May 31, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 PM

O FOR 4 (via Tom Morin)

Freud Lives! (Slavoj Zizek, 5/25/06, London Review of Books)

In recent years, it’s often been said that psychoanalysis is dead. New advances in the brain sciences have finally put it where it belongs, alongside religious confessors and dream-readers in the lumber-room of pre-scientific obscurantist searches for hidden meaning. As Todd Dufresne put it, no figure in the history of human thought was more wrong about all the fundamentals – with the exception of Marx, some would add. The Black Book of Communism was followed last year by the Black Book of Psychoanalysis, which listed all the theoretical mistakes and instances of clinical fraud perpetrated by Freud and his followers. In this way, at least, the profound solidarity of Marxism and psychoanalysis is now there for all to see.

A century ago, Freud included psychoanalysis as one of what he described as the three ‘narcissistic illnesses’. First, Copernicus demonstrated that the Earth moves around the Sun, thereby depriving humans of their central place in the universe. Then Darwin demonstrated that we are the product of evolution, thereby depriving us of our privileged place among living beings. Finally, by making clear the predominant role of the unconscious in psychic processes, Freud showed that the ego is not master even in its own house. Today, scientific breakthroughs seem to bring further humiliation: the mind is merely a machine for data-processing, our sense of freedom and autonomy merely a ‘user’s illusion’. In comparison, the conclusions of psychoanalysis seem rather conservative.

It's no coincidence that Copernicus and Darwin turned out to be just as fundamentally mistaken as Marx and Freud.

-REVIEW: of Mind: A Brief Introduction by John R. Searle (Maria Antonietta Perna, Ph.D. on May 23rd 2006, Metapsychology Online)

Granted, as an introductory text Mind: A Brief Introduction might be said to be particularly brief. However, if Searle keeps his introduction brief, this is because the present book does much more than introducing the reader to a fascinating philosophical subject in clear and accessible language. What Searle aims to do is far more ambitious: along the lines of his previous publications on the philosophy of mind, especially those dealing with consciousness and language, he argues for a radical break with the entire post-Cartesian tradition and its conceptual framework in which the entire discipline is steeped. In fact, it is the main thesis of the book as stated in the Preface that

the philosophy of mind is unique among contemporary philosophical subjects, in that all of the most famous and influential theories are false (p.1).

By 'theories' Searle means all kinds of dualist positions as well as the various existing materialist approaches.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 PM


Tiger Woods: Bill Clinton Cheats at Golf, Too (News Max, 6/01/06)
In Arkansas for a children's golf clinic, Tiger Woods was asked about playing golf with former President Bill Clinton.

"Interesting math," Woods said, drawing a laugh before telling a story about a round the two played in February before the opening of the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

Woods described a hole on the back nine.
The story's pretty funny, but if the guy didn't grope you in the locker room you got off easier than most....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 PM


Greene's story, Day 4: 'There is war,' and Rhode Island responds (GERALD M. CARBONE, May 31, 2006, Providence Journal)

These are the orders that started the American Revolution:

"You will march with the Corps of grenadiers and Light Infantry put under your Command with the utmost expedition and secrecy to Concord, where you will seize and destroy all the Artillery, Ammunition, provisions, Tents & all other military stores you can find."

Thomas Gage, the general commanding the British garrison at Boston wrote those orders; Francis Smith, a fat lieutenant colonel, received them at 8 p.m. on April 18, 1775.

For secrecy, Smith was to march his soldiers in small groups to the Boston Common, where they would rendezvous at 10 p.m. From the Common the 700 men would row across the bay to Lechmere's Point on Charlestown, to begin their long march to Concord, where British spies had determined that the rebels had a large store of gunpowder, artillery and shot.

The secret of Smith's nighttime mission was poorly kept. As the troops stepped into their transport boats under cover of darkness, the city's apothecary, Dr. Joseph Warren, dispatched Patrick Dawes and the silversmith Paul Revere to carry the alarm to Concord.

A friend of Revere's bravely carried two lanterns up the narrow stairwell in the steeple of the North Church. Here he hung the lighted lanterns as a signal that the British were coming via the bay to Charlestown. The British in Boston weren't stupid; they knew that lanterns burning in the belfry were some sort of a signal. They hustled over there to catch the messenger, but he had already doused his lanterns and run.

Dawes spurred his mount along Boston Neck, through Roxbury and Brookline; two men silently rowed Revere past the British warship Somerset to the Charlestown shore.

Revere wrote: "It was then young flood, the ship was winding, and the moon was rising."

In Charlestown Revere borrowed Deacon John Larkin's horse, a mount the deacon would never see again. The horse thundered across a bridge spanning the Mystic River to Medford.

"The regulars are out!" Revere called into the moonlit night. "The regulars are out!" [...]

On the way to Concord lay the town of Lexington, a sleepy crossroads of 750 people. Warned by Revere and Dawes before their capture by British troops, a band of 70 minutemen awaited the arrival of Smith's soldiers.

Leading the minutemen was Capt. John Parker, at 45 a veteran of the French and Indian War. Only 38 of Parker's men brought arms and ammunition with them; these he formed in a line across the Lexington Green.

At dawn the British troops came in view from the south. John Pitcairn, 53, a captain in the Royal Marines led the advance guard as the British swept on toward Lexington.

Pitcairn ordered his men to form the battle line; his troops smartly moved into formation, pointing their muskets and yelling "Huzzah! Huzzah!"

Pitcairn spurred his mount toward the small line of rebels; he drew up before them with his troops bristling at his back. "Lay down your arms, you damned rebels, and disperse!"

There was no way 38 farmers could hold off a battle line of the British Army, Parker knew that. He ordered his minutemen to leave the green. They began to break up, but they refused Pitcairn's demands to drop their muskets. As the rebels left the field, somebody's gun flared. No one will ever know for certain who fired this, "the shot heard 'round the world." What is certain is that it touched off a storm of fire from the British lines. And when the shooting stopped, eight minutemen lay dead on the blood-spattered green.

The British rolled on for Concord, six miles away, stopping to fire their traditional victory volley. Their only casualties had been a wounded man and Pitcairn's bloodied horse.

On the return march from Concord to Boston, the British marched for eight hours through a gauntlet of armed and angry minutemen. Nearly 4,000 men fired at them during the march; the muskets of that time were wildly inaccurate, so the farmers and merchants of Massachusetts just kept firing and firing 1-ounce balls of lead. They shot about 80,000 rounds in all, an average of 3 blasts every second.

The British troops that made it as far as Concord had to march 16 miles back in wet boots, carrying 60 pounds of gear, with no sleep, while the trees, walls and houses around them exploded.

"We were fired at from all quarters, but particularly from the houses on the roadside, and the Adjacent Stone walls," wrote British Lt. Frederick Mackenzie of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. "Several of the Troops were killed and wounded in this way, and the Soldiers were so enraged at suffering from an unseen Enemey, that they forced open many of the houses from which the fire proceeded, and put to death all those found in them. . . .

"Our men had very few opportunities of getting good shots at the Rebels, as they hardly ever fired but under cover of a Stone wall, from behind a tree, or out of a house; and the moment they had fired they lay down out of sight until they had loaded again, or the Column had passed. In the road indeed in our rear, they were most numerous, and came on pretty close, frequently calling out, "King Hancock forever."

By day's end, Mackenzie tallied 168 British soldiers wounded, and 68 dead.

The British troops were lucky enough not to have Predators circling overhead filming their actions.

Posted by David Cohen at 6:46 PM


City To Immigrants: Hospitals Won't Ask Status (CBS/AP, 5/301/06)

The city is distributing a letter meant to reassure immigrants that no one will question their legal status when they seek care at the city's public hospitals, health officials said.

The letter, in 11 languages, promises that public hospital employees will "keep confidential all information regarding your immigration status." If workers reveal the information, they could lose their jobs, Health and Hospitals Corporation president Alan Aviles writes in the note.

The letter's release follows reports from advocates that many undocumented immigrants are afraid of going to hospitals.

One of the theories of the anti-immigrationists is that it is unfair to push the burden of illegal immigration onto state and local governments. If New York City wants to take on that burden, why should anyone else care?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:40 PM


An Apocalyptic Religious Zealot Takes on the World: Iran's mullah-run theocracy is on a seemingly unstoppable course to becoming a nuclear power. The country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a pious zealot with a penchant for visions, is doing his best to provoke the West. Faced with a choice between acceptance and intervention, America and Europe have opted for diplomacy -- for now, that is. (DIETER BEDNARZ, RALF BESTE, GEORG MASCOLO, STEFAN SIMONS, GERHARD SPÖRL, BERNHARD ZAND, 5/30/06, Der Spiegel)

Conditions in Iran are already nightmarish, a blend of the sermons of hate and efforts to develop the Bomb, a weapon this state, all denials to the contrary, clearly seeks to possess. Iran poses a far greater threat than nuclear powers Pakistan or India because the mullah-dominated state brings together a far-reaching Islamist ideology and an image of the enemy -- that of the Great Satan, the United States, and a smaller Satan, Israel -- all the while promoting a calculated anti-Semitism aimed at building Islamic solidarity in the Arab world.

Iran is also far more dangerous than Iraq or North Korea. The theocracy stands a good chance of successfully building weapons of mass destruction. The kind of weapons that, in a figment of Western imagination, Saddam Hussein had supposedly come close to obtaining.

Presumably the threat from Saddam was a figment of the imagination because they opposed the war? One wonders how serious they'd say the Iranian threat was if Gerge Bush, Tony Blair, and John Howard were about to bomb its nuclear program.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:28 PM


The Ireland of the East: Slovakia is an investor's paradise and a model of economic growth promoted by neoliberal measures. But dissatisfaction is growing among the population and the next elections promise historic changes. (Der Spiegel, 5/31/06)

Only ten years ago, the capital city was as gray as socialism itself. Now boutiques, pizzerias, sushi parlors and cocktail bars crowd the renovated city center. There is full employment here. The country may have come to capitalism late, but it has become a model country in record time -- an Ireland of the East.

Experts are predicting six percent economic growth for this year; unemployment has fallen from 18 to 11 percent during the past three years. Foreign corporations, especially those in the automobile industry, are waiting in line to invest. Kia, Volkswagen and Peugeot Citroen are all profiting from low wages and taxes and rejoicing over investment assistance. People are already talking of a "Detroit of Europe."

Folks who despair of Iraq and the Middle East ought to consider the following: as recently as thirty years calling a country the "Ireland of the East" would have been a pejorative, rather than the highest compliment in the Euro-lexicon, and the idea that an Eastern European nation could be booming would have seemed fanatstical.

The blessed calling of business: The greatest threat to privatization, tax cutting, deregulation and other unfinished economic reforms is no longer from the left, but from the right. (Stefan A. Bielski , 5/29/06, Warsaw Business Journal)

"The free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs."

"Overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector ... belongs not to the state but to individuals and to the various groups ... which make up society."

Are these the words of a classical economist or an editorial in The Economist? Or perhaps a chamber of commerce or free-market politico?

Though written by a Pole and a good Catholic, they seem to be ideas alien to Poland's current government, which is conservative, Catholic and distrustful of the market. In today's world, this puts Poland in quite a rare spot: The greatest threat to privatization, tax cutting, deregulation and other unfinished economic reforms is no longer from the left, but from the right.

"The state could not directly ensure the right to work for all its citizens unless it controlled every aspect of economic life and restricted the free initiative of individuals."

In 2006, this criticism could be directed at the two populist parties, one far-left and one far-right, that have joined the government. However, like all quotations in this essay, it was written 15 years ago this month in the aftermath of Communism's fall by Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Centesimus Annus. [...]

Alas, in Poland, history is heavy, and her burliest neighbors throwing their weight around has made the deepest impression. But Poland's past domination - or betrayal - by foreign powers need not lead to a fear of foreign ideas and capital. Centuries of freedom-friendly traditions, such as limited government and cosmopolitanism, cultivated Poland's Golden Age. Even in an era when across Europe both Church and state were more autocratic, Poland limited their respective powers by never having a divine-right monarch and instituting extreme checks on state power such as the Liberum veto and Nihil novi. Toleration of other nationalities and creeds brought not only their accompanying goods and ideas, but helped develop an entrepreneurial, high-trust culture.

These will serve Poland well in its return to Europe. Unfortunately, some wrongly believe this entails forsaking spiritual wealth for material riches. We can help change this debate, in part, by showing religious leaders and their flocks that free-market economics is not only compatible with, but complements their moral principles. Moreover, it's an essential tool in their social goals, such as eliminating poverty, as the "free exercise of economic activity ... will lead to abundant opportunities for employment and sources of wealth."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:09 PM


What You Don't Know About the Immigration Bill (Robert J. Samuelson, May 31, 2006, Washington Post)

The Senate passed legislation last week that Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) hailed as "the most far-reaching immigration reform in our history." You might think that the first question anyone would ask is how much it would actually increase or decrease legal immigration. But no. After the Senate approved the bill by 62 to 36, you could not find the answer in the news columns of The Post, the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. Yet the estimates do exist and are fairly startling. By rough projections, the Senate bill would double the legal immigration that would occur during the next two decades from about 20 million (under present law) to about 40 million.

One job of journalism is to inform the public about what our political leaders are doing. In this case, we failed.

Actually, even most opponents at least pretend they don't care about the numbers but are only concerned about the fact that so many immigrants are breaking the law to get here. The primary focus of the President, Democrats, half the GOP and 65% of the American people is, therefore, to regularize and legalize that immigration. Mr. Samuelson fails to offer any reasons why that's a bad idea and, of course, can't make a moral case against it.

Rousing the Zealots: Neo-Nazis, white supremacists and militiamen are revivified by the furor over illegal immigration (JEFFREY RESSNER, 5/29/06, TIME)

Pugnacious anthems and racist diatribes have never been in short supply at Nordic Fest, an annual white-power Woodstock held over the Memorial Day break near the former mining town of Dawson Springs, Ky. And this past weekend was no exception. On the agenda were a Triumph of the Will--themed running event and a cross "lighting" sponsored by the Imperial Klans of America. But something new did arise at Nordic Fest this year: bellicose talk and plans of action against illegal immigrants. Among the scheduled guest speakers was Hal Turner, a New Jersey Internet radio talk-show host who recently instructed his audience to "clean your guns, have plenty of ammunition ... and then do what has to be done" to undocumented workers.

With immigration perhaps America's most volatile issue, a troubling backlash has erupted among its most fervent foes. There are, of course, the Minutemen, the self-appointed border vigilantes who operate in several states. And now groups of militiamen, white supremacists and neo-Nazis are using resentment over the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. as a potent rallying cry. "The immigration furor has been critical to the growth we've seen" in hate groups, says Mark Potok, head of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. The center counts some 800 racist groups operating in the U.S. today, a 5% spurt in the past year and a 33% jump from 2000. "They think they've found an issue with racial overtones and a real resonance with the American public," says Potok, "and they are exploiting it as effectively as they can."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


Calif. bill would change electoral college (Ben Lando, May 31, 2006, UPI)

The California Assembly has passed a bill giving all its Electoral College votes to the presidential candidate who wins the most votes nationwide.

The bill is intended to give California more clout in the presidential race, The Los Angeles Times reports. [...]

The California Senate still needs to approve the measure and then the governor needs to sign it for it to take effect.

States are entitled to assign their electors in any way they see fit, but how does this help CA? No Democrat can win the presidency without carrying CA and now the Republican will get their electoral votes despite losing the state?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:42 AM


A Wall Street rock star is Bush's pick for Treasury job: President Bush nominated 60-year-old Goldman Sachs Chairman Henry 'Hank' Paulson for Treasury secretary, traditionally one of the most powerful jobs in government. (RON HUTCHESON AND KEVIN G. HALL, 5/31/06, Knight Ridder News Service)

Paulson, who goes by ''Hank,'' is arguably the most influential executive on Wall Street, the market's equivalent of a rock star. Associates said he initially rebuffed Bush's overtures, but changed his mind after winning assurances that he'd have an influential role in shaping economic policy. [...]

Although Paulson is expected to win Senate approval with little difficulty, Democrats signaled that they'd use his confirmation to highlight troubling aspects of the nation's outwardly strong economy.

Tired of highlighting their opposition to the President's strong anti-terrorist measures the Democrats will now highlight the strong economy?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:11 AM

GAPING (via Tom Morin):

Up With Grups* (Adam Sternbergh, 4/03/06, New York)

* Also known as yupster (yuppie + hipster), yindie (yuppie + indie), and alterna-yuppie. Our preferred term, grup, is taken from an episode of Star Trek (keep reading) in which Captain Kirk et al. land on a planet of children who rule the world, with no adults in sight. The kids call Kirk and the crew “grups,” which they eventually figure out is a contraction of “grown-ups.” It turns out that all the grown-ups had died from a virus that greatly slows the aging process and kills anybody who grows up.

Let’s start with a question. A few questions, actually: When did it become normal for your average 35-year-old New Yorker to (a) walk around with an iPod plugged into his ears at all times, listening to the latest from Bloc Party; (b) regularly buy his clothes at Urban Outfitters; (c) take her toddler to a Mommy’s Happy Hour at a Brooklyn bar; (d) stay out till 4 A.M. because he just can’t miss the latest New Pornographers show, because who knows when Neko Case will decide to stop touring with them, and everyone knows she’s the heart of the band; (e) spend $250 on a pair of jeans that are artfully shredded to look like they just fell through a wheat thresher and are designed, eventually, to artfully fall totally apart; (f) decide that Sufjan Stevens is the perfect music to play for her 2-year-old, because, let’s face it, 2-year-olds have lousy taste in music, and we will not listen to the Wiggles in this house; (g) wear sneakers as a fashion statement; (h) wear the same vintage New Balance sneakers that he wore on his first day of school in the seventh grade as a fashion statement; (i) wear said sneakers to the office; (j) quit the office job because—you know what?—screw the office and screw jockeying for that promotion to VP, because isn’t promotion just another word for “slavery”?; (k) and besides, now that she’s a freelancer, working on her own projects, on her own terms, it’s that much easier to kick off in the middle of the week for a quick snowboarding trip to Sugarbush, because she’s got to have some balance, right? And she can write it off, too, because who knows? She might bump into Spike Jonze on the slopes; (l) wear a Misfits T-shirt; (m) make his 2-year-old wear a Misfits T-shirt; (n) never shave; (o) take pride in never shaving; (p) take pride in never shaving while spending $200 on a bedhead haircut and $600 on a messenger bag, because, seriously, only his grandfather or some frat-boy Wall Street flunky still carries a briefcase; or (q) all of the above?

This is an obituary for the generation gap.

Only someone incurably old in spirit would waste all that money for a lifestyle that's so naturally cheap.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 AM


Croquet's dark side (BBC Magazine, 5/30/06)

The angry press coverage of John Prescott's game of croquet puts the spotlight on a game struggling with its identity.

Some of the coverage of the deputy prime minister's distinctive choice in recreation has centred on its reputation as a sport for toffs, juxtaposing this with the working class origins of the former ship steward and MP for Hull East.

But as much as the world of croquet is fighting hard to shed its image as a sport of the posh, there is a darker side to the stereotyping of the hoops-and-mallets game, a belief that it is a uniquely "vicious" pastime.

One correspondent to the Daily Telegraph describes it as "one of the most self-serving, unsporting games ever played, requiring ruthless meanness and ungenerosity of spirit towards one's opponents".

Another correspondent, in the Times, recalls an episode where the Archdeacon of Oakham was quite insistent that it was "a vicious game".

For the uninitiated observer there is no escaping the observation that a major part of the game seems to involve bashing other people's balls off the pitch.

And they don't even play beer croquet over there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 AM


A lasting 'Net legacy - Korean anti-Americanism (Jeffrey Robertson, 6/01/06, Asia Times)

As the administration of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun winds down and assumes its "lame duck" status, the question of its historical legacy is coming to the fore. Of all the issues that Roh has faced as president, two themes have dominated from the very beginning - the Internet and anti-Americanism.

Blogs and Internet chat rooms were the genesis of Roh's campaign. They brought a virtually unknown candidate to the presidency. With little background in national politics, without an prestigious education and from a less than privileged background, Roh could not have been elected without an overwhelming youth vote and its Internet coordination.

Today, Roh-Sa-Mo (the Korean-language abbreviation for the Roh Lover's Society) has become an Internet legend. On polling day, bulletin boards, chat rooms and cell-phone text messages urged eligible voters to vote for Roh, boosting the usually complacent youth vote. Perhaps for the first time in the Internet age, a dedicated band of "netizens" had influenced an election result. But four years on, with the US-South Korea relations under constant pressure, blogs and Internet chat rooms may leave Korea's first "Internet president" with a less favorable legacy.

Parallel to Roh's Internet-based victory was the growth of a more sinister form of Internet-based political consciousness - anti-Americanism.

orea's ruling party heads for big defeat (Bruce Klingner, 5/31/06, Asia Times)
South Korea's ruling Uri Party is expected to suffer another humiliating loss during Wednesday's local elections, accelerating the decline in President Roh Moo-hyun's political influence and making a party split more likely by year's end.

Party chairman Chung Dong-yong will be held responsible for the loss, weakening his candidacy for the December 2007 presidential election. Chung could even be forced to resign, as his predecessor Moon Hee-sang did after poor Uri Party results in the 2005 by-elections.

The main opposition Grand National Party (GNP) should sweep the majority of the electoral contests, improving the presidential candidacy hopes of both the party chairwoman, Park Geun-hye, and her party rival, Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak.

S. Korea's opposition GNP wins big in local elections: exit polls (Kyodo News, 5/31/06)
South Korea's main opposition Grand National Party won a crushing victory over the ruling Uri Party in Wednesday's nationwide local elections, widely seen as a weathervane for next year's presidential election, according to exit poll results released by local TV networks.

The state-run Korean Broadcasting System said its exit poll results showed the GNP won 11 out of 16 contests for either mayor or governors, with the Uri Party winning just one and the others going to minor opposition parties. [...]

The elections were held amid deepening public disappointment about President Roh Moo Hyun's handling of state affairs.

Yup, it's the perfect Leftwing moment in world politics, huh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM

511 (via Brad S.):

Baseball's top 10 'records' ... without the home runs (Jayson Stark, 5/30/06,

When Barry Bonds and his cohorts in the Asterisk Generation can perform radical surgery to remove all the romance from one of the most romantic numbers in any sport -- 714 -- it's time to reevaluate.

It's time to reevaluate the home run and what it means in our culture. And it's time, especially, to reevaluate what we've always looked on as our favorite records in the record book.

If numbers like 714 are going to cease to mean anything, then what do any home run records mean? And if the home run records are no longer the coolest, most celebrated records in baseball, what replaces them?

We've asked this question recently to a bunch of baseball people -- players, ex-players, executives, historians, writers and great statistical minds:

"If we take all home run records out of the argument, what are the 10 best records in baseball?" That's the question.

Certainly the best, and the only unbreakable one listed, is Cy Young's 511 wins (and very close to 200 wins over .500). It's just not possible to imagine a starting pitcher going ever third or fourth day for twenty years again, even though it would be a very good idea for the game to revert back to four man rotations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


Hurdle for U.S. in Getting Data on Passengers (NICOLA CLARK and MATTHEW L. WALD, 5/31/06, NY Times)

The ruling gave both sides four months to approve a new agreement, and American officials expressed optimism that one could be reached. But without an agreement, the United States could take punitive action, in theory even denying landing rights to airlines that withhold the information.

That could cause major disruptions in trans-Atlantic air travel, which accounts for nearly half of all foreign air travel to the United States.

Immigrants who oppose our way of life come here via airplane from Europe, not over the Southern border.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


German figures suggest recovery (BBC, 5/31/06)

[S]ales were 1% lower in real terms on a year-by-year basis, in contrast to analysts' expected 0.6% rise. [...]

Unemployment was down to 11% in May, compared to 11.3% in April, according to seasonally-adjusted figures from the Federal Labour Agency.

One of the factors prompting greater job opportunities is the World Cup, both for employment in services and construction, the agency said.

However, while Germany's economy seems set for a recovery, data for France was not as positive.

Consumer confidence for May declined to a net -30, according to INSEE, France's National Statistics Office.

"We have extremely weak confidence and the only thing that could be a catalyst to help this would be a change in government," said Emmanuel Ferry, economist with Exane BNP Paribas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


President Bush should heed Tony Blair's advice (EJ Dionne, 5/31/06, Seattle Times)

Imagine where British Prime Minister Tony Blair would be if he hadn't joined with President Bush in prosecuting the Iraq war. [...]

You wish, at least, that the prime minister could have edited Bush's rhetoric. More important, you wish Blair would have pushed Bush much harder to approach the rest of the world in a way that would have left us with a few more friends and allies.

The reality is that most of the political damage that Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair sustained from the war is a function of the latter's insistence (along with Colin Powell) on trying to sell it to the international community and to do so using the WMD argument. Had the P.M. just accepted the President's assessment that the UN wasn't going to be any use and that it was up to enforce their resolutions for them he'd have nothing to apologize for today. Though his heart is generally in the right place, Mr. Blair continues to stumble when he makes himself believe his own backbenchers, the continental Europeans, and the UN are interested in the same causes he is. The transnationalist project is aimed at stopping men like Tony Blair as much, or more, as stopping those like Saddam.

May 30, 2006

Posted by Peter Burnet at 9:28 PM


Gore: Bush is 'renegade rightwing extremist' (Oliver Burkeman and Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian, May 31st, 2006)

Al Gore has made his sharpest attack yet on the George Bush presidency, describing the current US administration as "a renegade band of rightwing extremists".

In an interview with the Guardian today, the former vice-president calls himself a "recovering politician", but launches into the political fray more explicitly than he has previously done during his high-profile campaigning on the threat of global warming.

Denying that his politics have shifted to the left since he lost the court battle for the 2000 election, Mr Gore says: "If you have a renegade band of rightwing extremists who get hold of power, the whole thing goes to the right."

Actually, that sums it up rather nicely.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 9:09 PM


Top scientist gives up on creationists (James Randerson, The Guardian, May 30th, 2006)

A leading British scientist said yesterday that he had given up trying to persuade creationists that Darwin's theory is correct after repeatedly being misrepresented and, he said, branded a liar.

Speaking at the Guardian Hay festival at Hay-on-Wye, the evolutionary biologist Steve Jones spoke of his frustrations when trying to debate with religious opponents.

"I don't engage with creationists directly," he said, saying that, when he had, they had frequently quoted him out of context or accused him of lying. "If somebody has decided to believe something - whatever the evidence - then there is nothing you can do about it."

We know the feeling.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 8:41 PM


Unmarried couples to get new rights(Clare Dyer, The Guardian, May 30th, 2006)

Unmarried couples will have the right to make the same financial claims after a break-up as those who have gone through a marriage or civil partnership ceremony, under proposals to be unveiled today.

These could include rights to claim maintenance, lump sums, and a share of property and pensions. Gay couples who have not gone through a civil partnership ceremony would enjoy the same rights as unmarried heterosexual couples.

The recommendations from the government's law reform body, the Law Commission, are at the consultation stage, but have been drawn up at the request of the government, which has been promised a draft bill by summer 2007. They are likely to be criticised for undermining the unique status of marriage, and encouraging more couples to opt out.

The nihilist, anti-family foundation of these ideas is demonstrated by the fact that none of their proponents can answer why the state should have any interest in these relationships at all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 PM


From Israeli jails, Hamas activists press middle way (Joshua Mitnick, 5/31/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

A two-month-old survey taken by Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki on the eve of the inauguration of the Hamas government found that two-thirds of Palestinians support mutual recognition with Israel and a two-state solution. Some 75 percent wanted Hamas to negotiate with Israel.

"This is their Achilles' heel," says Shmuel Bar, a Middle East export at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. "Hamas realizes that they weren't elected for their ideology, and most likely such a referendum would pass."

In a democracy when your Achilles heel is that the voters oppose your ideology you have a problem.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


Jolie, Pitt child named with Hebrew word for 'Messiah' (Associated Press, May. 30, 2006)

Nothing was normal about the birth of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's child, so naturally, neither was their baby's name.

The child - whose pending arrival created a frenzy of hyperbole making it for some the most awaited baby since Jesus - was named Shiloh, which fittingly means "Messiah" or "Peaceful One."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM


New pitch is born out of compromise (MARC TOPKIN, May 30, 2006, St. Petersburg Times)

When Doug Waechter was warming up to pitch in Boston on Thursday, he didn't have a good feel for the split-finger fastball he had debuted in his previous start.

He fidgeted with his grip until it felt comfortable and ended up somewhere between how he holds the ball for a splitter and how he holds it for a changeup, with his index finger on the side of the ball and his middle finger on a seam.

From that, the "splange" was born.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:23 PM


Breaking faith with the cult of Kyoto: Environmentalists embraced Kyoto with religious fevour. Now it's time to start looking for a real solution (STEVE MAICH, Maclean's)

[W]hen Conservative Environment Minister Rona Ambrose walked into UN climate change meetings a couple of weeks ago and admitted Canada has no hope in Hades of meeting its Kyoto commitments, most Canadians were aghast. A poll found more than 60 per cent of respondents considered the minister's position "a cop-out."

The reaction of activists and pundits was far more severe. "Our international credibility is skydiving," said Greenpeace's Steven Guilbeault. Liberal Leader Bill Graham suggested the Conservatives set out to "destroy the system from within." A parade of op-ed writers begged the Tories to reconsider. And the Toronto Star's Richard Gwyn perfectly channelled the smug self-regard of Canada's chattering classes, concluding that Ambrose had embarrassed herself and the country.

Pretty harsh, but whenever a question of public policy is elevated to the level of religious belief, passions are bound to run high. Over the past few years, the protocol's defenders have insisted that it represents the only viable plan to stop the scourge of global warming. And once you accept the notion that the survival of the planet hinges on the success of this initiative, no counter-argument -- economic, political or otherwise -- can hold any sway. Just as archaeological evidence wields no power over the faith of creationists, the holes in Kyoto's framework do nothing to loosen its emotional hold over its believers. To them, the lines are clear: you are either with Kyoto or against the planet.

But when Rona Ambrose came clean to the UN, all she really did was shine a cold hard light on all the happy myths that have kept the pact alive for almost a decade, despite showing virtually no progress toward its goal. [...]

Facing the facts, Ambrose has joined world leaders including Australia's John Howard, and yes, George W. Bush, calling for a third path. One promising option is the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development, which essentially replaces Kyoto's mandatory cuts and unenforceable penalties with a framework based on incentives, shared technology and co-operation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:07 PM


Justices Set Limits on Public Employees' Speech Rights (DAVID STOUT, 5/30/06, NY Times)

The Supreme Court declared today, in a ruling affecting millions of government employees, that the Constitution does not always protect their free-speech rights for what they say on the job. [...]

"We hold that when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the court.

The court's newest justice, Samuel A. Alito Jr., was in the majority as were Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. [...]

In writing the decision that reversed the Ninth Circuit today, Justice Kennedy noted that the Supreme Court has made it clear in previous rulings "that public employees do not surrender all their First Amendment rights by reason of their employment." On the other hand, he wrote, "When a citizen enters government service, the citizen by necessity must accept certain limitations on his or her freedom."

The controlling factor in this case, Justice Kennedy wrote, was that Mr. Ceballos was acting purely in an official capacity when he complained internally about the search warrant. [....]

Dissenting in three separate opinions were Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

Note that by assigning the opinion to the conservative majority's justice-most-likely-to-bail-out the Chief got to 5 votes while the fractured liberals ended up with three different dissents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:59 PM


The Boys of Spring: They started fast, but are playing dangerous baseball. Can an un-Mets-like optimism and an unusual leader keep them amazin’ through the fall? (Chris Smith, New York)

Hang on tight. The Mets are turning yet another game into a blindfolded ride on the Cyclone. And it’s only the first inning.

In some ways, this is a relief. The Mets have won three of the past four games in ludicrously dramatic style. Friday night, they fell behind the Yankees and Randy Johnson 4-0 in the top of the first, rallied to tie the game in the third inning and then again in the fifth, and finally won it in the bottom of the ninth. Saturday afternoon brought a shocking, vomit-bag loss, with prized $43 million closer Billy Wagner coughing up a 4-0 advantage in the ninth. Sunday night, another early lead for the Yankees, another comeback Mets win on back-to-back homers. Monday was for sleep—luckily, because Tuesday night, the Mets spotted Philadelphia a four-run lead, tied the game on a two-run Jose Reyes homer in the eighth, and then, after nearly five and a half hours, won the marathon in the bottom of the sixteenth on a blast by Carlos Beltran.

Today, all that’s on the line is the lifelong dream of a Cuban émigré and the future of the Mets’ starting rotation. Alay Soler escaped Castro on a harrowing boat ride, then spent nearly two years trapped in bureaucratic visa hell. In the past six weeks, Soler has been on a vertigo-inducing rise from the minors to Shea Stadium. He’s today’s starting pitcher against the Phillies because the Mets, despite being in first place in the National League East, are desperate for someone competent to follow the geniuses Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine and give the brilliant-but-overworked bullpen a rest. The team’s success is as fragile as the chronically sore sesamoid bones in Martinez’s right big toe. And now the 26-year-old Soler appears to be on the verge of a heart attack. He’s walked the first three batters he’s faced in the big leagues.

Twenty years ago, Mets pitcher Jesse Orosco was seriously rattled. It was the sixteenth inning of an epic, playoff-series-turning battle with Houston. The Astros were teeing off on Orosco’s fastball and had the winning run on base when the emotional leader of the 1986 Mets, first-baseman Keith Hernandez, went to the mound. “Throw another fastball and I’m knocking you on your ass,” Hernandez said. Orosco threw six straight sliders to strike out Kevin Bass. Soon the Mets were spraying World Series champagne.

Today, Mets first-baseman Carlos Delgado goes to the mound. The Mets traded three prospects to the Florida Marlins for Delgado, eager to install the two-time All-Star power hitter in the middle of their batting order. And Delgado has delivered huge hits. But of equal value has been his leadership.

Now Delgado stands talking with Soler. The stakes aren’t nearly as high as they were in October 1986. But it is small moments like this, scattered throughout a long season, that build the camaraderie that is both overly mythologized and utterly necessary.

Of course, the slider was causing Orosco so much pain by that point in his career that Gary Carter wasn't calling for it. That Orosco, who was a real mess the next season, lasted another 16 years boggles the mind.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:27 PM


Khamenei in control and ready to 'haggle' (Gareth Porter, 5/31/06, Asia Times)

Despite Ahmadinejad's clever exploitation of the nuclear issue to strengthen his domestic political position, he is playing second fiddle on this issue.

Ahmadinejad "doesn't have much to do with the nuclear issue", David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, the most experienced US non-governmental expert on Iran's nuclear program, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty immediately after the Iranian president's election. Albright observed that the policy on Iran's nuclear program is run by the Supreme National Security Council "directly under the Supreme Leader" (Khamenei).

At a briefing in Washington last week, Hadi Semati, a professor at Tehran University who is now a visiting fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, said Ahmadinejad "is third in command" after Khamenei and the Supreme National Security Council. Khamenei and the council, he said, "are not going to let the president decide anything on the nuclear issue".

The Supreme National Security Council includes representatives appointed by the Supreme Leader as well as top officials from the military, foreign affairs, intelligence and other national-security-related agencies, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. It determines national-defense and security policies on the basis of general guidelines laid down by the Supreme Leader.

Khamenei has not hesitated to set the record straight when Ahmadinejad has strayed from the foreign-policy line he and the Supreme National Security Council have set.

This scenario is much more credible than the Times's yesterday. Ahmedinejad is delusional enough to think Iran is going to develop nukes and threaten the world while the Ayatollah recognizes a good bargaining chip with which to normalize relations with America and salvahe the wreckage of their economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:46 PM


Pedophiles to launch political party (Reuters, 5/30/06)

Dutch pedophiles are launching a political party to push for a cut in the legal age for sexual relations to 12 from 16 and the legalization of child pornography and sex with animals, sparking widespread outrage.

The Charity, Freedom and Diversity (NVD) party said on its Web site it would be officially registered Wednesday, proclaiming: "We are going to shake The Hague awake!"

They're a little late to the party since the libertarians favorite European leader favored it too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:17 PM


Chavez Calls for Cut In Oil Production (Natalie Obiko Pearson, 5/30/06, Associated Press)

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is pushing for an cut in oil production as he hosts an OPEC meeting this week, but he appears to be a lone voice as other members of the cartel will probably want to keep output unchanged to temper soaring prices.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:58 AM


Bush taps Paulson for Treasury Secretary (TERENCE HUNT, 5/30/06, AP)

Treasury Secretary John Snow resigned Tuesday and President Bush nominated Goldman Sachs chief executive officer Henry M. Paulson Jr. as his replacement — another chapter in the shake-up to revive Bush's troubled presidency. [...]

Robert Rubin, one of Paulson's predecessors, served as Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, and Jon Corzine, another Goldman Sachs chairman, served as a U.S. senator from New Jersey and is now governor of that state.

The Senate Finance Committee is expected to act swiftly on the nomination. A spokeswoman for the panel said it was possible a hearing could be conducted within the next few weeks, depending on how quickly the necessary paperwork for the nomination is supplied to the panel.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Finance Committee, gave Paulson his backing after talking to him Tuesday.

"His experience, intelligence and deep understanding of national and global economic issues make him the best pick America could have hoped for," Schumer said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:48 AM

AFTER THE FOX (via Tom Morin):

Is the tide finally turning in Mexico? (GEORGIE ANNE GEYER, May 30, 2006, San Diego Union-Tribune)

[M]exico is so corrupt, so oligopolistic, so rotting inside with the privilege of the rich that it has to send its poor and its potential political activists to another country. And on top of that, it tries to blame the United States for its own failures.

When I was in Mexico last fall, after dozens of visits over the years, people on every political and social level confirmed these accusations, complaining to me of Fox's failures. Forty families still own 60 percent of Mexico. There are no voluntary organizations, no civic involvement, no family foundations – and thus, no accountability, allowing corruption to flourish. Mexico gains $28 billion from oil revenue and $20 billion from immigrant remittances. There is virtually no industrialization, no small business, no real chance at individual entrepreneurship. Under Fox, it has created only one-tenth of the 1 million jobs needed.

Ah, but there are new voices of change, of reason, of self-awareness in Mexico, in place of the hoary anti-gringo rants: the beginnings of a transformation of the debate.

The same week of the Fox visit, for instance, The New York Times ran a stunning article headlined “Some in Mexico See Border Wall as Opportunity.” It quotes men such as Jorge Santibanez, president of the College of the Northern Border, saying: “For too long, Mexico has boasted about immigrants leaving, calling them national heroes, instead of describing them as actors in a national tragedy; and it has boasted about the growth in remittances as an indicator of success, when it is really an indicator of failure.”

Other prominent Mexicans were quoted as saying, for instance, the formerly unthinkable: that a wall would be the “best thing that could happen for Mexico”; the “porous border” allowed “elected officials to avoid creating jobs.” And former Foreign Minister Jorge G. Castañeda, who always took a tough line toward the United States, writes in the Mexican newspaper Reforma that Mexico needed “a series of incentives” to keep Mexicans from migrating, including welfare benefits to mothers whose husbands remained in Mexico, scholarships, and the loss of land rights for people who were absent too long from their property.

This is European social democracy, this is American New Deal, this is real development talk, in place of the tiresome historical Mexican attitude that everything is the gringos' fault and they should pay for it. This is a real revolution of the mind! It also may indicate that, while President Fox failed in carrying through such basic modern reforms, he did lay the basis for them.

Two important points here. The fact that the free enterprise candidate for July's presidential election, Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party (PAN), is suddenly and unexpectedly surging ahead on his slogan of “My job will be to make sure you have a job” may show that the Mexican people are fed up. In addition, the fact that only 50,000 of the 400,000 Mexicans in the United States who were available to vote in the July Mexican elections have bothered to register can only indicate a generalized disgust with Mexican corruption and hopelessness, and perhaps even a turn toward American ways.

Policy follows rhetoric.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


The Pope at Auschwitz: “They wanted to kill God” (Sandro Magister, 5/30/06, Chiesa)

By annihilating that people – Benedict XVI asserted – the architects of the slaughter “wanted to kill God.” The God of Abraham, and of Jesus Christ. The God of the Jews and of the Christians, but also of all humanity, for whose sake “on Sinai he laid down principles to serve as a guide, principles that are eternally valid.” By destroying Israel, the authors of this extermination “ultimately wanted to tear up the taproot of the Christian faith and to replace it with a faith of their own invention: faith in the rule of man, the rule of the powerful.”

This is the key passage of the address given by Benedict XVI on Sunday, May 28, at Auschwitz and Birkenau.

To speak in this place of horror, in this place where unprecedented mass crimes were committed against God and man, is almost impossible - and it is particularly difficult and troubling for a Christian, for a Pope from Germany. In a place like this, words fail; in the end, there can only be a dread silence - a silence which is itself a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this? In silence, then, we bow our heads before the endless line of those who suffered and were put to death here; yet our silence becomes in turn a plea for forgiveness and reconciliation, a plea to the living God never to let this happen again.

Twenty-seven years ago, on 7 June 1979, Pope John Paul II stood in this place. He said: “I come here today as a pilgrim. As you know, I have been here many times. So many times! And many times I have gone down to Maximilian Kolbe’s death cell, paused before the execution wall, and walked amid the ruins of the Birkenau ovens. It was impossible for me not to come here as Pope.” Pope John Paul came here as a son of that people which, along with the Jewish people, suffered most in this place and, in general, throughout the war. “Six million Poles lost their lives during the Second World War: a fifth of the nation”, he reminded us. Here too he solemnly called for respect for human rights and the rights of nations, as his predecessors John XXIII and Paul VI had done before him, and added: “The one who speaks these words is ... the son of a nation which in its history has suffered greatly from others. He says this, not to accuse, but to remember. He speaks in the name of all those nations whose rights are being violated and disregarded ...”.

Pope John Paul II came here as a son of the Polish people. I come here today as a son of the German people. For this very reason, I can and must echo his words: I could not fail to come here. I had to come. It is a duty before the truth and the just due of all who suffered here, a duty before God, for me to come here as the successor of Pope John Paul II and as a son of the German people - a son of that people over which a ring of criminals rose to power by false promises of future greatness and the recovery of the nation’s honour, prominence and prosperity, but also through terror and intimidation, with the result that our people was used and abused as an instrument of their thirst for destruction and power. Yes, I could not fail to come here. On 7 June 1979 I came as the Archbishop of Munich-Freising, along with many other Bishops who accompanied the Pope, listened to his words and joined in his prayer. In 1980 I came back to this dreadful place with a delegation of German Bishops, appalled by its evil, yet grateful for the fact that above its dark clouds the star of reconciliation had emerged. This is the same reason why I have come here today: to implore the grace of reconciliation - first of all from God, who alone can open and purify our hearts, from the men and women who suffered here, and finally the grace of reconciliation for all those who, at this hour of our history, are suffering in new ways from the power of hatred and the violence which hatred spawns.

How many questions arise in this place! Constantly the question comes up: Where was God in those days? Why was he silent? How could he permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil? The words of Psalm 44 come to mind, Israel’s lament for its woes: “You have broken us in the haunt of jackals, and covered us with deep darkness ... because of you we are being killed all day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For we sink down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up, come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!” (Ps 44:19, 22-26). This cry of anguish, which Israel raised to God in its suffering, at moments of deep distress, is also the cry for help raised by all those who in every age - yesterday, today and tomorrow - suffer for the love of God, for the love of truth and goodness. How many they are, even in our own day!

We cannot peer into God’s mysterious plan - we see only piecemeal, and we would be wrong to set ourselves up as judges of God and history. Then we would not be defending man, but only contributing to his downfall. No - when all is said and done, we must continue to cry out humbly yet insistently to God: Rouse yourself! Do not forget mankind, your creature! And our cry to God must also be a cry that pierces our very heart, a cry that awakens within us God’s hidden presence - so that his power, the power he has planted in our hearts, will not be buried or choked within us by the mire of selfishness, pusillanimity, indifference or opportunism. Let us cry out to God, with all our hearts, at the present hour, when new misfortunes befall us, when all the forces of darkness seem to issue anew from human hearts: whether it is the abuse of God’s name as a means of justifying senseless violence against innocent persons, or the cynicism which refuses to acknowledge God and ridicules faith in him. Let us cry out to God, that he may draw men and women to conversion and help them to see that violence does not bring peace, but only generates more violence - a morass of devastation in which everyone is ultimately the loser. The God in whom we believe is a God of reason - a reason, to be sure, which is not a kind of cold mathematics of the universe, but is one with love and with goodness. We make our prayer to God and we appeal to humanity, that this reason, the logic of love and the recognition of the power of reconciliation and peace, may prevail over the threats arising from irrationalism or from a spurious and godless reason.

The place where we are standing is a place of memory, it is the place of the Shoah. The past is never simply the past. It always has something to say to us; it tells us the paths to take and the paths not to take. Like John Paul II, I have walked alongside the inscriptions in various languages erected in memory of those who died here: inscriptions in Belarusian, Czech, German, French, Greek, Hebrew, Croatian, Italian, Yiddish, Hungarian, Dutch, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Romani, Romanian, Slovak, Serbian, Ukrainian, Judaeo-Spanish and English. All these inscriptions speak of human grief, they give us a glimpse of the cynicism of that regime which treated men and women as material objects, and failed to see them as persons embodying the image of God. Some inscriptions are pointed reminders. There is one in Hebrew. The rulers of the Third Reich wanted to crush the entire Jewish people, to cancel it from the register of the peoples of the earth. Thus the words of the Psalm: “We are being killed, accounted as sheep for the slaughter” were fulfilled in a terrifying way. Deep down, those vicious criminals, by wiping out this people, wanted to kill the God who called Abraham, who spoke on Sinai and laid down principles to serve as a guide for mankind, principles that are eternally valid. If this people, by its very existence, was a witness to the God who spoke to humanity and took us to himself, then that God finally had to die and power had to belong to man alone - to those men, who thought that by force they had made themselves masters of the world. By destroying Israel, by the Shoah, they ultimately wanted to tear up the taproot of the Christian faith and to replace it with a faith of their own invention: faith in the rule of man, the rule of the powerful.

Then there is the inscription in Polish. First and foremost they wanted to eliminate the cultural elite, thus erasing the Polish people as an autonomous historical subject and reducing it, to the extent that it continued to exist, to slavery. Another inscription offering a pointed reminder is the one written in the language of the Sinti and Roma people. Here too, the plan was to wipe out a whole people which lives by migrating among other peoples. They were seen as part of the refuse of world history, in an ideology which valued only the empirically useful; everything else, according to this view, was to be written off as lebensunwertes Leben - life unworthy of being lived. There is also the inscription in Russian, which commemorates the tremendous loss of life endured by the Russian soldiers who combated the Nazi reign of terror; but this inscription also reminds us that their mission had a tragic twofold effect: they set the peoples free from one dictatorship, but the same peoples were thereby subjected to a new one, that of Stalin and the Communist system.

The other inscriptions, written in Europe’s many languages, also speak to us of the sufferings of men and women from the whole continent. They would stir our hearts profoundly if we remembered the victims not merely in general, but rather saw the faces of the individual persons who ended up here in this abyss of terror. I felt a deep urge to pause in a particular way before the inscription in German. It evokes the face of Edith Stein, Theresia Benedicta a Cruce: a woman, Jewish and German, who disappeared along with her sister into the black night of the Nazi-German concentration camp; as a Christian and a Jew, she accepted death with her people and for them. The Germans who had been brought to Auschwitz-Birkenau and met their death here were considered as Abschaum der Nation - the refuse of the nation. Today we gratefully hail them as witnesses to the truth and goodness which even among our people were not eclipsed. We are grateful to them, because they did not submit to the power of evil, and now they stand before us like lights shining in a dark night. With profound respect and gratitude, then, let us bow our heads before all those who, like the three young men in Babylon facing death in the fiery furnace, could respond: “Only our God can deliver us. But even if he does not, be it known to you, O King, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up” (cf. Dan 3:17ff.).

Yes, behind these inscriptions is hidden the fate of countless human beings. They jar our memory, they touch our hearts. They have no desire to instil hatred in us: instead, they show us the terrifying effect of hatred. Their desire is to help our reason to see evil as evil and to reject it; their desire is to enkindle in us the courage to do good and to resist evil. They want to make us feel the sentiments expressed in the words that Sophocles placed on the lips of Antigone, as she contemplated the horror all around her: my nature is not to join in hate but to join in love.

By God’s grace, together with the purification of memory demanded by this place of horror, a number of initiatives have sprung up with the aim of imposing a limit upon evil and confirming goodness. Just now I was able to bless the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer. In the immediate neighbourhood the Carmelite nuns carry on their life of hiddenness, knowing that they are united in a special way to the mystery of Christ’s Cross and reminding us of the faith of Christians, which declares that God himself descended into the hell of suffering and suffers with us. In Oświęcim is the Centre of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, and the International Centre for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust. There is also the International House for Meetings of Young people. Near one of the old Prayer Houses is the Jewish Centre. Finally the Academy for Human Rights is presently being established. So there is hope that this place of horror will gradually become a place for constructive thinking, and that remembrance will foster resistance to evil and the triumph of love.

At Auschwitz-Birkenau humanity walked through a “valley of darkness”. And so, here in this place, I would like to end with a prayer of trust - with one of the Psalms of Israel which is also a prayer of Christians: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff - they comfort me ... I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long” (Ps 23:1-4, 6).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


Poise and style, wisdom and wit - yes, Cameron has left me starstruck: The Conservative leader has achieved things I once thought impossible, and sooner or later he will surely be prime minister (Max Hastings, May 30, 2006, The Guardian)

The highlights of Brown's early premiership will be supervision of a more or less ignominious retreat from Iraq, further increases in taxation, pressures on public spending and - if Brown is foolish - a lurch back to "old Labour values". Leave morality out of this. As Blair always understood and the left never does, there are not enough poor people in Britain to elect a government. The majority of "haves" will always care more about what happens to them than about compassion for the less fortunate.

Yet even if circumstances are shining wondrously upon Cameron, that does not diminish the scale of his achievement in the past six months. He has done more than many of us thought possible to make a Conservative government again plausible. He is, of course, playing Blair's 1990s game, by distancing himself from his unpopular old guard. Every time a neanderthal columnist attacks the Tory leader in a rightwing newspaper, I find myself wondering how much the Cameron camp paid for the privilege. "Norman Tebbit compares me to Pol Pot," says Cameron, gleefully, "and that's when things are going well!"

The struggle to force through his priority list of candidates, which includes a phalanx of women and gay people, has dismayed many local Conservative associations. Yet Cameron tells them the unpalatable truth: "If we want to govern this country, we have to reflect its make-up and its concerns. If we go on with the old system we might have, say, 10 more women MPs after the next election - and that's not good enough."

He refuses to commit a Tory government to abolishing inheritance tax, or to cutting taxes at all. He declares that the Tories were wrong to oppose university top-up fees. He acknowledges that devolution is "here to stay", though he wants "English votes to decide English law". When criticised for not attacking the government sufficiently vigorously, he says: "I don't wake up in the morning asking myself: 'What can I do to destroy the Labour party?' They're doing that themselves. I ask myself: 'What can I do to show people what a Conservative government will be like?'"

He refuses to get rough with Blair about Iraq or Afghanistan, saying that the public is thoroughly aware that the Tories supported the government in initiating both. "We are partly responsible for what has happened. I don't think people will respect us if we quibble endlessly." He says without apology that he sees no reason to commit his party to explicit policies until he must, and would not carry conviction with voters if he did.

Beyond thus gaining points for honesty, Cameron is in the happy position of not needing to say or do anything about Iraq and Afghanistan. The executive decisions, the further grief that lies ahead, are the exclusive responsibility of this government. He can leave the electorate to draw its own conclusions. Such an attitude represents wisdom, not wetness.

If I sound somewhat starstruck, so I am.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


Reid Accepted Free Boxing Tickets While a Related Bill Was Pending (John Solomon, May 30, 2006, Associated Press)

Senate Democratic Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) accepted free ringside tickets from the Nevada Athletic Commission to three professional boxing matches while that state agency was trying to influence him on federal regulation of boxing.

Reid took the free seats for Las Vegas fights between 2003 and 2005 as he was pressing legislation to increase government oversight of the sport, including the creation of a federal boxing commission that Nevada's agency feared might usurp its authority.

He defended the gifts, saying that they would never influence his position on the bill...

Such things only influence Republicans......

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Tyranny of the Christian Right (Michelle Goldberg, 5/30/06, AlterNet)

Whenever I talk about the growing power of the evangelical right with friends, they always ask the same question: What can we do? Usually I reply with a joke: Keep a bag packed and your passport current.

I don't really mean it, but my anxiety is genuine. It's one thing to have a government that shows contempt for civil liberties; America has survived such men before. It's quite another to have a mass movement -- the largest and most powerful mass movement in the nation -- rise up in opposition to the rights of its fellow citizens. The Constitution protects minorities, but that protection is not absolute; with a sufficiently sympathetic or apathetic majority, a tightly organized faction can get around it.

The mass movement I've described aims to supplant Enlightenment rationalism with what it calls the "Christian worldview." The phrase is based on the conviction that true Christianity must govern every aspect of public and private life, and that all -- government, science, history and culture -- must be understood according to the dictates of scripture. There are biblically correct positions on every issue, from gay marriage to income tax rates, and only those with the right worldview can discern them. This is Christianity as a total ideology -- I call it Christian nationalism. It's an ideology adhered to by millions of Americans, some of whom are very powerful. It's what drives a great many of the fights over religion, science, sex and pluralism now dividing communities all over the country. [...]

In the coming years, we will probably see the curtailment of the civil rights that gay people, women and religious minorities have won in the last few decades. With two Bush appointees on the Supreme Court, abortion rights will be narrowed; if the president gets a third, it could mean the end of Roe v. Wade. Expect increasing drives to ban gay people from being adoptive or foster parents, as well as attempts to fire gay schoolteachers. Evangelical leaders are encouraging their flocks to be alert to signs of homosexuality in their kids, which will lead to a growing number of gay teenagers forced into "reparative therapy" designed to turn them straight. (Focus on the Family urges parents to consider seeking help for boys as young as five if they show a "tendency to cry easily, be less athletic, and dislike the roughhousing that other boys enjoy.")

Christian nationalist symbolism and ideology will increasingly pervade public life. In addition to the war on evolution, there will be campaigns to teach Christian nationalist history in public schools. An elective course developed by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, a right-wing evangelical group, is already being offered by more than 300 school districts in 36 states. The influence of Christian nationalism in public schools, colleges, courts, social services and doctors' offices will deform American life, rendering it ever more pinched, mean, and divided.

There's still a long way, though, between this damaged version of democracy and real theocracy.

That the Christian Right's entire agenda can be achieved by changing just two or three seats on the Supreme Court suggests just how tenuous the secular revolution always was in America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Nation splits 4 ways on illegals (Susan Page, 5/29/06, USA TODAY)

Americans hold strong and conflicting views about immigration that underscore the difficulties Congress will face in reaching a final legislative deal on the issue, an analysis of USA TODAY polling data shows.

The public splits into separate camps over whether illegal immigrants should be able to work toward citizenship, whether they help or hurt the economy — even whether immigration is an urgent problem that must be addressed.

Those disagreements are reflected in the Senate immigration bill that passed Thursday and the House bill, passed in December, which takes a tougher approach. A conference committee will try to resolve conflicts between the two measures on the issue, President Bush's top domestic priority before Congress.

A USA TODAY breakdown of public opinion, based on Gallup polls taken in April and May, finds Americans falling into four clusters that are roughly equal in size but vary dramatically in point of view. The groups can be characterized as "hard-liners," "unconcerned," "ambivalent" and "welcoming."

The hard-liners (USA Today, 5/29/2006)
25% of Americans, 60% male, 11% from immigrant families, 41% Bush approval rating.

The welcoming (USA Today, 5/29/2006)
27% of American, 59% female, 21% from immigrant families, 28% Bush approval rating. [...]

54% are Democrats. More than three of four are conservatives or moderates.

The unconcerned (USA Today, 5/29/2006)
23% of Americans, 50% male, 13% from immigrant families, 20% Bush approval rating.

Their outlook:

Not at all concerned about the issue. Generally sympathetic to illegal immigrants. Think their removal would hurt the economy.

The ambivalent (USA Today, 5/29/2006)
27% of Americans, 58% female, 15% from immigrant families, 33% Bush approval rating.

You can't win by playing to the hysteria of 25% of the population.

New immigration laws won't change laws of nature (Ruben Navarrette Jr., 5/30/06, Seattle Times)

I've been wondering how the father of the legislation felt about all this. So I dialed the sage of Cody, Wyo., former Sen. Alan Simpson.

Simpson isn't just the chief sponsor of the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, which morphed into IRCA. He is also a friend and was one of my graduate-school professors.

He's also delightfully quotable, like when he said that this debate is all about "emotion, fear, guilt and racism." Or when he said that a lot of the public concern over immigration starts when you "see people in the backyard who are roasting a pig and making a lot of noise and [you] don't understand what language they're talking." Or when he said to be wary of guest workers because "there's never been a temporary person in the United States, they all want to stay and they do." Or on his opposition to sending the National Guard to the border because "you're going to have a redneck in there every once in a while who is going to cause real pain." [...]

[O]n the big question — whether it was a mistake to grant amnesty to all those people — Simpson offers no apologies.

"I don't have any qualms about 3 million people from 93 countries coming forward," he said. "I like that. And I still see those people out in the street and it pleases me greatly."

So what do we do about the 11 million to 12 million here currently?

"You have to do something to give them a legal status," he said.

"They might have to put up five grand or two grand or 150 bucks but they've got to do something to come into one of the best countries on Earth."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Apartment rents expected to rise 5% (Noelle Knox, 5/29/06, USA TODAY)

Apartment rents are expected to increase 5.3% this year — about double last year's increase — the National Association of Realtors says. [...]

There are four driving forces:

•Job growth. U.S. businesses have generated 4 million new jobs in the past two years. New hires typically look for rental property.

•Rising home prices. From 1980 to 2000, the median price of a home was 12 times higher than the annual average rent. By this spring, it was 21 times higher, Nadji said. The median-priced home now costs $223,000, making the American dream a fantasy for more renters, whose competition for apartments then drives up rents. There's little relief in sight in such areas as Phoenix and South Florida, where home prices soared more than 30% in the first quarter of this year over the same quarter last year.

• Condo conversions. When the housing market was at its blazing peak, many investors who owned apartment buildings kicked out tenants and sold the units as condos. One out of three apartment buildings sold last year were converted into condos for sale. That took 191,400 apartments off the market, according to the NAR. In addition, the number of new apartment buildings under construction is down this year.

• Hurricane Katrina. About half the 100,000 displaced families in the New Orleans area haven't returned. Most of them were renters, says Lawrence Yun, an NAR economist, and "that's putting additional pressure on rental units throughout the country."

May 29, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 PM


Harper wins opening round: Here's a list of 10 things he did brilliantly -- or at least correctly (Ted Byfield, 05/28/06)

We may not yet know (as this is written) who won the semifinal round for the Stanley Cup, but we do know who has won the opening round at Ottawa in the contest to govern Canada.

An Ipsos Reid poll confirmed what was becoming evident to anybody who watches politics.

Though they lack a majority, Steve Harper's Tories are running the country.

The poll put them at 43%, highest level of Tory support since the Mulroney ascendancy, and enough to win a majority if the election were held now.

Even in Quebec, the Conservatives are gaining on the Bloc, and the Liberals are far below their traditional standing.

All of which raises the question: How has Harper done it?

Here's one man's assessment (one man's plus one wife's) on 10 things he's done right, several of them brilliant: ....

Not to sell Mr. Harper short by any means, but when America, Australia, Britain, Mexico, Israel, Japan, Poland, Germany, etc. all have similarly conservative governments or ascendant conservative oppositions, perhaps it's best not to focus overmuch on personalities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 PM


Segway Sets Course For Stock Market
Scooter's Catch On With Cops, But Not Consumers
(AP, 5/28/06)

Although the electric, self-balancing Segway scooter never quite caught on with commuters the way its backers had predicted five years ago, the gizmo has found a growing market among law-enforcement agencies, with more than 100 departments around the world now signed on as customers and many others testing the device.

The niche market, coupled with a burst of interest from Europeans struggling with gas prices much higher than in the U.S., have breathed new life into the Segway.

And Segway Inc. President and Chief Executive James Norrod, hoping to parlay the growth into a payday for the original investors in the scooter, has made grooming the company for an initial public offering in the next few years a top priority. [...]

[T]he device is still expensive even five years later, retailing for between about $4,000 and $5,700, depending on the model and accessories package.

The top priority ought to be cutting the price in half.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 PM


Rapper faces jail for song dissing France (Angelique Chrisafis, May 29, 2006, Guardian)

One of France's most popular rappers will appear in court today charged with offending public decency with a song in which he referred to France as a "slut" and vowed to "piss" on Napoleon and Charles de Gaulle. Monsieur R, whose real name is Richard Makela, could face three years in prison or a €75,000 (£51,000) fine after an MP from the ruling UMP party launched legal action against him over his album Politikment Incorrekt.

MP3 here--almost makes you wish you spoke their dead language.

-France: Soundtrack to a Riot: A rap of protest from the ghetto (Marco Werman, March 28, 2006, The World)
-David Brooks, Playa Hater: The New York Times columnist grapples with "gangsta rap." (Jody Rosen, Nov. 10, 2005, Slate)
-France's Homegrown Gangstas (Olivier Guitta, September 28, 2005, Weekly Standard)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 PM


A Few Years, and Then Another Bush? (ELISABETH BUMILLER, 5/29/06, NY Times)

"I'm not running for president. I'm not running for United States Senate. I'm not going to run." For good measure he added, "Why doesn't everyone believe me on this?"

One reason is that Jeb, who was always considered the political comer compared with his brother the black sheep, was the original family favorite to run for president. But in a turn of events that has become a political parable, George surprised even his mother by upsetting Gov. Ann Richards of Texas in 1994, the same year that Jeb lost by two percentage points to Gov. Lawton Chiles in Florida. Although Jeb came back to beat Buddy McKay easily in 1998, by then his brother was in line for the White House.

People close to the Bushes say there are two major factors, political and personal, driving the governor's thinking.

First, Republicans say that running on the heels of what has shaped up to be a dismal second term for his brother would be difficult, if not impossible. Even if President Bush's approval ratings were better, Republicans say that Jeb Bush, for all his political popularity in Florida, would still have to define himself in the shadow of his brother's White House. [...]

Second, friends of the Bushes say that Jeb does not want the intense focus of a presidential campaign on his wife and daughter, and that his mother, for one, is opposed to a 2008 race. "It's very clear that he knows what he has to do for himself and his family in the immediate future," said Ron Kaufman, a political adviser to the first President Bush.

A couple years as NFL Commissioner. Four years as VP to President McCain. Bush-Blackwell in 2012.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 PM


Castro's American friend
: a review of The Man Who Invented Fidel: Castro, Cuba, and Herbert L. Matthews of The New York Times By Anthony DePalma (KEN FRANKEL, 5/27/06, Globe and Mail)

Anthony DePalma's important and well-written book, The Man Who Invented Fidel, recounts the sad tale of the steady rise and meteoric fall of a shy New York City boy who had ambitions of being a scholar of Romance languages, but became a widely recognized New York Times foreign correspondent. Matthews reported from the front lines on many of the major events of the first half of the 20th century. His last assignment was covering the Cuban revolution. [...]

Because he was charismatic, well-spoken and dedicated to deposing a voraciously corrupt and ruthless dictator, Castro was the ideal subject for Matthews's emotional brand of reporting.

The articles caused a splash. Castro and Matthews each got what he wanted. As DePalma notes, Fidel benefited from an instant international image makeover from "a hot headed loser to a noble rogue with broad democratic ideals." Matthews reinforced this image in subsequent editorials and occasional news articles.

The most important point that Mr. DePalma conveys is that Fidel Castro was really secondary to Herbert Matthews's purposes--he want to the Sierra Maestra looking to create a man on horseback and would have been perfectly content to make one of whoever he found there. That does clear him of the charge of collaborating in a Communist revolution, but is more damning in its own way. Meanwhile, the notion that the corrupt Batista was also ruthless is fairly silly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Colombia's Uribe wins second term (BBC, 5/29/06)

Correspondents say his tough policies against drugs and militants paid off.

There was no major violence on election day, after huge numbers of security forces were deployed, and Farc rebels pledged not to interfere.

With nearly all ballots counted, Mr Uribe had 62% of the vote - well over the 50% needed to win in the first round.

He pledged to carry on his tough conservative policies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Socialist Party at war as Sheridan says: I'm no drug dealer (HAMISH MACDONELL, 5/29/06, The Scotsman)

THE Scottish Socialist Party descended into open warfare last night when Tommy Sheridan, the former leader, accused a "cabal" of spreading lies to discredit him.
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Mr Sheridan sent an open letter to all SSP members claiming that senior figures in the party, including MSPs, had spread malicious rumours about him, including allegations that he was a drug dealer, that he trafficked women from eastern Europe and that he used prostitutes.

The Glasgow MSP warned that the SSP was in danger of becoming a "gender-obsessed discussion group" rather than a "class-based socialist party".

He said the tactics used against him were nothing more than "a political witch-hunt" redolent of the "dark days of Stalinism".

Village red-faced at butcher's late call to revolution (Adam Sage, 5/30/06, Times of London)
A SMALL village in France has been split by the will left by its late butcher, who bequeathed his house and land to the local council on condition that they were used to help to plan the communist revolution.

Albert Le Roy, a hardline Marxist who died two months ago at the age of 80, amazed his native Goudelin, in Brittany, with a handwritten will discovered in a drawer at his home that said he was leaving his property, valued at €140,000 (£96,000), to the village council “to prepare for communism”.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:53 AM


Eye of the Storm: Religious fanatic at a Persian bazaar (Amir Taheri, Jerusalem Post, May 27th, 2006)

What could be the logic behind Ahmadinejad's "preemptive diplomacy"? One answer is that the Islamic leader may be inspired by practices in Persian bazaars that are based on the assumption that whatever offer is made in any bargain is suspect because it may be a trick to avoid an even better offer.

Reviewing the events of the past year or so Ahmadinejad cannot but observe that by sticking to his guns he has received better and better offers across the line. The Europeans are offering him what they were not even prepared to consider in negotiations with his predecessor president Muhammad Khatami. Hassan Ruhani, the mullah who handled the negotiations with the EU under Khatami, says that he would have been in seventh heaven had the Europeans offered him what they now offer Ahmadinejad.

As for "security guarantees," Ahmadinejad knows that successive US administrations refused to consider them as advance payment for normalization of relations with the Islamic Republic. Now that so many prominent American personalities are prepared to promote the idea, shouldn't Ahmadinejad wonder whether he could secure even more concessions?

Would he not be tempted to wait-out President George W. Bush in the hope that his successor would offer what Albright, Brzezinski and Lugar are advocating?

The real problem with the Islamic Republic now is that Ahmadinejad, unlike his predecessors, is convinced that, backed by the "Hidden Imam," he can win across the line without making any concessions. The chorus of appeasers in Europe and the US confirm him in his dangerous belief. The message that Ahmadinejad can get more and more by offering less and less has already crushed the realists in Teheran who know that his policy of persistent provocation could lead to war. The more one tries to appease Ahmadinejad the less he will be appeased.

Excuse the self-reference, but last week I asked a leftist journalist and a European diplomat what they thought we should do about Iran. The leftist took all of one sentence to blame the whole thing on Bush and Iraq and assured me Ahmadinejad would never have arisen but for that imperialist madness. The diplomat fixed impatient eyes on me and said: “I suppose you would be all in favour of just bombing!” Neither had a clue what to do and neither seemed the slightest bit troubled by that.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 5:30 AM


Foreign ministers consider plan to salvage EU constitution (Mark John and David Brunnstrom, The Scotsman, May 29th, 2006)

European Union ministers have raised the possibility of changing the name of the bloc's stalled constitution as part of a plan to rescue key parts of the charter by 2009.

French and Dutch voters a year ago rejected the text, aimed at streamlining EU decision-making and giving the bloc its own president and foreign minister, all but killing off a project that needs the backing of all EU states to come into force.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Vienna yesterday acknowledged no move could be undertaken to save the charter before French and Dutch general elections in May 2007. However, there was guarded backing for a German proposal to start steps to salvage the core of the text, possibly under a new name, immediately afterwards.

"Everybody agrees it was a mistake to call it a constitution, so that would be a sensible change," the Finnish foreign minister, Erkki Tuomioja, said, insisting his country nonetheless planned to become the 16th state to ratify the existing text later this year. [...]

Germany, among countries that have already ratified the charter, takes over the EU presidency early next year and its foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, for the first time publicly mentioned the idea of a possible name change.

"We in Germany live with a 'Basic Law', which does not carry the title 'constitution' but has the same legal quality. It's a possible starting point," he told reporters.

Jose Manuel Barroso, the EU Commission president, said: "If someone finds a better name, great. But what is important is to recommit ourselves to this vision of Europe."

We suggest “The European Democratic Republic”.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


In Defense of History (Donald Kagan, 2005 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities)

I am most grateful for this great honor. When I think of the list of my brilliant predecessors I feel as most Yale freshmen do soon after arriving on campus. They look about them at their remarkably talented fellow-classmen and nervously ask themselves, "did the admissions office admit me by mistake?" At any rate, I come as a defender of the faith, of the humanities as they were understood ever since the invention of the concept many centuries ago. Their goals were nicely stated by the Renaissance humanist Pietro Paolo Vergerio some six centuries ago as the purposes of a liberal education:

We call those studies liberal which are worthy of a free man, those studies by which we attain and practice virtue and wisdom, that education which calls forth, trains and develops those highest gifts of body and mind which ennoble men and which are rightly judged to rank next in dignity to virtue only, for to a vulgar temper, gain and pleasure are the one aim of existence, to a lofty nature, moral worth and fame.

The training of the intellect was meant to produce an intrinsic pleasure and satisfaction but it also had practical goals of importance to the individual and the entire community, to make the humanistically trained individual eloquent and wise, to know what is good and to practice virtue, both in private and public life.

Such was the understanding of the ancient Greeks and of the Renaissance humanists but not, I fear of many teachers of the humanities today, who deny the possibility of knowing anything with confidence, of the reality of such concepts as truth and virtue, who seek only gain and pleasure in the modern guise of political power and self-gratification as the ends of education.

Among them it is common to reject any notion of objectivity, of truths arrived at by evidence or reasoning external to whims or prejudices. One famous professor deplored such an idea as foundationalism, defined as, "any attempt to ground inquiry and communication in something more firm and stable than mere belief or unexamined practice." Such views are proposed by literary critics, but their significance is much broader than for the interpretation of literature; they assert that all studies are literature, all, therefore subject to the same indeterminacy as all language. Even death is merely "the displaced name for a linguistic predicament." It should not be surprising, then, to learn that "the bases for historical knowledge are not empirical facts but written texts, even if these texts masquerade in the guise of wars or revolutions." What we know of history, after all, we learn from written accounts whose rhetoric "allows for two incompatible, mutually self-destructive points of view, and therefore puts an insurmountable obstacle in the way of any reading or understanding." Including, I presume, any reading or understanding of the quotation I just read.

Such ideas have made their way even into the study of the Classics, but I remain grateful that I have spent much of my life in the exploration of the ancient civilizations, especially that of the Greeks. Because they are at the root of modern civilization, so like us in many ways and so different in others, they offer a perspective removed from the prejudices of time and place that threaten to distort our understanding and yet continually relevant and illuminating to those who will examine them with a mind open to the possibility that useful wisdom can be found in their thought and experience.

Let me offer an example of how a study of the ancient world may help our understanding: the question of the role of the artist in his society. Ever since the beginning of the Romantic movement the dominant belief has been that a true poet or artist, whatever his genre, must be a rebel against the established order of society. Writers of the past who don't fit the model seem always to be merely the victims of their place in corrupt societies or stooges of those who rule them. The modern critic who discovers this is, of course, free from such influences. To me, and to the poor writers of the past, ignorant of their pitiful roles, art, and especially literature, has an autonomous place apart from politics and sociology, even from philosophy. Its power comes from its ability to choose its own subject, style and purpose. Literature that is shaped merely by its author's time and his place within his society, by his prejudices and purposes, is a poor and weak thing that deserve the social scientific analysis and pseudo-philosophical mumbo-jumbo that pass for literary criticism in our day.

But true artists are not bound by such things. They see through and beyond the prejudices and passions of their own time and place and are bound only by the limits that bind all human beings at all times in all places: the reality of nature and of human nature. There is a natural world outside of human will and desire; man's genius can manipulate it to a considerable extent, and the results can be wonderful, but they are inevitably constrained by the enormous power and mystery of nature and by the limits imposed by man's own nature. For confirmation I turn to the tragic poet Sophocles and especially his drama Antigone. There his chorus describes the dilemma:

Wonders are many on earth, and the greatest of these
Is man, who rides the ocean and takes his
Through the deeps, through wind-swept valleys of perilous seas
That surge and sway.
He is master of ageless Earth, to his own
will bending
The immortal mother of gods by the sweat of his brow,
As year succeeds to year, with toil unending
Of mule and plough.

He is lord of all things living; birds of the
Beasts of the field, all creatures on sea and land
He takes, cunning to capture and ensnare
With sleight of hand;
Hunting the savage beasts from the
upland rocks,
Teaching the mountain monarch in his lair,
Teaching the wild horse and the roaming ox
His yoke to bear.
The use of language, the wind-swift
motion of brain
He learnt; found out the law of living together
In cities, building him shelter against the rain
And wintry weather.
There is nothing beyond his power. His
Meets all chance, all danger conquers.
For every ill has found its remedy,
Save only death.
O wondrous sublety of man, that draws
To good or evil ways! Great honour is given
And power to him who upholds his country's laws
And the justice of heaven.
But he that, too rashly daring, walks in sin
In solitary pride to his life's end,
At door of mine shall never enter in
To call me friend.

Man's ingenuity and power are great, but both his power and life are limited. Such is the basis for the Greeks' tragic view of life. There is no excuse for passivity, for human beings can help shape the environments that shape them and they have the opportunity and the power to defy their societies and their unjust laws, as Antigone does in defying Creon. He has overridden the unwritten divine law by forbidding the burial of her brother, killed in a rebellion against his state. She chooses to bury her brother and accept a horrible death as the penalty, and we marvel and admire her for it.

So far, it is possible to think of Sophocles as the kind of artist favored today--the champion of revolt against man's fate, so often in our time taken to be the revolt against his society and its ways. True artists, like Sophocles, however, are not propagandists but pursuers of deep, usually complicated, understandings of the human condition. Sophocles's play reveals such complexity. There is something to be said for Creon. His decree is meant to preserve the security of the state and society, the minimal requirement of civilization, the thin veneer that protects us from the plunge into barbarism and savagery. Modern artists tend to assume that the established order is always wrong. Ibsen's Dr. Stockmann in An Enemy of the People made it clear that the rule applies even to democratic establishments with his passionate assertion that "the majority is always wrong." But the greatest artists are prepared to search for the truth of the human condition wherever the trail may lead. They do not prejudge the outcome. The establishment or the defiant rebel may be right or, as is typical of real tragedy, each may be right in his own way, even as the two rights clash disastrously. Sophocles's portrayal of the struggle is so even-handed that some ancient scholars thought that Creon's case is the stronger and that the play should be called Creon, not Antigone. That must be wrong, for Antigone alone displays the willful, defiant, single-minded, unrelenting, uncalculating determination to do what she must, regardless of consequences, that is characteristic of Sophoclean heroes. But the point is that Sophocles wrestles with the issues and depicts their champions with such honesty as to do justice to the depth, difficulty and universality of the subject and his characters.

Such an artist does not reflexively take the side of any rebel against the established order. It may be that the establishment is right. More likely, there is a degree of right on both sides, so that the difficult task for human beings is to gain a deeper understanding of what is at stake, both for individual and society, to understand that the needs of individual and society are both competitive and complementary and to contemplate the resulting dilemma with the seriousness and awe it deserves.

In Antigone, Sophocles is concerned, in the first place, with the temptation that power can place in the way of a political leader like Creon to do whatever is necessary, even to violate divine law, in the interest of the state. That would be a comfortable position for a writer in our times. But Sophocles understands the enormous cost when an individual tramples on human law, even in defense of the most fundamental human needs. The resulting clash leaves us neither with a burning determination to overthrow the regime nor to suppress all insurgency. It leaves us emotionally stimulated and then drained, and it leaves our minds alerted and sobered. We have become deeper individuals and wiser citizens.

André Malraux said that "All art is a revolt against man's fate." If he is right, Sophocles's plays, the other tragedies, and much of ancient Greek literature are not art. Malraux seems to me to reflect the Romantic view that is determined to see the artist as an individual apart from, superior to and in rebellion against the established order. Sophocles, like Aeschylus and Thucydides, was very much a part of his society. He fought its battles as a soldier, he understood and appreciated its necessity and excellences even as he probed its dilemmas and weaknesses. His plays, among other things, helped their audiences to understand and come to terms with man's fate. It is man's fate, part of the tragic human condition, to revolt and struggle against its negative elements. But human excellence, virtue, even survival depend on the establishment of a decent social order and its defense even against the most passionate and sincere rebels who would smash it in search of some imagined perfection beyond human grasp.

Because he was part of the society in which he lived and understood its needs and virtues he could compel his fellow citizens honestly to confront its conflicts and its deepest contradictions. They did not suppress, scorn, or, what is worse, ignore him. Instead, they honored him with prizes, election to the highest military and political office and with deep and abiding reverence. Would that all this were possible for modern artists and their audiences in the world today.

To understand this question, which involves both literature and philosophy, one must study history, my own special field of interest, the dearest to my heart. I want to make the case that history, defined not meanly in the current style as an infinitely malleable tool to be used to achieve current political ends, but as the Greek founders of the genre did, can be the most valuable approach to achieve the proper goals of the humanities.

The world we live in is a difficult place to try to make a case for the value of history. Through the centuries its claim has rested chiefly on its search for truths arrived at by painstaking research conducted with the greatest possible objectivity, explaining events by means of human reason. Its various goals, as the late Arnaldo Momigliano put it, were "to provide an example, constitute a warning, point to likely developments in human affairs." The ancient Greek historians, the earliest and still among the greatest, set the agenda, taking as their subjects large events affecting great numbers of people in dramatic and powerful ways.

Herodotus, the first true historian, wrote of the war in which a band of small Greek city-states defended their freedom against the assault of the vast and mighty Persian Empire. He wrote, he said, "so that time may not blot out from among men the memory of the past, and that the fame of the great and marvelous deeds done by Greeks and foreigners may not be lost, and especially the reason why they fought against each other." Here, from the very beginning of the genre, we can discern the special place occupied by history among humanistic studies. Like literature, specifically the epic poetry of Homer, it has the responsibility of preserving the great, important and instructive actions of human beings, individually and in the mass so that we may marvel at them and learn from them. It sets the historian the task, however, not merely of describing events in evocative language that will impress them on human hearts and arouse an emotional response but also, like philosophy, to explain their meaning by the use of reason.

Thucydides, a younger contemporary of Herodotus, took on the same assignments. He wanted to memorialize the great event of his day, the war between Sparta and Athens.

Thucydides tells us that he undertook his history:

in the belief that it would be great and noteworthy above all the wars that had gone before…. For this was the greatest upheaval that had ever shaken the Hellenes, extending also to some part of the barbarians, one might say even to a very large part of mankind.

No one who has read his dramatic accounts of the debates in the various assemblies, and especially his heart-rending account of the destruction of the Athenian forces that invaded Sicily will doubt his literary artistry in achieving that goal. But Herodotus' story had a happy ending, while Thucydides' tale was far grimmer. The account of the Persian War seems filled with sunshine; the report of the Peloponnesian War seems to have been written in twilight. Herodotus, like Homer, tells good stories for their own sake, whether he believes them or not. Most of his explanations of events credit human agents alone, but, again like Homer, he leaves plenty of room for the intervention of the gods. Thucydides ruthlessly excludes everything not clearly relevant to his task and employs cold reason alone in his explanations. Herodotus obtained the necessary information by asking people who seemed to know something he was interested in, sometimes reporting more than one account of things without choosing among them, sometimes making a choice based on the exercise of reason and what seemed likely. This was not good enough for Thucydides. "As to the facts of what happened," he said, "I did not learn them from any chance informant nor did I think it proper to write down what seemed probable to me but by investigating each of them with the greatest possible accuracy, both those events at which I was present myself and those I learned about from others. And the discovery of these facts was laborious, since eye-witnesses to the same events did not give the same reports of them, either because of partisanship or failure of memory."

Thucydides understood that his careful attention to factual accuracy came at a literary price. "Perhaps," he says, "the absence of the fabulous from my account will seem less pleasing to the ear." But he judges the sacrifice necessary to achieve a higher goal, a philosophic one with great practical application: "If those who wish to have a clear understanding both of the events of the past and of the ones that some day, as is the way in human things, will happen again in the future in the same or a similar way, will judge my work useful, that will be enough for me. It has been composed not as a prize-essay in a competition, to be heard for a moment, but as a possession forever."

These lines seem plainly to be a critique of Herodotus and then a bold claim to contribute to rational, philosophic understanding. Even beyond that, I believe, they lay claim to practical usefulness in dealing with real human problems in the real world. These are the missions for the historian: to examine important events of the past with painstaking care and the greatest possible objectivity, to seek a reasoned explanation for them based on the fullest and fairest possible examination of the evidence in order to preserve their memory and to use them to establish such uniformities as may exist in human events, and then to apply the resulting understanding to improve the judgment and wisdom of people who must deal with similar problems in the future. That is the legacy the Greek historians handed down to their successors which, when practiced well, makes Clio the Queen of the Humanities, standing between and slightly above her noble handmaidens, the muses of literature and philosophy.

So say I, but not everyone has agreed. Critics of history have been legion, running the gamut from the sophisticated, wickedly witty Voltaire, who asserted that: "History is a pack of tricks the living play upon the dead," to the simpler remark of Henry Ford that "History is bunk." A more serious critique, favoring literature, came soon after the invention of history from Aristotle's Poetics, which says:

A poet's object is not to tell what actually happened but what could and would happen either probably or inevitably. The difference between a historian and a poet is not that one writes in prose and the other in verse. Indeed the writings of Herodotus could be put into verse and yet would still be a kind of history, whether written in meter or not. The real difference is this, that one tells what happened and the other what might happen. For this reason poetry is somewhat more philosophical [philosophoteron] and serious than history, because poetry tends to give general truths while history gives particular facts.

By a general truth I mean the sort of thing that a certain type of man will do or say either probably or necessarily. That is what poetry aims at. A particular fact is what Alcibiades did or what was done to him.

Aristotle, of course, would have claimed the same advantage for philosophy which must also be more philosophos than history. He had great learning and wisdom but, like Homer, even he occasionally nodded. The primary source for what Alcibiades did and suffered, in fact, is Thucydides, and it is hard to believe that Aristotle did not read his history. If he did, this assertion is truly astonishing for, as we have seen, Thucydides took the greatest pains to discover what particular people did precisely in order to establish general truths about human behavior. He stood at a position on the road from literature to philosophy. Like the poet he was free to select his topic, to define its boundaries, to treat some events and topics at greater length than others, to emphasize some things and touch lightly on others. Unlike the creative writer, however, the historian may not invent characters or events or chronology but must report with the greatest possible accuracy the doings of real people, keeping to the true order in which they happened. To the extent that he fails in those responsibilities he is not a bad historian but no historian at all.

Yet, if he follows the rules, carefully establishes the facts and reports them in their true chronological order and does no more, he is still not a historian but a chronicler. It is not enough to record a certain level of events each year, however accurately. The historian must select a topic of importance. Even a narrative history must organize and arrange events in such a way as to reveal their significance most effectively. He must try to explain why things happened as they did and what may be learned about human affairs and behavior in general from the events he has studied. In this respect his work must be philosophical.

But unlike philosophers and their post-enlightenment offspring, the social scientists, who usually prefer to explain a vast range of particular phenomena by the simplest possible generalization, historians must be prepared to explain the variety of behavior in various ways. The well-known lines of the ancient Greek poet Archilochus present the two fundamental choices: "The fox knows many tricks, the hedgehog only one:/ one big one." This may work in the animal kingdom, but in the world of human affairs, wildly complicated by the presence of individual wills and of different ideas of what produces or deprives people of happiness and honor, in what does interest consist and of what there is to fear, extremely general explanations are neither useful nor possible. Historians, in the first instance, need to be foxes, using as many tricks as they can to explain as many particular things as accurately and convincingly as they can. Then, they should try to find revealing examples from the wide variety of human experiences to support generalizations of varying breadth. They should not expect to find the one big trick that will explain everything, but the lesser generalizations that can be tested by other understandings of the evidence and by new human experiences as they arise, which can still be interesting and useful. It is this mixed path taken by the historian, chiefly of the fox but with a necessary element of the hedgehog that promises the best results.

The poet, inspired by a unique personal perception and understanding, may shed a more intense and powerful light on some human affairs than the most careful and serious historian. We may admire its brilliance and originality, but are his revelations right? When we think so, it is by intuition that we are convinced or by some feeling that the poet's perception accords with our own experience. But everyone has his own intuition and experience. The literary road to the understanding of human things calls for generalizing from a single perception. It can be galvanizing, inspiring, but not satisfying to the mind. The literary experience is primarily aesthetic and emotional, not intellectual or practical.

Philosophy is a word and concept harder to define but among the many definitions I find in my dictionary the following strikes me as most central: "inquiry into the nature of things based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods." The pursuit of philosophy does not preclude the study of human experience to provide material for contemplation and analysis by ordered reason, but experience is clearly subordinate and ancillary. Even Aristotle, who for centuries was known as the philosopher and liked to begin his inquiries with reference to the experience and thought of real people, did not investigate these widely or deeply but just until they produced the inevitable intellectual difficulties, the aporiai, to which he then applied his great powers of logic and reason. There are great advantages for our understanding of the nature of things in it: pointing out sloppy thinking and helping to correct it; the ability to analyze things that appear unitary or to bring together others that seem hopelessly disparate; the search for simpler, more general principles than those available to the empirical students of human experience, among others. But philosophy inevitably leads to metaphysics, the investigation of first principles and the problem of ultimate reality, which over the millennia has led to massive disagreement, no progress, cynicism and rejection. Wags have described the pursuit of metaphysics as looking in a perfectly dark box for a black cat that doesn't exist. More seriously, the situation has driven professional students of philosophy to such despair as to reject entirely the most basic and compelling questions as impossible, in fact as non-existent, merely the result of bad thinking or improper grammar. In that spirit the Enyclopaedia Britannica defines philosophy narrowly as "the critical examination of the grounds for fundamental beliefs and an analysis of the basic concepts of such beliefs." Aristotle must have rolled over in his grave when he first learned of the thin gruel modern teachers have made of his rich philosophical porridge. Fortunately, a small band of scholars have not given up the search for wisdom that is true philosophy, but their tribe is small and their enemies legion. A field of study in such shape can not help us much in our efforts to comprehend the human condition.

None of this is to say that history is without its problems for our purpose. Although, in its moderate way, it has not suffered so badly as philosophy from the linguistic analysts or literature from the pseudo-philosophers, it has not escaped the assaults of post-modernism in its various forms. A major assault is in the area of subject matter and attitude. The traditional great events and subjects: high politics, constitutions, diplomacy, war, great books and ideas, are not to be considered, except to show why they must be excluded as the product of dead white males engaged in the permanent process of oppressing good ordinary people of one kind or another. The purpose of the enterprise is not to seek the truth with the greatest objectivity one can muster but to raise the consciousness of the oppressed, to bring them the self-esteem they will need to overthrow the current version of this ancient establishment.

Some historians may not be convinced by these beliefs, observing that post-modernists assert that there is no such thing as truth, only self-interest, prejudice and power, that there is no objectivity, that all statements of fact or value are relative and claims to the existence or search for objective truth are part of the racket by which the ruling groups try to retain power. Such doubters may point out that the opinions of those making these claims should be ignored since, by their own admission, their claims can not be objective or true but merely devices to gain power.

Although historians in universities have given far too much ground to such mindlessness promoted by contemporary political partisanship, as historians they are better situated than their colleagues in the other humanities to recover their senses. They know that the current fad of skepticism and relativism is as old as the Sophists of ancient Greece and had a great revival with the Pyrrhonism of the sixteenth century. On both occasions their paradoxical and self-contradictory glamour yielded in time to common sense and the massive evidence that some searches are more objective, some things truer than others, however elusive perfect objectivity and truth may be.

Historians have reason to know this and to resist the blatantly subjective and untruthful assault of the modern-day sophists, confident that if they hold, or return, to their traditional methods, which allow them to correct errors in our beliefs about the past, or, sometimes, to bring new evidence and perceptions, that may have the effect of refining or even confirming what has been believed. For history is a discipline in which the improvement of understanding is not impossible, random, nor merely cyclical, but cumulative.

Perhaps you will think that my own approach is not entirely objective, that it is shaped by what the French call a déformation professionelle, so let me say at once that it goes without saying that literature, philosophy and history have long been valuable roads to the understanding of the human condition, and all make important contributions, but I confess that as to their relative merits my mind is not completely open. Perhaps my view could be compared with that of the clergyman who listened to a heated debate among his fellow divines, each claiming the superiority of his sect. At last, he intervened with these words: "Friends, let us not quarrel among ourselves in this sectarian fashion. We all seek to work God's will, you in your several ways, I in His."

But I believe there is more to my claim than mere prejudice related to professional deformation. Two millennia ago the Roman historian Livy's introduction to his great narrative account of his nation's history included this observation:

What chiefly makes the study of history wholesome and profitable is this, that you behold the lessons of every kind of experience set forth as on a conspicuous monument; from these you may choose for yourself and for your own state what to imitate, from these mark for avoidance what is shameful in the conception and shameful in the result. (1.10)

That is a view of the purpose of historical study that went out of favor with professionals in the nineteenth century and is not thought respectable in our time. As a result it has been increasingly harder to persuade people that they have anything to learn from history. At the same time, the retreat by professors of history from the tradition of writing narrative accounts that explain the past by telling a story has further repelled potential readers. This has not, however deterred millions of people hungry for historical writing from reading those historians who will interpret the past by narrating a story and are alert to the moral implications, personal and political, of the story they tell. And why should it be otherwise? The fact is that we all need to take our moral bearings all the time, as individuals and as citizens. Religion and the traditions based on it were once the chief sources for moral confidence and strength. Their influence has faded in the modern world, but the need for a sound base for moral judgments has not. If we can not look simply to moral guidance firmly founded on religious precepts it is natural and reasonable to turn to history, the record of human experience, as a necessary supplement if not a substitute. History, it seems to me, is the most useful key we have to open the mysteries of the human predicament. Is it too much to hope that one day we may see Clio ascend her throne again and resume her noble business at the same old stand?

[Originally posted: 5/19/05]

May 28, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:39 AM


American theocracy: Is God ambidextrous? (Lexington, May 25th 2006, The Economist)

The religious left is more energised than it has been for years. The number of new-wave “values voters”—who loathe, rather than love, the values embraced by George Bush—is growing rapidly. They range from blacks and Latinos (who are among the most churchgoing people in the country) to left-wing evangelicals to a hotch-potch of Buddhists and gurus, and they are coming together to make their voices heard. The religious left has acquired spokesmen in the form of Jim Wallis, the author of “God's Politics”, and Michael Lerner, a rabbi and the organiser of last week's conference. Several topical themes are giving it momentum, from immigration reform, where the Catholic church has been particularly outspoken, to Iraq. [...]

The Democratic high command has at last worked out that it does not have much chance of thriving in one of the most religious countries in the world if it cannot close the “God-gap”. Yet, if anything, the God-gap is growing. In 2004 Mr Bush won 64% of the votes of people who go to church more than once a week and 58% of people who go once a week. The proportion of people who regard the Democratic Party as less “friendly” towards religion than the Republican increased from 12% in 2003 to 20% in 2005. Fully 67% of people think that liberals have gone too far in keeping religion out of schools. [...]

The religious left suffers from two long-term problems. The first is that it is building its house on sand. The groups that make up the heart of the religious left—mainline Protestants, liberal Catholics and reform Jews—are all experiencing long-term decline. Most of the growth in American religion is occurring among conservative churches. And the constituent parts of the religious left are also at odds over important issues. Middle-of-the-road Catholics are happy to march hand-in-hand with mainline Protestants over immigration and inequality. But they often disagree over abortion and gay rights.
The secular left usually wins

Serious doubts also persist about how much the Democratic Party is willing to change to embrace religion. Some influential Democrats want real change. Others think that all they need to do is drop a few platitudes to religious voters and the God-gap will disappear.

Oops, way to step on your own theme. It's precisely because blacks and Latinos are religious but not left-wing that the Democrat coalition can't hold and the Party will end up opposing immigration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:14 AM


Forty years of miracle cures. Now it's homeopathy's turn (Ben Goldacre, May 27, 2006, The Guardian)

'I hope you get cancer and then look in the mirror." That is a pretty representative sample from the Bad Science mailbag last week, so I shan't be writing about mobile phone masts again until you all calm down. But it's in the backlash that you can find the truth. This week some fabulous elderly scientists came out loudly against homeopathy on the NHS.

A maelstrom ensued, and critics focused mainly on the failures of modern medicine: the side effects, and the failures, as if these problems could somehow be subtracted from medicine and given to alternative therapies as a benefit. In that backlash, you can see a whole century of medical history.

Before 1935 we were basically useless. Then suddenly, between about 1935 and 1975, science poured out a constant stream of miracle cures. Everything we associate with modern medicine happened: antibiotics which could save you at 21 and let you die at 70; dialysis; transplants; intensive care units; CT scanners; heart surgery; almost every drug you've ever heard of, and more.

As well as the miracle cures, we were finding those hidden killers that the media still desperately pine for in their headlines. Smoking, in the 1950s, to everybody's genuine surprise, turned out to cause 97% of lung cancers.

Then, rather suddenly, for the most part the breakthroughs stopped, and the subtle refinements began.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:11 AM


Good news you didn't read on mercury fillings (Ben Goldacre, May 6, 2006, The Guardian)

And now here's the news they didn't tell you. You might remember the scare stories about mercury fillings from the past two decades: they come around every few years, usually accompanied by a personal anecdote, where fatigue, dizziness and headaches are all vanquished with the removal of the fillings by one visionary dentist. Traditionally these stories conclude with a suggestion that the dental establishment may well be covering up the truth about mercury, and a demand for more research into its safety.

Well, the first large scale randomised control trials on the safety of mercury fillings were published just two weeks ago, and I've been waiting to see these hotly awaited results pop up in the newspapers, but nothing doing so far. They studied more than 1,000 children, some were given mercury fillings and some mercury-free fillings. Then they measured kidney function and various neurodevelopmental outcomes such as memory, coordination, nerve conduction, IQ, and so on, over several years. There were no significant differences between the two groups.

Not that actual scientific evidence will persuade such hysterics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:06 AM


Why you should have a phone mast as close to your house as possible (Ben Goldacre, May 20, 2006, The Guardian)

The one thing that people who worry about the health risks of mobile phone masts tend to forget is the inverse square law: the power of the signal falls away extremely rapidly as you move away from the mast, much faster than you'd think, exponentially in fact, because the energy is dissipated and spread out in three dimensions like a big, ever-growing sphere.

A bit like the way the skin of a balloon gets thinner, the more you inflate it.

Meanwhile, you are holding a dirty great big transmitter right up next to your brain in the form of your mobile phone.

In fact, because of the inverse square law, the phone gives you a far higher dose of evil rays than the mast.

Go on, press it harder - I can't quite hear you. But mobile phones, very cleverly, preserve their battery life by transmitting a much weaker signal into the air (and therefore also your head) when they detect that a mast is very close by.

If you have a phone, it's in your interests to have it transmit at the lowest power it can manage, which means a strong signal from the mast, which means the mast should be on your street.

I don't expect you all to start campaigning at once.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


The Secrets of the Bomb: a review of Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence from Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea
by Jeffrey T. Richelson (Jeremy Bernstein, May 25, 2006, NY Review of Books)

About the Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, and Iraqi programs, Richelson points out that what they all have in common is that foreign intelligence failed badly to detect them, a failure caused in part by the successful deception practiced by these countries. In the Iraqi case, American and other intelligence services failed twice to find out about its nuclear progress. After the Israeli air raid that destroyed Iraq's so-called Tammuz 1 reactor in June of 1981, foreign intelligence agencies assumed that the Iraqi program had been successfully stopped. As far as the manufacture of plutonium was concerned this was largely true. But the Iraqis had a very sizable program to separate uranium isotopes that had not been affected by the raid. They also had a group of bomb designers equally unaffected. Neither of these had been detected by American intelligence. Only after the first Gulf War, and after a good deal of resistance by the Iraqis, were international inspectors finally able to pin down the extent of the program. They concluded that if it had not been interrupted it might have produced a bomb within a year or so. In short, Saddam Hussein's abortive invasion of Kuwait had an unintended consequence of depriving him of a nuclear weapon.

The misreading of the intelligence before the latest Iraq war has been much discussed, but a reader who wants a compact summary will find it in Richelson's book. What the reader will not find is an explanation of why Saddam Hussein gave up the program in the early 1990s yet did not fully cooperate with the inspectors who would have verified that he had done so. If he had supplied adequate information at first, the war might well have been avoided; he might have reconstituted the program, although I have seen no hard evidence that he planned to do so. If inspections had been allowed to continue under Mohamed ElBaradei and Hans Blix in 2003, as many nations preferred, the absence of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction would have been increasingly clear, and in Blix's view war would probably have been avoided. What has been hardly mentioned in the controversy over whether Saddam Hussein might have revived a nuclear program is Blix's statement in his book Disarming Iraq that while he informed the Security Council that "neither governments nor inspectors would want disarmament inspection to go on forever," he

reminded that Council that, after verified disarmament, a sustained inspection and monitoring system was to remain in place to strike an alarm if there was any sign of revival of forbidden weapons programs.

In his failure to make full disclosure, Saddam Hussein's worst enemy was Saddam Hussein. He may, Blix and others have speculated, have been reluctant to admit that he didn't have the weapons with which to intimidate Iran and others in the region.

As for the Indians and Pakistanis, they simply lied about their intentions. The US had no informants on the ground, so when they tested their first nuclear weapons Americans were taken by surprise. Until 1959 the Russians and the Chinese collaborated on nuclear development, and Chinese scientists were sent to the Soviet Union to learn about nuclear technology. The Russians had agreed to supply the Chinese with fissionable material and, more remarkably, with a sample bomb and the plans that went with it. But then the two countries had a falling out and the cooperative program was stopped before any samples arrived. The Chinese were on their own. US intelligence services made a very substantial effort to follow developments, but they assumed incorrectly that, like the other countries, the Chinese were going to make a plutonium bomb, so they made an unsuccessful search, mainly from the air, for nuclear reactors that would produce plutonium. Not finding any, they came to the conclusion that no Chinese bomb was imminent.

The Chinese, however, had decided to make a uranium bomb but one with a novel design. In a bomb the fissionable material passes through three stages; subcritical, critical, and super-critical. In the subcritical stage fissions do take place but they do not produce a self-sustaining chain reaction. When the material becomes critical the chain reactions become self-sustaining and when it goes super-critical the material becomes explosive. In the Hiroshima bomb what happened was that a subcritical mass was fired into another mass, producing first a critical and then a super-critical mass. This device was not tested before it was used at Hiroshima.

When the plutonium bomb was first considered, scientists proposed to use the same design. But when the first plutonium was delivered to Los Alamos from the reactors in Hanford, Washington, it was found to contain an unwanted isotope of plutonium that spontaneously fissioned. This could set off the fission reaction in the bomb before enough material was assembled, thus producing a "fizzle." Thus a different method was needed. This consisted of imploding a sphere of plutonium by wrapping shaped high explosives around it. This worked much faster and solved the isotope problem. What the Chinese did was to use implosion for their uranium bomb, which they exploded on October 16, 1964. This design was much more efficient than the one the US used at Hiroshima, so it used less fissionable material. The test again caught our intelligence services totally by surprise.

The last part of Richelson's book deals with Iran and North Korea. Here events, especially in Iran, are moving so quickly that Richelson's account has to be supplemented by information released by the International Atomic Energy Agency and reported by the press. Of the two countries, in my view, the prospects of an Iranian bomb are the more serious. The North Koreans probably have a small, untested nuclear arsenal. My guess is that sooner or later, under Chinese and other international pressure, Kim Jong-il may accept an offer of economic and other rewards in return for giving up his nuclear program. Meanwhile, the principal concern about the North Koreans is that they do not try to sell their technology to terrorists. They may have little else to sell.

What makes the Iranian situation so difficult is that they have oil to sell, which makes them less vulnerable to economic sanctions. Indeed, when they are threatened the price of oil tends to go up, making the Iranians richer. The Chinese at the moment get about 14 percent of their oil from Iran, which is why they are so unwilling to apply pressure. To add to the difficulties, the Iranian president often speaks of eliminating Israel, although it is a question whether he has the authority to try to do so. In any case, if the Iranians eventually make one or more bombs, the logic of mutual deterrence would apply: use of the bomb against Israel would very likely result in a disaster for Iran. Meanwhile, the Israelis seem to mean it when they say they would not allow the Iranians to have nuclear weapons; the Iranians, one can surmise, are as aware of this as anyone else, just as they must be aware of the alleged American contingency plans for an attack on Iran recently reported by Seymour Hersh.

The themes of this review have been twofold. In order to have really reliable intelligence about the atomic program of a foreign country a necessary, but not sufficient, condition is to have agents on the ground. In the examples I have given the necessity is clear. Countries can hide their nuclear programs even from satellites and other sophisticated detection instruments. The Chinese hid their program because the satellites were looking for the wrong signals. Until Vanunu, an agent on the ground, unmasked the Israeli program the Israelis hid it by deception. But even with an agent on the ground mistakes can be made. Samuel Goudsmit was selected as the scientific leader of the Alsos mission in part because he did not know anything about ours. He often said that if he had been captured by the Germans he could not have told them anything. Since he did not know about our plutonium program, he did not look for the German program and made the erroneous assertion that there was none.

The second theme is that in almost all cases the predictions have erred on the side of conservatism.

Since we can't know for sure it would seem the wisest policy is to treat our enemies as if they were close or already had nukes and to bomb them accordingly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:52 AM


A 'Bolivarian' backlash (Kelly Hearn, 5/28/06, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Ideological allies of Mr. Chavez's who had been expected to win the presidencies in Mexico and Peru have plummeted in polls, as voters take offense at the Venezuelan leader's public campaigning as an insult to their respective nations' independence and sovereignty.

Moreover, the backlash is threatening to spread to other nations, including Venezuela, and Mr. Chavez's checkbook diplomacy is adding to suspicions of a man who fashions himself as a 21st-century version of South America's liberator, Simon Bolivar.

"The real size of the Venezuelan government is three feet high -- the size of a barrel of oil," said Diego E. Arria, former Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations.

Mr. Chavez has spent between $18 billion and $25 billion on foreign projects since taking power in 1999 -- on everything from paying off Argentina's debt to the International Monetary Fund to underwriting a popular samba festival in Brazil.

In recent weeks, Mr. Chavez's spending and his use of the bully pulpit to back leftist political candidates in other Latin American nations has caused diplomatic spats with Nicaragua, Peru and Mexico, all of whom accuse the Venezuelan of meddling in their affairs.

Yet Democrats think this is the Left's moment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 AM


Fan creates card set to honor Jewish players (Joe Capozzi, May 28, 2006, Palm Beach Post)

The Marlins thought they were honoring their Jewish first baseman when they decided to give away Mike Jacobs T-shirts as part of Jewish Heritage Day at Dolphin Stadium this afternoon.

One small problem — Jacobs isn't Jewish, a fact the Marlins would have learned if they'd asked Jacobs himself.

Better yet, they could have contacted Martin Abramowitz.

As records custodian for the non-profit Jewish Major Leaguers Inc., Abramowitz is on a mission to catalogue every Jewish player who ever played in the majors — from Lipman Pike of the 1871 Troy Haymakers to Kevin Youkilis of the 2006 Boston Red Sox.

He's at 154 now, and his mission also includes distinguishing the likes of Shawn Green and Brad Ausmus from imposters like Mike Jacobs and Walt Weiss, players with common Jewish names who are not.

The best was several years ag when the only Jewish player in the NL was Jose Bautista of the Cubs.

Jews on First (Dann Halem, April 13, 2001, Slate)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


Battered Up!: He's Been Hit by Pitches 277 Times, but Houston Astro Craig Biggio Is Having a Ball (Peter Carlson, 5/24/06, Washington Post)

Craig Biggio is the king of pain. He has been beaned, plunked, dinged, smashed, whacked, zapped and clobbered, but he doesn't let it bother him. Last year, Biggio, who works as a second baseman for the Houston Astros, set the modern (post-1900) record for getting hit by the most pitches in a career: 268. This year, his total is up to 277 plunkings, which means he's zeroing in on Hughie "Ee-Yah" Jennings's all-time record, which is 287.

Sitting in the visitors' locker room at RFK Stadium on Monday, waiting to play the first of four games with the Washington Nationals, Biggio shrugged off these records with the calm of a Zen master.

"If it's meant to be, it's meant to be," he said. "And if it's not, it's not."

Biggio is a Stoic philosopher in a baseball cap. He knows life hurts, but he chooses to ignore that.

"It swells up and you move on," he says. "You give it enough time and it goes away."

Biggio lives by a code that seems old-fashioned in this Era of Shared Feelings: When some huge, hulking brute hits him with a hardball thrown at 95 mph, he just heads down to first base. He does not whimper, he does not curse, he does not yell or charge the mound with homicide blazing in his eyes. And he never, ever rubs the sore spot.

"Oh, no, I won't touch it," he says. "The pitcher knows he hit you and you know he hit you, and rubbing ain't gonna make it any better."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


With Illegal Immigrants Fighting Wildfires, West Faces a Dilemma (KIRK JOHNSON, 5/28/06, NY Times)

As many as half of the roughly 5,000 private firefighters based in the Pacific Northwest and contracted by state and federal governments to fight forest fires are immigrants, mostly from Mexico. And an untold number of them are working here illegally. [...]

Some Hispanic contractors say the state and federal changes could cause many immigrants, even those here legally, to stay away from the jobs. Other forestry workers say firefighting jobs may simply be too important — and too hard to fill — to allow for a crackdown on illegal workers.

"I don't think it's in anybody's interest, including the Forest Service, to enforce immigration — they're benefiting from it," said Blanca Escobeda, owner of 3B's Forestry in Medford, Ore., which fields two 20-person fire crews. Ms. Escobeda said all of her workers were legal.

Some fire company owners estimate that 10 percent of the firefighting crews are illegal immigrants; government officials will not even hazard a guess.

The private contract crews can be dispatched anywhere in the country through the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho — and in recent years have fought fires from Montana to Utah and Colorado, as well as Washington and Oregon — anywhere that fires get too big or too numerous for local entities to handle.

The work, which pays $10 to $15 an hour, is among the most demanding and dangerous in the West. A workweek fighting a big fire can go 100 hours.

"You've got to be physically able and mentally able," said Javier Orozco, 21, who has fought fires in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, California and Montana since 2002.

Just let the flames start creeping towards Casa Tancredo and the Congressman will be handing out green cards like Snickers bars on Halloween.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 AM


Iran Chief Eclipses Power of Clerics (MICHAEL SLACKMAN, 5/28/06, NY Times)

Mr. Ahmadinejad is pressing far beyond the boundaries set by other presidents. For the first time since the revolution, a president has overshadowed the nation's chief cleric, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on both domestic and international affairs.

He has evicted the former president, Mohammad Khatami, from his offices, taken control of a crucial research organization away from another former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, challenged high-ranking clerics on the treatment of women and forced prominent academics out of the university system.

"Parliament and government should fight against wealthy officials," Mr. Ahmadinejad said in a speech before Parliament on Saturday that again appeared aimed at upending pillars of the status quo. "Wealthy people should not have influence over senior officials because of their wealth. They should not impose their demands on the needs of the poor people."

In this theocratic system, where appointed religious leaders hold ultimate power, the presidency is a relatively weak position. In the multiple layers of power that obscure the governance of Iran, no one knows for certain where the ultimate decisions are being made. But many of those watching in near disbelief at the speed and aggression with which the president is seeking to accumulate power assume that he is operating with the full support of Ayatollah Khamenei.

"Usually the supreme leader would be the front-runner in all internal and external issues," said Hamidreza Taraghi, the political director of the strongly conservative Islamic Coalition Party. "Here we have the president out front on all these issues, and the supreme leader is supporting him."

Mr. Ahmadinejad is pursuing a risky strategy that could offer him a shot at long-term influence over the direction of the country — or ruin. He appears motivated at least in part by a recognition that relying on clerics to serve as the public face of the government has undermined the credibility of both, analysts here said.

The changing nature of Iran's domestic political landscape has potentially far-reaching implications for the United States. While Iran has adopted a confrontational approach toward the West, it has also signaled — however clumsily — a desire to mend relations. Though the content of Mr. Ahmadinejad's letter to President Bush was widely mocked here and in Washington for its religious focus and preachy tone, it played well to Iran's most conservative religious leaders. Analysts here said it represented both Mr. Ahmadinejad's independence and his position as a messenger for the system, and that the very act of reaching out was significant.

"If the U.S. had relations with Iran under the reform government, it would not have been a complete relationship," said Alireza Akhari, a retired general with the Revolutionary Guard and former deputy defense minister, referring to Mr. Khatami's administration. "But if there can be a détente now, that means the whole country is behind relations with the West."

Mr. Ahmadinejad is trying to outpace the challenges buffeting Iran, ones that could undermine his presidency and conservative control. The economy is in shambles, unemployment is soaring, and the new president has failed to deliver on his promise of economic relief for the poor. Ethnic tensions are rising around the country, with protests and terrorist strikes in the north and the south, and students have been staging protests at universities around the country.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's critics — and there are many — say that the public will turn on him if he does not improve their lives, and soon. It may ultimately prove impossible to surmount these problems while building a new political elite, many people here said.

You can't sustain an argument that Khomenei believes in the Iranian theocracy and at the same time wants to transfer his own powers to the secular authorities. The fact that even the most extreme leaders n Iran recognize their system can't work provides us a world of opportunities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


2 Industry Leaders Bet on Coal but Split on Cleaner Approach (SIMON ROMERO, 5/28/06, NY Times)

The future for American energy users is playing out in coal-rich areas like northeastern Wyoming, where dump trucks and bulldozers swarm around 80-foot-thick seams at a Peabody Energy strip mine here, one of the largest in the world.

Coal, the nation's favorite fuel in much of the 19th century and early 20th century, could become so again in the 21st. The United States has enough to last at least two centuries at current use rates — reserves far greater than those of oil or natural gas. And for all the public interest in alternatives like wind and solar power, or ethanol from the heartland, coal will play a far bigger role.

But the conventional process for burning coal in power plants has one huge drawback: it is one of the largest manmade sources of the gases responsible for global warming.

Many scientists say that sharply reducing emissions of these gases could make more difference in slowing climate change than any other move worldwide. And they point out that American companies are best positioned to set an example for other nations in adopting a new technique that could limit the environmental impact of the more than 1,000 coal-fired power projects on drawing boards around the world.

Just tax the emissions so that they're paying for the harm they cause--a good capitalist practice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


THE SLOW LANE: Can anyone solve the problem of traffic? (JOHN SEABROOK, 2002-09-02, The New Yorker)

Since September 11th, as anyone who drives in New York knows, traffic patterns have changed. Congestion cleared up when Mayor Giuliani used his special emergency powers to restrict bridge and tunnel crossings into Manhattan below Sixtieth Street. Not since the Second World War had traffic in the city flowed as freely. In April, restrictions were lifted on some crossings, but morning-rush-hour restrictions on lone drivers entering Manhattan remained in effect below Fourteenth Street. Although the cleanup operation at Ground Zero has now ended, Mayor Bloomberg—who, during his campaign, promised to improve the quality of life in New York by making the city less auto-reliant—says that he will keep the restrictions in place while the reconstruction of lower Manhattan continues. Traffic has been getting steadily worse since April, but it's still less crowded in the city now than it was a year ago. [...]

Since 1970, the population of the United States has grown by forty per cent, while the number of registered vehicles has increased by nearly a hundred per cent—in other words, cars have proliferated more than twice as fast as people have. During this same period, road capacity increased by six per cent. If these trends continue through 2020, every day will resemble a getaway day, with its mixture of commuters, truckers, and recreational drivers, who take to the road without regard for traditional peak travel times, producing congestion all day long: trucks that can't make deliveries on time, people who can't get to or from work, air quality that continues to deteriorate as commerce suffers and our over-all geopolitical position weakens because we are forced to become ever more dependent on foreign oil. This is the way the world ends: not with a bang but a traffic jam. [...]

No major new highways have been built around New York since the nineteen-seventies, partly because there's no room left, and partly because many people believe that building highways makes congestion worse, because drivers who had previously used mass transit to avoid the traffic begin using the new roads. Even if no new drivers take to the new roads, scientists have shown that increased road capacity alone can increase congestion, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as "Braess's paradox," after a German mathematician named Dietrich Braess. In the twenty-three American cities that added the most new roads per person during the nineteen-nineties, traffic congestion rose by more than seventy per cent.

The sum of all things in road levy (Seattle Times, 5/28/06)

Mayor Greg Nickels' proposed levy for Seattle roads, bridges and other items is too big and lasts too long. But the central idea is all right. A smaller, shorter levy focused on roads and bridges alone makes sense.

Make it higher and don't waste the money on roads.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


Revealed: grim truth of Scots unemployment (EDDIE BARNES, 5/28/06, The Scotsman)

THE true figure for unemployment in Scotland is 250,000 - almost three times the official number - according to a groundbreaking report.

Research conducted by one of Britain's leading authorities on the welfare state claims there are 160,000 "hidden unemployed" in Scotland, many of them forced on to sickness benefits through lack of work.

They outnumber by almost two to one the official unemployment claimant count of 88,000. The 160,000 make up around half of the total number of Scots presently on incapacity benefit, the £78 a week payment given to those who are deemed too ill or disabled to be required to look for work.

However, the report says this group, largely made up of less skilled workers, women and older workers, should be counted as among the unemployed, arguing that they are capable of working and, in a more vigorous economy, would have nothing to stop them finding a job.

Except for receiving benefits by not working.

MORE (via Tom Morin):
Capital send-off for Royal Scots (BBC, 5/26/06)

Well-wishers turned out to cheer the Royal Scots during their parade
Hundreds of well-wishers have turned out for the Royal Scots on their last parade in Edinburgh.

Friday's event, which marked the end of the Edinburgh regiment's 373-year history, included more than 500 serving soldiers and veterans. [...]

The Royal Scots, formed in 1633, is the oldest infantry regiment in the British Army and won its first battle honour in Tangiers in 1680.

The regiment's first Victoria Cross was won during the Siege of Sevastopol, while in the First World War the number of battalions increased to 35, of which 15 served as active front line units.

May 27, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 PM


West Virginia and Kentucky Alter Medicaid (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 5/24/06)

West Virginia families served by Medicaid could face a reduction in benefits if they refuse to sign contracts promising to show up for doctors' appointments and to use the emergency room only for emergencies. Kentucky, meanwhile, is putting new limits on prescriptions and visits to therapists.

They are the first two states to take advantage of a new law that makes it easier to mix and match which residents get which benefits under Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health insurance coverage to about 55 million low-income people.

In years past, when states provided a health benefit for Medicaid beneficiaries, they had to do so for all participants in their state. The concept, called comparability, guaranteed comprehensive health insurance coverage for the poorest of the poor.

Now, comparability is out. Flexibility is in.

Governors had seen the comparability requirement as a straitjacket, forcing them to drop people off the Medicaid rolls when trying to reduce the program's explosive costs. The governors view the changes approved by Congress as a way to scale back coverage for some rather than drop people into the ranks of the uninsured.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 PM

HOW'S IT GOIN' GOLIATH? (via Tom Morin):

Armed groups shun electronic media to counter U.S. high-tech surveillance (Azzaman, May 24, 2006)

No mobile phones, no landlines, no Internet – that is the message anti-U.S. rebels have recently received from their commanders.

The message is believed to have even spread in neighboring states as part of the package of instructions foreign fighters receive before heading to Iraq.

“You are not to use electronic communication or even land lines when communicating,” said a leaflet which the groups distributed recently.

The instructions are apparently a response to what are described as ‘moderate successes’ U.S. troops have achieved in the past few weeks in their fight to flush out rebel cells.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 PM


Things are looking up but can Dave really deliver? (Melissa Kite and Patrick Hennessy, 28/05/2006, Sunday Telegraph)

[H]ow well is he really doing? Polls suggest that Labour is now in serious trouble and that Mr Cameron is succeeding in the first challenge he set himself when he became leader, late last year: to begin rescuing the damaged Tory brand.

He has started to persuade voters that his party is changing, but not enough of them, yet, to send him to Number 10. To borrow the Blairite phrase: "A lot done, but a lot left to do."

His staff realise this, and it explains the frenetic pace the Tory leader is setting. After "Beckingham Palace" last Sunday, Mr Cameron delivered a speech to the Google Zeitgeist Europe conference, in Hertfordshire on Monday, in which he launched a discussion of the "happiness" agenda and said that there was more to life than money.

It could have backfired, with some critics immediately mocking the assertion. However, he held firm and insisted that politicians had a right to explore such esoteric issues.

He followed it with a polished performance at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday.

Not for the first time, commentators concluded that he had got the better of the Prime Minister, with a forceful line of attack - on immigration - and a nicely timed joke accusing Mr Blair of bogusly blaming past Tory leaders for his own mistakes - "He'll be blaming Robert Peel next."

Leaks from the recording of his Desert Island Discs prompted more admiring headlines after it emerged that he chose Ernie, the Fastest Milkman in the West, by Benny Hill as one of his favourite records, by way of homage to his first childhood memories.

His other choices included Bob Dylan, The Killers and Mendelssohn. A case of Scotch whisky and a cookbook were perhaps less inspiring and may have owed much to a Blair-style attempt to be all things to all voters.

However, evidence was about to come that his efforts to "rebrand" the party, which some denounce as superficial, have had an impact, even if only a limited one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 PM


Blair beefed up his Iran speech to please Bush (Toby Harnden in Washington and Patrick Hennessy, 28/05/2006, Sunday Telegraph)

Tony Blair made significant changes to one of his most important foreign policy speeches after bowing to American objections, The Sunday Telegraph has learned.

The Prime Minister changed key passages on possible action against Iran, climate change, and a proposed shake-up of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Objections by President George W Bush's inner circle played a key role in the alterations, which were made just before Mr Blair delivered his landmark address at Georgetown University in Washington, on Friday, British sources have revealed.

No wonder Tony likes George, the last Blairite (Matthew d'Ancona, 28/05/2006, Sunday Telegraph)
Gordon Brown must surely have had what senior ministers call "one of his little moments" last Thursday when George W Bush was asked about Tony Blair's departure date. "My attitude is," Mr Bush said, gazing fondly at the Prime Minister, "I want him to be here so long as I'm the President."

That would give Mr Blair till noon on January 20, 2009 (teatime in Downing Street, allowing for the time difference). "Well, what more can I say?" said the Prime Minister, with one of his 1,000-watt grins. To which the Chancellor doubtless growled inwardly: "Say you're going tomorrow, you idiot!"

The President, meanwhile, could only beam satisfaction. It is just possible that he is the one true Blairite left, the last politician who will say publicly that he, for one, wishes the Prime Minister could go on, and on, and on. Who is this Scotch guy, anyway, and what's with all these girly-man "deals"? Where Mr Bush comes from, Granita is the name of the Mexican housekeeper.

It is hard to exaggerate the affinity that has arisen between the President and Prime Minister.

Folks who ponder how it just so happens that folks as similar as an FDR and a Churchill, a Thatcher and a Reagan, and a Blair and a Bush happen to be in office together at just the moment we need them tend not to give enough weight to the seemingly obvious idea that the reason they're in office is precisely because of the similarities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 PM


The $10,000 Light Bulb …: Or, why it's so hard to measure inflation (Tim Harford, May 27, 2006, Slate)

Flipping through the Montgomery Ward mail-order catalog, which began publication in 1893, economic historian J. Bradford DeLong calculates that a simple bicycle cost 260 hours' wages for the typical worker in 1895 and just 7.2 hours' wages in 2000. But silver spoons actually cost more hours of labor today than in 1895. Your personal inflation rate depends on whether you are spending your money on bicycles or spoons. [...]

In recent years, received wisdom among economists has been that the inflation rate has been overstated because of unmeasured improvements in quality. Home computers have not only become cheaper but dramatically better, and failure to fully adjust for the quality improvements would overestimate the inflation rate and underestimate how much better off we are compared with previous generations.

A highly influential paper by Yale economist William Nordhaus made the point forcefully. He studied not commodities like bicycles or spoons but a service: light. By tracking lighting technology from campfires to oil lamps to today's energy-saving light bulbs, he estimated that the real price of light had fallen 10,000-fold in 100 years. Partly because of Nordhaus' work, many economists believe that the official statistics on wages underestimate how much richer we have become.

Note that in the reference to silver spoons and later in the discussion of women's clothing they depend on people not substituting items of equal quality at lower prices.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 PM


Children for Sale: Would $36,000 convince you to have another kid? (Daniel Gross, May 24, 2006, Slate)

Communism is officially dead in the Soviet Union, but the Marxist belief that men and women are essentially economic creatures is alive and well at the Kremlin. Earlier this month, Vladimir Putin, alarmed at Russia's declining population, which is falling thanks to short life expectancy and a plummeting birthrate (1.17 children per woman, down from about 2 in 1990), offered a bonus of 250,000 rubles (about $9,200) to women who would have a second child.

Meanwhile, at the other end of Europe, Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates is using the stick instead of the carrot to make babies. As part of a slate of reforms intended to simultaneously reform pension funding and reverse Portugal's declining birth rate (about 1.5 children per woman compared with 2.6 in the 1970s), Sócrates proposed tying tax rates for pensions to the number of children a worker has. Rates for those with two kids would remain constant, would fall for those with more than two, and would rise for those with fewer than two.

It's their materialism that's made them give up the future in the first place--monetizing lives won't help.

Child benefits may get boost to push births (Japan Times, 5/28/06)

The government is considering increasing the amount of benefits to households with infants as part of its efforts to stem the declining birthrate, officials said Saturday.

The measure, already proposed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, is intended to financially help households with small children as income levels of such households are relatively low, the officials said.

The Chinese are coming ... to Russia (Bertil Lintner , 5/27/06, Asia Times)
Economically, the Russian Far East is becoming separated from European Russia.

Before the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, the Far East supplied European Russia and the other western republics with fish and crabs from the Sea of Okhotsk. The area's heavy industry produced steel, aircraft and even ships, and few foreign consumer goods were for sale.

Today, Chinese consumer goods - which are cheaper and better than those produced far away in European Russia - and even food are flooding the markets, while timber and raw materials are going south. Entire factories are being dismantled and sold as scrap metal to China. And the seafood is almost exclusively sold to South Korea and Japan.

In the long run this could also lead to demographic changes. There is a floating population of tens of thousands Chinese traders and seasonal workers who move back and forth across the border, and one day they may want to stay.

Russia's Far Eastern Federal District - a huge area covering 6,215,900 square kilometers - has only 7 million inhabitants, and that is down from 9 million in 1991. The population is declining rapidly as factories are closing down and military installations have been withdrawn.

Across the border, China's three northeastern provinces - Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning - are home to 100 million people, and the area has even by Chinese standards an unusually high unemployment rate. Or, as one Western analyst put it: "If the Russians continue to move out, the Chinese are ready to fill the resultant population vacuum in the area." And that could lead to more than just a change of the demographic balance in what still is the Russian Far East.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 PM


For Whom the Road Tolls (MITCH DANIELS, 5/27/06, NY Times)

AS Americans hit the roads this Memorial Day weekend, debate is building about how to pay for the first-class transportation network that everyone agrees the United States requires. The money from gasoline taxes no longer comes close to meeting needs. Nationally, the gap between road-building needs and projected tax revenue is estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars, and growing. Almost every governor I talk to faces a seemingly intractable shortfall.

When I became governor last year, my administration inherited a gap of at least $3 billion, equal then to 10 years of new road construction. Long-sought, long-delayed projects languished on the drawing board. For Indiana, a centrally located state that calls itself "the crossroads of America" and has great promise as a logistics and distribution capital, the opportunity cost of inaction was enormous.

A case can be made for higher gas taxes, but no economically rational or politically imaginable increase could close a gap this huge, even if leveraged through reckless borrowing. The only alternative to throwing in the towel was to bring to bear that handiest of revenue sources, Other People's Money.

For all the chatter about Dick Lugar as a Secretary of State or Evan Bayh on the Democrat ticket, it's Mr. Daniels who matters nationally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 PM


India shelves ambitious nuclear missile program (Siddharth Srivastava, 5/26/06, Asia Times)

Has the Agni III, India's most ambitious nuclear-capable ballistic-missile program, been aborted or merely put in cold storage? Keen to impress the world community of its peaceful intentions in its quest to obtain nuclear fuel and technology from the United States, France, Canada and Australia, it seems that New Delhi has made up its mind to shelve plans for big military-power credentials for now.

The government has decided to cancel the first test-firing of an Indian inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), one with a range of 4,000 kilometers (some say up to 6,000km), which is sufficient to reach China and capable of delivering a nuclear payload.

Pressure from the US and others cannot be discounted. The United States has always been very suspicious about India's Agni program, and in 1994 persuaded it to suspend testing of the missile after three test flights.

India needs to focus on the capability of taking out Pakistan completely--we'll do China if push ever comes to shove.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:14 PM


Iran offered 'to make peace with Israel' (Gareth Porter , 3/26/06, Asia Times)

Iran offered in 2003 to accept peace with Israel and cut off material assistance to Palestinian armed groups and to pressure them to halt terrorist attacks within Israel's 1967 borders, according to a secret Iranian proposal to the United States.

The two-page proposal for a broad Iran-US agreement covering all the issues separating the two countries, a copy of which was obtained by Inter Press Service (IPS), was conveyed to the US in late April or early May 2003. [...]

The negotiating proposal indicated clearly that Iran was prepared to give up its role as a supporter of armed groups in the region in return for a larger bargain with the United States. What the Iranians wanted in return, as suggested by the document itself as well as expert observers of Iranian policy, was an end to US hostility and recognition of Iran as a legitimate power in the region.

Before the 2003 proposal, Iran had criticized Arab governments that had supported the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The negotiating document, however, offered "acceptance of the Arab League Beirut Declaration", which it also referred to as the "Saudi initiative, two-states approach".

There's no excuse for not using a weapon an enemy hands you.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM

A NATION OF DAVIDS (via Tom Morin):

Missile defense system makes history: A Pearl Harbor ship intercepts a test missile at the end of the target's flight, a first (Gregg K. Kakesako, 5/25/06,

The Pearl Harbor-based Aegis cruiser USS Lake Erie successfully intercepted a target test missile in the last few seconds of its flight for the first time yesterday.

In previous tests the Lake Erie successfully intercepted target missiles as soon as they were launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands on Kauai or in the middle of their flights, the Navy said.

Target missiles had been intercepted in their final stage only by ground-based interceptors before yesterday.

The interceptor is part of the Missile Defense Agency's multibillion-dollar program to protect the United States and its allies from an enemy missile attack.

While the philistines hide in caves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


'Bad Twin,' a Novel Inspired by 'Lost,' Makes the Best-Seller Lists (FELICIA R. LEE, 5/27/06, NY Times)

Whether "Bad Twin" is good fiction, good marketing for "Lost" or both is a judgment call.

The novel follows the private detective Paul Artisan, who is helping the scion of a wealthy family find his twin brother. Entertainment Weekly called the book "a chewy snack for Lost-philes, though its mythological value is T.B.D."

Margaret Maupin, a buyer for the Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver, said "Bad Twin" sold out quickly there. "I'm not sure that the people who are buying this are your general book buyers, but they love the TV show," she said. [...]

On Web sites devoted to "Lost," fans have been debating the meaning of the book and how it figures in the Chinese-box puzzle that is the "Lost" plot. On ABC's site devoted to the show, one post declared that the book was an "alternate reality" experience relayed to Troup. ("That's the only thing that makes sense.") Meanwhile, on the site The Lost Experience are lists of possible clues: the names of the characters, various literary references (including "The Great Gatsby," "Beowulf" and "King Lear") and even references to the color green.

To add to the layers of marketing and mystery, the book has been denounced by the Hanso Foundation of Copenhagen, which is also part of the "Lost" puzzle. The island where the "Lost" characters are stranded has bomb-shelter-type hatches, where they find videotapes made by Hanso that suggest the island was used for experiments or for scientific research. On its Web site, the fictional Hanso tells visitors not to read Troup's book. Hyperion, in return, has taken out real advertisements in real newspapers defending the book.

"It's about perpetuating the mystery and what's going on," Mr. Benson said. "Everyone knows Harry Potter doesn't exist, but it sure makes it more fun to believe that Harry Potter is somewhere out there, in a magical place."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


Royals foil joy of Jeter's 2,000th hit (BRIDGET WENTWORTH, 5/27/06, Newark Star-Ledger)

Derek Jeter collected the 2,000th hit of his career last night at Yankee Stadium.

But the Yankees' captain was in no mood to celebrate it, because it did not help his team beat the lowly Kansas City Royals, who won for the first time in the Bronx since August 2002 and snapped a 13-game losing streak in sending the Yankees to a 7-6 loss.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


Tough Justice for Executives in Enron Era (KURT EICHENWALD and ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO, 5/27/06, NY Times)

The tactics and strategies used in the successful prosecution of the former Enron chief executives, Jeffrey K. Skilling and Kenneth L. Lay, highlight the transformation that has occurred in recent years in the investigation and prosecution of white-collar crime, a change that has brought many of the techniques applied to drug cases and mob prosecutions into the once-genteel legal world of corporate wrongdoers.

No longer are defendants allowed to surrender themselves quietly, outside the view of the press. Now, as Mr. Skilling and Mr. Lay learned firsthand, there are "perp walks" where the handcuffed defendant is brought in by law enforcement for booking. Cases are not resolved with a fine or a short stay in a "country club" prison; now defendants face decades of real jail time, sentences that can preclude them from being considered for minimum-security prisons.

Witnesses are squeezed, with threats against family members and stints in solitary confinement. Those who fail to cooperate are indicted, or deemed unindicted co-conspirators, a designation that places potential witnesses in a state of indefinite legal limbo. And companies that want to settle a criminal case can often do so only by taking the once unusual step of waiving their right to protect the confidentiality of their communications with their lawyers. [...]

Legal experts yesterday heralded such aggressive approaches as crucial to the government's securing convictions of Mr. Lay and Mr. Skilling. "Prosecutors in white-collar cases are looking at the range of legal tactics that are available to them that they have used for years in other kinds of cases, and they are not just ruling out those tactics because it is a white-collar case," said Christopher Wray, the former head of the Justice Department's criminal division and now head of the government investigations practice at the law firm of King & Spalding.

The reality is that they did more harm to society than most of the 2 million guys we already have behind bars.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


U.S. Is Debating Talks With Iran on Nuclear Issue (STEVEN R. WEISMAN, 5/27/06, NY Times)

The Bush administration is beginning to debate whether to set aside a longstanding policy taboo and open direct talks with Iran, to help avert a crisis over Tehran's suspected nuclear weapons program, European officials and Americans close to the administration said Friday. [...]

One reason senior administration officials do not like the idea of talking with Iran, many of them say, is that they are not certain Iranian leaders would respond positively. A rebuff from Iran, even to a back-channel query, is to be avoided at all costs, various officials agree.

The administration, for example, has been embarrassed by the on-again, off-again possibility of talks with Iran on Iraq, which were authorized by Ms. Rice late last year.

The concern, some say, is that talking to Iran only about Iraq will anger Sunni dissidents in Iraq, reinforcing the Sunni-led insurgency while enhancing the status of Iraqi Shiites, whose strong ties to Iran make Washington uneasy.

On the other hand, the American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, was said to be eager to enlist Iran in helping to deal with Iranian-backed Shiite militias, which are accused of carrying out killings and kidnappings of Sunnis in Iraq.

Here's one of those stories that drives home just how much the Embassy episode in 1979 has warped American policy. Note that the official position is that we have to appease our Sunni enemies rather than help Shi'ite democrats.

Meanwhile, if the President gave a speech in which he offered to fly to Teheran for a meeting with Ayatollah Khamenei it would be a diplomatic coup whether they accepted or not and would deepen the rifts in their regime regardless.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


House Republican Pessimistic on Immigration Deal (RACHEL L. SWARNS, May 26, 2006, NY Times)

If the Senate bill's provisions were to make it into law, they would be the most substantial overhaul of immigration law in two decades. The key architects of the bill, Senators John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, hailed the bipartisan coalition for withstanding a large number of amendments intended to sink the legislation.

The bill was also praised by some immigrant advocacy groups, the Roman Catholic Church and business leaders, who worked to ensure its passage. And Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, described the vote as "a success for the American people" as well as for the immigrants "who hope to participate someday in that American dream."

Mr. Bush issued a statement praising the Senate for its vote and the House for passing an earlier immigration bill that he said "began a national dialogue." He urged both chambers to work together to pass a bill that he could sign into law.

But with Republicans deeply divided over immigration, the bill's future remains in doubt, reflecting the fluid politics of the issue in a Congressional election year. House conservatives, who passed a border security bill in December, vowed to thwart any deal that includes a central provision of the Senate bill: its call to give most illegal immigrants a chance to become citizens if they meet certain conditions.

All they House opponents have to do is stand up to 65% of the American people, the President, half their own party in Congress, the Church...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Gonzales Said He Would Quit in Raid Dispute (DAVID JOHNSTON and CARL HULSE, 5/27/06, NY Times)

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, and senior officials and career prosecutors at the Justice Department told associates this week that they were prepared to quit if the White House directed them to relinquish evidence seized in a bitterly disputed search of a House member's office, government officials said Friday.

Mr. Gonzales was joined in raising the possibility of resignation by the deputy attorney general, Paul J. McNulty, the officials said. Mr. Gonzales and Mr. McNulty told associates that they had an obligation to protect evidence in a criminal case and would be unwilling to carry out any White House order to return the material to Congress.

The potential showdown was averted Thursday when President Bush ordered the evidence to be sealed for 45 days to give Congress and the Justice Department a chance to work out a deal.

Everyone defends their own turf.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Claws, tongues sharp in beauty salon brawl (Michele McPhee, May 27, 2006, Boston Herald)

Fake nails and women’s shoes were flying as a bloody claw fight erupted at a Dorchester salon after one primping patron allegedly screamed at a woman bantering in Spanish, “Speak English! This is America!”

Just minutes after the melee broke out at Kathy’s Nail Design at 261 Bowdoin St., it escalated to the point of a 911 call.

A cop who arrived to break the fracas up got angry red scratches on his neck and arm for his trouble. They were left by a woman who’d just spent $40 for French manicure nail tips, said the shop’s owner, David Win.

When we were kids -- in East Orange, NJ -- we finally convinced our Dad not to give us buzzcuts himself so he started taking us to the local barbershop, owned by two French guys. No matter what cut you asked for they'd pretend not to understand you so they could just do a crew cut, which was easiest.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:19 AM


What on Earth is going on? (Joseph Brean, National Post, May 27th, 2006)

Among users of Internet chat rooms, Godwin's Law states that as any discussion grows longer, the probability of someone making a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis approaches 100%.

Meteorologists seem to have a similar law: that in discussions about mankind's effect on the weather, it is only a matter of time before someone makes a crack about believing the Earth is flat.

Ptolemy's Law, as a scientist might call it, was at work on the grounds of the London Zoo recently, where some of the world's most eminent climate experts gathered for lectures of the Royal Meteorological Society.

The victim of the inevitable quip, a television weatherman, had said that public debate on the Kyoto accord is polarized between alarmism and industry-funded skepticism, neither of which satisfy him as a professional communicator. He asked whether there might be a "middle way."

Everyone turned to get a look at this heretic. They knew what was coming.

"Sorry to be provocative," Henry Derwent, Britain's climate-change representative to the G8, replied to the weatherman. "But round Earth, flat Earth. Where's the middle way in that?"

The room came alive with chortles of agreement.

Mr. Derwent -- a politician and former investment banker, not a scientist -- meant that there is no middle way, that the "anthropogenic" or man-made nature of climate change is now established beyond all but the most frivolous skepticism, wilful blindness or complete ignorance. "The last few years have seen the elimination of hiding spaces for skeptics," he said later in an interview.

Few of the experts in his audience would have contradicted him. To them, doubting whether humans are responsible for the warming air and rising oceans, or whether we can now do anything to reverse these trends, or whether we should, or even whether Kyoto is the best of various possible approaches, is as stupid as worrying about falling off the edge of the Earth. The situation is much the same in Canada. On climate change, skepticism has become Nazism.

Anyone who thinks his belief in global warming is based upon rational science should ask himself why he becomes so enraged when skeptical scientists deliver encouraging news.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 5:02 AM


Back to basics as maths problems multiply (Liz Lightfoot, The Telegraph, May 27th, 2006)

Modern methods of teaching maths which have mystified parents and confused many pupils are to be abandoned six years after the Government forced them on primary schools.

The same unit at the Department for Education which devised the strategy now wants teachers to go back to the "standard written method" it abolished.

The decision has prompted a backlash from some primary teachers and maths advisers who say children are better able to understand the concept of arithmetic when they break sums down into a series of units.

They say the "back to basics" approach heralds a return to the "dark ages" of adding up, subtracting, multiplying and dividing in vertical rows without understanding what they are doing.

But evidence has shown that many pupils are arriving at secondary school unable to do long division and multiplication and reliant on columns of workings out which take longer and are more prone to errors along the way.[...]

The decision to return to the old methods will come as a relief to many parents.

Christine Turno says she dreads the twice-weekly homework with her nine-year-old daughter.

"She goes ballistic," she said. "We have massive rows because she says I'm doing it wrong and she has to do it the way the school says. But she can't understand what they want and it's a complete mystery to me."

A 20-minute homework session turns into an hour.

Mrs Turno, of west London, said: "The teachers say it is the new way and if the answer is wrong it doesn't matter as long as she is using the right method. It's quite bizarre."

It must take years of postgraduate studies in education before one sees that wrong answers in math are preferable to right ones provided the students “understand what they are doing.” More.

May 26, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:53 PM


As Bush admits making mistakes over Iraq, Blair offers a new world vision (Alec Russell, 27/05/2006, Daily Telegraph)

Tony Blair last night challenged the world to unite around a policy of "progressive pre-emption" as he sought to shore up his legacy by linking the invasion of Iraq to a range of problems, from global warming and poverty to immigration.

In a speech in Washington just hours after he and President George W Bush made strikingly frank admissions of mistakes in their handling of Iraq, the Prime Minister called for the world to help the new government in Baghdad. On his visit to Iraq on Monday he had seen a "child of democracy struggling to be born".

He also called for radical reform of the United Nations and its sister bodies, the IMF and the World Bank, arguing they were out-of-date and incapable of confronting the financial and security threats facing the world.

PM's foreign policy speech - third in a series of three (10 Downing Street, 26 May 2006)
This is the third of my speeches on the challenges facing the international community. In the first, I argued that the global terrorism that menaces us, can only be defeated through pulling it up by its roots. We have to attack not just its methods but its ideas, its presumed and false sense of grievance against the West, its attempt to persuade us that it is we and not they who are responsible for its violence. In doing so, we should stand up for our own values, asserting that they are not Western but global values, whose spread is the surest guarantee of our future security. In the second speech, I argued that such values would only succeed, however, if they were seen to be fairly and even-handedly implemented; that this required a unifying agenda for global action, which was about more than the immediate security threat but was also about justice and opportunity for all.

In this speech, I contend that now is the moment for reconciliation in the international community around such an agenda and I outline some of the key policy priorities and reforms of the global institutions to make such an agenda happen.

Underlying all these arguments, is a world view. We all agree that the characteristic of the modern world is interdependence. We haven't yet thought through its consequences.

In Government, I realised this first at the time of the Asian financial crisis shortly after taking office. Within weeks, all of us who had been initially holding back, waiting for the market to correct itself, wondering how a market meltdown in Thailand could possibly destabilise our own economies, were coming together, agreeing packages to prevent contagion, supporting Brazil and others who looked like they might be the next to go. In the process every conventional doctrine about markets was amended to prevent catastrophe.

A year later, Kosovo happened and the spectre of ethnic cleansing returned to Europe. We put pressure on Milosevic. We threatened diplomatic action. We eventually took military action by air strikes. But it was only when, with considerable courage President Clinton indicated - and it was only an indication - he might be prepared to use ground force, that suddenly Milosevic collapsed and the crisis was resolved.

What these two events taught me was that the rule book of international politics has been torn up. Interdependence - the fact of a crisis somewhere becoming a crisis everywhere - makes a mockery of traditional views of national interest. You can't have a coherent view of national interest today without a coherent view of the international community. Nations, even ones as large and powerful as the USA, are affected profoundly by world events; and not affected, in time or at the margins but at breakneck speed and fundamentally. Why is immigration the No.1 domestic policy issue in much of Europe and in the US today? What are the solutions? The answer is that globalisation is making mass migration a reality; and only global development will make it a manageable reality.

Which is the issue that has rocketed up the agenda of most political leaders in a way barely foreseen even 3 years back? Energy policy. China and India need energy to grow. The damage to the environment of carbon emissions is now accepted. It doesn't much matter whether the issue is approached through energy security or climate change, the fact is we need a framework, internationally agreed, through which the developing nations can grow, the wealthy countries maintain their standard of living and the environment be protected from disaster. And this is not a long-term issue - though its consequences are long-term. It is here and now.

The point is that in respect of any of these challenges, certain things stand out. They affect us all. They can only be effectively tackled together. And they require a pre-emptive and not simply reactive response.

Here is where it becomes very difficult. In the old days - I mean a few decades back - countries could wait, assess over time, even opt out - at least until everything was clear. We could act when we knew. Now we have to act on the basis of precaution.

What is more such action will often require intervention, far beyond our own boundaries. The terrorism we are fighting in Britain, wasn't born in Britain, though on 7th July last year it was British born terrorists that committed murder. The roots are in schools and training camps and indoctrination thousands of miles away, as well as in the towns and cities of modern Britain. The migration we experience is from Eastern Europe, and the poverty-stricken states of Africa and the solution to it lies there at its source not in the nation feeling its consequence.

What this means is that we have to act, not react; we have to do so on the basis of prediction not certainty; and such action will often, usually indeed, be outside of our own territory. And what all that means is: that this can't be done easily unless it is done on an agreed basis of principle, of values that are shared and fair. Common action only works when founded on common values.

Therefore, to meet effectively the challenge that faces us, we must fashion an international community that both embodies, and acts in pursuit of global values: liberty, democracy, tolerance, justice. These are the values we believe in. These are the values universally accepted across all nations, faiths and races, though not by all elements within them. These are values that can inspire and unify. So, how, at this moment in time, in an international community that has been riven, do we achieve such unity around such values?

Let us go back to the immediate issue: Iraq. We can argue forever about the merits of removing Saddam. Our opponents will say: you made terrorism worse and point to what is happening there. I believe differently. I believe this global terrorism will exploit any situation to further its cause. But I don't believe that its cause is truly to be found in any decision we have taken. I believe it's cause is an ideology, a world-view, derived from religious fanaticism and that had we taken no decisions at all to enrage it, would still have found provocation in our very existence. They disagree with our way of life, our values and in particular in our tolerance. They hate us but probably they hate those Muslims who believe in tolerance, even more, as apostates betraying the true faith.

They have come to Iraq because they see it as the battleground. The battle they are fighting is nothing to do with the liberation of Iraq, but its subjugation to their extremism.

I don't want to reopen past arguments. I want to advocate a new concord to displace the old contention.

It is three years since Saddam fell. It has been three years of strife and bloodshed. But it has also seen something remarkable. Despite it all, despite terror, sectarian violence, kidnapping and the exhibition of every ugly aspect of human nature, a democratic political process has grown. Last week, a new Government was formed. This Monday I visited it in Baghdad, I sat and talked with the leaders, chosen by the people, Sunni, Shia, Kurds, non-aligned, and heard from them not the jarring messages of warring factions but one simple, clear and united discourse. They want Iraq to be democratic. They want its people to be free. They want to tolerate difference and celebrate diversity. They want the rule of law not violence to determine their fate.

They were quite different from the Interim Government of 2004 or the Iraqi Transitional Government after the elections of January 2005.

This is a child of democracy struggling to be born. They and we, the international community, are the midwives.

You may not agree with original decision.

You may believe mistakes have been made.

You may even think how can it be worth the sacrifice.

But surely we must all accept this is a genuine attempt to run the race of liberty.

These are not stooges. Or placemen.

They believe in their country.

They believe in its capacity to be democratic.

They are fighting a struggle against the odds but they are fighting it.

And in their struggle is a symbol of a wider struggle.

Listen to what the new Prime Minister says and the new Government's programme.

Tell me where their vision differs from ours except that ours is based in experience and theirs in hope.

I came back from Iraq not less daunted by the responsibility on our shoulders to help them succeed. But I did come back inspired by their determination that they do indeed succeed.

This should be a moment of reconciliation not only in Iraq but in the international community. The war split the world. The struggle of Iraqis for democracy should unite it.

There was a moving moment when I was talking to the new Prime Minister in his office in Baghdad that he told me, with a smile, used to be the dining room of one of Saddam's sons. We were on our own with the interpreter. He leant across to me and said: "if we can change Iraq we can change this region and the world".

The terrorism that afflicts them is the same that afflicts us. Its roots are out there in the Middle East, in the brutal combination of secular dictatorship and religious extremism. Yet in every country of the region there are people, probably the majority, who are desperate for change. In Kuwait, as I boarded the plane for Iraq, they told me how they were planning elections for the first time with women voting. Across the Gulf states, in the Lebanon, in the steps, however difficult, Egypt is taking, in signs of change in nations as different as Jordan or Algeria, there are possibilities for progress.

These are the true voices of Muslim and Arab people, or more true than the voices of hate, with their poisonous propaganda that seeks to divide.

They need our support. In Iraq, of course, people want to gain full control of their own destiny. The MNF should leave as soon as the Government wishes us. As the Prime Minister said we need an objective timetable. By that he means one that is conditions-based ie as Iraqi capability is built up. But don't be in any doubt. No-one, but no-one I spoke to, from whatever quarter, wanted us to leave precipitately. An arbitrary timetable ie without conditions being right, would be seen for what it would be: weakness.

Here is where we have to change radically our mindset. At present, when we are shown pictures of carnage in Iraq, much of our own opinion sees that as a failure, as a reason for leaving. Surely it is a reason for persevering and succeeding. What is the purpose of the terrorism in Iraq? It is to destroy the prospect of democratic progress. In doing so, they hope to deal us a mortal blow. They know victory for them in Iraq is defeat not just for Iraqi democracy but for democratic values everywhere.

So they kill our soldiers even though our forces - with incredible heroism and dedication - are and have been in Iraq for three years with full United Nations support and are there now with the free consent of Iraq's first ever fully democratic Government. They kill ordinary Iraqis for wanting to join the police or build the country or just for being of one religious persuasion not another. Theirs is a strategy drenched in the blood of the innocent.

Should their determination to do evil eclipse our desire to do good? By all means debate the tactics and strategy of how we succeed. But I ask: how can we possibly, in the face of such a struggle, so critical to our own values, not see it through and do so with renewed vigour and confidence? If Iraqis can show their faith in democracy by voting for it, shouldn't we show ours by supporting them in it?

By "we" I don't mean the countries of the MNF, I mean the entire international community.

Doing so would signal a dramatic step of reconciliation.

There are two "ifs".

"If" the international community could see the struggle for security in Iraq as part of the wider global struggle against terrorism. And "if", we would commit the same energy, engagement and raw political emotion to the rest of the agenda which preoccupies the world at large.

Throughout the past years, ever since I saw 9/11 change the world, I have believed that the greatest danger is that global politics divides into "hard" and "soft". The "hard" get after the terrorists. The "soft" campaign against poverty. The divide is dangerous because interdependence makes all these issues just that: interdependent.

The answer to terrorism is the universal application of global values. The answer to poverty is the same. Without progress - in democracy and in prosperity - security is at risk. Without security, progress falters.

That is why the struggle for global values has to be applied not selectively, but to a global agenda.

The agenda is there. It is largely agreed. But it needs passion as well as policy.

We must act on global poverty, most of all in Africa. We have a plan that last year's G8 agreed. Each aspect is important: aid, cancelling debt, education, tackling disease, especially HIV/Aids, governance, conflict resolution.

We must act on climate change. The G8 +5 process, whose next meeting is in Mexico in October, offers a way forward, building on Kyoto, which can involve America, China and India.

We must deliver an ambitious world trade round, for the poorest nations but also for ourselves.

In each of these areas, there are powerful reflections of nation's interests but also vital tests of commitment to global values. If we believe in justice, how can we let 30,000 children a day die preventably? If we believe in our responsibility to the generations that come after us, how can we be, knowingly, indifferent to the degradation of the planet we live on?

How can we have a global trading system based on unfair trade?

Indeed, even in respect of that part of the agenda that naturally preoccupies my country and yours, there is a breadth we must address.

Earlier I described the fledgling movement toward democracy across the Middle East. As I said, I believe success in Iraq has an importance far beyond the borders of Iraq.

But I would put it higher than this. I now think that we need a far more concentrated and concerted strategy across the whole region. The United States rightly began this with its Broader Middle East Initiative. However, the more I examine this issue, the more convinced I am, that to protect our future, we need to help them to theirs. For example, I don't believe we will be secure unless Iran changes. I emphasise I am not saying, we should impose change. I am simply saying the greater freedom and democracy which, I have no doubt, most Iranians want, is something we need. There is a choice being played out in the region: to be partners with the wider world; or to be defined in opposition to it. If Iran leads the latter camp, the results will be felt by us all. The most effective way of avoiding that is to encourage and support all nations and people in the region who share our belief that freedom is the best route to peace and prosperity. This cannot and should not be the responsibility of the United States alone. The EU, in particular, needs to be fully engaged. But country by country, in every way we can, with every means we can properly deploy, the international community should be the champions of those who want change there. And wherever those who strive for that freedom are in danger, we should be at their side.

They would be hugely empowered and encouraged if we were able to offer hope on Israel and Palestine. At so many levels, this is critical: for ordinary Israelis and Palestinians, of course, who suffer the depredations of the conflict. But far wider than that, this is a dispute which casts a shadow over all attempts at reconciliation. Under its cover, global terrorism recruits. Because of its darkness, moderate Muslim opinion is put on the defensive. And shut out is any enlightened sensible view of what we in the West really stand for and believe in.

The frustrating thing is that whatever people say, everyone knows the following: the state of Israel is here to stay; the Palestinian people aren't going to disappear; and the only possible solution is two states, side by side. In fact, when President Bush became the first US President openly to articulate this, everyone more or less accepted it. The problem we have had in Northern Ireland is that there has never been agreement on the basic nature of the final outcome, one part wanting Union with the UK, the other with the Republic of Ireland. Nonetheless we have achieved extraordinary progress, by relentless working at it through every stop and start. In the case of Israel and Palestine, we do now have agreement as to the basic nature of the settlement: two states. Yes, there are innumerable difficult aspects, not least Jerusalem and of course a negotiation about territory; but the constitutional outcome is essentially agreed.

There is only one way through. Clear acceptance by Hamas that the two-state solution is the only one; a renunciation of all violence; and then a move back into the Road Map, with a speeded up pathway to final status negotiations. It will require heavy engagement by the US and the Quartet. But there is not a better time than now, to break out of what is otherwise a continuing descent into despair.

The scale of this agenda is enormous. It means that today's leaders of nations must analyse, cope with, deal with, a vast array of international problems as well as the myriad of challenges thrown up by each of our systems of healthcare, pensions, welfare, law and order. Except that, these problems are no longer simply international. They intrude into domestic politics. There is globalisation in politics, too.

All of the issues raised today, require immense focus, commitment and drive to get things done. Increasingly, there is a hopeless mismatch between the global challenges we face and the global institutions to confront them. After the Second World War, people realised that there needed to be a new international institutional architecture. In this new era, in the early 21st century, we need to renew it.

I want to make some tentative suggestions for change.

First, the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, has done an extraordinary job in often near impossible circumstances. He has also proposed reforms of the UN that should certainly be done.

But a Security Council which has France as a permanent member but not Germany, Britain but not Japan, China but not India to say nothing of the absence of proper representation from Latin America or Africa, cannot be legitimate in the modern world. I used to think this problem was intractable. The competing interests are so strong. But I am now sure we need reform. If necessary let us agree some form of interim change that can be a bridge to a future settlement. But we need to get it done.

We should give the UNSG new powers: over the appointments in the Secretariat - it is absurd they have to be voted on, one by one, in the General Assembly; and over how the resources of the UN are spent. We should streamline radically the humanitarian and development operations so that the UN can act effectively as one agency in country: single UN offices, with one leader, one country plan and one budget. There is even a case for establishing one humanitarian agency that allows for better prediction of an impending crisis; for swifter action to remedy it; and sees the different aspects, from short-term relief to longer term development as linked not distinct.

We should also strengthen the UNSG's powers to propose action to the Security Council for the resolution of long-standing disputes; and encourage him in doing so.

Second, the World Bank and IMF. These institutions together play an important role in global stability and prosperity. There is a case, as has been argued before, for merger. But in any event, there is certainly a powerful case for reform.

The IMF, and the international monetary and financial committee chaired by Britain's Gordon Brown, is developing plans for change. To fulfil its role in ensuring the stability of the international monetary and financial system, the IMF must focus on surveillance, both of individual countries and the wider system, that is independent of political influence. It also must become more representative of emerging economic powers and give greater voice to developing countries. The World Bank must remain focussed on fighting world poverty.

Finally, reform, including to appointments and administration, is needed to make the Executive Board more effective.

Third, there is a strong argument for establishing a multilateral system for "safe enrichment" for nuclear energy.

The IAEA would oversee an international bank of uranium to ensure a reliable fuel supply for countries utilising nuclear power without the need for everyone to own their own fuel cycle.

Fourth, the G8 now regularly meets as the G8 +5. That should be the norm.

Finally, we need a UN Environment Organisation, commensurate with the importance the issue now has on the international agenda.

I do not, for a second, under-estimate the hazardous task of achieving these changes. But I am sure it is time to make them.

I want to take one example as a test case: Sudan. There are hundreds of thousands who have died. The dispute between different groups has every dimension of strife in it: ethnic, religious, territorial. If it gets even worse, the knock-on consequences will stretch across the middle belt of Africa and beyond. And we have watched it, with intermittent bursts of activity, for the past two years. The seeds of it were, of course, sown years before that.

This is not a condemnation of world leaders. On the contrary, most of us have devoted what time we can and are doing so now. But in reality, we can't do it all. What it needs is an empowered international actor; the capacity to intervene militarily; and a properly orchestrated humanitarian response. And we needed all of it, from the beginning.

Leaders should do more. But it's the system itself that is at fault, not because of indolence but because of time. Occasionally I look at our international institutions and think as I do about our welfare state: the structures of 1946 trying to meet the challenges of 2006.

What's the obstacle? It is that in creating more effective multilateral institutions, individual nations yield up some of their own independence. This is a hard thing to swallow. Let me be blunt. Powerful nations want more effective multilateral institutions - when they think those institutions will do their will. What they fear is effective multilateral institutions that do their own will.

But the danger of leaving things as they are, is ad hoc coalitions for action that stir massive controversy about legitimacy; or paralysis in the face of crisis.

No amount of institutional change will ever work unless the most powerful make it work. The EU doesn't move forward unless its leading countries agree. That is the reality of power; size; economic, military, political weight.

But if there is a common basis for working - agreed aims and purposes - then no matter how powerful, countries gain from being able to sub-contract problems that on their own they cannot solve. Their national self-interest becomes delivered through effective communal action.

Today, after all the turmoil and disagreement of the past few years, there is a real opportunity to bring us together. We all of us face the common security threat of global terrorism; we all of us depend on a healthy global financial system; all of us, at least in time, will feel the consequences of the poverty of millions living in a world of plenty; we all of us know that secure and clean energy is a common priority. All of us have an interest in stability and a fear of chaos. That's the impact of interdependence.

Above all, though in too many countries and in too many ways, global values are not followed, there is no dissent about their desirability. From the moment the Afgans came out and voted in their first ever election, the myth that democracy was a Western concept, was exploded. The Governments of the world do not all believe in freedom. But the people of the world do.

In my nine years as Prime Minister I have not become more cynical about idealism. I have simply become more persuaded that the distinction between a foreign policy driven by values and one driven by interests, is obviously wrong. Globalisation begets interdependence. Interdependence begets the necessity of a common value system to make it work. In other words, the idealism becomes the real politik. None of that will eliminate the setbacks, fallings short, inconsistencies and hypocrisies that come with practical decision-making in a harsh world. But it does mean that the best of the human spirit, that which, throughout the ages, has pushed the progress of humanity along, is also the best hope for the world's future. Our values are our guide.

To make it so, however, we have to be prepared to think sooner and act quicker in defence of those values - progressive pre-emption, if you will. There is an agenda for it, waiting to be gathered and capable of uniting a world once divided. There wouldn't be a better moment for it.

Or listen to the MP3

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 PM


Registered foreigners top 2 million (Japan Times, 5/27/06)

The number of registered foreign residents in Japan at the end of 2005 totaled roughly 2,011,500, surpassing the 2 million mark for the first time ever, the Justice Ministry announced Friday.

The figure was up 1.9 percent from a year ago and foreign nationals now account for 1.57 percent of the total population.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 PM


That Chávez Thing Is Over: If his foes triumph, he will be pushed to the fringe. The Chávez road will have led nowhere. (Ruchir Sharma, 5/29/06, Newsweek International)

Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez is the new rock star of world politics. His impassioned rants against globalization, with animated poses to match, make front-page headlines almost daily. The commentariat—particularly in Europe—seems to buy Chávez's line that Latin Americans are so disenchanted by their short tryst with liberalism that they now prefer a strongman to spread the benefits of a commodity boom. The recent moves by a Chávez soulmate, Evo Morales, to renationalize the energy resources of Bolivia reinforce a growing perception that Latin America is lurching to the radical left.

But it's not. While Chávez does seem to rekindle a certain romantic Western nostalgia for Latin American guerrilla movements, the underlying trends point in the opposite direction. Voters in Latin America, far from crying out for a radically new economic model inspired by Caracas, are in fact rallying powerfully behind leaders and parties who promote more-orthodox economic policies. As candidates espousing Chávez-style populism have plummeted in the polls in Mexico and Peru, their camps have tried to distance themselves from the Venezuelan leader. Elsewhere, incumbent presidents like Alvaro Uribe in Colombia and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil have won plaudits as economic managers, and look likely to be reelected.

This is good news for Latin America. It shows that political societies have evolved to the point where most people realize that, in a globalized world, they have to stick to a reformist path.

As the Right looks at Ahmedinejad and thinks it sees the will of the people, so too the Left thinks Chavez popular. In each case it tells us more about our own political extremes than about the countries invvolved.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 PM


Mastering art of the prolonged at-bat: Game's most patient, resilient steadily disrupt pitchers' plans (Tom Singer, 5/26/06,

You've doubtless seen at least one classic duel between irresistible pitches and immovable hitter. The count reaches two strikes, and the batter refuses to be counted out. He starts wasting strikes and can't stop ... and eventually the scoreboard begins tracking the pitches, with the entire house screaming the countup.

Usually, such standoffs become consequential, not just memorable. We saw it just last Saturday, in Shea Stadium, where Yankees rookie Melky Cabrera punked veteran Mets closer Billy Wagner.

Wagner is accustomed to blowing through ninth innings, closing out lights; only the night before, he had struck out the side on 12 pitches. This time, Cabrera stayed rooted in the batter's box, fouling off pitches until he'd worked an 11-pitch walk -- the centerpiece of a Wagner meltdown, as he went on to blow a four-run lead.

On such occasions, baseball is reprising its role as a metaphor for life.

Alex Cora served as such inspiration on May 12, 2004, when he fouled off 14 consecutive Matt Clement pitches before punctuating an 18-pitch at-bat with a two-run homer.

The next day, Cora appeared on NBC's network news, and Tom Brokaw described the incident to the nation as "a moment that transcended sports."

Cora's recollection of the battle captured the essence of all such standoffs: "It was tough; he was throwing good pitches. When they put it on the scoreboard, that put me under a little bit of pressure. I had to stand back and regroup."

At 18 pitches, Cora fouled his way into rare territory. While there is no gospel when it comes to this stat, according to various Internet sources Cora's at-bat was the third longest of the last quarter-century. Only longer: Ricky Gutierrez's (Astros) 20-pitch affair with Bartolo Colon (Indians) on June 26, 1998, and Kevin Bass' (Astros) 19-pitch epic with Steve Bedrosian (Phillies) on July 23, 1988.

But forget those oddities. Far more common, and as disruptive, are those 10-12 pitch at-bats that alter a game's course.

"Any hitter who works the count is a pain," says Bud Black, the respected Angels pitching coach following a career as a successful American League left-hander. "Being able to foul off pitches makes him even more of a pain.

"As a pitcher, you're trying everything ... in and out, up and down ... and he keeps fighting balls off. You feel as though you're making good pitches, and he keeps fighting them off. You start thinking, 'What do I have to do to get this guy out?'"

Black sighs. "It's not a good feeling."

Because even if the pitcher wins the battle, he is closer to losing the war. Or, at the very least, his place on the mound. Both Clement and Colon (Bedrosian was a reliever) were removed immediately following the aforementioned marathons.

Clement, who had thrown 86 pitches before Cora stepped in, was taken over that 100-pitch wall to 104, a spectacular example of emptying a guy's tank.

Among today's players, the consensus identifies the best at that as Texas' Michael Young, Oakland's Mark Kotsay, Bill Mueller of the Dodgers, Ichiro and, of course, Eckstein.

As far as the St. Louis dynamo is concerned, his at-bat doesn't even begin until he's got two strikes; that just gets his attention.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:49 PM


Dying 'Dr. Death' Has Second Thoughts About Assisting Suicides (LARA SETRAKIAN and ABC News' Law & Justice Unit, May 26, 2006, ABC)

Today, on his 78th birthday, Jack Kevorkian, the man known as "Dr. Death," is slowly dying in prison.

And, according to his lawyer, Kevorkian seems to have second thoughts about helping people die. [...]

When asked to describe Kevorkian's physical and mental state, Morganroth said it was "not great. … He's quite ill."

"Certainly he does get depressed at times," he said.

He's lucky not to have a Dr. Death on hand at those moments when he's depressed.

Posted by David Cohen at 1:26 PM


Senate Confirms Kavanaugh to Appeals Court (Laurie Kellman, AP, 5/26/06)

White House aide Brett Kavanaugh won Senate confirmation as an appeals judge Friday after a wait of nearly three years, yet another victory in President Bush's drive to place a more conservative stamp on the nation's courts.

Kavanaugh was confirmed on a vote of 57-36, warmly praised by Republicans but widely opposed by Democrats who said he is ill-suited to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

It is possible that, when the Gang of 14 usurped the constitution and undercut President Bush and the Senate leadership, I might have suggested that there could have been a better way to proceed. Never let it be said that I am overly scrupulous in my concern for my country and its constitutional form of government: Senator McCain got a lot of good judges onto the bench and the Gang of 14 wasn't anything like the practical political disaster that I feared. In this, the Gang of 14 agreement is very similar to Campaign Finance Reform, which bought increased Republican congressional majorities and President Bush's reelection at the cost of some unpopular constitutional rights. One might even go so far as to deduce a general theory of the McCain Doctrine, but that would not be charitable in the course of an apology.

So, I am not overly displeased to offer this self-criticism: I was wrong about the Gang of 14 deal and Senator McCain was right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:21 PM


Defendants Sunk by Their Testimony (Carol Rust, 5/26/06, The Washington Post)

Jurors in the Enron trial made it clear that it would have been better for former executives Kenneth L. Lay and Jeffrey K. Skilling if they'd kept their mouths shut and stayed off the witness stand.

Speaking shortly after a federal judge read their verdict, jurors said Lay's indignant outbursts while testifying in his own behalf made him seem "that he very much wanted to be in control -- he commanded the courtroom," said Wendy Vaughan, a Houston business owner.

"He was very focused, but he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder that made me question his character," she said.

As for Skilling, who spent days explaining the tedious financial inner workings of the once high-flying energy company, the jurors couldn't understand how he could know so much about that and not be aware of illegal business maneuvering, whether or not he was responsible for it personally.

"Skilling was supposed to be a hands-on individual," said Freddy Delgado, an elementary school principal. "It's hard to believe a hands-on individual wouldn't know what was going on."

"When he got on the stand and knew what a [technically complicated] chart was and how it worked, we knew he was involved," Delgado said.

Elementary school teacher Kathy Harrison said she was glad Lay and Skilling took the stand during their trial. Had they not, "I would have always had questions," she said.

Kind of nice that their being so full of themselves sunk them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:06 PM


Century-old phone tax for war is defeated (Bloomberg News, May 26, 2006)

More than a century after the Spanish-American War, phone companies have succeeded in getting rid of the tax created to pay for it.

Treasury Secretary John Snow announced Thursday that the government is "conceding the issue" over the 108-year-old U.S. excise tax on long-distance calls and will refund about $13 billion in taxes paid for the past three years.

In past years five appeals courts have said the tax is illegal, and Republican lawmakers in Congress sought to abolish it.

One of those trivial issues that drives the Right crazy, but you have to throw them a bone as you whip them..

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:48 AM


Senate Confirms Hayden As CIA Director (KATHERINE SHRADER, May 26, 2006, The Associated Press)

Hayden, 61, would be the first active-duty or retired military officer to run the spy agency in 25 years. He was approved by a vote of 78-15. [...]

During Thursday night's debate, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the warrentless wiretapping program raised "serious questions about whether the general is the right person to lead the CIA, serious questions about whether the general will continue to be an administration cheerleader, serious questions about his credibility."

Democrat opposition to terrorist surveillance raises questions about whether the American people will trust them to govern.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 AM


Abbas Urges Hamas To Back 2-State Plan: Palestinian Leader Says He May Call Referendum (Scott Wilson, 5/25/06, Washington Post)

If Hamas does not change its position, Abbas said, he will measure public support for a two-state solution within 40 days through a popular referendum. Although it would not be binding, the result would help clarify for recalcitrant Hamas leaders, the Israeli government and the world what course Palestinians favor to resolve the conflict with Israel.

"We must stop with the slogans and start dealing with reality," said Abbas, Fatah's leader. "We must stop dreaming and accept what we can take now. Let us not speak of dreams. Let us take the Palestinian state on the '67 borders. There is a national consensus for this."

Abbas delivered his ultimatum during a meeting of Fatah and Hamas leaders in the West Bank city of Ramallah that was intended to reduce mounting tensions. His comments reflect frustration over Hamas's refusal to soften its views at a time of deepening economic hardship in the Palestinian territories and sporadic armed conflict between the two movements.

It was democratic ideologues--like Natan Sharansky, George Bush, and Ariel Sharon--who understood that the death knell for Palestinian radicalism would be sounded by consensual politics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


Senate OKs citizenship for illegal aliens (Charles Hurt, 5/26/06, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

The Senate yesterday easily approved an immigration bill that allows 10 million illegal aliens to become citizens, doubles the flow of legal immigration each year and will cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $54 billion over the next 10 years.

The leaders of both parties hailed the 62-36 passage as a historic success. [...]

In the moments before the vote, Mr. Frist and about a dozen senators, from both parties, tearfully congratulated one another for all their hard work in producing the legislation. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and the leading proponent of the bill, called it "the most far-reaching immigration reform in our history."

After the vote, more than a dozen giddy lawmakers from both sides of the aisle gathered before television cameras to again commend one another.

"I am so proud of the Senate," Minority Leader Harry Reid said as those around him smiled broadly. "This is the way we should legislate -- on a bipartisan basis."

As he spoke, a television screen behind him showed a live picture of the Senate floor, where fellow Democrats were at that moment trying to mount a filibuster against President Bush's latest judicial nominee.

In the end, Democrats failed and a final vote was set for today on the nomination of White House lawyer Brett M. Kavanaugh, named to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. After speaking to reporters, Mr. Reid returned to the Senate floor and cast his vote in favor of the filibuster.

House GOP expected to yield on legislation (Stephen Dinan, 5/26/06, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)
The House is the only obstacle that stands between President Bush and a comprehensive immigration bill, and the White House yesterday predicted that the chamber's Republicans will give in.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said House Republicans will want to pass border security badly enough to back down from the fight against what many consider amnesty for illegal aliens, knowing there is a "heavier political price for failing to act, than for acting."

"If you are a Republican member of Congress and you're concerned about illegal immigration, do you really want to say to your constituents: You know, I'm going to wait a couple of years before I take up the issue of people knowingly hiring illegal aliens, I want to wait a couple of years before I go ahead and try to identify who the illegal aliens are, I want to wait a couple of years before I start grappling with what to do with these 11 or 12 million people who are here illegally," Mr. Snow said.

The Bush years are just one historic reform after another.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


-Blair and Bush Are Duo Even in Descent (Glenn Kessler, 5/26/06, Washington Post)

The two have always been a bit of an odd couple. Bush is a conservative Texan who speaks inelegant English, while Blair is an eloquent speaker who promoted the "third way" of politics with former president Bill Clinton, his transatlantic pal. After their first meeting, when Bush was asked what they had in common, he replied: "We both use Colgate toothpaste."

But Blair always has had a moralistic streak. Clinton, after all, had restrained the more enthusiastic prime minister when he wanted to send ground troops during the conflict over Kosovo. It turned out that Blair's worldview meshed perfectly with the neo-Wilsonian outlook that Bush adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Blair, convinced that it was essential for Britain to align its foreign policy closely with that of the United States, moved quickly to make sure he was in Bush's good graces. Though most European nations opposed Bush's plan for a missile defense system, Blair offered to support it as long as Bush agreed to negotiate a deal with Russia to end the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty -- rather than end it unilaterally, as some administration officials preferred. Bush agreed to Blair's proposal.

I'm reading Richard North's often insightful pamphlet, Mr. Blair's Messiah Politics, in which he notes that what makes the Prime Minister almost unique in modern British politics, his moralistic (even messianic) bent in foreign affairs, is entirely routine in American political leaders. He also nails the Third Way:
The Third Way is no more than the idea that neither command-and-control nor laissez-faire provides the best way of running a society and iits economy. You need, this creed asserts unremarkably, a bit of both. Since the Tories have always known this, and important sectors of Labour have resisted it, the Third Way has more to each socialists than conservatives.

Indeed, Mr. North cites as the main domestic effect of Blairism the entrenchment of Thatcherism.

The reality is that Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush could hardly be more similar.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


Treasury Secretary to Step Down (Peter Baker and Paul Blustein, 5/26/06, Washington Post)

Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, who has presided during a period of strong economic growth but at times seemed out of sync with President Bush, has informed the White House that he will resign in the coming days after three years as the nation's chief economic officer, a source close to Snow said yesterday.

Snow asked the White House to announce his resignation in early June and said he plans to stay in the job no later than July 3 while a replacement is sought, the source said. The secretary's decision was intended to bring finality to a process that has played out awkwardly in public over months as Snow's job security has been a regular source of Washington speculation.

Republican insiders said possible candidates to succeed Snow include former commerce secretary Donald L. Evans, a longtime Bush friend; Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez, a former Kellogg Co. chief executive; Ambassador David C. Mulford, a former treasury undersecretary who represents the United States in India; and Stephen Friedman, the president's former chief economic adviser and a former Goldman Sachs chief executive. [...]

Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick, a former trade representative, had hoped to be named the next treasury secretary but does not appear likely to get the job, and has indicated to associates that he plans to resign soon to return to the private sector.

It's a job that could use a pitchman and there's no better carny barker in the GOP than Newt Gingrich.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Reggae legend Desmond Dekker dies (BBC, 5/26/06)

Reggae legend Desmond Dekker has died suddenly from a heart attack, his manager has announced.

The 64-year-old Jamaican, best known for his 1969 hit Israelites, collapsed at his Surrey home.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Bush, Blair admit Iraq errors (The Associated Press, 5/26/06)

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair acknowledged costly mistakes and difficult times in the Iraq war they launched together in 2003, but they insisted that enough progress has been made that other nations should support the new Iraqi government.

While Bush increasingly has begun to acknowledge missteps in handling the war, his comments at the joint news conference Thursday — together with Blair's — represent his most explicit acknowledgment that the administration underestimated the difficulty of the central project of his presidency.

Bush said he regrets his cowboy rhetoric after the Sept. 11 attacks, such as his "wanted dead or alive" description of Osama bin Laden and his taunting "bring 'em on" challenge to Iraqi insurgents.

"In certain parts of the world, it was misinterpreted."

He also cited the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. "We've been paying for that for a long time," Bush said.

But, he said, "Despite setbacks and missteps, I strongly believe we did and are doing the right thing."

Blair regretted the way in which Saddam Hussein's political allies were purged soon after the fall of Baghdad. Critics have said the sudden purge left a security vacuum in Iraq and encouraged former regime loyalists to take up arms against the newly installed government.

Blair also said allies seriously underestimated the insurgency.

"It should have been very obvious to us" from the beginning, Blair said.

He said he and Bush should have recognized that the fall of President Saddam Hussein would not "be the rise of a democratic Iraq, that it was going to be a more difficult process" because "you're talking about literally building the institutions of a state from scratch."

Pretty hard to picture Churchill and FDR apologizing for talking too tough in their radio broadcasts, being too mean to the Nazis, and purging the regime afterwards.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM

PHILISTINIANISM (via Tom Corcoran):

Dear Useful Idiot: On Cindy Sheehan’s Dear President Bush (Catherine Seipp, 5/25/06, National Review)

[T]he most idiotic statement in Sheehan’s new book, Dear President Bush, comes not from Sheehan herself but from Howard Zinn, who writes in the introduction: “A box-cutter can bring down a tower. A poem can build up a movement. A pamphlet can spark a revolution.”

A box-cutter can bring down a tower. By now, I suppose, we should be used to the hard Left’s extending underdog status to the worst of mass murderers; still, the sheer gall of beginning a series of David-and-Goliath metaphors with that one is breathtaking.

Except that box-cutters are Goliath--our response was David.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:20 AM


Tories six points ahead as scandals rock Blair (George Jones, 26/05/2006, Daily Telegraph)

The Conservatives are experiencing their most sustained electoral recovery for more than 14 years as public confidence in the competence of Tony Blair's government plummets, according to a YouGov poll published in The Daily Telegraph today.

After a string of Government blunders and scandals culminating in near meltdown at the Home Office this week, the Tories have opened a six-point lead over Labour - their largest advantage since before John Major's win in the 1992 general election.

May 25, 2006

Posted by Matt Murphy at 10:32 PM


The French malady: Philosopher Andre Glucksmann diagnoses the ailment that has been troubling the French Republic for decades. (Andre Glucksmann, Sign and Sight, 5/24/06)

Extravagant France! In just a year, four crises have confounded international opinion. A year ago, there was the Non to the European referendum, followed last autumn by the suburban riots, then in spring by the student revolt and now the Clearstream scandal (news story). Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, currently no. 1 in the government, is said to have put the secret service onto the activities of no. 2, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, and cast suspicion onto no. 3, Defence Minister Michele Alliot Marie. [...]

If the French no longer believe in the sacrosanct left-right alternative, it's because they see that in several decades of cohabitation, alternation, mobilisation and counter-mobilisation, neither the left nor the right have done a thing to solve France's problem of problems: the unemployment rate. Here France is the long-standing Western European champion. As long as the country has 10 percent unemployment (over 20 percent among young people and almost 40 percent in disadvantaged neighbourhoods), the situation will not improve.

Did he really just say that the employment situation won't get any better until the unemployment rate drops?

Posted by Matt Murphy at 10:11 PM


Judge: Man Is Too Short for Prison (AP, 5/25/06)

Sidney, Neb. [...] A judge said a 5-foot-1 man convicted of sexually assaulting a child was too small to survive in prison, and gave him 10 years of probation instead.

His crimes deserved a long sentence, District Judge Kristine Cecava said, but she worried that Richard W. Thompson, 50, would be especially imperiled by prison dangers. [...]

"I want control of you until I know you have integrated change into your life," the judge told Thompson. "I truly hope that my bet on you being OK out in society is not misplaced."

Hasn't exactly been okay out in society so far, has he?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 PM


Talking to Hamas: Hamas official Osama Hamdan explains how US pressure is making it hard to govern. But the organisation, if it can stay on track, is set to change the face of Islamism and then the middle east (Alastair Crooke, June 2006, Prospect)

It seems...that the new Israeli government will aim towards partial independent withdrawal from the West Bank, for the time being at least. And for this, Israel prefers Hamas to Fatah. To engage with President Abbas would undermine the claim that unilateralism is necessary “because there is no Palestinian partner.” Unlike Fatah, Hamas does not want to negotiate on a partial solution, and can be plausibly labelled “a non-partner.” As a result, some Israelis perceive Hamas as sharing a common interest in Israeli withdrawal that could lead to some “understandings.” And as Israel knows, Hamas counts all Israeli departures from Palestinian land as a victory, especially without a quid pro quo.

This prospect would leave Hamas to concentrate over the coming year or two on its core objective of providing competent governance to the Palestinians. Osama Hamdan underlined the importance of bringing law and order to the Palestinians and, specifically, of resolving clashes between Hamas and Fatah factions: “Ismail Haniya [the Palestinian prime minister] has begun working… there are good signs that he will succeed in securing the internal situation. Some of the other groups, such as the popular resistance committees, have begun working directly with the interior minister, and a new co-ordinator of security, who is very popular and commands wide support among all factions, has been appointed.”

According to Hamdan, Hamas’s other priorities are to reform the security services, to create effective judicial oversight over the security agencies and, above all, to make parliament accountable for and the instrument of control of all Palestinian institutions and ministries. Hamas has not perpetrated any direct attack in Israel since late 2003; its military wing has focused instead on targets within the occupied territories. For over a year, Hamas has observed a unilateral de-escalation, or tadiya. The suicide attack in Tel Aviv in April that led to the death of 11 Israelis was mounted by Islamic Jihad in response to an earlier killing of several of its leaders. In a response that was widely criticised, Hamas spokesmen refused to condemn Islamic Jihad, repelling any tentative European feelers towards engagement. But Hamas wanted to signal clearly that it would not be Israel’s policeman in the territories. It had learned from Fatah’s experience that to publicly condemn such attacks was to invite US and Israeli pressure to arrest members of Islamic Jihad, something it was not ready to do given the risk of being outflanked by more militant groups. Hamas also knows that if it begins to arrest Palestinians, Israel will send lists of further Palestinians to be arrested. These lists, which were sent to Arafat as soon as he took office in 1993, proved deeply corrosive to Fatah’s credibility and legitimacy. The language used by Hamas, however, was not well chosen. Israel may have understood the signal, but externally it was damaging.

Hamas and Fatah represent two very different traditions of Muslim thinking. Fatah has looked to the international community to help balance the asymmetrical relationship with Israel, whereas Hamas’s Islamist approach relies on the inner resources of its constituency for the fortitude to persevere. But contrary to the popular view, Hamas does not believe in imposing Sharia law on Palestinians, or anyone else. This has been said publicly. It does not seek a “top-down” Islamic state that imposes norms of Islamic behaviour but has no real Muslims living in it. It prefers the goal of a state peopled by believing Muslims whose freely chosen priorities colour society from below.

If Muslims judge Hamas to have been successful, this approach will change the face of Islamism. It will do more than any other initiative to swing the pendulum away from the revolutionary groups that aim to radicalise and to impose strict Islamic structures. And the commitment to reform will appeal to public opinion throughout the region. It is this that represents the revolutionary nature of the Hamas electoral victory and explains the antagonism of leaders like Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan, who can see the implications only too clearly.

A referendum could get Hamas off the hook and let them accept reality so that we can help them start building a decent Palestine.

President's ultimatum to Hamas: recognise Israel or the people will decide (Stephen Farrell, 5/26/06, Times of London)

The move appeared to wrong-foot Hamas, whose refusal to recognise Israel and renounce violence has led to international isolation and the freezing of millions of dollars in international aid.

Waiting until the last minute of an otherwise turgid address to a “national dialogue” conference broadcast live on television, Mr Abbas, a Fatah leader, called on his Islamist rivals to accept a proposal drawn up by Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad and other prisoners in Israeli jails — foremost among them the Fatah populist Marwan Barghouti.

Hamas may recognise Israel's right to exist (Tim Butcher, 26/05/2006, Daily Telegraph)
Mr Abbas, trying to persuade Hamas to drop its traditional refusal to accept Israel's right to exist, seized on a seven-page document written inside an Israeli prison by Palestinian political prisoners.

The prisoners represent not just Hamas, but all major factions, including Mr Abbas's own Fatah movement and Islamic Jihad.

It was debated inside high-security cells and drawn up under the eyes of prison guards during exercise periods.

In parts verbose and repetitive, the document nevertheless implies an acceptance of the right of Israel by claiming a Palestinian homeland only on land occupied by Israel in 1967 - Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

If he could persuade the Hamas leadership to accept the 18-point prison accord it would mean the movement had dropped its original claim on all the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

Mr Abbas gave the parties 10 days to accept the document as a common platform, and said he would call a referendum if they failed to do so.

He is understood to have won tacit agreement for the plan from the Hamas leadership before unveiling it during a Palestinian national unity summit held yesterday to try to halt the slide towards civil war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 PM


When we said goodbye to the USS Oriskany: A rusted ship moved men to tears. And that was before she slipped beneath the sea (Nicholas A. Basbanes, 5/26/06, CS Monitor)

A day before the USS Oriskany (CV-34) was scheduled to be sunk in the Gulf of Mexico last week, Denny Earl, a naval aviator attached to the venerable aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War with Attack Squadron 163, bade farewell to his old ship in a dazzlingly audacious way. [...]

People who have never served aboard a naval ship can be excused for wondering how it is that grown men could cry so freely and without embarrassment at the sight of an obsolete leviathan they once called home being sent to the bottom in what amounted to a sailor's burial at sea. "Ships have a way of imparting something of themselves to those who sail in them," is the way Captain Kenyon describes the dynamic that takes place between a vessel and her crew. He said that two years ago when news of the reefing was announced, and his words still resonate quite powerfully for me today.

And this from John Resnick.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 PM


A Latin leader set to defy leftist trend: Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe looks likely to win reelection Sunday. (Danna Harman, 5/26/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

The slight, bespectacled yoga enthusiast with an amateur historian's interest in the US Civil War (he knows the Gettysburg Address by heart) is expected to be reelected here Sunday. Uribe has more than 57 percent support, enough to win elections in the first round, according to the Napoleón Franco Group, a polling firm here. [...]

"Uribe is a remarkable leader," says Michael Shifter, vice president of the InterAmerican Dialogue, a think tank in Washington, D.C. "He has an acute sense of what the people want, and despite continuing, serious problems, has made real progress on the security front."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 PM


Congress passes funeral protest ban: Bill targets group that taunts mourners at military rites (AP, 5/25/06)

Demonstrators would be barred from disrupting military funerals at national cemeteries under legislation approved by Congress and sent to the White House.

The measure, passed by voice vote in the House Wednesday hours after the Senate passed an amended version, specifically targets a Kansas church group that has staged protests at military funerals around the country, claiming that the deaths were a sign of God's anger at U.S. tolerance of homosexuals.

The act "will protect the sanctity of all 122 of our national cemeteries as shrines to their gallant dead," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, said prior to the Senate vote.

"It's a sad but necessary measure to protect what should be recognized by all reasonable people as a solemn, private and deeply sacred occasion," he said.

Why not just issue the honor guard live rounds?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 PM


Rise and Fall of the Enron Boys (William Greider, The Nation)

Normally, I am a "bleeding heart" when it comes to long prison terms, but an appropriate sentence for the Enron boys might be six trillion years.

Of course, in Greiderville you're eligible for parole after two years on a six trillion year sentence.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 8:02 PM


Wrong to let climber die, says Sir Edmund (Tom McKinlay, New Zealand Herald, May 24th, 2006)

The first man to the summit of Mt Everest cannot understand how New Zealand climber Mark Inglis and others on the mountain left British mountaineer David Sharp to die.

"All I can say is that in our expedition there was never any likelihood whatsoever if one member of the party was incapacitated that we would just leave him to die," Sir Edmund Hillary said yesterday.

The renowned adventurer was reacting to the decision by double-amputee Inglis, who was one of many who passed the dying Briton near the summit without trying to rescue him.

Sharp died on the mountain.[...]

The difficulties posed by operating at high altitude were not an excuse.

"You can try, can't you? This is the whole thing," Sir Edmund said.

"You are in a dangerous situation, there's no question about that.

"But at least you can try to rescue the life of a man who is obviously in a distressful condition."

Sir Edmund has previously criticised the intensely commercial environment that has developed around the world's highest peak and called for a moratorium to give the mountain a break.

"I think the whole attitude towards climbing Mt Everest has become rather horrifying. The people just want to get to the top.

"They don't give a damn for anybody else who may be in distress and it doesn't impress me at all that they leave someone lying under a rock to die," Sir Edmund said.

Obviously uncomfortable supporters of Inglis have been responding to Hillary’s Old Testament-like thunder with the familiar argument that one’s intellectual and moral faculties are strained under these conditions and thus no one who hasn’t experienced them is in any position to condemn. This is true, of course, but the problem is that it is also true of anyone in a desert or jungle or just about anywhere else, and also of anyone who is hungry, thirsty, in pain, in mourning, drunk, broke, depressed, falling in love, falling out of love, getting married, getting divorced, sick, suddenly rich, pregnant, lonely, a new parent, under stress at work, injured, in a war, jilted, in jail, receiving the special attention of the IRS or endless other “special” conditions. Moral relativists like to imagine a mythical noble man assessing his moral choices independent of contingency, but as he doesn’t exist and never did, they end up standing for a regression to a pagan perception of morality in which we are just bounced around helplessly by chance and circumstance and are therefore never accountable.

Posted by David Cohen at 5:42 PM


Hastert Lashes Out at Justice Dept (Laurie Kellman, AP, 5/25/06)

House Speaker Dennis Hastert accused the Justice Department Thursday of trying to intimidate him in retaliation for criticizing the FBI's weekend raid on a congressman's office, escalating a searing battle between the executive and legislative branches of government.

"This is one of the leaks that come out to try to, you know, intimidate people," Hastert said on WGN radio Thursday morning. "We're just not going to be intimidated on it."

The Illinois Republican, in his interview with the Chicago radio station, was responding to an ABC News report that quoted an unnamed law enforcement source as saying that he was "in the mix" of the Justice Department's investigation into influence peddling by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

"We are not going to dignify or speculate about the motives of anonymous sources providing inaccurate information," said Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse.

Within minutes of that report late Wednesday, the department issued the first of two denials that it was investigating Hastert. The speaker demanded a retraction from ABC News, which stood by its story. Hastert on Thursday threatened to sue the network and reporters and executives for libel and defamation.

Hastert's assertion of a constitutional privilege against the search and seizure of a Congressman's papers in the course of a criminal investigation is ridiculous. That does not excuse the wrong being done by what appears to be yet another example of the permanent government using anonymous leaks to punish politicians and undercut policy. These leaks, too, should be traced to their source and the leakers fired and, if possible, prosecuted. Leaking from an investigation or, even worse, lying that an investigation is in progress, is a particularly vile way of ruining a person's reputation without giving them any way to fight back. (Notice how the story spins this as an attack on the Justice Department, when Hastert is, in fact, attacking anonymous leakers who are violating Justice Department rules to create anonymous mischief.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:51 PM


Chirac's failing reign (International Herald Tribune, MAY 23, 2006)

One reason France's latest political scandal, the so- called Clearstream affair, is way down among the topics of café chit-chat is because it's so incomprehensible. What it boils down to is whether Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin tried to smear his arch-rival, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. In the best tradition of French political affairs, there probably won't be an answer. But that doesn't really matter, because Clearstream already figures as another tedious chapter in the fast-failing Chirac presidency. As Ségolène Royal, the current Socialist favorite, put it in an interview, "It is the end of a reign without ethics, the explosion of a system that gives room to secret methods, to blows below the belt, to destabilizing moves."

You'd have trouble convincing us that Chirac and de Villepin aren't rejected samples from this experiment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:44 PM


Britain to boost retirement age to 68
(JANE WARDELL, 5/25/06, Associated Press and Canadian Press

The British government unveiled a major overhaul of the state pensions system Thursday, revealing that it will gradually raise the retirement age to 68 and link benefits to earnings to avert a looming funding crisis as people live longer and have fewer children.

The government said that, beginning in 2024, it will begin increasing the retirement age from the current 65 to 66 and later to 68. That will also help pay for the government's plan to restore the link between state pensions and earnings by 2012 if fiscal conditions allowed, it said.

The link to average pay was removed by former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 1980 in one of the first acts of her government to tackle a system that was deemed too expensive. The link to prices since then has significantly reduced the value of post-work benefits.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:35 PM


Iran leader's love of soccer worries World Cup host: A visit by Ahmadinejad would trouble Germany (Colin Nickerson, May 23, 2006, Boston Globe)

German security forces are ready to deal with hooligans, right-wing protesters, and even suicide bombers.

But the possibility of Iran's president making a surprise appearance at next month's World Cup soccer championship is giving the country's leadership a collective case of angst.

The prospect of such a visit started to emerge last month after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- the world's best-known Holocaust-denier, despiser of Israel, and alleged wannabe wielder of nuclear arms -- expressed his passionate love for soccer. Iran's national team is one of 32 that have qualified for the championship, and it will play its first game at Nuremberg.

Suddenly, it seems possible that Ahmadinejad and his entourage might show up to cheer Iranian players in a city where Adolf Hitler set the stage for the Holocaust with massive Nazi rallies and passage of the Nuremberg laws, which stripped citizenship from German Jews.

...that the world is arranged for your personal amusement?

Posted by David Cohen at 2:21 PM


Study: Chocolate may boost brain power (Reuters, 5/25/06)

Chocolate lovers rejoice. A new study hints that eating milk chocolate may boost brain function.

"Chocolate contains many substances that act as stimulants, such as theobromine, phenethylamine, and caffeine," Dr. Bryan Raudenbush from Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia noted in comments to Reuters Health.

"These substances by themselves have previously been found to increase alertness and attention and what we have found is that by consuming chocolate you can get the stimulating effects, which then lead to increased mental performance."

Silly scientists. Everyone knows the real benefits come from dark chocolate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:20 PM


Q1 GDP growth fastest in 2-1/2 years (Reuters, 5/25/06)

The U.S. economy shot forward at an upwardly revised 5.3 percent annual rate in the first quarter, the fastest growth in 2-1/2 years, as companies built up inventories and exports strengthened, a Commerce Department report on Thursday showed.

Democrats may be having trouble articulating a positive agenda, but the one thing they all agree on is that they'll reverse course from what George Bush has done.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:15 PM


Deer Attack Three at Ill. University (JIM SUHR, 5/24/06, The Associated Press)

A year after the normally docile creatures attacked seven people on a university campus here, the deer have turned bullish again.

Three people were attacked by deer within minutes of each other Tuesday on a footpath at Southern Illinois University, police said Wednesday. One doe probably was responsible for all three attacks, said Todd Sigler, the school's public safety chief.

One worker needed stitches for a gash on his forehead, another suffered cuts, bruises and a sprained wrist, and a student was left with a scratched jaw. Two of the victims sought medical treatment.

...if, like me, you've been traumatized by the movie Bambi for the last forty years, you can finally tell yourself: "the bitch got what she deserved."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:07 PM


Bill to Ban Gambling Online Gets 4th Chance (Frank Ahrens, 5/25/06, Washington Post)

Online poker players will have to fold their hands if a Virginia congressman gets his way.

Today, the House Judiciary Committee will mark up a bill introduced by Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte (R) that would ban much online gambling, including bets on sporting events and games of chance -- namely poker, which has enjoyed a boom in recent years.

The legislation could get an unexpected boost from the Jack Abramoff scandal. The disgraced lobbyist was key to blocking one of Goodlatte's three previous attempts to ban Internet gambling, and backlash over corruption charges could help the current effort. [...]

"I am a big advocate of opening up the Internet to all kinds of legitimate uses," said Goodlatte, who is co-chairman of the Congressional Internet Caucus. "But we don't want the Internet to become the Wild West of the 21st century." Goodlatte said he opposes gambling because it leads to "a whole host of ills in society."

If you want to bet see a bookie.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


Gonzales's Rationale on Phone Data Disputed (Walter Pincus, May 25, 2006, Washington Post)

Civil liberties lawyers yesterday questioned the legal basis that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales used Tuesday to justify the constitutionality of collecting domestic telephone records as part of the Bush administration's anti-terrorism program.

While not confirming a USA Today report May 11 saying the National Security Agency has been collecting phone-call records of millions of Americans, Gonzales said such an activity would not require a court warrant under a 1979 Supreme Court ruling because it involved obtaining "business records." Under the 27-year-old court ruling in Smith v. Maryland , "those kinds of records do not enjoy Fourth Amendment protection," Gonzales said. "There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in those kinds of records," he added.

Noting that Congress in 1986 passed the Electronic Communications Privacy Act in reaction to the Smith v. Maryland ruling to require court orders before turning over call records to the government, G. Jack King Jr. of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said Gonzales is correct in saying "the administration isn't violating the Fourth Amendment" but "he's failing to acknowledge that it is breaking" the 1986 law, which requires a court order "with a few very narrow exceptions."

Congress can't actually seize power that the Constitution grants to the executive.

Posted by David Cohen at 11:54 AM


Study: Parents Encourage Tots to Watch TV (Lauran Neergaard, AP, 5/24/06)

Even for the littlest tots, TV in the bedroom isn't rare: 19 percent of babies under 2 have one despite urging from the American Academy of Pediatrics that youngsters not watch any television at that age.

So concludes a new study that highlights the immense disconnect between what child-development specialists advise and what parents allow.

"My reasoning was that my little boy was extremely intelligent since birth. At 1 year old, he was putting his own DVDs in, skipping scenes," one mother of a preschooler told researchers with the Kaiser Family Foundation. "I thought it was a real good thing for him to have his own TV because TV helped him grow at a very young age."

. . . so we've given them their own wine cellar.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:30 AM


PM takes aim at Charest over Kyoto (BILL CURRY and RHÉAL SÉGUIN AND GLORIA GALLOWAY, 5/25/06, Globe and Mail)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is shooting back at his Kyoto critics, including Quebec Premier Jean Charest, saying actions are more important than words on reducing greenhouse gases.

"There's lot of people around the world who have bold and ambitious statements about limiting greenhouse gases, but I am more interested to see what actual effective actions are undertaken," Mr. Harper said.

The talkers are in Kyoto, the doers in the Asian-Pacific Partnership

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 AM


Dickens, Challah and That Mysterious Island (KATE AURTHUR, 5/25/06, NY Times)

On last night's "Lost," which closed the island mystery's second season on ABC, a crucial plot development hinged on a copy of the Charles Dickens novel "Our Mutual Friend." (Readers who do not wish to know the particulars of the finale should stop here.)

In a flashback Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick), the character "Lost" viewers know as the man who lived down the hatch, tells a prison guard that he carries around "Our Mutual Friend" because he means for it to be the last book he reads before dying. Later, on the island, when Desmond thinks that death is near, he finds a letter inside the book from the love of his life, Penny. Her letter inspires him to go on an apparent suicide mission to save the island and, the episode implied, possibly the world.

During a visit to New York City last week, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, the executive producers who run "Lost," said they got the idea of the deathbed reading of "Our Mutual Friend" from an interview with the writer John Irving in which he said he was saving it for last. But besides paying tribute to Mr. Irving, they were eager to refer to Dickens for their own narrative purposes.

"He was writing chapter by chapter for newspapers," Mr. Cuse said. "We often think: 'How much did Dickens know when he was writing his stories? How much of it was planned out, and how much was flying by the seat of his pants because he had to get another chapter in?' " He paused, then said with a laugh, "We can respect what he went through."

Smells like shark.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 9:22 AM


Men die young in pursuit of sex, researchers say (Amy Brown-Bowers, National Post, May 25th, 2006)

Women live longer than men in part because males incessantly pursue sex, a new study suggests.

A research paper recently published in the journal Human Nature says men die sooner than women because of patterns of procreation established hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Simply put, the traits that made men more likely to get a girl in the past -- being competitive, physically dominating and daring -- are also traits linked to shorter life spans.

So today's man is living with the effects of thousands of generations of men who have been naturally selected for their ability to successfully have sex at the cost of a long life.

So, let’s get this straight. The Freudian ideal of the man whose emotional make-up is most in tune with his long-evolved natural instincts is the lounge lizard?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 AM


Japan bans suburban sprawl as population slips (AFP, 5/24/06)

The Japanese parliament banned new large shopping malls in suburbs in a bid to prevent the hollowing out of urban centers as the population shrinks.

Despite opposition by the business community, the upper house of parliament unanimously backed the proposal amid worries that American-style sprawl would be unhealthy as Japanese have fewer children. [...]

Japan has seen a more than decade-old shift toward the suburbs by residents who buy cars to flee the famously high rents inside the densely populated cities.

But the Japanese population fell for the first time in peacetime last year and at current rates is expected to be cut to 60 million, or less than half the current total, by 2100. [...]

More Japanese young people are putting off starting families, finding them to be a burden to their careers, finances and lifestyles.

Trapping folks in cities is a sure way to make them court extinction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 AM


Abbas plans referendum if no deal reached with Hamas
(MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH, 5/25/06, Associated Press)

In a dramatic announcement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday that he will call a national referendum on accepting a Palestinian state alongside Israel if Hamas does not agree to the idea within 10 days.

The deadline to Hamas represented a political gamble that could either could either help resolve the Palestinians' internal deadlock or lead them into a deeper crisis.

Senior Hamas officials said they accepted the idea of a referendum.

There's nothing more dangerous to the governments of the Middle East than asking electorates what they really want.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 AM


Families Add 3rd Generation to Households (MIREYA NAVARRO, 5/25/06, NY Times)

Tess Crescini keeps trying to limit her roommates to her fiancé and her dog, but so far she has failed miserably.

At the moment, Ms. Crescini, 51, and her fiancé are sharing her four-bedroom house in San Jose, Calif., with two of her three adult sons, a daughter-in-law, a 3-year-old granddaughter and a brother who comes and goes. Exorbitant housing costs, layoffs and children who yearn for family togetherness have coalesced to make her the head of a multigenerational household.

In a society where the most common type of household is led by those who live alone and where the scattered family is almost a cultural institution, many grandparents, adult children and grandchildren are gathering to live under the same roof.

The last census showed these "multigenerational households" — defined as those of three or more generations — growing faster than any other type of housing arrangement. [...]

Multigenerational living, especially those in which grandparents care for their grandchildren, have long been common in Asian and Hispanic countries, and the arrangement is popular among immigrants from those nations.

It's great to import folks who will end social pathologies, but we should accelerate the trend by ending all government monies for nursing homes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM

7 7/8THS-8, THANKS:

Just Manny being Manny:

2006 BOS 152 27 48 11 29 35 0 0.3158 0.4421 0.5789

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Olmert Urges Palestinians To Qualify For Talks (William Branigin, 5/25/06, Washington Post)

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday urged the Palestinian Authority to meet his terms for peace talks or face a unilaterally imposed settlement in the West Bank, and he warned that a nuclear-armed Iran would constitute "an intolerable threat" that he said "cannot be permitted to materialize."

In an address to a joint meeting of Congress a day after talks at the White House with President Bush, Olmert acknowledged Palestinians' "national aspirations" and asserted that Israel has no desire to rule or oppress them.

But he said Israel cannot wait indefinitely for the Palestinians to become acceptable negotiating partners, and he outlined a plan for unilateral "disengagement" from the West Bank that would involve redrawing Israel's final borders to include major West Bank settlements and a "united Jerusalem" as the capital.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


Editor at Conservative Magazine To Be Top Policy Adviser to Bush (Michael A. Fletcher, May 25, 2006, Washington Post)

President Bush appointed a longtime scholar at the American Enterprise Institute yesterday to be his top domestic policy adviser, a post that has been vacant since February, when Claude A. Allen stepped down after being charged with stealing more than $5,000 in a phony refund scheme.

Karl Zinsmeister, who has worked the past 12 years as editor in chief of the American Enterprise magazine, is slated to assume his White House post June 12. At the institute, he focused on examining cultural issues, as well as social and economic trends. His columns for the magazine included pieces praising Wal-Mart's efficiency and extolling the role of religion in forming the glue that bonds communities.

Zinsmeister, 47, also has written three books defending the war in Iraq, a nation he has visited four times as an embedded journalist. His books focus on the everyday work of U.S. troops, whose progress in fulfilling a noble mission, he argues, is often overlooked by much of the media.

"What the establishment media covering Iraq have utterly failed to make clear today is this central reality: With the exception of periodic flare-ups in isolated corners, our struggle in Iraq as warfare is over," Zinsmeister wrote in his column last June. "Egregious acts of terror will continue -- in Iraq as in many other parts of the world. But there is now no chance whatever of the U.S. losing this critical guerrilla war."

Faithful Community Life (Karl Zinsmeister, May 2006, American Enterprise)
Over the last generation, many historians, politicians, and journalists have labored to downplay the significance of religion in making American society what it is. That's not easily accomplished, though. There's just too much concrete evidence of the importance of our religious roots.

Nearly half the men who signed the Declaration of Independence had some seminary training, and John Adams’s description of the American Revolu­tion was that it “connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil govern­ment with the principles of Christianity.” In their marvelous story starting on page 20 (built on a year of research) Michael and Jana Novak debunk today’s conventional portrayal of George Washington as a man influenced mightily by Greek and Roman paganism but not much touched by Christian ideals. To the contrary, they report, Washington’s Christianity was critical to his fathering of our nation.

David Gelernter looks at different historical evidence and finds that America is deeply stamped with the Judeo-Christian ideas and practices first brought to this con­tinent by Puritan settlers. Stepping back even further in Western history, professor Rodney Stark concludes that Christian principles were decisive in allowing Europeans to vault out of the static misery that most humans had to cope with through the cen­turies. Not just compassion, moral equality, and democracy, but even seemingly secu­lar innovations like liberty, limited government, and science were products primarily of Christian insights. And these religious understandings made Western civilization more successful and more humane than other societies.

This issue of The American Enterprise doesn’t concern itself with all of the ways Judeo-Christianity has influenced us, but focuses specifically on how religion creates social bonds—how it knits people and communities together. The common view among liberal intellectuals today is that religion is something that divides peo­ple, a “wedge,” a force that corrodes unity. Everything from today’s “culture wars” to the recent marauding of disaffected Muslims through European cities is blamed vaguely on “too much religion.”

That is a crude reduction of the actual effects of religious belief on most people. It’s true that religion is a potent influence on all aspects of a civilization. “The beginning of culture is cult,” reminds Michael Novak. Often, religious views have soaked so deeply into the social fabric that most citizens are no longer even conscious of them, even as their culture continues to be shaped by echoes of faith.

In particular, it is the religious impulse that makes typical men and women capa­ble of concern for their fellows. The verdict of history, says Novak, is that “apart from the worship of God, human beings cannot transcend themselves in the large num­bers needed to sustain a civilization. Unless human beings have a vision of something beyond the bounds of their own natures, they cannot be pulled out of themselves.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Libby Told Grand Jury Cheney Spoke of Plame (R. Jeffrey Smith, May 25, 2006, Washington Post)

Vice President Cheney was personally angered by a former U.S. ambassador's newspaper column attacking a key rationale for the war in Iraq and repeatedly directed I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, then his chief of staff, to "get all the facts out" related to the critique, according to excerpts from Libby's 2004 grand jury testimony released late yesterday by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

Libby also told the grand jury that Cheney raised as an issue that the former ambassador's wife worked at the CIA and that she allegedly played a role in sending him to investigate the Iraqi government's interest in acquiring nuclear weapons materials. That issue formed the basis of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV's published critique.

"investigate" seems a stretch for what Mr. Wlson actually did.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


Breach Was More of the Spirit, Not the Letter, of the Constitution (Charles Lane, May 25, 2006, Washington Post)

The FBI raid on Rep. William Jefferson's congressional office was an aggressive tactic that broke a long-standing political custom. But while it might violate the spirit of the Constitution, it might not violate the letter of the document or subsequent rulings by the Supreme Court, legal analysts say.

The issue could turn on whether a court finds that the items seized from Jefferson's office were related to such protected legislative activities as writing, researching and voting on bills. Other things could be fair game for the prosecution, analysts said. [...]

Both the search warrant for Jefferson's office and the raid to execute it were unprecedented in the 219-year history of the Constitution. In that sense, they violated an interbranch understanding rooted in the separation of powers -- and, indeed, in the events of 1642, when King Charles I burst into Parliament and attempted to arrest five members of the House of Commons, triggering the English Civil War.

Just because Congress and the Court have routinely overstepped the bounds of separation doesn't mean the Executive should start.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


Like it or not, Europe is paying the transaction costs of diversity: Renaissance Europe's restless pluralism brought great creativity, but also bloodshed. Now we have peace without dynamism (Timothy Garton Ash, Thursday May 25, 2006, The Guardian )

Amid yawns of boredom from most of our citizens, Europe's political intellectuals agree that the EU needs a new narrative to inspire us. What should that be? Ah, say some, the narrative of diversity. On the face of it, this is an odd thing to say. This new political narrative must presumably address the question: "What do we all have in common?" "That we are all so different!" does not seem a sufficient answer. The more conventional European formula is "unity in diversity" - but where's the unity?

In the great age of Renaissance Florence, diversity was indeed the dynamo of Europe's extraordinary creativity. There's a marvellous book called The European Miracle, by the economic historian EL Jones, that explores why Europe rather than China - scientifically and technologically more advanced than Europe in the 14th century - produced the scientific, agrarian and industrial revolutions that led the world into modernity. In brief, his answer is: Europe's diversity.

But this was the diversity of a restless, often violent competition between cities, regions, states and empires. Florence and Siena, England and France, Christian Europe and the Ottoman empire - they did not resolve their differences by coalition agreements and endless negotiations in airless committee rooms on the Rue de la Loi in Brussels. To reverse Churchill's post-1945 adage: they made war-war not jaw-jaw.

Many readers will remember the speech that Orson Welles put into the mouth of the gangster Harry Lime, in the film of Graham Greene's The Third Man: "In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed - they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock." Has Europe today entered its age of the cuckoo clock?

Of course I'm not suggesting that what we in Europe need is another good dose of warfare, terror and bloodshed; but I am wondering aloud about the conditions in which diversity produces dynamism and creativity. The question for all Europeans today is whether the path we have chosen since the end of our last 30 years' war (from 1914 to 1945) - the path of permanent, institutionalised, peaceful conflict resolution, both domestically and internationally, inspired by the "spirit of solidarity and consensus" that the former European commission president Romano Prodi has promised to rebuild in his new Italian government - is capable of producing a dynamism to match that of the US, let alone of the rising powers of Asia. Yes, we have Airbus - which produces slightly better planes than Boeing - and a European GPS system called Galileo, which may eventually be slightly better than the American one; but aren't these the exceptions that prove the rule? They should not obscure the fact that the economies of China and India are currently growing at around 10%, ours at an average of around 2%. And that's at least partly because of the enormous transaction costs of what, to be more precise, we must describe as the peaceful management of diversity.

A probable future is that, having chosen this path of the peaceful, consensual management of diversity, Europe is set for a long period of relative economic decline. But relative decline need not be absolute decline. If we Europeans are conscious of the choice we are making; if we don't kid ourselves that we can have our cake and eat it, simultaneously enjoying the social solidarity and easier lifestyle of Europe and the economic dynamism of America and Asia; if we mobilise to make the maximum reforms that our political systems and societies permit; then we can still live quite well.

All this is necessary to such a modus vivendi is that you abandon the purpose of life. But, it seems unlikely that you can convince everyone to do so and get them all to just let you die in peace.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


ADHD drugs take toll on minors (Joyce Howard Price, 5/25/06, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Accidental overdoses and side effects from attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder drugs send about 3,100 Americans -- 80 percent of them children -- to hospital emergency rooms annually, a federal survey has found.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 60 percent of the overdoses were accidental and were preventable if parents had kept the stimulant drugs locked in cabinets and in child-resistant containers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Benedict Contra Nietzsche: A Reflection on Deus Caritas Est (Benjamin D. Wiker, May 2006, Crisis)

Deus Caritas Est is a declaration of war, and it is loaded with ammunition—much of it stealth in design, and of such power that the Church under Benedict XVI will certainly be the Church Militant. For while on the surface Benedict only seems to be offering a theological platitude, that “God is love,” hidden to the hasty eyes of the press, buried in the intricacies of his philosophical and theological analysis, obscured from all but those initiated into Benedict’s inner circle, he really is declaring that God is love. [...]

It was quite surprising to have Benedict open with philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s charge against Christianity. “Christianity gave Eros poison to drink,” Nietzsche quipped; “he did not die of it but degenerated—into vice.” [...]

Benedict’s counterattack is disarmingly simple and charmingly direct. It is not Christianity but modern culture that has poisoned eros by exalting personal, sensual pleasure. The unhappy result is that eros is “Deiectus merum ad ‘sexum.’”

The English translation of the encyclical renders Deiectus merum ad “sexum” as “reduced to pure ‘sex,’” a most unfortunate mistake, since in its current debased condition sex is anything but pure. Benedict is far more subtle and exact in the Church’s native tongue. The Latin adjective merus comes from the noun merum, wine that is unmixed with water, and hence (in antiquity) only drunk by the intemperate—drinking for the sake of drunkenness. Deiectus comes from the verb meaning “to hurl down,” “to throw down,” even “to kill.” Our contemporary focus on sexual pleasure as pleasure hurls eros down, nearly kills it, and makes us into sexual drunkards.

In regard to sexuality, we might say that our culture is merely erotic because it sees nothing more to eros than eros. Such a brutish flattening of sexuality brings not gain but a “slipping down and diminishing of human dignity.” In exalting eros it makes eros “ebrius et immoderatus,” “drunk and immoderate.”

If eros by itself is unmixed wine, Benedict reminds us that it is still wine, and wine is good. He therefore affirms eros in the strongest terms. Love between man and woman, “where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness,” presents “the very epitome of love,” such that “all other kinds of love immediately seem to fade in comparison.”

Ahh, sighed the chorus, now the pope’s got it! And what could be more baneful than throwing water upon such unmixed erotic bliss?

The problem, the pope replies, is that “eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just fleeting pleasure, but a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude for which our whole being yearns.” The entire argument of Deus Caritas Est is packed into this single reply.

Against the notion that eros unbound is eros free and natural, Benedict makes the countercharge that eros unbound binds us to self-destruction. Eros needs to be disciplined and purified because it represents only a half-truth.

The half-truth, embraced by our culture as the whole truth, is that we are bodily creatures. For a host of reasons (and it is not an angelic host), the West over the last 400 years has ever more passionately thrown itself into the arms of materialism, the belief that bodily reality is the only reality. Following upon the belief that there is nothing more to the human being than the body—that, indeed, “souls” are a fiction of unenlightened, unscientific primitives—comes the belief that there is nothing more to eros than the unmixed wine of bodily pleasure.

Contra Nietzsche, the West is dying in a drunken bacchanalia of this materialist reading of eros. It represents, for Benedict, a woeful loss of our true humanity precisely because it denies that we are bodily creatures with souls: Animals, yes, but animals made in the image of God.

And nothing could more aptly describe the West’s bleary, weary, and frantic divinization of sex than this: It is soulless. Empty-eyed, because the eyes are the windows of the soul; aimless, because it aims at everything, having nothing more to hit than bodily pleasure; lifeless and mechanical, because it denies that the soul gives life to the body, and hence to eros; all-consuming, because consuming is all it knows.

To cure this spiritless malaise, Benedict offers the truth: Bodily pleasure is an essential aspect of the body-soul union that truly and properly defines our sexuality and our entire being, but if it is made the essence of eros, it becomes the nemesis of eros. Eros, to be eros, must be ensouled, otherwise it contains only a half-truth that destroys even what truth it has. The whole truth is contained in the union of body and soul, and there is no escape from the whole truth by taking either half.

Should he [man] aspire to be pure spirit and to reject the flesh as pertaining to his animal nature alone, then spirit and body would both lose their dignity. On the other hand, should he deny the spirit and consider matter, the body, as the only reality, he would likewise lose his greatness.

The restoration of eros demands that we reject both the gnostic denial of the reality and goodness of the flesh and the materialist, Epicurean denial of the reality and goodness of the spirit. Each age, it seems, is marked by its own characteristic lapse into one extreme, one error or the other. We live in a hidebound age, an age bound to the pleasures of its hide, an age of Epicurean hedonism if ever there was one—and it is against the drag of this Charybdis that Benedict must steer the Church.

The point of steering away from hedonism isn’t to escape the body but to return to the truth that humanity is essentially defined by this strange union of animality and something like divinity.

It is neither the spirit alone nor the body alone that loves; it is man, the person, a unified creature composed of body and soul, who loves. Only when both grow together [coalescent] does man become fully his own self. By this one way alone, love—eros—has the strength to grow to the maturity [maturescere] of its own true greatness.

But then the pope adds something very odd and very ancient: “Man truly becomes his own particular self when his body and soul are united most intimately.” Only this union can love. Yet this attempted union is not achieved without struggle. Eros is not docile, but ornery. The “dispute [concertatio] of eros” must be overcome, and eros is “truly conquered” only when “this union [of body and soul] is achieved.”

The dispute of eros? The English translation of concertatio as “challenge” no doubt confused more than it clarified, because it loses the aspect of antagonism within eros that Benedict assumes must be conquered. The verb concertare means to strive eagerly, often in verbal disputes; hence the noun concertatio means a contest in words, a wrangling, a dispute. It is as if the body is arguing against the soul, dividing each “self” into factions, eagerly striving to make the case to the self that the self is, after all, only a body, and that bodily pleasure is the highest satisfaction and perfection.

As wonderful, natural, and good as eros is, then, it contains a spirit of rebellion, an aftershock of original sin that brings eros to assert itself against the true, human union of body and soul. Nietzsche attempted to rarify this spirit of rebelliousness of the flesh into a spirit of rebellion itself—a Promethean “against-ness” set against the spirit. He therefore represents the greatest corruption of eros, a divinization of intoxification.

But for all that, Benedict makes clear that eros must not be denied. Eros needs discipline and purification, so that unmixed wine doesn’t lead us into the Bowery gutter of history along with other lost, decrepit, and enervated civilizations.

What, then, must be mixed with eros? In a word (a very strange word for most of us) eros needs agape. “Theos agape estin,” declares the Greek of 1 John 4:16—“God is love.” In Latin, “Deus caritas est,” the name of the encyclical. The first words of Benedict’s first encyclical quote the First Letter of John: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”

God is love, agape. Not eros? Eros needs agape? Eros needs God? No wonder Nietzsche was gnashing his teeth at Christianity. It was Nietzsche who famously declared that God was dead. If St. John and Benedict are right, then it was Nietzsche’s atheism that poisoned eros, not Christianity, and this atheism was rooted in the modern West’s denial of any reality beyond brute matter. No amount of Dionysian celebration of eros by itself in a godless cosmos could save Nietzsche from lapsing into madness and spending the last decade of his life in an asylum.

Nietzsche's achievement was to help turn the entire continent into an asylum.

May 24, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 PM


Sales of New Homes Jump Unexpectedly (MARTIN CRUTSINGER, May 24, 2006, AP) --

Sales of new homes rose unexpectedly in April to the fastest pace this year as the housing sector showed resilience in the face of rising mortgage rates. But the price of homes sold last month fell and the level of unsold homes rose to a record high.

The Commerce Department reported that sales of new single-family homes increased by 4.9 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.198 million units, the highest rate since last December.

The pace of activity caught economists by surprise.< /blockquote>

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 PM


Montenegro's challenge to Europe (The Monitor's View, 5/25/06, CS Monitor)

The emergence of a new nation in old Europe is a bit like the sudden surfacing of a volcanic island. Life around it adjusts. A new ecology springs up. With the mountain realm of Montenegro voting for independence, Europe's evolution, too, must now shift.

Montenegro, tiny though it is with 612,000 people, and located in the continental backwater of the Balkans, declared separation from Serbia in a May 21 referendum. This has revealed an unresolved tension in Europe between toleration for the kind of old-style nationalism that sparked many wars and promotion of the half-century experiment to unify Europeans around the political and economic ideals of Western civilization.

Odd how the secular Left is somehow always surprised by nationalism/racism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 PM


Rising black-Latino clash on jobs (Daniel B. Wood, 5/25/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

While Los Angeles is ground zero for black-Hispanic friction these days, echoes of Vaughn's words are rising throughout urban black America as Congress labors over immigration reform. In cities where almost half of the young black men are unemployed, a debate is raging over whether Latinos - undocumented and not - are elbowing aside blacks for jobs in stores, restaurants, hotels, manufacturing plants, and elsewhere. [...]

"In this era of mass immigration, no group has benefited less or been harmed more than the African-American population," says Vernon Briggs, a Cornell University professor who researches immigration policy and the American labor force.

That's likely false, but as long as blacks believe it the GOP can work the tension. Throw in Labor, Secular, and Environmentalist hostility and you've got a big winner.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 PM


Another fuel to power your car arrives in R.I. (DANIEL BARBARISI, 5/24/06, Providence Journal)

Environmentalists have long offered the benefits of compressed natural gas vehicles as a solution to all of these problems. The engines burn immaculately clean. [...]

Monday, the Rhode Island Airport Corporation opened the state's first public-use CNG station at T.F. Green Airport, finally giving eco-friendly drivers an option and opening Rhode Island to retail sales of CNG-powered cars.

Vehicles powered by CNG produce only 10 percent of the carbon monoxide and particle discharge of gasoline-powered engines, and half the nitrogen oxides. Carbon dioxide discharge is reduced by 30 to 40 percent.

The fuel, which is primarily methane, is cheaper than gasoline -- at T.F. Green, the natural gas will retail for $2.69 for the equivalent of one gallon -- and natural gas-powered cars get better mileage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 PM


A.C.L.U. May Block Criticism by Its Board (STEPHANIE STROM, 5/24/06, NY Times)

The American Civil Liberties Union is weighing new standards that would discourage its board members from publicly criticizing the organization's policies and internal administration.

"Where an individual director disagrees with a board position on matters of civil liberties policy, the director should refrain from publicly highlighting the fact of such disagreement," the committee that compiled the standards wrote in its proposals.

"Directors should remember that there is always a material prospect that public airing of the disagreement will affect the A.C.L.U. adversely in terms of public support and fund-raising," the proposals state.

Given the organization's longtime commitment to defending free speech, some former board members were shocked by the proposals.

"The problem for anyone writing satire today is competing with the front page."
-Christopher Buckley

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 PM


Illinois 12-Year-Old Wins 2006 National Geography Bee (AP, May 24, 2006)

Could you locate the Cambrian Mountains on a map? Twelve-year-old Bonny Jain could and his knowledge made him the winner Wednesday of the 2006 National Geographic Bee.

The eighth-grader from Moline, Ill. won a $25,000 college scholarship by correctly naming the mountains that extend across much of Wales, from the Irish Sea to the Bristol Channel. [...]

Although Bonny plans to celebrate his victory by having "a huge party," he also needs to prepare for his third appearance in the national spelling bee, which starts May 31.

He was joined by his father, Rohit Jain, his mother, Beena Jain, and his 5-year-old sister, Riya Jain. His teacher Kelly Mulcahy also accompanied him.

Neeraj Sirdeshmukh, 14, from Nashua, N.H., came in second. He won a $15,000 college scholarship. Third-place contestant, Yeshwanth Kandimalla, 13, of Marietta, Ga., won a $10,000 college scholarship. The other seven finalists won $500 each.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:17 PM


When Germans join migrant field hands, the harvest suffers (Andreas Tzortzis, 5/24/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

In Germany, the spring asparagus is harvested by migrant farmworkers. But the labor ministry has a new rule that says 10 percent of seasonal farmworkers should be German.

With only 170 German field hands in the state of Brandenburg so far, the experiment is off to a rocky start. And German farmers are angry, saying native-born pickers are only half as efficient as the Poles.

Unemployed Germans lack both practice and motivation, farmers here say.

Just as the Three Stooges parodied Hitler we could really use a sketch where they're nativists forced to do real work.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:15 PM


For Neocons, the Irony of Iraq (Harold Meyerson, May 24, 2006, Washington Post)

In the beginning, neoconservatism was a movement of onetime liberals enraged at the wave of violence and disorder that overtook the cities in the 1960s. Riots convulsed urban America in that stormy decade, crime rates soared, student radicals seized campuses. How could anyone see all this, the first generation of neocons inquired, and still remain a liberal?

For it was all the liberals' fault. Wafted along by their vaporous good intentions, indifferent to any unintended consequences those intentions might engender, wrapped up in their dizzy notions of the perfectibility of humankind, the liberals (at least, as the neos caricatured them) crafted criminal codes devoid of punishment, welfare programs requiring no work. In the world the liberals made, civic order took a back seat to individual rights, and as order vanished, the urban middle class vanished with it, abandoning once-vibrant neighborhoods for the safety of the suburbs. A neoconservative, the movement's founding father, Irving Kristol, famously observed, was a liberal who'd been mugged by reality. While liberals dithered, neoconservatives argued first and foremost for more cops.

Fast-forward four decades and we've come full circle. The neocons have refocused their attention on foreign policy and, in championing the Iraq war, have come to embody everything they once mocked and despised in '60s liberals.

Bolsheviks in the cause of their vaporous intentions, so bent on ignoring reality that they dismissed and suppressed all intelligence that prophesied the bloody complexities of the post-Hussein landscape, they conjured from nowhere and guaranteed the world an idealized postwar Iraq.

The sharpest irony was their stunning indifference to the need for civic order.

While neocons were concerned about some domestic issues -- though chiefly affirmative action, which they were afraid would give the Jewish slots at Ivy League schools to black kids -- their primary cause was to destabilize the Cold War stalemate and defeat the USSR, which they correctly perceived as a threat to both Russian Jews and to Israel. Student riots on campus were a problem not because of thedisorder they brought to American society but because they threatened the cause of defeating Communism. Of course, George Bush is a theocon, not a neocon, but you can hardly expect Mr. Meyerson, who's previously accused the President of being everything from a Klansman to a Confederate to a Nixonian, to pass up a chance to accuse him of being a Bolshevik.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:09 PM


Gov. Bush considered for commish (AP, 5/24/06)

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said he was privately approached about his interest in becoming the NFL's next commissioner.

Bush said Tuesday the issue was discussed at a recent meeting with Patrick Rooney Sr., according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

An ideal way to stay in the public eye but out of politics until the 2008 convention and the McCain phone call.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:48 PM


F.B.I. Raid Divides G.O.P. Lawmakers and White House (CARL HULSE, 5/24/06, NY Times)

After years of quietly acceding to the Bush administration's assertions of executive power, the Republican-led Congress hit a limit this weekend.

Resentment boiled among senior Republicans for a second day on Tuesday after a team of warrant-bearing agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation turned up at a closed House office building on Saturday evening, demanded entry to the office of a lawmaker and spent the night going through his files.

The episode prompted cries of constitutional foul from Republicans — even though the lawmaker in question, Representative William J. Jefferson of Louisiana, is a Democrat whose involvement in a bribery case has made him an obvious partisan political target.

Speaker J. Dennis Hastert raised the issue personally with President Bush on Tuesday. The Senate Rules Committee is examining the episode.

Two big benefits from ths fuss: it allows the GOP to keep a corrupt Democrat in the news and it eviscerates the argument that something like FISA is constitutional.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:44 PM


Senate Advances Sweeping Immigration Bill (RACHEL L. SWARNS and JOHN HOLUSHA, 5/24/06, NY Times)

Chances that the Senate will pass a bill overhauling the immigration system increased sharply today when senators voted 73 to 25 to limit debate on the immigration bill and the number of amendments that can be offered.

The cloture vote makes it likely that final action on the bill, which would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who have been in the country for over five years, will take place this week, possibly on Thursday.

Shut your eyes and you can see Ronald Reagan ducking his head and chuckling as George W. Bush, who cut taxes more than he, likewise gets ready to create more Americans than the Gipper managed to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:54 PM


Just got a great, though repeatedly self-contradictory, e-mail:

Richard A. Viguerie FOR RELEASE May 22, 2006 Contact Nancy Bakersmith

9625 Surveyor Court, Suite 400 (703) 392-7676, ext. 1144

Manassas, Virginia 20110 After business hours (703) 209-6190

Richard Viguerie Criticizes President Bush’s Betrayal of Conservatives; White House Responds; Viguerie Replies to the White House

The May 21 Washington Post published an article by Richard A. Viguerie, Chairman of and the author of the forthcoming book, Conservatives Betrayed: How Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause, criticizing President George W. Bush’s betrayal of conservatism.

The Washington Post article is on-line at

Viguerie also participated in a May 22 Washington Post on-line discussion of his article at

Peter Wehner, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Strategic Initiatives, sent the following e-mail message to an unknown number of persons:

Original Message-----
From: Wehner, Peter H. []
Sent: Monday, May 22, 2006 11:54 AM
Subject: Richard Viguerie: Now & Then


“Sixty-five months into Bush's presidency, conservatives feel betrayed... The main cause of conservatives' anger with Bush is this: He talked like a conservative to win our votes but never governed like a conservative.” -- Richard Viguerie, “Bush's Base Betrayal,” The Washington Post, Sunday, May 21, 2006


“[Richard Viguerie], who also is a leading fund-raiser for conservative candidates, indicated he would not support Reagan in 1984, adding: ‘I'm very disillusioned with a president that walks away from the Soviet Union.’” -- “Conservative Leader Blasts Reagan on Plane Reaction,” Associated Press, September 8, 1983

“‘Just like Jimmy Carter gave conservatives the back of the hand, we see the same thing happening in the Reagan administration,’” said Richard Viguerie, the direct-mail wizard who is the leading fund-raiser for conservative candidates and causes. ‘Almost every conservative I have talked to in the last two months has been disappointed in the initial appointments to the Reagan cabinet,’ Viguerie said.”-- “Conservatives Angry with Reagan,” Associated Press, January 27, 1981

“‘The White House slapped us in the face,’ says Richard A. Viguerie, the conservative direct-mail expert. ‘The White House is saying you don't have a constituency we're concerned about. We don't care about you.’” -- “For Reagan and the New Right, the Honeymoon Is Over,” Washington Post, July 21, 1981

“[M]any longtime conservative activists are not buying Reagan's rhetoric. ‘The emperor has no clothes on; just about every conservative I know is now acknowledging it,’ said Viguerie.” -- “Reagan Seeks to Calm His Right-Wing Critics” Los Angeles Times, September 6, 1987

“In other important matters he [Reagan] has changed sides and he is now allied with his former adversaries, the liberals, the Democrats and the Soviets," said Viguerie.” -- “Conservatives Hit Reagan on Treaty,” Los Angeles Times, December 5, 1987

“Eight years after Reagan's nomination for president, the conservative movement is directionless” -- Richard Viguerie, “What Reagan Revolution?” The Washington Post, August 21, 1988

Richard A. Viguerie Replies to White House:

Apparently the White House’s response to my article in the May 21 Washington Post is to send out an e-mail from Peter H. Wehner, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, consisting of six quotes by me criticizing Ronald Reagan during his presidency.

That’s a lot easier than trying to respond to my arguments. That’s a lot easier than trying to explain away the many examples I give of how Bush has betrayed the conservative movement. And that is standard operating procedure for this White House: Put the spotlight on the president’s critic, rather than respond to the critic’s arguments.

Peter, I plead guilty to your implied criticism of me. I am, indeed, a consistent conservative. I put loyalty to conservative principles above loyalty to the Republican Party or a politician.

Yes, I followed that policy even during the Reagan presidency. President Reagan was a hero to me and most conservatives. I voted for him in 1980 and 1984, and the conservative organizations that used my direct mail services helped elect him to the White House. But he was not perfect by any means, and his administration disappointed conservatives on a number of issues. Reagan’s true friends were those who would tell him when he was not governing as a conservative, such as the appointments of Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy to the Supreme Court, the tax increases of 1982 and 1983, and signing into law the amnesty of illegal aliens in 1986.

As I explain in my forthcoming book, Conservatives Betrayed,

* This is why conservatives must maintain their independence. Our job as conservatives is not to be mouthpieces for any administration, but to give credit where credit is due, and to give criticism where criticism is due.

* This is why the proper role for the conservative movement is to act as a Third Force in American politics, rather than a third party. Our constant goal is to return the Republican Party to conservative principles and to move the Democratic Party to the right as well.

* In the 1960s we conservatives learned how to nominate a conservative (Barry Goldwater) for the presidency. During the 1970s and in 1980, we conservatives learned how to nominate and elect a conservative (Ronald Reagan) as president. The remaining task for conservatives is to nominate and elect a president who will govern as a conservative.

One final word, Peter. I knew Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush is no Ronald Reagan. Bush’s presidency follows in the tradition of Big Government Democrats and Republicans like Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, and George H. W. Bush. That is not a conservative line-up!

Note that while he asserts that Ronald Reagan didn't govern as a conservative he fails to include the tax-hiking, entitlement-rescuing, liberal-judge-nominating, record-deficit-spending, amnesty-granting Gipper amongst the Big Government Republicans, though he does have sense enough not to include the budget-balancing, entitlement-reforming Bill Clinton among the Big Government Democrats. Of course, fairness would require him to acknowledge that George W. Bush, despite some deficit spending and amnesty, at least belongs with Reagan and Clinton -- if not to their Right -- on the basis of tax cuts, entitlement reform, and exemplary judicial appointments.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 1:46 PM


The Cold Wars are coming (Niall Ferguson, Los Angeles Times, May 24th, 2006)

Why does it suddenly seem so hard to stop Iran from going nuclear? Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is behaving with such recklessness that it ought to be easy. In October, he called for Israel to be "wiped off the map". It is, he told cheering Indonesian students last week, a "tyrannical regime that one day will be destroyed." Simultaneously, Ahmadinejad has trumpeted Iran's "right" to pursue its nuclear ambitions, barely disguising his country's intention to move from energy into weaponry.

Yet the West -- what's left of it --seems paralyzed, watching Ahmadinejad with the same appalled fascination that a large and docile cow might regard a rearing cobra.

It is, of course, always dangerous to draw analogies with the 1930s. Too many bad decisions have been made over the years on the basis of facile parallels -- between Hitler and Nasser, between Hitler and Saddam Hussein. Still, in one respect, Ahmadinejad really has taken a leaf out of the Füührer's book. He has discovered the counterintuitive truth that it works to talk aggressively before you have acquired weapons of mass destruction.

The key is that weak opponents are unnerved when they fear they are dealing with a madman. In this respect, the long and nutty letter sent by Ahmadinejad to President Bush last week was exemplary, with its repeated references to "the prophet ... Jesus Christ (PBUH)" (Peace Be Upon Him).

Four years ago, George W. Bush would have trash-canned such drivel with a snort of "WBUH" (War Be Upon Him). But those days are gone. Bush is now almost as unpopular as Richard Nixon or Jimmy Carter at the nadirs of their political fortunes. Not only is domestic support lacking for any preemptive action against Tehran, international support is close to nonexistent.

In short, it seems highly probable that nothing will be done this year, next year or the year after to stop Iran's nuclear program. Sure, maybe a miracle will happen and the Iranian people will get rid of the madman and the mullahs. But I'm not holding my breath.

Perhaps we can have a contest here. Complete the following sentence: “The world is going to stand by and watch Iran acquire nuclear weapons because...”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:22 PM


Whining, Bitching and Moaning (Joerg Colberg, 5/24/06, Der Spiegel)

I have been living in the US for about seven years now, and if there's one thing I dread when I go home to visit Germany, it's the complaining. I had never realized how much Germans love to complain until I moved away.

The complaints range from the small, which are occasionally understandable, to the large, which tend never to make any real sense at all. If you go to Germany you will definitely be subjected to hours and hours of complaints, especially if you dare to disagree.

Why would you: (a) go there; or (b) disagree that it's a hellhole?

Posted by Peter Burnet at 12:29 PM


Statue no one wants will be unveiled anyway (Brian Hutchinson, National Post, May 23rd, 2006)

Isaac Romano, U.S.-born child therapist, dreamer, promoter and irrepressible peace impresario, stood on the grass outside Vancouver City Hall yesterday. It began to rain.

To his right, on a table, stood a sculpture: Three figures in wax and clay. A man and woman, about to be embraced by another, taller man. The woman is looking over her shoulder, anxiously, toward the viewer.

After two years of delays, missteps and "misunderstandings," announced Mr. Romano, the draft dodger statue that no one wanted will finally become a reality.

Too rich to be excerpted, this article captures nicely the pathetic absurdity of a greying generation trying desperately to keep living the putative glories of their youth.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 12:16 PM


President Doubts He'll See Gore Film (James Gerstenzang, Los Angeles Times, May 23rd, 2006)

President Bush had a two-word response when he was asked Monday whether he would see Al Gore's documentary on global warming.

"Doubt it."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:53 AM


Prophet of a Third Way: The Shape of Kuyper's Socio-Political Vision (Peter S. Heslam, Spring 2002, Markets & Morality)

A century after Abraham Kuyper’s visit to the United States, the issue that dominated political discourse both in Northern Europe and in the United States was that of the so-called Third Way. This was reflected in a meeting that took place in Washington in the autumn of 1998 between Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, the serving governmental heads of the United Kingdom and the United States. [...]

All authority of earthly governments, Kuyper declared, derived from the authority of God alone. Had sin not entered into the human experience, the organic unity of the human race would have been preserved, but as a result of the Fall, God had instituted civil authority as a way of keeping check on the potential for anarchy. The divine origin of political authority was true of all states, Kuyper insisted, whatever the form of government.

This double assertion—that sovereignty resided in God alone, and that this held true whatever the form of government—raises the question if, and to what extent, Kuyper was in favor of democracy on point of principle. It is a question made particularly pertinent through the characterization that one sometimes encounters of Kuyper as a “Christian Democrat.” Kuyper himself is partly responsible for this characterization, not least as a result of his visit to the United States. In a remarkable speech given in Grand Rapids on October 26, 1898 to an enthusiastic audience of around two thousand, Kuyper declared that he was a Christian Democrat and, as such, was in agreement with some of the central standpoints of the Democratic party of the United States.

In keeping with its name, the Grand Rapids Democrat was delighted with such an apparent display of sympathy for the Democratic cause, and carried a report on Kuyper’s address under the bold headline: HE IS A DEMOCRAT. Kuyper hastily responded by writing an article for the newspaper in which he declared his sympathies for the Republican party. In the article he explained that, although he was happy to be known in America as a “Christian Democrat,” this was not a sign of special affinity with the Democratic party of the United States—the party whose figurehead was Thomas Jefferson. On the contrary, he wrote:

We Christian, or, if you please, Calvinistic democrats in the Netherlands, were always considering the principles of the French Revolution, which Jefferson advocated, as the very target of our Calvinistic bullets.

It was Alexander Hamilton, Jefferson’s Republican opponent, Kuyper explained with an obvious show of humor, who had declared that the American evolution was as little akin to the principles of 1789 as a Puritan matron of New England was like the infidel heroine of a French novel. [...]

The revolution in France, Kuyper declared, was quite unlike the three revolutions of the Calvinistic world. The Dutch Revolt, the Glorious Revolution in England, and the American Revolution had all left God’s sovereignty intact. But in the French Revolution, the basis of free will was located in the individual, rather than in God, and from the individual it was passed on to “the people.” Kuyper regarded this idea, expressed in the notion of social contract, “identical to atheism,” and one that inevitably led to the destruction of all moral authority.

It was the kind of individualism embodied in the political vision of Jean Jacques Rousseau that Kuyper had in mind when he issued this criticism. This is evident in Kuyper’s treatment of the social question in his speech to the Social Congress in 1891, in which he denounced the individualism of the French Revolution for undermining the organic interrelatedness of society and destroying the spiritual and moral makeup of human beings and their social relationships. In the end, all that was left was the raw egoism of “the monotonous self-seeking individual, asserting his own self-sufficiency.” [...]

Kuyper’s Third Way between the evils of popular-sovereignty, on the one hand, and State-sovereignty, on the other, was sphere-sovereignty—or, as he called it himself, “sovereignty in the individual social spheres.” For Kuyper, society was made up of a variety of spheres, such as the family, business, science, and art. They derived their authority not from the State, which occupied a sphere of its own, but from God, to whom they were directly accountable. Each of the spheres developed spontaneously and organically, according to the powers God had given them in the first moments of creation. [...]

The contemporary relevance of Kuyper’s ideas goes beyond providing the framework for criticism. Fourth, they also supply the basis for a positive alternative social paradigm that takes the freedom and integrity of the various social spheres as the basic structuring principle of societal life. At a certain level, as noted earlier in the case of Otto von Gierke, Kuyper’s vision cannot be easily distinguished from mainstream pluralist thought and, indeed, from certain aspects of current Third Way thinking, which seeks to limit the role of the State. For Kuyper, the State is not to interfere in the life of the spheres unless conflict arises between them, in which case it is to act as umpire, to restore justice. In the normal course of events it serves in an enabling capacity, facilitating the free and equitable development of each social sphere. Both Max Weber and Leonard Hobhouse came to a similarly pluralist understanding of social spheres (or “associations”), and the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in his pamphlet The Third Way, endorses the use of the State “as an enabling force, protecting effective communities and voluntary organizations and encouraging their growth.”

Kuyper’s vision is distinctive, however, and on at least three accounts. First, he regards the norms that govern the life of the spheres as fundamental structural principles rather than as principles that provide the basis merely for individual morality or “tagged-on” ethics. Second, for Kuyper the limited role of the State does not imply that the State adopts a liberal “neutrality.” It means, instead, that it is able to act as a positive vehicle for public justice, safeguarding the freedom and integrity of the spheres and their members. Third, Weber, Durkheim, and other pluralist-minded thinkers tended to pursue a neutral form of social science, combined with religious and ideological agnosticism. Kuyper, by contrast, took the acknowledgement of God as creator of the cosmos as the foundation for all social science. In this way, his social teaching avoids the belief—knowledge dualism that characterizes virtually all the other varieties of pluralist theory. The problem with Kuyper’s alternative—an alternative in which the sovereignty of God is a public doctrine significant for every area of society—is not so much that it has been tried and has been found wanting (to paraphrase G. K. Chesterton’s comment on Christianity), but that it has not been tried, not at least in a consistent and persistent way that takes account of contemporary circumstances. As Max Stackhouse suggests, Kuyper’s work carries implications that are wider than even his most devoted followers have recognized.

It's interesting that the French understand that the Anglo-American model is a dagger aimed at their Enlightenment heart (to mix the metaphor), even if we don't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:40 AM


An Amnesty by Any Other Name ... (EDWIN MEESE III. 5/24/06, NY Times)

Two decades ago, while serving as attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, I was in the thick of things as Congress debated the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. The situation today bears uncanny similarities to what we went through then.

In the mid-80's, many members of Congress — pushed by the Democratic majority in the House and the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy — advocated amnesty for long-settled illegal immigrants. President Reagan considered it reasonable to adjust the status of what was then a relatively small population, and I supported his decision. [...]

The difference is that President Reagan called this what it was: amnesty. Indeed, look up the term "amnesty" in Black's Law Dictionary, and you'll find it says, "the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act provided amnesty for undocumented aliens already in the country."

Like the amnesty bill of 1986, the current Senate proposal would place those who have resided illegally in the United States on a path to citizenship, provided they meet a similar set of conditions and pay a fine and back taxes. The illegal immigrant does not go to the back of the line but gets immediate legalized status, while law-abiding applicants wait in their home countries for years to even get here. And that's the line that counts. In the end, slight differences in process do not change the overriding fact that the 1986 law and today's bill are both amnesties.

George W. Bush's problems with the Right stem from being too much like Ronald Reagan rather than not enough.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:58 AM


Democrats in disarray (Donald Lambro, 5/23/06, Insight)

The Democrats' election-year agenda is still a work in progress as party leaders attempt the impossible: to draft a document that appeals to all of its disparate ideological factions.

But the word coming out of the Democrats' inner sanctums is there's deep disagreement over its contents and core message and a brewing argument over the timing of its release.

Parts of the agenda have been floated piecemeal over the past several months, but they were either boilerplate proposals, like raising the minimum wage, or an attempt to sound tough on national security, but without any specifics on how to end the insurgency in Iraq or set timetables for troop withdrawals, as their large antiwar wing demands.

The rest of the agenda being drafted in Democratic backrooms will deal with domestic issues that, once revealed, could alter the dynamics of this election in the GOP's favor.

The political reality that Bill Clinton understood is that to advocate for any one of the primary concerns of each Democratic constituency is an electoral loser. In 1992, after twelve years of Reaganism, the Party was desperate enough to let him run on tax and government bureaucracy cuts, free trade, entitlement reform, Judeo-Christian values, law-and-order, and American exceptionalism. At that point, they were lucky enough to be running against a Bush who had gotten himself on the wrong side of nearly every one of those issues. However, here in 2006, they find themselves reacting to a Bush who's on the right side of every one, making it extraordinarily hard for them to offer a legislative agenda that doesn't consist of mere "mega-dittoes," which would sound especially discordant coupled with their seething hatred of the President they're agreeing with.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 AM


U.S. Plan to Lure Nurses May Hurt Poor Nations (CELIA W. DUGGER, 5/24/06, NY Times)

As the United States runs short of nurses, senators are looking abroad. A little-noticed provision in their immigration bill would throw open the gate to nurses and, some fear, drain them from the world's developing countries.

The legislation is expected to pass this week, and the Senate provision, which removes the limit on the number of nurses who can immigrate, has been largely overlooked in the emotional debate over illegal immigration.

Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, who sponsored the proposal, said it was needed to help the United States cope with a growing nursing shortage.

He said he doubted the measure would greatly increase the small number of African nurses coming to the United States, but acknowledged that it could have an impact on the Philippines and India, which are already sending thousands of nurses to the United States a year.

The exodus of nurses from poor to rich countries has strained health systems in the developing world, which are already facing severe shortages of their own.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 AM


Brave new marketing? Lost reconfigures TV: Even your favourite show is becoming interactive (Scott Colbourne, 5/24/06, Globe and Mail)

It has been called TV 2.0: The hit series Lost has left passive viewing behind, entering an interactive space where fans comb through fake websites for clues and read real books by fake authors in an attempt to figure out what is happening on a mysterious island. This is either a brave new world of storytelling or an absurd marketing gimmick -- and it shouldn't really matter which, since both could be entertaining to follow.

The Lost story, in one form or another, promises to continue over the summer even though its second season wraps up tonight . [...]

During a commercial break from the madness of its May 3 episode, an ad for something called The Hanso Foundation was aired. There was a 1-800 number to call and an elaborate new website for the fake organization was launched ( Callers and web visitors were directed to clues that were part of a game, The Lost Experience. It belongs to a category known as alternate reality games, or ARGs, wherein fictional stories are combined with real-world elements. There are puzzles to solve and research to be done using a mix of real and contrived websites.

The Hanso site, with its visually impressive splash page and flashing clues in unexpected places, is certainly worth a visit just to see the effort (and the real funds) involved in the game, but several other linked sites have been derided for being blatant ads, especially one for a soft drink that has little to do with the castaways on the island.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM


Author is at home among Venice's mysteries (Adam Woog, 5/24/06, The Seattle Times)

Q: The writing finances your passion: a Baroque opera company.

A: Yeah, why not? It's the best thing I can do with the money.

Q: The company you co-direct, Il Complesso Barocco, does only Baroque opera.

A: That's correct — Vivaldi, Handel, maybe Monteverdi.

Q: What's your role beyond the financial?

A: I'm the yenta — I nag.

Q: Did your love for opera predate your move to Venice?

A: Yes. They're in no way connected. La Fenice [Venice's opera house] is a beautiful theater but the level of performance is not distinguished. [...]

Q: But your books aren't published in Italy.

A: No. This is my choice. I'm famous in Germany and Austria. In Venice I'm spotted three or four times a day by Germans or Austrians. But I want to live where I'm not a celebrity. This isn't Greta Garbo fake humility stuff — I really don't want the cool, even, anonymous tenor of my life disturbed.

Q: Is it true there's almost no crime in Venice?

A: Almost none. It's closed off physically, and it's a maze. Where are you gonna go? Also, Venetians are nosy — if you start screaming, windows will open and the cops will be called; they might not come, but they will be called. And I think Venetians are a reasonably law-abiding people — not necessarily honest, but law-abiding.

Q: What's the distinction?

A: To survive in Italy requires a certain amount of law-breaking. If you want to get anything done, you employ people in nero, "in black" — off the books. Everybody does it, so it's hard to take a high moral tone. It's illegal but not criminal, I suppose. And if you have troubles with the administration it is not unknown to bribe.

I bribed someone myself once, to get something — a 17th-century house, not in Venice. It's better that someone like me got it, because I saved it from being flattened by bulldozers, so my weenie little bribe worked toward the general good.

Q: What's next for Brunetti?

A: I just finished a book about illegal adoption, which is a tremendous problem in Italy, and I think the next one's on religious cults — I have about 100 pages written.

If P.D. James weren't just gong strong but peaking late, this would be the best police series going.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 AM


Iran Requests Direct Talks on Nuclear Program (Karl Vick and Dafna Linzer, May 24, 2006, Washington Post)

The eagerness for talks demonstrates a profound change in Iran's political orthodoxy, emphatically erasing a taboo against contact with Washington that has both defined and confined Tehran's public foreign policy for more than a quarter-century, they said. [...]

"You know, two months ago nobody would believe that Mr. Khamenei and Mr. Ahmadinejad together would be trying to get George W. Bush to begin negotiations," said Saeed Laylaz, a former government official and prominent analyst in Tehran. "This is a sign of changing strategy. They realize the situation is dangerous and they should not waste time, that they should reach out." [...]

Earlier attempts at outreach to Washington have been thwarted by conservatives. "The tradition is the hard-liners need American hostility," the analyst said. The most serious attempt was by Ahmadinejad's predecessor, reformist cleric Mohammad Khatami.

"When Khatami tried to do it, the leader rejected it," said the European diplomat. "But I guess they're worried enough. People don't want sanctions. Domestically, it's a good move."

Indeed, by last week, a prominent member of Iran's conservative parliament made headlines proposing talks with members of Congress.

"The taboo of the discussion is gone, but I don't think they've formed a consensus about normalization of relations," said a Western diplomat in Tehran. "But 'let's talk to the Americans' -- that was very controversial until recently."

The change appears rooted at least partly in Iran's political scene, now dominated entirely by conservatives. Pillar pointed out that with reformists driven from government, conservatives no longer fear that political credit for renewing contact with Washington will accrue to a rival domestic force. The Iranian public strongly favors restoring ties.

They've handed us a wedge that we aren't smart enough to drive through their regime--President Bush should accept the offer but to speak directly with Ayatollah Khamenei.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


America, Israel and Tony Judt (Rick Richman, April 26, 2006, Jewish Press)

After Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer posted an anti-Israel polemic on the website of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government...The New York Times devoted the entire center of its op-ed page to a 1,300 word evaluation by Tony Judt – an NYU professor whose previous essays asserted Israelis were "trapped" in the "story of their own uniqueness;" their "invocation" of the Holocaust was "special pleading;" the term "terrorist" was a "rhetorical device" (comparable to "Communist"); Ariel Sharon had "blackmailed" America; Israel might be described as a "rogue state;" the "fascist" label "fits better than ever;" a Jewish state was an "anachronism" that was "bad for the Jews;" and it "has no place" in the modern world.

Not surprisingly, Judt dismissed assertions of anti-Semitism and raised instead a "pressing question" he asserted we "cannot ignore":

It will not be self-evident to future generations of Americans why the imperial might and international reputation of the United States are so closely aligned with one small, controversial Mediterranean client state. It is already not at all self-evident to Europeans, Latin Americans, Africans or Asians.

Let's rewrite those sentences to put Judt's point in clearer relief, eliminating the tendentious adjectives ("imperial" might and "client" state) as well as the euphemistic one ("Mediterranean" for "Middle East"): Judt cannot understand why the U.S. would closely align its power and prestige with a democratic state under attack in the Middle East, since the state is "small" and "controversial" and unpopular in the world.

Judt's question epitomizes the cynicism and amorality of realism – the school of foreign policy analysis that relies on power and interests as the determinants of international relations, and which values stability above all else.

But Judt is not a foreign policy expert; he is a historian. As a result, a historical answer to his professed puzzlement over America's commitment to Israel may be the best response – using some twentieth century international history, and some American history even older than that.

Intellectuals can';t figure out why Americans have always hated them so much, but note that Mr. Judt's argument, whether anti-Semitic or not, is at least anti-Zionist and therefore a repudiation of the Bible and God, which something like 85% of Americans believe in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


Extremism Isn't Islamic Law (Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid, May 23, 2006, Washington Post)

It is vital that we differentiate between the Koran, from which much of the raw material for producing Islamic law is derived, and the law itself. While its revelatory inspiration is divine, Islamic law is man-made and thus subject to human interpretation and revision. [...]

All of humanity, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, is threatened by the forces of Islamist extremism. It is these extremists, masquerading as traditional Muslims, who angrily call for the death of Abdul Rahman or the beheading of Danish cartoonists. Their objective is raw political power and the eventual radicalization of all 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide. Western involvement in this "struggle for the soul of Islam" is a matter of self-preservation for the West and is critical given the violent tactics and strength of radical elements in Muslim societies worldwide.

Muslim theologians must revise their understanding of Islamic law, and recognize that punishment for apostasy is merely the legacy of historical circumstances and political calculations stretching back to the early days of Islam. Such punishments run counter to the clear Koranic injunction "Let there be no compulsion in religion" (2:256).

People of goodwill of every faith and nation must unite to ensure the triumph of religious freedom and of the "right" understanding of Islam, to avert global catastrophe and spare millions of others the fate of Sudan's great religious and political leader, Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, who was executed on a false charge of apostasy. The millions of victims of "jihadist" violence in Sudan -- whose numbers continue to rise every day -- would have been spared if Taha's vision of Islam had triumphed instead of that of the extremists.

The greatest challenge facing the contemporary Muslim world is to bring our limited, human understanding of Islamic law into harmony with its divine spirit -- in order to reflect God's mercy and compassion, and to bring the blessings of peace, justice and tolerance to a suffering world.

Islamicism is a Muslim heresy just as Marxism, Darwinism, and Freudianism were Judeo-Christian heresies and pushed by the same sorts of people for the same reasons--it's just about political power.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Harvard Christians On The Rise: Number of evangelical Christians at Harvard has increased, Summers says (STEPHANIE S. GARLOW, 5/2/2006, Harvard Crimson)

Harvard United Ministry chaplain Jeffrey K. Barneson says Harvard has a reputation for being irreligious. “I get these calls from people saying, ‘Oh I’ve heard that Harvard is a godless place,’” he says.

This reputation may soon be no more. According to University President Lawrence H. Summers, the evangelical Christian community here at Harvard has grown significantly.

Speaking to prospective freshmen during prefrosh weekend, Summers said that the number of students at Harvard who identify themselves as evangelical Christians has doubled in the last decade. [...]

Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church Peter J. Gomes says that when he first came to the University in 1970, there were no evangelical chaplains officially connected with the United Ministry.

Of the 38 different chaplains currently affiliated with the United Ministry, Ministry President William S. Campbell says that there are probably a half dozen who would identify as evangelicals, several of whom joined the ministry in the past decade, Gomes says.

According to Gomes, changes in the University’s admissions policies may explain the growth of the evangelical community.

“It’s more than likely that we also are going to have a larger pool of religious people” as Harvard becomes a more diversified place, Gomes says.

Jordan L. Hylden ’06, former co-president of CI, specifically cites the student body’s increasing racial diversity as a factor.

Jesus isn't on the mainline.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


Journalists stage boycott of PM's press conference (ALEXANDER PANETTA, 5/24/06, CANADIAN PRESS)

About two dozen journalists walked out on Stephen Harper yesterday after he refused to take their questions, the latest chapter in an unseemly spat between the Prime Minister and members of the national media.

Parliament Hill veterans described the scene of reporters boycotting a prime ministerial news conference as a first.

It resulted in Harper being forced to make his announcement on aid to Darfur to a small handful of reporters, photographers and camera operators outside the House of Commons.

The impromptu boycott was the latest move by journalists in their ongoing tug-of-war with Harper over who controls news conferences.

He's not being nice to them so they refuse to do their jobs? Nice to see we don't have the most immature press corps in the Anglosphere.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Labour: now a crisis of faith: Public believe Tories would be better for health, education and law and order (Julian Glover, May 24, 2006, The Guardian)

Public faith in Labour's ability to deliver on its core promises is collapsing across the board, with the Conservatives pulling ahead as the party with the best policies on a range of issues including health and education, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today.

The findings suggest the base of support that gave Labour three comprehensive election victories has been badly eroded by difficulties in the NHS and the Home Office and by the Conservative party's renewal under David Cameron.

The worrying picture for Labour is confirmed by a four-point rise in Tory support to 38%, the party's highest rating in 13 years, matched only during the fuel protests of 2000.

In a sign that Labour may be losing support among women voters, the poll found they are more likely than men to support Conservative policies on health, education and the economy. Although the difference is small, it is a sign that Mr Cameron's rebranding of Tory priorities is making a difference. Women were more likely than men to vote Labour in the last three general elections.

The most important question for Labour is whether it can survive losing its most conservative leader--the Democrats didn't, despite the Clinton/Gore administration having delivered unprecedented peace and prosperity.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 7:21 AM


An exceptional woman (Barbara Kay, National Post, May 24th, 2006)

When news broke of Canada's first female combat death last week -- that of Captain Nichola Goddard in an Afghanistan firefight -- Canadians greeted the news in a gender-neutral way. It was not a female soldier we mourned per se, but simply a soldier. The Department of National Defence's chief historian applauded this as "a reflection, really, on society saying we have accepted the implications of gender integration."

I don't think that's true. Canadians accepted Captain Goddard's death without ambivalence because she was a career soldier, on a necessary, well-executed mission, who had willingly undertaken the risk of combat duty. She left no children behind. Her death could not be imputed to lesser physical strength or other female handicaps. Most importantly, she died instantly, and with dignity. Had she been captured (like American PFC Jessica Lynch in Iraq in 2003) and raped or tortured, Canadians would have experienced anguish of a very gender-specific kind.

Captain Goddard's courage and impeccable service record do not indicate a wider trend for women in the military. She was a "manly" soldier -- I say that with great admiration and no irony -- and the exception to a general rule. Women do not, and have never sought, military careers in more than token numbers. Moreover, even combat-trained women rarely opt for combat.[...]

Over the past 15 years, a vast amount of money and good will has been expended in developed countries to support the PC value of gender integration in combat training. Amongst other accommodations here and in the United States, we've witnessed lowered combat training standards for some women, rigorous harassment codes and the enlargement of aircraft carrier bathroom facilities.

Nevertheless, in 30 or so wars currently in progress, most uniformed women are still choosing the traditional (and honourable) path of their non-uniformed historical sisters -- providing logistical, administrative and medical support to the men who kill and get killed. As competent and professional as Captain Goddard was, her attitude was unusual. There are about 8,000 women in the Canadian Forces (CF), of whom 225 actually occupy the "combat arms" trades. What have we spent to recruit, train and service women in order to deploy this low number? Don't ask (because they won't tell).

Israeli military historian Martin Van Creveld recently unpacked many of the myths promoted to sustain the illusion that men and women are equally keen to face combat.

A case in point: After a November, 2005, column on the folly of integrated combat training, I received indignant e-mails from female CF members who mentioned, amongst other examples supporting their received wisdom, the heroism of servicewomen in the Second World War. Where did they get this idea? Van Creveld illustrates the collusion of liberal media with feminist theory by citing a 1985 Life magazine WWII commemorative issue that grossly misleads the reader by featuring portraits of war heroes: 10 male soldiers alongside seven female soldiers. The reality, according to Van Creveld? From 1941-45, 15 million American men were conscripted. Of those, half went overseas where 300,000 died. During the entire war, 470 servicewomen died of all causes, 12 from enemy fire.

As the ever-shrewd Ms. Kay notes, the key to the public acceptance of the death of this brave soldier was the absence of torture and the fact that she left no children behind. Integrated combat remains the politically correct luxury of militaries that can no longer conceive of defeat.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:30 AM


Hitler's World Cup drama an own goal, say theatregoers (Kate Connolly, The Telegraph, May 24th, 2006)

Theatre audiences in Hamburg have been outraged by a new play in which Adolf Hitler dreams of holding a World Cup to rekindle Germany's glory on the world stage.

My Ball - A German Dream, complete with a pop-song accompaniment, satirises the last days of the Nazi regime.

As Hitler's demoralised followers wait for him to commit suicide, he comes up with the idea of a football tournament, in which he is determined to engineer a Germany victory. The megalomaniac believes that it will save his Reich from final destruction.

Erik Gedeon, the Swiss-Swedish director, said the play was a dig at the nation's current attempts to project its hopes for an economic revival on the World Cup, which it is hosting in just under three weeks.

But critics have condemned the play, which opened this week at Hamburg's Schauspielhaus, as being in bad taste and appallingly timed.

The climax comes when the USAF foils the plot by parachuting tens of thousands of cases of Budweiser into Germany, thus completely destroying morale and checking the militarist revival.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Effort to repeal state gay-rights law gathers momentum from pulpit (Andrew Garber, 5/24/06, Seattle Times)

A referendum campaign aimed at repealing Washington's gay-rights law has no paid signature gatherers, no advertising budget and not much money in the bank. Yet supporters say signatures are rolling in by the thousands.

The reason? The Faith and Freedom Network and Sound the Alarm, two conservative religious groups that existed before the measure was filed, say they are leading an extensive grass-roots campaign, urging congregations throughout Washington to sign petitions and volunteer. [...]

Anne Levinson, campaign chairwoman of the opposition group, Washington Won't Discriminate, said Referendum 65 likely will make the ballot, given the efforts of the various religious organizations.

Her group has raised more than $100,000 to battle the referendum. Supporters have until June 6 to turn in signatures of at least 112,440 registered voters to qualify for the November ballot.

The religious groups and churches that oppose the gay-rights law have an enormous capacity to gather petition signatures on their own.

That was clear at the Northshore Baptist Church, where more than 2,600 people attended its regular services Sunday.

The church held three services in a large auditorium with balcony seating. Hundreds of people packed the 9:30 a.m. service as Senior Pastor Jan Hettinga urged them to sign petitions to get Referendum 65 on the ballot.

"This is about intolerance of the Christian world view. It's about codifying into law the acceptance of a behavior so that we cannot say it is wrong. That is what we're objecting to," he said.

May 23, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:38 PM


Blair survives a backbench mutiny over trust schools: Conservatives help Prime Minister push through plans despite rebellion by 69 Labour backbenchers (David Charter, 5/24/06, Times of London)

TONY BLAIR suffered his biggest backbench rebellion since the general election last night but the revolt by 69 MPs failed to stop legislation to create new self-governing trust schools.

They voted for a ballot of parents every time a school wants to adopt the new status but the Government won the day with the support of Conservative MPs. [...]

Fifty-two Labour MPs voted against the Bill’s second reading in March, leaving the Government dependent on Conservative votes to save it. Nick Gibb, the Shadow Schools Minister, said: “Our position is that we are more government than the Government when it comes to this Bill.”

Bill Clinton's entire positive legacy--GATT, NAFTA, & Welfare Reform--similarly depended on the GOP, not Democrats. It would seem parties of the Left have more difficulty reconciling themselves to the Third Way than those of the Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:46 PM


10 Upper Valley Schools Fail ‘Adequate Yearly Progress' Standard (Carolyn Lorié, 5/23/06, Valley News)

Ten area schools were among the 156 in New Hampshire that did not make “adequate yearly progress” -- the federal benchmark used to gauge the quality and effectiveness of schools -- according to assessment results released yesterday.

The schools that fell short of AYP were Bernice A. Ray School in Hanover, Claremont Middle School and Disnard and Maple Avenue elementary school in Claremont, Indian River School and Canaan Elementary School in Canaan, Unity Elementary School in Unity, Newport Middle School and Towle Elementary School in Newport, and Kearsarge Middle School in New London.

Of these, only Unity, Disnard and Claremont failed because of low scores among the total student body; the others failed because of low scores for special-education students, low-income students, or both. [...]

While some learning-disabled children were excused from taking the test and were allowed an alternative assessment -- a portfolio system in which a year's worth of work is evaluated -- some educators said the state requirements were too stringent. “It's a narrow funnel,” said Victoria Sutcliffe, a special-education teacher at Bernice A. Ray School. Sutcliffe said the scores provide a useful “snapshot” in working with her students, but added that they have to be used in conjunction with other assessments.

Sutcliffe also said that the test results were predictable. “It did not tell me anything new,” she said. “I did not have any surprises.”

Overall, students at the Hanover school exceeded the state requirement for making AYP, but learning-disabled students failed to meet the criteria in both reading and math.

A school that fails to meet the standard in a subject area two years in a row is classified as “in need of improvement,” and its administrators are required to submit a plan to the state outlining what actions they will take to bolster scores. Four area schools fell into that category: Claremont Middle School for both reading and math, Indian River School for math and Towle Elementary and Newport Elementary schools for reading and math.

Any school receiving federal funding -- often called a Title I school-- is subject to additional sanctions for missing the mark two years in a row: If there are other schools within the district that offer the same grade levels, parents can opt to pull their child from the failing school and enroll him or her in a school deemed to perform better. Indian River, Towle and Newport Middle schools all receive federal funding, but, like many schools in New Hampshire, they are the only choice within their districts.

Thus do you introduce vouchers to even a school where the average student exceeeds standards. When the GOP gets to 60 seats in the Senate and allows students to transfer anywhere their parents choose, not just public schools, you're got a universal voucher program.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 PM


McCain calls for more nukes (ERIC MOSKOWITZ, 5/23/06, Concord Monitor)

The United States needs to overcome its fear of nuclear power and embrace the technology as a way to wean itself from fossil fuels, Sen. John McCain told an audience in Manchester yesterday.

Nuclear power "is safe. The technology is here," McCain said, speaking to a crowd of about 200 at a breakfast hosted by The New Hampshire Federation of Republican Women. "It's a NIMBY (not in my backyard) problem, and a waste-disposal problem. It is not a technological problem."

McCain pointed to France, which draws more than three-quarters of its power from nuclear plants, and Russia, which has plans to build 40 new plants, as examples. "We've got to get over it, get over Three Mile Island," he said, referring to the 1979 accident at a Pennsylvania nuclear power plant.

If the sainted John McCain says it, you know it has to be so.....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 PM


On immigration, for once, Bush understands what the public wants (Dick Morris, 5/24/06, The Hill))

It is odd how there are so many issues on which the two political-party establishments in the United States sharply differ but on which the public is relatively united. As the debate rages in Congress on whether to be tough on the border or generous in granting citizenship and guest-worker status to illegal immigrants, the Fox News poll of May 9 echoes the public’s point of view: Do it all!

While their party leaders steadfastly resist granting “amnesty” by allowing “illegal immigrants who have jobs in the United States to apply for legal temporary-worker status,” voters back the proposal by an overwhelming 63-29 percent. And, despite the posturing of the right wing, Republican voters say yes by 63-30.

Nor are Democrats any more likely to fall in line behind their party’s polarizing positions. Asked if they back “using thousands of National Guard troops temporarily to help patrol agents along the Mexican border to stop illegal immigration, voters as a whole answer yes by 63-31, and even Democrats support the idea by 52-40.

And everybody supports increasing the Border Patrol force. Voters as a whole back the addition of thousands of new agents by 79-17, and Democrats go along by 73-22.

It's funny listening to pundits ponder why the president keeps pushing the issue when only the wahoo wing of each party opposes him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 PM


Okay, that's pretty funny.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM


The End of Motherhood?: But somehow the United States better mixes child rearing and the job market than do other advanced societies. (Robert J. Samuelson, 5/29/06, Newsweek)

Up to a point, we understand plunging fertility rates. The usual suspects: improved incomes; health and life expectancies (as more children survive, parents have fewer babies); growing urbanization (families need fewer children to work the fields); women's access to education and jobs; contraception; later and fewer marriages; more divorces. But our understanding is only partial, because there's one big exception to low fertility rates: the United States.

American fertility is roughly at the replacement rate, 2.1 children per woman. Nor does the U.S. rate merely reflect, as some think, a higher rate among Hispanic Americans. The fertility rate is 1.9 for non-Hispanic whites and about 2 for African-Americans, reports demographer Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute. What explains the American exception? Eberstadt cites three differences with Europe and most other advanced countries: greater optimism, greater patriotism and stronger religious values. There's some supporting evidence. A survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago asked respondents in 33 countries to react to this statement: "I would rather be a citizen of [my country] than of any other." Among Americans, 75 percent "strongly" agreed; among Germans, the French and Spanish, comparable responses were 21 percent, 34 percent and 21 percent, respectively.

Children are now usually a conscious choice—whereas they were once considered economic necessities or religious obligations. Somehow our society better mixes child rearing and jobs than other societies that provide greater child subsidies (government day care, family allowances). [...]

[B]y not having children, people are voting against the future...

The beauty is, if you're secular you don't care about the future, just yourself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:10 PM

FOOD, SOAP & PRAYER (via Tom Morin):

Medical Guesswork: From heart surgery to prostate care, the health industry knows little about which common treatments really work (John Carey, 5/29/06, Business Week)

The signs at the meeting were not propitious. Half the board members of Kaiser Permanente's Care Management Institute left before Dr. David Eddy finally got the 10 minutes he had pleaded for. But the message Eddy delivered was riveting. With a groundbreaking computer simulation, Eddy showed that the conventional approach to treating diabetes did little to prevent the heart attacks and strokes that are complications of the disease. In contrast, a simple regimen of aspirin and generic drugs to lower blood pressure and cholesterol sent the rate of such incidents plunging. The payoff: healthier lives and hundreds of millions in savings. "I told them: 'This is as good as it gets to improve care and lower costs, which doesn't happen often in medicine,"' Eddy recalls. "'If you don't implement this,' I said, 'you might as well close up shop."'

The message got through. Three years later, Kaiser is in the midst of a major initiative to change the treatment of the diabetics in its care. "We're trying to put nearly a million people on these drugs," says Dr. Paul Wallace, senior adviser to the Care Management Institute. The early results: The strategy is indeed improving care and cutting costs, just as Eddy's model predicted.

For Eddy, this is one small step toward solving the thorniest riddle in medicine -- a dark secret he has spent his career exposing. "The problem is that we don't know what we are doing," he says. Even today, with a high-tech health-care system that costs the nation $2 trillion a year, there is little or no evidence that many widely used treatments and procedures actually work better than various cheaper alternatives.

This judgment pertains to a shocking number of conditions or diseases, from cardiovascular woes to back pain to prostate cancer. During his long and controversial career proving that the practice of medicine is more guesswork than science, Eddy has repeatedly punctured cherished physician myths. He showed, for instance, that the annual chest X-ray was worthless, over the objections of doctors who made money off the regular visit. He proved that doctors had little clue about the success rate of procedures such as surgery for enlarged prostates. He traced one common practice -- preventing women from giving birth vaginally if they had previously had a cesarean -- to the recommendation of one lone doctor. Indeed, when he began taking on medicine's sacred cows, Eddy liked to cite a figure that only 15% of what doctors did was backed by hard evidence.

A great many doctors and health-care quality experts have come to endorse Eddy's critique. And while there has been progress in recent years, most of these physicians say the portion of medicine that has been proven effective is still outrageously low -- in the range of 20% to 25%. "We don't have the evidence [that treatments work], and we are not investing very much in getting the evidence," says Dr. Stephen C. Schoenbaum, executive vice-president of the Commonwealth Fund and former president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Inc. "Clearly, there is a lot in medicine we don't have definitive answers to," adds Dr. I. Steven Udvarhelyi, senior vice-president and chief medical officer at Pennsylvania's Independence Blue Cross.

The only significant health care advances we've made are better nutrition and hygiene.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:05 PM

GROW THE PIE HIGHER (via Kevin Whited):

Immigration—The Wages of Fear (Alvaro Vargas Llosa, May 19, 2006, Independent Institute)

Among the objections that form the rationale for anti-immigration legislation, two stand out: Immigrants threaten American jobs and erode American culture. Both are based on unwarranted fear.

In a productive economy, more workers mean more growth—and even more jobs. Non-Hispanic whites are a minority in the two largest states, California and Texas, while Hispanics comprise more than 35 percent of the population in both. Unemployment rates in California and Texas mirror the national average. According to a study by United Van Lines, the largest moving company in the nation, since 1989 more people have moved from other states into Texas than have moved out, which rules out a stampede of non-Hispanic whites as the reason for Texas’ low unemployment rate.

Much of the Hispanic contribution has little connection to low-skilled jobs. According to Geoscape International, a third of Hispanic households earn over $50,000 a year. The Pew Hispanic Center puts the net worth of Hispanic households at more than $700 billion. HispanTelligence, a research division of Hispanic Business magazine, says the rate of growth of the purchasing power of Hispanics in the last 10 years is three times the national average. In 2010, Hispanics will own 3.2 million businesses. Clearly, these immigrants are expanding the national pie.

What about culture? I asked some colleagues of Samuel Huntington—the Harvard University guru who thinks Hispanics are eroding American values—their opinion. Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, co-founder of the Harvard Immigration Project, says, “Huntington’s views are not empirically based. Hispanics are learning English faster than did Italian and Polish immigrants a century ago, and 30 percent of adults from various first-generation Hispanic immigrant groups are marrying non-Latinos.”

Univision Communications, the Spanish-language TV giant, is up for sale because the prospects for continued expansion are not great—the second generation is tuning to English programs (many watch comedies such as “The George Lopez Show” and listen to “Hurban” radio). Sixty percent of Latinos are now American-born. According to Geoscape International, 83 percent of American Hispanics speak English.

As for family values, consider the fact that the average immigrant household has 3.8 people, over and above the national average of 2.3 per household for non-Hispanic whites.

If they are creating wealth, learning English, engaging in interethnic marriage, and practicing family values, how are they threateningly different from other humans?

Those are the reasons the Left will join the far Right in opposing immigration. They're too American.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:54 PM


In Attack Mode, a Rightist Surges in Mexico (JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr., 5/23/06, NY Times)

Felipe Calderón loves to make allusions to Mexican folk songs. These days, the conservative candidate for president is particularly fond of recalling a song about a nag named Relámpago who upsets a glistening champion, Moro, in a race.

"I was not the favorite," he boomed over loudspeakers to a crowd of farmers, fishermen and business owners in the town of Tonalá on a swing in Chiapas on Thursday. "I was not the one who was up in the polls, but do you know what I did, gentlemen? I went to work. I set about telling Mexicans what each candidate really stands for."

After six months in second place, Mr. Calderón has surged past the front-runner, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, with a stream of attack advertisements portraying him as a dangerous and violent leftist who will bankrupt the country.

Now, a month before the vote, the race is a contest between Mr. Calderón, a free-trade advocate backed by business leaders, and Mr. López Obrador, a leftist who draws most of his support from poor people who feel that free-trade policies have failed to help them.

If you can't even sell Pelosism in Mexico how are you going to get Americans to voe for it in November?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:50 PM


Graduates get an apology (Paul Kirby, 05/22/2006, Freeman)

New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. told about 900 SUNY New Paltz graduates Sunday that he was sorry.

It wasn't an apology for anything Sulzberger, who first joined the Times in 1978 as a Washington correspondent, specifically did. It was, for the most part, offered as an apology from a member of a generation that had vowed to beat back world ills, such as the Vietnam War and government corruption, and never let them happen again.

"I will start with an apology," Sulzberger told the graduates, who wore black gowns and hats with yellow tassels. "When I graduated in 1974, my fellow students and I ended the Vietnam War and ousted President Nixon. OK. OK. That's not quite true. Maybe there were larger forces at play.

"Either way, we entered the real world committed to making it a better, safer, cleaner, more equal place," Sulzberger added.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:43 PM


It's Not Enough to Be a Vegetarian (Christina Waters, May 23, 2006, AlterNet)

There wasn't much wiggle room left for the casual carnivore when über-ethicist Peter Singer got finished with us in 1973. That's when his uncompromising assault on trans-species suffering, Animal Liberation, had millions of readers trading in their T-bones for tofu.

But now even the moral high ground of a vegetarian lifestyle isn't good enough. Singer's new book, The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter argues that, all things considered, only a vegan lifestyle will do. The reasons go far beyond Singer's past exposés of animal abuse and factory farming. Tracking the source of food served at three very different American tables, Singer and his co-author Jim Mason uncover more than they could swallow.

How we eat can influence the very health of the planet even more than switching to hybrid cars or solar heating.

Speaking of which, Sarah Moulton made this yesterday, Spanish Pork Tenderloin Roulade (Recipe courtesy Bruce Aidells, Complete Book of Pork, HarperCollins, 2004)
2 pork tenderloins (1 to 1 1/4 pounds each)

Kale Stuffing:
2 teaspoons olive oil plus 1 tablespoon, for skillet
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 pound kale, rinsed and drained, stems discarded and leaves cut into thin julienne strips
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 cup water
4 slices serrano ham or prosciutto
1 (8-ounce) jar piquillo peppers, drained
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Romesco Sauce, for serving, recipe follows

To butterfly the tenderloins: make a deep lengthwise cut down the center, being careful not to cut all the way through. Open the tenderloin up like a book. Place the opened tenderloin between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Pound with a meat mallet until 1/4-inch thick. Repeat with the other tenderloin.

To make the stuffing: heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until lightly golden, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add the kale, vinegar, honey, and water. Increase the heat to high and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the kale is wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Lay 2 slices of ham or prosciutto over each butterflied tenderloin. Top with half of the kale stuffing, leaving a 1/4-inch border. Carefully open the peppers and lay a single layer over the kale. Roll up each tenderloin and tie at 2-inch intervals with butcher's twine.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Sprinkle the tenderloins all over with salt and pepper. Heat a heavy ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Place the tenderloins in the pan and brown on all sides for about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast. After 15 minutes, begin checking the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer, checking every 5 minutes, until the pork registers 140 degrees F to 145 degrees F. When done, remove the tenderloins from skillet to a platter, cover loosely with foil, and set aside to rest for 10 minutes. Remove the twine from the tenderloins, cut them into 1/2-inch-thick slices, and serve with Romesco sauce.

Romesco sauce:
1/2 cup toasted almonds
1/2 fresh bread crumbs
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces piquillo peppers or fire roasted red bell peppers or pimentos
1 tablespoon capers, drained
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper

For the Romesco sauce: In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, grind the almonds until they form a thick paste. Add the bread crumbs, olive oil, peppers, and capers and process until smooth. Taste for salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:37 PM


The New Temptation Of Democrats (Ruth Marcus, May 23, 2006, Washington Post)

When mega-pastor Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church opened last year in its new Houston home, the city's former professional basketball arena, a most unlikely guest was on hand for the celebration: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), a minister's son who chairs the House Democrats' Faith Working Group, headed to Dallas a few months later to worship with Bishop T.D. Jakes, an African American Pentecostal minister who's been called "the next Billy Graham."

This month, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean -- yes, that would be the Howard Dean who dismissed Republicans last year as "pretty much a white, Christian Party" -- went on Pat Robertson's "700 Club," asserting that Democrats "have an enormous amount in common with the Christian community, and particularly with the evangelical Christian community." Randy Brinson, founder of Redeem the Vote (think Rock the Vote meets Jesus), met last week with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.

Democrats these days are a party on a mission that might sound impossible: to persuade evangelical Christian voters to consider converting -- to the Democratic Party.

Just as Republicans have worked, and to some extent succeeded, at peeling off some African American voters from the Democratic Party, evangelical voters are too big a part of the electorate (about a quarter) for one party simply to write off.

Democrats have a shot at luring some of them, but it's a long shot, and one that poses dangerous temptations for the party as it tries to narrow the God gap.

The GOP just has to convince black Christians to vote conscience instead of tribe--Democrats have to ditch everything they believe in (or, rather, don't) to appeal to the religious.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 1:02 PM


Wilkins's first year as ambassador brings tumult, triumph and tears (Robert Russo, Canadian Press, May 23rd, 2006)

U.S. ambassador David Wilkins has developed a whole riff on enduring his first lengthy Canadian winter and he delivers it in a drawl that just drips Dixie.

"I never thought dirt would look so good," he said of the March mud that signals spring in Canada's capital. Wilkins has learned enough about Canadians in the year since he arrived here to know they love to hear about Americans struggle with winter.

So when he delivers the line in front of an audience, he obliges by laying on the low-country patois.

"Ah nevuh thawt duht wud luk suh good," is how it comes out. Canadian crowds eat it up.

What they might not realize is how cannily he's using it to disarm a country that might not otherwise be as receptive to the representative of an unpopular U.S. president.

Nor would he necessarily want them to know how effectively he used that style to help deliver an elusive softwood lumber agreement into the hands of a new prime minister who happens to be a conservative cousin.

"It's not a put-on," said Frank McKenna, who served as Wilkins's counterpart as ambassador to Washington. "It's real. He's a modest, humble and engaging person - and it is disarming."

During the election last winter, I was present when he turned a cynical, hostile crowd into applauding admirers in thirty minutes. Not only did he talk openly about his faith in very un-Canadian terms, he managed to intimate to the crowd they were international shirkers who couldn’t hold a candle to George Bush intellectually, all the while telling them how much he loved them and their country. The man is a master.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 12:19 PM


Harper has support to win majority (Mark Kennedy, National Post,, May 23rd, 2006)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government is so popular with Canadians that it would be swept back into power with a majority if an election was held now, a new poll has found.

The Ipsos Reid survey, conducted for CanWest newspapers and Global National, was done over three days last week just as Harper's Tories were touting their accomplishments after 100 days in office as a minority government.

The poll found the Conservatives are enjoying their highest level of public support in nearly 20 years since Brian Mulroney's government was returned to office with a second majority victory in the November 1988 election.

''Basically what's happening is that Stephen Harper is recreating the Brian Mulroney majority,'' Ipsos Reid president Darrell Bricker said in an interview.

''And the way he is doing that is by breaking through in the province of Quebec. It's very much that kind of coalition Quebec and the West.''

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:07 PM


'High School Musical' busts a move (Thomas K. Arnold, 5/23/06, USA TODAY)

Madison Ongstad was thrilled to attend the May 13 Hollywood premiere of High School Musical, the TV movie that has teens and 'tweens alike in a tizzy not seen since the early days of Britney Spears.

"I'm a devoted fan of the Disney Channel, and of this movie," says Madison, 9. The Costa Mesa, Calif., third-grader has the CD soundtrack, "and I play the songs all day when I'm not in school. I know all the words and all the dance moves."

She's making sure her mother buys the movie Tuesday, when it arrives on DVD (Disney, $27). As for the sequel? "I can't wait."

All this hoopla is for a movie that grossed exactly zero dollars in theaters. The "premiere," at Hollywood's historic El Capitan, was for a DVD launch party, a one-time big-screen showing for the TV movie.

As part of the network's original movie franchise, High School Musical has been nothing short of a phenomenon. Since its first airing Jan. 20, the film has been shown 10 times, with 34 million unique viewers, according to Disney.

Zac Efron, one of the stars of the film, says he and his fellow cast members are prepping for the sequel, "which starts filming later this year or early next year."

High School Musical, for those of you who are over 14....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:57 AM


Sen. Clinton: Add ethanol, cut foreign oil (DEVLIN BARRETT, May 23, 2006, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The senator recommended a combination of government tax incentives, private investment and new research to cut the consumption of foreign oil in half by 2025, or by nearly 8 million barrels a day.

She also called for a massive expansion of ethanol, a corn-based fuel additive and substitute, which is currently only available at a small percentage of gas stations in the United States.

Ethanol is popular in corn-producing states, especially Iowa, which holds the first caucus of the presidential primary.

President Bush and other elected officials have called for a greater expansion of E-85, a fuel made of 85 percent ethanol that can be used in vehicles built to run on both regular unleaded gasoline and E-85.

Clinton called for accelerating the spread of E-85 to half of the nation's gas stations by 2015 by offering a 50 percent tax credit for station owners who install ethanol pumps.

Republicans criticized her proposal even before she started speaking, noting that she had voted against drilling for oil in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and against some of Bush's other energy expansion proposals.

So take her proposal add ANWR drilling and bring it to a vote.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:37 AM


Neo-Nazi Violence on the Rise in Germany (SPIEGEL Staff, 5/23/06, Der Spiegel)

It's hardly the issue that Germany wanted to see in the headlines during the last few weeks before the World Cup kicks off in Munich on June 9. But stories on neo-Nazi violence, suddenly, are everywhere. On Monday, new figures showing a rise in right-wing violence in 2005 poured fuel on the fire.

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said on Monday he was very worried about the steep rise in far-right crime and appealed to Germans never to look the other way when they see someone being attacked. "There mustn't be any no-go areas in Germany," he told a news conference at which he presented the 2005 report of the domestic intelligence service, the Bundesverfassungsschutz.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:05 AM


Science Friction: Is the controversy over research fraud in China spiraling out of control? (Bruce Einhorn, with Catherine Arnst in New York, 5/29/06, Business Week)

Just when U.S. universities are pushing to form alliances with their counterparts in China, accusations of scientific fraud are zinging across the Middle Kingdom. Beijing's determination to make China a scientific superpower seems to have created a Wild West climate where top researchers, under intense pressure to produce, are tempted to fake results or copy the works of others. [...]

One of the leading Chinese whistle-blowers is biochemist Shi-min Fang. He runs a highly influential Chinese-language Web site ( that details charges of fraud and abuse among China's scientists. Since his site launched in 2000, he claims to have exposed 500 cases of illegal or unethical behavior. "Misconduct is so widespread among Chinese academics that they have almost become used to it," Fang said in an e-mail exchange. "They don't think it's a big deal at all."

The turmoil comes at a particularly embarrassing time for President Hu Jintao. He and other leaders have been flogging their vision of China as an economy that relies on high-end innovation more than low-cost manufacturing. To realize this brains-based future, Communist Party leaders urge scientists to seize the leading edge of nanotechnology, stem cell research, and other emerging fields.

Such ambitious goals may be inspiring the unethical behavior.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:27 AM


Airbus Has A Bad Case Of Jet Lag: Its redesigned, lightweight plane will still trail Boeing's Dreamliner by years (Carol Matlack, with William Boston in Berlin and Stanley Holmes in Seattle, 5/29/06, Business Week)

Plastics. They really are the future. More precisely, the carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics known as composites are reshaping the rivalry between Airbus and Boeing Co. (BA ), and the European planemaker has a lot of catching up to do.

With oil prices soaring, airlines are flocking to Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner, which promises to burn 20% less fuel than conventional planes. The 787 is made mostly of composites, which weigh half as much as aluminum, but are stronger so that wings and other parts can be made slimmer and more aerodynamic. Airbus is countering with the A350, a planned aircraft with one-third less composite content than the 787. But most carriers are snubbing it.

The fuel savings from making cars of such parts will be enormous.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:25 AM


Ottawa seeks help finding Kyoto alternative
(BRIAN LAGHI, 5/23/06, Globe and Mail)

The Conservatives will move today to blunt criticism that they have forsaken the Kyoto accord by asking provinces to help develop a plan to boost ethanol production as part of a made-in-Canada plan to reduce greenhouse gas.

Federal cabinet ministers will meet with provincial counterparts in Regina to kick-start an initiative to keep a Tory pledge that would raise to 5 per cent the amount of ethanol used in gasoline. Experts say ethanol fuel, most of which is derived from corn and agricultural crops, would contribute to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The meeting comes as the Conservative government continued to come under fire from international environmental groups yesterday and the European Community urged Canada to respect goals the Liberals previously agreed to under the Kyoto accord.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


Iraqi Charities Plant Seed of Civil Society (SABRINA TAVERNISE, 5/23/06, NY Times)

[M]ore than three years after the American invasion, the outlines of a nascent civil society are taking shape.

Since 2003 the government has registered 5,000 private organizations, including charities, human rights groups, medical assistance agencies and literacy projects. Officials estimate that an additional 7,000 groups are working unofficially. The efforts show that even as violence and sectarian hatred tear Iraq's mixed cities apart, a growing number of Iraqis are trying to bring them together. "Iraqis were thirsty for such experiences," said Khadija Tuma, director of the office in the Ministry of Civil Society Affairs that now works with the private aid groups. "It was as if they already had it inside themselves."

The new charity groups offer bits of relief in the sea of poverty that swept Iraq during the economic embargo of the 1990's and has worsened with the pervasive lawlessness that followed the American invasion.

The burst of public-spiritedness comes after long decades of muzzled community life under Saddam Hussein, when drab Soviet-style committees for youth, women and industrialists were the only community groups permitted.

Mr. Hussein stamped out what had been a vibrant public life. Since the founding of Islam in the seventh century, charity has had a special place in its societies. As far back as the 19th century, religious leaders, descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, formed a network called Al Ashraf that was a link between people and the Ottoman-appointed governor of Baghdad.

The Iraqi Chamber of Commerce dates from the 1930's, and its volunteers plunged into Baghdad's poor areas to conduct literacy campaigns in the 1950's, around the time of the overthrow of the monarchy.

Today's groups have picked up that historic thread and offer hope in an increasingly poisonous sectarian landscape that Iraqis may still be able to hold their country together.

When Ronald Reagan was being memorialized and eulogized many of us were surprised to discover just how firmly Democrats had supported his every step in winning the Cold War. Similarly, when the day comes that we bury George W. Bush, you'll be heartened to hear about the unwavering support Democrats gave him in Reforming the Middle East.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


Solana: Montenegro comparisons sign of "delirium tremens" (Spain Herald, 5/23/06)

The European Union's high commissioner for foreign policy and common security (PESC), Spanish Socialist Javier Solana, said yesterday that comparing the situation in Montenegro to that of the Basque Country or Catalonia "is at the verge of delirium tremens." He was responding to Basque regional premier Juan Jose Ibarretxe's statement that the Montenegrin referendum was "the model to follow" for the Basques, after Ibarretxe's participation in a delegation of Basque observers in Podgorica. Catalan separatists ERC announced that they would question the administration in the Congress of Deputies on this issue.

Solana congratulated the people and government of Montenegro on the referendum held on Sunday, and announced that the EU would "completely" respect the results of the election, as it fulfilled the requirements set. He added, "There is no similarity between Montenegro and the Serbian Republic, and any other country that already forms part of Europe."

Except that they're identical.

Montenegro vote opens separatist Pandora's box (Calin Neacsu, 23 May 2006, AFP)

Montenegro's independence could open a Pandora's box for other separatist movements in Europe and the former Soviet Union, with some already claiming the right to follow the same path. [...]

Bosnian Serbs have already said Montenegro's independence was a good model to be followed by their entity of Republika Srpska, which, along with the Muslim-Croat Federation, has made up post-war Bosnia.

For those fighting for the independence of the Germanic Tyrol region of Italy, and its annexation to Austria, the outcome of Montenegro's referendum inspired dreams to organise a similar vote.

A senior Russian lawmaker estimated that Montenegro's decision to separate from Serbia would spur debate on the status of Kosovo and could set a "heavy" precedent for other countries with separatist minorities.

Konstantin Kosachev, chairperson of the Russian Parliament's foreign-affairs committee, warned of setting a precedent over Kosovo.

"This will create a precedent heavy with consequences for other regions," he said, citing in particular Turkish northern Cyprus and Spain's Basque separatists.

But even in the former Soviet Union, several regions are hoping to follow the lead of Montenegro. They were unilaterally proclaimed during the bloody conflicts that followed its 1991 collapse and supported by Moscow, but not recognised by the international community.

Among them, the breakaway republics of Transdniestr in Moldova and Abkhazia in Georgia, were the first to say the vote serves as a model of "self-determination".

"One can only welcome such a civilised method for gaining self-determination," said the "president" of Abkhazia, Sergei Bagapch, quoted by Interfax.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


In Medicare Debate, Massaging the Facts (ROBERT PEAR, May 23, 2006, NY Times)

If the drug benefit succeeds, Republicans will cite it as a precedent for expanding the role of private insurers in Medicare. Democrats abhor that prospect and are eager to discredit the current benefit. They cite every mix-up and mistake of the last five months as proof that private insurers are less efficient and less reliable than the government.

President Bush and Republican lawmakers boast that they delivered Medicare drug benefits to older Americans after more than a decade of unfulfilled promises and unsuccessful efforts by Democrats.

"It's saving lives, and it's saving money," Representative Phil Gingrey, Republican of Georgia, said last week at a rally on Capitol Hill, celebrating "the unprecedented success of Medicare Part D."

Senator Jim Talent, Republican of Missouri, said many constituents had told him, "This is a godsend."

Besides saving lives and money and opening the way for further privatization of the welfare state how is it conservative?

Posted by Peter Burnet at 8:31 AM


Six major hurricanes possible this year (Laura Wides-Munoz, Globe and Mail, May 23rd, 2006)

A hectic, above-normal tropical storm season could produce between four and six major hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico this year, but conditions do not appear ripe for a repeat of 2005's record activity, the U.S. National Hurricane Center predicted Monday.

There will be up to 16 named storms, the centre predicted, significantly less than last year's record 28. Still, people in coastal regions should prepare for the possibility of major storms, said Max Mayfield, the centre's director.[...]

Last year, officials predicted 12 to 15 tropical storms, seven to nine of them becoming hurricanes, and three to five of those hurricanes being major, with winds of at least 179 kilometres an hour.

The season turned out to be much busier, however, surpassing records that had stood since 1851. Last season, there were 15 hurricanes, seven of them Category 3 or higher.

But, to a man, they know global warming is a proven scientific fact and that only Kyoto can save us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


Israel captures Hamas commander (BBC, 5/23/06)
Israeli forces have captured the leader of Islamic group Hamas' military wing in the West Bank in a raid in Ramallah.

Israel accuses Ibrahim Hamad, 41, of masterminding a string of suicide bombings, including attacks on cafes and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
'Zarqawi aide' captured in Jordan (BBC, 5/23/06)

Jordanian officials say they have arrested a senior al-Qaeda figure heavily involved in Iraq's insurgency.

Security officials in Jordan's capital, Amman, refused to identify the man, said to be a key aide to Iraq's most wanted militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

...we only have to get lucky once.

Architect of New War on the West: Writings Lay Out Post-9/11 Strategy of Isolated Cells Joined in Jihad (Craig Whitlock, 5/23/06, Washington Post)

From secret hideouts in South Asia, the Spanish-Syrian al-Qaeda strategist published thousands of pages of Internet tracts on how small teams of Islamic extremists could wage a decentralized global war against the United States and its allies.

With the Afghanistan base lost, he argued, radicals would need to shift their approach and work primarily on their own, though sometimes with guidance from roving operatives acting on behalf of the broader movement.

Last October, the writing career of Mustafa Setmariam Nasar came to an abrupt end when Pakistani agents seized him in a friend's house in the border city of Quetta and turned him over to U.S. intelligence operatives, according to two senior Pakistani intelligence officials. [...]

Counterterrorism officials and analysts see Nasar's theories in action in major terrorist attacks in Casablanca in 2003, Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005. In each case, the perpetrators organized themselves into local, self-sustaining cells that acted on their own but also likely accepted guidance from visiting emissaries of the global movement. [...]

"The enemy is strong and powerful, we are weak and poor, the war duration is going to be long and the best way to fight it is in a revolutionary jihad way for the sake of Allah," he said in one paper. "The preparations better be deliberate, comprehensive and properly planned, taking into account past experiences and lessons."

Intelligence officials said Nasar's doctrine has made waves in radical Islamic chat rooms and on Web sites about jihad -- holy war or struggle -- over the past two years. His capture, they added, has only added to his mystique.

"He is probably the first to spell out a doctrine for a decentralized global jihad," said Brynjar Lia, a senior counterterrorism researcher at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, who is writing a book on Nasar. "In my humble opinion, he is the best theoretician among the jihadi ideologues and strategists out there. Nobody is as systematic and comprehensive in their analysis as he is. His brutal honesty and self-criticism is unique in jihadi circles."

War? Random acts of violence by folks who can't afford to be identified or to communicate do not a war make.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Do we work too much? (STEVEN THEOBALD, 5/23/06, Toronto Star)

Ahhh, back on the job at last.

Canada ought to cancel the May long weekend.

These words may sound like the rant of a deranged workaholic, but they actually do a pretty good job of describing our society's values when compared with those in many other wealthy countries. The average Canadian worked 1,751 hours in 2004. That's about 300 hours — or 43 seven-hour days — more than the Dutch, Germans, French or Danes.

European societies are at one end of the spectrum while Canada, the United States, Australia and Japan are at the other. [...]

Will Canadians or Americans ever start working less?

The past 25 years suggest not.

Between 1980 and 2000, European countries added, on average, six vacation days or statutory holidays, totalling 36 per year.

Meanwhile, according to Huberman's numbers, Canada actually dropped a day, to 24, while the United States lost two days, to 20 days off.

We've become more Western since the '70s while they've become less.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Learning the knuckleball can be hard on the knees (Dwight Perry, 5/23/06, The Seattle Times)

The knuckleball pitch, developed by Ed Cicotte of the minor-league Indianapolis Indians, celebrates its 100th birthday this year.

"I learned it as a kid trying to throw a ball without any spin to my brother," ex-Seattle Pilots pitcher Jim Bouton told the Indianapolis Star. "I must have thrown 500 pitches and accidentally threw it properly.

"The ball went through the air without any spin, my brother reached up to catch it and, just before it went into his glove, it broke down and hit him in the kneecap. He was writhing on the ground in pain saying, 'What a great pitch. What a great pitch.'

"I spent the rest of the summer trying to maim my brother."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Worker confidence up as hiring rises (Stephanie Armour, 5/23/06, USA TODAY)

Workers reported high confidence in their job security, with more than 80% predicting little or no chance they could lose their jobs in the coming year, according to a May survey of 1,000 full-time employees by Philadelphia-based Right Management.

That's a big jump from six months ago, when nearly a quarter of employees said they might leave their jobs.

"We're seeing a slow, steady (increase) in confidence," says Eileen Javers, a global leader with Right Management. "Right after Katrina, people were worried about jobs and what the economy was doing."

No one goes to the polls and votes his concern for his neighbor's job.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Push to bump teen driving age hits fast lane: Teens cry foul over proposal (Jessica Fargen and Emelie Rutherford, May 23, 2006, Boston Herald)

Thousands of would-be teen drivers may be forced off the road under a junior operator bill backed by a House committee yesterday that calls for jacking up the driving age, banning cell phones and forcing parents to rev up the training.

With Bay State teens dying in wrecks almost weekly, lawmakers are pushing for action.

A good start, but they need to ban it for 70 year olds too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 AM


Blair visits Baghdad to sketch out timetable for withdrawal (Greg Hurst and Ned Parker in Baghdad and Michael Evans, 5/23/06, Times of London)

BRITISH troops could start withdrawing from two Iraqi provinces within weeks, and Iraqi security forces could be in charge of much of the country by the year’s end, Tony Blair agreed with his Iraqi counterpart on a surprise visit to Baghdad yesterday.

Buoyed by the formation of Iraq’s new unity Government over the weekend, senior officials travelling with Mr Blair said that all foreign troops should be out of the country within four years.

Mr Blair is to hold further discussions on withdrawal at a White House summit with President Bush later this week.

Host springs surprise for PM: New Iraqi leader reveals more urgent and ambitious troop withdrawal than UK and US had admitted (Ewen MacAskill, May 23, 2006, The Guardian)
Nuri al-Maliki, the new Iraqi prime minister, had a surprise for Tony Blair and his entourage in Baghdad yesterday. At a joint press conference, Mr Maliki said British troops would hand over responsibility in two provinces to Iraqi security forces by next month and that he expected US, British and other foreign troops out of 16 of the country's 18 provinces by the end of the year, a much speedier and more ambitious schedule than the US and Britain have so far admitted to. [...]

Both Mr Maliki and Mr Blair's comments were telling. With the arrival at last of an Iraqi government, the US and British can at last begin to plan for specific withdrawals. The planes to carry troops home can be booked.

Bush Says U.S. Is Set to Shift Burden After 'Turning Point' (Peter Baker and Bradley Graham, 5/23/06, Washington Post)
"We can expect the violence to continue, but something fundamental changed this weekend," Bush said in a speech to the National Restaurant Association. "The terrorists are now fighting a free and constitutional government. They're at war with the people of Iraq. And the Iraqi people are determined to defeat this enemy, and so are Iraq's new leaders, and so is the United States of America." [...]

Bush has set a goal of turning most of Iraq over to Iraqi security forces by the end of the year, a target repeated on Monday by the newly installed prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


This time the crocodile won't wait: a review of Londonistan by Melanie Phillips (Spengler, 5/23/06, Asia Times)

Black and white Baptists made their peace in the US South a generation ago. Protestants and Catholics yet might make peace in Northern Ireland. But that is an entirely different matter, says Phillips: "True, the IRA [Irish Republican Army] were Catholics and their adversaries were Protestants. But their cause was not Catholicism. It was a united Ireland. They did not want to impose the authority of the pope upon Britain ... There is simply no comparison to the agenda of the Islamists who want to defeat the West in the name of Islam."

The institution that should understand this best, namely the Church of England, seems most eager to liquidate itself. Notes Phillips: "In America, the churches have been in the forefront of the defense of Western values. Some of the strongest support for Israel comes from evangelical Christians. In Britain, by contrast, the Church of England has been in the forefront of the retreat from the Judeo-Christian heritage."

The Archbishop of York, the black Ugandan Dr John Sentamu, praises the British Empire and the culture it spread around the world, whereas the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, apologizes for taking "cultural captives" through the export of English hymns and liturgy. Sadly, the "cultural captives", mainly black African converts, are all that is left of the C of E. Its evangelical wing, represented by former archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey - a vocal critic of Islam in the past two years - cannot compete with dissenting churches, and the High Anglican side barely breathes.

It is a bit late in time for a national church. The Roman Catholic Church can make a case that Benedict XVI has the right to head a universal church by virtue of his apostolic succession from St Peter, and thus can forgive sins in Jesus' own stead. But why should Queen Elizabeth II, much less the overtly Islamophile Prince Charles, enjoy this privilege? Perhaps the moment is ripe for the remnants of English Catholicism to join the Roman Church, and for British Protestants to find their way to more robust dissenting denominations.

In any case, Western liberalism, including the sexual habits of English curates, does not appeal to Muslims. On the contrary, Phillips says:

British Muslims are overwhelmingly horrified and disgusted by the louche and dissolute behavior of a Britain that has torn up the notion of respectability. They observe the alcoholism, drug abuse and pornography, the breakdown of family life and the encouragement of promiscuity, and find themselves there in opposition to their host society's guiding values. What they are recoiling from, of course, is the breakdown of Western values. After a visit to the United States in 1948, Sayed Qutb wrote: "Humanity today is living in a large brothel!"

Revulsion and contempt color Muslim attitudes toward the British leftists who most desire to appease them.

He and she tiptoe right up to the edge of insight there: just as the cause of the IRA wasn't Catholicism, neither is the cause of Islamicists Islam.

May 22, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 PM

TOO REAGANESQUE (via David Linton):

Bush's Base Betrayal (Richard A. Viguerie, 5/21/06, The Washington Post)

As a candidate in 2000, George W. Bush was a Rorschach test. Country Club Republicans saw him as another George H.W. Bush; some conservatives, thinking wishfully, saw him as another Ronald Reagan. He called himself a "compassionate conservative," which meant whatever one wanted it to mean. Experts from across the party's spectrum were flown to Austin to brief Bush and reported back: "He's one of us."

Republicans were desperate to retake the White House, conservatives were desperate to get the Clinton liberals out and there was no direct heir to Reagan running for president. So most conservatives supported Bush as the strongest candidate -- some enthusiastically and some, like me, reluctantly. After the disastrous presidency of his father, our support for the son was a triumph of hope over experience.

Actually, this just contributes to the heirdom, Mr. Viguerie having made a notorious ass of himself by trying to read Ronald Reagan out of conservatism too. Of course, he had a stronger casde there, the Gipper having repeatedly raised taxes, saved SS, and buddied up to Mikhail Gorbachev.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 PM


A huge 'no' to Africa's big-man politics (The Monitor's View, 5/23/06, CS Monitor)

Nigeria has defied an African tradition of bowing to the Big Man (the kind who takes power by bullet or ballot and never lets go): It denied its president a third term. Such an act shows the potential for leadership by Africa's most populous nation. [...]

With some 130 million people and oil resources that should have made it prosperous by now, Nigeria could be the continent's shining light. But an entrenched culture of civil and political corruption, along with tensions among its more than 250 ethnic groups - and especially between its Muslim north and Christian south - have kept those prospects dim.

Eventually the UN Security Council -- reorganized around the idea of an Axis of Good -- should be America, Australia, England or Poland, India, Brazil and an African democracy. Kenya and Nigeria are logical choices if they can keep making progress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 PM


New star power for Hong Kong's democracy struggle (Robert Marquand, 5/23/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

Audrey Eu] comes out of a grass-roots protest movement that rose in 2003 to demand self-rule and rights. Eu articulated why it made good business sense for Hong Kong to govern itself; indeed, she linked the idea to the survival of Hong Kong's special identity.

Now, a central question is whether that spirit can be translated into an effective political party. The Civics want genuine democracy, not the watered-down version where Beijing controls the levers of power. That puts party leader Eu and her compatriots at uneasy odds with Beijing, despite their moderate nature.

There is no China.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 PM


Milwaukee's lessons on school vouchers (Amanda Paulson, 5/23/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

Choice is something lower-income Milwaukee parents definitely have. Families who make below a set income can get a voucher (worth up to $6,500 in the coming school year) to send their school-age children to a private school, including a religiously affiliated school. In addition to some 125 schools that participate in Milwaukee's program, there are numerous charter schools in the city, and an open-enrollment program through which a few thousand students attend suburban schools. [...]

The voucher program has given new life to venerable Catholic and Lutheran schools in the city, and has spurred the creation of dozens of new schools - many of them religious - that rely solely on voucher students. All told, about 70 percent of the voucher schools are religious.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 PM


Uganda Defies EU, Begins DDT Program to Fight Malaria (Paul Driessen, May 1, 2006, The Heartland Institute)

The African nation of Uganda has announced it will defy European Union threats and begin indoor spraying of DDT to battle rampant malaria.

Malaria kills more people in Uganda each year than any other disease, including AIDS and tuberculosis, which typically receive more media attention. Malaria accounts for 40 percent of all illnesses and 21 percent of deaths in Uganda's hospitals. Every year the disease kills approximately 100,000 children under five years old in the country.

"We have to kill malaria using DDT, and the matter has been settled that DDT is not harmful to humans and if used for indoor-insecticide spraying," Uganda Health Minister Jim Muhwezi told the East African on April 4. "It's the most effective and cheapest way to fight malaria." [...]

European Union officials and nongovernmental organizations, who claim DDT spraying inside Ugandan huts may result in trace levels of the chemical being found on exported Ugandan crops, threatened to restrict the import of Ugandan crops in retaliation for the nation's use of DDT.

Q: What kind of people defy bureaucrats just to save millions of lives?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 PM


Rare American chestnut trees discovered (ELLIOTT MINOR, 5/19/06, Associated Press )

A stand of American chestnut trees that somehow escaped a blight that killed off nearly all their kind in the early 1900s has been discovered along a hiking trail not far from President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Little White House at Warm Springs.

The find has stirred excitement among those working to restore the American chestnut, and raised hopes that scientists might be able to use the pollen to breed hardier chestnut trees.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 7:23 PM


Jack Bauer Must Stop President in Season Finale (Diane Clehane, 5/22/06, Fox News)

It's hard to believe there are too many more we-never-saw-it-coming plot twists, but that’s just what producer Evan Katz is promising in the adrenaline-pumped, two-hour season finale of "24."

“Confrontations that have needed to take place that haven’t yet happened will happen in a really explosive way,” teases the producer.

“There are three characters in conflict: Jack, Henderson (Peter Weller) and President Logan (Gregory Itzin). In the last two hours that’s all going to explode. I think people’s faith in the show will pay off. It has a serious climax in every way. The action is bigger, the surprises are bigger. I know it sounds obnoxious, but it’s really going to be a mindblower.”

We’ve heard that kind of hype before from television producers. Our questions are more direct: who lives, who dies and who gets what’s coming to them?

Katz wouldn’t spill, but Jean Smart, who plays nutty First Lady Martha Logan, offered up some intriguing clues.

“You’ll see a helicopter, a flag and a coffin,” said Smart.

Please feel free to discuss tonight's occurrences in the comments below. As for me, it's time for The Checklist: Popcorn, check. Remote, check. Insanely conspiratorial frame of mind, check. It's Bauer time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:27 PM


Iraq's Band of Brothers (and their mothers) (Michael Fumento, May 22, 2006, Enter Stage Right)

Since returning from my embed in the wild west Iraqi city of Ramadi at the end of April, I've gotten some wonderful e-mails from relatives of the troops. I'd like to share a few of them.

First some background. Despite the constant flow of news out of Baghdad, which to many reporters is where Iraq begins and ends, terrorist-infested Ramadi is probably block-for-block the meanest place in country. Asked where in the city I wanted to be embedded, I told the military "The redder, the better." ("Red" means hostile.) So they packed me off to Camp Corregidor with the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division – the "Band of Brothers" made famous by author Stephen Ambrose and HBO.

Four minarets stand within sniping distance of the camp and the gentlemen in these erstwhile places of worship regularly shoot at the observation posts and often into the camp itself. Huge 122-millimeter mortars explode in Corregidor on average every other day. I photographed a crater where two men were blown up just before reaching shelter.

Because of the constant attacks, body armor is required whenever outside a protected building – something I've seen nowhere else in Iraq. I went on two day patrols and we were attacked in force both times. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) pop up like mushrooms.

One chilling statistic: Charlie Company arrived in January with 132 men. By late April it was down to about 100 from deaths, wounds and injuries.

I described and photographed these horrors for my blogs from the camp, which many family members read. I discovered from their letters that ignorance is not always bliss.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:22 PM


With friends like these: Hugo Chávez's meddling backfires (The Economist, May 11th 2006)

ON MAY 8th, Ollanta Humala, the nationalist former army officer who won most votes in the first round of Peru's presidential election last month, met Evo Morales, Bolivia's socialist president. Opening an eye clinic staffed by Cuban doctors at Copacabana, a small town on Lake Titicaca just inside Bolivia's border with Peru, the two men proclaimed their fraternity.

So will Peru be the next domino to fall to the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, an anti-Yanqui political alliance sponsored by Cuba and Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's president, and recently joined by Mr Morales? Probably not. Opinion polls suggest that Mr Humala will lose a run-off election on June 4th to Alan García, a former president, by a margin of ten to 20 percentage points. And far from helping Mr Humala, the vocal support of Messrs Chávez and Morales seems to be hurting him.

Seeking United Latin America, Venezuela's Chávez Is a Divider (JUAN FORERO, 5/20/06, NY Times)
As Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, insinuates himself deeper in the politics of his region, something of a backlash is building among his neighbors.

Mr. Chávez — stridently anti-American, leftist and never short on words — has cast himself as spokesman for a united Latin America free of Washington's influence. He has backed Bolivia's recent gas nationalization, set up his own Socialist trade bloc and jumped into the middle of disputes between his neighbors, even when no one has asked.

Some nations are beginning to take umbrage. The mere association with Mr. Chávez has helped reverse the leads of presidential candidates in Mexico and Peru. Officials from Mexico to Nicaragua, Peru and Brazil have expressed rising impatience at what they see as Mr. Chávez's meddling and grandstanding, often at their expense.

One Predator solves the Chavez problem.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:18 PM


School Choice Expanding in Three States (Karla Dial, May 1, 2006, The Heartland Institute)

Three states either created new school choice programs or expanded existing ones in late March--a trend suggesting the movement is gaining wider support among legislators.

In Ohio and Utah, lawmakers gave more students access to school choice.

Ohio's EdChoice program--which had given students attending schools rated for three consecutive years as being in "academic emergency" the option of transferring to better-performing schools of their choosing--now gives students in schools on "academic watch"--the second-lowest rating--the same option. Some 50,000 students are expected to participate, an increase of 30,000.

In Utah, the Carson Smith Scholarship Program for autistic students was widened to include more schools, and the legislature removed a requirement that private schools must "specialize" in serving special-needs populations in order to participate.

On March 29, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) allowed a corporate tax credit program to become law without her signature, ending a year-long battle with legislators, during which she twice reneged on her promise to sign the measure into law.

"Our legislature just held the line," said Vicki Murray, an independent education researcher in Scottsdale and former education policy director for the Goldwater Institute, a public policy think tank in Phoenix. "The governor gave her word last year that she would sign this, and she didn't, but our legislators just wouldn't back down. They knew there was a desperate need for more choices. Children need it, parents want it, and it's good policy. A lot of state [legislatures] would have said, 'We have a governor who is philosophically opposed to school choice, so we can't get anything done,' but ours said, 'No, this is the right thing to do.'"

Governor OKs Milwaukee Voucher Expansion (Sean Parnell, May 1, 2006, The Heartland Institute
Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D) on March 10 signed legislation expanding Milwaukee's innovative school voucher program, averting what some education reformers had termed a "looming crisis" that jeopardized the education gains low-income students have enjoyed under the 16-year-old program.

Doyle, a Democrat, reached a compromise with the state legislature to raise the cap on the total number of students eligible to receive vouchers from approximately 14,500 to 22,500 students. The bill included new accountability measures for schools educating voucher students, as well as increased funding for smaller class sizes in Wisconsin's government schools.

In a March 10 statement, Doyle called the bill a "victory for schools, not just in Milwaukee, but all across the state." The bill was passed largely along party lines in both the General Assembly and the Senate, with most Republicans voting for the bill and most Democrats voting against it. The Democrats who supported the bill mostly represented Milwaukee districts, where many low-income students use vouchers to attend private schools.

Democrats care about union sinecures, not black kids.

Posted by David Cohen at 12:51 PM


Bush's faith worries Albright (Reuters, 5/22/06)

U.S. President George W. Bush has alienated Muslims around the world by using absolutist Christian rhetoric to discuss foreign policy issues, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says.

"I worked for two presidents who were men of faith, and they did not make their religious views part of American policy," she said, referring to Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, both Democrats and Christians.

"President Bush's certitude about what he believes in, and the division between good and evil, is, I think, different," said Albright, who has just published a book on religion and world affairs. "The absolute truth is what makes Bush so worrying to some of us."

. . . 1. A dishonorable American who volunteers to go abroad and lie for her nation's enemies. 2. An oxymoron.

What would Ms. Albright have made of this religious fanatic?

Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, reverend clergy, fellow citizens, we observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom--symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning--signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago.

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe--the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage--and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge--and more.

To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided, there is little we can do--for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.

To those new States whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom--and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.

To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required--not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

To our sister republics south of our border, we offer a special pledge--to convert our good words into good deeds--in a new alliance for progress--to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty. But this peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey of hostile powers. Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas. And let every other power know that this Hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.

To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support--to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for invective--to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak--and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run.

Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.

We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.

But neither can two great and powerful groups of nations take comfort from our present course--both sides overburdened by the cost of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind's final war.

So let us begin anew--remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.

Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms--and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.

Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah--to "undo the heavy burdens ... and to let the oppressed go free."

And if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor, not a new balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.

All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.

In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.

Now the trumpet summons us again--not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are--but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation"--a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.

Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility--I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 PM


MP unveils fetal homicide bill (TONDA MACCHARLES, 5/22/06, Toronto Star)

A Conservative MP has introduced a private member's bill that would make it a separate criminal offence to harm an unborn child in cases where a pregnant mother is assaulted or murdered. Keep forcing the contradictions and it'll soon be a decent country again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 PM


'Extinct' frog comes back to life (Richard Black, 5/22/06, BBC News)

No word yet on wether they mayed with humans in the meantime.....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:58 AM


A nation that's gotten used to mass job cuts a review of The Disposable American: Layoffs and their Consequences by Louis Uchitelle (Gabriel Madway, May 20, 2006, MarketWatch)

Americans have accepted corporate layoffs as the norm, a new book charges, acquiescing to a system that creates a nation of unstable, temporary workers.

Not every country is so obliging, as we have been reminded lately. After all, bandana-wrapped young Parisians, choking on tear gas, spent early spring marching angrily through the streets of the 5th arrondissement, protesting the mere threat of allowing layoffs.

Americans, meanwhile, watched the spectacle on CNN with amusement. [...]

[T]he book contends that a more active government involvement in the marketplace could go a long way towards remedying the epidemic of American layoffs. Such an argument may have found a foothold in the 1970s, but it sounds almost quaint in today's regulatory environment.

It'll surprise no one that Mr. Uchitelle, with his proposals that we be more like France, is a NY Times reporter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:53 AM


Chief Justice Says His Goal Is More Consensus on Court (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 5/22/06)

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said Sunday that he was seeking greater consensus on the Supreme Court, adding that more consensus would be likely if controversial issues could be decided on the "narrowest possible grounds."

In a 15-minute address to Georgetown University law graduates, Chief Justice Roberts, 51, sketched a vision for leading a court sharply divided on issues like abortion, the death penalty and gay rights.

He said the nation would benefit if the justices could avoid 5-to-4 decisions in cases with sweeping impact, noting that many of the court's most controversial cases, including presidential wartime powers and political boundaries in Texas, would be decided in the final six weeks of the current term.

"If it is not necessary to decide more to a case, then in my view it is necessary not to decide more to a case," Chief Justice Roberts said.

Ironically, the chief stumbling blocks are likely to be intellectual ideologues like Scalia and Thomas who feel compelled to offer idiosyncratic reasoning even on decisions they agree with.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:50 AM


Affordable PC has a hitch (Brier Dudley, 5/22/06, Seattle Times)

Like one of those appliance dealers on Highway 99, Bill Gates won't be undersold.

He's working on a plan to make your next PC almost free. Free in the way cellphones are free — if you sign up for a network service plan. [...]

"There's going to be a great wave of those things that are going to get rolled out," Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief technical officer for advanced strategies, said at the Future in Review (FiRe) conference.

Mundie said, "You'll basically be able to buy composite hardware and software packages ... on cellphone-type business models where you essentially rent them or pay for them like you have prepaid cards on cellphones." [...]

Whether this financing scheme works abroad or not, the technology could eventually change the dynamic of PC ownership everywhere if the industry moves further toward subscriptions.

As people become more comfortable with the concept of paying monthly fees for their computing, the shift toward digital media and online services will also accelerate.

Having millions of subscribers would also help Microsoft catch Apple Computer in the digital-media business and recoup the billions it's investing in online services.

Free or reduced-price computers will lure people to subscribe to a bundle of services. Then it's easy to start adding things to that monthly computing bill, just as you do with phone and cable television. Miss a TV show? Want that new song or video game? Download them, for a few dollars added to your bill.

Nor will you have three different bills.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:44 AM


Microfinance gets VC nudge (Tricia Duryee, 5/22/06, Seattle Times)

Mike Murray, a former Microsoft executive, founded Unitus in 2000 with the aim of improving the industry. In microfinancing's 30-year history, loans have been distributed to 20 percent, or 100 million, of the 500 million people in the world who could benefit from the loans.

"In business, after 30 years, if you have only reached 20 percent market share, you aren't successful," Murray said. "That's not good enough. It works well, but the industry hasn't grown."

So Murray hired Geoff Davis as president and chief executive to devise a new model.

Davis, who has worked with microfinance organizations worldwide, realized one of the problems is that they depend on donations. Of the 3,000 institutions that make loans, 95 percent have fewer than 100,000 clients.

"That's not quite large enough to get economies of scale," he said.

Davis identified the constraints: not having enough resources to make more loans and not having access to capital.

"We designed a business plan where investors would fuel the growth, rather than donors," he said.

The model is called the Unitus accelerator, and it's similar to how venture capital works.

Unitus raises a fund and looks for small microfinance banks around the world that have good management teams and large market opportunities. It helps turn the bank into a for-profit entity, then it makes an investment.

The money can give the institution leverage to borrow more money from traditional banking institutions.

Unitus also takes a seat on the bank's board and provides consulting services to set up the infrastructure designed to support fast growth.

With the transformation in place, Unitus expects a bank that once served 3,000 people to help 100,000 to 200,000 people in five to seven years.

That kind of growth may need millions of dollars, a sum that would never be able attained through donations, Murray said.

Applying such capitalist forms to social problems is archetypally Third Way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 AM


McGavick would bar Iran from soccer's World Cup (Alicia Mundy, 5/23/06, Seattle Times)

Republican Senate candidate Mike McGavick has a plan to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions: Bar its national team from the soccer field.

McGavick, who is challenging Sen. Maria Cantwell in November, wants the international soccer federation to disinvite Iran from the wildly popular World Cup soccer tournament.

If Ms Cantwell were smart she'd exploit the opening Mr. McGavick opened to his Right and propose barring America from the soccer bowl.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 AM


Dozens die in Afghan air strike (BBC, 5/22/06)

Dozens of people have been killed in a bombing raid by US-led coalition forces in southern Afghanistan, officials say.

The governor of Kandahar province said at least 60 Taleban had died in the air strikes in the Panjwayi district.

Sixteen civilians were also killed, he added. One injured villager told the BBC that Taleban fighters had used his house to launch missiles from the roof.

Wherever they cluster we can bomb.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:22 AM


Top Israelis Meet With Palestinian Leader: Encounter Precedes Prime Minister Olmert's Washington Visit; Medical Aid Approved (Scott Wilson, May 22, 2006, Washington Post)

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's top two cabinet ministers met Sunday with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh, the first time senior officials from the two sides have met in nearly a year.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Olmert's chief deputy, and Vice Premier Shimon Peres spoke with Abbas, the Palestinian Authority's president, for 30 minutes at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East. Afterward, Livni said the U.S.-backed peace strategy known as the "road map" was "still relevant," and Palestinian officials suggested the meeting was a positive first step toward renewing regular talks. [...]

Formal peace negotiations between the two sides have been dormant since January 2001. Olmert, who visits Washington this week on his first official trip as prime minister, has pledged to explore the possibility of new talks with Abbas before carrying out a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank. He led the Kadima party to victory in Israel's March elections on a promise to define Israel's final eastern border during his four-year term.

Voices from the prison (Uri Avnery, 5/16/06, Daily Times)

Prison serves an important function in the annals of every revolutionary movement. It serves as a college for activists, centre for the crystallisation of ideas, rallying point for leaders, platform for dialogue between the various factions.

For the Palestinian liberation movement, the prison plays all these roles and many more. During the 39 years of occupation, hundreds of thousands of young Palestinians have passed through Israeli prisons. At any given time, an average of 10,000 Palestinians are held in prison. This, the liveliest and most active section of the Palestinian people, is in continuous ferment. People from every class, every town and village, every political and military faction are to be found there.

Prisoners have ample time. They have the opportunity to learn, to think, to organise seminars, to concentrate full-time on the problems of their people, to exchange views, to work out solutions.

In order to prevent an explosion, the Israeli prison authorities allow these prisoners a communal life and self-government. This is wise. In practice, the prisons resemble camps for prisoners of war. Clashes between the prisoners and the prison authorities are comparatively rare.

One of the results is that, in prison, the inmates learn Hebrew. They watch Israeli TV, listen to Israeli radio and become acquainted with the Israeli way of life. They come to know Israeli reality and even to appreciate some of its components. Israeli democracy, for example. “What we liked most,” an ex-prisoner once told me, “was to see the Knesset debates on TV. When we saw Knesset members shouting at the prime minister and cursing members of the government, we really got excited. Where do you have such a thing in the Arab world?” [...]

All this comes as an introduction to the central event of this week: the agreement achieved in prison between the representatives of all the Palestinian factions.

This is a document of very great importance for the Palestinians, both because of the identity of its authors and its content.

At this time, many leaders of the various Palestinian factions are in prison, from Marwan Barghouti, the leader of Fatah in the West Bank, to Sheik Abd-al-Khaliq al-Natshe, a Hamas leader. With them there are the leaders of Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front and the Democratic Front. They spend their time in permanent discussion, while in touch with the leaders of their organisations outside and the activists inside. God knows how they do it.

When the leaders of the prisoners speak with one voice, what they say carries a greater moral weight than the statements of any Palestinian institution, including the presidency, the parliament and the government.

This is the background, against which this fascinating document should be examined.

In general, it follows the policy of Yasser Arafat: the two-state solution, a Palestinian state in all the territory occupied in 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital, the release of all Palestinian prisoners. This means, of course, the recognition of Israel in practice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:15 AM


Barbaro Is Able to Stand After Surgery: Horse's Survival Still a 'Coin Toss' (John Scheinman, 5/23/06, The Washington Post)

Veterinarians announced Sunday night they had successfully fused the shattered right leg of Barbaro, offering reason for optimism after a tumultuous 24 hours during which the racehorse went from Triple Crown contender to struggling for his life.

More than five hours of unprecedented surgery at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center left doctors cautiously optimistic that Barbaro, who suffered his injury about 50 strides into Saturday's Preakness Stakes, would survive and move on to a career at stud that would be worth millions of dollars. [...]

The surgery required a metal rod and 23 screws to help stabilize a long pastern bone that had shattered into more than 20 pieces.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:07 AM


Making Peace with the Colonel: By rewarding Libya with the resumption of diplomatic ties, the United States is hoping to transform Moammar Gadhafi's regime from rogue state to model Muslim partner. With plenty of oil and a cosmopolitan elite, the country's chances at rehabilitation aren't half bad. (Bernhard Zand and Volkhard Windfuhr, 5/22/06, Der Spiegel)

[W]hat does the reconciliation mean for the power struggle in Libya? America's diplomatic initiative could benefit the reformers in the bizarre jumble of contradictions that is modern Libya. Or it could be their doom in the place formally known as the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. The initial winners are clearly the urban elite of Tripoli, Benghazi and Tobruk, whose lives are already leaning to the West.

The oil boom has made them rich. Libya earns about $80 million a day and will take in more than $30 billion this year on petroleum. The wealth is now becoming palpable. Mid-size cars wait in traffic jams along the coastline near Tripoli. Gadhafi's son Hannibal pilots a white Humvee, a military jeep that represents the US invasion of Iraq in other parts of the Arab world. The airport in Tripoli now has a business lounge even though elsewhere in the country Libyans refuse to sit in the back of a taxi, careful not to make the driver look like a servant.

The hip drink of the moment in the seaside towns along the Mediterranean is the macchiato, a remnant of the officially hated Italian colonial period. Today, the milk foam peeks over the edge of a paper cup, just like it does in America. But men's fashion is all Italian -- dark suits, light-blue shirts, thin brown shoes.

The style has been made popular by yet another son of Gadhafi - Seif al-Islam, 33, an eccentric but bright son who has trouble hiding his ambitions. He's already confessed to having no interest in Libya's presidency, not to mention becoming a revolutionary leader like his father. But as head of the organization that pays restitution for the Lockerbie and "La Belle" bombings, his intentions have become very clear.

In the spring of 2005, he invited Harvard Business School economist Michael Porter to Libya. Porter is a former economic adviser to Reagan and a leading expert on competition. Gadhafi's son met him at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. For ten months, Porter and a 25-member team of international experts investigated Libya's ministries, oil industry and economy. Recently, they published their report. "It is," said an experienced European diplomat in Tripoli, "the most revealing document that has ever been written about the internal state of an Arab nation."

The diagnosis is brutal. The bureaucracy, education system and health care sector come off far worse than they were portrayed in an earlier United Nations report. Only three percent of Libyans work in the oil sector, but they account for 60 percent of the gross national product. More than half of the population works in the service sector but make up just nine percent of the gross national product. Unemployment has crested 30 percent. Without oil, the country would be a disaster.

But the solution is heartening. Libyans were "motivated and open" when they spoke to one of the researchers, an experience "without comparison to what we've experienced in other countries." The country's energy sources are large with guaranteed reserves of 40 billion barrels of the lightest and most sulfur-free crude -- all within proximity of oil-thirsty European markets. With smart leadership, Libya could become an exemplary country by 2019 -- the 50th anniversary of the revolution -- "egalitarian, productive, democratic and green," according to the report.

The study's preamble is a masterpiece of Middle East diplomacy that touches on the Achilles Heel of the whole experiment: "Our strategy attempts to improve Libya's global competitiveness while maintaining its unique character as a government of the masses (jamahiriya)." This refers to Gadhafi's theory that a government must only implement the decisions taken by an elite inner circle despite the convening of hundreds of people's congresses -- currently 468 -- that meet for two weeks four times a year.

This raises yet another question, which the geostrategists in the State Department must also be asking after the debacle in Iraq -- Can Arabic autocracies be reformed even if the autocrats and their regimes remain -- at least temporarily -- in power?

Because they can't fix their economy without reducing autocracy, the autocrats who want a functional economy more than they do political power are worth working with.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:59 AM


First glance (Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma Zaidi, 5/22/06, First Read)

President Bush has some accomplishments to tout and more expected wins queued up for this week before Congress departs for the Memorial Day recess. A new Iraqi government. A forthcoming broad immigration bill from the Senate, though it may not survive a conference committee. An emergency supplemental spending bill which will either adhere to his prescribed dollar limit, or provide him with a chance to encourage GOP conservatives by casting his first veto. A new CIA director and a new appellate court judge favored by his party's base.

NBC's Ken Strickland advises that Gen. Michael Hayden's nomination to head the CIA is likely to be voted out of committee in the Senate on Tuesday, with a floor vote probably on Thursday. Judicial nominee Brett Kavanaugh is also expected to win confirmation this week. The final vote on the Senate immigration bill could happen either Wednesday night or Thursday morning. A final vote on the emergency supplemental by both chambers is expected for Thursday, with a price tag close to what Bush has said he'll accept.

Elections Are Crux Of GOP's Strategy (Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei, 5/22/06, Washington Post)

Bush has turned his attention to the campaign. Six months before the election, he has made 36 fundraising appearances, more than at this point in 2002. He spoke at a party gala last week that broke off-year records for hard-money fundraising and later attended events in Virginia and Kentucky. Vice President Cheney has been even more active, making 62 fundraising appearances, including one in Nashville on Saturday, and he plans three more in California in the next couple of days.

With Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove reassigned from day-to-day policy management to concentrate on the fall campaign, the White House has begun setting an agenda. Bush focused on stopping illegal immigration with his National Guard plan announced in an Oval Office address last week, followed a few days later by a visit to the border. In between, he signed legislation extending $70 billion in tax cuts that he has made a signature issue on the campaign trail.

To address conservatives, who have been key to his election victories but have grown disenchanted with the administration, Bush and Senate Republicans are reviving their fight with Democrats over judicial nominations, and senators last week voted out of committee a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage to set up a floor vote next month.

The White House also appears eager for a battle over the nomination of Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden as CIA director. With a committee vote expected this week and a floor vote by next week, the White House hopes voters will see the warrantless surveillance program Hayden started as head of the National Security Agency as tough on terrorism rather than a violation of civil liberties.

And Bush remains a firm believer in the "Iraq first" strategy. The war has overshadowed everything else and, in the White House's view, to a large extent has poisoned the public against other messages -- to the point that many Americans fault Bush's handling of the economy even though economic performance has been strong. So the White House calculates that if the public sees any improvement in Iraq and a withdrawal of even some U.S. troops, Republicans will be rewarded.

Aides point to the president's last spike in the polls, which came late last year after Iraqi elections and a series of Iraq speeches by Bush. A top adviser said Rove and White House political director Sara M. Taylor are advising candidates not to duck the issue of Iraq but rather to make it a centerpiece of their campaigns.

The Rove-Taylor view is that one-third of Americans agree with liberal Democrats calling for immediate withdrawal and another third support staying the course. The middle third wants a new strategy, but would be leery of pulling out and leaving behind a volatile Iraq, a position strategists believe leaves those voters open to persuasion.

"Look, we're in a sour time -- I readily admit it," Rove said in a speech last week. "I mean, being in the middle of a war where people turn on their television sets and see brave men and women dying is not something that makes people happy and optimistic and upbeat." But, he added, "ultimately, the American people are a center-right country who, presented with a center-right party with center-right candidates, will vote center-right."

Perhaps the most important element of the emerging strategy will be to "move from a referendum to a choice," as Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman put it. Instead of a verdict on Bush, Republicans want to frame the election as a contest with Democrats, confident that voters unhappy with the president will find the opposition even more distasteful.

"We're moving from a period where the public looks at things and says thumbs-up or thumbs-down, to a time when they have a choice between one side or the other," Mehlman said.

Troops home. Gas prices down. Dow up. Interest rates down. Deficit falling. If you can get those forces converging in October/November you win again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


Media should stop and say, 'It's only a movie' (Tim Rutten, May 20, 2006, LA Times)

The problem with the "Da Vinci Code" story as controversy is that the outraged side just refuses to play ball. The primary victims of the foolishness committed in the book and continued on screen are the Catholic Church and Opus Dei, a deeply conservative and rather unwholesomely secretive organization of mainly lay believers given to education, hard work and a couple of creepy spiritual practices. Brown and his cinematic confreres have produced a cartoon that depicts the church as deceitful, corrupt and conspiratorial and Opus as murderous, corrupt and conspiratorial. These are moral, though thankfully not legal, slanders — at least not yet, though you never know what this desperate Congress will do.

The media, always mindful of the pathos to be wrung from a good auto-da-fé, have zealously circled the globe searching for outraged Catholics. So far, what they've got are a Nigerian cardinal in the Vatican curia, who grumbled that somebody, somewhere ought to take legal action, the urging of a boycott in China, a ban in Manila and a couple of Indian Catholics who threatened to set themselves on fire outside a theater when the film opens there. (They didn't; apparently, somebody reminded them that the church they're defending inconveniently forbids suicide.)

For its part, Opus Dei convened a team of "crisis managers" under the direction of its "global communications director," Juan Manuel Mora, and charged them — according to the Wall Street Journal — with converting the film's release into "a marketing opportunity." They overhauled the organization's website,, which last year received 3 million hits, as opposed to 674,000 the year before Brown's book came out.

The collective Catholic response to the book and film probably were best summed up by a Jesuit theologian who responded to an earnest radio interviewer's long and suggestive question this way: "I don't mean to sound obtuse, but are you asking me whether a novel is true?"

Meanwhile, media attempts to deputize the usual evangelical Protestant firebrands into one of those reliably copy-worthy anti-blasphemy posses also have been generally fruitless. You almost can hear frustrated assignment editors and producers muttering to themselves: What's the matter with these guys? Don't they care that this cockamamie movie says Jesus had sex with Mary Magdalene? Can't they see this is another battle in the war against Christmas? Didn't they learn anything from those Muslims?

That Christians are blase about the Da Vinci hoax is just the flipside of unbelievers being apoplectic about Mel Gibson's Passion presenting the genuine story.

The shocking secret of 'The Da Vinci Code': It stinks (DOMINIC P. PAPATOLA, 5/21/06, St. Paul Pioneer Press)

With 105 chapters — each about the length of a potty break — and sentence structures not too far removed from "See Dick run," the book seems to be written at about a sixth-grade readability level. The plot advances in a series of enough improbable "a-ha!" moments to burn through a couple of grosses of light bulbs. And the galloping, thinly strung conspiracy theory makes your typical Kennedy assassination theorist look scholarly by comparison.

To call the thing a piffle is to insult piffles.

The film breathlessly packs the book's 450 pages into about 2½ hours. Tom Hanks is a much more skeptical protagonist than you'll find in the book, and the cinematic version soft-pedals the whole church-as-thug idea, assigning most of the malevolent deeds to a rogue, beanie-bedecked "shadow council" of clerics instead of Mother Church herself. Still, the movie is, if anything, more laughably strung together than the book.

Does it offend? The book irked plenty of people — just take a peek on the Internet. And protests broke out around the world before the first frame of the film was shown to the public.

But as a practicing Catholic, I find the idea of corrupt churchmen and Holy Grails far less troubling than the insinuation that any person with any cartilage whatsoever in their spiritual spine would find "The Da Vinci Code" the least bit threatening to their faith.

Faith is the acceptance of things we can't see, after all, and the idea that someone would suddenly believe that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married just because "Da Vinci" actor Ian McKellen said so suggests a faith that probably wasn't all that strong to begin with.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


America’s mayor, but what’s next? (Rachelle G. Cohen, May 22, 2006 , Boston Herald)

[T]oday Giuliani stands alone before the hero worshipers - unblemished either by poor policy choices or events - and not unaware that there aren’t many left who can lead the Republican Party out of the wilderness in which it finds itself.

He is bemused that a book by New York Post columnist John Podhoretz is predicated on the notion that Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) is on an inexorable march to the White House and that he might be the only Republican on the planet who can stop her.

“Hillary does look like the front runner at the moment,” Giuliani said in an interview. “I guess McCain and I share that role in our party. But she seems to have it all to herself right now.”

Only belatedly does he think to mention Sen. John Kerry or the retooled Al Gore.

McCain may be already off and running, but Giuliani is working on his own timetable.

“First we have to get through ’06, and it’s going to be very tight,” he said of the congressional elections. Oh, he’s been out and about making appearances for candidates and fundraising in North Carolina, Georgia, California. Sure it’s the right thing to do, but it also doesn’t hurt to collect those chits if a year from now - and that is his time frame - America’s mayor turns presidential contender.

“I’ll approach it from this point of view,” he said, “whether I can make a significant contribution.

“It will also depend on what the issues are a year from now,” he added, noting that voters look for different qualities in their leaders, depending on those issues.

And it is also - as it is for every potential contender - about the money.

To appreciate how far Right the country has shifted in the last several decades, consider that the Mayor is the most liberal person with a realistic shot at being the next president.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 8:32 AM


Montenegro says 'yes' to independence (Jovana Gec, Globe and Mail, May 22nd, 2006)

Montenegro's state electoral commission on Monday confirmed the victory of a pro-independence bloc in a referendum to secede from Serbia and form a separate state.

The head of the commission, Fratisek Lipka, said that according to near-complete results, 55.4 per cent voted Sunday for Montenegro to become and independent state. The European Union has said a minimum 55 per cent threshold of “Yes” votes was needed for Montenegro to secede.

The result confirms the split of the Serbia-Montenegro union, and write the final chapter in the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

Oh goody. Just what the world needs right now. More nationalism in the Balkans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


Montenegro vote finally seals death of Yugoslavia (Ian Traynor, May 22, 2006, The Guardian)

Montenegro voted yesterday by a comfortable majority to split with Serbia and establish a new small independent state in the Balkans, killing off what remains of Yugoslavia. In a referendum that attracted a turnout of almost 90%, much higher than at any election since democracy arrived in 1990, voters decided by a majority of 56% to 44% to opt for independence rather than a creaking dysfunctional union with Serbia, according to a projection by an independent monitoring organisation last night.

A people who thinks of themselves as a nation is one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Senate bill protects employers of illegal aliens from penalties (Charles Hurt, May 22, 2006, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Among those who will be cleared of past crimes under the Senate's proposed immigration-reform bill would be the businesses that have employed the estimated 10 million illegal aliens eligible for citizenship and that provided the very "magnet" that drew them here in the first place.

Buried in the more than 600 pages of legislation is a section titled "Employer Protections," which states: "Employers of aliens applying for adjustment of status under this section shall not be subject to civil and criminal tax liability relating directly to the employment of such alien."

Supporters of the legislation insist that such provisions do not amount to "amnesty." [...]

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, vehemently opposes "this effort to waive the rules for lawbreakers and to legalize the unlawful actions of undocumented workers and the businesses that illegally employ them."

Democrats are always in favor of criminalizing business practices, but it's surprising to find conservatives with them.

As their numbers grow here, Hispanics become big business (Alwyn Scott, 5/22/06, Seattle Times)

As Mexican President Vicente Fox arrives in Washington state Wednesday for a whirlwind 24-hour visit, he will be greeted by a fast-growing Hispanic population that is important to the state's economy and its business world.

The number of Hispanic-owned businesses in Washington surged by 69 percent, to about 10,270, in the decade through 2002, the most recent data available, according to the University of Washington's Business and Economic Development Center.

The growth in Hispanic businesses was faster than any other minority-business segment, said Michael Verchot, the center's director.

Mexican or Hispanic entrepreneurs have developed some well-known local brands, such as the Azteca restaurants and Gene Juarez Salons and Spas. There are also many doctors, lawyers, accountants and other professionals, often aiming their services at Latinos.

"It's not a niche," said Raymundo Olivas, owner of Multiservicios, a Seattle company that prepares taxes for many Hispanic immigrants, including undocumented ones. "Now every service — chiropractor, loan officer, travel agent, real estate — any service that the general population needs, there's a market for the Hispanic population."

Microsoft employs about 150 Mexican technical or software workers in Redmond, and hires five to 10 new Mexican recruits a year, said Pedro Celis, who holds the coveted Microsoft designation of "distinguished engineer."

A Mexico native, Celis spoke from a research conference in Guadalajara, Mexico's Silicon Valley, where he and other Microsoft workers were looking at new research and ways to collaborate with Latin American professors and universities. He said he hopes the trip will open doors for future recruiting..

"Mexico has been a very effective [recruiting] area for us," Celis said. "When we compare the numbers we get from a university here with the U.S., they compare favorably. They're as good as any of the universities in the U.S."

Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:45 AM


Time to say sorry to all Aborigines (The Australian, May 20th, 2006)

It is time to say sorry to indigenous Australians. Time to say sorry for the way black women and children are abused in remote settlements. Time to apologise for governments just spending money over a generation instead of seeking solutions to practical problems. Time to regret the social engineering ideologues who have played politics with people's lives. On ABC TV's Lateline program last Monday night, Alice Springs Crown Prosecutor Nanette Rogers showed us why in a graphic interview that made it impossible for people who prefer to downplay the real oppression of Aborigines to ignore what is happening any longer. Dr Rogers reported cases where women were sexually assaulted, where infants - infants - were raped. Equally awful, she described how lawyers representing Aboriginal men from remote communities who committed such crimes played the race card, claiming their clients acted in the context of customary law. But the cause of the appalling circumstances Dr Rogers described run much deeper than courtroom stunts. In large part, they are the outcome of a generation of social engineering that experimented with indigenous lives. They are also a result of the rhetoric of political opportunists who have used Aboriginal disadvantage as a stick to beat settler society. It started in the 1960s when the push for equal pay for Aboriginal stockmen in remote Australia cost too many of them their jobs – and pushed their families on to welfare. There was no case then, just as there is none now, for race-based discrimination in what different people are paid for equally productive work. But the fact remains that while equal pay was a just reform, it helped start the spiral into welfare dependency in the bush. Three decades later the Mabo decision, which cemented the ideal of indigenous land held in common, was equally well meaning, and just as damaging. By making it impossible for Aborigines in remote communities to own their own homes, it ensured public housing and community resources would always be run down, because no individual will take responsibility for what everybody owns. Universal welfare has done as much damage. Allowing Aborigines to rot in remote settlements where there is no work and no prospects for young people is a recipe for social disaster. People turn to drink and substance abuse to numb the misery, parents lose interest in disciplining their children and all sense of family structure ends.

But rather than accept that these strategies have never worked, over the years opinion leaders in indigenous affairs have cast ever wider for somebody, anybody, to blame. Indigenous deaths in custody were described as affronts to all Aborigines, rather than the result of crime and misery that trapped too many black men. We were told the stolen generation had scarred all Aborigines, as if this alone accounted for everything from diabetes to domestic violence in plague proportions. But such arguments ignore the evidence that many members of the stolen generation, especially those who were sent away to school, rather than universal servitude as is so often suggested, provided the last voices of mature moral authority many indigenous communities heard. And in the ultimate absurdity, we are still told self-determination is the only solution to indigenous disadvantage, despite the fact that ATSIC's discredited leaders – mainly men – largely ignored the interests of women and children in remote Australia. Even this week, advocates of the failed status quo in indigenous affairs were at it again in response to Dr Rogers's revelations. Her statement was such shocking stuff that at first it seemed Australia would be shamed into acting. The next day, the federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, Mal Brough, spoke out, saying the misery must end. He sounded like he meant it. And it seemed as if a paradigm shift had occurred, that instead of academic debates about abstract indigenous rights, people in power would finally act to protect women and children. But not for long. Northern Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin said her Government was trying hard and that she would not attend the summit Mr Brough proposed, because indigenous violence was already on the agenda of the Council of Australian Governments. And then she came up with an inane excuse for inaction by calling on Canberra to provide more money for housing in remote areas. This sounded familiar to anybody interested in the well-being of indigenous Australians because for a generation we have heard how more money is the answer. But it's not. Whatever Ms Martin thinks, sexual assaults in remote settlements will not be stopped by bigger public service budgets.

A widespread plague of social pathology and gruesome sexual abuse among aboriginals is gripping the Australian consciousness this month, which you can read about through the links to the right of this editorial. The liberal inspired battles against old-fashioned prejudice that began in the 60's were hijacked by the postmodern left and became grounded in the celebration of pre-settlement paganism, the quest to revive an ethereal “traditional knowledge” that bore an uncanny resemblance to the cant of modern environmentalism, a native self-government magically innoculated against corruption and oodles and oodles of cash mau-maued out of naive but well-meaning Westerners. An adjunct to this was a full-frontal assault on Christianity and the churches that had run missions and residential schools, which descended into high-profile lawsuits that actually bankrupted some dioceses in Canada. Almost no one challenged this gross distortion of the historical record and the Churches were gripped by an orgy of self-flagellation that saw parish after parish work long hours to master the art of fine-tuning public apologies to combine maximum mea culpas for cultural genocide with minimum exposure to class action tort lawyers.

Sadly, faced with these horrors, too many will draw racist rather than moral and cultural conclusions. Even worse, hardly anyone will hear the beat of warning drums and reflect on the connections between our own modern plagues of STD’s, sexual abuse, teenage female mental disorders, the exploding sex trade, vulnerable children, etc. and the destruction of the boring and demanding moral plinth of Judeo-Christianity in favour of the seductive lure of amoral paganisms, new and old.

May 21, 2006

Posted by Matt Murphy at 8:29 PM


Due to a nomenclatural accident, my dad is currently fielding a bunch of irritating phone calls from people who believe he is the head of the Omaha chapter of the Minutemen (apparently formed to keep those crafty Iowans from infiltrating Nebraska and taking our jobs). Apparently, some folks are anti-immigrationists who want to sign up, while others are just journalists pursuing a story.

My dad needs a short, witty riposte to deal with these people. Any suggestions?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:03 PM


Hey, big spender! Save yourself (MARY WISNIEWSKI, 5/21/06, Chicago Sun-Times)

The last time the U.S. savings rate was negative was 1933. The unemployment rate hit 25 percent, and more than 4,000 banks had closed.

It's hard to save money when you're selling apples on the corner.

In 2005 and so far in 2006, the savings rate is negative again -- we're spending more than we're saving. Unemployment is 4.7 percent, and the stock market is up almost 29 percent since the dark days of September 2001.

It looks like we're doing OK -- at least better than we were in the Great Depression. [...]

Personal savings peaked in World War II, when many households had a woman in a factory and a man at the front, and wartime rationing left little to buy. It has been on a downward slide since 1984, when the rate was 10.8 percent.

There are limits in the way the savings rate is measured. It doesn't consider assets or capital gains. Rising home and stock values have helped Americans grow their nest eggs and helped offset both poor savings and inflation, according to a study by A.G. Edwards & Sons, a financial services firm.

So the savings rate has fallen in direct proportion to the revival of the stock market, the creation of 401k's and IRA's and the corresponding stratospheric rise in household net worth? No wonder this isn't quite the Great Depression, huh?

MORE (via David Hill, The Bronx):
Boomers bet on property for support (Mindy Fetterman, USA TODAY)

Real estate ownership has become a key part of boomers' retirement plans, says Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. That's largely because the national savings rate is so low, she says, and the availability of pensions is declining.

Unlike previous generations of retirees who tended to pay off their mortgages and live "rent-free" in retirement, many boomers see their homes as money in the bank, Munnell says. Many previous retirees also chose to hang on to a house to pass down to their children.

By contrast, boomers are more likely to use the equity in their homes, through home equity loans or reverse mortgages, to finance purchases or to help fund their retirements, Munnell says.

"In the old days, you knew you had your house to live in when you retired," Munnell says. But given most boomers' modest retirement savings, "You really are not going to be able to hold on to it and not touch your house. You're going to need the money in your house."

For boomers, vacation homes aren't seen as merely a chance to have fun in the sun or on the ski slope or at the lake. Four in 10 boomers who own a vacation home intend to make it their primary home eventually, the NAR survey found.

At the point where you think folks who own two houses but don't have a passbook account haven't saved enough you aren't discussing reality, nevermind real estate.

Give and take across the border: 1 in 7 Mexican workers migrates -- most send money home (Carolyn Lochhead, May 21, 2006, SF Chronicle)

The current migration of Mexicans and Central Americans to the United States is one of the largest diasporas in modern history, experts say.

Roughly 10 percent of Mexico's population of about 107 million is now living in the United States, estimates show. About 15 percent of Mexico's labor force is working in the United States. One in every 7 Mexican workers migrates to the United States.

Mass migration from Mexico began more than a century ago. It is deeply embedded in the history, culture and economies of both nations. The current wave began with Mexico's economic crisis in 1982, accelerated sharply in the 1990s with the U.S. economic boom, and today has reached record dimensions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:23 PM


Big Fish: It's time to put the al-Qaida ringleaders on trial (Dahlia Lithwick, May 20, 2006, Slate)

Four and a half years after Sept. 11, we are still struggling to decide whether this "War on Terror" should be fought in courts, on a battlefield, or in some black hole in between. The government uses courts to prosecute low-level terrorists: the guys who trained at camps in Afghanistan, or played paintball in the Virginia woods. But it uses the rules of war, modified for its own convenience, to indefinitely hold the ringleaders either at Guantanamo or at so-called "black sites" around the world. Those black sites were appealing precisely because the government intended to hold no trials. There was never a plan for what would happen next.

For years now, the government has been holding key plotters and participants in the attacks of 9/11. People from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—considered by the 9/11 Commission to be the "principal architect" of the attacks—to Ramzi Bin al-Scheib, the alleged paymaster. People like Abu Zubaida, one of Osama Bin Laden's chief recruiters, and Mohammed al-Qahtani, the man alleged to be the real "20th hijacker." These men, and other "big fish" like them, have been held for interrogation that may have amounted to torture—be it Mohammed's alleged water-boarding, or sexual degradation and sleep deprivation. They long ago exhausted their intelligence value. And now, if the government is finished with them, we the people should get a crack at them. Americans are entitled to their Nuremburg.

Except that Americans don't want to repeat the Nuremburg travesty, we want to string these guys up like Mussolini in a gas station in Milan [Ohio in our case].

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:19 PM


An air of uncertainty in town where Latino roots run deep (Hal Bernton, 5/21/06, Seattle Times)

Liliana came to the United States illegally three years ago, hiking five days across the desert while pregnant. She works in the Wapato area, cutting asparagus spears this week before moving on to cherries, pears and apples in a season that stretches into November.

During the slow winter months, Liliana would like to head south to rejoin family and friends in her home state of Michoacán. But the costs and perils of a return trip across a tightening border have dissuaded her.

So instead, Liliana, who declined to give her last name for fear of deportation, has become a year-round resident of the Yakima Valley. She shares a small house outside of town with her husband, Ramiro, her young daughter, Leslie, and another family of four.

Liliana's transformation from migrant worker to resident is part of a broader shift in the Central Washington farmworker community.

Increasing numbers are settling here in the Yakima Valley — rather than working the seasonal crops and moving on. Latinos now make up about 40 percent of the population in Yakima County — more than double the percentage two decades ago.

Permanence is preferable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:15 AM


How Finland fell back in love with nuclear power (Colin Freeman, 21/05/2006, Daily Telegraph)

[F]inland - almost uniquely among the Green-hued nations of northern Europe - has now largely shed any lingering mistrust of nuclear power.

Far from mothballing the industry, it is going to the opposite extreme: alongside Olkiluoto's two existing 1970s reactors, work is under way on a new facility called Olkiluoto 3 - the first to be built in Europe since 1991, when continuing public anxiety over Chernobyl had largely sounded the death knell for future nuclear programmes.

The plant (expected to be switched on around 2010) will help Finland reduce both its CO2 emissions and its dependence on foreign imports of natural gas - the same reasons cited by Tony Blair last week in his speech endorsing a new generation of nuclear stations for Britain.

"The number one reason behind Finland's new approach is climate change," said Jorma Aurela, a senior engineer in the Finnish trade and industry ministry, who signed the licence for the new reactor.

"We are also 100 per cent dependent on Russia for our gas imports. We do not think they would ever use it as a political tool against us, but there is the question of the price, which is going up, and being certain of the availability of the supply."

Built for €3.2 billion (£2.28 billion) by the French-German consortium Framatome ANP/Siemens, and financed entirely by Finnish business, the new advanced boiling-water reactor at Olkiluoto is the same kind that Mr Blair's officials have in mind to replace Britain's ageing facilities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:07 AM


The new power behind Osama's throne (Syed Saleem Shahzad , 5/18/06, Asia Times)

On the least in the rugged Hindu Kush mountains that span Pakistan and Afghanistan, the reality is that bin Laden, while remaining a source of inspiration in the anti-West struggle, is acknowledged as no longer being in command of al-Qaeda's operations.

In that role, he has been superseded by Taliban leader Mullah Omar, according to investigations and interviews conducted by Asia Times Online in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. [...]

Another man, whom Asia Times Online had met in the northern mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and who just called himself a mujahid, said, "The al-Qaeda command structure, as it was known at the time of September 11, which carried out specific missions to target US interests, has largely been abandoned, but it has quickly been replaced.

"Nowadays, Arabs go straight into Afghanistan and join various Taliban commanders. At the same time, the Pakistani Taliban have formed bases in North and South Waziristan. All of them pledge their allegiance to Mullah Omar," the mujahid said.

"All global operations have been shunned for now. Sheikh [bin Laden] is inactive. Actually, Sheikh does not have any money left," a colleague of the mujahid said. Introducing himself as Abdullah ("Servant of Allah"), he was from the Afghan province of Nuristan and said he was part of the Taliban-led resistance. He also described himself as a "host", a term generally used for those who provide shelter to Arab-Afghans - those Arabs who have joined the insurgency and spent time in Afghanistan.

"He [bin Laden] kept changing his location; he spent a lot of money on his people and associates, and of course for his survival. The channels of money kept choking one by one and finally dried up," said Abdullah with a forlorn look on his face.

"This was a strange situation in which everybody [Arab-Afghan] was striving for survival, and once Osama's shelter [money] was off, they were scattered," Abdullah explained.

The most significant result of this was a sharp turn by al-Qaeda toward mainstream jihadist activity, mainly against allied forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And the blunt truth is that tribal warfare just doesn't matter much outside the region.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 9:35 AM


Study shows apes can plan ahead (BBC, May 19th, 2006)

Bonobos and orangutans are capable of future planning, according to a study published in the journal Science.

Researchers found the apes could select a suitable tool for reaching a treat, carry it away, and return with it to retrieve the reward hours later.

Forward planning is thought by some to be a uniquely human trait.

The German team suggests such skills may have evolved about 14 million years ago, when bonobos, orangutans and humans shared a common ancestor.

How silly. Surely everyone knows these skills evolved much, much earlier when humans and squirrels shared a common ancestor. It explains why squirrels gather and store nuts for the winter while their close cousins stuff money in mattresses.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 AM


Darfur's Fleeting Moment (ANTHONY LAKE and FRANCIS FUKUYAMA, 5/21/06, NY Times)

Last Tuesday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting the peace agreement and created a team to prepare for a peacekeeping mission that will take over from the African Union force in Darfur.

To seize the moment, the Bush administration should go beyond calling for urgency at the United Nations in planning a peacekeeping force. It should also give the government of Sudan a brief time in which to accept such a force. Sudan has said it would do so once there was a peace agreement, but has waffled in recent statements. It must be held to its words.

Mr. Bush should also now get ready the logistics, intelligence and headquarters assistance that the United States could provide to such a force. Showing we are prepared to act quickly should help persuade the United Nations to move smartly itself.

President Bush could join President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, who was instrumental in pushing through the peace agreement, in personally soliciting pledges of troops for a United Nations force. While NATO itself will not be accepted by the Sudanese government, why not include alliance members in a United Nations operation?

And Washington should make it clear that if Sudan refuses to accept a United Nations force, we will press NATO to act even without the consent of the Sudanese government — including a no-flight zone to ground the Sudanese aircraft that have provided support to the murderous janjaweed. And we would bring further sanctions to bear.

While recent sanctions by the United States and the United Nations against four Sudanese men involved in the genocide are a step in the right direction, far more expansive measures should be taken against the high-level propagators of genocide based in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, if they block a United Nations force. Beyond multilateral sanctions, the United States could work with countries where Sudanese officials have assets or hope to travel to impose penalties on them.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis grows more desperate. As the needs grow, money to meet them has dwindled. The World Food Program is halving daily rations to Darfurian refugees to a dangerous 1,050 calories a day. Unicef is being forced to scale back its operations, including its nutritional programs for children. The president has asked Congress to increase food aid to Sudan by $225 million. That request must be put on a fast track.

Poor Mr. Fukuyama, stuck arguing that the UN is a credible force, that NATO matters, and for sanctions, while at the same time recognizing that only the US can even possibly prod the institutions to do what they're morally obligated to and that aid stoppages are already killing people. What a mess you get your conscience into when you go all tansnationalist on us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


For soldiers, gratitude and praise from an Iraqi mayor (David Montero, 5/20/06, Rocky Mountain News)

An Iraqi mayor stood before troops lined up on the lawn at Fort Carson on Friday morning and said only two words in English.

But those two words brought the crowd to its feet.

"Thank you."

It was a telling gesture from Tal Afar Mayor Najim Al Jibouri, who spoke for about 20 minutes in his native tongue praising the 3rd Armored Cavalry for saving his city from certain ruin.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


The ultimate martyr (Pepe Escobar, 3/31/06, Asia Times)

Ahmadinejad's ultimate spiritual mentor remains Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, who is the dean of the Educational and Research Institute of Imam Khomeini, a very influential hawza (theological school) in Qom. It's impossible to interview Ayatollah Yazdi - officially because of "new government rules", unofficially of his own volition.

The crucial election of the Council of Experts (86 clerics only; no women; no non-clergy) will take place this coming summer, by universal vote. It's the Council of Experts that chooses the all-powerful supreme leader. Influential people such as former presidential candidate Hojatoleslam Mehdi Mahdavi-Karrubi and former imprisoned philosopher Shoroush are terrified: according to them, Ayatollah Yazdi is trying to influence the outcome of the elections to take over power.

"You see, it's a circle," said a ministry official insisting on anonymity. "The people elect the Council of Experts, but only religious people can run. The Council of Experts elects the leader. The leader elects the Guardian Council. The Guardian Council filters the presidential and the parliamentary elections. And people believe they are electing somebody."

In the event of taking over power, Yazdi would implement "real Islam", as he sees it. He does not believe in Western democracy. He wants a kelafat - a caliphate. Ayatollahs like Yazdi are simply not concerned with worldly matters, foreign policy or geopolitical games; the only thing that matters is work for the arrival of the Mahdi. The ayatollah is on record saying he could convert all of America to Shi'ism. Some of his critics accuse him of claiming a direct link to the Mahdi, which in the Shi'ite tradition would qualify him as a false prophet.

US researcher Dr Muhammad Legenhausen, who has lived and taught in Qom for more than a decade, speaks fluent Farsi and is married to an Iranian, is one of the top scholars at Yazdi's hawza. By telephone, he declined an interview, saying he's "not interested".

Ayatollah Yazdi is also the spiritual mentor of the Hojjatieh, a sort of ultra-fundamentalist sect whose literal reading of Shi'ite tradition holds that chaos in mankind is a necessary precondition for the imminent arrival of the Mahdi. Ahmadinejad may not be a Hojjatieh himself, but he totally understands where they are coming from.

Ahmadinejad's slightly more worldly mentor is Mojtaba Hashemi Samareh - his closest adviser. Samareh, also a former Revolutionary Guard, met the president during the Iran-Iraq War, in Khuzestan. Then he came under the wing of, once again, Ayatollah Yazdi, who sponsored him for entering the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (one of his jobs was to teach the "psychology of infidels"). He has also spent many years at the Intelligence Ministry.

Samareh's allegiance is first and foremost to Ayatollah Yazdi - not to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. He's always right behind Ahmadinejad - a sword of Damocles over every minister, ambassador or high official. Every day they pray together at the mosque at the presidential palace. [...]

There's one huge problem, though. He's not delivering - in economic terms. As a ministerial government official put it, visibly anguished, "of course he is an honest man. In his declaration of assets, mandatory in our constitution, he put only his old car [a rickety Paykan from the 1970s] and a small house. But he does not have the personality for the job."

The masses were totally excluded from the late shah's secular, Westernized, petrodollar banquet. They kept getting nothing under the revolutionary, clerical oligarchy that never implemented in practice the rhetorical slogans of Islamic solidarity. Former president Mohammad Khatami, for all the appreciation of his "dialogue of civilizations", did nothing to put more mutton kebab on people's plates. Every major decision - even in domestic policy - remains with the supreme leader.

The economy remains atrophied, dependent on bazaaris and bonyads (foundations) that ultimately respond to the supreme leader. According to a US-educated economic analyst, who insists on anonymity for his own protection, income tax accounts for less than 7% of the state's budget, deficits are underestimated, inflation could easily spin out of control and the private sector is atrophied compared with the omnipresent state.

Ahmadinejad's much-taunted plan last year to "put oil revenues on people's plates" was ditched: it would lead to an explosion of inflation. He couldn't even place his own man at the crucial Ministry of Petroleum. As another government official put it, "It's hard to believe we have to import 60% of our gasoline from abroad. The previous governments built too many mosques and not enough refineries."

The worldly, secular Ebrahim Yazdi, former Iranian foreign minister (under Khomeini) and current secretary general of the Freedom Movement of Iran - an opposition party banned from contesting the latest elections - tries to sum it up. "Ahmadinejad has failed his promises of economic justice. Under Khatami, at least we had long-range planning and investment in the private industrial sector. Ahmadinejad is in favor of the welfare state, a 19th-century idea. We have a proverb in Persian: 'A good year could be judged by the spring.' Ahmadinejad's 'spring' says it all."

Nine months into the Ahmadinejad administration, Iran's political apartheid is still more than evident. For all of the president's populist rhetoric and his outsider posture, it remains a case of the khodiah (our people) against the gheyreh kodiah (the others), insiders against outsiders. In many aspects, foreign outsiders cannot shake the impression of an austere, melancholic, suffocating society carrying the weight of 27 years of a historical, sociopolitical and religious experiment gone wrong.

The majlis (parliament) could invoke its constitutional powers and sack the president before this coming summer.

The inability of regime critics to differentiate Khamenei from Ahmedinejad cripples our ability to play them against each other.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


Hopes for a Triple Crown Winner Come to an Abrupt, Untimely End (George Solomon, May 21, 2006, Washington Post)

The ambulance pulled up at exactly 6:26 in front of Barn E, the Pimlico stakes barn. Inside was Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby winner who -- before yesterday's horrific injury -- was the clear favorite to win the Preakness Stakes and move on to the Belmont in three weeks with a chance to become the first Triple Crown winner in 28 years.

Security officials quickly threw a canvas shield across Barbaro's stall as a team of veterinarians moved quickly to stabilize the horse. With a record crowd of 118,402 looking on at this ancient Baltimore racetrack, Barbaro broke prematurely from the starting gate, was led back to the gate but broke again seemingly well. He ran about a furlong before pulling up. [...]

Larry Bramlage, one of the attending veterinarians, said Barbaro broke from the gate well, but "around a furlong planted his hind right foot unevenly, above and below the ankle."

With onlookers watching, some in tears, the ambulance pulled out of the stable area for the two-hour trip to the equine hospital in Chester County, Pa.

The prognosis last night was pretty grim.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


Schools told to give pupils gay sex advice (KATE FOSTER, 5/21/06, The Scotsman)

OFFICIAL guidance on how to teach Scottish schoolchildren about gay sex is being issued for the first time since the abolition of laws which banned "promoting" homosexuality in schools.

Teachers will be told they can discuss issues including safe gay sex and where to get advice on homosexual relationships, in a move which has already set religious groups and health professionals at loggerheads.

Senior health officials have told Scotland on Sunday the current sex education guidelines need to be expanded because they are "heterosexist".

It can't go Muslim fast enough.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:15 AM


Meche adjusts for win (Bob Condotta, 5/21/06, Seattle Times)

It may be too early to tell if the Mariners really found something in Oakland that has led to the turnaround of the last two nights.

But there seems little doubt that Gil Meche did.

The Mariners starter credited a slight change in his delivery — moving his glove further away from his body, an adjustment he worked on during a bullpen session in Oakland — for his best performance of the season Saturday.

Meche shut out the San Diego Padres through seven innings, retiring 15 in a row at one point, and allowed just one run and four hits in 7-2/3 innings in leading the Mariners to a 6-3 win in front of 33,946 at Safeco Field.

May 20, 2006

Posted by pjaminet at 10:03 PM


Baghdad's Lionel Richie Obsession (John Berman, ABC News, 5/19/2006)

Grown Iraqi men get misty-eyed by the mere mention of his name. "I love Lionel Richie," they say....

I asked Richie if he knows just how big he is here. He said, "The answer is, I'm huge, huge in the Arab world."...

He thinks it is because of the simple message in his music: Love.

Because Love Will Conquer All.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 8:41 PM


Ayyyyyyy! (Manolo the Shoeblogger, May 15-20, 2006)

Manolo says, the Manolo he has of late been feeling unsettled, nervousy, on edge. There is the atmosphere of dark foreboding, as if something terrible were about to happen.

The portents they have not been good.

The pets of the neighbors of the Manolo they have been skittish; the dogs they have whined and snapped, and the cats they have hissed without provocation. And now the carrion birds are roosting in the trees near the house.

Each day it has dawned darker than the last.

Worst of all, yesterday, the Manolo thought he had heard the muffled sound of thundering hooves, as if the massive hoard of ravening Mongols were riding fast down upon our peaceful hamlet.

And now, with the news of this day, it all becomes hideously apparent:

Destruction! Death! The End of Civilization as We Know It!

Worse! The Eruovision, it has Returned!

Don’t pass up The Manolo’s commentary on this annual celebration of Europe’s timeless cultural profundity and richness. Meanwhile, the winner was...

Posted by Peter Burnet at 3:00 PM


Social sciences' serious image problem (Anne-Marie Owens, National Post, May 20th, 2006)

The social sciences are always seen as the flighty older sister of the academic family, eternally straining to be taken seriously for nailing down ethereal wisps of knowledge when their more serious siblings in the so-called hard sciences are gaining accolades for researching a cancer cure or genome theory.

But when 8,000 PhDs from 80 scholarly associations across Canada get together to swap ideas about everything from the Bonoization of Democracy to the Significance of the Sock, there will be no time for such an inferiority complex.

Among the thousands of academic papers to be delivered during the week-long Congress, which begins a week from now at Toronto's York University, are titles about education, aboriginal rights, environmental ills, and warfare. There will be lectures from such academic luminaries as David Suzuki, Stephen Lewis and even the Ethics Commissioner, Bernard Shapiro.

But the annual brains-fest, otherwise known as the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, will also feature papers with titles such as "Cheese as Class Indicator in the Retail Market," "A Reflection of the Sock in Society," and "Opening, Closing and Revolving: Studies in Doorology."

Such titles are sure to elicit some guffaws and even calls of outrage about misguided government funding, but the people who ply their trade in this world are accustomed to this derision. "It is a constant struggle," concedes Donald Fisher, education professor at the University of British Columbia and president of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. "There is that sense that this knowledge isn't as useful, it isn't as concrete, it doesn't contribute economically, it doesn't have that obvious benefit...."

"We've always suffered from that image. What sometimes seems arcane and particularistic and sometimes remote is, when you actually unpack it, very relevant."

Astrology and alchemy had to fight similar prejudices.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:27 AM

NO STEPS AHEAD (via Tom Morin):

Another Five Million Dollar Man Killed (James Dunnigan, May 18, 2006, Strategy Page)

On the evening of April 13th, an air strike by Pakistani attack helicopters on two houses in the town of Miranshah, in North Waziristan, killed about a dozen al Qaeda operatives. Confirmed to be among the dead was 41-year old Abdul Rahman al Muhajir. One of al Qaeda's principal explosives experts, Al Muhajir was indicted for the bombings of the U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998, which killed over 220 people. The U.S. had posted a $5 million reward for his capture. [...]

Al Muhajir's death is one of the most important results of a protracted Pakistani operation in Waziristan that began several months ago.

Posted by David Cohen at 10:06 AM


Castro healthy enough to live till 140 years old: doctor (AFP, 5/19/06)

Cuban President Fidel Castro, who turns 80 this year, enjoys vibrant health and will live to 140, his chief doctor said.
... as long as I keep my gun to his head.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 9:53 AM


Jewish fraternity rejected again from Dartmouth College
(Matt Rand, Jerusalem Post, May 19th, 2006)

Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi apparently won't be throwing any crazy toga parties at Dartmouth College any time soon.

Told it "would not be competitive," for a second time the Dartmouth College fraternity council recently blocked Alpha Epsilon Pi from being officially recognized and given colony status at the Hanover, New Hampshire, school two hours north of Boston whose fraternities inspired the film Animal House.

Through a secret ballot, Alpha Epsilon Pi was rejected for membership in the Dartmouth Interfraternity Council for a second time in early May after first being rejected in January.

Alpha Epsilon Pi had been the first fraternity to ask for recognition after Dartmouth trustees lifted the ban on recognizing new fraternities in June 2005, said Interfraternity Council President Alexander Lenz. He said the council intended to reexamine its expansion policy in the next couple of weeks.

While the council originally said it "could not sustain another fraternity," it also conceded that some in the council were uncomfortable admitting a fraternity whose membership was "eighty to ninety percent" Jewish.

Other Dartmouth fraternities which have minority group connections apparently did not have to go through the same process, said Patrick Karas, who is leading the advocacy for the Jewish fraternity's establishment as a "colony" at Dartmouth.

Karas said that Alpha Phi Alpha, a historically African-American fraternity, and Lambda Upsilon Lambda, a Latino fraternity, did not have to get recognition from the same fraternity council Alpha Epsilon Pi now petitions. [...]

Dartmouth Chabad Rabbi Moshe L. Gray expressed disappointment with the rejection, saying the establishment of the Jewish fraternity would be "another opportunity to increase and better Jewish life on campus."

"I think this does not bode well for Dartmouth, nor for the Jewish community here," said Gray. "I'm not sure what kind of message this sends to the broader Jewish community in America."

We are. Something pointed and creative must be done about this. And we think we have found just the man to do it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


I like driving in my car: Americans' obsession with their cars did not come about by accident. (Paul Harris, May 18, 2006, Guardian Unlimited)

In between the wars many American cities had fully functioning electric tram systems that shuttled millions of citizens from their homes to their jobs without the need for a private car. American cities were more compact, more walkable and had vibrant downtowns that were the centre of urban life.

Even in southern California, which is now seen as the ultimate creation of the automobile, railways and trams were a huge part of life. Los Angeles was served by the largest mass transit system in the nation, including 1,000 trains a day running on the Pacific Electric Railway's 760 miles of track.

But take a drive - and it will have to be a drive - through most major US cities today (and particularly LA) and you see a different world. Downtowns lie abandoned to office blocks, gridlock rules on city freeways that have destroyed old urban neighbourhoods and suburbia sprawls out across miles upon mile of territory that only a generation or two ago was rural farmland. The figures tell the story best.

Americans make one billion trips a day and just 1.9 percent of them are by mass transit. There are 220m cars in a country of 290m people. The average US family makes 10 car trips every day.

But this did not just happen. Big business and government helped plan it this way. Many of those electric tram lines ended up being bought by car firms, notably General Motors. Between 1936 and 1950 a holding company backed by GM, Firestone and Standard Oil bought 100 tram firms in 45 American cities. They were dismantled and replaced by GM buses: more inefficient, more likely to lead to congestion and, in the end, more profitable to GM. Many bus lines then failed, leaving consumers with no choice but to buy cars.

But it was not just 'conspiracy' by the big car firms. Urban planners of the 1940s and 1950s seemed possessed with a manic zeal to push the car at the expense of public transit. Their vision was a sprawling suburbia linked by huge, broad expressways. One of the most influential was Robert Moses, who is responsible for much of modern New York's sprawl. Though never elected to office he was probably the most powerful man in New York from the 1930s to the 1950s. He once declared 'Cities are for traffic' and planned to build a huge freeway through downtown Manhattan that would have levelled much of SoHo and Greenwich Village.

Just think of that. Some of the most culturally and financially valuable real estate in the world was scheduled for destruction just so car owners could get across Manhattan more quickly. Many other less famous (but no less vibrant) neighbourhoods across America were not so lucky.

The focus on the car was a tragedy of human planning.

The greatest trick of the Devil was to convince Americans they chose to be programmed into cars.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


Bewildered Unit sees ERA soar (ED PRICE, May 20, 2006, Newark Star-Ledger)

Randy Johnson calls this uncharted territory. He probably can't remember details from 15 years back, or doesn't want to.

Twice given a lead yesterday by his Yankees teammates -- including four runs in the first inning -- Johnson gave both away and came out of his start against the Mets with a no-decision. By allowing six runs on eight hits in five innings, Johnson saw his ERA rise to 5.62 for the season.

Sheffield's setback heads list of woes (ED PRICE, 5/20/06, Newark Star-Ledger)
On a day their flurry of injuries became an avalanche, the piece of Yankees health news with the most immediate impact was that Gary Sheffield had a setback in his attempted comeback from a bad left hand and wrist.

It's not just Barry Bonds who looks suddenly elderly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


Graduates at New School Heckle Speech by McCain (DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, 5/20/06, NY Times)

The jeers, boos and insults flew, as caustic as any that angry New Yorkers have hurled inside Madison Square Garden. The objects of derision yesterday, however, were not the hapless New York Knicks, but Senator John McCain, the keynote speaker at the New School graduation, and his host, Bob Kerrey, the university president.

No sooner had Mr. Kerrey welcomed the audience to the university's 70th commencement than the hoots began to rise through the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Several graduates held up a banner aimed at Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican and likely 2008 presidential candidate, declaring: "Our commencement is not your platform." Other students and faculty members waved orange fliers with the same message.

Mr. Kerrey, a former Democratic senator from Nebraska, was unapologetic yesterday about inviting Mr. McCain, his friend and fellow Vietnam War veteran, to speak. He noted early in his welcoming remarks that there had been intense media coverage of Mr. McCain's graduation speech last week at Liberty University, headed by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, in which Mr. McCain strongly defended the Iraq war.

"Many predicted that his speech today would not receive as friendly a reception," Mr. Kerrey said.

His campaign staff could hardly script a better scenario than a respectful greeting at Liberty and hostility in NYC.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


High stakes in Triple Crown race (Andrew Beyer, 5/20/06, The Washington Post)

If Barbaro wins today's Preakness Stakes, he will be cheered by more than 120,000 people at Pimlico and millions watching on television. He will be the most celebrated racehorse in America. On the brink of sweeping the Triple Crown, he will elicit comparisons to the greatest Thoroughbreds of all time.

Most of the distinctions he will gain from a victory at Pimlico have something in common: You couldn't take them to the bank. The tangible rewards that will go to owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson are relatively modest. They will receive the winner's share of $650,000 from a guaranteed purse of $1 million. To put this number in perspective, compare the Preakness to the Virginia Derby, a mere Grade II stakes race.

When it is run July 15, fewer than 9,000 customers will be watching at Colonial Downs. Yet the Virginia Derby offers the same purse — $1 million — as both the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.

Or put it in perspective this way: If Barbaro captures the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes to win the Triple Crown, he will have earned a total of about $2.7 million for a historic feat that spanned five weeks. That sum is less than a horse named David Junior collected on one night in March by winning the Dubai Duty Free Stakes at Nad Al Sheba Racecourse in the United Arab Emirates.

No racetracks earn the profits Churchill Downs, Pimlico and Belmont Park do from their big races for 3-year-olds. Yet the Triple Crown tracks pay peanuts to the winners.
Today on TV: Preakness Stakes, 3:14 p.m. post time, Ch. 5

Why? Because they can.

2nd jewel Barbaro's for the taking (Ryan O'Halloran, May 20, 2006, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

A field of nine will go to post at 6:15 p.m. for the 1 3/16-mile race. Barbaro's main competition figures to be Brother Derek (3-1), who will start to Barbaro's left, and Sweetnorthernsaint (4-1), who will start to Barbaro's right.

While trainers Dan Hendricks and Michael Trombetta are confident their colts can improve on their Derby performances -- dead heat for fourth and up-the-track seventh, respectively -- it's a given that if Barbaro does the best he can possibly do, everybody is running for second money.

"Two weeks rest isn't what a trainer wants for his horse, and it isn't what a horse wants," said Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of Like Now. "But he's probably superior enough to overcome a lot of adversity, and he's probably good enough to get by all of us."

Said Diabolical trainer Steve Klesaris: "He just toyed with the Derby field. He's better than this field."

Like Now and Diabolical are two of six newcomers to the Triple Crown quest. The best of the bunch are the lightly raced Bernardini (2-for-3 lifetime) and Like Now, who is expected to take the early lead.

Barbaro should be right behind him. In each of his six races (all wins), he has been first or second at the race's halfway point. And once jockey Edgar Prado asks for acceleration, Barbaro should be ready to go, given the fact he won the Derby with seeming ease.

If he does fly down the lane, it would lend even more credence to Matz's winter/spring plan of spacing Barbaro's races out. He had eight weeks before the Florida Derby and five weeks off before the Kentucky Derby. Today is the real litmus test.

"He probably isn't as fresh as he was before the Derby, but Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint are in the same boat," Matz said. "But he's a big, strong horse, and I'm sure he's going to hold his own."

Barbaro leading the parade (JIM O'DONNELL, 5/20/06, Chicago Sun-Times)
Time is almost up, crabs are down and the vans are finally in for the 131st running of the Preakness Stakes.

Like Boy Scouts arriving for a golden weekend jamboree, a final phalanx of five contenders for the second jewel of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown arrived at Pimlico Race Course on Friday afternoon. Most prominent of the fashionably late was Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro, who was vanned the 60 miles from the plush Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., for today's mile-and-three-sixteenths classic.

The impressive son of Dynaformer arrived in good shape, according to trainer Michael Matz, and was in the process of being bet down to 1-2 atop the field of nine in early-bird wagering.

Said Matz: ''Nothing really changes for us. We still have to beat the horses that we did last time. I just hope that it's a cleanly run race and the best horse wins.''

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Felix's flaw found? (Bob Condotta, 5/20/06, Seattle Times)

It was what happened after Thursday's loss against the A's in Oakland — the Mariners held a 57-minute meeting in an attempt to right their flailing ship — that got all the headlines.

But what happened before the game might turn out to be just as significant, if not more.

During a pregame bullpen session, Mariners pitching coach Rafael Chaves said the team might have figured out the cause of Felix Hernandez's recent struggles.

The second-year pitcher, who entered the season creating as much hype as any young hurler in team history, allowed a career-high 10 runs (though just five earned) in a 12-6 loss to the A's Tuesday. He is just 2-5 with a 5.19 earned-run average for the season.

Chaves said he thinks the team found a flaw in which Hernandez's "effort level is leading to overstriding" as he finishes his pitches. That, in turn, is leading to some of his problems with control.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 8:13 AM


Campaigners defy Sarkozy plan to deport schoolchildren (Kim Willsher, The Guardian, May 20th, 2006)

French parents, councillors and human rights campaigners yesterday vowed to "hide" school and college pupils threatened with deportation because their parents are in the country illegally.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister, has ordered local police to round up the youngsters and their families and ensure they are expelled after the school term finishes at the end of June. Even those who are French-born will not be spared.

The move has outraged opposition party representatives and welfare organisations, leading to calls for a countrywide campaign of civil disobedience.

Pierre Labeyrie, a Green party councillor in Toulouse, said he would have no hesitation in breaking the law. "We will give these people our support, our protection. If they ask us to shelter them, we will not close our doors, we take them in and feed them," he told Libération. "We will not denounce them to the police."

These leftists just don't get the beauty and nobility of the rule of law.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


From a Modest Scottish Town To Downing Street's Doorstep (Kevin Sullivan, 5/20/06, Washington Post)

As the top job seems closer to his grasp, the 55-year-old [Gordon] Brown has begun a stylistic makeover, appearing now and again without a tie, wearing the occasional pastel-colored sweater and seeming to comb his uncooperative hair more often. But that has done little to answer doubts about what kind of leader he would be. Many people here say they know what is in Brown's head but not what is in his heart.

"The biggest question right now in British politics is how the country is going to take to Brown as prime minister," said Michael Howard, former leader of the Conservative Party, Labor's main opposition.

If Blair steps aside, Labor would choose a new prime minister to run the country until the next general election, which must be held no later than 2010. It almost surely will be Brown, though no one rules out the possibility of a challenge from within. Home Secretary John Reid has been mentioned in British political circles as a possible alternative.

The party's likely opponent in that election will be the Conservative leader David Cameron, 39, who, as if to underscore Brown's style vacuum, appears on the June cover of the British edition of GQ magazine wearing a sleek suit.

To understand Brown, his friends say, it helps to visit Kirkcaldy, where he was raised and where he is still known simply as "Gordon." Brown represents the town in Parliament, and he owns a lovely brick house just down the road, to which he, his wife and young son make the five-hour train ride from London to spend most weekends.

Kirkcaldy, pronounced "Ker-cawdy," is a waterfront town of 50,000 that exudes Brown's rough charm. It is a working-class place, proud but not too full of itself, where stores on the main street sell expensive French wine and iPods alongside a shop called Spike's that sells live bait.

For decades the town survived on a pair of coal mines and a huge linoleum factory, but they're long gone. Teachers at Kirkcaldy High School, which claims Brown as its second-most-famous alumnus after economist Adam Smith, said many children are from families dogged by unemployment that has persisted since their grandfathers were laid off from the mines.

Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve and a friend and adviser of Brown's, accepted Brown's invitation to give a speech here last year. He quipped that any town that produced both Smith and Brown must have some kind of "subliminal intellect-enhancing emanations."

Brown is the middle son of the late John Brown, a Presbyterian minister, and his "whole philosophy in life is based on his father's beliefs," said Peter Livingstone, who met Brown when they were 11.

Judith Kerr, a classmate of Brown's who teaches at the high school, recalled John Brown as a powerful presence in a black robe. He was an "austere" man who taught thrift and prudence, social justice, and charity for the less fortunate, Kerr said.

"I learned from my mother and father that for every opportunity there was an obligation, for every demand a duty, for every chance given, a contribution to be made," Brown said in a speech last year. In interviews, he has recalled learning those lessons living in a preacher's home where the door was open to anyone at any hour.

Livingstone recalled that when he and Brown were about 14, Brown ran as a Labor Party candidate -- and won -- in a mock election in which he stressed his father's theme of social responsibility. "I was amazed by his passion, even at that age," he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


Belgians Seek Roots of Racist Crimes: String of Attacks on Foreigners Feeds Fears About Political Appeal of Intolerance (John Ward Anderson, 5/20/06, Washington Post)

When 18-year-old Hans Van Themsche was expelled from his boarding school dormitory for smoking, police officials here say, it pushed him over some existential edge. He shaved his head, bought a Winchester hunting rifle, put on a black leather trench coat and wrote a note saying he was going to kill foreigners. Then he went on a shooting rampage in the narrow cobblestone streets of this ancient port city.

First he shot and critically wounded a Turkish woman wearing a head scarf as she sat on a bench reading a book. Then he calmly walked down a street and turned his gun on a black, 24-year-old nanny from Mali and a 2-year-old white toddler in her care, killing them instantly.

Police say that a plainclothes officer caught up with Van Themsche a short time later. After the teenager ignored orders to drop his weapon, the officer shot him, wounding him in the stomach.

The May 11 rampage was the worst in a string of racially motivated crimes that have rocked Belgium in recent weeks. Mainstream politicians, religious leaders and human rights activists have warned about a dangerous rise of intolerance. Many of them blame that atmosphere on Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Interest, a xenophobic and hugely popular separatist party in Flanders, the northern part of Belgium. Members of Van Themsche's family hold prominent positions in the party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Democrats to Focus on Fuel: Leaders Tell Rank and File to Spotlight High Gas Prices (Shailagh Murray, 5/20/06, Washington Post)

Seeking to gain advantage on a potent election-year issue, Democrats are promoting ambitious ideas to lower gasoline prices, targeting key voting blocs such as farmers and autoworkers. [...]

House and Senate Democrats are promoting separate energy packages. The differences reflect the challenge of reconciling the many regional interests and biases that influence energy debates in Congress.

The House plan focuses almost exclusively on crop-derived biofuels. "From corn in the Midwest, to soybeans in North Carolina, to sugar beets in Minnesota, we grow the crops that can be converted into the biofuels that power our cars," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), when House Democrats announced the plan May 11.

Although narrowly focused, the House plan has a specific audience in mind: conservative rural voters, whom Democrats believe are particularly disgruntled with Republican leadership and for whom high gas prices are a particular burden.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said of the package: "It's perfect for an Iowa open congressional seat. It's perfect for a Montana Senate race. An Indiana or Kentucky race."

At 352 pages, the Senate package includes benefits for almost every faction of the energy industry. It calls for the expanded use of flexible fuel vehicles, which can run on higher blends of biofuels, and would help local governments and individual gas stations install more biofuel pumps. Oil companies would be required to install the pumps at the gas stations that they own.

Senate Democrats would establish a nationwide renewable energy standard, mandating that 10 percent of electricity come from renewable sources by 2020. To reach that goal, they would subsidize the development of alternative energy technologies, such as wind, solar power and liquefied coal.

The third is popular in mining states such as West Virginia and Montana -- where Democrats are trying to defend one Senate seat and pick up another -- but environmental groups strongly oppose the fuel as dirty and impractical.

"It's really refreshing that they're focusing on reducing demand," said Anna Aurilio, a lobbyist for U.S. PIRG, a leading environmental group, referring to the Senate package. But the coal provision, she said, "is the worst of all possible worlds."

Neither Democratic plan requires Detroit automakers to manufacture more fuel-efficient cars, a step that many environmental groups believe would be the single most effective way to reduce fuel consumption. But Democrats don't want to undercut Sen. Debbie Stabenow's reelection in Michigan. Instead, the Senate package would provide federal assistance to the auto industry to advance fuel technologies.

The GOP ought to tinker with them just a bit and pass them. Then bring up ANWR and let the Democrats vote against it.

Bipartisan Group Thwarts Foes of Immigration Bill (CARL HULSE, 5/20/06, NY Times)

In the days since President Bush endorsed comprehensive changes in immigration law in a nationally televised speech, Senate backers of that approach have prevailed on the crucial votes, clearing the way for the likely Senate approval of major immigration legislation next week.

What happens next is anyone's guess. Many House Republicans are dug in against the call by a Senate majority and the president for a plan that could ultimately lead to citizenship for millions who have lived illegally in the United States for years. House Republicans deride that idea as an affront to the law-abiding public.

And Republicans fear that even if they reconcile those seemingly irreconcilable viewpoints in House-Senate talks, Democrats will throw up new obstacles to deny Mr. Bush a legislative triumph close to crucial mid-term elections.

There's the Democrats in a nutshell--they can't vote for even things they support because all they have is reaction against George Bush.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 7:03 AM


Germany's beer lovers can already taste defeat (Roger Boyes, The Times, May 20th, 2006)

It is brown-gold and alcoholic but, then, in the scathing verdict of German beer fans, so is paint thinner.

The Germans are furious that Budweiser will be the official tipple for the World Cup, which starts next month. The American lager has secured a near-monopoly of beer sales inside World Cup stadiums and within a 500m radius of the grounds, supplanting more than 1,270 domestic breweries.

And what most upsets the fans is that Budweiser — advertised as the “King of Beers” in the US — fails to meet the ancient German standards for purity, which stipulate that beer can be brewed only from malt, hops and water. Budweiser uses rice in its production process and therefore does not qualify as a beer in the German sense.

Budweiser’s World Cup status is a slap in the face for a country that attaches such importance to beer production. When Germany was a patchwork of principalities and duchies, a sponsored brewery was seen as the stamp of independence. German pride at hosting the tournament is being dented by the fierce marketing of the American beer.

As it takes at least ten before you even get a buzz, this should solve the soccer hooliganism problem.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Won’t Someone Stop This Tragedy?: Bloomberg’s education campaign is driving Gotham’s Catholic schools out of business. (Sol Stern, 18 April 2006, City Journal)

Something precious in the lives of many deserving New Yorkers is slowly dying in Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s glittering city. The New York Catholic Archdiocese recently announced that it would close 14 schools, following on last year’s announcement by the Archdiocese of Brooklyn that it would shutter 22 of its schools in Brooklyn and Queens. Located in some of Gotham’s neediest neighborhoods, these schools have served for over a century as a haven for low-income but striving families. Many of the predominantly minority children in those closed schools will now have to attend failing public schools.

The school closings result in part from the inexorable laws of competition. No, I don’t mean that the Catholic schools have fallen behind in the areas of academic achievement or classroom productivity. Quite the contrary. Catholic schools still deliver a far bigger bang for the education buck than the public schools. For example, in last year’s state reading and math tests for 4th and 8th graders, Catholic school students scored from 7 percent to 10 percent higher than their public school counterparts. And the Catholic high school graduation rate is nearly double that of the public high schools. Moreover, Catholic schools deliver these stellar results with per-pupil expenditures remaining about a fourth of the costs of the public schools.

In a truly competitive education world—one, that is, where taxpayer money followed children to their school of choice—the Catholic school sector would be thriving financially as well as academically, prodding the public schools to do better. But with no vouchers or tuition tax credits in place, the Catholic schools are finding it harder and harder to compete financially with an insatiable public school monopoly, ever more expansive under mayoral control. The city’s Department of Education budget now tops $17 billion, or about $15,000 per pupil. This spending growth has allowed Mayor Bloomberg to raise teacher’s salaries by 33 percent. The top public school salary of $93,000 is now double that of the highest paid Catholic schoolteacher. (When I first started writing about Catholic schools ten years ago the salary gap was a “mere” 60 percent.) To try to keep teachers from leaving for the public system, the Catholic schools have had to boost salaries, too, forcing up tuition and putting the squeeze on their low-income families. According to the Brooklyn Archdiocese, average tuition in its schools has risen from $1,659 in 1992 to $3,000 in 2004. This increase has already resulted in an outflow of thousands of low-income families to the public schools.

It's too bad that Democrats care so little about the children of their constituents that they prefer to protect union jobs at the expense of better, cheaper educations.

May 19, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 PM


Less Health Care Can Be Better for Elderly (KEVIN FREKING, 5/16/06, AP)

The amount of money Medicare spends on chronically ill patients varies substantially from state to state, with nearly $40,000 spent per patient in New Jersey and the District of Columbia, but less than $24,000 spent in states such as Indiana and West Virginia.

Yet, there is no indication that patients in the states with the highest spending are better off than those in states with the lowest spending. In fact, the reverse seems to be true, according to researchers at Dartmouth Medical School.

Their findings, released in a report Tuesday, could have important policy implications as the nation struggles with the soaring expense of its Medicare program.

"We must fundamentally redesign the way we care for chronically ill Americans," said the authors of the report. "We must reward, rather than penalize provider organizations that successfully reduce excessive care and develop broader strategies for managing patients with chronic illness."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:46 PM


Injured Husband Talks to Action News (WPVI , May 17, 2006)

A Philadelphia man is recovering from an attack, allegedly at the hands of his wife. The assault on his private parts has become public knowledge. In an interview with Action News after his release from, the 52-year-old victim spoke of his terrifying ordeal.

The 52-year-old Tioga-Nicetown man, who we are identifying only by his first name of Howard, arrived home late Wednesday, hours after his wife allegedly tore off two parts of his genitalia with her bare hands.

On the bright side, they found the parts quicker than this, Found! King Tut's penis
King Tutankhamen's rediscovered penis could make the pharaoh stand out in the shrunken world of male mummies, scientists say.

They've taken a close look at old pictures of the 3300-year-old mummified king.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 PM


Hamas official caught with £450,000 hidden in clothes (Tim Butcher, 20/05/2006, Daily Telegraph)

Rival Palestinian forces were involved in a stand-off at Gaza's border crossing with Egypt yesterday after a Hamas official was caught with €639,000 (£450,000) hidden in his clothing, authorities said. [...]

The money may have been from a £30 million donation from Qatar to the Hamas-led Palestinian government which could not be moved through banks because of US-led sanctions against the group for its support of terrorism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:42 PM


Five illegal migrants 'worked at Home Office for years' (Brendan Carlin, 20/05/2006, Daily Telegraph)

The five illegal immigrants arrested this week while working as Home Office cleaners had worked there for years, it was alleged last night.

Go back in a month and there'll just be five different illegals doing the work.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 PM


Animal rights camp to export terror (Rosie Murray-West, 20/05/2006., Daily Telegraph)

British animal rights activists are planning to use a training camp next month to export their violent tactics to Europe and beyond. [...]

The camp is advertised on animal activist websites but police say there is little they can do against a private meeting of individuals.

"The UK is the centre for this kind of activism," said a spokesman for the pressure group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC). "Everyone around the world looks to us for inspiration."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 PM


A second baby? Russia's mothers aren't persuaded (Fred Weir, 5/19/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

Russia's birthrate, falling for decades, has plunged in post-Soviet times, to just 1.17 in 2004 from 2.08 babies per woman in 1990 - far below the 2.4 children required to maintain the population - according to the Federal State Statistics Service. The average rate from 2000-05 in the US, by contrast, was 2.0, according to UN figures, while Mexico, for example, weighed in at 2.4 and Italy at 1.3.

Russia also has one of the world's highest abortion rates. In addition, the death rate has climbed to levels seldom seen in peacetime, to 16.3 in 2002 from 10.7 per thousand people in 1988. The result is a population that is shrinking by an average of 700,000 people each year - and aging. A UN report last year predicted that Russia's population, around 145 million in 2002, could fall by one-third by 2050.

While ours is increasing by two-thirds.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM


Report: Teachers' benefits 'excessive': Teacher contracts in Rhode Island focus too much on "excessive adult entitlements," such as lifetime health benefits, a business-backed education report states. Union officials call the study "an attack on teacher unions." (JENNIFER D. JORDAN, 5/19/06, Providence Journal)

Teacher union contracts are a major stumbling block to improving education in Rhode Island, according to a business-backed organization that is issuing a report today.

The report, Teacher Contracts: Restoring the Balance, Volume II, says teacher contracts in Rhode Island focus too much on "excessive adult entitlements" -- such as lifetime health benefits, extra pay for professional development and seniority rights -- and not enough on student learning.

The report urges political, education and community leaders to work together to change the laws that govern contract negotiations.

The report is the second in two years from The Education Partnership that criticizes teachers' unions. Last year's report recommended sweeping changes in the way teachers' contracts are negotiated, calling for such issues as salaries, benefits and evaluations to be decided at the state level, not by the local districts.

"Unions have got to get back in balance so they aren't focused solely on membership and benefits, and instead are focusing on the kids," said Valerie Forti, executive director of The Education Partnership. "It's not like we have the answers to all these things, but we know what we have now is not working."

Despite the fact that Rhode Island teachers are among the highest paid in the nation, student performance continues to lag.... [...]

As they did with last year's report, union officials called the study "an attack on teacher unions" and "an attempt to gut collective bargaining in Rhode Island."


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM


Moderate voices vie for clout within Hamas: A recent poll shows most Palestinians prefer negotiation with Israel to letting it act unilaterally. (Ilene R. Prusher, 5/19/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

When imprisoned Palestinians from both Hamas and Fatah last week issued a joint platform that calls for a Palestinian state with the "1967 boundaries," Hamas was caught off guard. Leaders of Hamas, the Islamic militant organization-cum-political party now at the helm of the Palestinian Authority, have said that they will not recognize Israel or endorse a two-state solution - and the prison statement implied something quite the contrary. [...]

Most Palestinians, according to a poll released two weeks ago, think they would fare better by working out their differences with Israel around a negotiating table than they would by dealing themselves out of and having Israel redraw its borders without Palestinian input. Just under three-quarters of Palestinians say they would prefer a negotiated solution to unilateral withdrawals, such as Israel's pull-out from Gaza last year, pollsters at the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion and Survey Research in Ramallah found.

The end is the same, but they can have some say in the means.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:10 PM


Future Tech: 8 amazing scientific and technological advances on the horizon - made by mixing hefty parts of human ingenuity with the freedom to employ it (Dennis Behreandt, Red Orbit)

Every age has its pessimists. The '60s had Rachel Carson and her overblown manifesto Silent Spring, which foretold of the poisoning of the planet by man. The '70s were influenced by the radical ideas of Paul Ehrlich, whose 1968 book The Population Bomb envisioned "hundreds of millions of people" starving to death in the next decade. Neither author's vision of disaster came true. Despite their spectacular failures, both Carson and Ehrlich remain heroes of many environmental doomsayers. Perhaps more stunning still is the fact that the enduring mythos of impending doom that they and others like them created retains its potency in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The myth of doom is a triumph of perception over reality.

That perception has run rampant in the 21st century, and not without reason. The expected disaster at the turn of the century, Y2K as it was known, failed to materialize, but the horrible attacks of 9/11 confirmed for many that the new century would be one of disaster and tragedy. To some extent, this view can be said to have been vindicated, with the war on terrorism and its attendant attacks on long-cherished freedoms, the disastrous hurricane season, the great Asian tsunami, and economic turmoil repeatedly grabbing headlines and attention. There is even a new "Ehrlich" on the scene. In The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, author James Howard Kunstler argues that the world is going to run out of oil and, as a result, society is going to crumble. "There will be a substantial interval of trouble like nothing we have ever seen before in the United States," Kunstler said in an interview, summing up his bleak outlook on the future.

Is such pessimism really justified? The disasters that have occurred so far have been on the local or regional level. They have been horribly damaging to lives and properties in the regions in which they occurred, but they have not been the paradigm-shifting harbingers of doom that the pessimists, like Kunstler, continually warn about. In fact, so far the pessimists have been 100 percent wrong 100 percent of the time.

The fact is that since the close of World War II the world has been experiencing an age of progress that is nearly unequaled in human history. More people have more food, more shelter, more access to medical care, more access to transportation, to education, and to technology than ever before. Of course, problems remain to be solved and progress is yet to be made in a number of areas. But advances since World War II - leading to such marvels as the Internet, personal computing, and synthetic materials, to name but a few - have allowed millions to live in greater comfort and dignity than ever before. The lesson of the last 50 years is that the future is brighter than the naysayers will have people believe as technology allows people the chance to enjoy and pursue other endeavors, including what is truly important. Looking forward, then, here are eight major areas in which rapid technological advance will improve the way people live.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:32 PM


Thoroughly Modern Mill: A utilitarian who became a liberal--but never understood the limits of reason (ROGER SCRUTON, May 19, 2006, Opinion Journal)

According to Mill...[t]he law does not exist to uphold majority morality against the individual, but to protect the individual against tyranny--including the "tyranny of the majority." Of course, if the exercise of individual freedom threatens harm to others, it is legitimate to curtail it--for in such circumstances one person's gain in freedom is another person's loss of it. But when there is no proof of harm to another, the law must protect the individual's right to act and speak as he chooses.

This principle has a profound significance: It is saying that the purpose of law is not to uphold the will of the majority, or to impose the will of the sovereign, but to protect the will of the individual. It is the legal expression of the "sovereignty of the individual." The problem lies in the concept of harm. How can I prove that one person's action does not harm another? How can I prove, for example, that other people are not harmed by my public criticism of their religious beliefs--beliefs on which they depend for their peace of mind and emotional stability? How can I prove that consensual sex between two adults leaves the rest of us unaffected, when so much of life's meaning seems to rest on the assumption of shared sexual norms? These questions are as significant for us as they were for Mill; the difference is that radical Islam has now replaced Scottish puritanism as the enemy of liberal values.

Mill's defense of liberty, which was enunciated with great force and seeming clarity, soon followed the path taken by his defense of utilitarianism, and died the death of a thousand qualifications. "On Liberty" sees individual freedom as the aim of government, whose business is to reconcile one person's freedom with his neighbor's. "The Principles of Political Economy" by contrast, while pretending to be a popular exposition of Adam Smith, accords extensive powers of social engineering to the state, and develops a socialist vision of the economy, with a constitutional role for trade unions, and extensive provisions for social security and welfare. The book is, in fact, a concealed socialist tract. While "On Liberty" belongs to the 18th-century tradition that we know as classical liberalism, "Principles" is an example of liberalism in its more modern sense.

Mill's hostility to privilege, to landed property, and to inheritance of property had implications which he seemed unwilling or unable to work out. His argument that all property should be confiscated by the state on death, and redistributed according to its own greater wisdom, has the implication that the state, rather than the family, is to be treated as the basic unit of society--the true arbiter of our destiny, and the thing to which everything is owed. The argument makes all property a temporary lease from the state, and also ensures that the state is the greatest spender, and the one least bound by the sense of responsibility to heirs and neighbors. It is, in short, a recipe for the disaster that we have seen in the communist and socialist systems, and it is a sign of Mill's failure of imagination that, unlike Smith, he did not foresee the likely results of his favored policies.

Taking "On Liberty" and "Principles" together we find, in fact, a premonition of much that conservatives object to in the modern liberal worldview. The "harm" doctrine of "On Liberty" has been used again and again to subvert those aspects of law which are founded not in policy but in our inherited sense of the sacred and the prohibited. Hence this doctrine has made it impossible for the law to protect the core institutions of society, namely marriage and the family, from the sexual predators. Meanwhile, the statist morality of "Principles" has flowed into the moral vacuum, so that the very same law that refuses to intervene to protect children from pornography will insist that every aspect of our lives be governed by regulations that put the state in charge.

Mill famously referred to the Conservative Party as "the stupider party," he being, from 1865, a member of Parliament in the Liberal interest. And no doubt the average Tory MP was no match for the brain that had conceived the "System of Logic"--an enduring classic and Mill's greatest achievement. Yet Mill suffered from the same defect as his father. He never understood that wisdom is deeper and rarer than rational thought.

As if on cue, there was an especially silly bit of libertarian nonsense in Tech Central Station this week, The Family vs. the State (Arnold Kling, 16 May 2006, Tech Central Station)
There are a number of issues that provide sources of friction between market libertarianism and "family values" conservatism. They concern personal behavior, morality, and the law.

Should gambling, prostitution, and recreational drugs be legalized? Market libertarianism answers in the affirmative, but "family values" conservatives would disagree.

Another potential source of friction is abortion. It is not a coincidence that the abortion issue became prominent during the sexual revolution of the late 1960's and early 1970's. That was a period in which social attitudes about sex-without-consequences underwent a reversal. Prior to 1960, sex-without-consequences generally was frowned upon. By 1975, sex-without-consequences was widely applauded. In that context, abortion rights were considered a victory for sexual freedom. Libertarians tend to take the pro-choice side.

Gay marriage is another legacy of the sexual revolution. Again, it tends to divide libertarians from "family values" conservatives.

One compromise, which Morse generally endorses, is to use persuasion rather than government in the family-values struggle. That is a compromise that I would favor, although unlike Morse, I approach the issue primarily as a libertarian.

If one views a strong state and a strong family as incompatible, then a case can be made that taking the state out of issues related to prostitution or abortion or marriage actually helps serve family values. If people know that they cannot rely on the state to arbitrate these issues, then they will turn to families, religious institutions, and other associations within communities to help strengthen our values. [...]

I would contend that other forms of morality, like speech codes, are best reinforced by nongovernmental means. When we see moral decline, we ought to try to resist turning to government as the solution. Instead, we should view moral decline as a symptom of an adverse cycle of government expansion and family breakdown.

As is so often the case with libertarians, Mr. Kling has confused personal libertinism with political liberty, seemingly unaware that it is such license that creates a desire for greater state intervention in human affairs, precisely because the behavior of fellow citizens becomes so unreliable. Thus is secular humanism the handmaiden of a authoritarianism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:07 PM


The Nuance Box: The president is trapped in it (John Dickerson, May 18, 2006, Slate)

President Bush has built his political career on clarity and simplicity. He's presented himself as the teller of truths sharply stated. He and his administration saw things clearly, made crisp decisions, and were home for dinner. In the post-9/11 uproar, Bush's clarity defined him and won him admirers. His plain-spokenness about "evil" was bracing and just what the country seemed to want. But the president's greatest talent has suddenly become a curse. Lack of clarity bedevils Bush on immigration reform, high gas prices, and Iraq. He's now trying to make nuanced arguments but his presidency rests on an anti-nuance platform. Now he has to actually make a subtle case, but he has neither the tools to do so nor a receptive audience.

Democrats have come to see any Bush attempt at nuance as a bait and switch. "Compassionate conservatism" sounded OK to them in 2000, but then Bush turned out to be just conservative. And conservatives see nuance as a sign of weakness, in part because Bush has taught them to view it as such. During the 2004 campaign, Bush advisers and campaign officials turned "nuance" into a pejorative. They walloped Kerry with it like a mallet. It was a point of pride for the president, who once reportedly told Sen. Joe Lieberman, "I don't do nuance."

Now Bush is nuancing all over the place, trying to explain to his supporters the complicated competing interests that require everyone to compromise by gathering at some "rational middle ground."

The notion that the "Compassionate Conservative" didn't build his career on nuance is self-refuting.

Of course, what really upsets folks is that his nuance always works, Immigration measure said likely to pass (Associated Press, May. 19, 2006 )

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:59 PM


The Real Iraq (Amir Taheri, May 2006, Commentary)

Since my first encounter with Iraq almost 40 years ago, I have relied on several broad measures of social and economic health to assess the countrys condition. Through good times and bad, these signs have proved remarkably accurateas accurate, that is, as is possible in human affairs. For some time now, all have been pointing in an unequivocally positive direction.

The first sign is refugees. When things have been truly desperate in Iraqin 1959, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1980, 1988, and 1990 long queues of Iraqis have formed at the Turkish and Iranian frontiers, hoping to escape. In 1973, for example, when Saddam Hussein decided to expel all those whose ancestors had not been Ottoman citizens before Iraqs creation as a state, some 1.2 million Iraqis left their homes in the space of just six weeks. This was not the temporary exile of a small group of middle-class professionals and intellectuals, which is a common enough phenomenon in most Arab countries. Rather, it was a departure en masse, affecting people both in small villages and in big cities, and it was a scene regularly repeated under Saddam Hussein.

Since the toppling of Saddam in 2003, this is one highly damaging image we have not seen on our television setsand we can be sure that we would be seeing it if it were there to be shown. To the contrary, Iraqis, far from fleeing, have been returning home. By the end of 2005, in the most conservative estimate, the number of returnees topped the 1.2-million mark. Many of the camps set up for fleeing Iraqis in Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia since 1959 have now closed down. The oldest such center, at Ashrafiayh in southwest Iran, was formally shut when its last Iraqi guests returned home in 2004.

A second dependable sign likewise concerns human movement, but of a different kind. This is the flow of religious pilgrims to the Shiite shrines in Karbala and Najaf. Whenever things start to go badly in Iraq, this stream is reduced to a trickle and then it dries up completely. From 1991 (when Saddam Hussein massacred Shiites involved in a revolt against him) to 2003, there were scarcely any pilgrims to these cities. Since Saddams fall, they have been flooded with visitors. In 2005, the holy sites received an estimated 12 million pilgrims, making them the most visited spots in the entire Muslim world, ahead of both Mecca and Medina.

Over 3,000 Iraqi clerics have also returned from exile, and Shiite seminaries, which just a few years ago held no more than a few dozen pupils, now boast over 15,000 from 40 different countries. This is because Najaf, the oldest center of Shiite scholarship, is once again able to offer an alternative to Qom, the Iranian holy city where a radical and highly politicized version of Shiism is taught. Those wishing to pursue the study of more traditional and quietist forms of Shiism now go to Iraq where, unlike in Iran, the seminaries are not controlled by the government and its secret police.

A third sign, this one of the hard economic variety, is the value of the Iraqi dinar, especially as compared with the regions other major currencies. In the final years of Saddam Husseins rule, the Iraqi dinar was in free fall; after 1995, it was no longer even traded in Iran and Kuwait. By contrast, the new dinar, introduced early in 2004, is doing well against both the Kuwaiti dinar and the Iranian rial, having risen by 17 percent against the former and by 23 percent against the latter. Although it is still impossible to fix its value against a basket of international currencies, the new Iraqi dinar has done well against the U.S. dollar, increasing in value by almost 18 percent between August 2004 and August 2005. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis, and millions of Iranians and Kuwaitis, now treat it as a safe and solid medium of exchange

My fourth time-tested sign is the level of activity by small and medium-sized businesses. In the past, whenever things have gone downhill in Iraq, large numbers of such enterprises have simply closed down, with the countrys most capable entrepreneurs decamping to Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf states, Turkey, Iran, and even Europe and North America. Since liberation, however, Iraq has witnessed a private-sector boom, especially among small and medium-sized businesses.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, as well as numerous private studies, the Iraqi economy has been doing better than any other in the region. The countrys gross domestic product rose to almost $90 billion in 2004 (the latest year for which figures are available), more than double the output for 2003, and its real growth rate, as estimated by the IMF, was 52.3 per cent. In that same period, exports increased by more than $3 billion, while the inflation rate fell to 25.4 percent, down from 70 percent in 2002. The unemployment rate was halved, from 60 percent to 30 percent.

Related to this is the level of agricultural activity. Between 1991 and 2003, the countrys farm sector experienced unprecedented decline, in the end leaving almost the entire nation dependent on rations distributed by the United Nations under Oil-for-Food. In the past two years, by contrast, Iraqi agriculture has undergone an equally unprecedented revival. Iraq now exports foodstuffs to neighboring countries, something that has not happened since the 1950s. Much of the upturn is due to smallholders who, shaking off the collectivist system imposed by the Baathists, have retaken control of land that was confiscated decades ago by the state.

Finally, one of the surest indices of the health of Iraqi society has always been its readiness to talk to the outside world. Iraqis are a verbalizing people; when they fall silent, life is incontrovertibly becoming hard for them. There have been times, indeed, when one could find scarcely a single Iraqi, whether in Iraq or abroad, prepared to express an opinion on anything remotely political. This is what Kanan Makiya meant when he described Saddam Husseins regime as a republic of fear.

Today, again by way of dramatic contrast, Iraqis are voluble to a fault. Talk radio, television talk-shows, and Internet blogs are all the rage, while heated debate is the order of the day in shops, tea-houses, bazaars, mosques, offices, and private homes. A catharsis is how Luay Abdulilah, the Iraqi short-story writer and diarist, describes it. This is one way of taking revenge against decades of deadly silence. Moreover, a vast network of independent media has emerged in Iraq, including over 100 privately-owned newspapers and magazines and more than two dozen radio and television stations. To anyone familiar with the state of the media in the Arab world, it is a truism that Iraq today is the place where freedom of expression is most effectively exercised.

That an experienced observer of Iraq with a sense of history can point to so many positive factors in the countrys present condition will not do much, of course, to sway the more determined critics of the U.S. intervention there. They might even agree that the images fed to the American public show only part of the picture, and that the news from Iraq is not uniformly bad. But the root of their opposition runs deeper, to political fundamentals.

Their critique can be summarized in the aphorism that democracy cannot be imposed by force. It is a view that can be found among the more sophisticated elements on the Left and, increasingly, among dissenters on the Right, from Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska to the ex-neoconservative Francis Fukuyama. As Senator Hagel puts it, You cannot in my opinion just impose a democratic form of government on a country with no history and no culture and no tradition of democracy.

I would tend to agree. But is Iraq such a place? In point of fact, before the 1958 pro-Soviet military coup detat that established a leftist dictatorship, Iraq did have its modest but nevertheless significant share of democratic history, culture, and tradition. The country came into being through a popular referendum held in 1921. A constitutional monarchy modeled on the United Kingdom, it had a bicameral parliament, several political parties (including the Baath and the Communists), and periodic elections that led to changes of policy and government. At the time, Iraq also enjoyed the freest press in the Arab world, plus the widest space for debate and dissent in the Muslim Middle East.

To be sure, Baghdad in those days was no Westminster, and, as the 1958 coup proved, Iraqi democracy was fragile. But every serious student of contemporary Iraq knows that substantial segments of the population, from all ethnic and religious communities, had more than a taste of the modern worlds democratic aspirations. As evidence, one need only consult the immense literary and artistic production of Iraqis both before and after the 1958 coup. Under successor dictatorial regimes, it is true, the conviction took hold that democratic principles had no future in Iraqa conviction that was responsible in large part for driving almost five million Iraqis, a quarter of the population, into exile between 1958 and 2003, just as the opposite conviction is attracting so many of them and their children back to Iraq today.

A related argument used to condemn Iraqs democratic prospects is that it is an artificial country, one that can be held together only by a dictator. But did any nation-state fall from the heavens wholly made? All are to some extent artificial creations, and the U.S. is preeminently so. The truth is that Iraqone of the 53 founding countries of the United Nationsis older than a majority of that organizations current 198 member states. Within the Arab League, and setting aside Oman and Yemen, none of the 22 members is older. Two-thirds of the 122 countries regarded as democracies by Freedom House came into being after Iraqs appearance on the map.

Critics of the democratic project in Iraq also claim that, because it is a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional state, the country is doomed to despotism, civil war, or disintegration. But the same could be said of virtually all Middle Eastern states, most of which are neither multi-ethnic nor multi-confessional. More important, all Iraqis, regardless of their ethnic, linguistic, and sectarian differences, share a sense of national identityuruqa (Iraqi-ness)that has developed over the past eight decades. A unified, federal state may still come to grief in Iraq history is not written in advance but even should a divorce become inevitable at some point, a democratic Iraq would be in a better position to manage it.

What all of this demonstrates is that, contrary to received opinion, Operation Iraqi Freedom was not an attempt to impose democracy by force. Rather, it was an effort to use force to remove impediments to democratization, primarily by deposing a tyrant who had utterly suppressed a well-established aspect of the countrys identity.

It's revealing that it likewise required force to prevent democracy in Iran, though, to our shame, it was America helping to provide the force there until the Revolution. Colonialism was an unmitigated disaster for the region.

Posted by pjaminet at 2:45 PM


A colour code for Iran's 'infidels' (Amir Taheri,, 5/19/2006)

Islamic legislators are unanimous that Islam is incompatible with "gay, wild, provocative colours" such as red, yellow, and light blue, which are supposed to be favoured by Satan. The colours to be imposed by law are expected to be black, brown, dark blue and dark grey.

Some Majlis members have been trying to lift the ban on green, which is, after all, the colour of the Bani Hashem, the family of the Prophet Muhammad, and thus regarded as the colour of Islam. The majority view, however, is that green is not "serious enough" to underline the gravity of a Muslim man's position.

Hardly surprising that a dark spirituality should suppress color.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 12:13 PM


This is Europe's problem too, says Madrid (Mike Elkin, The Telegraph, May 19th, 2006)

Spain has issued its most urgent international appeal for help in coping with illegal immigrants flooding into the Canary Islands.

Madrid announced it will dispatch diplomats to several countries in western Africa, where the migrants come from, while a European parliament delegation will arrive next month to assess a problem that the Spaniards say is not just theirs but Europe's.

The calmer seas of early summer have seen a sharp rise in the numbers reaching the holiday islands, which are the closest European land to the west African coast. More than 1,400 arrived in Tenerife and Gran Canaria in the past week, while 2,000 have landed this month, mostly from Senegal and Mali, compared with 4,751 in the whole of last year.

Their journeys can be as long as 900 miles, in usually small, often unseaworthy, craft. Hundreds have perished on the journey. Yesterday Spanish coast guards intercepted seven boats carrying a total of 483 people. Several more craft carrying hundreds more migrants were caught attempting to land on the two islands on Wednesday.[...]

On Tenerife the new arrivals are crammed into the police headquarters, a court house and a pre-fabricated barracks, which already houses 200 people. Police cells are also packed. "We have never seen anything like it," said government prefect Jose Segura, describing it as an emergency situation.

The wave of immigrants does not seem to have affected the tourism in Tenerife, however. "The authorities usually catch them as they arrive and then take them via bus or ambulance to the town," said the director of a hotel on the southern coast. "If it didn't appear in the press, I don't think anyone would even know."

Thank goodness for that. Nothing spoils an idyllic holiday like a boatload of starving refugees appearing from out of nowhere on the beach. But allowing that this kind of “mass migration” is unmanageable and unacceptable, it does point to the dangerous irony of immigration threatening to turn Europe and North America inwards and towards a mentality of protective isolationism. We can try to build fences and barriers that will not stem the tide, but if we really want to control immigration levels from Africa and Latin America, we should slash agricultural tariffs and get very tough with dictators and statists (Venezuela, Bolivia, come on down!). When was the last time anyone heard of boatloads of desperate migrants trying to sneak in from Chile or Singapore?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:48 AM


An Economy of Davids (Edward B. Driscoll Jr., 19 May 2006, Tech Central Station)

The death late last month of John Kenneth Galbraith helps to illustrate just how much the American economy -- and indeed the world's -- has changed over the last four decades. Galbraith could plausibly write in 1967's The New Industrial State, that large corporations were immune to market forces.

And yet, a mere three years later, the enormous Penn Central Railroad, itself born of a desperate 1968 shotgun marriage between the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central, declared bankruptcy. It was eventually bailed out by Conrail, initially created by the federal government, which itself was acquired in 1998 by Norfolk Southern, and CSX.

Beyond Penn Central and Conrail, as Thomas Sowell recently noted, "Eastern Airlines has gone out of business. The Graflex Corporation has gone out of business." Japanese car manufacturers have completely dominated the seeming monopoly the American "Big Three" automakers had on the US auto market.

Despite all that, Galbraith's theories will be taught in universities for decades to come. Which probably wouldn't surprise Alvin Toffler (interviewed in a recent TCS podcast) in the least.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 11:35 AM


War in Iraq was 'grave mistake,' says Prodi (Malcolm Moore, The Telegraph, May 19th, 2006)

Romano Prodi, Italy's new prime minister, pledged yesterday to pull Italian troops out of Iraq, saying that the war had been a "grave mistake" which could make "the whole region explode".

"We consider the war and occupation in Iraq a grave mistake because it has not solved the problems of security, it has complicated them, and opened Pandora's box," he said, in his maiden speech to the senate.

Indeed it has. But it did wonders for Iraqi freedom. Not unlike the invasion of Sicily

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:01 AM


How the Right Stole the '60s (And Why We Should Get Them Back): Conservatives are winning the battle over how the 1960s are remembered. But their version is far from the truth (Astra Taylor, May 19, 2006, AlterNet)

Regardless of whether we were raised in the hippie tradition, those born too late to remember the '60s firsthand have heard an awful lot about the decade, most of it bad. The period has been trivialized, commemorated and castigated ad nauseam. It's been reduced to a risible relic, a series of clichés about hippies and protesters and lost idealism.

Today we too often assume the mythic '60s to be solely the invention of sentimental liberal Baby Boomers unable, or unwilling, to let go of the past. But, more often than not, the 1960s the media portrays is a construct invented to serve corporate and conservative interests. The fact is, conservative Baby Boomers are even more fixated on the '60s than their progressive counterparts.

The spirit of the '60s, conservatives claim, has infiltrated and corrupted almost every corner of our culture, destroying America in its wake. They blame the decade for corroding family values, weakening the church, inspiring rampant drug abuse, spoiling the poor, ruining higher education, ridiculing Western civilization and emasculating white men. Over the last 40 years, reactionary forces have never ceased their assault, singling out the decade for unique and unparalleled abuse, alienating many people, especially young people, from the progressive ideals and spirit of experimentation the 1960s embodied.

Actually, most of the damage was contained to the '70s and fueled the reaction. The Republic isn't so weak that a bad decade or two can destroy it. Sadly, it was Vietnam that the progressives truly destroyed.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 10:58 AM


Inquiry into illegal immigrant cleaners at Home Office (Hélène Mulholland, The Guardian, May 19th, 2006)

An inquiry is under way today after it emerged last night that five illegal immigrants had been arrested at one of the immigration service's central London offices.

The five were stopped by suspicious security guards when they could not show they had clearance to enter the building and did not start work before being detained.

Conservatives claimed the arrests on Wednesday night were proof that the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) - which has responsibility for tracking down and expelling illegal immigrants - was in "chaos".

No doubt tomorrow we shall read of the long lines of native Brits lining up to fill these vacancies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:47 AM


Hard Luck for a Hard-Liner (IAN BURUMA, 5/19/06, NY Times)

WHEN Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk of the Netherlands suddenly decided last Monday that the Somali-born politician and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali should never have been granted Dutch citizenship because she had lied about her name, a storm was unleashed. Ms. Hirsi Ali resigned her seat in Parliament. Her supporters spoke of "judicial murder." Ms. Hirsi Ali herself had referred a few weeks ago to the "terror regime of political correctness ruling our nation." It was as though she were being punished in a timid country for being an outspoken critic of Islam. [...]

Rita Verdonk is far from being "politically correct." In fact, she is running for the party leadership as a hard-liner with a "straight back" who will no longer tolerate bogus asylum seekers, radical imams and immigrant youths "terrorizing" Dutch cities. In Dutch politics, Rita Verdonk was Ayaan Hirsi Ali's ally. They were fighting for the same cause. So why this sudden ruckus?

The Netherlands, proud of its multicultural tolerance, its hospitality to strangers, its free and easy social ways, used to be thought of as a soft touch for would-be immigrants with a story of persecution or war. Once you got across the Dutch border, officials of the welfare state would take care of you. Ms. Hirsi Ali was even coached by members of Dutch refugee organizations on how to finesse her story in order to get asylum. Economic immigration from outside the European Union was (and is) almost impossible, so such finessing was often the only way to get in.

The free and easy climate began to change in the late 1990's, and even more so after 9/11. Pim Fortuyn, the populist leader gunned down in 2002, gained a huge following by saying that the country was full, and warning that Muslims posed a danger to Dutch society. Mr. Fortuyn was an extraordinary figure, for he was not only a populist promising law and order, but also an openly gay man who saw Islam as a threat to his own sexual freedom.

In this new climate Ayaan Hirsi Ali began to flourish. Though neither a populist nor a xenophobic opponent of immigrants (how could she be?), she warned the Dutch about the Muslim menace. In the name of the Enlightenment, she would do battle against the new counter-Enlightenment, and she found allies among a variety of conservative intellectuals and politicians — and some former leftists, too — who were convinced that multiculturalism had failed, that the Dutch were timid, even cowardly, in the face of the Muslim challenge and that a tough line had to be taken.

Except that Holland's problem is the Enlightenment and her allies aren't conservative--no one was ever more multi-culti than Pim Fortuyn, an advocate of not just homosexuality but pedophilia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:44 AM


Bad Ray to finish road trip (JOE COWLEY, 5/19/06, Chicago Sun-Times)

"[Bleep] the Cubs,'' Guillen said. "I don't care about the Cubs. I won't think about the Cubs until 3 o'clock [today]. I'd rather play Detroit right now than the Cubs.''

With good reason.

After all, it isn't the Cubs who are standing alone in first place in the American League Central, looking down at the Sox in second. It's the Tigers.

A two-run home run by Tampa Bay's Damon Hollins in the seventh inning ended up being the difference as the Devil Rays beat the Sox 5-4 in front of 22,665 at Tropicana Field.

The win not only gave the Rays the three-game series but dropped the Sox (26-14) a game behind the first-place Tigers after they swept Minnesota and won their seventh straight game.

There's no shame in being worse than the worst team in the best division.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:40 AM


Illegals arrested at work in Home Office (Graeme Wilson, 19/05/2006, Daily Telegraph)

Five illegal immigrants were arrested yesterday while working as cleaners in the Home Office department responsible for removing illegal immigrants.

Who do you think empties the wastebaskets in Tom Tancredo's office at night?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:28 AM


How Bush Destroyed the CIA (Sidney Blumenthal, May 19, 2006, AlterNet)

Acting on the president's charge, Goss in effect purged the CIA. He was even conducting lie detector interrogations of officers to root out the sources of stories leaked to the press -- to the Washington Post, for example, in its Pulitzer Prize-winning exposé of CIA "black site" prisons where detainees are jailed without any due process, Red Cross inspection or Geneva Conventions protection. Last month, a CIA agent, Mary McCarthy, was fired for her contact with a reporter. Like others subjected to questioning, she was asked her political affiliation.

But Goss' purging weakened the agency and his own inherent bureaucratic strength in relation to his voracious rivals at the Directorate of National Intelligence and the Pentagon. The more he served as the president's loyalist, the less was his power. By fulfilling his mission, he diminished himself. [...]

President Bush has nominated Gen. Michael Hayden, the former director of the National Security Agency and currently Negroponte's deputy, as the new CIA director. He has distinguished himself as a loyalist to the administration by using his uniform as a shield against the heat generated by the revelation of illegal domestic surveillance by the NSA.

Regardless of anodyne assurances offered in his forthcoming congressional testimony, Hayden will preside over the liquidation of the CIA as it has been known. The George H.W. Bush CIA headquarters building in Langley will of course remain standing. But the agency will be chipped apart, some of its key parts absorbed by other agencies, with the Pentagon emerging as the ultimate winner.

Future historians will be bewildered that it took so long to level one of the worst run agencies of the American government and will be particularly puzzled by how it survived the collapse of the Soviet Empire, which dramatically demonstrated that ineptitude.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 AM


The Weapon Iran May Not Want to Use: Withholding Oil Exports Could Wreak the Most Havoc at Home (Steven Mufson, 5/19/06, Washington Post)

[S]enior policymakers within the Bush administration and their French and British counterparts have come to the conclusion that Iran would continue to sell oil abroad even in the face of heightened economic and diplomatic pressure from Western powers. Administration officials have considered and discounted the possibility that Iran would shut in oil supplies, robbing world markets of much-needed crude.

Experts on Iran point to a number of reasons it might be reluctant to cut oil exports. Oil accounts for 85 percent of Iran's exports, according to an International Monetary Fund report issued last month. Revenue from those exports makes up 65 percent of government income. And Iran uses a good chunk of that money to raise public-sector wages and to subsidize its own gasoline prices, one way to keep domestic discontent in check when unemployment is running at more than 12 percent and inflation at 13 percent.

"If you think a little beyond the moment when this happens, the credibility of the country as an economic partner will go down the drain," said Giandomenico Picco, a consultant who was a mediator during the Iran-Iraq war. "The economy as a whole will be affected, not just because of lack of income." Picco said that already some European banks are reluctant to do further business with Iran and that some petrochemical projects might be delayed.

Moreover, the politics of cutting off exports are muddy for Tehran. In recent years, Iran has shifted its oil exports away from the West. It sells substantial amounts to China and India, though U.S. allies such as Japan, Italy and France are still the major buyers. None is sold to the United States because of sanctions dating to the 1979 hostage crisis. All oil is fungible and even selected export cuts will affect market prices regardless of the customer; the symbolism of hurting Japan, China and India to retaliate against sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies would be fuzzy.

So far, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems to be banking on the oil weapon even as European countries try to avoid testing it. On Wednesday, he rejected a potential European offer of incentives, including a light-water nuclear reactor, to give up uranium enrichment. "Do you think you are dealing with a 4-year-old child to whom you can give walnuts and chocolates and get gold from him?" Ahmadinejad told thousands of people in central Iran.

Pretty much. If we can get him to do further damage to the economy and destabilize his own government we should.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Report hints human `Hobbit' just a fantasy (RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, 5/19/06, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The surprising discovery of bones heralded as a new, Hobbit-like human species may turn out to have simply been the remains of a human suffering from a genetic illness that causes the body and brain to shrink, according to researchers challenging the original report.

Nothing in life is more certain than that a loudly trumpeted Darwinist claim will turn out to be bogus.

Though a brilliant humorist, Tom Wolfe here parodies himself quite accidentally, A Speech In Full (David Epstein, 5/11/06, Inside Higher Ed)

Wolfe argued that, though neo-Darwinists believe genes are the puppeteers responsible for pulling all human strings, mankind must be studied not only as Homo sapiens, but as Homo loquax, he said — “man talking.”

“Human speech,” Wolfe said, “ended the evolution of man.” Because speech removed humans from the state of nature once and for all, Wolfe implied, it is only through the study of the humanities that we can reach to the core of modern humans.

Rather than natural selection, Wolfe said, humans are now governed by “artificial selection,” and even impose artificial selection on other animals.

Adding to the comedy though is that this fella doesn't get it either, Dark Observations From the Man In the White Suit (Philip Kennicott, 5/11/06, Washington Post)
If last night's speech is any indication, Tom Wolfe has come out of the muck with the biggest stain of all. He's a misanthrope. He loves stories that show man at his worst. He gravitates toward them; he tells them charmingly, as if holding a platter of manure in his hands while walking through a garden party. But a writer is defined not just by his attention to detail -- and last night, as always, he was a master of wry observation -- but by the stories he seeks out. And Wolfe, it seems, has sought out the stories that confirm a very bleak worldview.

He called his speech "The Human Beast," borrowing the title from the French writer Emile Zola, who he has often claimed is his idol. "The greatest novelist who ever lived," he said last night.

The human beast is guided by social inclinations, by the desire for status and the fear of humiliation. With the arrival of Darwin, whose theories supposedly shatter the belief of intellectuals in God, the human beast gets even more bestial. Nothing can contain him. His appetites and urges come to the fore, social restraint is thrown off, and he emerges as . . . a college student. A frat boy, a libidinous cheerleader, or, later in life, intellectuals or Wall Street types, who pursue selfish ends with comical narcissism, hubris and self-deception.

The irony, Wolfe suggested, is that it is speech, a great evolutionary leap forward, that also gives us religion, the thing that not only contains the human beast but also proves the degree to which it is our social world, our culture, that really defines us. And so Darwin, who lays out the mechanics of evolution, which reveals the importance of religion, also gets credit for unchaining the human beast, which leads to things such as cop killing, untrammeled sex, hippies, bohemians, preening intellectuals and all the other easy targets that get skewered like fish in a barrel in a Tom Wolfe novel.

That, at least, is the argument he seemed to want to make. But it was all very confused, filled with large claims that were left unproven or unconnected.

"Evolution came to an end when the human beast developed speech," he said, which seems dubious from any number of angles.

He admires Darwin, or the impact of Darwin, but tried to argue with what he called "neo-Darwinists" in the field of neuroscience who supposedly believe in a rigorously deterministic world. Which is a straw man. He feinted in the direction of giving love to religion -- never a bad gesture in today's Washington -- but left no indication of whether he himself believes, and plenty of indication that he lives more in Nietzsche's world (where religion is a rather pathetic crutch for lesser beings) than the world of fundamentalism or NASCAR drivers who pray before each race (which he clearly admires).

But this is a strategy, isn't it? The misanthrope is guided by one big idea, that man is beastly. Darwin may be entirely correct, and God may be dead. But Wolfe doesn't need to have a stand on either of these propositions, because all he really needs is: material.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


The Eternal Value of Privacy (Bruce Schneier,May, 18, 2006, Wired)

We do nothing wrong when we make love or go to the bathroom. We are not deliberately hiding anything when we seek out private places for reflection or conversation. We keep private journals, sing in the privacy of the shower, and write letters to secret lovers and then burn them. Privacy is a basic human need. [...]

How many of us have paused during conversation in the past four-and-a-half years, suddenly aware that we might be eavesdropped on? Probably it was a phone conversation, although maybe it was an e-mail or instant-message exchange or a conversation in a public place. Maybe the topic was terrorism, or politics, or Islam. We stop suddenly, momentarily afraid that our words might be taken out of context, then we laugh at our paranoia and go on. But our demeanor has changed, and our words are subtly altered.

This is the loss of freedom we face when our privacy is taken from us. This is life in former East Germany, or life in Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

None of us?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


AUDIO: Canadian Dreams of Ethanol Distilled from Grass (Kathleen Schalch, May 16, 2006, NPR: Morning Edition)

It's been a dream for many years: Distill clean-burning ethanol from grass, the cheapest vegetation. It's not just a dream anymore. An entrepreneur in Canada has a small factory operating already. He claims that he's ready to blanket the continent with such factories.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


New KFC meal should be called 'Cardiac Arrest Bowl' (Seattle Post Intelligencer, 5/19/06)

At first we thought it was one of those bogus commercials by the "Saturday Night Live" people. Then we realized it was indeed a real, honest-to-badness commercial for a new KFC "product."

We think it's called the Cardiac Arrest Bowl, or maybe the Lard Almighty Bowl. It features a generous helping of mashed potatoes as the foundation, then a smear of gravy, then a layer of corn, a layer of fried-chicken pieces and a crowning touch of grated cheese.

Grated? It cries out for molten Cheez-Wiz.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Greenspan says housing boom 'over' but sees stable prices (Adam Shell, 5/19/2006, USA TODAY)

In his first public comments as a private citizen since leaving the Federal Reserve in January, former chairman Alan Greenspan said Thursday that the housing "boom is over" but did not share his views on hot issues such as inflation, interest rates or Fed policy.

"This has been quite an extraordinary (housing) boom," Greenspan said during a Bond Market Association dinner in New York. "The boom is over. I think we can safely say that with a strong degree of confidence."

However, he said, there is "no evidence that home prices will collapse."

Does he have room for 100 million new immigrants in his mansion?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


They'd Sooner Fix Medicaid: Can market incentives save the system? (TOM COBURN AND REGINA HERZLINGER, May 18, 2006, Opinion Journal)

OKLAHOMA CITY--The state Legislature here is working to finalize an agreement for Medicaid reform legislation creating personal health accounts (PHAs) for Medicaid enrollees. This comes hard on the heels of similar innovations in South Carolina and Florida. Reform is in the air--much the way it was when Wisconsin revolutionized its welfare system in the early 1990s, forerunning a stunning national success. Are we on the verge of consumer revolution in health care?

It is of course too soon to tell, but the Oklahoma case study is auspicious. The state's antiquated Medicaid bureaucracy has fostered, by turns, a lack of patient choice, provider dissatisfaction, a 9.5% payment error rate, and an escalating price tag of some $3.5 billion. Against these discouraging trends, state leaders spent six months last year formulating stopgap measures with state agencies, policy innovators, providers and beneficiaries.

Instead of assuming the indigent are incapable of decision-making, Oklahoma legislators proposed that Medicaid beneficiaries be given a risk-adjusted allowance to purchase private health insurance. A PHA would be established for annual out-of-pocket expenses without a "use it or lose it" penalty--that is, the unspent balance could be used for future health-care needs. They state would not mandate a homogenous set of benefits; instead, it would provide financial assistance and patient counseling.

The reform passed the Oklahoma State House in March and recently won Oklahoma State Senate approval. The bill's sponsors, Republican Rep. Kris Steele, and Democratic Sen. Tom Adelson, are working to craft a durable bill to send to the governor by the end of this year.

Oklahoma is simply coming to grips with reality--Medicaid needs fundamental change.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:46 AM


PM backs 'righteous force' of US (Steve Lewis, The Australian, May 19th, 2006)

The world will face greater terrorist threats and more regular attacks against Western targets if the US retreats from its leadership role, John Howard has warned.

Challenging those who want less US military intervention around the world, the Prime Minister has argued that defeating terrorism and widening economic opportunity can only be achieved with American leadership. [...]

George W.Bush is under pressure to pull American troops out of Iraq and other global hot-spots and concentrate more on protecting the US's own borders.

But Mr Howard has challenged this, claiming it would only embolden terrorists.

"To the voices of anti-Americanism around the world, to those who shout 'Yankee go home', let me offer some quiet advice: be careful what you wish for," he said. Mr Howard argued that no dominant power in history "has brought to bear the righteous force or generous countenance of the United States of America".

"Without American leadership, the trials and tragedies of recent years could be but a prelude of darker days to come. With American leadership, we can build a better world - not just for us, but for all," he said.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:34 AM


Religion and politics: All the president's truths (Stanley R Sloan, International Herald Tribune, May 18th, 2006)

Besieged by plummeting approval ratings and mounting domestic and foreign challenges, President George W. Bush nonetheless keeps the faith. Speaking to a California audience last month, he affirmed that he bases "a lot of foreign policy decisions on some things that I think are true. One, I believe there's an almighty. ... Secondly, I believe one of the great gifts of the Almighty is the desire in everybody's soul ... to be free."

Such a statement will surely add to the distress of many friends of the United States who believe that it has been led astray by such beliefs. The concern is about a president who so strongly believes he is doing "God's work" that he cannot see mistakes when he makes them or alternative policies when events cry out for them.

Europeans have always been uncomfortable with the way American presidents have invoked God in support of U.S. policies. Bush didn't start this, but he has practiced it with more conviction than most of his predecessors.

A French foreign policy expert, François Heisbourg, has put European concerns this way: "The biblical references in politics, the division of the world between good and evil, these are things that we simply don't get. In a number of areas, it seems to me that we are no longer part of the same civilization."

As opposed to America, where religion has historically been on the side of "freedom," Europe's experience suggests that the church is not always a friend of democracy, and that religion can be a source of conflict as much as an instrument for peace. For Europeans the political success of the 18th-century Enlightenment was that it ensured a social contract based on reason, rather than on an absolute truth that made discussion and debate impossible.

For the most part, religious faith has reinforced many of the values on which European and American civil societies are based. The freedom to worship in a faith of one's choice is an important source of cohesion and peace in our societies.

But some Europeans have lately equated the danger of American evangelical fundamentalism's influence on U.S. policy with that posed by radical Islamic fundamentalism.

A European friend put it this way: "In Europe, it is newcomers who are challenging the fundamental values on which our political system is built, whereas in the United States this challenge comes from a core indigenous group's perversion of the founding values of their own system." She added, "I find this even more scary."

Of course you do, sweetie. You drank anti-Americanisn from your mother’s breast and you will seize on any aspect of American society to frame it. Just as you once found American free enterprise “more scary” than Soviet statism, so now you have convinced yourself there is more to fear from the Southern Baptist leadership than the Islamicism engulfing you. Unfortunately, your liberal American counterpart drank philo-Europeanism at his mother’s breast and instintively assumes you must be on to something in your infinite sophistication. He therefore turns on his own stronger, more resilient society, realizing far too late, if ever, that your rote, timeless whine is born of atavistic resentments and arrogance and has little to do with anything America is actually doing or not doing.

To be fair, the European experience with church and state is so different and so fraught with extremes on both sides that a wariness of both informs the decent and democratic among them. But this article bespeaks another modern trend that is just as endemic in North America. Whereas in the past religious belief was seen by most people, even non-believers, as a desirable social glue and general character ballast, today more and more of secular society is unable to even conceive of a (white) religious person who isn’t misanthropic, contemptuous of reason, enslaved to scriptural literalism and hellbent on undoing democracy and the Bill of Rights. President Bush’s inspiring and actually quite innocuous statement that he believes in the Almighty and derives a preference for freedom over slavery from that belief chills the modern chattering classes as much as if he had declared he bases the implementation of U.S. foreign policy on the Book of Revelations. This has nothing to do with religion in America and everything to do with minds that have been intentionally deprived of any religious education and that consequently cannot progress spiritually and intellectually beyond the version of faith taught to five year olds. We here are generally bullish on President Bush, but we would be the first to admit that, man, he is one lousy theocrat.

May 18, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:53 PM


Book Offers New Image of Canadian Pol (SHELDON GORDON, May 19, 2006, The Forward)

A new biography asserts that former Canadian prime minister Pierre E. Trudeau — long viewed as a defender of civil rights and as a friend of the Jewish community — was a fascist sympathizer in his youth and shared the antisemitic attitudes prevalent in the 1930s and early '40s.

The revelations, contained in a new book, "Young Trudeau: 1919-1944: Son of Quebec, Father of Canada," have provoked surprise and consternation in some circles — the kind that American Jews might feel if former president John F. Kennedy, honored as an advocate of religious and racial tolerance in America, were shown to have shared his father's fascist sympathies and anti-Jewish sentiments before and during World War II.

They didn't even bat an eyelash.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:26 PM


Looking for a foreign policy, Mr. Harper? Try Australia's John Howard (PAUL EVANS AND YUEN PAU WOO, 5/18/06, Globe and Mail)

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has a record that is the envy of conservative leaders around the world. Recently elected to a fourth term (with an enhanced majority, to boot), he has charted a distinctive and largely successful course for Australia's international relations over the past decade.

As the Harper government begins to formulate its own approach to foreign policy, Mr. Howard arrives in Ottawa at an opportune moment.

Under Mr. Howard's leadership, Australia's ties with the United States have warmed considerably, stemming in large part from Canberra's staunch support for U.S.-led anti-terrorism initiatives and the invasion of Iraq. Mr. Howard has a relationship with George W. Bush that Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin were never able to strike. In 2005, Australia signed a free-trade agreement with the U.S., joining an elite club of countries that have preferential access to the richest market in the world.

The most important lesson from Canberra is not the closer relationship to Washington. Rather, it is the way that Australia has burnished its credentials as a serious player in Asia and invested in a long-term strategy for commercial and diplomatic success in the region.

Even allowing for geography, Australia has outperformed Canada in a variety of areas.

The Canadians just need to accept that they're a part of the Anglosphere/Axis of Good and not geopolitical virgins.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:59 PM


Long Shot (Ralph Kinney Bennett, 18 May 2006, Tech Central Station)

That Monday night, May 28, 1956, is etched in my memory. School had ended that day, Daylight Savings Time was in full bloom and ancient ritual demanded that even though it was a cloudy and relatively cool day, we boys of Rector, Pa., should go swimming until dark at Devil's Hole, our favorite "deep spot" in the rushing mountain creek a mile above our house. But what about the big game?

Did I say life was good? Our family had recently acquired a then-new and exciting piece of technology -- a transistor portable radio. It was a teal-colored plastic Philco, about the size of a big dictionary, with a convenient gold handle on top.

We sat it on some rocks beside the swimming hole, volume turned to the max, listening to a rasping Bob Prince's play-by-play. The Dodgers had the superb Carl Erskine, who had recently pitched a no-hitter, on the mound. And even before he had to walk out to the hill, Duke Snider smashed a home run, knocking in Junior Gilliam for a two-run lead in the first.

We swam and horsed around, our lips turning blue from the ice cold water. We paused only when Long came to the plate, standing shivering in our dripping trunks around the radio. Long's first time up he grounded out to second. Back to the water. Then, in the fourth inning, Long was at the plate again. The count went to one and one. Erskine fired what he later described as "a good overhand curve. Low and away."

I wish I could say I heard the "crack of the bat." I didn't. Long had poled the ball into the lower deck in right center. The only thing I remember is the roar from that Philco portable. It overwhelmed the little speaker. The plastic grill on the radio vibrated. You couldn't hear the hoarse-voiced Prince, just the long roar that reverberated across the water of Devil's Hole and through the woods. I could hear someone whooping through the open window of a cottage just down stream.

At Forbes Field Bob Skinner tried to take his place in the batter's box. The noise was deafening. Erskine and the other Dodgers and the umpires stood patiently, looking around the park. Every time Skinner tried to step in and let the game continue the roar got louder. He'd step back out with a kind of a shrug and a grin.

Finally, and this was rare in those days, Dale Long stepped out of the dugout and doffed his hat to the delirious crowd. Branch Rickey, former general manager but now an "adviser" to the club said he had never seen anything like that during a game.

The Pirates went on to win 3-2. Long got his eighth home run in the record streak and Bob Friend got his eighth victory. We walked down the dirt road from Devil's Hole in the darkness fiddling with the Philco to hear snatches of the post-game banter. But the batteries were almost worn out. We made up a little chant. "How long can Long go on? How long can Long go on?"

Well, we learned how long the next night. Don Newcombe tamed Dale Long 0 for 4 at the plate, and hit a triple to help his own cause as the Dodgers won. A couple of weeks later, Long hurt his ankle with a fouled off pitch. He slumped and the Pirates, after a heady start, slumped too. They ended the season with 66 wins and 88 losses, in seventh place, 27 games out of first. At least they didn't repeat in the cellar. The Cubs finished eighth. [...]

Dale Long died of cancer in Palm Coast, Fla., January 27, 1991, having seen his record tied but not broken. He had come to know both sides of the old saw that the distance from obscurity to fame is much longer than the distance from fame to obscurity. But his name still shimmers in the flickering light of his one great feat. Each time a run like Mench's or Bonds' takes place I think of him and, frankly, I always hope the now thrice-shared record holds a little longer. And I think of the roar from that old Philco on a spring night half a century ago.

How could his parents come that close but not make his middle name Kiner?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:56 PM


Time to Vaccinate a Panic (John Luik, 18 May 2006, Tech Central Station)

A 2000 survey in Pediatrics reported that 25% of parents had serious concerns about the vaccines given to their children. And significant numbers refused to vaccinate their children, with predictably unfortunate consequences.

In 2000, Ireland, reported 1,603 cases of measles -- 10 times more than the year before. Another surge to 572 cases occurred in 2003. By comparison, the US, with a population 75 times greater, had 86 measles cases in 2000 and 116 in 2003. In Colorado and Oregon where parents concerned about autism are allowed to decline immunization for their children, diseases like whooping cough are already returning. For instance, in 2004, Colorado, a state with just under a 70th of the population, had more than a 10th of the total number of cases of pertussis -- whooping cough -- 1,210 cases.

Autism is a terrible diagnosis for any parent to receive, but however much one sympathizes with parents and their children, the question still is: What is the scientific evidence that thimerosal in vaccines causes autism?

In 2004, the U.S. Institute of Medicine, which had been commissioned by the U.S. government to examine the epidemiological data, along with the idea of whether a connection between thimerosal and vaccines was biologically plausible, concluded that the majority of the evidence "favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal and autism." The evidence that the Institute relied upon consisted of five major epidemiological studies from the US, the UK and Sweden, all completed since 2001, which looked at the links between various vaccines containing thimerosal and autism, and 14 other epidemiological studies that focused on the MMR vaccine and autism.

Two of these studies, both published in 2003, are particularly important since they highlight how weak the case against thimerosal is. The first (Stehr-Green et al "Autism and Thimerosal Containing Vaccines: lack of Consistent Evidence for an Association," AJPM, 2003) compared thimerosal exposure and autism rates in children in Denmark, Sweden and California.

In each jurisdiction, the study found autism rates started to increase from 1985. In Sweden and Denmark the increase continued into the 1990s even though thimerosal was eliminated from vaccines in 1992. Indeed, in Denmark the increases were substantial. Where before 1992 there were about 10 new autism cases per year, by 2000, eight years after all thimerosal had been removed from vaccines, there were 181 cases a year. Similarly, in Sweden, autism rates continued to increase even after thimerosal was removed from vaccines. Because of this lack of a consistent connection between thimerosal and autism, the researchers concluded that the hypothesis that thimerosal caused autism was inconsistent with the scientific evidence.

The second study appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Hviid et al., "Association between Thimerosal-Containing Vaccine and Autism," October, 2003), and its results were even more dramatic. Led by Anders Hviid of the Danish Epidemiology Science Center, the researchers examined the medical histories of all children who were born in Denmark from 1990-1996, almost 500,000 children. Thimerosal vaccines had been eliminated in Denmark in mid-1992, so the study was able to examine two groups of children, those who received vaccines with thimerosal from 1990-1992 and those from 1993 onward who did not.

The children who had received vaccines with thimerosal had a non-statistically significant relative risk for autism of 0.85, compared with the thimerosal-free group, which meant that they were 15% less likely to get autism. There was also no dose-response link -- where risk increases with exposure level -- leading the research group to conclude that "the results do not support a causal relationship between childhood vaccination with thimerosal-containing vaccines and development of autistic-spectrum disorders."

More recent studies, including one in Pediatrics (September 2004) support these conclusions. The Pediatrics article looked at 12 different studies on thimerosal vaccines and autism published from 1966-2004 and concluded: "Studies do no demonstrate a link between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autistic spectrum disorders." Equally interesting, the authors looked at the blood mercury levels found in children after receiving vaccinations and concluded that they did not fall within the toxic range.

Moreover, autism researchers consistently caution that autism is not a single condition but a highly complex group of developmental disorders. There is no agreement on the rate of autism, though two recent reviews have placed it at one case for every 1,000 children. Indeed, it is not even clear whether autism is increasing or whether it is simply being more accurately diagnosed.

Strike the "accurately".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 PM


Feingold, Specter Clash Over Gay Marriage (LAURIE KELLMAN, 5/18/06, Associated Press)

A Senate committee approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage Thursday, after a shouting match that ended when one Democrat strode out and the Republican chairman bid him "good riddance."

"I don't need to be lectured by you. You are no more a protector of the Constitution than am I," Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., shouted after Sen. Russ Feingold (news, bio, voting record) declared his opposition to the amendment, his affinity for the Constitution and his intention to leave the meeting.

"If you want to leave, good riddance," Specter finished. [...]

Amid increasing partisan tension over President Bush's judicial nominees and domestic wiretapping, the panel voted along party lines to send the constitutional amendment — which would prohibit states from recognizing same-sex marriages — to the full Senate, where it stands little chance of passing.

Democrats complained that bringing up the amendment is a purely political move...

Thank goodness the far Right suicide squad didn't lose us the PA Senate seat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:31 AM


Jaheim - Ghetto Classics (Laura Checkoway, February 20, 2006, Vibe)

Who keeps the streets on smash but also has your mama saying, “Wow, that boy can blow”? Who sings strictly to the ladies but is hard enough for dudes to bump in their rides and not blush? Jaheim is definitely that man.

A young soul with an old voice, Jaheim, with his Ghetto Classics, bridges the uncharted gap between generations with earnest, heartfelt lyrics and vintage vocals that fill the space Luther left.

Ladies, if you don’t know the magic of Jaheim’s music yet, consider yourself warned: He puts us on such a high pedestal that he might make you question why your man doesn’t treat you sweeter. Fellas, you already know from his first two platinum-selling albums (2001’s Ghetto Love and 2002’s Still Ghetto) that there’s no denying these bumping bass lines and thug-love anthems.

If you're looking to get your freak on, obviously there's still nothing that beats a frosty Colt .45, but slappin' on this platter is guaranteed to limber up your home slice too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:22 AM


Wider Briefing for Lawmakers on Spy Efforts (MARK MAZZETTI and SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, 5/18/06, NY Times)

Classified briefings provided to lawmakers on Wednesday about a controversial domestic eavesdropping program have smoothed what might have been a contentious path toward confirmation for Gen. Michael V. Hayden as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, senators and Congressional officials said. [...]

Lawmakers have said that even without Wednesday's briefing, by Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the current N.S.A. director, the Senate was likely to confirm General Hayden. Yet Wednesday's briefings diminished the prospect that the hearings, before the Senate Intelligence Committee, would become a focus of hostile questions from Democrats and Republicans on the panel who had not been briefed on the program, in which the security agency monitored, without court warrants, the international telephone and e-mail communications of those suspected of having links to terrorists. [...]

One senior Democratic Senate aide, who was granted anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly about his party's strategy, said of Thursday's hearings, "Democrats were much more likely to cause problems if they weren't able to ask knowledgeable questions during the hearing."

Constitutional law isn't secret but none of the Senators asked knowledgeable questions of John Roberts or Sam Alito.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:12 AM


Did chimp and human ancestors interbreed?: DNA analysis indicates that species split was a messy affair, scientists say (Bjorn Carey, 5/17/06, Live Science)

The earliest known ancestors of modern humans might have reproduced with early chimpanzees to create a hybrid species, a new genetic analysis suggests.

Based on the study of human and chimp genomes, the scientists believe the split between the human and chimpanzee lines occurred much more recently than previously thought — no more than 6.3 million years ago and perhaps as recently as 5.4 million years ago.

Human and chimpanzee ancestors began branching apart on the primate evolutionary tree about 9 million years ago, scientists say, but there are significant gaps in the fossil record. The new analysis suggests that a full split, which scientists call speciation, wasn't achieved for nearly 4 million years and might have occurred twice.

You can call a brick a duck but that won't make it float.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 AM


Trial by fire: How I learned to stop worrying and love backyard grill (Amy McConnell Schaarsmith, May 18, 2006, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

As the masculine-feminine thing goes, I'm kind of a chick. I mist up over sappy TV commercials, covet sparkly shoes and invest more than my share of disposable income in lipsticks and earrings.

And until last month, I confess I had never operated a grill. Farm life and a well-armed father taught me how to drive a tractor and shoot a shotgun, but cooking over a fire was something I left to the menfolk.

In truth, I was afraid of the grill. I had visions of turning the wrong knob or pressing the wrong button on our gas grill and sparking a fireball that would engulf our home in catastrophic flames.

I tend to worry about such things.

Whereas, for a guy that'd just be a bonus....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:04 AM


These Red Sox Are Idiot-Proof (Thomas Boswell, May 18, 2006, Washington Post)

[W]ith all the change and the continuing search for a new identity, Boston still finds itself in first place. Somehow, these New England dudes abide. Shake them up, shuffle the roster, misplace General Manager Theo Epstein, then coax him back into the fold again and yet, at least for the moment, the Yankees still aren't in front of them. Every day, the way the Red Sox see it, New York seems to find more problems, like Hideki Matsui's broken wrist or Randy Johnson's imitation of The Lost Unit, while the team from Fenway Park learns more about itself and begins to discover its future. [...]

"Communication is the key. Before the '03 season, I started to make a conscious effort," Varitek said. "Terry's right, we'll get a bunch of guys to go out to dinner tomorrow [on a day off]. We've learned that you need to know your teammates better. Get to know them as people. I once heard Bill Russell talk about that," meaning the team unity of the old Celtics.

"But the point really got across to me watching the U.S. women's soccer team [in 1999]. They'd played together so long and knew each other so well. They hung out together and enjoyed playing together. Their communication with each other led to their dominance of their sport," Varitek said. "I listened to Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain when they were interviewed. Before I ever met Mia [who married Nomar Garciaparra, the former Red Sox shortstop], I knew women tended to be better communicators than men."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:59 AM


Canadian inflation edges up (TAVIA GRANT, 5/18/06, Globe and Mail)

Canadian inflation quickened to a 2.4-per-cent annual pace last month, although cheaper imports sent core prices unexpectedly lower, Statistics Canada said Thursday.

While overall inflation rose on higher gasoline prices, core consumer price inflation – which strips out the eight most volatile items in the index – unexpectedly cooled. Core prices, which have been stable over the past eight months, eased to 1.6 per cent from 1.7 per cent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Senate Backs Fence, Guest-Worker Curbs: Immigration Bill Gaining Conservative Support (Jonathan Weisman, May 18, 2006, Washington Post)

The Senate voted yesterday to build 370 miles of triple-layered fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border and to block access to a new guest-worker program by lawbreaking illegal immigrants, even those guilty of misdemeanors or ignoring a deportation order.

On a 83 to 16 vote, the Senate backed an amendment by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to fortify 70 miles of existing fences near San Diego and parts of Arizona and to build 300 miles of additional fencing through the Arizona desert. The amendment would also order the immediate construction of 500 miles of vehicle barriers along frontier lands identified as prime entry points for smugglers and illegal immigrants.

Senators approved another provision, 50 to 48, declaring that illegal immigrants seeking a guest-worker permit could not petition for legalization on their own, and instead must be sponsored by an employer.

The votes on the fence and the guest-worker restrictions gave new momentum to the Senate bill among conservatives, but they may further strain a coalition of immigrant rights and civil rights groups that have given Democrats political cover to back the Senate measure.

Which 60%+ of the people support they get, irrespective of the ideologues on either side.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


Barbaro's race to lose at Kentuck Derby (The Associated Press, 5/18/06)

Trainer Steve Klesaris sees the Preakness unfolding this way:

"The only way Barbaro loses is he beats himself," Klesaris said Wednesday at Fair Hill Training Center while his longshot, Diabolical, grazed near Barbaro's barn. "I think he's better than the field. He toyed with them in the Derby."

Not everyone agrees.

If they did betting would be hard.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Nuclear Power Will Drive the Future: Nuclear energy offers numerous benefits and advantages over other sources. (Christine Todd Whitman & Patrick Moore, 5/18/06, Der Spiegel)

From the minute the alarm clock goes off in the morning, our lives are fueled by electricity. We are amazed at the seemingly endless parade of new, life-improving and life-saving technologies. But too little attention is paid to the looming shortage of energy needed to power them. We take for granted that the lights will come on at the flip of a switch.

The Department of Energy projects that the United States will need 45 percent more electricity by 2030. Where is this going to come from? Energy conservation, greater efficiencies in the production of natural gas, oil, coal and hydro power, and a genuine commitment to renewables such as wind, solar, and geothermal power will be needed.

Across America today, companies are reducing their demands for power without slowing their growth, but those efforts won't be enough in and of themselves. We will continue to need a mix of power sources, and nuclear energy must play an increased role in supplying America's growing demand for electricity.

Nuclear energy offers numerous benefits and advantages over other sources.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


CDs may fade away, but vinyl is here to stay (Stuart Eskenazi, 5/18/06, Seattle Times)

When CDs usurped vinyl in the late 1980s as the format of choice, sound quality was a selling point. The ever-clever record companies even encouraged consumers to dump their vinyl and rebuy the same records on CD.

The shiny silver discs could be played over and over without developing the pops and hisses that afflicted overplayed vinyl. And they wouldn't scratch — at least not as easily.

But there was a loss in sound quality that audiophiles could discern. Vinyl, they still insist, sounds warmer.

Comparing CDs to vinyl is like comparing digital photos to film. If a digital photo is blown up large enough, the image is lost and all that remains are a bunch of pixels.

It's similar with sound, says Nauck, a dealer of vintage records. "Music may sound great through an iPod when you're working out in the gym or walking down the street, but when you sit down in a room with a decent sound system and compare the MP3 file to a CD or vinyl record, the sound quality is not even close.

"I suppose it's the dumbing down that we see in every other aspect of our society. People are made to accept an inferior product."

Our best Christmas CD is of Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong with all the static and popping you'd have gotten from a 1960s radio broadcast retained.

Audiophiles Become IPodiophiles (Leander Kahney, May, 16, 2006, Wired)

Old-time audiophiles must be spinning in their soundproof graves. Thanks to hardware modifications and headphone amplifiers, the humble iPod is earning a place at the heart of the most expensive and exacting sound systems.

Veteran audiophiles would scoff. The iPod is relatively inexpensive, costing only a fraction of the $10,000 to $100,000 some will spend on big-rig audio gear. And it is designed to play -- gasp -- compressed audio.

Audiophiles demand only the highest fidelity and detail. For some, digital music in any form, especially highly compressed MP3, is contemptuously unacceptable. To purists, only old-fashioned vinyl platters cut it.

But remarkably, the iPod is exceptionally well engineered, boasting circuitry to rival much more expensive stereo components. And thanks to CD-quality or lossless codecs, not even those blessed with golden ears can detect a recording's source.

"The iPod's measured behavior is better than many CD players," concluded an exhaustive review and performance test in Stereophile magazine, "Excellent, cost-effective audio engineering from an unexpected source."

George Tyshchenko, who runs the testing-oriented HiFiiPod website, said: "The quality of the components used in the iPod are on the same level as low- to medium-priced audiophile gear. From the audio standpoint, iPod makes a very good source. And from a practical standpoint, iPod is revolutionary because the vinyl and CD mediums are now gone."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Back to Kabul with diplomas: A US-based scholarship program for Afghan women graduates its first students. (Stacy A. Teicher, 5/18/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

On May 20, they'll be among the graduates listening to first lady Laura Bush deliver the commencement address at Roger Williams. A supporter of the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women, Mrs. Bush will celebrate these pioneers - some of the first to complete four-year scholarships offered through the initiative. Launched in 2002 by Paula Nirschel, wife of Roger Williams's President Roy Nirschel, it has grown to include 10 American colleges that will sponsor 30 scholars next year.

"We are all extremely committed to returning to Afghanistan, because we want to make sure that the next generation won't face the same problems, such as lack of education and not feeling secure enough," says Sahar, whose family split up for a number of years so that she, like many other girls, could continue her schooling in Pakistan during the Taliban's reign. Families who could not leave but were still devoted to educating their daughters were sometimes able to do so in underground schools in Afghanistan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Backstory: A natural Segway ...: The two-wheeled transporters are making inroads into everyday life - from fishing trips to weddings. (Cristian Lupsa, 5/1/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

The Segway, the enviro-happy machine unveiled to great hype in 2001 only to thud commercially, has made steady, if modest, inroads among early adopters, becoming the stuff of daily life for pockets of enthusiasts from coast to coast. It's used to commute, have fun and, in the case of Segway tour operators, make money.

Segway Inc. won't release sales figures, but Will Hopper, president of the users club SEG America, estimates there are 25,000 to 30,000 "seggers" nationwide, a fraction of the average ballpark crowd.This number doesn't include vehicles sold to police departments (officers look more approachable on Segs), research institutions, and other organizations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Australia boosts aid to its neighbors: The increase, to $3.1 billion from $1.9 billion, is part of Canberra's sense of responsibility for the Asia-Pacific region. (Janaki Kremmer, 5/18/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

The amount of aid spending will jump to $3.1 billion by 2010, from $1.9 billion. The new spending will channel funds into humanitarian areas in the Asia-Pacific region such as health and education, while sustaining its current aid related to law-and-order projects. Among the few specifics available, the white paper on foreign aid unveiled late last month said that Australia will head an international bid to tackle malaria in the Pacific.

The effort is part of Australia's moves since 9/11 to stake out more clearly Southeast Asia and the Pacific as its sphere of concern and responsibility, say analysts, who see in the new humanitarian focus a more comprehensive approach to fostering stability, development, and goodwill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


America: An ode to immigrants (RAY BRADBURY, May 17, 2006, Opinion Journal)

We are the dream that other people dream.

2006 All-USA High School Academic First Team (USA Today, 5/18/06)

Posted by Peter Burnet at 7:19 AM


The monkeys who can speak in sentences (Roger Highfield, The Telegraph, May 18th, 2006)

The first evidence that monkeys string "words" together to say more complicated things, as humans do, is published today by scientists.

Simple vocal languages use a different sound for every different meaning. But there is a limit to the range of sounds that can be made and easily distinguished. So for complicated messages it is more efficient to combine basic sounds in different ways to convey different meanings.

A team at the University of St Andrews reports today in the journal Nature that male putty-nosed monkeys (Cercopithecus nictitans) in West Africa can combine different sounds to construct new messages, a remarkable discovery.

During three years of observations of the monkeys in the Gashaka Gumti National Park, Nigeria, Dr Kate Arnold and Dr Klaus Zuberbühler found that the creatures use their two main call types - "pyows" and "hacks" - to warn each other against predators.

They also noticed that a particular sequence of calls appeared to mean something else entirely when strung together, depending on the circumstances. A string of pyows warns against a loitering leopard, while a burst of hacks indicates a hovering crowned eagle. But a sentence made up of several pyows followed by a few hacks tells the group to move to safer terrain.[...]

"These calls were not produced randomly and a number of distinct patterns emerged," she said. "The pyow-hack sequence means something like 'let's go' whereas the pyows by themselves have multiple functions and the hacks are generally used as alarm calls."

Boy, St Andrew’s is sure on a roll this month. It’s too early to confirm yet, but the full study is expected to show five pyows followed by three hacks means “Hey, let’s build a cathedral!”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


2 Immigration Provisions Easily Pass Senate (CARL HULSE and JIM RUTENBERG, 5/18/06, NY Times)

Another Republican, J. D. Hayworth of Arizona, said of the divide between House Republicans and the White House over citizenship and temporary foreign workers, "This is a polite but profound disagreement." [...]

On Wednesday night, President Bush took his case to an influential group of party faithful during a speech at the Republican National Committee's annual gala dinner in Washington.

"The Republican Party needs to lead on this issue of immigration," Mr. Bush said. "The immigration system is not working, and we need to do something about it now. America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society."

Mr. Hayworth, an outspoken critic of the president's approach, planned to travel to Arizona on Air Force One with Mr. Bush on Thursday for an immigration event. Mr. Hayworth, who attended the signing of the tax bill on Wednesday, said the president had offered a playful warning about the trip and Mr. Hayworth's opposition.

"He said, 'Hey, be careful over by the emergency exit at 30,000 feet,' " Mr. Hayworth recounted.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:09 AM


MPs extend Afghan mission (Mike Blanchfield, National Post, May 18th, 2006)

The House of Commons supported a Conservative motion to extend Canada's military mission to Afghanistan by two years, handing Stephen Harper a narrow victory with a 149-145 vote that came late last night.

The outcome of the vote was in doubt all evening, with MPs from all three opposition parties speaking out against the Tory plan to extend the Afghan mission through to 2009 without providing further details about what the extension would mean for the Canadian Forces.

"I'm obviously pleased," Mr. Harper said last night, "though the vote was a lot closer than we expected it would be even 24 hours ago."

The Prime Minister said three of the four parties in the Commons had supported Canada's involvement in Afghanistan, so he was surprised to learn the NDP, Bloc Quebecois and many Liberals voted against the extension.

Earlier, Mr. Harper had vowed to extend the mission by one year, regardless of the outcome of the vote.

"So what we would do is proceed cautiously for a year.... If we believe we need to go further than that, we will seek a mandate from the Canadian people."

The often-acrimonious debate, scheduled for six hours, started less than an hour after Canadian politicians learned of the death of Captain Nichola Goddard near Kandahar, the 17th Canadian and first woman killed in Afghanistan.[...]

During the debate, Mr. Harper provided several new details of Canada's future involvement in Afghanistan, including revealing that Canada had been asked to assume command of NATO forces in Afghanistan for one year starting in February, 2008.

Mr. Harper also announced that Canada would boost its aid funding to Afghanistan by $310-million, raising its contribution to almost $1-billion by 2011, and he promised to build a more fortified embassy in Kabul that could serve Canada's interests for 15 years.

A nice welcome for John Howard. With this coup, Harper effectively takes away the ability of the left to politicize every death, which is especially dangerous for him in Quebec, where he is popular but the war is not. Perhaps it is atonement for past sins, but despite the closeness of the vote it is surprising how widespread support/resignation for all this is among Canadians, if only in that hand-wringing, fussy Canadian way. Morale in the military is soaring and even many in the MSM left seem to understand what cowardice is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


France's de Villepin May not Be Out, But He's Definitely Down: French Prime Minister de Villepin may have survived a vote of no confidence but his own party has turned its back on him - more than just a few members failed to show up for what could have been a public show of solidarity. (Stefan Simons, 5/18/06, Der Spiegel)

His government is entangled in a spiteful internicine battle and he's already been on the ropes after weeks of new revelations in the Clearstream scandal. Now, French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has also been disavowed by his own party.

On Tuesday, de Villepin was put up for a vote of no confidence in the French parliament, the Assemblee Nationale. It came as no surprise that the prime minister survived the vote -- after all, his party, the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), has an absolute majority in parliament with 369 of the 577 seats. In the end, just 190 parliamentarians sided with the Socialists.

But despite his success, Villepin is a wounded man: instead of a demonstration of solidarity amidst the public display of mistrust, more than just a few UMP seats were left vacant in the crescent of the national assembly -- and some parliamentarians even left the room as the prime minister approached the podium. Defense Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie and de Villepin's toughest rival within the party, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, arrived late at Bourbon Palace.

Just getting rid of him will be nice, but one would rather send him canoeing with Lewis Medlock.

May 17, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:46 PM


Gadhafi's Leap of Faith: Libya's strongman feared appearing weak. (JUDITH MILLER, May 17, 2006, Opinion Journal)

And there was the map problem. "I wanted a detailed, but nonclassified, map of the country," said Mr. Mahley. "But there was none in the entire U.S. government." Mr. Mahley said that nothing he had done before, including commanding two companies in Vietnam, facing down the Russians over arms-control disputes, or negotiating the germ and chemical weapons treaties in Geneva, was as complicated as dismantling Libya's WMD infrastructure in less than four months between January and April 2004.

Several things surprised him: first, the relatively small number of Libyans involved in the WMD programs. "Though the Libyans I dealt with were knowledgeable, dedicated, and innovative," he said, "there was almost no bench." "The same six people--most of them American-educated--did almost everything," said Harry L. Heintzelman IV, senior adviser on noncompliance. A second lesson was how relatively easy it was to hide elements of a WMD program, even in an open desert, "if there is a national dedication to do so," Mr. Mahley wrote in a "Lessons Learned" paper for an arms-control newsletter.

"Tony" Sylvester Ryan, known as "Chemical Tony" to distinguish him from the team's other Tony who helped dismantle banned missiles, recalled being taken to a place they wound up calling the "turkey farm." Other officials said that the site, previously unknown to U.S. intelligence, was where Libyans had hidden unfilled chemical bombs and where they were going to set up centrifuges to enrich uranium. Libya, Mr. Ryan said, came clean in stages: "They'd start by saying 'I think we have only 1,500 unfilled bombs,' and by the end of the visit, they'd acknowledge having stored about 3,000. But we never would have found the place at all if the Libyans hadn't shown it to us."

Team members were also struck by the extent to which sanctions had complicated Libya's hunt for unconventional weapons, especially biological. Though U.S. intelligence officials still debate whether Libya has disclosed all aspects of its early effort to make or acquire germ weapons--in particular, how much help, if any, was provided by Wouter Basson, head of South Africa's illicit germ-warfare program under apartheid--sanctions apparently helped dissuade Col. Gadhafi from building an indigenous program. "The program, if you can call it that, just kind of fizzled out," said a member of the British-led biological team that first toured suspect Libyan sites and interviewed some 25 scientists during a two-week trip in the late spring of 2004.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 9:13 PM


Howard's new best friend (David Nason, The Australian, May 18th, 2006)

John Howard will take great comfort knowing that when he arrives in Canada today for an official state visit, he'll be meeting a like-minded Prime Minister who has already demonstrated his new friendship.

Despite damning evidence of AWB's illegal kickbacks to Saddam Hussein under the UN's former oil-for-food program in Iraq, Stephen Harper's new Government hasn't uttered a word of criticism. This despite Canada being the first to sound a warning about the situation and missing out on valuable wheat contracts because it wouldn't pay the same bribes as Australia.

Howard has been to Canada only once in his 10 years as PM but will be the first foreign leader to visit Ottawa since Harper's Conservative Party won office in January. Notably, the visit comes in the same week Harper's Government, the first Tory administration in Canada for 13 years, passes 100 days in office.

Given that political lessons learned from Howard's four election victories in Australia played a big part in Harper's defeat of former Liberal Party prime minister Paul Martin, a love-in of rare ideological passion is expected when the new kid on the Tory block meets the old hand from down under.

At 46, Harper is 20 years younger than Howard, but it's about all that sets them apart. Both men entered parliament aged 34 and both are socially conservative free marketers who believe in family, individual enterprise and the US alliance. A strong Christian ethic underscores their beliefs.

Meanwhile, the left simmers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:06 PM

Ed Driscoll on perhaps the only assassin who's ever mattered.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:11 PM

GO (via Tom Morin):

Don't Talk to the Mullahs: Bush should respond to Ahmadinejad's letter, but he should speak directly to the Iranian people. (Christopher Hitchens, May 17, 2006, Slate)

Bear in mind that almost all Iranians are now within reach of a satellite dish, a cell phone, or a foreign broadcast—and that we have a talented and resourceful Iranian diaspora in Europe and North America. The president could have added two things. The first is that, since Western technology helped to build the Iranian reactors in the first place, there is no need for Iran to go pirating for centrifuges and other techniques on the black market as it has repeatedly been caught doing. If a peaceful nuclear program is truly what it wants, we alone can help maintain and enhance it. The second is that Iran is standing on a cobweb network of earthquake "faults" that will, with absolute certainty, produce yet another devastating chain of earthquakes in the next few years. (So awful is this predicament that, after the total destruction of the city of Bam in 2003, even the mullahs considered removing the wildly overcrowded and dysfunctional capital city from Tehran to Esfahan.) American aid workers performed beautifully in Bam and were very well-received by the inhabitants. And only the United States could help Iran to design some system of preparation against the seismic horror that impends and that will now be still more apocalyptic as it affects secret reactors and covert uranium-enrichment facilities in deep caverns. Humanitarian duty thus matches international responsibility, and the mullahs have meanwhile squandered, on their pointless and dangerous nuclear program, what they ought to have been investing in social self-defense. I predict that there could be a very serious and attentive Iranian audience for such an offer, which is one that we ought to be making anyway.

This is no longer a matter of "public diplomacy" or "image" or "making nice." A wrecked Iran in one form or another is an immediate and urgent danger, and the pathetic religious demagogue at its merely titular summit is of no more significance than a false prophet screeching in a real wilderness. Almost everything that went wrong in Iraq went wrong because we postponed the real decisions until it was almost too late. President Bush has a chance to redeem this by speaking directly to the Iranian people and the international community and bypassing the wicked men who have run a noble country into a swamp of beggary, violence, crime, corruption, and disaster.

Forget broadcasts, go there, as Reagan went to Moscow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:03 PM


Gov's clout list hundreds long (CHRIS FUSCO AND DAVE MCKINNEY, May 17, 2006, Chicago Sun-Times)

Gov. Blagojevich's office kept a clout list of hundreds of state employees recommended by lobbyists, lawmakers and major fund-raisers -- despite the governor's repeated statements that politics doesn't influence state hiring.

The computerized list obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times was created and stored off state property, a source said, and the administration used it to track favors it handed out if Blagojevich needed something in return from the employees' patrons -- a charge the governor's office vehemently denied.

The political sponsors on the 2003 list include top Blagojevich fund-raisers Antoin "Tony" Rezko and Christopher G. Kelly, identified as "TR," "CK10" and "CK."

Other patrons of those hired include Al Ronan ("AR"), a lobbyist whose former firm was convicted in a bid-rigging scheme; Blagojevich's now estranged father-in-law, Chicago Ald. Richard Mell ("RFM" and "Mell"), and a host of other insiders whose spouses and children wound up on the state payroll.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:55 PM


Trained to go on vacation (KEN HOFFMAN, 5/16/06, Houston Chronicle)

This year, I did it old school. Instead of flying from city to city and spending half my vacation (and half my budget) getting to and getting on airplanes, I took the train everywhere, just like I used to. [....]

With a train pass, you don't even have to pre-program your trip. Just show up at a train station, check out the big departure board, and go wherever the mood strikes you. That's what I did. [...]

Unlike with planes, there are no weather delays on a train. They go. And they run on time. Trains also don't leave the station, roll 100 yards and then sit there for two hours as planes do with passengers trapped like prisoners.

The best thing about train travel in Europe is that the stations are in the middle of downtown. You don't have to set out two hours early in an expensive taxi to get to the airport. You just show up a few minutes before the train leaves and hop on. Mr. Friendly Conductor will show you to your seat.

It doesn't take an hour to get from the airport to downtown when you land, either. You're already where you're going.

Plus there are wonderful, inexpensive eating places across the street from train stations. My friend had a giant gyro with extra sauce and grease outside the train station in Rome that he's still burping and talking about. [...]

Babies sleep like a baby on trains. On planes, they cry.

By taking a night train, you save money on hotels, which are very expensive in Europe.

Here's one I can't explain: People get off a train in 30 seconds — no time at all. On a plane, it takes forever. There's always that one guy who can't get his bag out of the overhead compartment and just stands there blocking the aisle. That guy should be put on the terrorist watch list.

Another way the train beats the plane: On a train, you are in control of your luggage. It's never out of your sight. It's all carry-on, no matter how big your suitcase.

Sometimes with a plane, it's bye-bye luggage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:51 PM


"Voltaire and Erasmus Are Spinning in their Graves" (Henryk M. Broder, May 17, 2006, Der Spiegel)

Holland's most famous immigrant -- Ayaan Hirsi Ali -- has been stripped of her citizenship overnight following television revelations about news that's long been public: she lied a little on her application for asylum years ago. The controversial decision by the country's immigration minister has sparked outrage, and many are calling it a dark day for Dutch democracy.

Dark? Think of it as a whitening...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:42 PM


From Kennedy’s Cold War to the War on Terror: Gareth Jenkins looks for continuities in American foreign policy from the 1960s to the 2000s. (Gareth Jenkins, June 2006, History Today)

'The United States is in the early years of a long struggle, similar to what our country faced in the early years of the Cold War. The 20th century witnessed the triumph of freedom over the threats of fascism and communism. Yet a new totalitarian ideology now threatens, an ideology grounded not in secular philosophy but in the perversion of a proud religion.’
--US National Security Strategy, March 2006

The US invasion of Iraq of 2003 is viewed by many as a historical watershed, as ushering in a new era in which the world’s only superpower feels unconstrained in resorting to pre-emptive military action to achieve its strategic goals. For the first time in more than half a century the term imperialism has regained common currency, and there is renewed interest in understanding the European scramble for colonies in the late nineteenth century.

No doubt the period we are entering does in many ways mark a new historical phase. Global power relations are accommodating rapidly to new economic realities – the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the rise of China and India and the emergence of structural weaknesses in the US economy. Nevertheless, as George Bush recently reminded us, there are many continuities with the past half century of the American exercise of power.

There have been continual assaults on the sovereignty of Third World countries, backed by covert and overt military interventions, throughout the period since the Cold War was launched. [...]

The ideological underpinnings of America’s projection of its global power are very different today from what they were in Kennedy’s time. During the Cold War, Washington could at least point to an enemy that controlled a huge state armed with nuclear weapons. Today one is asked to believe that life as we know it is threatened from a cave in Afghanistan, or by Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction that no one could find, or by a civil nuclear programme in Iran that could, one day perhaps, morph into a military programme.

The ideological underpinnings never waver, only the enemies of that ideology do:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:14 PM


Oil Spiel: President Bush says Americans guzzle too much petroleum, and James Howard Kunstler would certainly agree. But the flamethrowing author of The Long Emergency—a wickedly entertaining and terrifying look into a future without cheap fuel—thinks the world isn't doing nearly enough to get ready, and nobody is safe from his wrath. (John Galvin, May 2006, Outside)

"You're not going to run Walt Disney World and the interstate highway system on ethanol or hemp! Or biodiesel! Or hydrogen! Or solar power, or all of them together," booms the man at the podium in the conservative khaki suit. "That isn't going to happen!" he continues in a staccato blast of invective. "We are going to have to make other ar-range-ments for how we live!"

James Howard Kunstler, a stout, bald 57-year-old author from Saratoga Springs, New York, is in the throes of his modern-day hydrocarbon jeremiad. He's pacing. He's yelling. He's livid. And just in case you missed his point, he's jabbing his fingers downward to show the direction of things to come.

America, Kunstler argues, is about to become one fantastically miserable place. Why? Because our entire standard of living is propped up by cheap oil, and the days of cheap oil are over. "No combination of alternative fuels is going to allow us to run the United States the way we've been used to running it," he tells the Dallas crowd. And though tonight he'll resist calls to pinpoint when the nightmare will begin, he's told the online environmental magazine that "we're going to be feeling the pain" in as little as three years, and suburban collapse might start in ten.

Sounds preposterous, on the face of it.

But, when you dig a little deeper, when has a Malthusian ever been wrong?

Posted by kevin_whited at 11:18 AM


The new power behind Osama's throne (Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, 5/17/2006)

Whether he is viewed as a living legend for jihadis or as a reviled terrorist, the mere mention of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's name provokes strong reactions, and is an invaluable tool in the propaganda war between the two sides.

On the ground, though, at least in the rugged Hindu Kush mountains that span Pakistan and Afghanistan, the reality is that bin Laden, while remaining a source of inspiration in the anti-West struggle, is acknowledged as no longer being in command of al-Qaeda's operations.

Maybe because he's dead?

Posted by Peter Burnet at 9:57 AM


Critic of Islam to quit Holland after lies are exposed (David Rennie, The Telegraph, May 16th, 2006)

Holland's most strident critic of Islam, the Somali-born MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, is today expected to announce she is quitting politics and moving to America, amid allegations that she lied to gain asylum.

Miss Hirsi Ali faces penalties up to and including the potential loss of her Dutch citizenship, after a leading member of her own political party, the VVD, pledged a formal investigation of her actions.

The Dutch immigration minister, Rita Verdonk, who is running for the parliamentary leadership of the VVD, said she would order a probe of her colleague's case, saying: "Laws and rules are valid for everyone".

Miss Hirsi Ali, 36, lives under constant police guard, after receiving death threats for her criticisms of the treatment of women in Islam (her own religion), a stance that won her many fans in Europe and America.

A film she scripted about abuse of women, Submission, led to the brutal murder of its director, Theo van Gogh, in 2004, by a Muslim extremist.

The MP has in fact long admitted lying to the Dutch authorities in 1992 about her name, her age, and the fact that she did not flee directly to Holland from Somalia.

She presented those omissions as necessary lies to obtain refugee status. Asylum seekers are expected to seek shelter in the first safe country they come to, and she would have been automatically deported if she had owned up to spending more than a decade outside Somalia, in Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Kenya and, briefly, Germany.

She obtained Dutch citizenship in 1997, and was elected to parliament in 2003.

However, the controversy has been stoked by a television documentary last week, which showed members of her own family striking at the very heart of her dramatic life story - her claim that she fled a forced marriage to a cousin she had never met.

Relatives, including her brother, said she had not been forced into marriage, and had nothing to fear. The documentary showed images of her family's comfortable middle-class home in Kenya.

Miss Hirsi Ali, who cut short a book tour in America to return to Holland and address the media storm, is expected to announce she is moving to Washington DC, to take up a post at the neo-conservative think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute, the newspaper De Volkskrant reported.

Self-reference alert. In the early 1990's I was trying to establish a law practice and did low-paid duty once a week at a legal-aid clinic. At the time, Canada and Ottawa were receiving a large and very visible number of refugees from war torn Somalia, which was applauded by a left flying full tranzi colours and viewed by many conservatives like me as dangerous madness. At my first clinic, I was asked by a Somali who could barely speak English to help him prepare and swear an affidavit he needed to get him into night school at university. They wanted proof he had graduated from high school, but his school had been destroyed in the war, the staff was dead or dispersed and there was no effective government, so obtaining proof was impossible. Much moved by his tale, I happily fulfilled his request.

I was only slightly less moved when two hours later another Somali told me the same tale about a different school, but after several months, I had heard the tale so many times about so many schools that I thought about preparing a template. I accommodated them all, as my job was simply to attest to their oaths and there was no basis for refusing because their stories mirrored those of so many others, but the experience made me contemptuous and certainly fueled my prejudices. I harboured these in sanctimonious secrecy for several more years until I began to notice that, far from being the socio-economic burden I feared and expected, Somali kids were starting to win all the school prizes and Somalis were proving to be far more pleasant, informed and diligent in stores than the clueless young native-born Canadians who seemed irritated that you were bothering them and appeared never to have been taught the word “thank-you”. The story isn’t trouble-free–immigration never is-- but that the city has been enriched by the hard-working Somalis is plain for all but the wilfully blind to see.

One young boy of Somali immigrants plays on my son’s hockey team, which I coach. He is smaller than his team mates and more enthusiastic than talented, but he plays his heart out, is unfailingly cheerful and does whatever is asked of him. His entire family comes to all games, including his mother and sisters in traditional dress. The other night he scored our winning goal and the sheer innocent pride and joy he and his family expressed was a wonder to behold.

I will never know, but I would sure like to believe I swore his father’s ridiculous affidavit many years ago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


Something new: Tigers atop AL Central (AP, 5/17/06)

Brandon Inge isn't going to give Jim Leyland all of the credit for the Detroit Tigers' surprising rise to first place.

Just most of it.

Detroit's 7-4 win over Minnesota on Tuesday night, combined with Chicago's loss to Tampa Bay, lifted the Tigers into a first-place tie with the White Sox in the American League Central. The Tigers, who have won five straight, have not been in first place this late in the season since 1993.

"A lot of us were on that team that lost 119 games in 2003, and we fought hard to keep it to that many," Inge said. "We used to dream about getting to .500, and now we're looking at first place. This is an incredible turnaround."

It helps that the Central is so much weaker than folks thought it would be, but the Tigers are legitimately one of the two or three best teams in baseball and will stay there if their young pitchers hold up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM

The number is much higher for straight men.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Center ties hate crimes to border debate (Kevin Johnson, 5/16/2006, USA TODAY)

Tension over illegal immigration is contributing to a rise in hate groups and hate crimes across the nation, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. It says that racist groups are using the immigration debate as a rallying cry.

The center — an Alabama-based non-profit organization that tracks racist, anti-immigrant and other extremist groups — says in a new report that there were 803 such hate groups in the USA last year, up from 762 in 2004 and a 33% jump since 2000.

The center's report says the national debate that has focused on Hispanic immigration has been "the single most important factor" in spurring activity among hate groups and has given them "an issue with real resonance."

The debate over immigration "has been critical to the growth of the hate movement," says Mark Potok, editor of the center's quarterly report on extremists. "More and more groups are turning to immigration to help recruitment."

Hopefully it won't take another Oklahoma City to shock folks out of their flirtation with white separatism this time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


Early viewers pan 'Da Vinci Code' (CNN, 5/17/06)

[W]hile not planning a protest or boycott, members of the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation expressed unhappiness with the film's heavy, a monk-assassin, being an albino, as described in the book.

Michael McGowan, an albino who heads the organization, said "The Da Vinci Code" will be the 68th movie since 1960 to feature an evil albino.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


‘Da Vinci’ critics crack the Code: It stinks (Stephen Schaefer, May 17, 2006, Boston Herald)

It may be the buzz movie of the season, but most of the buzz was bad last night when “The Da Vinci Code” premiered for an audience of journalists and VIPs at the opening of the 59th Cannes Film Festival.

Ron Howard’s $125 million adaptation of Dan Brown’s controversial bestseller was shrouded in secrecy until yesterday’s screenings here and in Paris, London, New York and Los Angeles.

Maybe Columbia Pictures was worried about the reaction. It’s not a good sign when your film’s big revelatory moment is greeted with laughter. “It’s not really interesting,” groused one critic leaving the theater here. “The plot is in some ways ridiculous and the laughter was justified.”


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


New Medicare Drug Plan Is Called a Success: Officials Cite Significant Rise In Coverage (Amy Goldstein and Shailagh Murray, May 17, 2006, Washington Post)

Hours after the deadline for older Americans to sign up for Medicare drug benefits, President Bush's top health advisers yesterday rushed out a preliminary tally that they said shows 90 percent of the 42.5 million eligible people have federal or other kinds of coverage for medicine -- including at least 1 million who enrolled during a final blitz in the past week.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt announced that, based on "very good estimates," 38 million elderly and disabled people have gotten drug coverage through the new Medicare benefit, an employer or another government health program.

Leavitt praised the six-month enrollment process, which ended at midnight Monday, as "a remarkable American moment . . . sort of a de Toqueville moment."

Now you can give the slackers a second chance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Immigration Proposals Pass Test In Senate: Guest-Worker And Citizenship Provisions Survive (Jonathan Weisman and Jim VandeHei, May 17, 2006, Washington Post)

A fragile Senate coalition backing a broad overhaul of the nation's immigration laws survived its first legislative test yesterday, beating back efforts to gut provisions to grant millions of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship and hundreds of thousands of foreigners a new guest-worker permit.

But President Bush's efforts to win House conservatives to his immigration proposals still faced an uphill climb. A day after a prime-time televised address to the nation, Bush continued to make his case yesterday that immigration legislation must be comprehensive -- tightening control of the borders, offering a new temporary guest-worker visa to foreign workers, and offering most illegal immigrants a path to lawful employment and citizenship.

They can do it or the next House will.

May 16, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:54 PM


It's Not What Snow Doesn't Say, It's How He Doesn't Say It (Dana Milbank, May 17, 2006, Washington Post)

It began as the Tony Snow show. It turned out more like "Oprah."

The new White House press secretary gave his first televised briefing yesterday, and the former Fox News commentator was dispatching questioners with a sprightly blend of barbs, colloquialisms and one-liners. Then a local TV reporter in the back asked why Snow was wearing a yellow wristband.

"It's going to sound stupid, and I'll be personal here," Snow, a survivor of colon cancer, said of his Lance Armstrong bracelet. Then he choked up. Unable to speak, he raised his hand, gripped the lectern and drummed his fingers while 10 seconds of silence passed. "Having gone through this last year," he continued, and then he lapsed into another silence. Finally, he added: "It was the best thing that ever happened to me."

Nine more seconds of awkward silence followed as Snow struggled to regain his composure. "It's my Ed Muskie moment," he quipped, and the briefing room filled with laughter.

It was the pinnacle of a boffo debut by Snow. Reporters leaving the 40-minute session would discover that, like his predecessors, Snow had imparted no useful information to them. But he had done it in a far more entertaining manner.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:36 PM


Plants Bad for the Environment? Celebrities Causing Frogs to Croak? (Steven Milloy, January 16, 2006,

Could it be that celebrities are planting the forests that are causing the global warming that is growing the bacteria that are wiping out the frogs?

Global warming alarmists may be compelled to consider that chain of causation this week thanks to two new studies just published in the Jan. 12 issue of the journal Nature .

In the first study, Max Planck Institute researchers reported their discovery that living plants emit into the atmosphere methane (natural gas), the third most important greenhouse gas behind water vapor and carbon dioxide.

Until this discovery, scientists thought the methane in the atmosphere was largely produced by bacterial processes not involving oxygen. But the Max Planck researchers report that living plants -- two-thirds of which are in tropical rainforest regions -- produce 10 to 30 percent of annual global methane production.

The implications of this study are stunning. Previously, it was thought that the net effect of growing plants was to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and, therefore, to reduce global warming. But in the words of New Zealand climate researcher David Lowe, “We now have the specter that new forests might increase greenhouse warming through methane emissions rather than decrease it by being sinks for carbon dioxide.”

The discovery also implies that deforestation -- that is, cutting down trees -- slows methane accumulation in the atmosphere and, as a consequence, reduces global warming.

This is all bad news for the movie and rock stars -- including Leonardo DiCaprio, the Foo Fighters, Dido, and Simply Red to name a few -- who have decided to plant “All Celebrity Forests” in hopes of offsetting their personal carbon dioxide emissions in order to avoid contributing to global warming.

And the news seems to get worse for these so-called “carbon neutral” celebrities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:23 PM


Thank you, my foolish friends in the West: Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is only the latest dictator-in-waiting to bask in adulation from western 'progressives' (Ian Buruma, 5/25/06, Times of London)

When the Cuban novelist Reinaldo Arenas managed to escape to the US in 1980, after years of persecution by the Cuban government for being openly homosexual and a dissident, he said: “The difference between the communist and capitalist systems is that, although both give you a kick in the ass, in the communist system you have to applaud, while in the capitalist system you can scream. And I came here to scream.”

One of the most vexing things for artists and intellectuals who live under the compulsion to applaud dictators is the spectacle of colleagues from more open societies applauding of their own free will. It adds a peculiarly nasty insult to injury.

Stalin was applauded by Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Mao was visited by a constant stream of worshippers from the West, some of whose names can still produce winces of disgust in China. Castro has basked for years in the adulation of such literary stars as Jose Saramago and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Even Pol Pot found favour among several well-known journalists and academics.

Last year a number of journalists, writers and showbiz figures, including Harold Pinter, Nadine Gordimer, Harry Belafonte and Tariq Ali, signed a letter claiming that in Cuba “there has not been a single case of disappearance, torture or extra-judicial execution since 1959 . . .”

Arenas was arrested in 1973 for “ideological deviation”. He was tortured and locked up in prison cells filled with floodwater and excrement, and threatened with death if he didn’t renounce his own writing. Imagine what it must be like to be treated like this and then read about your fellow writers in the West standing up for your oppressors.

None of this is news, and would hardly be worth dredging up if the same thing were not happening once more. Hugo Chavez, the elected strongman of Venezuela, is the latest object of adulation by western “progressives” who return from jaunts in Caracas with stars in their eyes.

It was actually more discordant when the Left praised Mr. Arenas than when they praise Castro and Chavez, who are, after all, perfect egalitarians.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:17 PM


Blogging the Bible: What happens when an ignoramus reads the Good Book? (David Plotz, May 16, 2006, Slate)

I have always been a proud Jew, but never a terribly observant one. Several weeks ago, I made a rare visit to synagogue for a cousin's bat mitzvah and, as usual, found myself confused (and bored) by a Hebrew service I couldn't understand. During the second hour of what would be a ceremony of NFL-game-plus-overtime-length, I picked up the Torah in the pew-back, opened it at random, and started reading (the English translation, that is).

I was soon engrossed in a story I didn't know, Genesis Chapter 34. It begins with the rape of Jacob's daughter Dinah by Shechem, the son of a local chief named Hamor. Shechem and Hamor visit Jacob and his brothers to resolve the mess. Hamor begs on Shechem's behalf: Shechem loves Dinah, he says, and yearns to marry her. Hamor and Shechem offer to share their land with Jacob's family and pay any bride price if only Dinah would be Shechem's wife.

Jacob's sons pretend to agree to this proposal, but they insist that Shechem and all the other men of his town get circumcised before the marriage. Shechem and his father accept the demand. They and their fellow townsmen get circumcised. Three days after the circumcision, "when they were in pain," Jacob's sons Simeon and Levi (who are Dinah's full brothers) enter the town, murder all the men, and take Dinah away. After this slaughter, Jacob's other sons plunder the town, seize the livestock and property, and take the women and children as slaves. Jacob, who hasn't said a word in the chapter till now, complains to Simeon and Levi that other neighboring tribes won't trust him anymore. "But they answered, 'Should our sister be treated like a whore?' "

This is not a story they taught me at Temple Sinai's Hebrew School in 1980: The founding fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel lie, breach a contract, encourage pagans to convert to Judaism only in order to incapacitate them for slaughter, murder some innocents and enslave others, pillage and profiteer, and then justify it all with an appeal to their sister's defiled honor. (Which, incidentally, may not have been defiled at all: Some commentators, their views dramatized in Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, think Dinah went with Shechem willingly, and even the language in the two translations I looked at is ambiguous. One says Shechem "lay with her by force," while the King James say he "lay with her, and defiled her.")

Sadly that's about the level of understanding you'd expect, that her honor depends on her whims.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:14 PM


Tribal language added to highway signs (Montana News Station)

Highway signs informing motorists they are near Crow Agency now have the town's name in the Crow language, as well as English.

The Crow word is Baaxuwuaashe (bah-hoo-AH'-juh). Crow speakers say that translates to "flour mill."

Four Crow signs were put in place early this year, at a cost of about three-thousand dollars.

In western Montana, the Confederated Salish (SAY'-lish) and Kootenai (KOOT'-nee) Tribes expect to display some traditional words for place names, as well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:10 PM


Confessions of the removal man (Philip Johnston, 17/05/2006, Daily Telegraph)

Immigration control was denounced as a mockery yesterday after Whitehall officials disclosed that those overstaying illegally are not pursued "as individuals" and hundreds of thousands of National Insurance numbers are given to foreign nationals without any check on their status.

MPs on the all-party Commons home affairs committee were flabbergasted to hear from senior civil servants that no records were kept on people whose applications to stay in Britain were turned down after months or even years of expensive legal wrangling.

Dave Roberts, who holds the title Director, Enforcement and Removals, at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, "had not the faintest idea" how many people were here illegally.

Folks who think they want the kind of government that would forcibly remove people who fled to their country seeking a better life need to move to the sorts of country those poor souls fled, though that's not a formula they can likely comprehend.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:10 PM

This can't be what C.S. Lewis meant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:58 PM


IEA could cover cutoff of Iran oil for 4 years -DoE (Chris Baltimore, 5/16/06, Reuters)

The 26 countries that belong to the International Energy Agency could cover any disruption in Iran's crude oil exports for more than four years, a U.S. Energy Department official said on Tuesday.

"When you take all of the stocks that all of the countries hold together in the IEA, we have the ability to meet a complete shutoff of Iranian oil for over four years," Karen Harbert, assistant secretary for policy and international affairs at the Energy Department, said at a hearing before a House Government Reform Committee panel.

Demonstrating that today's prices are a function of speculation, not supply.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 PM



The American policy of absorbing the small shocks administered by the Islamic Republic allowed Tehran to maintain its anti-U.S. posture at minimal cost to itself. But the policy was not cost free. Washington's refusal to recognize the Khomeinist regime as a legitimate member of the international community has cost Tehran dearly. For almost three decades, Iran has been shut out of the global capital market and prevented from normal access to the fruits of scientific and technological progress. The Islamic Republic's persistent economic failure must, at least in part, be imputed to the U.S. boycott.

Nowhere is the cost of the so-called "War against the Infidel" more apparent than in Iran's oil industry. Projections made in 1977 envisaged the Iranian oil off-take to reach a daily capacity of 6.5 million barrels, with another 1.5 million available as emergency reserves. The capacity of the Kharg terminal, the chief export facility for Iranian oil, was increased from 5.5 million barrels a day to 8 million.

But lack of investment, and the virtual impossibility of accessing highly complex technology, has meant a steady decline. Today, the Islamic Republic produces something like 3.8 million barrels a day - a level Iran had surpassed in 1973.

Worse still, Iran has become an importer of petroleum products. [...]

Against that background, it would not be hard to see that the Islamic Republic has been the bigger loser in the low-intensity war it has waged against the United States. The U.S. is now four times richer, in constant dollars, than it was in 1979. Iran, however, is almost 50 percent poorer.

The Islamic Republic has succeeded in securing a foothold in Lebanon, through the Hezballah, and in the Palestinian territories through Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It also has allies in Iraq, Afghanistan and among the Shiite communities in the Gulf. Politically and diplomatically, however, the Islamic Republic today is more isolated than in 1979.

The United States, on the other hand, has made a spectacular incursion in what could be regarded as Iran's geopolitical habitat in West and Central Asia, the Caspian Basin, Transcaucasia and the Middle East. The Americans are now militarily present in all but two of Iran's 15 neighboring countries.

In a sense, the war that the Islamic Republic says it is waging against the United States has hurt it more than its designated enemy.

We win the Cold Wars too, it's just harder on the poor folks trapped in enemy territory.

Posted by David Cohen at 6:18 PM


Under the Sign of Saturn (John Derbyshire, The Corner, 5/16/06)

From where I'm sitting, right under the fallout plume from New York City, my own previous idea for a bolt-hole in some quiet provincial Chinese town is looking real good right now. Perhaps we could even get an expat colony going over there. Anybody want to sign up? But that's [probably] a loser, too. For all their faults, the ChiComs keep a careful eye on who comes to live in their country. They're nasty, but they're not STUPID.
Rush Limbaugh also has this schtick where he pretends to be proposing Mexico's immigration laws for the US. I keep expecting it to occur to the anti-immigrationists that if the US has one set of laws, and the ChiComs and Mexico have a different set, that might indicate something about which set is more conducive to national success.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:18 PM


Paris suburb names street for cop-killer Abu-Jamal (Jennifer Lin, 5/16/06, Philadelphia Inquirer)

As Philadelphians cope with another police slaying, news comes that a suburb of Paris has named a street for Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of the 1981 murder of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.

Hundreds of supporters of Abu-Jamal attended a ceremony on April 29 to dedicate the Rue Mumia-Abu Jamal in the city of St.-Denis.

"In France, they see him as a towering figure," said Suzanne Ross, cochair of the Free Mumia Coalition of New York City, who was part of the ceremony.

Heck, Charles Manson towers over most of the French.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:43 PM


Living the Creed (Nathan Smith, 16 May 2006, Tech Central Station)

Like many of President Bush's speeches, his immigration address last night was awkward, yet quite moving. His core beliefs -- hope for the future, the dignity of every individual, a love of freedom -- shine through every time Bush speaks. They are profound and noble convictions, made all the more poignant by their contrast, both with Bush's personal demeanor -- his everyman drawl, never quite at home amidst the grandiloquence he is uttering -- and with the black legend that surrounds his name throughout the world. [...]

Bush won't reunite the GOP, because many people on the right are foaming at the mouth that these swarthy Spanish speakers who mow their lawns and clean the restrooms at the office may soon be their fellow-citizens, their equals. It is this same kind of visceral opposition that Lyndon Johnson evoked when he demanded that white Americans relinquish their claims to superiority over black Americans. [...]

[I] think Bush is a hero for raising the issue and standing up to his base to do (sort of) the right thing, especially at the cost of wrecking his approval rating.

That's the difference between Bush and Clinton. Clinton, the Eisenhower Republican, was a feel-good president. He radiated complacency. Iraqis starved in the stranglehold of US-led sanctions; we didn't have to know or care. Illegal immigrants filtered in, helped us prosper, but stayed conveniently invisible. Clinton kept the divisive issues below the radar, and reaped a huge harvest of popularity for it.

Not Bush. Bush thinks Iraqis deserve to liberated, undocumented workers legalized. Why? His arguments that it serves US self-interest (war on terror, border security) never quite make sense. His real reason is that he believes in "the dignity of every individual." That's what's so subversive about Bush. We all mutter that "all men are created equal." Bush really believes it and tries to live by it, and his push for a better world is making a lot of people upset.

Which is why the nativists will ultimately fail, they are at odds with the ideals upon which the Republic is Founded.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:12 PM

TRUST-BUSTING (via Tom Morin):

Homework Help, From a World Away: Web Joins Students, Cheap Overseas Tutors (Amit R. Paley, 5/15/06, Washington Post)

In an hour-long session that cost just $18, the Indian tutor, who said his name was Mike, spent an hour walking Del Monte through such esoteric concepts as confidence intervals and alpha divisions, Del Monte recalled. He got an A on the final exam. "Mike helped me unscramble everything in my mind," the 20-year-old said.

Thousands of U.S. students such as Del Monte are increasingly relying on overseas tutors to boost their grades and SAT scores. [...]

But educational outsourcing has sparked a fierce response from teachers and other critics who argue that some companies are using unqualified overseas tutors to increase their profit margins.

"We don't believe that education should become a business of outsourcing," said Rob Weil, deputy director of educational issues at the American Federation of Teachers. "When you start talking about overseas people teaching children, it just doesn't seem right to me."

So bring them over here and use them to break the teachers' unions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:53 PM


Rowand adding some fire to Phils (Bob Ford, 5/16/06, Philadelphia Inquirer)

It has taken more than a decade to get answers to the famous questions once posed by Eagles running back Ricky Watters, but Aaron Rowand stood up and delivered them yesterday.

"For who? My teammates. For what? To win."

That was Rowand's explanation of how he plays baseball, a mind-set that sent him into a full-tilt collision with the center-field fence at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday.

There were two results from that play: Rowand saved three runs and possibly the game with a two-out catch of a deep drive. And he slammed into an exposed steel bar just below the padding, breaking his nose and fracturing the orbital bone and cheekbone on the left side of his face.

Fair trade, according to Rowand.

"I knew I could catch it but it would [take] having to run into the wall, and if that's the case, so be it. We're here to win games," Rowand said. "People can think I'm dumb or whatever, but I'm here to play and I'm here to play hard."

Yesterday, the Phillies finished installing the new padding on the center-field fence, covering the bar that Rowand hit, the same exposed bar he pointed out to the organization in April. He knew that bar had his name on it if he played here long enough. Unfortunately, a month was too long.

"There's a process that goes with everything. You can't snap your fingers and get [the padding] up there," Rowand said. "It's nobody's fault. It's part of the game. "

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:49 PM


Poll suggests Bush address swayed viewers (CNN, 5/16/06)

In a CNN snap poll of 461 people who watched Monday's speech, 42 percent said they had a positive opinion of the president's immigration policies before they heard him speak. Afterward, 67 percent said they had a positive view, a jump of 25 percentage points.

The polled audience was 41 percent Republican, 23 percent Democratic and 36 percent independent. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

"People who watch the speech do tend to be somewhat more Republican than the voters as a whole," CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider said. "But that wasn't the best response he's gotten compared to other speeches, in fact it was lower than any speech we've measured since he took office."

Every poll on immigration shows that if you combine amnesty-by-another-name with "increased enforcement" you win politically on the issue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:41 AM


Fortunately, even most nativists in America are just venting and needn't be taken seriously, but take a look at Jim Miller's post on the May 1st rallies and ask yourself if the wonks at NRO are really going to grab bayonettes and herd these folks back over the border.

Posted by David Cohen at 10:01 AM


How Gadhafi Lost His Groove: The complex surrender of Libya's WMD (Judith Miller,, 5/16/06)

How and why did Col. Gadhafi, the despotic, still dangerously capricious leader, decide to abandon a lifetime of revolution and terrorism and abandon the WMD programs he had pursued since seizing power in a coup in 1969? What role did American intelligence play in that decision? And how much change can Col. Gadhafi tolerate and still retain power?

Col. Gadhafi's hip, 34-year-old son, Saif-al-Islam, told me in Vienna--where he earned an M.B.A. and lives when he's not carrying out tasks for his father, or studying for a doctorate in political philosophy at the London School of Economics--that his father changed course because he had to. "Overnight we found ourselves in a different world," said Saif, referring to the Sept. 11 attacks. "So Libya had to redesign its policies to cope with these new realities."

But a review of confidential government records and interviews with current and former officials in London, Tripoli, Vienna and Washington suggest that other factors were involved. Prominent among them is a heretofore undisclosed intelligence coup--the administration's decision in late 2003 to give Libyan officials a compact disc containing intercepts of a conversation about Libya's nuclear weapons program between Libya's nuclear chief and A.Q. Khan--that reinforced Col. Gadhafi's decision to reverse course on WMD.

While analysts continue to debate his motivation, evidence suggests that a mix of intelligence, diplomacy and the use of force in Iraq helped persuade him that the weapons he had pursued since he came to power, and on which he had secretly spent $300 million ($100 million on nuclear equipment and material alone), made him more, not less, vulnerable. "The administration overstates Iraq, but its critics go too far in saying that force played no role," says Bruce W. Jentleson, a foreign-policy adviser to Al Gore in the 2000 presidential campaign and professor at Duke University, who has written the most detailed study of why Col. Gadhafi abandoned WMD: "It was force and diplomacy, not force or diplomacy that turned Gadhafi around . . . a combination of steel and a willingness to deal."

Americans are having a surprising amount of trouble dealing with the concept of an Administration that doesn't tell us every little thing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:56 AM


Hey, don't bad-mouth unskilled immigrants (Tyler Cowen and Daniel M. Rothschild, LA Times)

Until the late 1990s, when a boom in native-born self-employment occurred, immigrants were more likely than natives to work for themselves. Immigrant small businesses, from the Korean corner market to the Mexican landscaping service, are, well, as American as apple pie. The labor market is not a zero-sum game with a finite number of jobs; immigrants create their own work.

A key question for economists has been whether the influx raises or lowers "native" American wages. UC Berkeley's David Card, who studied patterns in different U.S. cities, concludes that immigration has not lowered wages for American workers. George Borjas of Harvard counters that immigration reduced the wages of high school dropouts by 7.4% between 1980 and 2000.

Most economists have sided with Card. For one thing, his studies better capture the notion that immigrant labor makes work easier for all of us and brings new skills to the table. Additionally, as Card points out, the percentage of native-born high school dropouts has fallen sharply over the previous decades, creating a shortage of unskilled laborers that immigrants fill. In 1980, one in three American adults had less than a high school education; by 2000, this figure had fallen to less than one in five.

Gianmarco Ottaviano of the University of Bologna and Giovanni Peri of the National Bureau of Economic Research have shown that immigrants and low-skilled American workers fulfill very different roles in the economy. For instance, 54% of tailors in the U.S. are foreign-born, compared with less than 1% of crane operators. A similar discrepancy exists between plaster-stucco masons (44% immigrant) and sewer-pipe cleaners (less than 1% foreign-born). Immigrants come to the United States with different skills, inclinations and ideas; they are not looking to simply copy the behavior of American workers.

New arrivals, by producing more goods and services, also keep prices down across the economy. Even Borjas — the favorite economist of immigration restrictionists — admits that the net gain to the U.S. from immigration is about $7 billion annually.

And over the coming decades, the need for immigrant labor will increase, according to demographers. The baby boom generation will need more healthcare and more nursing homes. The forthcoming Medicare fiscal crunch will require more and younger laborers to finance the program.

Mexico: Pumping Out Engineers: The headlines are about low-wage illegals, but Mexico is swiftly upgrading its workforce (Geri Smith, 5/22/06, Business Week)

For years the Mexican workforce has meant one thing to multinationals: cheap, reliable labor, perfect for assembling cars, refrigerators, and other goods in the maquiladoras lining the border with America. More complex engineering and design work was better done elsewhere in the global economy -- usually at company headquarters in the U.S., Europe, and Japan.

But as maquila-style assembly work migrated to cheaper locales, and India and China grabbed more sophisticated design and engineering assignments, Mexican officials knew they had to do something to stay in the global race. Quietly and steadily, they have. Over the past 10 years, the country's policymakers have been building up enrollment in four-year degree programs in engineering, developing a network of technical institutes that confer two-year degrees, and expanding advanced training programs with multinationals from the U.S. and elsewhere.

The result is a bumper crop of engineers. Currently, 451,000 Mexican students are enrolled in full-time undergraduate programs, vs. just over 370,000 in the U.S. The Mexican students benefit from high-tech equipment and materials donated to their schools by foreign companies, which help develop course content to fit their needs. Many of these engineers graduate knowing how to use the latest computer-assisted design (CAD) software and speaking fluent English.

This expanding workforce is changing the way multinationals view the country. They can now shift more complex production to Mexico, along with higher-skilled jobs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:46 AM


Mfume decries lack of party support (S.A. Miller and Jon Ward, May 16, 2006, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Maryland U.S. Senate candidate Kweisi Mfume said yesterday that Democrats risk losing the senatorial election because "old-line party bosses" are undermining his campaign and alienating black voters.

Mr. Mfume also would not say whether he would endorse Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, the front-runner for the Democratic Senate nomination, if he should lose to the lawmaker in the September primary.

Mr. Mfume's future is in the GOP anyway.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:41 AM


Long-gun registry to be axed (BRIAN LAGHI AND GLORIA GALLOWAY, 5/15/06, Globe and Mail

The Harper government plans to fulfill its pledge to gut the federal long-gun registry by providing amnesty to gun owners who don't sign up and eventually unveiling legislation to eliminate it.

Auditor-General Sheila Fraser will release her report on the controversy-plagued registry today.

Sources said the amnesty would be announced imminently and legislation would come some time this spring. They were unclear what the legislation would say, but it's assumed the law would not get rid of the handgun registry, merely the portion of the registry that deals with long guns.

Decent societies don't enforce unconscionable laws.

Contentious gun registry spawned hate mail, distrust between East and West (CP, 5/15/06)

Having been told that he and the people of Miramichi, N.B., would be better off shovelling cow manure than registering long guns, John McKay has a clear idea of just how contentious the gun registry issue is in Canada.

The main processing office for the Canadian Firearms Centre is located in Miramichi and McKay, the city's mayor, is more worried than ever about the centre's future following the latest revelations of mismanagement by Auditor General Sheila Fraser. [...]

"It's hate mail," McKay said bitterly.

"These letters are directed at me, the registry employees, the Miramichi community and the Maritimes. The employees have been compared to concentration camp guards. One writer suggested that tabulating polar bear excrement in the North would be a more useful job. Another suggested we could spend our time homogenizing cow manure."

McKay said he always believed there was a disconnect between Western Canada and the East, but the letters he is receiving indicate a depth of hatred and disgust he never would have suspected.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 AM


Commodity price tumble puts markets in tailspin (JOHN HEINZL, 5/16/06, Globe and Mail)

“It's beginning to look a little ugly,” said Elvis Picardo, research analyst and chief market strategist at Global Securities Corp. in Vancouver. “When sentiment shifts it happens very suddenly.”

Nowhere was the reversal more dramatic than in commodities, which plummeted amid concerns that rising interest rates could crimp global economic growth and curb demand for raw materials in countries such as the United States, China and India.

In London, gold fell 4.9 per cent for its biggest drop since 1993, while silver skidded 8 per cent. Copper, zinc and other base metals also fell sharply, as did crude oil, which slumped $2.63 (U.S.), or 3.7 per cent, to $69.41 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The Canadian dollar shed 0.34 cents (U.S.) to 89.80 cents.

Underscoring worries about slowing economic growth, the International Energy Agency last week cut its estimate of global energy demand for the third time in four months, indicating prices are starting to cut into consumption.

Commodity prices had zoomed skyward on a combination of Asian demand, supply concerns and speculative buying by pension and hedge funds hoping to beat the returns on stocks. But the outsized gains in commodities have set off a growing chorus of warnings about an imminent correction.

“There is a danger that this is a bubble,” Donald Brydon, chairman of the London Metal Exchange, was quoted as saying in the Financial Times over the weekend. “There are a lot of new players in the market that need to be careful.”

The sooner the speculative commodity bubble is popped the sooner Ben Bernanke can start lowering rates.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


Behind Bush's Address Lies a Deep History (ELISABETH BUMILLER, 5/16/05, NY Times)

What was remarkable to people who knew Mr. Bush in Texas was how much he still believes in the power of immigration to invigorate the nation.

"He's always had a more welcoming attitude," said Bruce Buchanan, a presidential scholar at the University of Texas. "He always spoke well of Mexican nationals and regarded them as hard-working people. So his grace notes on this subject are high." [...]

"He understands this community in the way you do when you live in a border state," said Israel Hernandez, an assistant secretary at the Commerce Department who traveled with Mr. Bush as a personal aide when he first ran for governor. "Philosophically, he understands why people want to come to the U.S. And he doesn't consider them a threat." [...]

"There was never any effort to cut off benefits, and Bush basically bought into the notion that they were going to be Texans," said Paul Burka, senior executive editor of Texas Monthly, who closely followed Mr. Bush then. "He didn't believe in closing the borders."

Mr. Bush first met Mexican immigrants at public school in Midland, Tex., where Hispanics made up 25 percent of the population. Later, when he owned a small, unsuccessful oil company, he employed Mexican immigrants in the fields. When he was the managing partner of the Texas Rangers, he reveled in going into the dugout and joking with the players, many of them Hispanic, in fractured Spanglish.

"In every dimension of his career, whether it was politics or the private sector or the sports world, he's been engaged with the Hispanic population," Mr. Hernandez said.

Mr. Bush was also living in a state that has stronger historical and cultural ties to Mexico than any other.

"The cultures mingled much more freely here than in California," Mr. Burka said. "Here there was not nearly as much antipathy. There were always workers coming over, and they were very essential."

At the same time, Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's veteran political adviser, recognized that there was potential in the Hispanic vote and that Republicans could appeal to them on abortion, religion and family values.

"Karl has always been a strong believer that Hispanics were a natural Republican constituency," Mr. Burka said. "He once told me that 'we have about 15 years to put this together.' "When Mr. Bush got to the White House, immigration was going to be a signature issue, a key to his relationship with President Vicente Fox of Mexico and essential in attracting Hispanic voters to a Republican Party that Mr. Rove envisioned as dominant for decades to come.

As the fatal flaw of liberalism is the mistaken notion that Man is naturally good, so too is the fatal attraction of conservatism being overly pessimistic just because Man is Fallen--after all, if God hasn't given up on us, by what right would we give up on each other? What makes George W. Bush a great conservative leader is, like Reagan before him, his optimism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


Mubarak's Son Met With Cheney, Others: Secret Visit Came After Cairo Unrest (Peter Baker, May 16, 2006, Washington Post )

The son of Egypt's president made a secret trip to Washington last week to meet with Vice President Cheney and other senior U.S. officials a day after thousands of Egyptian riot police broke up a pro-democracy demonstration back in Cairo, U.S. and Egyptian officials said yesterday.

Gamal Mubarak, 42, a powerful political player and widely considered a possible heir to his father, Hosni Mubarak, told the U.S. officials that Egypt is committed to further democracy but said it would be a long-term process that will include setbacks. "There was no tension at all," Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmi said in an interview. "They listened to his explanation of what was happening."

But U.S. officials have publicly called themselves "deeply concerned" about Egypt's recent actions and they used the opportunity to press upon Gamal Mubarak their views of what needs to be done to further genuine reform in Egypt, said a Bush administration official who was not authorized to discuss the meeting on the record. The administration has been impressed by Egypt's moves to restructure its economy but disappointed at the government's failure to open its political system more.

The great unknown in Egypt is whether Gamal Mubarak understands the future as well as Seif al-Islam does.

U.S. Will Restore Diplomatic Links With the Libyans (JOEL BRINKLEY, 5/15/06, NY Times)

The decision ends more than 25 years of hostility while sending a strong signal to Iran and North Korea to follow suit.

Along with the normalization of relations and the announced intention to open a new embassy in Tripoli, the administration removed Libya from the list of nations that are state sponsors of terrorism. The United States had reaffirmed Libya's place on that list as recently as March.

The announcements were a result of Libya's surprise decision in 2003 to renounce terrorism. At the time, senior American officials said they believed that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, had taken that step because he was chastened by the American invasion of Iraq. Since then, Libya has also destroyed its chemical weapons stockpiles and dismantled a secret nuclear weapons program.

"Libya is an important model as nations around the world press for changes in behavior by the Iranian and North Korean regimes," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. Hers was just one of several similar statements on Monday from senior officials who worked hard to turn Libya's change in behavior into a lesson for Iran as a resolution on Iran's nuclear development program remains stalled in the United Nations Security Council.

Sadly, Iran has to depend on the Ayatollah recognizing what Seif does.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


Blair leads the attack on his own human rights laws (Richard Ford and Frances Gibb, 5/15/06, Times of London)

TONY BLAIR risked a fresh clash with the legal establishment yesterday when he targeted a “distant” justice system that most believed let people get away with breaking the rules.

In his latest assault on the criminal justice system and human rights laws, the Prime Minister rounded on those who failed properly to supervise drug offenders and criminals who have been given community punishment.

Mr Blair reiterated his oft- repeated call for a shake-up of the criminal justice system to ensure that the security of the law-abiding is put ahead of the rights of offenders.

The Prime Minister said it was time for a “profound rebalancing” of the debate on civil liberties to ensure that wrongdoers pay the penalty for breaking the rules.

He's been Maggie. He's been Bill. He's been W. Time to be Rudy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


Cooke's Tour: Notes From WWII America: THE AMERICAN HOME FRONT, 1941-1942 By Alistair Cooke (Jonathan Yardley, May 16, 2006, Washington Post)

Late in the winter of 1942, a young journalist named Alistair Cooke "drove out of Washington with five re-treaded tires" and began a journey around the United States. [...]

That his publisher chose not to release the book at the time is a mystery, but better late than never. [...]

Writing about Henry Ford's mixed record in converting his celebrated Willow Run plant into an efficient manufacturer of trainer airplanes, but not the fighter planes he'd boasted of being able to produce, Cooke somewhat dourly observes:

"Willow Run will be cited at grandfather's knee as the very type of majesty before which other nations bow their heads in envy. But I have told its melancholy story because it symbolizes the grandiosity that is to other nations the most unpleasant of all American traits -- the unbridled promise, the wild freedom of untested assumption, the invitation to share the cornucopia that is stuffed with the peculiar American riches: such unique things, the native honestly believes, as devilish ingenuity wedded to unequaled material and spiritual resources. What exacerbates the foreigner's annoyance is his secret awareness that there is an uncomfortable measure of truth in the boast."

How many foreigners would feel that "secret awareness" today certainly is open to questions, but the rest of Cooke's indictment is as true now as it was then, perhaps even truer as the rest of the world eyes our Middle Eastern adventures with skepticism at best. Cooke admired American energy but despaired of American provincialism and ignorance.

With the possible exception of Richard Bernstein a the NY Times, Mr. Yardley is probably the best regular book reviewer in America and the least likely to yield to liberal cant, which makes it all the more peculiar that he seems not to have processed the lest bit of that quoted passage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


Comedian to NESN sports hottie Hazel Mae: Make my day (Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa, May 16, 2006, Boston Herald)

Like a lot of guys, comedian Adam Wade is rather taken with Hazel Mae. In fact, the NESN sports chick makes his day.

And if you don’t believe us, check out Adam’s musical tribute to the “SportsDesk” vixen on his Web site. It’s priceless.

“I put it together one night after I’d had a couple of drinks,” Adam told the Track.

Now there’s a shocker!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Final Rush to Make Deadline for Drug Coverage (ROBERT PEAR, 5/16/06, NY Times)

After procrastinating for weeks, Medicare beneficiaries flocked to centers for the elderly around the country and made frantic telephone calls to insurers on Monday to beat the deadline for getting prescription drug coverage as the initial enrollment period ended.

Panic as many into signing up now as you can and then relax the rule.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


The Return Of Voodoo Economics: Republicans Ignore Their Experts on The Cost of Tax Cuts (Sebastian Mallaby, May 15, 2006, Washington Post)

Nobody serious believes that tax cuts pay for themselves, as I noted last week. But most senior Republicans flunk this test of seriousness.

In January, George W. Bush declared that, "by cutting the taxes on the American people, this economy is strong, and the overall tax revenues have hit at record levels." Regrettably, this endorsement of what his dad called voodoo economics was not a one-time oversight. The next month, Bush told a New Hampshire audience, "You cut taxes and the tax revenues increase." [...]

The Republicans' only argument is that tax receipts have boomed in the years since the 2003 tax cut.

Over the 25-year period since Ronald Reagan introduced supply-side economics, federal income taxes have fallen to their lowest level as a percentage of GDP since 1942 and total federal revenues have fallen to their lowest level as a percentage of GDP since 1959 yet we've had uninterrupted economic growth since 1983. Yet Mr. Mallaby thinks it's supply-siders who need to defend themselves?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Life On The Web's Factory Floor: Who do you think turns all those words into an easy click? (Burt Helm, with Manjeet Kripalani in Bombay, 5/22/06, Business Week)

[A] new category of work is emerging: the digital factory job. Behind the seemingly magical offerings of the Internet are thousands of human beings madly inputting data around the clock. The work ranges from the slightly creative, such as Kempf's job of crafting sentences for ads to snag search traffic, to the rote -- typing in descriptions of hamburgers for online menus.

These digital bricklayers are in a sense building the new information pyramid. In Madras, India, "editors" making a fifth of U.S. pay work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to digitize archived American newspapers from the 1700s to the 1980s. In Boston, New York, and Palo Alto, Calif., Google Books workers manually turn each and every page of millions of library books so they can be scanned and made available to any visitor to the Google Web site.

In Hyderabad, India, typists for startup type the menus of thousands of U.S. restaurants so Web surfers can browse for reservation ideas or takeout. "Internet companies are realizing that you don't need to be a massive company to manage such operations," says Ravi Aron, assistant professor of operations and information management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. He adds that process work is moving out of traditional places -- insurance claims processing, say -- and onto the Web.

Just like with a display of fresh oranges in a supermarket, far more labor goes into getting the digital product there than most people fathom.

May 15, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:03 PM


President Bush Addresses the Nation on Immigration Reform (The Oval Office, 5/15/06)

Good evening. I've asked for a few minutes of your time to discuss a matter of national importance -- the reform of America's immigration system.

The issue of immigration stirs intense emotions, and in recent weeks, Americans have seen those emotions on display. On the streets of major cities, crowds have rallied in support of those in our country illegally. At our southern border, others have organized to stop illegal immigrants from coming in. Across the country, Americans are trying to reconcile these contrasting images. And in Washington, the debate over immigration reform has reached a time of decision. Tonight, I will make it clear where I stand, and where I want to lead our country on this vital issue.

We must begin by recognizing the problems with our immigration system. For decades, the United States has not been in complete control of its borders. As a result, many who want to work in our economy have been able to sneak across our border, and millions have stayed.

Once here, illegal immigrants live in the shadows of our society. Many use forged documents to get jobs, and that makes it difficult for employers to verify that the workers they hire are legal. Illegal immigration puts pressure on public schools and hospitals, it strains state and local budgets, and brings crime to our communities. These are real problems. Yet we must remember that the vast majority of illegal immigrants are decent people who work hard, support their families, practice their faith, and lead responsible lives. They are a part of American life, but they are beyond the reach and protection of American law.

We're a nation of laws, and we must enforce our laws. We're also a nation of immigrants, and we must uphold that tradition, which has strengthened our country in so many ways. These are not contradictory goals. America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time. We will fix the problems created by illegal immigration, and we will deliver a system that is secure, orderly, and fair. So I support comprehensive immigration reform that will accomplish five clear objectives.

First, the United States must secure its borders. This is a basic responsibility of a sovereign nation. It is also an urgent requirement of our national security. Our objective is straightforward: The border should be open to trade and lawful immigration, and shut to illegal immigrants, as well as criminals, drug dealers, and terrorists.

I was a governor of a state that has a 1,200-mile border with Mexico. So I know how difficult it is to enforce the border, and how important it is. Since I became President, we've increased funding for border security by 66 percent, and expanded the Border Patrol from about 9,000 to 12,000 agents. The men and women of our Border Patrol are doing a fine job in difficult circumstances, and over the past five years, they have apprehended and sent home about six million people entering America illegally.

Despite this progress, we do not yet have full control of the border, and I am determined to change that. Tonight I'm calling on Congress to provide funding for dramatic improvements in manpower and technology at the border. By the end of 2008, we'll increase the number of Border Patrol officers by an additional 6,000. When these new agents are deployed, we'll have more than doubled the size of the Border Patrol during my presidency.

At the same time, we're launching the most technologically advanced border security initiative in American history. We will construct high-tech fences in urban corridors, and build new patrol roads and barriers in rural areas. We'll employ motion sensors, infrared cameras, and unmanned aerial vehicles to prevent illegal crossings. America has the best technology in the world, and we will ensure that the Border Patrol has the technology they need to do their job and secure our border.

Training thousands of new Border Patrol agents and bringing the most advanced technology to the border will take time. Yet the need to secure our border is urgent. So I'm announcing several immediate steps to strengthen border enforcement during this period of transition:

One way to help during this transition is to use the National Guard. So, in coordination with governors, up to 6,000 Guard members will be deployed to our southern border. The Border Patrol will remain in the lead. The Guard will assist the Border Patrol by operating surveillance systems, analyzing intelligence, installing fences and vehicle barriers, building patrol roads, and providing training. Guard units will not be involved in direct law enforcement activities -- that duty will be done by the Border Patrol. This initial commitment of Guard members would last for a period of one year. After that, the number of Guard forces will be reduced as new Border Patrol agents and new technologies come online. It is important for Americans to know that we have enough Guard forces to win the war on terror, to respond to natural disasters, and to help secure our border.

The United States is not going to militarize the southern border. Mexico is our neighbor, and our friend. We will continue to work cooperatively to improve security on both sides of the border, to confront common problems like drug trafficking and crime, and to reduce illegal immigration.

Another way to help during this period of transition is through state and local law enforcement in our border communities. So we'll increase federal funding for state and local authorities assisting the Border Patrol on targeted enforcement missions. We will give state and local authorities the specialized training they need to help federal officers apprehend and detain illegal immigrants. State and local law enforcement officials are an important part of our border security and they need to be a part of our strategy to secure our borders.

The steps I've outlined will improve our ability to catch people entering our country illegally. At the same time, we must ensure that every illegal immigrant we catch crossing our southern border is returned home. More than 85 percent of the illegal immigrants we catch crossing the southern border are Mexicans, and most are sent back home within 24 hours. But when we catch illegal immigrants from other country [sic] it is not as easy to send them home. For many years, the government did not have enough space in our detention facilities to hold them while the legal process unfolded. So most were released back into our society and asked to return for a court date. When the date arrived, the vast majority did not show up. This practice, called "catch and release," is unacceptable, and we will end it.

We're taking several important steps to meet this goal. We've expanded the number of beds in our detention facilities, and we will continue to add more. We've expedited the legal process to cut the average deportation time. And we're making it clear to foreign governments that they must accept back their citizens who violate our immigration laws. As a result of these actions, we've ended "catch and release" for illegal immigrants from some countries. And I will ask Congress for additional funding and legal authority, so we can end "catch and release" at the southern border once and for all. When people know that they'll be caught and sent home if they enter our country illegally, they will be less likely to try to sneak in.

Second, to secure our border, we must create a temporary worker program. The reality is that there are many people on the other side of our border who will do anything to come to America to work and build a better life. They walk across miles of desert in the summer heat, or hide in the back of 18-wheelers to reach our country. This creates enormous pressure on our border that walls and patrols alone will not stop. To secure the border effectively, we must reduce the numbers of people trying to sneak across.

Therefore, I support a temporary worker program that would create a legal path for foreign workers to enter our country in an orderly way, for a limited period of time. This program would match willing foreign workers with willing American employers for jobs Americans are not doing. Every worker who applies for the program would be required to pass criminal background checks. And temporary workers must return to their home country at the conclusion of their stay.

A temporary worker program would meet the needs of our economy, and it would give honest immigrants a way to provide for their families while respecting the law. A temporary worker program would reduce the appeal of human smugglers, and make it less likely that people would risk their lives to cross the border. It would ease the financial burden on state and local governments, by replacing illegal workers with lawful taxpayers. And above all, a temporary worker program would add to our security by making certain we know who is in our country and why they are here.

Third, we need to hold employers to account for the workers they hire. It is against the law to hire someone who is in this country illegally. Yet businesses often cannot verify the legal status of their employees because of the widespread problem of document fraud. Therefore, comprehensive immigration reform must include a better system for verifying documents and work eligibility. A key part of that system should be a new identification card for every legal foreign worker. This card should use biometric technology, such as digital fingerprints, to make it tamper-proof. A tamper-proof card would help us enforce the law, and leave employers with no excuse for violating it. And by making it harder for illegal immigrants to find work in our country, we would discourage people from crossing the border illegally in the first place.

Fourth, we must face the reality that millions of illegal immigrants are here already. They should not be given an automatic path to citizenship. This is amnesty, and I oppose it. Amnesty would be unfair to those who are here lawfully, and it would invite further waves of illegal immigration.

Some in this country argue that the solution is to deport every illegal immigrant, and that any proposal short of this amounts to amnesty. I disagree. It is neither wise, nor realistic to round up millions of people, many with deep roots in the United States, and send them across the border. There is a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant, and a program of mass deportation. That middle ground recognizes there are differences between an illegal immigrant who crossed the border recently, and someone who has worked here for many years, and has a home, a family, and an otherwise clean record.

I believe that illegal immigrants who have roots in our country and want to stay should have to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law, to pay their taxes, to learn English, and to work in a job for a number of years. People who meet these conditions should be able to apply for citizenship, but approval would not be automatic, and they will have to wait in line behind those who played by the rules and followed the law. What I've just described is not amnesty, it is a way for those who have broken the law to pay their debt to society, and demonstrate the character that makes a good citizen.

Fifth, we must honor the great American tradition of the melting pot, which has made us one nation out of many peoples. The success of our country depends upon helping newcomers assimilate into our society, and embrace our common identity as Americans. Americans are bound together by our shared ideals, an appreciation of our history, respect for the flag we fly, and an ability to speak and write the English language. English is also the key to unlocking the opportunity of America. English allows newcomers to go from picking crops to opening a grocery, from cleaning offices to running offices, from a life of low-paying jobs to a diploma, a career, and a home of their own. When immigrants assimilate and advance in our society, they realize their dreams, they renew our spirit, and they add to the unity of America.

Tonight, I want to speak directly to members of the House and the Senate: An immigration reform bill needs to be comprehensive, because all elements of this problem must be addressed together, or none of them will be solved at all. The House has passed an immigration bill. The Senate should act by the end of this month so we can work out the differences between the two bills, and Congress can pass a comprehensive bill for me to sign into law.

America needs to conduct this debate on immigration in a reasoned and respectful tone. Feelings run deep on this issue, and as we work it out, all of us need to keep some things in mind. We cannot build a unified country by inciting people to anger, or playing on anyone's fears, or exploiting the issue of immigration for political gain. We must always remember that real lives will be affected by our debates and decisions, and that every human being has dignity and value no matter what their citizenship papers say.

I know many of you listening tonight have a parent or a grandparent who came here from another country with dreams of a better life. You know what freedom meant to them, and you know that America is a more hopeful country because of their hard work and sacrifice. As President, I've had the opportunity to meet people of many backgrounds, and hear what America means to them. On a visit to Bethesda Naval Hospital, Laura and I met a wounded Marine named Guadalupe Denogean. Master Gunnery Sergeant Denogean came to the United States from Mexico when he was a boy. He spent his summers picking crops with his family, and then he volunteered for the United States Marine Corps as soon as he was able. During the liberation of Iraq, Master Gunnery Sergeant Denogean was seriously injured. And when asked if he had any requests, he made two: a promotion for the corporal who helped rescue him, and the chance to become an American citizen. And when this brave Marine raised his right hand, and swore an oath to become a citizen of the country he had defended for more than 26 years, I was honored to stand at his side.

We will always be proud to welcome people like Guadalupe Denogean as fellow Americans. Our new immigrants are just what they've always been -- people willing to risk everything for the dream of freedom. And America remains what she has always been: the great hope on the horizon, an open door to the future, a blessed and promised land. We honor the heritage of all who come here, no matter where they come from, because we trust in our country's genius for making us all Americans -- one nation under God.

Thank you, and good night.

Posted by David Cohen at 2:42 PM


The other day, while the kids were watching Hoot, my wife and I went to see Akeelah and the Bee, the first movie from Starbucks Entertainment and this summer’s well-reviewed (84% on Rotten Tomatoes), feel-good movie. Akeelah tells the story of an underachieving, but charming, young black girl living in the ghettos of Los Angeles. It turns out that she can spell, a hobby she took up in tribute to her dead Dad, who was apparently a Scrabble player. Akeelah is uncomfortable, though, letting her talent show. No kid (and, the movie implies, especially a young, black Angelena) wants to be known as a Brainiac.

Unfortunately for Akeelah, her teacher (no swift speller herself) notices Akeelah’s talent and mentions it to the principal. The principal, apparently a well-meaning, motivated educator despite running a particularly bleak and failing jail-for-kids, forces Akeelah to take part in the school’s first spelling bee. The winner will go on to other competitions, and ultimately can go to the national spelling bee in Washington, DC. The movie hints that the principal instituted the spelling bee because of Akeelah’s talent, and for the purpose of making the district take notice of Akeelah and her school. As part of his plan, the Principal brings along to the bee an old college friend to coach Akeelah. The friend (Lawrence Fishburne) was once a competitive speller and is now a college professor suffering from tragic continuity lapses. (Is he on sabbatical? Is he on medical leave? Has he been fired? Is he a pioneering Internet educator? Don’t ask the script; it doesn’t know.) Coincidentally, Mr. Fishburne’s character has a back-story that meshes perfectly with Akeelah’s back-story.

Akeelah lives with her widowed mom (Angela Bassett), who works long hard hours doing something vague at a hospital, work for which she is apparently paid poorly. Also at home are an older brother and (I think) an older sister with a baby. Akeelah also has a brother who is enrolled in a magical Air Force program in which you are an enlisted man, jump out of airplanes, get your college degree and end-up with a pilot’s license. For plot purposes, Akeelah’s mom is dead-set against her daughter competing in spelling bees, but no one mentions or seems at all concerned that an eleven year old girl is spending hours every day alone at the house of a strange man.

Akeelah is (literally) a movie brewed up for Starbucks customers, so it can’t, metaphorically, just ask for a cup of coffee when it can get a triple grande decaf breve hazelnut no foam latte. The movie is well-acted, competently directed (well, competently minus), overly-structured, manipulative, predictable and processed to within an inch of its life. Again, a movie made for and by Starbucks. It is well-worth seeing, particularly for those of us who want to see African-Americans succeed on their own terms, bucking the establishment that is actively trying to hold them back. Special mention must be made of the excellent acting of Keke Palmer in the title role, and of Lawrence Fishburne and Angela Bassett, who loses herself in her role. Mr. Fishburne and Ms. Bassett must be especially commended for making an acting choice that single-handedly saves the movie.

On the other hand, I turned to my wife two-thirds through the movie and whispered that Akeelah was the most racist movie I had seen in a long time. After the movie was over, she told me that it was among the most sexist movies she had ever seen.

(After the jump, the discussion continues and includes spoilers.)

Akeelah’s racism has been noted by other reviewers. However, I haven’t seen a review that makes clear how all-encompassing the racism is. With one exception, lasting about 10 seconds, no character breaks out of his or her racial stereotypes. The whites are clumsy, well-meaning and clueless. The Hispanic family is emotional, gregarious and friendly. The Asian father is an unemotional, racist (how ironic) taskmaster pushing, pushing, pushing his robotic son. For a while it seemed like there could be two kinds of African-Americans: thugs and nature's nobility. But, no, by the end of the movie it was clear that there can only be noble black men and women, pushed down by the Man. By the time the alcoholics, gang bangers, classmates, older brothers and assorted strangers all start supporting Akeelah, the actors seem to be wading through a hip-deep syrup of black accomplishment though academic competition. I started to long for one angry young black man to snarl that it didn’t matter what happened at the white man’s spelling bee and then throw a trash can through the window of the local pizzeria.

None of this, though, prompted my comment to my wife. That came when we learned – after a setup that had lasted through the entire movie – that Akeelah’s secret weapon at the spelling bee, her answer to the smug white and Asian kids who had been born, bred and trained to spell, was – and I swear I’m not making this up – her innate sense of rhythm.

The sexism is, I suppose, somewhat more subtle, but then it would have to be. Akeelah is not allowed to succeed, or even to have ambition, unless it is OK with, it seems, every single person she has ever spoken to. (You think I'm exagerating, but I'm not.) It has to be OK with her mother, sister, brother, teachers and principal. It has to be OK with her coach. It has to be OK with the local alcoholics. It has to be OK with the local gang bangers. It has to be OK with her classmates, including the two girls who used to beat her up for being smart. It has to be OK with her best-friend Georgia, who needs to be coddled because Akeelah is making other friends through spelling – weird, Scrabble playing friends who Georgia wants no part of. It has to be OK with her dead father.

Ultimately, it has to be OK with her male competitors. No, really, they get a veto. The only character who breaks his racial stereotype is Akeelah’s Chinese competitor, Dylan. Dylan, who has been the runner up in the last two bees, is in DC for the last time. His father has been pushing him hard his entire life and Dylan has had less emotional affect than sand throughout the movie. At the end, though, when he knows that Akeelah has purposely misspelled one of the final words, he also intentionally misspells it and then, smiling, tells Akeelah that he doesn’t want to win unless she tries her hardest. They then go on to tie, and Akeelah gets to be co-champion speller while still being saved from being an ambitious, castrating b****. Dylan, of course, has not suffered at all for being an ambitious cut-throat speller.

Finally, I must praise Mr. Fishburne and Ms. Bassett for playing their scenes with each other brilliantly. The script matches a fatherless young girl being raised by her mother with a spelling coach whose marriage broke-up after his daughter died. The temptation to have the mother and up with the coach is more temptation than a poor Hollywood script writer could be expected to endure. And yet, through their acting, Mr. Fishburne and Ms. Bassett reject this portion of the story. They don’t look at each other much, they don’t react to each other, they make clear that other concerns are crowding out any future they might have had. It is a great choice and a nice example of actors saving a movie from the best intentions of the script and the director. Akeelah and the Bee was written and directed by Doug Atchison.

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  • Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:45 PM


    Texas Economy Surges on Gains From Katrina Rebuilding, Energy (Bloomberg, 5/15/06)

    Texas's economy is surging nine months after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast as rebuilding spurs job growth and oil and natural-gas production increase in response to higher energy prices.

    Texas, the second-largest U.S. state by population, added 274,000 jobs in the year ended March 31, according to the state Workforce Commission. The pace was the fastest since 2000. The state estimated that its budget surplus will almost double to $8.2 billion, second only to California's, for the two years ending in August 2007. [...]

    [T]he 9.9 million-person workforce in the state is expanding at about 3.1 percent a year, more than twice as fast as the rest of the U.S., Sigalla said. [...]

    Production of goods and services in 2004 totaled $881 billion, the third-most of any state and more than neighboring Mexico, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Last year, single-family housing starts jumped 15 percent to 205,462, Fed data show.

    Imagine what unlimited immigration could do for your state?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:45 PM

    '70SLAND (via Tom Morin):

    Astonishing Quantities of Rubbish: Theodore Dalrymple takes a drive along the A55 - and finds litter, great mounds of it (Theodore Dalrymple, Social Affairs Unit)

    If I had to choose a single road that, by itself, had ruined more towns than any other, I suppose I would choose the A55 in North Wales. The number of charming and elegant little Victorian and Edwardian seaside towns and villages it has defaced and destroyed is staggering. It is tragic that the only efficiency demonstrated by British transport and town planners has been in the destruction of the appearance and atmosphere of the whole country. There they have managed a giant effect with the slenderest of means.

    A drive along the A55 is very instructive. Of course, it passes through landscapes and countryside of great beauty, some of the most beautiful in our islands; but, as the drive will also instruct you, the first instinct of the modern Briton when he sees a fine landscape is to throw litter at it. Indeed, it is almost a reflex with him; I hesitate to say that he cannot help himself, but he might as well be unable to help himself for all the effort he makes actually to do so.

    The verges, the bushes, the trees are festooned with astonishing quantities of rubbish. It is not only the major roadways, moreover, that are the repositories of such detritus; any of the lanes that are frequented by visitors are also used as their personal rubbish dumps.

    The nature of this rubbish is very instructive too. The vast majority of it consists of the packaging of food and drink consumed en route by passers-by. Indeed, when the sun is out, the rays of the celestial body glint on all the plastic bottles and tins cans, just as in inner cities they glint on the shards of shattered glass of the windows of cars that have been broken into. Of course, much of the litter is matt and reflects much less light: for example, the discarded polystyrene containers of fast food and drink.

    I have no idea of how many pieces of such litter are strewn on the roadside, but it must run into the hundreds of thousands or perhaps even millions. And when we consider that each individual piece of such litter constitutes evidence of an act of unbridled egotism by an individual, we must conclude something very unflattering about the nature of at least a large proportion of the British population. The fact is that so much rubbish could not have accumulated if there were only one or two people who used the country as their personal litter bin.

    This fits in with the theme-parkization of Europe as it becomes a place that American tourists will visit to see quaint little 17th/18th century villages on the one hand and where the rest of the country is swamped in the pathologies that plagued us in the 1970s.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:32 PM


    What India wants (Christopher Griffin, 5/15/06, Armed Forces Journal)

    In principle, my first stop in Delhi was the perfect venue to discuss the question of how to square India’s longstanding ties to Iran with its new strategic partnership with the U.S. The Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, an elite foreign-ministry-funded think tank, was holding its annual Asian Security Conference on India’s relations with the Middle East, or in deference to the local nomenclature, “Southwest Asia.” I would see Indians talking to Indians, not performing for an American audience.

    Alas, my hopes for a nuanced discussion of India’s emerging security strategy, or indeed any other issue, were immediately dashed. Early speakers set the tone for the conference when they declared that U.S. efforts to “dominate” the region had done “no good and much harm” and presented India with “a choice between harmony and hegemony” in international relations. Later speakers would alternate between lambasting America’s Middle East policy as oil-grubbing and defending India’s relationships with such countries as Sudan and Iran as necessary in the face of Washington’s efforts to “squeeze India out” of the global energy market. Not the sort of stuff the Bush administration has been touting.

    But as the conference wrapped up — and as my despair peaked — one of the organizers took me aside and said: “Ignore everything you’ve just heard.” He explained that although Indians criticize the U.S. and the Singh government, they privately support closer relations with Washington. Indian intellectuals would require more time before they could break free of vestigial mistrust of America and embrace an emerging strategic partnership.

    While it initially sounded as though he was apologizing to a dinner guest who had been insulted, the more time passed, the more I saw his point.


    In both capitals, the public debate on U.S.-Indian relations is too often obsessed with the bogeymen of the past. Whether it is the fear that India can only be developing ballistic capabilities in order to target the U.S., or apprehension that the current nuclear deal is just another Yankee ploy to undermine India’s strategic ambitions, public, political dialogue — what bureaucrats call “track two” — this is has not caught up to the “track one” diplomatic agreements between the two capitals.

    This perception gap is dangerous because it creates political pressures to limit the scope of a strategic partnership that’s barely begun, and which may unravel the progress of the last five years. As one Indian diplomat warned when I asked about the cost of failure to carry out the nuclear deal: “Anybody who expects that, if this deal doesn’t go through, then the morning after will be the same as the day before, will be wrong. ... The next time there is a tsunami disaster, we might not take your call.”

    In sum, it is more than possible to destroy the potential of the partnership, and destroy it fairly quickly. This is because the partnership is starting from a weak position: Although officials in Washington and Delhi recognize the necessity for greater cooperation, there have been no major “deliverables” that skeptics would demand in exchange for closer ties.

    Indeed, a near-term focus is the major source of confusion in Washington and Delhi; witness the proliferation of litmus tests and ultimatums. This U.S.-Indian relationship should not be judged in terms of immediate deliverables, but the gradual convergence of national interests. This is the essence of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s characterization of the U.S. and India as “natural allies.” Although there are strong reasons for the relationship to come to fruition, it can only occur with concerted, sustained effort.

    Trends indicate that over the next 20 to 50 years, India will emerge as one of the world’s great powers. And the Bush administration believes that as Indian power grows, Delhi will assume greater responsibility for regional and international security. India shares Washington’s support of democracy at home and abroad, opposition to international terrorism and concerns about the security of the sea lines of communication upon which the world economy depends. Philip Zelikow, the State Department official who has been one of the key architects of the Bush administration policy, said the goal is “to help India become a major world power in the 21st century.”

    Bharat Verma, publisher of Indian Defense Review, explained the Indian view of partnership to me: “We won’t hand over strategic autonomy to anyone, but our strategic autonomy does not conflict with American interests.”

    But just because India’s rise will not conflict with American interests does not mean there won’t be differing priorities or diverging perceptions. Thus, the challenge for American strategists is to shape India’s understanding of its own power, of its own growing strategic interests, of its role in the world. An essential means will be to tie U.S.-Indian cooperation into those fields where India’s abilities are growing most rapidly.

    The key to a special relationship in foreign affairs is that your interests are sufficiently mutual that even a rough patch or two won't matter much in the long run. Thus, Britain and America can be at odds every once in awhile, but our backgrounds, cultures, and national interests are so similar we're generally there for each other -- or at least not actively opposed to one another -- when push comes to shove. Not only does India share some considerable portion of that culture but since its natural enemies are China and Sunni Pakistan there's every reason to believe we'll be forced back into each other's arms even if there should be kerfuffles and fusses over trivial issues.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:20 PM


    Diet trends aggravate U.S. meat glut (Associated Press, May. 15, 2006)

    Benchmark wholesale prices for beef and pork are down more than 8 percent from a year ago and 20 percent for chicken, according to the Livestock Marketing Information Center.

    "There is just an overabundance of protein on the market," the center's Jim Robb said.

    We sure won't have trouble feeding that 100 million new Americans.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:15 PM


    New life found for the ol' still - make your own ethanol (Associated Press, May. 15, 2006)

    The still - standard equipment of any moonshiner - has a shot at becoming the must-have accessory of penny-pinching motorists.

    An upstart Tennessee business is marketing stills that can be set up as private distilleries making ethanol - 190 proof grain alcohol - out of fermented starchy crops such as corn, apples or sugar cane. The company claims the still's output can reduce fuel costs by nearly a third from the pump price of gasoline.

    Buyers of stills need a federal permit to make ethanol on private property. In what amounts to an honor system, they are to add a poison to their homemade alcohol so it isn't white lightning.

    Where have you gone, Junior Johnson, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you....

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:01 PM


    Emerging Nations Powering Global Economic Boom: The expansion is the strongest since the 1970s, with China, India and Russia setting the pace. But many U.S. workers are left behind. (Tom Petruno, May 14, 2006, Los Angeles Times)

    The global economy is on a growth streak that is shaping up to be the broadest and strongest expansion in more than three decades.

    Rising spending and investment by consumers and businesses worldwide are boosting national economies on every continent, pushing down unemployment rates in many countries and lifting business earnings and confidence.

    Of 60 nations tracked by investment firm Bridgewater Associates, not one is in recession — the first time that has been true since 1969.

    Yet this is a different kind of boom from any other in the post-World War II era, analysts say. The soaring economies of China, India, Russia, Brazil and other emerging nations increasingly are setting the pace, overshadowing the slower growth of the United States, Europe and Japan, where the benefits of the expansion have eluded many workers.

    "This is the first recovery where developing economies are playing a dominant role," said James Paulsen, chief strategist at Wells Capital Management in Minneapolis, which manages money for big investors such as pension funds.

    The trend is being driven by free trade, which has created millions of jobs in emerging nations in recent years, fueling stunning new wealth in those countries.

    This is a story not only at odds with the facts--strong US GDP growth and low unemployment--but with itself--the jobs in those developing countries consist of doing the manufacturing and other work [answering phones] we're too wealthy to do ourselves. It does though demonstrate just how powerful the End of History remains -- forcing capitalism upon such a wide array of nations -- even at a time when folks want to dismiss it.

    China lifts its currency - and US hopes: By setting the yuan higher, China makes its exports costlier, which could ease the US trade deficit (Mark Trumbull, 5/16/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

    Chinese officials set a new currency target at slightly less than 8 yuan per dollar - a level it has not seen since a major devaluation in 1994, economists say. [...]

    America and China have been serving as twin engines of the global economy, helping to fuel worldwide growth of 4 percent or higher for several years straight.

    The Tax Cut Record: Americans are better off despite Democratic naysaying. (Opinion Journal, May 14, 2006)
    Our late editor Bob Bartley used to say that critics might forgive you for being wrong, but they'll never forgive you for being right. That psychological insight may be the only way to explain the fierce and bitter opposition this week to extending the tax cuts of 2003 for another two years through 2010.

    If ever there was a market test of economic policy, the last three years have been it. The stock market has recovered from its implosion in Bill Clinton's last year in office, unemployment is down to 4.7%, and growth has averaged 3.9% in the three years since those tax cuts passed--well above the post-World War II average and more than twice the growth rate in Euroland.

    Realistically, the United States should be counted with the emerging economies, not the European.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:37 PM


    The Crash of Big-Government Conservatism (S.T. Karnick, 15 May 2006, Tech Central Station)

    Big-government conservatism has a few main aims: to preserve the welfare state while mitigating its ill effects, to preserve the present American culture while mitigating its bad effects, to preserve the present international order while mitigating its bad effects, and to preserve the present system of national politics while mitigating its ill effects.

    The economic premise of big government conservatism is that the welfare state benefits from free markets and is not in dire conflict with them. Their social premise relies on the same utilitarian calculus as that of their opponents on the Left, but the big government conservatives hold that although antinomianism is not good for people, nothing can really be done about it except to try to ease government restrictions on religion. The international affairs premise is that liberal democracy is the best thing for all nations and imposition of it on other nations is the solution when they become threats to U.S. interests.

    The Democrats and the Left in general, by contrast, say that the system of free markets and human welfare are in inevitable conflict, and the latter must always be the higher priority. They believe in expanding the sexual revolution. They believe that the moral problem with America is not antinomianism but the intractable intolerance of monotheists. And they believe that the real problem with the international order is that war is inevitable when people don't see residents of other nations as being of equal importance as oneself and one's family, neighborhood, and nation. Other nations, they say, are basically rational and hence always amenable to good-faith negotiations, meaning ones in which the United States is willing to make big concessions when necessary for an agreement to be reached.

    The Democrats have a definite philosophy that creates a vivid picture of a good world, and that is appealing in itself. The Republicans' present philosophy is simply a watered-down version of the Democrats'. For a party in power, that is disastrous, as it lets the opposition set the agenda and measure success.

    This is the inane line the neocons have been pushing since at least David Frum's memoir, that the politics of Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, David Cameron, Stephen Harper, John Howard, Kim Beazley, and Junichiro Koizumi is ineffective but that the war is really, really popular. Even setting aside the fact that every governing party in the major nations of the Anglosphere is pursuing Third Way solutions to the inability of the Second Way to deliver a functional welfare state, one need only note that American voters punished the war party in 1920, 1942, 1952, and 1968 or look at public opinion polling on the war vs. that on universal health care, SS reform, and school vouchers to see that it has been the President's domestic agenda that has propped up the war, not vice versa.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:12 PM


    A More Dangerous World? Think Again: Over the past dozen years, virtually every trend in global security has been positive -- dramatically so. (Carl Robichaud, May 15 , 2006, Mother Jones)

    Since 9/11 and the global war on terror, the world is a much more dangerous place. Right?

    Dead wrong, according to a recent in-depth study, which found that virtually every trend in global security in the past dozen years has been positive, and dramatically so.

    The world is today a safer place, according to the Human Security Report, a project funded by five nations and published by Oxford University Press. The study, which is the culmination of three years of research, offers a comprehensive look at the data on political violence from 1988–2005, and reaches some arresting conclusions:

    # Fewer armed conflicts. Armed conflicts declined by more than 40 percent since the early 1990s. During this period, fifteen more armed struggles for self-determination ended than started. Today there are fewer armed secessionist conflicts than at any point since 1976.

    # Less genocide. Notwithstanding the horrors of Rwanda , Bosnia , and Sudan, the number of genocides and “politicides” fell by 80 percent between the high point in 1988 and 2001.

    # Fewer international crises. The number of “international crises” declined by more than 70 percent between 1981 and 2001.

    # Fewer arms deals. International arms transfers, in real dollar values, fell by 33 percent between 1990 and 2003. This accompanied a sharp decline in total military expenditure and troop numbers as well.

    # Fewer refugees. The number of refugees dropped by some 45 percent between 1992 and 2003, as more and more wars came to an end.

    # The longest peace between major powers. The period from World War II to today is the longest interval of uninterrupted peace between great powers for hundreds of years.

    # The rise of the United Nations after the cold war. The years since the end of the cold war have seen the related emergence of the United Nations as an effective actor in conflict resolution.

    It seems the past decade’s global security sea change has gone virtually unnoticed outside of political science departments. The dominant narrative in America—echoed by the media, politicians, and the security establishment—is that we today live in a more dangerous world with endemic conflict, clashing civilizations, and new threats.

    How could it be otherwise after History has Ended and sovereignty been redefined?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM


    Blair's new bid to 'rescue' public services: Shadow of leadership battle hangs over launch of party consultation (Will Woodward, May 15, 2006, The Guardian)

    Under the banner of Let's Talk, Mr Blair will lead the Labour party into a series of conferences on public service reform. His frustration at the administration of justice predates the fiasco over foreign prisoners, and controversy over the human rights of convicted criminals, but has been given further fuel by them. "I believe people want a society without prejudice but with rules; rules that are fair; that we all play by; and rules that, when broken, carry a penalty," Mr Blair will say.

    "The truth is most people don't think we have such a society. The problem of crime can be subject to lurid reporting or undue focus on terrible but exceptional cases. But even allowing for this, the fundamental point is valid.

    "Despite our attempts to toughen the law and reform the criminal justice system - reform that has often uncovered problems long untouched - the criminal justice system is still the public service most distant from what reasonable people want."

    In a formal minute released in full today, the prime minister tells the home secretary, John Reid, to ensure "that the criminal justice system is shaped around targeting the offender and not just the offence, in order to enhance public protection and ensure that the law-abiding majority can live without fear".

    He calls on Mr Reid to "build on, and seek to accelerate" a reduction in crime, and to ensure that the police "radically improve their performance on customer and victim satisfaction".

    Folks don't like to think of it in these terms, but the remoralization of American culture, which has put 2 million fellow citizens behind bars, has dramatically improved the quality of the rest of our lives.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


    Keys to consumer conduct? Try germs and vanity (ANNE MCILROY, 5/15/06, Globe and Mail)

    A man is shopping for a long-sleeved T-shirt with a University of Alberta logo, but the only one left in the campus store is hanging up in the change room.

    Will he want to try it on?

    “The contagion effect” says no. Marketing researchers Jennifer Argo at the U of A and Darren Dahl at the University of British Columbia have performed a number of experiments that show shoppers shy away from products other people have recently touched.

    They say fear of contamination — even if it is subconscious — is what makes many of us reach for the crisp magazine at the back of the stand or refuse to try a pair of pants still on the rack outside the change room. Put those same pants back on the shelf, however, and we are happy to pull them over our bare legs and underwear.

    Dr. Argo and Dr. Dahl are part of a growing community of researchers studying the behavioural quirks of modern shoppers. And shoppers are quirky. Research has shown that we don't like buying computers in the morning, that only 76 per cent of us rule out the idea of buying used underwear, and that we are attracted by brand names that contain letters of our own names.

    Such findings may never win a Nobel Prize, but the science of shopping is of enormous interest to the companies and retailers that make and sell the food, clothes, shoes and millions of other products we buy.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


    In a Scientist's Fall, China Feels Robbed of Glory (DAVID BARBOZA, 5/15/06, NY Times)

    Not very long ago, China saw itself as a nation on the verge of a technological breakthrough.

    But today, China appears shocked and shamed by a scandal that has already begun to tarnish that vision. It involves a top computer scientist, Chen Jin, who became a national hero in 2003 when he said he had created one of China's first digital signal processing computer chips, sophisticated microchips that can process digitized data for mobile phones, cameras and other electronic devices. His milestone seemed to hold the promise of helping close the enormous gaps with the West in science and technology.

    On Friday, however, the government said it was all a fraud.

    The distinguished scientist, the government said, had faked research conducted at Jiaotong University and simply stolen his chip designs from a foreign company, then passed them off as his own.

    Cultures that stifle creativity aren't hotbeds of innovation.

    Research fraud rampant in China: A Chinese study found that 60 percent of PhD candidates admitted to plagiarism, bribery (Robert Marquand, 5/16/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

    The stunning revelation of fraud and fakery in the heart of China's R&D industry has vindicated a feisty set of scholars who are gaining traction in exposing a culture of fraud and corruption in China's colleges. [...]

    A recent Ministry of Science study of 180 PhD candidates in China found that 60 percent admitted plagiarizing, and the same percentage admitted paying bribes to get their work published.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


    Blacks see threat from Hispanic illegal aliens (Keyonna Summers, May 15, 2006, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

    Blacks in the region are joining Minuteman militia groups opposed to illegal Hispanic aliens working in the United States, saying they take jobs from blacks and piggyback off the strides made during the civil rights movement. [...]

    A recent survey by the Pew Research Center shows that about 80 percent of blacks have a favorable view of Hispanic immigrants' work ethic and family values. The survey also shows that 33 percent of blacks are less likely to suggest deportation of illegals aliens, compared with 59 percent of whites.

    However, the survey indicates that about half of blacks in the region see immigrants as a burden because they take jobs and housing. More than 50 percent of blacks in the region and more than 75 percent nationwide say increased immigration has led to difficulties in finding a job, compared with 50 percent of whites nationwide and 20 percent in the region who say the same.

    The survey stated 22 percent of blacks and 14 percent of whites said they or a relative had lost a job to an immigrant.

    Blacks are, of course, likelier to live in proximity to and work with immigrants, so have a better view of the values that make them economic and eventually political competitors. Those values are so at odds with liberal dogma that when the rest of the Left figures it out they'll shift to the nativist camp.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


    Bush Set To Send Guard to Border: Assignment Would Be Temporary; Critics Cite Strain on Troops (Peter Baker, May 15, 2006, Washington Post)

    President Bush tried to ease the worries of his Mexican counterpart yesterday as he prepared for a nationally televised address tonight unveiling a plan to send thousands of National Guard troops to help seal the nation's southern border against illegal immigrants.

    Mexican President Vicente Fox called to express concern over the prospect of militarization of the border, and Bush reassured him that it would be only a temporary measure to bolster overwhelmed Border Patrol agents, the White House said.

    Tougher border enforcement has backfired (Spencer S. Hsu, 5/15/06, The Washington Post)
    Beefed-up enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border since Sept. 11, 2001, has substantially increased the number of arrests of illegal immigrants, but tens of thousands of captured non-Mexicans continue to be released into the United States because there is no place to hold them, according to experts and immigration officials.

    The vast majority simply slip away inside the country after being issued "Notices to Appear" for a deportation hearing — documents known to Border Patrol agents as "Notices to Disappear."

    The success of border crossers who stay in the United States through this "catch-and-release" process has encouraged others who hope to enter the country the same way.

    The same folks complaining about immigration are the ones complaining about spending, and that's not a contradiction they can square.

    Reform bill to double immigration (Charles Hurt, May 15, 2006, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

    The immigration reform bill that the Senate takes up today would more than double the flow of legal immigration into the United States each year and dramatically lower the skill level of those immigrants.

    The number of extended family members that U.S. citizens or legal residents can bring into this country would double. More dramatically, the number of workers and their immediate families could increase sevenfold if there are enough U.S. employers looking for cheap foreign labor. Another provision would grant humanitarian visas to any woman or orphaned child anywhere in the world "at risk of harm" because of age or sex. [...]

    All told, the Hagel-Martinez bill would increase the annual flow of legal immigrants into the U.S. to more than 2 million from roughly 1 million today, scholars and analysts say.

    A doubling is nice, but unlikely to prove enough. If there's one thing that conservatives know, it's that central governments aren't capable of making micro-management decisions like the exact number of workers we need to import.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


    English blow to Brown's PM hopes (HAMISH MACDONELL, 5/15/06, The Scotsman)

    GORDON Brown's hopes of winning the next election as Labour leader suffered a setback yesterday when a new poll showed a strong English backlash against the idea of a Scottish Prime Minister.

    The BBC poll found that most voters in England believe Scottish MPs should be barred from becoming Prime Minister, with the highest level of antagonism in the south-east of England. [...]

    Across the UK, 52 per cent of respondents said it was wrong for an MP north of the Border to become Prime Minister now Scotland has its own parliament.

    Forty-five per cent said they did not mind a Scottish MP becoming Prime Minister, with 3 per cent undecided. The percentage of those objecting to the idea of a Scottish Prime Minister was 55 per cent for England and 59 per cent in the south-east, and 20 per cent in Scotland.

    The BBC poll represents one of the first pieces of definite evidence of English resentment to the so-called "West Lothian Question".

    This asked why Scottish MPs could decide English domestic matters in the UK parliament while English MPs had no chance to influence Scottish domestic policy, which is decided in Holyrood.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


    Asian nations to get help saving energy (Japan Times, 5/15/06)

    The Natural Resources and Energy Agency will formulate a plan to offer Japan's energy saving technologies and methods to rapidly growing Asian economies, agency officials said.

    The agency, an arm of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, wants to incorporate the project in its new energy strategy report to be compiled this month according to the officials.

    The agency envisions dispatching experts to the countries to be selected, including China, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, to help them implement energy saving methods that have proven successful in Japan.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


    Victory Day, Moscow 2006: Can a Westerner understand the Russian people's love of strong leaders? (Peter Savodnik, May 14, 2006, Slate)

    Last year, Victory Day was big. The 60th anniversary of the 1945 Nazi defeat gave President Vladimir Putin a chance to host a grand celebration that included, for the first time, the German chancellor. Other world leaders, including President Bush, also attended the Red Square ceremonies. The Lithuanians and Estonians stayed home—they don't believe the war really ended until the 1991 Soviet collapse—and the Latvians probably regretted that their president accepted the Kremlin's invitation. But the general tenor of the festivities was positive, if somber, injecting some staying power into a holiday that has, inevitably, lost some of its currency with the passing of the years.

    This year, Victory Day's slide toward oblivion resumed. Thousands turned up for the parades, speeches, and demonstrations in central Moscow. Millions tuned in to the Soviet-era war movies that played on state-run TV stations. But there was less excitement than in 2005, and the distractions of the popular culture seemed to crowd out the state-sponsored mythologies that once shaped the public consciousness.

    For 15 years, at least, a cultural-cognitive gap has been growing between the people and the state. That space is a manifestation of the public's alienation from its government. Attempts to paper over that alienation, to foist a new solidarity on an old people, are absurd. The people, especially the young people who are impervious to the old dogma, know this.

    So, too, does the president, who's not a Soviet premier so much as a tsar, dispensing with ideology and reappropriating the powers of 19th-century imperialism. Whether it's single-handedly rerouting massive oil pipelines or reorganizing the federal bureaucracy, Putin has not so much resurrected a dead superstate as responded to Russians' long-festering desire for a "strong hand."

    And so the day after Victory Day, the president gave his State of the Nation address and told Russians that they need to have more babies. Noting that the population has been declining—from roughly 150 million in the early 1990s to 140 million today—he mapped out a series of financial incentives for women to have more children.

    Whether more Russians women will become mothers for the sake of the motherland is unknown. There is, of course, something odd about a president telling his people to make more babies—procreation tends to be a personal matter. But this is not how tsars think. And the Russian people—most of them, at least—love their tsar.

    Richard Pipes couldn't figure it out either, but has written well about it in Russian Conservatism and its Critics.

    May 14, 2006

    Posted by David Cohen at 5:35 PM


    This list of positions common to lefty bloggers (from Atrios via Kevin Drum) is bouncing around the internet, with libertarian bloggers using it as a test of whether they are really left-libertarians. I took the test, and it turns out that I'm not a lefty. The really interesting thing, though, is how weak, colorless, contentless, label-driven and reactionary modern liberalism is. The test, and my comments, follow:

  • Undo the bankruptcy bill enacted by this administration.
    I don't care very much, but, being conservative, I'm against change for change's sake, so I'll go with "no." On the substance, I have two friends who are both experienced bankruptcy lawyers. One is liberal and the other is more conservative than I am. Both dislike the bill because it tilts the field from the bankrupt to their creditors. On the other hand, I haven't been hearing any horror stories since the bill passed. Note, however, that the only reason given for opposing the bankruptcy bill is that it was passed by "this administration." Actually, the administration had very little to do with the bankruptcy bill, which has been bouncing around Washington for at least a decade. It passed with a substantial minority of Democratic votes in both the House (73 votes for) and Senate (17 for, plus Jeffords, and with Senator Clinton not voting). Liberalism is reactionary.
  • Repeal the estate tax repeal
    Again, liberalism is reactionary. The estate tax is a small tax that is hated by those who have to pay it and thought to be unfair even by those who will never have to deal with it. It is also an incredibly wasteful tax, with billions of dollars (more, probably, than the tax collects) spent every year in attempts to avoid it. Again, liberalism is reactionary, but liberals also love this tax because it targets their bete noir, the undeserving rich. It is a nice example of how far removed the left is from mainstream America that they find popular resistance to the estate tax baffling and irrational.
  • Increase the minimum wage and index it to the CPI
    An incredibly stupid idea, unless the left really is dedicated to remaking the US in the image of 70s era Latin America. A recipe for high unemployment, inflation and stagnation and a way to ensure that the CPI becomes even more overstated than it already is. A prime example of the Democrats continuing war on African-Americans.
  • Universal health care (obviously the devil is in the details on this one)
    The devil is in the details? All that matters is the details. Apparently, the left is more impressed by titles than ideas. Say that something is the Civil Rights Restoration Act, or promotes universal health care, and the left will be for it. I fully expect that, if the Democrats ever retake the government, the Economic Justice Act of (say) 2050 will re-institute slavery. In any event, "universal" "healthcare" would be neither. It's a bad idea that would be badly executed. It is also the left's only big idea, now more than 40 years old.
  • Increase CAFE standards. Some other environment-related regulation
    "Some other environment-related regulation." Because, you know, if it's called "environmentalism" there can't possibly be a down side. CAFE standards, of course, set up perverse incentives by reducing the cost of each mile driven. The left complains that the American people have avoided past CAFE standards by buying more loosely regulated trucks, but that's the point. CAFE standards are the poster child for unintended consequences.
  • Pro-reproductive rights, getting rid of abstinence-only education, improving education about and access to contraception including the morning after pill, and supporting choice. On the last one there's probably some disagreement around the edges (parental notification, for example), but otherwise.
    Ah, the theme song of the left: "Death, death, death. Death. Death, death, death. Death." Chorus: "Death. Death. Death. Death."
  • Simplify and increase the progressivity of the tax code
    Leaving aside the easy point that you can't do both, let's note that taking 34% of income tax revenue from the top 1% of earners (who earned 16% of all earned income) just isn't progressive enough. (Numbers are from 2003) In fact, there's no such thing as progressive enough, because the left isn't interested in using the income tax to raise revenue. It wants to use the income tax to take as much money as possible from the rich, apparently a good in and of itself. The left is so mired in its European socialist redistributionist past that it's as if they've never met a modern American.
  • Kill faith-based funding. Certainly kill federal funding of anything that engages in religious discrimination.
    Here we have the left at it's truest. "We hate religion, so we're not going to fund efficacious programs, the beneficiaries be damned." Of course, if religion were to return the favor, the left would come down on them like an avenging ang ... like an IRS agent with a hang-over.
  • Reduce corporate giveaways
    Again, a contentless slogan, not a program. It might as well be a lefty goal to "Be excellent to each other" or not be evil. I'm all in favor of reducing corporate giveaways, but I certainly don't trust the left to identify them. We'll score this one a "no."
  • Have Medicare run the Medicare drug plan
    That would be the Medicare drug plan that the left is denouncing as a confusing corporate giveaway? This, too, is reactionary. It is, in fact, defensive, as the Medicare drug program is going to be an arrow in the heart of government run healthcare.
  • Force companies to stop underfunding their pensions. Change corporate bankruptcy law to put workers and retirees at the head of the line with respect to their pensions.
    This micro-management is the best they can come up with? They might as well agree that red lights should be 10 seconds shorter. As Jane Galt and others have noted, this betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how the problem arose, and of the financial markets. The best one could hope for is that this would have no effect. One thing I haven't seen mentioned is that a lot of pension funds -- the well-run ones -- would be against this, too, because it would complicate their operations and increase their costs.
  • Leave the states alone on issues like medical marijuana. Generally move towards "more decriminalization" of drugs, though the details complicated there too.
    As we will see in the hodge-podge of miscellanea that follows, the left couldn't care less about states' rights. If any other drug was being pushed on the public in the face of an FDA conclusion that it wasn't efficacious, the left would be up in arms about big business and the profit motive betraying poor sick Americans. Drug dealers are different, apparently. (I've always been amused by the left on the one hand running on and on about Alar and pesticides and additives and organic farming, and on the other hand celebrating the snorting, smoking, shooting up of drugs cut with unknown substances processed under unknown conditions by unknown people.) In any event, the medical marijuana movement is meant to lead to the legalisation of marijuana and serves no other purpose. There can be no effective national prohibition on marijuana use at the same time there are medical marijuana programs in the states. As Americans have enough vices to be going on with, I vote no here, too.
  • Paper ballots
    Because that's how Democrats steal elections. (Note that states' rights suddenly take a back seat.) I have no problem with making elections more secure. Let's start with a requirement that all voters show proof of citizenship to register and government issued photo ID to vote.
  • Improve access to daycare and other pro-family policies. Obviously details matter.
    Gee, I didn't realize that government was blocking access to daycares. Again, without details, this is not a policy. "Let's be pro-family." Blech.
  • Raise the cap on wages covered by FICA taxes.
    Because nothing is more important than that we continue to lie to the electorate about how social security works.
  • Marriage rights for all, which includes "gay marriage" and quicker transition to citizenship for the foreign spouses of citizens.
    States' rights? Did anyone mention states' rights? As far as federal questions are concerned: Again with the miscellanea. Foreign spouses should be able to come here immediately, but should have to qualify for citizenship in the usual way. (Is this really something that all lefty bloggers agree on? Have they also agreed on the amount of time federal workers should get for lunch?)
    So, there you have the completely pathetic, uninspiring clap-trap that all lefty bloggers can agree to. I understand that this is supposed to be least common denominator stuff, but it is really sad that American liberalism has been reduced to this contentless drivel. Saddest of all is the one issue that is not mentioned: National security and the war in which we are currently engaged. Not a word about the biggest issue of our time. The party of the left needs to spend more time in the wildernes. The left can not yet be trusted with our security, which they see as a distraction from income tax progressivity and letting foreign spouses become citizens in three years rather than five.

    Finally, can the right do any better? What do all righty bloggers believe in, and is it any less anodyne? Here's my proposal: Righty bloggers all believe in American exceptionalism. The Devil is in the details.

  • Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:48 AM


    We Test the Tips: What Really Saves Gas? And How Much? (Philip Reed and Mike Hudson, 11-22-2005,

    With gas prices so high, the media is awash with lists of gas-saving tips. Well how's this for a tip? If you listen to us, you can see hybrid-type savings without having to buy a new car.

    By changing your driving habits you can improve fuel economy up to 37 percent right away (depending on how you drive). Combine several tips and perform routine maintenance and you will save real dollars, not just pennies.

    A miracle? All we did was take several of the most common tips out there and put them to the test over a remote 55-mile route in the high desert of California. Some of them worked like a charm. Some of them didn't work at all. We'll give you the breakdown.

    These tests were done under real-world conditions — not in a government lab somewhere. Our results can be matched by anyone — even you.

    The wonderful part about what we found is that improving your car's mileage is just a matter of changing your habits. Stack a few of these winners together and we'll bet that you'll see a substantial savings at the pump — without the need for a new car. [...]

    Test #4 A/C On, Windows Up vs. A/C Off, Windows Down

    Result: Nice in theory; not true in practice

    Cold Hard Facts: No measurable difference (unless you open the sunroof, too!)

    Recommendation: Please, make yourself comfortable.

    Thank you, Jesus.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:37 AM


    Everyone lagging in AL West (Larry Stone, 5/14/06, Seattle Times)

    On two things, all four teams in the American League West would agree:

    One, they sure could use another productive bat or three (that goes even for the Texas Rangers, who aren't raking with the reckless abandon one would expect from a club that plays at a hitter's paradise like Ameriquest).

    And, especially, two: Thank goodness everyone else is struggling, too.

    None of the quartet has taken off and taken control of the division, but none has been buried, either. And the candidates for burial are four-fold: Heading into Friday's play, the last-place Mariners would have been a nearly hopeless 9-½ games out of first place if they were in the Central Division with the White Sox — and first-place Texas, at one game over .500, would have been six games out.

    As it was, however, just 3-½ games separated top from bottom, leaving the whole bedraggled gang with illusions (or perhaps delusions) of running off the sort of surge that propelled the San Diego Padres from the dregs to the top in their kindred cauldron of the commonplace, the National League West.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 AM


    Mandelson bars Brown's way (Patrick Hennessy and Melissa Kite, 14/05/2006, Sunday Telegraph)

    Peter Mandelson, Labour's former spin doctor-in-chief, is playing a leading role in efforts to persuade Tony Blair to delay his departure as Prime Minister, it can be revealed.

    The European commissioner is at the head of a group of "ultra" Blairite advisers who want Mr Blair to defy Gordon Brown by "playing the long game" and not leaving Downing Street until 2008 at the earliest.

    His intervention throws into chaos Labour's hopes of a "stable and orderly" transfer of power between Mr Blair and Mr Brown next year.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


    This marvelous translation of an ancient Persian classic brings these stories alive for a new audience: a review of SHAHNAMEH: The Persian Book of Kings By Abolqasem Ferdowsi, Translated from the Persian by Dick Davis (Michael Dirda, May 14, 2006, Washington Post)

    The Shahnameh is the great epic of ancient Persia, opening with the creation of the universe and closing with the Arab Muslim conquest of the worn-out empire in the 7th century. In its pages, the 11th-century poet Abolqasem Ferdowsi chronicles the reigns of a hundred kings, the exploits of dozens of epic heroes and the seemingly never-ending conflict between early Iran and its traditional enemy, the country here called Turan (a good-sized chunk of Central Asia). To imagine an equivalent to this violent and beautiful work, think of an amalgam of Homer's Iliad and the ferocious Old Testament book of Judges.

    But even these grand comparisons don't do the poem justice. Embedded in the Shahnameh are love stories, like that of Zal and Rudabeh, that recall the heartsick yearnings of Provençal troubadours and their ladies; tragedies of mistaken identity, hubris and irreconcilable moral obligations that might have attracted Sophocles; and meditations on the brevity of life that sound like Ecclesiastes or Horace. Though ostensibly historical, the poem is also full of myth and legend, of fairies and demons, of miraculous births and enchanted arrows and terrible curses, of richly caparisoned battle-elephants and giant birds straight out of the Arabian Nights. Little wonder that artists have often taken its stories as the inspiration for those manuscript illuminations we sometimes call Persian miniatures.

    All this is swell, a modern reader is likely to think, but can Americans living in the 21st century actually turn the pages of the Shahnameh with anything like enjoyment? Yes, they can, thanks to Dick Davis, our pre-eminent translator from the Persian (and not only of medieval poems, but also of Iraj Pezeshkzad's celebrated comic novel, My Uncle Napoleon ). Davis's diction in this largely prose version of the Shahnameh possesses the simplicity and elevation appropriate to an epic but never sounds grandiose; its sentences are clear, serene and musical. At various heightened moments -- usually of anguish or passion -- Davis will shift into aria-like verse, and the results remind us that the scholar and translator is also a noted poet...

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


    A Rebel Prince's Vision for Reform: Saudi's Long-held Ideals Gaining an Audience with Royal Family (Anthony Shadid, 5/14/06, Washington Post)

    [Prince] Talal is many things: for 50 years, the most liberal figure in a family that remains the most conservative and traditional of the Persian Gulf's monarchies and tribal dynasties; a philanthropist who brings a ruthlessness to business that he once saved for politics; a glimmer of light for the kingdom's liberals, many of whom acknowledge that change here will probably only come under the auspices of religion and its modernization, not through the secular talk of civil society and individual rights.

    Perhaps most compelling, though, is that Talal takes a debate about democratic reform in the Arab world, defined lately by the Bush administration, and illustrates a broader, more enduring context, one that speaks to experience rather than promise. His calls for change are little different than in the 1950s and '60s, when he was dismissed as a communist sympathizer; he remains a critic of U.S. policy, citing Iraq's trauma as the latest example. To Talal, the battle itself is not new, only the players. And in his words are a sense of vindication for ideas he believes are no less crucial today.

    "The world has changed, not me," he said. "History has proved the rightness of what I was talking about."

    "Some of the members of the family were against those ideas," he added. "Now they're talking about them."

    These days, Talal advocates a constitution that would bind an absolute monarchy by law, "a social contract between the ruler and those who are ruled." The parliament, now an appointed, relatively toothless body known as the Consultative Council, would be at least partially elected, with the right to oversee the budget, monitor the government and question ministers, he said.

    Women? "Right now, we have more than 2 million female students," he said, shaking his head. "When they graduate, where are they going to go? Either you close the schools and leave them to illiteracy or you grant them an opportunity to work."

    He laughed. "Can you imagine, can anyone imagine, that women cannot drive in Saudi Arabia?" he said.

    His list went on: Progress is impeded by "the opposition of religious extremists." The religious establishment, long the allies of his family, should stand aside as the country forges a division of power -- judicial, executive and legislative. Along the way, the kingdom, he said, must determine the mechanism of passing the monarchy from the aging sons of the country's founder to their grandsons before simmering rivalries between the branches of the House of Saud flare into the open.

    "The goal remains the same," he said, "the participation of people in forming opinions and making decisions."

    The same words, a different era: "Now we're freed from the notion of the Red Prince, the name the Americans gave me."

    A constitutional monarchy is the ideal form of government.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


    McCain Reconnects With Liberty University (Dan Balz, 5/14/06, Washington Post)

    McCain's appearance came eight months after the founder of the Moral Majority visited him at his Senate office in what both men said was an effort to put their contentious past behind them. This weekend, Falwell rolled out the red carpet for his old adversary, assembling about 150 church leaders from around the country for a Friday night reception and later hosting a small, private dinner for the senator.

    At Saturday's commencement ceremonies, McCain and Falwell marched side by side onto the stage in the university's basketball arena. After a sometimes raucous faculty processional, in which students and faculty members doused one another with aerosol cans of string, Falwell warmly praised his guest, saying, "The ilk of John McCain is very scarce, very small."

    Neither McCain nor Falwell made even an oblique reference to past differences. After his loss to George W. Bush in the South Carolina primary in 2000, an angry McCain went to Virginia Beach to challenge the power of Christian conservative leaders in the Republican Party and singled out Falwell and the Rev. Pat Robertson by name. Unexpectedly, he set fire to his own campaign.

    His differences then with Falwell and Robertson came principally over campaign finance reform, but his words carried a far harsher message about the power of the religious right. A day later, McCain used the word "evil" to describe his opponents, but afterward, he and his advisers regretted it.

    Falwell's visit last September began a process of reconciliation between the two men. "The senator did what I do quite often: spoke out of his emotions and later felt bad about it," Falwell said of that 2000 incident. But in their meeting, he said, "no apologies were asked for or given."

    Asked whether he believes their reconciliation helps McCain politically, Falwell, in a telephone interview on Friday, said, "I don't think there's any question about that. There are 80 million evangelicals in this country. My intent was to say that John McCain and I are friends, that I respect him and that there are no problems with yesterday."

    Cooler relations persist with some other Christian conservative leaders. The Rev. James Dobson, who leads Focus on the Family, declined a request for an interview about McCain's appearance at Liberty University, and knowledgeable social conservatives say Dobson has a distinctly dubious view of McCain as the prospective leader of the Republican Party. McCain and Robertson have made no attempts to patch up their differences.

    Others said McCain will have to demonstrate more consistent respect for religious and social conservatives. "John McCain has to get in line behind a number of other people that have already won our respect and admiration and, in some cases, already our support," said the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition.

    Next month, McCain will part company with religious conservatives on the Senate vote over a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. He opposes the amendment on the grounds that it is an issue for states to decide. Falwell said the two agree that marriage should be between a man and a woman but differ on the means to ensure that.

    Posted by Peter Burnet at 8:25 AM


    Dolphins 'have their own names' (BBC, May 8th, 2006)

    Dolphins communicate like humans by calling each other by "name", scientists in Fife have found.

    The mammals are able to recognise themselves and other members of the same species as individuals with separate identities, using whistles.

    St Andrews University researchers studying in Florida discovered bottlenose dolphins used names rather than sound to identify each other.

    The three-year-study was funded by the Royal Society of London.

    Dr Vincent Janik, of the Sea Mammal Unit at St Andrews University, said they conducted the research on wild dolphins.

    He said: "We captured wild dolphins using nets when they came near the shore.

    "Then in the shallow water we recorded their whistles before synthesising them on a computer so that we had a computer voice of a dolphin.

    "Then we played it back to the dolphins and we found they responded. This showed us that the dolphins know each other's signature whistle instead of just the voice.

    "I think it is a very exciting discovery because it means that these animals have evolved the same abilities as humans.

    In his brilliant takedown of Freud, Roger Scruton noted that Freud’s genius lay not in his silly theories but in his capacity to be amazed and astounded by the commonplace and to convince us to be likewise. This is a common feature of modern science, or at least of the public presentation of its work, especially in biology and paleontology. Each and every “discovery” is hailed as exciting beyond words and a challenge to our “old certainties” that force us to “rethink” the natural order. In almost all cases, the reader is invited subtly or not so subtly to conclude that, contrary to what we have all believed since the beginning of time, there is really nothing special about man, who is physically, emotionally, socially and even linguistically of the same order as the animal world.

    One of the most famous of such claims was Jane Goodall’s observation in the 1960's of chimps digging termites out of mounds with sticks. According to Peter Watson, the use of tools was “hitherto understood to be the hallmark of humanity” and the discovery reverberated around the world and showed chimps were far closer to us than had been previously believed. But believed by whom? Certainly not by pre-Enlightenment man, whose rich motif of fables and myths included anthropomorphic themes that make Disney look amateurish (Here Be Dragons!) and who experienced near-mystical relationships with horses, dogs, cats and other animals. Shaken scientists may have lain sleepless and wondrous at Goodall’s observation, but it is hard to imagine the man in the street giving more than an impatient shrug and wondering what the fuss was all about. For it was not he who believed in “the old certainty” that only man used tools, but rather the scientists who invented the claim.

    Something similar occurs with the much-repeated observation that we share 98.3% of our DNA with chimps, and are therefore almost identical. This figure is drummed into our heads with such frequency that one fears a whole generation is growing up believing it is only their superstition and ethnocentrism that keeps them from inviting chimps to the family reunion or taking them on as spouses or business partners. Outside of strict biological applications, the figure is meaningless (we also apparently share 60% of our DNA with the banana) but it is repeated ad nauseum in the context of a shadowy assumption that before Crick, we all believed humans were made of unique raw materials and that it was these that established us as belonging to a distinct and higher order. In fact, no one ever believed that man’s uniqueness was grounded in the physical, but in persuading us that we once did, modern biology makes its mundane, day-to-day work appear momentous and furthers its campaign to take the uniqueness of the human experience out of science, and therefore out of reality.

    Would anyone who grew up around animals be surprised to learn dolphins have distinct whistles that they can recognize? Certainly not anyone who saw that memorable scene from March of the Penguins where mating couples who had just met could find each other in the cacophony of tens of thousands of identical screeching penguins. Certainly not anyone who has observed the complex ways dogs, horses and other animals recognize and communicate. This “discovery” is banal in the extreme, but it does give Dr Janik what every modern biologist dreams of—the chance to stand before a microphone and assert that “animals have evolved the same abilities as humans”.

    May 13, 2006

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


    Grappling with God: The faith of a famous poet: Auden and Christianity by Arthur Kirsch (Wilfred M. McClay, May 7, 2006, The Weekly Standard)

    In some respects, Auden's theological orientation and reflections are emblematic of a particular historical moment, the mid-20th-century decades when the cataclysms of world war and the thwarting of the progressive faith led so many serious, secular-minded Western thinkers to reconsider the claims of the Christian intellectual tradition, even down to the forbidding doctrine of original sin.

    Auden himself believed he had rejected the Christian faith as a young man, but gradually found himself drawn back to it, partly in reaction to the brutal political realities emerging in the late 1930s, especially the rise of Nazism and the closing of the churches in civil war Spain, both of which shocked and dismayed him, and challenged the hold of left-progressive pieties. His chronic and tortured unhappiness in love also surely influenced him, as did an impressive encounter with the Anglican writer Charles Williams, who introduced him to the work of Kierkegaard and provided him a shining example of an accomplished intellectual who was also a thoroughgoing Christian.

    But the questions that ate at him went much deeper than the mere matter of role models. How did one explain the destructive recalcitrance of the human heart, including one's own? How did one find a way to live decently within the content of a world, and a life, that seemed beyond redemption?

    Such questions were never far away, and one can already begin to see the beginnings of a Christian reckoning with them emerging quite consciously in "As I walked out one evening" (1937): "Life remains a blessing / Although you cannot bless. . . . You shall love your crooked neighbor / With your crooked heart"--the term "crooked" here carrying, of course, meanings both personal and general. By 1940, the time of his famous "September 1, 1939," he had formulated his own concise distillation of the conundrum of original sin: "For the error bred in the bone / Of each woman and each man / Craves what it cannot have / Not universal love / But to be loved alone."

    There was a general intellectual excitement in those days about emerging works of serious theology, particularly Protestant theology, excitement that is hard to imagine today. Auden read widely in that literature, particularly in the works of his good friend Reinhold Niebuhr, as well as Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, and the other theological lions of the first half of the 20th century. But he was no theologian. He always seemed to feed on such works in an opportunistic spirit, having a poet's insouciance about the truth claims of systematic theology or apologetics and, indeed, for nearly all dogmatic assertions about questions of religion. Such theological reading chiefly served to replenish his fund of metaphors and similes. But in the end, he was convinced that all ratiocinations and speculations about God's nature were arrogant assumptions and empty human pretensions, merely learned ways of "taking His name in vain." Instead, he believed the worthiest Christians were those who remained perpetually humble and perpetually uneasy in their outlook, their minds stretched taut between the contrary poles of belief and skepticism.

    "Our faith," he insisted, must be "well balanced by our doubt," for a Christian "is never something one is, only something one can pray to become." Christianity was a "way," a way of being in the world, not a set of intellectual propositions or a moral checklist or a map of all reality.

    Such intellectual modesty helps explain the enduring appeal of his native Anglicanism, particularly in its high-church Anglo-Catholic form, precisely because it stressed "uniformity of rite" more than "uniformity of doctrine."

    Great art must, of course, reflect knowledge of that "error bred in the bone."

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 PM


    Buying a GOP Baby Boom (Froma Harrop, 5/13/06, Real Clear Politics)

    Vladimir Putin wants to pay Russian women to have more children. Such pro-natalist policies are common in Western Europe, Japan and parts of Canada.

    It was odd, however, to see similar ideas floated last November in the "conservative" Weekly Standard magazine. Authors Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam suggested that Washington mail out checks for "bonus babies," then pay their parents to take care of them at home.

    Didn't welfare do much of that? Of course, the authors don't use such an unpopular term. "Subsidy" is a nicer word than "welfare," though to a true conservative, it's not a very nice word.

    Douthat and Salam envision a number of transfer payments: handouts for parents who care for children at home; tuition credits as reward for the time spent raising kids; pension credits for the years not spent in the workplace. (I guess the $1,000-a-child tax credit isn't enough for these guys.) Imagine the blizzard of new checks flying out of Washington.

    Now why would conservatives make the sort of proposals that have long inhabited the left end of the feminist movement? The answer is that they're not really conservatives. They're Republicans.

    How does the Left's future look when it has to face the fact that children are a Republican plot for political dominance?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 PM



    Thank you, Dr. Falwell. Thank you, faculty, families and friends, and thank you Liberty University Class of 2006 for your welcome and for your kind invitation to give this year’s commencement address. I want to join in the chorus of congratulations to the Class of 2006. This is a day to bask in praise. You’ve earned it. You have succeeded in a demanding course of instruction. Life seems full of promise as is always the case when a passage in life is marked by significant accomplishment. Today, it might seem as if the world attends you.

    But spare a moment for those who have truly attended you so well for so long, and whose pride in your accomplishments is even greater than your own – your parents. When the world was looking elsewhere your parents’ attention was one of life’s certainties. So, as I commend you, I offer equal praise to your parents for the sacrifices they made for you, for their confidence in you and their love. More than any other influence in your lives they have helped make you the success you are today and might become tomorrow.

    Thousands of commencement addresses are given every year, many by people with greater eloquence and more original minds than I possess. And it’s difficult on such occasions to avoid resorting to clichés. So let me just say that I wish you all well. This is a wonderful time to be young. Life will offer you ways to use your education, industry and intelligence to achieve personal success in your chosen professions. And it will also offer you chances to know a far more sublime happiness by serving something greater than your self-interest. I hope you make the most of all your opportunities.

    When I was in your situation, many, many years ago, an undistinguished graduate – barely – of the Naval Academy, I listened to President Eisenhower deliver the commencement address. I admired President Eisenhower greatly. But I remember little of his remarks that day, impatient as I was to enjoy the less formal celebrations of graduation, and mindful that given my class standing I would not have the privilege of shaking the President’s hand. I do recall, vaguely, that he encouraged his audience of new navy ensigns and Marine lieutenants to become “crusaders for peace.”

    I became an aviator and, eventually, an instrument of war in Vietnam. I believed, as did many of my friends, we were defending the cause of a just peace. Some Americans believed we were agents of American imperialism who were not overly troubled by the many tragedies of war and the difficult moral dilemmas that constantly confront soldiers. Ours is a noisy, contentious society, and always has been, for we love our liberties much. And among those liberties we love most, particularly so when we are young, is our right to self-expression. That passion for self-expression sometimes overwhelms our civility, and our presumption that those with whom we have strong disagreements, wrong as they might be, believe that they, too, are answering the demands of their conscience.

    When I was a young man, I was quite infatuated with self-expression, and rightly so because, if memory conveniently serves, I was so much more eloquent, well-informed, and wiser than anyone else I knew. It seemed I understood the world and the purpose of life so much more profoundly than most people. I believed that to be especially true with many of my elders, people whose only accomplishment, as far as I could tell, was that they had been born before me, and, consequently, had suffered some number of years deprived of my insights. I had opinions on everything, and I was always right. I loved to argue, and I could become understandably belligerent with people who lacked the grace and intelligence to agree with me. With my superior qualities so obvious, it was an intolerable hardship to have to suffer fools gladly. So I rarely did. All their resistance to my brilliantly conceived and cogently argued views proved was that they possessed an inferior intellect and a weaker character than God had blessed me with, and I felt it was my clear duty to so inform them. It’s a pity that there wasn’t a blogosphere then. I would have felt very much at home in the medium.

    It’s funny, now, how less self-assured I feel late in life than I did when I lived in perpetual springtime. Some of my critics allege that age hasn’t entirely cost me the conceits of my youth. All I can say to them is, they should have known me then, when I was brave and true and better looking than I am at present. But as the great poet, Yeats, wrote, “All that’s beautiful drifts away, like the waters.” I have lost some of the attributes that were the object of a young man’s vanity. But there have been compensations, which I have come to hold dear.

    We have our disagreements, we Americans. We contend regularly and enthusiastically over many questions: over the size and purposes of our government; over the social responsibilities we accept in accord with the dictates of our conscience and our faithfulness to the God we pray to; over our role in the world and how to defend our security interests and values in places where they are threatened. These are important questions; worth arguing about. We should contend over them with one another. It is more than appropriate, it is necessary that even in times of crisis, especially in times of crisis, we fight among ourselves for the things we believe in. It is not just our right, but our civic and moral obligation.

    Our country doesn’t depend on the heroism of every citizen. But all of us should be worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf. We have to love our freedom, not just for the private opportunities it provides, but for the goodness it makes possible. We have to love it as much, even if not as heroically, as the brave Americans who defend us at the risk and often the cost of their lives. We must love it enough to argue about it, and to serve it, in whatever way our abilities permit and our conscience requires, whether it calls us to arms or to altruism or to politics.

    I supported the decision to go to war in Iraq. Many Americans did not. My patriotism and my conscience required me to support it and to engage in the debate over whether and how to fight it. I stand that ground not to chase vainglorious dreams of empire; not for a noxious sense of racial superiority over a subject people; not for cheap oil; -- we could have purchased oil from the former dictator at a price far less expensive than the blood and treasure we’ve paid to secure those resources for the people of that nation; not for the allure of chauvinism, to wreak destruction in the world in order to feel superior to it; not for a foolishly romantic conception of war. I stand that ground because I believed, rightly or wrongly, that my country’s interests and values required it.

    War is an awful business. The lives of the nation’s finest patriots are sacrificed. Innocent people suffer. Commerce is disrupted, economies damaged. Strategic interests shielded by years of statecraft are endangered as the demands of war and diplomacy conflict. Whether the cause was necessary or not, whether it was just or not, we should all shed a tear for all that is lost when war claims its wages from us. However just or false the cause, how ever proud and noble the service, it is loss – the loss of friends, the loss of innocent life, the loss of innocence -- that the veteran feels most keenly forever more. Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes war.

    Americans should argue about this war. It has cost the lives of nearly 2500 of the best of us. It has taken innocent life. It has imposed an enormous financial burden on our economy. At a minimum, it has complicated our ability to respond to other looming threats. Should we lose this war, our defeat will further destabilize an already volatile and dangerous region, strengthen the threat of terrorism, and unleash furies that will assail us for a very long time. I believe the benefits of success will justify the costs and risks we have incurred. But if an American feels the decision was unwise, then they should state their opposition, and argue for another course. It is your right and your obligation. I respect you for it. I would not respect you if you chose to ignore such an important responsibility. But I ask that you consider the possibility that I, too, am trying to meet my responsibilities, to follow my conscience, to do my duty as best as I can, as God has given me light to see that duty.

    Americans deserve more than tolerance from one another, we deserve each other’s respect, whether we think each other right or wrong in our views, as long as our character and our sincerity merit respect, and as long as we share, for all our differences, for all the noisy debates that enliven our politics, a mutual devotion to the sublime idea that this nation was conceived in – that freedom is the inalienable right of mankind, and in accord with the laws of nature and nature’s Creator.

    We have so much more that unites us than divides us. We need only to look to the enemy who now confronts us, and the benighted ideals to which Islamic extremists pledge allegiance -- their disdain for the rights of Man, their contempt for innocent human life -- to appreciate how much unites us.

    Take, for example, the awful human catastrophe under way in the Darfur region of the Sudan. If the United States and the West can be criticized for our role in this catastrophe it is because we have waited too long to intervene to protect the multitudes who are suffering, dying because of it.

    Twelve years ago, we turned a blind eye to another genocide, in Rwanda. And when that reign of terror finally, mercifully exhausted itself, with over 800,000 Rwandans slaughtered, Americans, our government, and decent people everywhere in the world were shocked and ashamed of our silence and inaction, for ignoring our values, and the demands of our conscience. In shame and renewed allegiance to our ideals, we swore, not for the first time, “never again.” But never lasted only until the tragedy of Darfur.

    Now, belatedly, we have recovered our moral sense of duty, and are prepared, I hope, to put an end to this genocide. Osama bin Laden and his followers, ready, as always, to sacrifice anything and anyone to their hatred of the West and our ideals, have called on Muslims to rise up against any Westerner who dares intervene to stop the genocide, even though Muslims, hundreds of thousands of Muslims, are its victims. Now that, my friends, is a difference, a cause, worth taking up arms against.

    It is not a clash of civilizations. I believe, as I hope all Americans would believe, that no matter where people live, no matter their history or religious beliefs or the size of their GDP, all people share the desire to be free; to make by their own choices and industry better lives for themselves and their children. Human rights exist above the state and beyond history – they are God-given. They cannot be rescinded by one government any more than they can be granted by another. They inhabit the human heart, and from there, though they may be abridged, they can never be wrenched.

    This is a clash of ideals, a profound and terrible clash of ideals. It is a fight between right and wrong. Relativism has no place in this confrontation. We’re not defending an idea that every human being should eat corn flakes, play baseball or watch MTV. We’re not insisting that all societies be governed by a bicameral legislature and a term-limited chief executive. We are insisting that all people have a right to be free, and that right is not subject to the whims and interests and authority of another person, government or culture. Relativism, in this contest, is most certainly not a sign of our humility or ecumenism; it is a mask for arrogance and selfishness. It is, and I mean this sincerely and with all humility, not worthy of us. We are a better people than that.

    We are not a perfect nation. Our history has had its moments of shame and profound regret. But what we have achieved in our brief history is irrefutable proof that a nation conceived in liberty will prove stronger, more decent and more enduring than any nation ordered to exalt the few at the expense of the many or made from a common race or culture or to preserve traditions that have no greater attribute than longevity.

    As blessed as we are, no nation complacent in its greatness can long sustain it. We, too, must prove, as those who came before us proved, that a people free to act in their own interests, will perceive those interests in an enlightened way, will live as one nation, in a kinship of ideals, and make of our power and wealth a civilization for the ages, a civilization in which all people share in the promise and responsibilities of freedom.

    Should we claim our rights and leave to others the duty to the ideals that protect them, whatever we gain for ourselves will be of little lasting value. It will build no monuments to virtue, claim no honored place in the memory of posterity, offer no worthy summons to the world. Success, wealth and celebrity gained and kept for private interest is a small thing. It makes us comfortable, eases the material hardships our children will bear, purchases a fleeting regard for our lives, yet not the self-respect that, in the end, matters most. But sacrifice for a cause greater than yourself, and you invest your life with the eminence of that cause, your self-respect assured.

    All lives are a struggle against selfishness. All my life I’ve stood a little apart from institutions I willingly joined. It just felt natural to me. But if my life had shared no common purpose, it would not have amounted to much more than eccentricity. There is no honor or happiness in just being strong enough to be left alone. I have spent nearly fifty years in the service of this country and its ideals. I have made many mistakes, and I have many regrets. But I have never lived a day, in good times or bad, that I wasn’t grateful for the privilege. That’s the benefit of service to a country that is an idea and a cause, a righteous idea and cause. America and her ideals helped spare me from the weaknesses in my own character. And I cannot forget it.

    When I was a young man, I thought glory was the highest attainment, and all glory was self-glory. My parents tried to teach me otherwise, as did my church, as did the Naval Academy. But I didn’t understand the lesson until later in life, when I confronted challenges I never expected to face.

    In that confrontation, I discovered that I was dependent on others to a greater extent than I had ever realized, but neither they nor the cause we served made any claims on my identity. On the contrary, they gave me a larger sense of myself than I had before. And I am a better man for it. I discovered that nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone. And that has made all the difference, my friends, all the difference in the world.

    Let us argue with each other then. By all means, let us argue. Our differences are not petty, they often involve cherished beliefs, and represent our best judgment about what is right for our country and humanity. Let us defend those beliefs. Let’s do so sincerely and strenuously. It is our right and duty to do so. And let’s not be too dismayed with the tenor and passion of our arguments, even when they wound us. We have fought among ourselves before in our history, over big things and small, with worse vitriol and bitterness than we experience today.

    Let us exercise our responsibilities as free people. But let us remember, we are not enemies. We are compatriots defending ourselves from a real enemy. We have nothing to fear from each other. We are arguing over the means to better secure our freedom, promote the general welfare and defend our ideals. It should remain an argument among friends; each of us struggling to hear our conscience, and heed its demands; each of us, despite our differences, united in our great cause, and respectful of the goodness in each other. I have not always heeded this injunction myself, and I regret it very much.

    I had a friend once, who, a long time ago, in the passions and resentments of a tumultuous era in our history, I might have considered my enemy. He had come once to the capitol of the country that held me prisoner, that deprived me and my dearest friends of our most basic rights, and that murdered some of us. He came to that place to denounce our country’s involvement in the war that had led us there. His speech was broadcast into our cells. I thought it a grievous wrong then, and I still do.

    A few years later, he had moved temporarily to a kibbutz in Israel. He was there during the Yom Kippur War, when he witnessed the support America provided our beleaguered ally. He saw the huge cargo planes bearing the insignia of the United States Air Force rushing emergency supplies into that country. And he had an epiphany. He had believed America had made a tragic mistake by going to Vietnam, and he still did. He had seen what he believed were his country’s faults, and he still saw them. But he realized he had let his criticism temporarily blind him to his country’s generosity and the goodness that most Americans possess, and he regretted his failing deeply. When he returned to his country he became prominent in Democratic Party politics, and helped elect Bill Clinton President of the United States. He still criticized his government when he thought it wrong, but he never again lost sight of all that unites us.

    We met some years later. He approached me and asked to apologize for the mistake he believed he had made as a young man. Many years had passed since then, and I bore little animosity for anyone because of what they had done or not done during the Vietnam War. It was an easy thing to accept such a decent act, and we moved beyond our old grievance.

    We worked together in an organization dedicated to promoting human rights in the country where he and I had once come for different reasons. I came to admire him for his generosity, his passion for his ideals, for the largeness of his heart, and I realized he had not been my enemy, but my countryman . . . my countryman . . . and later my friend. His friendship honored me. We disagreed over much. Our politics were often opposed, and we argued those disagreements. But we worked together for our shared ideals. We were not always in the right, but we weren’t always in the wrong either, and we defended our beliefs as we had each been given the wisdom to defend them.

    David remained my countryman and my friend, until the day of his death, at the age of forty-seven, when he left a loving wife and three beautiful children, and legions of friends behind him. His country was a better place for his service to her, and I had become a better man for my friendship with him. God bless him.

    And may God bless you, Class of 2006. The world does indeed await you, and humanity is impatient for your service. Take good care of that responsibility. Everything depends upon it.

    And thank you, very much, for the privilege of sharing this great occasion with you.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 PM


    Military Plans Tests in Search for an Alternative to Oil-Based Fuel (THOM SHANKER, 5/13/06, NY Times)

    When an F-16 lights up its afterburners, it consumes nearly 28 gallons of fuel per minute. No wonder, then, that of all the fuel the United States government uses each year, the Air Force accounts for more than half. The Air Force may not be in any danger of suffering inconveniences from scarce or expensive fuel, but it has begun looking for a way to power its jets on something besides conventional fuel.

    In a series of tests — first on engines mounted on blocks and then with B-52's in flight — the Air Force will try to prove that the American military can fly its aircraft by blending traditional crude-oil-based jet fuel with a synthetic liquid made first from natural gas and, eventually, from coal, which is plentiful and cheaper. [...]

    "Energy is a national security issue," said Michael A. Aimone, the Air Force assistant deputy chief of staff for logistics.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 PM


    Tommy Thompson looms large (PHIL BRINKMAN, May 12, 2006,

    Before Tommy Thompson threw it out, the script for next week's state Republican Party convention in Appleton had a familiar look.

    There were the cocktail receptions and hospitality suites, the party-building exercises and keynote addresses, all building to the predictable selection of U.S. Rep. Mark Green as the party's nominee for governor.

    But then Thompson wrote a scene for himself that could elevate him from supporting actor to leading man, promising to use the event to announce whether he will run for governor of the state he led for 14 years, or possibly for U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Herb Kohl.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 PM


    The Right Kind of Paranoia: How the NSA could fix its data-mining program (Fred Kaplan, May 12, 2006, Slate)

    We have hit the point where paranoia is a proper frame of mind for assessing nearly everything this administration says or does.

    We're long past the point where we automatically blame folks for their own derangement, but aren't we also past the moment when anyone believed the Left's argument that craziness is just a social construct?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 PM


    The Right Call on Phone Records: The NSA's Program Safeguards Security -- and Civil Liberties (Richard A. Falkenrath, May 13, 2006, Washington Post)

    On Thursday, USA Today reported that three U.S. telecommunications companies have been voluntarily providing the National Security Agency with anonymized domestic telephone records -- that is, records stripped of individually identifiable data, such as names and place of residence. If true, the architect of this program deserves our thanks and probably a medal. That architect was presumably Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and President Bush's nominee to become director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

    The potential value of such anonymized domestic telephone records is best understood through a hypothetical example. Suppose a telephone associated with Mohamed Atta had called a domestic telephone number A. And then suppose that A had called domestic telephone number B. And then suppose that B had called C. And then suppose that domestic telephone number C had called a telephone number associated with Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The most effective way to recognize such patterns is the computerized analysis of billions of phone records. The large-scale analysis of anonymized data can pinpoint individuals -- at home or abroad -- who warrant more intrusive investigative or intelligence techniques, subject to all safeguards normally associated with those techniques.

    Clearly, there is a compelling national interest in understanding and penetrating such terrorist networks. If the people associated with domestic telephone numbers A, B and C are inside the United States and had facilitated the Sept. 11 attacks, perhaps they are facilitating a terrorist plot now. The American people rightly expect their government to detect and prevent such plots.

    Very few career government officials possess the expertise, initiative and creativity needed to devise a system to penetrate such networks, using only existing statutory and presidential authorities, employing only existing technical and personnel resources, and violating the privacy of no American. Yet, if the USA Today story is correct, this appears to be exactly what Hayden did.

    As Pepys points out, the Left already considers the Post to be playing Der Angriff to President Bush's Hitler, so this should set their heads spinning.

    Posted by Peter Burnet at 3:13 PM


    A Mother's Touch (Victor Limjoco, Discover, May 12th, 2006)

    Be grateful to your mom. Not only did she carry you around for nine months, but now new research suggests that her mothering style may have triggered genes that help determine your parenting style.

    Columbia University neurobiologist Frances Champagne says that previous research across species showed that maternal behaviors are passed down from mother to daughter.

    "So if your mother held you a lot, you will hold your infants a lot," Champagne says.

    But she wanted to know whether mothering tendencies are passed on through genetics or experience. Her team studied mother rats that spent time licking and grooming their babies, and others that didn't.

    As she wrote in the journal "Endocrinology," without enough licking and grooming, female rats had certain genes turn off, preventing the production of certain hormones key to future mothering behaviors, including estrogen and oxytocin, also known as the love hormone.

    Licked rats had a higher production of those hormones, which, in turn, affected behavior when these baby rats became mothers themselves. Champagne says that this combination, genes and environment, pass maternal behaviors from generation to generation.

    Random mutation, natural selection and chicken soup? Now, that’s our idea of a modern synthesis. Over to you, Mr. Dawkins.

    Posted by David Cohen at 2:02 PM


    Alabama candidate for AG disputes Holocaust, is coming to NJ (Jay Reeves, AP, 5/12/06)

    A Democratic candidate for Alabama attorney general denies the Holocaust occurred and said Friday he will speak this weekend in New Jersey to a "pro-white" organization that is widely viewed as being racist.

    Larry Darby concedes his views are radical, but he said they should help him win wide support among Alabama voters as he tries to "reawaken white racial awareness" with his campaign against Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson.

    The way you do this in the Democratic primary is to express your concern that our international relations have been warped by Likudnik neocons and "End Times" Christianists. Then you say that to be honest brokers between Israel and Palestine we need to be seen as more neutral. Then you just finish up by saying that, although the history of the Jews has its share of tragedy, we can't just ignore the modern on-going tragedy in Palestine that is radicalizing poor Muslims and has caused the deaths of so many innocent Palestinians and Americans. That way you get to hate the Jews and be hailed as a progressive. Even if you're not elected, you can be sure of some sinecure at the DNC.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:12 PM


    U.S. is Iran's best hope (SALIM MANSUR, 5/13/06, Toronto Sun)

    As spring turns into summer, Iran will continue making headlines with its march to acquire nuclear weaponry. And as tension mounts, the inverse rule of distance in geopolitics will come into effect.

    This rule predicts those furthest from Iran -- for instance, the leadership aspirants of Canada's federal Liberal party and their supporters in Toronto -- will insist the entire problem of Iran is the making of George W. Bush and his cabal of neo-conservatives in the U.S.

    Since most Canadians have as much trouble distinguishing between Vimy and Vichy as did John McCallum when he was minister of national defence in the former Liberal government of prime minister Jean Chretien, I suspect it will not be difficult for a paper like the Toronto Star to convince a majority of its readers that Iran is being set up by American imperialists who own the Republican party.

    Conversely, a majority of Iranians -- far from Toronto -- will despair for their own future, and that of their children and grandchildren, knowing all too well that nuclear weapons will make their leaders feel invincible and extinguish any hope of regime change in Tehran.

    A corollary of this hypothesis is that the greater the ignorance of the distant "other" -- in this case, the politics and culture of Iran under its religious leaders bequeathed by the founder of the Islamic Republic, the late Ayatollah Khomeini -- the more insistent becomes the need to romanticize it and vilify the U.S., a view that happens to be in solidarity with such model rulers of prospering democracies as those of Cuba, Iran, Libya, Venezuela or Zimbabwe.

    But for anyone who wants to get acquainted in a hurry with Iran as a legacy of Khomeini, the sensible thing to do would be to listen to some Iranians who escaped the dungeon of the ayatollahs. They could start by acquiring a copy of Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:45 PM


    Nice Ass (Peter Beinart, 05.11.06, New Republic)

    [I]f liberals must eradicate self-indulgent niceness, they must also confront an even bigger scourge. Let's call him nascar Man. Nascar Man hovers over every discussion I've ever attended. You don't always notice him at first, but, sooner or later, someone invites him into the room, and he proceeds to suck out all the air. Nascar Man is the guy liberals need to win, but usually don't. He loves guns, pickup trucks, chewing tobacco, and church on Sunday. He thinks liberals are high-taxing, culturally libertine, quasi-pacifist wimps. And, once liberals have conjured him up, they no longer say what they really believe--even to one another.

    The problem starts with the failure to draw a basic distinction: between what liberals believe and what Democrats should say to get elected. Inevitably, in my experience, the two are conflated, and, inevitably, the latter tramples the former. Should liberals invest more power in the United Nations? Should they spend large new sums on the poor? Should they support gay marriage? The propositions are not refuted; they are rarely even raised, because no one wants to incite nascar Man's wrath. Nascar Man inhibits intellectual inquiry. He's the bully everyone wants to appease.

    This, needless to say, is not how conservatives traveled from the political wilderness to political power. Since John Kerry's loss, liberals have devoted themselves to institution-building, in a self-conscious effort to ape the "counter-establishment" so effectively constructed by the American right. But, when William F. Buckley founded National Review in 1955, or when Edward Feulner and Paul Weyrich created the Heritage Foundation in 1973, they did not use public opinion's perceived liberal tilt as an excuse to self-censor. Instead, they poured their energy into trying to explain--first at the level of principle and then at the level of policy--what conservatives really believed.

    Today, nascar Man keeps liberals from doing that. In fact, he keeps liberals from even fully realizing that, were we given intellectual carte blanche, we would have difficulty articulating a set of core principles. At first glance, nascar Man's presence makes liberal discussions harder--because you have to tailor your views to his whims. But he ultimately makes them easier, because he prevents liberals from having to think about what we fundamentally believe.

    Expelling nascar Man is not synonymous with moving liberalism to the left.

    The bit about the Left just being too nice is the sort of self-indulgent pabulum that a person less deeply trapped in the bubble would be embarrassed by, but he's right that the Democratic Party need to move far enough Right to appeal to NASCAR man if it's too win elections. Of course, if it does it will cease to be a party of the Left and a new party will replace it. The proper place for people who recognize that liberalism is a bad idea is the GOP.

    The Loneliness of the Liberal Hawk: Dems who understand war, pols who don't (Tom Donnelly, 05/22/2006, Weekly Standard)

    T'S TOUGH TO BE a moderate Democrat. Hatred of George Bush has changed the loyal opposition into the bitter opposition, less interested in policy than in punishing their bête noire. It's particularly tough for Democrats who supported the invasion of Iraq, the defining George Bush moment, and who oppose withdrawal. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the very model of a modern "defense Democrat"--not to mention the party's 2000 vice presidential nominee--now faces overwhelming votes of "no confidence" from Connecticut Democratic town councils.

    The conundrum is acute for the rising generation of moderate Democrats who may run for president, if the performances last week by former Virginia governor Mark Warner and Sen. Evan Bayh at an event sponsored by the Progressive Policy Institute are any indication. Speaking in support of PPI's new collection of essays, With All Our Might--a valiant attempt to define "a progressive strategy for defeating jihadism and defending liberty"--both Warner and Bayh clung safely to the anti-Bush orthodoxy. [...]

    PPI's book With All Our Might actually represents an impressive lineup of younger defense and security intellectuals, many of whom worked in the Clinton administration. And they're more hawkish, in general, than Warner or Bayh.

    Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution, whose prewar The Threatening Storm made a forceful case for invading Iraq, still sounds like a closet neocon. His essay on "A Grand Strategy for the Middle East" argues that "whether you supported the war or not, it is all about Iraq now." Withdrawal is not an option: "We cannot simply walk away from Iraq without repercussions. In that sense, Iraq is decidedly not Vietnam." While offering a comprehensive critique of Bush administration failures in Iraq, he emphasizes the military and strategic shortcomings; Pollack sees clearly that the first order of business is to establish security, which means fighting.

    PPI's own Jan Mazurek is even tougher on Middle East strategy than Pollack. Where Pollack imagines, in keeping with the elite conventional wisdom of both parties, that China can easily be made a partner for progress in the region, Mazurek sees that the People's Republic, by its own choices, is creating the conditions for an even greater challenge. "Beijing is striking up cordial relationships with a motley array of tyrants and rogue states with which the United States is at odds," he writes. "In fact, competition between China and the United States for oil and influence in oil-rich countries could become the 21st-century equivalent of the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union in the cold war."

    And there are two very fine essays on military matters. James Blaker and Steven Nider call for an expanded Army and commit the ultimate Democratic apostasy: "The military budget--which currently consumes a much smaller percentage of U.S. GDP than it did during the cold war, on average--will probably need to grow in the short term." Perhaps most surprising is Melissa Tryon's remarkably sensitive examination of current military culture, an essay that should be required reading for all post-Vietnam politicians. She understands that people in uniform "see the defense of our country as a calling, and one of the greatest forms of service." They also have a deep commitment to victory that "leads to anger at what is widely seen as 'defeatism' among those who declare that the Iraq war is 'unwinnable.' . . . What service members want most is to see America succeed in Iraq."

    It's ironic that the current president, a Republican, is a visionary liberal, while those who seem to be his natural lieutenants are Democrats without the prospect of a commander in chief who shares their commitment.

    No more ironic than Lincoln and Reagan.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:39 PM


    Starlings vs Chomsky: Can common birds make the linguist eat his words? (Jocelyn Selim, May 01, 2006, Discover)

    Male European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) constantly add new sounds to their repertoires, picking up nearly any auditory object they can find, including the sounds of car alarms, squeaky doors, human speech and the vocalizations of other species. (photo: Daniel Baleckaitis)

    Noam Chomsky, that noted linguist, has theorized that one of the main hallmarks that distinguishes human language from the squeaks and rumblings of birds and beasts is the ability to use something called recursive grammar. Essentially, recursive grammar is what enables us to insert an explanatory clause in the midst of a sentence, such as the 'that noted linguist,' in the preceding sentence.

    Now a team of zoologists and psychologists led by University of California at San Diego's Timothy Gentner has shown that the lowly European starling is also quite capable of using this kind of syntax.

    Geez, he even biffed his own supposed field of expertise?

    For Chomsky (Robin Blackburn, November 2005, Prospect)

    Some believe—as Paul Robinson, writing in the New York Times Book Review, once put it—that there is a "Chomsky problem." On the one hand, he is the author of profound, though forbiddingly technical, contributions to linguistics. On the other, his political pronouncements are often "maddeningly simple-minded."

    In fact, it is not difficult to spot connections between the intellectual strategies Chomsky has adopted in science and in politics. Chomsky's approach to syntax stressed the economy of explanation that could be achieved if similarities in the structure of human languages were seen as stemming from biologically rooted, innate capacities of the human mind, above all the recursive ability to generate an infinite number of statements from a finite set of words and symbols. Many modern critics of the radical academy are apt to bemoan its disregard for scientific method and evidence. This is not a reproach that can be aimed at Chomsky, who has pursued a naturalistic and reductionist standpoint in what he calls, in the title of his 1995 volume, The Minimalist Programme.

    Chomsky's political analyses also strive to keep it simple, but not at the expense of the evidence, which he can abundantly cite if challenged. But it is "maddening" none the less, just as the minimalist programme may be to some of his scientific colleagues. The apparent straightforwardness of Chomsky's political judgements—his "predictable" or even "kneejerk" opposition to western, especially US, military intervention—could seem simplistic. Yet they are based on a mountain of evidence and an economical account of how power and information are shared, distributed and denied. Characteristically, Chomsky begins with a claim of stark simplicity which he elaborates into an intricate account of the different roles of government, military, media and business in the running of the world.

    Chomsky's apparently simple political stance is rooted in an anarchism and collectivism which generates its own sense of individuality and complexity. He was drawn to the study of language and syntax by a mentor, Zellig Harris, who also combined libertarianism with linguistics. Chomsky's key idea of an innate, shared linguistic capacity for co-operation and innovation is a positive, rather than purely normative, rebuttal of the Straussian argument that natural human inequality vitiates democracy.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:36 PM


    Iranian President Says Tehran Willing to Hold Nuclear Talks (VOA News, 13 May 2006)

    Iran's president says he is willing to hold talks about his country's uranium enrichment program, but not with nations who threaten to use force against Iran.

    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke to reporters Saturday, following meetings of eight mainly Muslim nations on the Indonesian island of Bali. He said again that Iran's nuclear ambitions are only for peaceful, energy-producing purposes.

    It's ideal--he can cut a deal with the EU while we reserve the military option.

    Posted by Peter Burnet at 10:39 AM


    Withdrawing from Kyoto will damage our credibility: briefing (Dennis Bueckert, Canadian Press, May 13th, 2006)

    Canada would lose international credibility and the ability to influence future climate-change negotiations if it withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, say briefing documents prepared for Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay.

    "Given the Kyoto Protocol's international profile ... withdrawal from the Protocol would have important foreign policy implications,'' says the document, marked "secret.''

    The analysis could explain why the Conservative government has chosen to remain within the protocol despite having fought it while in opposition, and despite deeming its targets unrealistic.

    "Canada would have diminished credibility in discussing options for what future commitments industrialized countries might make, having rejected its earlier commitments,'' says the analysis, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

    These bureaucrats never seem to ask themselves how much credibility the world would accord a country that tries to craft its foreign policy on the basis of maximizing its credibility.

    Posted by Peter Burnet at 10:14 AM


    A rapist's paradise
    (Leonard Stern, The Ottawa Citizen, May 13th, 2006)

    Women's groups in South Africa were outraged at the acquittal Monday of Jacob Zuma, the country's former deputy president, who had been charged with rape, sparked outrage. Sexual violence is out of control in that nation. Tens of thousands of rapes are reported to police every year, though experts believe that at least as many additional ones go unreported. A bizarre pathology is plaguing South African men, and the trial of Mr. Zuma suggested that not even the nation's leaders are immune.

    Researchers in fields from political science to psychology are trying to figure out why so many South African men rape. Observers note that South Africa is both a rigidly patriarchal society and in many ways a lawless one, two factors that, when combined, put women in a vulnerable spot.

    Yet there are other patriarchal, lawless places in the world, and women there are not being systematically raped. One intriguing theory holds that the rape epidemic is a legacy of the apartheid years. Under the humiliating apartheid system, black South African men were rendered officially powerless -- politically neutered. The culture of rape represents a dysfunctional effort by black men to assert themselves and project power.

    A similar phenomenon could be said to exist in U.S. inner cities, where black men who are marginalized in the larger society embrace a hip-hop culture whose defining feature is a grotesque misogyn