December 31, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM


Khaddam’s Bombshell Tightens Noose Around Syria: Experts (Ahmed Fathy, December 31, 2005,

The bombshell dropped by former Syrian vice-president Abdel Halim Khaddam on a possible Syrian role in the assassination of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri has sent seismic waves in Damascus and would tighten the noose around the Arab country, experts agreed on Saturday, December 31.

“Khaddam’s testimony at this critical juncture in Syrian history has, in effect, sent shock waves across the country’s political landscape and ushered in grave consequences,” Syrian opposition writer Akram Al-Beni told

I've still got a couple hours to be right about the regime falling in '05....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:01 PM


Response to “Why?” (Mike Luckovich, December 29, 2005, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

on 10-26, i did an illustration depicting the word “why” using the names of the 2,000 troops who had, at that time, died in iraq. here on this blog, the feedback from readers, both pro and con was enormous. in response, a young woman, an 11th grader, has created the response above. what do you all think?

This is getting embarrassing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:01 PM


Chalabi Named Iraq Oil Minister (Jonathan Finer and Naseer Nouri, December 31, 2005, Washington Post )

As a fuel crisis deepened in Iraq, the government replaced its oil minister with controversial Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi, whose poor performance in the Dec. 15 elections was a setback in his recent attempt at political rehabilitation.

Mr Chalabi had four strikes against him in Iraqi electoral politics: he's secular, he's too closely tied to Washington and Tehran, and he left when Saddam was in power. He'd have been an ideal transitional figure ffor us to put in power undemocratically in the Spring/Summer of '03--so long as Ayatollah Sistani agreed--but he never had a shot at winning popular elections.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:55 PM


BASEBALL’S PHONY CLASS WAR: Why blame Steinbrenner? (Russ Smith, NY Press)

Even though J.D. throws like a girl, the latest NYC celebrity is a huge plus for Joe Torre’s team, since he has few equals at running down fly balls in center field. His addition to an already packed lineup is ominous for the Red Sox and the resuscitated Blue Jays. It doesn’t really matter that he might resemble the Bernie Williams of 2005 in a few years since his addition has already made the Yankees the A.L. East favorite, at least according to most sportswriters. I’d be more chagrinned if Brian Cashman had landed a young, workhorse-starting pitcher, but there’s time for that, and time for Boston’s management to recover. At this point in Damon’s career, I’d rather have Cleveland’s Coco Crisp—and not just because he has the coolest name in baseball—leading off for the Sox.

My most immediate concern upon reading about Damon’s sensible nod to the club who offered him the most was breaking the news to my 11-year-old son Booker, who’s dreaded since last summer that Johnny, his favorite athlete, would leave the Sox. Though very disappointed, he took this turn of events in stride, saying, “I’ll always like Johnny, but I hope he pulls a hamstring on opening day and goes on the disabled list.” [...]

More seriously, how can you explain Jonathan Alter’s unhinged online Dec. 19 Newsweek column, in which he thunders: “We’re seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator, or in his own mind, no doubt, like Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.” And Joe Conason, in last week’s New York Observer, was just as hysterical: “Recklessly and audaciously, George W. Bush is driving the nation whose laws he swore to uphold into a constitutional crisis. He has claimed the powers of a medieval monarch and defied the other two branches of government to deny him.”

You hear, from certain elements of the Bush-hating media, about Constitutional crises as often as the absurd cliché that the Yankee ballplayers are the embodiment of “class.” No wonder Bill Kristol, the Weekly Standard editor who far prefers John McCain over Bush, to write in the magazine’s current issue: “What is one to say about these media—Democratic spokesmen for contemporary American liberalism? That they have embarrassed and discredited themselves. That they cannot be taken seriously as critics. It would be good to have a responsible opposition party in the United States today. It would be good to have a serious mainstream media. Too bad we have neither.”

But at least, as Alter and Conason point out, we do have a medieval dictator.

Is there any Yankee fan who thinks signing Johnny Damon was a good idea or any Democrat who thinks replacing George Bush with Dick Cheney would be good politics? These seem figments of media imagination.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:45 PM


2005: A Tipping Point?: It was a bad year for "New Democrats," but a good year for new democrats (Duncan Currie, 12/30/2005, Weekly Standard)

[R]epublicans had a bad 12 months. But their plight looks rather enviable when compared with the Democrats' current muddle. They are now the "No" party: the party of intractable opposition to George W. Bush. But while Democrats are brimming with antagonism for the president's agenda, they are bereft of the intellectual munitions needed to formulate their own.

Then there is the party's cleavage on matters of war and peace. "Defeating terrorism is the supreme military and moral mission of our time," says the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. Try telling that to the anti-Bush Left, whose proxies now dictate and jaundice the tenor of intra-party debate. Indeed, while it was a good year for new democrats in Iraq, it was a dreadful year for "New Democrats" in America.

Take poor Joe Lieberman. Only five years ago he was a few hundred Florida votes away from being Al Gore's veep. Today, Sen. Lieberman is perhaps the loneliest Democrat in Washington. The reason why is as basic as it is disheartening for party centrists: Iraq. Lieberman believes Bush has a plan for victory--and he believes that plan is working. For the MoveOn types, such comments would be heresy enough.

But Lieberman really set the cat amongst the pigeons when he questioned his party's attacks on Bush. "History will judge us harshly if we do not stretch across the divide of distrust to join together to complete our mission successfully in Iraq," he said in early December. "It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years, and that in matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril."

The left-wing blogosphere erupted--as did prominent Democratic leaders. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi each took a swipe, with Reid claiming Lieberman was "at a different place on Iraq" than most Americans and Pelosi saying she "completely" disagreed with him. Party chairman Howard Dean also reproached Lieberman, and threw his lot in with Congressman John Murtha's call for a hasty withdrawal of U.S. troops. Liberal activists have even urged Lowell Weicker, whose Connecticut Senate seat Lieberman won in 1988, to challenge Lieberman in 2006 on an anti-war platform. That Lieberman's Iraq stance has apparently made him such a pariah affirms, once again, that this really is George McGovern's Democratic party.

Make that George McGovern and Frank Church's Democratic party, as witness the recent scrap over extending the Patriot Act and using wiretaps to spy on al Qaeda. Liberals' hostility to both reflects two impulses: their propensity, even in wartime, to make a fetish of ACLU-style civil libertarianism, and their desire to play "Gotcha!" games with the White House in hopes of derailing the Bush presidency.

Neither impulse is a responsible one. And each goes a long way toward explaining the public's lingering wariness of Democrats on national security issues. As blogger and Daily Standard contributor Ross Douthat has keenly observed, the spat over wiretapping just reinforces the perception that Republicans will err on the side of doing too much to protect Americans, while Democrats will err on the side of doing too little.

The Democrats weakness on national security matters rather little beside their weakness on economic security, their ostensible raison d'etre. Here's all you really need to know about what a wreck they've become: even the Tories, the original Stupid Party, have figured out that the only path to power in the Anglosphere (less Canada) is the Third Way. Meanwhile, the Democrats have decided that what worked for Bill Clinton is intolerable to them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:32 PM


Myth and reality in Iraq (The Boston Globe, DECEMBER 31, 2005)

When Craig Jeness, an official of the United Nations' election-monitoring mission in Iraq, confirmed Wednesday that the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections there were "transparent and credible," he was not only affirming the validity of the vote and the honesty of Iraq's own electoral commission. In a way, Jeness, a Canadian, was also doing a favor for the Sunni Arab political leaders who have been alleging large-scale electoral fraud.

Those leaders had been telling their followers that if they got out the Sunni Arab vote, they would win a share of representation commensurate with that of the major Shiite parties. This forecast was based on a myth that many Sunni Arabs tell themselves: that they are in the majority, as befits their previous role as the dominant group in Iraq's political and economic life.

Since there has been no real census in Iraq since 1957, no reliable figures are available for the current population. Most informed estimates, however, place the Sunni Arab share at 20 percent or less. Some estimates go as low as 13 percent.

Whatever the actual percentage may be, it is almost certain to fall far short of a majority. But it has become a matter of sectarian pride for Sunni Arabs to deny the likelihood that there may be three times as many Shiites in Iraq as Sunni Arabs.

The upshot of this persistent denial of reality is that the grass-roots supporters of the Sunni Arab parties find it hard to accept that, though they turned out in force for the recent elections, preliminary results indicate their parties are likely to gain between 40 and 50 seats in the new 275-seat national assembly. This is about the same portion that the Kurds, who make up roughly 20 percent of the population and who voted in large numbers, expect to receive.

It's as if blacks had gotten 20% of the vote after the end of Apartheid. It'll take the Sunni some time to get used to reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:29 PM


New controls in place at all U.S. entry ports (Eric Lipton, 12/30/05, The New York Times)

With the installation of a new immigration control system at 18 border-crossing posts last week, the Department of Homeland Security has reached a milestone.

Every port of entry into the United States - land, sea or air - is now equipped with the system, US-Visit, which takes fingerprints and digital photos of many entering foreigners to check them against criminal and terrorist watch lists. The 115 U.S. airports with international traffic, as well as 15 sea and 154 land ports of entry, all now have the equipment, which is linked to a national computer network that in a matter of seconds can check a visitor's fingerprints against a database of known terrorists and criminals.

But most Canadians and Mexicans, in addition to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, are not subject to the checks. As a result, only about 42 percent of people arriving at the airports or seaports must submit to fingerprinting. At land borders, the number is only about 2 percent. Because of those and other limitations, some question whether the program, which has cost more than $1 billion so far and could ultimately cost as much as $10 billion, is a worthwhile investment.

"US-Visit is an attractive showpiece, but it is not capable of delivering all that it is being sold to deliver," said Kathleen Campbell Walker of El Paso, vice president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Just wait 'til we Christo the entire border....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:59 AM


Journalists protest Chinese censorship (David Lague, DECEMBER 30, 2005, International Herald Tribune)

In a rare protest against an official media crackdown, about 100 journalists from one of China's most aggressive daily newspapers have gone on strike after the paper's editor and two of his deputies were fired, local journalists said Friday.

The editor of The Beijing News, Yang Bin, and deputy editors, Sun Xuedong and Li Duoyu, were dismissed Wednesday as part of what media watchdog groups describe as a sweeping government campaign to tighten control over the media and the Internet.

The striking journalists, about a third of the staff, stopped work on Thursday after editors from The Beijing News's conservative parent paper, the Guangming Daily, were appointed to replace Yang and his deputies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:51 AM


A Chorus of Hoover Critics: More conservatives join the call to take his name off the FBI Building. (Johanna Neuman, December 31, 2005, LA Times)

Every year for the last three years, Rep. Dan Burton, a Republican from Indiana, has introduced a bill to strip J. Edgar Hoover's name from the FBI's headquarters — an initiative that has been largely ignored.

Now, however...the effort to rename the Hoover building is starting to attract more supporters, most recently U.S. Circuit Judge Laurence H. Silberman, a Republican who was a leader of the presidentially appointed commission on pre-Iraq-war intelligence.

"This country — and the bureau — would be well served if his name were removed from the bureau's building," Silberman, a Reagan appointee, told the 1st Circuit Judicial Conference in June.

Why not name it for John O'Neill instead?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:44 AM


Anguished by the Suffering, a Cleric Keeps on Talking: Pius Ncube is the chief Zimbabwean critic of leader Robert Mugabe. Some fear for his life (Robyn Dixon, December 31, 2005, LA Times)

Nearly a quarter of Zimbabwe's population has been pushed to the edge of starvation by five years of economic mismanagement and hyperinflation. Unemployment is estimated at 80%. A campaign this year by President Robert Mugabe's government to destroy squatter camps and street stalls left about 700,000 people homeless. Mugabe repeatedly has been accused of rigging elections to stay in power.

Witnessing all of this, Roman Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo has become the president's most prominent internal critic. He acknowledges that he prays for Mugabe's death.

It's always left to the Church to resist evil.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:41 AM


Why Dow May Be Off the Money: The index's weak year raises concern, but some question its value as an economic crystal ball (Tom Petruno and Josh Friedman, December 31, 2005, LA Times)

any investment professionals remain bullish about 2006. They expect that the Federal Reserve soon will stop tightening credit and that energy prices won't rise much more, giving the economy room to run.

"We think the catalyst for further stock market gains will be what it has been: global and U.S. economic growth chronically stronger and more durable than most anticipated," said James Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Wells Capital Management in Minneapolis.

As for the Dow, many believe the 109-year-old index of 30 large, blue-chip companies hasn't been an accurate barometer of the economy or the broader stock market for the last two years.

Although the Dow lost ground in 2005, the average New York Stock Exchange stock was up nearly 7%. That also was the gain of the average U.S. stock mutual fund, according to fund tracker Morningstar Inc.

Shares of many smaller companies scored even better returns, which weren't necessarily reflected in the modest yearly gains posted by the broad Nasdaq composite index or the Standard & Poor's 500.

Jim Peoples, 61, a retired healthcare executive in Agoura Hills, estimated that his portfolio rose about 10% this year, thanks to healthy advances in smaller stocks and in such market sectors as energy.

"I've definitely done better than the Dow and the other indexes," Peoples said.

The Dow also was the weakest of major stock indexes in 2004, when it added just 3.2%. Despite that poor performance, the economy expanded at a brisk pace in 2005, and corporate earnings grew at a double-digit rate, on average.

The Dow has struggled as 16 of its 30 stocks fell this year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:34 AM


Truman Declares Hostilities Ended: 51 Statutes to Die Government's Power to Seize Plants and 1 1/2 Billion Taxes to Go: 18 of Laws End at Once States of Emergency and War Continue-Sudden Action a Surprise to Washington (BERTRAM D. HULEN, 12/31/46, The New York Times)

An Administration official who has worked closely on the problem explained the significance of the action informally at the request of The New York Times.

"The proclamation terminating hostilities affects fifty-one laws," he said. "Twenty-nine of these laws are of relatively little importance, and have not been used for some time. Those considered to be of some importance at the present time continue on for periods, the majority of which are for six months so that any need for certain laws in the immediate future will be satisfied by the additional period in which they will continue to be effective.

"The most important law affected is the War Labor Disputes Act, commonly called the Smith-Connally Act. It will end July 1, 1947. However, under the operation of that law the Government will be unable to take over any new operations inasmuch as hostilities have now been declared to be terminated. It can continue to operate, however, in the meantime in any industry now in possession of the Government--the coal mines and the tugboats on the Great Lakes.

"There are three technical 'states' that have existed since 1939. The first is the state of emergency that consists of limited and unlimited emergency and special emergency. Those are still in existence. The second is the state of war, the third is the state of hostilities, now ended.

"The termination of a state of emergency continues to be a joint responsibility of Congress and the President. That doesn't mean it takes concurrent action to terminate. But the President should consider the attitude of Congress, and Congress should consider the attitude of the President in so far as state of emergency is concerned.

"The termination of all of the states of emergency would be a more serious matter than the termination of hostilities. It would affect a greater number of laws and would also create serious questions of policy in various industries, wages in shipyards, for example. The termination of hostilities does not have that effect.

"The third and most important is the state of war. Termination of this would affect something in the neighborhood of 250 statutes and also would create a number of important policy questions. It must be worked out gradually between Congress and the President."

President Truman told his news conference the time had come when the Executive Branch should give up some of the powers exercised during the war. He then announced his proclamation, gave out a list of the laws affected, and read a prepared statement which emphasized that his action was "entirely in keeping with the policies which I have consistently followed, in an effort to bring our economy and our Government back to a peacetime basis as quickly as possible."

In a few instances, he continued, the statutes affected contained powers that should be maintained during peacetime or for the remainder of the period of reconversion and in these instances he would make recommendations to the new Congress. Also, he said, he would make recommendations to Congress. Also, he said, he would make recommendations to Congress "in the near future" with respect to the still-continuing states of emergency and the state of war itself."

Upon concluding the reading of the statement, Mr. Truman sought to bring the conference to an end by wishing those present a happy New Year and saying he would meet them at another press conference on Thursday afternoon. But he finally yielded to persuasion and replied to a few questions with answers along the lines of his formal statement.

Asked whether this was a step in his promise to cooperate with the new Republican- controlled Congress, he replied that this was co-operating with Congress.

The President's action was generally regarded here as chiefly important from the psychological standpoint. It was viewed as a move to demonstrate that he wants to be a constitutional President and not to hold on to excessive powers granted to the Chief Executive through emergency proclamations and a state of war.

In addition, it is looked upon as an example to other nations to return to a peacetime structure. In effect, it was remarked in political circles, the President has said to Messrs., Attlee, Stalin and others that it is time for all the countries to get back to normal.

Politically, the action was regarded as anticipating any move the Republicans in Congress might have made to put Mr. Truman into a position of clinging to powers that they want to take away. The President for his part now says that he will tell Congress in a few days about the powers he needs to retain.

16 months after al Qaeda surrenders and upon the election of a Democratic congress it would be appropriate for George Bush to likewise give up some war powers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:29 AM


In a Daring Leap, Ringling Loses Its Three Rings (GLENN COLLINS, 12/31/05, NY Times)

And now, ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, step right up and meet the no-ring circus.

For the first time in its history, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus will present a new show to its audiences without three rings, or two - or even one.

When the 136th edition of the circus opens on Wednesday at the St. Pete Times Forum here in Tampa, where Ringling maintains its winter quarters, the elephants, clowns, aerialists and acrobats will roam an arena floor. In as big a departure, the show will have a story line instead of being simply a cavalcade of acts.

Next they'll get rid of the little flashlights you twirl around over your head.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:21 AM


In Worker's Death, View of China's Harsh Justice (JIM YARDLEY, 12/31/05, NY Times)

From the prison cell where he contemplated an executioner's bullet, a migrant worker named Wang Binyu gave an anguished account of his wasted life. Unexpectedly, it rippled across China like a primal scream.

For three weeks, the brutal murders Mr. Wang committed after failing to collect unpaid wages were weighed on the Internet and in Chinese newspapers against the brutal treatment he had endured as a migrant worker. Public opinion shouted for mercy; lawyers debated the fairness of his death sentence. Others saw the case as a bloody symptom of the harsh inequities of Chinese life.

But then, in late September, the furor disappeared as suddenly as it had begun. Online discussion was censored and news media coverage was almost completely banned. Mr. Wang's final appeal was rushed to court. His father, never notified, learned about the hearing only by accident. His chosen defense lawyer was forbidden from participating.

"All of you are on the same side," Mr. Wang, 28, shouted during the hearing, his father said in an interview here in the family's home village in northern Gansu Province. "If you want to kill me, just kill me."

On Oct. 19, they did. Mr. Wang was executed so quickly, and quietly, that it took weeks for the word to fully trickle out that he was dead. [...]

There is widespread suspicion, even within the government, that too many innocent people are sentenced to death.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:09 AM


Bank Robber Turned in by Sons Gets 40 Years (JOHN O'CONNOR, December 30, 2005, Associated Press)

To his family and neighbors, Alfred Ginglen was a pillar of community life. The married father and ex-Marine served in local civic groups, even working in town as an auxiliary police officer. But in his diary, he documented his other side: a life filled with prostitute visits, a secret girlfriend, a crack habit.

That life began to unfold in 2004, when his police officer son recognized his father in a surveillance image. Thursday, Ginglen was sentenced to 40 years in prison for a string of rural bank robberies after being turned in by his own sons. Authorities said he needed the money to support his double life.

U.S. District Judge Jeanne Scott called Ginglen's sons "the greatest credit of your life."

"They acted in an exemplary fashion under circumstances that must have been incredibly difficult," she said.

His son, Jared Ginglen, a Peoria police officer, said he had no regrets about turning his father in. Jared and his brothers, Clay and Garrett, have said their father always taught them to do the right thing.

"It had to be done," he said.

One of the great Leftist lies of the 20th Century -- adopted in large part because of their association with domestic Communism -- was that it can be morally proper to cover up crimes if they're committed by friends and/or family, an anti-ethos they share with the Mafia, the Klan, and the like. E. M. Forster captured it in its full vileness when he said: “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 AM


Crime Numbers Keep Dropping Across the City (AL BAKER, 12/31/05, NY Times)

Crime has fallen across New York City for the 17th consecutive year, with subway crime down by more than 5 percent from last year and the number of recorded murders virtually certain to be the fewest in any single year since 1963, new Police Department statistics show.

Just one more way that America is diverging from the former West.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


Repeat drunken driving arrests fall: 44 percent drop follows start of Melanie's Law (Stephanie Ebbert, December 31, 2005, Boston Globe)

Since Melanie's Law started cracking down on habitual drunk drivers, the number of repeat offenders being arrested has plummeted, records at the Registry of Motor Vehicles show.

Over the last two months, 1,051 repeat offenders were charged with drunken driving, down 44 percent from the same period last year, when 1,889 were charged.

Though seldom acknowledged as such, MADD started one of the most successful social/religious movements of the 20th Century.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


Di Canio 'fascist but not racist' (BBC, 12/23/05)

Lazio striker Paolo Di Canio has defended the raised-arm salute that earned him a one-game ban by saying he is "a fascist but not a racist".

Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:51 AM


Muslims to face loyalty test to become German (Kate Conolly, The Daily Telegraph, December 31st, 2005)

Muslims intent on becoming German citizens will have to undergo a rigorous cultural test to gauge their views on subjects ranging from bigamy to homosexuality and honour killings.

In what is believed to be the first test of its kind in Europe, the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg has created the two-hour oral exam to test the loyalty of Muslims to Germany.

It is to be taken on top of the standard test for foreigners wishing to become German citizens, which includes language proficiency skills and general knowledge. It also requires applicants to prove they can provide for themselves and their families.[...]

Until now, all applicants have simply had to tick a Yes or No box to answer whether they feel loyalty to Germany or not.

But now they will be quizzed on their attitudes to homosexuality and Western clothing for young women, and whether or not husbands should be allowed to beat their wives.

Other questions covering topics such as bigamy and whether parents should allow their children to participate in school sports, have been classed as "trick questions," meant to catch people off guard.

Dieter Biller of the Foreign Ministry in Stuttgart, the state capital, said the test would help bureaucrats to form opinions as to whether citizenship applicants were suitable or not.

"It covers everything from sexual equality, violence, school sports and religious freedom," he said.

Torquemada would be impressed, but even if they give all the right answers, they still won’t be accepted as Germans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


4-way Manny frenzy: Execs buzzing over potential Mets megadeal (BILL MADDEN and ANTHONY McCARRON, 12/31/05, NY DAILY NEWS)

Manny Ramirez is eager to forget Boston, and Mets want him.
The Mets have been engaged in ongoing talks with the Devil Rays about reliever Danys Baez, but, according to multiple baseball sources, those discussions could bloom into a blockbuster four-team trade scenario in which Manny Ramirez winds up at Shea and similarly disgruntled slugger Miguel Tejada lands in Boston. [...]

The basics of the four-team deal that had the baseball executives buzzing yesterday and would appear to satisfy the needs of all four clubs would have Tejada and Tampa Bay's Joey Gathright going to the Red Sox to fill Boston's holes at shortstop and center field.

Ramirez and Baez would go to the Mets, giving them one of the game's best sluggers and a setup man. The Orioles would satisfy their need at shortstop by getting Julio Lugo from Tampa Bay and add pitching by getting Matt Clement from Boston and possibly Kris Benson from the Mets.

The Devil Rays, who have always been difficult to deal with, especially in complicated transactions, are seeking top prospects and young pitching and would be satisfied in that regard by getting third baseman Andy Marte from Boston and Jae Seo and Aaron Heilman from the Mets. In addition, the Mets would send Kaz Matsui to Tampa to give the D-Rays a stopgap shortstop replacement until prospect B.J. Upton is ready.

If the Sox are giving up Marte in a deal they're getting back at least Aubrey Huff from the D-Rays.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM

SOME LIKE IT HOT (via Tom Corcoran):

Evolution's Thermodynamic Failure (Granville Sewell, 12/28/2005, American Spectator)

The first formulations of the second law were all about heat: a quantity called thermal "entropy" was defined to measure the randomness, or disorder, associated with a temperature distribution, and it was shown that in an isolated system this entropy always increases, or at least never decreases, as the temperature becomes more and more randomly (more uniformly) distributed. If we define thermal "order" to be the opposite (negative) of thermal entropy, we can say that the thermal order can never increase in a closed (isolated) system. However, it was soon realized that other types of order can be defined which also never increase in a closed system. For example, we can define a "carbon order" associated with the distribution of carbon diffusing in a solid, using the same equations, and through an identical analysis show that this order also continually decreases, in a closed system. With time, the second law came to be interpreted more and more generally, and today most discussions of the second law in physics textbooks offer examples of entropy increases (order decreases) which have nothing to do with heat conduction or diffusion, such as the shattering of a wine glass or the demolition of a building.

It is a well-known prediction of the second law that, in a closed system, every type of order is unstable and must eventually decrease, as everything tends toward more probable (more random) states. Not only will carbon and temperature distributions become more disordered (more uniform), but the performance of all electronic devices will deteriorate, not improve. Natural forces, such as corrosion, erosion, fire and explosions, do not create order, they destroy it. The second law is all about probability, it uses probability at the microscopic level to predict macroscopic change: the reason carbon distributes itself more and more uniformly in an insulated solid is, that is what the laws of probability predict when diffusion alone is operative.

The reason natural forces may turn a spaceship, or a TV set, or a computer into a pile of rubble but not vice-versa is also probability: of all the possible arrangements atoms could take, only a very small percentage could fly to the moon and back, or receive pictures and sound from the other side of the Earth, or add, subtract, multiply and divide real numbers with high accuracy.

The discovery that life on Earth developed through evolutionary "steps," coupled with the observation that mutations and natural selection -- like other natural forces -- can cause (minor) change, is widely accepted in the scientific world as proof that natural selection -- alone among all natural forces -- can create order out of disorder, and even design human brains with human consciousness. Only the layman seems to see the problem with this logic. In a recent Mathematical Intelligencer article ("A Mathematician's View of Evolution," 22, number 4, 5-7, 2000), after outlining the specific reasons why it is not reasonable to attribute the major steps in the development of life to natural selection, I asserted that the idea that the four fundamental forces of physics alone could rearrange the fundamental particles of nature into spaceships, nuclear power plants, and computers, connected to laser printers, CRTs, keyboards and the Internet, appears to violate the second law of thermodynamics in a spectacular way.

One of the most tran sparent ways in which Darwinism demonstrates itself to be merely an alternative religion is in its insistence that Earth and Mankind are unique. As Alister McGrath bpoints out in his devastating book, Dawkins' God, even a putatively rigorous materialist/Darwinist like Richard Dawkins insists that man alone can resist the dictates of his genes.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 12:00 AM


Thanks to everybody who signed up for the College Bowl Pick'em: We've got 22 participants, which is better than I expected for a registration-based game. I'll run a few contests during the next two weeks and invite people to pick scores. Winners get books -- what's not to like?

Good luck to everybody and to your teams unless you're rooting for Miami or against Nebraska.

December 30, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 PM


Abortion Drug Adverse Events Reported: Reports Include Infection and Severe Bleeding (Salynn Boyles, December 29, 2005, WebMD Medical News)

The FDA received reports of 607 adverse events involving the abortion drug RU-486 over a four-year period, it was reported this week.

The adverse events included five reported deaths and 68 cases of severe bleeding that required transfusions.

Late last month, federal officials confirmed that five women who died of toxic shock syndrome within a week of taking the drug to induce abortions had the same rare bacterial infection. Four of the deaths occurred in California and one in Canada. Three of these deaths were not among those included in the FDA's 607 events.

For the Death Lobby these are just acceptable levels of collateral damage in the wider war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 PM


This is the country of Drake and Pepys, not Shaka Zulu (Max Hastings, December 27, 2005, The Guardian)

[T]he world's development in the past 500 years has been dominated, for good or ill, by what westerners have thought and done. Other societies, again no matter whether for good or ill, have been losers whose power to determine their own destinies, never mind anyone else's, has been small.

History is the story of the dominance, however unjust, of societies that display superior energy, ability, technology and might. If one's own people were victims of western imperialism, it is entirely understandable that one should wish to study history from their viewpoint. But, whatever the crimes of our forefathers, this is the country of Drake, Clive and Kitchener, not of Tipu Sultan, Shaka Zulu or the Mahdi.

And the End of History is, of course, nothing but the universal acceptance of the values that made the West dominant, which makes it especially useless to give equal weight to the cultures that ended up on the scrap heap.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 PM


Former Syrian VP: Dangerous things were said to Hariri (JPost staff and AP, Dec. 30, 2005, THE JERUSALEM POST)

Embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad was dealt more bad news Friday night after former Syrian Vice President Abed al-Halim Khadem said that Assad "could have prevented the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri."

Khadem also acknowledged that Hariri was threatened by Syria months before he was assassinated. [...]

Khadem made the claim as he declared a formal break with President Bashar Assad in a television interview from Paris, citing corruption within the regime and its failure to reform.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 3:24 PM


Airbus pilot maroons drunken passenger on desert island (Nigel Bunyan, The Telegraph, December 30th, 2005)

A drunken holidaymaker has been dumped on a desert island after launching a foul-mouthed tirade at the crew of a passenger jet.[...]

The unnamed passenger's difficulties began on Tuesday evening at 35,000 ft when he began abusing the cabin crew of flight ZB558 from Manchester. He refused to calm down and then turned his attention to the other 210 passengers.

Eventually the pilot decided that he posed a risk to safety and had to be removed.

Rather than continue for a further 45 minutes to Tenerife he diverted his Airbus A321 to Porto Santo. Within moments of the plane touching down the passenger was escorted to the terminal. Last night he remained a castaway on the Portuguese-controlled island. His New Year home is a mere 10 miles long by three miles wide with a population of 4,000. There is little entertainment apart from walking on the sand dunes.

How many hours of the average lifetime are spent dreaming of meting out some richly deserved summary justice like this?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:05 PM


The Peace Epidemic: The world isn't so dangerous after all. (Timothy Noah, Dec. 29, 2005, Slate)

Although it's widely believed that the long standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union brought peace, that wasn't really true. Mutual deterrence successfully prevented war between the two great powers, and we can all be very grateful that humankind avoided nuclear annihilation. But the Cold War turned hot in a variety of proxy wars in which the United States supported one side and the Soviet Union supported the other. The human cost was enormous. By the report's reckoning, the number of "state-based armed conflicts" in the world increased by a factor of three between 1946 and 1991. Dire predictions that the Cold War's end would bequeath a long epoch of tribal anarchy may have seemed plausible in the early 1990s, as the Balkans were beset with ethnic violence. But in the end the jeremiads weren't borne out. The death of Soviet communism didn't just make the West safer; it made the entire world safer. (The report says the end of Western colonialism also played a role; because of anticolonial conflict, the greatest number of wars fought between 1946 and 2003 were waged by the United Kingdom, which fought 21, and France, which fought 19. The United States ranks next with 16, and the Soviet Union brings up the great-power rear with 9. Josef Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union until 1953, was no slouch in the killing department, but he tended to prefer murdering his own countrymen.)

One region must be excepted from this calculus. Interestingly, it isn't the Middle East (though certainly that region is a violent one). It's Africa. According to the Human Security Report, more people are being killed in wars in sub-Saharan Africa than in the rest of the world combined. [...]

If you go by the numbers, our planet is becoming less violent, not more so. Francis Fukuyama (who himself faltered slightly after 9/11) looks fairly prescient right now for predicting back in 1989 the "end of history," with "history" defined as "the evolution of human societies through different forms of government." In effect, Fukuyama was predicting an end to global armed ideological conflict, since "the evolution of human societies" is almost always achieved through warfare. The Human Security Report 2005 bears Fukuyama out. History may come back, but at the moment it's blessedly on the wane.

There was still a bit of clean-up left to do--disabusing the Islamnicists of the notion their system was a serious alternative--but it was always a dubious proposition that when parliamentarty democracy won the Long War it would lead to a less orderly world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 PM


German media: U.S. preparing Iran strike (Martin Walker, December 30, 2005, UPI )

The Bush administration is preparing its NATO allies for a possible military strike against suspected nuclear sites in Iran in the New Year, according to German media reports, reinforcing similar earlier suggestions in the Turkish media.

The Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel this week quoted "NATO intelligence sources" who claimed that the NATO allies had been informed that the United States is currently investigating all possibilities of bringing the mullah-led regime into line, including military options. This "all options are open" line has been President George W Bush's publicly stated policy throughout the past 18 months.

But the respected German weekly Der Spiegel notes "What is new here is that Washington appears to be dispatching high-level officials to prepare its allies for a possible attack rather than merely implying the possibility as it has repeatedly done during the past year."

The German news agency DDP cited "Western security sources" to claim that CIA Director Porter Goss asked Turkey's premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan to provide political and logistic support for air strikes against Iranian nuclear and military targets.

The dirty little secret is that Iran's Sunni neighbors have the most to fear from a nuclear-armed Shi'ite fanatic like Ahmadinejad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:29 PM


German Proposes Tagging Islamic Militants (Reuters, 12/29/05)

Known Islamic militants should be electronically tagged so their movements could be tracked, a regional German interior minister proposed Wednesday.

"This would allow us to monitor the roughly 3,000 Islamists who are prone to violence, hate-preachers and fighters trained in terrorist camps," the Lower Saxony interior minister, Uwe Schünemann, said in an interview with the newspaper Die Welt.

Mr. Schünemann said electronic tagging was a viable alternative to holding the militants in protective custody, as suggested by the former German interior minister, Otto Schily. Mr. Schünemann was quoted as saying that his proposal would not be against Germany's Constitution.

"It's practical for all Islamists who are prone to violence and who we can't expel to their home countries because they could be tortured," Mr. Schünemann said.

No society need tolerate witches.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:25 PM


Assumptions about Katrina victims may be incorrect, data reveal (JOHN SIMERMAN, DWIGHT OTT AND TED MELLNIK, 12/29/05, Knight Ridder Newspapers)

Four months after Hurricane Katrina, analyses of data suggest that some widely reported assumptions about the storm's victims were incorrect.

For example, a comparison of locations where 874 bodies were recovered with U.S. Census tract data indicates that the victims weren't disproportionately poor. Another database, compiled by Knight Ridder of 486 Katrina victims from Orleans and St. Bernard parishes, suggests they also weren't disproportionately African-American.

Seventy years of plotting to regain power in Washington and trillions of dollars spent to create global warming and Republicans can't even make sure that hurricanes drown only black people?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:21 PM


I'm a Soldier, Not a Spy (Grant Doty, December 30, 2005, Washington Post)

As Americans take stock of the news that the government has been involved in domestic warrantless eavesdropping as well as surveillance of "potentially threatening people or organizations inside the United States," many people are troubled, including me.

Although the government may be interested in my ACLU membership, my wife's participation in war protests or my affiliation with the liberal United Church of Christ, my real anxiety stems from the fact that I am a soldier and may now be under suspicion from my friends and neighbors.

Specifically, given the information slowly leaking out of Washington, it may not be farfetched for some to think that when I "stumble across people or information" that might be of interest to the government, I might report it to the Pentagon's three-year-old Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA). [...]

Yes, I took an oath to defend the United States against all enemies "foreign and domestic"...

So, he's afraid people will think he took that oath seriously?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:13 PM


November Is Ten Months Away: Time for Bush to nationalize the midterm elections. (Larry Kudlow, 12/30/05, National Review)

Citizens Against Government Waste calls 2005 a record year for pork. The group identified 13,997 pork projects in the fiscal 2005 appropriations bills, costing taxpayers $27.3 billion, an increase of 31 percent over fiscal 2004. These are sickening facts. The president must work overtime to erase them in 2006 and truly produce a taxpayer protection budget.

A generally sensible piece except for this retrograde suggestion that the President waste any time or energy going to war over what amounts to something like 1% (?) of the federal budget.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:00 PM


Ex-envoy to Uzbekistan goes public on torture (Anne Penketh, 30 December 2005, Independent)

Britain's former ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has defied the Foreign Office by publishing on the internet documents providing evidence that the British Government knowingly received information extracted by torture in the "war on terror".

Letter #1
FM Tashkent
TO FCO, Cabinet Office, DFID, MODUK, OSCE Posts, Security Council Posts

16 September 02

SUBJECT: US/Uzbekistan: Promoting Terrorism

I quite understand the interest of the US in strategic airbases and why they back Karimov, but I believe US policy is misconceived. In the short term it may help fight terrorism but in the medium term it will promote it, as the Economist points out. And it can never be right to lower our standards on human rights. There is a complex situation in Central Asia and it is wrong to look at it only through a prism picked up on September 12. Worst of all is what appears to be the philosophy underlying the current US view of Uzbekistan: that September 11 divided the World into two camps in the "War against Terrorism" and that Karimov is on "our" side.

If Karimov is on "our" side, then this war cannot be simply between the forces of good and evil. It must be about more complex things, like securing the long-term US military presence in Uzbekistan. I silently wept at the 11 September commemoration here. The right words on New York have all been said. But last week was also another anniversary – the US-led overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile. The subsequent dictatorship killed, dare I say it, rather more people than died on September 11. Should we not remember then also, and learn from that too?

Chile's not really the best example to use, because it is so obviously a case where American support for "fascism" served both our interests and those of the nation in question spectacularly well. After all, knowing what we know today about how Allende-type regimes tended to devolve and how Pinochet's evolved, who wouldn't whack Allende again? Of course, Taiwan, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, South Africa, South Korea, etc. all worked out rather well too, so it's not clear he has any point at all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:33 PM


Well, would you hire
this man to be gov?

Could New York's state capitol building become the next Trump Tower?

Republican sources said The Donald - who in 1999 toyed with the idea of running for the White House on the Reform Party line - is mulling a bid to persuade New Yorkers to hire him as their next governor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:42 PM


Robot car: streets ahead in cities of the future (Alok Jha, December 29, 2005, The Guardian)

It is not every day that a concept car re-writes the rules of more than 100 years of motoring. In development for four years by a team of architects and engineers led by William Mitchell, former head of the school of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), as part of his Smart Cities research group, a new MIT car is borne of a complete rethink of people's relationship with their cars in the ever-expanding cities of the future.

Prof Mitchell expects we will share cars that will be easier to drive in congested cities, will be pollution-free and can be customised at will.

The city car concept, with styling input by architect Frank Gehry, will be completed and delivered by MIT to General Motors early next year.

"Primarily we're interested in urban living," says Ryan Chin, an architect and engineer at MIT's media lab and a member of Prof Mitchell's research group. "Everything scales down from what we think the city of the future is."

The Smart Cities group focused on how cars could be better adapted to get round familiar problems of city life, namely congestion, pollution and parking. Motor companies are well aware of the issue. But the group felt the companies had missed the point, even with city cars such as the Smart, the iconic two-passenger cars introduced by Swatch and Mercedes in 1998.

"We have to think of city cars as not just small-footprint vehicles that can squeeze into tight spaces but ones that can work in unison and also be almost like a parasite that leeches on to mass-transit systems," says Mr Chin. While Smart changed the way people think about parking and size, the MIT engineers felt that, as it had not been widely adopted and congestion and pollution problems had got no better, its success had been limited.

A bigger cabin would be better so that the experience is more sociable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:31 PM


Palestinians in Iraq Pay the Cost of Being 'Saddam's People' (Doug Struck, December 30, 2005, Washington Post)

For years, Saddam Hussein harbored a small population of Palestinians in Iraq, trotting them out to cheer whenever he went to war -- which he routinely justified as essential to Arab nationalism and the Palestinian cause.

Don't they know we're all supposed to pretend that Saddam had no ties to terrorism nor interests beyond his borders?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:25 PM


Irish President Offered Nazis Condolences (SHAWN POGATCHNIK , 12.30.2005, Forbes)

Ireland's president during World War II offered condolences to Nazi Germany's representative in Dublin over the death of Adolf Hitler, newly declassified government records show.

Until now, historians had believed that Ireland's prime minister at the time, Eamon de Valera, was the only government leader to convey official condolences to Eduard Hempel, director of the German diplomatic corps in Ireland. De Valera's gesture - unique among leaders of neutral nations in the final weeks of World War II - was criticized worldwide.

Their own Grand Mufti.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:20 PM


England Burned in Prison Kitchen Accident (AP, 12/30/05)

Lynndie England, the U.S. soldier who posed for some of the most infamous pictures of detainee abuse at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, suffered burns at the prison where she is serving her sentence, her family said Friday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:17 PM


Justice Dept. Probing Domestic Spying Leak (TONI LOCY, 12/30/05, Associated Press)

The Justice Department has opened an investigation into the leak of classified information about President Bush's secret domestic spying program, Justice officials said Friday.

The officials, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the probe, said the inquiry will focus on disclosures to The New York Times about warrantless surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:11 PM


AP Exclusive: U.S. teen runs off to Iraq (JASON STRAZIUSO, 12/29/05, Associated Press)

Maybe it was the time the taxi dumped him at the Iraq-Kuwait border, leaving him alone in the middle of the desert. Or when he drew a crowd at a Baghdad food stand after using an Arabic phrase book to order. Or the moment a Kuwaiti cab driver almost punched him in the face when he balked at the $100 fare.

But at some point, Farris Hassan, a 16-year-old from Florida, realized that traveling to Iraq by himself was not the safest thing he could have done with his Christmas vacation.

And he didn't even tell his parents.

Hassan's dangerous adventure winds down with the 101st Airborne delivering the Fort Lauderdale teen to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, which had been on the lookout for him and promises to see him back to the United States this weekend.

It begins with a high school class on "immersion journalism" and one overly eager - or naively idealistic - student who's lucky to be alive after going way beyond what any teacher would ask.

Essay by U.S. Teen Who Went to Iraq (The Associated Press, Dec 29, 2005)
Excepts from an essay written recently by Farris Hassan, 16, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who traveled to Iraq without telling his parents:

There is a struggle in Iraq between good and evil, between those striving for freedom and liberty and those striving for death and destruction. You are aware of the heinous acts of the terrorists: Women and children massacred, innocent aid workers decapitated, indiscriminate murder. You are also aware of the heroic aspirations of the Iraqi people: liberty, democracy, security, normality. Those terrorists are not human but pure evil. For their goals to be thwarted, decent individuals must answer justice's call for help ... So I will.

Life is not about money, fame, or power. Life is about combating the forces of evil in the world, promoting justice, helping the misfortunate, and improving the welfare of our fellow man. Progress requires that we commit ourselves to such goals. We are not here on Earth to hedonistically pleasure ourselves, but to serve each other and the creator. What deed is greater than sacrificing one's luxuries for the benefit of those less blessed? ...

I know I can't do much. I know I can't stop all the carnage and save the innocent. But I also know I can't just sit here ...

Yeah, Mr. Tancredo, those immigrants will never share our values....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


The Office Pool, 2006 (WILLIAM SAFIRE, 12/30/05, NY Times)

HERE is your 32nd annual chance to Beat the Pundit. In each multiple choice, pick one, none or all. In a good year, a master prognosticator gets four right.

1. U.S. troops in Iraq at 2006 year's end will number: (a) current "base line" 138,000; (b) closer to 100,000; (c) closer to 90,000; (d) 80,000 or below. [...]

12. Thinking outside the ballot box - the dark-horse line for the 2008 presidential race will pit: (a) Virginia Democrat Mark Warner against Massachusetts Republican Mitt Romney in the battle of centrist capitalists; (b) Dems' iconoclastic Senator Russ Feingold vs. the G.O.P.'s nonpartisan Mayor Mike Bloomberg to compete for evangelical vote; (c) the Dems' favorite Republican, Chuck Hagel, against the G.O.P.'s favorite Democrat, Joe Lieberman; (d) domestic centrists and foreign-policy hardliners Hillary ("You're a Grand Old Flag") Clinton against Condi ("I am not a lawyer") Rice.

13. Conventionally, inside the box: (a) Bill Richardson vs. Rudy Giuliani; (b) Hillary vs. John McCain; (c) Warner vs. Romney; (d) Joe Biden vs. George Allen.

14. As Bush approval rises, historians will begin to equate his era with that of: (a) Truman; (b) Eisenhower; (c) L.B.J.; (d) Reagan; (e) Clinton.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


Internet Sales Show Big Gains Over Holidays (MICHAEL BARBARO, 12/30/05, NY Times)

Online retailers, whose growth was expected to level off after a decade of dizzying gains, experienced a stellar holiday season, according to two preliminary reports released yesterday, as traditional stores like Wal-Mart and Target cemented their place on the Web.

Consumer spending online reached $18.1 billion in November and December, a 25 percent increase over 2004, according to the research firm ComScore Networks.

Nielsen/NetRatings, another research firm, said Web purchases totaled $30.1 billion in the period, an increase of 30 percent. Unlike ComScore, Nielsen includes spending at online auction sites like eBay, accounting for its higher figure.

Online commerce still represents less than 6 percent of all retail sales, but the numbers indicate that it has finally become part of mainstream American shopping.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


China's looming talent shortage: To make the move from manufacturing to services, China must raise the quality of its university graduates. (Diana Farrell and Andrew J. Grant, McKinsey Quarterly)

With a huge supply of low-cost workers, mainland China has fast become the world's manufacturing workshop, supplying everything from textiles to toys to computer chips. Given the country's millions of university graduates, is it set to become a giant in offshore IT and business process services as well?

New research from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) suggests that this outcome is unlikely. (The full report, The Emerging Global Labor Market, is available free of charge online.) The reason: few of China's vast number of university graduates are capable of working successfully in the services export sector, and the fast-growing domestic economy absorbs most of those who could. Indeed, far from presaging a thriving offshore services sector, our research points to a looming shortage of homegrown talent, with serious implications for the multinationals now in China and for the growing number of Chinese companies with global ambitions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


German finance minister urges fairer tax competition within EU (Lisbeth Kirk, 12/30/05, EU Observer)

German finance minister Peer Steinbruck has urged new EU member states to raise their taxes and ensure "fair tax competition" among the 25 members of the bloc.

There's a reason the End of History features the universal adoption of the Anglo-American model, not the Franco-German.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


Gaza protests force EU monitors to flee (Lisbeth Kirk, 12/30/05, EU Observer)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Bollywood film in Time's Top 10 (BBC, 12/30/05)

Bollywood film Black has been selected as one of the top films of 2005 in a listing by American Time magazine.

Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Black is about a relationship between a deaf-blind child and her teacher.

"Black is more than a noble weepie; it is the ultimate Bollywood love story," Time magazine said of the film.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


US threat over N Korean food aid (BBC, 12/30/05)

The US says it will stop giving food aid to North Korea unless it lets international relief workers monitor its distribution.

The US said it wanted to check aid - channelled through the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) - reached the needy.

The statement comes as the WFP prepares to halt food aid to North Korea after Pyongyang said it was no longer needed.

Even a tendentious regime change in Iraq has only cost 30,000 lives on its way to democracy, as opposed to the 500,000 kids we killed with sanctions. Why repeat the error?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


O'Brian, Sailing Under False Colors: a review of PATRICK O'BRIAN: The Making of the Novelist, 1914-1949 By Nikolai Tolstoy and THE CATALANS: A Novel By Patrick O'Brian (Gregory Feeley, Washington Post)

For most of the last years of Patrick O'Brian's life, when his novels set during the Napoleonic Wars were gaining increasing acclaim, he appeared to be one of those writers whose command of his subject arises from a lifetime of firsthand acquaintance. Biographical information was fiercely guarded, but O'Brian had at times let out that he was Irish, privately educated, that his nautical expertise was grounded in his own sailing experience, and other details that later proved to be untrue. When journalists discovered in 1998, just two years before he died, that O'Brian had been born Richard Patrick Russ, an Englishman who had published his first novel at 15 and had left his wife and two small children (one of them dying) in an act of self-reinvention that he then sought to hide from the world, the response was not charitable. An early biography by Dean King added more facts, although King's lack of access (O'Brian had instructed friends not to cooperate) proved a serious limitation.

Nikolai Tolstoy, O'Brian's stepson, has set out to correct all this with "Patrick O'Brian: The Making of the Novelist, 1914-1949," the first of two planned volumes. His portrayal -- based on extensive research, access to O'Brian's personal papers, and more than 40 years' personal acquaintance -- shifts our image of O'Brian still further, though perhaps not in the direction he intended. The author of the Aubrey/Maturin novels, so worldly and assured in his self-presentation, was not merely a British eccentric but a profoundly damaged individual, whose psychic scarring and resulting haplessness places him in a class with Malcolm Lowry and T.H. White. Though he wrote with assurance and calm authority from his earliest days, O'Brian was a psychological basket case, so incapable in dealing with other people or managing his business and personal affairs that, were it not for his extraordinary literary gift (which manifested itself early) and -- like Lowry -- good fortune in his second wife, he would likely have proven incapable of supporting himself.

The outlines of O'Brian's early life are largely what Dean King found them to be, although Tolstoy provides immeasurably more detail, is often able to provide answers where King was compelled to speculate and -- as he is quick to note -- corrects a large number of errors. That his portrayal of O'Brian is at least as disturbing as King's, despite Tolstoy's recurrent tone of defensiveness and (sometimes) special pleading, is testimony to his honesty. [...]

The story of Dr. Alain Roig, who returns to his Catalan home town after years of medical research in the Far East to intercede in an imminent family scandal, is drolly observed, beautiful in its evocation of place, and -- like O'Brian's later novels -- often mordantly funny.

Admirers of O'Brian's historical novels will be struck at how much of his skill, verve and humor were evident this early in his career, but they will be sobered by the revelations in Tolstoy's work.

The tie to Tolstoy is fitting though, eh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Raiding the Icebox: Behind Its Warm Front, the United States Made Cold Calculations to Subdue Canada (Peter Carlson, 12/30/05, Washington Post)

Invading Canada won't be like invading Iraq: When we invade Canada, nobody will be able to grumble that we didn't have a plan.

The United States government does have a plan to invade Canada. It's a 94-page document called "Joint Army and Navy Basic War Plan -- Red," with the word SECRET stamped on the cover. It's a bold plan, a bodacious plan, a step-by-step plan to invade, seize and annex our neighbor to the north. It goes like this:

First, we send a joint Army-Navy overseas force to capture the port city of Halifax, cutting the Canadians off from their British allies.

Then we seize Canadian power plants near Niagara Falls, so they freeze in the dark.

Then the U.S. Army invades on three fronts -- marching from Vermont to take Montreal and Quebec, charging out of North Dakota to grab the railroad center at Winnipeg, and storming out of the Midwest to capture the strategic nickel mines of Ontario.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy seizes the Great Lakes and blockades Canada's Atlantic and Pacific ports.

At that point, it's only a matter of time before we bring these Molson-swigging, maple-mongering Zamboni drivers to their knees! Or, as the official planners wrote, stating their objective in bold capital letters: "ULTIMATELY TO GAIN COMPLETE CONTROL."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Stem Cell Advance Is Fully Refuted: Investigator Says Korean's Colonies Do Not Exist (Rick Weiss, December 30, 2005, Washington Post)

The scandal surrounding disgraced South Korean stem cell researcher Hwang Woo Suk deepened yesterday as an investigator told reporters in Seoul that none of the 11 tailor-made cell colonies Hwang claimed to have created earlier this year actually exist.

Korean news outlets also reported that the ongoing probe into one of the biggest scientific frauds in memory had broadened to embrace allegations that government officials -- concerned about the shame such revelations could bring upon their country -- may have attempted to bribe scientists who were considered potential whistle-blowers.

The still-evolving quagmire...

Well, some good has come of it: a last a news story about an actual quagmire and genuine scientific evolution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Covert CIA Program Withstands New Furor: Anti-Terror Effort Continues to Grow (Dana Priest, , December 30, 2005, Washington Post)

The effort President Bush authorized shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, to fight al Qaeda has grown into the largest CIA covert action program since the height of the Cold War, expanding in size and ambition despite a growing outcry at home and abroad over its clandestine tactics, according to former and current intelligence officials and congressional and administration sources.

The broad-based effort, known within the agency by the initials GST, is compartmentalized into dozens of highly classified individual programs, details of which are known mainly to those directly involved.

GST includes programs allowing the CIA to capture al Qaeda suspects with help from foreign intelligence services, to maintain secret prisons abroad, to use interrogation techniques that some lawyers say violate international treaties, and to maintain a fleet of aircraft to move detainees around the globe. Other compartments within GST give the CIA enhanced ability to mine international financial records and eavesdrop on suspects anywhere in the world.

Over the past two years, as aspects of this umbrella effort have burst into public view, the revelations have prompted protests and official investigations in countries that work with the United States, as well as condemnation by international human rights activists and criticism by members of Congress.

Still, virtually all the programs continue to operate largely as they were set up, according to current and former officials. These sources say Bush's personal commitment to maintaining the GST program and his belief in its legality have been key to resisting any pressure to change course.

You mean he hasn't stopped protecting national security just because the Left has its knickers knotted?

Posted by Peter Burnet at 7:23 AM


It's official: Britain is run by bureaucrats (The Telegraph, December 30th, 2005)

re has been a slight expansion in the numbers of front-line workers, the real bonanza has been in administration. Our public services resemble a South American army, where a handful of miserable conscripts sustain hundreds of self-important generals. The NHS, for example, uniquely in the world, now has more officials than beds.

The TaxPayers' Alliance, which deserves a medal for having trudged through an entire year's worth of Guardian appointments sections, estimates the total cost of these non-jobs in 2005 to be £787,319,556.31. This is bad enough. But think of the opportunity costs. Imagine if these battalions of bureaucrats were making or selling things, instead of plaguing the rest of us. How much more freely Britain would breathe.

The grim truth is that these positions are, in the main, not merely useless, but actively malign. There might be some sort of warped Keynesian argument for spending £800 million to keep a few thousand unemployables off the street, harmlessly sending each other memos and suing each other for sexual harassment.

But many state workers have a tangible and deleterious impact on public policy. A racism awareness counsellor needs to justify her salary by constantly finding instances of racism, so ensuring that her employers are distracted from their main business. A police force that hires diversity directors is not concentrating on catching scoundrels.

By bloating the state in this way, Labour has created a caste of people with a vested interest in pursuing certain policies. It doesn't much matter how we vote, nationally or locally, as long as decisions are in the hands of strategy co-ordinators and policy directors.

Mr Blair himself has run up against the immobilism of the public sector; how much more would a Tory administration. The sad fact is that, whoever is in office, Britain will still be run by overpaid jobsworths.

It is an almost universal modern conceit that our society is both freer and more democratic than, say, a hundred years ago. Perhaps we need this myth to protect us from the depressing horrors of facing open-eyed the combined effects of bureaucratic sovereignty, judicial supremacy and non-discretionary spending entitlements,

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Novel that Stalin banned grips Russian television audience (Andrew Osborn, 30 December 2005, Independent)

Joseph Stalin banned it, while the Russian Orthodox Church worried that its text might undermine people's faith. Its plot lampoons state authoritarianism and censorship in a country that has atradition of both.

Now the first screen adaptation of Soviet writer Mikhail Bulgakov's novel Master and Margarita, one of the Communist era's finest pieces of literature, has been shown on Russian television. More than half of the adult population has tuned in over the past few weeks and revelled in a plot in which the Devil takes centre stage. [...]

Bulgakov died in 1940, thinking that Master and Margarita would never see the light of day.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:27 AM


Prosperity cheques provide post-Christmas teen dreams
(Judy Monchuk, The Globe and Mail, December 29th, 2005)

And thanks to Alberta's energy bonanza, Shelby will be getting $400 from the province early in 2006 that could make her dream a reality. She and her friends say there's only one option for what the government has termed prosperity cheques.

“A big shopping spree,” the Grade 8 student said with a laugh as she browsed through racks of clothing at Chinook Centre, Calgary's largest mall.

Shelby's mom has thought about letting her daughter have a portion of the windfall to indulge her consumer fantasies, but it's a tough decision.

“It's caused conflict in a lot of families I know,” said Tammy Airth. “For the government to say each individual will get $400 is absurd. Every kid I know is pumped about the $400 that they're getting. That money should go towards offsetting high energy bills, but of course these guys don't see that. They see $400 that the government is giving to them.”

Ms. Airth scoffs at Premier Ralph Klein's suggestion that kids — or their parents — can put the money into education accounts or donate it to the homeless if they feel that's the best use of the cash.

“Kids don't care about their education when they're 12 or 13 years old: they want the money, they want to go shopping and blow the money,” said Ms. Airth.

Historian David Mills says no one should be surprised by the reaction of teens and even pre-teens to what's essentially free cash — a $1.4-billion “rebate” shared by every man, woman and child in Alberta because of soaring oil and gas prices.

“It's almost as if we live in an age of entitlement,” says Mr. Mills, who teaches pop culture at the University of Alberta.

Yes, almost. A few more years of this and Albertans will be importing thousands of Filipino guest workers to do their work for them.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:08 AM


Outrage as porn posters of the Queen 'promote' EU presidency (Roger Boyes, The London Times, December 30th, 2005)

Pornographic posters showing naked figures wearing masks portraying the Queen, President Chirac and President Bush have created fierce controversy in Austria on the eve of the country taking over the EU presidency from Britain.

The posters, which went on display this week in Vienna, were financed by a €1 million (£680,000) grant from the Austrian Government. It had hoped that a series of pictures by artists from all member states would reflect the social and political diversity of the EU. Instead, the work has provoked an unseemly row.

The posters are mounted on rotating boards and are visible for only seconds at a time — but that is long enough for most passers-by to identify the three figures. The George Bush figure is a woman model using the appropriate mask. She is seen bending over, with the Queen and President Chirac kneeling behind her. The Queen can be seen clutching the hips of the George Bush character.

“Absolutely outrageous!” the tabloid Krone Zeitung declared. “This will overshadow the beginning of our EU presidency.”

The posters are part of an artistic project known as Europ-art that is intended to stir interest in the European Union. Austria now ranks as one of the most sceptical EU partners and its Government has been struggling to find ways of engaging the interest of young people in European issues. The group sex scene was created by Carlos Aires, a 31-year-old Spanish artist.

The second poster by Tanja Ostojic, a Balkan artist, is causing even more anger. It shows a woman’s spread thighs wearing blue knickers embroidered with the stars of Europe. [...]

“The EU knickers are depraved and sexist and can only damage the European idea,” Gabi Burgstaller, governor of the Salzburg region, said.

We yield to no one in our prudish condemnation of pornography, but we do understand why the artists couldn’t think up anything better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


New DVD's (DAVE KEHR, 12/27/05, NY Times)

Here at the height of white elephant season, with the theaters full of overstuffed Oscar contenders, it's a relief to return to the world of what the critic Manny Farber defined as "termite art" - those buzzy little B-movies, exploitation pictures and oddball imports that were never intended to win awards, but nonetheless offer cinematic pleasures often beyond their bloated, big-budget brethren. What follows is a roundup of some of the last few weeks' smaller, more insidious titles, presented with the assurance that none of them ever received a Golden Globe nomination. [...]

Fox in a Box

From MGM, the current owners of the American International library, comes a boxed set collecting three Pam Grier features from the 1970's heyday of the black exploitation film: Jack Hill's "Coffy" (1973) and "Foxy Brown" (1974), plus William Girdler's "Sheba, Baby" (1975). These look to be the familiar, nonanamorphic MGM transfers of 2001, though repackaged with a fourth disc combining a pair of documentary appreciations of Ms. Grier produced by Vibe magazine. But here she is in her stereotype-shattering glory, playing her perennial part as the strong black woman on a solo campaign to rid her community of pimps, pushers and the corrupt white politicians who protect and profit from them. Some of the 70's fashion statements threaten to short out the color circuitry on your television, but those were exuberant days. $29.95; "Coffy" and "Foxy" are rated R, "Sheba" PG.

Blaxploitation never looked better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Rail rivals roll past U.S. (John Tagliabue, DECEMBER 30, 2005, The New York Times)

As countries like Italy and Spain - and emerging markets like China and Russia - open their pocketbooks for huge high-speed rail development, the United States remains on the sidelines, risking to lose out on new technologies for propulsion and vehicle control.

For those who thought railroads were basically 19th-century technology, think again. Thanks to miniaturization, these powerful new trains have motors built into the axles of every second rail car, rather than concentrating the pulling power in the locomotive, as was done in traditional pull-push trains.

The new technology makes the trains lighter and enables the trains to go faster, to brake and accelerate more easily, and to cause less wear on rails and wheels. It also frees up locomotives for up to 20 percent additional seating space. The newer generation of very high-speed trains has other breakthrough features, including so-called eddy current brakes, which employ electromagnetic fields rather than brake disks to slow and stop.

Nothing that high enough gas taxes wouldn't solve.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Italy's Pursuit of CIA Operatives Stalls: Resistance by Berlusconi government and apathy about being able to keep the U.S. from infringing sovereignty fetter case of imam spirited abroad. (Tracy Wilkinson, December 30, 2005, LA Times)

The pro-U.S. government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is refusing to forward the extradition requests and instead has asked for more documentation, a highly unusual request that prosecutors regard as a delaying tactic.

Berlusconi has repeatedly denied that his government knew about or authorized the abduction, even as former CIA officers in Washington said the operation was conducted with Italian government cooperation.

Berlusconi shrugged off the contradiction. Last week, he justified the operation, saying governments should not be expected to fight terrorism "with a law book in hand."

The ease and openness with which the operatives acted in Milan suggest that they knew they had the green light from Italian authorities. Among other activities, they ran up bills totaling more than $150,000 at some of Milan's best hotels.

"Berlusconi was an accomplice," said Giusto Catania, a leftist Italian member of the European Parliament who sits on its civil liberties committee. Catania is one of a group of EU lawmakers spearheading a continent-wide investigation into alleged CIA activities, as reports of secret prisons and flights mount.

It is not in the prime minister's interest for the Italian inquiry to advance, Catania said, because of his apparent role in permitting the rendition.

Berlusconi believes he will weather any domestic criticism, said a senior advisor to the prime minister, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. [...]

Italian prosecutors said the CIA operation was an egregious violation of national sovereignty, a call taken up by some members of the political left. [...]

Italian prosecutors have tried to broaden the prosecution of his captors. But, in addition to official roadblocks, they are confronted with a general sense of resignation among Italians, another obstacle to the criminal case. Outrage over the abduction has been tempered by a feeling among many Italians that the Americans will do as they choose on national territory, and nothing can be done about it.

"In a certain sense, Italians expect Italy to be taken for granted," said Giuseppe Cucchi, a retired army general with Italy's civil protection office who is familiar with intelligence operations.

It's a very good thing for the Right to fret about the threat of transnationalism, but the reality is that America, as Crusader State, is the far more significant threat to national sovereignty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


English Murder (Ferdinand Mount, The Spectator)

[T]he most remarkable fact about homicide in Britain today is that it has increased at a gallop over the past 40 years.

I don't think this was an inevitable historical trend. After all, from 1946, when Orwell wrote his essay, to 1965, the rate of homicide actually declined slightly, from 340-370 cases per year to 300-325.

Then, in 1965, capital punishment was abolished. Thereafter, there has been a remorseless increase in the number of homicides recorded by the police, to 396 in 1970, 621 in 180, 661 in 1990 and 853 in 2003-04. This increase has been matched by the number of convictions secured. In 1965, a mere 58 people went to prison under the mandatory life sentence that replaced the hangman. By 2003, the figure had risen to 277.

With most crime statistics, there is room for dispute. Their ups and downs may be due to the diligence of a new chief constable or some more or less subtle change in recording practice. But about a pile of dead bodies there cannot be much argument.

These homicide statistics are in fact the most reliable evidence for the claim that England and Wales have become progressively more violent. Nowhere near as violent as South Africa or Russia - or Scotland. But certainly something disquieting is happening. It is not all whipped up by the tabloids.

Yet when the Law Commission this week put out its consultation paper calling for a new Homicide Act, these facts seemed to play no part in its argument. In fact, the homicide statistics were excluded altogether from the 53-page overview and were only to be tracked down in appendix G, on page 323 of the full document.

Nor was there any mention of the startling growth in homicide in the approving leaders in The Times and in the Guardian, which called the commission's proposals "both logical and judicious".

Mr Justice Toulson and his colleagues complain that the present law of homicide is "a mess". They propose instead to create American-style first and second degrees of murder. These, along with a reformed offence of manslaughter and the sentencing tariffs that guide judges these days, would enable them to grade and label different types of murder.

The whole question is seen from the point of view of securing a satisfactory internal consistency of treatment, so that judges can totter off to their lodgings with the warm inner glow of one who has just solved a fiendish sudoku.

Nowhere does the commission appear to ask itself the larger question: will these proposals act as a stronger or weaker deterrent to anyone preparing to inflict grievous bodily harm on his neighbour?

You want it to be rational and effective?

December 29, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 PM


Better living ... as measured by PCs, VCRs (Mark Trumbull , 12/30/05, The Christian Science Monitor

In case there was any doubt, a study has confirmed that Americans have a lot of what economists know, technically, as stuff. The computer has surpassed the dishwasher as a standard household appliance. The poorest Americans have posted a sharp rise in access to air conditioning. [...]

It's only one piece of the overall picture of economic progress and doesn't resolve the question about future generations. But it confirms that what the Census Bureau calls "material well-being" abounds for regular folks today in ways that Louis XIV - for all his palaces, silk stockings, and ruffled finery - could barely have imagined.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 PM


Former Iraq Hostage Makes Bizzare TV Appearance (Der Spiegel, 12/29/05)

If former hostage Susanne Osthoff had been better advised, she probably would have opted against appearing on German television entirely covered in a black headscarf. The hijab, which left only a pair of slits for her eyes, made the freed hostage look like a disturbing cross between a Chechen Black Widow suicide bomber and a ninja.

On Wednesday night, 10 days after her release from captivity, a televised interview with Osthoff, who had been held in Iraq for three weeks, was broadcast on the German public television channel ZDF. In the interview's introduction, the presenter explained that Osthoff's choice of dress was suposedly intended to preserve her identity --a bizarre thought considering that Osthoff's face has been all over the front-pages since November and most people in Germany must be quite aware of what she looks like. Besides, she didn't wear a headdress in her interview with Arab broacaster Al-Jazeera earlier this week.

The second shock for viewers was the rambling, incoherent nature of Osthoff's answers. Even the heavily edited version (ZDF spokesman: "We wanted to protect Osthoff from herself.") of the original 15-minute interview was barely comprehensible. Questions were left unanswered and at times Osthoff rambled off into non-sequiturs about how badly she had been treated by her landlord back in Germany. When asked how the kidnapping had been carried out, she was evasive, simply responding: "I think these details are not interesting. That doesn't interest anyone. Generally kidnappings are carried out quite violently. People watch a lot of television and realize perhaps that you don't let yourself get abducted voluntarily."

We yield to no one in our contempt for Europeans, but even they have to realize by now that these supposed hostages are just facilitating transfer payments and prisoner releases from European governments to the terrorists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:20 PM


CIA couple outed by 5-year-old son (Tabassum Zakaria, 12/29/05, Reuters)

The Washington couple at the heart of the CIA leak investigation had their cover blown by their small son as they tried to sneak away on vacation on Thursday.

"My daddy's famous, my mommy's a secret spy," declared the 5-year-old of his parents, former diplomat Joe Wilson and retired CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Can't you just see Joe Wilson telling the poor kid that's what his parents are?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:00 PM


College Student Sues Over Mistaken Drug Bust (AP, 12/29/05)

When college freshman Janet Lee packed her bags for a Christmas trip home two years ago, her luggage contained three condoms filled with flour - devices that she and some friends made as a joke.

Philadelphia International Airport screeners found the condoms, and their initial tests showed they contained drugs. The Bryn Mawr College student was arrested on drug trafficking charges and jailed. Three weeks later, she was released after a lab test backed her story, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Thursday.

Lee filed a federal lawsuit last week against city police, seeking damages for pain and suffering, financial loss, and emotional distress. She was arrested on Dec. 21, 2003, and was held on $500,000 bail and faced up to 20 years in prison had she been convicted of the drug charges.

"I haven't let myself be angry about what happened, because it would tear me apart," Lee said. "I'm not sure I can bear to face it. I'm amazed at how naive I was."

Forget her suing them, why aren't they prosecuting her for the hoax?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:43 PM


Nick's Cultural Revolution (DAVID BARBOZA, 12/29/05, NY Times)

When Nickelodeon's popular "Kids' Choice Awards" program came to China last month, the producers were forced to make some serious modifications. There would be no voting on favorite burp. Nor would children judge which movie character was the best at breaking wind.

There was, however, sliming, a highlight of the American version of the show, which involves dumping, squirting and otherwise propelling green gooey stuff at people. And adults repeatedly were whacked by children - with balloon bats, of course - just to give the Chinese a taste of the freedoms afforded to children in the United States.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the show's national television broadcast was that children in China seemed to think that even this much kinder, gentler version of the program was wonderfully, outrageously transgressive. [...]

In the cutthroat competition of contemporary Chinese society, parents invest heavily in what is often their only child. Urban children especially may attend school from 7 a.m. till 4 p.m., followed by hours of homework, music lessons and other enrichment courses. Deviating from this rigorous program is not encouraged.

"We don't allow him to watch too much TV," Qiu Yi, a 41-year-old advertising salesman in Shanghai, said of his 11-year-old son. "I'm not against cartoons. But I try to encourage him to watch documentaries on dinosaurs and the Second World War. These programs are useful to his study."

What's on television in China seems to be not all too dissimilar from what's happening in the classroom. Youth programming in China tends to be dry, conservative and pedantic. It consists mostly of quiz shows, team competitions and endless lineups of youngsters, dressed uniformly, standing at attention and answering questions like Boy and Girl Scouts. [...]

"A lot of children's programming is really bad in China," said Li Yifei, managing director of MTV Networks China and considered one of the most powerful women in Chinese television. "It's condescending and more about lecturing to children. Fun - that's what's desperately needed."

Who'd blame the kids if they Menendez their parents?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:25 PM


Al-Qaida operative became fountain of information for U.S. (JOHN CREWDSON, 12/28/05, Chicago Tribune)

Consider Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the 39-year-old former al-Qaida operative who was the Sept. 11 mastermind and bearer of many al-Qaida secrets.

If anyone had a motive for remaining silent it was the man known to terrorism investigators as "KSM." But not long after his capture in Pakistan, in March 2003, KSM began to talk.

He ultimately had so much to say that more than 100 footnoted references to the CIA's interrogations of KSM are contained in the final report of the commission that investigated Sept. 11.

Not that everything KSM said was believable. But much of his information checked out in separate questioning of other captures al-Qaida figures.

What made KSM decide to talk? The answer may be waterboarding, to which KSM was subjected on at least one occasion, according to various accounts.

Note the key element that opponents of torture always seek to avoid discussing--when you torture for intelligence purposes, rather than to extract a useless confession, you can just check the information being given to you and thereby determine its reliability.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:30 PM


Brit Jew marries dolphin (Joe Kot, 12/29/05, ynet)

Till death do us part? An unusual wedding ceremony was held in the southern resort town of Eilat on Wednesday, as Sharon Tendler, a 41-years-old Jewish millionaire from London married her beloved Cindy, a 35-years-old dolphin, Israel's leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported Thursday.

The groom, a resident of the Eilat dolphin reef, met Tendler 15 years ago, when she first visited the resort. The British rock concert producer took a liking to the dolphin and has made a habit of traveling to Eilat two or three times a year and spending time with her underwater sweetheart.

"The peace and tranquility underwater, and his love, would calm me down," the excited bride said after the wedding.

Perhaps Rabbi Eric Yoffie put it best: "We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban human-dolphin weddings."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:20 PM


Navigating future for road charges (Paul Rincon, 12/29/05, BBC News)

[I]n a few years, sat-nav will be doing far more than simply telling drivers how to get to their destination. [...]

Powerful applications are expected on the roads; the Galileo network would allow a vehicle's exact movements to be tracked, presenting new possibilities for road-user charging and tolling.

The precision and availability of the Galileo signal would facilitate the application of charges according to the distance travelled by a vehicle, along with other parameters.

"For example, you might want to vary the charge according to speed, or whether someone is travelling through a city centre," Hans-Peter Marchlewski, general counsellor for the Galileo Joint Undertaking, told the BBC News website.

The time signal produced by Galileo would also allow different charges for driving at different times of the day.

"This we are able to do without any support from bridges or ground stations. You can do everything with the [Galileo] signal," explained Mr Marchlewski.

Each motorist would, of course, need to carry a satellite-linked "smart box" in their car, but Galileo-based systems would also dispense with much of the roadside infrastructure to collect tolls and charges.

Galileo sat-nav could potentially form the basis for general "pay-as-you-go" road pricing proposed for the UK as a replacement for road tax and petrol duty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:05 PM


Democracy Test: As 2005 began, President Bush set the spread of democracy as his primary goal. How did he do? (Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey, Dec. 28, 2005, Newsweek)

It only seems fair to judge someone’s year on their own terms. So in the holiday spirit, it’s worth looking back at President George W. Bush’s 2005 by using the standard he set for himself: the success of liberty.

As he explained in his Inaugural Address in January, his second term--and his legacy--depends on spreading democracy and the rule of law around the world. “We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion,” Bush declared on the steps of the Capitol. “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.” That wasn’t just something for future generations to worry about. Just before flying off to Camp David last week, and then his Texas ranch for a holiday, the president summarized his own year in front of the cameras on the South Lawn of the White House. “This has been a year of strong progress toward a freer, more peaceful world, and a prosperous America,” he said before citing the elections in Iraq. “This is an amazing moment in the history of liberty.”

Set aside, for a moment, the question of civil liberties at home--even though the debate has barely begun into why the administration bypassed the courts to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens. Just how amazing was the year in terms of liberty around the world?

Fortunately, Freedom House has already answered the question, so we don't have to go by just the opinions of two folks who think eavesdropping on terrorists means we have less liberty. Not only is freedom rising but the accompanying peace and prosperity are extraordinary. What stands out in the essay is that they just don't like the messiness that freedom brings in its wake.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:39 PM


THE DISPUTATION: Our Role in Promoting Holocaust Denial (David Klinghoffer, December 30, 2005, Forward)

Lately we Jews have displayed a weakness for a style of rhetorical overreach in which the Holocaust is deployed as a stick to threaten those whom some of us find objectionable. It should not startle anyone if Jew haters, seeing what a favorite weapon the Holocaust has become, seek to wrestle it out of our hands by denying it ever happened.

Some illustrations:

Last month in Houston, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, leader of the 1.5-million-member Reform movement, compared religious conservatives to Nazis for retaining the idea that marriage is a partnership of a man and woman. Yoffie said, "We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations."

Placing conservative Christians in the same tradition that brought us the Holocaust was a theme already familiar in the statements of prominent Jews. When Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" came out last year, even some usually perspicacious analysts couldn't resist linking the traditionally Catholic Gibson with Hitler and the Holocaust.

Columnist Charles Krauthammer linked Gibson's movie to the "blood libel that... led to countless Christian massacres of Jews and prepared Europe for the ultimate massacre — 6 million Jews systematically murdered in six years."

In The Washington Post, Richard Cohen summarized his own view: "I thought the movie was tawdry, cartoonish, badly acted and antisemitic, maybe not purposely so but in the way portions of the New Testament are — an assignment of blame that culminated in the Holocaust."

Walter Reich, former director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, found in Gibson's "Passion" signs of "that kind of anger that became the seedbed in which the antisemitism that flourished in the last century, and the Holocaust it produced, took root."

The Anti-Defamation League's national director, Abraham Foxman, said that he is "always hesitant to make comparisons of today's evils... to that of Adolf Hitler." But that didn't stop him from locating "The Passion" in the same vein of hate that led to the Holocaust. "The very reason that Jews have gone through so much is the thinking and viewpoint reflected in the Gibson film," he explained to the New York Post. "For 1,950 plus years the accusation that the Jews killed Jesus has been the source of antisemitism — inquisitions, expulsions, pogroms and eventually the Holocaust."

The fact that Gibson's film led to no manifestation of increased antisemitism anywhere in the world has not, to my knowledge, resulted in any of these commentators retracting their statements.

It's not only Christians, however, against whom we wield the ax of Hitler's incomparable genocide. When Israel's incomparably humane plan to evacuate Gaza of its Jewish residents was carried out, one found Jewish settlers comparing themselves to Holocaust victims — wearing orange Stars of David to recall the yellow star that Jews in the Nazi era were compelled to wear. An Israeli housing minister noted, "Unfortunately, I am no longer surprised when a Jew compares me and other Israeli officials to Nazis."

The danger would seem less that it contributes to denial of the Holocaust itself, than that the continual accusation that George Bush, in particular, and Christians, generally, are Nazis will tend to diminish the evil of the Third Reich. After all, if heterosexuality is Nazism, then the God of Abraham is....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:33 PM


Working at Home Gets Easier: Advances in Technology Make Telecommuting More Feasible (CHRISTOPHER RHOADS and SARA SILVER, December 29, 2005, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL)

The three-day transit strike was just the latest opportunity for some workers to put telecommuting technology to the test. Post-Sept. 11 concerns about terror attacks, growing fears of pandemics from severe acute respiratory syndrome and the avian flu, the increase in hurricanes, higher gas prices and greater traffic congestion, among other factors, have encouraged more people to find ways to work outside the office.

This year, 82.5 million workers world-wide have done their jobs at home one day a month, more than double the figure from 2000, according to Gartner Inc., a technology research firm. It predicts the figure will grow to more than 100 million workers by 2008.

The U.S., where some states as well as the federal government have passed legislation recently to enable more telecommuting, leads the development, according to Gartner. More than 23% of the country's work force worked at least one day a month at home this year, up from 12% in 2000, it said. It predicted that figure will grow to 27% by 2008. (The Gartner figures don't include corporate professionals who travel and work regularly from planes and hotels.)

Advancements in technology -- most notably the proliferation the past few years of high-speed Internet access in homes, cafes, airports and other locations -- has made the increase of telecommuting, or teleworking, possible and much easier than in the past.

"Broadband technology has made all of this a lot more feasible than five or six years ago," says Brett Caine, group vice president of Citrix Online, which makes software for teleworkers. Citrix Online is a unit of Citrix Systems Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

What is new, teleworking consultants agree, is a growing comfort with working from a remote location.

It's not as if white collar workers do anything once they get to the office anyway....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:26 PM


You choose: Civil liberties or safety? (James P. Pinkerton, December 29, 2005, Newsday)

Revelations about the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping rocked the civil liberties establishment, but the country as a whole didn't seem upset. Instead, the American people, mindful of the possible danger that we face, seem happy enough that Uncle Sam is taking steps to keep up with the challenges created by new technology.

Ask yourself: Do you think it's a bad idea for the feds, as U.S. News & World Report mentioned, to monitor Islamic sites inside the United States for any possible suspicious radiation leaks? The Council on American-Islamic Relations is up in arms - but are you? If you were to read in the paper that some FBI agent has gotten in trouble over pointing a Geiger counter at a mosque, would you be inclined to give the FBI agent the benefit of the doubt? I thought so.

Or take another example: Wednesday's USA Today details government plans to deploy security agents at major airports to engage in "behavioral screening." That is, agents chat up passengers, looking for anything suspicious. It's a tactic that's worked in Israel for years, and it's being introduced here, starting with Boston's Logan Airport. That airport, some might recall, was the departure point for two of the doomed flights on 9/11.

But of course, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts has already sued to oppose any such program. Who do you think the overwhelming majority of Americans want to see prevail on this question?

The thing is the overwhelming majority would support even some impingement on our own lives, but none of these steps touch us at all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 PM


Sex bombs at the box office in 2005 (Indo-Asian News Service, December 29, 2005)

Bollywood seemed obsessed with sex and sleaze in 2005 but the flirtation rebounded, with the dozen-odd movies of this genre fading out without a whimper. [...]

The list of box office casualties is long.

Neha Dhupia, who seemed to believe that exposure was a sure means to success, had to face twin disappointments this year. Two of her films, Sheesha and Siskiyan which had elements of titillation failed to lure audience and bombed miserably. [...]

Perhaps the year's most sensational release - Vinod Pande's Sins - a film about forbidden love between a Catholic priest and a disciple - blew the lid off sexual inhibitions in Indian cinema but failed to pull the crowds.

Producer-director Mahesh Bhatt, arguably one of the most prolific filmmakers in Bollywood, has become a front-bench loyalist and tries to provide the audience instant gratification through his films.

He uses sex and sleaze as publicity gimmicks to promote his films. And to market his thriller Nazar he deliberately blew lip-locking scenes between Pakistani actress Meera and Ashmit Patel out of proportion. As anticipated, it annoyed Pakistani fundamentalists.

Bhatt ignored the box office verdict - poor - and churned out another cheesy film called Kasak with Meera and Lucky Ali. That too fell flat.

Even Rituparno Ghosh's Antarmahal was full of intimate scenes that made a few conventionalist eyebrows rise. In fact, some critics lashed out at Ghosh and even labelled him a porn-filmmaker.

But actor-turned-director Deepak Tijori, who startled filmdom with his sexually explicit films Oops! and Khamosh, seems to have learnt from his past mistakes and has moved on to comedy.

He says: "The success of a genre depends upon the audience's liking. At this point of time comedy is working and double meaning dialogues are titillating people. Also, films with two-three heroes are doing well at the box office."

Films sans sex or nudity did well at box office this year. But there are a few stubborn filmmakers who still refused to accept that verdict.

...the elites vs the peoples of the Axis of Good.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:45 AM


Twenty Years Later, Buying a House Is Less of a Bite (DAVID LEONHARDT and MOTOKO RICH, 12/29/05, NY Times)

Despite a widespread sense that real estate has never been more expensive, families in the vast majority of the country can still buy a house for a smaller share of their income than they could have a generation ago.

A sharp fall in mortgage rates since the early 1980's, a decline in mortgage fees and a rise in incomes have more than made up for rising house prices in almost every place outside of New York, Washington, Miami and along the coast in California. These often-overlooked changes are a major reason that most economists do not expect a broad drop in prices in 2006, even though many once-booming markets on the coasts have started weakening.

The long-term decline in housing costs also helps explain why the homeownership rate remains near a record of almost 69 percent, up from 65 percent a decade ago.

Nationwide, a family earning the median income - the exact middle of all incomes - would have to spend 22 percent of its pretax pay this year on mortgage payments to buy the median-priced house, according to an analysis by Moody's, a research company.

The share has increased since 1998, when it hit a low of 17 percent before house prices began rising sharply in many places. Although the overall level has reached its highest point since 1989, it remains well below the levels of the early 1980's, when it topped 30 percent.

'Inverted curve' on bonds raises some concerns: Economists say event could signal recession, or not (JEANNINE AVERSA, Associated Press)
Whether a harbinger of troubled economic times or a quirk due to light trading around the holidays, this week's flip in the bond market — where long-term investments for a while fetched lower interest rates than short-term ones — bears close watching.

Yields, or the return, on 10-year Treasury notes on Tuesday dropped slightly below the yields on two-year notes, marking the first time this has happened in five years. This phenomenon, also evident for part of the trading session Wednesday, is called an "inverted yield curve" and in the past it has often preceded a recession.

Typically, longer-term instruments carry higher interest rates than shorter-term ones to compensate investors for tying up their money over a longer time frame, a decision that can be fraught with uncertainty.

When the situation reverses, it signals that bond investors are betting that interest rates down the road will move lower, something that can happen in the event the economy were to slow down or slip into a recession, thus blunting any concern about inflation.

The Fed has hiked interest rates 13 consecutive times into the teeth of a global deflation, raising real rates to an absurd level, thuis inverting the curve and making low housing costs higher than they should be.

The Most Important Economic News of the Year (Arnold Kling, 29 Dec 2005, Tech Central Station)

The table below presents annualized productivity growth for various five-year periods, starting with the period 1955-1960 (from the fourth quarter of 1955 to the fourth quarter of 1960). [...]

What the table says is that the economy today is in great shape. The average productivity growth rate in the last five years is the highest over the past half century.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:10 AM


Growing Japanese Isolation: Koizumi's Obsession with the Past Makes for an Uncertain Future (Wieland Wagner, 12/28/05, Der Spiegel)

Go to the movie theater in Japan these days and one of the more popular choices is a film about the country's past -- about a past Japan just can't seem to shake. The plot centers around a group of exhausted soldiers battling a vastly superior squadron of American aircraft. A scene of spurting blood, massive and deafening explosions and clouds of smoke marks the sinking of the "Yamato," then the world's largest battleship, in the Pacific Ocean, together with its crew of about 2,500 sailors. The message of the film -- that Nippon's heroes in World War II did not die in vain -- is hard to miss. And it's one that finds resonance with the Japanese public.

The battle portrayed in the film happened 60 years ago. In an attempt to delay an American invasion of the Japanese homeland, the Japanese military command sent the "Yamato" to an almost certain demise off the coast of Okinawa. The suicide mission created a long-lasting myth of heroic sacrifice for the fatherland, a myth that has never failed to get the Japanese reaching for their handkerchiefs.

This wartime tearjerker is symptomatic of a year in which Japan has marked the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of the ensuing American occupation. It was also a year made conspicuous by the lack of remorse the Japanese have shown for the atrocities they committed against their Asian neighbors -- and for the country's enthusiastic commemoration of the fallen soldiers of the former Japanese empire. Indeed, mindless sacrifice seems to have become a virtue -- one which many in Japan credit for its dramatic rise out of the ashes of World War II.

And the past is increasing in relevance in Japan recently. Once again, Japan feels it is surrounded by enemies. This time, though, the adversary isn't the United States -- on the contrary, America as an ally has become more indispensable than ever. Rather, the rising global power China is making Japan nervous, as is the former Japanese colony Korea.

The strongest relationship they've ever had with America and the recognition that China and the Koreas are enemies (the South because it increasingly appeases the North)--where's the downside here?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 AM


Hollywood's misunderstood terrorists (Victor Davis Hanson, 12/29/05, Honolulu Advertiser)

Take this fall's "Flightplan," [which] warns us that the real threat after Sept. 11 is certainly not young Middle Eastern males on planes who might hijack or crash them into iconic American buildings. No, more dangerous in Hollywood's alternate universe are the flight officials themselves — who in reality on Sept. 11 battled terrorists only to have their throats cut before being blown up with all the passengers.

A slickly filmed "Syriana" is the worst of the recent releases. The film's problem is not just that it predictably presents the bad, ugly sheik as a puppet of American oil interests while the handsome and good independent crown price is assassinated for championing his oppressed people against Western hegemony. Or that the conniving corporate potentates have big bellies and Southern accents while the goodhearted, sloppily dressed George Clooney is double-crossed by his stylish, pampered CIA bosses safe in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.

"Syriana" also perverts historical reality. [...]

Plus, in the real world outside Hollywood, does the United States really assassinate Gulf royalty who wish to liberalize their economies and give women the right to vote?

Contrary to the premise of "Syriana," the gripe against contemporary American foreign policy is just the opposite. Realists, isolationists and leftists alike damn the United States as naive or foolish for obsessing over democratic reform in Afghanistan and Iraq, pressuring Saudi Arabia and Egypt to hold valid elections and insisting that the terrorist patron Syria leave the voters of Lebanon alone.

The price of gas skyrocketed after the American invasion of Iraq. And oil companies, especially French and Russian, were furious when Saddam Hussein's kleptocracy fell — and their sweetheart deals were nullified by a new democratic Iraqi government.

Moral equivalence is perhaps the most troubling of Hollywood's postmodern pathologies — or the notion that each side that resorts to violence is of the same ethical nature.

Of course, Hollywood is paying the price of its anti-Americanism at the box office.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:55 AM


McCain's Retreat: Praise for the president's yielding to John McCain ignored the awful details in fine print (Nat Hentoff, December 23rd, 2005, Village Voice)

To begin, McCain, before his White House rapprochement with the president, had accepted administration language in his human rights amendment to give paid legal counsel and a certain amount of legal protection to interrogators—including the CIA's—accused of abusing prisoners. Their defense would be that a "person of ordinary sense and understanding would not know the practices were unlawful." Also, as at the Nuremberg trials after World War II, the defendants would say they were only following orders.

But as Josh White pointed out in the December 16 Washington Post, if these orders were plainly illegal, they would have to be disobeyed. In that case, what penalties would the commanders themselves, who gave the unlawful orders, face— including the top of the command at the Defense Department, the Justice Department, and the White House?

The Bush administration pressured McCain to accept this additional language in fear that, eventually, courts would decide that U.S. "coercive interrogations" have indeed violated U.S. law and international treaties we have signed. The ACLU and human rights organizations have already filed lawsuits making these claims against high levels of the administration.

Much more serious— and ignored by most of the media—is an amendment— voted for by McCain—to the Defense Authorization bill by Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Carl Levin (D-Michigan), and Jon Kyl (R-Arizona).

Tom Wilner, a constitutional lawyer who represents a number of Kuwaiti detainees (a/k/a prisoners) at Guantánamo, gets to the chilling core of the amendment:

"This amendment [which McCain has approved] tears the heart out of anything good that the McCain prohibition [against cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment] does. It strips the right of habeas corpus from detainees at Guantánamo, prohibits them from suing U.S. officials for their treatment, and in new language slipped into the bill [during the House-Senate conference committee sessions] actually authorizes the tribunals at Guantánamo [for enemy combatants] to use statements obtained through coercion [including torture] as 'probative' [testimony]. That provision works a significant change of existing U.S. and international law and actually provides an incentive for U.S. officials or officials from other governments through [CIA] rendition [sending terrorism suspects to other countries to be tortured], to obtain such coerced statements." (Emphasis added.)

Accordingly, Tom Wilner tells me, this "McCain/Graham/Levin/Kyl package is a disaster—a giant step backward for human rights. . . . By eliminating the Great Writ [habeas corpus] and authorizing the use of coercion, this amendment un- dermines the very foundation of our system.

"These changes far out- weigh the language for which Senator McCain has been so complimented, prohibiting the government from torturing or engaging in cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment."

Furthermore, how does this administration actually define torture anywhere? From a December 16 Washington Post editorial after Bush's "surrender" to McCain: "Mr. Bush's political appointees at the Justice Department [Alberto Gonzales at the top] and the Pentagon [Rumsfeld et al.] have redefined both 'torture' and 'cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment' as not covering in all circumstances such CIA techniques as 'waterboarding,' or simulated drowning; 'cold cell,' the deliberate inducing of hypothermia; mock execution; and prolonged and painful 'short-shackling.' It has taken these positions, even though 'cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment' as defined by the Senate [passage of the McCain amendment] covers everything that also would be prohibited by the Constitution [against prisoners held in the U.S.]. . . .

"[Accordingly,] the administration has adopted logic that accepts, in principle, the idea that the FBI could constitutionally use them on U.S. citizens in certain circumstances."

Luckily, ony a very few folks like Nat Hentoff are serious enough, even if mistaken, about civil liberties and human rights, to pay attention to the reality instead of the anti-Bush atmospherics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:37 AM


Population gloom: A new study says Russia's demographic 'devastation' has left it facing increasing crisis (Tom Parfitt, December 29, 2005, Guardian Unlimited)

Boris Vasiliev stomped down the snow-covered track that is the main street of his village and paused outside a dilapidated single-storey building.

"That used to be the doctor's surgery," he said, and then pointed back the way he had come. "Down there was the shop. A bit further, the social club."

Either side of the track were two long lines of empty wooden cottages. Buyavino, in the Tver region 130 miles north of Moscow, is one of tens of thousands of Russian villages slowly dying out as the country faces an alarming decline in its population.

When Guardian Unlimited visited earlier this year, Mr Vasiliev, a 58-year-old forestry worker, was the youngest person in the village and the only one with a job. [...]

Russia's population has plummeted by almost 7% to 143 million in the last 15 years, and is predicted to drop by another 20 million by 2025. And as Moscow gears up to take over the presidency of the G8 on January 1, the Kremlin is being urged to meet the crisis head on.

In a report published last week, Delovaya Rossiya, a business lobby group, predicted that the country would lose an astonishing $400bn (£232bn) in the next two decades if it failed to tackle the population dive.

Inadequate government efforts to encourage immigration, support young families and promote healthy eating are having a disastrous effect on President Vladimir Putin's oft-repeated desire to double GDP, it said.

There's no reason to expect nations in demographic decline to grow their economies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 AM


Recipe of the week (Chicago Tribune, 12/29/05)

Mexican baked eggs with sausage and cheese

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Chilling time: 4 hours or overnight
Cooking time: 55-60 minutes
Servings: 6

The sausage can be omitted if desired; just increase the salt to 1 teaspoon.

1 1/4 cups fresh bread crumbs, crusts trimmed
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
6 large eggs plus whites from 2 large eggs
4 ounces sausage, hot (or regular)
1 Tbsp. canola oil
1 large white onion, split lengthwise, thinly sliced
1 green pepper, roasted and peeled, see note below, cut into short, thin strips
1 jalapeno, seeded, minced
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
3/4 tsp. salt
8 ounces shredded chihuahua cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Salsa, corn tortillas for serving

1. Mix crumbs, milk and water in medium bowl. Whisk eggs and egg whites in another bowl until frothy. Set both aside.

2. Cook sausage in large skillet over high heat until crumbled and browned, about 4 minutes. Set aside on paper towels. Drain fat from pan.

3. Add oil to pan. Add onion, green pepper, jalapeno, garlic and salt. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until onions are soft, about 6 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Add reserved sausage, bread crumb mixture, frothed eggs, 1 1/3 cups of the cheese and black pepper. Mix well. Sprinkle 1/3 cup cheese on bottom of greased 6-cup shallow baking dish. Ladle in egg mixture. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Cover with plastic; refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. Remove plastic before baking.

4. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Cook in oven until well browned and puffy, about 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve hot, pass salsa and warm corn tortillas separately.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 AM


Did Early Humans First Arise in Asia, Not Africa? (Nicholas Bakalar, December 27, 2005, National Geographic News)

The authors maintain that, although there is no absolute proof, putting all the evidence together requires an open mind about other geographical origins of the first humans.

The authors point out that there is very little solid information about the first early humans in Asia, and paleontologists are left with assumptions that are too often treated as historical facts.

There is no archaeological or fossil evidence to prove that early humans moved from southern Africa to the Nile Valley in the early Pleistocene (1.8 million years ago to 11,500 years ago), they say.

It's just one faith vs. another.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


Patriotism is back in intellectual fashion (David Green, 27/12/2005, Daily Telegraph)

Can an intelligent person be patriotic? Or is national loyalty a base emotion, fit only for the tabloid-reading masses? In the 1940s, George Orwell remarked that Colonel Blimps and highbrow intellectuals both accepted as a law of nature that patriotism and intelligence were divorced.

England was, he thought, the only great country whose intellectuals were ashamed of their own nationality and felt it their "duty to snigger at every English institution". [...]

Patriotism as Orwell defined it - "devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people" - is making a comeback among members of the intelligentsia.

What does intellectualism have to do with intelligence?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM

EVEN RANDY LIKES IT (via Mike Daley):


2 cups finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 celery rib, chopped fine
1 carrot, chopped fine
1/2 cup finely chopped scallion
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2/3 cup ketchup plus additional as an accompaniment if desired
1 1/2 pounds ground chuck
3/4 pound ground pork
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large heavy skillet cook onion, garlic, celery, carrot, and scallion in butter over moderate heat, stirring, 5 minutes. Cook vegetables, covered, stirring occasionally, until carrot is tender, about 5 minutes more. Stir in salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and 1/3 cup of ketchup and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

In a large bowl combine well vegetables, meats, bread crumbs, eggs, and parsley. In a shallow baking pan form mixture into 1 10-by 5-inch oval loaf and spread remaining 1/3 cup ketchup over loaf. . DO NOT COOK IN LOAF PAN!

Bake meat loaf in oven 1 hour, or until a meat thermometer inserted in center registers 155°F.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


Aceh marks final troop withdrawal (BBC, 12/29/05)

A ceremony has taken place in Aceh marking the withdrawal of Indonesian troops sent there to combat an uprising which has cost more than 15,000 lives.

The pull-out is the final military step in a peace deal agreed with rebels from the Free Aceh Movement (Gam) aimed at ending 26 years of bitter conflict.

The rebels have already handed in their weapons and dissolved their armed wing.

The peace deal finally came together following the tsunami a year ago which devastated large parts of the province.

More than 120,000 Acehnese were killed in the disaster - and in the face of such widespread loss of life, the two sides appeared no longer to have the stomach for the fight, reports the BBC's Jakarta correspondent, Rachel Harvey. [...]

Under the peace deal agreed in August, the rebels dropped their demand for full independence in return for more autonomy for the province, which lies at the northern tip of the island of Sumatra.

After a number of years of autonomy, independence will come naturally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Trying to Light A Fire Under Chestnut Revival (Washington Post, December 29, 2005, )

They aren't just for Christmas anymore.

Agricultural researchers at the University of Missouri at Columbia's Center for Agroforestry are experimenting with more than 50 varieties of chestnuts. The goal: to bring back the American chestnut.

A century ago -- before an Asian blight devastated most of the country's millions of chestnut trees -- chestnuts were a staple of American diets, particularly for recent immigrants. The trees' rot-resistant timber was used to build barns and beams, its bark provided tannin for leather.

While the chestnut remains an oddity for most Americans, commercial production is increasing, and so is demand.

"The American Chestnut Foundation has worked very closely with the Agriculture Department to come up with a disease-resistant strain of the American chestnut," President Bush said when he planted a 16-foot chestnut tree on the White House grounds to mark the 133rd annual celebration of Arbor Day on April 29. "One day the American chestnut . . . will be coming back. And this is our little part to help it come back."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


Bush Team Rethinks Its Plan for Recovery: New Approach Could Save Second Term (Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei, December 29, 2005, Washington Post)

President Bush shifted his rhetoric on Iraq in recent weeks after an intense debate among advisers about how to pull out of his political free fall, with senior adviser Karl Rove urging a campaign-style attack on critics while younger aides pushed for more candor about setbacks in the war, according to Republican strategists.

The result was a hybrid of the two approaches as Bush lashed out at war opponents in Congress, then turned to a humbler assessment of events on the ground in Iraq that included admissions about how some of his expectations had been frustrated. [...]

The lessons drawn by a variety of Bush advisers inside and outside the White House as they map a road to recovery in 2006 include these: Overarching initiatives such as restructuring Social Security are unworkable in a time of war. The public wants a balanced appraisal of what is happening on the battlefield as well as pledges of victory. And Iraq trumps all.

"I don't think they realized that Iraq is the totality of their legacy until fairly recently," said former congressman Vin Weber (R-Minn.), an outside adviser to the White House. "There is not much of a market for other issues."

As H. W. Brands has written, that's how we got stuck with fifty years of the New Deal/Great Society in the first place: the cost of keeping the Left on board in time of war against a Leftist evil abroad was funding their welfare state at home. It's also why, contrary to David Frum, 9-11 was a political as well as national security disaster for George W. Bush and why the WoT will be brought to a rapid conclusion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


39% live in areas limiting smoking: Six more states pass restrictions in 2005 (Wendy Koch, 12/29/05, USA TODAY)

Six states enacted indoor smoking bans in 2005, more than in any previous year, as public sentiment appears increasingly anti-tobacco.

Thirty-nine percent of Americans are covered by statewide or local laws limiting smoking, according to Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights. In 1985, there were fewer than 200 such state and local laws in the USA. Today, there are more than 2,000. Of those, 118 state or local governments ban all smoking in restaurants, bars and other workplaces.

It's all part of a growing sentiment for a smoke-free environment at work, in public places, even outdoors.

Better uniform than piecemeal, but every bit helps.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


'Saint Bob' accused of betraying poor (GERRI PEEV , 12/29/05, The Scotsman)

ANTI-POVERTY activists have attacked Sir Bob Geldof for signing up to David Cameron's new Conservative think tank, accusing the aid campaigner of becoming a propaganda tool for politicians and betraying the poor in Africa.

Geldof's recruitment to the Global Poverty Challenge has alarmed activists who fear his involvement will reinforce the idea of free-market policies being the only way to tackle hardship.

The poor are meant to be dependent on the State.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


Teaching jobs in doubt as pensioners set to outnumber pupils by 2009 (PETER MACMAHON, 12/29/05, The Scotsman)

SCOTLAND'S demographic time-bomb will explode in three years, when the number of pensioners north of the Border overtakes the number of children in school, the Executive has been warned.

While the secularists continue to shovel up their assurances that peoples don't just kill themselves off....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Last-Minute Gift Buying Boosts Retailers: Sales at big chains rise 3.9% last week from a year earlier. Volume this week also may be good. (Leslie Earnest, December 29, 2005, LA Times)

Procrastinators again gave retailers a last-minute present this holiday season, as sales in the week before Christmas rose 3.9% from a year earlier.

The International Council of Shopping Centers, reporting its tally of 69 chains nationwide, said Wednesday that sales volume and customer traffic accelerated in the seven days before the holiday.

With shoppers gravitating back to stores to return unwanted presents, snap up bargains and redeem gift cards, retailers could log another solid week, said Michael Niemira, the group's chief economist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


After Storm, She Tries to Mend State, and Career (JAMES DAO, 12/29/05, NY Times)

She is struggling to rebuild a shattered state. But along the way, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana is also working to repair a wounded reputation - her own.

She has been mocked as weepy and indecisive by radio talk show hosts who deride her as "momma governor." She has feuded with the White House, which did not invite her to a recent announcement on levee protection. She has been criticized on Capitol Hill by Republicans as having made a "dysfunctional" response to Hurricane Katrina. [...]

The question now is whether Ms. Blanco can regain enough political traction to lead her state out of its trauma. A post-hurricane poll showed that only 19 percent of voters would definitely support her for re-election in 2007. The depopulation of New Orleans, her party's base, has emboldened Republicans. And some Democrats question whether she has a vision for reconstruction, beyond the laundry list of needs she ticks off in news releases.

"She's got problems facing her," said Bernie Pinsonat, a pollster. "I don't know if any governor could survive this."

Even racism may not be enough to help her beat Bobby Jindal this time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


New York Transit Deal Shows Union's Success on Many Fronts (STEVEN GREENHOUSE, 12/29/05, NY Times)

He was excoriated on tabloid front pages and by the mayor and governor. As thousands streamed across the Brooklyn Bridge on a frigid night during last week's transit strike, someone in a car yelled out his name, prefacing it with a curse.

But now, a day after details of an agreement between the transit workers and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority were spelled out, Roger Toussaint, the union's president, seems to have emerged in a far better position than seemed likely just a few days ago.

The strike was a gift, but NY wasted it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Sox in hunt for Tejada (Chris Snow, December 29, 2005, Boston Globe)

Dealing Miguel Tejada within the division remains a road the Orioles would rather not go down, but the Red Sox, according to a source with direct knowledge of the team's pursuit of the shortstop, have made a ''pretty good offer" that has positioned them as a legitimate contender for the 2002 American League Most Valuable Player.

The Sox, who initially offered Manny Ramírez for Tejada straight up, recently offered Ramírez and righthander Matt Clement, according to the source.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


The essential gravy Mastering the art of flavorful gravy (Russ Parsons, 12/29/05, Los Angeles Times)

There are few foods on the holiday table that carry the mystique of gravy. At its most basic level, it's nothing more than a paste of flour and fat thinned with turkey stock, yet it somehow has the capacity to strike fear in otherwise brave-hearted cooks.

Granted, there are enough bad gravies out there to give a cook pause. But making a good gravy — one that tastes of turkey essence and not flour and that lightly naps the food rather than smothering it — is only a little more complicated than stirring together a white sauce. [...]

The most critical phase of making gravy is right at the start, when you make the paste and add the first bit of liquid to it. This is what makes the difference between a gravy that is silky and one that is lumpy. After that, everything is easy. [...]

Giblet gravy

Total time: 45 minutes plus stock-simmering time
Servings: Makes about 3 cups

1 onion, quartered
1 cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped celery
Assorted turkey pieces — neck, wingtips, tail, gizzard and heart (but not the liver)
1 bay leaf
1 bunch (about 14 sprigs) parsley
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/4 cup fat skimmed from roasting pan, with butter added if necessary to make 1/4 cup
1/4 cup flour
Salt to taste
1/4 tsp. powdered sage (if serving sage dressing)
Freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large saucepan, combine the onion, carrot, celery, turkey pieces, 6 cups water, the bay leaf, parsley and thyme. Bring to a simmer, partially cover and cook for at least 2 hours.

2. After cooking, strain the stock into a measuring cup. You'll need about 3 1/2 to 4 cups of stock. Peel the tough skin from the gizzard; chop the gizzard and heart finely. Set aside.

3. When the turkey comes out of the oven, remove it to a platter to rest. Place the roasting pan over a burner set to high. Remove any garlic, onions, herbs or aromatics with a slotted spoon and discard. Let the pan sizzle for a minute; add the stock, scraping the pan with a wooden spoon to free any browned bits.

4. Pour this mixture into a fat separator or back into the measuring cup and set aside for a couple of minutes to let the fat separate.

5. In a saucepan over medium heat, add one-fourth cup skimmed fat or whatever amount of fat you have plus enough melted butter to make about one-fourth cup. Whisk in the flour and let it cook for 1 to 2 minutes, whisking constantly.

6. Slowly add 1 cup of stock, whisking constantly, being careful to add as little of the top layer of fat as you can. The sauce will thicken almost immediately. Gradually add more stock, about 1 cup at a time, whisking until the gravy is just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

7. When all of the stock has been added, season to taste with salt, sage and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes to cook out the taste of the raw flour. Occasionally, use a large soup spoon to skim off the skin of protein that forms on the top.

8. About 5 minutes before serving, stir in the chopped giblets. Ladle into a warmed gravy boat.

December 28, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 PM


N. Koreans Toil Abroad Under Grim Conditions
: Women provide badly needed labor in Czech towns and elsewhere. Pyongyang keeps a tight rein on them and takes most of their wages. (Barbara Demick, December 27, 2005, LA Times)

The elementary school closed long ago for lack of students. The entire village 20 miles west of Prague has only about 200 people.

The schoolhouse is now a factory producing uniforms. Almost all the workers are North Korean, and the women initially looked delighted to see visitors. It gets lonely working out here, thousands of miles from home. They crowded around to chat.

"I'm not so happy here. There is nobody who speaks my language. I'm so far from home," volunteered a tentative young woman in a T-shirt and sweatpants who said she was from Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.

But as she spoke, an older woman with stern posture and an expressionless face — a North Korean security official — passed by in the corridor. The young women scattered wordlessly and disappeared into another room, closing and bolting the door behind them.

Hundreds of young North Korean women are working in garment and leather factories like this one, easing a labor shortage in small Czech towns. Their presence in this recent member of the European Union is something of a throwback to before the Velvet Revolution of 1989, when Prague, like Pyongyang, was a partner in the Communist bloc.

The North Korean government keeps most of the earnings, apparently one of the few legal sources of hard currency for an isolated and impoverished government believed to be living off counterfeiting, drug trafficking and weapons sales. Experts estimate that there are 10,000 to 15,000 North Koreans working abroad in behalf of their government in jobs ranging from nursing to construction work. In addition to the Czech Republic, North Korea has sent workers to Russia, Libya, Bulgaria, Saudi Arabia and Angola, defectors say.

Almost the entire monthly salary of each of the women here, about $260, the Czech minimum wage, is deposited directly into an account controlled by the North Korean government, which gives the workers only a fraction of the money.

To the extent that they are allowed outside, they go only in groups. Often they are accompanied by a guard from the North Korean Embassy who is referred to as their "interpreter." They live under strict surveillance in dormitories with photographs of North Korea's late founder Kim Il Sung and current leader Kim Jong Il gracing the walls. Their only entertainment is propaganda films and newspapers sent from North Korea, and occasional exercise in the yard outside.

"This is 21st century slave labor," said Kim Tae San, a former official of the North Korean Embassy in Prague. He helped set up the factories in 1998 and served as president of one of the shoe factories until he defected to South Korea in 2002.

It also was Kim's job to collect the salaries and distribute the money to workers. He said 55% was taken off the top as a "voluntary" contribution to the cause of the socialist revolution. The women had to buy and cook their own food. Additional sums were deducted for accommodation, transportation and such extras as flowers for the birthdays of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

The women even had to pay for the propaganda films they were forced to watch. By the time all the deductions were made, each received between $20 and $30 a month. They spent less than $10 of it on food, buying only the cheapest local macaroni.

"They try to save money by not eating," said Kim, the former embassy official. He says that his wife, who accompanied him on visits to the factory, was concerned that women's menstruation stopped, their breasts shriveled and many experienced acute constipation. "We were always trying to get them to spend more on food, but they were desperate to bring money home to their families."

Kim said that Czechs often mistook the North Korean women for convict laborers because of the harsh conditions. "They would ask the girls, 'What terrible thing did you do to be sent here to work like this?' "

In fact, the women usually come from families deemed sufficiently loyal to the government that their daughters will not defect. With salaries at state-owned firms in North Korea as low as $1 per month, the chance to work abroad for a three-year stint is considered a privilege.

Having shed its own communist dictatorship, the Czech Republic is sensitive to human rights issues. On the other hand, the country has to employ about 200,000 guest workers, largely to replace Czechs who have left to seek higher wages in Western Europe.

Just the beginning of how horribly the demographic disaster will warp societies.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 8:27 PM


Everyone is invited to participate -- even those not signed up for our little contest. Please post your guesses below. I'll give a prize to whoever comes closest to guessing the true point spread without going over.

General game info: The game is the Nebraska Cornhuskers versus the Michigan Wolverines. Both teams are 7-4. Michigan is generally listed as a 10.5 to 11-point favorite. Michigan is probably the better team but their fans are outnumbered and Michigan doesn't appear excited about playing in this particular bowl game.

If the winner picks Nebraska, he will receive a free copy of Pauline Maier's book American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. If the winner picks Michigan, he will receive a Howard Zinn book (in fairness, this last point is subject to negotiation).

Have fun!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 PM

...AND LOWER...:

Why energy prices are cooling off: Home-heating oil prices have declined by some 60 cents a gallon since September. (Ron Scherer, 12/29/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

Already there are reports that OPEC will cut production, perhaps by as much as one million barrels of oil per day, to try to keep prices from falling. "In the second quarter of the year, demand is at its lowest," says Mr. Routt. "If they continued pumping when demand eases they could be accused of crushing the market."

Oil prices have remained below $60 a barrel for six months. Combined with lower demand for gasoline, this has helped bring down the price for motorists. Wednesday, reported the national average at $2.15 a gallon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 PM


2006 economy looks solid: Most forecasters see growth of at least 3 percent, which means more jobs and higher pay. (Mark Trumbull , 12/29/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

A fifth straight year of economic expansion in 2006 promises to mean new jobs, higher pay, and maybe even fatter investment portfolios for millions of Americans. [...]

The consensus forecast calls for:

• Rising pay. Disposable incomes will rise by 3.2 percent, after inflation, more than double this year's gain.

Posted by David Cohen at 6:38 PM


Number of tour groups leaps in 2005 (Hilary Leila Krieger, Jerusalem Post, 12/28/05)

The number of tour groups visiting Israel jumped substantially in 2005, including from Arab and Muslim countries, according to figures provided by the Interior Ministry Wednesday.

Jordan sent its first tour groups ever - totaling 64 individuals - according to the ministry, and Egypt's numbers rose from 47 tour participants in 2004 to 432 in 2005.

Indonesia and Malaysia - two countries that don't have official diplomatic relations with Israel - sent 7,234 and 1,431 tourists respectively on organized tours. The numbers were 4,755 and 654 apiece the year earlier.

I would guess that there were some pretty odd moments on those tours.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:18 PM


Huge new oil discovery in Brazil (BBC, 12/28/05)

Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobras, says it has discovered a huge new offshore oil field off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state.

The Papa-Terra field was found in the Campos Basin, which is already Brazil's most important oil-producing region.

Petrobras estimates it contains at least 700 million barrels of crude - about 10% of Brazil's current reserves. [...]

The new field is expected to help Petrobras achieve its goal of making Brazil self-sufficient in oil. Since 2003, the company has been meeting 91% of the country's needs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:10 PM


The Steady, Strategic Ascent Of JetBlue Airways (Knowledge@Wharton, 12.28.05)

The brainchild of industry veteran David Neeleman, who is the company's chairman and chief executive, JetBlue has tried to combine the best features of low-fare carriers, like Southwest, and traditional ones, like UAL's United and AMR's American. Like Southwest, it eschews hub airports in favor of point-to-point flights and looks for innovative ways to cut costs. Its 1,100 call-center operators, for example, don't work in a center at all, but at their homes in and around Salt Lake City. "I have had some investors ask, 'Do they have uniforms?'" Barger quips. "And I'm like, 'I have no idea whether they are wearing anything at all.'" Nor, he said, does he care--as long as they provide excellent customer service.

Like traditional carriers, JetBlue offers assigned seats and in-flight entertainment. Recently, for example, it announced that it was adding 100 channels of satellite radio. The company had to do business differently if it was to succeed in a "broken industry," Barger said. "Today, three out of every ten seats flown are on a bankrupt carrier. We are growing our company and trying to fend off competition that is insensitive to price. In bankruptcy, companies have protection, and underneath that umbrella they can offer very low fares. Independence Air is offering $59 from Washington to the West Coast. How do you compete with that?"

One way is to find markets with fewer competitors. That strategy motivated JetBlue's recent purchase of 100 of Embraer's 190 aircraft. The smaller planes will enable it to economically serve less-crowded markets, such as Richmond, Va., and Austin, Texas. "A smaller airplane has some inefficiencies, but it allows us to mine markets that Southwest, Frontier and America West aren't in," Barger noted.

One criticism of JetBlue has been is that it's little more than a Southwest copycat. Barger admitted that his company has borrowed from the only major airline that has continued to thrive amid the industry's recent slump. "We have taken some aspects of Southwest. Why? Because they work. There's no pride of authorship there."

If prices aren't low and/or falling you won't succeed in the deflationary economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:03 PM


The Castro show just keeps getting weirder (ANA MENENDEZ, 12/27/05, Miami Herald)

Poor Fidel. It's not easy being a dictator these days, not when your sworn enemy has stolen your playbook and recast it as democracy. How sad it must be to come up with all these creative governing principles -- listening in on private phone calls, reading personal mail, secretly video-taping protestors -- only to live long enough to see a third-rate intelligence like George W. Bush adopt them all as his own. It's enough to drive anyone nuts.

At least she's honest about suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:39 PM


Consumer Confidence Up As Gas Prices Fall (EILEEN ALT POWELL , 12.28.2005, Forbes)

Consumer confidence surged in December as declining gasoline prices and improving job opportunities buoyed spirits, boding well for spending in the new year.

The Conference Board said Wednesday that its Consumer Confidence Index advanced to 103.6 this month after recovering to 98.3 in November. That was better than the 103.0 reading analysts had expected for December.

December's rise put the index at its highest level since Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29, devastating Gulf Coast states and disrupting fuel and trade for much of the nation. Last August, before the storm, the index registered 105.5.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:37 PM


JAILED FOR THEIR WORDS: A law passed during World War I pitched Montanans into prison for critical remarks; law students are seeking clemency for them (Maurice Possley, December 28, 2005, Chicago Tribune)

On April 23, 1918, with the U.S. in the depths of World War I, Fred Rodewald, a German immigrant homesteader who had settled with his family on 320 acres in eastern Montana, uttered a sentence that forever changed his life.

He suggested that Americans "would have hard times" if Germany's kaiser "didn't get over here and rule this country."

That remark earned him 2 years in prison for violating Montana's Sedition Act. When he went off to the penitentiary in Deer Lodge, the 42-year-old Rodewald left behind a pregnant wife and eight children. An armistice ended the war less than a month later.

Now, nearly 90 years later, law students at the University of Montana have begun a quest and are prowling dusty archives and musty courthouse storage rooms across the state to clear Rodewald and 73 other Montanans convicted of sedition.

The project provides a contrast between the waning days of World War I, when a farmer could be jailed for suggesting that it was "a rich man's war," and today, when citizens can criticize the war in Iraq without fear of prosecution, if not without fear of government surveillance.

If only a Democrat were in office for the WoT, John Murtha and Cindy Sheehan would be behind barbed wire....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:06 AM


National Security Agency (, December 28, 2005)

Sixty-four percent (64%) of Americans believe the National Security Agency (NSA) should be allowed to intercept telephone conversations between terrorism suspects in other countries and people living in the United States. A Rasmussen Reports survey found that just 23% disagree.

Is even Karl Rove an evil enough genius to initiate the impeachment proceedings just so they can thoroughly discredit the Democrats?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:33 AM


Centrist Democrats hit anti-Bush tactics (Donald Lambro, 12/28/05, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

"The Republicans still hold the advantage on every national-security issue we tested," said Mark Penn, a Democratic pollster and former adviser to President Clinton, who co-authored a Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) memo on the party's national-security weaknesses.

Nervousness among Democrats intensified earlier this month after Democrats led a filibuster against the Patriot Act that threatened to block the measure, followed by a victory cry from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, who declared at a party rally, "We killed the Patriot Act."

After Mr. Bush sharply attacked Mr. Reid, saying lack of the Patriot Act "will leave us in a weaker position in the fight against brutal killers," Senate Democrats dropped their filibuster and accepted a six-month extension. A Republican-backed five-week extension was adopted last week by the House and Senate.

Recent polls say 56 percent of Americans approve of the job Mr. Bush is doing to protect the country from another terrorist attack.

"In shaping alternative policies -- particularly on national security, terrorism and Iraq -- Democrats have to be extremely careful to avoid reinforcing the negative stereotype that has cost us so much in the last two national elections," the recent DLC memorandum said.

The WoT just isn't likely to be much of an issue going forward--Democrats should be far more worried about the healthy economy, their estrangement from the nation on moral issues and their lack of any coherent alternatives to George Bush's Third Way.

Life Keeps Getting Better, Americans Say (Nathan Burchfiel, December 27, 2005,

Most Americans say 2005 was a better year than 2004 and they're optimistic that 2006 will be even better, according to a poll released Monday by Quinnipiac University.

The school surveyed 1,230 Americans and found that 53 percent feel that 2005 was "a better year for [them] personally" than 2004. Nearly 80 percent expect 2006 to be better than 2005.

Republicans feel better about the direction of their lives than Democrats, according to the poll. Sixty-five percent of Republicans felt this year was better than last, compared to 41 percent of Democrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:24 AM


Peace on Earth? Increasingly, Yes. (Andrew Mack, December 28, 2005, Washington Post)

The Human Security Report, an independent study funded by five countries and published by Oxford University Press, draws on a wide range of little publicized scholarly data, plus specially commissioned research to present a portrait of global security that is sharply at odds with conventional wisdom. The report reveals that after five decades of inexorable increase, the number of armed conflicts started to fall worldwide in the early 1990s. The decline has continued.

By 2003, there were 40 percent fewer conflicts than in 1992. The deadliest conflicts -- those with 1,000 or more battle-deaths -- fell by some 80 percent. The number of genocides and other mass slaughters of civilians also dropped by 80 percent, while core human rights abuses have declined in five out of six regions of the developing world since the mid-1990s. International terrorism is the only type of political violence that has increased. Although the death toll has jumped sharply over the past three years, terrorists kill only a fraction of the number who die in wars.

What accounts for the extraordinary and counterintuitive improvement in global security over the past dozen years? The end of the Cold War, which had driven at least a third of all conflicts since World War II, appears to have been the single most critical factor.

One of the other reasons is because the numbers demonstrate just how evil was the supposed peace of the Cold War and the catastrophic cost of not dealing with the USSR fifty years earlier.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 AM


Chuck and Hil play risky Patriot game (NY Daily News, December 27, 2005)

Absent full ringing Senate support for the renewal of those expiring sections of the Patriot Act - apparently it is beyond some of our good senators to comprehend that there really is a war on terror - we will, along with President Bush, settle for the temporary five-week extension that got okayed Thursday night as the pols beat it out the door for the holidays.

Fine. Let them continue to wrangle over this and that technical detail for a few weeks when they return in January. Let some have a good crow over the "defeat" they've just handed the administration. The important thing is that come the new year, the Patriot Act will still be in place and the FBI and CIA will continue to be able to share terrorism information. So, sorry, terrorists. Guess you can't start using your cell phones again after all.

As for our own Sens. Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, who joined their colleagues in that filibuster against the renewal of an utterly essential terror-fighting instrument - well, that was pretty outrageous of them, given that New York City and the security thereof is one of the primary reasons for the very existence of the Patriot Act in the first place.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:59 AM


Devout Democracies: Self-Rule in the Middle East Will Have a Religious Component, but that Doesn't Mean It Won't Work (Reuel Marc Gerecht, December 27, 2005, The Weekly Standard)

In fragile societies trying to establish democracy, where communal and individual trust are integral, suicide bombings, if they come in unending waves, could, conceivably, destroy everything. In all probability, this scenario is too pessimistic. The backlash in the Iraqi Sunni community, as elsewhere in the Sunni Arab world, against the horrific slaughter of women and children has already started. It may be a spur to political compromise among the Sunni Arabs in Iraq (for fear of the holy warriors and the Shia, who may eventually let loose a pitiless, all-consuming revenge). And in Afghanistan, the cult of the suicide bomber is still in its infancy. Pashtun society, which is where such holy-warriorism will have to grow, would probably offer sufficient resistance to keep this kind of terrorism from becoming a plague.

Suicide bombing possibly aside, a comparison of Afghanistan and Iraq ought to calm American nerves about the political evolution in Mesopotamia. What doesn't really bother us in Afghanistan-the participation of devoutly religious Muslims in the political process-shouldn't bother us elsewhere. We may view Afghanistan with the bigotry of low expectations: Since Afghans have been calling themselves mujahedeen, holy warriors, for nearly three decades, and political Islam has been swirling through the Afghan bloodstream for even longer, we don't expect their political system to be all that secular. That Afghans, who have developed a certain penchant for making personal and political differences a casus belli, can sit together under one roof and scream but not shoot is an achievement for the new parliament. However imperfect, this is the birth of tolerance. For Americans and their European allies in Afghanistan, and for the Afghans themselves, watching ultraconservative turbaned men, veiled women, and opium-enriched warlords rub shoulders with expatriate suits and ties and women showing hair and a bit of a female form is a very good beginning.

We should have, mutatis mutandis, similar expectations in Iraq. Iraqis, we were told by a long list of Iraqi exiles, journalists, and scholars, are much less fervent believers. On the Shiite, Sunni, and even Kurdish side, this assumption of rather advanced secularization was misplaced and, more important, harmful to our understanding of how democracy would take root in Iraq. We should realize that in Mesopotamia, as in Afghanistan, democracy will be either made or broken by men and women of serious, not particularly reformed faith-not by secular liberals, Muslim progressives, or "moderates" (probably best defined as Muslims who act more or less like ordinary faithful Christians). All of the explicitly secular and moderate candidates did rather poorly in Iraq's national elections on December 15, even though the United States, with the Central Intelligence Agency in the lead, probably poured a small fortune into helping their cause. One can feel considerable sympathy for the liberal Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya, who recently gave an analytical cri de coeur in the New York Times, dissecting all the reasons we should fear Iraq's new constitution, with its fissiparous potential. It is, without doubt, a flawed document. One can easily wish for a little less federalist enthusiasm on the Shiite and Kurdish sides.

And one can wish for more vigorous checks and balances. As the late, great historian Elie Kedourie once speculated, Middle Eastern countries, in their earlier democratic moments, might have done much better if they'd used America's presidential system rather than Europe's parliaments as a model. A strong executive constantly checked by strong legislative and judicial authorities might have kept the Middle East's homegrown and imported authoritarian impulses from dominating. Such a constitutional setup today in Iraq would probably improve the odds of surviving sectarian strife.

Furthermore, when one scans the Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish communities, one isn't particularly inspired by the Iraqi founding fathers. For a secular, liberal Iraqi like Makiya, things are not good. But they are far from hopeless. The Islamic-Iraqi identity on the Shiite side still seems quite solid: From the most secular to the most religious, the nationalist component has not been subsumed. It is possible that it could be: The savage battering of the Shia by Sunni holy warriors and insurgents could make the Shia think of themselves first and always as Shiite, and therefore less willing to compromise with Sunnis, who fear being impoverished in a federalist system that would effectively deny them future oil revenue. Something like this almost happened in Lebanon, when the ideas and foot-soldiers of Iran's very Shiite Islamic revolution struck Lebanon after decades of Christian and Sunni Lebanese neglect and abuse of the Lebanese Shia, even worse Palestinian oppression of the Lebanese Shia, and the Israeli invasion in 1982. In Iran, the revolution and the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war engorged the Shiite side of the Persian brain, altering temporarily the complex balance that makes the Shiite-Iranian identity.

But we're not quite there yet in Iraq. We will unquestionably see a federalist Iraq-at a minimum the Kurds will guarantee this. And the Shia have now understood that federalism checks centralized power, which has historically brutalized them. (Until the Shia become more self-confident as a community--and they still appear fearful of the Arab Sunnis' greater martial prowess--federalism will retain strong appeal for them.) But the language of the Shia still seems overwhelmingly Iraqi in content and tone. For anyone raised in the 1980s on militant Shiite Islamist thought, Iraq just doesn't do it. Compared with Lebanon's Hezbollah and Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps at their most fervid, the young radical Iraqi cleric Moktada al-Sadr seems like a pretty prosaic nationalist. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Dawa party, the two oldest Shiite religious parties, don't seem at all ready to give up on the idea of a nation that incorporates and compromises with Arab Sunnis. Abdul al-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of SCIRI, may have many sins, but he is not a fanatic. SCIRI's likely parliamentary chief, Adel Abdel Mahdi, is a thoughtful man who absolutely doesn't want to push Iraq into civil war.

And there remains the huge fact of the Shiite population in Baghdad, which would be excluded from any Shiite semi--autonomous zone in the south. Baghdad is a majority Shiite city. And it simply cannot be compared to any other city in Iraq-certainly not impoverished and broken Basra, the other possible pole of Shiite urban influence. (The impoverished Shiite south of Iraq actually reminds one of Afghanistan.) For the foreseeable future, the centripetal power of Baghdad will remain. The exclusionary, defensive, federalist impulses of the Iraqi Shiite community, which Makiya rightly fears, can go only so far before they provoke real, paralyzing Shiite resistance from Baghdad. If for no other reason, the Baghdad Shiite factor will likely guarantee sufficient tolerance toward the Sunnis for democratic progress to continue.

An Afghan parallel again has value. Despite the strife and civil war that fragmented loyalties, the Afghan national identity is still alive.

It's not hard to see how History Ends when the great hope of those who oppose liberal democracy is suicide.

Posted by David Cohen at 8:51 AM


Revealed: the pill that prevents cancer (Jeremy Laurance, The Independent, 12/28/05)

A daily dose of vitamin D could cut the risk of cancers of the breast, colon and ovary by up to a half, a 40-year review of research has found. The evidence for the protective effect of the "sunshine vitamin" is so overwhelming that urgent action must be taken by public health authorities to boost blood levels, say cancer specialists.

A growing body of evidence in recent years has shown that lack of vitamin D may have lethal effects. Heart disease, lung disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis are among the conditions in which it is believed to play a vital role. The vitamin is also essential for bone health and protects against rickets in children and osteoporosis in the elderly. . . .

Countries around the world have begun to modify their warnings about the dangers of sunbathing, as a result of the growing research on vitamin D. The Association of Cancer Councils of Australia acknowledged this year for the first time that some exposure to the sun was healthy.

Australia is one of the world's sunniest countries and has among the highest rates of skin cancer. For three decades it has preached sun avoidance with its "slip, slap, slop" campaign to cover up and use sunscreen. But in a statement in March, the association said: "A balance is required between avoiding an increase in the risk of skin cancer and achieving enough ultraviolet radiation exposure to achieve adequate vitamin D levels." Bruce Armstrong, the professor of public health at Sydney University, said: " It is a revolution."

In the latest study, cancer specialists from the University of San Diego, California, led by Professor Cedric Garland, reviewed 63 scientific papers on the link between vitamin D and cancer published between 1966 and 2004. People living in the north-eastern US, where it is less sunny, and African Americans with darker skins were more likely to be deficient, researchers found. They also had higher cancer rates.

The researchers say their finding could explain why black Americans die sooner from cancer than whites, even after allowing for differences in income and access to care.

Do you ever suspect that modern Public Health is, at best, a wash?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


Meatloaf Popularity Grows Among Foodies (JEFF BARNARD, December 27, 2005, The Associated Press)

Mom made meatloaf to stretch the food budget. Dad ate it because it tasted good, especially with lots of ketchup. Now Baby Boomers are ordering it in restaurants. Meatloaf may not be tops on the healthy food list, though it can certainly be made that way with lean meats and lots of veggies. But this comfort food that became an American staple during the Depression is hanging on, growing up and branching out. [...]

Meatloaf comes out of the late 19th century, when meat grinders became popular, said Lynne Olver, editor of the Web site The 1884 "Boston Cooking School Cookbook" has recipes for ground veal mixed with breadcrumbs and eggs, baked in small individual molds. [...]

The word meatloaf appears regularly in the New York Times in the 1930s and 1940s, when the Depression and World War II made stretching food dollars imperative. But it was the 1950s when America "embraced" meatloaf.

"I have cookbooks from the '50s with all sorts of filled meatloaf, gourmet meatloafs, meatloaf for the grill," Olver said.

James E. McWilliams, assistant professor of history at Texas State University at San Marcos and author of "A Revolution in Eating, How the Quest for Food Shaped America," sees meatloaf's roots in scrapple, a mixture of ground pork and cornmeal made by German-Americans in Pennsylvania since Colonial times.

"It's a food that's quite consistent with an American attitude," McWilliams said. "It is so open to interpretation and flexible. Its origins are humble."

President Ronald Reagan was a famous fan, and writer Jean Shepherd included family battles over meatloaf in the movie "A Christmas Story." Little brother Randy declares he hates meatloaf, and The Old Man threatens to use a screwdriver and plumber's helper to get some down him.

In his very fine crime novel, '46, Chicago, Steve Monroe points out that one of the reasons meatloaf became so popular is that during wartime rationing it cost you so many more coupons to get steak than ground beef.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


Munich mastermind spurns Spielberg's peace appeal (Nidal al-Mughrabi, Dec 27, 2005, Reuters)

The Palestinian mastermind of the Munich Olympics attack in which 11 Israeli athletes died said on Tuesday he had no regrets and that Steven Spielberg's new film about the incident would not deliver reconciliation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


When Chinese Sue the State, Cases Are Often Smothered (JOSEPH KAHN, 12/28/05, NY Times)

China's legal system often hands down verdicts that the powerless consider unfair. But a bigger problem is that courts often refuse to issue any verdict at all - or even acknowledge that some bothersome legal complaints exist.

The English translation is simply "put on the record" or "register a case," but in China "li'an" is so fraught with official meddling that for many with complaints against the government, the judicial system is closed for business.

Since Communist China first created the semblance of a modern legal system a quarter-century ago, criminal cases - the state suing individuals - mostly go through the courts. Private citizens and businesses now often resolve civil disputes in court. But the third and most sensitive use of the judicial system, a 1989 statute that entitles people to sue the state, remains a beguiling fiction, scholars say.

"The number of people wanting to sue the government is large and growing," says Xiao Jianguo, a legal scholar at People's University in Beijing who has studied the issue. "But the number of people who succeed in filing cases against the government is miniscule. So you could say there is a gap between theory and practice."

Though fast-rising China wants to persuade the outside world that it is governed by law, pressure to improve the system comes mainly from within. Protests are erupting around the country over land seizures, pollution, corruption and abuse of power, with 74,000 officially recorded incidents of mass unrest in 2004.

China's leaders know they need to manage such unrest. Indeed, President Hu Jintao says "democratic rule of law" is a crucial ingredient of his plan to build a "harmonious society."

Such pledges spread awareness of legal rights, but have yet to change legal procedures. It is not clear how many protests follow failed attempts to settle disputes in court. But lawyers say the judicial system bars its doors to so many contentious cases that it effectively forces people to take to the streets.

These regimes somehow never learn that when they try to speak like liberals they create expectations of liberalization and are eventually forced to grant it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Defense Lawyers in Terror Cases Plan Challenges Over Spy Efforts (ERIC LICHTBLAU and JAMES RISEN, 12/28/05, NY Times)

Defense lawyers in some of the country's biggest terrorism cases say they plan to bring legal challenges to determine whether the National Security Agency used illegal wiretaps against several dozen Muslim men tied to Al Qaeda.

Just don't bring them to trial.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Brokeback Mountain: The guilt trip continues (Robert Wright vs. Mickey Kaus, Blogging Heads)

Not only is this hilarious conversation --which is essentially just two guys trying to escape the moral nature of the fact they find anal sex repulsive-- devastating to Darwinism and homophilia but it's all made superfluous by just one line from Mark Helprin: "It should not be necessary to explain a praiseworthy revulsion."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Thatcher-basher Geldof advises Cameron's team (David Charter, 12/28/05, Times of London)

BETTER known for turning the air blue, Bob Geldof has agreed to act as an unpaid adviser on global poverty relief for the new light blue Conservative Party.

The former rock star turned millionaire poverty campaigner famously clashed with Baroness Thatcher in the 1980s but was successful in changing Conservative policy when she eventually agreed to waive the VAT on the Band Aid single.

Like his fellow Irish rock ambassador Bono, who endured the wrath of campaigners by sitting down with President Bush, “Saint Bob” has risen above partisan political concerns to promote his anti-poverty message.

Exorcise these Tory ghosts: David Cameron knows that expunging Thatcherite rhetoric is vital for his party's future success (Bruce Anderson, 12/28/05, Times of London)
IT ALL COMES back to the classics. Anyone who wants to understand the changes that are now taking place in the Tory party should begin by considering a Latin tag — suaviter in modo, fortiter in re. Like most of the best Latin phrases, it is so pithy as to be almost impossible to translate, but applied to politics it means “be firm on the essentials of policy, while using conciliatory language to explain yourself to the public”. That is Cameronism, Even if David Cameron has not said anything about detailed policies, his willingness to think boldly has alarmed a number of Tories who prefer to cling to Thatcherite certainties and Thatcherite rhetoric. [...]

Lady Thatcher has endowed British political vocabulary with two words, “Thatcherism” and “cuts”, which are widely believed to be synonymous. She never used the term “cuts”, but her body language gave it credence. Yet there were no cuts. During her years, tax revenue hardly fell as a proportion of GDP, while public expenditure went on growing, especially on health. Mrs Thatcher once insisted that “the NHS is safe in our hands ”. So it was.

The reality is that Mr. Cameron, like Mr. Bush, is just an advocate of Thatcherism, but smart enough to adopt his opponent's rhetoric to dress that Third Way up in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


Poland postpones Iraq withdrawal (BBC, 12/28/05)

Poland's government says it has taken the "very difficult decision" to extend its military deployment in Iraq until the end of 2006.

The new conservative government's decision reverses the previous leftist administration's plan to pull troops out in early 2006.

Poland, a staunch ally of the US, has about 1,500 troops stationed in Iraq.

Poland is so much hated because it so often humbles the rest of us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Print Reports Snow Readers On Housing: Reports hype November sales drop while ignoring that 2005 will break 2004 new house-sale record. (Ken Shepherd, Dec. 27, 2005, Free Market Project)

The front page of the December 27 Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) joined other print outlets in blowing hot air on the so-called “housing bubble” with “Home Sales Plunge as Prices Pull Back and Supply Swells,” as reporter Kirk Shinkle painted a chilly winter landscape for the housing market. [...]

Yet a month prior, The Washington Post’s Sandra Fleishman reported on government figures showing sales for October 2005 had leapt 13 percent over September, “a monthly increase not seen in a dozen years, according to a government report.” In her November 30 report on the October numbers, Fleishman voiced caution from unnamed experts, noting that the “unexpected burst of activity in sales of new homes, particularly a 47 percent rise in sales in the West, could be an error in reporting,” adding that experts say, “monthly new-home statistics are volatile and often subject to revisions.”

Shinkle hyped one month’s aberrant statistics to hint at a housing bubble burst and warned new home building “might only add to a growing glut on the market.” That is only the latest example of the media eagerly misreporting the news to forecast a housing bubble burst which has not yet happened, despite four years of doom-saying. The Free Market Project placed the housing bubble myth as number five in its year-ending list of the Top Ten Economic Myths of 2005. The November 30 Free Market Project study on housing bubble coverage is also available at

Gee, you'd think the stories about the oil bubble bursting would crowd out the housing ones.

December 27, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:23 PM

BUT I'M THE SMART ROCK! (via Mike Daley):

Love in the Age of Neuroscience (Mickey Craig and Jon Fennell, The New Atlantis)

Late last year, over a period of several months, America and Britain were awash in reviews of I Am Charlotte Simmons, the latest novel by Tom Wolfe. Most reviews criticized the novel’s cheap and tiresome devices (excessive repetition, capitalized words, overly dramatic punctuation), stock characters (the ingénue, country bumpkins, frat boys, salacious sorority sisters, dumb jocks, politically correct professors), and, most egregiously, its preoccupation with student sex. Several reviewers were disturbed by the reference to “loamy, loamy loins” by an author in his mid-seventies—a man thoroughly out of touch with his young subjects, perhaps even jealous of their vivacious sex lives. But these critics, with rare exception, entirely overlooked the central themes of the novel. As John Derbyshire wrote in National Review, I Am Charlotte Simmons is a reminder of the “darker side” of recent discoveries in the human sciences, especially in neuroscience and genetics. At stake is the “metaphysic” which provides sense and direction to our lives, including the complicated encounter between men and women. The novel invites us to ask: Is love possible in the age of neuroscience? Or have we unmasked human beings only to discover that love is an illusion?

The university, like American and Western society as a whole, was transformed by the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Grounded in an uncompromising individualism of personal choice, the sexual revolution established the legitimacy of casual, pleasure-seeking sex, independent of procreation, family, and even affection. The story of Charlotte Simmons explores the consequences of this momentous change in human behavior and association. Wolfe helps us see that there is no free lunch: In giving full rein to our biological impulses, there is a toll to pay in human longing and human happiness. As Peter Berkowitz reflects in a superb review essay in Policy Review:

[W]hat if men and women are different in ways that go beyond the structure of their sex organs, and so experience sexual relationships differently? And what if the exercise of the new freedom imparts lessons to both men and women about life, and develops habits of heart and mind, that interfere with the capacity to give oneself to and care for another...? What if relationships teach how to withhold one’s heart, to embrace another with one eye always fixed on the exit...? And what if such lessons, habits, and teachings are more easily acquired than discarded?

Charlotte’s experiences at the fictional Dupont University shed light on these questions, as the ambitious girl from backwater North Carolina is transformed by her sophisticated and salacious surroundings. Far from being the path to higher civilization and refinement of character, Dupont is a toxic impediment to the yearning for higher things, built on a dogmatic denial that higher civilization and refinement of character are even possible. Where, in a former age, the impressionable young student might have aspired to religious salvation or genuine wisdom, today’s typical college student lives more for entertainment, sensation, and release, all the while demanding and largely getting immediate gratification. The individual still seeks status and recognition. But the marks of distinction are all too often inebriation, “hooking up,” expertise at sarcasm (“sarc one,” “sarc two,” and “sarc three”), and insouciance toward matters intellectual and moral. As students learn about and fall into this new ethic, the university not only fails to stand in opposition, it accelerates the process. Dupont, that composite of Duke, Stanford, Yale, and the University of Michigan, corrupts the promising young Charlotte. For revealing this disturbing truth, the author has been reviled by those who are thereby revealed.

More importantly, the teaching of Dupont University is precisely that the soul and the moral dimension of being are illusions. In the past, the university (at its best and in principle) sought to cultivate the human soul toward completion or excellence. The modern university, as Wolfe portrays it, denies that there are truthful distinctions between higher and lower; it teaches that the soul is not real, and that perfection of the soul is thus a thing of the past.

The setting of I Am Charlotte Simmons is truly “postmodern”—a world dominated by Nietzsche and neuroscience, a world which has jettisoned the moral imagination of the past. Not only is God dead, but so is reason, once understood as the characteristic that distinguishes man from the rest of nature. We now understand ourselves by studying the behavior of other animals, rather than understanding the behavior of other animals in light of human reason and human difference. We learn that it is embarrassing for any educated person to be considered religious or even moral. Darwin’s key insight that man is just another animal, now updated with the tools and discoveries of modern biology, has liberated us from two Kingdoms of Darkness. Post-faith and post-reason, we can now turn to neuroscience to understand the human condition, a path that leads to or simply ratifies the governing nihilism of the students, both the ambitious and apathetic alike. [...]

The task of neuroscience is to understand human behavior as it really is, without illusions. This new way of seeing the mechanisms of man confirms that the soul does not really exist and that our behavior is simply a physical reaction to stimuli over which we have no control. Human beings think they have free will and that their choices have meaning. But this is one of the comforting myths of the past that neuroscience is proud to overcome. As Dr. Starling explains, this time with a thought experiment borrowed from a fellow neuroscientist:

Let’s say you pick up a rock and you throw it. And in mid-flight you give that rock consciousness and a rational mind. That little rock will think it has free will and will give you a highly rational account of why it has decided to take the route it’s taking.

In other words: Human beings are simply rocks. Neuroscientists are rocks who know they are rocks. Human beings are bodies in motion, bodies that falsely believe they have free will. But neuroscience, armed with tools like fMRIs and PET scans, promises a true description of human behavior, a final lifting of man’s religious and moral illusions. And that life without illusions may amount to nothing more than the joyless quest for joy or the soulless interactions of the soulless. The consequences of this shift in human self-understanding are enormous.

The one redeeming feature of such terrible nonsense is the hilarity of the materialists insisting that their own gnostic knowledge is uniquely not just an affect of the forces they proclaim to believe in.

He Is Charlotte Simmons: a review of I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tiom Wolfe (Peter Berkowitz, Policy Review)

The governing theme of I am Charlotte Simmons is introduced by Wolfe in an entry from (the fictitious) Dictionary of Nobel Laureates, 3rd ed. that he places at the front of the novel. In 1983, 28-year-old Dupont University assistant professor of psychology Victor Ransome Starling removes the amygdala, which controls the emotions in higher mammals, from 30 cats. This causes the cats to enter a state of hypermanic sexual arousal. When Starling opens one of the cage doors to show an assistant the results of the experiment, the cat leaps out, immediately wraps its legs around the assistant’s leg, and begins thrusting with its pelvis. But Starling is startled when the assistant points out that the desperate animal is actually one of the control cats whose amygdala has not been touched. Pondering the implications of the replication by the control cats of the amygdalized cats’ hypermanic sexual arousal, Starling is led to the discovery for which he is awarded the Nobel Prize, namely, “that a strong social or ‘cultural’ atmosphere, even as abnormal as this one, could in time overwhelm the genetically determined responses of the perfectly normal, healthy animals.”

This sets up the experiment that Wolfe’s novel is meant to conduct: What happens if a talented, attractive and ambitious young person instilled with a conservative sensibility who wishes to pursue the cultivation of the mind is parachuted into a contemporary university? Indeed, Dupont University — a composite institution located like Swarthmore on the outskirts of suburban Philadelphia next to Chester; carrying the cache of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton; and like Duke or many major state universities boasting a national-caliber athletic program — initially overwhelms Charlotte Simmons of Sparta, North Carolina. The product of a poor family in a small town on the other side of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the heart of Red America, Charlotte excelled in her studies, was taken under wing by a devoted, spinster high-school teacher who taught her to take pride in her intelligence and to love literature and learning, and won a scholarship to one of America’s finest bastions of higher education. Encouraged by her hardworking and devout parents, Charlotte leaves them behind to pursue an education in the best that has been thought and said. Little does she understand, nor do those who love her back home in Sparta, that Dupont sustains a cultural atmosphere at war with the beliefs and practices developed over millennia to guide normal, healthy young people in their transition to responsible adulthood.

Indeed, consistent with the discovery for which Professor Starling wins his Nobel prize, Charlotte’s moral conservatism and hunger for knowledge prove no match for the larger lessons about sex and the soul that social and academic life at Dupont incessantly drum into students’ heads. Right from the start, Beverly Amory, her wealthy, haughty, emaciated, sexually sophisticated Groton-educated roommate, causes Charlotte to feel clueless about how to speak and what to say, and embarrassed about what she wears and how little she has to spend. Striving to remember that she is, after all, Charlotte Simmons, committed to high ideals and expected by family and friends in Sparta to achieve great things, Charlotte finds herself yearning for a place of honor in the strict campus pecking order. To achieve that very human goal, she is resolved to excel in her studies. But the rigorous rules for social advancement require that she also have sex and find a boyfriend, in no particular order. And as a healthy and attractive young woman, Charlotte understandably feels some thrill at that message.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:03 PM


Sinclair Letter Turns Out to Be Another Exposé
: Note found by an O.C. man says 'The Jungle' author got the lowdown on Sacco and Vanzetti. (Jean O. Pasco, December 24, 2005, LA Writer)

Inside the box, an envelope postmarked Sept. 12, 1929, caught [Paul Hegness's] eye. It was addressed to John Beardsley, Esq., of Los Angeles. The return address read, "Upton Sinclair, Long Beach."

"I stood there for 15 minutes reading it over and over again," Hegness said of the letter by the author of "The Jungle," the groundbreaking 1906 book that exposed unsanitary conditions at slaughterhouses.

The last paragraph got the Newport Beach attorney's attention. "This letter is for yourself alone," it read. "Stick it away in your safe, and some time in the far distant future the world may know the real truth about the matter. I am here trying to make plain my own part in the story."

The story was "Boston," Sinclair's 1920s novelized condemnation of the trial and execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Italian immigrants accused of killing two men in the robbery of a Massachusetts shoe factory.

Prosecutors characterized the anarchists as ruthless killers who had used the money to bankroll antigovernment bombings and deserved to die. Sinclair thought the pair were innocent and being railroaded because of their political views.

Soon Sinclair would learn something that filled him with doubt. During his research for "Boston," Sinclair met with Fred Moore, the men's attorney, in a Denver motel room. Moore "sent me into a panic," Sinclair wrote in the typed letter that Hegness found at the auction a decade ago.

"Alone in a hotel room with Fred, I begged him to tell me the full truth," Sinclair wrote. " … He then told me that the men were guilty, and he told me in every detail how he had framed a set of alibis for them."

Even the Left, you'd think, might have been right in just one of their cause celebres. You'd be wrong.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:59 PM


Leave evolution out of standards, Bush says (Associated Press, December 28, 2005)

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has portrayed himself as a friend of science, going so far as to spearhead a deal to bring an arm of the prestigious Scripps Research Institute to South Florida.

But don't count on him to defend one of the pillars of modern science.

Bush said last week he did not think Darwin's theory of evolution needed to be part of the state's public school science standards, according to an account in the Miami Herald.

"I think people have different points of view and they can be discussed in school," Bush said. "They don't need to be in the curriculum."

Contra Judge Jones, that's the only rigorously scientific standard.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:56 PM


The 'I' Word: Expect 2006 to offer up Nixon-era nastiness and a chorus of calls to impeach Bush. (Howard Fineman, Dec. 27, 2005, Newsweek)
Where’s the Outrage? (Arlene Getz, Dec. 21, 2005, Newsweek)

Back in the 1980s, when I was living in Johannesburg and reporting on apartheid South Africa, a white neighbor proffered a tasteless confession. She was "quite relieved," she told me, that new media restrictions prohibited our reporting on government repression. No matter that Pretoria was detaining tens of thousands of people without real evidence of wrongdoing. No matter that many of them, including children, were being tortured—sometimes to death. No matter that government hit squads were killing political opponents. No matter that police were shooting into crowds of black civilians protesting against their disenfranchisement. "It's so nice," confided my neighbor, "not to open the papers and read all that bad news."

I thought about that neighbor this week, as reports dribbled out about President George W. Bush's sanctioning of warrantless eavesdropping on American conversations. For anyone who has lived under an authoritarian regime, phone tapping—or at least the threat of it—is always a given. But U.S. citizens have always been lucky enough to believe themselves protected from such government intrusion. So why have they reacted so insipidly to yet another post-9/11 erosion of U.S. civil liberties?

Perhaps only the MSM could simultaneously expect impeachment over spying and bewail the fact that Americans are quite happy the spying was going on.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:53 PM


French ban petrol in cans amid fear of New Year riots (Colin Randall, 28/12/2005, Daily Telegraph)

Fears of a new outbreak of street violence in France have prompted many areas to ban the sale of petrol in cans.

Setting fire to cars on New Year's Eve has become a tradition among lawless youths on estates with large immigrant populations in the Parisian suburbs and Strasbourg.

The wave of rioting that swept the country for three weeks from the end of October has led to widespread concern that troublemakers may try to stage a show of strength this weekend.

The bans affect most areas around Paris and several provincial cities that suffered during the earlier riots. Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister, insisted that November's state of emergency would not be lifted at New Year.

I've never actually gone out wilding, but give me a torch and a car and I bet I can find a ready supply of gasoline.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:48 PM


Unwarranted Complaints (DAVID B. RIVKIN and LEE A. CASEY, 12/27/05, NY Times)

[I]t is highly doubtful whether individuals involved in a conflict have any "reasonable expectation of privacy" in their communications, which is the touchstone of protection under both the Fourth Amendment and the surveillance act itself - anymore than a tank commander has a reasonable expectation of privacy in his communications with his commanders on the battlefield. The same goes for noncombatants swept up in the hostilities.

Even if Congress had intended to restrict the president's ability to obtain intelligence in such circumstances, it could not have constitutionally done so. The Constitution designates the president as commander in chief, and Congress can no more direct his exercise of that authority than he can direct Congress in the execution of its constitutional duties. As the FISA court itself noted in 2002, the president has "inherent constitutional authority to conduct warrantless foreign intelligence surveillance."

In this instance, in addition to relying on his own inherent constitutional authority, the president can also draw upon the specific Congressional authorization "to use all necessary and appropriate force" against those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks "in order to prevent any future attacks of international terrorism against the United States." These words are sufficiently broad to encompass the gathering of intelligence about the enemy, its movements, its abilities and its plans, a core part of the use of force against Al Qaeda and its allies. The authorization does not say that the president can order the use of artillery, or air strikes, yet no one is arguing that therefore Mr. Bush is barred from doing so.

The fact that the statutory language does not specifically mention intelligence collection, or that this matter was not raised by the White House in negotiations with Congress, or even that the administration had sought even broader language, all points recently raised by former Senator Tom Daschle, is irrelevant.

Overall, this surveillance program is fully within the president's legal authority, is limited in scope (involving communications to or from overseas related to the war against Al Qaeda), and is subject to stringent presidential review. The contretemps its revelation has caused reveals much more about the chattering classes' fundamental antipathy to strong government in general, and strong executive power in particular, than it does about presidential overreaching.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 PM


Contractors Are Warned: Cuts Coming for Weapons (LESLIE WAYNE, 12/27/05, NY Times)

It was a message that the industry has been bracing for. The Pentagon budget, James F. Albaugh, chief executive of Boeing's $30 billion military division, said at the conference, has "been a great ride for the last five years." But, he added: "We will see a flattening of the defense budget. We all know it is coming."

The issue, however, goes beyond tightening budgets. Mr. Henry told the contractors that the Pentagon was redefining the strategic threats facing the United States. No longer are rival nations the primary threat - a type of warfare that calls for naval destroyers and fighter jets. Today the country is facing international networks of terrorists, and the weapons needed are often more technologically advanced, flexible and innovative. [...]

In the years ahead, Mr. Henry said, the Pentagon would like to move "away from massive force." This would mean, for instance, that fewer fighter jets would be needed because the upcoming Joint Strike Fighter F-35 has more capabilities than the existing F-16's.

He noted that special operations forces played a big role in the early days of the Iraq war - once controlling up to two-thirds of the country - and are expected to be used in greater numbers in the future. This would mean the Pentagon would want to buy more of the highly agile and high-technology weapons that they need. Specialized skills like language, intelligence and communication are also becoming top priorities.

As for aerospace, he said the Pentagon would be looking for aircraft with longer ranges, and, therefore, did not need ships or nearby bases for them to land. Increasingly, the Pentagon will be depending on unmanned aerial vehicles, which can work longer hours than piloted craft and do not put Air Force lives at risk. In the future, he said, unmanned craft will be used not only for surveillance, as they are in Iraq, but for combat as well.

Even the 3% of GDP we spent through the '90s isn't sustainable in peacetime, which is returning rather quicker than most thought it would. As the Middle East liberalizes the defense budget will get pummeled.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 PM


Iraq Vote Shows Sunnis Are Few in New Military (RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr., 12/27/05, NY Times)

An analysis of preliminary voting results released Monday from the Dec. 15 parliamentary election suggests that in contrast to the remarkable surge in Sunni Arab participation in the political process, the Sunnis still have comparatively little representation in the Iraqi security forces. [...]

It has been suspected that Sunni Arabs are underrepresented in the new military and police. Election officials believe that a special tally from the Dec. 15 vote helps to detail the disparity, mostly because voting in Iraq has almost completely been along ethnic and sectarian divisions.

In the special tally - which the officials said overwhelmingly consisted of most of the ballots cast by security forces, but also included votes from hospital patients and prisoners - about 7 percent of the votes were cast for the three main Sunni Arab parties. Across the whole population, though, officials have estimated, Sunni Arab candidates won about 20 percent of the seats in the new Parliament.

There's always a threat to nascent democracy from the armed forces which typically had too strong a ties to the prior dictatorial regime to give up power willingly. If the Sunni already have so little influence in the military then there's no way a Ba'athist counter-revolution could conceivablly succeed.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 9:09 PM


Evolution 'breakthrough of the year,' Science journal declares (CBC News, December 22nd, 2005)

The journal Science has declared genetic studies of evolution the breakthrough of 2005. [...]

"In 2005, scientists piled up new insights about evolution at the genetic level and the birth of species, including information that could help us lead healthier lives in the future," the journal's editors wrote.

"Ironically, these often-startling discoveries occurred in a year when backers of "intelligent design" and other opponents of evolution sought to renew challenges to this fundamental concept."


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 PM

THE ASCENT OF SPECIOUS (via Robert Schwartz):

SPIEGEL INTERVIEW WITH EVOLUTION PHILOSOPHER DANIEL DENNETT: "Darwinism Completely Refutes Intelligent Design" (Der Spiegel, 12/27/05)

SPIEGEL: Your colleague Michael Ruse has accused you of stepping out of the field of science and into social science and religion with your theories. He's even said you are inadvertently aiding the Intelligent Design movement as a result.

Dennett: Michael is just trying to put the implications of Darwin's insights into soft focus and to reassure people that there is not as much conflict between the perspective of evolutionary biology and their traditional ways of thinking.

SPIEGEL: And what about the accusation that you are aiding Intelligent Design?

Dennett: There is probably an element of truth to it. I've just finished writing a book in which I look at religion from the perspective of evolutionary biology. I think you can, should, and even must take this route. Others say 'no, hands off! Just don't let evolution get anywhere near the social sciences.' I think that's terrible advice. The idea that we should protect the social sciences and humanity from evolutionary thinking is a recipe for disaster.


Dennett: I would give Darwin the gold medal for the best idea anybody ever had. It unifies the world of meaning and purpose and goals and freedom with the world of science, with the world of the physical sciences. I mean, we talk about the great gap between social science and natural science. What closes that gap? Darwin

Inadvertently? He's acknowledged believing in design. The funny thing here though is his admission that Darwinism is quite intentionally intended to close the philosophical gap with the social sciences--where evolutionary theory is a given and, thanks to Adam Smith and David Riccardo & company, was prevailing in the intellectual milieu in which Darwn operated. Indeed, what Darwinism claims is that just as the evolution model works where intelligent actors are involved it must work where they aren't.

Cardinal Schönborn on God and Creation: "It Is the Very Dignity of the Creature to Have Received Everything From Him": Here is a provisional translation of a catechetical lecture given by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, last month on creation and evolution. (ZENIT, 19 DEC. 2005)

A scientist wrote me in response to my article in the New York Times that he would like to believe in a creator but just cannot believe in an "old man with a long white beard." I answered him saying that no one expects him to believe this. On the contrary, such a childish conception of a creator has nothing to do with what the Bible says about the creator and with the article of the creed that says, "I believe in God, the father almighty, the creator of heaven and earth."

In my response I wrote him that it would be a good thing if his religious knowledge would not lag so far behind his scientific knowledge and if his vast knowledge as a scientist did not go hand in hand with what is after all childish religious conceptions. For an old man with a long white beard is certainly not what is meant by the creator. I recommended that he simply read what, for example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says on this subject.

Now there is another misunderstanding that is constantly found in the ongoing discussion, and I have to deal with it right here at the beginning. I refer to what is called "creationism." Nowadays the belief in a creator is automatically run together with "creationism." But in fact to believe in a creator is not the same as trying to understand the six days of creation literally, as six chronological days, and as trying to prove scientifically, with whatever means available, that the earth is 6,000 years old.

These attempts of certain Christians at taking the Bible absolutely literally, as if it made chronological and scientific statements — I have met defenders of this position who honestly strive to find scientific arguments for it — is called "fundamentalism." Or more exactly, within American Protestantism this view of the Christian faith originally called itself fundamentalism. Starting from the belief that the Bible is inspired by God, so that every word in it is immediately inspired by him, the six days of creation are taken in a strict literal way.

It is understandable that in the United States many people, using not only kinds of polemics but lawsuits as well, vehemently resist the teaching of creationism in the schools. But it is an entirely different matter when certain people would like to see the schools deal with the critical questions that have been raised with regard to Darwinism; they have a reasonable and legitimate concern.

The Catholic position on this is clear. St. Thomas says that "one should not try to defend the Christian faith with arguments that are so patently opposed to reason that the faith is made to look ridiculous." It is simply nonsense to say that the world is only 6,000 years old. To try to prove this scientifically is what St. Thomas calls provoking the "irrisio infidelium," the scorn of the unbelievers. It is not right to use such false arguments and to expose the faith to the scorn of unbelievers. This should suffice on the subject of "creationism" and "fundamentalism" for the entire remainder of this catechesis; what we want to say about it should be so clear that we do not have to return to the subject.

And now to our main subject: What does the Christian faith say about "God the creator" and about creation? The classical Catholic teaching, as we find it explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or more compactly presented in the Compendium of the Catechism, contains four basic elements.

1. The doctrine of creation says that there is an absolute beginning — "in the beginning God created heaven and earth" — and that this absolute beginning is the free and sovereign act of establishing being out of nothing. This is the main theme of today's catechesis: the absolute beginning.

2. The doctrine of creation also says that there are various creatures. This is the distinction of creatures, "each according to its kind," of which we read in the first chapter of Genesis. This is the work of the first six days as related on the first page of the Bible. I will speak on this subject in the next catechesis, in which I will ask what it means to say that according to our faith in creation God has willed a multiplicity of creatures.

3. We come now to a point of fundamental importance for the Christian belief about creation. It is also a point about which we will be speaking later today. We believe not only in an absolute beginning of creation but in the preservation of creation; God holds in being all that he has created. We refer here to his continuing work of creation, which in theology is called the "creatio continua," the ongoing act of creation.

4. And finally, the doctrine of creation most definitely includes the belief that God directs his creation. He did not just set it in motion once at the beginning and then let it run its course. No, the divine guidance of creation, which we call divine providence, is a part of the doctrine of creation. God leads his work to its final end.

Thus, design and Darwinism can not be reconciled.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 PM

ESCAPE FROM TOKYO (via Robert Schwartz):

Japan's humanoid robots: Better than people (The Economist, 12/20/05)

HER name is MARIE, and her impressive set of skills comes in handy in a nursing home. MARIE can walk around under her own power. She can distinguish among similar-looking objects, such as different bottles of medicine, and has a delicate enough touch to work with frail patients. MARIE can interpret a range of facial expressions and gestures, and respond in ways that suggest compassion. Although her language skills are not ideal, she can recognise speech and respond clearly. Above all, she is inexpensive . Unfortunately for MARIE, however, she has one glaring trait that makes it hard for Japanese patients to accept her: she is a flesh-and-blood human being from the Philippines. If only she were a robot instead.

Robots, you see, are wonderful creatures, as many a Japanese will tell you. They are getting more adept all the time, and before too long will be able to do cheaply and easily many tasks that human workers do now. They will care for the sick, collect the rubbish, guard homes and offices, and give directions on the street.

This is great news in Japan, where the population has peaked, and may have begun shrinking in 2005. With too few young workers supporting an ageing population, somebody—or something—needs to fill the gap, especially since many of Japan's young people will be needed in science, business and other creative or knowledge-intensive jobs.

Prisoners at SuperMax facilities who are similarly denied human contact become psychotic over time, a preview of Japan's anti-human future.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 8:22 PM


Telling it like it isn't (Robert Fisk, Los Angeles Times, December 27th, 2005)

This is only the tip of the semantic iceberg that has crashed into American journalism in the Middle East. Illegal Jewish settlements for Jews and Jews only on Arab land are clearly "colonies," and we used to call them that. I cannot trace the moment when we started using the word "settlements." But I can remember the moment around two years ago when the word "settlements" was replaced by "Jewish neighborhoods" — or even, in some cases, "outposts."

Similarly, "occupied" Palestinian land was softened in many American media reports into "disputed" Palestinian land — just after then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, in 2001, instructed U.S. embassies in the Middle East to refer to the West Bank as "disputed" rather than "occupied" territory.

Then there is the "wall," the massive concrete obstruction whose purpose, according to the Israeli authorities, is to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from killing innocent Israelis. In this, it seems to have had some success. But it does not follow the line of Israel's 1967 border and cuts deeply into Arab land. And all too often these days, journalists call it a "fence" rather than a "wall." Or a "security barrier," which is what Israel prefers them to say. For some of its length, we are told, it is not a wall at all — so we cannot call it a "wall," even though the vast snake of concrete and steel that runs east of Jerusalem is higher than the old Berlin Wall.

The semantic effect of this journalistic obfuscation is clear. If Palestinian land is not occupied but merely part of a legal dispute that might be resolved in law courts or discussions over tea, then a Palestinian child who throws a stone at an Israeli soldier in this territory is clearly acting insanely.

If a Jewish colony built illegally on Arab land is simply a nice friendly "neighborhood," then any Palestinian who attacks it must be carrying out a mindless terrorist act.

And surely there is no reason to protest a "fence" or a "security barrier" — words that conjure up the fence around a garden or the gate arm at the entrance to a private housing complex.

For Palestinians to object violently to any of these phenomena thus marks them as a generically vicious people. By our use of language, we condemn them.

So, in the name of preserving the integrity of the English language, let's blow up some Israelis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 PM


Is Creationism Destructible?: Where to go from Dover. (William Saletan, Dec. 21, 2005, Slate)

In his 139-page ruling on the Dover, Pa., "intelligent design" case, federal district Judge John E. Jones sets out to kill ID's scientific pretensions once and for all. [...]

Scientifically, Jones settles the issue. Culturally, he fails. And until we learn the difference, the fight over creationism in schools and courts will go on.

The decisive assumption in Jones' opinion is the definitions of science proposed by the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. First, scientific explanations must be natural, not supernatural. Second, they must be testable. These criteria instantly kill ID as science. Its explicit aspiration was to defeat "methodological naturalism." Once you accept naturalism, as Jones does, you guarantee his conclusion that supernatural theories are a "science stopper."

The most helpful thing the judge did in this case was to demonstrate the tautologous nature of Darwinism.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:55 PM


Dying patients 'can aid stem cell research' (The Guardian, December 27th, 2005)

Professor Ian Wilmut, creator of Dolly the sheep, today said experimental stem cell therapy should be carried out on terminally ill patients to speed up the pace of research.
Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:44 PM


THE BIG THREE BUDGET EATERS (NY Post, December 27, 2005)

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid consumed nearly half of all federal spending in 2004, and budget analysts expect them to account for an even bigger share in the future.
They accounted for more than $1 trillion in the 2004 budget year, says the Consolidated Federal Funds Report released today by the Census Bureau.

Overall federal spending was $2.2 trillion, an increase of 5 percent from 2003,

This was a slightly smaller increase than in recent years, said Gerard Keffer, chief of the bureau's federal programs branch.

Conservatives sit around telling themselves that the size of government is a function of George Bush's irresposible discretionary spending.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:41 PM


Bush was denied wiretaps, bypassed them (UPI, 12/27/05)

The 11-judge court that authorizes FISA wiretaps modified only two search warrant orders out of the 13,102 applications approved over the first 22 years of the court's operation.

But since 2001, the judges have modified 179 of the 5,645 requests for surveillance by the Bush administration, the report said. A total of 173 of those court-ordered "substantive modifications" took place in 2003 and 2004. And, the judges also rejected or deferred at least six requests for warrants during those two years -- the first outright rejection of a wiretap request in the court's history.

Maybe he can go back to the court now that the Clinton appointee quit?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM


Iraqi poll winners woo rivals (Shamal Aqrawi, 12/27, Reuters)

Leaders of the Shi'ite and Kurdish blocs that emerged triumphant in this month's Iraqi election agreed on Tuesday to push ahead with efforts to bring Sunni and other parties into a grand coalition government.

The visit of Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim of the Shi'ite Islamist Alliance to the Kurdish capital Arbil opened a series of planned meetings among rival factions intended to ease friction over election results which Sunni and secular parties say have been rigged and to begin building a consensus administration.

"We agreed on the principle of forming a government involving all the parties with a wide popular base," Kurdish regional leader Masoud Barzani told a joint news conference after talks with Hakim, the dominant force in the Alliance.

The Kurds and Shi'a have demonstrated incredible self-restraint the past couple years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:34 PM


Blog bombshell hits GritsParty exec quits over slurs on Web (TARA BRAUTIGAM, 12/27/05, CP)

A high-ranking official within the Liberal Party of Canada resigned yesterday after he called NDP Leader Jack Layton an "a--hole" and compared Layton's wife Olivia Chow to a dog on his Internet blog.

Mike Klander, executive vice-president of the federal Liberal party's Ontario wing, stepped down after photographs of Chow, the NDP candidate for the Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina, and a chow chow dog were posted on his blog dated Dec. 9 under the heading "Separated at Birth."

The blog also slagged Layton.

"I'm going away for a couple of days so I thought I would find something smart and witty to put up on my blog before I left," the blog said, dated Nov. 23. "Unfortunatley (sic) I couldn't think of anything so I just want to say that I think Jack Layton is an a--hole ... for no reason other than it makes me feel good to say it ... and because he is."

There are better ways to not be so boring.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:30 PM


Natural Gas Prices Decline 10 Percent (AP, 12/27/05)

Natural gas futures plunged 10 percent Tuesday, settling at their lowest level in three and a half months amid forecasts calling for mild U.S. weather over the next week. It was the third straight decline for natural gas prices, which have fallen 23 percent since Wednesday, and the selloff triggered a decline in other energy futures.

Help us, Ben Bernanke, you're our greatest hope....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:45 AM


Too Few Good Men: a review of Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage by Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas and American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive to End Welfare by Jason DeParle (Amy L. Wax, Policy Review)

Edin and Kefalas are talented and sedulous ethnographers. [....]

Nonetheless, their book ultimately fails. Despite promising beginnings, the authors fall victim to tired social science dogmas. Their fealty to bad ideas hinders a full excavation of the rich lode of material they have so painstakingly assembled. They miss the message of their own fieldwork and the clear implications of broader social trends. The result is a lost opportunity to discover the true causes of family upheaval and to think constructively about the cures for its decline.

Why do the women in this study so rarely marry and so often end up as single mothers? Most express a strong desire to marry and view extra-marital childbearing as “second best.” Yet almost all remain single. The authors offer this explanation: Expectations for marriage have risen across the board. People now regard marriage as a luxury good rather than as a necessity. They refuse to tie the knot unless they have first achieved economic success. A house, a well-paying job, and enough money for a nice wedding are now needed before considering a trip to the altar. But few of the unskilled can make good on their aspirations because wages at the bottom have stagnated or declined. To their credit, the authors do not exaggerate the extent of these trends. Although they note (correctly) that unskilled men’s earnings have lost ground relative to college graduates’ and that some well-paying jobs have disappeared, they acknowledge that the overall economic prospects of men with a high school education or less are not significantly worse than in past decades when marriage rates were much higher. It’s not that most unskilled men are less able to support a family than they were decades ago; earnings for this group were always modest. Rather, the problem is that women — and men — expect far more.

In contrast, conclude Edin and Kefalas, having children carries no such inflated requirements. Babies need not await the achievement of an elevated position in life, because childbearing is a fundamental hallmark of female adulthood that is central to poor women’s dignity and identity. In the authors’ words, “women rely on their children to bring validation, purpose, companionship, and order to their often chaotic lives — things they find hard to come by in other ways.” In a perverse inversion of old values, these woman have come to regard lone motherhood as the ultimate heroic act, the proving ground of their responsible devotion to others.

At first blush, the authors’ theory about why marriage is unpopular among the less educated appears to explain demographic reality. Rising expectations generate a class divergence in marriage rates for the simple reason that the well-off are better able to fulfill those expectations than the poor and uneducated. Yet despite superficial appeal, the authors’ explanation just doesn’t fly. First and foremost, their conclusions are at odds with what their women subjects actually say. More broadly, the authors’ thesis cannot be reconciled with the full range of facts regarding racial and class differences in family structure. A growing body of social science evidence suggests that group mores and personal behavior, not insufficient resources, are the most important cause of marital decline.

Women's liberation, predictably, liberated men.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


GOP Lawmaker Relishes Role as a Flamethrower: Illegal immigration, and not party loyalty, is Rep. Tom Tancredo's burning issue (Mark Z. Barabak, December 27, 2005, LA Times)

And once he damages the GOP does he expect Democrats to do his bidding?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 AM


Finally, All the World Can Be His Stage: The work of Adil Kadhim, once shaped by Hussein's censors, speaks of a more open society and a cultural bridge to the West. (Alissa J. Rubin, December 27, 2005, LA Times)

When Saddam Hussein was in power, Adil Kadhim would rise at 6 each morning in his cramped apartment, set a pot of water on the stove for tea, and begin writing.

His work, like that of all authors, had to pass regime censors. One of his television series was an allegory about power, and made it to the screen by being set in 1950s Baghdad rather than in the later Baathist era. A television movie sang the praises of the Iraqi army, and another script used Julius Caesar rather than Hussein to describe the life of a dictator. These innocuous and popular shows made Kadhim one of the best-known theatrical writers in Iraq.

But the work dearest to his heart he stuffed into drawers. Much of it drew together figures from East and West, a motif viewed with suspicion by the regime. In one play he put on trial several notorious figures, including Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden, who in the name of purifying humanity commit heinous acts. In another, an Iraqi woman who murdered her husband shares a prison cell with two heroines of Greek tragedy, Electra and Antigone, and the three discuss the men who led to their ruin.

Occasionally a foreign director visiting Iraq would see a draft and take it out of the country to produce. But Kadhim was careful not to seek attention from outsiders. In Hussein's Iraq, too much notice was dangerous. He had spent time in prison as a young man, and his brother was kidnapped by Hussein's secret police and never seen again. For Kadhim, who has a wife and two daughters, survival trumped art.

Now, with Hussein himself in prison, Kadhim, 64, no longer needs to smuggle his writing out of the country. In the last two years, he has written full-length plays that take on previously forbidden subjects, including the Iraq-Iran war and the repression of women in rural Arab society, as well as current events, such as the U.S.-led invasion and continued military presence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


State's Tobacco Revenue Surges: California counters a national trend, using aggressive enforcement to bring in millions of cigarette tax dollars even as smoking declines (Evan Halper, December 27, 2005, LA Times)

State officials are reporting an increase of tens of millions of dollars in tobacco taxes for the first time in years, even as smoking in California declines.

California has taken in more than $124 million in new tobacco-tax receipts over the last 20 months. Officials credit a unique new program that includes stamping every cigarette pack sold in the state with a counterfeit-proof sticker.

Investigators, armed with hand-held devices, visit stores and scan the stickers to see whether a package of cigarettes is licensed for sale, where it came from and whether the distributor paid the required taxes. They seize illegal products as they find them and then begin tracking their sources.

The stickers, along with more inspectors and strict new licensing requirements, have helped the state bust scores of smugglers and retailers, seizing millions of illegal cigarettes. At the same time, the federal government has ramped up its sting operations in California, making high-profile arrests that have saved the state millions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


Twisting Vonnegut's views on terrorism (Mark Vonnegut, December 27, 2005, Boston Globe)

FOR THE past month or so it's been said and repeated that my father supports terrorism. The desire to have it be true is almost palpable. If novelist Kurt Vonnegut supports terrorism, then maybe all critics of the war are on some level proterrorist. [...]

My father cares not a fig about the Middle East.

Which is how he's actually a paradigm for the Left--it's not that they're pro-terror but that they're indifferent to everyone but themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Retailers take steps to keep lines moving: New tactics ease a holiday peeve (Jenn Abelson, December 27, 2005, Boston Globe)

Fixing the problem of long lines has never been at the top of the agenda for retailers. For one thing, they know Americans are used to standing in line: By some industry estimates, we spend an average of two to three years of our lives waiting in line at airports, grocery stores, and traffic jams.

Ever notice how department stores and supermarkets place gum, candy, and other items at the register? That's because the longer the customer waits in line, the more likely he or she is to purchase something else. Or so the theory has gone.

But a growing number of consumer complaints -- along with competition from line-free Internet shopping -- has prompted retailers to buckle down when it comes to curbing unruly waits.

''When our customer is ready to check out, they're ready to check out," said Rick Webb, Wal-Mart's vice president of customer experience. ''They're not very tolerant of waiting in lines."

As Gillis, who bailed out of the Wal-Mart line, put it: ''After struggling through the crowds, I am fairly well frazzled by the time I go to pay. So, to then see that a store may have 15 checkout lanes but only four cashiers working, yes, I am bothered by the lines."

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, recently began expanding ''line rushing" technology, a mobile scanner that allows employees to check out merchandise while customers wait in line. Customers receive a print-out with a bar code, so cashiers only need to scan the paper and take payment.

Apple stores take mobile technology one step farther. Last month, Apple introduced hand-held checkout devices that allow people to pay anywhere in the store, and customers are e-mailed their receipt. IKEA, a Swedish furniture chain with a new store in Stoughton, allows people to pay with a credit or debit card while waiting in line.

This year, Wal-Mart also started using forecasting technology that helps predict in 15-minute intervals how many registers are needed, based on past sales. To better train new workers hired for the holiday season, Wal-Mart began putting cash registers in the employees' back room so that they can practice.

In recent months, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls started introducing the line queue concept, which puts customers in one big line that snakes back and forth rather than at individual registers.

''You don't have to play those games trying to figure out which line to pick or whether to switch lines if the person in front of you has a problem," said TJX spokeswoman Sherry Lang. ''We've all been there. This is a fair system, so you're not waiting in line longer than anyone else."

Government measures certainly won't capture the deflationary effect of the time we save.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


Foes cite Alito's stance on liberty: Say he targeted issue key to Roe (Charlie Savage, December 27, 2005, Boston Globe)

During his years on the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. repeatedly tried to limit the court's interpretation of the 14th Amendment's protection of ''life, liberty, and property" -- one of the key legal underpinnings of the Roe v. Wade abortion case.

The appeals court had ruled in a series of cases that the 14th Amendment protects people against arbitrary decisions by their local government, such as zoning board officials who deny permits for no good reason.

Alito, now a nominee to the Supreme Court, rejected such rights, writing that ''only in extreme circumstances is it proper to invoke" 14th Amendment protections. [...]

''There are many very important and serious legal scholars who take issue with [liberty rights] because it very quickly becomes what the judge thinks the law should cover," said Sean Rushton, of the conservative Committee for Justice.

In recent decades, the Supreme Court has invoked liberty rights to strike down laws forbidding contraception, abortion, interracial marriage, and gay sex between consenting adults; a zoning law that prevented extended families from living together; and a law that forced parents to let grandparents visit their children.

But because the Constitution does not explicitly list the rights protected by those decisions, some legal conservatives reject the rulings as mistakes.

The Left stands to pay a high price for basing things it wishes were rights on a fiction. All the 14th did was make it clear that the Constitution covered former slaves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


The true reason for UK's woeful tennis record? We've been using wrong balls (EBEN HARRELL, 12/27/05, The Scotsman)

BRITISH tennis players are failing on the world stage in part because they have been using the wrong ball, according to Davis Cup captain Jeremy Bates.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Most of Europe set to miss Kyoto goals: study (AFP, Dec 27, 2005)

Most of Europe, which has criticized the United States over its stance on global warming, looks set to miss a set of goals to cut greenhouse gases under the Kyoto Protocol, a study revealed on Tuesday.

The findings by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) will make embarrassing reading for European governments that have berated Washington for its refusal to ratify the United Nations pact.

Of 15 countries in Europe signed up to Kyoto, only Britain and Sweden were on target to meet their commitments on reducing harmful gas emissions by 2012, said the IPPR, Britain's leading progressive think tank.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


In French suburbs, rage 'is only asleep' (Katrin Bennhold, 12/26/05, International Herald Tribune)

"Burn!" A knot of young men join their voices in a battle cry as they edge closer to the silhouette of a parked Mercedes, some of them aiming what look like handguns, others reaching for lighters.

In the harsh light of an underground parking lot in this grim suburb northwest of Paris, the guns and lighters are imaginary - but the sense of aggression is real. As one of the young men films with a digital camera, the others move to the angry beat of music blasting out of an open car door, echoing into the dark December night.

They sing about the riots that erupted two months ago, about being Muslim and about not feeling French in France. For them the unrest is not over, it is waiting to break loose again.

Skinhead racist murders spark protests from foreign students (Jeremy Page in Moscow, 12/27/05, Times of London)

LIKE thousands of Africans every year, Kanhem Leon came to Russia in search of the education that would give him a better life back home in Cameroon. Instead, the devout Christian was stabbed by a gang of skinheads in St Petersburg on Christmas Eve and left to die in the snow.

Elsewhere, such a brutal attack might be regarded as a random act of violence. But not in Russia’s picturesque second city. Mr Leon, 28, was the second African student in as many months to have been murdered by skinheads in St Petersburg, and dozens more have been beaten or injured in knife attacks.

Foreign students have accused the Government of turning a blind eye to neo-Nazi “death squads” who openly patrol the city in combat fatigues and carry out regular attacks on non-Slavs with knives and clubs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM

AND LE BAND PLAYED ON (via Ali Choudhury):

Canada's group sex club patrons swinging free (Robert Melnbardis Mon Dec 26, 2005, Reuters)

On a recent night out on the town, Michel and Chantal Delbecchi left their suburban Montreal home and drove to the L'Orage Club in the city's east end, where they had sex with a couple they had never met before.

The Delbecchis, husband and wife since 1978, are "echangistes," French for "swingers," who for the past 21 years have been visiting clubs like L'Orage (Thunderstorm) to have consensual sex in a group with one or more other people. [...]

The ruling sparked outrage, largely in English-speaking parts of Canada, where critics said it would erode limits on indecency or obscenity, encourage prostitution and even contribute to the corruption of minors.

In the mainly French-speaking and predominantly Catholic province of Quebec, however, the decision caused barely a ripple of adverse reaction. Newspaper editorialists fumed in Toronto, but largely yawned in Montreal.

Swingers across Canada cheered the ruling, especially those in Quebec, where adherents go to clubs not only to meet others like them, but also to have sex on the premises.

As suggested yesterday, David Warren doesn't belong in a nation that's fundamentally French.

December 26, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:11 PM

NAKED NATION (via Gene Brown):

I AM Canadian (David Warren, 12/26/05, Ottawa Citizen)

[T]he slanders against the U.S., and the Conservative opposition, are things that don’t touch me. They can defend themselves. Were people better informed, they might not feel the need. Take for instance the anti-American blather over the Kyoto protocol. Since 1990, “greenhouse gas” emissions have risen by 14 percent in the U.S., and by 25 percent in Canada. There are no legs on the horse Mr Martin has mounted. Or, the attempt to cast Mr Harper as a narrow religious bigot when he is, firstly, not especially religious, and secondly, timidly defending moral principles held by all the major religions in common.

If the Liberals were not provided with a karaoke chamber by the Canadian media, they would be naked on stage. There would be nothing for people to look at except their record of criminal corruption, moral perversion, and catastrophic waste. Which is not to suggest any elaborate conspiracy, for the journalists here are like those in most other Western countries -- a class, sharing backgrounds and material interests, who hang out mostly with each other. They are united by a worldview, enforced by peer pressure. It just happens that this worldview is toxic.

For contrast, consider the Alberta oil patch, which is staffed with another class, sharing a different worldview. You will find about as many liberal and socialist dissenters in the oil patch, as you will conservative dissenters in the media. It is how the world works: by peer pressure.

Let them be them. What annoys me most about the Liberal campaign, may be summarized in the words, “Choose your Canada.” The insinuation of this slogan is that people not sleepwalking to the Liberal themes, are not really Canadian. Now, that I take personally.

I wonder if he's not quite wrong here--maybe just as you can't be a secular statist and truly be American you can't be a conservative liberal and be a Canadian.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:55 PM


The New York Times' Christmas Gift (Michael Barone, 12/26/05, Real Clear Politics)

n the Dec. 15 Chicago Tribune, John Schmidt, associate attorney general in the Clinton administration, laid it out cold: "President Bush's post-Sept. 11, 2001, authorization to the National Security Agency to carry out electronic surveillance into private phone calls and e-mails is consistent with court decisions and with the positions of the Justice Department under prior presidents."

"News stories" in the Times and other newspapers and many national newscasts have largely ignored this legal record. Instead, they are tinged with a note of hysteria and the suggestion that fundamental freedoms have been violated by the NSA intercepts.

Earlier this month, a Newsweek cover story depicted George W. Bush as living inside a bubble, isolated from knowledge of the real world. Many of the news stories about the NSA intercepts show that it is mainstream media that are living inside a bubble, carefully insulating themselves and their readers and viewers from knowledge of applicable law and recent historical precedent, determined to pursue an agenda of undermining the Bush administration regardless of any damage to national security.|

You can tell how insulated they are from reality by their belief that there's a political price to be paid for being too mean to terrorists.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 12:05 PM


The one thing Jesus is not (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, reprinted in The Spectator, December 17th, 2005)

God sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men. He also selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was — that there was only one of Him and that He cared about right conduct. Those people were the Jews, and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process.

Then comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it. But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God. God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world Who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.

One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toe and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned; the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history.

Yet (and this is the strange, significant thing) even His enemies, when they read the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness and conceit. Still less do unprejudiced readers. Christ says that He is ‘humble and meek’ and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of His sayings.

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 11:40 AM


Aussies rise to challenge of Canadian sperm (Anne-Marie Owens, National Post, December 26th, 2005)

Lured by ads in the University of Calgary student newspaper that declared, in bold letters, SPERM DONORS NEEDED, WE WILL PAY, RETURN AIR FARES TO AUSTRALIA, TWO WEEKS ACCOMMODATION, DAILY ALLOWANCE, the unusual call-to-arms was a bit of a no-brainer for healthy, young university students with the desire to travel.

But a strange thing happened once the campaign went public.

This is the story of a small fertility clinic that announced it was going to Canada to look for sperm and unwittingly provoked so much Australian male pride that it suddenly found more than enough donors domestically.

After several years of failing to raise enough donors in Australia, despite advertising widely, Reproductive Medicine Albury found the intense publicity about its other-side-of-the-world sperm search last year delivered a new batch of homegrown donors.

Not to be outdone by Canadian donors, it seems, Australian men reacted to the campaign as a point of pride. "It was a bit of, 'What? Isn't Australian sperm good enough, then?' " says Dr. Scott Giltrap, director of the fertility centre.

Good to see those Aussie men are still stepping up to the plate to protect home and family.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


Hizbullah is Lebanon's bulwark against Al-Qaeda: 'We do not have any relations with that group' (Clancy Chassay, 12/24/05, The Daily Star)

Since the events of September 11, 2001, there have been numerous attempts to link Hizbullah to Al-Qaeda - some more plausible than others. Investigation, however, reveals considerable animosity between the two groups, and two leading academics on the subject suggest Hizbullah may be Lebanon's best protection against an Al-Qaeda presence in the country. [...]

Amal Ghorayeb of the Lebanese American University believes any operational cooperation between the two groups is out of the question. "Hizbullah would in no way share Al-Qaeda's goals. The Americans have to understand Al-Qaeda is a threat to American security, Hizbullah is simply a threat to American interests," says Ghorayeb.

An expert and writer on Hizbullah, Ghorayeb says: "Al-Qaeda would never work with Hizbullah; their greatest enemies are the Shiites. There is a very strong cultural and religious animosity on the side of Al-Qaeda."

Last week a Shiite cleric in Lebanon received a death threat from an Al-Qaeda-type Salafi jihadist group confirming this hostility.

There's a reason al Qaeda is so dead set on preventing a Shi'a state in Iraq.

Posted by Stephen Judd at 9:59 AM


Spy chief planning to curb spending (Siobhan Gorman, The Baltimore Sun, 12/26/05)

Some intelligence veterans say $44 billion a year is not enough to meet the growing demands placed on U.S. intelligence agencies since Sept. 11. Cutting growth in spending for the intelligence agencies would stunt the growth of a nascent intelligence reform effort, they contend.
When companies merge they look at cutting costs by reducing duplication, etc.  Why is it that when the governement merges departments we need more money and more people?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


Powell Speaks Out on Domestic Spy Program (STEVEN R. WEISMAN, 12/26/05, NY Times)

Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said on Sunday that it would not have been "that hard" for President Bush to obtain warrants for eavesdropping on domestic telephone and Internet activity, but that he saw "nothing wrong" with the decision not to do so.

"My own judgment is that it didn't seem to me, anyway, that it would have been that hard to go get the warrants," Mr. Powell said. "And even in the case of an emergency, you go and do it. The law provides for that."

But Mr. Powell added that "for reasons that the president has discussed and the attorney general has spoken to, they chose not to do it that way."

"I see absolutely nothing wrong with the president authorizing these kinds of actions," he said.

Asked if such eavesdropping should continue, Mr. Powell said, "Yes, of course it should continue."

Posted by Peter Burnet at 9:48 AM


Wake up, racism is global (Mark Steyn, The Spectator, December 17th, 2005)

What's the deal with these riots in Sydney? You switch on the television and there's scenes of urban conflagration and you think, "Hang on, I saw this story last month." But no. They were French riots. These are Australian riots. Entirely different. The French riots were perpetrated by - what's the word? - "youths". The Australian riots were perpetrated by "white youths". Same age cohort, but adjectivally enhanced.

And, being "white youths", they thus offered "a chilling glimpse into the darker corners of Australian society", as Nick Squires put it last week, "with thousands of white youths rampaging through a well-known beach suburb, attacking people of Middle Eastern background. They were egged on by white supremacists and neo-Nazis."

Gotcha. White youths egged on by white supremacists. You can't make a racist omelette without egged whites...

Some days this guy is so good you can’t finish the article for the tears.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:47 AM


On Gulf Coast, Cleanup Differs Town to Town (ERIC LIPTON, 12/25/05, NY Times)

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Harrison County, the home of Biloxi, and Jackson County, where Pascagoula is located, each had about 10 million cubic yards of debris to clean up. Both counties took up the federal government on its offer to foot the bill.

But while Harrison County and all but one of its cities hired contractors on their own, Jackson County and its cities, at the urging of the federal government, asked the Army Corps to take on the task. Officials in Jackson County said it was a choice they had regretted ever since.

The cleanup in Jackson County and its municipalities has not only cost millions of dollars more than in neighboring counties, but it is also taking longer. The latest available figures show that 39 percent of the work was complete in Jackson County, while 57 percent was done in Harrison County and its cities that are managing the job on their own, according to federal records.

"Something is very wrong here," said Frank Leach, a Jackson County supervisor. "Our federal government is paying an extraordinary amount of money for services that are not being performed adequately."

Remember how confident the Demo0crats were that the Hurricane would make everyone yearn for big government again?

Posted by Peter Burnet at 8:45 AM


O come, all ye faithless (Mark Steyn, The Spectator, December 17th, 2005)

It’s hard to persuade an atheist to believe in God. But unless he’s the proverbial ‘militant atheist’ — or, more accurately, fundamentalist atheist — the so-called rationalist ought to be capable of a rational assessment of the comparative strengths and weaknesses of different societies. If he is, he’ll find it hard to conclude other than that the most secular societies have the worst prospects. Rationalism is killing poor childless Europe. But instead of rethinking the irrationalism of rationalism, the rationalists are the ones clinging to blind faith, ever more hysterically. At that ridiculous climate conference in Montreal, Peyton Knight of the National Center for Public Policy Research encountered Richard Ingham, a correspondent for Agence France-Presse: ‘He demanded to know the National Center’s stance on global warming. I began to explain to him that it is our view that mankind is not causing the planet to get appreciably warmer. Before I could delve into any specifics, he cut me off, shouting: “Why? Because it isn’t in the Bible? It isn’t in Genesis?”’

The bit I like isn’t in Genesis, but Psalms: ‘What is man, that thou art mindful of him...? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea....’

Let’s suppose that there is no God and that the Psalmist just conjured that up out of thin air. Nevertheless, it accurately conveys the central feature of our world — our dominion over pretty much everything else out there. A couple of months back, I was asked about creationism and ‘intelligent design’. Not my bag, so I kept it short. But I did say that the Psalmist had captured the essence of our reality rather better than your average geneticist. I’d just been told that not only does man share 98.5 per cent of his genetic code with the chimp but he shares 75 per cent of it with the pumpkin. If that’s so, it doesn’t seem a terribly useful scale for measuring the differences in our respective achievements. As I put it, ‘The fact is that this is a planet overwhelmingly dominated and shaped by one species, and our kith and kin — whether gibbons or pumpkins — basically fit in the spaces between.’

This modest thought provoked Paul Z. Myers, professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, into paroxysms of scorn: Steyn, he scoffed, ‘must not possess a gut populated by intestinal bacteria. We are at their mercy; without them, we suffer horribly for a while and die.... He must not have any wooden furniture in his home, or plastic ...made from the carbon left by ancient forests.... It’s a good thing he doesn’t eat, or he’d have to excrete — without any bacteria or fungi or nematodes or flatworms, the shit would just pile up (this would explain his written output, though).’

Oh dear. All I was doing was making a simple point about the scale of man’s domination, and all Professor Myers’s demolition does is confirm it. My intestinal bacteria may indeed be doing a swell job, but living in my gut isn’t exactly a beach house at Malibu. Yes, I’ve got wooden furniture. I live in the Great North Woods and the house and practically everything in it is made from those woods. But I sit on the chair, the chair doesn’t sit on me. And as for my excreta and the hard-working nematode, who gets the better end of that deal?

In a way, Professor Myers is only taking transnationalism to its logical conclusion. After all, if one is obliged to pretend that the Americans, Belgians, Greeks and Canadians are all equal members of a military alliance, it’s not such a stretch to insist that the Americans, the flatworms, the intestinal bacteria and your Welsh dresser are all equal partners in some grand planetary alliance. Nonetheless, if we are virtually the same as a chimp, the 1.5 per cent of difference counts for more than the 98.5 per cent of similarity. The Psalmist seems to find that easier to understand than the biologist does.

Natural evolution stumbles horribly and often hilariously when trying to explain human history and human nature, which perhaps explains the zealotry with which its proponents drop all pretense to objective inquiry, deny the overwhelming evidence before their eyes and insist there is nothing intrinsically special about man.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


A mammoth task: New technology sequences part of the genome of an extinct behemoth, and promises to help unravel other ancient DNA (Byron Spice, December 26, 2005, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

A week ago, an international team including Dr. Schuster and Penn State colleague Webb Miller, announced they had recovered DNA from a woolly mammoth that had been preserved in the permafrost of northern Siberia for 27,000 years and used a new gene sequencing technology to unravel a portion of its genetic code.

"I'm convinced we'll be able to sequence the entire genome," said Hendrik N. Poinar, a molecular evolutionary geneticist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, and lead author of last week's report in the journal Science.

That will enable researchers to compare and contrast the extinct behemoth's genome, which is almost as large as a human's, with that of the African elephant. And that will allow scientists to get a better idea of what evolutionary changes occurred that caused woolly mammoths and African elephants to diverge 5 million to 6 million years ago, Dr. Poinar said, as well as to better understand why the elephant survived while the mammoth went extinct.

Of course, we know how they became extinct: we hunted them to extinction. And elephants are an excellent example of how little divergence matters, as we can crossbreed Asian and African elephants and will undoubtedly be able to crossbreed them with mammoths as well.

Global Polio Largely Fading: Stronger Vaccine Is Playing Key Role (David Brown, December 26, 2005, Washington Post)

The 17-year effort to eradicate polio from the world appears to be back on track after nearly unraveling in the past three years.

A new strategy of using a vaccine targeting the dominant strain of the virus appears to have eliminated polio from Egypt, one of six countries where it was freely circulating. That approach is on the verge of doing the same in India. Twenty-five years ago, India had 200,000 cases of paralytic polio a year. A decade ago, it was still seeing 75,000 cases annually. Through November this year, it recorded 52.

Such dramatic successes, many the result of a more potent formulation of polio vaccine, have once again made eradication of the paralyzing viral disease a realistic goal. Only one human disease -- smallpox -- has ever been wiped out, and that was almost three decades ago.

Intensive immunization campaigns targeting tens of millions of children in Africa have suppressed polio transmission in countries where it reappeared after the continent's most populous nation, Nigeria, halted universal polio vaccination in 2003. [...]

Since the vaccine went into use in Egypt this spring, polio has disappeared there. UNICEF has ordered 600 million doses and plans to use it throughout much of Africa.

Next year, India may be free of polio. One former hotbed -- Bombay -- already is.

Since April, no polio virus has been detected in that city's sewage. That is indirect evidence the virus is no longer carried by any of its 12.7 million residents -- undoubtedly for the first time in history.

Once again, intelligent design.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


U.S. Seeks To Escape Brutal Cycle In Iraqi City: 3rd Try at Pullout Depends on Police (Ann Scott Tyson, December 26, 2005, Washington Post

Using bulldozers and armored earthmovers, Army engineers encircled Samarra with a wall of dirt, sealing off the many small roads that insurgents used to move weapons into the city. Signs warned that anyone trying to cross the berm would be met with deadly force -- and some were, according to battalion officers.

The wall sent a panic through Samarra that a major offensive was imminent. "We helped spread that rumor," Walsh explained, "to get people to leave, so citizens of Samarra would be more inclined to give up the insurgents. Cooperate, or we'll clear the city." Tens of thousands fled, reducing Samarra's population to about 70,000. Half the working police force quit.

Meanwhile, in a change of tactics, soldiers began taking up unpredictable, covert positions in houses and abandoned buildings. "We got more sneaky," said 1st Lt. Adam Hurley, 24, of Raleigh, N.C., whose soldiers shot insurgents as they were placing artillery rounds in freshly dug holes.

"We had to do some deep-seated military operations," Walsh said. "We had to take a step back versus going forward. We took one step back, instead of destroying the city."

After Samarra was walled in, attacks in the city dropped sharply, from seven or eight a day last summer to one or two now, according to the military. Since October, only one roadside bomb has exploded on the main portion of highway running past Samarra, and there has been only one car bomb, in contrast with two or three a month previously.

The security has come with a cost. Long lines of vehicles sit idle at the city's three checkpoints, where crossing can take as long as an hour. "It completely disrupted the city market," said Hurley, adding that farmers especially suffered. While thousands of residents have returned to the city, the population is still down by about a fourth from a year ago.

Now, the U.S. military is embarking on a gradual plan to cut its forces and pull out of the city -- a plan that ultimately depends on a local police force that trainers say is undermanned and years away from being up to the task.

In a new police headquarters in Samarra's barricaded government Green Zone, a block from the old one that was gutted by insurgent bombs, a few police officers sat around on the roof. Only one sits in a guard tower, his hands folded on his lap. Beds with blankets were situated under an awning, and Islamic prayers wafted from a cassette player.

Two battalions of special police commandos returned to Samarra from Baghdad in December to bolster the local police but plan only a short stay. "Right now the police are capable of defending themselves," the commandos' chief, Col. Bashar Abdullah Hussein, asserted between cell phone calls in his office. The commandos will be in Samarra "not more than three months," he said.

But Capt. Barry Humphrey, who trains local police, says the vast majority of policemen don't come to work, and those who do often put in only a few hours. Several hundred idle police are on the payroll under a patronage system tolerated by the current police chief.

"The biggest problem we have so far is accountability of people," said Humphrey, 30, of Montgomery, Ala. With competent leaders, he estimated it will take two years to generate the planned local police force of 1,200 men.

On a foot patrol Dec. 2 in a violent part of Samarra called Abu Bas, Humphrey was with a police patrol when two men in black robes and head scarves flew around the corner and opened fire. They shot one policeman in the forehead and shoulder. But instead of taking cover, five police officers went forward in pursuit. Ultimately, the attackers were caught trying to escape through a checkpoint. To Humphrey, it was a small step forward.

"This time," he said, "some of them did shoot back."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Egyptian dissident gets 5-year prison sentence (The New York Times, Reuters, 12/25/05)

An Egyptian court sentenced Ayman Nour, a leading political opposition figure, to five years of hard labor on forgery charges, prompting protests among many Egyptians and a statement from the United States questioning the validity of the nation's judicial process.

Nour was convicted in a case widely seen as a political prosecution intended to silence a challenge to President Hosni Mubarak. Nour, a 41-year-old lawyer, was sentenced Saturday to five years in prison on the charge that he forged documents to found El Ghad, or the Tomorrow Party. Nour was Mubarak's main challenger in the September elections and has denied the charges.

In a courtroom packed with uniformed police and state security officers, it took just minutes for a judge to read out the verdict and sentence in a nearly inaudible whisper, provoking Nour, locked inside a foul-smelling, filthy cage inside the courtroom, to break into a chant of "Down with Mubarak!"

Diplomats from the United States, France, Norway and the European Union were seated in the courtroom. Political analysts, diplomats, scholars and writers have said that the charges appeared little more than political persecution, especially after one of the prosecution's main witnesses said he testified against Nour only after state security forces threatened his nieces.

Libya court overturns death term for nurses (Craig S. Smith and Matthew Brunwasser, DECEMBER 25, 2005, The New York Times, International Herald Tribune)
The Libyan Supreme Court on Sunday overturned the convictions of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who had been sentenced to death on charges of infecting hundreds of Libyan children with the HIV virus. The politically charged case was sent back to a lower court for a retrial.

The action, which came on the heels of an international agreement to set up a fund that will pay for the children's medical care, raised hopes that the medical workers might eventually be freed.

"The court has accepted the appeal of the Bulgarian nurses and ordered that a new trial take place at the criminal court of Benghazi," the Supreme Court's president, Ali al-Alus, told Agence France-Presse, referring to the coastal Libyan city where the infections took place. [...]

Although Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, did not intervene in the case, one of his sons, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, has been involved in negotiations. He said a year ago the defendants would not be executed.

The Egyptians had elections first, but the younger Qaddafi seems to have a surer grasp of what liberalizing Libya requires than does the younger Mubarak, or perhaps just more influence. At any rate, the pace of such reforms will inevitably be uneven, but they end up in the same place eventually.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Hornblower, Still Under Full Sail (JONATHAN YARDLEY, December 26, 2005, Washington Post)

Earlier this month, for its annual holiday issue, Book World asked several literary eminentos "what book they would recommend to a friend craving a little escape from the world's cares." My answer would have been ridiculously easy: any of the 11 "Hornblower" novels by C.S. Forester, most particularly the first in the series, "Beat to Quarters."

For more than five decades I have escaped into the "Hornblower" novels as often as time and occasion have permitted. I was introduced to them as a middle-schooler in the early 1950s by my father, who adored them. The first that I read, "Mr. Midshipman Hornblower" (1950), doubtless was given to me because my father knew I would identify with the mere boy who was its protagonist, but over the years the three novels about Horatio Hornblower when he was in his thirties and held the rank of captain -- "Beat to Quarters," "Ship of the Line" and "Flying Colours," all of them, incredibly, published in 1938 -- have been my favorites, and they remain so to this day.

It seems most unlikely that many readers now need to be introduced to Horatio Hornblower. All the novels chronicling his long career are very much in print and, if sales rankings at are any guide, continue to sell remarkably well. The 1951 film "Captain Horatio Hornblower," directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Gregory Peck in the title role -- my father and I drove across the state of Virginia to see it -- was well received and remained popular for years. More recently, the BBC made a "Hornblower" series with Ioan Gruffudd perfectly cast as Hornblower; eight episodes are available on DVD, and all are terrific, completely faithful to the original and considerably grittier than the 1951 movie.

Forester is now known almost entirely for "Hornblower," but when he began to write "Beat to Quarters" in the mid-1930s at age 38, he was a well-established, successful author of highly literate, carefully researched novels of adventure and suspense, most notably "Payment Deferred" and "The African Queen." He had published two dozen books and had been lured to Hollywood, which he found not to his taste. He fled back to England aboard a Swedish freighter, a leisurely voyage during which he thought through the personality and character of his flawed but heroic protagonist, a British naval officer serving during the Napoleonic Wars. Forester decided to name him Horatio, "not because of Nelson but because of Hamlet," from which "it seemed a natural and easy step to Hornblower."

That is how Forester put it in "The Hornblower Companion," published two years before his death in 1966. This book, with its detailed maps of all of Hornblower's naval engagements and its candid, instructive account of how Forester wrote fiction, is a useful supplement to the novels, but reading it really isn't necessary because Forester's descriptive powers are so keen that every location and battle comes vividly alive in the reader's imagination. Although he wasn't in love with the movie industry, he obviously had a highly cinematic mind and animated scenes with clarity and immediacy.

Couldn't agree more and be sure to check out the recent A&E series

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Review of Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World New York (Richard B. Speed, December 17, 2005, HNN)

As Andrew explains, Soviet interest in the “third world” went back to Lenin who had called for “world revolution,” and to the Congress of the Peoples of the East held at Baku in 1920. But Soviet hopes for revolution in the “east” had been disappointed until after the Second World War, when European empires in Asia and Africa began to crumble. With Joseph Stalin’s death and the emergence of Mao’s China as a competitor for worldwide revolutionary leadership, Nikita Khrushchev began to turn Soviet attentions to the former colonies. During the famous 1956 speech in which he denounced the crimes of Stalin, Khrushchev also asserted that “The new period in world history which Lenin predicted has arrived, and the peoples of the East are playing an active role in deciding the destinies of the world . . . .”

The successful revolution in Cuba a few years later seemed to demonstrate that even the nations of Latin America which Stalin had written off as a series of American puppet states, might follow Fidel Castro’s lead into the Soviet camp. This achievement, combined with the necessity to fend off the growing Chinese challenge for revolutionary leadership fired Khrushchev’s endorsement of KGB Chairman Alexander Shelepin’s 1961 proposal to “promote armed uprisings against pro-Western reactionary governments” in the “third world.” Khrushchev’s departure in 1964 did not diminish Soviet support for the strategy of third world revolution. Indeed it was enthusiastically supported by Leonid Brezhnev and his successor, the former KGB chief, Yuri Andropov. It wasn’t seriously questioned until the Afghan quagmire absorbed the attention of Mikhail Gorbachev in the mid-1980s.

According to Andrew, the KGB conducted an aggressive campaign against the “Main Enemy” in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, which began in 1960-61 and lasted until the mid-1980s. As one young intelligence officer put it, “we were guided by the idea that the destiny of world confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, between Capitalism and Socialism, would be resolved in the Third World.” The Soviet Foreign Ministry however was never enthusiastic about this new turn. Under Andrei Gromyko, the Foreign Ministry continued to focus on the competition in Europe. Thus it fell to the KGB to lead Soviet policy in the “third world.” As Andrew writes, “The initiative for ‘global struggle’ came from the KGB rather than the Foreign Ministry.”

The book is organized into four major sections corresponding to Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Each section has several chapters dealing with KGB activities in the major nations and some of the lesser countries in each region. China and Japan are each treated in separate chapters. India, the “the Third World country on which the KGB eventually concentrated most operational effort during the Cold War,” is covered in two chapters as is Afghanistan, the nation where Soviet policy suffered its final defeat. KGB involvement in Middle Eastern terrorism is likewise covered in a separate chapter.

The general reader will find innumerable stories about such events as Indian diplomats seduced by Soviet “swallows” into turning over the embassy’s codebooks. Among other things, the book reveals that “Fear of a pre-emptive Soviet strike seems to have been a major reason for the Chinese decision to enter the secret talks . . . which led to . . . Sino-American rapprochement . . . .” In short, just as Richard Nixon was playing the “China card,” Mao was playing “the United States card.”

In the fifteen years or so since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, historians have been revising their understanding of that conflict in the light of new revelations from behind what was once known as the Iron Curtain. The World Was Going Our Way contributes to that process by demonstrating the centrality of the KGB to the “third world” struggle which dominated so much of the thirty year period after 1961. It also serves as a counterpart to the numerous works dealing with the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency which have appeared since the Church Committee hearings in 1975. Overall Andrew concludes that despite numerous tactical successes, often attributable to its “active measures,” the KGB’s effort to win the Cold War in the “third world” was a strategic failure.

Those of bus of a certain age spent decades being lectured by the Left about how the Marxism of the Third World was popular and entirely indigenous and how our attempts to help governments there defeat it was naught but Imperialism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Some Border Patrol Agents Take a Chance on Love: It's an open secret: By day they deport illegal immigrants, but at night they date them. (Nicholas Riccardi, December 26, 2005, LA Times)

Terrazas faces deportation again and Ruiz, 30, is on leave from the patrol. A second agent has been charged with felonies for giving Terrazas a short ride across the border from Mexico. It is one of four felony cases stemming from a federal crackdown against corruption on the Arizona border.

That push has highlighted an open secret along the border: romance between illegal immigrants and those responsible for deporting them.

Some locals say that such relationships are inevitable in a town where the nearest movie theater is 51 miles north and the nearest nightclubs lie just across the border in Agua Prieta, Mexico. The clandestine romances, they add, also make a mockery of efforts targeting illegal immigrants, such as laws being considered by Congress that would mandate fences along sections of the border and fine employers who hire illegal aliens.

But such lines between the legal and illegal can be hard to draw on the southwestern border. For generations, families have easily moved back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico, and even Douglas' mayor says he doesn't know whether longtime residents are in the country legally or not. Border Patrol agents, often young, single and new to the area, can get caught between the clear dictates of U.S. immigration law and the ambiguities of the heart.

"The absurdity of it gets played out in the day-to-day lives of Border Patrol agents," said Jennifer Allen, director of the Border Action Network, an immigrant rights group based in Tucson. "Everybody knows somebody [in the U.S. illegally] who has some kind of relationship with a Border Patrol agent. Either someone in their family is married to one, or they're sleeping with one. People's lives are very complicated and intertwined and they're not very clear-cut."

Maybe the illegals could wear yellow stars?

December 25, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:08 PM

REVOLUTIONARY! (via Mike Daley):

Capacity Constraints (Irwin Stelzer, 12/19/05, Sunday Times of London)

If the Federal Reserve Board's monetary policy gurus have any doubt that "possible increases in resource utilization … have the potential to add to inflation pressures", as they said in last week's statement accompanying their 13th consecutive increase in interest rates, they need look no further than Shell Oil's announcement the following day.

The new consensus that crude oil prices will stay at or above $50 per barrel has had several consequences. Like its oil-industry competitors, Shell has upped its exploration and development expenditures, in its case by 27% to $19 billion. Kuwait has decided to draw on Western expertise to help it develop its untapped reserves, which look a lot more attractive at $50 than they did at $10. Other oil companies are scrambling for drilling rigs, labor and supplies.

So because gas costs more right now they're looking for more of it--that's never happened before, huh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 PM


Don Evans Rejects Top Russian Oil Job (NewsMax, 12/20/05)

Former Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, a close friend of President Bush, said Monday he will not accept the offer of a top job at Russian state oil company OAO Rosneft.

Evans said he had decided against pursuing the offer because he could not commit to the time required to do the job correctly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:32 PM


Detainees Face Limited Access to Courts: But Bill Awaiting Bush Signature Would Shield Terror Suspects from U.S. Abuse (Josh White, December 24, 2005, Washington Post)

An amendment sponsored by Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) eliminates detainees' ability to challenge the condition of their detentions through habeas corpus petitions. Graham, asserting that U.S. courts have become clogged by "frivolous" claims on behalf of nearly 300 detainees in Cuba, favored denying foreign terrorism suspects the same rights in federal court that are afforded to U.S. citizens.

Instead, he proposed allowing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review the Combatant Status Review Tribunal decisions, in which detainees are ruled "enemy combatants" or "no longer enemy combatants."

Those who are considered enemy combatants can be held indefinitely. Detainees convicted by military commissions -- of which there have been none completed in the four years the Guantanamo Bay prison has operated -- are afforded federal court review.

Graham has called it "a balanced approach" that will allow Congress more oversight and have the federal court "looking over the tribunal's shoulder."

Military law experts worry that the legislation actually strips the federal courts of some of the judicial branch's integrity, for the first time since the Civil War suspending of habeas corpus rights and removing the courts from evaluating the executive branch's decisions to hold detainees indefinitely.

The courts would, of course, have laughed if German POWs had sought to be released during WWII.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:27 PM


The future of America -- in Iraq (Robert D. Kaplan, December 24, 2005, LA Times)

IF YOU WANT to meet the future political leaders of the United States, go to Iraq. I am not referring to the generals, or even the colonels. I mean the junior officers and enlistees in their 20s and 30s. In the decades ahead, they will represent something uncommon in U.S. military history: war veterans with practical experience in democratic governance, learned under the most challenging of conditions. [...]

Regardless of whether you support or oppose the U.S. engagement in Iraq, you should be aware that that country has had a startling effect on a new generation of soldiers often from troubled backgrounds, whose infantry training has provided no framework for building democracy from scratch.

At a Thanksgiving evangelical service, one NCO told the young crowd to cheers: "The Pilgrims during the first winter in the New World suffered a 54% casualty rate from disease and cold. That's a casualty rate that would render any of our units combat ineffective. But did the Pilgrims sail back to England? Did they give up? No. This country isn't a quitter. It doesn't withdraw."

Not withdrawing means bringing stability and liberal values to a society in which people have been trained to be subjects, not citizens. Young commanders in Iraq are experiencing in the bluntest terms the intractable cultural and political realities of a world that the U.S. seeks to remake in its own image, even as their own life struggles — as well as their religious faith, which is generally deeper than that of secular elites — make them not only refuse to give up but to feel betrayed by those who would.

To label them conservative is to miss the point. Having ground-truthed the difficulty of implanting democracy in a place with no experience of it, Iraq has stripped them of any ideology they might have had. At the same time, they have become emotionally involved with building Iraqi democracy. They have developed a distrust of an American media that have not, in their eyes, recorded advances they feel they have made in reducing the level of combat or getting a nascent electoral system started. In a vast country of 23 million people, they rarely see the car bombings that kill a few dozen every day and are reported on the news at home. But they daily see the progress in front of their eyes.

Thus do the Realists lose an entire generation.

Freedom had a good year (Joshua Muravchik, December 24, 2005, LA Times)

This week, Freedom House released its survey for 2005. [...]

Eight countries plus the Palestinian Authority, not yet officially a country, moved up — either from "not free" to "partly free" or from "partly free" to "free." Four countries moved down. In all, this made it a good year for freedom.

But here's the really interesting part. Of the nine countries that improved their ratings, no fewer than six are Muslim countries. Indonesia moved from "partly free" to "free," while Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Mauritania and the Palestinian Authority moved from "not free" to "partly free." Of the four countries that became less free in 2005, none was a Muslim country.

To anyone who has followed the Freedom House data year to year, these changes are remarkable. Since the fall of Portugal's military dictatorship in 1974, a tide of freedom and democracy has washed over the globe. Every region has recorded strong gains, including even such a poor and troubled area as sub-Saharan Africa and the socially mutilated lands of the former Soviet empire. But until this year, the Muslim world had remained a stubborn exception.

In 2001, Freedom House first highlighted this remarkable disparity. Of the 47 countries that had Muslim majorities, only one was "free," 18 were "partly free" and 28 were "not free." Among the non-Muslim countries, the proportions were nearly the opposite: 85 were "free," 40 "partly free" and only 20 "not free." Worse, the Muslim world was growing more repressive, not more free.

Thanks, Osama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:23 PM


Joyous Christmas celebrations across India (Times of India, Dec 25, 2005)

Christians across India on Sunday joyously observed Christmas, a festival that has acquired a universal appeal in this land of over one billion, with people from other religions too joining in the festivities.

From Chandigarh in the north to Chennai in the south, and from Mumbai in the west to Kohima in the northeast, the faithful flocked to churches for the midnight mass and to pay obeisance at the nativity tableau that depicts the birth of Jesus Christ.

Millions of homes across the country were gaily decorated with lights, buntings, stars, Santa Claus cut-outs and Christmas trees from under which children eagerly sought out the gifts laid out for them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:17 PM


For Gorshkov, Navy pilots head to US for training (SHIV AROOR, December 24, 2005, Indian Express)

By the time Russian-built aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov arrives in 2008, the Navy will have a contingent of 32 pilots, trained in specialised deck-based fighter operations at the US Navy training command in Pensacola, Florida.

With the first batch of four Lieutenant-rank officers are already under training there, the next is scheduled to go in March.

The selection of venue for training to operate Russian-built MiG-29K fighters off the Gorshkov may seem strange but the government was compelled to accept the Pentagon’s offer because Russia has no facilities for intermediate deck-based flight training. The US Navy training school in Pensacola trains Naval F/A-18 Super Hornet pilots.

It's a carom shot that only seems strange if you don't consider who the common enemies of the three are.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 3:06 PM


O Come All Ye Faithful : Lyrics

O Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

O Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing all that hear in heaven God's holy word.
Give to our Father glory in the Highest;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

All Hail! Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning,
O Jesus! for evermore be Thy name adored.
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Adeste Fideles

Adeste Fideles
Laeti triumphantes
Venite, venite in Bethlehem
Natum videte
Regem angelorum
Venite adoremus, Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus, Dominum

Cantet nunc io
Chorus angelorum
Cantet nunc aula caelestium
Gloria, gloria
In excelsis Deo
Venite adoremus, Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus, Dominum

Ergo qui natus
Die hodierna
Jesu, tibi sit gloria
Patris aeterni
Verbum caro factus
Venite adoremus, Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus, Dominum

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:32 AM


Levees Weakened as New Orleans Board, Federal Engineers Feuded (Stephen Braun and Ralph Vartabedian, December 25, 2005, LA Times)

When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and New Orleans levee officials joined forces in July 1985 to protect the city from a long-feared hurricane, the two agencies could not agree on how to proceed. It was the beginning of a dysfunctional partnership that ushered in two decades of chronic government mismanagement.

Corps engineers wanted to install gates in front of the city's three main internal canals to protect against violent storm surges from Lake Pontchartrain. The Orleans Levee District, the city's flood protection agency, preferred to build higher flood walls for miles along the canals. For five years, neither side yielded.

But in October 1990, a deft behind-the-scenes maneuver by the levee board forced the corps to accept higher flood walls. As Senate and House negotiators gathered to craft the Water Resources Development Act of 1990, Louisiana's congressional delegation quietly inserted a lobbyist's phrasing ordering the corps to raise the levee walls.

"It was stealth; legislative trickery," recalled New Orleans lawyer Bruce Feingerts, who lobbied for the levee board. "We had to push every button at our disposal."

The gambit was a crucial victory over the corps by the Orleans district, the most powerful and well-financed among 18 Louisiana boards that supervise more than 340 miles of storm levees across the hurricane-prone southern half of the state. The corps had to abandon its floodgate plan and shoulder 70% of the project's costs while allowing the Orleans board to hire its own consultants to design the strengthened levees.

But their fractious partnership proved disastrous. While the corps and the Orleans board settled into an acrimonious 15-year relationship, spending $95 million to buttress the city's canal levees, their shared supervision failed to detect crucial weaknesses inside the flood walls before Hurricane Katrina struck.

"No one felt the urgency, none of us," said Lambert C. Boissiere Jr., a former Orleans levee commissioner. "The corps and our own engineers told us the levees were strong enough. They were all dead wrong."

The Hurricane was caused by George Bush's opposition to Kyoto and the flooding by his racism. Period. I know because the Left told me....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:02 AM


In Criminal Cases, a Court Nominee Hews to Rules (JONATHAN D. GLATER, 12/25/05, NY Times)

Perhaps not surprisingly, the judge, a former federal prosecutor, has often - though far from uniformly - ruled against defendants. But it is not clear that he stands out: In appeals of criminal convictions generally, defendants face a steep uphill battle. Nationally, just 5.6 percent of such appeals result in some kind of reversal, according to the federal Office of Court Administration.

Judge Alito's opinions in criminal cases are meticulously written, with careful deference to the findings of trial court judges and juries and scrupulous determination to fit his decisions into the framework built by past cases. He hews to the rules.

"The perception is, he's coming from an extremely conservative point of view," said George Newman, a defense lawyer in Philadelphia who has argued cases before the judge. "He's not a good defense judge."

And no one minds.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 AM


God's old neighborhood a review of Where God Was Born A Journey by Land to the Roots of Religion by Bruce Feiler (Jonathan Kirsch, December 25, 2005, LA Times)

Feiler tends to dramatize his own experiences. Thus, for example, an excursion by helicopter above the land of Israel is rendered as a moment of crisis and then revelation: "I feel as if I'm in a full-body migraine," writes Feiler. "And then, just as suddenly, quiet. The sound dissolves, my body relaxes. I'm in the air, in a war. I'm at peace," he continues, referring to the armed conflict between Israel and its Palestinian-Arab adversaries. Indeed, "Where God Was Born" is essentially a confessional work. [...]

Nor does Feiler shrink from the harsh theological implications of violence in the name of God. "There is one God, and God controls the world," insists a Hasidic Jew in the aftermath of a terrorist suicide bombing in Jerusalem. "God controls the bomb, and the bomber." In fact, Feiler, who is Jewish, experiences a soul-shaking spiritual crisis after visiting the Jewish homeland, and he ends up distancing himself from the Bible: "I was learning that I could no longer rely on the once familiar pillars of my religious identity: King David, the Temple, the Western Wall. I had to find my own route to God."

But Feiler is always looking for points of connection and reconciliation among Jews, Christians and Muslims, all of whom share a scriptural tradition that seems only to sharpen the conflicts among them. He acknowledges that King David is depicted in the Bible as a bloodthirsty warrior and conqueror, but he also reminds his readers of the linkage between David and Jesus: "The interfaith roots of David run deep in this soil." He shows us the contents of the field kit issued to chaplains who accompany U.S. troops into battle: "a crucifix, a screw-together chalice, communion wine and wafers, a rosary, a kippah [Jewish head covering], teffilin (Jewish prayer boxes), and Muslim prayer beads."

For Feiler, the contrast between the Promised Land and the Babylonian Exile is especially instructive, and he explicitly defends the Diaspora as a crucial element of Jewish identity. Indeed, he seems to suggest that "Holy" and "Land" ought to be decoupled. "The surprising lesson of the Exile is that God does not abandon us in moments of despair, nor does he save us," affirms Feiler. "Only we can save ourselves from exile. By the rivers of Babylon, we should not weep for Zion. We should not seek vengeance on our enemies. We should redeem ourselves."

An especially powerful Psalm and a rebuke to those, like Mr. Feiler, who seek a cuddly God, 137: The Mourning of the Exiles in Babylon
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.

For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

How shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land?

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.

If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.

O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.

Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 AM


China 'jails democracy activist' (BBC, 12/25/05)

A Chinese democracy activist has reportedly been jailed for 12 years for helping to organise anti-Japanese protests in China earlier this year.

The wife of Xu Wanping said he had been found guilty of incitement to subvert state power at a closed hearing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


Mo. May Vote on Stem Cell Research: Scientists Fight Possible Ban as Criticism Mounts (Peter Slevin, December 25, 2005, Washington Post)

The Stowers Institute and Washington University in St. Louis are potent lobbying forces and prime backers of the Missouri amendment drive. The national roster of supporters includes the Lance Armstrong Foundation, the Christopher Reeve Foundation, the Parkinson's Action Network and the American Diabetes Association.

Before voters can address the amendment, which would also create oversight mechanisms and outlaw the creation of a cloned human, supporters must overcome a legal challenge filed by the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund.

"The primary evil with human cloning is they're cloning a human for the purposes of harvesting the parts, the stem cells," said lawyer Kevin Theriot. "The real problem is the ballot title and summary says the purpose of the initiative is to ban human cloning when in fact it authorizes a type of human cloning."

Cole County Senior Judge Byron Kinder set a hearing for Jan. 19. "I assume we're going to have to go into the question of when does life begin," Kinder said.

The principal local challenger is Missourians Against Human Cloning, incorporated last month by Missouri Catholic Conference executive Weber. The Catholic conference and the Missouri Baptist Convention formally joined the case last week.

Catholic bishops asked parish priests and deacons to speak about the issue at Mass.

St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke has described the proposed research as "intrinsically evil." Burke -- who said he would deny communion to Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), a Roman Catholic, because of his support of abortion rights -- said parishioners must not succumb to "false promises and statements by this initiative's proponents."

Ethics in Research Debated: Stem Cell Debacle Spurs Calls for Improved Oversight (Rob Stein, December 25, 2005, Washington Post)
The stunning revelation that a South Korean researcher faked landmark stem cell experiments has sparked an intense new debate about the safeguards designed to prevent and catch scientific fraud.

While it remains unclear what motivated Hwang Woo Suk, the case has highlighted how the increasingly rapid pace of science, and rising international competition, may be intensifying the temptation to fake results, experts said.

That mad scientist is the perfect poster boy for the Death Lobby.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM

20 FREAKIN' %?:

In Iraq, A Push For Unity On Vote: Factions Negotiate Following Protests (Jonathan Finer, December 25, 2005, Washington Post)

Each of the country's three largest communities -- Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs and ethnic Kurds -- voted overwhelmingly on Dec. 15 for lists of parliamentary candidates that represented its own group. According to preliminary, unofficial ballot counts, the largest share of votes was won by the alliance of Shiite Muslim religious parties that leads Iraq's outgoing government. Minority Sunni Arabs, meanwhile, appeared to have won fewer votes than they had anticipated.

That voting pattern, and the subsequent unrest and charges of fraud by Sunnis, exacerbated long-standing fears and distrust that had emerged since the fall of Saddam Hussein almost three years ago, Iraqi officials and Western diplomats said. In recent weeks, Shiite and Sunni leaders have called for the formation of sectarian armies to police their respective regions, a step some observers say could be a precursor to open clashes between the groups. The Kurds, who dominate most of northern Iraq, already have their own fighting force, as do several Shiite parties.

"Every group here is afraid of every other group: The Sunnis are afraid, the Shiites are afraid, and the Kurds are afraid," said a Western diplomat in Baghdad who agreed to be interviewed on the condition he not be named. "And the response to that has been to sort of draw together as a kind of self-preservation tactic. When it came down to it, people voted on the basis of identity, and now it is time to walk everybody back and choose a government that represents the country. This is a critical time."

The Sunni were always destined to have a psychic break when forced to confront how small a minority they really are. Now it's important to give them a bit more power than they've won, in order to buy their participation in a system they'll never control.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 AM


Constituting Israel: Israel, like Britain, has no written constitution. Most Israelis today say the country should have one. But can Israel ever agree on how to define itself as a nation? (David B. Green, December 25, 2005, Boston Globe)

If Sharon's stroke had been more serious, the country, between governments, could well have been plunged into a constitutional crisis. That is, if it had a constitution.

When Israel came into existence as a state, in May 1948, its founders expected it to be a matter of years, if not months, before it adopted a constitution. Until then, its Declaration of Independence enumerated the basic principles upon which the state would stand, including equality of rights for all citizens, and ''freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the Prophets of Israel." It also anticipated the preparation of a constitution, and when it became clear that that wasn't happening, the Knesset resolved to enact a number of initial ''basic laws," which were meant to set out the workings of the fundamental institutions and principles of the state and to serve as the building blocks of the eventual document.

Nonetheless, 57 years and 11 basic laws later, Israel still lacks a constitution. Some would even say that the country's lack of a document of basic principles of government explains the political mess that it is in.

Nearly three-quarters of the Israeli public is in favor of a constitution, and a committee of the Knesset has spent the past three years holding hearings on the subject, preparing to draft its own version of one. But saying that Israelis desire a constitution is like saying that they would like to be at peace with their Palestinian neighbors: It doesn't begin to suggest the major constitutional issues that divide them.

There was an amazing story this week about how, after winning the election, Ariel Sharon would simply get to appoint up to a third of the new Knesset.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


On the beach: Why the recent riots in Australia should surprise no one (Yvonne Abraham, December 25, 2005, Boston Globe)

Part of the animus can be explained by familiar factors. Sept. 11 and the terrorist attacks in Bali and London have bred anti-Arab, anti-Muslim sentiment. And as in France, young Muslim men in Sydney's heavily Lebanese west and southwest, with disproportionately high unemployment and poverty rates, are disaffected. Additionally, Lebanese gangs have committed several violent, high-profile crimes in recent years, including a series of horrific rapes, feeding stereotypes and ill will.

But another part of the tension is peculiarly Australian. Despite its reputation for welcoming immigrants-30 percent of Sydney's current population is foreign-born-Australia can be a difficult place to be one. Especially if you're Lebanese. And especially lately. Over the past 10 years, Prime Minister John Howard's Liberal-National coalition government has taken a harder official line against immigrants in a quest for more conservative votes. Further widening the divisions between Lebanese and Anglo-Australians, many Lebanese youth live in more insular communities than the generations that preceded them. They are also less willing to behave like guests in somebody else's country.

Growing up in working-class Sydney in the '70s, being Lebanese was the second-worst thing imaginable. Only Aborigines ranked lower. ''Wogs," the Anglos called us, and often ''dirty wogs." We heard it everywhere: shouted from passing cars, on the playground, at shopping malls.

They could spot us a mile away. In the United States, assimilation comes relatively easily for many Lebanese immigrants, particularly for those who are Christian, like my family. When I arrived in Boston 12 years ago, I was struck by how quickly I went from being a member of an easily identifiable, oft-maligned minority to being simply white.

Folks consistently underestimate how different America is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


Cabinet approves austere 2006 budget worth 79.7 trillion yen (MAYUMI NEGISHI, 12/25/05, Japan Times)

The Cabinet formally approved on Saturday a 79.686 trillion yen general account budget for fiscal 2006 that would help slow down growth of the nation's debt. [...]

Starting in January, taxpayers will see income taxes go up by roughly 10 percent when tax breaks in place since 1999 are halved. The government plans to completely remove the 20 percent tax break worth a maximum 250,000 yen in January 2007. Meanwhile, a residential-tax cut of 15 percent will also be rolled back in two stages starting in June.

In addition, the ruling coalition has agreed to raise tobacco taxes next July, increasing the cost of a pack of cigarettes by 20 yen. Liquor taxes on low-malt beer and wine will also go up.

"We need to re-examine our preconceptions of the elderly as weak members of society who need protection," said Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki. "We need to ask people to bear a burden that reflects their ability to pay, so that we do not leave a heavy burden for our children to carry."

With these tax hikes along with hefty tax revenue from large corporations, the government expects revenue to rise to 45.878 trillion yen in fiscal 2006, up 4.3 percent from the current year.

It's what happens when you have no kids and no immigration.

Falling birth rates not just a problem in Europe (MARK STEYN, 12/25/05, Chicago SUN-TIMES)

Here's a story from Friday's Japan Times:

''Japan's population has started shrinking for the first time this year, health ministry data showed Thursday, presenting the government with pressing challenges on the social and economic front, including ensuring provision of social security services and securing the labor force.''

Happy New Year, guys! And, as the reporter adds, ''Japan joins Germany and Italy in the ranks of countries where a decline in population has already set in.'' And don't forget Russia, which is even further ahead in the demographic death spiral. Of the great powers of the 20th century, America's still healthy birth rate, like its still healthy Christianity, is now an anomaly.

Demography is not necessarily destiny. Today's high Muslim birth rates will fall, and probably fall dramatically, as the Roman Catholic birth rates in Italy, Ireland and Quebec have. But demographics is a game of last man standing. It's no consolation that Muslim birth rates will be as bad as yours in 2050 if yours are off the cliff right now. The last people around in any numbers will determine the kind of society we live in.

You can sort of feel that happening already. ''Multiculturalism'' implicitly accepts that, for a person of broadly Christian heritage, Christianity is an accessory, an option; whereas, for a person of Muslim background, Islam is a given. That's why, as practiced by Buckinghamshire County Council in England, multiculturalism means All Saints Church can't put up one sheet of paper announcing its Christmas carol service on the High Wycombe Library notice board, but, inside the library, Rehana Nazir, the ''multicultural services librarian,'' can host a party to celebrate Eid.

To those of us watching Europe from afar, it seems amazing that no Continental politician is willing to get to grips with the real crisis facing Europe in the 21st century: the lack of Europeans. If America believes in the separation of church and state, in radically secularist Europe the state is the church, as Jacques Chirac's ban on head scarves, crucifixes and skull caps made plain. Alas, it's an insufficient faith.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


Democrats to woo voters on wage issue: Frozen minimum pay seen as spur (Rick Klein, December 25, 2005, Boston Globe)

New Year's Day will bring the ninth straight year in which the federal minimum wage has remained frozen at $5.15 an hour, marking the second-longest period that the nation has had a stagnant minimum wage since the standard was established in 1938.

Against that backdrop, Democrats are preparing ballot initiatives in states across the country to boost turnout of Democratic-leaning voters in 2006. Labor, religious, and community groups have launched efforts to place minimum-wage initiatives on ballots in Ohio, Michigan, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Arkansas, and Montana next fall.

Democrats say the minimum wage could be for them what the gay-marriage referendums were in key states for Republicans last year -- an easily understood issue that galvanizes their supporters to show up on Election Day.

Hard to know what's funnier, their belief that minimum wage matters in a full employment economy or their unshakable faith that voters care. How have Democrats done during the 9 years it's been frozen?

December 24, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:03 PM


Rumsfeld eats Christmas dinner with troops in Iraq (Reuters, Dec 24, 2005)

"When you read things and hear things that express doubt about the future here in Iraq, or in Afghanistan, know that there have always been doubts expressed, there have always been those who have suggested that the cause could not be successful, that the cause would be lost," he said.

"In fact it was the people who persevered that proved them wrong. The great sweep of human history is for freedom and we're on the side of freedom.

"In the struggle between freedom and tyranny, freedom ultimately prevails."

Rumsfeld said the war in Iraq would go down in history as the "liberation of a country that once was an ally of terrorists".

"It will recount the battles that defeated Saddam's regime and the struggles that helped Iraq along its path to democracy, ushering in a new chapter in the Middle East, a hopeful era."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:16 AM


I've posted some stuff from our Christmas archives, but there's more here. At any rate, the standing rib roast will be done this afternoon, then its gifts, an outdoor candlelight service with living nativity in Lyme, NH, and then stockings tomorrow and the Chanukah services at the Roth Center.

All of us hope that you and yours will have a healthy and happy Christmas and Hanukah. You bring us an enormous amount of enjoyment throughout the year, but it's always a pleasure to take time to tell you how much we appreciate everyone's participation at Brothers Judd. Be well, friends.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 AM

FRAUD WITH AN IMPRIMATUR (via Robert Schwartz):

Global Trend: More Science, More Fraud (LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN and WILLIAM J. BROAD, December 20, 2005, NY Times)

The South Korean scandal that shook the world of science last week is just one sign of a global explosion in research that is outstripping the mechanisms meant to guard against error and fraud.

Experts say the problem is only getting worse, as research projects, and the journals that publish the findings, soar.

Science is often said to bar dishonesty and bad research with a triple safety net. The first is peer review, in which experts advise governments about what research to finance. The second is the referee system, which has journals ask reviewers to judge if manuscripts merit publication. The last is replication, whereby independent scientists see if the work holds up.

But a series of scientific scandals in the 1970's and 1980's challenged the scientific community's faith in these mechanisms to root out malfeasance. In response the United States has over the last two decades added extra protections, including new laws and government investigative bodies.

And as research around the globe has increased, most without the benefit of such safeguards, so have the cases of scientific misconduct.

Boy, you've really got to be faith-addled to think that science will become any more reliable just because government gets involved.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 AM


Liberal judge (Robert Novak , 12/24/05, Townhall)

Federal District Judge James Robertson, who resigned from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court in protest over secret wiretaps ordered by President Bush, is regarded in Washington legal circles as one of President Bill Clinton's most liberal and partisan judicial appointments.

Robertson, 67, has ruled consistently against the Bush administration's handling of enemy combatants. On July 15 this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed his 2004 ruling that a military commission could not try alleged terrorist Salim Ahmed Hamdan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


IMF deems Iraq stable, grants $685 million loan (Patrice Hill, December 24, 2005, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

The International Monetary Fund yesterday approved a new $685 million loan for Iraq, saying the country has stabilized its economy despite continued violent conflict.

The loan, the second from the IMF after a $436 million emergency loan in 2004, reflects the lending agency's judgment that Iraq's government is doing its best to revive the war-torn economy. The loan clears the way for major debt relief from Western nations.

"The Iraqi authorities were successful in promoting macroeconomic stability in 2005, despite the extremely difficult security environment," said IMF Deputy Managing Director Takatoshi Kato. He noted growth slowed in 2005 after a strong spurt in 2004.

"The medium-term outlook for Iraq is favorable, but subject to many risks," he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 AM


From Heckles to Halos: In dramatic contrast to the Vietnam War era, U.S. service personnel now are being treated to strangers' spontaneous bursts of gratitude. (Faye Fiore, December 24, 2005, LA Times)

There's a diner called Peggy Sue's about eight miles outside of Barstow, and as hard as Lt. Col. Kenneth Parks tries, he can never seem to pay his bill.

He orders a burger and a chocolate shake. But before he's finished, the waitress informs him the tab has been taken care of by yet another stranger who prefers to remain anonymous but who wants to do something for a soldier in uniform.

Many Americans have conflicted feelings about the Iraq war, but not about the warriors. The gestures of gratitude and generosity that occur with regularity at Peggy Sue's — across Interstate 15 from Ft. Irwin, a military desert training site — have become commonplace across the United States.

A spontaneous standing ovation for a group of soldiers at Los Angeles International Airport. Three $20 bills passed to a serviceman and his family in a grocery store in Georgia. A first-class seat given up to a servicewoman on a plane out of Chicago.

These bursts of goodwill have little to do with the holiday season or with political sentiments about the war. In contrast to the hostile stares that greeted many Vietnam veterans 40 years ago, today's soldiers are being treated as heroes throughout the year, in red states and blue, by peace activists and gung-ho supporters of the Iraq mission. The gestures are often spontaneous, affiliated with no association or cause, and credit is seldom claimed.

On the other hand are the liberal elites, Stars turn backs on America's troops in Iraq (Jamie Wilson, December 24, 2005, The Guardian)
During world war two American troops away from home for Christmas were entertained by Marlene Dietrich, Bing Crosby and the Marx Brothers. Even in Vietnam Bob Hope was guaranteed to put in an appearance. But soldiers in Iraq are more likely to get a show from a Christian hip-hop group, a country singer you have probably never heard of and two cheerleaders for the Dallas Cowboys.

Just as the seemingly intractable nature of the war has led to a growing recruitment crisis, so the United Services Organisation, which has been putting on shows for the troops since the second world war, is struggling to get celebrities to sign up for even a short tour of duty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


Scientists find 'mass dodo grave' (BBC, 12/24/05)

Scientists have discovered the "beautifully preserved" bones of about 20 dodos at a dig site in Mauritius.

Little is known about the dodo, a famous flightless bird thought to have become extinct in the 17th century. [...]

The dodo was mocked by Portuguese and Dutch colonialists for its size and apparent lack of fear of armed, hungry hunters.

It took its name from the Portuguese word for "fool", and was hunted to extinction within 200 years of Europeans landing on Mauritius.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


Sarkozy rebuts the critics who label him far-rightist (Agence France-Presse, DECEMBER 23, 2005

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French interior minister who has ambitions to become president in the 2007 election, hit back Friday at critics accusing him of far-right tendencies in a lively and direct interview with the newspaper Libération.

"I am a scrupulous republican, probably less narrow-minded than you," he told the left-leaning daily.

He dismissed recent campaigns against him as being too quick to draw parallels between him and Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of the National Front, or FN, for Sarkozy's vigorous crackdown on illegal immigration and his promotion of increased policing and law-and-order legislation.

Such campaigns included an AIDS activist group, Act Up, whose posters of Sarkozy's photo with the tag "Vote Le Pen" appeared in Paris this week.

Sarkozy said his firm policies on the right drew voters away from the more radical positions of Le Pen, who placed second in the first round of the 2002 presidential election, which was eventually won by Jacques Chirac.

"Who are the FN voters?" Sarkozy asked. "No doubt there is a small number of true fascists and racists, but the overwhelming majority are people who are crying out for help. They are afraid, feel abandoned.

"The fact that I am being heard by all these people should make you happy."

The simple reality is that he's not going to lose political popularity by being seen to have gays and Muslims for enemies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


Vast dam proposal is a test for China (Jim Yardley, DECEMBER 23, 2005, The New York Times)

Far from the pulsing cities that symbolize modern China, this tiny hillside village of crude peasant houses seems disconnected from this century and the last. But follow a dirt path past a snarling watchdog, sidestep the chickens and ducks and a small clearing on the banks of the Nu River reveals a dusty slab of concrete lying in a rotting pumpkin patch.

The innocuous concrete block is a symbol of a struggle over law that touches every corner of the country.

The block marks the spot on the Nu River where officials here in Yunnan Province want to begin building one of the biggest dam projects in the world. It would produce more electricity than even the mighty Three Gorges Dam but would also threaten a region considered an ecological treasure. This village would be the first place to disappear.

For decades, the Communist Party has rammed through such projects by fiat. But the Nu River proposal, already delayed for more than a year, is now unexpectedly presenting the Chinese government with a quandary of its own making: Will it abide by its laws?

They're a long way from the central Judeo-Christian insight, that certain rights precede the State, which then exists on the central Anglo-American insight of the sufferance of the citizenry, but perhaps they can at least accept the basic notion that the state too is bound by the law.

China's Probe of Mining Disasters Finds Corruption, Chaos (Edward Cody, December 24, 2005, Washington Post)

The Chinese government announced Friday that it found "astonishingly serious" corruption, chaotic management and lax enforcement of safety rules in investigating coal mine disasters that have killed thousands of Chinese workers this year.

Li Yizhong, who heads the cabinet-level Work Safety Administration, said at a news conference that 96 people have been turned over for criminal prosecution this year for their roles in the explosions and floodings that occur with relentless regularity in the coal industry as mine owners race to keep up with demand. In addition, 21 mine managers and 105 government and Communist Party officials were demoted, fired or otherwise sanctioned, including two deputy provincial governors, he said.

More than 6,000 workers perished in Chinese coal mines during 2004, making mines here the most dangerous in the world. More than 4,000 miners were killed in the first nine months of this year, and the rhythm has continued unabated, including 171 who died last month at the state-owned Dongfeng Coal Mine in Heilongjiang province.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


Japan backs joint US missile plan (Leo Lewis, 12/24/05, BBC)

Japan has approved a joint missile defence programme with the US.

The project aims to produce an advanced version of the US system, which seeks to destroy incoming missiles before they reach their targets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Spy Agency Mined Vast Data Trove, Officials Report (ERIC LICHTBLAU and JAMES RISEN, 12/24/05, NY Times)

The National Security Agency has traced and analyzed large volumes of telephone and Internet communications flowing into and out of the United States as part of the eavesdropping program that President Bush approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to hunt for evidence of terrorist activity, according to current and former government officials.

The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged, the officials said. It was collected by tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system's main arteries, they said.

As part of the program approved by President Bush for domestic surveillance without warrants, the N.S.A. has gained the cooperation of American telecommunications companies to obtain backdoor access to streams of domestic and international communications, the officials said. [...]

Officials in the government and the telecommunications industry who have knowledge of parts of the program say the N.S.A. has sought to analyze communications patterns to glean clues from details like who is calling whom, how long a phone call lasts and what time of day it is made, and the origins and destinations of phone calls and e-mail messages. Calls to and from Afghanistan, for instance, are known to have been of particular interest to the N.S.A. since the Sept. 11 attacks, the officials said. [...]

The use of similar data-mining operations by the Bush administration in other contexts has raised strong objections, most notably in connection with the Total Information Awareness system, developed by the Pentagon for tracking terror suspects, and the Department of Homeland Security's Capps program for screening airline passengers. Both programs were ultimately scrapped after public outcries over possible threats to privacy and civil liberties.

The notion that the Administration would abandon data-mining just because some congressmen got their panties in a twist fundamentally misapprehended the solemn obligations of those who are charged with providing national security.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


What Bush could learn from Lincoln (Robert Kuttner, December 24, 2005, Boston Globe)

MY CHRISTMAS present to George W. Bush is a copy of Doris Kearns Goodwin's splendid study of Lincoln and his Cabinet, ''Team of Rivals." President Bush believes in redemption, and so do I. Here are just a few things Bush might profitably learn from our first Republican president.

Lincoln assumed the presidency at a time when the nation was horribly divided, not into culturally warring ''blue" states and ''red" ones, but into a real civil war between blues and grays -- the states that stayed in the Union and those that seceded. Even among the unionists, Lincoln's own Republican Party and Cabinet were bitterly rent between those who wanted to accelerate emancipation and punish the South and those who gave top priority to keeping the Republic whole.

Lincoln's priority, always, was to preserve the Union and to reduce the sectional and ideological bitterness. As Goodwin brilliantly shows, he did so by the force of his personality and the generosity of his spirit.

One doesn't expect liberals to have any historical knowledge, after all, history refutes their ideology, but every American has to be aware that Lincoln killed 600 or 700 thousand fellow citizens to re-establish unity. With Democrats upset that the President is monitoring calls by terrorists it's hard to believe they'd support an actual war against folks who are anti-American.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


Student's tall tale revealed: Confesses fabricating US surveillance story (Jonathan Saltzman, December 24, 2005, Boston Globe)

It rocketed across the Internet a week ago, a startling newspaper report that agents from the US Department of Homeland Security had visited a student at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth at his New Bedford home simply because he had tried to borrow Mao Tse-Tung's ''Little Red Book" for a history seminar on totalitarian goverments.

The story, first reported in last Saturday's New Bedford Standard-Times, was picked up by other news organizations, prompted diatribes on left-wing and right-wing blogs, and even turned up in an op-ed piece written by Senator Edward M. Kennedy in the Globe.

But yesterday, the student confessed that he had made it up after being confronted by the professor who had repeated the story to a Standard-Times reporter.

The professor, Brian Glyn Williams, said he went to his former student's house and asked about inconsistencies in his story. The 22-year-old student admitted it was a hoax, Williams said.

Couldn't we have tortured him first?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


Big Dig costs may rise by millions: US memo says total could reach $14.7b (Raphael Lewis, December 24, 2005, Boston Globe)

The US Department of Transportation's inspector general has drafted an internal memo that says the Big Dig's cost may rise by tens of millions of dollars, according to state, industry, and federal officials.

One of the officials pegged the estimated increase at $75 million. If the estimate proves accurate, the project would cost $14.7 billion instead of the current $14.625 billion, an increase that Massachusetts taxpayers or tollpayers would have to absorb, because the federal government has capped its contribution to the controversial megaproject.

A spokesman for the inspector general's office emphasized that the document is a draft and may change.

December 23, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:19 PM


Immigrants find opportunity in ruined New Orleans (Jeff Franks, Dec 23, 2005, Reuters)

Much of New Orleans lies abandoned and destroyed after Hurricane Katrina struck nearly four months ago, but for Latin American immigrants the storm-ravaged city has become a land of opportunity.

While New Orleans residents are slow to return, the immigrants, most of them illegally in the United States, have swarmed in to do the hard work of cleaning up and rebuilding that others so far have shunned.

They are not here because of altruism -- New Orleans is just another place in a strange land to them -- but because there is a huge unfulfilled demand for labor and, as a result, high wages they cannot get in their homeland or in other U.S. cities.

In a sight common in the southwestern U.S., but new to New Orleans, they crowd street corners starting at daybreak, offering themselves as day laborers to anyone who needs them.

Makes it hard to summon sympathy when you hear a story about how the displaced can't find work.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 9:17 PM


While we’re at it (Fr Richard Neuhaus, First Things, November, 2005) (Scroll Down)

Don’t we know how pushy those evangelical Christians can be? That is among the questions raised in protest against what I thought was a rather light-hearted comment in the October issue about the problem of “pervasive religion” at the Air Force Academy in Colorado. Well yes, some people—not only evangelicals and not only Christians—can be pretty obnoxious in pressing their convictions on others. And not only their religious convictions. Their causes would be better served by the learning of elementary good manners. An almost certain way of exacerbating bad manners in the public square is to try to impose good manners by regulations of law. Civilization, as has often been observed, depends upon obedience to the unenforceable, which is another way of saying that civilization depends upon civility. In my commentary I suggested—in a spirit of what now appears to have been unwarranted hopefulness—that that lesson had been learned at the Air Force Academy. But here is a Laurie Goodstein story in the New York Times with the headline “Air Force Bans Leaders’ Promotion of Religion.” It seems new Air Force guidelines will proscribe anything that might be perceived as favoring a particular religion or even, according to the proposed text, “the idea of religion over nonreligion.” The guidelines were largely drafted by Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff, a former navy chaplain and former director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, who was hired as special assistant to the secretary and chief of staff of the Air Force. The need for such guidelines had been pressed by Representative Steve Israel of New York, an influential member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Mikey Weinstein, an academy graduate who has agitated against the Christian tenor of activities at the school. A professor of law at Yeshiva University is quoted on the new rules: “What I liked about them is they went so far out of their way to say the government should not be endorsing religion, because that’s not always been true in the military.” That, one might observe, is a breathtaking understatement. From George Washington’s Farewell Address and throughout American history, government leaders have strongly and explicitly endorsed religion, and nowhere has that been so emphatically the case as in the military. The attempt to extirpate religion from the official life of the military is a rewriting of history in the name of pluralism and sensitivity. Despite the adage that there are no atheists in foxholes, there have always been those in the military who dissent from the dominant religious affirmation. They were and are a small minority. The new thing, following a half century of Supreme Court rulings in hostility to religion, is the idea that a minority has the right to be protected from reminders that it is a minority. This gives even the smallest minority effective veto power over the public voice under government auspices, and nothing is more comprehensively under government auspices than the military. Anything the minority deems offensive or not to its liking must be excluded. Also in the military, the protocols of civility are subject to negotiation, but the new Air Force regulations are riddled with confusions that are likely to increase the putative problems they are designed to resolve. For instance, says the Times, “they allow for ‘a brief nonsectarian prayer’ at special ceremonies like those honoring promotions, or in ‘extraordinary circumstances’ like ‘mass casualties, preparation for imminent combat and natural disasters.’” Is a mention of Jesus or Sinai sectarian? How brief is “brief,” and how many casualties are required to warrant an extra minute of prayer time? Perhaps most important, why should the government endorse or any observant Jew, Christian, or Muslim go along with the idea that public prayer should be limited to “extraordinary circumstances”? The limitation of prayer to moments of great mourning or danger encourages the most debased notion of “the God of the gaps”—of religion in the form of last-resort superstition reserved for times of crisis. Although one notes that prayer will be permitted also for “honoring promotions,” which perhaps reflects the belief of the Air Force in the dubious notion that God has a hand in its personnel decisions. The proposed regulations are a prime instance of attempting to turn faith into a tame and inoffensive civil religion that should offend everyone who understands that the nation and its military are “under God”—meaning the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Who cannot be recruited to anyone’s service. All that having been said, I am reliably informed that some evangelical officers at the Air Force Academy were seriously out of line in using their rank to promote their faith on military time. If true, that needed to be corrected, but is better corrected by obedience to the unenforceable than by regulations that invite evasion.

To the secular mind set, secular jerks are just marginal aberrations, to be dismissed summarily as a dysfunctional minority, but religious jerks are a mainstream menace, formed intrinsically by their faith.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 PM


Among Those Told of Program, Few Objected (DOUGLAS JEHL, 12/22/05, NY Times)

As members of Congress seek more information about the eavesdropping program authorized by President Bush, their requests are being complicated by the fact that Congressional leaders in both parties acquiesced in the operation. [...[

"The record is clear; Congressional leaders at a minimum tacitly supported the program," Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the chairman of House Intelligence Committee, said this week. Mr. Hoekstra said Democrats should "attempt to understand why their leaders did not feel the same sense of outrage about the program" that some in the party are now expressing. [...]

Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the committee, released a letter this week that he sent to Vice President Dick Cheney in 2003 expressing concern about the program.

But Senator Roberts issued a statement on Tuesday saying that he had "no recollection of Senator Rockefeller objecting to the program at the many briefings he and I attended together," and that "on many occasions Senator Rockefeller expressed to the vice president his vocal support for the program; his most recent expression of support was only two weeks ago."

At least seven Democratic lawmakers are known to have been briefed about the program since its inception in 2001, and only two, Mr. Rockefeller and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, are known to have expressed written concern about it. A third, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the former Senate Democratic leader, said in an e-mail message on Thursday that he too had expressed "grave concern for this practice" of eavesdropping on American citizens inside the United States.

Among the others, Representative Jane Harman of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, acknowledged in a statement this week that she had been briefed about the program since 2003 and regarded it as "essential to U.S. national security."

Mustn't Tom Daschle have worked in the phrase "deeply troubling" at some point?

Power We Didn't Grant (Tom Daschle, December 23, 2005, Washington Post)

The shock and rage we all felt in the hours after the attack were still fresh. America was reeling from the first attack on our soil since Pearl Harbor. We suspected thousands had been killed, and many who worked in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not yet accounted for. Even so, a strong bipartisan majority could not agree to the administration's request for an unprecedented grant of authority.

The Bush administration now argues those powers were inherently contained in the resolution adopted by Congress -- but at the time, the administration clearly felt they weren't or it wouldn't have tried to insert the additional language.

The resolution to which Mr. Daschle refers reads in part: "[T]he President has authority under the Constitution to take action to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States..." In other words, Congress recognized that not only does the president have broad authority and powers in the national security area but they are constitutional and so can not be diminished nor need be enhanced by them.

Presidential Wiretapping: Disaggregating the Issues (Cass Sunstein, December 20, 2005, The Faculty Blog)

The legal questions raised by President Bush's wiretapping seem to me complex, not simple. Here is a rough guide: (1) Did the AUMF authorize his action? (2) If not, does the Constitution give the President inherent authority to do what he did? (3) If the answer to (1) or (2) is yes, does his action violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)? (4) If the answer to (3) is yes, is FISA constitutional, or is it inconsistent with the President's inherent authority? (5) If the answer to (1) or (2) is yes, does the wiretapping nonetheless violate the Fourth Amendment?

I have already suggested that it is plausible to give a "yes" answer to (1), certainly if we do not consider the effect of FISA. It needn't be conclusive that Congress didn't "intend," with the AUMF, to authorize wiretapping. Once the AUMF is in place, the President can certainly engage in surveillance of some kinds, eg, surveillance of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. It isn't a big stretch to say that he can engage in surveillance of people with known Al Qaeda affiliations who are calling to or from the United States. (If Osama Bin Laden is calling New York, it's clear, I think, that the AUMF allows the President to listen to the call.) If there were doubt about the President's power under the AUMF, a plausible claim of inherent power, under (2), would justify reading the AUMF to allow the President to engage in surveillance. (Of course nothing I have said suggests that under the AUMF, the President can engage in surveillance of people without a tie to organizations or nations associated with the attacks of 9/11.)

What about (2)? The Supreme Court has not decided this question, and some lower courts seem to have ruled in the President's favor on this one. Orin Kerr, at the Volokh Conspiracy, has an excellent post that covers this issue (and others I am discussing here). It is not clear that the President is right on (2), but it isn't clear that he is wrong.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 PM


2nd toxic spill poses threat; benzene hits Russian city (Chicago Tribune, December 23, 2005)

China's government rushed Thursday to shield the country's southern business center, Guangzhou, from a toxic spill of cadmium flowing toward the city of 7 million--the second manmade disaster to hit a Chinese river in six weeks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 PM


Who Lost Nepal? (Robert Kaplan, December 2005, Wall Street Journal)

Nepal, sandwiched between the two rising economic and demographic behemoths of the age—China and India—could be the first country since the fall of the Berlin Wall where communists emerge triumphant. If the Bush administration does not act decisively, that's what might happen. The administration should not take solace in the flurry of negotiations between the Maoist insurgents (who control most of the hinterlands) and the country's political parties in Kathmandu, which could undermine the last vestige of legitimate royal authority while further strengthening the insurgents.

By canceling Special Forces training missions to the besieged Royal Nepalese Army, and with the possibility of lethal cuts of American aid to the local military, the administration, along with Washington, has bought into popular abstractions about how to best implant democracy while ignoring the facts on the ground.

Nepal is fast becoming a replay of both Cambodia in the mid-1970s and El Salvador a decade later. In Cambodia, the monstrous Khmer Rouge were threatening the capital of Phnom Penh, home to a pathetically undemocratic yet legitimate regime to which a Democratic Congress had cut off aid—a result of the Watergate-inflicted weakness of the Nixon administration. In El Salvador, murderous right-wing forces that nevertheless represented a legitimate state were pitted against murderous left-wing ones that represented the geopolitical ambitions of the Soviet Union and Cuba. Though the media emphasized the atrocities of the right wing, the Reagan administration had little choice but to work with them. Eventually, the right wing in El Salvador, with the help of a small number of Army Special Forces trainers, won the day. And in the years that followed the Salvadoran state and military were reformed.

Winning the day did not mean outright success on the battlefield. It meant bloodying the left's nose enough to give the state an edge in negotiations. Ronald Reagan, a Wilsonian, was also a realist. President Bush now needs to take Reagan's El Salvador model to heart in Nepal.

Not that he's wrong in principle, but this is one where we need the Indians to lead and us to follow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 PM


On the home stretch (Paul Kelly, December 24, 2005, The Australian)

JOHN Howard began the year being accused of timidity and finished it being accused of ruthlessness. Most professionals believe Howard will remain in office for another election, but Howard's 2005 successes are so comprehensive that they suggest a career near to completion.

This year offered powerful evidence that Howard's image as a conservative is utterly misleading. History will show that Howard is better understood as a change agent, a complex mixture of pragmatism, ideology and utilitarianism. The key to understanding Howard lies in the way he constantly shifts his balancing point between preserving tradition and advancing reformist change. His judgment about this trade-off defines his political success.

Howard's opponents are prisoners of this schism. They decry him as a bone-hard conservative, then brand him as an extremist at decisive moments such as the 1998 GST debate, the 2001 refugee crackdown and this year's industrial shake-out.

The past year has exposed Howardism as a philosophy in a purer form than before. This is because some of the previous constraints on Howard's operations were lifted. What made 2005 different from Howard's previous nine years of power was his Senate control despite the Barnaby Joyce break-outs.

This year Howard converted into laws the potential bequeathed by the 2004 election when the Coalition won control of both houses of federal parliament for the first time since 1981.

Tony Blair is stuck in the Labour Party and W 's never had 60 seats in the Senate, or they'd be doing the same as quickly. Their eventual successors -- David Cameron & John McCain -- are likely not to face those constraints.

Labor's hold on states at risk (Ean Higgins and Sean Parnell, December 24, 2005, The Australian)

THE Liberals and Nationals have moved within striking distance of breaking Labor's stranglehold on state power, with Labor losing its lead in NSW and struggling in Queensland.

Two Newspolls show the ALP's two bastion states are up for grabs at their next elections, due in 2007.

While Queensland's Peter Beattie faces declining personal support and has failed to break a deadlock in party preference, in NSW Labor has lost its lead over the state Coalition for the first time since the departure of former premier Bob Carr in July.

The Newspolls, conducted exclusively for The Weekend Australian over the past two months, show a voter backlash after a series of crises engulfed the two longest-serving Labor administrations in the country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:17 PM

REARGUARD ACTION (via The Other Brother):

Evolution takes science honours (Paul Rincon, 12/23/05, BBC News)

Research into how evolution works has been named top science achievement of 2005, a year that also saw fierce debate erupt over "intelligent design".

As it slips away the seek to reassure themselves that all is well...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:10 PM


US monitored Muslim sites for radiation: report (Reuters, 12/23/05)

U.S. officials have secretly monitored radiation levels at Muslim sites, including mosques and private homes, since September 11, 2001 as part of a top secret program searching for nuclear bombs, U.S. News and World Report said on Friday.

The news magazine said in its online edition that the far-reaching program covered more than a hundred sites in the Washington, D.C., area and at least five other cities.

What about all of us who may have handled radioactive material for reasons unrelated to Islamic extremism but might have been caught accidentally by this surveillance?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:06 PM


No Plans for Long-term U.S. Bases in Iraq, Rumsfeld Says (Jim Garamone, Dec. 23, 2005, American Forces Press Service)

The United States has not discussed basing American troops in Iraq, and would do so only following negotiations with the new Iraqi government, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said here today.

"At the moment, there are no plans for long-term bases in the country," Rumsfeld told a Marine during a question and answer session here today. [...]

The United States would base troops in the nation only if it would be mutually beneficial, he said. they'll tell us this war was about nothing more than liberating 27 million Iraqis and bringing them liberty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:53 PM


Government Finds Seesaw View of Housing Market (The New York Times, Vikas Bajaj, 12/23/05)

New home sales make up just 15 percent of all housing sales. That is one reason economists caution against reading too much into this report. Another is its significant margin of error, which was plus or minus 8.9 percent this month, enough to erase most of the drop in sales.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:54 AM


Alito Said Attorneys General Can't Be Sued for Illegal Wiretaps (Bloomberg, 12/23/05)

Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito wrote in a 1984 memo that U.S. attorneys general should be immune from being sued for ordering illegal wiretaps.

Even so, Alito, then a Justice Department lawyer, recommended against pressing the claim in a case involving 1970s wiretaps ordered by former Attorney General John Mitchell to investigate a suspected plot to kidnap National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and blow up utility tunnels in Washington.

``I do not question that the attorney general should have this immunity, but for tactical reasons I would not raise the issue here,'' Alito wrote in the June 12, 1984, memo to then-U.S. Solicitor General Rex Lee. ``I start from the premise that absolute immunity arguments are difficult to advance successfully.''

Instead, Alito, then an assistant to the solicitor general, recommended the government ask the Supreme Court to allow the Justice Department to appeal a lower court's ruling that Mitchell could be sued over the wiretapping.

Posted by David Cohen at 11:50 AM


President Bush Job Approval (Rasmussen Reports, 12/23/05)

Fifty percent (50%) of American adults approve of the way George W. Bush is performing his role as President. That's up six points since the President's speech on Sunday night.
Rasmussen attributes the rise to the President's speech. It was a good speech, but isn't it clear that the President owes this rise to the New York Times and their fawning coverage of how tough he is in the fight against terror at home?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:38 AM


Census estimate a concern for state: Seats in Congress, US funding at risk (Scott Helman, December 23, 2005, Boston Globe)

Massachusetts lost residents for the second year in a row, new federal Census estimates show, underscoring an accelerating population shift from the Northeast to the South and West that threatens to erode the state's political and economic clout.

Only two other states, along with the District of Columbia, lost population from July 1, 2004, to July 1 of this year, according to US Census estimates released yesterday. The Bay State lost about 8,600 residents, or .1 percent of its population, according to the estimates.

If the trend continues, specialists say, the state will face serious consequences: fewer seats in Congress, companies choosing to locate or expand elsewhere, a shrinking labor force, and less federal funding for transportation, housing, and other initiatives.

Of such shifts is the permanent Republican majority made.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


Moongazing reveals the chaotic world of Uranus (Kelly Young, 22 December 2005,

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Mexicans Head North to Snare Holiday Bargains: The annual border crush illustrates growing social and economic ties in the San Diego-Tijuana region. (Richard Marosi, December 23, 2005, LA Times)

The pedestrian lane at the San Ysidro port of entry backed up nearly a quarter-mile into Mexico, weaving past the churro vendors, discount drugstores and tin-shack candy booths.

Gloria Escobar, standing near a display of Santa Claus pinatas, already had waited half an hour to cross into California. Only one more hour left, she hoped.

"It's worth the sacrifice," Escobar said one morning this week. "In San Diego, the stores are better than Tijuana…. Everyone in this line is going for Christmas shopping."

The annual holiday season crush at the border reached its height this week as Dodger Stadium-size crowds from Mexico headed north in search of bargains at swap meets, outlet stores and suburban shopping malls.

They endured extra-long waits in the pedestrian and vehicle lanes, which were already jammed with thousands of Mexicans who commute regularly to jobs in the San Diego area.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


U.N. Hit by a Bolt From the Right: John Bolton is seen as 'brilliant' or as 'a bully.' But the U.S. ambassador is having an impact. (Maggie Farley, December 23, 2005, LA Times)

Some call him "a bully," and others say he is "brilliant." But opinion is divided about whether he is effective — if he is cleaning up the mess, or adding to it.

"He is having a definite impact," said Ambassador Mihnea Motoc of Romania, a temporary member of the Security Council. "Others wish they could do things the same way." [...]

Just as member states were brushing themselves off from the last collision Bolton precipitated, over an agreement on how to reform the U.N. before the World Summit in September, the U.S. ambassador is setting up a new showdown.

He has threatened to block the world body's budget for 2006-07 unless diplomats commit to "real reform" by the end of 2005, a year that has seen the organization severely damaged by revelations of corruption and mismanagement in the Iraq oil-for-food program, the disclosure of sexual exploitation by peacekeepers and the U.N.'s difficulty in remaking itself.

The budget battle prompted Secretary-General Kofi Annan to cancel a trip this month to Asia and warn that Bolton's gambit could exacerbate the very problems it is meant to solve.

"He has an agenda, and he's pursuing it with a conviction that is uncommon here," said Algerian Ambassador Abdallah Baali, who sometimes clashes with Bolton in the Security Council but considers him a friend. "He's doing it his way, which is not the way we do it at the U.N. We are used to a little more compromise."

The President has always said he beat his alcohol problem without doing a program, but it's always been striking how his governing style borrows from 12-step ideology. One of the things they teach family members is that all too often the people around the dysfunctional person will alter their own behavior and attitudes to avoid confrontation, thereby enabling the addict or becoming co-dependent on his addiction. In effect, the illness becomes the center of gravity around which everyone sets their own orbits. Similarly, George Bush has demonstrated time and again that if he just sticks to his guns others will adapt to him, shifting the entire political debate and system in his direction. Sending John Bolton to the UN is a perfect example of applying this theory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


Notebooks Come in at Under a Thousand With Speed and Style (THOMAS J. FITZGERALD, 12/22/05, NY Times)

The first notebook computers to dip below $1,000 were slow, not very stylish and not widely embraced by consumers. That was more than five years ago, which in the digital era is a lifetime.

Since then, competition and lower-cost components have driven down notebook prices over all, giving consumers a broad array of machines in the sub-$1,000 range - many of them able to handle the computing needs of mainstream users.

In fact, the average price of notebooks sold at major retail stores in November fell to $980 - a 19 percent drop from November 2004, when the average price was $1,215 - the first time the average price dipped under $1,000, according to a monthly survey by Current Analysis, a research company based in Sterling, Va.

Units below $1,000 are available from most major notebook makers and offer a range of features, including wide-screen displays, fast processors, built-in wireless connectivity, DVD burners, productivity software and all of the ports and slots found on more expensive models. Features they tend not to have are extra-large screens, ultrasmall designs, large hard drives and high-end processors and graphics abilities.

Posted by David Cohen at 8:08 AM


Bush Cutting U.S. Troops Levels in Iraq (Rober Burns, AP, 12/23/05)

FALLUJAH, Iraq - President Bush has authorized new cuts in U.S. combat troops in Iraq, below the 138,000 level that prevailed for most of this year, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday. Addressing U.S. troops at this former insurgent stronghold, Rumsfeld did not reveal the exact size of the troop cut, but Pentagon officials have said it could be as much as 7,000 combat troops.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Workers Choose to Come Back and Talk (STEVEN GREENHOUSE and SEWELL CHAN, 12/23/05, NY Times)

Thousands of New York City transit workers put down their picket signs and streamed into bus depots and railyards last night to restart the nation's largest transit system, after leaders of their union agreed to a tentative framework for a new contract and ended a 60-hour strike that hobbled the city. [...]

The abrupt return - many strikers simply laid down their placards and walked into the buildings they had been picketing - capped a day of fast-moving developments in a labor showdown that just a day before seemed headed for an intractable and ugly stalemate.

Despite the end of the strike, a final settlement of the dispute remains to be reached. But officials hinted that in exchange for the union's ending the strike, the authority would significantly scale back or even abandon its insistence on less-generous pensions for future workers. In return, the union would consider having its members pay more for health insurance. The negotiations will now resume under an agreement among all parties not to speak with reporters.

No Reagan or Thatcher, he.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Blair, in a surprise visit to Iraq, finds progress (The Associated Press, Reuters, DECEMBER 22, 2005)

Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain paid a surprise visit to Iraq on Thursday, saying that the country's security and political situation had improved over the last year, but refusing to set a timetable for the withdrawal of British troops.

His visit came hours before the U.S. defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, flew into Baghdad on another surprise visit. Rumsfeld, one of the architects of the downfall of Saddam Hussein, whose trial was adjourned Thursday until Jan. 24, was visiting U.S. commanders and assessing the situation on the ground.

Rumsfeld said any cutbacks in troop levels beyond those in place before the elections for the Iraqi Parliament last week would depend on assessments on the ground, while Blair said Britain might start pulling troops out in six months.

He cited a sea change in the situation in Iraq compared with a year ago.

Blair hints troops could be home in months (FRASER NELSON, 12/23/05, The Scotsman)
TONY BLAIR yesterday signalled that British troops could begin to leave Iraq within six months as he made a surprise visit to Basra to tell servicemen they should be "very, very proud" of their role in its transition to democracy.

In a fleeting visit to the British-controlled south of Iraq, the Prime Minister told soldiers that they had dealt terrorism a "huge blow" by creating the conditions for the election earlier this month which will now lead to a full Iraqi government.

While he said the new ministers could decide whether coalition troops stay or go, he gave his clearest sign yet that the Ministry of Defence plans to start winding down troops from next summer.

US to make Iraq troop level cuts (BBC, 12/23/05)
President George W Bush has authorised cuts in US troops levels in Iraq, Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld said during a visit to the country.

Speaking to troops in Falluja, Mr Rumsfeld did not specify a number but said the US force would be cut by two brigades - several thousand staff.

Further reductions will be considered "at some point in 2006", he said.

At this rate the President will cut the deficit in half in just two years.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 7:17 AM


Freedom to swing (National Post, December, 22nd, 2005)

For decades, social scientists have worried that the breakdown of the traditional family would lead to the total erosion of sexual mores in mainstream society. In this brave new post-Christian libertine world, it was feared, wife-swapping, neighbourhood orgies and key parties would become mainstays of middle-aged couples' weekend social agendas.

Needless to say, this never happened. It turns out that, whatever licence society may give us, common sense alone is enough to keep most people from throwing their Camry key into a neighbour's salad bowl. The 1960s ideal of "free love" is a myth: In the real world, sexual promiscuity and "open" relationships typically lead to confusion, heartbreak and shattered homes -- not to mention venereal disease. This is something mature people recognize instinctively.

But it is not the role of government to enforce life lessons. And if people want to go on trying to have their cake and eat it, too, the law should let them. That is why we applaud the Supreme Court of Canada for its judgment regarding the prosecution of James Kouri and Jean-Paul Labaye.

Messrs. Kouri and Labaye operated swingers clubs in Montreal, in which visiting adults would swap sexual partners. Both were originally convicted of operating a bawdy house. But on appeal, Mr. Kouri's conviction was affirmed while Mr. Labaye's was overturned. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that both men should go free. In so doing, it properly articulated a narrow definition of indecency. "The threshold is high," Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote. "As members of a diverse society, we must be prepared to tolerate conduct of which we disapprove, short of conduct that can be objectively shown beyond a reasonable doubt to interfere with the proper functioning of society."

As noted above, swinging is an unpopular activity because the damage it does to relationships can generally be expected to outweigh the transient sexual thrills it provides. But as with such obsolete crimes as fornication and adultery, the harm is confined to those adults who freely partake in it: In the cases at issue before the Supreme Court, no one was coerced, bribed or tricked into swinging. Since there is no "victim," we find it hard to see why such activity should be outlawed.

Canada’s principal conservative newspaper is commenting here on yesterday’s Supreme Court decision that effectively threw out any notion of public decency as a legitimate basis for law and mandated the old J. S. Mill objective “harm” test beloved by liberals for generations. Presumably the near dead silence with which the decision was received indicates most people either agree or are completely unable to articulate any misgivings. What strikes one about this analysis is the complete denial of sweeping social changes that have occurred since the sixties and the confident assumption that most people will naturally adhere to a religiously-inspired morality on grounds of rational self-interest. It is amusing how, when discussing issues like divorce and gay marriage, liberals and libertarians will evince horror at the cruelty and injustice of a thwarted sexual-urge, but then blithely assume the vast majority of people are actually quite boring and will naturally shrug off temptation and choose traditional middle-class virtue unaided. Reading the Post’s confident assurances here, one would never suspect we live in an era of forty percent divorce rates, parentless and poor children, an explosion of porn for all tastes, teenage mental illness and an exploding sex industry with all manner of attendant exploitation and crime. It is one thing to argue that it is all a necessary price of freedom, quite another to look at it all with eyes wide open and tell oneself a modern fairy tale about how there are no victims.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Grudging Praise for an Absent System (JAMES BARRON, 12/23/05, NY Times)

For three days, New Yorkers could not watch the closing doors, could not try to make sense of garbled announcements, could not wonder why the express always pulls out just as the local pulls in.

So the news that transit workers were going back to work left many New Yorkers thinking one of those only-in-New-York thoughts: a subway car is a beautiful thing. As they looked forward to swiping their MetroCards again and squeezing into sardine-tight seats in impossibly crowded cars, they voiced grudging affection for a subway system they wish they did not have to live with but cannot live without.

"We all whine in the subway," said Samuel Kroma, a messenger who lives in Jamaica, Queens, "but we all want it. There's no other means of transportation. This city wasn't planned for cars."

The species wasn't.

December 22, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 PM


Britain's new political setup (DAVID HOWELL, 12/23/05, Japan Times)

Just as commentators have been writing about a fundamentally new political "setup" in Japan, following Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's overwhelming election victory, so also the same language is being used about British politics. [...]

[I]n establishing, and giving credibility to a new political setup, Cameron, who is 39, and his chief lieutenant, George Osborne, who is only 34, have to confront exactly the same two facts of 21st century life as those facing Japan.

These are, first, that the needs of a modern society can no longer be met by an all-powerful state that owns and provides everything centrally for its citizens' welfare, and second, that people must feel they live in a nation with a purpose and international status that deserves their loyalty and distinguishes it from the globalized culture that threatens to drain countries of their personality and diversity.

The better comparison is probably to George W. Bush or Kim Beazley.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 PM


Population already contracting (Japan Times, 12/23/05)

Japan's population has started shrinking for the first time this year, health ministry data showed Thursday, presenting the government with pressing challenges on the social and economic front, including ensuring provision of social security services and securing the labor force.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry's annual survey estimates the balance of domestic births of Japanese against deaths in 2005 to be minus 10,000, marking the first natural decline since the government first began compiling the data in 1899.

Even on an aggregate population basis, including foreign residents, the balance is projected to be minus 4,000 in 2005, registering a fall one year earlier than projected by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, which had predicted a decline after 2006.

Japan joins Germany and Italy in the ranks of countries where a decline in population has already set in.

Hardly surprising these three lead the way into the abyss.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 PM


Europe: A History (Norman Davies)

Conservatism began to crystallize as a coherent ideology in conjunction with liberal trends. It was not opposed to democracy or to change as such, and should not be confused with simple reactionary
positions. What it did was to insist that all change should be channelled and managed in such a way that the organic growth of established institutions of state and society--monarchy, Church, the social hierarchy, property, and the family--should not be threatened. [...] Like the liberals, the conservatives valued the individual, opposed the omnipotent state, and looked for a reduction of central executive powers. Through this, they often turned out to be the most effective of would-be reformers, toning down proposals coming from more radical points on the spectrum, and acting as the go-between with the ruling court. The ultimate distinction between liberal conservatives and moderate liberals was a fine one. In many democracies, the large area of agreement between them came to define the "middle ground" of political life.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:24 AM


They would take one of us away and he'd return in a sheet, dripping in blood: A brave Iraqi takes the stand and tells how seven of his brothers were tortured and killed 'on Saddam's orders' (Adrian Blomfield, 22/12/2005, Daily Telegraph)

It was the first time since he went on trial that Saddam Hussein seemed lost for words.

Gone were the histrionics and bluster of previous court appearances, when the former dictator upstaged everyone from judge to fellow defendants with his interruptions and grandstanding.

Instead the limelight was taken by a softly spoken witness who comported himself in every way Saddam has not since he took to the dock. Ali Hassan al-Haidari was dignified, erudite, compelling - and brave.

While the vast majority of other witnesses have so far chosen - understandably so - to testify behind a curtain, sometimes with their voices distorted, Mr Haidari stood just feet away from the once most feared man in Iraq.

Saddam seemed to shrink beside him. He sucked his glasses, and occasionally took notes. Much of the time he seemed to be doodling. It was as though he could not meet the eyes of his accuser.

Dressed almost identically to Saddam in a brown suit and a white shirt, Mr Haidari recalled the 1982 massacre at Dujail, where Saddam is accused of orchestrating the mass reprisals in retaliation for an alleged attempt on his life. Mr Haidari, who was only 14 at the time, told how he and all 43 members of his family were rounded up and taken to the Ba'ath party headquarters in Dujail.

"I saw my brother being tortured in front of my eyes," he said, looking straight at Saddam. "I was terrified. They would take one of us away and he would return in a sheet, dripping in blood."

Seven of his brothers were executed, he testified. Like so many Iraqis, he has no idea, he said, where they were buried.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 AM


Blair appeals for party support to fight challenge of resurgent Tories (George Jones, 22/12/2005, Daily Telegraph)

Tony Blair admitted yesterday that he was "battling on all fronts" as he faced a resurgent Tory Party led by David Cameron and increasing opposition from Labour MPs to his health, education and welfare reforms.

He appealed to his party not to retreat to its "political comfort zone" but to fight Mr Cameron's attempts to reclaim the centre ground which had delivered three election victories for New Labour. [...]

"What's the big idea coming from the Conservative Party? To try and become more like New Labour.

"The truth is we should be confident as New Labour in the reform programme, because whether it is on pensions, or it is on school standards, or it is choice in the NHS free at the point of use, or on anti-social behaviour, or even difficult things like Europe, we are the ones making the weather. That is why, however difficult it is, we stick with it and we carry it through."

But he signalled that he was ready to compromise on education reforms, which have run into strong opposition within the Cabinet and the Labour Party.

As Labour reverts to Old Labour the Tories can indeed seize the ground that New Labour held, just as W seized the New Democrat turf.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:04 AM


Hong Kong votes down political overhaul (Keith Bradsher, DECEMBER 22, 2005, The New York Times)

Democracy advocates on Wednesday defeated a government-backed legislative proposal to revamp the political system here, dealing a sharp setback to the chief executive and Chinese leaders in Beijing, as well as to the prospects for any substantial political changes soon.

Donald Tsang, the Beijing-backed chief executive, had lobbied lawmakers extensively for the past two months and, in a departure from past practice for leaders here, had even walked city streets to buttonhole passers-by and ask them to support the plan. The two-part proposal called for doubling the number of people allowed to vote for chief executive here, to 1,600, and for expanding the 60-member Legislative Council to 70 members.

But democracy advocates were united in opposing the plan because it did not include a timetable for one-person, one-vote general elections.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:34 AM


Chinese priests defiant in pre-Christmas standoff (Ben Blanchard, 12/22/05, Reuters)

Dozens of Chinese Catholic priests and nuns holed up for a week in a building they claim as their own vowed to stay put on Thursday, just three days before Christmas, until they get their way.

Surrounded by police in the empty building in northern Tianjin and braving freezing nights, the group of about 50 said they were not going anywhere.

"We're desperately hoping for a resolution as soon as possible," priest Wu Jingwei said. "We've not come to cause trouble and we don't want this to escalate.

"We're priests, we don't fight. We've never experienced this before. We want the government to take this thing seriously and sort it out soon," he added.

"But we cannot be frightened out. We will not compromise."

The Tianjin conflict is the latest of several arrests and confrontations that have highlighted tensions between religious forces and government control in China, even as Beijing seeks diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 AM

EVEN OUR PARIS IS UNFRENCH (via David Hill, The Bronx):

Screws Tighten on NYC Transit Union (DAVID B. CARUSO , 12.21.2005, Forbes)

Threatened with huge fines and possible jail time, the city's transit union suggested Wednesday that it would be willing to end a strike that has shut down bus and subway service for two days - if the city drops its plan for changing workers' pensions. [...]

On the streets Wednesday, commuters struggled through the first day of winter.

At Pennsylvania Station, railroad officials used bullhorns to corral people trying to board the commuter train lines and closed off a city block to line people up. At Grand Central Terminal, more than 1,000 people pushed to get on shuttle trains to the Bronx.

Isaac Flores, who works at a law firm in midtown, was part of a complicated, four-person car pool.

"They're too spoiled," Flores said of the transit workers. "They want to retire at age 55. They're making more money than a cop."

Myra Sanoguet, who was with him, said they saw a group of pickets during the drive. Just briefly, "we were thinking about running them over," she said.

While Democrats continue under the delusion that Americans are sympathetic to unions generally, nevermind public employee unions.

Tough Stance, Tougher Fines: Union Leader Is in a Corner (STEVEN GREENHOUSE, 12/22/05, NY Times)

When Roger Toussaint, the president of the transit workers' local, defiantly announced a strike, he proclaimed that his union was taking a proud stand against the concessions that employers had demanded nationwide.

But Mr. Toussaint has quickly discovered that engaging in an illegal walkout can leave a union with a weak hand. His union faces a $1 million fine for each day on strike, a state judge is threatening to throw him in jail and thousands of individual strikers stand to lose two days' pay for each day out.

Not only that, but the mayor, the governor and editorial writers are denouncing the union as greedy and showing contempt for the law. The front page of The New York Post screamed, "You Rats." And the transit workers' parent union has come out in opposition to the strike.

They handed the Mayor a sword, time to use it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 AM


War and Peace: Lincoln and Bush on vigilance and responsibility. (Mackubin Thomas Owens, 12/21/2005, Weekly Standard)

IN JUNE of 1863, Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter to Erasmus Corning, who had sent him the resolutions of the Albany Democratic convention censuring the Lincoln administration for what it called unconstitutional acts, such as military arrests of civilians in the North. This letter remains the best articulation of the problems that a democratic republic faces when confronted by a crisis that threatens the very existence of that republic.

The essence of Lincoln's argument was that certain actions that are unconstitutional in the absence of rebellion or invasion become constitutional when those conditions exists--in other words, "that the Constitution is not in its application in all respects the same in cases of rebellion or invasion involving the public safety, as it is in times of profound peace and public security."

This past Saturday, President Bush issued his equivalent of the Corning letter. [...]

THROUGHOUT THE HISTORY of the American republic, there has been a tension between two virtues necessary to sustain republican government: vigilance and responsibility. Vigilance is the jealousy on the part of the people that constitutes a necessary check on those who hold power, lest they abuse it. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, "[I]t is jealousy and not confidence which prescribes limited constitutions, to bind those whom we are obliged to trust with power."

But while vigilance is a necessary virtue, it may, if unchecked, lead to an extremism that incapacitates a government, preventing it from carrying out even its most necessary and legitimate purposes, e.g. providing for the common defense. "Jealousy," wrote Alexander Hamilton, often infects the "noble enthusiasm for liberty" with "a spirit of narrow and illiberal distrust."

Responsibility, on the other hand, is the prudential judgment necessary to moderate the excesses of political jealousy, thereby permitting limited government to fulfill its purposes. Thus in Federalist 23, Alexander Hamilton wrote that those responsible for the nation's defense must be granted all of the powers necessary to achieve that end. Responsibility is the virtue necessary to govern and to preserve the republic from harm, both external and internal. The dangers of foreign and civil war taught Alexander Hamilton that liberty and power are not always adversaries, that indeed, the "vigor" of government is essential to the security of liberty.

President Bush, like Lincoln before him, has taken actions that reflect his agreement with this principle.

One interesting aspect of this whole debate is that FISA grew out of the Democrats effort to protect anti-war/anti-American groups, many of them funded by Moscow, during the Cold War. They were able to hammer them through Congress because the post-Watergate GOP had been so weakened politically. But there was never any public support for safeguarding the secrets of the radical Left then, anymore than anyone much cared about the Clinton administration going after militia groups following Oklahoma City. Nor do folks mind now that people with ties to Islamic extremists are the targets. Few of us being extremists ourselves, we just aren't bothered by the notion of the government going after extremists. Indeed, we like it.

Arrests reveal Zarqawi network in Europe (Anton La Guardia, 22/12/2005, Daily Telegraph)

A wave of arrests across Europe has thrown new light on a European terrorist network being developed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most prominent insurgent in Iraq.

A growing number of terrorism investigations in Britain, Germany, Bosnia, Denmark and most recently Spain and France are linked to the man who has masterminded countless suicide bombings in Iraq, personally beheaded hostages and bombed three hotels in his native Jordan.

Some of the suspected networks appear to be involved only in supporting his operations in Iraq. But counter-terrorism officials are worried that Zarqawi could be planning to use his base in Iraq to start attacking Europe.

Security officials are particularly worried by indications that he wants to recruit white extremists who will be more difficult to detect than Arabs or Asians.

Of course, the Democrats' position is that if the enemy is already in your country he deserves privacy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


A Flat-Out Winner for Tax Reform (Daniel J. Mitchell, December 22, 2005, Washington Post)

The flat-tax revolution in Eastern Europe is particularly compelling. Nine nations from the old Soviet bloc have adopted the flat tax -- which taxes income at one rate -- and others are poised to. In an ironic twist, these countries are rejecting the class-warfare politics of yesteryear and building tax systems specifically designed to attract investment, fuel economic growth and treat all citizens fairly.

Russia, for instance, enjoys the benefits of the 13 percent flat tax it adopted in 2001. The tax quickly yielded positive results. Revenue poured into government coffers as tax evasion and avoidance became much less profitable. Inflation-adjusted personal income tax revenue has more than doubled since the flat tax was implemented.

But Russia was simply learning from its neighbors. Estonia was the first, adopting a 26 percent flat rate in 1994. Latvia and Lithuania followed in the mid-1990s, with 25 percent and 33 percent rates, respectively. Serbia was next; in 2003 it went with a 14 percent rate. Last year, it was Slovakia (19 percent) and Ukraine (13 percent). This year it's been Romania (16 percent) and Georgia, which boasts the lowest rate -- 12 percent.

Estonia has been cutting its rate: It's at 24 percent and will drop to 20 percent before the end of the decade. Lithuania also has decided to make its flat tax more competitive; the rate will go from 33 to 24 percent.

The flat tax is not a silver bullet. But combined with other market reforms, it provides a significant economic boost. All three Baltic nations are enjoying strong growth, averaging over 5 percent per year. No wonder the "Baltic Tigers" became role models for the region. This growth is generating plenty of tax revenue, in part because tax evasion has been dramatically reduced. And the rich are paying the lion's share: In Estonia, for instance, the top 10 percent are paying 41 percent of the tax.

A consumption tax is preferable, but, regardless of which you choose, if you do it by constitutional amendment and don't allow any other form of federal taxation you'd also manage to clean up politics considerably, since folks wouldn't get to lobby for special tax breaks anymore.

The Tiny Tigers: Accepted into the European Union last year, the former eastern bloc countries are the latest to capitalize on globalization. Followed by Slovenia and Slovakia, the Baltic States have set a cracking pace with their radical economic reforms. Their fervor is alarming its old-school neighbors in the West. (Marion Kraske and Jan Puhl, 12/22/05, Der Spiegel)

In no other place in Europe are entrepreneurs and consumers as optimistic as in Poland. Last year the country boosted its export volume by nearly 12 percent. The World Bank recently upgraded the "emerging" Czech Republic into a "developed" nation. Former Deputy Prime Minister Martin Jahn forecasts: "There will be fewer and fewer investments where low-cost labor plays a central role." The subtext: We can be both low-wage and high-tech.

Even remote Lithuania, the poorest country in the EU along with Latvia, is planning its offensive: "The initial upswing was driven by booming exports; most recently, domestic demand is booming," the World Bank said of the Baltic republic.

Hungary and Slovenia have been ranked the top economies of all the countries in transition by the rating agency Dun & Bradstreet. Germany is Hungary's biggest foreign investor with about €10 billion. In addition to Audi and Deutsche Telekom, the country has attracted scores of automotive suppliers. Slovenia has sewn up the Balkans as an investment destination: Slovenian companies are thriving in the countries that emerged when multi- ethnic Yugoslavia fell apart. They speak the language; they understand the mentality.

Today, low wages are but one of many selling points in these countries. They have shed layers of bureaucracy, simplified their tax systems, invested in education, and overhauled their infrastructure. A bottomless resolve to make up for all the deprivations of the socialist regime is fueling these changes. The economic creed of eastern Europe is defined by a mood of new departure. "In the next 10 years, the gap between per capita incomes in the old and new EU member states will progressively close," forecasts Andreas Polkowski of the Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWA). "Some regions may even overtake us." [...]

Slovakia's meteoric rise began as late as 1998 with the fall of autocratic leader Vladimír Meciar. Since then, launching a company just takes a matter of days, the national pension system is being supplemented by capital funding, and unemployment benefits are accorded only to those who actively look for work and are willing to do part-time community service - until a real job materializes. But the heart of Slovakia's reforms is a flat tax rate.

Since January 1, 2004, a uniform rate of 19 percent has applied to income, corporate and value-added taxes. The driving force behind the reforms is Deputy Prime Minister and Treasury Secretary Ivan Miklos, who considers himself a trailblazer on the European reform stage.

When he talks about the major economies in the western half of the continent, sympathy and arrogance mingle. Of course, the 45-year-old says, large countries can institute reforms, too. But they only opt to do so "when they're at the point of no return."

The Latvians are equally self-confident. Their capital of Riga has seen a major makeover in the past few years. The once cold and remote Soviet satellite has become a modern city with Scandinavian chic. The buildings in its old quarters have been renovated; luxury limousines squeeze through their narrow lanes. Porsche can't even keep up with orders for Cayennes and 911s. At least that's the word at trendy cafes such as "Sarkans."

It's the quintessential quandry: if economic liberalization works for them then what are we supposed to do?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


The Trouble With Hillary: How running for president, alas, makes her even less likable. (Kurt Andersen, New York Magazine)

Each time John McCain stoops to commit some purely, nakedly political act, like campaigning for George W. Bush’s reelection or giving his okay to the teaching of “intelligent design” in public schools, I cringe. There are so few national politicians wired to speak candidly, from the heart and the hip, that I have a soft spot for almost all of them—Bob Kerrey, sure, but also Bob Dole and Bill Weld, even nuts like Jesse Ventura. So when McCain behaves like a normal politician, it’s a disturbing departure from my Frank Capra script for him.

The same kind of gesture from Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, simply confirms what one thinks already, since the script for her (more Cukor, less Capra) is all about cool calculation and calibration in service to the main chance. She is, after all, the feminist who at age 35, seven years married, started calling herself Hillary Rodham Clinton in order to give her husband a better chance at winning back the governorship in old-fashioned Arkansas. So when she announced the other day that she was signing on as a co-sponsor of a new anti-flag-desecration bill—Look at me! I’m jerking right!—it seemed in character. It was one more fragment of evidence, unattractive but inevitable, that she is not really running for reelection to the Senate from New York.

Duh. But I still found it disheartening. Not because I imagine the Flag Protection Act poses any serious jeopardy to free speech. Rather, as an exemplary gesture by the presumptive 2008 nominee, it was a vivid small example of the routine, ritual dishonesty that infuses our political discourse so thoroughly.

The intellectual classes have this odd notion that politics should be divorced from what normal people want, then wonder why Americans despise them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


In Poll, 54% Back Alito's Confirmation (Richard Morin, December 22, 2005, Washington Post )

A majority of Americans now support the confirmation of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court to fill the seat of retiring Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The survey found that 54 percent say the Senate should confirm Alito, while 28 percent say he should not be approved. That marks a modest increase in public support for Alito since November, when 49 percent said he should be confirmed and 29 percent said he should not. In both surveys, about one in five Americans said they did not know enough about the nominee to have an opinion.

Alito, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, is now about as popular as John G. Roberts Jr. was on the eve of his Senate confirmation hearings in September, the survey found.

The more the Left tars him as a Rightwing fundamentalist the better America likes him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Petition vs. gay marriage advances: Number of signers breaks state record (Raphael Lewis, December 22, 2005, Boston Globe)

Backers of a constitutional ban on gay marriage in Massachusetts have shattered a 20-year-old record for the most certified signatures ever gathered in support of a proposed ballot question.

Secretary of State William F. Galvin this week certified the signatures of 123,356 registered voters, nearly twice as many as the number required to get on the ballot. [...]

The petition drew the signatures of Governor Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann; former House speaker Thomas M. Finneran, now the president of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council; and former Boston mayor Raymond L. Flynn. If the petition receives the support of at least 25 percent of the Legislature in two successive sessions, it would appear on the ballot in November 2008.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


A Risk of Total Collapse (Dylan Evans, 22 December, 2005,

Is it possible that global civilization might collapse within our lifetime or that of our children? Until recently, such an idea was the preserve of lunatics and cults. In the past few years, however, an increasing number of intelligent and credible people have been warning that global collapse is a genuine possibility. And many of these are sober scientists, including Lord May, David King and Jared Diamond - people not usually given to exaggeration or drama. [...]

The collapse of modern civilization would entail the deaths of billions of people but not the end of the human race. A few Mayans survived by abandoning their cities and retreating into the jungle, where they continue to live to this day. In the same way, some would survive the end of the industrial age by reverting to a pre-industrial lifestyle.

You must have to be a secular liberal not to recognize that we've been watching the collapse of European civilization, but that the West will endure in portions of the Anglosphere .

No to gay vows (Michael Harvey and Ben Packham, 23dec05, Herald Sun)

SIR Elton John and his gay partner might have said "I do", but John Howard says "I won't".

The Prime Minister yesterday ruled out following Britain's lead in officially allowing gay marriages.

Entertainer John and his long-time partner David Furnish were among 700 homosexual couples to marry, giving them similar legal rights as heterosexual couples.

However Mr Howard said he opposed gay unions and felt marriage could only exist between a man and woman.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Immoral equivalence: Spielberg's not so subtle commentary about our post 9-11 world is the ultimate obscenity (Jonathan Tobin, Dec. 22, 2005, Jewish World Review)

It should be noted that the film has already come in for justified criticism for being primarily based on a book whose primary source was a fraud. Vengeance by George Jonas purported to tell the tale of a disillusioned Mossad agent, but it turned out the man was just a cab driver with an Israeli accent, and not an ex-spy. But even if we discount this, the film still fails its subject matter. That's because the goal here is not merely to wrongly argue that the battle against Palestinian terror is as criminal as anything the terrorists have done; its purpose is also to humanize the terrorists.

In a Time magazine story on his movie, Spielberg said the insertion of a fictional conversation between the leader of the Israeli team and a PLO operative was essential to his vision of the film. In it, the Arab speaks of his longing to recover his family's dignity and property that he claims they lost to Israel.

Without this and other elements that serve to break down the legitimacy of killing the men behind the attack on the Olympics, he says the film would not have been worth making. What Spielberg seems most proud of is the fact that those who seek to destroy Israel — and either slaughter or scatter its people — are not "demonized." They are, he insists, "individuals. They have families."

To which we can only reply, "So what?" You could say the same of the 9/11 hijackers, as well as the operatives of Hamas, and Fatah (from whom the members of "Black September" — a front for the PLO — came) who have cut down Jews in pizza parlors, bus stops and at Passover seders. And even go on and include the German villains of Spielberg's World War II films.

But the problem with this film isn't just an obsessive refusal to be judgmental about terrorism or the tedious speechifying that overwhelms the action. There's something even more insidious at play here.

The main character, the Israeli agent Avner (played by Eric Bana), doesn't just loose his marbles because of a mission whose efficacy might well be debated. Spielberg's Avner rejects not merely a policy but Israel itself, which he abandons for the apparently more humane confines of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Even his Holocaust film is, after all, about a "good" German.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


More convicts reoffend after release from jail (Richard Ford, 12/22/05, Times of London)

MORE criminals are returning to a life of crime within months of serving jail or community sentences than at any time since Labour came to power, figures released quietly yesterday show.

More than 60 per cent of young male thugs and muggers are convicted of another offence within two years of ending their sentence. Three quarters of young male burglars and thieves also reoffend, according to the Home Office figures placed unannounced on its departmental website.

A massive 90 per cent of offenders on the drug treatment and testing order, designed to tackle the link between drug use and prolific offending, go on to commit more crimes. The programme costs the Government £53 million annually. There is also a high dropout rate by offenders given the orders, which were introduced across England and Wales five years ago.

The figures are a severe blow to the Government, which is attempting to end the “revolving-door” syndrome, in which offenders are constantly in and out of jail.

There's a high price to being frivolous about punishment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


'Warrantless' searches not unprecedented (Charles Hurt, December 22, 2005, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Previous administrations, as well as the court that oversees national security cases, agreed with President Bush's position that a president legally may authorize searches without warrants in pursuit of foreign intelligence.

"The Department of Justice believes -- and the case law supports -- that the president has inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes and that the president may, as he has done, delegate this authority to the attorney general," Clinton Deputy Attorney General Jamie S. Gorelick said in 1994 testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

That same authority, she added, pertains to electronic surveillance such as wiretaps.

More recently, the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court -- the secretive judicial system that handles classified intelligence cases -- wrote in a declassified opinion that the court has long held "that the President did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence information." [...]

In a 2002 opinion about the constitutionality of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the USA Patriot Act, the court wrote: "We take for granted that the President does have that authority and, assuming that is so, FISA could not encroach on the President's constitutional power."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


In Berlin, a Cultural Wall Sets Turks Apart: In a Muslim enclave, many find their futures -- and identities -- are torn between countries. (Jeffrey Fleishman, December 22, 2005, LA Times)

The Gummi Bear marked the cultural divide between Annette Spieler and the inquisitive little girl.

The principal at the elementary school in the Wrangel neighborhood here, Spieler offers candy as rewards for good grades. One Muslim student asked whether Gummi Bears were made with gelatin, an ingredient often derived from pigs. Spieler had never encountered such a question, but upon checking, she discovered that they were.

"The girl refused it," Spieler said, sitting in her office the other day as stragglers from recess echoed through the hallway. "It was an indication of how the neighborhood has changed. When I came here in 1991, I didn't see as many head scarves as I see now, or as many immigrant women wrapped up all over. But now I see it everywhere. The Islamic religious life is strengthening and it's coming into the schools."

The 12-square-block neighborhood in west Berlin has long been a place where new arrivals to the city flock, struggling to establish themselves and then to escape the incessant hum of courtyard factories and the rattle of machine shops. Bordered by a canal and train tracks, colored with graffiti and scented with wood smoke, the neighborhood today is a glimpse of the immigration pressures that Germany and the rest of Europe face.

It is a microcosm of how a nation's half-hearted efforts at integration have instead created a troubled immigrant population with its own languages, codes and ethos — a separate world. [...]

"I saw my first Turk in 1962," said Harald Zugehoer, who was born in Wrangel in 1949. He moved to a country house south of Berlin years ago, but kept his metal shop in the neighborhood. "People who say integration will never work are right. Berliners are half-spiritual and half-atheist. They can't handle this dogmatic kind of Islam."

It will work eventually, when Germans are integrated into the new Islamic society the Turks create.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


New Life for Patriot Act Is No Bush Win: The Senate's six-month extension effectively kills a deal to make key provisions permanent. (Richard B. Schmitt and Mary Curtius, December 22, 2005, LA Times)

In a major setback for the White House on a top domestic priority, the Senate on Wednesday passed a six-month extension of the Patriot Act, due to expire Dec. 31, even though President Bush had demanded that most of the law become permanent.

It's bad for the President, who's trying to protect national security, but greatr for Karl Rove who now gets to use it as a mid-term election issue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM

THE SECOND FACE (via Mike Daley):

Religion in the Public Square: A Textbook Case (Joseph Knippenberg, 12/21/05, The American Enterprise)

One of the great debates in contemporary legal and political theory is how various participants in a liberal and pluralistic political order should make their arguments. One of the most prominent arguments, advanced by the late Harvard philosophy professor John Rawls and his followers, calls for everyone who wishes to participate in the public square to make use of “public reason,” articulating positions in such a way as in principle to be accessible to everyone. In other words, to be entitled to participate in the public debate, I have to be prepared to offer arguments that depend, not upon a revelation given “only” to me, but upon reasons that are intelligible to our “unaided reason” (I’m tempted to say “to the reason God gave us”). If I can’t offer such reasons, so the argument goes, if I rely upon a faith that I share only with my fellow churchgoers, then my position can’t be admitted into the debate. I’m not entitled to win the argument because, in effect, my victory would mean that an essentially and exclusively religious position would gain the force of law. If my voice is motivated by what some would call an “irrational animus,” it must be marginalized, lest I use it to oppress others. If I can’t in principle persuade by an appeal to reason, then I can’t be permitted to participate in the debate.

It's a standard that, of course, delegitimizes the Declaration and Constitution and so is literally anti-American.

December 21, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 PM


If Inflation Falls in the Forest…: If we listened to the media, no one would have heard the biggest price decline in 56 years. (Noel Sheppard, Dec. 21, 2005, Free Market Project)

Ever since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in late August sending oil prices to $70 per barrel and gasoline above $3 a gallon, the media have been in a panic over a return of ’70s-style inflation. Such concerns reached a fevered-pitch in October when a gauge of consumer prices rose by the largest amount in 25 years. Yet, when the Labor Department released numbers last week showing that inflation had declined by the greatest percentage in 56 years, rather than using this data to ease the public’s concerns about rising prices, the press either downplayed the report or totally ignored it. [...]

America has been in a disinflationary cycle since the early ’80s, with a few very short-lived spurts of above-trend price rises since. Yet, the thought of a return to ’70s-style stagflation strikes fear into all who lived through it. As a result, the press have a solemn responsibility to report these figures to the public in as impartial and factual a manner as possible…or is that asking too much?

Which is why the Fed Chairman should be someone who was no more than a minor in the 70s.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 PM


President had legal authority to OK taps (John Schmidt, December 21, 2005, ChicagoTribune)

President Bush's post- Sept. 11, 2001, authorization to the National Security Agency to carry out electronic surveillance into private phone calls and e-mails is consistent with court decisions and with the positions of the Justice Department under prior presidents.

The president authorized the NSA program in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America. An identifiable group, Al Qaeda, was responsible and believed to be planning future attacks in the United States. Electronic surveillance of communications to or from those who might plausibly be members of or in contact with Al Qaeda was probably the only means of obtaining information about what its members were planning next. No one except the president and the few officials with access to the NSA program can know how valuable such surveillance has been in protecting the nation.

In the Supreme Court's 1972 Keith decision holding that the president does not have inherent authority to order wiretapping without warrants to combat domestic threats, the court said explicitly that it was not questioning the president's authority to take such action in response to threats from abroad.

Four federal courts of appeal subsequently faced the issue squarely and held that the president has inherent authority to authorize wiretapping for foreign intelligence purposes without judicial warrant.

In the most recent judicial statement on the issue, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, composed of three federal appellate court judges, said in 2002 that "All the ... courts to have decided the issue held that the president did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence ... We take for granted that the president does have that authority."

The passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978 did not alter the constitutional situation.

Indeed, the notion that spying on the enemy isn't inherent in the war-making powers of a commander-in-chief is bizarre.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:43 PM


After Iraq'selection: The parliamentary elections in Iraq represent the conclusion of one of the most successful processes from tyranny to democracy in history (Bartle Bull, January 2006, Prospect)

With the election on 15th December of a new four-year national parliament, Iraqis have concluded one of the most successful constitutional processes in history. Rarely, if ever, before has an important country moved from tyranny to pluralism so quickly, with so little bloodshed, and with such a quality and degree of popular participation.

The popularity of Iraq’s new constitution (approved by 80 per cent of voters in October’s referendum) and the similarly singular scale of voter turnout in this election (above 70 per cent, according to preliminary estimates) mean that the government formed by the new Iraqi parliament will enjoy a degree of legitimacy that is peerless in the middle east and unsurpassed globally. The Iraqi achievement, seen in its context – a national psyche brutalised by 30 years of sectarian totalitarianism, the presence of 170,000 foreign soldiers, and highly politicised ethnic and sectarian divides – is uniquely impressive.

I decided, having spent the January election season living on various floors in the huge Baghdad slum of Sadr City, to spend the latest election period with the other major Iraqi demographic group that, having suffered most under the rule of the Ba'ath party, now has the most to gain from the new freedom: the Kurds. (The Marsh Arabs suffered perhaps worst of all under the Ba'athists, but with a population of about 20,000 are barely electorally significant compared to the Kurds or the Shia urban poor.)

What I saw in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan regional government, was dancing in the streets.

How would German views of WWII be different if we'd only had to kill 30,000 of them to get rid of Hitler?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:12 PM


Tocqueville at 200: What would he think of democracy in today’s America? (Michael Novak, 12/21/05, National Review)

He hit the bulls-eye when he wrote that the truly distinctive genius of America was to solve the riddle that Europe and Asia had failed to solve, how to incorporate the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom into each other, "forming a marvelous combination":

Religion regards civil liberty as a noble exercise of man's faculties, the world of politics being a sphere intended by the Creator for the free play of intelligence. Religion, being free and powerful within its own sphere and content with the position reserved for it, realized that its sway is all the better established because it relies only on its own powers and rules men's hearts without external support.

Freedom sees religion as the companion of its struggles and triumphs, the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its rights. Religion is considered as the guardian of mores, and mores are regarded as the guarantee of the laws and pledge for the maintenance of freedom itself.

Tocqueville could observe around him in 2005 that the United States was, if anything, more religious than it had been in 1831. On television on autumn weekends, more Americans watch football than anything else; that is where the biggest audiences are. Those same weekends, more Americans attend church or synagogue than watch football, whether on TV or at all the stadia all around the nation put together.

What does their religion — almost entirely Jewish and Christian — add to American civic and political life? you might ask. It grounds Americans' sense of personal dignity in the conviction that each woman and each man is made in the image of the Creator, and is loved by that Creator. It also grounds their fundamental right to freedom of conscience in the knowledge that God made human minds free, and chose to be approached by them based upon the evidence of their own minds, and through their own free choice, not through coercion. For such is the nature of the Jewish and Christian God.

These beliefs have always given Americans confidence in the idea that liberty is universal, intended by the Creator for all humans. Their philosophy of natural rights is backed up by their faith in the God Who addresses them in their liberty.

What would strike all of the great conservative thinkers most it the improbable fact that despite the enduring health of democracy in America the pendulum is swinging back towards society and away from the state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:19 PM


Cheney Breaks Senate Tie on Spending Cuts (ANDREW TAYLOR, 12/21/05, Associated Press)

The Republican-controlled Senate passed legislation to cut federal deficits by $39.7 billion on Wednesday by the narrowest of margins, 51-50, with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the deciding vote.

The measure, the product of a year's labors by the White House and the GOP in Congress, imposes the first restraints in nearly a decade in federal benefit programs such as Medicaid, Medicare and student loans.

"This is the one vote you'll have this year to reduce the rate of growth of the federal government," said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, in a final plea for passage.

Democrats even managed to hand the Administration all the credit on an issue that had been riling people up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:34 AM


A book tour or whistle-stops?: Sen. John McCain's signings look a lot like campaign rallies as crowds question him on Iraq and human rights at every turn. (Anne-Marie O'Connor, December 21, 2005, LA Times)

At moments like this, you had to remind yourself McCain is on a book tour. Such a popular book tour that a seasoned media advisor for President Bush, Mark McKinnon, who once worked for liberal Democrats, joined McCain at book signings in three Texas cities earlier this month and has told McCain he might be available to help with a presidential run in 2008, according to McCain staffers. [...]

Will Bush loyalists in the Republican Party ever forgive McCain for upstaging Bush early in the 2000 primaries? Or, more recently, for forcing Bush to yield to his amendment spelling out a ban on torture, after reports that CIA operatives were running secret detention centers overseas?

Some Bush camp followers apparently found forgiveness in their hearts. As McCain moved through Texas, media strategist McKinnon accompanied McCain to book signings in Austin, San Antonio and Houston, a McCain aide said.

McKinnon helped arrange a dinner in Austin that included James R. Huffines, chairman of the University of Texas System Board of Regents and a senior advisor to Texas Gov. Rick Perry; rock singer Sheryl Crow; and her fiancé, Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

McKinnon, who puzzled some of his oldest friends when he went to work shaping Bush's media campaign for 2000 and again in 2004, has told McCain staffers he would be interested in assisting a McCain run in 2008, provided that a candidate preferred by Bush doesn't run, a McCain aide said.

The aide said McKinnon was an "informal advisor" to McCain; McCain said he considers McKinnon a friend.

"I told the senator, as I've told the president, that if McCain chooses to run, and if people close to the president don't run, specifically Jeb Bush or Condi Rice, then I would be inclined to support him," McKinnon wrote in an e-mail, when asked about his relationship with McCain.

"I got to know the senator [McCain] when he campaigned for the president in 2004. I admire him, I respect him and I like him," McKinnon wrote. "I was glad to help facilitate a recent book-signing trip through Texas."

Karl isn't far behind.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


Cameron meeting puts Labour in a spin (HAMISH MACDONELL, 12/21/05, The Scotsman)

JACK McConnell triggered a damaging rift with his colleagues in London yesterday when he held a ground-breaking meeting with David Cameron to discuss how his Labour-led Executive would work with a Tory government at Westminster.

Labour MPs reacted with surprise and dismay to the meeting. One Labour MP said he had hoped the First Minister "would have been a bit more sensible", criticising him for giving credibility to the idea of a Tory victory at the next general election.

Mr Cameron was making his first visit to Scotland since becoming the Tory leader.

He made a point of coming to the Scottish Parliament - which Tony Blair has failed to visit - and had a short private meeting with Mr McConnell.

Obviously early, but Mr. Cameron is carrying himself awfully well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 AM


Navy diver's killer held in Beirut (Nicholas Kralev and Gary Emerling, December 21, 2005, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

The Lebanese killer of a U.S. Navy diver was in custody in Beirut yesterday, according to U.S. officials who decried his release from a German prison last week and pledged to bring him to the United States for trial.

Relatives of the victim -- Waldorf, Md., native Robert Dean Stethem -- said yesterday they were "devastated" to learn of the killer's release and urged the Bush administration to demand an explanation from Germany.

"Just to see him free slays us," said Richard Stethem, father of the seaman whose beaten body was thrown onto a Beirut runway in 1985. [...]

A life sentence in Germany ranges between 20 and 25 years, with the possibility of parole after 15 years. Hamadi, now 41, was convicted in 1989, and the two years served prior to that were deemed part of his sentence. [...]

A senior State Department official said Hamadi was in "temporary custody" in Lebanon, although it was not clear where or when he was arrested.

Mr. McCormack said Washington was "talking to the Lebanese government" about bringing him to the United States, but that the issue was complicated by the lack of an extradition treaty with Lebanon.

Germany refused to extradite Hamadi to the United States because he could face the death penalty. It also argues that he has been punished for his crime....

Maybe Morgenthau had a point...

Gonzales Asked Germany to Hold Hijacker (ANNE GEARAN, December 21, 2005, AP)

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales personally asked the German government not to release a terrorist accused of killing a Navy diver, but was rebuffed, the Bush administration said Wednesday.

Mohammed Ali Hamadi was freed on parole by German authorities after serving 19 years of a life sentence for the 1985 hijacking of a TWA plane during which a U.S. Navy diver was killed. The 17-day ordeal riveted the United States and brought Middle East terrorism home for many Americans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Defending Science by Defining It (David Brown and Rick Weiss, December 21, 2005, Washington Post)

The ruling gives two arguments for why intelligent design is not science but is, in the judge's words, "an old religious argument for the existence of God."

The first is that intelligent design invokes "a supernatural designer," while science, by definition, deals only with natural phenomena. Second, the court found that intelligent design suffers from blatant flaws in logic, one of the chief tools of science.

Since the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, "science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena," Jones writes, noting that the scientific revolution was explicitly about the rejection of "revelation" in favor of empirical evidence.

Since then, he writes, "science has been a discipline in which testability, rather than any ecclesiastical authority or philosophical coherence, has been the measure of a scientific idea's worth."

As part of that fact-based approach, Jones emphasizes, science goes out of its way to avoid a search for "meaning" or "purpose."

By contrast, intelligent design's views on how the world got to be the way it is offer no testable facts, choosing instead to rely on authoritative statements.

You can hardly make this stuff up. In the first place, he simply makes an authoritative statement himself, defining science in such a way that it banishes even the study of the Big Bang, which is by definition supernatural, having created Nature. As a logical matter, he's trapped himself in a tautology: only natural causes can be considered in science, therefore anything outside of Nature is unscientific, irrespective of whether it impacts phenomena. Truly, ignorance is bliss.

As to the notion that explanations of evolution are scientific, in the sense the judge contends,the greatest Darwinist of all time disposed of that one himself:

Darwin founded a new branch of life science, evolutionary biology. Four of his contributions to evolutionary biology are especially important, as they held considerable sway beyond that discipline. The first is the non-constancy of species, or the modern conception of evolution itself. The second is the notion of branching evolution, implying the common descent of all species of living things on earth from a single unique origin. Up until 1859, all evolutionary proposals, such as that of naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, instead endorsed linear evolution, a teleological march toward greater perfection that had been in vogue since Aristotle's concept of Scala Naturae, the chain of being. Darwin further noted that evolution must be gradual, with no major breaks or discontinuities. Finally, he reasoned that the mechanism of evolution was natural selection.

These four insights served as the foundation for Darwin's founding of a new branch of the philosophy of science, a philosophy of biology. Despite the passing of a century before this new branch of philosophy fully developed, its eventual form is based on Darwinian concepts. For example, Darwin introduced historicity into science. Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science - the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain. [...]

One of the surprising things that I discovered in my work on the philosophy of biology is that when it comes to the physical sciences, any new theory is based on a law, on a natural law. Yet as several leading philosophers have stated, and I agree with them, there are no laws in biology like those of physics. Biologists often use the word law, but for something to be a law, it has to have no exceptions. A law must be beyond space and time, and therefore it cannot be specific. Every general truth in biology though is specific. Biological "laws" are restricted to certain parts of the living world, or certain localized situations, and they are restricted in time. So we can say that their are no laws in biology, except in functional biology which, as I claim, is much closer to the physical sciences, than the historical science of evolution.

Of course, Darwin too acknowledged that his theory wasn't based on any evidence, just faith:
When we descend to details, we can prove that no one species has changed (i.e. we cannot prove that a single species has changed): nor can we prove that the supposed changes are beneficial, which is the groundwork of the theory. Nor can we explain why some species have changed and others have not.

...and was explicit, if accidentally so, that his motivation for inventing the theory was simply theological:
With respect to the theological view of the question. This is always painful to me. I am bewildered. I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.

This escape from God is why Darwin was embraced, as Edward Larson explains in his fine book, Evolution:
By the 1870s, Darwin was an international celebrity. Even if people did not believe they descended from apes, they talked about it--and about Darwin. And for many of those who did believe, Darwin became a kind of secular prophet or high priest. Secluded in his remote country home at Downe, perpetually ill or supposedly so according to some, Darwin played the part of hermit sage receiving favored guests on his own terms. [...] Surveying the scene, Huxley sent Darwin a sketch of a kneeling supplicant paying homage at the shrine of Pope Darwin. Given their almost visceral contempt for Catholicism, both Huxley and Darwin surely enjoyed the irony.

Hardly a surprise then that 150 years on, Darwinism serves no scientific function, only a political one. And, in politics in a democracy, the minority never prevails for long.

MORE (via Tom Corcoran):
It’s God or Darwin: Competing designs (David Klinghoffer, 12/21/05, National Review)

Tuesday's ruling by a federal judge in Pennsylvania, disparaging intelligent design as a religion-based and therefore false science, raises an important question: If ID is bogus because many of its theorists have religious beliefs to which the controversial critique of Darwinism lends support, then what should we say about Darwinism itself? After all, many proponents of Darwinian evolution have philosophical beliefs to which Darwin lends support. [...]

In fact, both Darwin and design have metaphysical implications and are expressions of a certain kind of faith. ID theorists are not willing to submit to the assumption that material stuff is the only reality. Darwinism takes the opposite view, materialism, which assumes there can never be a supernatural reality.

In this it only follows Charles Darwin, who wrote the Origin of Species as an exercise in seeking to explain how life could have got to be the way it is without recourse to divine creative activity.

The judge's decision is anticonstitutional precisely because it establishes a state religion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Presidential Prosperity Games (Robert J. Samuelson, December 21, 2005, Washington Post)

The economy is strong, but Bush isn't the cause. Consider some standard economic statistics:

For the past three years, gross domestic product (the economy's output) has grown at an annual rate of nearly 4 percent -- almost as good as the late 1990s.

Payroll jobs have increased by nearly 4.5 million since May 2003.

The unemployment rate of 5 percent is lower than the average for the 1990s (5.7 percent).

Productivity -- output per hour worked -- has been rising at a 3.3 percent rate since early 2003, faster than even the 1995-2000 average of 2.7 percent.

Good stuff. The White House's bubbly appraisal isn't just fluff. Households' net worth -- what people own minus what they owe -- is a record $51 trillion. If today's economic performance continued forever, we'd all be blessed. The trouble (for the White House, at least) is that many Americans don't seem impressed. In November, the Conference Board's consumer confidence index stood at 98.9, where an index of 100 indicates confidence levels in 1985. In 1985 unemployment was 7.2 percent.

To his credit, Mr. Samuelson writes the same column when presidents are being blamed for sketchy economic conditions, but no one listens then either. This is W's boom, even if he owes it all to Reagan and Volcker.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


Chinese Police Bring Villagers To Heel After Latest Uprising (Edward Cody, 12/21/05, Washington Post )

Two weeks after a protest that culminated in gunfire and bloodshed, the rebellious farmers and fishermen of Dongzhou have been reduced to submission. Authorities have sealed off the seaside village and flooded its streets and lanes with police patrols, residents said, and an unknown number of men have been summoned by a knock on the door and hauled away for interrogation.

As a result, the spirit of defiance that pushed several thousand villagers to clash with riot troops and People's Armed Police on Dec. 6 has been replaced by fear, foreboding and resentment, according to conversations with a number of residents. Normal life has been suspended inside the community, they said, and outsiders who approached Monday were halted by police at a barrier with a sign that read: "Entry Not Allowed."

"We seldom go outside our houses anymore," said one villager contacted by telephone. "We seldom talk to other villagers. People are afraid to, because the police are patrolling all around the village. We are afraid that if we get together, they might arrest us for some reason or another."

Dongzhou, on the southeast edge of Shanwei city about 125 miles northeast of Hong Kong, has come under a wave of repression.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


Revenue Is Starting to Burn Holes in States' Pockets: Fiscal Posture Turns Around (T.R. Reid, December 21, 2005, Washington Post)

A $300 million tax refund in Hawaii. A full day of kindergarten for every 5-year-old in Delaware. A light-rail line from Denver's airport to downtown. Cheap health insurance for middle-class families in Illinois. Property tax cuts in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. A new tram lift for Wyoming's biggest ski resort.

With legislatures from Augusta to Honolulu due to gather next month to approve spending for fiscal 2007, the states are awash in proposals such as these to take advantage of budget surpluses. After four tough years of tax increases and budget cuts, state governments are cautiously starting to spend again amid climbing tax revenues.

"Revenues improved notably in fiscal 2005, enabling many states to begin restoring funding to programs cut during the previous economic downturn," noted a Fiscal Survey of the States issued yesterday by the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers.

When they faced budget shortfalls after the Greenspan slowdown of '00-'01, we were supposed to feel sorry for them and throw federal money their way. Now they're awash in money again and right back to squandering it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


In Still-Busy Senate, Showdown Is Today (CARL HULSE, 12/21/05, NY Times)

Some are calling it Fristmastime on Capitol Hill.

Five days before the holiday, the Senate remains at work, poised for decisive votes Wednesday on major legislation. The results will determine whether the Congressional session ends on a triumphal note for Republicans, or whether Democrats will celebrate blocking Republican priorities like Arctic oil drilling and spending cuts.

"It is make it or break it," Senator Mel Martinez of Florida said Tuesday as he left a closed lunch where Republicans, led by the majority leader, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, had laid out strategy for the next 24 hours. [...]

The crucial votes now at hand deal not only with Arctic oil drilling and budget cuts but also with wartime military spending, Pentagon policy, and education and health care appropriations. Both parties have been marshaling their forces, making certain all senators will be on hand Wednesday. Democrats checked Tuesday on the status of Senators Jon Corzine, who is busy preparing to take office as governor of New Jersey, and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, who is recovering from knee surgery. Vice President Dick Cheney cut short a trip to South Asia and the Middle East so that he would be present if his vote was needed to break any ties.

Veteran legislators say that preholiday theater is not unusual and that Congressional leaders often use the calendar to try to enact measures that would never pass otherwise.

"I have been here 27 years, including, I think, two of those years on Christmas Eve," said Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia. "I actually observed fisticuffs between two of the most respected Republican senators ever to serve in this body on Christmas Eve."

As for Mr. Frist, he said he had no problem with working this close to the holiday.

"I used to be a surgeon," he said. "People got sick all the time on the 20th, the 21st."

If you ever wondered how the Democrats went from the majority to 40%, just look at what "victory" would mean for them and how it defines their party: more spending, higher taxes and gas prices, and weaker national security.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Irish most happy, Brits most unhappy with EU (Teresa Küchler, 12/20/05, EUOBSERVER)

Support for the EU is declining among the union's citizens, according to a new commission survey, while Europeans generally back the idea of an EU constitution and reject Turkish EU accession.

The "Autumn Standard Eurobarometer", presented on Tuesday (20 December) reveals that an average of 50 percent of European citizens consider EU membership of their country "a good thing", down from 54 percent in spring this year. [...]

Of the 25 member states, Austria and the UK appear the most eurosceptic, with just 32 percent of Austrians and 33 percent of Brits saying EU membership is a good thing for their country, followed by Latvia (36 percent), Finland (38 percent) and Sweden and Hungary (both 39 percent).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


Damon jumps to Yankees (Gordon Edes and Chris Snow, December 21, 2005, Boston Globe)

A Red Sox offseason of discontent and upheaval took another shocking turn last night when free agent center fielder Johnny Damon, who had achieved rock star status in Boston, defected to the New York Yankees, agreeing in principle to a four-year, $52 million contract that will become official when he passes a physical.

He'll remind Yankee fans of Bernie Williams...of the last two years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM

SOME FOLKS NEED KILLING (via Bryan Francoeur):

Cops say woman, son held by rapist for two days (Norman Miller, December 21, 2005, Boston Herald)

A lucky break probably saved the life of a Framingham woman who was kidnapped and viciously raped in front of her toddler son over nearly 48 hours, police say.

The woman’s nightmare ordeal only ended after she mouthed “help me” to a Plymouth liquor store clerk who happened to be a domestic violence counselor. The clerk called 911, leading to the woman’s dramatic rescue and the arrest of Evandro Doirado, 28, of Framingham. [...]

It began Saturday when, police said, Doirado believed he had stabbed a man to death in a botched drug deal.

“He wanted to ‘enjoy himself’ before he went to prison. Those are his words,” said Lt. Vincent Alfano. “Before I go to jail, I want to have a good time.’ ” Doirado picked out his victim at random in a Wal-Mart parking lot, Alfano said. “He approached her and kidnapped her by force with the child in the backseat.” Doirado drove the woman around Framingham, raping her several times and forcing her to withdraw $500 from an ATM machine. She was raped first in the parking lot of an apartment complex in Framingham then again in the lot of a Stop & Shop in Natick. She was also raped at a McDonald’s parking lot, but police said the woman does not recall where they were. Doriado made the woman drive to Plymouth, where he checked into the Pilgrim Sands motel, Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz said.

“He basically committed unspeakable acts against her over two days,” Cruz said. “This is your worst nightmare here.”

And now, because it's the "humane thing" to do, her tax dollars go to support Doirado for the rest of his natural life.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Most dog bites aren't serious and can be avoided (Linda Wilson Fuoco, December 21, 2005, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Teetering between fraud and the self-obvious.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:04 AM


Stop apologising for being Christian (Simon Heffer, The Telegraph, December 21st, 2005)

So, in common with many who have suffered from the secularisation of the European mind since the mid-19th century, I must make my way down the Cresta Run to the grave without the considerable comfort of religion. However, as I do so, I rejoice wholeheartedly as an atheist that I live in a Christian culture, and I know that, in that undeniably hypocritical act, I am not alone.

Indeed, it is not just those who, like me, were born into Christian families who feel this way: so do many Muslims and Jews, and it is one of the reasons that they are so happy to live in our country and be surrounded by that culture.

It is bewildering, therefore, that there should apparently be people here who take such offence at Christmas, and against whom a brace of archbishops feel the need to take up their croziers. I suspect they are very few in number and exert an influence far in excess of their real strength. Like all extremists and bullies, they deserve no tolerance at all.

They might merit some of our pity: if they shut themselves off from the Christian culture, whether from the beauty of the liturgy, the serenity of church music, or from admiring the reticulated tracery of an east window, then their lives can only be deeply impoverished. They must also conduct a pretence that some of our most fundamental institutions are expressly Christian: notably our monarchy, and the Established Church of which our monarch is Supreme Governor. Parliament still begins each day's deliberations with prayers.

Our oldest schools and universities have intrinsic links with the Anglican Church. Our very system of justice is implicitly Christian. Our history is Christian since the dawn of the seventh century. More to the point, it is by the will of the majority, in our democracy, that all this remains so.[...]

The modern Left exercises a militant anti-Christianity not so much because of a cultural cringe in the face of immigrant minorities, but because of its general wish to dismantle history. Once you have erased Christianity, you have erased (or at least made appear irrelevant) much of the past 1,400 years. "Modernisation" in all its political forms is about the tabula rasa, and there are few ways of creating one of those so effective as the destruction of the traditional faith.

These are the noble sentiments of a civilized man, but it is hard to be overly-cheered by the thought that the future of Western civilization lies in the hands of decent atheists trying to defend their Christian heritage.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 5:58 AM


Canada-US relations: Why can’t we be friends?" (Brian Russell, Globe and Mail, December 20th, 2005)

Canada-U.S. relations are at their worst since the early 1960s, perhaps ever. One need only look quickly at the raft of concerns that have caused friction in the past five years to see the pattern - missile defence, softwood lumber, border security, beef, Iraq..... need I go on?[...]

The answer is not an economic one, it is social and cultural; the two countries are moving further apart. On almost every important social issue you can think of the U.S as a nation (not just its government) is, or has moved, to the right while Canada has not. Regional differences matter, but on major social issues the U.S is a more conservative, southern country than ever before. It is also taking a view of its role in the world that is both narrower (for us or against us) and broader (democratic evangelism) at the same time.

The result of this disconnect is a much stronger distrust on both sides of the border. More Canadians regard the U.S. as the home of rabid fanatics and more Americans regard Canada as host to virtual pacifist socialism. This distrust has led to animosity in Canada against any intimation of American dominance or leadership and a knee-jerk anti-Americanism. It has also led to an increasing isolation of Canada in the corridors of power in Washington and a concomitant diminution of influence.

The problem of distrust and ignorance is spreading its tentacles into every aspect of the relationship. The most obvious examples are economic, but the reason the Prime Minister feels it is good politics to America-bash is because it is. It speaks to a significant stream in Canada's national consciousness. This stream is soon to become a dangerous whitewater rafting destination unless it is diverted and emptied, not by passive acquiescence but by a new commitment to reality on both sides.[...]

Canada and the U.S. need to throw out the hoary stereotypes and develop a new relationship based on a shared understanding of what each is today. Both sides need to challenge their assumptions about the other and look beyond the past. A binational dialogue and increases in exchanges would be a start. This new relationship may not be warm and fuzzy, but it will certainly be more realistic and productive. After the initial shock wears off, we might actually like each other.

Dialogue and exchanges, that’s the ticket. In the spirit of improving cross-border relations, Brothersjudd is pleased to announce we will be hosting a workshop on Canadian-American relations, at which Orrin Judd, Robert Schwartz and Raoul Ortega will try to help their Canadian neighbours shed a few hoary stereotypes about rabid fanatics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Cranberry-Pecan Quick Bread (The Splendid Table)

From The New England Table by Lora Brody. © 2005 by Lora Brody. Used with permission of Chronicle Books LLC, San Francisco, CA.

Makes 1 loaf

* 2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
* 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
* 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
* 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick; 3 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
* 2/3 cup (6 ounces) buttermilk (see note)
* Finely grated zest and juice of 1 large navel orange
* 1 extra-large egg
* 2/3 cup (5.34 ounces) granulated sugar
* 1 cup (4 ounces) fresh or frozen whole cranberries, coarsely chopped
* 3/4 cup (3 ounces) pecans, toasted (see note) and coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350°F with the rack in the center position. Butter an 8 1/2-by-4-by-2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Dust with flour and shake the pan to coat the inside. Knock out the excess. Set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cloves, and cardamom into a medium mixing bowl. Set aside. Combine the melted butter, buttermilk, and orange zest and juice in a small bowl. Set aside.

Use a whisk or a handheld or stand mixer on high speed to beat together the egg and sugar in a large mixing bowl until they are thick and light yellow in color. Whisk in or beat in on low speed the melted butter mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula several times during the mixing. Stir or mix in the flour mixture and finally the cranberries and nuts just to combine. Pour and scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top with the rubber spatula.

Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the bread cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn the loaf out onto the rack. Set it right side up to cool completely before slicing.

The baked and cooled loaf can be stored at room temperature, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 2 days, or refrigerated for up to 1 week. It may also be frozen for up to 3 months.

Note: Powdered buttermilk, found in the baking section of most supermarkets, eliminates the need to keep fresh buttermilk in the refrigerator. Simply add to your recipe with the dry ingredients the amount of powder specified on the package, then substitute water for the buttermilk called for in the recipe. Store the powdered buttermilk in the refrigerator for up to 1 year.

Note: To toast pecans, preheat the oven to 350°F with the rack in the center position. Place the nuts on a heavy-duty, rimmed baking sheet in a single layer and bake, stirring occasionally, until they are golden brown and fragrant, 10 to 12 minutes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Jazz Gem Made in '57 Is a Favorite of 2005 (BEN RATLIFF, 12/21/05, NY Times)

My favorite jazz record released this year, and one of my favorites of any year, was made in 1957. I first heard "Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall" (Blue Note) at the Library of Congress in April, after the news of its discovery had been made public. It sounded pretty good then, but you can never really tell when hearing something over a high-quality sound system in front of interested parties. I have listened to it repeatedly since, and it seems to be much better than I first thought - solid, juicy, truly great.

Another of the year's new jazz records - John Coltrane's "One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note" (Impulse) - was made in 1965. It disqualifies itself from consideration for my list of the year's best jazz albums only because it has been heard, in bits and pieces, on illegal tapes for 40 years. (I got mine from a great saxophonist who wanted to spread the word.) But it is also, I think, a masterpiece.

There's a reason why these records stand out as the year's best, and I get the sense that many people feel they know that reason.

They believe, or have heard, that jazz crinkled up and collapsed after Coltrane. That the musicians have defaulted on audiences, going deep into their own heads instead. That there's been no successor, because Coltrane broke the mold, threw away the key, set the bar too high, stretched the envelope as far as it would go, established a holding pattern, and other truth-obscuring clichés.

It would simplify things, but no. In fact, I don't think the reason has much to do with Coltrane per se - other than the obvious fact that he made superior music. (He did create a few stock models in jazz that persisted for an impressively long period after his death, but that's a different matter.)

These are among the year's great albums because they are high-quality proofs of one of jazz's basic properties: the possibility for transcendence on the gig, for a great band to be even better. This is true in any kind of music, but it is much more true in jazz.

December 20, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 PM


1st Amendment 'doesn't create church-state wall of separation' (, December 20, 2005)

Writing for the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Richard Suhrheinrich said the ACLU's "repeated reference 'to the separation of church and state' ... has grown tiresome. The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state."

Suhrheinrich wrote: "The ACLU, an organization whose mission is 'to ensure that ... the government [is kept] out of the religion business,' does not embody the reasonable person."

The court said a reasonable observer of Mercer County's display appreciates "the role religion has played in our governmental institutions, and finds it historically appropriate and traditionally acceptable for a state to include religious influences, even in the form of sacred texts, in honoring American traditions."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 PM


Germany frees killer of U.S. diver (Chris Burns, 12/20/05, CNN)

A Hezbollah militant sentenced to life in Germany for murdering a U.S. Navy diver during the 1985 hijacking of a U.S. jetliner has been freed, officials said.

The German government denied on Tuesday the release was related to the freeing of a German hostage in Iraq.

At least when the Italians bought their hostage there was a chance the money might not end up being successfully spent to kill Americans, the Germans traded a guy who already has.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 PM

YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN, TOMMY (via Rick Turley):

We won't be seen to support the war, says M&S as it refuses to send gifts to British troops (Colin Freeman in Baghdad and Jasper Copping, 18/12/2005, Daily Telegraph)

[W]ith Christmas just around the corner, soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment wrote to five leading stores back home and asked for some stocking-fillers to give the troops next weekend.

But not only were they dismayed to get nothing more than a solitary teddy bear from Harrods, they have been told by Marks & Spencer that it cannot give them any gifts in case it is seen as support for the war.

James Norrie, the M&S customer services manager wrote: "We do appreciate that work like yours is very valuable but unfortunately it is simply not possible for us to support every request. Please be assured that community work is very important to us."

But when contacted by the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Norrie insisted that the request had been properly considered, adding: "The letter I sent was what I had been instructed to send by my supervisor, who said we couldn't send anything out as it would look like we would be supporting the war in Iraq. To my understanding, we can't be seen to be supporting the Labour Government's war."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 PM


Foxman: Spielberg's 'Munich' treats Israel fairly (HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, Dec. 20, 2005, Jerusalem Post)

Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman on Tuesday defended Steven Spielberg's new film Munich from criticism that it morally equates Israel with terrorists and is historically inaccurate.

"We do not think this is an attack on Israel. We do not think this is a film of moral equivalency," Foxman told a group of journalists.

Next time put Jim Caviezel in a kaffiya and Abe Foxman will help you sell tickets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM


Stalin's half-man, half-ape super-warriors (CHRIS STEPHEN AND ALLAN HALL, 12/20/05, The Scotsman)

THE Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the creation of Planet of the Apes-style warriors by crossing humans with apes, according to recently uncovered secret documents.

Moscow archives show that in the mid-1920s Russia's top animal breeding scientist, Ilya Ivanov, was ordered to turn his skills from horse and animal work to the quest for a super-warrior.

According to Moscow newspapers, Stalin told the scientist: "I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat."

The problem with Homo Sovieticus was one of the soul, not the genes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 PM


Bush’s Snoopgate: The president was so desperate to kill The New York Times’ eavesdropping story, he summoned the paper’s editor and publisher to the Oval Office. But it wasn’t just out of concern about national security. (Jonathan Alter, 12/26/05, Newsweek)

No wonder Bush was so desperate that The New York Times not publish its story on the National Security Agency eavesdropping on American citizens without a warrant, in what lawyers outside the administration say is a clear violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. I learned this week that on December 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story. The Times will not comment on the meeting, but one can only imagine the president’s desperation.

The problem was not that the disclosures would compromise national security, as Bush claimed at his press conference. His comparison to the damaging pre-9/11 revelation of Osama bin Laden’s use of a satellite phone, which caused bin Laden to change tactics, is fallacious; any Americans with ties to Muslim extremists—in fact, all American Muslims, period—have long since suspected that the U.S. government might be listening in to their conversations.

Isn't the real problem that the Americal Left both didn't think we were listening to those with ties to extremists and thinks it not a normal and predictable thing to do in wartime?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 PM


Big Enough To Know Better: China has grown for three decades at a pace no other country has ever sustained. But 2006 may be the year when we begin to see problems. (Fareed Zakaria, 12/26/05, Newsweek)

Most people don't really understand China's economic story. It looks like an oxymoron: central planning that works. As a result, many assume that, like Japan in the 1980s, China will stumble and collapse. But this misreads the two situations. Japan was a relatively small country that had become a huge economy by turning very modern. In that era its per capita GDP was almost the same as America's, about $30,000. But growing a supersophisticated economy required that every aspect of Japan's society be modern. As it turned out, there was much in Japan, from its banking system to its politics, that was not.

China is a different story. Its per capita GDP, even after this revision, is just $1,700. At some point, it will face all the kinds of problems Japan did. But well before that, it will surely be able to double its GDP to $3,400 per capita, which would bring it up to Brazil's level. When that happens, China, because it has 1.3 billion people, will be the second largest economy in the world. Size matters.

Why? Why does the agglomeration of an enormous number of poor people into one unsustainable administrative unit matter, other than in negative terms for that state?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 PM


Fiddling After Paris Burned: A month after widespread riots, France's efforts to address the 'root causes' of the unrest are looking more and more like purely cosmetic changes. (Eric Pape and Christopher Dickey, 12/20/05, Newsweek International)

For now, at least, the fires have died out—but an acrid bitterness still hangs in the air. Ask those on the football pitch behind the high wire fences of Montfermeil. Year after year, coach Kaddor Slimane, a son of Algerian immigrants who grew up in neighboring projects, has seen his teams win their league's sportsmanship award. Yet what does their good behavior mean in the "outside" world, where they are seen through the lens of limitations and stereotypes? "The French are racist," he says. "They just don't want to admit it." Life in the projects isn't so bad when you are a child, says Amad, a 24-year-old community activist who declined to give his last name for fear of racist attacks. "But once you reach a certain age, you're fed up. There's nothing to do except play soccer or hang out," in voiceless exile from the "other" France.

The politicians whose inaction and confusion (and seeming indifference) contributed to the violence, on the other hand, have rediscovered their voices. Almost as if the riots never happened, many are once again speaking in familiar platitudes and posturing about law and order. "All those who participated in the riots will have to pay, today or tomorrow," France's Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy declared on Dec. 15 at an homage to injured police and firefighters. Then he waded into the crowd, alongside his political rival, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, for handshakes and photos.

For a brief moment, in the immediate aftermath of the riots, genuine change seemed possible.

To whom? Did anyone really think watching minorities explode in anger was going to make the French less nativist?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:22 PM


Transit union calls strike in NYC (Desmond Butler, December 20, 2005, Associated Press)

Subways and buses ground to a halt Tuesday morning as transit workers walked off the job at the height of the holiday shopping and tourist season, forcing millions of riders to find new ways to get around.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had said the strike would cost the city as much as $400 million a day, joined the throngs of people crossing the Brooklyn Bridge as he walked from a Brooklyn emergency headquarters to City Hall.

"It's a form of terrorism, if you ask me,'' said Maria Negron, who walked across the bridge. "I hope they go back to work.''

No political issue is more important to America's future than breaking the public service unions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:17 PM


A shortstop solution (David Lefort, 12/20/05,

Tony Graffanino surprisingly accepted the Red Sox’ arbitration offer on Monday, meaning he is essentially signed for 2006 (though the Sox could trade or release him during spring training). His return creates a logjam at second base, with the newly acquired Mark Loretta already penciled in as the starter.

Where does that leave Graffanino? One option is to make him a utilityman, though Alex Cora seems a better fit in that role. Another possibility the Sox should consider is to move either Loretta or Graffanino to shortstop, a position both have played at some point during their careers.

On the surface, moving someone across the infield to play such an important position doesn’t seem like a good idea; but consider the facts ...

# Defense: Graffanino and Loretta have made a combined 421 appearances at shortstop, with Loretta owning the lion’s share with 328. Graffanino made 13 errors in 339 chances (.962 fielding percentage, which is eight points better than Renteria’s 2005 percentage), and Loretta had 21 errors in 1,213 chances. Only two shortstops in major league baseball last season had a better fielding percentage than Loretta’s career .983 mark at short. Let that sink in for a minute.

What about zone rating and range factor? Both Graffanino and Loretta have similar numbers in those categories (at the shortstop position) as Gonzalez, who is considered one of the best defensive shortstops in the National League.

There's just no getting around that career .290 on-base percentage for Alex Gonzalez.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:23 PM


Bush Insists on Tools to Fight Terror: The president sharply defends domestic spying without court approval and calls Senate's failure to renew the Patriot Act 'inexcusable.' (Edwin Chen and Janet Hook, December 20, 2005, LA Times)

In an unusually personal challenge, he called on Democratic senators from California, Nevada and New York to justify their votes to delay the law's extension. "I want senators from New York or Los Angeles or Las Vegas to go home and explain why these cities are safer," Bush said.

Bush's pugnacious performance in the nearly hourlong news conference seemed a contrast to Sunday evening, when he delivered a televised speech on the war in Iraq that was notable for its conciliatory tone toward his critics.

On Monday, the president was talking not about Iraq, on which his policies are widely unpopular, but about law enforcement measures against suspected terrorists in the United States — an issue on which he has won, and held, consistent public support.

With such a large majority of Americans and a majority in the Congress supporting renewal of the Patriot Act he could hardly pick a better issue to face off with the Democratic leadership over.

President Takes the Offensive With Press (Michael A. Fletcher, December 20, 2005, Washington Post)

News conferences have never been President Bush's favorite venue, which is probably the main reason he's held fewer than any modern president. But any discomfort he felt yesterday was for the most part well concealed.

In the face of repeated skeptical questions on the Iraq war and whether he acted within the law in ordering a domestic spying program, Bush apparently decided that a passionate offense was his best defense. In a morning event in the White House East Room, he answered questions for 56 minutes, sometimes conveying humor, sometimes impatience, but never anything less than full confidence in his own answers. [...]

The morning's dominant impression was of a president who feels so strongly about his own presidential prerogatives that he was ready to take on all comers who might disagree.

CIVIL LIBERTIES & SECURITY: DEMS FOR TERROR (Dick Morris, December 20, 2005, NY Post)
ANYONE who wonders whether the Democratic Party in general and Sen. Hillary Clinton in particular are really tough on terror — or are just posing for the cameras — needs to look at the vote by the entire Democratic Senate delegation (excepting only Nebraska's Ben Nelson and South Dakota's Tim Johnson) to prevent closure of their filibuster against the Patriot Act extension. [...]

One of the key provisions due to expire in two weeks is one that President Bill Clinton presented as the cornerstone of his response to the escalation of terrorism in the wake of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

The measure allows "roving wiretaps" — so that the FBI can tap all phones a suspect uses, rather than just one specific number. Hillary's vote to let this provision expire is incredible.

Back in the '90s, the Republican-controlled Congress refused to enact the legislation promptly — and the Clintons excoriated the GOP for dragging its feet on this vital proposal.

It's no coincidence that Larry Craig is the leader of Republicans opposing the current measure, his state being a locus of white separatist movements.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:12 PM


Spending Cuts May Require Cheney Tiebreaker (ANDREW TAYLOR, 12/20/05, Associated Press)

A Senate vote on a deficit-reduction bill looks to be so tight that Vice President
Dick Cheney was rushing home from an overseas diplomatic mission to be the tiebreaker for saving one of the Bush administration's top priorities.

The showdown vote loomed on the bill, which would cut some federal benefits and trim budget deficits by $40 billion through the end of the decade.

Cheney was in Pakistan Tuesday to check on U.S. aid to victims of an October earthquake that killed as estimated 75,000 people. He also met with President Pervez Musharraf.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:08 PM


Schwarzenegger to Hometown: Remove My Name ( JENNIFER COLEMAN, 12/20/05, Associated Press)

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday told officials in his hometown in Austria to remove his name from a sports stadium and stop using his identity to promote the city.

The governor's request came after politicians in Graz began a petition drive to rename the stadium, reacting to Schwarzenegger's decision last week to deny clemency to condemned inmate Stanley Tookie Williams. Opposition to the death penalty is strong in Austria.

In a letter that began ``Dear Mister Mayor,'' Schwarzenegger said he decided to spare the Graz city council ``further concern'' should he be forced to make other clemency decisions while he's governor. Another inmate is scheduled to be executed in California Jan. 17.

``In all likelihood, during my term as governor, I will have to make similar and equally difficult decisions,'' Schwarzenegger said in the letter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


Judge Bars 'Intelligent Design' From Pa. Classes (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 12/20/05)

"Intelligent design" cannot be mentioned in biology classes in a Pennsylvania public school district, a federal judge said Tuesday, ruling in one of the biggest courtroom clashes on evolution since the 1925 Scopes trial.

Dover Area School Board members violated the Constitution when they ordered that its biology curriculum must include the notion that life on Earth was produced by an unidentified intelligent cause, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III said. [...]

Jones wrote that he wasn't saying the intelligent design concept shouldn't be studied and discussed, saying its advocates "have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors."

But, he wrote, "our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom."

Thou shalt have no other God but Darwin....

MORE (via Dale Light):
Is string theory in trouble? (Amanda Gefter, 17 December 2005,

Ever since Albert Einstein wondered whether the world might have been different, physicists have been searching for a “theory of everything” to explain why the universe is the way it is. Now string theory, one of today's leading candidates, is in trouble. A growing number of physicists claim it is ill-defined and based on crude assumptions. Something fundamental is missing, they say. The main complaint is that rather than describing one universe, the theory describes 10500, each with different constants of nature, even different laws of physics.

But the inventor of string theory, physicist Leonard Susskind, sees this “landscape” of universes as a solution rather than a problem.

Is it premature to invoke anthropic arguments - which assume that the conditions for life are extremely improbable - when we don't know how to define life?

The logic of the anthropic principle requires the strong assumption that our kind of life is the only kind possible. Why should we presume that all life is like us - carbon-based, needs water, and so forth? How do we know that life cannot exist in radically different environments? If life could exist without galaxies, the argument that the cosmological constant seems improbably fine-tuned for life would lose all of its force. And we don't know that life of all kinds can't exist in a wide variety of circumstances, maybe in all circumstances. It a valid objection. But in my heart of hearts, I just don't believe that life could exist in the interior of a star, for instance, or in a black hole.

Is it possible to test the landscape idea through observation?

One idea is to look for signs that space is negatively curved, meaning the geometry of space-time is saddle-shaped as opposed to flat or like the surface of a sphere. It's a long shot but not as unlikely as I previously thought. Inflation tells us that our observable universe likely began in a different vacuum state, that decayed into our current vacuum state. It's hard to believe that's the whole story. It seems more probable that our universe began in some other vacuum state with a much higher cosmological constant, and that the history of the multiverse is a series of quantum tunnelling events from one vacuum to another. If our universe came out of another, it must be negatively curved, and we might see evidence of that today on the largest scales of the cosmic microwave background. So the landscape, at least in principle, is testable.

If we do not accept the landscape idea are we stuck with intelligent design?

I doubt that physicists will see it that way. If, for some unforeseen reason, the landscape turns out to be inconsistent - maybe for mathematical reasons, or because it disagrees with observation - I am pretty sure that physicists will go on searching for natural explanations of the world. But I have to say that if that happens, as things stand now we will be in a very awkward position. Without any explanation of nature's fine-tunings we will be hard pressed to answer the ID critics. One might argue that the hope that a mathematically unique solution will emerge is as faith-based as ID.

My faith is better than your faith.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:56 PM


Pakistan comes out fighting (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 12/21/05, Asia Times)

With a number of regional oil and gas pipeline projects involving Pakistan in the offing, Islamabad is determined to take advantage of them, both in terms of potential transit revenue and in meeting the country's growing energy needs.

The problem, though, is that the projects involve highly restive Balochistan province, where tribals have for years waged a low-intensity rebellion against the central government, in part to demand a better share of the economic pie of the resource-rich province.

Now the Pakistan government wants to secure the region once and for all, and believes that the only way to do it is through forcibly "urbanizing" Balochistan's tribes.

The War on Terror has always been destined to end in the tribal areas of western Pakistan, which are essentially ungoverned.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:54 PM


Iran Music Ban Falls on Deaf Ears (AP, Dec. 20, 2005)

Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's ban on Western music fell on deaf ears Tuesday, as shop owners and music enthusiasts in the Iranian capital continued selling, buying and listening to everything from hip-hop to country rock.

The official IRAN Persian daily reported Monday that Ahmadinejad, as head of the Supreme Cultural Revolutionary Council, ordered the enactment of an October ruling by the council to ban all Western music, including classical music, on state broadcast outlets.

"This president speaks as if he is living in the Stone Age. This man has to understand that he can't tell the people what to listen to and what not to listen to," said Mohammed Reza Hosseinpour as he browsed through a Tehran music shop.

The shop's owner said he did not expect the president's ban to be implemented.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:51 PM


Producer Prices Fall More Than Expected; Housing Starts Strong (Fox News, December 20, 2005)

U.S. producer prices fell a larger-than-expected 0.7 percent last month, the biggest drop in 2-1/2 years, according to a government report on Tuesday that showed prices well contained outside of the volatile food and energy areas.

The drop in the producer price index, a gauge of prices received by farms, factories and refineries, was the largest since April 2003 and reflected a 4 percent drop in energy costs, which swamped a 0.5 percent gain in food prices, the Labor Department said.

The so-called core PPI, which strips out those volatile costs to provide a better gauge of underlying inflation pressures, edged up just 0.1 percent. [...]

[C]ore producer prices have risen just 1.7 percent over the last year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:43 PM


When government withers (Suzanne Mettler, 12/20/05, CS Monitor)

These budget cuts continue a quarter century of governance guided largely by the idea that, in Ronald Reagan's words, "Government is not the solution ... government is the problem." But an assessment of these decades reveals that as government's role in citizens' lives diminishes, so, too, does active civic engagement. [...]

But since the mid-1970s, younger generations of Americans have disengaged from politics. Participation in voting, for instance, has plummeted among the young and less advantaged. Not even the higher turnout rates in the exceptional 2004 election brought levels back to where they had been: Among 18-29-year-olds, 61 percent of those with some college education voted, compared with 73 percent in 1972, and 34 percent of those with no college voted compared with 42 percent in 1972. This year's Election Day featured dismal turnout rates.

Huh? The point of withering the government is to get people to depend less on it, so of course they begin to care less about it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:34 PM


Germany Talks Torture, and Finds Hypocrisy: To torture or not to torture. That, surprisingly, has become a burning question in Germany this week. Germany's new interior minister has drawn fire for saying authorities must act on information from terror suspects even if it was obtained unlawfully. Is he condoning prisoner abuse or just being realistic? (David Crossland, 12/20/05, Der Spiegel)

The hypocrisy is undeniable. Germany has been condemning the detention without trial of terror suspects by the US and other countries while at the same time secretly sending agents to interrogate them.

The new interior minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, said last week that German intelligence officers had interviewed one prisoner being held in a Syrian jail that human rights groups say tortures prisoners, and one in Guantanamo Bay. The frank admission came as a surprise, but Schäuble wasn't finished. He went on to say Germany couldn't afford to ignore information provided by suspects even if it may have been obtained illegally.

"It would be completely irresponsible if we were to say that we don't use information where we cannot be sure that it was obtained in conditions that were wholly in line with the rule of law. We have to use such information," Schäuble told the Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper. He added that German intelligence officers were not allowed to take part in any torture or "to expect, so to speak with a nudge and a wink, that torture takes place," he added.

Honesty is always hypocritical.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:27 PM


A president can pull the trigger (John Yoo, December 20, 2005, LA Times)

Neither presidents nor Congress have ever acted under the belief that the Constitution requires a declaration of war before the U.S. can engage in military hostilities abroad. Although this nation has used force abroad more than 100 times, it has declared war only five times: the War of 1812, the Mexican-American and Spanish-American Wars, and World Wars I and II. Without declarations of war or any other congressional authorization, presidents have sent troops to fight Chinese Communists in Korea, to remove Manuel Noriega from power in Panama and to prevent human rights disasters in the Balkans. Other conflicts, such as the Persian Gulf War, received "authorization" from Congress but not declarations of war.

Critics of these wars want to upend this long practice by appeals to an "original understanding" of the Constitution. The Constitution, however, does not set out a clear process for starting war. Congress has the power to "declare war," but this clause allows Congress to establish the nation's legal status under international law. The framers wouldn't have equated "declaring" war with beginning a military conflict — indeed, in the 100 years before the Constitution, the British only once "declared" war at the start of a conflict.

Further, the Constitution specifies no step-by-step process to govern war-making, yet it is specific every other time it imposes shared power on the executive and legislative branches.

Why no strict war-making process? Because the framers understood that war would require the speed, decisiveness and secrecy that only the presidency could bring. "Energy in the executive," Alexander Hamilton argued in the Federalist Papers, "is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks."

And, he continued, "the direction of war most peculiarly demands those qualities which distinguish the exercise of power by a single hand."

Instead of specifying a legalistic process to begin war, the framers wisely created a fluid political process in which legislators would use their funding power to control war.

How about a recess appointment to O'Connor's seat for Professor Yoo?

Legal Analysis of the NSA Domestic Surveillance Program (Orin Kerr, 12/19/05, Volokh Conspiracy)

On the whole, I think there are some pretty decent arguments that this program did not violate the Fourth Amendment under existing precedent. There are a bunch of different arguments here, but let me focus on two: the border search exception and a national security exception. Neither is a slam dunk, by any means, but each are plausible arguments left open by the cases.

The border search exception permits searches at the border of the United States "or its functional equivalent." United States v. Montoya De Hernandez, 473 U.S. 531, 538 (1985). The idea here is that the United States as a sovereign has a right to inspect stuff entering or exiting the country as a way of protecting its sovereign interests, and that the Fourth Amendment permits such searches. Courts have applied the border search exception in cases of PCs and computer hard drives; if you bring a computer into or out of the United States, the government can search your computer for contraband or other prohibited items at the airport or wherever you are entering or leaving the country. See, e.g., United States v. Ickes, 393 F.3d 501 (4th Cir. 2005) (Wilkinson, J.).

As I understand it, all of the monitoring involved in the NSA program involved international calls (and international e-mails). That is, the NSA was intercepting communications in the U.S., but only communications going outside the U.S. or coming from abroad. I'm not aware of any cases applying the border search exception to raw data, as compared to the search of a physical device that stores data, so this is untested ground. At the same time, I don't know of a rationale in the caselaw for treating data differently than physical storage devices. The case law on the border search exception is phrased in pretty broad language, so it seems at least plausible that a border search exception could apply to monitoring at an ISP or telephone provider as the "functional equivalent of the border," much like airports are the functional equivalent of the border in the case of international airline travel. [UPDATE: A number of people have contacted me or left comments expressing skepticism about this argument. In response, let me point out the most persuasive case on point: United States v. Ramsey, holding that the border search exception applies to all international postal mail, permitting all international postal mail to be searched. Again, this isn't a slam dunk, but I think a plausible argument -- and with dicta that seems to say that mode of transportation is not relevant.]

The government would have a second argument in case a court doesn't accept the border search exception: the open question of whether there is a national security exception to the Fourth Amendment that permits the government to conduct searches and surveillance for foreign intelligence surveillance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


A fateful finale at WTO (Keith Bradsher, 12/19/05, The New York Times)

What changed in those 30 hours was the result of a series of deals by ministers from around the world who stayed up all night in nonstop talks.

The European Union, faced with being blamed for a collapse of negotiations, changed course and introduced a crucial proposal on agriculture.

India, the champion of the developing world since the days of Gandhi but now a computer programming power as well, played a crucial intermediary role in persuading poor countries to accept portions of the agreement calling for freer trade in services like telecommunications and banking.

And the Venezuelan delegation, forced to decide whether it would bring the entire negotiations to a halt over its objections to the provisions on services, backed down at the last moment and allowed the Hong Kong Declaration to be approved by consensus.

So our ally (India) was key and the bad guys (EU and Hugo) lost.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 8:45 AM


Bush’s support jumps after long decline
(MSN, December 20th, 2005)

President Bush's approval rating has surged in recent weeks, reversing what had been an extended period of decline, with Americans now expressing renewed optimism about the future of democracy in Iraq, the campaign against terrorism and the U.S. economy, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll.

Bush's overall approval rating rose to 47 percent, from 39 percent in early November, with 52 percent saying they disapprove of how he is handling his job. His approval rating on Iraq jumped 10 percentage points since early November, to 46 percent, while his rating on the economy rose 11 points, to 47 percent. A clear majority, 56 percent, said they approve of the way Bush is handling the fight against terrorism -- a traditional strong point in his reputation that nonetheless had flagged to 48 percent in the November poll.[...]

The Post-ABC News poll suggests that the massive turnout in last week's elections in Iraq, coupled with a public relations offensive in which the president delivered five speeches and held one news conference in 19 days, have delivered a substantial year-end dividend to a president badly in need of good news.

Imagine the rage leftists must feel when their carefully crafted political fantasies are undermined by successive huge crowds of Iraqis braving death to vote.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


Legal Test Was Seen as Hurdle to Spying: Some say the court's tougher standard of 'probable cause' led to the surveillance order. (Richard B. Schmitt and David G. Savage, December 20, 2005, LA Times)

The 1978 law creating the secret tribunal, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, authorizes intelligence gathering in cases in which the government can establish "probable cause" that the target is working for a "foreign power" or is involved in terrorism.

In briefing reporters Monday, Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales said that President Bush's 2002 order allowed for surveillance in cases in which officials had "a reasonable basis" to conclude that one of the parties to the communication had terrorist links. Those judgments were made not by a court, as the law provides, but by shift supervisors at the National Security Agency.

Some experts said that easier-to-satisfy "reasonable basis" standard probably was a key reason for the administration's decision. "It is certainly different than probable cause," said Michael J. Woods, a Washington lawyer and former head of the national security law unit at the FBI. "That, in my mind, is a much more likely reason why they maintained this" surveillance program.

So long as it involves foreigners, a sneaking suspicion will satisfy most Americans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


Clarke orders inquiry after robber freed to kill (LAURA ROBERTS, 12/20/05, The Scotsman)

CHARLES Clarke, the Home Secretary, has announced an urgent investigation into why a violent robber and convicted drug dealer was released on parole to kill the financier John Monckton.

Damien Hanson, 24, was granted parole after partially completing a 12-year prison sentence for attempted murder - even though parole board members had never met him.

The process of interviewing offenders had been scrapped four months previously.

Three months later, Hanson fatally stabbed John Monckton and seriously injured his wife, Homeyra, at their home in Chelsea, London.

Hanson had been in and out of prison since the age of 14 and an official assessment had put his chances of reoffending at 91 per cent.

Ah, the tender sensibilities of the Euros--so instead of executing their Hansons they collaborate in the murder of their Moncktons.

Not that they have any genuine regard for life, Drink deaths jump 350% in 20 years (HAMISH MACDONELL, 12/20/05, The Scotsman)

THE extraordinary rise in Scotland's alcohol culture was exposed in new figures published yesterday, which showed a massive 350 per cent rise in drink- related deaths in the last 20 years.

In 1984, 597 Scots died from alcohol-related illnesses. By last year this had risen to 2,052: 1,515 men and 537 women.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


Chinese inmates' organs for sale to Britons (Richard Spencer, December 20, 2005, LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH)

A Chinese company has begun marketing kidneys, livers and other organs from executed prisoners to sick Britons in need of transplants.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Karzai praises Afghan rebirth (John Roland and Bill Sammon, December 20, 2005, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Police and soldiers sealed off blocks around the parliament building, where Vice President Dick Cheney; his wife, Lynne; and dozens of foreign dignitaries watched [President Hamid] Karzai speak to the 351 new members of the bicameral National Assembly.

"Today marks a new beginning for Afghanistan," declared Mr. Karzai, who broke down in tears toward the end of his more than one-hour oration.

"This immortal phoenix, this beloved Afghanistan, once again rose from the ashes of invasion and subjugation," he said. "We have the right to declare to all those who aspire the destruction of our soil that this country will never be vanquished."

Mr. Cheney described the ceremony as "another milestone" in the democratization of the Muslim world. giant millstone for the Islamicists.

Cheney and Afghan Milestone (CARLOTTA GALL, 12/20/05, NY Times)

The president and the lawmakers used the occasion to send a message that now that Afghanistan has its government and elected Parliament in place, no one, inside or outside, should try to undermine the country, as so often has happened in the past.

"We have the right to tell those who are after the destruction of this water and soil that this homeland will exist forever," Mr. Karzai said.

Sebaghatullah Mojadeddi, a member of the upper house and a religious leader, in his concluding prayers asked God to protect the country and said, "Those who want ill for this country, give them punishment."

Mr. Karzai and other speakers also called on the lawmakers, many of whom were involved in the civil war that consumed Afghanistan in the 1990's, to cooperate in the national interest.

Mr. Cheney, speaking later to American troops at Bagram air base, said the United States was "firmly committed" to nurturing Afghanistan's fledgling democracy.

"Once again, in free elections, the Afghan people have shown the world their determination to chart their own destiny," Mr. Cheney said. "In this journey of freedom and progress, they will continue to have the full support of America and our coalition."

Hey, look what I made....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Why Canada should deal with Abdullah Khadr (THOMAS WALKOM, 12/20/05, Toronto Star)

The U.S. request to extradite Abdullah Khadr on charges of aiding Al Qaeda raises troubling questions Ñ both about the Liberal government's willingness to protect unpopular Canadian citizens and the manner in which this country handles terror cases.

If there is evidence linking him to criminal activities by Osama bin Laden's terror group, why isn't he being charged in Canada?

Because you aren't a serious country anymore?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM

ME, EH?:

Sally Ann drive falls short (ASHLEY JOANNOU, Dec. 20, 2005, Toronto Sun)

Busy shoppers looking for the right gift appear to be walking past the Salvation Army's kettles this year, which could leave thousands of children without a gift at all.

With only five days left, the Salvation Army division that services most of central Ontario, including Toronto, is barely halfway to its goal of $1.65 million to help 16,000 Toronto families this holiday season — including 25,000 children.

"As far as anyone can remember, at least in the last five years, we have always met our target," Major Michele Percy, spokesperson for the central Ontario Salvation Army said last night.

Just give me my National Health and leave me alone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


School choices with consequences (Steve Poftak, December 20, 2005, Boston Globe)

FEW NOTICED WHEN the Boston School Committee recently closed Grover Cleveland Middle School.

No parents attended a meeting called by the school to discuss the issue, and no one stood up to defend the school at the school committee's closure hearing.

When not one parent of the 350 children enrolled speaks up, that's a sure sign of parental apathy, right? Not really. Few wanted their children enrolled at the school in the first place.

Eighty percent of Cleveland students were assigned there by the Boston Public Schools system. The children attend Cleveland because that is where the system had empty seats, not because their parents chose the school.

Then, there's Cleveland's reputation for poor performance. With MCAS test results long among the worst in the city, parents have voted with their feet. Over the past five years, student enrollment plummeted from 750 to 350. Fewer than 75 students, in a facility that can accommodate 750, chose to be there.

The closure of Cleveland is a positive sign that the system finally acknowledges it was sustaining a school most parents did not want.

Students should not be forced to attend institutions with consistent records of failure simply to utilize capacity. However, the closure and parental apathy surrounding it are symptomatic of a much deeper and systemic problem in Boston.

Boston's school selection system and the statewide cap on charters schools compels parents to send their children to failing schools.

Yeah, but they aren't our kids, so who cares?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


Photos cast new doubt on cloning: Questions envelop S. Korean team (Gareth Cook, December 20, 2005, Boston Globe)

A landmark 2004 paper in which South Korean scientists claimed to have cloned human stem cells for the first time contains photos that appeared in an unrelated paper, calling their claim into question and increasing the controversy that surrounds the team.

Two photos in the 2004 paper, published to great fanfare in the journal Science, claim to show batches of the world's first cloned human embryonic stem cells. Yet the same photos appear in the journal Molecules and Cells, in a research article by another Korean team, submitted before the Science paper, and in that paper both photos are labeled as cells created without cloning.

Without fraud there'd be no such thing as scientific breakthroughs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Kennedy is a busted flush, but there is no credible successor (Alice Thomson, 20/12/2005, Daily Telegraph)

The Liberal Democrats so nearly made it. Their image of sandals, knitted jumpers, and lentils belied their potential. The Lib Dems understood the middle way while Tony Blair was still courting Cherie and David Cameron was smoking his first cigarette behind the fives courts. They were rational, reasonable, non-ideological: everything that Mr Blair and Mr Cameron have now taken to their hearts. They were astonishingly adept as constituency MPs and knew how to woo voters from Aberdeenshire to Yeovil.

Many of their ideas are only just being adopted by the other two parties. They have always talked about the environment, their position on the war in Iraq now looks far-sighted and they were the first to understand the power of localism.

But they have blown it - not once but twice. Fifteen years ago, they had their first chance, a once-in-a-century opportunity to overtake the Labour Party and become the real opposition. But they never capitalised on Labour s donkey jacket moment. Then, amazingly, they were given another chance when the Conservative Party started to disintegrate.

Except that the Third Way isn't about merely splitting the differences between Left and Right and to have genuine appeal it has to be combined with social conservatism/religiosity and, in Europe at least, more than a little nationalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Prisons to Curtail Racial Segregation: State officials will phase in a new policy in which race will be considered along with gang ties and personal histories in assigning housing. (Jill Leovy, December 20, 2005, LA Times)

California state prisons will end long-standing policies of segregating prisoners solely along racial lines under the terms of a legal settlement announced Monday.

For 25 years, California prisons have segregated the tens of thousands of inmates who arrive each year at the system's reception centers. Prisoners are segregated for at least their initial 60 days in custody. No other state has a similar policy, state officials have conceded.

Under the new policy, race may still be used as a factor in separating prisoners — a white supremacist, for example, would probably not be housed with a black inmate — but it will no longer be the primary criterion, state prison officials said. [...]

Prison officials say that there will be no wholesale movement of prisoners to bring about desegregation. Instead, the mixing of prisoners by race will occur as new inmates enter the system and current ones are transferred, gradually blurring the racial lines within prisons.

Thornton said prison officials are not seeking to meet any particular integration goal. "Prison gangs are aligned along racial lines, and many confrontations among inmates are race-based," she said. But prison officials believe the new policy will bring more careful evaluation of the various factors that lead to prison violence.

In fact, Johnson's lawsuit was a direct challenge to the idea that prisoners were safer if housed with those of their own race, Deixler said.

Prison segregation policies are flawed because a great deal of underworld violence occurs between people of the same race, Deixler argued. Rivalries between the predominantly black Crips and Bloods, for example, claim numerous lives on the street, he said.

Deixler's client was a black man jailed for murder in 1987 who was not a member of any gang, court papers said. Being housed with other black men, most of whom belonged to gangs, left Johnson feeling defenseless — unable to form alliances with prisoners who, like himself, were unaffiliated with gangs.

"He was a lone wolf who did not have a prospect for having protection," Deixler said. He sought an integrated prison setting because he wanted peers who would back him against the black gang members he found so menacing, he added.

Eventually this will just lead to greater isolation (and the concomitant psychological devastation) for all prisoners, since they're segregated for their own protection. As Pete Earley says in his terrific book, The Hot House:
The Aryan Brotherhood was originally formed to protect white prisoners from being victimized by black and Hispanic prison gangs. The Black Guerilla Family, a militant, black revolutionary gang with ties to the Black Panther Party, was the first known prison gang, and was strong at San Quentin at the time. [...]

The politically motivated Black Guerilla Family was eventually replaced by the 1980s drug-dealing Crips and Bloods.

Race wars and segregation in prisons, just one more thing Tookie Willians achieved.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 12:00 AM


We have a total of six people signed up for the College Bowl Pick'em, and I'd like at least a ten-person field to make things interesting. If you don't mind registering with, why not join us? We'll have a great time and, like any good Juddite, I'll give away books to the winners. Just go here if you're not already registered:

Once you're registered with ESPN, you just follow the steps to create an entry and an entry-name, then click on a left-hand button that lets you "Create or join a group." If you type "brothersjudd" in the search engine and click on it when it comes up, all you have left to do is type the "ericjulia" password and you're officially part of the group.

The comments section is open for questions, concerns, or gratuitous amounts of uninformed trash-talk about how, say, Wolverines eat Cornhuskers for lunch. I expect nothing less from the unique folks who populate this blog. But whatever you do, sign up and join in the fun.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Federal study shows unwanted births are up (Mike Stobbe, December 20, 2005, The Associated Press)

More American women are having babies they didn't want, a survey indicates, but federal researchers say they don't know if that means attitudes about abortion are changing.

U.S. women of childbearing age who were surveyed in 2002 revealed that 14 percent of their recent births were unwanted at the time of conception, federal researchers said yesterday.

In a similar 1995 survey, only 9 percent were unwanted at the time of conception.

At least one anti-abortion group said the numbers reflect a national "pro-life shift," while others who research reproductive health issues suggested it might mean less access to abortion.

Either suffices.

December 19, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 PM


Racket of rebuilding fills Sadr City as gunfire quiets (Howard LaFranchi, 12/20/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

On the streets of Sadr City where a year ago locals battled US troops, Lt. Col. Jamie Gayton is today a welcome man.

It's not so much that the residents of the sprawling slum, home to more than 1 million mostly poor Shiite Iraqis, have suddenly lost their wariness and suspicions of the American presence. But Colonel Gayton is the man with the money that is being used to slowly bury the open sewers, bring clean water to homes, and illuminate dark streets with new lights.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 PM


The Measure of This Man Is in the Smoot: MIT's Human Yardstick Honored for Work (David A. Fahrenthold, 12/07/05, Washington Post)

Oliver R. Smoot knows from measurement.

For one thing, he is on the brink of retiring from the board of the American National Standards Institute, a Washington-based association that helps set standard units and guidelines for everything from fire sprinklers to computer files.

For another: As every Massachusetts Institute of Technology student probably knows, the man is a measure himself.

Forty-seven years ago, Smoot's fellow MIT fraternity pledges used his body to measure a bridge near the campus, painting marks at every 10 Smoots. Somewhat miraculously, the markings have been repainted ever since -- meaning that while Smoot was pursuing a quiet career in the Washington association bureaucracy, he was also becoming a Boston area landmark and a nerd legend.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 PM


Does the US face an engineering gap?: A new study deflates claims that China and India have a vast advantage in graduates. (Mark Clayton, 12/20/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

By making more specific comparisons, US competitiveness, as measured by newly minted engineers, is not eroding as fast as many say - if it's eroding at all, according to a Duke University study released last week. "Inconsistent reporting of problematic engineering graduation data has been used to fuel fears that America is losing its technological edge," the study states. "A comparison of like-to-like data suggests that the US produces a highly significant number of engineers, computer scientists, and information technology specialists, and remains competitive in global markets." [...]

India provides the clearest example of how the numbers can be interpreted differently. The 350,000 engineers that it supposedly graduated last year is almost certainly false. After publishing that number in October, the National Academies revised it downward to 200,000 in a note issued last month. The Duke study pegs the number at 215,000, but it also points out that nearly half of those are three-year diplomas - not the four-year degrees counted in the US.
More four-year diplomas than India

Last year, the US awarded bachelor's degrees to 72,893 engineering students, according to the American Society for Engineering Education. But using India's more inclusive definition, the Duke study finds the US handed out 137,437 bachelor's degrees last year, more than India's 112,000. The US number is far more impressive in relative terms, since India has more than three times as many people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 PM


It's Time to Pin a Few Medals ... (Joe Klein, Dec. 16, 2005, TIME)

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again ... who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly ..."

Theodore Roosevelt said that in 1910. I named this column In the Arena out of admiration for T.R., but also as a constant reminder to myself not to be unduly cynical about the men and women who do our public work. And so I try to give credit where it's due. I try to avoid criticism that is crude or mocking. But there's no getting around the reality of column writing: I am "the critic," and it is all too easy to dwell on those who don't strive valiantly, spend themselves for a worthy cause or dare greatly. At year's end, however, and especially at the end of a year as horrible as this one, it is appropriate to pay homage to those who have taken risky stands on principle, even when I have disagreed with them.

I've disagreed plenty with our President, George W. Bush, but he was the first person who came to mind when I reread the Roosevelt quote. He has had a difficult year. And yet I can't forget Dr. Kamal Labwani, a Syrian dissident I met in Damascus last spring, just after he was released from prison. He told me how much Bush's words about the importance of freedom and democracy—and the mistake the U.S. had made by supporting repressive regimes in the region—had meant to him. Later in the year, as Labwani was about to be arrested again, he sent me, and others, an e-mail that began, "The security forces have surrounded our house ..." He was released once more and visited Washington, where he was greeted at the White House. When he returned home, he was arrested a third time. President Bush has mentioned the outrageous treatment of Labwani in several speeches and White House statements.

A difficult year in the press, not in reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 PM


Exit polls: Netanyahu easily wins Likud primary, beating Shalom 47%-32% (Israelinsider, December 19, 2005)

A Channel One exit poll indicated that Benjamin Netanyahu would coast to a comfortable victory in the Likud chairmanship race. He was expected to win 47 percent of the votes, with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom a distant second place and Moshe Feiglin garnering a higher than expected 15 percent of the vote. Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz trailed in fourth place with 6 percent of the vote. The poll had an error margin of 4.5%.

The great thing about Bibi is that if he ever becomes PM again he'll follow exactly the path Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush have laid out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


Partial Results of Parliamentary Elections Released in Iraq: Militant Group Posts Video of Alleged Killing of American (Doug Struck and Daniela Deane, December 19, 2005, Washington Post)

Initial results of Iraq's national election from more than half the country's provinces brought a strong showing by Shiite and Kurdish parties, Iraq's electoral commission announced Monday, underscoring the secular divisions of the country. [...]

The initial results showed the coalition of Shiites leading with 58 percent of the vote, followed by a Sunni-led coalition with 19 percent, in Baghdad province, the country's largest voting district. The secular party headed by former prime minister Ayad Allawi got 14 percent of the votes.

The Shiite coalition now has the largest party in the interim parliament. Its strength was expected to be diluted by a large turnout of Sunnis, who had mostly boycotted the January election of an interim government. But the initial results, which included almost complete results from 10 out of 18 provinces, showed a large turnout for the Shiite coalition.

The Kurds of the north also emerged largely unsplintered by smaller parties, to claim what is expected to be the second-largest bloc in the parliament.

Elections officials said they expected the unofficial tally to be completed "in two or three days."

This is the key moment for the Sunni, when they have to face the fact that even with strong turnout they are a rather small minority in greater Iraq.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:39 PM


Bush mixes Saddam, Osama (AFP, 12/19/05)

US President George W. Bush did for just one second what critics have accused him of doing for two years: Mixing up terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and ousted Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein.

The momentary slip of the tongue came as Bush defended his decision to order spying on US citizens without court warrants and assailed the leak that brought the controversial program to light as "shameful."

"In the late 1990s, our government was following Osama bin Laden because he was using a certain type of telephone. And then the fact that we were following Osama bin Laden because he was using a certain type of telephone made it into the press as the result of a leak," he said.

"And guess what happened? Saddam -- Osama bin Laden changed his behavior. He began to change how he communicated. We're at war. And we must protect America's secrets," Bush said during a year's end press conference.

He's gotten so good at that particular "slip," you have to wonder if he practices it beforehand.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:23 PM


Terror suspect in Canada allegedly confesses: Affidavit: Police say man admitted buying weapons for al Qaeda (AP, 12/19/05)

A man accused of purchasing weapons for al Qaeda confessed to U.S. and Canadian authorities that he bought the firearms for use against U.S. forces in Afghanistan, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

In an affidavit submitted to the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto, where Abdullah Khadr appeared at a preliminary hearing, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sgt. Konrad Shourie said Khadr admitted his ties to senior al Qaeda members. Shourie said Khadr confessed to having purchased guns and rocket launchers and his role in a plot to assassinate the Pakistani prime minister. [...]

On Sunday his lawyer, Dennis Edney, accused the U.S. of participating in the "abuse of Mr. Khadr for the past 18 months in a Pakistani prison." He said the United States had pressed Khadr for "evidence against persons of interest to the U.S., people whom he didn't know."

If we're pressing admitted terrorists for information then who among us is safe?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 PM


Press Conference of the President (George W. Bush, The East Room, 12/20/05)

THE PRESIDENT: The other question was?

Q Sir --

THE PRESIDENT: You asked a multiple-part question.

Q Yes, I did.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you for violating the multiple-part question rule.

Q I didn't know there was a law on that. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: There's not a law. It's an executive order. (Laughter.) In this case, not monitored by the Congress -- (laughter) -- nor is there any administrative oversight. (Laughter.)

Q Well, without breaking any laws, on to -- back on domestic spying. Making the case for that, can you give us some example --

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I got you. Yes, sorry. No, I'm not going to talk about that, because it would help give the enemy notification and/or, perhaps, signal to them methods and uses and sources. And we're not going to do that, which is -- it's really important for people to understand that the protection of sources and the protections of methods and how we use information to understand the nature of the enemy is secret. And the reason it's secret is because if it's not secret, the enemy knows about it, and if the enemy knows about it, adjusts.

And again, I want to repeat what I said about Osama bin Laden, the man who ordered the attack that killed 3,000 Americans. We were listening to him. He was using a type of cell phone, or a type of phone, and we put it in the newspaper -- somebody put it in the newspaper that this was the type of device he was using to communicate with his team, and he changed. I don't know how I can make the point more clear that any time we give up -- and this is before they attacked us, by the way -- revealing sources, methods, and what we use the information for simply says to the enemy: change.

Now, if you don't think there's an enemy out there, then I can understand why you ought to say, just tell us all you know. I happen to know there's an enemy there. And the enemy wants to attack us. That is why I hope you can feel my passion about the Patriot Act. It is inexcusable to say to the American people, we're going to be tough on terror, but take away the very tools necessary to help fight these people. And by the way, the tools exist still to fight medical fraud, in some cases, or other -- drug dealers. But with the expiration of the Patriot Act, it prevents us from using them to fight the terrorists. Now, that is just unbelievable. And I'm going to continue talking about this issue and reminding the American people about the importance of the Patriot Act and how necessary it is for us in Washington, D.C. to do our job to protect you.

Note how in the initial portion, jousting with the reporter, he makes fun of all the objections that have been raised to his actions and then in his actual answer he puts Democrats in the Senate on the spot.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:58 PM


Why Bush Approved the Wiretaps: Not long ago, both parties agreed the FISA court was a problem. (Byron York, 12/20/05, National Review)

In 2002, when the president made his decision, there was widespread, bipartisan frustration with the slowness and inefficiency of the bureaucracy involved in seeking warrants from the special intelligence court, known as the FISA court. Even later, after the provisions of the Patriot Act had had time to take effect, there were still problems with the FISA court — problems examined by members of the September 11 Commission — and questions about whether the court can deal effectively with the fastest-changing cases in the war on terror.

People familiar with the process say the problem is not so much with the court itself as with the process required to bring a case before the court. "It takes days, sometimes weeks, to get the application for FISA together," says one source. "It's not so much that the court doesn't grant them quickly, it's that it takes a long time to get to the court. Even after the Patriot Act, it's still a very cumbersome process. It is not built for speed, it is not built to be efficient. It is built with an eye to keeping [investigators] in check." And even though the attorney general has the authority in some cases to undertake surveillance immediately, and then seek an emergency warrant, that process is just as cumbersome as the normal way of doing things.

Lawmakers of both parties recognized the problem in the months after the September 11 terrorist attacks. They pointed to the case of Coleen Rowley, the FBI agent who ran up against a number roadblocks in her effort to secure a FISA warrant in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, the al Qaeda operative who had taken flight training in preparation for the hijackings. Investigators wanted to study the contents of Moussaoui's laptop computer, but the FBI bureaucracy involved in applying for a FISA warrant was stifling, and there were real questions about whether investigators could meet the FISA court's probable-cause standard for granting a warrant. FBI agents became so frustrated that they considered flying Moussaoui to France, where his computer could be examined. But then the attacks came, and it was too late.

Rowley wrote up her concerns in a famous 13-page memo to FBI Director Robert Mueller, and then elaborated on them in testimony to Congress. "Rowley depicted the legal mechanism for security warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, as burdensome and restrictive, a virtual roadblock to effective law enforcement," Legal Times reported in September 2002.

The Patriot Act included some provisions, supported by lawmakers of both parties, to make securing such warrants easier. But it did not fix the problem. In April 2004, when members of the September 11 Commission briefed the press on some of their preliminary findings, they reported that significant problems remained.

One example from today's reading and listening of why you'd circumvent the court: you find an al Qaeda laptop in a raid and it has a list of phone numbers in the United States. You'd obviously want to immediately start to listen in to the calls going into that number from overseas, or out to overseas, but you don't even know who's at the number.

National Security Meltdown (David Martin, 6/19/02, CBS)

The CIA and FBI are drawing most of the criticism for failing to follow up on leads that might have prevented the attacks of September 11th. But another intelligence agency - bigger by far than either the CIA or FBI - was also on the case. David Martin reports.

The National Security Agency eavesdrops on communications all over the world. For a few years, the NSA was actually listening to Osama bin Laden's satellite phone calls. But even that wasn't enough to tip off U.S. intelligence to the 9/11 plot or to earlier attacks on the USS Cole and two American embassies in Africa. Bin Laden probably didn't realize it, but he was mounting these operations just as NSA was going through the worst crisis in its 50-year history. In fact, in the very same month two of the 9/11 hijackers entered the U.S., the supercomputers NSA relies on to sort through billions of phone calls, faxes, e-mails and radio transmissions crashed. [...]

On any given day, the majority of intelligence that shows up in the president's morning briefing comes from the NSA, considered by many to be the cornerstone of American intelligence.

Some might therefore be alarmed to read a report by a team of NSA insiders concluding that the "NSA is in great peril."

"We're behind the curve in keeping up with the global telecommunications revolution," Hayden said.

The NSA is now trying to play catch-up to Silicon Valley and the cell phones and computers that have proliferated throughout the world.

"In the previous world order, our primary adversary was the Soviet Union," Hayden said. "Technologicaly we had to keep pace with an oligarchic, resource-poor, technologically inferior, overbureaucratized, slow-moving nation-state."

"Our adversary communications are now based upon the developmental cycle of a global industry that is literally moving at the speed of light ... cell phones, encryption, fiber optic communications, digital communications," he added.

Documents introduced at the trial of the four men convicted of blowing up two American embassies in Africa indicate that the NSA was monitoring Osama bin Laden's satellite phone as he allegedly directed preparations for the attack from his hiding place in Afghanistan. Even so, the NSA was unable to collect enough intelligence to stop it.

"Osama bin Laden has at his disposal the wealth of a $3 trillion-a-year telecommunications industry," Hayden said.

From about 1996 to 1998, when bin Laden was beginning his operations out of Afghanistan, NSA knew his phone number and was able to listen in on phone calls he and his top lieutenants made to Al Qaida cells around the world. But the terrorists were so careful and cryptic about what they said over the phone that the U.S. was caught totally by surprise when in August of 1998 truck bombs detonated simultaneously outside the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people.

One of the terrorists arrested after those bombings gave NSA another phone number - this one belonging to a cell phone in Yemen. Listening in on that phone gave the NSA one of the first leads that might have uncovered the 9/11 plot - two men were headed to a meeting of terrorist operatives in Malaysia. NSA immediately passed the information to the CIA.

The meeting took place in a high-rise apartment building on January 6, 2000. The CIA didn't have time to plant any listening devices, but it was able to get pictures of the two men, who later turned out to be two of the hijackers who flew into the Pentagon. On January 15, 2000, the two hijackers entered the U.S. Nine days later NSA suffered its computer meltdown.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:44 PM


In the Mideast, Democratic Momentum (Jackson Diehl, December 19, 2005, Washington Post)

The most obvious element of the liberalizing drift has been the elections of 2005: in the Palestinian Authority, in Lebanon, in Egypt, even in Saudi Arabia. Flawed as many of the polls were, they produced some stunning results, from the formation of a government in Lebanon committed to independence from Syria, to the quintupling of seats held by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's parliament, to the electoral victory of two women in the Saudi city of Jiddah. Last week the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas presented its list of 62 candidates for scheduled legislative elections next month, including 10 women. The corrupt old guard of the ruling Fatah party meanwhile has been challenged by several new lists of secular reformers; elections may bring, at last, rejuvenation of the corrupt power structure created by Yasser Arafat.

Another revealing index is the number of the Arab world's authoritarian rulers who have felt obliged to spell out plans for a democratic transition. In the past two months Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah have unveiled platforms to introduce a free press, an independent judiciary and liberalized election laws during the next several years. By some accounts, Saudi Arabia's then-Crown Prince Abdullah privately promised Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in June that democracy would reach his country in a decade. Whether or not they meant it, the autocrats' promises raised expectations in their countries, and gave their growing domestic reform movements a standard to hold them to.

For the first time, too, the Arab world is getting a peek at what political accountability looks like. Four senior Lebanese generals are in prison for their role in the car-bomb assassination last February of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, and Syrian President Bashar Assad is under growing pressure from a U.N. investigation; never before have the region's thugs been collared for their political killing. In Morocco, an official truth commission has spent the past 12 months listening, in public, to the accounts of citizens who were tortured or persecuted by the government; reparations are being paid to thousands.

Most intriguing of all has been the shift by Islamic movements during 2005 from terrorism to democratic participation. Despite some lapses, both Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah have mostly refrained from violence this year while focusing on elections. While neither has disarmed, both are under pressure from public opinion in their own countries to do so. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which swore off violence decades ago, has embraced the agenda of parliamentary democracy and free press put forward by the secular opposition coalition that appeared in Cairo this year. The most commonly cited obstacle to Arab democratization -- Islamic fundamentalism -- looks far less formidable than it did a year ago.


MIDDLE EAST PROGRESS AMID GLOBAL GAINS IN FREEDOM: Arab Middle East Shows Improvement, Despite Continued Repression
(Freedom House, December 19, 2005)

The people of the Arab Middle East experienced a modest but potentially significant increase in political rights and civil liberties in 2005, Freedom House announced in a major survey of global freedom released today.

The global survey, "Freedom in the World," shows that although the Middle East continues to lag behind other regions, a measurable improvement can be seen in freedom in several key Arab countries, as well as the Palestinian Authority. In another key finding, the number of countries rated by Freedom House as Not Free declined from 49 in 2004 to 45 for the year 2005, the lowest number of Not Free societies identified by the survey in over a decade. In noteworthy country developments, Ukraine and Indonesia saw their status improve from Partly Free to Free; Afghanistan moved from Not Free to Partly Free; and the Philippines saw its status decline from Free to Partly Free.

According to Thomas O. Melia, acting executive director of Freedom House, "The modest but heartening advances in the Arab Middle East result from activism by citizen groups and reforms by governments in about equal measures. This emerging trend reminds us that men and women in this region share the universal desire to live in free societies."

"As we welcome the stirrings of change in the Middle East," said Mr. Melia, "it is equally important that we focus on the follow-through in other regions and appreciate the importance of the continuing consolidation of democracy in Indonesia, Ukraine, and other nations."

Complete survey results, including a package of charts and graphs, and an explanatory essay are available online.

Iraq: Many Communities, One Democracy (Khaled Fouad Allam)
We are beginning, paradoxically, to grow accustomed to a certain “normalization” of the electoral process in Iraq. The December 15 elections consecrated a point of arrival for the democratization of Iraqi society.

The statistical data are clear: the first of these is the 70 percent participation in the voting. Then there is the stark reduction of the terrorist threat during the voting process, and – contrary to what one might have expected – an enormous turnout at the ballot boxes in the zone of Fallujah, symbol of the Sunni triangle. Even Iran’s Arabic television news outlet, al-Alam, which has a large audience among the Shiite Iraqis, emphasized the vast participation of all the components of Iraqi society. The definitive results on the composition of the new Iraqi parliament, whose members will remain in office for four years, will be made known in around two weeks.

All this is undoubtedly a success, both for the Iraqi people and for the United States, in the face of those who disputed, and still dispute, the exporting of democracy, a question that is feeding a philosophical debate that will mark all the geopolitical transformations of the twenty-first century.

In any case, the widespread participation in the electoral consultation and the success of the electoral process in spite of the dramatic lack of security in the country require a more profound interpretation.

What is the mechanism by which, in wartime, a people feels called so urgently to the polls? In reality, we have undervalued the fact that, even though the tanks entered into Iraq, the premise of this was a precise American plan for the reformulation of the Iraqi nation, which most Europeans probably did not realize.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:35 PM


The Intangible Wealth of Nations: Why you're worth more than you think (Ronald Bailey, 12/16/05, Reason)

For the average American living in the United States is like having more than half a million dollars in wealth. So says a new study from the World Bank, Where is the Wealth of Nations?: Measuring Capital for the 21st Century, which makes estimates of the contribution of natural, produced, and intangible capital to the aggregate wealth of 120 countries.

Why are Americans so well off? It's not just because of America's fruited plains and its alabaster cities. In fact, it turns out that such natural and man-made resources comprise a relatively small percentage of our wealth.

The World Bank study begins by defining natural capital as the sum of nonrenewable resources (including oil, natural gas, coal, and mineral resources), cropland, pastureland, forested areas, and protected areas. Produced capital is what many of us think of when we think of capital. It is the sum of machinery, equipment, and structures (including infrastructure) and urban land. The Bank then identifies intangible capital as the difference between total wealth and all produced and natural capital. Intangible capital encompasses raw labor; human capital, which includes the sum of the knowledge, skills, and know-how possessed by population; as well as the level of trust in a society and the quality of its formal and informal social institutions.

Once the analytical framework is set up, what the researchers at the World Bank find is fascinating. "The most striking aspect of the wealth estimates is the high values for intangible capital. Nearly 85 percent of the countries in our sample have an intangible capital share of total wealth greater than 50 percent," write the researchers. They further note that years of schooling and a rule-of-law index can account for 90 percent of the variation in intangible capital. In other words, the more highly educated a country's people are and the more honest and fair its legal system is, the wealthier it is.

Human capital doesn't even get factored into our already staggering $50+ trillion household net worth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:55 PM


Meet the pawn star babes (DAVE MASTERS, 12/19/05, Sun Online)

THESE are the sort of girls that will be impressed by your moves, lads - but only if they're of the Grand Master sort!

That's because these lovelies are some of the brainy babes battling it out in the World Chess Beauty Contest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:04 AM


China's role in North Korea (Jason Qian and Anne Wu , December 19, 2005, Boston Globe)

THE SIX-PARTY TALKS created to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem have lost momentum again. All six parties agreed on a denuclearization statement in September, but when the United States started imposing sanctions on North Korean enterprises suspected of counterfeiting and money-laundering, Pyongyang declared that it would boycott future talks. With the two countries at odds again, the denuclearization agreement remains an empty promise, raising the question: Is this framework of six-party talks sustainable for achieving a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula?

The talks will be sustainable only if they create a negotiation model that can maximize the common denominator of regional security and stability. It is thus crucial for China to transform its role from a neutral mediator to a more assertive one that will be able to tame the two ''veto" parties -- Pyongyang and Washington -- and reorient the talks to the long-term interest of regional security and economic prosperity.

The merits and the shortfalls of being a mediator are all about neutrality.

Which is why we should walk away from the talks. China is as much an enemy as N. Korea. Let them struggle with the Kims on their own, not pretend they occupy a midpoint between us and the North.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


When self-immolation is a rational choice (Spengler, 12/20/05, Asia Times)

Apropos of Washington's triumphal response to the high voter turnout in last week's Iraqi elections, we should ask this simple question: why do political leaders believe that democracy fosters peace, despite innumerable examples to the contrary? [...]

Popular sovereignty in the Arab and Persian spheres favors the war party. The Iranian president grasps this elementary truth, which makes him a far more effective force in the Middle East than the Bush administration. As it is presently constituted, Iran has no future, and the Islamic world broadly faces a social crisis of lethal proportions (The demographics of radical Islam, August 23, 2005). Within the Islamic framework, war represents the sort of rational choice that popular majorities will embrace.

This is a very different argument from the "essentialist" claim that Islam, by virtue of the percept of jihad, must inevitably promote aggression. Without minimizing the dangers inherent in the notion of jihad, I believe the present war stems from the response of Islam to particular circumstances at a particular point in time.

Islam may harbor a predisposition towards conquest, but the closest parallels to Ahmadinejad's are to be found in Europe and the US. On December 6 (Iran's strength in weakness) I compared today's Iran to Adolf Hitler's Germany on the eve of World War II. Karl Marx observed that history tends to repeat itself, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce - or Farsi, we might say in Ahmadinejad's case. But for Americans to promote the canard that democracy fosters peace must be the most extreme case of amnesia on record, for two democratically-elected governments fought the most destructive war in the history of the Western hemisphere.

The Confederate States of America arose through irreproachable democratic forms, with the overwhelming support of the populace of the southern states, who sent three-quarters of their military-age men to fight. [...]

Iranians elected Ahmadinejad and American Southerners elected Jefferson Davis for what might be termed rational reasons. The South was running out of land; Iran is running out of young people as well as oil (see Demographics of Iran's imperial design, September 13, 2005). Present-day Iran will cease to exist in a generation, as Ahmadinejad knows better than anyone. He has already proposed to relocate 30 million rural Iranians, half the country's population, as the majority of villages become unsustainable in the declining countryside.

The same aspirations put a field marshal's baton into the rucksack of Napoleon's soldiers, and made Hitler a hugely popular war leader until Stalingrad.

Not that we planned it this way, not that peoples and leaders are necessarily conscious of it as they make their democratic decisions, but part of the "genius" of our democratization project is that other states are becoming more peaceful precisely because they are demographically doomed, and most of them spiritually bankrupt. The idea that an Iran which faces a shortage of young people -- and therefore most Iranians face a shortage of those who will fund their dotage -- is an argument against Iran being willing to go to war, not in favor. Conflicts are declining as nations choose to die off quietly and as comfortably as possible.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


House, Senate agree on cuts (Stephen Dinan, December 19, 2005, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

House and Senate negotiators yesterday reached year-end deals on a $42 billion budget-cuts package and a $453 billion defense-spending bill that includes a provision allowing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Now Republican leaders just have to find the votes to pass the bills.

Senate Democrats will try to filibuster the spending bill, arguing that adding the drilling provision at the last minute was a perversion of Senate rules.

"These rules mean nothing. It's like a game of monopoly with grade-school kids. But this is the United States Senate," said Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, before using a parliamentary technique to shut down floor action all night.

He also said he would not consent to passing any of President Bush's pending nominations this year, which in effect blocks seven district court judges and the president's picks to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

How do you filibuster a conference report?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Afghan MPs hold landmark session (BBC, 12/19/05)
Afghanistan's first parliament for more than 30 years has held its inaugural session in the capital, Kabul.

President Hamid Karzai told 351 MPs the session was a "step toward democracy" and a display of national unity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Wave of protests as deal done on trade (SOPHIE WALKER AND DOUG PALMER, 12/19/05, The Scotsman)

MINISTERS from 149 states saved global trade talks from collapse yesterday with an interim deal to end farm export subsidies by 2013 and make the markets of wealthy countries more accessible to the world's poorest nations.

Ministers expressed relief after the marathon negotiations that they had averted a repeat of failed conferences in Seattle in 1999 and in Cancun in 2003. [...]

Big-hitters among developing nations, led by Brazil, India and Argentina, gave their nod to the draft but voiced their frustration over the EU's refusal to agree on 2010 as the cut-off date for export support.

"I think the EU owes one to the developing countries. We showed a real will to negotiate and we didn't feel it was the same from the other side," said Alfredo Chiaradia, Argentina's trade minister.

In a victory for West African cotton-producing nations, rich countries agreed to eliminate all export subsidies on cotton in 2006. It also represents a concession by the United States, a major cotton exporter. Rob Portman, a US trade representative said American cotton growers would probably be unhappy about this aspect of the agreement.

The unrest makes the agreement look better than it is, but it does move the ball forward.

December 18, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:14 PM


'Praise the Lord': A tale of 2 Koreans (Norimitsu Onishi, DECEMBER 19, 2005, The New York Times)

As the two Koreas have moved closer in recent years, the complicated relationship between defector and missionary has come to symbolize, perhaps more than anything else, the yawning gap of a half-century division. While the North remains communist, the South has grown into the foothold for Christianity in Northeast Asia.

With a Christian population of nearly 30 percent, the South has the world's second largest missionary movement after the United States, with 14,000 people abroad. An estimated 1,500 are deployed in China, evangelizing secretly and illegally among Chinese and North Korean defectors. South Korean missionaries shelter North Koreans and have brought thousands to the South; others train them to return home to proselytize, as well as smuggle Bibles into the North.

For the South's missionaries, converting those of the North, where Christianity first spread before the peninsula's division, dovetails with their dream of a reunified peninsula. "Oh Lord, please send us, for our brethren up North," reads a verse in the most popular hymn among missionaries working with defectors, "Evangelical Song of Unification." It is also part of a larger dream of spreading the Gospel along the Silk Road back to its source.

Behind these movements, though, are personal ties between defector and missionary, complicated by a balance of power tipped in the South Korean's favor and the inevitable mix of religion, politics and money.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 PM


ADDRESS OF THE PRESIDENT TO THE NATION (President George W. Bush, 12/18/05)

Good evening. Three days ago, in large numbers, Iraqis went to the polls to choose their own leaders – a landmark day in the history of liberty. In coming weeks, the ballots will be counted … a new government formed … and a people who suffered in tyranny for so long will become full members of the free world.

This election will not mean the end of violence. But it is the beginning of something new: constitutional democracy at the heart of the Middle East. And this vote – 6,000 miles away, in a vital region of the world – means that America has an ally of growing strength in the fight against terror.

All who had a part in this achievement – Iraqis, Americans, and Coalition partners – can be proud. Yet our work is not done. There is more testing and sacrifice before us. I know many Americans have questions about the cost and direction of this war. So tonight I want to talk to you about how far we have come in Iraq, and the path that lies ahead.

From this office, nearly three years ago, I announced the start of military operations in Iraq. Our Coalition confronted a regime that defied United Nations Security Council Resolutions … violated a cease-fire agreement … sponsored terrorism … and possessed, we believed, weapons of mass destruction. After the swift fall of Baghdad, we found mass graves filled by a dictator … we found some capacity to restart programs to produce weapons of mass destruction … but we did not find those weapons.

It is true that Saddam Hussein had a history of pursuing and using weapons of mass destruction. It is true that he systematically concealed those programs, and blocked the work of UN weapons inspectors. It is true that many nations believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. But much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. And as your President, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq.

Yet it was right to remove Saddam Hussein from power. He was given an ultimatum – and he made his choice for war. And the result of that war was to rid the world of a murderous dictator who menaced his people, invaded his neighbors, and declared America to be his enemy. Saddam Hussein, captured and jailed, is still the same raging tyrant – only now without a throne. His power to harm a single man, woman, or child is gone forever. And the world is better for it.

Since the removal of Saddam, this war – like other wars in our history – has been difficult. The mission of American troops in urban raids and desert patrols – fighting Saddam loyalists and foreign terrorists – has brought danger and suffering and loss. This loss has caused sorrow for our whole Nation – and it has led some to ask if we are creating more problems than we are solving.

That is an important question, and the answer depends on your view of the war on terror. If you think the terrorists would become peaceful if only America would stop provoking them, then it might make sense to leave them alone.

This is not the threat I see. I see a global terrorist movement that exploits Islam in the service of radical political aims – a vision in which books are burned, and women are oppressed, and all dissent is crushed. Terrorist operatives conduct their campaign of murder with a set of declared and specific goals – to de-moralize free nations … to drive us out of the Middle East … to spread an empire of fear across that region … and to wage a perpetual war against America and our friends. These terrorists view the world as a giant battlefield – and they seek to attack us wherever they can. This has attracted al Qaida to Iraq, where they are attempting to frighten and intimidate America into a policy of retreat.

The terrorists do not merely object to American actions in Iraq and elsewhere – they object to our deepest values and our way of life. And if we were not fighting them in Iraq … in Afghanistan … in Southeast Asia … and in other places, the terrorists would not be peaceful citizens – they would be on the offense, and headed our way.

September 11th, 2001 required us to take every emerging threat to our country seriously, and it shattered the illusion that terrorists attack us only after we provoke them. On that day, we were not in Iraq … we were not in Afghanistan … but the terrorists attacked us anyway – and killed nearly 3,000 men, women, and children in our own country. My conviction comes down to this: We do not create terrorism by fighting the terrorists. We invite terrorism by ignoring them. And we will defeat the terrorists by capturing and killing them abroad … removing their safe havens … and strengthening new allies like Iraq and Afghanistan in the fight we share.

This work has been especially difficult in Iraq – more difficult than we expected. Reconstruction efforts and the training of Iraqi Security Forces started more slowly than we hoped. We continue to see violence and suffering, caused by an enemy that is determined and brutal – unconstrained by conscience or the rules of war.

Some look at the challenges in Iraq, and conclude that the war is lost, and not worth another dime or another day. I don’t believe that. Our military commanders do not believe that. Our troops in the field, who bear the burden and make the sacrifice, do not believe that America has lost. And not even the terrorists believe it. We know from their own communications that they feel a tightening noose – and fear the rise of a democratic Iraq.

The terrorists will continue to have the coward’s power to plant roadside bombs and recruit suicide bombers. And you will continue to see the grim results on the evening news. This proves that the war is difficult – it does not mean that we are losing. Behind the images of chaos that terrorists create for the cameras, we are making steady gains with a clear objective in view.

America, our Coalition, and Iraqi leaders are working toward the same goal – a democratic Iraq that can defend itself … that will never again be a safe haven for terrorists … and that will serve as a model of freedom for the Middle East.

We have put in place a strategy to achieve this goal – a strategy I have been discussing in detail over the last few weeks. This plan has three critical elements.

First, our Coalition will remain on the offense – finding and clearing out the enemy … transferring control of more territory to Iraqi units … and building up the Iraqi Security Forces so they can increasingly lead the fight. At this time last year, there were only a handful of Iraqi army and police battalions ready for combat. Now, there are more than 125 Iraqi combat battalions fighting the enemy … more than 50 are taking the lead … and we have transferred more than a dozen military bases to Iraqi control.

Second, we are helping the Iraqi government establish the institutions of a unified and lasting democracy, in which all of Iraq’s peoples are included and represented. Here also, the news is encouraging. Three days ago, more than 10 million Iraqis went to the polls – including many Sunni Iraqis who had boycotted national elections last January. Iraqis of every background are recognizing that democracy is the future of the country they love – and they want their voices heard. One Iraqi, after dipping his finger in the purple ink as he cast his ballot, stuck his finger in the air and said: “This is a thorn in the eyes of the terrorists.” Another voter was asked, “Are you Sunni or Shia?” He responded, “I am Iraqi.”

Third, after a number of setbacks, our Coalition is moving forward with a reconstruction plan to revive Iraq’s economy and infrastructure – and to give Iraqis confidence that a free life will be a better life. Today in Iraq, seven in 10 Iraqis say their lives are going well – and nearly two-thirds expect things to improve even more in the year ahead. Despite the violence, Iraqis are optimistic – and that optimism is justified.

In all three aspects of our strategy – security, democracy, and reconstruction – we have learned from our experiences, and fixed what has not worked. We will continue to listen to honest criticism, and make every change that will help us complete the mission. Yet there is a difference between honest critics who recognize what is wrong, and defeatists who refuse to see that anything is right.

Defeatism may have its partisan uses, but it is not justified by the facts. For every scene of destruction in Iraq, there are more scenes of rebuilding and hope. For every life lost, there are countless more lives reclaimed. And for every terrorist working to stop freedom in Iraq, there are many more Iraqis and Americans working to defeat them. My fellow citizens: Not only can we win the war in Iraq – we are winning the war in Iraq.

It is also important for every American to understand the consequences of pulling out of Iraq before our work is done. We would abandon our Iraqi friends – and signal to the world that America cannot be trusted to keep its word. We would undermine the morale of our troops – by betraying the cause for which they have sacrificed. We would cause tyrants in the Middle East to laugh at our failed resolve, and tighten their repressive grip. We would hand Iraq over to enemies who have pledged to attack us – and the global terrorist movement would be emboldened and more dangerous than ever before. To retreat before victory would be an act of recklessness and dishonor … and I will not allow it.

We are approaching a New Year, and there are certain things all Americans can expect to see. We will see more sacrifice – from our military … their families … and the Iraqi people. We will see a concerted effort to improve Iraqi police forces and fight corruption. We will see the Iraqi military gaining strength and confidence, and the democratic process moving forward. As these achievements come, it should require fewer American troops to accomplish our mission. I will make decisions on troop levels based on the progress we see on the ground and the advice of our military leaders – not based on artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington. Our forces in Iraq are on the road to victory – and that is the road that will take them home.

In the months ahead, all Americans will have a part in the success of this war. Members of Congress will need to provide resources for our military. Our men and women in uniform, who have done so much already, will continue their brave and urgent work. And tonight, I ask all of you listening to carefully consider the stakes of this war … to realize how far we have come and the good we are doing … and to have patience in this difficult, noble, and necessary cause.

I also want to speak to those of you who did not support my decision to send troops to Iraq: I have heard your disagreement, and I know how deeply it is felt. Yet now there are only two options before our country – victory or defeat. And the need for victory is larger than any president or political party, because the security of our people is in the balance. I do not expect you to support everything I do, but tonight I have a request: Do not give in to despair, and do not give up on this fight for freedom.

Americans can expect some things of me as well. My most solemn responsibility is to protect our Nation, and that requires me to make some tough decisions. I see the consequences of those decisions when I meet wounded servicemen and women who cannot leave their hospital beds, but summon the strength to look me in the eye and say they would do it all over again. I see the consequences when I talk to parents who miss a child so much – but tell me he loved being a soldier … he believed in his mission … and Mr. President, finish the job.

I know that some of my decisions have led to terrible loss – and not one of those decisions has been taken lightly. I know this war is controversial – yet being your President requires doing what I believe is right and accepting the consequences. And I have never been more certain that America’s actions in Iraq are essential to the security of our citizens, and will lay the foundation of peace for our children and grandchildren.

Next week, Americans will gather to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah. Many families will be praying for loved ones spending this season far from home – in Iraq, Afghanistan, or other dangerous places. Our Nation joins in those prayers. We pray for the safety and strength of our troops. We trust, with them, in a love that conquers all fear, and a light that reaches the darkest corners of the Earth. And we remember the words of the Christmas carol, written during the Civil War: “God is not dead, nor [does] He sleep; the Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on Earth, good-will to men.”

Thank you, and good night.

This was an especially tough line: "Defeatism may have its partisan uses, but it is not justified by the facts."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 PM


One is by rail; two is by sea: The United States must prepare for the inevitable day when fuel oil supplies run short. If the White House won't lead, the states should. (The Roanoke Times, 12/18/05)

Gov.-elect Tim Kaine's transportation listening tour has brought out the rail enthusiasts along the congested Interstate 81 corridor.

The need for massive improvements, including dedicated truck lanes and expensive tolls, could be avoided if only truck traffic were diverted off the highways and onto the railroads, chants the rising chorus of rail enthusiasts.

They have a point.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 PM


Poll: 57% in U.S. oppose swift pullout, cite instability (Will Lester, Dec. 18, 2005, Associated Press)

A solid majority of Americans oppose immediately pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, citing as a main reason the desire to finish the job of stabilizing the country, an AP-Ipsos poll found.

About 57 percent of those surveyed said the U.S. military should stay until Iraq is stabilized, while 36 percent favor an immediate troop withdrawal. [...]

Only one in 10 said they wanted to stay in Iraq to fight terrorism; just 3 percent said to protect U.S. national security.

So much for the war being about our own national security.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 PM


Barbarism begins with Barbie, the doll children love to hate (Alexandra Frean, 12/19/05, Times of London)

BARBIE, that plastic icon of girlhood fantasy play, is routinely tortured by children, research has found.

The methods of mutilation are varied and creative, ranging from scalping to decapitation, burning, breaking and even microwaving, according to academics from the University of Bath.

The findings were revealed as part of an in-depth look by psychologists and management academics into the role of brands among 7 to 11-year-old schoolchildren.

The researchers had not intended to focus on Barbie, but they were taken aback by the rejection, hatred and violence she provoked when they asked the children about their feelings for the doll.

Violence and torture against Barbie were repeatedly reported across age, school and gender. No other toy or brand name provoked such a negative response.

That can only be because they don't make real G.I. Joes anymore--that poor bastard has been tortured and killed more ways than an adult could dream of....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 PM


Iraqis in former rebel stronghold now cheer American soldiers (Oliver Poole, 19/12/2005, Daily Telegraph)

In Tal Afar, according to the president, military success had been followed by the restoration of law and order and the implementation of reconstruction projects to give "hope" to its citizens.

Iraq factfile

Visiting the city, nestled near the Syrian border in the north-west of the country, there is no doubt that something has been achieved.

Unlike in Fallujah, another Sunni Arab insurgent stronghold, the storming of which by US marines was the defining campaign of 2004, there is actually large-scale rebuilding in progress.

While many of the citizens of Fallujah still eke out their existence in the ruins of their former homes, in Tal Afar the streets are full of building sites. New sewers have been dug and the fronts of shops, destroyed in the US assault, were replaced within weeks. Sunni police have been hired and 2,000 goats were even distributed to farmers.

More remarkably, the approach of an American military convoy brings people out to wave and even clap, something not seen since the invasion of spring 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:19 PM


Time names Bono, Bill and Melinda Gates Persons of Year (CNN, 12/18/05)

The good deeds of an activist rock legend and one of the world's richest men and his wife carried the day in 2005, as Time magazine on Sunday named U2 frontman Bono and philanthropic couple Bill and Melinda Gates as its "Persons of the Year."

The Left has long dreamed of transnational institutions and rules running the world, yet here are individuals, nevermind states, that matter more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:17 PM


John McCain: Bush Right to Use NSA (NewsMax, 12/18/05)

Sen. John McCain disappointed Democrats on Capitol Hill on Sunday by defending the Bush administration's decision to use the National Security Agency to monitor a limited number of domestic phone calls in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Saying that Sept. 11 "changed everything," McCain told ABC's "This Week": "The president, I think, has the right to do this."

"We all know that since Sept. 11 we have new challenges with enemies that exist within the United States of America - so the equation has changed."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:12 PM


Lessons of 25 Years (Michael Barone, 12/26/05, US News)

What are the lessons of the past 25 years?

First, that American military power can advance freedom and democracy to all corners of the world. Under Reagan and his three successors, America has played a lead role in extending freedom and democracy to most of Latin America, to the Philippines and Indonesia and almost all of East Asia, and, most recently, to Afghanistan and Iraq, with reverberations spreading through the Middle East. Area experts said, often plausibly, those countries' cultures were incompatible with democracy. Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and brave men and women in those nations proved them wrong.

Second, that markets work and that lower taxes and less onerous government produce more economic growth than the alternative. About 43 million jobs have been created in the United States since December 1980, while the number in the more statist nations of western Europe is on the order of 4 million. Markets are creating millions of jobs in nominally Communist China and once socialist India.

Third, that politics and effective government can, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, change the culture. The crime-control methods pioneered by New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the welfare reforms pioneered by Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, imitated around the country and followed up by federal legislation, resulted in huge decreases in crime and welfare dependency.

These lessons have been widely learned and widely applied by George W. Bush and also to a large extent by Bill Clinton. But not, curiously enough, by those who see themselves as the best and the brightest, our university and media elites.

It's been an awfully good quarter century to be an American.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:07 PM


Iraq vote leaves Dems looking like the losers (MARK STEYN , 12/18/05, Chicago Sun-Times)

Well, that old Iraqi quagmire just keeps getting worse and worse, if only for the Democratic Party. What was the straw they were clutching at back in January? Oh, yeah, sure, gazillions of Kurds and Shiites might have gone to the polls, but where were the Sunni? As some of us said at the time, the Sunni'll come out tomorrow. And so they did. On Thursday, they voted in record numbers, leaving Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democrats frantically scrambling for another disaffected Iraqi minority group they could use as proof that the whole crazy neocon war-for-oil scam was a bust.

Unfortunately, there don't seem to be any disaffected Iraqi minority groups left. Oh, wait, there's Ahmed at 37 Sword of the Infidel Slayer Gardens in Ramadi. Apparently, he's still rejecting the new constitution. Maybe, if we're lucky, he's got a brother who's mildly irked. Whoops, sorry, they just went off to vote, too.

Heigh-ho. The Iraq election's over, the media did their best to ignore it, and, judging from the rippling torsos I saw every time I switched on the TV, the press seem to reckon that that gay cowboy movie was the big geopolitical event of the last week, if not of all time. Yes, yes, I know: They're not, technically, cowboys, they're gay shepherds, but even Hollywood isn't crazy enough to think it can sell gay shepherds to the world. And the point is, even if I was in the mood for a story about two rugged insecure men who find themselves strangely attracted to each other in a dark transgressive relationship that breaks all the rules, who needs Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger when you've got Howard Dean and Abu Musad al-Zarqawi? Yee-haw!

In all fairness, doesn't every vote leave them looking like losers?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:01 PM


New World Economy (MATT BAI, 12/18/05, NY Times Magazine)

Wal-Mart has now inherited G.M.'s mantle as the largest employer in the United States, which is why these snapshots of two corporations, taken in a single week, say more about America's economic trajectory than any truckload of spreadsheets ever could.

G.M., of course, was the very prototype of 20th-century bigness, the flagship company for a time when corporate power was vested in the hands of a small number of industrial-era institutions. There is no question that rising labor costs hurt G.M., but that obscures the larger point of the company's decline; caught in the last century's mind-set, it has often been unable or unwilling to let consumers drive its designs, as opposed to the other way around. Must the company keep making Buicks and Pontiacs until the end of days, even as they recede into American lore? Many of the workers G.M. decided to lay off last month were its best and most productive. Their bosses simply couldn't give them a car to build that Americans really wanted to buy.

As it happens, G.M.'s inability to adapt offers some perspective on our political process, too. Democrats in particular, architects of the finest legislation of the industrial age, have approached the global economy with the same inflexibility, at least since Bill Clinton left the scene. Just as G.M. has protected its outdated products at the expense of its larger mission, so, too, have Democrats become more attached to their programs than to the principles that made them vibrant in the first place. So what if Social Security and Medicaid functioned best in a world where most workers had company pensions and health insurance and spent their entire careers with one employer? The mere suggestion that these programs might be updated for a new, more consumer-driven economy sends Democratic leaders into fits of apoplexy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:56 PM


America’s Earliest Terrorists: Lessons from America’s first war against Islamic terror. (Joshua E. London, 12/16/05, National Review)

At the dawn of a new century, a newly elected United States president was forced to confront a grave threat to the nation — an escalating series of unprovoked attacks on Americans by Muslim terrorists. Worse still, these Islamic partisans operated under the protection and sponsorship of rogue Arab states ruled by ruthless and cunning dictators.

Sluggish in recognizing the full nature of the threat, America entered the war well after the enemy’s call to arms. Poorly planned and feebly executed, the American effort proceeded badly and at great expense — resulting in a hastily negotiated peace and an equally hasty declaration of victory.

As timely and familiar as these events may seem, they occurred more than two centuries ago. The president was Thomas Jefferson, and the terrorists were the Barbary pirates. Unfortunately, many of the easy lessons to be plucked from this experience have yet to be fully learned.

Mr. London's book on the topic was one of our picks for the best of 2005

America's First War on Islamic Terror (Orrin Judd, 11/14/2005, Tech Central Station)

Joshua E. London's new book on America's Barbary Wars -- Victory in Tripoli : How America's War with the Barbary Pirates Established the U.S. Navy and Shaped a Nation -- draws fascinating parallels to the current War on Terror. The following is an interview with the author, conducted in October 2005.

Posted by David Cohen at 12:59 PM


Injured soldier back to normal (Michael Rubinkam, AP, 12/17/05)

[Capt. Tamara Montgomery] oversaw more than 20 reconstruction and medical resupply projects, created a program at the University of Hillah to translate Western classics into Arabic, and won the prestigious General Douglas McArthur Award for her leadership.

She also survived three firefights. . . .

Insurgents peppered Montgomery’s convoy with automatic rifle fire on April 11, 2004, killing a Romanian security guard in her SUV. Montgomery, the rear gunner, was shot in the leg, and shrapnel severed the brachial artery in her arm. She managed to kill two insurgents, according to the military. . . .

Twenty months later, she is recovered from her wounds and back at her job as a biologist at Merck & Co.

She could retire from the military.

But she says she likes it too much.

“There is good being done, a lot of good being done. We want to see it finished. We want to see the Iraqi government (and the Iraqi military) be able to take over their country before we come home. Otherwise, all we’ve done is for naught.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:10 AM


Opposition in Iran Showing Signs of Unity (ELI LAKE, December 8, 2005, NY Sun)

In the aftermath of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's ascendancy to the presidency of Iran, the country's opposition is beginning to show signs of unifying as the clerical regime wages a war against internal dissent.

Yesterday, the regime closed all schools in Tehran, citing poor air quality, after word leaked of the first major demonstrations since the summer. Nonetheless, a rally at Tehran University attracted 300 demonstrators amid a heavy police presence on campus. Of note is that before the rally against the new president, a coalition of Kurdish students also signed on to the call.

In Brussels on Monday, a meeting of 250 delegates for a new "World Congress of the Iran Referendum Movement," an outgrowth of efforts last year to find support for changing the charter of the Islamic Republic, agreed on a slate of principles and a plan to begin drafting a new constitution by the end of 2006.

The developments in Iran and abroad are significant after many activists became despondent after the hunger strike of dissident author Akbar Ganji did not end with his release from prison. Mr. Ganji, according to his wife, has been confined to a solitary cell for over 90 days at Evin prison. For a brief moment over the summer, his open letters against the supreme leader catapulted him to national attention as he subsisted on water for nearly three months. But as he has remained in jail and the former intelligence commander, Mr. Ahmadinejad, has placed hardliners loyal to the ruling clerics throughout the government, the space for political opposition has dwindled.

But, according to Iranian author and former political prisoner, Amir Abbas Fakhravar, the era of Mr. Ahmadinejad has also spurred previously warring factions among the opposition to come together.

"You cannot imagine to what extent the selection not the election of Ahmadinejad has had a hidden benefit," Mr. Fakhravar said in a telephone interview."All the sectors of the student and labor organizations and young people have become much closer than before, and became more united. There has been a hardened unity created."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:46 AM


U.S. Ideals Meet Reality in Yemen (David Finkel, December 18, 2005, Washington Post)

On the first day, which would turn out to be the best day, the one day of all 180 days when everything actually seemed possible, the president of Yemen hadn't yet dismissively referred to an American named Robin Madrid as an old woman.

The president's foreign minister had yet to insist that a program of Madrid's -- funded by the U.S. government to bring democracy to Yemen's most lawless corners -- had to end immediately.

The president's interior minister had yet to restrict her from traveling to these corners.

The official newspaper of the president's political party had yet to publish a story suggesting that she was a spy.

On the first day, June 15, 2005, none of the 14 tribal sheiks who gathered in a conference room to meet with Madrid about her program had been followed by the internal police. None had been called by the police in the middle of the night. None had been summoned to the president's palace and told that Americans aren't to be trusted. And none had been hurt, killed or nearly killed, which would happen to one of the men on the 88th day of the program when he would be ambushed by three carloads of men with machine guns in an ongoing tribal war, the very thing that Madrid and the men hoped the program could end.

"So much of this work is done in the dark, or at least the dusk," Madrid would say wearily when that happened. But on the first day, she was so happy to have even reached the point of a first day that the very first words she said when she stood to address these 14 men weren't about war or death or terrorism, all of which would come up soon enough, but about the promise of the moment at hand.

"Let me congratulate you for the courage and the vision to start this," she said with an earnestness that would be painful in hindsight, and as she paused so her words could be translated into Arabic, there was a good, wide smile on her face.

Now the men were smiling, too.

Now they were clapping.

And that's how this began.

What happened over the next six months -- a period of time that ended three days ago -- was an experiment in the very meaning of democracy.

How it ended is this: Yemen, as of Dec. 15, was an embryonic democracy of 20 million people, 60 million guns, ongoing wars, active terrorists, extensive poverty, pervasive corruption, a high illiteracy rate, an infamous port where al Qaeda attacked the USS Cole in 2000, a notorious patch of valley that is the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, and a widespread belief that the United States is the reason life here for so many is so miserable.

On June 15, when Robin Madrid's six-month program began, it was pretty much the same thing.

It takes a real embryo more than six months to develop, for goodness sakes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:44 AM


U.N. Investigator Names Syria in Murder (The Associated Press, December 17, 2005)

The chief U.N. investigator into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri said in remarks published Saturday that he believed Syrian authorities were behind the killing.

It was the first time that Detlev Mehlis has unequivocally accused Syria of responsibility for Hariri's assassination since opening the U.N. probe in June.

Asked by the London-based Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat if he was firmly convinced that Syria was behind Hariri's killing, Mehlis replied, "Yes."

Asked whether he was directly accusing the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Mehlis said, "Let's say the Syrian authorities." He declined to elaborate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:16 AM


White House 'never told' of WMD doubts (Sunday Herald Sun, 18dec05)

THE US administration was never told of doubts about the secret intelligence used to justify war with Iraq, former secretary of state Colin Powell told the BBC in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday night.

Mr Powell, who argued the case for military action against Saddam Hussein in the UN in 2003, told BBC News 24 television he was "deeply disappointed in what the intelligence community had presented to me and to the rest of us."

"What really upset me more than anything else was that there were people in the intelligence community that had doubts about some of this sourcing, but those doubts never surfaced to us," he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:09 AM


House votes against Iraq withdrawal timetables (Stephen Dinan, December 17, 2005, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

The House yesterday voted against setting timetables for withdrawing troops from Iraq, marking the second time in recent weeks Republicans have forced a vote on U.S. policy in Iraq. [...]

The resolution passed 279-109 with 59 Democrats joining Republicans in favor, 108 Democrats and an independent voting against it and 32 Democrats and two Republicans voting present.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 AM


Cheney Makes Surprise Visit to Iraq (RICHARD W. STEVENSON, 12/18/05, NY Times)

Vice President Dick Cheney, taking a look for himself at the country he once predicted would greet Americans as liberators, made a surprise visit to Iraq on Sunday, and proclaimed that last week's election showed tangible progress toward a stable democracy.

After arriving in Baghdad amid great secrecy on Sunday morning, Mr. Cheney hopscotched around Iraq under intense security for nine hours. He got a briefing from the senior American officials in Baghdad, met with Iraq's leaders, got a firsthand look at newly trained Iraqi forces and spoke to United States military personnel.

It was Mr. Cheney's first trip to Iraq as vice president, and upon touching down here, he became the highest ranking American official to visit the country since President Bush's stop here on Thanksgiving 2003.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


Tensions Rise as More Flee Cuba for U.S. (ABBY GOODNOUGH, 12/18/05, NY Times)

The number of Cubans intercepted at sea while trying to reach the United States is at its highest level since tens of thousands took to the Florida Straits on makeshift rafts and in small boats in the 1994 exodus sanctioned by President Fidel Castro.

The sharp rise - and an increase in clashes between would-be immigrants and the Coast Guard - are inflaming tensions over a policy enacted in response to the 1994 migration that allows Cubans without visas to stay if they reach American soil but turns back those caught at sea.

The "wet foot, dry foot" policy, which does not apply to any other immigrant group, is being blamed by critics for at least 39 deaths this year in the Florida Straits and is testing the resolve of the Coast Guard, which the critics say has become too aggressive in enforcing the restrictions.

In offering a permanent escape to Cubans who make it here, they say, the policy encourages them to risk their lives.

If we're not going to change the regime we at least owe it to the Cuban people to accept anyone who wants to flee.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Sunnis ready to cooperate with U.S. (Paul Martin, December 18, 2005, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Key Sunni Muslim leaders in Iraq's violent Anbar province have concluded that their interests lie in cooperating with the United States, and they are seeking to extend a temporary truce honored by most insurgent groups for last week's elections.

But at the same time, they are demanding specific steps by the U.S. military, including a reduction in military raids and an increase in development projects for their vast desert province that stretches from the edge of Baghdad to the Syrian and Jordanian borders.

Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of a prominent Sunni bloc, confirmed yesterday that insurgent groups had prevented violence from interfering with Thursday's election for a 275-seat parliament.

His comments yesterday on a cease-fire deal -- first reported in The Washington Times on the day Iraqis voted -- provided the first public explanation for the sharp drop in violence last week. "

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Bhutan king announces abdication (BBC, 12/18/05)

The king of Bhutan says he will step down when the country will hold its first national democratic elections in 2008, state media reported.

King Jigme Singye Wangchuck said he would be succeeded as leader of the tiny and remote Himalayan kingdom by his son, the crown prince. [...]

Speaking in a remote village three days' drive from the capital, Thimpu, the king told thousands of yak herders, monks, farmers, and students that he would begin handing over responsibility to the crown prince immediately.

"I would like our people to know that the first national election to elect a government under a system of parliamentary democracy will take place in 2008," the 50-year-old told the crowd gathered in Trashiyangtse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


Blair isolated as loyalist Prescott attacks reforms (EDDIE BARNES AND BRIAN BRADY, 12/18/05, Times of London)

TONY Blair suffered a crushing blow to his authority last night after his loyal deputy, John Prescott, broke ranks for the first time to issue a devastating attack on the Prime Minister's education reforms.

In what could prove a decisive moment in Blair's premiership, Prescott declared that the Prime Minister's plans to reform secondary schools in England would condemn working class children to a second class education. [...]

Blair and his Education Secretary Ruth Kelly are proposing a massive shake-up of secondary schools in England, which propose a new breed of self-governing 'trust' schools. New 'City Academies', part-funded by private cash, would also enjoy greater freedom over their admissions policies.

But Prescott last night became the first Cabinet minister to openly voice dissent, declaring: "I'm not totally convinced major reform is necessary."

The Clinton era, during which Democrats might have staked a permanent claim to the Third Way in America, ended when Al Gore gave his convention speech and returned the party to the 1970s. You can feel the Labour hardliners chomping at the same bit. Even the Tories may not be so incompetent as to blow the opportunity they're about to be handed.

MORE (via Mike Daley):
Betrayed by Blair (Daily Telegraph, 18/12/2005)

Join us in a little thought experiment. Suppose that Tony Blair had stuck to his guns in Brussels.

Imagine that he had argued, as he did six months ago, that since Britain was already a disproportionate net contributor to the EU, it was unreasonable for our bill to be increased yet further.

Hypothesise that, when his fellow heads of Government called his proposals "unacceptable", he had replied: "Fine: don't accept them, then", and that the talks had concluded without issue. Conjecture that, in consequence, the EU budget had dried up altogether. Who would have been the big losers?

The main victims would, of course, have been EU officials.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


To feed a lifestyle, some are taking second jobs: More in middle class finding seasonal work (Jenn Abelson, December 18, 2005, Boston Globe)

Kevin Kipler spends his days managing corporate flights and military jets at Bangor International Airport. At night, the 41-year-old father listens to gift orders in a cubicle at L.L. Bean, where he recently took on a seasonal job as a quality control coach.

Sometimes, during his 15-hour days, he forgets which job he's at, mistakenly calling people passengers instead of customers.

''It's a lot of work. You sacrifice a lot," Kipler said. ''But you have to look at the bottom line. I've got a mortgage to pay and other bills. My kids are young, and I'm used to buying them a certain amount of gifts. I don't want to scale back."

Given the choice between cutting back or living well, a growing number of people are choosing to take on a second job. The number of Americans with full-time jobs taking on part-time work during the holiday season jumped nearly 9 percent to 12.2 million people over the past three years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Europeans have unemployment as high as 10% while we can all find second jobs and not a few are willing to work them to improve their own economic standing. We just aren't anything like them anymore.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


RCMP arrest Khadr brother (MICHELLE SHEPHARD, Dec. 18, 2005, TORONTO STAR)

Abdullah Khadr, the eldest son of a reputed Canadian Al Qaeda financier, was arrested by the RCMP yesterday on terrorism-related charges at the request of American authorities. [...]

According to Western intelligence services, Khadr ran an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in the late 1990s. But in an interview with the Star he claimed he's not a terrorist.

"I just want everybody to know I have nothing to do with anything," he said earlier this month.

The RCMP confirmed the arrest. "We arrested Mr. Khadr on the grounds of a provisional warrant issued by the department of justice, after the U.S. government petitioned the Canadian courts to allow for his arrest," said RCMP Corporal Michele Paradis. "The process had nothing to do with the RCMP. We received it today and acted on it."

Odd how much they sound like him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Katrina Killed Across Class Lines: The well-to-do died along with the poor, an analysis of data shows. The findings counter common beliefs that disadvantaged blacks bore the brunt. (Nicholas Riccardi, Doug Smith and David Zucchino, December 18, 2005, LA Times)

The bodies of New Orleans residents killed by Hurricane Katrina were almost as likely to be recovered from middle-class neighborhoods as from the city's poorer districts, such as the Lower 9th Ward, according to a Times analysis of data released by the state of Louisiana.

The analysis contradicts what swiftly became conventional wisdom in the days after the storm hit — that it was the city's poorest African American residents who bore the brunt of the hurricane. Slightly more than half of the bodies were found in the city's poorer neighborhoods, with the remainder scattered throughout middle-class and even some richer districts.

"The fascinating thing is that it's so spread out," said Joachim Singelmann, director of the Louisiana Population Data Center at Louisiana State University. "It's not just the Lower 9th Ward or New Orleans East, which everybody has heard about. It's across the board, including some well-to-do neighborhoods."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Islamists Ride Wave of Freedom: Religious parties in the Middle East are using democracy to gain power and legitimacy (Megan K. Stack and Tyler Marshall, December 18, 2005, LA Times)

In recent elections across Iraq and other countries in the region, Islamist parties have capitalized skillfully on new political freedoms to gain clout and legitimacy unprecedented in the modern Middle East. The growing strength of the religion-based parties is the single most unpredictable element in the Bush administration's grand vision to replace despots with democracy.

Whether it's the Shiite Muslim-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, Lebanon's Hezbollah, the Palestinian group Hamas or Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Islamist parties have benefited from the administration's promotion of democracy in the Arab world.

This is the moment of maximum danger for Islam. If Islamists parties try to run their economies and politics along strictly Islamic lines they're destined not only to fail but to discredit Islam itself as thoroughly as Marxism was descredited by its failures. If, on the other hand, they have foresight enough to adopt rather liberal, Anglo-American, economic policies and combine them with Islamic moral/social policies, they stand to get credit for the rise in living standards that would follow. They may hate America, but it offers the template that those who wish to retain a strong religious base in a modern nation should obviously follow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


'Modest' deal struck in Hong Kong (BBC, 12/18/05)

A limited trade deal has been reached in Hong Kong after developing countries approved a European Union offer to end farm export subsidies by 2013. [...]

The US is resisting pressure to rapidly reduce the subsidies it gives to domestic cotton farmers, a source of great concern for African countries.

BBC economics editor Evan Davis said the toughest trade issues remained unresolved at the end of the meeting.

Sunday's deal on farm export subsidies - which has to be formally agreed by the World Trade Organization's near 150 members - followed round-the-clock negotiations between the US, European Union and developing countries.

Poorer countries pushed hard for an end-date of 2010, so the agreement, which will see some but not all subsidies eliminated by then, represents a compromise.

Get everyone used to the notion and then at the next round push the date forward. We ought to lead though.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


THE STAIN ON AMERICAN LIBERAL DEMOCRACY: A Review Of By Order Of The President: FDR And The Internment Of Japanese Americans By Greg Robinson (DAVID C. LUNDSGAARD, Oct. 26, 2001, Writ Law)

Robinson’s evaluation of FDR’s motivation is complex, referencing a variety of critical factors that affected FDR’s decision-making. These factors included public pressure from politically powerful anti-Japanese interest groups, bad advice from senior staffers, FDR’s free-wheeling administrative style, and outright dishonesty on the part of key administration officials. Ultimately, however, there are two factors that seem to bear most of the weight of Robinson’s answer to his fundamental question of how FDR could have sponsored his administration’s evacuation and internment policy.

The first is the impact on the young FDR of then-common views of "scientific racism." Today, we are prone to ascribe such Social Darwinist thinking to the losers in World War II (Nazis and Fascists), rather than to the winners. Yet Robinson correctly points out how prevalent those views were throughout the Western world during FDR’s life.

Most importantly (and most effectively for his thesis), Robinson goes beyond simply identifying and quoting from the popular Social Darwinist texts of the time, he connects those texts specifically to FDR’s own early writings and speeches. We read FDR echoing enthusiastically the conclusions of American militarists that the Japanese were genetically predisposed to oppose "Western" values and thought; that Japanese American citizens were essentially "inassimilable" into American society; and that Anglo-Saxon racial purity should be maintained through preventing intermarriage between the races.

According to Robinson, this view conditioned FDR to think of the Japanese as fundamentally alien. Thus, when the military suggested that all Japanese be evacuated from the West Coast on the grounds that it was impossible to distinguish between loyal and disloyal Japanese, FDR was prepared to believe that the military view was correct.

Later, FDR was insensitive to the constitutional fact that the government was indefinitely imprisoning American citizens without charge, and Robinson persuasively explains why. It was because, at some level, FDR did not appreciate that Japanese Americans could be true American citizens in the first place.

Oh, well, as long as it was scientific....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Dorothy Sayers: "The Dogma Is the Drama": An interview with Barbara Reynolds. (Chris Armstrong, 12/16/2005, Christianity Today)

CH&B senior editor Chris Armstrong talked recently with Sayers's friend, biographer, and collaborator in Dante translation, Dr. Barbara Reynolds, from her home in England. [...] Dr. Reynolds's 1989 book, The Passionate Intellect: Dorothy L. Sayers' Encounter with Dante, is one of this interviewer's favorite works of intellectual biography. [...]

One of the best-known creative products that flowed from this "tidal wave" of intellectual energy was her mystery stories, which have never been out of print. What is it about these that still compels and speaks to us today?

Certainly, she told stories masterfully—plotting with care and insisting on the "fair play" rule, by which readers are given enough evidence to solve the mystery by the end of the book. And her main characters, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, are both attractive and interesting figures. They develop and deepen—especially in that later sequence of novels which includes Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, and Gaudy Night. This is partly because Sayers wove the threads of her own experience, thoughts, and feelings into the fabric of their characters. This depth dimension in the characters fascinates readers, and they seek out other stories in the series.

But more important for Sayers than bare story were a number of recurring ethical themes that she wove into her tales. A good example of this is Gaudy Night—one of her best novels. The story involves the dawning awareness on the part of Harriet Vane, an Oxford-trained scholar like Sayers herself, that no relationship can ever be sound that is not founded on the integrity of each party.

Harriet has continued to serve as a recognizable, living example of the modern, creative, independent woman, battling to reconcile the conflicting claims of the personal and the impersonal. [...]

When she began writing her plays, Sayers was not yet doing any of the lay theological writing for which she later became renowned. How did this happen?

In April 1938, following the success of her radio play He That Should Come, the editor of the Sunday Times invited Sayers to contribute an article for Passion Sunday. She wrote "The Greatest Drama Ever Staged is the Official Creed of Christendom." This and a companion article, "The Dogma Is the Drama," also published in April 1938 in St Martin's Review, launched her into yet another career as a public apologist and theological writer.

A sentence from a letter Sayers wrote at the time gives you a flavor of these essays: "The dogma of the Incarnation is the most dramatic thing about Christianity, and indeed, the most dramatic thing that ever entered the mind of man; but if you tell people so, they stare at you in bewilderment."

How did her role as a public Christian writer expand in wartime?

As soon as the Second World War was declared, her publisher Victor Gollancz invited his most marketable author to write what he called "a wartime essay." She responded with a book of 152 pages titled Begin Here. This book and a related series of books on national reconstruction that Sayers conceived and edited—Bridgeheads, she called it—laid out four themes.

First, Sayers emphasized the irrevocable nature of time and the need for redemptive human activity: The future is here and now; the past is irretrievably gone; what has gone wrong cannot be undone, it can only be redeemed. Second, she placed creativity at the core of what it means to be human beings made in the image of the Triune God. Third, she grieved over how a mechanistic, capitalist society had devalued work from God-given vocation to a mere means of sustenance. She believed that a mechanized society has diminished the essential nature of human beings by imposing on them repetitive, numbing work. Fourth, she also believed that the prevalently economic structure of society had degraded education by directing it to commercial ends.

Underlying all these themes is a concern for individual freedom and responsibility, or what she called, in reference to Dante, "the drama of the soul's choice." Both the genre of the mystery novel and the peculiar powers of theater allowed her to portray people's moral choices in powerful ways.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Public enemy: Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel 'It Can't Happen Here' envisioned an America in thrall to a homespun facist dictator. Newly reissued, it's as unsettling a read as ever (Joe Keohane, December 18, 2005, Boston Globe)

PICTURE THIS: A folksy, self-consciously plainspoken Southern politician rises to power during a period of profound unrest in America. The nation is facing one of the half-dozen or so of its worst existential crises to date, and the people, once sunny, confident, and striving, are now scared, angry, and disillusioned.

This politician, a ''Professional Common Man,'' executes his rise by relentlessly attacking the liberal media, fancy-talking intellectuals, shiftless progressives, pinkos, promiscuity, and welfare hangers-on, all the while clamoring for a return to traditional values, to love of country, to the pie-scented days of old when things made sense and Americans were indisputably American. He speaks almost entirely in ''noble but slippery abstractions''-Liberty, Freedom, Equality-and people love him, even if they can't fully articulate why without resorting to abstractions themselves.

Through a combination of factors-his easy bearing chief among them (along with massive cash donations from Big Business; disorganization in the liberal opposition; a stuffy, aloof opponent; and support from religious fanatics who feel they've been unfairly marginalized)-he wins the presidential election.

Once in, he appoints his friends and political advisers to high-level positions, stocks the Supreme Court with ''surprisingly unknown lawyers who called [him] by his first name,'' declaws Congress, allows Big Business to dictate policy, consolidates the media, and fills newspapers with ''syndicated gossip from Hollywood.'' Carping newspapermen worry that America is moving backward to a time when anti-German politicians renamed sauerkraut ''Liberty Cabbage'' and ''hick legislators...set up shop as scientific experts and made the world laugh itself sick by forbidding the teaching of evolution,'' but newspaper readers, wary of excessive negativity, pay no mind.

Given the nature of ''powerful and secret enemies'' of America-who are ''planning their last charge'' to take away our freedom-an indefinite state of crisis is declared, and that freedom is stowed away for safekeeping. When the threat passes, we can have it back, but in the meantime, citizens are asked to ''bear with'' the president.

Sure, some say these methods are extreme, but the plain folks are tired of wishy-washy leaders, and feel the president's decisiveness is its own excuse. Besides, as one man says, a fascist dictatorship ''couldn't happen here in America...we're a country of freemen!''

While more paranoid readers might be tempted to draw parallels between this scenario and sundry predicaments we may or may not be in right now....

We're with Babbitt.

December 17, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 PM


Last of the true believers (John Lloyd, December 16 2005, Financial Times)

When the former foreign secretary Robin Cook died, he was given a service in St Giles Cathedral, in his native Edinburgh, one of the historic worshipping places of the Church of Scotland. The former Episcopalian Primate of Scotland and Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway, took the service. He smiled broadly as he described it - “Here was I, an agnostic Anglican, taking the service in a Presbyterian church, for a dead atheist politician. And I thought that was just marvellous.” He added: “Of course, he was a Presbyterian atheist, which means he distrusted authority - even that of atheism” (one could add of Cook, as of many Presbyterians, that he distrusted an authority that was not his own).

Holloway had long been seen as a man living and ministering at the very edge of where religion meets benign disbelief. He publishes a slim volume of reflections most years; the latest is an effort at reconciliation of the human with what he calls “the massive indifference of the universe”. He addresses himself to, and puts himself among, those “who are living Out There, in the place where God is absent”. In an earlier, less bleak book he writes that if the “truth” of Christianity (and of other great religions) can never be proven, still its moral challenge should not be renounced - an abandonment of the form to save the core. In another he writes that many thinkers “admire the way religions at their best produce people who are benefactors of humanity, servants of the poor and champions of the weak. While they may no longer practise religion themselves, they like the way it continues to challenge human folly and cruelty.”

Holloway’s vision is what Christianity in Britain tends to become: a repository of presumed goodness and wisdom which has no, or at best a very distant, God, but owes a lot to Him. [...]

This decline is significant for Britain, even if most of its citizens don’t actively care, for two reasons. First, there has never been an organised, non-Christian challenge to the established Churches on their own territory before. Judaism, itself declining in the UK, was never much interested in converts and is determinedly patriotic: no synagogue service is complete without wishes for the health of the monarch and the government. Now, however, the established Churches face in Islam a faith that is militant, self-confident, fundamentalist (even where it is, by its own lights, moderate) and linked to communities of largely recent immigrants that are growing while the older established communities of the UK are shrinking. On one estimate, there will be more Muslims in mosques than Christians in churches by 2013. It is presently the faith of the future: it grows through rising birth rates and through conversion, including among the young urban poor to whom Christianity still ministers and does much to assist, but does not appeal. Yet unlike the other faiths, it has little interest in dialogue or even understanding, has many adherents who are militantly anti-Semitic or anti-Hindu and it links Christianity to the oppression of the Muslim and, above all, the Arab world.

Second, care or not, the thought that the Christian religion will actually dwindle into real insignificance is a sobering one. What then becomes the standard for morality? Politics? But political parties are themselves declining and their ideologies are no longer convincing as moral poles, even to themselves. Civic duty might sustain a working morality; so too might feelings of charity, or pity, or remorse. But these latter emotions have come to us through Christianity, even if we have secularised and bureaucratised them. If what sustained them is, or becomes, too weak to continue the tradition, what happens to them?

The second reason is why the first is promising, not threatening.

MORE (via Ed Driscoll):
O come, all ye faithless (Mark Steyn, 12/17/05, The Spectator)

Peter Watson, the author of a new book called Ideas: a History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud, was interviewed by the New York Times the other day, and was asked to name ‘the single worst idea in history’. He replied:

‘Without question, ethical monotheism. The idea of one true god. The idea that our life and ethical conduct on Earth determines how we will go into the next world. This has been responsible for most of the wars and bigotry in history.’

And a Merry Christmas to you, too. For a big-ideas guy, Watson is missing the bigger question: something has to be ‘responsible for most of the wars and bigotry’, and if it wasn’t religion, it would surely be something else. In fact, in the 20th century, it was. Europe’s post-Christian pathogens of communism and Nazism unleashed horrors on a scale inconceivable even to the most ambitious Pope. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot: you’d look in vain for any of them in the pews each Sunday. Marx has a lot more blood on his hands than Christ — other people’s blood, I mean — but the hyper-rationalists are noticeably less keen to stick him with the tab for the party. [...]

It’s hard to persuade an atheist to believe in God. But unless he’s the proverbial ‘militant atheist’ — or, more accurately, fundamentalist atheist — the so-called rationalist ought to be capable of a rational assessment of the comparative strengths and weaknesses of different societies. If he is, he’ll find it hard to conclude other than that the most secular societies have the worst prospects. Rationalism is killing poor childless Europe. But instead of rethinking the irrationalism of rationalism, the rationalists are the ones clinging to blind faith, ever more hysterically.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 PM


Powell raps Europe on CIA flights (BBC, 12/17/05)

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has indicated that Europeans are being disingenuous when they deny knowledge of the rendition of terror suspects.

Mr Powell said the recently highlighted practice of moving people to places where they are not covered by US law was neither "new or unknown" to Europe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 PM


Class war: Prescott attacks Blair's education reforms and Cameron's 'Eton Mafia' (Patrick Hennessy and Melissa Kite, 18/12/2005, Daily Telegraph)

John Prescott reignites the "class war" today in an outspoken attack on the Eton "Mafia" running the Conservative Party and an assault on Tony Blair's planned education reforms.

The Deputy Prime Minister pulled no punches in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, asserting that Labour were "always better fighting class" and that the battle against the Tories of Eton-educated David Cameron would rejuvenate his party.

It is, however, his decision to break cover and warn that Mr Blair's White Paper on school reform could lead to a two-tier, class-ridden education system, that will electrify Westminster.

Cameron Derangement Syndrome already?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 PM

WORTH MORE MOLTEN (via Bryan Francoeur):

Heist of hefty Henry Moore sculpture (Reuters, 12/17/05)

British police hunted for three men on Saturday who stole a huge bronze Henry Moore sculpture worth up to 3 million pounds ($5.3 million) and a spokesman said they feared the piece would be destroyed for scrap.

Whic pretty much sums up modern art.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:31 PM


Can America keep it up? (The Economist, Dec 14th 2005)

FOR several years now, economists have been watching American consumers with the same mixture of astonishment and anticipation that wide-eyed fans bring to endurance sports: amazing that they’ve made it so far, but how much longer can they go on like this? Strong consumer spending has underpinned America’s robust economic expansion, even as most other industrialised countries have struggled to get their economies back on track. But consumers have been running down savings to sustain this level of spending; the personal savings rate has actually been negative since June. Booming house prices and low interest rates have enabled consumers to take on more debt without suffering much, but with interest rates now climbing, Americans have begun to feel the pinch. Data from the Federal Reserve show that the percentage of household disposable income devoted to servicing debt was a record 16.6% in the third quarter.

Yet the consumers soldier on. Figures released by the Census Bureau on Tuesday December 13th show that retail sales in November, when the Christmas shopping season starts, were up by 0.3% from October, and 6.3% higher than a year earlier. And on Wednesday, the Department of Commerce announced that imports of oil, cars and consumer goods caused the already gaping trade deficit to balloon even further in October, to a record $68.9 billion. This surprised economists, who had been expecting the deficit to fall slightly as oil prices subsided from their September highs.

It seems unlikely that consumers will have the stamina to keep this up much longer.

I just know this is the year the USSR surpasses our GDP...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:09 PM


Reflections in the Evening Land: The celebrated critic Harold Bloom, despairing of contemporary America, turns to his bookshelves to understand the trajectory of his country (Harold Bloom, December 17, 2005, The Guardian)

Huey Long, known as "the Kingfish," dominated the state of Louisiana from 1928 until his assassination in 1935, at the age of 42. Simultaneously governor and a United States senator, the canny Kingfish uttered a prophecy that haunts me in this late summer of 2005, 70 years after his violent end: "Of course we will have fascism in America but we will call it democracy!"

I reflected on Huey Long (always mediated for me by his portrait as Willie Stark in Robert Penn Warren's novel, All the King's Men) recently, when I listened to President George W Bush addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was thus benefited by Rupert Murdoch's Fox TV channel, which is the voice of Bushian crusading democracy, very much of the Kingfish's variety. Even as Bush extolled his Iraq adventure, his regime daily fuses more tightly together elements of oligarchy, plutocracy, and theocracy.

At the age of 75, I wonder if the Democratic party ever again will hold the presidency or control the Congress in my lifetime.

You don't have to approve of Huey Long to find it amusing that it was instead FDR who set up the American concentration camps.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 PM


Election Day on the Euphrates: Democracy vs. Zarqawi (Bill Roggio, 12/26/2005, Weekly Standard)

In the Sunni-dominated province of Anbar, the cities of Barwana, Haqlaniya, and Haditha are collectively known as the Triad. Over the summer, before the joint U.S. military and Iraqi forces established a security presence in the Triad, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda's commander in Iraq, was said to have run up the black flag and declared the region an "Islamic Republic." Beheadings, hangings, and execution-style killings were routinely carried out against those who were believed to have cooperated with U.S. forces or the Iraqi government.

On Election Day last week, the atmosphere in the Triad was quite different. In the city of Barwana, with a population of approximately 20,000, voters showed up in droves. The process was more or less orderly, and no one was harassed for participating. I observed all this as an embed with Lima Company of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, the unit assigned to ensure the security of the city in conjunction with the Iraqi Army.

The polling site in Barwana was on the Euphrates River, between hills and a teeming palm grove, a welcome site in the land of deserts. The voting center was easy to secure as well as accessible to the residents. But there seemed to be a hidden meaning behind its placement. The voting center sat directly beneath the recently destroyed Barwana bridge, where Zarqawi terrorists had routinely executed residents. And the building itself used to be the headquarters of the local Baath party. If there was a message here, it was this: The old order is dead, and a new government has replaced the repressive regimes that once dominated the Triad and Iraq.

As in the wars against Nazism and Communism, folks underestimate the advantage we have thanks to our enemy being delusional.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:44 PM


Taking Liberties With the Nation's Security (RUDOLPH W. GIULIANI, 12/17/05, NY Times)

YESTERDAY the Senate failed to reauthorize the USA Patriot Act, as a Democratic-led filibuster prevented a vote. This action - which leaves the act, key elements of which are due to expire on Dec. 31, in limbo - represents a grave potential threat to the nation's security. I support the extension of the Patriot Act for one simple reason: Americans must use every legal and constitutional tool in their arsenal to fight terrorism and protect their lives and liberties.

Smart politics.

Radio Address by the President to the Nation (George W. Bush, The Roosevelt Room, 12/17/05)

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning.

As President, I took an oath to defend the Constitution, and I have no greater responsibility than to protect our people, our freedom, and our way of life. On September the 11th, 2001, our freedom and way of life came under attack by brutal enemies who killed nearly 3,000 innocent Americans. We're fighting these enemies across the world. Yet in this first war of the 21st century, one of the most critical battlefronts is the home front. And since September the 11th, we've been on the offensive against the terrorists plotting within our borders.

One of the first actions we took to protect America after our nation was attacked was to ask Congress to pass the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act tore down the legal and bureaucratic wall that kept law enforcement and intelligence authorities from sharing vital information about terrorist threats. And the Patriot Act allowed federal investigators to pursue terrorists with tools they already used against other criminals. Congress passed this law with a large, bipartisan majority, including a vote of 98-1 in the United States Senate.

Since then, America's law enforcement personnel have used this critical law to prosecute terrorist operatives and supporters, and to break up terrorist cells in New York, Oregon, Virginia, California, Texas and Ohio. The Patriot Act has accomplished exactly what it was designed to do: it has protected American liberty and saved American lives.

Yet key provisions of this law are set to expire in two weeks. The terrorist threat to our country will not expire in two weeks. The terrorists want to attack America again, and inflict even greater damage than they did on September the 11th. Congress has a responsibility to ensure that law enforcement and intelligence officials have the tools they need to protect the American people.

The House of Representatives passed reauthorization of the Patriot Act. Yet a minority of senators filibustered to block the renewal of the Patriot Act when it came up for a vote yesterday. That decision is irresponsible, and it endangers the lives of our citizens. The senators who are filibustering must stop their delaying tactics, and the Senate must vote to reauthorize the Patriot Act. In the war on terror, we cannot afford to be without this law for a single moment.

To fight the war on terror, I am using authority vested in me by Congress, including the Joint Authorization for Use of Military Force, which passed overwhelmingly in the first week after September the 11th. I'm also using constitutional authority vested in me as Commander-in-Chief.

In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on our nation, I authorized the National Security Agency, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. Before we intercept these communications, the government must have information that establishes a clear link to these terrorist networks.

This is a highly classified program that is crucial to our national security. Its purpose is to detect and prevent terrorist attacks against the United States, our friends and allies. Yesterday the existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports, after being improperly provided to news organizations. As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk. Revealing classified information is illegal, alerts our enemies, and endangers our country.

As the 9/11 Commission pointed out, it was clear that terrorists inside the United States were communicating with terrorists abroad before the September the 11th attacks, and the commission criticized our nation's inability to uncover links between terrorists here at home and terrorists abroad. Two of the terrorist hijackers who flew a jet into the Pentagon, Nawaf al Hamzi and Khalid al Mihdhar, communicated while they were in the United States to other members of al Qaeda who were overseas. But we didn't know they were here, until it was too late.

The authorization I gave the National Security Agency after September the 11th helped address that problem in a way that is fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities. The activities I have authorized make it more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time. And the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad.

The activities I authorized are reviewed approximately every 45 days. Each review is based on a fresh intelligence assessment of terrorist threats to the continuity of our government and the threat of catastrophic damage to our homeland. During each assessment, previous activities under the authorization are reviewed. The review includes approval by our nation's top legal officials, including the Attorney General and the Counsel to the President. I have reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the September the 11th attacks, and I intend to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from al Qaeda and related groups.

The NSA's activities under this authorization are thoroughly reviewed by the Justice Department and NSA's top legal officials, including NSA's general counsel and inspector general. Leaders in Congress have been briefed more than a dozen times on this authorization and the activities conducted under it. Intelligence officials involved in this activity also receive extensive training to ensure they perform their duties consistent with the letter and intent of the authorization.

This authorization is a vital tool in our war against the terrorists. It is critical to saving American lives. The American people expect me to do everything in my power under our laws and Constitution to protect them and their civil liberties. And that is exactly what I will continue to do, so long as I'm the President of the United States.

Thank you.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:41 AM


Annan tells Bush that Iraqi vote went well (Associated Press, Dec. 17, 2005)

UN Secretary-General Kofi ] Annan told Bush that violence in Iraq was low, voter turnout was high and that the Iraqi people had cleared another hurdle "on the road to democracy," said Federick Jones, spokesman for the National Security Council.

Sure the Oil-for-Food scandal was a disgrace, but the beauty is we got our war anyway and now we own the Secretary-General.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 AM


Iran President's Bodyguard Dies in Ambush (Iran Focus, December 17, 2005)

One of the bodyguards of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was killed and another wounded when an attempt to ambush the presidential motorcade was thwarted in the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan, according to a semi-official newspaper and local residents.

“At 6:50 pm on Thursday, the lead car in the presidential motorcade confronted armed bandits and trouble-makers on the Zabol-Saravan highway”, the semi-official Jomhouri Islami reported on Saturday.

“In the ensuing armed clash, the driver of the vehicle, who was an indigenous member of the security services, and one of the president’s bodyguards died, while another bodyguard was wounded”, the newspaper, which was founded by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wrote.

Ahmadinejad traveled to the restive province, where ethnic Baluchis have been fighting for years for autonomy, on Wednesday and returned to Tehran on Friday afternoon. Tehran often refers to anti-government activists and political opponents of the Islamist regime as “bandits” and “trouble-makers”.

The newspaper report made no mention of Ahmadinejad’s whereabouts during the attack on his bodyguards’ vehicle, but Zabol residents reached by telephone said there were rumors in the town that the hard-line president himself was the target of the attack, which took place near Zabol.

He has more to fear from Ayatollah Khameini than from the Baluchi.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


A friend at the Fed? (Larry Kudlow, Dec 17, 2005, Townhall)

I still can't forgive the central bank for decimating and deflating the bullish stock market economy five years ago, a move that temporarily ended the great productivity surge of the Internet revolution. But perhaps they have learned a thing or two, and perhaps the arrival of the brilliant Ben Bernanke as Fed chair will be an occasion for real change.

In shorthand, the Fed's policy statement last week strongly suggested that the recent 18-month tightening cycle soon will come to an end. It raised its target rate from 4 percent to 4.25 percent, and perhaps there's another small move or two left. But bond-market indicators have for quite some time been signaling an absence of inflationary pressures -- a matter confirmed by the actual data, where the basic inflation rate continues under 2 percent.

Not only has the 10-year Treasury bond been hovering at a half-century low of 4.5 percent for many years, but the difference between this cash bond and its inflation-indexed cousin suggests that low inflation is here to stay for another decade.

There's no excuse for real interest rates as high as they are in globalized economy with demographics trending towards the aged.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


The Collapsing Claims on Cloning (NY Times, 12/17/05)

The Korean fiasco should serve as a stimulus to get American scientists cracking on their own plans for therapeutic cloning research, and on doing it right.

While they're at it, why not redo the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment with non-blacks?

The Long Road of Eugenics: From Rockefeller to Roe v. Wade (Rebecca Messall, 10/11/05, Human Life Review )

The infamous Roe v. Wade decision relies directly and indirectly on the work of members of the British and American eugenic societies and of eugenics- related groups and initiatives. The evidence that eugenics was a basis for Roe helps explain the seemingly irreconcilable contradiction between constitutional theory and current constitutional practice. The inscription on the U.S. Supreme Court building proclaims, “Equal Justice Under Law”— but eugenics is based on the premise that people are not equal, that some are lesser than others: particularly people who are disabled, but also people who are not white, or who are not well educated, or who are weakened by age or illness. In 1999, a Time magazine article described the 20th century as “cursed by eugenics”; in 2004, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., sponsored an exhibit about the Darwin-based eugenic theory behind the Nazis’ plans to breed a race of human thoroughbreds.

More than 30 years after Roe and 60 years after the Holocaust, the fact that eugenic theory has been an important basis for U.S. policy on reproductive rights continues to have global implications. American foreign policy today legitimizes groups that advocate abortion and other forms of population control in non-white countries. At the domestic level, abortion has had a disparate effect on African-Americans: The reduction in the number of black voters from the number that would have existed absent Roe has diluted their political voice. In 1996, U.S. News & World Report reported that “blacks, who make up 14 percent of all childbearing women, have 31 percent of all abortions, and whites, who account for 81 percent of women of childbearing age, have 61 percent.” In December 2003, the Centers for Disease Control reported that between 1980 and 2002 the African-American fertility rate per one thousand women had been cut from 84.9 to 65.8, while the fertility rate for whites moved down only slightly from 65.6 to 64.8 per one thousand women.

The Nazi Connection

U.S. abortion policy is visible in the American Eugenics Society’s 1956 membership records, which reveal that its members included a Planned Parenthood founder, Margaret Sanger, and at least two of its presidents, William Vogt and Alan Guttmacher. This fact alone ought to give abortionrights advocates second thoughts about their pro-choice politics: The AES had an ugly history of multiple ties to prominent Nazis in Germany, and its members even assisted Hitler in crafting the 1933 German sterilization laws. The group retained, while Hitler was in power, top Nazi scientists—Drs. Rudin, Fischer, and Ruttke—as advisers and journal contributors. Among the AES members—after the Holocaust—was Dr. Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, a co-director of the Rockefeller-funded Kaiser Wilhelm Eugenics Institute in Germany. Before 1940, Verschuer had founded the Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Research at Frankfurt University, and retained Dr. Josef Mengele as his assistant. Verschuer had written a widely circulated paper in which he described the need for a “complete solution to the Jewish question.” At one point, he provided Mengele with a recommendation letter, which praised Mengele’s “reliability, combined background in anthropology and medicine, and capacity for clear verbal presentation of difficult intellectual problems.” It was Verschuer who made the fateful recommendation to Mengele that he request a transfer to Auschwitz, which offered a “unique possibility” for biological research. At Auschwitz, Mengele dissected people after they were tortured and killed, and sent his “research” to Verschuer. Before the Holocaust, the AES had lobbied successfully for the Johnson Act, the restrictive 1924 immigration law that— among other things—caused the steamship St. Louis to be refused entry to the U.S. in 1939; the ship returned to Europe, where many of the Jews aboard were killed.

The AES lobbied, with equal success, for involuntary-sterilization laws in the U.S., which were to claim an estimated 63,000 victims. The laws were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1927 case of Buck v. Bell, which was cited in Roe. Some states—Oregon, Virginia, South Carolina, and California—have recently extended official regrets and/or apologies for those laws.

Blackmun, the Rockefellers, and Eugenics

Justice Harry A. Blackmun’s 1973 opinion in Roe is traceable to eugenics through his direct and indirect citations of works by members of the British and American eugenics societies. Among the other authorities he cited were lower federal court cases that expressly invoked overpopulation as a basis for legalizing abortion; projects and organizations tinged with eugenics, including the Rockefellers’ Kinsey-based Model Penal Code and the American Public Health Association, which was on record in favor of abortion as a form of population control; Justice Holmes’s Buck v. Bell decision; and Roe’s companion decision, Doe v. Bolton, which effectively swept away the Model Penal Code’s state-by-state effort to liberalize abortion, thus realizing one of the stated aims of radical eugenic activists.

To interpret Roe, Buck v. Bell, and other Supreme Court cases as benchmarks in an organized political effort to establish a eugenic social vision for America may seem counterintuitive, considering current popular rhetoric emphasizing individual rights. But contemporary documents demonstrate the persistent popularity of eugenics among influential social figures and policymakers, which makes its incorporation into constitutional law less surprising.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


Chinese Pressing to Keep Village Silent on Clash (HOWARD W. FRENCH, 12/17/05, NY Times)

Residents of Dongzhou, a small town now cordoned off by heavy police roadblocks and patrols, said in scores of interviews on the telephone and with visitors that they had endured beatings, bribes and threats at the hands of security forces in the week and a half after their protest against the construction of a power plant was violently put down. Others said that the corpses of the dead had been withheld, apparently because they were so riddled with bullets that they would contradict the government's version of events. And residents have been warned that if they must explain the deaths of loved ones - many of whom were shot dead during a tense standoff with the police in which fireworks, blasting caps and crude gasoline bombs were thrown by the villagers - they should simply say their relatives were blown up by their own explosives.

"Local officials are talking to families that had relatives killed in the incident, telling them that if they tell higher officials and outsiders that they died by accident, by explosives, while confronting the police, they must make it sound convincing," said one resident of the besieged town in an interview. "If the family members speak this way they are being promised 50,000 yuan ($6,193), and if not, they will be beaten and get nothing out of it."

Another villager, who, like other residents, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear or reprisals, said families of the dead who agreed to invoke accidental explosion as the cause of death had been offered $15,000 each.

"The story is being spread around the village that people were not killed by bullets, but by bombs," said one man interviewed Friday by telephone. "That's rubbish. Everybody knows they were killed by gunfire."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


Late shoppers get benefit of bargains (Jen Haberkorn, December 17, 2005, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

If you've put off your holiday shopping, you might be in luck.

Retailers have cut prices to spur last-minute spending during the final full shopping weekend of the season. Eight days are left before Christmas and the start of Hanukkah.

Stores such as Sears, Macy's and Filene's Basement are holding hours-long sales today, as they did on the day after Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.

Department stores are opening early -- most at 7 a.m., not quite as early as they did to start the season, when some opened at 5 a.m. -- and advertising sales of 10 percent to 70 percent off.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Key factors bode well for troop cuts in Iraq (Rowan Scarborough, December 17, 2005, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Iraq's nearly violence-free elections and the improved performance of its security forces sets the stage for the top U.S. commander there to soon recommend reducing American troop levels to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Army Gen. George Casey, the top commander, yesterday remained guarded about withdrawing troops, although he said this past summer that "substantial" troop drawdowns may occur.

But defense sources say the so-called base force that was increased to around 150,000 to provide extra security for Thursday's parliamentary election could drop to below 100,000. The public plan already calls for shrinking levels to 138,000 and administration officials have signaled thousands more troops will come home in 2006.

So after a couple years of worry-warts fretting about our breaking the armed forces, we arrive at the more realistic question of why we need a military big enough to occupy one of the most militarized and heavily-armed nations on Earth anymore?

2 Top Americans in Baghdad Urge Unity (JOHN F. BURNS, 12/17/05, NY Times)

"The people, particularly the Sunni folks that I talk to, want a government that is seen as broadly representative of all the different ethnic and sectarian groups of Iraq," Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the American commander in Iraq, told a Pentagon news conference by video link from Baghdad. "That is the one thing I think that will help pull this country together in relatively short order."

A similar statement was issued by the American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born Muslim who has been an energetic conciliator here. He is expected to help broker the compromises necessary before Iraqis get their first full-term government since the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

The public statements by the two most powerful Americans in Iraq - the general who will guide military strategy and the ambassador who will coach and nudge Iraqi politicians - were a rare, and apparently coordinated, display of American influence at a key juncture in the Iraq war. With the election over, the last major milestone in the American-sponsored political process here has been passed, and Iraq's future course will depend increasingly on the four-year government that will emerge from the results.

General Casey and Mr. Khalilzad appeared concerned that the momentum gained through a largely peaceful election with wide participation from all Iraqi groups, crucially including large numbers of Sunni Arabs who had previously boycotted the political process, could be lost amid a new round of political squabbling.

Sunni Leader Open to Coalition Government (ROBERT H. REID, 12/17/05, Associated Press)
A leading Sunni politician said Friday his party would be open to an alliance with secular Shiites and Kurds to form a coalition government to run the country once the results are in from this week's parliamentary elections.

"We will not accept the exclusion of any segment of the Iraqi people unless they themselves don't want to participate," said Adan al-Dulaimi, a former Islamic studies professor who heads a Sunni Arab bloc that is now expected to have power in parliament.

U.S. officials view al-Dulaimi, who heads an alliance called the Iraqi Accordance Front, as a possible intermediary who could persuade some Sunni-led insurgent groups in restive Anbar province to join the political process after boycotting previous votes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


UN stages rare Burma discussion (Susannah Price, 12/17/05, BBC)

Denmark's ambassador to the UN, Ellen Margrethe Loj, said the briefing was a clear signal that the world had not forgotten the suffering of Burma.

The United States and the United Kingdom, among others, have argued that Burma should be taken up by the Security Council because drugs trafficking and refugees make it a threat to international peace and security.

But other countries say its record is an internal issue.

As long as there's an America, denial of God-given rights will never be an internal issue.

Myanmar Back on U.N. Agenda: The Security Council discusses problems in the military-run Southeast Asian country after being prodded by the U.S. and Britain. (Maggie Farley, December 17, 2005, LA Times)

[D]iplomats said the United States and Britain argued in the closed-door meeting that conditions within the country destabilized the region, as refugees, drugs and slave labor flowed across its borders.

British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said that despite disagreement about whether those problems constitute an international threat, the meeting was an important first step. [...]

Additional pressure to address Myanmar came from a September report commissioned by Desmond Tutu, another Nobel peace laureate, and former Czech President Vaclav Havel. [...]

President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressed Asian leaders for action during a recent trip to an economic summit in South Korea.

This week, the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations authorized Malaysia's foreign minister to visit Myanmar to push for "tangible results" in the country's democratic reforms.

Myanmar has produced a seven-stage road map toward free elections and held a constitutional convention earlier this month, but without Suu Kyi's opposition party.

One of the conditions imposed by China and like-minded countries was that the Security Council discussion of Myanmar be a one-time event.

Discussions regarding politically sensitive situations in Sudan and Zimbabwe faced similar resistance by China and Russia, which generally object to interference in a country's internal affairs, as well as African countries.

But Britain and the U.S. slipped them onto the agenda, and now problems in both African countries are being addressed by the council.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


EU leaders agree new budget plan (BBC, 12/17/05)

UK PM Tony Blair announces the budget deal, flanked by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (L) and European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso

Tony Blair statement
European leaders have agreed the next seven-year EU budget after two days of tense talks ended in the early hours.

The UK gives up 10.5bn euros (£7bn) of its rebate, some 20%, while the budget grows to 862.4bn euros, helping to fund the development of new member states.

In return, France has agreed to a budget review in 2008-2009, which could lead to cuts in farm subsidies.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said the deal allowed Europe to move forward, avoiding a serious crisis.

Budget cuts that aren't up-front never happen. It's a terrible loss for Mr. Blair and the Tories ought to make hay of it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Psychology Behind Homosexual Tendencies (Richard Fitzgibbons, December 2005, Zenit

The new Vatican document on the priesthood and homosexual tendencies mentions a range of conditions, from deep-seated homosexual tendencies to transitory same-sex attractions. To learn more about the nuances of the range of homosexual tendencies and their treatment, ZENIT turned to Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist, author and contributor to the Catholic Medical Association's document "Homosexuality and Hope."

Q: How would you distinguish between someone with same-sex attractions and someone with deep-seated homosexual tendencies?

Fitzgibbons: Those with deep-seated homosexual tendencies identify themselves as
homosexual persons and are usually unwilling to examine their emotional conflicts that caused this tendency. Strong physical attraction is present to other men's bodies and to the masculinity of others due to profound weakness in male confidence.

These individuals in the priesthood have a significant affective immaturity with excessive anger and jealousy toward males who are not homosexual, insecurity that leads them to avoid close friendships with such males and an inordinate need for attention.

Most of these men had painful adolescent experiences of significant loneliness and sadness, felt insecure in their masculinity, and had a poor body image. Well-designed research studies have demonstrated a much higher prevalence of psychiatric illness in those who identify themselves as homosexual.

Under severe stress they may even experience strong physical and sexual attraction to adolescent males, as has occurred in the crisis in the Church. Frequently, they may have difficulty working in a collegial and comfortable way with heterosexual males.

Unresolved paternal anger is regularly misdirected as rebellion against the magisterium and the Church's teaching on sexual morality. Unfortunately, their denial, defensiveness and anger block their openness to seek the Lord's help with their emotional and behavioral weaknesses.

Those with mild homosexual tendencies do not identify themselves as homosexuals. Such men are motivated to understand and to overcome their emotional conflicts. They regularly seek psychotherapy and spiritual direction.

The goal of counseling is to uncover early conflicts, forgive those who hurt them and increase their male confidence — which in time may lead to the resolution of same-sex attractions.

Such men accept and want to live and teach the fullness of the Church's teaching on sexual morality. They do not support the homosexual culture but see it as antithetical to the universal call to holiness.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Background of Modern Feminism: a review of Woman and Society by Meyrick Booth (Christopher Dawson, October 1930, The Criterion)

Dr. Booth argues, as I think, rightly, that the root of the problem lies in the fundamental maladaptation of modern civilization to feminine needs. "Woman," he writes, "is so deeply rooted in the soil of personal relationships and racial instincts, that she can never permanently thrive in the arid soil of a dehumanized and technical type of life." And the more successful is the feminist movement, and the further women penetrate into economic and professional life, the deeper becomes her disillusionment and the more intense her discontent and sex-hostility. It is precisely in those societies and classes in which the feminist programme has been most completely realized that women are most dissatisfied. It is true that modern civilization presses hardly on the male personality also; but as D. H. Lawrence pointed out in one of his last essays, a man can live by will alone, he can find satisfaction in personal ambition and in a purely external activity, whereas woman seeks her fulfillment in a deeper and more instinctive contact with life and can find no rest in the dry and empty places of modern mechanistic civilization.

Thus Feminism marks the disintegration of the traditional social order in its most fundamental aspects, but it does not offer any prospect of reintegration or social construction. It may be argued that modern civilization requires the levelling down of sex distinctions, and that the society of the future will be a human hive of almost sexless workers in which the function of reproduction will be delegated to a specialized minority. But such a solution would demand such fundamental changes in human nature that it is hardly conceivable. It is much easier to suppose that the present situation is due to the temporary failure of an artificial civilization to adjust itself to the permanent needs of human nature and that we shall have to retrace our steps.

Always remarkable to read the great conservatives of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries and see how clearly they understood the imposibility of the Left experiment, then consider that the experiment would run for two hundred years anyway.

December 16, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:59 PM


These weren't necessarily published this year, but I finally got to them this year. [Included are links to our reviews and to purchase the books at Amazon.] Please feel free to add your own.

Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery, the U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 (2003) - Nathaniel Philbrick

Victory in Tripoli : How America's War with the Barbary Pirates Established the U.S. Navy and Shaped a Nation (2005) - Joshua E. London

Divided by God: America's Church-State Problem--and What We Should Do About It (2005) - Noah Feldman

Our Culture, What's Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses,/a> (2005) - Theodore Dalrymple

Living It Up At National Review: A Memoir (2005) - Priscilla L. Buckley

Treehouse Chronicles: One Man's Dream of Life Aloft (2005) - S. Peter Lewis

Satchmo: The Genius of Louis Armstrong (1988) - Gary Giddins

Notes from Underground (1864) - Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag (2000) - Kang Chol-Hwan

Loving Soren (2005) - Caroline Coleman O'Neill

Dissolution (2004) - C. J. Sansom

Dr. Sam Johnson: Detector (1946) - Lillian de la Torre

Boswell's Presumptous Task: The Making of the Life of Dr. Johnson (2001) - Adam Sisman

No god but God : The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam (2005) - Reza Aslan

The Battle of Salamis : The Naval Encounter That Saved Greece -- and Western Civilization (2004) - Barry Strauss

South Park Conservatives : The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias (2005) - Brian C. Anderson

The Children of Men (1992) - P.D. James

River Season (There's a River Down in Texas) (2003) - Jim Black

Of Moths and Men: An Evolutionary Tale: The Untold Story of Science and the Peppered Moth (2002) - Judith Hooper

Posted by Matt Murphy at 7:15 PM


Anybody here want to enter a College Bowl Pick'em run by ESPN? It'll be fun and I'll give away books. The catch: You have to register with in order to do this. If you're okay with this (or you're already registered and want in), please comment below.

If ten or more people say they're willing to join by tomorrow, we'll do this thing -- otherwise, we'll move on to more pressing matters, like invading Canada and abolishing soccer.

The website for the Bowl Pick'em is as follows:

I'm game if you are.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:35 PM


Oh, no, Canada (Douglas MacKinnon, December 16, 2005 , Washington Times)

In what some in Canada are saying is a desperate bid to win reelection, Mr. Martin has decided that slandering the United States will win him the most votes among the millions in his country who have a strong dislike of our nation, George W. Bush, the war in Iraq, sensible immigration policies and the rule of law. Having grown weary of the prime minister's insults, as well as the vile and juvenile insults thrown at our country by other liberal Canadian politicians, Mr. Wilkins decided enough was enough.

After the prime minister said the United States lacked a "global conscience" for not ratifying the seriously flawed Kyoto accord, Mr. Wilkins decided it was time to speak up. If that had been the first insult, he more than likely would have let it go. [...]

Insulting and verbally attacking the United States has become such a national sport among liberal Canadian politicians that one conservative member of parliament said they displayed "a consistent attitude of anti-Americanism." As Mr. Wilkins stressed, "It may be smart election-year politics to thump your chest and constantly criticize your friend and your number one trading partner. But it is a slippery slope, and all of us should hope that it doesn't have a long-term impact on the relationship."

The ambassador's point raises a larger question: Can Canada really be considered our "friend" anymore?

When were they? They took our traitors in during Vietnam; were no help in Nicaragua; and aren't helping in Iraq.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:40 PM


The Economy of Desire (STEPHEN J. DUBNER and STEVEN D. LEVITT, 12/11/05, NY Times Magazine)

In recent decades, we have witnessed the most exorbitant new price associated with sex: the H.I.V. virus. Because AIDS is potentially deadly and because it can be spread relatively easily by sex between two men, the onset of AIDS in the early 1980's caused a significant increase in the price of gay sex. Andrew Francis, a graduate student in economics at the University of Chicago, has tried to affix a dollar figure to this change. [...]

Francis, in a draft paper titled "The Economics of Sexuality," tries to go well beyond dollar figures. He puts forth an empirical argument that may fundamentally challenge how people think about sex.

As with any number of behaviors that social scientists try to measure, sex is a tricky subject. But Francis discovered a data set that offered some intriguing possibilities. The National Health and Social Life Survey, sponsored by the U.S. government and a handful of foundations, asked almost 3,500 people a rather astonishing variety of questions about sex: the different sexual acts received and performed and with whom and when; questions about sexual preference and identity; whether they knew anyone with AIDS. As with any self-reported data, there was the chance that the survey wasn't reliable, but it had been designed to ensure anonymity and generate honest replies.

The survey was conducted in 1992, when the disease was much less treatable than it is today. Francis first looked to see if there was a positive correlation between having a friend with AIDS and expressing a preference for homosexual sex. As he expected, there was. "After all, people pick their friends," he says, "and homosexuals are more likely to have other homosexuals as friends."

But you don't get to pick your family. So Francis next looked for a correlation between having a relative with AIDS and expressing a homosexual preference. This time, for men, the correlation was negative. This didn't seem to make sense. Many scientists believe that a person's sexual orientation is determined before birth, a function of genetic fate. If anything, people in the same family should be more likely to share the same orientation. "Then I realized, Oh, my God, they were scared of AIDS," Francis says.

Francis zeroed in on this subset of about 150 survey respondents who had a relative with AIDS. Because the survey compiled these respondents' sexual histories as well as their current answers about sex, it allowed Francis to measure, albeit crudely, how their lives may have changed as a result of having seen up close the costly horrors of AIDS.

Here's what he found: Not a single man in the survey who had a relative with AIDS said he had had sex with a man in the previous five years; not a single man in that group declared himself to be attracted to men or to consider himself homosexual. Women in that group also shunned sex with men. For them, rates of recent sex with women and of declaring homosexual identity and attraction were more than twice as high as those who did not have a relative with AIDS.

Because the sample size was so small - simple chance suggests that no more than a handful of men in a group that size would be attracted to men - it is hard to reach definitive conclusions from the survey data. (Obviously, not every single man changes his sexual behavior or identity when a relative contracts AIDS.) But taken as a whole, the numbers in Francis's study suggest that there may be a causal effect here - that having a relative with AIDS may change not just sexual behavior but also self-reported identity and desire.

In other words, sexual preference, while perhaps largely predetermined, may also be subject to the forces more typically associated with economics than biology.

Which is why we should retain social pressure that disincentivizes it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:26 PM


Expert says Midway plane crash was avoidable (Jon Hilkevitch, December 15, 2005, Baltimore Sun)

The city of Chicago and Southwest Airlines have "carelessly ignored" for years the risks of short runways and insufficient over-run areas at Midway Airport, an expert on transportation disasters said yesterday in a report on last week's fatal accident.

The crash was avoidable, and the outcome would have been much worse if fuel tanks on the plane ruptured and caught fire, said Gunnar Kuepper, chief of operations at Emergency & Disaster Management Inc., a Los Angeles-based company that advises government agencies and private businesses on emergency-planning strategy.

"This was not a surprising risk for anyone in the aviation industry," Kuepper said. "Surely it was a surprise for the people on the street outside Midway Airport who collided with a Boeing 737."

For a fraction of the financial losses that Chicago and Southwest will pay out from the accident, he said, the city and its major airlines at Midway should have invested in safety systems to minimize the damage of a plane skidding off a runway. [...]

The report noted similarities to a 2000 accident in which a Southwest plane overran a runway in Burbank, Calif., in rainy weather and crashed into two cars on a street. After the accident, the Burbank Airport improved its safety areas at the ends of runways by installing pits of soft concrete that crushes under heavy weight of planes to arrest momentum. "Eighty percent of this expense was covered by an FAA grant," Kuepper said.

Terri Gross had Scott McCartney --"who follows the airline industry, [and] writes the weekly column "The Middle Seat" for the Wall Street Journal" -- on Fresh Air yesterday and he said this soft concrete stuff is relatively cheap and very effective.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:17 AM


Wal-Mart Throws an Undercut at Target: Chain-Store Strategy Changes for the Christmas Blitz (Ylan Q. Mui, December 16, 2005, Washington Post)

Sales tags touting deep price cuts were flying like battle flags this week in the electronics department of Wal-Mart in Manassas. Twice each week, about a dozen employees sneak into enemy territory -- Target is just two miles away -- to scope out prices. When they return, the store starts discounting, undercutting the competition by 5 percent or more, manager Beth Melson said.

"We can stay the lowest price in the market to draw shoppers into our store," she said. "They know they can come here and get the lowest price."

So The Wife was detailed to buy the gift certificates for her department staff this year, which means I got sent to Borders to get them. With each one they gave a certificate for 20% off the purchase, plus a 10% discount card for the purchaser. Not only does nothing cost more than it used to, it doesn't even cost what you just spent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 AM


Climate Change: IN IRAQ, REASON FOR HOPE--FINALLY (Lawrence F. Kaplan, 12.16.05, New Republic)

Contrary to prevailing wisdom, Washington's political strategy in Iraq has always made more sense than its military strategy. In its essentials, the logic of the former was straightforward: Induce the Sunnis to surrender violence in favor of political participation and create a broad-based, cross-sectarian coalition that can govern Iraq effectively. Although yesterday's elections hardly guarantee that outcome, they do amount to its necessary precondition. Whether the aim can actually be achieved is up to the Iraqis.

In this regard, yesterday offered reason to hope. Having now moved beyond the mechanics of democracy--that is, the process of choosing leaders--Iraqis may also begin to move beyond a zero-sum brand of politics and toward the sort of compromises essential to a broader conception of democracy. The election offered this glimmer for a simple reason: Sunnis actually participated in it. Unlike January's election for a transitional assembly, which they boycotted, and June's referendum on the constitution, in which few Sunnis participated and then only to vote against it, millions of Sunnis turned out yesterday to vote for legislators who will serve a four-year term and approve a prime minister and president. That fact itself suggests an acknowledgment among Sunnis that either they join the political process or get left behind. Hence, the bitter and recalcitrant Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars encouraged its constituents to vote. Hence, too, Sunni insurgent groups like the Baathist Army of Iraq broke from past practice and declared they wouldn't target polling stations. With Sunnis voting by district and electing their own representatives, Sunni leaders will necessarily emerge within the political arena. This, in turn, should weaken the political appeal of the insurgency, or at the very least create cleavages between the community's politicians and its bombers.

There is, to be sure, a powerful and not entirely unpersuasive school of thought that argues the Sunni political community has completely lost its mind, consumed by nihilism or a desire to recapture its past glory. Which is where the electoral stick comes in. As Shia coalition leader Adil Abdul Mahdi delicately makes the point, after the election the Sunnis "will know their political weight. And ours." In other words, Iraq's Shia, who even today fear the Sunnis more than the other way around, will once and for all recognize their newfound power. By contrast, the election will surely compel the Sunnis, many of whom cling to the delusion that they can once again dominate the majority Shia, to confront their diminished role in Iraq's political life. With no political program of their own and with Shia-dominated army units patrolling their towns and villages, even the most nostalgic Sunnis have to recognize that the country will never be theirs again. That recognition, in turn, offers the key to political progress in Iraq.

The important thing is that either their willingness to live under a Shi'ite dominated regime or their recognition that they can do better by cutting loose the Kurdish north and Shi'a south would both be progress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:52 AM


Why Novak Called Rove (Murray Waas, Dec. 16, 2005, National Journal)

On July 9, 2003, senior presidential adviser Karl Rove was well prepared as he returned a telephone call from columnist Robert Novak. On his desk were talking points and other briefing materials that then-White House Political Director Matt Schlapp and other staffers had compiled for Rove in anticipation of the conversation. [...]

Ironically, the materials prepared for Rove in advance of the conversation had nothing to do with Valerie Plame, the CIA officer whom Novak would identify -- using Rove as one of his sources -- as an "agency operative" in a July 14, 2003, column.

Instead, the voluminous material on Rove's desk -- including talking points, related briefing materials, and information culled from confidential government personnel files -- involved a different woman: Frances Fragos Townsend, a former senior attorney in the Clinton administration's Justice Department whom President Bush had recently named to be his deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism.

Bush had personally assigned Rove to help counter what the president believed to be a "rearguard" effort within his own administration, by persons unknown, to discredit Townsend and derail her appointment, according to White House documents and accounts given by former and current officials.

Just before his July 9 conversation with Rove, Novak had been relentlessly calling around the White House asking questions about Townsend. [...]

According to the accounts of their conversations that Rove and Novak gave to federal investigators, the subject of Valerie Plame came up only after they had finished talking about Townsend. [...]

Both Novak and Rove have told federal prosecutors that it was Novak who raised Plame's name, with the columnist saying he had heard that "Wilson's wife" had worked for the CIA and had been responsible for having her husband sent on the Niger mission.

"I heard that too," Rove responded, according to published accounts of what Rove told federal investigators of the conversations.

...the Plames were merely an afterthought.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:46 AM


BUSH TO FILL HILL IN TODAY (Ian Bishop, December 16, 2005, NY Post)

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will meet face-to-face with President Bush and military commanders today at the White House for a top-level briefing on the future of Iraq.

"I'm old-fashioned enough to believe that when the president invites you to the White House to discuss an issue of grave importance, you go. I hope to get some answers to the questions I have about what the way ahead might be," she told The Post.

The scramble to be linked to victory continues.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 AM

JibJab has released its Year End Round-Up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 AM


Bush Secretly Lifted Some Limits on Spying in U.S. After 9/11, Officials Say (JAMES RISEN and ERIC LICHTBLAU, 12/15/05, NY Times)

Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.

The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval represents a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches.

"This is really a sea change," said a former senior official who specializes in national security law. "It's almost a mainstay of this country that the N.S.A. only does foreign searches." [...]

Several officials said the eavesdropping program had helped uncover a plot by Iyman Faris, an Ohio trucker and naturalized citizen who pleaded guilty in 2003 to supporting Al Qaeda by planning to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches. What appeared to be another Qaeda plot, involving fertilizer bomb attacks on British pubs and train stations, was exposed last year in part through the program, the officials said. But they said most people targeted for N.S.A. monitoring have never been charged with a crime, including an Iranian-American doctor in the South who came under suspicion because of what one official described as dubious ties to Osama bin Laden.

The eavesdropping program grew out of concerns after the Sept. 11 attacks that the nation's intelligence agencies were not poised to deal effectively with the new threat of Al Qaeda and that they were handcuffed by legal and bureaucratic restrictions better suited to peacetime than war, according to officials. In response, President Bush significantly eased limits on American intelligence and law enforcement agencies and the military.

Bush Authorized Domestic Spying: Post-9/11 Order Bypassed Special Court (Dan Eggen, December 16, 2005, Washington Post)
President Bush signed a secret order in 2002 authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens and foreign nationals in the United States, despite previous legal prohibitions against such domestic spying, sources with knowledge of the program said last night.

The super-secretive NSA, which has generally been barred from domestic spying except in narrow circumstances involving foreign nationals, has monitored the e-mail, telephone calls and other communications of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of people under the program, the New York Times disclosed last night.

The aim of the program was to rapidly monitor the phone calls and other communications of people in the United States believed to have contact with suspected associates of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups overseas, according to two former senior administration officials.

Don't know about you, but I don't call al Qaeda much.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


Cameron urges Lib Dems to defect (BBC, 12/16/05)

Tory leader David Cameron is to make an appeal to Liberal Democrat MPs and councillors to defect to his party.

In a speech on Friday he will say Conservatives stand for "liberal values", including a commitment to green policies and localism.

Mr Cameron will call for "a modern, progressive, liberal, mainstream opposition to Labour".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


Dozens die in China hospital fire (BBC, 12/16/05)

A fire at a large hospital in China's north-eastern city of Liaoyuan has killed at least 39 people, the official Xinhua news agency has reported.

At least 33 of the victims were patients, the agency said.

Witnesses quoted by Xinhua said they saw people leaping from windows to escape the blazing buildings.

China has had several industrial accidents in the last month, including a toxic river spillage and a coal mine fire that killed more than 140 people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Poorest nations join forces for trade deal

DEVELOPING countries closed ranks yesterday to push their agenda at the World Trade Organisation talks, as the United States and the European Union exchanged accusations of intransigence - with time running out for a global deal that could lift millions out of poverty.

Trade officials from more than 110 poor countries plan to meet today to forge a common negotiating stance on some their vital concerns, said Madun Dulloo, the trade minister from the tiny African nation of Mauritius. He said poor countries needed to work more closely to make sure the development agenda of the so-called Doha round of trade talks remains in focus. [...]

Developing nations decided to join forces after the United States and Japan backtracked on a proposal to allow duty-free and quota-free imports from the 32 least developed countries. The countries, which have an annual per-capita income of less than £425, want duty-free access for all products, but the US and Japan say they want to be able to limit the list of products and countries. For instance, the US is reluctant to give duty-free access to textile products from Bangladesh. Japan has problems with putting rice on the list.

A US trade representative, Rob Portman, said that it would be difficult for him to defend duty-free access for Bangladeshi textiles because those exports "are incredibly competitive".

If you were cynical, you might think the folks who claim to want to help poor nations actually want to keep them dependent on aid and prevent their developing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


Scotland gives in to quickie divorce (HAMISH MACDONELL, 12/16/05, The Scotsman)

MINISTERS were accused last night of "dismantling marriage" after moves to make divorce easier and quicker were passed by the Scottish Parliament.

The Roman Catholic Church warned the Executive it was "attacking the family" after Holyrood's decision to reduce the time needed for a divorce.

Proposals for "quickie divorces" were included in the Family Law Bill, which completed its passage through parliament. They will cut the time needed for an uncontested divorce from two years to one, and for a contested divorce from five years to two.

Maybe they just want to see how high they can stack pathologies before the whole thing collapses?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Kurds vote, first and foremost, for Kurdistan (Edward Wong, 12/16/05, The New York Times)

By all appearances here, the elections Thursday for national parliamentary seats may as well have been about Kurdistan and Kurdish dreams. Iraq, or the idea of Iraq, seemed as distant as the moon.

"I will vote for 730," said Fakhri Muhammad, 32, referring to the ballot number of the main Kurdish coalition, as he stood in line outside the village's primary school. "The list is Kurdish, and it represents the Kurdish people."

So went the refrain throughout much of the north, with Kurdish voters shying away from Arab candidates and siding only with Kurdish groups, particularly the Kurdistan Alliance, the coalition made up of the two main Kurdish parties. It was a stark illustration of how much the vote across Iraq had split along ethnic and sectarian lines. For many Kurds, a vote for the Kurdistan Alliance was first and foremost a bid to secure autonomy for the mountainous Kurdish homeland in the north, and only secondarily a vote for the general welfare of Iraq.

Political fervor was especially rampant here in dry, windswept Tamim Province, whose capital is Kirkuk, about 25 kilometers, or 15 miles, south of Altun Kopri. Under Saddam Hussein's rule, the government deported Kurds and Turkmens and moved in Arabs to better control the oil fields.

Kurdish leaders have made no secret of their desire to incorporate Kirkuk and other parts of the province into Kurdistan, rather than allowing the central government to administrate it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


An Ill Wind Off Cape Cod (ROBERT F. KENNEDY Jr., 12/16/05, NY Times)

AS an environmentalist, I support wind power, including wind power on the high seas. I am also involved in siting wind farms in appropriate landscapes, of which there are many. But I do believe that some places should be off limits to any sort of industrial development. I wouldn't build a wind farm in Yosemite National Park. Nor would I build one on Nantucket Sound, which is exactly what the company Energy Management is trying to do with its Cape Wind project.

Ted's next date might be cut to ribbons instead of drowned.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


House Votes for 698 Miles of Fences on Mexico Border (RACHEL L. SWARNS, 12/16/05, NY Times)

House Republicans voted on Thursday night to toughen a border security bill by requiring the Department of Homeland Security to build five fences along 698 miles of the United States border with Mexico to block the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs into this country.

The amendment to the bill would require the construction of the fences along stretches of land in California, New Mexico, Texas and Arizona that have been deemed among the most porous corridors of the border.

The fence is a fine idea because it creastes the illusion they're doing something. It should also provide quite a few jobs for Mexicans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


President Backs McCain Measure on Inmate Abuse (ERIC SCHMITT, 12/16/05, NY Times)

Under intense bipartisan Congressional pressure, President Bush reversed course on Thursday and reluctantly backed Senator John McCain's call for a law banning cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners in American custody. [...]

"We've sent a message to the world that the United States is not like the terrorists," Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican, said as he sat next to Mr. Bush in the Oval Office. "What we are is a nation that upholds values and standards of behavior and treatment of all people no matter how evil or bad they are."

Isn't the message more that we don't have the honor and decency to do the torture ourselves so we'll outsource it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Germany holds key to EU budget deal, conservatives say (Mark Beunderman, 12/16/05, EUOBSERVER)

European conservative party leaders said Germany holds the key to unlocking a budget deal at Thursday (15 December) and Friday's EU summit in Brussels. [...]

For her part, Ms Merkel continued to play her cards close to her chest, commenting she does "not want an agreement at any price" and that she expects "tough negotiations" tonight.

German MEP Hans Gert Pottering, the leader of the conservative group in the European Parliament, gave the summit a 50/50 chance of success.

He said talks will revolve around the UK rebate which "should be substantially cut down."

Mr Pottering sketched out a potential scenario where France and the UK agree to scrap completely the UK rebate in 2008 or 2009 "in the context" of changes to the common agricultural policy.

Commenting on the importance of a positive summit outcome, Austrian chancellor and incoming EU president Wolfgang Schussel said the talks will lead to "a united Europe or a divided Europe."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


For Liberia's 'Iron Lady,' Toughness Part of Territory (Wil Haygood, December 16, 2005, Washington Post)

The West African country has deep links to America. Black Americans -- both free and former slaves -- began making pilgrimages to the country in the mid-1800s. Their descendants referred to themselves as Americo-Liberians.

The capital, Monrovia, was named after American president James Monroe, and the country's currency has long resembled America's.

In the 1960s, many black Americans ventured to Liberia, believing it a kind of oasis. But its wars have shocked much of the world, and in recent years there have been scenes of U.S. Marines rescuing citizens from Monrovia.

Many credit Sirleaf's victory to shrewd politicking: Before the runoff, she dispatched buses throughout the country to ferry voters to polling places. Weah's supporters grew complacent, says Riva Levinson, who was accompanying Sirleaf on her rounds and who served as an adviser to Sirleaf when she ran against Taylor in 1997.

"She's a very strong lady," says Elwood Dunn, who served in the administration of Liberian president William Tolbert along with Sirleaf, and who now teaches political science at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. "She's always been focused and politically ambitious since the 1970s."

Dunn does not envy the task ahead of Sirleaf. "She will, without hesitation, walk into a political firestorm," he says. Her background -- including stints with the World Bank and United Nations -- will serve her well, he says. "The attentive part of Africa knows her well."

Liberia has flirted before with bouts of peace, only to have the country plunge into chaos. "There is one big difference this time," Sirleaf says. "These elections represent the first time Liberians voted in an atmosphere of freedom."

She credits her victory to a campaign that talked about education, which appealed to the women in the marketplace. "I owe them my victory," she says. "These were poor women who work in the markets, picking and selling vegetables. And they care about education for their children."

Sirleaf has four sons (two live in Liberia, two in the United States). Her husband died years ago of natural causes. (She notes that the widespread hyphenation of their last names is incorrect. She doesn't use a hyphen.)

High on her agenda will be tackling corruption, which has bedeviled many an African nation. "I will submit to a code of conduct, and will make sure that everyone who works for me, in a position of public service, accepts that code," she says. "For anyone who violates it, there will be a penalty."

She is delighted about a tougher rape law recently passed in her country. "I have teenage granddaughters, and when I think of the rapes inside my country, well, it makes me angry," she says. "We also want to take preventive action. Get the girls off the street into skills training programs. It would reduce their vulnerability."

She made stops up and down the East Coast during her visit. It left her feeling inspired. "There is a lot of goodwill for Liberia here," she says. "I think the administration and Congress is prepared to give us support to mount a major economic effort" at reconstruction in the country.

December 15, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:45 PM


Day the ballot beat the bombers (Oliver Poole in Tal Afar and Anton La Guardia, 16/12/2005, Daily Telegraph)

For the first time since the fall of Saddam, Sunnis turned out to vote in large numbers, alongside the Shia and the Kurds. Even in the Sunni stronghold of Tal Afar, the scene of fierce fighting three months ago, queues formed outside polling stations despite four mortar attacks that killed two people.

Saadallah, 37, an unemployed man voting for the first time, said: "I must vote because it is not up to the Americans to determine the future. This is our country."

Anwar Fathi, 26, a teacher, said: "What you see here is hope - the hope that Iraq will become safer and fairer. I feel very confident when I see so many people voting."

The electoral commission's preliminary estimates showed that 80 per cent of the electorate voted in some Kurdish areas; in the Shia towns of Hilla and Najaf the figure was 70 per cent; in Anbar province, which has been at the heart of the rebellion, a strong turnout was reported.

Demand was so high in Fallujah, the first city to rise against the Americans, that the supply of ballot papers ran out. Election officials extended the voting period by an hour to cope with the numbers.

And Zarqawi offers them what, instead?

Freedom From Fear Lifts Sunnis (JOHN F. BURNS, 2/16/05, NY Times)

Ali is only 9 years old. But when he and his buddies broke away from a street soccer game to drop into a polling station in Baghdad's Adhamiya district at noon on Thursday, Ali, a chirpy, tousle-haired youngster, seemed to catch the mood of the district's Sunni Arab population as well as anybody.

"We don't want car bombs, we want security," he said. Yards away, Sunni grown-ups were casting ballots in classrooms where the boys would have been studying Arabic or arithmetic or geography - "Boring, boring!" said Ali - had the school not been drafted for use as one of 6,000 polling stations across Iraq.

On a day when the high voter turnout among Sunni Arabs was the main surprise, Ali and his posse of friends, unguarded as boys can be, acted like a chorus for the scene unfolding about them. A new willingness to distance themselves from the insurgency, an absence of hostility for Americans, a casual contempt for Saddam Hussein, a yearning for Sunnis to find a place for themselves in the post-Hussein Iraq - the boys' themes were their parents', too, only more boldly expressed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:39 PM


Blair threatens Chirac with veto on Europe budget (David Rennie and Toby Helm in Brussels, 16/12/2005, Daily Telegraph)

Tony Blair threatened last night to veto a deal over the European Union budget unless Jacques Chirac leaves the door open to early reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

The move followed a tense, 20-minute meeting between Mr Blair and Mr Chirac at which the French president gave no ground in the dispute over farm subsidies. [...]

[M]r Blair's relations with Poland and other new members soured this month when Britain, the current holder of the rotating EU presidency, unveiled a plan for future spending that cut almost £10 billion from aid money intended for east and central Europe.

Outrage increased when it became clear that the British rebate was going to grow substantially during the next budget period, which runs from 2007 to 2013, even with a British offer to give up some £5.5 billion.

The anger drowned out Britain's arguments for the need to find a "fair" deal in which it would pay roughly the same into the EU coffers as France.

Angela Merkel, the new German chancellor, has emerged as a pivotal figure at the summit.

As an east German who has sought close links to ex-communist neighbours, she is seen as perhaps the only leader who can persuade Poland and other eastern nations to take a deal now, and heed Mr Blair's warnings that Britain's position will only harden next year, once the presidency passes to Austria.

French officials said they were asking Britain to surrender all rebate money related to non-farm spending on the new member states. French ministers said this would cost Britain £9.5 billion.

The choice seems simple enough no rebate for Britain/no aid for the East/no subsidies for farms, on the one hand, or no EU on the other.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:30 PM


Steady as she sinks (David Warren, 12/14/05, Ottawa Citizen)

We have reasons not to vote Liberal in this election. I mean, not just me. At least 57 percent of the electorate, according to polls, would like to see them crucified. And not all the remaining 43 percent can be on the take. It is hard to imagine, under the present circumstances, how the Liberals could be ahead in any province.

But here is the rub. In addition to wanting one party out, the people must want another party in. That is where the Conservatives persist in letting us down. They will not give us a reason to vote for them. They have nothing to offer that is distinguishable in principle from what the Liberals offer. This leaves inexperience as their “unique selling point”. I am truly unexcited.

Westerners blame Ontario for refusing to accept any party that has a Western base. There is something in that, but not what appears. The truth is that Ontario has been demographically altered so rapidly and to such a degree, that it is no longer the same province that elected Mike Harris, as recently as 1999. And yet a huge, still basically WASP, semi-rural Ontario continues to exist out there, and continues to share precisely the same ethos and outlook as Alberta -- minus the will to live.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:13 PM


Star-Spangled Pandering (Richard Cohen, December 15, 2005, Washington Post)

Last month Justice Antonin Scalia was politely quizzed by Norman Pearlstine, the outgoing Time Inc. editor in chief. The event, held in Time Warner's New York headquarters, was supposedly off the record, but so much of it has already been reported that it will not hurt to add Scalia's views on flag burning. He explained why it was constitutionally protected speech. It's a pity Hillary Clinton was not there to hear him.

The argument that this famously conservative member of the Supreme Court advanced -- actually, reiterated -- was that while he may or may not approve of flag burning, it was clear to him that it was a form of speech, a way of making a political statement, and that the First Amendment protected it.

But, even if the right answer, that's only the threshhold question. Next you have to ask what that speech is intended to convey and then demonstrate that it is consistent with the ends of the Constitution: "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." Since we can say, at a minimum, that flag-burning expresses opposition to our constitutional order and that the laws against it accord with norms of republican liberty, there's no basis for protecting said "speech."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:04 PM


Jews feel threatened by religious right (Michael Conlon, 12/15/05, Reuters)

"There is a feeling on all sides that something is changing," said Abraham Foxman, director of the New York-based Anti-Defamation League.

"The polls indicate a very serious thing -- that over 60 percent of the American people feel that religion and Christianity are under attack," he said on Thursday in an interview.

"Some are saying we are attacking (Christianity). " [...]

"Every room (from bedroom to classroom) in the American mansion is under assault to impose either de facto or de jure a Christian theocracy -- I call them Christocrats," said Rabbi James Rudin, former head of interreligious activities for the American Jewish Committee.

Well, Christocrats is better than Rabby Yoffie calling us Nazis anyway.

Jewish useful idiots (Mona Charen, 12/16/05,

Apparently eager to disprove the Jewish reputation for intelligence, the Union for Reform Judaism recently adopted a resolution condemning the Iraq War and demanding that President Bush provide "a clear exit strategy," including a plan for troop withdrawals.

In a letter to President Bush alerting him to the URJ's action, Robert Heller and Rabbi Eric Yoffe lost no opportunity to flaunt their supposed moral sensitivity. Calling the war a "major tragedy" that has "discredited … America in the international community" and "contributed to the growth of terrorism," the two Reform leaders informed the president: "We also call on Congress to provide more effective oversight of the war and to ensure that the financial burden of the war falls not just on the poor and on future generations but is shared equitably. … We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, violations of the Geneva Conventions and other applicable laws, including torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. custody … " And so on.

The Reform movement is the largest Jewish denomination in America and the most liberal (politically and religiously). There is nothing new about Reform Jews adopting leftist positions. But this one is particularly galling. Consider the irony: Throughout the Muslim world, from Indonesia to Egypt to Pakistan, huge numbers are convinced that the United States is engaged in Iraq only because a powerful cabal of Jews lured the nation into it. Millions are certain that Jews did not show up for work at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, because they were in on the sinister plan by the Israeli Mossad or the CIA to hijack planes, fly them into the buildings and then blame Al Qaeda. There is only one group that our Islamist enemy hates more than Americans, and that is — guess who?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:42 PM


France seizes military arsenal in Zarqawi-tied probe (Reuters, 12/15/05)

French police have seized large quantities of military weapons and explosives as part of a probe into an Islamic militant group said to have indirect links to al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, officials said on Thursday.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters the arsenal was discovered on Wednesday in a lock-up attached to a block of flats in the Clichy-sous-Bois suburb north of Paris.

Judicial sources said the haul included assault rifles, dynamite and TNT. [...]

Investigators believe the gang financed Islamic militancy by staging armed robberies and judicial sources said one suspect had admitted planning one such robbery in Beauvais, north of Paris, in October.

So Frenchmen, who tried to keep Saddam in power, have done more to help Zarqawi than Iraqi democracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:29 PM


Iraqis vote for first full-term parliament amid tight security (Bassem Mroue, December 15, 2005, Associated Press)

Iraqis voted Thursday in one of the largest and freest elections in the Arab world, with strong turnout reported in Sunni areas and even a shortage of ballots in some precincts. Several explosions rocked Baghdad throughout the day, but the level of violence was low. [...]

Officials were forced to extend voting for one hour, until 6 p.m. (10 a.m. EST) as long lines were reported in some precincts, which election commission spokesman Farid Ayar called a sign that the balloting "was successful and turnout was good.'' Results will be announced within two weeks.

Police guarding a polling place in eastern Baghdad's Zayouna neighborhood fired shots in the air to celebrate the end of voting there. [...]

[V]iolence was light overall and did not appear to discourage Iraqis, some of whom turned out wrapped in their flag on a bright, sunny day, and afterward displayed a purple ink-stained index finger — a mark to guard against multiple voting. One jubilant Shiite voter in Baghdad proudly displayed all 10 of his fingers stained with ink.

Katherine Harris supervised that polling place....

Turnout Strong in Iraqi Elections: Reports of Violence Isolated as Insurgents Suspend Attacks, Encourage Voting (Ellen Knickmeyer and Jonathan Finer, 12/15/05, Washington Post )

Iraqi voters turned out in force countrywide Thursday to elect a parliament to remake their troubled nation, with Sunni-led Iraqi insurgent movements suspending attacks for a day so that Sunni Arabs could vote en masse for the first time.

The voting appeared to split along sectarian lines as expected, with many Sunni voters in the Sunni-dominated far west saying they were voting for Sunni candidates. Long lines were reported among Sunnis, most of whom boycotted elections earlier this year or were frightened away by threats.

There were no boycotts this time and insurgents were providing security at some polling places. In Ramadi, for example, guerrillas of the Iraqi Islamic Army movement took up positions in some neighborhoods, promising to protect voters from any attacks by foreign fighters.

For today's voting, Sunni clerics not only lifted a boycott call that had suppressed Sunni turnout in January's national elections but actively encouraged voting.

"Right now the city is experiencing a democratic celebration," Mayor Dari Abdul Hadi Zubaie said in Fallujah, where voters streamed to the polls. "It's an election wedding."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:26 PM


Flying High: How Boeing cut short Airbus's rule as king of the skies. (James Thayer, 12/15/2005, Weekly Standard)

EUROPE WAS CROWING, and it could be heard all the way across the ocean.

Airbus called Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner "dreaming in Seattle," and Airbus's then-CEO Noel Forgard dismissed the 787 as a "Chinese copy of [Airbus's] A330." The BBC said Airbus had stolen the march on its arc-rival Boeing, and the Economist predicted Airbus's A380 super-jumbo would "break the 747's longstanding monopoly on the big-jet market." Airbus's sales chief John J. Leahy said Boeing was ''just flailing around looking for something to compete with us.''

Indeed, 12 months ago Airbus seemed about to permanently replace the Boeing Company as the world's dominant airplane producer. It never happened. Instead, Airbus's ambitions have suddenly skidded off the runway.

Who'd have dreamt that a French plane that can't land anywhere wouldn't succeed?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:22 PM


St. John's campus ministry director quits over Vatican teaching on homosexuality (Warren Wolfe, December 16, 2005, Minneapolis Star Tribune)

The chaplain and director of campus ministry at St. John's University, a Catholic school in Collegeville, Minn., said today that he has resigned because, "as a celibate gay priest, I cannot understand, much less support, the church's teaching about homosexuality."

The Rev. Bob Pierson, 49, said his decision came in response to a new teaching from the Vatican two weeks ago that said most gay men should be barred from the priesthood and from seminaries. He will leave his position Jan. 15.

"For quite some time I have wrestled with conflicting teaching by the church -- that gays and lesbians are to be respected, but that somehow we are not fit for work in the church," said Pierson, who announced his decision in an e-mail message Wednesday to staff and students.

"But with the new teaching, which says gay men are 'objectively disordered' and cannot relate properly to men and women, it became clear to me that I cannot continue in campus ministry," Pierson said. "I have chosen not be dishonest about my thoughts and feelings."

Not all will have a taste for the mustard seed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:21 PM


MAN DATES GAL ON INTERNET FOR SIX MONTHS (Grace Green, 12/09/05, Weekly World News)

Skirt-chasing playboy Daniel Anceneaux spent weeks talking with a sensual woman on the Internet before arranging a romantic rendezvous at a remote beach -- and discovering that his on-line sweetie of six months was his own mother!

"I walked out on that dark beach thinking I was going to hook up with the girl of my dreams," the rattled bachelor later admitted. "And there she was, wearing white shorts and a pink tank top, just like she'd said she would.

"But when I got close, she turned around -- and we both got the shock of our lives. I mean, I didn't know what to say. All I could think was, 'Oh my God! it's Mama!' "

But the worst was yet to come. Just as the mortified mother and son realized the error of their ways, a patrolman passed by and cited them for visiting a restricted beach after dark.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:25 PM


Law and Disorder: Special Victims Unit: Investigators say the city's independent schools watchdog has often failed to bark (Tom Robbins, December 13th, 2005, Village Voice)

Back in 1997 police arrested a man named Ronald Taylor, who worked as an assistant public school principal in Harlem. Taylor, 50 years old at the time, easily ranked as a parent's worst nightmare. His arrest came after the mother of a student walked into a local police precinct and reported that Taylor had lured her 15-year-old son to his apartment with an offer to play with his video game collection. He then proceeded to sexually molest him. When cops went to investigate they found Taylor had tricked up his West Harlem apartment as a kids' game room. They also found some 400 X-rated videos.

Unlike a score of school-personnel sex-abuse cases from that era, Taylor's arrest got little news play. The Times ran a short item on an inside page and the Daily News carried one as well, on page 79. The lack of attention was partly because the arrest did not emanate from the efficient publicity machine of Edward Stancik, the late special commissioner for investigation for city schools.

For 12 years until his death in 2002, Stancik's gaunt features were a staple on TV newscasts as he told of corrupt bureaucrats and twisted sex abusers nailed by his office. Such cases made Stancik wildly unpopular in the teachers' union offices and the old Board of Education headquarters on Livingston Street in Brooklyn, where he was viewed as a merciless inquisitor, a publicity hound whose investigations were measured mainly for their TV and news-ink potential.

On the other hand, many politicians, journalists, prosecutors, and parents adored him, viewing Stancik as a valiant warrior against an intractable bureaucracy. So what if he knew how to use the media? What better way to send a message to the public and bad guys alike that wrongdoing won't be tolerated? When Stancik died at age 47 of heart failure in March 2002, there were some misgivings expressed about his occasional overzealousness. But the editorial call was to make sure the watchdog office he'd led didn't lose its fangs.

But a few months after Stancik's death, something unusual in the world of law enforcement happened. A former top investigator in his office, an ex-detective who had been a supervisor there for five years, sat down and wrote two lengthy letters to city officials alleging that a top Stancik deputy named Regina Loughran had dropped the ball in several important cases, either delaying arrests or letting the bad guys get away altogether. In some instances, it was alleged, Loughran had changed cases from being "substantiated" to "unsubstantiated."

The complaints were investigated by city attorneys, and several were confirmed. Yet Loughran today remains as powerful as ever, serving as the $151,000 number two official in the special investigators' office. Former and current investigators, both men and women, who spoke under condition of anonymity, told the Voice they were puzzled by the inaction. "If we had caught someone in the education system behaving this way, they'd be long gone," said one former investigator.

Among the cases the investigators cited was that of Ronald Taylor.

Of course, the MSM also has a vested interest in publicizing pedophilia among priests, not among teachers

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:07 PM


U.S. ambassador: Iraq turnout appears high (AP, 12/15/05)

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said first indications were of a very high turnout in Thursday's parliamentary elections, which he hoped would result in a broad-based government that could address the "legitimate" concerns of Iraq's Sunni Arab minority.

"The number of people participating is very, very high and we have had very few irregularities," Khalilzad told The Associated Press. "It is a good day so far, good for us, good for Iraq. This is a first step for integrating the Sunni Arabs and bringing them into the political process and integrating them into the government."

Khalilzad accompanied Sens. Joseph Biden, D-Del.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to the city of Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad.

Nevermind the high turnout, just having Joe Biden, who's notoriously sensitive to every shift in the political winds, show up suggests that Zarqawi and Murtha are losing.

Bush's New Arab World: The president's Mideast-democracy project is faring better than you might think. (Duncan Currie, 12/15/2005, Weekly Standard)

The Iraqi political process continues apace. For those keen on "timetables," America has yet to miss a single deadline in managing Iraq's post-Saddam transition. The Sunni Arabs, who now realize how foolish their election boycott proved last winter, turned out in droves to vote in the October 15th constitutional referendum (albeit, in most cases, to cast a "no" ballot) and are expected to vote in even greater numbers in this week's parliamentary poll. After a recent visit to Iraq, Sen. Joe Lieberman wrote in the Wall Street Journal that he "was thrilled to see a vigorous political campaign, and a large number of independent television stations and newspapers covering it."

Elsewhere in the Mideast, Egypt held its first multi-candidate presidential election this past September, which, though tainted by the ruling party's shenanigans, nevertheless marked a watershed. "The country's old authoritarian system has broken apart," reported Washington Post columnist David Ignatius from Cairo. Absent the Bush administration's "nagging," opined the Economist, "Mr. Mubarak would never have considered for a second that he should let himself be challenged at the polls for the top job. However clumsy in its promotion and debatable its motives, America's campaign for democracy in the Middle East is making progress."

Indeed, we've also had parliamentary elections in Lebanon, baby steps toward reform in Saudi Arabia, amplified pressure on Syria, and liberal sproutings in Morocco, Palestine, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar. On the hearts-and-minds front, a July 2005 survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that "large and growing majorities" of Moroccans (83 percent), Jordanians (80 percent), and Lebanese (83 percent) "say democracy can work well and is not just for the West." Meanwhile, more than 200,000 irate Jordanians responded to last month's Amman hotel bombings by pouring into the streets to protest. Chants of "Burn in hell, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi!" and "Death to al Qaeda!" could reportedly be heard. [...]

"To venture into the Arab world," observes Johns Hopkins professor Fouad Ajami, "is to travel into Bush Country." Ajami--who earlier this year spent several weeks in Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, and Iraq--reports encountering "people from practically all Arab lands" engaged in "a great debate about the possibility of freedom and liberty." He also "met Syrians in the know who admitted that the fear of American power, and the example of American forces flushing Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole, now drive Syrian policy. They hang on George Bush's words in Damascus, I was told: the rulers wondering if Iraq was a crystal ball in which they could glimpse their future."

So what explains all the pessimism stateside? It could be that many Americans expected ballots, purple fingers, and Muslim people power to summarily quell the Iraqi insurgency. If so, they were disappointed. Car explosions, suicide bombers, mortar blasts, and kidnappings remain a pervasive reality in the Sunni Triangle. And more than 2,000 U.S. servicemen have now made the ultimate sacrifice. That this number is comparatively low by the standards of prior American wars offers no comfort to families who've lost a relative or friend.

But what if U.S. intervention did create "a new Arab world," as Walid Jumblatt claimed? What if it did vanquish the Middle Eastern "Berlin Wall"? And what if it saved untold Americans--and Arabs--from far deadlier wars in the future? While we mourn each and every U.S. casualty, we must never lose sight of what the American military has accomplished. Despite all the setbacks, Iraq's budding democracy continues to move ahead. So does the training of Iraq's fledgling security forces, a prerequisite for any significant withdrawal of U.S. troops.

As for the Bush Doctrine's loftier goal--to reform Arab politics and drain the swamp from which Islamic terrorism draws its chief ideological firepower--that no longer seems a fool's errand. Even the most determined naysayer must acknowledge what American policy--coupled with felicitous circumstances--has wrought. George W. Bush deposed Saddam to remove a dangerous tyranny and promote U.S. interests in a vital region. He may wind up creating the first Arab democracy and changing the political culture of the Middle East--which would deal a severe blow to the forces of militant Islam.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:58 PM


Dead Man Tells No Tales: Media docility and another no-cost federal killing (James Bovard, 12/15/05, Reason)

Two air marshals gunned down an American citizen last week in Miami, and most of the establishment media seemingly couldn't care less.

It's not that folks don't care, but that we're all reassured by it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:52 PM


Twenty-Seven Million Iraqis against 10,000 Terrorists: Once again, it is time for the Iraqis to cast their ballots. This time, however, more Sunnis than ever before are likely to vote. Violence has been mounting in recent weeks in anticipation of the vote, but the people of Iraq refuse to be cowed. (Vera Kämper and Alexander Schwabe, 12/15/05, Der Spiegel)

The line winds through the enormous atrium of the old post office on Luckenwalder Straße in the Berlin neighborhood of Kreuzberg; waiting time is some two hours. Old men, pregnant women, and little kids stand around, some keeping warm by wrapping Iraqi flags around their shoulders. They don't mind waiting. These exiled Iraqi citizens in Berlin are taking part in the second democratic election since the fall of Saddam.

Sarmand Dashti is one of them. "Being allowed to vote here only strengthens the optimism that's been spreading since the war," he says. "The fact that Iraqis in exile can vote proves the democracy movement is coming along." Instead of voting by mail, the 56,000 Iraqis in Germany have the option -- in Berlin, Mannheim, Munich, and Cologne -- of casting their votes at polling stations, on a four-page ballot with more than 230 parties and party alliances. The idea of guiding Iraq's future from abroad makes the community buzz with excitement, and buses full of voters from Poland and Chechnya have come to Berlin, which is home to about 3,000 Iraqis. Abdullah Seuki came here from Kiel to vote in person. "I feel as though I've been reborn," he says. [...]

This time, over 1,000 Sunni leaders have signed a fatwa to urge the faithful to vote. And Sunni participation is essential if the democratic process is to have any chance at all. Sunni regions still see the worst resistance to the newly forming state, and only a high turnout among the Sunni minority -- which held the most powerful positions under Saddam Hussein -- can bring about a government recognized by all the factions in Iraq.

The signs are good. Like Iraqis in Germany and in a further 14 countries worldwide, those at home in Iraq are today heading for the ballot box. Six insurgence groups, including al-Qaida, have announced that they will not attack polling stations on election day. Rather, only the war against the foreign occupation forces will be continued during the elections.

In other words, it may be that US President George W. Bush was right earlier this week when, during a speech in Philadelphia, he said the Iraqi people were choosing freedom over terror.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:40 PM


Dean still gives Dems heartburn (Peter Savodnik, 12/15/05, The Hill)

An aide close to the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill said, “There were serious concerns when Gov. Dean took over that he understand what his role was and what it wasn’t. There were meetings with the congressional leadership and Mr. Dean where it was discussed and the governor implied that he understood what his role was and was not, that he was the mechanical part of the party, not the standard bearer or message person. Subsequently, there have been episodes that have been concerning.”

Earlier this year, Dean startled some Democratic lawmakers by calling for the lifting of the cap on Social Security taxes which shields income above $90,000 a year from being taxed.

Doug Schoen, also a pollster, who worked for President Clinton and now works for Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), added: “I don’t think it helps the Democrats to have a party chairman who is involved in controversy. There’s so much work to be done organizationally, so much work to be done in terms of fundraising, that I think he would serve the Democratic Party best by focusing on the grass roots.”

Pollster David Beattie, whose clients include Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), said that he had worked in 31 states in the past five years, only seven of which were won by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 presidential race.

“In the other 24, Dean is more of a hindrance than a help,” Beattie said.

You can't blame Howard Dean though for the fact that the party is rightly terrified of having its ideas enunciated and is just trying to cling to as much of the minority as it has left. Making Mr. Dean party chair was about preserving the rump, not winning elections.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:36 PM


In war-torn Iraq, unlike here, there’s optimism (Byron York, 12/15/05, The Hill)

Presumably without access to The New York Times, The Washington Post and television news, millions of Iraqis say their lives are better than they were last year, better than they were before the United States invasion, and will likely be better a year from now than today.

The news is in a new poll of Iraqis conducted by ABC News, Time magazine, the BBC, the Japanese television network NHK and the German magazine Der Spiegel.

When it came out, it seemed that one of its sponsors, ABC, could hardly believe its results.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 PM


Collaborator says Korean cloning pioneer admitted faking stem cell results (Burt Herman, 12/15/05, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

A doctor who provided human eggs for research by cloning pioneer Hwang Woo-suk said in a broadcast Thursday that the South Korean scientist agreed to withdraw a key research paper because most of the stem cells produced for the article were faked.

Roh Sung-il, chairman of the board at Mizmedi Hospital, told KBS television that Hwang had agreed to ask the journal Science to withdraw the paper, published in June to international acclaim. Roh was one of the co-authors of the article that detailed how individual stem cell colonies were created for 11 patients through cloning.

In a separate report, a former researcher told MBC that Hwang ordered him to fabricate photos to make it appear there were 11 separate colonies from only three.

"This is something I shouldn't have done," said the researcher, who was identified only by his last name, Kim, and whose face was not shown. "I had no choice but to do it."

Nine of the embryonic stem cell lines Hwang claimed were cloned in the paper were faked, Roh said, and the authenticity of the other two was unknown.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:47 AM

RED EUROPE (via Matthew Cohen):

Latvia cements gay marriage ban (Laura Sheeter, 12/15/05, BBC News)

MPs in the Baltic state of Latvia have passed a constitutional amendment ensuring that gay couples cannot marry.

The change was supported by a majority of parliament - despite criticism of it by the country's president, prime minister and foreign minister.

Members of the European Parliament said the move was homophobic and backward.

American even.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:33 AM


Mass. Gov. Romney to Skip Re-Election Bid (GLEN JOHNSON, 12/15/05, The Associated Press)

After earning two Harvard degrees, making millions as a businessman and turning around a scandal-plagued Winter Olympics, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has created quite a list of accomplishments, some political analysts say. Those analysts believe the Republican announced Wednesday he will not to seek re-election next year because he did not want to risk tarnishing his resume if he decides to run for president in 2008.

By forgoing a second term, he will allow himself to campaign unimpeded for the presidency should he so choose, and not subject himself to the political whims of the heavily Democratic state in the run-up to the next presidential election.

"I don't think he had a choice if he was serious about running for the nomination in '07 or '08," said Scott Reed, who managed Bob Dole's 1996 GOP presidential campaign.

Stuart Rothenberg, an independent political analyst in Washington, had a similar assessment.

"He doesn't want to run for re-election because he could possibly get beat," Rothenberg said.

Okay, we get the part where that's good for Miutt Romney. Where's the part where it's good for Republicans, MA, and the country?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


Prices Drop by Largest Amount in 56 Years (Martin Crutsinger, 12/15/05, AP )

A record plunge in the cost of gasoline pushed consumer prices down by the largest amount in 56 years in November while industrial production posted a solid gain.

The new government reports Thursday provided further evidence that the economy is shaking off the blows delivered by a string of devastating hurricanes.

The Labor Department reported that its closely watched Consumer Price Index dropped by 0.6 percent last month, the biggest decline since a 0.9 percent fall in July 1949. [...]

Outside of the volatile food and energy categories, prices were up 0.2 percent, a modest gain that should help relieve fears that this year's surge in energy costs could evolve into more widespread inflation problems.

Mr. Bernanke can't take over fast enough.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


Dow Index Giving a Distorted View of '05: The blue chips are badly lagging for a second year. Some pros see bargains in the sector. (Tom Petruno, December 15, 2005, LA Times)

[T]he market is doing a lot better than the Dow suggests.

To some investment pros, the Dow's continuing misery is an invitation to pick up what they believe are tremendous bargains in the blue-chip bin.

The 30-stock Dow index, which consists of some of the nation's biggest companies — General Electric Co., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Boeing Co. among them — rose 59.79 points, or 0.6%, to 10,883.51 on Wednesday. That lifted its year-to-date price gain to a measly 0.9%.

That is the worst performance of any major market gauge. By contrast, the Standard & Poor's 500 index, which gained 5.31 points, or 0.4%, to a 4 1/2 -year high of 1,272.74 on Wednesday, is up 5% this year.

Many indexes that track stocks of smaller companies are doing far better than the Dow or the S&P 500. An S&P barometer of small stocks, for example, has surged nearly 10% this year.

Even including dividend income, the Dow's year-to-date return is just 3.2%.

The Dow's woes in part reflect the disdain many investors have shown in this decade for big-name companies in general — a complete turnabout from how the stocks were perceived in the 1990s.

The reversal of fortune for blue chips "is one more example of how the market takes things to extremes," said Michael Holland, head of money manager Holland & Co. in New York.

A surge in the Dow though would be another boost for the President's poll numbers, which are a function of atmospherics, not reality these days..

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


Anti-Syria Rage Rises in Beirut: Emotions spill over as Lebanese turn out to bury Gibran Tueni, a publisher and legislator known for outspoken criticism of Damascus. (Megan K. Stack, December 15, 2005, LA Times)

Weeping, and cursing Syria, tens of thousands of Lebanese spilled into the streets of Beirut on Wednesday as a funeral march for publisher and politician Gibran Tueni turned into a livid political protest.

Tueni, 48, was assassinated Monday morning in a bombing as he was being driven to work. In his columns, the newspaper magnate and lawmaker served up scathing criticisms of Syrian involvement in Lebanese affairs back in the days when many here tiptoed around the taboo of speaking out against Damascus. Tueni is the fourth major anti-Syria figure to be killed this year.

"I call on this occasion not for revenge or hatred but for us to bury with Gibran all our hatreds," Ghassan Tueni, the slain man's father and also a journalist, told reporters at the Greek Orthodox church where his son was buried. "To call on all Lebanese, Muslims and Christians, to unite in the service of the great Lebanon."

Tueni's death provoked a fresh wave of revulsion and despair in Lebanon, along with a growing sense of helplessness against the killings and bombings.

Easy enough to help them feel powerful again--do Assad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


Democrats plan to filibuster Patriot Act (Charles Hurt and Jerry Seper, December 15, 2005, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Senate Democrats say they will filibuster the extension of the USA Patriot Act, which passed the House yesterday on a bipartisan vote, despite some concerns that provisions of the bill trample civil liberties by giving law enforcement too much power.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he will not demand that his entire caucus support a filibuster but said that he certainly would.

No use complaining about wedge issues when you're always so eager to grab the narrow end.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Fatah split as rebels defy Abbas old guard (Daily Telegraph, 15/12/2005)

The ruling Palestinian faction, Fatah, split last night when activists led by the jailed intifada leader Marwan Barghouti announced they would field candidates in elections next month as a new party.

Barghouti's wife arrived at election headquarters in Ramallah and presented a separate list of candidates to the one registered by the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, severing ties with the generation of Fatah leaders who came to power under Yasser Arafat.

Saeb Nimr, Barghouti's spokesman, said: "We have registered an independent list under the name, The Future, headed by Marwan Barghouti."

Israel will release him sooner or later because reformist leadership serves their interests.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


How Christianity (and Capitalism) Led to Science (Rodney Stark, 12/02/05, The Chronicle Review)

When Europeans first began to explore the globe, their greatest surprise was not the existence of the Western Hemisphere, but the extent of their own technological superiority over the rest of the world. Not only were the proud Maya, Aztec, and Inca nations helpless in the face of European intruders, so were the fabled civilizations of the East: China, India, and Islamic nations were "backward" by comparison with 15th-century Europe. How had that happened? Why was it that, although many civilizations had pursued alchemy, the study led to chemistry only in Europe? Why was it that, for centuries, Europeans were the only ones possessed of eyeglasses, chimneys, reliable clocks, heavy cavalry, or a system of music notation? How had the nations that had arisen from the rubble of Rome so greatly surpassed the rest of the world?

Several recent authors have discovered the secret to Western success in geography. But that same geography long also sustained European cultures that were well behind those of Asia. Other commentators have traced the rise of the West to steel, or to guns and sailing ships, and still others have credited a more productive agriculture. The trouble is that those answers are part of what needs to be explained: Why did Europeans excel at metallurgy, shipbuilding, or farming?

The most convincing answer to those questions attributes Western dominance to the rise of capitalism, which took place only in Europe. Even the most militant enemies of capitalism credit it with creating previously undreamed of productivity and progress. In The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels proposed that before the rise of capitalism, humans engaged "in the most slothful indolence"; the capitalist system was "the first to show what man's activity can bring about." Capitalism achieved that miracle through regular reinvestment to increase productivity, either to create greater capacity or improve technology, and by motivating both management and labor through ever-rising payoffs.

Supposing that capitalism did produce Europe's own "great leap forward," it remains to be explained why capitalism developed only in Europe. Some writers have found the roots of capitalism in the Protestant Reformation; others have traced it back to various political circumstances. But, if one digs deeper, it becomes clear that the truly fundamental basis not only for capitalism, but for the rise of the West, was an extraordinary faith in reason.

A series of developments, in which reason won the day, gave unique shape to Western culture and institutions. And the most important of those victories occurred within Christianity. While the other world religions emphasized mystery and intuition, Christianity alone embraced reason and logic as the primary guides to religious truth. Christian faith in reason was influenced by Greek philosophy. But the more important fact is that Greek philosophy had little impact on Greek religions. Those remained typical mystery cults, in which ambiguity and logical contradictions were taken as hallmarks of sacred origins. Similar assumptions concerning the fundamental inexplicability of the gods and the intellectual superiority of introspection dominated all of the other major world religions.

But, from early days, the church fathers taught that reason was the supreme gift from God and the means to progressively increase understanding of Scripture and revelation. Consequently Christianity was oriented to the future, while the other major religions asserted the superiority of the past. At least in principle, if not always in fact, Christian doctrines could always be modified in the name of progress, as demonstrated by reason. Encouraged by the scholastics and embodied in the great medieval universities founded by the church, faith in the power of reason infused Western culture, stimulating the pursuit of science and the evolution of democratic theory and practice. The rise of capitalism also was a victory for church-inspired reason, since capitalism is, in essence, the systematic and sustained application of reason to commerce — something that first took place within the great monastic estates.

The risk is that folk can come to worship the tool.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Baghdad falls quiet as Zarqawi threatens poll (Anton La Guardia Diplomatic Editor and Oliver Poole in Baghdad, 15/12/2005, Daily Telegraph)

The terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi vowed to disrupt today's general election in Iraq as a nationwide travel ban was imposed to reduce the threat of car bombings.

With Iraqi exiles starting to cast their ballots, including in Zarqawi's home town of Zarqa in Jordan, a statement issued by his branch of al-Qa'eda announced "a blessed conquest to shake up the bastions of non-believers and apostates and to ruin the 'democratic' wedding of heresy and immorality".

Nice of him to put down a marker by which whether we can determine quite easily whether he's prevaili8ng and John Murtha is right, or whether democracy is prevailing and the President right.

Challenge of governing falls to Iraqis (Thanassis Cambanis, December 15, 2005, Boston Globe)

Once it takes office, the government will decide whether to demand a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces, how to fight the insurgency that is plaguing huge swathes of the country, and how best to woo disenfranchised such groups as Sunni Arabs into the political process.

How it resolves these issues will determine whether Iraq charts a course of steady if incremental progress, or whether groups straddling the fence decide to reject the entire political process and act as spoilers.

''We are taking it much more seriously" than the January vote that installed Iraq's first freely elected government, said Adil Abdel Mahdi, a Shi'ite Islamist politician who is one of Iraq's vice presidents and represents the dominant Shi'ite Alliance in the current government.

The prospect of a four-year government, which will have the power to revisit the constitution approved in October, has even lured Sunni Arabs who boycotted the vote nearly a year ago back to the polls.

''This election will decide the future of the country," Abdel Mahdi said in an interview.

While this election eventually will have dramatic results for Iraq, they won't come soon.

Results of the vote won't be announced for two weeks, and it could take up to four months for the political parties to agree on who should form a new government. Until the new government takes office, the current coalition would stay in power as a caretaker.

Even when a permanent government emerges, it probably will spend its first few months revisiting the constitution; all amendments to alter the document must be proposed four months after the 275-seat assembly is sworn in.

Only after the new government deals with these procedural issues and debates dry-sounding questions like federalism will it turn to the major issues that have driven rifts into Iraqi society.

It will have to negotiate with the insurgency, distribute Iraq's oil wealth, and decide whether to allow former members of the Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party to join the government.

Voter turnout will go a long way to determining the election's credibility among Sunni Arabs.

One of the many salutary effects of our troop withdrawals will be to hasten that timetable.

December 14, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 PM


Blair rejects alternative white paper (Polly Curtis and Matthew Taylor, December 14, 2005, The Guardian)

The prime minister, Tony Blair, today refused to give ground to a powerful coalition of ex-ministers, Labour loyalists and rebel backbenchers that is calling on him to soften his controversial education reforms.

Mr Blair told the House of Commons he will not change his plans to make every school an independent "trust" school despite the fact that up to 50 of his MPs were simultaneously spelling out their alternative plans for education. [...]

Mr Cameron said Mr Blair faced a choice. "With our support, you can have the reforms that our schools need or you can give in to the Labour party. Which is it to be - white paper or white flag?"

Mr Cameron added: "Reports suggest this [alternative white paper] will call for a delay in the introduction of trust schools. Will you specifically rule this out?"

Mr Blair replied: "Yes, I will."

The Tories are in an ideal position: they help Tony Blair govern Third Way now and inherit his mantle when Labour implodes, as the GOP did here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 PM


The sickness bequeathed by the west to the Muslim world: The Iranian president's support for Holocaust denial is a measure of how far the infection of Jew-hatred has spread (Jonathan Freedland, December 14, 2005, The Guardian)

[E]veryone has their limits and last week I reached mine. On Thursday the president of Iran chose to stand with the cranks, neo-fascists and racists who deny the factual truth of the Holocaust.

"Some European countries insist on saying that Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews in furnaces," said Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "Although we don't accept this claim..."

Suddenly, the usual apologetics won't work. No one can say Iran's president was really complaining about Israel or Zionism, rather than Jews. No one can say he was talking about the west's colonial crimes.

Imagine not being embarrassed to write that about yourself, that you'd excuse him if his motives were only better?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:01 PM


House Approves Extension of Patriot Act (JESSE J. HOLLAND, 12/14/05, Associated Press)

The House easily approved renewing a modified USA Patriot Act on Wednesday, but with the bill facing a Senate filibuster, its Republican leader began talks with the White House on instead extending the current law unchanged for a year.

The House voted 251-174 to approve a House-Senate compromise that would modify and make permanent most of the Patriot Act's 16 expiring provisions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:55 PM


'Ashamed' protest leaders sorry (Tracy Ong, December 15, 2005, The Australian)

THE ringleaders of Sunday's protest at Cronulla Beach delivered written apologies to Sydney's Lebanese community yesterday, saying it was meant to be a peaceful protest but spiralled out of control due to alcohol and a lack of leadership.

Troy Denenhy formally apologised to the Lebanese community, police, ambulance officers and the Sutherland Shire for his behaviour, which featured prominently in media coverage of Sunday's riot.

Mr Denenhy, who has a Japanese wife, emphasised he was "not racist".

"It was supposed to be a peaceful protest but turned into a racial war," his letter says.

Glenn "Steely" Steele, who was another vocal local early on in Sunday's protest, now says he is "deeply embarrassed and ashamed".

But they can be enormously proud of accepting responsibility.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:36 PM


Romney to announce he won't seek re-election: Governor is expected to seek GOP presidential nomination in 2008 (Frank Phillips, December 14, 2005, Boston Globe)

Governor Mitt Romney will announce at 6 p.m. that he will not seek re-election to a second term, setting the stage for an expected campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, a senior aide to the governor said today.

Personally, I'd be inclined to vote for Governor Romney in the 2008 primary, but not if he's not willing to hold the gubernatorial seat for the GOP. If you want people in the party to support you, you owe certain things to the party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:18 PM


Bush accepts responsibility for decision to go to war based on faulty intelligence (Nedra Pickler, December 14, 2005, Associated Press)

"It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As president I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq,'' the president told a foreign policy forum on the eve of elections to establish Iraq's first permanent, democratically elected government. "And I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities. And we're doing just that.''

"We are in Iraq today because our goal has always been more than the removal of brutal dictator,'' Bush said. "It is to leave a free and democratic Iraq in his place.

"My decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision. Saddam was a threat and the American people and the world is better off because he is no longer in power,'' the president told the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

They did the same in the Cold War, but it's still inexplicable that Democrats are bailing on a war they'd supported at the exact moment it's being won and leaving it to a Republican president to reap all the credit. Ronald Reagan didn't singlehandedly fight and defeat the Soviets while Democrats spent seventy years propping up Lenin's corpse, but Ted Kennedy, Tom Harkin, Tip O'Neill, etc. did their best to make it seem that way.

Iraqi Beacon (Michael Rubin, December 14, 2005, Wall Street Journal)

Iraqis will go to the polls tomorrow for the third time this year. Their actions mark both a triumph for the Iraqi people and a warning for Arab autocrats. Not only has the Iraqi march toward democracy proved naysayers wrong, but Iraqis' growing embrace of democracy demonstrates the wisdom of staying the course. Iraqis are changing political culture. Howard Dean and John Murtha may believe that the U.S. military has lost. Brent Scowcroft may think Arab democracy a pipe dream. They are mistaken.

The greatest impediment to progress in the Arab world is not terrorism or Islamism; both are recent phenomena. Rather, it is lack of accountability. [...]

The coalition's ouster of Saddam may have created a template for change, but it is Iraqis who have pressed forward to hold not only Saddam, but also subsequent politicians, to account. On June 28, 2004, Coalition Provisional Authority administrator L. Paul Bremer appointed Iyad Allawi as interim prime minister. Mr. Allawi, a former Baathist, was a favorite of the U.S., British and Jordanian intelligence services. He projected an image of strong leadership to an Iraqi audience craving security. He promised to jumpstart reconstruction. But he failed. Corruption exploded. Iraqis blamed his empowerment of senior Baathists for the spread of insurgency and decline in security. Furthermore, he treated U.S. diplomats, not Iraqis, as his most important constituency. He campaigned surrounded by American security agents. Iraqis had enough. On Jan. 30, millions braved bombs to bounce him from office. Even with the trappings of incumbency--media coverage and a bully pulpit for his campaign--he barely mustered 14%. As Egyptians, Libyans, Tunisians and Syrians watched with envy, Iraqis held a failed incumbent to account.

They will do it again tomorrow. Like Mr. Allawi, current Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari has failed. Local humor is telling. A popular Baghdad joke tells of how he walks into his office to find a rooster, dog and donkey. "I'm here to wake you up so you can do your job," the rooster crows. "I'm here to provide security," the dog barks. "Why are you here?" Jaafari asks the donkey. "I don't know. I'm no different from you," the donkey brays.

Under Saddam, and in other Arab autocracies, such jokes were dangerous. But in the new Iraq, the public translates its mood into action. Mr. Jaafari may try to blame his failings on others, but hundreds of newspapers, and a proliferating network of radio stations and TV networks, will not allow him. Ash-Sharqiya has won wide audiences with its political satire. Iraqi editorial cartoonists are merciless. Those surrounding Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani may give a lukewarm endorsement to the United Iraqi Alliance religious slate, but the clerical leadership realizes that they cannot push too hard. Iraqis may respect religion, but they are not willing to forgive militia abuse, even in the name of religion. The Shiite slate may still win a plurality, but its returns will decline. So too will that of the Kurdish list, as disgust with Masud Barzani's conflation of business and politics is escalating.

Even some insurgents have come to realize the power of democracy. I traveled to Jordan last month to meet a senior insurgent leader and unrepentant Baathist. He conceded that "resistance" activities had hurt too many Iraqis and turned many in the hotbed Sunni province of al-Anbar against them. Sunni Arab groups that last year placed their hope for empowerment on U.S. or Arab League intercession recognize that their best hope for empowerment is through the ballot box, not boycotts and bombs.

The process of democratization may be messy--but it is working.

President Discusses Iraqi Elections, Victory in the War on Terror (President George W. Bush, The Woodrow Wilson Center, Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, Washington, D.C., 12/14/05)
In the war on terror, Iraq is now the central front -- and over the last few weeks, I've been discussing our political, economic, and military strategy for victory in that country. A historic election will take place tomorrow in Iraq. And as millions of Iraqis prepare to cast their ballots, I want to talk today about why we went into Iraq, why we stayed in Iraq, and why we cannot -- and will not -- leave Iraq until victory is achieved. [...]

We are living through a watershed moment in the story of freedom. Most of the focus now is on this week's elections -- and rightly so. Iraqis will go to the polls to choose a government that will be the only constitutional democracy in the Arab world. Yet we need to remember that these elections are also a vital part of a broader strategy for protecting the American people against the threat of terrorism.

We saw the future the terrorists intend for our nation on that fateful morning of September the 11th, 2001. That day we learned that vast oceans and friendly neighbors are no longer enough to protect us. September the 11th changed our country; it changed the policy of our government. We adopted a new strategy to protect the American people: We would hunt down the terrorists wherever they hide; we would make no distinction between the terrorists and those who harbor them; and we would advance our security at home by advancing freedom in the Middle East.

September the 11th also changed the way I viewed threats like Saddam Hussein. We saw the destruction terrorists could cause with airplanes loaded with jet fuel -- and we imagined the destruction they could cause with even more powerful weapons. At the time, the leaders of both political parties recognized this new reality: We cannot allow the world's most dangerous men to get their hands on the world's most dangerous weapons. In an age of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, if we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. (Applause.)

We removed Saddam Hussein from power because he was a threat to our security. He had pursued and used weapons of mass destruction. He sponsored terrorists. He ordered his military to shoot at American and British pilots patrolling the no-fly zones. He invaded his neighbors. He fought a war against the United States and a broad coalition. He had declared that the United States of America was his enemy.

Over the course of a decade, Saddam Hussein refused to comply with more than a dozen United Nations resolutions -- including demands that he respect the rights of the Iraqi people, disclose his weapons, and abide by the terms of a 1991 cease-fire. He deceived international inspectors, and he denied them the unconditional access they needed to do their jobs. When a unanimous Security Council gave him one final chance to disclose and disarm, or face serious consequences, he refused to comply with that final opportunity. At any point along the way, Saddam Hussein could have avoided war by complying with the just demands of the international community. The United States did not choose war -- the choice was Saddam Hussein's.

When we made the decision to go into Iraq, many intelligence agencies around the world judged that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. This judgment was shared by the intelligence agencies of governments who did not support my decision to remove Saddam. And it is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As President, I'm responsible for the decision to go into Iraq -- and I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities. And we're doing just that. At the same time, we must remember that an investigation after the war by chief weapons inspector Charles Duelfer found that Saddam was using the U.N. oil-for-food program to influence countries and companies in an effort to undermine sanctions, with the intent of restarting his weapons programs once the sanctions collapsed and the world looked the other way. Given Saddam's history and the lessons of September the 11th, my decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision. Saddam was a threat -- and the American people and the world is better off because he is no longer in power. (Applause.) We are in Iraq today because our goal has always been more than the removal of a brutal dictator; it is to leave a free and democratic Iraq in its place.

As I stated in a speech in the lead-up to the war, a liberated Iraq could show the power of freedom to transform the Middle East by bringing hope and progress to the lives of millions. So we're helping the Iraqi -- Iraqi people build a lasting democracy that is peaceful and prosperous and an example for the broader Middle East. The terrorists understand this, and that is why they have now made Iraq the central front in the war on terror.

The enemy of freedom in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists and Saddamists and terrorists. The rejectionists are ordinary Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs, who miss the privileged status they had under the regime of Saddam Hussein. We believe that, over time, most of this group will be persuaded to support the democratic Iraq led by a federal government that is strong enough to protect minority rights. We're encouraged by the indications that many Sunnis intend to participate in tomorrow's elections.

The Saddamists are former regime loyalists who harbor dreams of returning to power, and they're trying to foment anti-democratic sentiment amongst the larger Sunni community. Yet they lack popular support, and over time, they can be marginalized and defeated by the security forces of a free Iraq.

The terrorists affiliated with or inspired by al Qaeda are the smallest, but most lethal group. They are led by a brutal terrorist named Zarqawi. He's al Qaeda's chief operations officer in Iraq. He has stated his allegiance to Osama bin Laden. The terrorists have ambitions; they have goals. They want to stop the advance of freedom in Iraq. They want to make Iraq what Afghanistan was under the Taliban -- a safe haven from which they can plot attacks against our people. There is no limit to their brutality. They kill the innocent to achieve their aims. This is an enemy without conscience -- and against such enemy, there is only one effective response: We will never back down, we will never give in, and we will never accept anything less than complete victory. (Applause.)

Last month, my administration released a document called the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq." In recent weeks, I've been discussing our strategy with the American people. At the U.S. Naval Academy, I spoke about how we changed our approach to training Iraqi security forces, so they can take the fight to the enemy and eventually take responsibility for the security of their citizens without major foreign assistance. Iraqi forces are becoming more and more capable.

This time last year, there was only a handful of Iraqi battalions ready for combat. Now there are more than 125 Iraqi army and police combat battalions in the fight against the terrorists. Of these, more than 70 Iraqi battalions are fighting side-by-side with coalition forces, and more than 50 others are taking the lead in the fight. So far, in December, there have been more than 900 combat operations in Iraq at the company level or above, and 75 percent of these involved Iraqi security forces either in the lead or fighting side-by-side with our coalition. As these Iraqi forces grow in size and strength, American and coalition forces can concentrate on training Iraqis, and hunting down high-value targets like Zarqawi and his associates.

Last week before the Council on Foreign Relations, I explained how we changed our approach to help Iraqis hold and rebuild cities taken from the enemy, and how to help them revitalize Iraq's infrastructure and economy. Today, many cities like Mosul and Najaf are coming back to life, and Iraq's economy is growing. Thousands of new businesses have opened in Iraq, personal income is up, and according to one survey, seven in 10 Iraqis say their own lives are going well, and nearly two-thirds expect things to improve in the next year.

Earlier this week at the Philadelphia World Affairs Council, I spoke in depth about how we changed our approach to helping the Iraqis build their democracy. At the request of Iraqi leaders, we accelerated the transition to Iraqi self-government. We set four major milestones to guide Iraq's transition to constitutional democracy: the transfer of sovereignty, elections for a transitional government, the adoption of a democratic constitution, and elections for a new government under that constitution. In spite of the violence, Iraqis have met every milestone -- and this is changing the political landscape in Iraq.

Sunni Arabs who failed to participate in the January elections are now campaigning vigorously in this week's elections -- and we can expect a higher turnout of Sunni voters. As Sunnis join the political process, Iraqi democracy becomes more inclusive -- and the terrorists and Saddamists are becoming marginalized.

Each of the changes we have made in our approach in Iraq is helping us meet the hard realities and the facts on the ground. We've adapted our tactics; we have fixed what was not working, and we have listened to those who know best: our military commanders -- and the Iraqi people.

Our tactics continue to change, but our goal in Iraq has not changed: a free and democratic Iraq. I strongly believe a democratic Iraq is a crucial part of our strategy to defeat the terrorists, because only democracy can bring freedom and reconciliation to Iraq, and peace to this troubled part of the world. Our efforts to advance freedom in Iraq are driven by our vital interests and our deepest beliefs. America was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and we believe that the people of the Middle East desire freedom as much as we do. History has shown that free nations are peaceful nations. And as Iraqi democracy takes hold, Iraqi citizens will have a stake in a common and peaceful future.

As we advance the cause of freedom in Iraq, our nation can proceed with confidence because we have done this kind of work before. After World War II, President Harry Truman believed that the way to help bring peace and prosperity to Asia was to plant the seeds of freedom and democracy in Japan. Like today, there were many skeptics and pessimists who said that the Japanese were not ready for democracy. Fortunately, President Harry Truman stuck to his guns. He believed, as I do, in freedom's power to transform an adversary into an ally. And because he stayed true to his convictions, today Japan is one of the world's freest and most prosperous nations, and one of America's closest allies in keeping the peace. The spread of freedom to Iraq and the Middle East requires the same confidence and persistence, and it will lead to the same results. (Applause.)

The people of Iraq are now seeing some of the tangible benefits of their new democracy. They see that as freedom advances, their lives are improving. Iraqis have approved a bold constitution that guarantees the rule of law and freedom of assembly, and property rights, and freedom of speech and the press, and women's rights, and the right to vote. They see their freedom increasingly being defended by their own soldiers and police instead of foreign forces. And they see that freedom is bringing opportunity and a better life.

The Iraqis still face many challenges, including security, and reconstruction, and economic reform. But they are building a strong democracy that can handle these challenges and that will be a model for the Middle East. Freedom in Iraq will inspire reformers from Damascus to Tehran. This new Iraq shares our deepest values, and it shares our most determined enemies. By helping Iraqis build a nation that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself, we will gain an ally in the war on terror and a partner for peace in the Middle East.

The stakes in Iraq are high, and we will not leave until victory has been achieved. (Applause.) Today there's an intense debate about the importance of Iraq to the war on terror. The constant headlines about car bombings and killings have led some to ask whether our presence in Iraq has made America less secure. This view presumes that if we were not in Iraq, the terrorists would be leaving us alone. The reality is that the terrorists have been targeting America for years, long before we ever set foot in Iraq.

We were not in Iraq in 1993, when the terrorists tried to blow up the World Trade Center in New York. We were not in Iraq in 1998, when the terrorists bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. We were not in Iraq in 2000, when the terrorists killed 17 American sailors aboard the USS Cole. There wasn't a single American soldier in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001, when the terrorists murdered nearly 3,000 people in the worst attack on our home since Pearl Harbor.

These acts are part of a grand strategy by the terrorists. Their stated objective is to drive the United States and coalition forces out of the Middle East so they can gain control of Iraq and use that country as a base from which to launch attacks against America, overthrow moderate governments in the Middle East, and establish a totalitarian Islamic empire that stretches from Spain to Indonesia. Hear the words of the terrorists. In a letter to the terrorist leader Zarqawi, the al Qaeda leader Zawahiri has outlined plans that will unfold in several stages. These are his words: "... Expel the Americans from Iraq. ... Establish an Islamic authority over as much territory as you can to spread its power in Iraq... Extend the jihad wave to secular countries neighboring Iraq." End quote.

To achieve these goals, the terrorists are targeting innocent men, women, and children. The enemy has only the ability to create chaos for the cameras with spectacular acts of violence. They know they cannot defeat us militarily. So they're trying to break our will in the hopes of getting America to leave the battlefield early, and they cite Vietnam as a reason they can prevail. Zawahiri, in his letter to Zarqawi, wrote, "The aftermath of the collapse of the American power in Vietnam -- and how they ran and left their agents -- is noteworthy." In the past, al Qaeda has said that American pullouts of Lebanon and Somalia showed them that America is weak and could be made to run. And now the terrorists think they can make America run in Iraq. There's only one way the terrorists can prevail: if we lose our nerve and leave before the job is done. And that is not going to happen on my watch. (Applause.)

Some in Washington are calling for a rapid and complete withdrawal of our forces in Iraq. They say that our presence there is the cause for instability in Iraq, and that the answer is to set a deadline to withdraw. I disagree. I've listened carefully to all the arguments, and there are four reasons why I believe that setting an artificial deadline would be a recipe for disaster.

First, setting an artificial deadline would send the wrong message to the Iraqis. As Iraqis are risking their lives for democracy, it would tell them that America is more interested in leaving than helping them succeed, put at risk all the democratic progress they have made over the past year.

Secondly, setting an artificial deadline would send the wrong message to the enemy. It would tell them that if they wait long enough, America will cut and run. It would vindicate the terrorists' tactics of beheadings and suicide bombings and mass murder. It would embolden the terrorists and invite new attacks on America.

Third, setting an artificial deadline would send the wrong message to the region and the world. It would tell our friends and supporters that America is a weak and unreliable ally, and that when the going gets tough, America will retreat.

Finally, setting an artificial deadline would send the wrong message to the most important audience -- our troops on the front line. It would tell them that America is abandoning the mission they are risking their lives to achieve, and that the sacrifice of their comrades killed in this struggle has been in vain. I make this pledge to the families of the fallen: We will carry on the fight, we will complete their mission, and we will win. (Applause.)

Victory will be achieved by meeting certain clear objectives: when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can protect their own people, and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot attacks against our country. These objectives, not timetables set by politicians in Washington, will drive our force levels in Iraq. As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down. And when victory is achieved, our troops will then come home, with the honor they have earned. (Applause.)

One of the blessings of our free society is that we can debate these issues openly, even in a time of war. Most of the debate has been a credit to our democracy, but some have launched irresponsible charges. They say that we act because of oil, that we act in Iraq because of Israel, or because we misled the American people. Some of the most irresponsible comments about manipulating intelligence have come from politicians who saw the same intelligence we saw, and then voted to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein. These charges are pure politics. They hurt the morale of our troops. Whatever our differences in Washington, our men and women in uniform deserve to know that once our politicians vote to send them into harm's way, our support will be with them in good days and bad, and we will settle for nothing less than complete victory. (Applause.)

Before this victory comes, we still have a lot of difficult work ahead. We've made real progress in the last two and a half years, and the terrorists see this progress and they're determined to stop it. These enemies are not going to give up because of a successful election. They know that as democracy takes root in Iraq, their hateful ideology will suffer a devastating blow. So we can expect violence to continue.

We can also expect that the elections will be followed by days of uncertainty. We may not know for certain who's won the elections until the early part of January -- and that's important for our citizens to understand. It's going to take a while. It's also going to take a while for them to form a government. The work ahead will require patience of the Iraqi people, and require our patience, as well. Yet we must remember that a free Iraq is in our interests, because a free Iraq will be a beacon of hope. And as the Middle East grows in liberty, the American people will become safer and our nation will be more secure.

The work ahead will also require continued sacrifice. Yet we can be confident, because history has shown the power of freedom to overcome tyranny. And we can be confident because we have on our side the greatest force for freedom in human history: the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. (Applause.)

One of these men was a Marine lieutenant named Ryan McGlothlin, from Lebanon, Virginia. Ryan was a bright young man who had everything going for him and he always wanted to serve our nation. He was a valedictorian of his high school class. He graduated from William & Mary with near-perfect grade averages, and he was on a full scholarship at Stanford, where he was working toward a doctorate in chemistry.

Two years after the attacks of September the 11th, the young man who had the world at his feet came home from Stanford for a visit. He told his dad, "I just don't feel like I'm doing something that matters. I want to serve my country. I want to protect our lands from terrorists, so I joined the Marines." When his father asked him if there was some other way to serve, Ryan replied that he felt a special obligation to step up because he had been given so much. Ryan didn't support me in the last election, but he supported our mission in Iraq. And he supported his fellow Marines.

Ryan was killed last month fighting the terrorists near the -- Iraq's Syrian border. In his pocket was a poem that Ryan had read at his high school graduation, and it represented the spirit of this fine Marine. The poem was called "Don't Quit."

In our fight to keep America free, we'll never quit. We've lost wonderful Americans like Ryan McGlothlin. We cherish the memory of each one. We pray the loved ones -- pray for the loved ones they've left behind, and we count it a privilege to be citizens of a country they served. We also honor them by acknowledging that their sacrifice has brought us to this moment: the birth of a free and sovereign Iraqi nation that will be a friend of the United States, and a force for good in a troubled region of the world.

The story of freedom has just begun in the Middle East. And when the history of these days is written, it will tell how America once again defended its own freedom by using liberty to transform nations from bitter foes to strong allies. And history will say that this generation, like generations before, laid the foundation of peace for generations to come.

May God bless you all. (Applause.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:39 PM


Sharon Advisor Says PM Will Partition Jerusalem (Ezra HaLevi, 12/14/05, Arutz Sheva)

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's senior campaign pollster Kalman Gayer has let the cat out of the bag: Sharon plans to divide Israel's capital, Jerusalem, should he win the elections.

Gayer made the statements speaking with Newsweek about the extent of the withdrawals Sharon is willing to make in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem.

The relevant passage in the Newsweek article states as follows:

"In theory, Gayer says, Sharon would accept a Palestinian state in Gaza and 90 percent of the West Bank, and a compromise on Jerusalem, in exchange for peace. But the Israeli leader does not believe Palestinians will be able to deliver peace or make other compromises—like forgoing the right of refugees to return to their old homes in Israel—in his lifetime (Sharon is 78). In the meantime, Sharon wants to "lay the contours of an agreement with the Palestinians," according to Gayer, by creating a Palestinian state in half the West Bank and implementing confidence-building measures."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:30 PM


Hate torture? Consider boot camp (Max Boot, December 14, 2005, LA Times)

HOLD THE PRESSES. I've discovered that the use of torture by the U.S. government is far more pervasive than previously believed. There are major facilities all over the country where thousands of men and women who have not committed any crime are held for prolonged periods while subjected to physical and psychological coercion that violates every tenet of the Geneva Convention.

They are routinely made to stand for long periods in uncomfortable positions. They are made to walk for hours while wearing heavy loads on their backs. They are bullied by martinets who get in their faces and yell insults at them. They are hit and often knocked down with clubs known as pugil sticks. They are denied sleep for more than a day at a time. They are forced to inhale tear gas. They are prevented from seeing friends or family. Some are traumatized by this treatment. Others are injured. A few even die.

Should Amnesty International or the International Committee of the Red Cross want to investigate these human-rights abuses, they could visit Parris Island, S.C., Camp Pendleton, Calif., Ft. Benning, Ga., Ft. Jackson, S.C., and other bases where the Army and Marines train recruits. It's worth keeping in mind how roughly the U.S. government treats its own defenders before we get too worked up over the treatment of captured terrorists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:27 PM


Nation-building elevated (Rowan Scarborough, December 14, 2005, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

The Pentagon yesterday announced a landmark change in the use of combat troops, elevating "stability missions" -- commonly called nation-building -- to an equal status with major combat operations.

The evolution in war-planning priorities underscores how the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terror network continue to fundamentally reshape how U.S. military commanders deploy the armed forces.

Not only are U.S. forces becoming more mobile to better counter Islamic terrorists, but the chain of command now will be trained in how to "build" nations by creating indigenous security forces, democratic institutions and free markets.

In reality it's a far more important mission than combat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:24 PM


The Truth On the Ground (Ben Connable, December 14, 2005, Washington Post)

When I told people that I was getting ready to head back to Iraq for my third tour, the usual response was a frown, a somber head shake and even the occasional "I'm sorry." When I told them that I was glad to be going back, the response was awkward disbelief, a fake smile and a change of subject. The common wisdom seems to be that Iraq is an unwinnable war and a quagmire and that the only thing left to decide is how quickly we withdraw. Depending on which poll you believe, about 60 percent of Americans think it's time to pull out of Iraq.

How is it, then, that 64 percent of U.S. military officers think we will succeed if we are allowed to continue our work? Why is there such a dramatic divergence between American public opinion and the upbeat assessment of the men and women doing the fighting?

Open optimism, whether or not it is warranted, is a necessary trait in senior officers and officials. Skeptics can be excused for discounting glowing reports on Iraq from the upper echelons of power. But it is not a simple thing to ignore genuine optimism from mid-grade, junior and noncommissioned officers who have spent much of the past three years in Iraq.

We know the streets, the people and the insurgents far better than any armchair academic or talking head.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:12 PM


The Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2005: The world will remember 2005 for its natural disasters, the passing of a pope, and the ongoing insurgency in Iraq. But, all the while, FP’s editors have been keeping an eye out for those stories that fell through the cracks but will have a lasting impact for years to come. In a year-end FP exclusive, here are 10 stories you might have missed. (Foreign Policy, December 2005)

Hot Air’s Shifting Winds

When it comes to emitting greenhouse gases, the United States is usually seen as the bad guy, content to belch out fumes at its pleasure. But reports released in late November show that U.S. emissions have fallen for the first time in more than a decade. Between 2000 and 2003, U.S. emissions fell by 0.8 percent. By contrast, global goody-two-shoes Canada saw a 24.2 percent increase in 2003 from its 1990 levels. Even the sanctimonious Europeans are set to miss their Kyoto targets by 6.4 percent.

Wow! You don't normally look to the foreign policy analysis crowd for honesty. Of course, they do manage to miss both the rise of the Axis of Good and the imminent collapse of the PRC....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 PM


Breaking The Assassins (David Ignatius, December 14, 2005, Washington Post)

This is the time of the assassins in the Arab world. On Monday they killed a brave Lebanese journalist who dared to tell the truth about Syria. This week in Iraq they will try to kill people who want to vote. They kill wives to intimidate their husbands. They kill children to frighten their parents into silence. Their power is the ability to create raw fear.

The shame for America isn't that we have tried to topple the rule of the assassins but that we have so far been unsuccessful. We thought we were cracking the old web of terror when America invaded Iraq in 2003, but it's still there, in the shadows of the shadows. George W. Bush gets a lot of things wrong, but he knows that he's fighting the assassins. On days like these, I'm glad that he is such a stubborn man.

Wasn't he just arguing that we should keep the head assasssin in power?

U.N. Weighs Next Move on Syria: Lebanon is urging the Security Council to widen the inquiry into the slaying of its former premier and to create a tribunal to try suspects. (Maggie Farley, December 14, 2005, LA Times)

In a closed-door Security Council session, Mehlis described interviews with five high-level Syrian officials at the United Nations compound in Vienna last week. He said a sixth had not yet been interviewed, who a diplomat close to the investigation confirmed was Asef Shawkat, the president's brother-in-law and head of Syrian military intelligence. Mehlis did not reveal the names of those interviewed or urge their detention, saying that "it would not be helpful" at this point in the inquiry.

An early draft of Mehlis' first report to the Security Council named some of Syrian President Bashar Assad's close aides as suspects, including Shawkat and Maher Assad, the president's younger brother and commander of the Republican Guard. The names were not in the final report released to the public. [...]

[U].S. Ambassador John R. Bolton said that details in the report about disappearing documents, grudging testimonies and witness intimidation made it clear that Syria was trying to block the inquiry and should be pressured to comply with investigators' demands.

"On the part of the United States there is absolutely no wavering from the proposition that Syria is not going to get away with obstructing this investigation," he said. "It's not going to cover up the actions of its senior officials, and it's not going to escape the consequences."

How many more Lebanese does Assad get to blow up before they do something?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 PM


Frist Says AMT Fix May Be Deferred (Bloomberg News, December 14, 2005)

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said Congress may postpone until next year a measure to prevent 15 million households from paying $30 billion under the alternative minimum tax, indicating that extending tax cuts on capital gains and dividends was a higher priority. [...]

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the delay of the AMT measure was "a punch in the gut to the middle class." The minimum-tax fix, he said, "should have been our number one tax priority and instead, because of right wing ideological objectives, the middle and upper middle class will suffer and only the very, very wealthy will benefit."

AMT is the lever by which Democrats can be forced into voting for a real tax bill--why give it away?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:57 AM


Immigration Pushes Apart GOP, Chamber (Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, December 14, 2005, Washington Post)

The House Republican leadership and the nation's business lobby, usually close allies, are battling each other over the issue of immigration.

In a rare schism, employer groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are pressing to kill a Republican-sponsored measure that would require businesses to verify that all of their workers are in the United States legally and would increase penalties for hiring illegal employees.

Lobby groups including the chamber, the National Restaurant Association and the Associated General Contractors of America are so vehement in their opposition that they will consider lawmakers' votes on the bill a key measure of whether they will support them in the future. [...]

The business groups contend that the verification system, which has only been tried in experimental form, is too mistake-prone to give employers accurate results. They worry that, as a result, companies might be subjected to steep and misapplied penalties because of faulty computer readouts, and that individuals might have their working status jeopardized and their private backgrounds scrutinized needlessly.

It should at least shut the far Right up about background checks before gun purchases and national identity cards.

Posted by kevin_whited at 11:51 AM


Sunni politician says Iraq poll could prompt talks with US (Steve Negus, Financial Times, 12/13/2005)

A leading Sunni Arab politician is predicting that Thursday’s parliamentary elections in Iraq will pave the way for negotiations between the US and Sunni leaders on reducing the violence.

Saleh al-Mutlek, a prominent candidate on the list of the Iraqi National Dialogue Front, one of two new Sunni-led coalitions contesting the elections to the first permanent postwar parliament, said such talks could get US troops out of Iraq cities and isolate radicals responsible for attacks on civilians.

“I think we will be able to talk to the Americans in a democratic way through parliament to convince them that they should withdraw from the cities,” he said.

Soldiers play vital role in Iraq’s polling strategy (Neil MacDonald, Financial Times, 12/13/2005)

Scanning the ditches for concealed bombs on Tuesday morning, convoy comman­der Captain Wahab Abu Abbas also took in the numerous Iraqi election banners posted along the main route to Baqouba. Spotting a poster for Iyad Allawi’s secular list, he rattled off a mildly derisive rhyming couplet about the former interim prime minister.

But he and the soldiers with him in the unarmoured Toyota pick-up – the standard patrol vehicle for most of Iraq’s new army – also took some good-humoured potshots at Ibrahim al-Jafari, Iraq’s current prime minister, who was put in office by the Shia religious-leaning United Iraqi Alliance earlier this year.

The soldiers were part of a countrywide Iraqi army operation, escorting truckloads of election materials from 18 provincial capitals to dozens of smaller cities and towns, the staging points to every polling site in tomorrow’s national parliamentary elections.

Capt Wahab’s five machinegun-mounted Toyotas and three larger vans were the first to arrive at Baqouba, capital of the ethnically diverse Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, where they picked up four civilian delivery trucks containing about 200,000 ballots, packed under United Nations supervision, for the run back to the battalion’s home base next to Muqdadiya, 50km to the north.


While airing their political differences openly, the mostly Shia members of the Iraqi 2nd Battalion, 2nd Brigade also appear to take their role as guardians of the election process very seriously.

This wasn't supposed to happen. Iraqis are supposed to be incapable of democracy, and the civil war was supposed to be well underway by now. Has someone informed Fred Kaplan of these developments?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:42 AM


Menino's Catholic fallacies (George Weigel, December 14, 2005, Boston Globe)

In the course of his recent remarks to the Catholic Charities Greater Boston Christmas dinner, [Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino] confessed that ''what moves me about being a Christian is what Jesus taught us about being religious. He did not give priority to piety. He didn't make holiness the big thing. And he did not tell us to go around talking up God, either."

Really? One wonders what Menino makes of the last two verses of the Gospel of St. Matthew: ''Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." It is not, shall we say, self-evidently clear how that ''Great Commission" can be fulfilled without ''talking up God."

As for Jesus being anti-pietistic and unconcerned about holiness, it is true that Jesus criticized the formulaic piety that some people of his time mistook for genuine religious conversion. But did the Master who gave his disciples what we know as the Lord's Prayer really not care about prayer? Did the Christ who called on all to ''change your ways" for ''the kingdom of heaven is at hand" not care about holiness? Don't organizations such as Catholic Charities help fulfill Christ's command to ''let your light shine before men, so that they may see the good you do and give glory to your Father in heaven"?

Menino further muddied the waters by commenting that: ''When the pope speaks on doctrine, that's absolute. I don't think choice and gay marriage are doctrine." Wrong again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:27 AM

OUR SUNNIS (via Kevin Whited):

Where will vote be fairer, Sugar Land or Nineveh? (CRAGG HINES, 12/14/05, Houston Chronicle)

You don't need to know much about the representational models, however imperfect, in the Iraqi elections this week to understand that they certainly are no more egregious than U.S. House districts in Texas.

What hypocrites Republicans can be: All this breast-beating about representative government in Iraq while they continually try to jigger the vote at home.

Is it more than a touch ironic that as ballots began to be cast in the first post-Saddam parliamentary elections in Iraq, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision to hear multiple challenges to the mid-decade, politically inspired redrawing of the 32 U.S. House districts in Texas as demanded in 2003 by then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land?

Folks who've held power illegitimately are naturally reluctant to give it up, even, or especially, to the democratic process. All you really need to know about the tattered status of democracy in Democrat-controlled Texas is that in 2002 when 60% of Texans voted Republican that got them 17 Democrats and just 15 Republicans in their House delegation. Tom DeLay fixed the problem, much like W has fixed the Ba'ath Party's domination of the Iraqi population. One man/one vote is a silly idea, but if the Left wants it to prevail they can live with being the minority.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


Iraqis Grasp the Art of TV Debate, With Gloves On: The airwaves are rife with candidate forums featuring polite speech in a nation torn by war. (Louise Roug, December 14, 2005, LA Times)

For the first time, the televised campaign debate has come to Iraq, and it has brought with it a level of civility and political discourse far different from that found on the nation's often bloody streets. [...]

Politicians are now free to use the medium of televised debates to expose voters to their styles, images and rhetorical flourishes. And here, the tone has been polite.

There have been few interruptions and fewer insults. In a country where eloquence is admired, canned sound bites have been rare.

"One and a half minutes is too short to answer the question," explained a Sunni Muslim Arab candidate during a debate among aspirants to the national assembly broadcast this week on the U.S.-funded Al Hurra television channel. Four other politicians sat respectfully at the conference table that had been draped with yellow satin. Later in the program, one candidate briefly interrupted to help clarify an opponent's point.

Back in the days of Saddam Hussein, Iraqi voters had one choice on their ballot. Now, with more than 7,600 candidates on various political slates vying for 275 four-year seats on the Council of Representatives, voters are spoiled for choice. Every night in recent weeks, debates featuring Shiite Muslim, Sunni Arab and Kurdish candidates, with TV journalists as hosts, have been broadcast across Iraq from studios in Baghdad.

No wonder they all hate us.

Iraq election messages get through (Jon Leyne, 12/14/05, BBC News)

Days before Iraq's general election, workers at the Iraqi Islamic Party stream out of their headquarters with armfuls of banners and posters. They have even persuaded footballing hero Ahmed Radhi to endorse them.

Inside the party offices there's a "war room", where party workers sit at a bank of computers exchanging the latest intelligence.

It could almost be a normal election. [...]

It's the first election under a constitution written by Iraqis themselves.

Iraqis take fight to political realm: Sunni candidacies intensify elections (Sa'ad al-Izzi and Thanassis Cambanis, December 14, 2005, Boston Globe)
The Sunnis' entry into a suddenly contested political race has helped galvanize a new era in Iraq's short political history.

After two static campaign seasons, Iraqi voters in recent weeks have witnessed a fierce battle in the final election of the year.

Political parties have suddenly unleashed the full power of attack ads, negative campaigns, and even threats to give the public its first taste of real competition: One party has sent cellphone text messages promising its followers a place in heaven; rivals accuse one another of being Ba'athist stooges; and opponents of the government accuse the police of ethnic mass murder.

It's all part of Iraq's first full-throttle campaign season, played out almost entirely through television ads, billboards, and posters, since it is far too dangerous for candidates to travel, hold rallies, or make public speeches.

The sleepy ads during January's national election and October's constitutional referendum usually featured still portraits of candidates, vague promises of safety and security, and for Shi'ite candidates, a claim of endorsements by Iraq's top ayatollah.

In the runup to tomorrow's election, which will choose Iraq's first National Assembly under the new constitution, that gentility has yielded to a fiery introduction to modern politics.

Sunni Bastion Now Turning to Ballot Box (EDWARD WONG, 12/14/05, NY Times)
Along the main boulevard here in Saddam Hussein's hometown, hundreds of campaign posters have flowered where insurgents once tossed homemade bombs at American troops.

The guerrilla war found fertile ground in Tikrit, and defiant Sunni Arabs boycotted the elections in January.

But turnout in the parliamentary elections on Thursday is expected to be high, reflecting the shift in attitude of many Sunni Arabs toward the American-engineered political process.

"Last January, the elections were quite different than they are now," Wael Ibrahim Ali, 61, the mayor of Tikrit, said as he strode Tuesday along the grounds of the palace where Mr. Hussein used to celebrate his birthdays. "The people refused to vote, and now they see it was a wrong stand or wrong position."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


Watching the Death of Inmate C29300 (Jenifer Warren, December 14, 2005, LA Times)

At 12:01 Tuesday morning, having exhausted all appeals, Stanley Tookie Williams walked slowly into San Quentin's death chamber, shackled at the wrists and waist and escorted by four burly guards.

After he climbed onto a padded gurney, officers buckled Williams down with wide black straps across his shins, thighs, belly and chest. His arms, stretched out to the side, were secured with leather restraints.

At 12:03 a.m., two guards pulled on surgical gloves as another entered the mint-green chamber with a plastic tub of supplies. Three minutes later, a needle was thrust successfully home into Williams' right arm and connected to an intravenous tube.

The rules, however, require a backup in case one tube is jostled loose or fails. And it was here that the carefully choreographed execution turned messy.

For 12 long minutes, a prison nurse — her brow glistening with sweat — poked the convict's muscular left arm again and again, searching for a vein that would deliver a dose of poison. As his loved ones watched in distress, the inmate visibly winced in pain.

Ultimately, the needle found its mark, a stream of lethal chemicals flowed, and Williams — convicted of murdering four people with a shotgun in 1979 — drew his final breath.

Surprising many, he did not leave a statement for the warden to read. But his closest supporters made sure his departure from the world was not a quiet one. Filing out after witnessing the execution, they yelled a message in unison:

"The state of California just killed an innocent man!"

The startling cry pierced the silence that had cloaked the small observation room, and relatives of Williams' victims appeared shaken. Lora Owens, whose stepson, Albert, was gunned down at a West Whittier convenience store, hunched forward in her brown metal chair and wept. Another woman wrapped her in an embrace.

Should have quartered the corpse at that point.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


Stephen Barr writes (On the Square, 12/13/05)

The philosopher Daniel Dennett visited us at the University of Delaware a few weeks ago and gave a public lecture entitled “Darwin, Meaning, Truth, and Morality.” I missed the talk—I was visiting my sons at Notre Dame and taking in the Notre Dame-Navy football game. Friends told me what I missed, however. Dennett claimed that Darwin had shredded the credibility of religion and was, indeed, the very “destroyer” of God. In the question session, philosophy professor Jeff Jordan made the following observation to Dennett, “If Darwinism is inherently atheistic, as you say, then obviously it can’t be taught in public schools.” “And why is that?” inquired Dennett, incredulous. “Because,” said Jordan, “the Supreme Court has held that the Constitution guarantees government neutrality between religion and irreligion.” Dennett, looking as if he’d been sucker-punched, leaned back against the wall, and said, after a few moments of silence, “clever.” After another silence, he came up with a reply: He had not meant to say that evolution logically entails atheism, merely that it undercuts religion.

Always helpful to have a theory you're just making up as you go along.....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


P-I podcast gets Bon Appetit nod (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/14/05)

The January 2006 issue of Bon Appetit magazine delivers kudos to three "early standouts" in the "nascent medium" of "gastrocasting," including the P-I's podcast: "On Food With Hsiao-Ching Chou." [...]

To tune in to the latest installment of "On Food" -- which features an interview with chef Jerry Traunfeld of The Herbfarm restaurant -- visit or subscribe through Apple iTunes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


The Libya option for Syria (Ronald Bruce St John, 12/15/05, Foreign Policy in Focus)

The Bush administration continues to talk about applying the "Libya option" to Syria. In itself, this would be an excellent idea. The problem is the White House took the wrong lessons from Libya's decision to renounce weapons of mass destruction and rejoin the international community. The Libya model may yet provide a path through the Syrian imbroglio, but only if applied correctly. [...]

In March 2003, weeks before the invasion of Iraq, Libyan officials approached the British government, initiating talks with Great Britain and the United States aimed at dismantling Libya's unconventional weapons programs. Nine months later, Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed Abderrahman Chalgram announced Libya's decision to renounce weapons of mass destruction, emphasizing his country had decided of its own "free will" to be completely free of internationally banned weapons. Gaddafi and other Libyan officials stressed this point in later statements.

One clear lesson to be taken from the Libyan model is the power of engagement as opposed to containment.

Actually, the Libya breakthrough required a series of convergent events and tactics -- getting caught red-handed violating international law, watching Saddam be pulled from his spider-hole, a European power to negotiate surrender with instead of the U.S. -- almost all of which are likewise present in Syria, except the most important: despite early hopes, Baby Assad is no Saif al-Islam

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


Stifling in Jade Dust: At 31, Feng Xingzhong is dying after years of toiling in one of China's gemstone factories. He's not alone -- except in speaking up for justice. (Ching-Ching Ni, December 14, 2005, LA Times)

The boulders were as big as farm animals, and for $20 a month Feng Xingzhong's job was to slice them with an electric saw, cutting the hulks into fillets small enough to throw into a bowl.

Other workers in the jewelry factory would trim the pieces of jade, turquoise, onyx and other gemstones into little hearts and beads, polish them, drill holes and string them onto earrings, bracelets and necklaces to be shipped off to American shoppers.

Feng thought little about that, or anything else during his earsplitting 12-hour shift. By day's end, he looked like a coal miner emerging from the shaft, covered from head to toe in red, green or yellow dust, depending on the stone he had been cutting.

From age 18 to 26, Feng toiled without so much as a mask, trying to turn himself from an impoverished peasant into a prosperous city worker. He married a fellow employee, had two sons.

"We had a beautiful dream," Feng said. "To make some money, go home and start a small business."

Today, Feng hopes mostly to live long enough to collect some money from the factory where he developed silicosis, an incurable ailment known as dust lung that kills more than 24,000 Chinese workers each year in professions such as mining, quarrying, construction and shipbuilding.

Most slowly suffocate without protest. But not Feng. He sought workers' compensation. He sued his employer in two courts. He picketed near the company headquarters. He went to arbitration with the help of a Hong Kong labor group and even won a judgment.

But he hasn't received so much as a penny.

"I could die in a year or two," said Feng, now 31, who speaks in a soft, wispy voice and coughs frequently. "I am still so young. I have a wife, two children and an elderly mother. No amount of money can bring back my life. All I want is some justice."

Rural areas of China put squeeze on farmers (Calum MacLeod, 12/13/05, USA TODAY)
This year, Zhou Junniu got an unexpected gift from Beijing: The government abolished rural taxes and fees, saving the garlic farmer an amount equal to $800 annually.

He'll need every penny. Beijing's move has spurred authorities at the local level to squeeze all they can from Zhou and millions of other Chinese farmers. As a result, local governments have begun levying indiscriminate fines — often using China's strict legal limits on family size as a pretext — and employing heavy-handed collection tactics to make up for a lack of revenue from Beijing.

Since September, Zhou and his wife, both 40, have been hit with $1,000 in fines for bearing a child without official approval. In addition, they owe $4,000 in medical bills from treatment for her 9-year-old son Qianlong, who was badly beaten when he tried to prevent police from arresting Zhou, his stepfather. [...]

Zhou boils with frustration when he talks about his arrest and feelings of powerlessness. "I was so angry when I found out they had hit my son," he says. "But I do not dare sue them in court. It was the court officials that did this. If I sue, they will take me away and beat me."

Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:45 AM


Wilkins irked by 'chest thumping'
(Anne Dawson, et. al., National Post. December 13th, 2005)

The U.S. ambassador to Canada yesterday rebuked politicians in this country who criticize the United States for their own political gain, in remarks that appear to be aimed at Prime Minister Paul Martin.

Although foreign envoys rarely make such statements in the course of an election campaign, David Wilkins warned Canadians to back off the U.S.-bashing rhetoric in advance of the Jan. 23 election.

"It may be smart election-year politics to thump your chest and constantly criticize your friend and your No. 1 trading partner," Mr. Wilkins said. "But it is a slippery slope, and all of us should hope that it doesn't have a long-term impact on our relationship."[...]

Mr. Wilkins, a lawyer who served as House Speaker in the South Carolina legislature since 1994, told the crowd he is familiar with election-year politics having been on the ballot 13 times in his state, but he noted the United States is not on the election ballot in Canada.

"It's also a great time for a political junkie like me to be here to watch your first winter election in 25 years and I've discovered that in Canada, politics is very much a contact sport. It shouldn't be lost on any of us that some of your politicians use my country to score political points," Mr. Wilkins said.

Mr. Wilkins signalled his country's leaders are bothered by Mr. Martin's hard-hitting comments. He pointed out Canadian media have documented that the Americans have a better record than Canada in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, he said between 1990 and 2003, emissions in the U.S. increased by 13% compared with 24% in Canada over the same period.

"I would respectfully submit to you that when it comes to a global conscience, the U.S. is walking the walk. And when it comes to climate change, we are making significant progress, greater progress than many of those who have been most critical of the U.S.," he said.

December 13, 2005

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:20 PM


Lib Dem revolt puts Kennedy on brink (Greg Hurst, 12/14/05, Times of London)

A REVOLT by senior Liberal Democrat MPs has left Charles Kennedy fighting to save his leadership of the party. [...]

David Cameron’s election as leader of the Conservative Party has put further pressure on Mr Kennedy to give a clearer sense of strategic direction to the Lib Dems and map out how he intends to confront the challenge of a more centrist Tory party.

Have they ever had a strategic direction?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 PM


National Smiles (D.T. MAX, 12/11/05, NY Times Magazine)

Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, contends that Americans and the English smile differently. On this side of the Atlantic, we simply draw the corners of our lips up, showing our upper teeth. Think Julia Roberts or the gracefully aged Robert Redford. "I think Tom Cruise has a terrific American smile," Keltner, who specializes in the cultural meaning of emotions, says. In England, they draw the lips back as well as up, showing their lower teeth. The English smile can be mistaken for a suppressed grimace or a request to wipe that stupid smile off your face. Think headwaiter at a restaurant when your MasterCard seems tapped out, or Prince Charles anytime.

Keltner hit upon this difference in national smiles by accident. He was studying teasing in American fraternity houses and found that low-status frat members, when they were teased, smiled using the risorius muscle - a facial muscle that pulls the lips sideways - as well as the zygomatic major, which lifts up the lips. It resulted in a sickly smile that said, in effect, I understand you must paddle me, brother, but not too hard, please. Several years later, Keltner went to England on sabbatical and noticed that the English had a peculiar deferential smile that reminded him of those he had seen among the junior American frat members. Like the frat brothers', the English smile telegraphed an acknowledgment of hierarchy rather than just expressing pleasure.

"What the deferential smile says is, 'I respect what you're thinking of me and am shaping my behavior accordingly,"' Keltner says.

No wonder they favor life in jail.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 PM


What Sunni voters want (Ilene R. Prusher and Jill Carroll, 12/14/05, CS Monitor)

In a complete turnabout from last January's vote to select an interim assembly, Sunni Arabs are expected to turn out in large numbers Thursday to select Iraq's new parliament. [...]

Sunni anger grew Tuesday as news spread that Mizhal al-Duleimy, a prominent Sunni politician, was fatally shot while campaigning in the city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad. That comes on top of fresh reports that Sunnis arrested by Shiite forces are being mistreated and tortured in underground prisons. Iraq's interim prime minister, Ibrahim Jafaari, acknowledged that more abused prisoners have been found inside jails run by his interior ministry.

End the insurgency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 PM


He's unbelievable!: Is there no end to Paul Martin's grand pronouncements, stirring appeals, and full-of-holes commitments? Talk about your gaseous emissions. (PAUL WELLS

They do politics differently in places where it actually matters. In Ottawa, we tend to surf contentedly on assumptions born from prosperity: that policy is boring, that hard choices are a downer, that only personality can sell papers. But Paul Martin began his second week of campaigning at a radio station in St. John's, Nfld., on a brutal rainy Monday morning. He soon learned that in a place where government can make the difference between lighter and darker shades of grief, the questions tend to be more pointed.

Martin's host on VOCM Radio, Randy Simms, didn't waste a second on the subjects that normally transfix the Bytown gallery (Is Peter staring at Belinda? What are the "optics" of this or that?). Instead, he worked hard to pin Martin down on a checklist of local desiderata. The whole process was amazingly businesslike and unsentimental, as shakedowns often are.

Would Martin extend custodial management to the fisheries on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks, shooing away foreign fishing boats even more than 200 miles offshore? Would he help pay for the Lower Churchill hydro development? Couldn't he build up the Canadian Forces base at 5 Wing Goose Bay? "Obviously you currently hold 8 1/2 per cent of Hibernia, as an asset to the Canadian government," Simms said at one point. "You've made a lot of money on it. We'd like to have it now."

The barrage of requests would have brought an ordinary man to his knees, but Paul Martin is made of sterner stuff. There is no known request he can't kind-of seem, briefly, to be sort-of fulfilling. The Lower Churchill? "This is really up to the province. But does the federal government want it to go forward? Yes, we do." Custodial management? "I think this is a huge problem."

But as the reporters travelling with Martin listened to a live audio feed of his chat with Simms in a boardroom down the hall from the studio, what quickly became apparent was how full of holes Martin's commitments really are. [...]

On Wednesday, Martin gave a blandly hortatory speech to the UN Climate Change Conference in Montreal, a global meeting to begin designing a sequel to the Kyoto accord on greenhouse gas emissions. He opened yet another news conference by reading a statement that would take little time to come back to haunt him. "To the reticent nations, including the United States, I'd say this: there is such a thing as a global conscience, and now is the time to listen to it."

It was a striking choice of words. A "conscience" is normally understood as a sense of one's own responsibilities. But Canada has increased its greenhouse gas emissions by 24 per cent since 1990, the United States by only 13 per cent. If the U.S. had been as profligate over the same period as Canada, it would have spat an extra 662 million tonnes of carbon products into the air last year. That's more than Britain's total emissions in 2003. The gap between Martin's remarks and the truth is as big as Britain. Usually when a politician utters a whopper, you can't actually give the whopper a name. But you can name this one. You can call it Britain. Say hello to Britain, the whopper.

After visiting Montreal, Martin stopped in Toronto to announce a total ban on handguns. Well, not total: the ban would exempt gun-club members and, for five years, collectors who would then have to join gun clubs. The same two groups are exempted today from a near-total ban that has been in place for decades. And individual provinces would have a right to opt out. That's going to be a bit tricky, because if you can obtain handguns in even one province, then unless you plan to station border guards between the provinces, you might as well try to ban clouds.

In the space of a single week, Martin had skated himself offside the truth on climate studies, phone-in calls, referendum elections, tax policy, daycare, handguns, and, ironically, given the rest of it, gaseous emissions.

And coasting to victory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 PM


Bono Dines With Jesse Helms (PAUL NOWELL, December 13, 2005, Associated Press)

Not only are they friends, but the Irish rocker and archconservative former North Carolina senator also share a common cause: fighting AIDS in Africa.

Before U2 opened to a raucous crowd of 17,000 at the city's new downtown arena, Bono had dinner with Helms.

"He (Bono) called us a couple of weeks ago and said he wanted to see his old friend the senator," said John Dodd, president of the Jesse Helms Center, who accompanied Helms and other family members to Monday's meeting.

Since they were introduced several years ago, the Republican Helms and Bono have become close allies in the fight against the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

Helms, who is 84 and suffers from a number of serious health problems, arrived backstage before the show and was joined by Bono for a casual meal. On the menu: grilled chicken, roast beef and salmon.

"It was nothing fancy," Dodd said. "They ate in the cafeteria with the roadies and the rest of the crew."

Posted by David Cohen at 5:39 PM


Let Joe Know: Sign the Letter (, 12/8/05)

Earlier this week while discussing the war in Iraq, Senator Joseph Lieberman said, "It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge he'll be commander-in-chief for three more critical years, and that in matters of war we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril."

Unfortunately, President Bush has no credibility. His administration misled our nation into the war in Iraq on trumped-up charges of weapons of mass destruction. His "stay the course" strategy has led to over 2,100 American deaths. And no one sees an end in sight.

It is disturbing enough that Senator Lieberman remains one of the president's biggest cheerleaders. But his call for opponents of the president's failed policy to keep quiet is outrageous.

The only way we will end this war is by having an honest debate about how and when we can bring our troops home.

Join me in sending Senator Lieberman an open letter asking him to join the majority of Americans in questioning the Bush administration's Iraq policy....


Jim Dean

If the brother of the Chairman of the Democratic Party can attack a sitting Democratic Senator for his refusal to turn tail in the middle of a war and run, can Republicans demand an apology?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 PM


Fed lifts rates, shifts language (Tim Ahmann, 12/13/05, Reuters)

The Federal Reserve on Tuesday lifted a key U.S. interest rate for a 13th straight time but signaled, as one economist put it, the "beginning of the end" of a 1-1/2 year credit-tightening campaign.

...Lizzie Borden didn't stop 'til 40 whacks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:07 PM


Sunnis Change Course: Even some insurgents and their sympathizers are reassessing their strategy, and plan to vote in this week's elections for a new government. (Joshua Hammer and Scott Johnson, Dec. 19, 2005, Newsweek)

Ahmed Duraid is ready for a new era. Like almost all of his neighbors in Adhamiya, a stronghold of the Sunni insurgency along the Tigris River in central Baghdad, the 35-year-old clothes vendor boycotted Iraq's National Assembly elections last January on the advice of Sunni fighters and influential political groups such as the Association of Muslim Scholars. But the consequences for Adhamiya were severe: shadowy religious militias with ties to the Shiite-dominated government began arresting, kidnapping and sometimes murdering young Sunni men in the neighborhood; Duraid felt unprotected, even abandoned, by the country's new leaders. "We didn't participate, and the others took power alone, and this is the result," Duraid told NEWSWEEK.

Saddam Hussein once ruled Iraq with brutal predictability. In the political realm, nobody had to think, or to choose, or to compete. You did what you were told, and when elections came around, you voted for Saddam. But today, as the ex-dictator stands trial for atrocities, even some Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers are beginning to acknowledge the power of the ballot box. Duraid and his fellow residents say they've learned from their mistake: they plan to participate in the Dec. 15 vote for a new National Assembly.

This new determination has transformed the atmosphere of places like Adhamiya.

Not only do we have the current batch of stories with the MSM suddenly realizing that Iraq is working out, but on NPR today they were basically reading the last rites for the PRC. The World, in particular, had a story on comparing the unrest in the countryside to that which has historically preceded the fall of Chinese regimes. Add in their realization that the economy is doing rather well and that the president's poll numbers aren't trending into the negatives and it's rude awakening time for the chattering class.

Posted by David Cohen at 4:23 PM


Europeans Outraged at Schwarzenegger (Vanessa Gera, AP, 12/13/05)

The execution of convicted killer Stanley Tookie Williams sparked outrage Tuesday throughout Europe, which has a deep aversion to capital punishment sustained by the painful memory of state-organized murder during the Nazi era. The disappointment was particularly strong in Austria, native country of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, where many had hoped the former bodybuilder and film star would spare the 51-year-old Williams.

Leaders of Austria's opposition Green Party even called for Schwarzenegger to be stripped of his Austrian citizenship _ a demand rejected by Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel as "absurd" despite his government's opposition to the death penalty.

Capital punishment is illegal throughout the European Union, and the issue was amplified in Williams' case due to the remorse supporters believe the Crips gang co-founder showed by writing children's books about the dangers of gangs and violence. . . .

Rome's Colosseum, once the arena for deadly gladiator combat and executions, has become a symbol of Italy's anti-death penalty stance. Since 1999, the monument has been bathed in golden light every time a death sentence is commuted somewhere in the world or a country abolishes capital punishment.

"I hope there will be such an occasion soon," Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni said. "When it happens, we will do it with a special thought for Tookie."

An American politician can't buy publicity this good. It can only come as a gift from Europe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:46 PM


Gallup: Poll Finds Americans' Belief in God Remains Strong (E&P Staff, December 13, 2005, Editor & Publisher)

A new Gallup survey released today finds that four decades after the "God Is Dead" controversy was first noted, Americans retain a strong belief in a higher power. Some 94% think God exists.

Only 5% feel God "does not exist" -- and even most of them "are not sure" of that. Exactly 1% are certain there is no God.

Howard Dean calls them "the base."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:51 AM


SPIEGEL Survey of Iraq: Dreaming of Normalcy amid Chaos: As Iraqi voters pick a new parliament this Thursday, most of the country's people are hoping their future leaders can clamp down on violence and increase security. But in spite of the current chaos a majority of Iraqis believe their lives will improve soon, according to a new SPIEGEL survey. (Der Spiegel, 12/13/05)

Conducted by Oxford University and the University of Baghdad, the survey suggests a solid commitment to democracy; 6 out of 10 Iraqis prefer a democratic system to some sort of rule by an Islamic leader.

But the desire for a "strong man" in Iraq hasn't disappeared. Half the respondents believe that only an authoritarian can ensure unity and security for now. But that's the problem: no single party or politician has the trust of all the people. Ex-prime minister Iyad Allawi leads this contest with a humble 15 percent, while current President Jalal Talabani has to content himself with a 10 percent popularity rating.

The same goes for political organizations in Iraq. Only in the Kurdish region and among voters with a religious orientation are there clear preferences. The sympathies of the rest of the survey respondents are divided between more than 30 groups.

This could pay off for current Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafaari on Thursday. Although he's lost personal popularity, two-thirds of Iraqis are in favor of keeping his government in power. Popular opinion of the police and security forces has also clearly improved. Trust in the new Iraqi army has gone up since October 2003 (38 percent) to a current level of 67 percent. [...]

At any rate, Iraqi incomes have more than doubled in the past two years, to an average of $236 a month, and the range of consumer durables on offer has improved markedly. Almost every household now possesses a television set, and 86 percent of TV viewers also have a satellite dish.

Mobile telephones, luxury items owned by just five percent of the population two years ago, are now mass market goods possessed by 62 per cent of households. The number of people owning cars (55 percent) and washing machines (54 percent) has risen along similar lines.

Reason enough for Iraqis to display an almost inexplicable confidence. Across the country, almost 70 percent of the population believe that within a year, the situation in Iraq will be either "somewhat better" or "a lot better".

That optimism, though, is not shared equally throughout Iraq's different geographical regions. In the center of the country, the mood is gloomy: only 41 percent of residents believe there will be an improvement. By contrast, 85 percent of people in the capital are looking to the future with great enthusiasm, followed by those in the Shiite south and the Kurdish areas.

Howe does this happily expectant mood fit in with the bloody scenes of bombings and shootings, the reports of kidnappings, curfews and shortages?

The apparent contradiction arises from differing perceptions of reality. Western media concentrate their efforts on the theater of war in the heart of Iraq. Daily reports from the strongholds of resistance in Samara, Fallujah and Ramadi ignore the fact that huge tracts of the country remain untouched by the fighting.

Away from the confrontation, in villages, small towns and desert settlements, the research team was able to speak to members of the "silent majority". Here, the principle of hope wins out: despite all the scepticism about the general state of the country, 71 percent of the people questioned were either "very" or "quite" happy with their personal circumstances. A lack of somewhere to live, poor standards of living and unemployment trouble between six and 13 percent of the population, depending on the region they are in.

The everyday life of these towns and villages is dominated by a sense of the positive. Iraqis look at their new-found freedom of expression, the state of their schools, healthcare system and water supplies with satisfaction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:30 AM

A MERE PRODUCT OF ITS TIME (via Kevin Whited):

The Fear of Teaching Darwin (Larry Arnhart, 12/13/05, Inside Higher Ed)

The endless debate over the teaching of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution has now moved from the high schools to the universities. In this debate, the advocates of “intelligent design theory” say that this should be taught as a scientific alternative to Darwin’s theory. It’s time to consider radical ideas for resolving this dispute.

I have a proposal. Why not introduce our students to this debate by having them read Darwin’s own writings in their biology classes? We could teach the controversy by teaching Darwin.

I suspect, however, that this proposal will be rejected by almost everyone in this debate, because both sides — the proponents as well as the critics of evolution — have a deep fear of teaching Darwin. [...]

[I] cannot see that there would be anything wrong with having students weigh the evidence and arguments for themselves by reading selections from Darwin’s own writings — particularly, The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. Surely, the proponents of evolution couldn’t object to having students read Charles Darwin. And yet this could also satisfy the proponents of intelligent design, because Darwin presents intelligent design theory, which he calls the “theory of creation,” as the major alternative to his theory.

In The Origin of Species, Darwin frames the fundamental debate as a controversy between two theories — the “theory of creation” (or the “theory of independent acts of creation”) versus the “theory of natural selection” (or the “theory of descent with modification”). He indicates that until recently “most naturalists” — including himself — have accepted the “theory of creation,” which says that each species has been independently created by a Creator. But Darwin thinks that now we have a better theory — a “theory of natural selection,” which says that although the general laws of nature might have been ultimately created by a Creator, those general laws allow for the natural evolution of species through natural selection of inherited variations. Consequently, there is no need for special interventions by a Creator to design each species and each complex organic mechanism.

Darwin thinks that neither theory can be conclusively demonstrated. [...]

Darwin acknowledges the many “difficulties” with his theory, which turn out to be the very problems that are commonly stressed by proponents of intelligent design theory. But while Darwin admits that these “difficulties” are so severe as to be “staggering,” he tries to resolve them, while arguing that the “theory of creation” has its own difficulties. [...]

[G]enerally I have found that most university biologists are opposed to using Darwin’s writings in their classes and allowing their students to study the debate over intelligent design. A few years ago, I noticed that the biology department at my university was offering a course on “The Evolution/Creationism Debate. ”I went to the class and found that it was for biology majors planning on teaching high school biology. At the first meeting of the class, the students were told that they would not be reading any of the publications by proponents of creationism and intelligent design because all of this writing was “crap.” Instead, they would memorize the standard arguments defending evolution so that they could respond to those “ignorant parents” who might object to their teaching. But doesn’t this actually play into the hands of the intelligent design proponents by confirming their claim that the teaching of evolution to students has become indoctrination without freedom of thought?

Mr. Arnhart's idea is excellent, though it's obvious from what he's said that Darwinism belongs in a history of ideas or philosophy course with Creationism and ID, not in a science class. And the idea should be expanded so that students are presented the context in which Darwinism was invented, so that they can see that it was simply a product of the zeitgeist, as Edward Larson does reasonably well in his book, Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory:
Essential to Darwin's conception was a modern worldview influenced by ideas of utilitarianism, individualism, imperialism, and laissez-faire capitalism. Of course Malthus was a utilitarian-minded political economist who championed the laissez-faire ideal. Darwin also read the writings of Adam Smith and other utilitarian economists who presented individual competition as the driving force of economic progress. Perhaps most important, he lived in a society that embraced this view....

Stripped of its a priori claims to scientific truth, Darwinism is a fascinating example of how our prevailing philosophical paradigms create the "science" that we choose to believe in at any given moment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 AM


A hungry eye for Damascus? (H.D.S. Greenway, December 13, 2005, Boston Globe)

MY HEART SANK when I read that Syrian exile Farid Ghadry met recently with Ahmed Chalabi, Iraq's deputy prime minister, in a Washington suburb. Ghadry heads something called the Syrian Reform Party. The party was formed three years ago, and is made up almost entirely of exiles, such as Ghadry, who left Syria when he was 10. ''Ahmed paved the way in Iraq for what we want to do in Syria," Ghadry told The Wall Street Journal.

The real heart-sinker was that the two met in the living room of Richard Pearl, whom George Packer, author of ''The Assassins' Gate," calls the ''impresario of the neo-cons." Pearl was among the leading intellectual lights urging forceful regime change in Iraq.

Pearl told the Journal that ''there's no reason to think engagement with Syria will bring about any change," and he is worried that the conquistador zeal to spread democracy is diminishing within the Bush administration. Syria's strongman Bashir Assad ''has never been weaker, and we should take advantage of that," according to Pearl.
Which is more amusing (or pitiful) here, that they can't even get Richard Perle's name right or that Mr. Greenway is depressed by the idea of Syrians wanting to be free of a brutal Ba'athist dictatorship?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


Ex-general says Iranian led torture of detainees (Paul Martin and Maria Cedrell, 12/13/05, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

An Iraqi general formerly in charge of special Interior Ministry forces said yesterday that a senior Iranian intelligence officer was in charge of a network of detention centers where suspected insurgents were routinely tortured and sometimes killed. [...]

Gen. al-Samarrai said the Iranian intelligence officer, Tahseer Nasr Lawandi, works directly under the Kurdish deputy minister, Gen. Hussein Kamel, and is known throughout the ministry as "The Engineer."

"The Engineer was behind the torturing and killing in the ministry and was also in charge of Jadriya prison," said Gen. al-Samarrai, who left the ministry after a dispute with superiors and is now living in Jordan. [...]

Mr. Lawandi, who had been a colonel in the Iranian Mukhabarat intelligence service, was granted Iraqi citizenship May 12, 2004, and awarded the rank of general, Gen. al-Samarrai said by telephone from Amman, Jordan, where he moved his family after two attempts on his life.

The Iranian officer not only masterminded interrogations, tortures and executions at the prisons, but also would take part in torture sessions, often using an electric drill, Gen. al-Samarrai said.

Some of the tortured prisoners were found in morgues with drill holes in their legs and eyes, according to another security source, who declined to be identified.

The general said Mr. Lawandi had worked with the minister and deputy minister to form a special security service to run the detention and interrogation operation and a separate group called the Wolf Brigade to capture suspects and bring them to the secret locations -- usually under cover of darkness.

Gen. al-Samarrai, a 46-year-old career officer, was ousted from the Interior Ministry in a purge of about 600 staff in July. Many were replaced by hard-line loyalists to new Interior Minister Bayan Jabr Solagh and his allies in the Badr Brigade, a militia affiliated with Iraq's largest Shi'ite religious party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

The general said the minister had brought 17,000 Badr organization fighters into the ranks of Interior Ministry forces after Iraq's militias were officially disarmed. Most had received military training in Iran and were infiltrated into Iraq soon after the defeat of dictator Saddam Hussein.

Just one of the ways we and the Iranians are de facto allies in Iraq.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Superpower vulnerability (Henry C K Liu, 12/14/05, Asia Times)

In foreign policy, the US has been operating on the basis that its national values have been validated by triumph in the Cold War and that its resultant sole-superpower status now earns it both the moral right and the military means to spread such values over the whole world. Resistance to such self-righteous values is now deemed evil by US moral imperialism, in need of elimination not by persuasion but by force. This new approach has made the world less safe than it was during the Cold War, the end of which briefly entertained a false hope for a new age in which a world with only one superpower could thereafter live without war, hot or cold. Instead, the world has been plunged into successive holy wars of imperialistic moral conquest by the sole remaining superpower, bringing escalating terrorist attacks on to the US homeland. The impact on domestic policy from terrorist threats has in turn been the wholesale suspension of civil liberties in the name of homeland security.

Such holy wars of moral imperialism cannot be blamed entirely on neo-conservatives in the second Bush administration. While the two wars on Iraq were initiated by the two pere et cie Bush administrations that sandwiched eight years of Clinton rule, the Bosnia and Kosovo wars were the handiwork of Clinton administration neo-liberals. The faith-based foreign policy of George W Bush echoes the value-based interests of the foreign policy of Bill Clinton, such as the grandiose aim of enlarging democracy by force around the world and preventing mass starvation and ethnic genocide by spilling more blood.

We have, of course, operated on this premise since at least the Revolution, though arguably since Magna Carta, and perhaps since the Crucifixion, Mount Sinai, or the Garden. The Holy War ends when every people enjoys the liberty that God granted them a right to. The idea that just because History has Ended, war could end, while the Middle East was still benighted, was obviously absurd.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Blame it on the French (Julio Godoy, 12/14/05, Asia Times)

French opposition to reform the European common agricultural policy is at the bottom of the difficulties the World Trade Organization (WTO) is expected to face in Hong Kong this week.

The French refusal to agree to a cut in European subsidies for agriculture within the common agricultural policy (CAP) will also be at the core of EU talks this week on a long-term budget. [...]

Jean-Gabriel Fredet, a leading commentator at the weekly newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur, said France's stubborn agricultural policy based on mass production and a phobia of free markets "represents the culprit our critics [at the WTO negotiations] have dreamed of".

France, he wrote, was fighting "its last fight" in defending European subsidies for its farmers.

Britain's ambassador to Poland, Charles Crawford, described the subsidies in a leaked internal e-mail as "the most stupid, immoral state-subsidized policy in human history, give or take communism".

That should be the example the textbooks use for a dispositive statement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


The Panic Over Iraq: What they're really afraid of is American success. (NORMAN PODHORETZ, December 12, 2005, Opinion Journal)

In Iraq today...and in the Middle East as a whole, a successful outcome is staring us in the face. Clearly, then, the panic over Iraq--which expresses itself in increasingly frenzied calls for the withdrawal of our forces--cannot have been caused by the prospect of defeat. On the contrary, my twofold guess is that the real fear behind it is not that we are losing but that we are winning, and that what has catalyzed this fear into a genuine panic is the realization that the chances of pulling off the proverbial feat of snatching an American defeat from the jaws of victory are rapidly running out.

Of course, to anyone who relies entirely or largely on the mainstream media for information, it will come as a great surprise to hear that we are winning in Iraq. Winning? Militarily? How can we be winning militarily when, day after day, the only thing of any importance going on in that country is suicide bombings and car bombings? When neither our own troops nor the Iraqi forces we have been training are able to stop the "insurgents" from scoring higher and higher body counts? When every serious military move we make against the strongholds of these dedicated and ruthless adversaries is met with "fierce resistance"? When, for every one of them we manage to kill, two more seem to pop up?

Winning? Politically? How can we be winning politically when the very purpose for which we allegedly invaded Iraq has been unmasked as a chimera? When every step we force the Iraqis to take toward democratization is accompanied by angry sectarian strife between Shiites and Sunnis and between Arabs and Kurds? When our clumsy efforts to bring the Sunnis into the political process have hardly made a dent in their support for the insurgency? When the end result is less likely to be the stable democratic regime we supposedly went there to establish than a civil war followed by the breakup of Iraq into three separate countries?

There has been one great exception to this relentless drumbeat of bad news. It occurred in January 2005, in the coverage of the first election in liberated Iraq. To the astonishment of practically everyone in the world, more than eight million Iraqis came out to vote on election day even though the Islamofascist terrorists had threatened to slaughter them if they did. This very astonishment was a measure of how false an impression had been created of the state of affairs in Iraq. No one fed by the mainstream media could have had the slightest inkling