dinner party.

It's not his fault that all comedy is conservative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 PM


Democrats change strategy; tactic just looked stubborn (Glen Johnson, 4/17/05, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

House Democrats have decided to quit emphasizing that they will not negotiate changes to Social Security until President Bush drops his idea for private accounts.

The switch in strategy comes after Democrats learned from focus groups that people frown on the lawmakers for being obstinate.

"People feel like it doesn't show a good-faith effort," said a top House aide, who like several others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the internal data. "It makes us seem like we're 'typical politicians."' [...]

"It may seem like a long time to you, but realistically, we've really just started," Bush told the American Society of Newspaper Editors last week.

It's almost possible to pity them. Even the issues they think they're doing well on at the moment are deadly for them in the longer term.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 PM


When men appeal from Tyranny to God (Edward Coleson, June 1972, The Freeman)

Our Founding Fathers quite properly had a bad conscience because of their own inconsistencies, for their claims to freedom were based on an appeal to a Higher Power, not just to some abstract principles as with the French Revolution a few years later. After all, their ancestors had resisted the tyranny of their rulers for centuries by insisting that "the King is also under God and under the Law." The Puritans had even fought a war with Charles I a little more than a century and a quarter before our Revolution to maintain their God-given right to freedom. Patrick Henry later reminded George III that Charles I had had his Cromwell just as Caesar had had his Brutus, but the figure of speech was not appropriate. It would have been more fitting to remind His Majesty that David had had his Nathan, Ahab his Elijah, Belshazzar his Daniel, and Herod his John the Baptist, to name a few kings and their prophets; like Byron's "Prisoner of Chillon," the Puritans were wont to "appeal from tyranny to God." This was more than a pious gesture or a political gimmick, more than high sounding rhetoric without any basis in reality. The Puritans were men of a Book and they found principles therein that applied to the Old Testament era and to the England of the Stuarts as well.

The typical oriental despot of the ancient Near East was a godking, head of both Church and State. When religion was a powerful force, this gave his subjects no appeal from his authority. The Hebrew prophets resisted similar pressures from their rulers and never let them forget that "the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men. . . ." (Daniel 4:25) This was the Puritan approach. In like manner a few hardy Germans more recently reminded Hitler, "Gott is mein Führer." Such thinking is so foreign to modern philosophy and legal theory that Hitler had his way with the German nation - to its ultimate destruction. But it has not always been so.

The men who founded our nation were very conscious of the concept of a Higher Law. It would not be an exaggeration to say our government was founded on this principle. Ten years before our "embattled farmers fired the shot heard round the world" at Lexington and Concord, William Blackstone began the publication of his famous Commentaries on the Laws of England, dedicated to the proposition that God is the ultimate authority. The colonists so avidly seized on his writings that a decade later Burke told Parliament, on the eve of the American Revolution, that there were more copies of Blackstone's Commentaries in the Colonies than in England.

It has been customary in the "debunking era" of the recent past to insist that our colonial leaders were not saints and that those who may have made any religious pretensions were more apt to be Deists than Christians. Certainly there was a considerable influence from the Enlightenment on this side of the Atlantic, but at least Deists believed in God's Law. Even such a notorious enemy of the "religious establishment" as Voltaire is quoted as saying that if there were no God, we should have to invent one, By contrast, contemporary philosophers say, according to Harvey Cox, "If God did exist, we should have to abolish Him." We have come a long way since the founding of this nation and it has not all been uphill. If they did not always live up to the standards set by their own consciences, as in the case of slavery, they were still painfully aware of their shortcomings, They also believed in their accountability to the Judge of all the earth "God is not dead, nor doth he sleep," as Longfellow tells us in the familiar Christmas carol.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 PM


We're Rich, You're Not. End of Story (BRUCE BAWER, 4/17/05, NY Times)

THE received wisdom about economic life in the Nordic countries is easily summed up: people here are incomparably affluent, with all their needs met by an efficient welfare state. They believe it themselves. Yet the reality - as this Oslo-dwelling American can attest, and as some recent studies confirm - is not quite what it appears.

Even as the Scandinavian establishment peddles this dubious line, it serves up a picture of the United States as a nation divided, inequitably, among robber barons and wage slaves, not to mention armies of the homeless and unemployed. It does this to keep people believing that their social welfare system, financed by lofty income taxes, provides far more in the way of economic protections and amenities than the American system. Protections, yes -but some Norwegians might question the part about amenities. [...]

All this was illuminated last year in a study by a Swedish research organization, Timbro, which compared the gross domestic products of the 15 European Union members (before the 2004 expansion) with those of the 50 American states and the District of Columbia. (Norway, not being a member of the union, was not included.)

After adjusting the figures for the different purchasing powers of the dollar and euro, the only European country whose economic output per person was greater than the United States average was the tiny tax haven of Luxembourg, which ranked third, just behind Delaware and slightly ahead of Connecticut.

The next European country on the list was Ireland, down at 41st place out of 66; Sweden was 14th from the bottom (after Alabama), followed by Oklahoma, and then Britain, France, Finland, Germany and Italy. The bottom three spots on the list went to Spain, Portugal and Greece.

Alternatively, the study found, if the E.U. was treated as a single American state, it would rank fifth from the bottom, topping only Arkansas, Montana, West Virginia and Mississippi. In short, while Scandinavians are constantly told how much better they have it than Americans, Timbro's statistics suggest otherwise. So did a paper by a Swedish economics writer, Johan Norberg.

Contrasting "the American dream" with "the European daydream," Mr. Norberg described the difference: "Economic growth in the last 25 years has been 3 percent per annum in the U.S., compared to 2.2 percent in the E.U. That means that the American economy has almost doubled, whereas the E.U. economy has grown by slightly more than half. The purchasing power in the U.S. is $36,100 per capita, and in the E.U. $26,000 - and the gap is constantly widening."

And given their Protestant heritage and small and homogenous populations the Scandanavian nations start out with huge advantages. It takes a herculean effort to squander them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


Turkey Says 523,000 Were Killed by Armenians Between 1910 and 1922 (SEBNUM ARSU, 4/17/05 NY Times)

The Turkish State Archive issued today a list of more than 523,000 Turks whom it said were killed by Armenians in Turkey between 1910 and 1922.

The move appeared intended to counter longstanding Armenian contentions that Turkish Ottoman officials committed genocide during a period of mass deportations of Armenians that began in 1915.

Turkey fears that the 90th anniversary of the start of the violence, which Armenians and their supporters plan to mark on April 24, will cause widespread anti-Turkish feeling. It is also concerned that the issue could interfere with its plans to start talks with the European Union in October for possible membership. There have been growing calls from other countries for Turkey to acknowledge its role with regard to the Armenians.

Last week, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish Parliament called for an international study of the events of that period, but senior Armenia officials turned down the proposal.

It's revealing that Armenians don't want events studied too closely.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 PM


Steinbrenner Angry As Yanks Fall to 4-8 (DAVID GINSBURG, Apr 17, 2005, The Associated Press)