August 31, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 PM


China's revolutionary myth (GWYNNE DYER, 9/01/06, Japan Times)

Back in the late 1980s, when mocking the few remaining Communist believers had become a popular indoor sport in the former Soviet Union, one of my favorite gambits was to point out that Russia would have done far better economically if the Communist revolution of 1917 had never happened at all. No matter how pessimistic your assumptions about the way that a non-Communist Russia would have developed, it simply couldn't have done as badly as the Communists did.

To prove your point, all you had to do was to pick some other country that had been at about the same stage of industrial development as Russia just before World War I -- Italy was the most obvious candidate -- and to compare the outcomes in the present.

Italy went through the Great Depression in the 1930s (which the Soviet Union escaped), and was on the losing side in World War II. Nobody would claim that post-1945 Italian governments (all 50-odd of them) have been models of good governance, and Italy is far poorer in natural resources than Russia. And yet, by the late 20th century Italians were four or five times richer than Russians, purely because they had avoided Communist rule. They were a lot freer, too.

The Soviet Communists always compared the circumstances before the revolution (which were pretty dreadful) with the situation 70 years later, and gave "the Revolution" full credit for all the changes for the better -- as if other Russians, using less violent and oppressive means, could never have changed the country. Even in the late 1980s, they effectively claimed that it would still be like 1917 in Russia if the Communist revolution had not happened.

So here we are again, with the Chinese Communist regime taking credit for all the improvements in China since they won the civil war in 1949, and foreign leftists like Hugo Chavez holding out China as an example of what wonderful things can be accomplished under "socialism." But what would China be like now if the Communists had not won power in 1949? Much richer, much freer, and not much less equal, either.

The right comparison is not between China in 1949 and China now. It is between China's economic progress since 1949 and that achieved by its neighbors that were in a roughly similar state of development at that time. The two closest parallels are South Korea and the "other China," Taiwan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 PM


There Is Silence in the Streets; Where Have All the Protesters Gone? (ANDREW ROSENTHAL, 8/31/06, NY Times)

It was almost painful the other night to hear Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sing about a war whose purpose Americans never really understood, started by a president who didn’t tell the truth and then waged the war ineptly. And that was before they sang about Iraq. [...]

[W]hen those four men sang their protest songs four decades ago, their lyrics echoed and personified a powerful political movement sweeping America. Now they are entertainment, something to leave behind in the concert hall.

There were a few political booths outside the Theater at Madison Square Garden. But the concert-tour T-shirt salesmen were getting all the business. The most noticeable sound was the cellphones being restarted by those few who had bothered to turn them off during the concert.

This, perhaps, is the ultimate difference between the Vietnam generation and the Iraq generation: When you hear Young and Company sing of “four dead in Ohio,” their Kent State anthem, it’s hard to imagine anyone on today’s campuses willing to face armed troops.

The armed troops.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 PM


President Bush Addresses American Legion National Convention (George W. Bush, Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt Lake City, Utah, 8/31/06)

At this hour, a new generation of Americans in uniform is showing great courage in defending our freedom in the first war of the 21st century. I know that Legionnaires are following this war closely, especially those of you with family and friends who wear our uniform. The images that come back from the front lines are striking, and sometimes unsettling. When you see innocent civilians ripped apart by suicide bombs, or families buried inside their homes, the world can seem engulfed in purposeless violence. The truth is there is violence, but those who cause it have a clear purpose. When terrorists murder at the World Trade Center, or car bombers strike in Baghdad, or hijackers plot to blow up planes over the Atlantic, or terrorist militias shoot rockets at Israeli towns, they are all pursuing the same objective -- to turn back the advance of freedom, and impose a dark vision of tyranny and terror across the world.

The enemies of liberty come from different parts of the world, and they take inspiration from different sources. Some are radicalized followers of the Sunni tradition, who swear allegiance to terrorist organizations like al Qaeda. Others are radicalized followers of the Shia tradition, who join groups like Hezbollah and take guidance from state sponsors like Syria and Iran. Still others are "homegrown" terrorists -- fanatics who live quietly in free societies they dream to destroy. Despite their differences, these groups from -- form the outlines of a single movement, a worldwide network of radicals that use terror to kill those who stand in the way of their totalitarian ideology. And the unifying feature of this movement, the link that spans sectarian divisions and local grievances, is the rigid conviction that free societies are a threat to their twisted view of Islam.

The war we fight today is more than a military conflict; it is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century. (Applause.) On one side are those who believe in the values of freedom and moderation -- the right of all people to speak, and worship, and live in liberty. And on the other side are those driven by the values of tyranny and extremism -- the right of a self-appointed few to impose their fanatical views on all the rest. As veterans, you have seen this kind of enemy before. They're successors to Fascists, to Nazis, to Communists, and other totalitarians of the 20th century. And history shows what the outcome will be: This war will be difficult; this war will be long; and this war will end in the defeat of the terrorists and totalitarians, and a victory for the cause of freedom and liberty. (Applause.)

We're now approaching the fifth anniversary of the day this war reached our shores. As the horror of that morning grows more distant, there is a tendency to believe that the threat is receding and this war is coming to a close. That feeling is natural and comforting -- and wrong. As we recently saw, the enemy still wants to attack us. We're in a war we didn't ask for, but it's a war we must wage, and a war we will win. (Applause.)

In the coming days, I'll deliver a series of speeches describing the nature of our enemy in the war on terror, the insights we've gained about their aims and ambitions, the successes and setbacks we've experienced, and our strategy to prevail in this long war. Today, I'll discuss a critical aspect of this war: the struggle between freedom and terror in the Middle East, including the battle in Iraq, which is the central front in our fight against terrorism.

To understand the struggle unfolding in the Middle East, we need to look at the recent history of the region. For a half- century, America's primary goal in the Middle East was stability. This was understandable at the time; we were fighting the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and it was important to support Middle Eastern governments that rejected communism. Yet, over the decades, an undercurrent of danger was rising in the Middle East. Much of the region was mired in stagnation and despair. A generation of young people grew up with little hope to improve their lives, and many fell under the sway of radical extremism. The terrorist movement multiplied in strength, and resentment that had simmered for years boiled over into violence across the world.

Extremists in Iran seized American hostages. Hezbollah terrorists murdered American troops at the Marine barracks in Beirut and Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. Terrorists set off a truck bomb at the World Trade Center. Al Qaeda blew up two U.S. embassies in East Africa, and bombed the USS Cole. Then came the nightmare of September the 11, 2001, when 19 hijackers killed nearly 3,000 men, women, and children.

In the space of a single morning, it became clear that the calm we saw in the Middle East was only a mirage. We realized that years of pursuing stability to promote peace had left us with neither. Instead, the lack of freedom in the Middle East made the region an incubator for terrorist movements.

The status quo in the Middle East before September the 11th was dangerous and unacceptable, so we're pursuing a new strategy. First, we're using every element of national power to confront al Qaeda, those who take inspiration from them, and other terrorists who use similar tactics. We have ended the days of treating terrorism simply as a law enforcement matter. We will stay on the offense. We will fight the terrorists overseas so we do not have to face them here at home. (Applause.)

Second, we have made it clear to all nations, if you harbor terrorists, you are just as guilty as the terrorists; you're an enemy of the United States, and you will be held to account. (Applause.) And third, we've launched a bold new agenda to defeat the ideology of the enemy by supporting the forces of freedom in the Middle East and beyond.

The freedom agenda is based upon our deepest ideals and our vital interests. Americans believe that every person, of every religion, on every continent, has the right to determine his or her own destiny. We believe that freedom is a gift from an almighty God, beyond any power on Earth to take away. (Applause.) And we also know, by history and by logic, that promoting democracy is the surest way to build security. Democracies don't attack each other or threaten the peace. Governments accountable to the voters focus on building roads and schools -- not weapons of mass destruction. Young people who have a say in their future are less likely to search for meaning in extremism. Citizens who can join a peaceful political party are less likely to join a terrorist organization. Dissidents with the freedom to protest around the clock are less likely to blow themselves up during rush hour. And nations that commit to freedom for their people will not support terrorists -- they will join us in defeating them. (Applause.)

So America has committed its influence in the world to advancing freedom and democracy as the great alternatives to repression and radicalism. We will take the side of democratic leaders and reformers across the Middle East. We will support the voices of tolerance and moderation in the Muslim world. We stand with the mothers and fathers in every culture who want to see their children grow up in a caring and peaceful world. And by supporting the cause of freedom in a vital region, we'll make our children and our grandchildren more secure. (Applause.)

Over the past five years, we've begun to see the results of our actions -- and we have seen how our enemies respond to the advance of liberty. In Afghanistan, we saw a vicious tyranny that harbored the terrorists who planned the September the 11th attacks. Within weeks, American forces were in Afghanistan. Along with Afghan allies, we captured or killed hundreds of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters; we closed down their training camps, and we helped the people of Afghanistan replace the Taliban with a democratic government that answers to them. (Applause.)

Our enemies saw the transformation in Afghanistan, and they've responded by trying to roll back all the progress. Al Qaeda and the Taliban lost a coveted base in Afghanistan and they know they will never reclaim it when democracy succeeds. And so they're trying to return to power by attacking Afghanistan's free institutions. And they will fail. (Applause.) Forces from 40 nations, including every member of NATO, are now serving alongside American troops to support the new Afghan government. The days of the Taliban are over. The future of Afghanistan belongs to the people of Afghanistan. And the future of Afghanistan belongs to freedom. (Applause.)

In Lebanon, we saw a sovereign nation occupied by the Syrian dictatorship. We also saw the courageous people of Lebanon take to the streets to demand their independence. So we worked to enforce a United Nations resolution that required Syria to end its occupation of the country. The Syrians withdrew their armed forces, and the Lebanese people elected a democratic government that began to reclaim their country.

Our enemies saw the transformation in Lebanon and set out to destabilize the young democracy. Hezbollah launched an unprovoked attack on Israel that undermined the democrat government in Beirut. Yet their brazen action caused the world to unite in support for Lebanon's democracy. Secretary Rice worked with the Security Council to pass Resolution 1701, which will strengthen Lebanese forces as they take control of southern Lebanon -- and stop Hezbollah from acting as a state within a state.

I appreciate the troops pledged by France and Italy and other allies for this important international deployment. Together, we're going to make it clear to the world that foreign forces and terrorists have no place in a free and democratic Lebanon. (Applause.)

This summer's crisis in Lebanon has made it clearer than ever that the world now faces a grave threat from the radical regime in Iran. The Iranian regime arms, funds, and advises Hezbollah, which has killed more Americans than any terrorist network except al Qaeda. The Iranian regime interferes in Iraq by sponsoring terrorists and insurgents, empowering unlawful militias, and supplying components for improvised explosive devices. The Iranian regime denies basic human rights to millions of its people. And the Iranian regime is pursuing nuclear weapons in open defiance of its international obligations.

We know the death and suffering that Iran's sponsorship of terrorists has brought, and we can imagine how much worse it would be if Iran were allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. Many nations are working together to solve this problem. The United Nations passed a resolution demanding that Iran suspend its nuclear enrichment activities. Today is the deadline for Iran's leaders to reply to the reasonable proposal the international community has made. If Iran's leaders accept this offer and abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions, they can set their country on a better course. Yet, so far, the Iranian regime has responded with further defiance and delay. It is time for Iran to make a choice. We've made our choice: We will continue to work closely with our allies to find a diplomatic solution -- but there must be consequences for Iran's defiance, and we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. (Applause.)

In Iraq, we saw a dictator who harbored terrorists, fired at military planes, paid the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, invaded a neighbor, and pursued and used weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations passed more than a dozen resolutions demanding that Saddam Hussein fully and openly abandon his weapons of mass destruction. We gave him a last chance to comply -- and when he refused, we enforced the just demands of the world. And now Saddam Hussein is in prison and on trial. Soon he will have the justice he denied to so many for so long. (Applause.) And with this tyrant gone from power, the United States, Iraq, the Middle East, and the world are better off. (Applause.)

In the three years since Saddam's fall the Iraqi people have reclaimed sovereignty of their country. They cast their ballots in free elections. They drafted and approved a democratic constitution and elected a constitutional democracy at the heart of the Middle East. Over the same period, Iraq has seen a rise of terrorist and insurgent movements that use brutal and indiscriminate violence to frustrate the desire of the Iraqi people for freedom and peace. Al Qaeda terrorists, former elements of Saddam's regime, illegal militias and unlawful armed groups are all working to undermine Iraq's new democracy. These groups have different long-term ambitions, but the same immediate goals. They want to drive America and our coalition out of Iraq and the Middle East, so they can stop the advance of freedom and impose their dark vision on the people of the Middle East. (Applause.)

Our enemies in Iraq have employed ruthless tactics to achieve those goals. They've targeted American and coalition troops with ambushes and roadside bombs. They've taken hostage and beheaded civilians on camera. They've blown up Iraqi army posts and assassinated government leaders. We've adapted to the tactics -- and thanks to the skill and professionalism of Iraqi and American forces, many of these enemies have met their end. At every step along the way, our enemies have failed to break the courage of the Iraqi people; they have failed to stop the rise of Iraqi democracy -- and they will fail in breaking the will of the American people. (Applause.)

Now these enemies have launched a new effort. They have embarked on a bloody campaign of sectarian violence, which they hope will plunge Iraq into a civil war. The outbreak of sectarian violence was encouraged by the terrorist Zarqawi, al Qaeda's man in Iraq who called for an "all-out war" on Iraqi Shia. The Shia community resisted the impulse to seek revenge for a while. But after this February bombing of the Shia Golden Dome Mosque in Samarra, extremist groups mobilized and sectarian death squads formed on the streets of Baghdad and other areas. Our Ambassador reports that thousands of Iraqis were murdered in Baghdad last month, and large numbers of them were victims of sectarian violence.

This cruelty and carnage has led some to question whether Iraq has descended into civil war. Our commanders and our diplomats on the ground in Iraq believe that's not the case. They report that only a small number of Iraqis are engaged in sectarian violence, while the overwhelming majority want peace and a normal life in a unified country. Iraqi leaders from all backgrounds remember the elections that brought them to power, in which 12 million Iraqis defied the car bombers and killers to claim, "We want to be free." (Applause.)

Iraq's government is working tirelessly to hold the nation together and to heal Iraq's divisions, not to exploit them. The Iraqi people have come a long way. They are not going to let their country fall apart or relapse into tyranny. As Prime Minister Maliki told the United States Congress, "Iraqis have tasted freedom and we will defend it absolutely." (Applause.)

America has a clear strategy to help the Iraqi people protect their new freedom, and build a democracy that can govern itself, and sustain itself, and defend itself. On the political side, we're working closely with Prime Minister Maliki to strengthen Iraq's unity government and develop -- and to deliver better services to the Iraqi people. This is a crucial moment for the new Iraqi government; its leaders understand the challenge. They believe that now is the time to hammer out compromises on Iraq's most contentious issues.

I've been clear with each Iraqi leader I meet: America is a patient nation, and Iraq can count on our partnership, as long as the new government continues to make the hard decisions necessary to advance a unified, democratic and peaceful Iraq. Prime Minister Maliki has shown courage in laying out an agenda to do just that -- and he can count on an ally, the United States of America, to help him promote this agenda. (Applause.)

On the security side, we're refining our tactics to meet the threats on the ground. I've given our commanders in Iraq all the flexibility they need to make adjustments necessary to stay on the offense and defeat the enemies of freedom. We've deployed Special Operation forces to kill or capture terrorists operating in Iraq. Zarqawi found out what they can do. We continue to train Iraqi police forces to defend their own nation. We've handed over security responsibility for a southern province to Iraqi forces. Five of Iraq's 10 army divisions are now taking the lead in their areas of operation. The Iraqi security forces are determined; they're becoming more capable; and together, we will defeat the enemies of a free Iraq. (Applause.)

Recently, we also launched a major new campaign to end the security crisis in Baghdad. Side by side, Iraqi and American forces are conducting operations in the city's most violent areas to disrupt al Qaeda, to capture enemy fighters, crack down on IED makers, and break up the death squads. These forces are helping Iraq's national police force undergo retraining to better enforce law in Baghdad. And these forces are supporting the Iraqi government as it provides reconstruction assistance.

The Baghdad Security Plan is still in its early stages. We cannot expect immediate success. Yet, the initial results are encouraging. According to one military report, a Sunni man in a diverse Baghdad neighborhood said this about the Shia soldiers on patrol: "Their image has changed. Now you feel they're there to protect you." Over the coming weeks and months, the operation will expand throughout Baghdad. until Iraq's democratic government is in full control of its capital. The work is difficult and dangerous, but the Iraqi government and their forces are determined to reclaim their country. And the United States is determined to help them succeed. (Applause.)

Here at home we have a choice to make about Iraq. Some politicians look at our efforts in Iraq and see a diversion from the war on terror. That would come as news to Osama bin Laden, who proclaimed that the "third world war is raging" in Iraq. It would come as news to the number two man of al Qaeda, Zawahiri, who has called the struggle in Iraq, quote, "the place for the greatest battle." It would come as news to the terrorists from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and other countries, who have to come to Iraq to fight the rise of democracy.

It's hard to believe that these terrorists would make long journeys across dangerous borders, endure heavy fighting, or blow themselves up in the streets of Baghdad, for a so-called "diversion." Some Americans didn't support my decision to remove Saddam Hussein; many are frustrated with the level of violence. But we should all agree that the battle for Iraq is now central to the ideological struggle of the 21st century. We will not allow the terrorists to dictate the future of this century -- so we will defeat them in Iraq. (Applause.)

Still, there are some in our country who insist that the best option in Iraq is to pull out, regardless of the situation on the ground. Many of these folks are sincere and they're patriotic, but they could be -- they could not be more wrong. If America were to pull out before Iraq can defend itself, the consequences would be absolutely predictable -- and absolutely disastrous. We would be handing Iraq over to our worst enemies -- Saddam's former henchmen, armed groups with ties to Iran, and al Qaeda terrorists from all over the world who would suddenly have a base of operations far more valuable than Afghanistan under the Taliban. They would have a new sanctuary to recruit and train terrorists at the heart of the Middle East, with huge oil riches to fund their ambitions. And we know exactly where those ambitions lead. If we give up the fight in the streets of Baghdad, we will face the terrorists in the streets of our own cities.

We can decide to stop fighting the terrorists in Iraq and other parts of the world, but they will not decide to stop fighting us. General John Abizaid, our top commander in the Middle East region, recently put it this way: "If we leave, they will follow us." And he is right. The security of the civilized world depends on victory in the war on terror, and that depends on victory in Iraq. So the United States of America will not leave until victory is achieved. (Applause.)

Victory in Iraq will be difficult and it will require more sacrifice. The fighting there can be as fierce as it was at Omaha Beach or Guadalcanal. And victory is as important as it was in those earlier battles. Victory in Iraq will result in a democracy that is a friend of America and an ally in the war on terror. Victory in Iraq will be a crushing defeat for our enemies, who have staked so much on the battle there. Victory in Iraq will honor the sacrifice of the brave Americans who have given their lives. And victory in Iraq would be a powerful triumph in the ideological struggle of the 21st century. From Damascus to Tehran, people will look to a democratic Iraq as inspiration that freedom can succeed in the Middle East, and as evidence that the side of freedom is the winning side. This is a pivotal moment for the Middle East. The world is watching -- and in Iraq and beyond, the forces of freedom will prevail. (Applause.)

For all the debate, American policy in the Middle East comes down to a straightforward choice. We can allow the Middle East to continue on its course -- on the course it was headed before September the 11th, and a generation from now, our children will face a region dominated by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons. Or we can stop that from happening, by rallying the world to confront the ideology of hate, and give the people of the Middle East a future of hope. And that is the choice America has made. (Applause.)

We see a day when people across the Middle East have governments that honor their dignity, unleash their creativity, and count their votes. We see a day when leaders across the Middle East reject terror and protect freedom. We see a day when the nations of the Middle East are allies in the cause of peace. The path to that day will be uphill and uneven, but we can be confident of the outcome, because we know that the direction of history leads toward freedom.

In the early years of our republic, Thomas Jefferson said that we cannot expect to move "from despotism to liberty in a featherbed." That's been true in every time and place. No one understands that like you, our veterans, understand that. With the distance of history, it can be easy to look back at the wars of the 20th century and see a straight path to victory. You know better than that. You waged the hard battles, you suffered the wounds, you lost friends and brothers. You were there for dark times and the moments of uncertainty. And you know that freedom is always worth the sacrifice.

You also know what it takes to win. For all that is new about this war, one thing has not changed: Victory still depends on the courage and the patience and the resolve of the American people. Above all, it depends on patriots who are willing to fight for freedom. (Applause.) Our nation is blessed to have these men and women in abundance. Our military forces make this nation strong; they make this nation safe; and they make this nation proud. (Applause.)

We thank them and their families for their sacrifice. We will remember all those who have given their lives in this struggle -- and I vow that we will give our men and women in uniform all the resources they need to accomplish their missions. (Applause.)

One brave American we remember is Marine Corporal Adam Galvez, from here in Salt Lake City. Yesterday Adam's mom and dad laid their son to rest. We're honored by their presence with us today. (Applause.) About a month ago, Adam was wounded by a suicide bomb in Iraq's Anbar Province. When he regained consciousness, he found he was buried alive, so he dug himself out of the rubble. And then ran through gunfire to get a shovel to dig out his fellow Marines. As soon as he recovered from his injuries, Adam volunteered to go back to the front lines. and 11 days ago, he was killed when a roadside bomb hit his convoy.

Here is what Adam's mom and dad said about the cause for which their son gave his life: "Though many are debating the justification of this war, Adam believed in his country -- Adam's belief in his country did not waver, even to the point of the ultimate sacrifice. It's our hope and our prayer that people share the same conviction and dedication to our troops and fellow Americans." (Applause.)

Our nation will always remember the selflessness and sacrifice of Americans like Adam Galvez. We will honor their lives by completing the good and noble work they have started. (Applause.) And we can be confident that one day, veterans of the war on terror will gather at American Legion halls across the country, and say the same things you say: We made our nation safer; we made a region more peaceful; and we left behind a better world for our children and our grandchildren. (Applause.)

Thanks for having me. May God bless our veterans. May God bless our troops. And may God continue to bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:05 PM


Japan firmly on a conservative path (Hisane Masaki, 9/01/06, Asia Times)

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, now widely believed to be a shoo-in to succeed Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in September, has made it clear, if ever there was any doubt, that he will pursue an ultra-conservative, nationalistic and pro-US political and foreign-policy agenda.

Abe's policy goals as the new prime minister will include, among other things, giving Japan a greater military role abroad through such means as promulgating a new constitution to replace the post-World War II pacifist constitution, strengthening a security alliance with the United States, and forging a thinly veiled alliance of Asia-Pacific democracies to counter China.

These goals, coupled with Abe's nationalist views on history, hawkish stance on such countries as China and firm support for the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo seen as glorifying Japan's militaristic past, will stoke concerns among Asian neighbors, especially China and South Korea.

New business model is Koizumi's legacy (Suvendrini Kakuchi, 9/01/06, Asia Times)
Under the Koizumi administration, Japan has undergone a dramatic transformation through his policy of promoting fierce restructuring of companies and right-sizing the government.

The bitterly fought postal-reform bill that was passed in the diet (parliament) is a case in point. Koizumi boosted his popularity when he won the elections over the bill, ushering in a long-awaited change to jump-start the economy after the bursting of the bubble economy in the mid-1980s.

Masami Morishima, a businessman in his early 40s who started his own Internet publishing company three years ago, agrees. "Koizumi's reforms have taught ordinary Japanese that we need to be able to develop our own goals rather than depend on our companies to lead us. We must learn to be competitive and be respected for our ability, which is a new concept," he said.

The net result today is an economy that showed a growth of 3.2% in the fiscal year that ended in April, and a stock market that rose 66% in three years.

A report by the Japan Institute for Social and Economic Affairs, a leading think-tank, says the Japanese economy has recovered thanks to reforms in labor, finance, accounting and corporate governance.

The University of California's Steven Vogel writes in the report that the remodeled Japan differs from the earlier version in several ways. For one, Japanese companies are re-evaluating their long-term relationships with banks, workers and other firms. They are also more variable in their practices and more open to having foreign managers and business partners.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:37 PM


Iranian President Meets Press and Is Challenged (MICHAEL SLACKMAN, 8/31/065, NY Times)

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meant to use Tuesday to focus attention on his challenge to the president of the United States: a face-off in a live televised debate.

But at a freewheeling two-hour news conference, Mr. Ahmadinejad also found himself challenged by local reporters who questioned the government’s economic program and its tolerance of a critical press.

The marathon question-and-answer session offered a window into one of the many contradictions of Iranian politics and governance: even as the government grows more authoritarian, it is openly criticized and challenged on its performance.

In fact, the President oughtn't just accept, but should insist that the debate be held in Teheran and then turn the visit into a full-blown challenge to the regime.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 PM


The Word - World Book Club (BBC)

Scottish Crime novelist Ian Rankin is this month's guest on World Book Club. He joined Harriett Gilbert and an invited audience at The Edinburgh International Book Festival to discuss the novel that really made his name; Black and Blue.

You can discover what the real life police force think of his fictitious Inspector Rebus, and what plans he has for Rebus' retirement and where Ian Rankin and fellow Scottish authors go for inspiration and a cup of tea.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


The US view of Iraq: we can pull out in a year (Julian Borger, August 31, 2006, The Guardian)

The top US general in Iraq yesterday predicted that Iraqi forces would be able to take over security in the country with "very little coalition support" within a year to 18 months. General George Casey did not say anything specific about parallel withdrawals of US troops. Instead, he said American-led coalition forces would pull back into large bases and provide support before leaving. [...]

Despite the violence, Gen Casey was optimistic that Iraqi forces were on schedule to take primary responsibility for security by late 2007 or early 2008. "I don't have a date, but I can see over the next 12 to 18 months, the Iraqi security forces progressing to a point where they can take on the security responsibilities for the country, with very little coalition support," he said in Baghdad. In remarks published by the Associated Press, he added: "We have been on a three-step process to help build the Iraqi security forces." The first step had been to train and equip them and the second was to "put them in the lead, still with our support". The last step would be to "get them to the stage where they independently provide security in Iraq."

...but it will leave John McCain and Jeb Bush a clean slate to run on.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


Boyle Included In Nominees for Appeals Court (Associated Press, August 31, 2006)

Bucking opposition in the Senate, President Bush on Wednesday nominated five people for the U.S. Court of Appeals, including one whom Democrats have threatened to block with a filibuster.

News that Bush had decided to nominate the conservative jurists came before Bush spoke at a fundraiser for Bob Corker, who faces a tough Senate race against Democratic nominee Harold Ford Jr.

"I need a U.S. senator who understands that we need people on the bench who will strictly interpret the Constitution and not use the bench to legislate," Bush said.

A White House statement said Bush was nominating Terrence Boyle of North Carolina and William James Haynes II of Virginia to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, Michael Brunson Wallace of Mississippi for the 5th Circuit, and William Gerry Myers III of Idaho and Norman Randy Smith of Idaho for the 9th Circuit.

The Revolution rolls on.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Gas prices tumble: Major threats have failed to materialize so far; Storm veers away from refineries in Gulf of Mexico (CURTIS RUSH, 8/31/06, Toronto Star)

Gas prices continue to plummet, with some motorists paying less than 79 cents a litre — just in time for the last long weekend of the summer.

Motorists who were shelling out as much as $1.20 per self-serve litre earlier in August are now paying 33 per cent less — and the outlook is for prices to remain moderate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Sprewell choked me during sex - woman (The Associated Press, 8/31/06)

A woman has accused former Knicks star Latrell Sprewell of choking her while they were having sex, Milwaukee police said yesterday.

It's always Milwaukee.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


Ex-Rudy aide picked wrong guy: cops (ALISON GENDAR and ROBERT F. MOORE, 8/31/06, NY DAILY NEWS)

The former Giuliani administration aide found strangled in a million-dollar Manhattan apartment was killed by a male prostitute he picked up for $40 in cocaine, sources said

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


Deaths from cocaine double and toll is set to grow (MICHAEL HOWIE AND JASON CUMMING, 8/31/06, The Scotsman)

LETHAL cocktails of cocaine and alcohol will wreak a "heavy toll" in years to come, the country's drugs tsar warned yesterday as fresh figures revealed the Class A drug was responsible for a record number of deaths last year.

In Scotland's capital alone, cocaine is now present in the blood of about 15 per cent of people who have died from drugs.

And Tom Wood, chairman of the Scottish Association of Alcohol and Drug Action Teams, warned the number of people dying after taking cocaine was likely to rise even higher. [...]

"Five years ago there wouldn't have been a trace of cocaine in the deaths. But the drug was present in a number of cases last year and more this year," Mr Wood said.

"The increased use of cocaine, particularly combined with alcohol, will reap a heavy toll in coming years."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


Klein: We gotta keep the rejects (ERIN EINHORN, 8/31/06, DAILY NEWS)

Forty-four assistant principals are so inept that no city school wants to hire them - but they'll all have jobs when classes begin next week, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein bemoaned yesterday.

Klein said he must waste "millions of dollars creating jobs we don't need" - money that could be used to hire 80 teachers - because the assistant principals' jobs are protected by their union contract and state law.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Will the End of Oil Be the End Of Food? (Jason Mark, August 31, 2006, AlterNet)

In response to alarms about the fragileness of the food system, some farmers are taking initiatives to wean themselves from petroleum and find more sustainable ways of growing food. One of the most popular approaches is biofuels. For farmers, it's a solution to high oil prices that makes intuitive sense, as it raises the possibility of growers cultivating their own fuel, just as most farmers did a century ago when they harvested oats to feed their horse teams.

Phil Foster is one farmer who has made a commitment to reducing his farm's reliance on fossil fuels. A prominent California organic fruit and vegetable grower who is a supplier to Whole Foods, Foster runs nearly all of the trucks and tractors on his 250-acre farm on B100-pure biodiesel. The remainder of his machines -- older tractors with more finicky engines -- operate on B30, which is a blend of biodiesel and conventional petroleum diesel. At the same time, Foster is trying to reduce the amount of electricity his farm pays for. Several years ago he installed a bank of solar panels to help power his packing shed, refrigerators, irrigation pumps, and sales office. He calculates that the sun provides about 20 percent of his energy.

For Foster, using biodiesel and employing solar technology isn't just an effort to be environmentally correct. It's simply smart business, he says, a way to ensure that his farm will be economically sustainable over the long run.

"It was kind of a no-brainer for me to move in that direction," Foster said. "Especially in a business like ours, customers that buy organic would tend to like their growers to be kind of on the forefront. As a business that wants to think about longevity, I want to know how we can position ourselves."

Organic growers aren't the only ones bullish on the future of biofuels. Large, conventional grain farmers are also looking at biofuels as a way to reduce their costs, and many corn growers are hoping to make money by selling their surplus harvest to ethanol processors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Abbas urges prisoners' document reply (Kahled Abu Toameh and JPost Staff, Aug. 30, 2006, THE JERUSALEM POST)

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will ask Hamas and Islamic Jihad to respond within a week on the prisoners' document , PA journal Al-Ayam reported on Thursday.

The PLO Executive Committee approved the plan and Abbas discussed the initiative on Wednesday with PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

According to the proposal, authority for negotiations with Israel would be granted to the PLO and Abbas, and the PA government should deal with internal issues while being committed to a recognition of Israel and a peace process on the basis of a two state solution and UN decisions.

Abbas launched a scathing attack Wednesday on armed groups that are firing rockets from the Gaza Strip, saying they were responsible for bringing death and destruction to the Palestinians.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 7:29 AM


Pinocchio and friends converted to Islam
(Malcolm Moore, The Telegraph, August 31st, 2006)

Pinocchio, Tom Sawyer and other characters have been converted to Islam in new versions of 100 classic stories on the Turkish school curriculum.

"Give me some bread, for Allah's sake," Pinocchio says to Geppetto, his maker, in a book stamped with the crest of the ministry of education.

"Thanks be to Allah," the puppet says later.

In The Three Musketeers, D'Artagnan is told that he cannot visit Aramis. The reason would surprise the author, Alexandre Dumas.

An old woman explains: "He is surrounded by men of religion. He converted to Islam after his illness."

Tom Sawyer may always have shirked his homework, but he is more conscientious in learning his Islamic prayers. He is given a "special treat" for learning the Arabic words.

C’mon, ‘fess up. This kind of stuff upsets you far more that you would like to admit, and you aren't exactly sure why. We rational worldly Westerners may respond smartly to bombs on airplanes, but it’s unseemly for us to get agitated about these cultural digs and take them seriously, and besides, if we did we just might say something intemperate. It’s not unlike like the non-stop flow of anti-Semitic bile out of Iran, to which not one leader in the West has responded despite all the bumph we like to tell ourselves about how we would never, ever stand by and allow a repeat of the Holocaust. The fact is we are tongue-tied and impotent in the face of all these cultural and rhetorical taunts. We can’t seem to bring ourselves to defend our own cultural heritage anymore, at least not in public. It's as if we’ve all become Jerry Seinfelds. They know it, and we know they know it, but then so did Jerry.

Is it too much to dream that somewhere in this great land there is one public body or even private publisher with enough wit and pride to respond by announcing they will soon be releasing Turkish editions of Ali Baba and the Forty Disciples and Aladdin Sits Shiva?

Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:55 AM


Door closing on 'dull' design (Melissa Leong, National Post, August 31st, 2006)

Last week, Carl Zehr drove through a new subdivision in Kitchener and saw a wall of garages.

He looked at the rows of semi-detached homes with double-car garages in front, separated by swatches of concrete and small tufts of grass.

"When you looked at these in multiples, side by side if you were looking [down the street], you saw nothing but garage doors," said Mr. Zehr, Kitchener's Mayor.

"There has to be a better way."

On Monday, the city's municipal council voted unanimously to ban two-car garages in front of semi-detached homes, beginning in 2007. Mr. Zehr said the new zoning bylaw is not simply about ridding communities of what urban planners and architects call "snout houses."[...]

"When you build garages, what you get is not only an unpleasing building that looks at times like a car wash, you also create a situation by which a large segment of the sidewalk is paved -- not leaving room for trees," Mr. Friedman said.

"The street is, therefore, very dull. Developing something like this is an anti-social statement."
Valerie Shuttleworth, director of planning and urban design in Markham said the town was one of the first in Greater Toronto to wage war on the garage.

In the mid-'90s, the town set limits on the size of garages and began developing communities with lanes to access detached garages behind houses.

She said she didn't get to know her neighbours until she moved to an area without front-facing garages.

Of course, the modern tragedy is that most folks would trade the neighbours for a third SUV any day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


BoSox close in on Wells trade; Padres likely buyer (Buster Olney, 8/31/06, ESPN The Magazine)

The Red Sox moved steadily toward the completion of a trade of veteran left-hander David Wells, identifying Triple-A catcher George Kottaras as the player they want if they complete a deal with the Padres.

Getting a catcher is a terrific idea--it was their fatal weakness this year--but Kottaras is a good hitter with dubious defense.

August 30, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:44 PM

Glenn Ford, longtime film actor, dies at 90. (AP, 8/30/06)

Actor Glenn Ford, who played strong, thoughtful protagonists in films such as "The Blackboard Jungle," "Gilda" and "The Big Heat," died Wednesday, police said. He was 90.

I'm ashamed to admit I thought he was long dead, but glad to see they list The Big Heat in the first paragraph, a great film.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 PM


'Hate the Sin but Love the Sinner': Not Scriptural, Not Catholic Doctrine (Erven Park, June 2006, New Oxford Review)

-- "But to God the wicked and his wickedness are hateful alike" (Wisd. 14:9).

-- "Neither shall the wicked dwell near thee: nor shall the unjust abide before thy eyes. Thou hatest all the workers of iniquity: thou wilt destroy all that speak a lie" (Ps. 5:6-7).

-- "For there is no good for him that is always occupied in evil and giveth no alms: for the Highest hateth sinners, and hath mercy on the penitent" (Ecclesiasticus 12:3; RSV-CE Sir. 12:3,6).

-- "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth that which is evil" (Lk. 6:45).

-- "As it is written: Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated. What shall we say then? Is there injustice with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses: I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy; and I will shew [deny] mercy to whom I will shew [deny] mercy" (Rom. 9:13-15).

A further teaching from Proverbs is instructive: "Six things there are, which the Lord hateth, and the seventh His soul detesteth: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood. A heart that deviseth wicked plots, feet that are swift to run to mischief. A deceitful witness that uttereth lies, and him that soweth discord among brethren" (6:16-19).

Note that the "things" listed that "the Lord hateth" are the sinners who commit the listed offenses. It is not a list of the sins in the abstract. The sinner attains the anger and rejection of God by the sins he commits through his own free will. It goes without saying, then, that if you hate the evildoer's sin you cannot love the sinner who is its author. You cannot separate the sinner from his sin. The sinner is hateful when he commits the sin and this needs to be clearly understood. Sins are not condemned to Hell for eternity; it is the unrepentant sinner.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 PM


Pay To Be Saved (NAOMI KLEIN, August 29, 2006, The Nation)

The Red Cross has just announced a new disaster-response partnership with Wal-Mart. When the next hurricane hits, it will be a co-production of Big Aid and Big Box.

This, apparently, is the lesson learned from the government's calamitous response to Hurricane Katrina: Businesses do disaster better.

"It's all going to be private enterprise before it's over," Billy Wagner, emergency management chief for the Florida Keys, currently under hurricane watch for Tropical Storm Ernesto, said in April. "They've got the expertise. They've got the resources."

But before this new consensus goes any further, perhaps it's time to take a look at where the privatization of disaster began, and where it will inevitably lead.

The first step was the government's abdication of its core responsibility to protect the population from disasters.

While the rest of the country gets on with the task of making disaster relief more efficient the Left is waiting for government to change the weather.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 2:51 PM


Traumatic memories recalled better than positive events
(Quentin Casey, National Post, August 30th, 2006)

A new Canadian study shows that victims of traumatic events can recall their experiences vividly and with great detail, even after many years, refuting a popular belief that we repress many of our bad memories.

In fact, the study indicates that traumatic memories, such as those of physical or sexual assault, are recalled with much better accuracy than positive memories.

"The vast major of people [believe] in repression ... that we go through a horrific event and that our unconscious minds will force it out of our recollection," said Steve Porter, study co-author and a Dalhousie University psychology professor. "We really found no evidence of that."

Which is why we all remember Jimmy Carter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:39 AM


RARE COMPANY (CLARK SPENCER, 8/30/06, MiamiHerald.com)

According to Elias Sports Bureau, Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla is just the fourth player in the past 50 years to record at least 20 home runs and 75 RBI in his debut season in the majors. The others: the St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols and Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda and Frank Robinson.

Uggla said he doesn't think he's suddenly destined for the Hall of Fame, especially since he already is 26.

''Pujols was 21 when he did it, so I'm five years older,'' he said. ``But, to be next to those guys in that category means a lot to me.''

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:33 AM


How Many Lightbulbs Does it Take to Change the World? One. And You're Looking At It.: For years, compact fluorescent bulbs have promised dramatic energy savings--yet they remain a mere curiosity. That's about to change. (Charles Fishman, September 2006, Fast Company)

Compact fluorescents emit the same light as classic incandescents but use 75% or 80% less electricity.

What that means is that if every one of 110 million American households bought just one ice-cream-cone bulb, took it home, and screwed it in the place of an ordinary 60-watt bulb, the energy saved would be enough to power a city of 1.5 million people. One bulb swapped out, enough electricity saved to power all the homes in Delaware and Rhode Island. In terms of oil not burned, or greenhouse gases not exhausted into the atmosphere, one bulb is equivalent to taking 1.3 million cars off the roads.

That's the law of large numbers--a small action, multiplied by 110 million.

The single greatest source of greenhouse gases in the United States is power plants--half our electricity comes from coal plants. One bulb swapped out: enough electricity saved to turn off two entire power plants--or skip building the next two.

Just one swirl per home. The typical U.S. house has between 50 and 100 "sockets" (astonish yourself: Go count the bulbs in your house). So what if we all bought and installed two ice-cream-cone bulbs? Five? Fifteen?

Says David Goldstein, a PhD physicist, MacArthur "genius" fellow, and senior energy scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council: "This could be just what the world's been waiting for, for the last 20 years."

Swirl bulbs don't just work, they pay for themselves. They use so little power compared with old reliable bulbs, a $3 swirl pays for itself in lower electric bills in about five months. Screw one in, turn it on, and it's not just lighting your living room, it's dropping quarters in your pocket. The advantages pile up in a way to almost make one giddy. Compact fluorescents, even in heavy use, last 5, 7, 10 years. Years. Install one on your 30th birthday; it may be around to help illuminate your 40th.

In an era when political leaders and companies are too fainthearted to ask Americans to sacrifice anything for the greater good, the modern ice-cream swirl bulb requires no sacrifice. Buying and using it helps save the world--and also saves the customer money--with no compromise on quality. Selflessness and self-satisfaction, twirled into a single $3 purchase.

So far, the impact of compact fluorescents has been trivial, for a simple reason: We haven't bought them. In our outdated experience, they don't work well and they cost too much. Last year, U.S. consumers spent about $1 billion to buy about 2 billion lightbulbs--5.5 million every day. Just 5%, 100 million, were compact fluorescents. First introduced on March 28, 1980, swirls remain a niche product, more curiosity than revolution.

But that's about to change. It will change before our very eyes. A year from now, chances are that you yourself will have installed a swirl or two, and will likely be quite happy with them. In the name of conservation and good corporate citizenship, not to mention economics, one unlikely company is about haul us to the lightbulb aisle, reeducate us, and sell us a swirl: Wal-Mart.

In the next 12 months, starting with a major push this month, Wal-Mart wants to sell every one of its regular customers--100 million in all--one swirl bulb. In the process, Wal-Mart wants to change energy consumption in the United States, and energy consciousness, too. It also aims to change its own reputation, to use swirls to make clear how seriously Wal-Mart takes its new positioning as an environmental activist.

It's a bold goal, a remarkable declaration of Wal-Mart's intention to modernize and green up a whole line of business using market oomph. Teaming up with General Electric, which owns about 60% of the residential lightbulb market in the United States, Wal-Mart wants to single-handedly double U.S. sales for CFLs in a year, and it wants demand to surge forward after that.

Nothing costs more than it used to....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:45 AM


-INTERVIEW: Love is red, death is blue: Greil Marcus and Sean Wilentz discuss their amazing new anthology of writing about the American ballad -- and wonder whether Republicans sing better songs of passion and murder than Democrats do. (Charles Taylor, 2004-11-17, Salon)

CT: Forgive me for going relevant on you, but this week everyone is talking about national division. One of the things that struck me here is that in a lot of these songs the America that's being sung about is part of the America that the left is now being encouraged to look down on, in the wake of the election. The passage that smacked me in the head, reading it now, is the one from Steve Erickson's essay where he writes about Lincoln's second inaugural address: "He argued that in fact the country, had, for all its short history, existed as an affront to God in its embrace of slavery, that the Civil War was in fact God's retribution against America for the sin of slavery, that if the nation was destined to fight another 250 years of civil war -- one year for every year slavery existed -- in order to redeem itself, if the nation was to shed its blood to the last drop in order to cleanse itself of the sin, then that was what it would do." Reading that in a week when we hear that God won the election, and the idea that if God is made part of politics it is also the most reactionary part of politics, brought me up short. I don't agree that if the idea of God is present in politics it's reactionary, because then you don't have --

S.W.: Martin Luther King.


G.M.: Well, you know, Steve Erickson's piece is a terrifying piece of writing because he is able to achieve a kind of suspension. There's an argument he makes about there being three Americas, the one that existed before Lincoln's second inaugural, the one that existed afterward, and the one that may have only existed in Lincoln's imagination for weeks or months. And again, it's "In this part of the story, nothing happens," it's the calling up of that void, that place that is a vortex where you can suddenly be sucked into a recognition that we are playing with fire. That when he talks about American identity, the American story, the American mission, the American obligation to live up to its own promises or confront their betrayal, those things are so big, they're so frightening, that people can run from those questions in any direction.

What Steve is writing about here is Randy Newman's "Sail Away" and "Louisiana, 1927," two songs on either side of Lincoln's great divide. You know, people have often said, "Why do you have to pick these songs apart, and why do you have to analyze them, and you put so much meaning on them, and you just destroy them by burdening them with all this significance." And here's Steve Erickson, not burdening these songs with any significance but drawing a whole version of the American story out of them. He's saying, "No, it's not a question of what you put on a song. It's a question of what you can get out of a song and what you can get out of a song is maybe 10 percent of what's in it, whatever the song is." That to me is what's going on here.

S.W.: There is a ballad language that we were out to try and rediscover. And it's a language that no one can quite put a fix on. I think that one of the problems that you might have had, Charley -- and again, I don't want to be too relevant -- is that in some ways the ballad language, the music of America, was actually sung better by the Republicans than by the Democrats. The Democrats don't know how to sing that way; it sounds very technocratic. I think it's one of the reasons why the Democrats lost, actually. Whereas, whatever you think of their politics, when George Bush talks of slavery he talks of the sin of slavery. Well, that's not a whole lot different than what Abraham Lincoln was saying. Regardless of his politics, it's a language he has, and it's that language that's in danger of being lost and we wanted to recover it.

What bothered me isn't what Erickson was saying -- I liked what he was saying. What bothered me was something you're hitting on now, which is the idea that if you speak as he is speaking you are acceding to the most reactionary side of politics.

S.W.: Well, I think that's wrong ...

I do, too.

S.W.: Look, God is part of the language of America. From the first European who settled here, God was here. So let's be honest about it, what's the point in running away from it? It's there. Greil often quotes David Thomas' line, "What the ballad wants, the ballad gets." And what the ballad wants in part, some ballads, is about God, and about a life of the spirit. Indeed, it's not even just about God, it's about a Christian God, and you have to deal with that as part of the language. It's not always there, but it is there.

G.M.: You know, there was a column written by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, and the same sort of thing has been written and said by all kinds of people throughout the entire election season. People were voting against their own interests, their own economic interests. If they voted for Bush, people without a lot of money, they were voting against themselves. Well, people want the opportunity to vote for more than themselves --

Someone wrote in to the Times and said they were voting their interests because their interests were more spiritual than economic.

All great songs are conservative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:56 AM


DuPont Moves away From Pensions (Randall Chase, 8/28/06, AP)

Chemical manufacturer DuPont Co. is changing its retirement plan for U.S. employees to boost participation in its 401(k) plan while lessening dependence on the company's traditional pension plan.

As part of the changes, employees hired on or after Jan. 1, 2007, will not be eligible to participate in DuPont's pension plan and will not receive a company subsidy for retiree health care or retiree life insurance.

The NY Times thinks that's a pay cut.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:49 AM


Canada falling off the map with American travellers (TAVIA GRANT, 8/30/06, Globe and Mail)

Canada has an image problem south of the border. It's not that Americans have a bad impression of their northern neighbour — it's that they have no impression at all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:48 AM


Vietnam frees dissident from jail (BBC, 8/30/06)

Prominent Vietnamese dissident and pro-democracy activist Pham Hong Son has been released early from prison.

Mr Son was jailed more than four years ago, after he translated an article on democracy and posted it on the internet.

The release was part of a general amnesty of more than 5,300 prisoners to mark National Day on 2 September.

The move follows diplomatic pressure from the US and other Western nations on Vietnamese human rights.

A series of crucial votes is due to take place in the US Congress on normalising trade ties with Vietnam, and President George W Bush is due to visit Vietnam in November.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


A Master and a Masterpiece (OTTO PENZLER, August 30, 2006, NY Sun)

In the evolution of the modern police story, there is a straight line from Ed McBain, the greatest of all procedural writers, to Joseph Wambaugh, who showed the real life of police officers, on and off the job, to James Ellroy, whose ambitious novels involve cops as they are integrated into a greater political and sociological universe.

Tips of the hat go to other significant figures, such as Lawrence Treat, who invented the procedural; Robert Daley, whose best sellers rivaled the successes of Mr. Wambaugh's in the 1970s; Georges Simenon, whose Maigret novellas relied more on intuition than procedure; the impeccable Michael Connelly; the inspired Lucas Davenport in the Prey series of John Sanford; the always inventive George Pelecanos; and the British superstars: Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson, and John Harvey.

Mr. Ellroy is probably best known for "L.A. Confidential" and, the world being what it is, this is largely due to the Oscar-nominated film based on it. This may well change as the movie version of "The Black Dahlia" will be released next month and which, if advance word is any indication, is a humdinger. To coincide with the opening of the motion picture, a new trade paperback edition of "The Black Dahlia" has just been released.

The one real must-read from this list of author's is actually the non-fiction, Target Blue: An Insider's View of the N.Y.P.D., by Robert Daley, based on his year as an assitant commissioner of NYC police in the early 70s. Among the cases he was involved in that year were: "[t]he Knapp Commission Hearings, the story behind Detective Frank Serpico, the assassination of cops by the Black Liberation Army (BLA), the shooting of Joseph Columbo, the "French Connection" story, the "Happy Hooker" story, and the Harlem Mosque Murder."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Bring Back the Wax Paper and Bubble Gum (TIM MARCHMAN, August 30, 2006, NY Sun)

When I started grousing about baseball cards, I knew I had become an old man. It was just last week. My wife and I were waiting in line at our local big box store, and one of the displays at the checkout was a four-foot tall case full of boxes of baseball cards.

"You can't even buy a damn pack of baseball cards these days," I grumbled. "Look, they put the packs in the boxes, and you have to buy them 10 at a time. In my day you bought a pack for fifty cents, and it came with gum. And it was a wax pack, and the cards were made out cardboard. Cardboard! I used to trade them with my friend Jeff, he lived on the other side of Jamaica Avenue," etc.etc. I was not far from claiming I used to fix them to my bicycle wheels with clothespins. I picked up one of the boxes, as if to sneer at it, while my wife scowled at me.

Other than getting married and having kids, nothing beats throwing a leaner.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


Hezbollah's post-war strategy (Roger Hardy, 8/30/06, BBC News)

An opinion poll published on Monday suggests that half the country favours Hezbollah's disarmament - one of the demands made in the UN ceasefire resolution.

The poll, in a French-language Lebanese daily, found 51% in favour and 49% against.

Not surprisingly, an overwhelming majority of Shia - the bedrock of the movement's support - think it should keep its weapons.

But most Christians and Druze want it to disarm.

Hezbollah is confident that is not going to happen.

Thereby retiring the title for stupidest poll ever.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Gasoline prices could keep falling (James R. Healey, 8/30/06, USA TODAY)

Gasoline prices are falling fast and could keep dropping for months.

"The only place they have to go is down," says Fred Rozell, gasoline analyst at the Oil Price Information Service (OPIS). "We'll be closer to $2 than $3 come Thanksgiving."

Travel organization AAA foresees prices 10 cents a gallon lower by the end of next week.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Justice demanded for WWII death trains (STEVE RENNIE, 8/30/06, Toronto Star)

A Thornhill family is one of more than a dozen from Canada planning to take France and its national railway company to court for helping the Nazis ship their relatives to death camps.

Paris-based lawyer Avi Bitton told the Star in a telephone interview yesterday that "about 15 Canadian families" will join between 250 and 300 other families from France, Belgium, Israel and the United States in seeking compensation from the French government and its rail company, Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français, for their part in the World War II deportations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


Russians take stake in EADS (Seattle Times, 8/30/06)

A state-owned Russian bank reportedly bought a minority stake in EADS, the parent of plane maker Airbus, jostling financial markets as analysts weighed the uncertain political impact against potential business wins for EADS in Russia.

The Moscow-based daily newspaper Vedomosti reported Tuesday that Vneshtorgbank bought between 4.5 and 4.8 percent of European Aeronautic, Defence & Space for $1 billion and is seeking a management role.

A380 test flight canceled over technical glitch (AFP, 8/29/06)

A test flight by Airbus' problem-plagued A380 was called off in mid-flight Tuesday because of a fault with the super jumbo's landing gear controls, the company said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


All music downloads from largest record seller will be free (Charles Duhigg and Dawn C. Chmielewski, 8/30/06, Los Angeles Times)

Music fans for years have been telling record labels what they want to pay for downloaded songs: nothing.

The labels now are starting to agree that free might work for them, too.

Universal Music Group's announcement Tuesday that it is licensing its digital catalog to a Web site offering free, legal downloads marks a significant shift in an industry long criticized for fighting, rather than harnessing, the Internet's potential.

The Web site, backed by New York company SpiralFrog, hopes to make money selling advertisements that play while songs download.

Google makes novels free to print (BBC, 8/30/06)
Search engine Google plans to offer consumers the chance to download and print classic novels free of charge.

The firm's book search tool will let people print classics such as Dante's Inferno or Aesop's Fables, as well as other books no longer under copyright.

Until now, the service has only let people read such books on-screen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Growers say fruit's ready, but workers are scarce (Joe Mullin, 8/30/06, Seattle Times)

Heinz Humann was late this year. Later than he's ever been.

His workers finished thinning out apple and pear trees to prepare for the harvest in mid-August. But they should have been finished a month earlier. The past few months, it's been tough for Humann to find enough workers for what he can afford to pay. He's had plenty of work, he says. But it seems there's no one willing to do it.

Add to that the other issues that hurt his bottom line, such as taxes and environmental regulations, and "I can see the writing on the wall," he says.

"We're doomed."

Like Humann, apple growers all over Washington this summer are complaining that a heated immigration debate in the U.S. has combined with a late cherry harvest to create a shortage of agricultural workers, perhaps the worst they've seen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


First Arab Nobel winner for literature dies at 94 (AP, 8/30/06)

Naguib Mahfouz, who became the first Arab writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature for his novels depicting Egyptian life in his beloved corner of ancient Cairo, died Wednesday, his doctor said. He was 94.

Egypt Nobel winner Mahfouz dies (BBC, 8/30/06)
Mahfouz's Nobel Prize brought international recognition to a man already regarded in the Middle East as one of its best writers and premier intellectuals.

The Egyptian writer, Ahdaf Souief, who knew Mahfouz well, said the writer was a "massively important influence" on Arabic literature.

He said: "He was our greatest living novelist for a very long time... Mahfouz was an innovator in the use of the Arabic language.

"He also embodied the whole development of the Arabic novel starting with historical novels in the late 1940s through realism, through experimentalism and so on."

He added: "He single-handedly went through the whole development of the Arabic novel and made innovation possible for generations of writers after him."

The Cairo Trilogy - Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street, all of which appeared in the 1950s - detailed the adventures and misadventures of a Muslim merchant family.

The books introduced a character who became an icon in Egyptian culture: Si-Sayed, the domineering father who holds his family together.

Controversy came in 1959 with the publication of the novel Children of Gebelawi.

First serialised in Egyptian newspapers, it caused an uproar and was banned by the Egyptian religious authorities on the grounds it violated Islamic rules by including characters who clearly represented God and the prophets.

But it was published in Lebanon and later translated into English.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Another night with Doug Mirabelli as his batterymate and another terrific performance for Josh Beckett.

August 29, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:52 PM


First Source of C.I.A. Leak Admits Role, Lawyer Says (NEIL A. LEWIS, 8/30/06, NY Times)

Richard L. Armitage, a former deputy secretary of state, has acknowledged that he was the person whose conversation with a columnist in 2003 prompted a long, politically laden criminal investigation in what became known as the C.I.A. leak case, a lawyer involved in the case said on Tuesday.

Mr. Armitage did not return calls for comment. But the lawyer and other associates of Mr. Armitage have said he has confirmed that he was the initial and primary source for the columnist, Robert D. Novak, whose column of July 14, 2003, identified Valerie Wilson as a Central Intelligence Agency officer.

The identification of Mr. Armitage as the original leaker to Mr. Novak ends what has been a tantalizing mystery.

Grey. I think I'll paint the ceiling grey.

Plame Out: The ridiculous end to the scandal that distracted Washington (Christopher Hitchens, Aug. 29, 2006, Slate)

I had a feeling that I might slightly regret the title ("Case Closed") of my July 25 column on the Niger uranium story. I have now presented thousands of words of evidence and argument to the effect that, yes, the Saddam Hussein regime did send an important Iraqi nuclear diplomat to Niger in early 1999. And I have not so far received any rebuttal from any source on this crucial point of contention. But there was always another layer to the Joseph Wilson fantasy. Easy enough as it was to prove that he had completely missed the West African evidence that was staring him in the face, there remained the charge that his nonreport on a real threat had led to a government-sponsored vendetta against him and his wife, Valerie Plame.

In his July 12 column in the Washington Post, Robert Novak had already partly exposed this paranoid myth by stating plainly that nobody had leaked anything, or outed anyone, to him. On the contrary, it was he who approached sources within the administration and the CIA and not the other way around. But now we have the final word on who did disclose the name and occupation of Valerie Plame, and it turns out to be someone whose opposition to the Bush policy in Iraq has—like Robert Novak's—long been a byword in Washington. It is particularly satisfying that this admission comes from two of the journalists—Michael Isikoff and David Corn—who did the most to get the story wrong in the first place and the most to keep it going long beyond the span of its natural life.

As most of us have long suspected, the man who told Novak about Valerie Plame was Richard Armitage, Colin Powell's deputy at the State Department and, with his boss, an assiduous underminer of the president's war policy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:49 PM


Oil Prices Fall Below $70 a Barrel (Brad Foss, 8/29/06, AP)

Oil prices fell sharply for the second straight day on Tuesday, dipping below $70 a barrel as Tropical Storm Ernesto veered away from the oil and gas region of the Gulf of Mexico.

"A lot of people were banking on an active tropical (storm) season and so far it has been nonexistent in relation to platforms in the Gulf of Mexico," said James Cordier, president of Liberty Trading in Tampa, Fla.

Just in time for the midterm.

Falling gas prices reflect break from adversity (PATRICK BRETHOUR, 8/30/06, Globe and Mail)

Pump prices have dropped below $1 a litre for the first time in five months -- and the cost of a fill-up is likely to drop even more in coming weeks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:15 PM


Threat Assessment: Two new books shed light on the ideological and organizational roots of al-Qaeda. (Aziz Huq, 08.28.06, American Prospect)

For all the cheap talk of civilizations clashing, few have examined Osama bin Laden’s particular ideological concoction. Mary Habeck, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University’s international affairs school, takes it seriously. Her Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and War on Terror is one of the clearest and most concise introductions to the peculiar blend of eschatological egomania and Islam that al-Qaeda proposes. Like Christian theology and exegeses, Quranic readings have run in various directions. Habeck sketches one discrete tradition, running from 14th-century jurist Ibn Taymiyya to 20th-century Egyptian radicals Hasan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb. Her focus then turns to Islamist ideas of political theory, from its wide-eyed embrace of Samuel Huntingdon’s thesis to an erosion of strict religious rules for war.

Echoing Peter Bergen, Habeck argues that al-Qaeda’s failed to achieve the principle ideological goal on 9-11 -- catalyzing a global war between Islam and Christianity. Only thanks to the ill-conceived and recklessly executed Iraq War, among other things, did bin Laden’s vision gain fresh currency.

So OBL was trying to start a war between Christianity and Islam, but instead the Christians liberated the Shi'a and started a civil war within Islam and that's just what he wanted?

Al-Qaeda (and US) eclipsed by rise of Iran (Mahan Abedin, 8/30/06, Asia Times)

One of the more interesting results of the Israel-Hezbollah War has been the sidelining of the global jihadi movement and the broader Salafi currents that sustain it. Despite all its rhetoric of a global jihad against the enemies of Islam, al-Qaeda and the broader Salafi-jihadi movement were reduced to mere spectators as Hezbollah, once again, dealt a serious blow to Israeli prestige.

While some analysts interpreted Ayman al-Zawahiri's latest message as an olive branch to Iran, Hezbollah and Shi'ite militants more broadly, it in fact was not a departure from the terror network's stance on sectarian relations in Islam. In any case, al-Qaeda is increasingly a marginal component of the Salafi-jihadi movement, and its ideological influence on the new generation of radicals is nowhere near as strong as is often assumed. [...]

Simply put, al-Qaeda views the struggle against the West in general and the United States in particular as of primary importance. Sectarian squabbles within Islam can only be addressed once the external enemy has been forced to withdraw from the Muslim world. This is not too dissimilar from the geopolitical aspirations of the followers of so-called "Mohammadean Islam" who have been striving for the withdrawal of the West from the Middle East and other Islamic lands long before the emergence of bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

In fact, al-Qaeda is a secret admirer of the discourse of Islamic Iran and has rarely (if ever) attacked the leaders of the Islamic Republic. However, the Iranians have always maintained their distance not only because of the extreme Sunnism (as opposed to Salafism) of bin Laden and Zawahiri but also because of genuine contempt for the terror network.

Iranian leaders regard their "Islamic revolution" as the vanguard of the global Islamic movement and any competitor (especially one as pretentious as al-Qaeda) is regarded with deep suspicion and disdain. Moreover, there is genuine revulsion of al-Qaeda tactics. This is not only because al-Qaeda targets innocent civilians, but because the Iranians fear that terror attacks against US interests consolidate American hegemony in the region and beyond. These fundamental divisions between Iran and al-Qaeda are likely to deepen as the geopolitical weight of the Islamic Republic continues to grow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:12 PM


Indepedenzia Day: The Basque people may disapprove of ETA’s tactics, but they are still determined to gain independence. (Sarah Wildman, 08.25.06, American Prospect)

Every year, in the Basque city of San Sebastian, demonstrators seeking independence gather hours before the commencement of "Semana Grande," a week-long festival of bull fights, outdoor concerts, and fireworks. In years past, it wasn’t uncommon for Molotov cocktails to be lobbed from the crowd towards the police, who responded in kind. Last summer 20 protestors were injured -- hit by rubber bullets fired by the police when the crowd grew violent. The day before this year's protest, a Basque woman in her late twenties told me that, throughout her teens, violent clashes with the police took place frequently. She would be minding her own business in Parte Vieje, the old city, and suddenly a Pamplona-like stampede would come rushing down the street and sweep her up. She would then dive into the nearest bar, whereupon the barkeep would quickly rattle down the metal "We're closed" cage until the violence ceased.

This year was the first Semana Grande protest since the violent Basque separatist group ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or Basque Homeland and Freedom) announced its ceasefire back in March. Hours before the demonstration, many in town weren't sure it would take place -- Madrid’s famous Judge Baltazar Garzon initially banned the protest, accusing ETA’s political arm, Batasuna, of organizing the event. In the end, ETA’s signature snake and axe were nowhere to be found. Only the flag of Euskal Herria, the Basque region, remained.

ETA may not have been there (though members were spotted in the crowd by the local media), but the Basque quest for independence appears undimmed.

A people who think of themselves as a nation are one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:06 PM


Nuns prove God is not figment of the mind (Roger Highfield, 30/08/2006, Daily Telegraph)

[T]he God module, as some scientists call it, is a mirage, according to the study by Dr Mario Beauregard, of the Department of Psychology at the Université de Montréal and his student Vincent Paquette, published in the journal Neuroscience Letters. [...]

Rather than reveal a spiritual centre in the brain, a module of neural circuits specifically designed for religious experience, the study demonstrated that a dozen different regions of the brain are activated during a mystical experience.

In other words, mystical experiences are mediated by several brain regions and systems normally implicated in functions such as self-consciousness, emotion and body representation.

In the past, some researchers went as far as to suggest the possibility of a specific brain region designed for communication with God. This latest research discredits such theories.

Ever get the feeling that science exists just to recapitulate what we always knew?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 PM


Cash-strapped Cambodia eyes black gold: US oil giant Chevron is poised to prove Cambodia is sitting on oil reserves worth $1 billion annually. (Adam Piore, 8/30/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

Oil companies from China, Vietnam, South Korea, and Japan are all vying for offshore contracts. The UN Development Program (UNDP) identified oil as the best hope for the country's future, and released estimates widely cited in the development community. In Chevron's "Block A" alone, the first of six demarcated offshore zones, the government share of oil and gas revenues are expected to top between $700 million to $1 billion a year.

By some estimates - according to the UNDP - it's not unreasonable to believe that in the coming years, revenue from gas and oil deposits will more than double Cambodia's GDP, which now stands at about $5 billion (much of that is from foreign aid). And that's not even counting the disputed zones between Thailand and Cambodia, which could be the richest of all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 PM


Brussels is using terrorism to further its federal ambitions (Daniel Hannan, 29/08/2006, Daily Telegraph)

Oh, come off it, Hannan, I hear you say. Even you Euro-phobes must accept that there are some things that we ought to do together. I mean, if the terrorists are operating at an international level, don't we need to take them on at an international level?

Yes, indeed - and we have been doing so for decades without any help from Brussels. Sovereign states have evolved highly developed mechanisms for police and judicial co-operation: the Hague Convention, extradition treaties, intelligence sharing, Interpol, mutual recognition of court orders, acknowledgement of sentences spent in each other's prisons.

What is being proposed now, in effect, is that such collaboration should principally be administered by the EU. I don't know about you, but this doesn't make me feel any safer. It is these same Euro-apparatchiks, after all, who have brought us the Common Agricultural Policy, the destruction of North Sea fish stocks, and accounts that have not been approved in 12 consecutive years. Why should they be any better at thwarting bombers than they are at, say, thwarting fraudsters within their own bureaucracy? [...]

Five years on, it is hard to identify a single anti-terrorist success that can be attributed to Brussels. On the other hand, we have just won a mighty victory through old-fashioned police co-operation between three countries which, although on different continents, are united by language, history and law. Why should such joint operations be improved by bringing Britain's procedures into line with Europe, rather than the Anglosphere?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:57 PM


The 40-Year-Old Virgin Swimmer: In a (completely misguided) bid to make the 2008 Olympic team, ex-NCAA swimmer W. HODDING CARTER is training like he did in college. And that means spring break. Only this time our party frogman is cruising the British Virgin Islands under his own power. (W. Hodding Carter, October 2006, Outside)

IT'S A LOT HARDER THAN YOU MIGHT THINK to swim from island to island across four-knot currents, gargling salt water hour after hour, getting chased by sharks, and towing your worldly possessions on a five-foot surfboard while flying the British flag. (It's even harder when you're told on your very first day in the British Virgin Islands that your British naval flag is actually a Swiss flag.) What with the jellyfish, hecklers, and excessive rum intake, you might even think twice about swimming your way through the Caribbean.

But that's what I did for spring break.


PREPARATIONS WERE SIMPLE. I chose the British Virgin Islands because they looked close to one another on a Web site's cartoon map. The southeast trade winds dictated a southwesterly route: Virgin Gorda, Ginger, Cooper, Peter, and Norman. Ginger Island was uninhabited, so I'd have to camp, but the rest was resort splendor all the way. Twenty miles of fun-filled Caribbean waters, if you could put out of your mind what the St. John–based kayak guide told me:

"Oh. Ginger, huh?" Arawak Expeditions owner Arthur Jones said when he heard my plan. "I don't know—it's pretty sharky. I remember hearing about someone else who tried that off St. John a while back, and she had to stop halfway through because of a shark. It just started following her and getting closer and closer. But I don't know. Maybe that was just a rumor."

Let us take this opportunity to recommend both Mr. Carter's book and a film which appears to have snuck in and out of theaters without leaving so much as a ripple, On a Clear Day. In the latter, Peter Mullan plays Frank Redmond, a recently laid-off Glasgow ship builder who finds himself at loose ends and decides to swim the English Channel. He's a classic older male WASP with survivor guilt, so closed off emotionally and distanced from his son, and to some degree from the viewing audience. But his odd group of friends and his wife, played by Brenda Blythen, more than compensate for how quiet he is and offer us an entree into his persona. The plot holds few surprises, but is so well played it hardly matters.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 11:32 AM


'Til levels of unsuitable dysfunction do us part (Robert Fulford, National Post, August 29th, 2006)

The word (dysfunction–ed) first appeared in 1916 as a way to describe medical failure. An article in the British Medical Journal said: "endocrine dysfunction incriminates variously the thyroid, parathyroid, ovarian and pituitary glands." Today we apply the word to any cluster of humans who have trouble getting through life. It sounds as if it means a lot but it explains nothing.

This kind of language oversimplifies a complex reality. It packs human experience into categories that exist only as terminology. It also implies a smug belief that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways for human beings to align themselves. But in truth, every family is unique. Each intimate liaison is different.

How different? Consider John Bayley's book, Elegy for Iris, about his marriage to a difficult, probably unknowable woman, Iris Murdoch. For 40 years Bayley cherished their "apartness" and "the joys of solitude." He loved to be cherished "yet to be alone." Compare that with Robertson Davies: "Marriage is a framework to preserve friendship."

High divorce rates have transformed the meaning of marriage. It has lost its status as a more or less automatic passage in life and become something to brood about. Once we discovered it could be abandoned, more or less at will, we began to look at it critically. All this has failed to catch the attention of those who hate gay marriage because it undermines "real" marriage. "Real" marriage, in truth, has changed so much as to be barely recognizable.

We have fallen into the habit of treating marriage as an object, as if it exists on its own, independent of the people involved. In Deja Vu, a 1997 movie by Henry Jaglom, a man asks his wife, "What do you think of our marriage?" He then says that, from his standpoint, "the marriage is fine." It's just that he's in love with someone else and wants to leave.

A favourite niece was married a few weeks ago. It was joyful and lovely, but I was somewhat thrown to see a “service” held in a gorgeous little chapel with a minister in full Anglican robes from which all prayers and religious references were completely excluded, apparently by design. I mentioned to my wife that it felt a bit like attending a lecture by Dawkins in the Sistine Chapel, which earned me one of those terrifying “Don’t you dare start!” looks. They didn’t make any vows about fidelity or sickness or whatever, but they did promise to be each other’s best friends, to talk about everything and to support each other’s life goals. They were obviously blissful and I fervently wish them a long, happy life filled with endless hours spent talking about everything under the sun. Except, perhaps, the state of their marriage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:31 AM


Working For Lieberman (JACK KEMP, August 29, 2006, Copley News Service)

Despite my partisan credentials, I'm announcing my intentions to go to Connecticut in September to work for and raise funds for Mr. Lieberman. He is running as an independent, but he has announced he'll join the Democratic caucus. When Joe called, I jokingly told him I'd be happy to come to Connecticut and speak for him or against him, whichever would do the most good. I'll be making joint appearances in Connecticut with him and his wife, Hadassah, in the very near future.

I believe in the Lincolnian ideal that you serve your party best by serving your country first, and I can't think of a better way of serving our nation than by re-electing Mr. Lieberman to the U.S. Senate. As a Republican, I don't want the Democratic Party to lose a Scoop Jackson Democrat and become isolationist in the face of Islamic fundamentalism with its message of jihad, hatred, and blood libel against America and Israel. [...]

Mr. Lieberman does not need me to defend his record, but having worked with him as secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the late 1980s and early ‘90s on issues of affordable housing, home-ownership opportunities for low-income families, enterprise zones for urban, and rural America, and access to capital for men and women of color, I believe his re-election to the U.S. Senate is necessary to expanding the war on poverty by including private enterprise.

For all these reasons and more, I look forward to helping re-elect Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 AM


The Conservative Case Against Rudy Giuliani In 2008 (John Hawkins, 8/29/06, Right Wing News)

Rudy Giuliani, a contender for the Presidency in 2008, is receiving an inordinate amount of positive attention. That's quite understandable since Rudy is charismatic, did a great job on the campaign trail for President Bush in 2004, and his phenomenal performance after 9/11 was much appreciated.

However, likeable or not, having Rudy as the GOP's candidate in 2008 would be a big mistake. Here's a short, but sweet primer on some of Rudy's many flaws. [...]

An Anti-Second Amendment Candidate

In the last couple of election cycles, 2nd Amendment issues have moved to the back burner mainly because even Democratic candidates have learned that being tagged with the "gun grabber" label is political poison.

Unfortunately, Rudy Giuliani is a proponent of gun control who supported the Brady Bill and the Assault Weapon Ban.

Do Republicans really want to abandon their strong 2nd Amendment stance by selecting a pro-gun control nominee?

Soft On Gay Marriage

Other than tax cuts, the biggest domestic issue of the 2004 election was President Bush's support of a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. Unfortunately, Rudy Giuliani has taken a "Kerryesque" position on gay marriage.

Although Rudy, like John Kerry, has said that marriage should remain between a man and a woman, he also supports civil unions, "marched in gay-pride parades ...dressed up in drag on national television for a skit on Saturday Night Live (and moved in with a) wealthy gay couple" after his divorce.

He can't run in IA, can't beat McCain in NH and then is a non-starter in SC. He won't run.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 AM


Islamic Revival Led by Women Tests Syria’s Secularism (KATHERINE ZOEPF, 8/29/06, NY Times)

These are the two faces of an Islamic revival for women in Syria, one that could add up to a potent challenge to this determinedly secular state. Though government officials vociferously deny it, Syria is becoming increasingly religious and its national identity is weakening. If Islam replaces that identity, it may undermine the unity of a society that is ruled by a Muslim religious minority, the Alawites, and includes many religious groups.

Syrian officials, who had front-row seats as Hezbollah dragged Lebanon into war, are painfully aware of the myriad ways that state authority can be undermined by increasingly powerful, and appealing, religious groups. Though Syria’s government supports Hezbollah, it has been taking steps to ensure that the phenomenon it helped to build in Lebanon does not come to haunt it at home.

In the past, said Muhammad al-Habash, a Syrian lawmaker who is also a Muslim cleric, “we were told that we had to leave Islam behind to find our futures.”

“But these days,” he said, “if you ask most people in Syria about their history, they will tell you, ‘My history is Islamic history.’ The younger generation are all reading the Koran.”

Women are in the vanguard. Though men across the Islamic world usually interpret Scripture and lead prayers, Syria, virtually alone in the Arab world, is seeing the resurrection of a centuries-old tradition of sheikhas, or women who are religious scholars. The growth of girls’ madrasas has outpaced those for boys, religious teachers here say.

There are no official statistics about precisely how many of the country’s 700 madrasas are for girls. But according to a survey of Islamic education in Syria published by the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, there are about 80 such madrasas in Damascus alone, serving more than 75,000 women and girls, and about half are affiliated with the Qubaisiate (pronounced koo-BAY-see-AHT).

Interview with Iranian Activist Shirin Ebadi: In early August, Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi learned through the press that her human rights center in Tehran had been declared illegal. SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke with her about an Iranian government breaking its own laws and activism in the face of prison -- or worse. (Der Spiegel, 8/28/06)

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You have been threatened with arrest unless you close down the Center for Defense of Human Rights in Tehran. But according to Iranian law, NGOs are free to operate.

Shirin Ebadi: The constitution guarantees that social organizations are free to conduct their activities, so long as they don't engage in disorderly conduct, or betray the laws of Islam. "Free" means that they don't need permission. Therefore, an NGO like ours, which is working for human rights, does not need the government's approval. [...]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You are saying, however, that the Iranian state is the party acting illegally in this situation, and not your center?

Ebadi: I am simply asking: How did we all of a sudden become illegal? We are legal, we have always been legal. We are a human rights organization. We defend people accused of political crimes for free. Yes, the country is breaking the law. The country is breaking its own laws.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What are you going to do now?

Ebadi: We're going to continue. I have no choice but to continue. That's our responsibility -- because we, unlike the Interior Ministry, we respect the law. I will fight as long as I'm alive.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Even if this means going to prison?

Ebadi: Yes. I will fight as long as I have to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 AM


D.C. motorists get a 'break' as gas prices drop (Patrice Hill, August 29, 2006, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Gas prices are dropping quickly thanks to an early end to the summer driving season and the dearth, so far, of devastating Gulf Coast hurricanes.

The price of regular grade is falling faster in the Washington area than nationally. At $2.86 a gallon yesterday morning, it's down 10 cents in the past week and 26 cents from a peak of $3.12 a little more than a month ago, according to GasBuddy.com. [...]

Energy analysts credit the early beginning of the school year and early end to vacation season that normally lasts until Labor Day, which is next weekend. Oil prices also have been declining. Yesterday, the price of premium crude plummeted $1.90 to $70.61 a barrel in New York trading after the threat to Gulf Coast oil fields and refineries from Tropical Storm Ernesto was downgraded.

Ernesto was "a whole lot of fuss about nothing, so the price is coming down," said William Adams, chief energy strategist at LaSalle Futures Group Inc.

Gasoline prices tumble (John Funk, 8/29/06, Cleveland Plain Dealer)
Hold on to your gas cap. Gasoline prices are falling faster by the day.

Crude oil and wholesale gasoline prices tumbled Monday on news that Hurricane Ernesto had been downgraded and was no longer threatening the Gulf of Mexico's oil fields.

"The price of gasoline is falling more quickly than injured Browns players out in Berea," said Ben Brockwell, senior analyst and director of data pricing for the Oil Price Information Service.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 AM


Obama chides Africa on visit (Washington Times, August 29, 2006)

If Africans welcoming home a native son thought that rising Democratic star Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois came only in praise of the continent of his roots, they were mistaken.

In South Africa last week, he took the government to task for its tepid response to the AIDS epidemic that has ravaged sub-Saharan Africa. He also criticized the government of President Thabo Mbeki for its "quiet diplomacy" with Zimbabwe, demanding that more pressure be put on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Kenya risks losing its status as a model of African democracy if it does not urgently crack down on corruption that has reached crisis levels and stifled development, Mr. Obama said yesterday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 AM


60 Years Later, Rollins Defies Expectations (WILL FRIEDWALD, August 29, 2006, NY Sun)

After nearly 60 years as a major player, Mr. Rollins has perfected a highly personal brand of jazz (with pop and heavy Afro-Caribbean elements), which begins with his band. Where the standard front line of a modern jazz group is trumpet and sax, Mr. Rollins's co-star is trombonist Clifton Anderson (also his nephew, and the producer of his new album). He also features electric guitar (Bobby Broom) rather than piano as his customary chordal instrument, electric bass (Bob Cranshaw) instead of acoustic (except for one tune), and a two-man percussion section consisting of the fine Victor Lewis on drums and Kimati Dinizulu sporting a battery of African instruments (including apentema, apente, sankofa, kyene, djembe, and conga). With the exception of Mr. Lewis, this is the same band that performs on Mr. Rollins's new album, "Sonny, Please," the first release on his own label, Doxy Records. [...]

The most substantial (and unexpected) new contribution to Mr. Rollins's repertoire, both at the show and on the new album, is "Serenade." Adapted from the 1900 ballet "Serenade Les Millions d'Arlequin" by the lesser-known Paduan composer Ricardo Drigo (born 1846), the piece was first heard as a pop song in England, played by British dance bands around the time of the composer's death in 1930. It's a beautiful tune and Mr. Rollins makes the most of it. Although there were solos by Messrs. Anderson and Broom, as well as an unnecessary percussion interlude, the charm here is in the pure, sonic pleasure of hearing Mr. Rollins's deep, rich tenor tone essay this lovely line. It's one of the most pleasing sounds in all of nature.

At this point, Mr. Rollins introduced "J.J." (as in Johnson), the latest in his series of short, poignant dedications to fallen comrades (such as "Wynton" for Wynton Kelly and "Remembering Tommy," for Tommy Flanagan, on the album). He played "Don't Stop the Carnival," but then, surprisingly, stopped the carnival well before the rabble-raising climax all were expecting.

What he did do, however, was launch into an unexpected encore: It began with "I See Your Face Before Me," and from there launched into a glorious, unaccompanied coda, in which he played long chunks of whatever tunes he felt like. It could have been called "Oh Look at Me Now Thinking About You and the Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeeze Singing Polly-Wolly-Doodle All the Day." Finally, the rhythm section rejoined him on Irving Berlin's "They Say It's Wonderful." If that is indeed what they say, and they are talking about Sonny Rollins, then they're right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Fostering Democracy (DANIEL SILVERBERG and YOONAH LEE, August 29, 2006, NY Sun)

As international news focuses on the conflict in the Middle East, the nuclear stand-off in Iran, let alone the war in Iraq, America should not lose sight of other parts of the world where it can foster democracy through more traditional means. Vietnam is a prime example. The Administration's recent decision to approve Vietnam's entry into the World Trade Organization — a decision that must be ratified by the U.S. Senate — is an important step towards opening Vietnam to reform and strengthen a critical partnership in Asia. Yet absent a strong-minded commitment to democratic development in that country, long-term economic growth in Vietnam is still in doubt.

In recent years, America has not only normalized relations with Vietnam, but has also dramatically expanded economic ties, to both countries' benefit. Trade has ballooned to over $6 billion annually, and Vietnam's annual exports to America have grown at an audacious 40% rate per year over the last six years.These developments are occurring against a backdrop of growing Chinese regional competition and America's desire to counterbalance that influence in Southeast Asia with the ASEAN regional grouping. America needs new partners in Asia, and Vietnam is a prime candidate.

At the same time, there has been a real downside to Vietnam's growth. With increasing economic freedom, the one-party Communist regime grows increasingly intolerant of domestic dissent. The Communist party has brazenly oppressed its own people, particularly targeting political activists who believe that the government needs to reform. One needs to look no further than the case of Dr. Pham Hong Son to understand that greater freedoms in Vietnam have made its government increasingly nervous about how they will be exercised.

Finishing their liberalization is the least we owe the Vietnamese people afer bugging out on them.

August 28, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:18 PM


American Idolatry (Spengler , 8/29/06, Asia Times)

Young people are as resentful as they are narcissistic, and the easily reproduced, droning complaint of country music satisfied both criteria.

The resentful country folk who formed the first audience for the now-dominant style in American music turn up in literature as noble, suffering peasants fighting for a traditional way of life, as in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Nothing could be further from the truth. American farmers were migratory entrepreneurs who did well during World War I, when agricultural exports surged, and very badly during the 1920s, when exports fell, and even worse during the 1930s. Country people were resentful because they were becoming poorer. That was unfortunate, but feeling sorry for one's self is no excuse to inflict the likes of Hank Williams on the world. The object of high art is to lift the listener out of the misery of his personal circumstance by showing him a better world in which his petty troubles are beside the point. What is the point of music that assists the listener in wallowing in his troubles? Some country-music fanciers no doubt will find this callous, and I want to disclose that I do not care one way or another whether their wife left them, their dog died, or their truck broke down.

Word-play aside, what does this have to do with idolatry? Resentment is simply an expression of envy, the first and deadliest of sins. Adam and Eve envied God's knowledge of good and evil, Cain envied Abel, Ishmael envied Isaac, Esau envied Jacob, Joseph's brothers envied the favorite son, and the Gentiles envied the nation of Israel. Why reject what comes from on high to worship one's own image, unless you resent the higher authority?

The culture of resentment runs so deep in the American character that the self-pitying drone of immiserated farmers, amplified by the petulant adolescents of the 1950s as a remonstration against parental authority, now dominates the musical life of American Christians. Not only Christian country, but Christian rock and Christian heavy metal have become mainstream commercial genre. I agree with the minority of Christians who eschew Christian rock as "the music of the devil", although not for the same reasons: it is immaterial whether Christian rock substitutes "Jesus Christ" for "Peggy Sue", permitting its listeners to associate putatively Christian music with secular music with implied sexual content. It is diabolical because the style itself is born of resentment.

There are American Christians who had no choice but to invent their own music, namely the African-American Church, whose spirituals are gems of rough-hewn beauty. It is no coincidence that black church music maintains the closest ties to classical music, and that the pre-eminence of African-American singers on the operatic stage stems from the music training of church choirs.

By and large, though, the evangelicals ought to know better. Americans, like the English, have Georg Frideric Handel's "Messiah" and other great classical works, and access to a musical tradition that is one of the supreme achievements of the human spirit. As I wrote in another context (Why the beautiful is not the good, May 17, 2005):

Pearls grow in oysters to soothe irritation; the high art of the West grew pearl-like in Christendom around an abrasion it could not heal: the refusal of mere humans to place all their hopes upon the promise of life after death. Christianity made Europe by offering the kingdom of heaven to barbarian invaders, while allowing them to keep their tribal culture. The high art of the West gave these rude men a presentiment of the kingdom of heaven and formed an authentic Christian culture opposed to pagan holdovers.

The Beautiful is not the Good. The Good is sui generis, independent of any beauty devised by human craft. But we willfully choose what is ugly over what is beautiful because we are ugly, and prefer to worship our own ugliness rather than the beauty created by an inspired few. That is not merely execrable bad taste. Ultimately it is a form of idolatry. The evangelicals' inability to rise above the ambient culture is their great failing.

Spengler perhaps underestimates the degree to which country music celebrates the quintessential American values. It ain't Bach, but Josh Turner's Long Black Tran and Johnny Cash's Man Comes Around are Good.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:12 PM


Sectarianism in Labour's rotten burghs (Alan Cochrane, 29/08/2006, Daily Telegraph)

Why has Ruth Kelly been moved to denounce the decision by the prosecuting authorities in Edinburgh to caution the Celtic goalkeeper for making the sign of the cross in front of supporters of his side's bitter rivals, Rangers? It seems, at first glance, to be bizarre, almost medieval, behaviour.

That Miss Kelly has waded into this controversy, when she normally eschews all attempts to get her to talk about her Roman Catholicism and her membership of Opus Dei, reveals a growing anger among London Labour over the behaviour of the Scottish party.

Although Tony Blair faces many big challenges in the months ahead - not least his annual conference in Manchester in October - he knows that his biggest test will come next May with the elections to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. While the result will have no formal impact on his Downing Street tenure, a defeat in Scotland will be seen as a damning and perhaps clinching verdict on his premiership. [...]

Devolution was supposed to finish the Nationalists. It hasn't. But it may just end up finishing Labour.

How was making Scotland a nation again going to make it less nationalist?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:09 PM


Busy nurses 'leave elderly to starve' (Celia Hall, 29/08/2006, Daily Telegraph)

Vulnerable, elderly patients are starving in hospital because nurses do not have time to help them to eat, a charity says today.

Age Concern says that six in 10 older patients were at risk of malnutrition in hospital and those over 80 had levels of malnutrition that were five times higher than younger patients.

It found that nine in 10 nurses said they did not always have time to help patients who needed assistance to eat.

Two thirds of general hospital beds are occupied by the elderly.

You know...you stop having kids so you can focus on yourself and the next thing you know there are no young people to pay or care for you...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:39 PM


TV star Nasrallah impresses people on all sides in hopeful Lebanon (Patrick Bishop, 29/08/2006, Daily Telegraph)

[D]espite Nasrallah's standing, it is clear that few Lebanese even among his own Shia supporters have the stomach for a resumption of war and want him to turn his energies to rebuilding the country.

The interview was the first he has given since the war ended and was clearly designed to calm fears that there would be any second round of fighting. It contained a frank admission that, had he known the destruction that would result from the capture of two Israeli soldiers, he would never have allowed the operation to go ahead.

He also said that the strengthened deployment of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil), which starts this week, had nothing to fear from his men, "as long as their mission is not to disarm the resistance".

He added that, if the Lebanese Army, which is moving to take control of the south of the country for the first time in decades, came across an armed man, "they have the right to disarm him". Nasrallah also went out of this way to emphasise that the political capital Hizbollah had won with its "victory" against Israel would not be used to impose a Shia hegemony on the country's religious and sectarian patchwork.

Nasrallah chose to give the interview to the liberal, secular New TV station, rather than to his propaganda outlet, al Manar, and the questioner was a woman journalist, Maryam al Bassam.

It was watched by almost everyone in Lebanon and dominated coffee shop conversation yesterday. In Nasrallah's home village of Bazouriyeh, near Tyre, Shia residents were proud of the impression he had made.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:34 PM


South Korea: Lowest Birthrate in the World (Peter J. Smith, August 28, 2006, LifeSiteNews.com)

South Korea now claims the lowest birthrate in the world according to South Korea’s National Statistical Office, which confirms population data just released by an independent study.

According to the Korean Herald, the National Statistical Office (NSO) has announced that the South Korea’s total fertility rate dropped to 1.08 last year, and reports the number of newborns has also dropped nearly 8 percent to 438,000. The fertility rate is the lowest in the world, and broke South Korea’s 2004 record of 1.16.

In praise of abnormality: Current crisis faced by Israel result of crumbling Jewish identity (Elisha Haas, 08.28.06, YNet)
Most of the first generation of secular Zionism departed from this world in the 1970s. It was a generation that enjoyed an exclusive privilege: The maintenance of a clear Jewish identity despite their secular way of life, which did not support this identity. However, in the process of generational change, this privilege was lost.

The experiment by generation A to provide generation B with an Israeli identity as a substitute, or alternately, a new Jewish identity, failed, and Israeli society lost the source of its strength in its existential struggle.

The Jewish and Zionist mission was replaced by a normal Israeli mission, which is the natural default option. The current prime minister expressed it well in his speech on election night: "Normal life in a country that is fun to live in."

And so, the serving elites of generation A, which followed the light of the Jewish-Zionist mission, were replaced by exploiting generation B elites, and the phenomena of degeneration emerged.

This created the unprecedented phenomenon of citizens seeking normalcy while contending with a blurred Jewish identity and being imprisoned in a giant ghetto of a Jewish state, which is abnormal by definition. This is an intolerable contradiction that gave rise to proposals for a solution premised on forcing normalcy upon the entire ghetto.

Procreation Nation (Below the Belt: A Biweekly Column by NOW President Kim Gandy, August 1, 2006, NOW)
With our hearts and minds reinvigorated by a weekend away from the fray, it's time to respond to the most recent below-the-belt hits from the right-wing.

First, I'm compelled once again to point out the baffling government fetish about baby-making. This country already has the highest fertility rate in the industrialized world, and the population is growing by about 3.2 million people each year. But apparently that's not enough for our leaders, who have a serious preoccupation with procreation, which is apparently more important than, well, anything else.

Last week, Washington State joined 45 other states in denying equal marriage rights to same-sex couples. Why? Because procreation, sayeth the state Supreme Court judges, "is a legitimate government interest furthered by limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 PM


Headteacher who never taught again after daring to criticise multiculturalism (Karyn Miller, Melissa Kite, James Orr, Nina Goswami, Roya Nikkhah, 27/08/2006, Daily Telegraph)

Early yesterday afternoon, Ray Honeyford was listening with unconcealed delight to the radio commentary from the C&G Cup final at Lord's cricket ground as the Sussex batsmen, already 68 for 5, battled to find some form. Lancashire, Mr Honeyford, noted cheerfully, were doing rather well, as he watched through the window while his wife, Angela, and a friend tended to the garden. "My wife does all the gardening," Mr Honeyford says, "partly because I'm too lazy, partly because she doesn't want my help." He motions towards the potted flowers that sit on the polished table in the centre of his living room. He says he cannot name them, this by way of proving his horticultural ignorance.

The plants are Angela's, as are the prints of the Cezanne paintings and the black and white family pictures that line the walls of the living room of their modest house in Bury, Manchester. There are some framed medals of Mr Honeyford's uncle, a "Manchester lad like me", who was killed in the First World War, but nothing that reflects his own career as a teacher. No qualifications behind glass to recall the achievements of the boy from the large impoverished family who had initially failed his 11-plus, but nevertheless managed to become a Bachelor of Arts by correspondence and then a Master of Arts.

Ray Honeyford
Ray Honeyford was vilified for his views

There are no photographs of him pictured with his students. But that was all a long time ago now. Mr Honeyford, 72, "retired" more than 20 years ago as the headmaster of a school in Bradford. Or, at least, that was when he was vilified by politically correct race "experts", was sent death threats, and condemned as a racist. Eventually, he was forced to resign and never allowed to teach again.

His crime was to publish an article in The Salisbury Review in 1984 doubting whether the children in his school were best served by the connivance of the educational authorities in such practices as the withdrawal of children from school for months at a time in order to go ''home" to Pakistan, on the grounds that such practices were appropriate to the children's native culture. In language that was sometimes maladroit, he drew attention, at a time when it was still impermissible to do so, to the dangers of ghettoes developing in British cities.

Mr Honeyford thought that schools such as his own, the Drummond Middle School, where 95 per cent of the children were of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin, were a disaster both for their pupils and for society as a whole. He was a passionate believer in the redemptive power of education, and its ability to integrate people of different backgrounds and weld them into a common society. He then became notorious for, among other things, his insistence that Muslim girls should be educated to the same standard as everyone else.

Last week, 22 years on, he was finally vindicated. The same liberal establishment that had professed outrage at his views quietly accepted that he was, after all, right. Ruth Kelly, the Communities Secretary, made a speech, publicly questioning the multiculturalist orthodoxies that, for so long, have acted almost as a test of virtue among "right-thinking" people. As Miss Kelly told an audience: "There are white Britons who do not feel comfortable with change. They see the shops and restaurants in their town centres changing. They see their neighbourhoods becoming more diverse.

Detached from the benefits of those changes, they begin to believe the stories about ethnic minorities getting special treatment, and to develop a resentment, a sense of grievance. We have moved from a period of uniform consensus on the value of multiculturalism, to one where we can encourage that debate by questioning whether it is encouraging separateness. These are difficult questions and it is important that we don't shy away from them. In our attempt to avoid imposing a single British identity and culture, have we ended up with some communities living in isolation of each other, with no common bonds between them?"

Miss Kelly's speech comes two decades too late to save the career of Mr Honeyford. And asked last week whether the minister's speech would change anything, Mr Honeyford shrugged resignedly and said it was too late for that, too.

There is no culture for them to go back to teaching.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:11 PM


Net Worth--and the Dollar--Rise Again (Michael Mandel, 6/12/06, Business Week)

The amount of (pessimistic) nonsense that is written about the U.S. economy is truly extraordinary. The usual rap is that the U.S. is borrowing its way into oblivion--and eventually we are going to get our come-uppance when the dollar plunges and no one wants to lend to us anymore.

But oblivion is looking pretty good these days. Despite all the pessimism and all the borrowing, the country's net worth continues to rise, according to the latest figures from the Federal Reserve!

Let's look at a chart first. I calculate a concept that I call "real adjusted net worth per capita". That's equal to household net worth, minus government net debt, adjusted for inflation, and divided by the size of the population.

Here's what the chart looks like.

Real adjusted net worth per capita rose to $142,000 in the first quarter of 2006 (in 2000 dollars). That's up 6% over a year earlier, and higher than the previous peak.

You can see from the chart that there is a long-term upward trend, distorted by the late 1990s boom. So even with all of our borrowing, our net worth has been increasing.

U.S.: Why The Slowdown Won't Become A Slump: Household finances are strong and should continue to shore up demand (James C. Cooper, 6/26/06, Business Week)
Take a look at the Federal Reserve's latest data on the balance sheets of households and corporations. Over the past year household net worth, which is the net of all assets minus liabilities, increased by $4.9 trillion, to a record $53.8 trillion. The boost reflected more than just higher home prices, with gains in financial assets -- from bank deposits to stocks and bonds -- contributing the lion's share. Those increases are partly why household spending has been so resilient over the past year in the face of surging gasoline prices and rising interest rates.

Real Wages Fail to Match a Rise in Productivity (STEVEN GREENHOUSE and DAVID LEONHARDT, 8/28/06, NY Times)
With the economy beginning to slow, the current expansion has a chance to become the first sustained period of economic growth since World War II that fails to offer a prolonged increase in real wages for most workers. [...]

[H]ealth care is far more expensive than it was a decade ago, causing companies to spend more on benefits at the expense of wages. [...]

[P]olls show that Americans are less dissatisfied with the economy than they were in the early 1980’s or early 90’s. Rising house and stock values have lifted the net worth of many families over the last few years, and interest rates remain fairly low. [...]

Total employee compensation — wages plus benefits — has fared a little better. Its share was briefly lower than its current level of 56.1 percent in the mid-1990’s and otherwise has not been so low since 1966. [...]

Average family income, adjusted for inflation, has continued to advance at a good clip, a fact Mr. Bush has cited when speaking about the economy.

http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0830/p02s02-usec.html>At last, buoyant economy lifts incomes: After dropping for five years, median income of US households rises 1.1 percent, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday. (Alexandra Marks, 8/30/06, The Christian Science Monitor)
The nation's real median income was up 1.1 percent from 2004 to 2005, reaching more than $46,000, the US Census Bureau reported Tuesday. That's about $500 more than last year.

At the same time, the poverty rate has stabilized, after ticking upward for several years.

America: More Like Sweden Than You Thought (Tim Worstall, 28 Aug 2006, Tech Central Station)
One of the joys of my working life is that I get to read papers like "The State of Working America" from the Economic Policy Institute. [...]

To start with, they make some adjustments to the usual measures of the income of a nation, the GDP, by adjusting for different price levels. This gives us the so called Purchasing Power Parity numbers (PPP) and the USA is set as being 100 on the scale. Only one of the advanced industrial nations has a greater income per capita, Norway, at 105. Given that Norway gets some 20% of its GDP from pumping oil and gas out from beneath the North Sea and is, thus, almost a petro-state, it would be fair to say that the USA is, in fact, the large country with the highest income per head in the world without depleting its natural capital. Good, so far something we knew already.

We're also told on page 6 that if we look at the average of the countries studied without the USA and compare that to the USA's performance, that income growth rates are higher in the USA. 1.8% to 1.9% in 1989-2000, and 1.1% to 1.3% in 2000-2004. So not only richer but getting even richer faster, as well.


"The U.S. average from 2000 to 2005 was 1.7%, well above the OECD average of 0.7% in real compensation growth. Four countries fared better than the United States, most notably Norway with 2.3% growth. Note also that Germany had negative real compensation growth from 2000-05."

Things are actually looking pretty good for the US economy, then -- wealthier to start with, getting richer faster and productivity growth is also highest in the USA, meaning that this trend is only likely to continue. Looking at all of that it's really rather difficult to see that there's anything wrong with the way things are being managed (or not). [...]

In the USA the poor get 39% of the US median income and in Finland (and Sweden) the poor get 38% of the US median income. It's not worth quibbling over 1% so let's take it as read that the poor in America have exactly the same standard of living as the poor in Finland (and Sweden). Which is really a rather revealing number don't you think? All those punitive tax rates, all that redistribution, that blessed egalitarianism, the flatter distribution of income, leads to a change in the living standards of the poor of precisely ... nothing.

No matter how hard they try, the Times and Democrats aren't going to convince many folks they have it rough these days.

Bubbling Crude? (Robert J. Samuelson, July 26, 2006, Newsweek)

Despite all the griping, gasoline is still affordable. Even at $3 a gallon, it costs Americans only about 4 percent of their disposable income, reports economist Nigel Gault of Global Insight. The same is true globally. At $70 a barrel, global crude sales would total about $2.2 trillion annually; that's still a tiny share of the $50 trillion world economy.

Setting aside how insignificant energy costs remain even before the bubble bursts, it's pretty amusing that the entire world economy doesn't generate as much wealth in a year as we have socked away.

Meanwhile, this is nearly dispositive, Catering to Ignorance (Russell Roberts, 8/28/06, Cafe Hayek)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:03 PM


Pope sacks astronomer over evolution debate (SIMON CALDWELL, 8/23/06, Daily Mail)

Pope Benedict XVI has sacked his chief astronomer after a series of public clashes over the theory of evolution.

He has removed Father George Coyne from his position as director of the Vatican Observatory after the American Jesuit priest repeatedly contradicted the Holy See's endorsement of "intelligent design" theory, which essentially backs the "Adam and Eve" theory of creation.

Benedict favours intelligent design, which says God directs the process of evolution, over Charles Darwin’s original theory which holds that species evolve through the random, unplanned processes of genetic mutation and the survival of the fittest.

The Pope has to walk back the cat after the mess that his predecessor made, but until he gets to simple Creation and drops Intelligent Design altogether it's pretty hard to take him seriously on the topic either. This is one area where he's too European.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:43 PM


The Battle for India (Robert T. McLean, 8/28/2006, American Spectator)

The Bush Administration inherited few initiatives that Washington could build on, but the president has taken advantage of some inherent qualities that both the United States and India possess and some burdens that each must address.

The United States and India are both longstanding democracies that happen to be fighting Islamic fanaticism and facing the prospect of China's uncertain intentions that accompany its ever-expanding regional and global influence. Despite an increase in economic cooperation between Beijing and New Delhi -- according to some analysts, China should become India's largest trading partner next year -- geographic and historical factors continue to contribute to mutual suspicion. Less than helpful in this situation has been the strengthening of the traditional alliance between Beijing and Islamabad. Compounding this problem is China's construction at the Port of Gwadar in Pakistan, which essentially gives Beijing a naval presence on both sides of the Indian subcontinent.

Fortunately, a majority in Congress understand the implications of nuclear cooperation between the United States and India. On July 26, the House of Representatives passed the United States and India Nuclear Cooperation Promotion Act of 2006 recognizing India as a nuclear weapons state. The Senate is expected to pass its own version of the bill next month, but it is imperative that excessive additional conditions are not placed on New Delhi as such an alteration of the original text of the agreement could jeopardize the entire bilateral strategic partnership. Although ties are consistently improving between Washington and New Delhi, setbacks this fall could push the Indians to conclude that the politically homogenous governments in Beijing and Moscow are more reliable partners than the politically tempestuous United States.

However, in the end it most likely that the nuclear agreement will become law and President Bush and Prime Minister Singh will continue to strengthen their relationship. While New Delhi has yet to sign on to the Proliferation Security Initiative, the biennial American led RIMPAC naval exercises held this summer included India as an observer nation for the first time. India's desires to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council should also play to Washington's advantage. While this is unlikely to occur in the near future, the United States could highlight the actual roadblocks in this effort as both China and Russia strongly oppose Japan's -- who along with Germany and Brazil would likely have to accompany India in any addition -- request to be admitted as a permanent member.

Japan and Germany should be denied seats for the same reason they should be taken from France, Russia and China--all are dying states. China is, additionally, not a democracy and no non-democracy should have a seat. Let each continent (other than Antarctica) have one, with India getting Asia's and Brazil getting South America's. Africa presents the only tough call at that point. Unfortunately, Botswana is too small.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:36 PM


The Unimportance
of Evolution
(G. K. Chesterton, March 15, 1930, America)

It is of course immensely interesting to those whose business it is to be interested in it; as the smallest star in the Nebula of Andromeda is intensely interesting to an astronomer; or the minutest shade of variety in duckweed may be of vast importance to a botanist. That sort of really scientific science the Church entirely approves, often munificently patronizes and, for the most part, very wisely lets alone. But it is not essential that the guardian of faith and morals should pronounce upon duckweed.

It may seem like a joke to say that Evolution as such is no more serious than the Derby winner. But horse racing is in the same moral world as horse breeding. And horse breeding is a perfect example of the really impartial and scientific study of Evolution.

The whole argument is concerned with whether animal life as such went through a process of adaptation or selection like that of horse breeding; and whether it is possible to have horse breeding without a horse breeder. In our human experience we know it is done by a directive will; and it would seem most reasonable that where it could not be done by a directive human will, it might be done by a directive Divine will. Darwin and others maintained, more or less doubtfully, that it might be done by a sort of prolonged coincidence; a chapter of accidents.

Darwin's theory of how this might have occurred has been largely abandoned by the latest scientific men; and indeed is only still accepted as a piece of Victorian respectability by old-fashioned people like Bishop Barnes. But in any case, it never went very far towards touching the primary problems; and Darwin himself hardly pretended that it did.

The truth is that the enemies of Christianity, the men who started with a prejudice against religion long before they had studied any science, tried to stretch these very thin and stringy theories, or rather hypotheses, of the nineteenth-century biologists, and make them impinge somehow on Christian philosophy; drawing all sorts of philosophical morals from them which the biological suggestions did not really support, even if they had been true.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:38 AM


Shopping for Support Down the Wrong Aisle (Sebastian Mallaby, August 28, 2006, Washington Post)

Once upon a time, smart Democrats defended globalization, open trade and the companies that thrive within this system. They were wary of tethering themselves to an anti-trade labor movement that represents a dwindling fraction of the electorate. They understood the danger in bashing corporations: Voters don't hate corporations, because many of them work for one.

Then dot-bombs and Enron punctured corporate America's prestige, and Democrats bolted. Rather than hammer legitimately on real instances of corporate malfeasance -- accounting scandals, out-of-control executive compensation and the like -- Democrats swallowed the whole anti-corporate playbook.

To see the difference between then and now, just look at the Clintons. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Hillary Clinton sat on Wal-Mart's board; and when Sam Walton died in 1992, Bill Clinton lauded him as "a wonderful family man and one of the greatest citizens in the history of the state of Arkansas.'' Campaigning in the New Hampshire primary that year, Bill Clinton came proudly to the rescue of a local company called American Brush Co. by helping it become a Wal-Mart supplier.

Times change.

To be a Democrat is to prefer the 1970s to the 1990s.

Wal-Mart's A Diversion: On any list of the nations major concerns, the giant retailer would not rank in the first 50. So why are Dems spending so much time talking about it? (Robert J. Samuelson, 9/04/06, Newsweek)
What else do they have?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


Federal Jobs Decline As Contractor Market Expands (Cecilia Kang, August 28, 2006, Washington Post)

A closer look at July's employment data for the Washington area underscores a shift in the economy, with the number of jobs in the federal government shrinking and the number at companies that serve the government expanding. [...]

The number of federal government jobs, meanwhile, fell 0.6 percent, to 341,900.

This is the last front in the war on the Welfare State and no one even recognizes that W is winning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


Tigers to call up No. 1 pick (AP, 8/27/06)

General manager Dave Dombrowski said lefty Andrew Miller, Detroit's No. 1 draft pick in June, will be called up Tuesday from Class A Lakeland before the Tigers open a three-game series at Yankee Stadium in New York.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Order in the Courts (J ALEXANDER THIER, 8/28/06, NY Times)

A few weeks ago the new Parliament approved a fresh slate of Supreme Court justices — a strong group of professionals and reformers that includes several of Afghanistan’s pre-eminent legal minds.

This court represents a sea change from the judiciary that has been in place since the collapse of the Taliban. For the first time in its history, Afghanistan may have a real system of checks and balances. But the United States and its partners must seize this opportunity and act quickly to support the new court, and not squander another chance for meaningful reform.

It’s the big bang moment of democracy, when the three branches of government all come into being, each with its own powers and limitations. We are witnessing in Afghanistan today what the American founders understood so well: alone, factions and institutions will abuse their power, but in combination they will constrain and balance one another, creating stability amid competition and turmoil.

Afghanistan’s Parliament, still struggling to find its feet, has played a critical role in this constitutional drama. Last spring, the body rejected the previous chief justice, Fazel Hadi Shinwari, a fundamentalist firebrand whom President Hamid Karzai had appointed in deference to Islamist demands. Rising to the challenge, Mr. Karzai then nominated Abdul Salam Azimi, a moderate Islamic scholar and the primary drafter of Afghanistan’s new democratic constitution. The Parliament approved Mr. Azimi as chief justice, along with a slate of other moderates.

Chief Justice Azimi and his associates have substantial experience and a demonstrated desire to build an effective system that promotes the rule of law.

As violence drops in Baghdad, national reconciliation makes gains (Multi-National Force--Iraq, 27 August 2006)

Meanwhile, in Washington, Iraq's Deputy President Adil Abd al-Mahdi met with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon on Friday to further discuss Iraq’s country’s commitment to reconciliation.

Following a meeting at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld and al-Mahdi spoke with reporters about progress in Iraq. The secretary praised the work of Iraqi security forces, which he said now number more than 267,000. He said there has been a reduction in the levels of violence, particularly in areas U.S. and Iraqi forces have been able to clear.

In spite of the gains in security, Rumsfeld stressed the Iraqi people and their government hold the key to long-term stability and security.

"The important thing is for the Iraqi government to achieve success with respect to their reconciliation process," he said. "This is not purely a military problem, and it is not going to be solved purely by military forces."

Rumsfeld said the Iraqi government is committed to achieving reconciliation among various groups.

"Admittedly, it is a lot easier to talk about it than to do it," he said. "It's been done in other countries. I believe it can be achieved here. They're going to have to work very hard on it, and it's going to take some time, but it is a process, not an event."

Al-Mahdi said the process is taking place. The national unity government of Iraq has both a working reconciliation plan and a good plan to secure Baghdad, two steps that counter those who would push Iraq toward a civil war, he said.

"At least 20 of the groups are dialoguing now with the government," he said. "We have to see the results. We have to see the impact of this. We are optimistic."

The Iraqi government is open to proposals from those willing to put their arms aside and find a solution, al-Mahdi said, but government forces will continue to put pressure on insurgents and terrorists.

"The government is stronger than ever," he said. "Our armed forces are getting much better than before in number, in quality, in operations. They are leading operations now."

Al-Mahdi said seventy percent of Iraq is now stable and secure, which makes the Iraqi people "fully optimistic" about their future.

"The Iraqi people think that there is no other issue but victory in Iraq," he said. "The Iraqi people can't leave the country. There is no withdrawal for the Iraqi people. The multi-national forces are supporting Iraqi people and will continue to support and have the sympathy of Iraqis."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


'Gaza caught in anarchy and thuggery' (Khaled Abu Toameh, Aug. 28, 2006, THE JERUSALEM POST)

Dismissing Israel's responsibility for the growing state of anarchy and lawlessness in the Gaza Strip, [ Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority,] said it was time for the Palestinians to embark on a soul-searching process to see where they erred.

"We're always afraid to talk about our mistakes," he added. "We're used to blaming our mistakes on others. What is the relationship between the chaos, anarchy, lawlessness, indiscriminate murders, theft of land, family rivalries, transgression on public lands and unorganized traffic and the occupation? We are still trapped by the mentality of conspiracy theories - one that has limited our capability to think."

Hamad admitted that the Palestinians have failed in developing the Gaza Strip following the Israeli withdrawal and in imposing law and order. He said about 500 Palestinians have been killed and 3,000 wounded since the Israeli pullout, in addition to the destruction of much of the infrastructure in the area.

By comparison, he said, only three or four Israelis have been killed by the rockets fired from the Gaza Strip over the same period.

"Some will argue that it's not a matter of profit or loss, but that this has an accumulating effect" he said. "This may be true. But isn't there a possibility of decreasing the number of casualties and increasing our gains by using our brains and making the proper calculations away from demagogic statements?"

The Hamas official said that while his government was unable to change the situation, the opposition was sitting on the side and watching and PA President Mahmoud Abbas was as weak as ever.

"We have all been attacked by the bacteria of stupidity," he remarked. "We have lost our sense of direction and we don't know where we're headed."

Hizbullah leader: we regret the two kidnappings that led to war with Israel (Rory McCarthy, August 28, 2006, Guardian)
Hizbullah last night admitted it would not have captured the two Israeli soldiers last month had it known a war would follow. [...]

"We did not think, even one percent, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude," Hassan Nasrallah, the cleric who leads Hizbullah, told Lebanon's New TV channel. "You ask me, if I had known on July 11 ... that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not." He said Italy would play a part in negotiating the soldiers' eventual release. "Contacts recently began for negotiations," he said. "It seems that Italy is trying to get into the subject." From the start, Mr Nasrallah has said he wanted to exchange the soldiers for Lebanese and Palestinians held in Israel.

Textbook examples of how shifting increasing responsibility to Hezbollah and Hamas has made them answerable to their people.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 7:15 AM


Keef faces cigarette rap (The Guardian, August 28th, 2006)

Keith Richards is used to an occasional run-in with the police, most notably drug charges during the 60s and 70s, but his law-breaking days appeared to be behind him. But the legendary rock band's guitarist is now being investigated by Glasgow city council after it received reports that he had broken Scotland's smoking ban.

Council officials confirmed yesterday they are to launch an inquiry to whether the Stones' axeman lit up on stage at Glasgow's Hampden Park last Friday night when the band played there in their Bigger Bang European tour.

A city spokesman said: "This has been brought to our attention and we will be looking into it. Glasgow city council takes its responsibility for enforcing the smoking ban very seriously."

No doubt some around these parts will celebrate this as the triumph of a puritan nation, but isn’t charging Keith Richards with smoking while applauding his music a little like potting Linda Lovelace for indulging in a post-coital cigarette?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 AM


RAFSANJANI'S DAUGHTER TAKES ACTIVE ROLE: Religion 'not limiting' women in Iran (GARY TEGLER, 8/28/06, The Japan Times

Born into an educated, politically active family in Iran, Fatemeh Hashemi defies the image of Muslim women often held in Japan.

"Ninety-nine percent of Iranians are religious. This says nothing against modernity," Hashemi, the eldest daughter of Hashemi Rafsanjani, president of Iran from 1989 to 1997, said in an interview Sunday.

"The Shiite sect has an element of dynamism and you can adapt yourself and the laws to new conditions. Religion is not a limitation or restriction for progress. Seventy percent of university students are female. The rate of literacy among women when the revolution took place (in 1979) was 32 percent. This has now changed to 84 percent," she said. [...]

Fifteen years ago, she founded the Women's Solidarity Association, one of three NGOs she currently heads. The association's objectives are to review women's problems in Iran and to make recommendations to the government. Her efforts, and those of her cohorts, brought about changes to Iranian laws, particularly those that pertain to marriage and a woman's right to work and be educated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Abe mulling harder line against North Korea (Japan Times, 8/28/06)

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe is considering tougher measures against North Korea than those adopted by Junichiro Koizumi if he becomes prime minister next month, hoping to help settle the issue of Japanese abductions, government sources said Sunday.

As prime minister, Abe would boost the power of a government task force on the abductions and push ahead with new measures for economic sanctions in cooperation with the ruling coalition parties, the sources said.

They said these plans would represent a policy shift from Koizumi's "dialogue and pressure" against North Korea to one stressing "pressure."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


10m want to quit 'over-taxed' UK (David Cracknell, 8/27/06, Times of London)

ONE in five Britons — nearly 10m adults — is considering leaving the country amid growing disillusionment over the failure of political parties to deliver tax cuts, according to a new poll.

The extensive survey conducted by ICM, the polling company, shows that — contrary to the current approach of both Labour and the Tories — an overwhelming majority of voters do want to see cuts in income and inheritance tax.

And as they shrink the tax base the taxes have to be hiked even higher, driving more young people out, which means.....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Teacher's gender affects how well kids learn, study suggests (BEN FELLER, 8/28/06, Associated Press)

For all the differences between the sexes, here's one that might stir up debate in the teacher's lounge: Boys learn more from men and girls learn more from women.

That's the upshot of a provocative study by Thomas Dee, an associate professor of economics at Swarthmore College and visiting scholar at Stanford University. His study was to appear Monday in Education Next, a quarterly journal published by the Hoover Institution. [...]

His study comes as the proportion of male teachers is at its lowest level in 40 years. Roughly 80 per cent of teachers in U.S. public schools are women.

Dr. Dee's study is based on a nationally representative survey of nearly 25,000 eighth-graders that was conducted by the Education Department in 1988. Though dated, the survey is the most comprehensive look at students in middle school, when gender gaps emerge, Dr. Dee said.

He examined test scores as well as self-reported perceptions by teachers and students.

Dr. Dee found that having a female teacher instead of a male teacher raised the achievement of girls and lowered that of boys in science, social studies and English.

Looked at the other way, when a man led the class, boys did better and girls did worse.

The study found switching up teachers actually could narrow achievement gaps between boys and girls, but one gender would gain at the expense of the other.

Dr. Dee also contends that gender influences attitudes.

For example, with a female teacher, boys were more likely to be seen as disruptive. Girls were less likely to be considered inattentive or disorderly.

In a class taught by a man, girls were more likely to say the subject was not useful for their future. They were less likely to look forward to the class or to ask questions.

August 27, 2006

Posted by Peter Burnet at 7:55 PM


Failing boys put university drive in doubt
(Julie Henry, The Telegraph, August 27th, 2006)

Government plans for half of young people to go to university are being scuppered by boys' underachievement, figures have revealed.

Data published last week by the University and Colleges Admission Service show that 30,000 more girls than boys have gained places at university so far this year. On some degree courses, such as psychology, girls outnumber boys by more than four to one and almost twice as many have been accepted onto law courses.

The gap between the number of British male and female undergraduates studying at universities has increased from 170,510 in 2000 to 295,575 in 2005. The difference is such that the proportion of women aged 18 to 30 attending university, which currently stands at 47 per cent, is likely to hit the Government's target of 50 per cent by the end of the decade. Boys, however, languish at 37 per cent and show little sign of improving.[...]

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Much higher proportions of boys than girls are disinclined to work hard at school.

''I think it can be traced to the way in which girls and boys are treated differently at a very early stage.

More likely it can be traced to their perceptions of what will be expected of them at a much later stage.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 6:21 PM


Guys, a word of advice (India Knight, The Times, August 27th, 2006)

There’s a huge hoo-ha in America about an article published on the business website Forbes.com. It starts off like this: “Guys: a word of advice. Marry pretty women or ugly ones. Short ones or tall ones. Blondes or brunettes. Just, whatever you do, don’t marry a woman with a career.”

The writer, Michael Noer, cites at length a piece in Social Forces, a US research journal, that has apparently found marrying a working woman dramatically ups the risk of having a difficult marriage and that “professional women are more likely to get divorced, more likely to cheat, less likely to have children and, if they do have kids, they are more likely to be unhappy about it. Even those with a ‘feminist’ outlook are happier when their husband is the primary breadwinner” [...]

You can imagine the outcry the article has caused. Women readers aren’t happy and the website has now posted a spirited riposte by one of its female correspondents alongside Noer’s original feature.

What is interesting about all of this is that I suspect Noer’s central point — that working women are trouble and that you’re better off with a docile little breeder or, indeed, a trophy wife — is more widely held by men than you or I might imagine. It’s not a viewpoint they like to trumpet in mixed company, obviously, but I’ve heard it expressed more times than I care to remember in private.

It stems in part from a sweet but inane desire for alpha malehood — me man, me provide, me gain big-eyed gratitude for ace wage-earning skills — and from chronic sexual insecurity. If your nice little wife is safely at home all day, instead of running around the boardroom with men who might — the horror — be somewhat more alpha than you, she’s more likely to admire your manly skills and talents when you come home at night, and not realise what she’s missing. [...]

The point, surely, is that women should have the freedom to do exactly what they wish to do with their lives...

Surely you don’t think we are crazy enough to wade into this one. But, careers or no careers, any man or woman who is thinking of marrying someone whose opening gambit is that they should have the freedom to do exactly what they wish to do with their lives should consider holy orders instead.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 3:27 PM


The potholes in college students' minds (Michael Skube, Houston Chronicle, August 26th, 2006)

We were talking informally in class not long ago, 17 college sophomores and I, and on a whim I asked who some of their favorite writers are. The question hung in uneasy silence. At length, a voice in the rear hesitantly volunteered the name of ... Dan Brown.

No other names were offered.

The author of The DaVinci Code was not just the best writer they could think of; he was the only writer they could think of.

In our better private universities and flagship state schools today, it's hard to find a student who graduated from high school with much lower than a 3.5 GPA, and not uncommon to find students whose GPAs were 4.0 or higher. They somehow got these suspect grades without having read much. Or if they did read, they've given it up. And it shows —— in their writing and even in their conversation.

A few years ago, I began keeping a list of everyday words that may as well have been potholes in exchanges with college students. It began with a fellow who was two months away from graduating from a well-respected Midwestern university.

"And what was the impetus for that?" I asked as he finished a presentation.

At the word "impetus" his head snapped sideways, as if by reflex. "The what?" he asked.

We just can't imagine what the problem could be.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 2:38 PM


Compliant and subservient: Jimmy Carter's explosive critique of Tony Blair (John Preston and Melissa Kite, The Telegraph, August 27th, 2006)

Tony Blair's lack of leadership and timid subservience to George W Bush lie behind the ongoing crisis in Iraq and the worldwide threat of terrorism, according to the former American president Jimmy Carter.

"I have been surprised and extremely disappointed by Tony Blair's behaviour," he told The Sunday Telegraph.

"I think that more than any other person in the world the Prime Minister could have had a moderating influence on Washington - and he has not. I really thought that Tony Blair, who I know personally to some degree, would be a constraint on President Bush's policies towards Iraq."

In an exclusive interview, President Carter made it plain that he sees Mr Blair's lack of leadership as being a key factor in the present crisis in Iraq, which followed the 2003 invasion - a pre-emptive move he said he would never have considered himself as president.[...]

At 81, Mr Carter - the 39th American president, from 1977 to 1981, and the winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize - plainly has no intention of sitting on his porch and nodding quietly away as the sun goes down over his peanut farm.

There is nothing like those good old southern manners in a guest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:37 AM


Tories vow to scrap stamp duty on shares to boost pensions (Melissa Kite, 27/08/2006, Daily Telegraph)

The Conservatives open up an important offensive today against Gordon Brown by unveiling plans to abolish stamp duty on shares.

Outlining the party's first tax-cutting proposal, the shadow chancellor, George Osborne, said the move would form part of a package of measures designed to increase competitiveness and boost the value of pensions.

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Osborne said: "Of all the damaging things Gordon Brown has done to the economy, the single most destructive has been the attack on personal pensions. 'Repairing the damage done to the pensions system has got to be a top priority for the next Conservative government.

"Sadly, simply reversing the pensions tax he imposed in 1998 wouldn't work, as many final salary schemes have closed. 'We need to look at new ways of repairing the damage and that is why I am particularly keen to look at stamp duty on shares."

He welcomed a Bow Group pamphlet, to be published tomorrow, which calls for abolition of the tax.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 11:29 AM


Reuters car hit by Israeli airstrike (Globe and Mail, August 26th, 2006)

Israeli aircraft fired two missiles early Sunday at an armoured car belonging to the Reuters news agency, wounding five people, including two cameramen, Palestinian witnesses and hospital officials said.

The Israeli army said it did not realize the car's passengers were journalists and only attacked because the vehicle was driving in a suspicious manner near Israeli troops in the middle of a combat zone.

Sure it was.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:04 AM


Celtic player's sign of cross caution 'will make Scotland a laughing stock' (ARTHUR MACMILLAN, Scotland on Sunday)

THE decision by the Crown Office to caution a Celtic footballer for "inciting" Rangers supporters will make Scotland the "laughing stock of the world", it was claimed yesterday, amid growing anger about the decision.

Labour MP Jim Devine condemned the warning given to Artur Boruc, who reportedly crossed himself in front of rival fans during an Old Firm game.

The MP for Livingston, who is a lifelong Celtic supporter, described the decision as an embarrassment, as footballers in "virtually every stadium in the world" went through a match ritual, including blessing themselves.

Strathclyde Police investigated claims that Boruc, 26, angered a section of the home support after allegedly making the religious gesture at the start of the second half of the match at Ibrox stadium on February 12.

Officers later submitted a report to the procurator fiscal, who then issued the goalkeeper with a warning. [...]

However, Devine said yesterday: "I find it sad that some people in the 21st century find this offensive and feel the need to make a complaint to police about it. Surely the police and Crown Office could be spending their time more effectively than responding to a complaint about a ritual that takes place on a routine basis in just about every football match. I will be writing to the Crown Office for a full explanation of their decision as this could end up happening every week."

The Catholic Church described the decision to warn the Polish footballer about his conduct as "alarming".

The surprising thing is that when he made the sign everyone didn't shrivel o the ground like vampires.


NEWS that Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc has been rapped by police for crossing himself at a match has sent shockwaves around the world.

From the U.S. to the Far East, bulletins reported how a Catholic footballer was accused of a crime for making the sign of the cross.

And every time the story is retold it is explained how sectarian hatred is a scar on Scottish society.

The image of Scotland being beamed around the globe is not one we can take any pride in.

First Minister Jack McConnell once said that sectarianism was Scotland's "secret shame".

Well, whether you think Boruc is guilty of a crime or not, it is a secret no more.

The whole world thinks we are a narrow-minded petty little nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 AM

TWO-FER (via Tom Morin):

Publicans smoulder as smoke ban hits drink sales (David Lister, 8/24/06, Times of London)

PUBLICANS in Scotland are demanding millions of pounds in compensation after their trade association published figures yesterday suggesting that alcohol sales in pubs, hotels and restaurants had dropped by 11 per cent since the smoking ban.

However, Andy Kerr, the Scottish Executive’s Health Minister, immediately challenged the survey’s findings. He said: “I have not met a single person who wants to turn the clock back and reintroduce smoking in restaurants and pubs. Indeed, feedback to me has been quite the opposite.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 AM


The Man Who Said Too Much (Michael Isikoff, 8/27/06, Newsweek)

In the early morning of Oct. 1, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell received an urgent phone call from his No. 2 at the State Department. Richard Armitage was clearly agitated. As recounted in a new book, "Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War," Armitage had been at home reading the newspaper and had come across a column by journalist Robert Novak. Months earlier, Novak had caused a huge stir when he revealed that Valerie Plame, wife of Iraq-war critic Joseph Wilson, was a CIA officer. Ever since, Washington had been trying to find out who leaked the information to Novak. The columnist himself had kept quiet. But now, in a second column, Novak provided a tantalizing clue: his primary source, he wrote, was a "senior administration official" who was "not a partisan gunslinger." Armitage was shaken. After reading the column, he knew immediately who the leaker was. On the phone with Powell that morning, Armitage was "in deep distress," says a source directly familiar with the conversation who asked not to be identified because of legal sensitivities. "I'm sure he's talking about me."

Armitage's admission led to a flurry of anxious phone calls and meetings that day at the State Department. (Days earlier, the Justice Department had launched a criminal investigation into the Plame leak after the CIA informed officials there that she was an undercover officer.) Within hours, William Howard Taft IV, the State Department's legal adviser, notified a senior Justice official that Armitage had information relevant to the case. The next day, a team of FBI agents and Justice prosecutors investigating the leak questioned the deputy secretary. Armitage acknowledged that he had passed along to Novak information contained in a classified State Department memo: that Wilson's wife worked on weapons-of-mass-destruction issues at the CIA. (The memo made no reference to her undercover status.) Armitage had met with Novak in his State Department office on July 8, 2003—just days before Novak published his first piece identifying Plame. Powell, Armitage and Taft, the only three officials at the State Department who knew the story, never breathed a word of it publicly and Armitage's role remained secret.

Armitage, a well-known gossip who loves to dish and receive juicy tidbits about Washington characters, apparently hadn't thought through the possible implications of telling Novak about Plame's identity.

Hadn't thought about it? The reason her job is interesting is because it shows the Wilson trip was a CIA op against the elected government of the United States.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 AM


The McCain Makeover (Glenn Frankel, August 27, 2006, Washington Post Magazine)

DON'T LOOK NOW, but 26 months before November 2008 the race for president has already started. McCain and his potential rivals are out on the campaign trail virtually every week. They are raising money and support for federal and state candidates in the 2006 election. But they are also collecting chits, building name recognition and garnering backers for the presidential campaign to come.

"Teddy White must be turning over in his grave," says John Weaver, McCain's chief campaign strategist, referring to the late author of The Making of the President books. "I can't believe we're doing this so early."

But doing it they are. And no one more assiduously, nor with more apparent success, than McCain, who has vaulted to the front of the GOP field. Early polls indicate he gets twice as much support as any other likely Republican candidate except Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, who runs close behind. Even in liberal, blue-state strongholds such as Massachusetts, McCain runs even with or better than the two most recognizable Democratic names, Hillary Clinton and Al Gore. As a former Navy pilot who was shot down over Hanoi and spent more than five years as a prisoner of war, he's got impeccable military credentials and stature, and a reputation for bipartisanship and fierce independence that appeals to a broad spectrum of voters. He's also got star power: Turn on your television most days, and you'll find McCain on one of the morning talkfests or on "Larry King Live," "Imus" or "Hannity and Colmes."

Many of the Republican professionals who once wrote off McCain as the loosest of political cannons say they are surprised and impressed at the careful, disciplined way he and his staff have gone about establishing his as yet undeclared candidacy. He is laboring hard to become the presumptive candidate for a party that almost always nominates the presumptive candidate.

"He's very much where George W. Bush was in 1998 and '99 -- getting his team established, trying to create that same air of inevitability that Karl Rove tried to create around Bush," says Saul Anuzis, chairman of Michigan's Republican Party, referring to Bush's political Rasputin.

Still, there are many rivers to cross before November 2008. McCain has to vanquish a formidable cast of possible Republican opponents, which could include Sens. George Allen (Va.), Sam Brownback (Kan.), Bill Frist (Tenn.) and Chuck Hagel (Neb.), along with Newt Gingrich, Giuliani and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He also faces a host of enemies among Republican interest groups and social conservatives who have not forgiven or forgotten his run as an iconoclastic insurgent in 2000 and who dislike some of the positions he currently holds on litmus-test issues such as the gay marriage amendment (he's against it) and stem cell research (he's for it).

As if he weren't a strong enough candidate in his own right, he's helped greatly by the featherweight nature of his opponents. Jeb Bush would obviously be a better president, but when he decided not to run the race was over.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 AM


Split Remains: NEWSWEEK Poll: A possibly revolutionary innovation in stem-cell research hasn’t changed American opinions on the topic (Arian Campo-Flores, 8/27/06, Newsweek)

According to the latest NEWSWEEK Poll, 48 percent of respondents favor federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, while 40 percent oppose it. That’s little different from the results of an October 2004 poll, taken in the heat of a presidential campaign, which found that 50 percent of registered voters favored the research and 36 percent opposed it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 AM


Lieberman’s Run Shadows House Campaigns in Connecticut (JENNIFER MEDINA, 8/27/06, NY Times)

As Senator Joseph I. Lieberman begins to mount a vigorous and well-financed re-election campaign as an independent, many Connecticut Democrats say they are worried that his bid could jeopardize their party’s ability to win in three hotly contested House races this fall.

Mr. Lieberman, a centrist Democrat who lost in the Aug. 8 Democratic primary to Ned Lamont, a wealthy businessman, is now running on his own line. With polls showing that many Democrats are eager for a change, Democratic officials say they expect Mr. Lieberman to campaign aggressively to win over Republican and unaffiliated voters.

If he does, Democratic strategists say, he may well attract voters to the polls who are likely to support the state’s three Republicans in Congress: Nancy Johnson, Rob Simmons and Christopher Shays.

“He has a Republican vote, that’s the fact,” said Tom Matzzie, the political director of Moveon.org, a liberal group that is backing Mr. Lamont and the Democratic challengers in the three House races. And those voters, he said, are “likely to vote as Republicans in every race.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 AM


The Americanization of Canada by Harper (Haroon Siddiqui, Aug. 27, 2006, Toronto Star)

You may like or dislike his act as the chief cheerleader for Israel and the United States. You may even feel cheated that he had kept his ideology well concealed prior to and during the last election. But at least you know where he stands now.

What you do not know, except in a vague way, is where the main Liberal leadership aspirants stand. They stand in different spots, on different days.

Harper's assertion that the Israeli actions in Lebanon were a measured response to the provocations of Hezbollah was only the start of his reading from the American script.

Bush stalled a ceasefire. So did Harper.

Bush said no to American troops in a multinational force. Harper said no to Canadian participation.

Bush cast the Israeli offensive as a "struggle between the forces of freedom and the force of terror." So did Harper.

Bush tied Lebanon to the larger (failed) war on terrorism. So did Harper.

At times, Harper sounded more hawkish than the Republican neocon hawks.

Mr. Harper understands that Canada has no future if it continues to become French, but must return to being English instead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


Palestinian PM optimistic about journalists' release (CNN, 8/27/06)

The Palestinian prime minister said late Saturday that he hopes two Fox journalists kidnapped earlier this month will be released "in the coming hours," his office said.

The kidnappers have promised Ismail Haniyeh, a member of Hamas who came to power earlier this year, that the journalists will not be hurt, according to Haniyeh's staff.

"There is progress in the issue of the journalists, and there are promises also that they won't be harmed," Haniyeh told the Palestinian news service, Ramattan.

"The interior minister, Said Siyam, is personally following this matter, and we hope it will be resolved in a way befitting us as a resistant and civilized Palestinian people," he said.

A nice illustration of how Hamas and the PLO have been normalized by the accountability that comes with political power.

Fox News Journalists Released in Gaza (Doug Struck, 8/27/06, Washington Post)

Two Fox Television journalists held for 13 days in the Gaza Strip were released Sunday after they were shown on a videotape saying they converted to Islam.

The two journalists, American Steve Centanni, 60, and New Zealand cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36, "have liberated themselves" by converting to Islam, according to the statement accompanying a videotape from a group calling itself the Holy Jihad Brigades.

After their release, Centanni and Wiig told reporters that they hoped that their experience would not scare other journalists from reporting on the Palestinians. After a brief news conference, they headed by van for Jerusalem, CNN reported.

Separately, an Egyptian newspaper reported that a deal was close for a prisoner exchange that would release two Israeli soldiers whose abduction had sparked the 33-day war in south Lebanon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 AM


Poll: SNP set to seize power at Holyrood (EDDIE BARNES, 8/27/06, The Scotsman)

ALEX Salmond is on track to take Scotland to the brink of independence, according to a startling new poll which shows the SNP has opened up a clear lead over Labour.

With just eight months to go until the Holyrood elections, the party has established a four-point lead over its nearest rivals, and appears to be pulling away.
Click here to find out more!

The SNP claims that if the poll result was repeated at voting booths next year it would eradicate Labour's majority at the Scottish Parliament.

If Salmond becomes First Minister, he has pledged to introduce a bill for an independence referendum within 100 days of taking up office.

Our own Democrats still think this is an ideal time to be a party of the Left in the Anglosphere?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Billions at stake in border contract (Dave Montgomery, 8/27/06, McClatchy Newspapers)

The Bush administration is expected next month to choose an industry consortium to erect a high-tech security shield along the U.S. borders, launching one of the federal government's most ambitious public-works projects in years.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) calls the proposed Secure Border Initiative Net (SBInet) the "most comprehensive effort in the nation's history" to gain control of more than 6,000 miles of border with Mexico and Canada, and 2,000 miles of coastline.

SBInet is a centerpiece of President Bush's efforts to fortify the U.S.-Mexico border at a time Congress is locked in a struggle to revise the nation's immigration laws. Administration officials say they intend to proceed with the security net regardless of the outcome of the debate over immigration legislation.

The multibillion-dollar undertaking has ignited a contract battle among industry teams headed by four leading defense companies — Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon — and Ericsson, the Swedish-based telecommunications giant with U.S. headquarters in Plano, Texas.

For a politician, nothing beats a politically popular boondoggle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


Dollars, democracy and Venezuela (Ian James, 8/26/06, The Associated Press)

The U.S. government is spending millions of dollars in the name of democracy in Venezuela — bankrolling human-rights seminars, training emerging leaders, advising political parties and giving to charities.

But the money is raising deep suspicions among supporters of President Hugo Chávez, in part because the U.S. has refused to name many of the groups it's supporting.

Details of the spending emerge in 1,600 pages of grant contracts obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request. [...]

While USAID oversees much of the public U.S. spending on Latin America, the Bush administration also has stepped up covert efforts in the region. This month, Washington named a career CIA agent as the "mission manager" to oversee U.S. intelligence on Cuba and Venezuela.

The Bush administration has an $80 million plan to hasten change in Cuba, where Chávez has sworn to help defend Fidel Castro's communist system. The U.S. also is spending millions on pro-democracy work in Bolivia, where Bush has warned of "an erosion of democracy" since a Chávez ally, socialist Evo Morales, was elected president in December.

Chávez makes no distinction between the programs supported by U.S. funds and the secret effort he claims the CIA is pursuing to destabilize his government. And it appears a crackdown on the U.S. aid is looming as Chávez runs for re-election in December.

You mean the President's serious about all that democracy guff?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM

Plane Crashes Near Ky. Airport (Judy Sarasohn, 8/27/06, Washington Post)

A Comair flight carrying 50 people crashed a mile from Lexington, Ky.'s airport early this morning shortly after takeoff. Only one person survived and is in critical condition, according to airline, airport and hospital officials. [...]

The twin-engine aircraft, a Bombardier Canadair CRJ-100, can carry up to 50 passengers, according to Delta's Web site.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


How right wing the left sounds after its moment of racial truth (Rod Liddle, 8/27/06, Sunday Times of London)

Quick, somebody buy a wreath. Last week marked the passing of multiculturalism as official government doctrine. No longer will opponents of this corrosive and divisive creed be silenced simply by the massed Pavlovian ovine accusation: “Racist!” Better still, the very people who foisted multiculturalism upon the country are the ones who have decided that it has now outlived its usefulness — that is, the political left.

It is amazing how a few by-election shocks and some madmen with explosive backpacks can concentrate the mind. At any rate, British citizens, black and white, can move onwards together — towards a sunlit upland of monoculturalism, or maybe zeroculturalism, whatever takes your fancy.

That multiculturalism really is officially dead and buried can be inferred both from Ruth Kelly’s comments last week and, indeed, from the title of the commission that the government had convened in the wake of the July 7 terrorist attacks last year and to which her observations were made.

In fairness, Kelly, the communities and local government secretary, merely posed the question as to whether the creed had resulted in division and alienation. “Have we ended up with some communities living in isolation from each other?” she asked. That she was speaking wholly rhetorically is evident from the title of the commission: the Commission for Integration and Cohesion. You don’t get either of those things with multiculturalism: they are mutually exclusive.

Britain's future culture is likely though to be Islamic, since it's the only one of the options thriving there.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 8:15 AM


Gays must change, says archbishop (Jonathan Wynne-Jones, The Telegraph, August 27th, 2006)

The archbishop of Canterbury has told homosexuals that they need to change their behaviour if they are to be welcomed into the church, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal. Rowan Williams has distanced himself from his one-time liberal support of gay relationships and stressed that the tradition and teaching of the Church has in no way been altered by the Anglican Communion's consecration of its first openly homosexual bishop.

The declaration by the archbishop - rebutting the idea that homosexuals should be included in the church unconditionally - marks a significant development in the church's crisis over homosexuals. According to liberal and homosexual campaigners, it confirmed their fears that the archbishop has become increasingly conservative - and sparked accusations that he has performed an "astonishing" U-turn over the homosexual issue.

Liberals who had previously hailed his appointment said they are dismayed that he appears to have turned his back on an agenda that he previously championed.

However, the archbishop's comments have received strong support from traditionalists. The Rev Rod Thomas, a spokesman for the evangelical pressure group Reform, said: "There is no doubt that he is distancing himself from the views that he has previously expressed. He's right to want to see people converted. The fact that he's saying this is a hugely welcome development."

Maybe he finally decided that the fun of marching on Gay Pride Day wasn’t worth tossing out the plinth of civilization after all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:54 AM


France about-turns into a bigger military mess (Michael Portillo, 8/27/06, Sunday Times of London)

‘Il faut aller à Gorazde.” (“We must push through to Gorazde.”) The French defence minister would repeat it like a chant. It was 1995. In Srebrenica, a United Nations so-called safe haven in Bosnia, 8,000 men had been slaughtered by Bosnian Serbs.

Gorazde was another enclave that the UN had promised to defend. But the French and British forces in the region were many miles away. As participants in a UN humanitarian mission they were lightly armed. They had lorries, not tanks, and no aircraft. So the idea of pushing through to Gorazde was fanciful.

It had been a French general, Philippe Morillon, who as head of the UN forces in the former Yugoslavia had first pledged to protect Srebrenica. He did not have the resources to keep that promise and Dutch UN forces in the city did nothing to prevent the massacre. [...]

There is a cultural difference between the French and the British obvious in their diplomatic styles. The French believe that what they say is at least as important as what they do. They spin grandiloquent phrases and strike postures. Rhetoric is away of life and if you point out it is divorced from all strategic reality that is thought to be nitpicking.

The British, on the other hand, get engrossed in tedious detail like: “Is this practical? Who is going to supply the troops? What will be their rules of engagement?” With Lebanon the French have discovered phrase-making is not enough. In recent days they have become very practical, bleating that there are no established rules of engagement (governing what the soldiers can do and when they can fire) almost as though they were British.

August 26, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 PM


'US Ryder Cup team rivals only Liechtenstein navy for intimidation power' (Rick Reilly, 8/26/06, Sports Illustrated)

[I] have turned European because I’m bloody sick of the US getting the haggis stomped out of it by the Europeans in these Ryder Cup golf matches.

Every two years the Euros dye their hair and smoke their cigars and get drunk and wave their blue Euro flags and beat us like Dickens’s orphans, then sing songs shoulder-to-shoulder and laugh and dance on the clubhouse roof and wave their private parts in our general direction.

No more. I’m a Euro now. Changed my passport and everything. I like real football now, not fat guys in helmets. I no longer see the point in regular dental check-ups. I tan by 40-watt bulbs. I eat tatties and neeps in my flat and see what’s on the telly. Ooh, brilliant! It’s Mr Bean!

I’d been considering turning Euro for a few years now, but on Monday, when the American team was announced for next month’s Ryder Cup at the K Club in Ireland, it ripped me knittin’, as we say down at the pub.

Have you seen the US team? It has all the intimidation power of the Liechtenstein navy. It would have a hard time beating the Winnetka Country Club ladies’ B team. It’s the single worst squad we’ve ever taken to a Ryder Cup, and that’s saying something, considering the last batch got pummelled 18½-9½.

“We’ll definitely be the underdog,” Phil Mickelson says. “You lose four of the last five Cups, you’re the underdog.”

This outfit would be the underdog to a stiff breeze. Or do Brett Wetterich, Zach Johnson, J.J. Henry and Vaughn Taylor make your timbers shiver? It sounds like somebody’s Webelos troop.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 AM


Wal-Mart Drives Democrats Batty: The left's dunderheaded broadsides at the nation's biggest employer. (Jonah Goldberg, August 24, 2006, LA Times)

[B]DS sufferers have a related secondary affliction: WMDS. This refers not to the unfound weapons of mass destruction but to Wal-Mart derangement syndrome. And the Democratic Party is ministering to these patients with reckless abandon.

The New York Times reported recently that the Democrats have, en masse, declared their party to be the enemy of the mega-box store. Sen. Joe Biden Jr. (D-Del.) recently delivered a "blistering attack" on the company at an anti-Wal-Mart rally in Iowa, and other Democrats have appeared at similar events. Indeed, one of the few times Lieberman and Lamont appeared at the same event during their primary contest was at an anti-Wal-Mart clambake in the Nutmeg State.

This bonfire of buffoonery is helping me learn to love Wal-Mart.

All you need to know about why the Beltway Right is so out of touch with the GOP base is that Mr. Goldberg has pretty apparently never been in a Wal-Mart either.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 8:31 AM


The undress code that’s the height of teen fashion (James Bone, The Times, August 26th, 2006)

Sightseers in the trendy Vermont town of Brattleboro may get more of an eyeful than they bargained for.

All summer, youths have been taking advantage of a loophole in local laws to strut their stuff naked in the town.

The young men and women, many still in their late teens, are not merely indulging in the long-cherished Vermont tradition of nude sunbathing and skinny-dipping. They have been riding their bicycles naked down Main Street, busking in the buff and congregating for nude hula-hoop contests in a car park.[...]

Vermont — increasingly populated by well-heeled refugees from Boston and New York — has no state-wide ban on nudity, but some of its cities and towns have passed their own ordinances. Not Brattleboro, the first English settlement in Vermont in 1724, which has a large community of artists and writers and a proud history of nakedness.

This summer about two dozen youths, including a self-declared anarchist who calls himself “Pat the Bunny”, have been engaged in a polite social rebellion by taking off their clothes.

“We have a nuclear power plant a few miles away and a ridiculous war in the Middle East,” said Ian Bigelow, 23, who had gathered with some of his friends outside a book store. “So why is it such a big problem if we get nude?”

Ah, beautiful, bucolic Vermont, where your ice cream cone comes with a free geo-political lecture, where you can drive for hundreds of miles fruitlessly seeking a hamburger but the antique shops outnumber convenience stores, where you can listen to childless boomers that do crafty things wallow in middle-aged bitterness and raise Bush Derangement Syndrome to a whole new level of madness, where there are almost no road signs because life is just about meandering without purpose and where serious people can argue that public nudity is a weapon in the anarchist struggle for universal peace and justice without being certified.

Vermont offers us a glimpse into a childless future where a whole population is dedicated to neurotic self-indulgence. It is, of course, mad, bad and dangerous to know, but my goodness it is pretty. Why does the left get to live in all the gorgeous places?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


When Muslims kill Muslims (SALIM MANSUR, 8/26/06, Toronto Sun)

[W]hen it comes to maiming and killing, the Arab-Muslim world holds a place of prominence. In particular, the ancient land between two rivers, now Iraq, has proven to be greatly fertile as killing fields.

The most famous massacre in Muslim history by armed might of the state took place at Karbala on the banks of the Euphrates in 680. On that terribly bloody day, Husayn bin Ali -- grandson of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, by his daughter Fatima -- was brutally killed and decapitated as he was offering his mid-afternoon prayers.

Husayn's male companions were slaughtered by the army of Yazid, the caliph (Islam's supreme ruler), while women and children in the company of Husayn, including his wife and daughter, were abused and carried as war trophies to the capital of the expanding Arab-Islamic empire in Damascus.

The people of Karbala and surrounding areas passively watched as Muhammad's family and its claim to leadership of Muslims ended in tragedy. But belated grief tore the Arab-Muslim world apart, and its wounds continue to torment in countless ways a people for whom the massacre in Karbala has become the template of their history.

Karbala is a necessary reminder of Muslims being unequalled tormentors and killers of Muslims. Saddam Hussein as the ruling tyrant in Baghdad was only the most recent incarnation of an Arab Macbeth and the Mongol Genghis Khan rolled into one megalomaniacal killer.

It also illuminates the sheer hypocrisy of Arabs and Muslims who selectively and for political purposes rage against the United States and Israel (and not, for instance, against Russia or China despite the brutal suppression of their respective Muslim minorities) for Arab-Muslim casualties in conflicts that have been, almost without exception, precipitated by Arab-Muslim dictators and demagogues.

The Reformation that will give them consenual liberal government will remove the need for us to intervene in their affairs: win-win.

Iraqi Tribal Leaders Gather for Unity Conference (VOA News, 26 August 2006)

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hosted the war-torn nation's various tribal factions at a national unity conference Saturday in Baghdad.

Mr. Maliki told the hundreds of tribal leaders that national unity is the key to "liberating" Iraq from the presence of foreign forces and from terrorists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Issues Await if Democrats Retake House (CARL HULSE, 8/26/06, NY Times)

Rusty from being out of power for 12 years, Democrats are rethinking how they should parcel out coveted committee chairmanships and the other plums that would come with House control at a time when the party’s potential chairmen are increasingly being portrayed by Republicans as liberal extremists.

And here one thought the issues the Times might address would be those that pertain to the country, not such inside baseball.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


Most Indonesians oppose strict Islamic system - poll (Reuters, 8/24/06)

Most Indonesians do not favour adopting a strict Islamic system in which sharia laws would enforce the wearing of head-scarves for women or stoning for adultery, a survey showed on Thursday.

But 80 percent supported a crackdown on alcohol, gambling and prostitution, according to results of the survey conducted by the Indonesian Survey Circle, a prominent private pollster.

The survey, with a margin of error of 3.8 percent, was conducted in July and August and covered 700 people across the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Almost 70 percent in the poll backed the current secular system in which all religious faiths enjoy an equal status.

Can't tell your Asian Muslims from your conservative Republicans without a program.

Muslim women in U.S. assert their rights: Some use contracts in an effort to protect themselves (NAHAL TOOSI, 8/26/06, The Associated Press)

Should anything go wrong in her marriage, Zaynab Abdul-Razacq is confident that her rights will be well-protected. Her husband has guaranteed it in writing.

The young Muslim couple chose a path advocated by Islamic scholars concerned about women's rights: drawing up a Muslim marriage contract that takes into account modern needs. [...]

Islamic law experts who advocate for better treatment for women say the documents can help them assert rights under religious law that long have been played down by men. Advocates contend that their approach is well within Islamic law, even though skeptics say the interpretation is too influenced by Western thinking.

The contract is especially useful in the United States, where Muslims come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and follow different customs and levels of observance.

The document can accommodate views ranging from liberal to conservative.

Karamah, an organization of female Muslim lawyers based in Washington, D.C., is developing a "model" marriage contract that can be adjusted to meet the requirements of family law in different parts of the country, said Azizah al-Hibri, a founder of the group, whose name means "dignity" in Arabic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


"Non-Combatant" Lieberman Won't Back Democratic Candidates (Melinda Tuhus, August 25, 2006, New Haven Independent)

Declaring himself a "non-combatant," U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, in remarks at a New Haven press event Friday, raised anew the question of whether his "independent" candidacy will help Republicans hold onto three Congressional seats in Connecticut -- and control of the U.S. House of Representatives. [...]

“It’s a little awkward for me now” to endorse the Democratic candidates in the general election, he said, “since they all endorsed my opponent,” Democratic primary winner Ned Lamont.

The comment was significant because analysts from both major parties believe that Lieberman's campaign could help the three Republicans keep their jobs in the face of tough challenges. Lieberman's strongest support -- 75 percent in the most recent Quinnipiac poll -- comes from Republicans. If he succeeds in drawing more Republican voters to the polls to support his candidacy, that could help the Republican Congressional candidates. Those three races are considered among the 10 most competitive Congressional races in the country; both parties consider the races key to deciding which party controls the House in 2007. National Republican strategists and donors have come forward to help Lieberman's campaign; party leaders have abandoned the nominal Republican in the Senate race, Alan Schlesinger. Prominent Republicans like Shays and former Republican House leader Newt Gingrich have endorsed Lieberman.

He's getting more and more comfortable with his inner elephantiasis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


Service in Iraq: Just How Risky? (Samuel H. Preston and Emily Buzzell, August 26, 2006, Washington Post)

The ratio of deaths to person-years, .00392, or 3.92 deaths per 1,000 person-years, is the death rate of military personnel in Iraq.

How does this rate compare with that in other groups? One meaningful comparison is to the civilian population of the United States. That rate was 8.42 per 1,000 in 2003, more than twice that for military personnel in Iraq.

The comparison is imperfect, of course, because a much higher fraction of the American population is elderly and subject to higher death rates from degenerative diseases. The death rate for U.S. men ages 18 to 39 in 2003 was 1.53 per 1,000 -- 39 percent of that of troops in Iraq. But one can also find something equivalent to combat conditions on home soil. The death rate for African American men ages 20 to 34 in Philadelphia was 4.37 per 1,000 in 2002, 11 percent higher than among troops in Iraq. Slightly more than half the Philadelphia deaths were homicides.

The death rate of American troops in Vietnam was 5.6 times that observed in Iraq.

It follows that the refusal to reinstitute the draft is, in its own odd way, racist.

More seriously, as we've noted in the past, the cost of replacing evil regimes and the ease with which we can do it raises obvious questions about whether we aren't obligated to do so more frequently. How, for example, can we justify not democratizing Cuba and North Korea when it's so easy and cheap to do so much good?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


True Believers (Elizabeth Edwards Spalding, Spring 2006, Wilson Quarterly)

As the president who led the United States while it was becoming a world power, Wilson casts an especially long shadow. He learned from his father, a prominent Presbyterian minister, and his mother, whose father was also a Presbyterian minister, that he was one of God’s special people. This Presbyterian elect was predestined to achieve salvation in the next world and to show signs of that saved state in this world. Its responsibilities were apparent to Wilson. The Bible, he wrote, “reveals every man to himself as a distinct moral agent, responsible not to men, not even to those men whom he has put over him in authority, but responsible through his own conscience to his Lord and Maker.” Wilson believed that he was called to carry his private, saved state into his public, political life. His understanding of Christianity gave him a strong sense of selection, even a destiny he perceived as prophetic.

Imbibing the Social Gospel of the late 19th century, Wilson came to trust in the promise of redemption in politics, especially foreign policy. In 1911, a year before he won the White House, he declared that America was born a Christian nation “to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture.” The administrative hand of modern social science would bring about needed political reform at home and, eventually, abroad. In Wilson’s eyes, World War I was a crusade in which the New World would redeem the Old World, first in battle and then in the Covenant—a biblical word Wilson quite deliberately chose—of the League of Nations. While only the elect could be saved for eternity, he thought it his Christian duty to save the world temporally.

Though Bush has sometimes been compared to Wilson, the religious sentiments he expresses have a different ring. He appears to have rejected the patrician faith of his father in favor of that old-time religion, which is precisely what the Social Gospel meant to overcome by stripping away earlier Christianity’s concern with individual sin and traditional morality.

As integral as Bush’s faith is to his domestic agenda of compassionate conservatism, faith-based initiatives, and an ownership society, it is even more central to his foreign policy, and he has said as much in media interviews. As with Wilson, this influence has generally been misread—misunderestimated, to use the president’s own telling neologism.

When he first campaigned for the presidency, Bush argued that America had failed to articulate a coherent post–Cold War foreign policy; the humanitarian internationalism of the Clinton era had spread the United States too thin. Such views led some to say that Bush was a hard-eyed foreign-policy “realist” and others to call him a nationalist. What these arguments missed is that Bush, in fact, had a powerful worldview built on his evangelical beliefs that God is loving and compassionate, that every person is a child of God and thus endowed with equal dignity, that everyone should love his neighbor as himself, and that the hand of God is at work in good government. For Bush, the principles of freedom, democracy, and self-government should protect individuals, allowing them to enjoy their God-given freedom in this world, including the free will to strive for salvation in the next world.

Many of Bush’s subsequent public statements set forth this worldview. In his second inaugural address, which some regard as the speech that marks his “Wilsonization,” Bush said that “America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one,” and the rhetoric continued in that vein. “Across the generations, we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave.” He concluded that “it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world. . . . History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the author of liberty.” Bush aimed to link America’s first principles and most Americans’ faith in God to the nation’s purpose in the world. Had he been transformed into a Wilsonian idealist?

In Bush’s mind, he had not, in fact, changed—international circumstances had. “We have a place, all of us, in a long story,” he proclaimed in his first inaugural address, “a story we continue, but whose end we will not see. It is the story of a new world that became a friend and liberator of the old, the story of a slaveholding society that became a servant of freedom, the story of a power that went into the world to protect but not possess, to defend but not to conquer.” In that same speech, delivered the better part of a year before September 11, he also spoke of America remaining engaged in the world by history and by choice, “shaping a balance of power that favors freedom.” After the terrorist attacks, Bush depicted the new conflict as a battle between good and evil, memorably remarking at Washington’s National Cathedral on September 14, 2001, that “three days removed from these events, Americans do not yet have the distance of history. But our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.”

In speeches and statements throughout his presidency, Bush has defined a relationship between freedom and peace that is distinctly un-Wilsonian. His 2005 State of the Union address encapsulates his reasoning: The peace that freedom-loving peoples seek will be achieved only by eliminating the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder and tying U.S. efforts to specific regimes and allies, rather than to an international organization and collective security as Wilson did. “The only force powerful enough to stop the rise of tyranny and terror, and replace hatred with hope, is the force of human freedom,” he said, and then repeated the main policy goal of his second inaugural. “Our enemies know this, and that is why the terrorist Zarqawi recently declared war on what he called the ‘evil principle’ of democracy. And we’ve declared our own intention: America will stand with the allies of freedom to support democratic movements in the Middle East and beyond, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”

Bush has also been likened in some respects to Ronald Reagan. Think of the presidential rhetoric of the two—Reagan’s “evil empire” and Bush’s “axis of evil” immediately come to mind—or their status as political leaders with Western sensibilities (both cowboy and civilizational) who rejuvenated the Republican Party. When it comes to faith and foreign policy, however, it is more fruitful to compare the Methodist Republican Bush with the Baptist Democrat Harry Truman.

As it is for Bush, the touchstone for Truman was Jesus’ life and teachings. Before, during, and after his presidency, he frequently referred to the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount, and he would trace the biblical connections between the Ten Commandments and the sermon, with special attention to Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Micah, and Joel. All of this led him to conclude that people should live by the Great Commandment as imparted by Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. “If you will read this tenth chapter of Luke,” said Truman, “you will find out exactly what a good neighbor means. It means to treat your neighbor as you yourself would like to be treated. Makes no difference whether he is of another race or another creed or another color. He is still your neighbor.” Truman thought that the restatement of the Great Commandment and Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan applied to both domestic and foreign policy, teachings that Bush has clearly internalized as well.

Woodrow Wilson may have been the only truly racist president we've had in the post-Civil War era, so it was only natural for him to toss his original demands for self-determination aside in favor of his quest for a transnational governing body. Both his racism and his faith in an elite bureaucracy are unAmerican.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 7:12 AM


The left's new bad guy (Andrew Coyne, National Post, August 26th, 2006)

The reflexive oppositionism of so much of the left, its instant identification with whoever or whatever is most hostile to the society of which it is a part, most closely resembles that of the undergraduate. It is a badge, a pose, a lifestyle, an arrangement of reality that is pleasing to believe, a reminder to the believer of the third eye of enlightenment that is his gift.

Yet in this country it can take on a rather uglier form, insofar as the object of its loathing can be displaced onto another society, quite apart from our own. Until now, the locus of this disaffection was the United States. Lately, disturbingly, it has centred more and more on Israel. Anti-Americanism has mutated into something that might at best be called anti-Israelism, and at times looks alarmingly like anti-Semitism. Which brings us to the present wretched state of the Liberal party.

That the party's left wing has long been a hotbed of anti-Americanism is news to no one. Indeed, so entrenched was this attitude among certain sections of the ruling party that it resembled something of a state religion. (A leftist in the States is compelled by his beliefs to remain profoundly alienated from his country, and from such notions as patriotism. In Canada, such was his patriotism.)[...]

Or perhaps there is a link between them: between the pseudo-neutrality that is one strain of recent Liberal foreign policy, and the anti-Americanism, shading into anti-Israelism, that is the other. An unwillingness to take sides was, of course, one of the ways in which we were supposed to distinguish ourselves from the Americans: They were warlike and ideological, we were peacekeeping ecumenicals.

But perhaps there was something else at work. A refusal to make moral judgments, to distinguish between the merely flawed and the truly evil, may in time lead to an inability to do so. Having gotten out of the habit of judgment, the muscles can atrophy: If "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," then it is all too easy to forget, not only who the terrorists are, but who are the freedom fighters. If anti-Semitism is the "socialism of fools," perhaps anti-Israelism is the pacifism of knaves.

One reason why both Christians and Jews are having such difficulty in recognizing and opposing anti-Semitism today is that they associate it historically with an exclusionary, aggressive, ethnocentric self-adoration. We are all very slow to see that in our era it thrives more among self-hating universalists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 AM


This has worked surprisingly well, so maybe we'll try it every few weeks: how about some discussion and recommendations?

Here are three questions about what you've found especially good to read, listen to, or watch recently--the less well-known your discovery the better since I'm really just fishing for ideas (we'll phrase the questions for maximum hippness, but don't fret if you still use a Betamax and an 8-track player):

My favorite recent discovery for my iPod is:

Zoysia (The Bottle Rockets)

Mike Daley recommended them and they are a terrific, The Band-like, band.

And, if you just want to grab a couple MP3s for your iPod, try Satellite & Mr. Grieves by TV on the Radio.

My favorite recent discovery at Netflix is:

Here's one that's hard to watch, but necessary: The Grey Zone

and one that's easy to enjoy: The World's Fastest Indian

I can't overstate how difficult it is to watch the Grey Zone, which tells the story of the Sonderkommandos at Auschwitz, Jews who were co-opted to assist in the gassing and disposal of fellow victims before being killed themselves after a few months work. The 12th of 13 cycles of Sonderkommandos revolted and did some considerable damage to the facilities, but their story is still bleak. Perhaps no other film has ever captured the extreme arbitrariness of the way death lurked at every moment in the camps and this reates a tension in every scene that is almost unbearable. It's a movie of extraordinary power, but genuinely disturbing.

World's Fastest Indian, on the other hand, is the immensely amiable truish story of New Zealand motorcycle enthusiast, Burt Munro, who improbably set speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats beginning in his early 60s, on a bike he'd pretty much rebuilt in his garage. Anthony Hopkins plays Munro as a kind of Candide who actually does live in the best of all possible worlds.

Together the two movies are bookends of the best and worst of humanity.

My favorite recent book discovery is:

Feeding the Monster (Seth Mnookin)

No one needs another triumphalist text about how the Sox finally won a World Series--but Mr. Mnookin has written something quite different, a book about how business considerations and personality conflicts shape the odd melanges we end up seeing on the diamond. Buster Olney's Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty makes an excellent companion piece.

August 25, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:39 PM


Is Bernanke Finally Getting It? (Liz Moyer, 8/25/06, Forbes)

U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke may finally be getting it. In his maiden keynote address at Friday’s session of the annual gathering of central bankers and economists in Jackson Hole, Wyo., Bernanke gave barely a hint of his next move on interest rates.

Instead, an end to protectionism was his theme--and a chance at new surges in productivity. By implication, of course, that’s a prescription for restrained inflation and an end to rate increases.

Mr. Bernanke hiked too high for too long just to demonstrate his inflation-fighter bona fides, but he can now start cutting as we head to November.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:38 PM


Chaos mars Liberal caucus retreat (JOAN BRYDEN, 8/25/06, CP)

The fabled big red machine desperately needs a tune-up.

That's the conclusion some Liberals have drawn following a three-day caucus retreat that was chaotic at times, obscured by self-induced controversy at other times. Interim leader Bill Graham insisted Thursday that the gathering was a great success.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:42 AM


Speak Not: Why the Democrats should be the party of no ideas (Peter Beinart, 08.25.06, New Republic)

A few weeks ago, congressional Democrats announced their agenda for the fall campaign. Its substance was unremarkable: raising the minimum wage, making college tuition tax-deductible, putting more money into alternative energy. But the really encouraging part was the public reception. Or should I say, the lack of public reception: Barely anyone noticed. And, for Democrats, that's very good news.

From Margaret Thatcher through Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich's Revolution, Helen Clark, John Howard, George W. Bush, Stephen Harper, Junichiro Koizumi, Dr. Manmohan Singh, etc. the same set of basic ideas has come to dominate the post-Welfare State electoral politics of the Anglosphere. The Democrats rejection of the Third Way in the wake of the Clinton era is hardly a good sign for them, but it means that Mr., Beinart is right that they need to keep absolutely silent about their agenda.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 AM


Iranian Moviegoers Dispense With Art for Love and Laughter (REUTERS, 8/24/06)

This summer’s top film in Iran was “Ceaseire,” a saccharine comedy in which two sexy newlyweds get so competitive with each other that they have to consult a psychologist to avoid divorce. [...]

“Most people like comedies because they do not have much to laugh about these days,” said Navid Etminan, a 25-year-old student in line to watch the film. “Artistic movies can reach out to foreign audiences, but not to ordinary people.”

The success of “Ceasefire” comes as Iranian cinemas enjoy a boom, fueled largely by a greater number of homegrown romantic comedies, which have lured people back to the big screen. Movie theaters took in more than $2 million between March and May this year, up 100 percent from the same period last year, the state cinema authority Farabi reported.

“The stories are far better in this year’s films,” said Akbar Nabavi, a cinema critic and documentary producer, adding that that’s how to attract an audience.

Romantic comedies fill a vacuum: people want to be amused, but Hollywood’s offerings often do not fit the bill in Iran, where censorship has been a constant factor since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and even before. With state-imposed cultural restrictions, many foreign films are heavily edited to meet the country’s strict Islamic codes or may be banned. And although people can watch blockbuster comedies from the United States and elsewhere on pirated DVD’s, many cannot understand them because they are not subtitled or dubbed.

There is also little appetite for films by acclaimed Iranian figures like Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi, among the directors praised abroad for using innuendo and metaphor in ways similar to those used by Eastern European directors who navigated the strictures of communist governments.

“People had got fed up with stupid political games and they showed their lack of interest by turning their backs on movies as symbols of the political trends,” Mr. Nabavi said.

Being fed up with politics is an excellent sign in a thriving liberal democracy, but, as Iranians showed in their last election, not such a good idea until the Reformation is completed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:30 AM


Reds tied for first (JOHN FAY, 8/25/06, Cincinnati ENQUIRER)

The Reds started the epic 10-game West Coast road swing by moving into a virtual tie for first place in the National League Central.

"It was nice to get off on the right foot," catcher David Ross said.

You could say that.

The Reds came back from three runs down to beat the San Francisco Giants 6-3 before a crowd of 38,754 at AT&T Park Thursday night.

"The whole key for us is that - with everything that's gone on - we've stayed so loose," reliever David Weathers said. "To us, 3-0 is nothing. With our offense, we never feel like we're out of it."

repeat after me: small market teams can't compete.....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 AM


Pluto vote 'hijacked' in revolt (Paul Rincon, 8/25/06, BBC News)

A fierce backlash has begun against the decision by astronomers to strip Pluto of its status as a planet.

On Thursday, experts approved a definition of a planet that demoted Pluto to a lesser category of object.

But the lead scientist on Nasa's robotic mission to Pluto has lambasted the ruling, calling it "embarrassing".

And the chair of the committee set up to oversee agreement on a definition implied that the vote had effectively been "hijacked".

Death to the star-belly sneeches!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


States attack property taxes (Dennis Cauchon, 8/24/06, USA TODAY)

At least 10 states have cut property taxes this year or are preparing to do so, part of a tax mini-rebellion that has been brewing alongside higher home prices.

States are raising other taxes, especially the sales tax, and spending budget surpluses to replace lost property tax revenue. That makes the trend more of a tax shift than a net tax cut. Political leaders are pledging that local government and schools, which depend on property taxes, will be protected.

Neoconomics in action.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


Chinese Peasants’ Advocate Sentenced to 51 Months in Jail (JOSEPH KAHN, 8/25/06, NY Times)

A Chinese court sentenced an advocate of peasants’ rights to more than four years in prison on Thursday after a trial his lawyers say was a sham.

The rights advocate, Chen Guangcheng, was convicted of destroying property and organizing a mob to block traffic. He earned the enmity of local Communist Party leaders in Shandong Province, in eastern China, when he sought to organize a class-action lawsuit against forced abortions and sterilizations there.

The New China News Agency announced the sentence, four years and three months, in a terse dispatch on its English-language news wire. The information did not appear in Chinese, and other state-run media have been banned from reporting on the matter.

Mr. Chen’s two-hour trial last week and the long sentence announced Thursday appear to reflect a concerted effort by Chinese authorities to punish lawyers and rights advocates, who increasingly in recent years have helped defend people aggrieved about land seizures, environmental abuses, religious persecution and population controls.

China jails New York Times researcher
(Associated Press, 8/25/06)
A Chinese researcher for The New York Times was acquitted Friday of state secrets charges but was convicted of fraud and sentenced to three years in prison, one of his defense lawyers said.

Zhao Yan, 44, was detained in 2004. The government has not released details of the charges, but the case is believed to stem from a Times report on then-Chinese leader Jiang Zemin's plans to relinquish his post as head of the military.

Mr. Zhao's lawyer, Guan Anping, said he didn't know whether Mr. Zhao would appeal the conviction, which was handed down by the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court.

Mr. Zhao's case was dismissed in March in an apparent effort to minimize strains with Washington before President Hu Jintao visited the United States. The charges were later refiled and Mr. Zhao stood trial in June.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


Spitzer Took Rides on Private Plane of Gambling Figure (JACOB GERSHMAN, August 25, 2006, NY Sun)

Republican candidate for governor, John Faso, says his Democratic opponent, Eliot Spitzer, violated state lobbying rules by underpaying for flights on a private jet belonging to a casino developer who is part of a group bidding on the state racing franchise.

On May 24 and 25, Mr. Spitzer and a campaign staffer used a private jet owned by the developer, Richard Fields, to shuttle between fund-raisers in Phoenix, Tucson, Ariz., and Cincinnati. The campaign reimbursed Mr. Fields a total of $4,300 for three flights.

Mr. Faso is contending that Mr. Spitzer underreported the cost of the flights by tens of thousands of dollars and is asking the state lobbying commission to investigate the matter. The Faso campaign is accusing Mr. Spitzer of underpaying for the flights by $37,678.

In a statement, Mr. Faso said, "Mr. Spitzer has basically accepted and not reported a donation of as much as $38,000 from somebody who is currently lobbying to allow an out-of-state Indian tribe to build more casinos in New York. This is the perfect example of how Eliot Spitzer holds others to higher standards than he holds himself."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


The Crisis Facing Israel: Settling for a Draw with Hezbollah (Ilan Goren, 8/25/06, Der Spiegel)

A few days after the outbreak of hostilities -- when the Israeli military operation against Hezbollah, codenamed "Fitting Retribution," was still in the aerial strikes stage -- a new song was born. A group of young musicians were commissioned by a morning news show to write a funny, frivolous piece of pop -- a sort of anthem that would both unite people and make them laugh. A group called "Frishman and the Pioneers" came up with "Yalla Ya Nasrallah," a war song full of Hebrew and Arabic slang and slurs aimed at the leader of Hezbollah. The song's chorus goes like this:

"Yalla, ya Nasrallah,
we'll screw you, Inshallah
and send you back to Allah
with all your Hezbollah"

The piece was dripping with parody and cynicism -- yet recalled older Israeli ditties that meant every word they said about Israel's effortless defeat of the Arabs in previous wars. And July 2006 was no time for slightly veiled cynicism in Israel. The song was taken at face value and it turned out to be a huge hit -- especially on the Internet. It also became a popular mobile phone ring tone.

Such was the atmosphere in mid-July -- it was all about crushing Hezbollah and teaching it a lesson it wouldn't soon forget. The Israeli public was confidently assured by the country's leadership that a vigorous air campaign would rapidly eliminate the threat posed by Katyusha rockets fired from southern Lebanon at Israeli towns across the border.

The offensive would also, the government explained, bring home the two Israeli soldiers abducted by Hezbollah on July 12 -- the move which triggered hostilities. The Israeli chief of staff, General Dan Halutz, threatened that Israel would "take Lebanon back 20 years" if the soldiers weren't returned.

Ilan Goren is a television reporter for "Channel 10 News" in Israel. He spent much of the Lebanon war reporting from the front lines. At the moment, he is working on a program on Israeli fighter pilots for CNN.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz likewise got into the chest thumping by promising Hezbollah head Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah that he would "never forget the name Amir Peretz." Liberal journalists, lefty artists and non-political finance managers all underwent a quick about face. The message was that this time, we Israelis really and truly meant business. A bumper sticker issued by the country's second-largest bank and distributed by the country's most popular daily paper summed up the mood: "We Shall Win!" it boldly announced from the back bumper of thousands of cars. It was as if Israelis were on a high -- inebriated by the sweet smell of sure victory in a just cause.

More than a month of sobering up has passed since then. [...]

There are, of course, essential differences from the 1973 debacle. In July 2006, unlike October 1973, Israel was not faced with a threat to its existence. Hezbollah has inflicted great pain, but has never posed a threat to Israel's survival.

It's because Hezbollah isn't a threat that the war was a mistake and a draw satisfactory. Like soccer, it would have been best not to play but a match where nothing happens is as good as it gets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Sadr's Militia and the Slaughter in the Streets (Ellen Knickmeyer, 8/25/06, Washington Post)

The Mahdi Army is the militia of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, now one of the most powerful figures in the country.

The death squads that carry out the extrajudicial killings are widely feared but mysterious. Often, the only evidence is the bodies discovered in the streets. Several commanders in the Mahdi Army said in interviews that they act independently of the Shiite religious courts that have taken root here, meting out street justice on their own with what they believe to be the authorization of Sadr's organization and under the mantle of Islam.

"You can find in any religion the right of self-defense," said another commander, senior enough to be referred to as the Sheik, who was interviewed separately by telephone. Like the others, he lives and works in Sadr City, a trash-strewn, eight-square-mile district of east Baghdad that is home to more than 2 million Shiites. They spoke on condition that their names not be revealed and that specific areas of Sadr City under their control not be identified.

"The takfiris , the ones who kill, they should be killed," said the Sheik, using a term commonly employed by Shiites for violent Sunni extremists. "Also the Saddamists. Whose hands are stained with blood, they are sentenced to death."

"This is part of defending yourself," the commander said. "This is a ready-made verdict -- we don't need any verdict."

Before Feb. 22, when the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra unleashed a wave of sectarian killing and retribution, U.S. authorities and others believed the primary force behind Shiite death squads was the Badr Brigade, the militia of another large Shiite organization, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. But since the bombing, the Mahdi Army appears to have taken the lead in extrajudicial trials and executions, according to Joost Hiltermann, a project director in Jordan for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

One of the ways in which folks dehumanize the Shi'a is to be outraged that they defend themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


McGavick reveals '93 DUI charge in unusual letter on his personal life (Alicia Mundy, 8/25/06, Seattle Times)

Republican Senate candidate Mike McGavick issued an unusual confession Thursday, discussing his failed first marriage, mistakes as a father, layoffs he executed at Safeco — and revealing a 1993 drunken-driving charge.

He also acknowledged that, while working as a political operative for then-Sen. Slade Gorton, he ran an ad that inaccurately characterized an opponent's views.

McGavick surprised supporters, Democrats and the media as much by how he divulged his personal history as by the content of the admissions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


France's surprise summer best-seller is by ... a politician (JOELLE DIDERICH, 8/25/06, The Associated Press)

Forget Dan Brown and "The Da Vinci Code."

The best-seller French people are taking to the beach this summer is a political manifesto by conservative Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, considered a front-runner in the race for the presidency in 2007.

Within two weeks of its publication July 17, "Témoignage" ("Testimony") had risen to second place in the weekly top 10 list published by trade paper Livres Hebdo. In the week ending Aug. 13, it stood at No. 3, behind two novels by popular French author Marc Levy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


tarantism (Word a Day, 8/25/06)

(TAR-uhn-tiz-uhm) noun

An uncontrollable urge to dance.

[After Taranto, a town in southern Italy where this phenomenon was experienced during the 15-17th centuries. It's not clear whether tarantism was the symptom of a spider's bite or its cure, or it may have been just a pretext to dodge a prohibition against dancing. The names of the dance tarantella and the spider tarantula are both derived from the same place.]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Shanghai Surprise: The World's Ports Experience an Unexpected Boom (Thomas Schulz, 8/25/06, Der Spiegel)

Globalization has come to Hong Kong Bay -- in the form of a traffic jam. Like a string of pearls, giant steel container ships extend far out into the South China Sea, most of them more than 200 meters (656 feet) long and weighing upwards of 10,000 tons, their decks loaded to capacity with pants for H&M, cell phones for Nokia and athletic shoes for Nike.

Space is at a premium in Hong Kong harbor these days. An average of 18 massive container ships drop anchor there each day of the year, and the endless docks behind the harbors quay walls are filled with 60,000 containers, stacked high, at any given time. And yet this still isn't enough to make Hong Kong the world's largest port, a distinction it lost last year after holding it for decades. Despite Hong Kong's booming business, Singapore grew even faster.

But Anthony Tam isn't overly concerned. "As long as we're all making these kinds of profits, it doesn't really matter," he says. Tam works for Hutchison Port Holdings (HPH), the world's largest port operator, with 251 terminals in 43 ports, from the Bahamas to Panama, Singapore to Poland. Here in Hong Kong, the company's homeport and headquarters, HPH owns 14 of the harbor's 24 berths.

"There isn't any more room for expansion here," says Tam. "But these days you can't go wrong building a port just about anywhere." HPH's current construction projects include a deepwater terminal in Shanghai, three kilometers (about two miles) of quaysides in Malaysia and two container facilities in Oman. It's also investing €200 million ($255 million) in its Panama terminals.

Many of the world's other ports are also undergoing new construction, expansion and upgrading at a feverish pace. With economies under enormous pressure to maintain unimpeded access to the highways of globalization, they're pumping billions into redeveloping old port facilities and building new ports from scratch. Private port operators are also scrambling to stay in the race, as they face the prospect of takeover battles and more and more financial investors eying highly profitable container transshipment companies.

The failure of the recent round of trade talks has left many folks disgusted, but the reality is we're living in an extraordinary time of near universal global growth and economic interconnectedness. Some periods of consolidation and respite from further expansion are to be expected.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


So when you have Mirabelli catch Beckett he throws just fine, thanks. Of course, he left in the 7th with a blister, which he develops from gripping the breaking ball that bad catchers are afraid to call for....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


No hugs or kisses for Lieberman at submarine session (Associated Press, August 24 2006)

"I did say to Joe on the way in I wasn't going to hug him," said Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

Lieberman, who met with other public officials at a strategy session to protect the Submarine Base New London on Thursday, is counting on the support of independents and Republicans in the general election. But he does not want to alienate Democrats.

He also did not shy away from Republicans Thursday as they marked their successful campaign a year ago to keep the New London Submarine Base open.

U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-Conn., walked over to greet Lieberman when he arrived. The men shook hands and smiled.

"After you, Senator," Simmons said as the men approached the building.

"Team Connecticut," Simmons said, referring to the bipartisan campaign to keep the base open.

"I agree. It's a model," Lieberman said.

August 24, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:49 PM


Vasily Grossman: The Russian writer's novel "Life and Fate"—often compared with "War and Peace"—was first published in English in the mid-1980s. But only now is interest taking off among a wider public (Robert Chandler, September 2006, Prospect)

Grossman is in many respects an old-fashioned writer, and perhaps for that reason literary critics have shown little interest in him. For many years it was historians—above all, Antony Beevor and Catherine Merridale—who affirmed his importance. Beevor's recent translation of Grossman's war diaries (A Writer at War, from which several quotations in this article are taken) has done more than anything to bring the writer to a wider public. Since publication of the diaries last year, sales of Life and Fate in Britain have grown from around 500 copies a year to 500 a month. And in March, a Guardian article by Martin Kettle praising Life and Fate led to it briefly becoming the second most popular book at Amazon UK.

Grossman is a steady writer; he never sets out to dazzle the reader. So it is perhaps appropriate that his recognition has come about only gradually. Nevertheless, it has been clear for some time that Life and Fate is finding its place in the world. Since 2005, the centenary of Grossman's birth, there have been two new editions of his classic in English. And in the 1990s two biographies in English were published: Frank Ellis's Vasiliy Grossman: The Genesis and Evolution of a Russian Heretic and John and Carol Garrard's The Bones of Berdichev. The latter emphasises Grossman's importance as a witness to the Shoah. There is perhaps no more powerful lament for east European Jewry than the letter that Anna Semyonovna, a fictional portrait in Life and Fate of Grossman's mother, writes to her son and smuggles out of a town occupied by the Nazis. The Last Letter, a one-woman play based on this letter, has been staged by Frederick Wiseman both in Paris and in New York. A Russian version was staged in Moscow in December 2005.

Grossman will be remembered not only for his evocation of wartime Stalingrad and his accounts, both journalistic and fictional, of the Shoah. He has also left us one of the most vivid accounts of famine in world literature; his last major work, the unfinished novel, Everything Flows, includes an account of the 1932-33 terror famine in Ukraine. It is typical of Grossman that Anna, the sympathetic narrator of this chapter, is herself implicated, as a minor party official, in the implementation of measures that exacerbate the famine. We cannot help but identify with Anna and so we too feel guilty; Grossman does not allow the reader the luxury of indignation. Everything Flows also includes an extraordinary mock trial: the reader is asked to pronounce judgement on four informers. The arguments Grossman gives to both prosecution and defence are lively and startling; as a reader, one is constantly changing one's mind.

Grossman is still not widely read in contemporary Russia. Nationalists cannot forgive him for a long meditation in Everything Flows on "the slave soul" of Russia. Many Russians have simply not yet had time to digest the vast amount of previously forbidden literature that was first published in the late 1980s. The Uzbek writer Hamid Ismailov, for example, has told me that he read so much during those years that he can no longer remember who wrote what. And then, after the collapse of communism, Russians were thrown into a world so unfamiliar and frightening that they had little time or energy to think about their Soviet past.

But many other groups of readers are now being drawn to Grossman: Ukrainian émigrés, who value him for his writing about the terror famine; Jews, who value him for what he has written about the Shoah; people with an interest in the history of the second world war and the relationship between communism and fascism; journalists, who see him as an exemplary war correspondent. It is interesting that a recent European conference celebrating the centenary of Grossman's birth was held at a Catholic centre in Turin and that several of the writers, critics and journalists who most admire Grossman—Gillian Slovo, Martin Kettle and John Lloyd among others—are ex-Marxists. Both Catholics and Marxists tend to expect art not only to be a source of joy, but also to provide moral guidance and a greater understanding of reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:41 PM


Lives of crime: Tony Blair's "tough on the causes of crime" and David Cameron's "hug a hoodie" speeches reflect the dominant sociological model of crime. But research into the "criminal personality" suggests some people from troubled backgrounds are far more likely to offend than others. Policymakers are taking an interest (David Rose, August 2006, Prospect)

For most of the past century, analysis of the origins of crime has been dominated by sociological models. When Tony Blair declared in 1992 that his party would be "tough on the causes of crime," his audience presumed that he meant that Labour would try to eliminate crime-generating social ills such as poor housing, unemployment and inadequate schools. Discussion of the possible roots of offending and antisocial behaviour within individuals rarely formed part of elite public discourse. Punishment, the courts held, should be regulated by the severity of the crime, not the criminal's propensity to commit further offences.

One of the few challenges to this orthodoxy was made in the 1960s by Hans J Eysenck, for many years a professor at the Institute of Psychiatry. Eysenck believed that criminals' personalities could be rigidly categorised and that most of their behaviour was inherited. But his work on crime was attacked by mainstream sociological criminologists and had little influence on policy. Indeed, for most criminologists the concept of a personality more likely to commit crime was abhorrent.

The resistance to Eysenck was especially fierce because he was writing during the vogue for "radical criminology," when crime was seen as a social construct and the "labelling" of deviants an aspect of social control. Thirty years later, intellectual fashion has shifted beyond recognition, with, for example, a heavy new emphasis on the experiences of victims of crime. Nevertheless, investigation of the factors that put an individual at high risk of engaging in criminal and antisocial behaviour remains controversial, and most criminologists continue to steer well clear of it.

Some consideration of the risk profile of individuals has, in fact, long been part of penal policy, especially in assessing prisoners for parole. But its scope is increasing. The 2003 Criminal Justice Act introduced "indefinite public protection" sentences for convicts judged at high risk of reoffending, and its provisions have been widely used: by the end of June 2006, a year after the relevant provisions of the act came into force, more than 1,000 people had received the indefinite sentence.

The act, and the new emphasis on risk assessment in general, entail a big shift from the principle that has governed sentencing in the past—that of punishment tailored to fit the crime, of proportionate "just deserts." Although it has been subjected to little public debate, this new approach requires penal decision-makers—other than those dealing with murder—to take a radical step: to assume some of the characteristics of the insurance actuary, and to base the length of incarceration on future probabilities. At the same time, the act contains an analysis of offending that departs significantly from sociological models. Under its terms, many of those judged to pose a high risk will have been assessed by forensic psychologists or psychiatrists, on the grounds that they exhibit a "dangerous severe personality disorder," or DSPD—a disorder that makes them likely to reoffend.

It is unfortunate that the term DSPD does not match any accepted clinical definition. Some of those who have already been so described are psychopaths—callous, emotionally affectless, careless of the damage their crimes cause to their victims. Others, however, have been diagnosed with conditions including borderline personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as the much more common antisocial personality disorder. Nevertheless, the approach that the 2003 act represents poses important questions to which sociological theories of crime have no answers. Why do some people from deprived or abusive backgrounds become violent criminals, while others, whose upbringing appears to have been equally disadvantageous, go on to lead productive, law-abiding lives? Might there be ways to spot high-risk individuals before they commit serious offences, perhaps even in childhood? And are there interventions that might modify children's behaviour over the long term, diverting the course of those at high risk before they reach adulthood?

The focus on future risk requires a means to differentiate between individuals from similar environments. It places the offender, not the crime, at the centre of the penal decision-making universe, and asks those who make such sentencing decisions to base them on clinical assessments of the defendant's personality and its associated disorders. It hands great power over individuals' future to a group unused to wielding it—forensic psychologists and psychiatrists, and academic researchers in this field.

Even those most wedded to a sociological model of offending accept that a relatively small proportion of those convicted of criminal offences account for a very large proportion of total crime.

Forget assessing personalities--our mix of broken-windows policing, three strikes and you're out and the willingness to incarcerate two million people has resulted in the predictable and desirable drop in crime rates. No decent society can tolerate nonconformity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:34 PM


The proxy war: The battle of summer 2006 may be a prelude to a bigger conflict between the US and Iran (Amir Taheri, September 2006, Prospect)

Finally, another event, less well understood in the west, was also unravelling within Lebanon itself: a power struggle within Hizbullah, as the authoritarian style of its secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, began to come under criticism from factions inside or close to the movement. A number of prominent Hizbullah figures questioned Nasrallah's habit of excluding them from high-level decision-making on security grounds. The argument advanced by Nasrallah's critics was simple: the party had succeeded in driving Israel out of southern Lebanon in 2000 and thus had no reason to continue as a semi-clandestine armed group. With 14 seats in the 128-seat parliament and two cabinet portfolios (for water/power and employment) in the Siniora government, it was time for Hizbullah to become a mainstream party, relinquishing the weapons it claimed it needed against Israel. Nasrallah and his group also faced criticism on theological grounds, because they regard Iran's leader Ali Khamenei as the "supreme guide" of Shi'ism while more than 90 per cent of Lebanese Shias follow either Grand Ayatollah Ali-Muhammad Sistani in Najaf, Iraq, or Ayatollah Muhammad-Hussain Fadhlallah in Beirut. By late June, Nasrallah, for the first time since taking over in 1992, faced the beginnings of a revolt within his ranks.

How did these events combine to trigger the conflict? Iran was anxious to divert attention from its confrontation with the UN over the nuclear issue. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the most radical president of the Islamic Republic since the 1980s, has been projecting a new image of revolutionary Iran as the leader of the Muslim world in a "clash of civilisations" with the US. His dream has faced one big problem: Iran is a Shia power, while the overwhelming majority of Arabs, and other Muslims, are Sunnis. The only way for a Shia power to claim pan-Islamic leadership was to promise to "wipe Israel off the map." Ahmadinejad's message was simple: where pan-Arabism, Arab socialism and Sunni Islamism had failed to deliver, revolutionary Shi'ism under Iranian leadership would succeed. It was necessary for Ahmadinejad to drag Israel into a limited but costly conflict to expose its vulnerability. The place to do that was Lebanon, where the pan-Shia Hizbullah movement, with sustained support from Iran, had been preparing for another round of asymmetrical war against Israel since the previous round ended in 1996.

Syria too needed a diversion, and saw a new crisis between Israel and Lebanon as convenient. A mini-war between Israel and Hizbullah would revive the idea that there is "no peace in the middle east without Syria." It would divert attention from the Hariri murder investigation, tempt Washington into reviewing its policy of shunning Syria, and persuade conservative Arab states that they needed the Ba'athists in Damascus to counterbalance the rise of Iran.

The new Israeli government might not have wanted this conflict in Lebanon. But it knew that southern Lebanon, from where Israel had withdrawn its troops six years earlier, had become another example of "land-for-war." Back in 2000, Olmert and his then party, Likud, had criticised the handover of southern Lebanon to Hizbullah; he could not now allow Hizbullah to use southern Lebanon as a base for a new offensive. Israel also knew of the thousands of missiles, including advanced anti-tank ones, supplied by Iran to Hizbullah, and of the preparations that Hizbullah had made for a long conflict with the Jewish state. In his television address declaring "victory" over Israel on 14th August, Nasrallah claimed that the main reason for his success was the fact that Hizbullah had spent years preparing for the fight. The unexpected difficulties that the Israelis faced in southern Lebanon seemed to confirm this claim.

For its part, the US has regarded Lebanon as part of the broader Iranian battlefield, which also includes Syria. Some American analysts looked on with a mixture of admiration and trepidation as Iran extended its influence to the shores of the Mediterranean via Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. (In June 2005, Iran's defence minister Ali Shamkhani boasted that for the first time since the 7th century, Iranian power had returned to the Levant.) Yet any plan to create a new "American" middle east—based on open societies, democratic institutions and market economies—was unlikely to succeed without substantial policy changes, if not actual regime change, in Tehran. The new Iranian leadership was determined to defeat the Bush strategy by offering its alternative vision of an "Islamic" middle east. Provoking a mini-war in Lebanon was the surest way of isolating the pro-western democratic forces and moderate Arab elites that Bush wished to mobilise in support of his vision.

Lebanon was the natural choice for the proxy war that may be the prelude to the main conflict between the US and Iran. After Bahrain, Lebanon is the smallest Arab state. It covers territory less than 1 per cent of Iran's. It also has the highest proportion of non-Muslims in the Arab world—some 40 per cent of the population (in other Arab states, non-Muslims account for between zero, in Saudi Arabia, and 15 per cent, in Egypt). To complicate matters further, Lebanese Muslims are divided into three sects: Shias (40 per cent), Sunnis (15 per cent) and Druze (5 per cent). And that is not all. Many of Lebanon's 18 communities have often looked to outside powers to defend their rights and, in some cases, even save them from annihilation by rivals. Years of civil war, followed by Syrian occupation and by an Israeli military presence in the south, had left Lebanon without proper state structures. Syria decided who would be president and prime minister of Lebanon and, with Iran's accord, also shaped the Lebanese parliament. The absence of state structures enabled Iran to build Hizbullah into a state within a state. By the time this summer's mini-war started, Hizbullah controlled almost a fifth of Lebanon's territory and over 10 per cent of its population. The party collected its own taxes, through the religious toll known as khoms (one fifth of all incomes), and ran banking and insurance systems, schools, hospitals and social welfare schemes (see Judith Palmer Harik, p24). It also owned and managed farms, factories, supermarkets, transport networks, travel agencies and even matrimonial services—activities that employed the bulk of the population under its control. To underline its independence, Hizbullah flew its own flag, had its own national anthem and even maintained "embassies" in several capitals. [...]

But Hizbullah cannot be understood merely as an Iranian proxy. Many Lebanese Shias take pride in its success in putting their community at the centre of national politics for the first time. While aware of the organisation's darker side, especially its links with Tehran and its terrorist history, some non-Shias, including quite a few Christians, have rallied to it for nationalist and anti-Israel/US reasons.

The complexity of Hizbullah's position is illustrated by the fact that it is the only Lebanese political group to be in the government and in opposition at the same time. The present government's "project of peace" is backed by a coalition of parties that include Hizbullah. At the same time, Hizbullah is the leading partner in the so-called "project of defiance" alliance of opposition parties, which includes a bloc led by the Christian Maronite leader, former general Michel Aoun, and is tacitly backed by Emile Lahoud, the Syrian-imposed president of the republic.

The prospect of a Lebanese government dominated by Hizbullah is not fanciful. In addition to its well-armed militia, which is certainly stronger than the national army, Hizbullah has plenty of money and could, given the chance, neutralise its domestic political opponents with a mixture of assassinations and bribery. Its next move is certain to be an attempt at seizing control of the reconstruction projects with support from Iran and Syria. Iran has already announced a massive aid package, which, as always, comes with many strings attached.

The ceasefire ordained by the UN may or may not last as long as the last one, introduced in 1996. But even if it does, it will solve none of the problems that led to the fighting.

He needed a war and we gave it to him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 PM


Alleged Slur Casts Spotlight On Senator’s (Jewish?) Roots (E.J. Kessler, August 25, 2006, The Forward)

When Senator George Allen of Virginia used a racial slur for dark-skinned North Africans, “macaca,” during a recent encounter with a young Indian American cameraman from his opponent’s campaign, many wondered where he had learned the word.

Macaca means “monkey,” but Allen’s campaign insisted that the word was made up, an inside joke on the young man’s hairstyle. But some commentators noted that Allen’s mother is “French Tunisian,” speculating that Allen, who speaks French, had picked up the epithet from her. (Allen’s late father was famed Washington Redskins football coach George Allen.)

you can survive the occassional racial slur, but we ain't electin' no stinkin' frog.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 PM


Mets’ Grass Gets Green-er (Forward Staff, August 23, 2006)

On August 22, just five days before this year’s Jewish Heritage Day, the team acquired Arizona Diamondbacks slugger Shawn Green, a bona fide Jew who even has been known to sit out games on Yom Kippur.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:46 PM


Exclusive: Zoellick to Join McCain; Aides Eye Early '07 Campaign Launch (Mike Allen, 8/24/06, TIME)

Former Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick is planning to join the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain next year, overseeing development of domestic and foreign policy, Republican officials tell TIME. [...]

Although much attention has been given to the fund-raising and campaign machine McCain is assembling, his advisers also are deep into planning a large policy and issue apparatus. McCain sources said it's too early to describe the theme of his policy, but said it will be "bedrock conservatism, Main Street Republican, what we got used to in the Reagan administration and with former President Bush." Among his star recruits:

--Phil Handy of Florida, who handles Gov. Jeb Bush's financial trusts and was named by the governor to chair the Florida State Department of Education, will be an education adviser, political adviser and fund-raiser for McCain's campaign, the officials said. That strengthens McCain's growing ties with Gov. Bush.

--Phil Gramm, the former U.S. Senator from Texas, will have a broad economic-policy portfolio, from trade and budget policy to private property rights. Another leader of the economic team will be Gerald Parsky, President Bush's California chairman and a former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. Also working on fiscal policy will be two former directors of the Congressional Budget Office: Dan Crippen, a budget and domestic policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan who chaired a panel advising NASA on changes after the space shuttle Columbia disaster, and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who also was chief economist of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers. Crippen will be staff director of issue development.

--Former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) will help with defense policy, and is a key link to evangelical Christians.

Zoellick, a Harvard Law graduate who later was an executive vice president at Fannie Mae, has held senior positions under the last three Republican Presidents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:05 PM


Jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson dies at age 78 (Reuters, 8/24/06)

Jazz trumpeter and big-band leader Walter "Maynard" Ferguson, famed for his screaming solos and ability to hit blisteringly high notes, has died at age 78, associates said on Thursday. [...]

Ferguson started his career at 13 when he performed as a featured soloist with the Canadian Broadcasting Co. Orchestra.

He played with several of the great big-band leaders of the 1940s and '50s, including Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Barnett, Jimmy Dorsey and Stan Kenton, with whom he was a featured performer.

He became known with the Kenton band for being able to hit "ridiculous high notes with ease," according to jazz critic Scott Yarnow.

Maynard Ferguson, 78, Trumpeter and Bandleader, Dies (TIM WEINER, 8/25/06, NY Times)
Mr. Ferguson had a stratospheric style all his own. He possessed “a tremendous breadth of sound and an incomparable tone,” said Lew Soloff, a prominent trumpeter who started out with Mr. Ferguson in the mid-1960’s. The writer Frank Conroy once noted, “He soared above everything, past high C, into the next octave and a half, where his tone and timbre became unique” — sometimes reaching, as Mr. Schankman said, “notes so high that only dogs could hear them.”

He pleased far more crowds than critics. John S. Wilson, reviewing Mr. Ferguson’s big band at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival for The New York Times, called it “screaming” and “strident.” Yet that same year the readers of Down Beat magazine voted the band the world’s second-best, outranked only by Count Basie’s.

Today, record collectors pay hundreds of dollars for rare Fergusons. “Very few rock superstars can command that kind of prices for used CD’s or records,” said John Himes, who runs the Maynard Ferguson Album Emporium in Cypress, Calif.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:10 PM


Prof: U.S. liberals on slope to extinction (UPI, 8/24/06)

U.S. liberals face extinction if they don't start having enough babies to keep up with conservatives, a Syracuse University professor told ABC News.

Professor Arthur Brooks said after studying numbers from the governmental General Social Survey, he found 100 unrelated liberal adults have 147 children, while 100 unrelated conservatives have 208 kids.

Brooks said that makes a difference, as 80 percent of people with political opinions vote like their parents.

On the bright side...oh, wait...there is no Bright side....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


God's Country?: : Religion has always been a major force in U.S. politics, but the recent surge in the number and the power of evangelicals is recasting the country's political scene -- with dramatic implications for foreign policy. This should not be cause for panic: evangelicals are passionately devoted to justice and improving the world, and eager to reach out across sectarian lines. (Walter Russell Mead, September/October 2006, Foreign Affairs)

Religion has always been a major force in U.S. politics, policy, identity, and culture. Religion shapes the nation's character, helps form Americans' ideas about the world, and influences the ways Americans respond to events beyond their borders. Religion explains both Americans' sense of themselves as a chosen people and their belief that they have a duty to spread their values throughout the world. Of course, not all Americans believe such things -- and those who do often bitterly disagree over exactly what they mean. But enough believe them that the ideas exercise profound influence over the country's behavior abroad and at home.

In one sense, religion is so important to life in the United States that it disappears into the mix. Partisans on all sides of important questions regularly appeal to religious principles to support their views, and the country is so religiously diverse that support for almost any conceivable foreign policy can be found somewhere.

Yet the balance of power among the different religious strands shifts over time; in the last generation, this balance has shifted significantly, and with dramatic consequences. The more conservative strains within American Protestantism have gained adherents, and the liberal Protestantism that dominated the country during the middle years of the twentieth century has weakened. This shift has already changed U.S. foreign policy in profound ways.

These changes have yet to be widely understood, however, in part because most students of foreign policy in the United States and abroad are relatively unfamiliar with conservative U.S. Protestantism. That the views of the evangelical Reverend Billy Graham lead to quite different approaches to foreign relations than, say, those popular at the fundamentalist Bob Jones University is not generally appreciated. But subtle theological and cultural differences can and do have important political consequences. Interpreting the impact of religious changes in the United States on U.S. foreign policy therefore requires a closer look into the big revival tent of American Protestantism.

Why focus exclusively on Protestantism? The answer is, in part, that Protestantism has shaped much of the country's identity and remains today the majority faith in the United States (although only just). Moreover, the changes in Catholicism (the second-largest faith and the largest single religious denomination in the country) present a more mixed picture with fewer foreign policy implications. And finally, the remaining religious groups in the United States are significantly less influential when it comes to the country's politics. [...]

Evangelicals, the third of the leading strands in American Protestantism, straddle the divide between fundamentalists and liberals. Their core beliefs share common roots with fundamentalism, but their ideas about the world have been heavily influenced by the optimism endemic to U.S. society. Although there is considerable theological diversity within this group, in general it is informed by the "soft Calvinism" of the sixteenth-century Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius, the thinking of English evangelists such as John Wesley (who carried on the tradition of German Pietism), and, in the United States, the experience of the eighteenth-century Great Awakening and subsequent religious revivals.

The leading evangelical denomination in the United States is the Southern Baptist Convention, which, with more than 16.3 million members, is the largest Protestant denomination in the country. The next-largest evangelical denominations are the African American churches, including the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., and the National Baptist Convention of America (each of which reports having about 5 million members). The predominately African American Church of God in Christ, with 5.5 million members, is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the country, and the rapidly growing Assemblies of God, which has 2.7 million members, is the largest Pentecostal denomination that is not predominately black. The Lutheran Church­Missouri Synod, which has 2.5 million members, is the second-largest predominately white evangelical denomination. Like fundamentalists, white evangelicals are often found in independent congregations and small denominations. So-called parachurch organizations, such as the Campus Crusade for Christ, the Promise Keepers, and the Wycliffe Bible Translators, often replace or supplement traditional denominational structures among evangelicals.

Evangelicals resemble fundamentalists in several respects. Like fundamentalists, evangelicals attach a great deal of importance to the doctrinal tenets of Christianity, not just to its ethical teachings. For evangelicals and fundamentalists, liberals' emphasis on ethics translates into a belief that good works and the fulfillment of moral law are the road to God -- a betrayal of Christ's message, in their view. Because of original sin, they argue, humanity is utterly incapable of fulfilling any moral law whatever. The fundamental message of Christianity is that human efforts to please God by observing high ethical standards must fail; only Christ's crucifixion and resurrection can redeem man. Admitting one's sinful nature and accepting Christ's sacrifice are what both evangelicals and fundamentalists mean by being "born again." When liberal Christians put ethics at the heart of their theology, fundamentalists and evangelicals question whether these liberals know what Christianity really means.

Evangelicals also attach great importance to the difference between those who are "saved" and those who are not. Like fundamentalists, they believe that human beings who die without accepting Christ are doomed to everlasting separation from God. They also agree with fundamentalists that "natural" people -- those who have not been "saved" -- are unable to do any good works on their own.

Finally, most (although not all) evangelicals share the fundamentalist approach to the end of the world. Virtually all evangelicals believe that the biblical prophecies will be fulfilled, and a majority agree with fundamentalists on the position known as premillennialism: the belief that Christ's return will precede the establishment of the prophesied thousand-year reign of peace. Ultimately, all human efforts to build a peaceful world will fail.

Given these similarities, it is not surprising that many observers tend to confuse evangelicals and fundamentalists, thinking that the former are simply a watered down version of the latter. Yet there are important differences between the fundamentalist and the evangelical worldviews. Although the theological positions on these issues can be very technical and nuanced, evangelicals tend to act under the influence of a cheerier form of Calvinism. The strict position is that Christ's sacrifice on the cross was only intended for the small number of souls God intended to save; the others have no chance for salvation. Psychologically and doctrinally, American evangelicals generally have a less bleak outlook. They believe that the benefits of salvation are potentially available to everyone, and that God gives everyone just enough grace to be able to choose salvation if he wishes. Strict Calvinist doctrine divides humanity into two camps with little in common. In the predominant evangelical view, God loves each soul, is unutterably grieved when any are lost, and urgently seeks to save them all.

All Christians, whether fundamentalist, liberal, or evangelical, acknowledge at least formally the responsibility to show love and compassion to everyone, Christian or not. For evangelicals, this demand has extra urgency. Billions of perishing souls can still be saved for Christ, they believe. The example Christians set in their daily lives, the help they give the needy, and the effectiveness of their proclamation of the gospel -- these can bring lost souls to Christ and help fulfill the divine plan. Evangelicals constantly reinforce the message of Christian responsibility to the world. Partly as a result, evangelicals are often open to, and even eager for, social action and cooperation with nonbelievers in projects to improve human welfare, even though they continue to believe that those who reject Christ cannot be united with God after death.

Evangelicals can be hard to predict. Shocked by recent polls showing that a substantial majority of Americans reject the theory of evolution, intellectuals and journalists in the United States and abroad have braced themselves for an all-out assault on Darwinian science. But no such onslaught has been forthcoming. U.S. public opinion has long rejected Darwinism, yet even in states such as Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina, which have large actively Christian populations, state universities go on teaching astronomy, genetics, geology, and paleontology with no concern for religious cosmology, and the United States continues to support the world's most successful scientific community. Most evangelicals find nothing odd about this seeming contradiction. Nor do they wish to change it -- unlike the fundamentalists. The pragmatism of U.S. culture combines with the somewhat anti-intellectual cast of evangelical religion to create a very broad public tolerance for what, to some, might seem an intolerable level of cognitive dissonance. In the seventeenth century, Puritan Harvard opposed Copernican cosmology, but today evangelical America is largely content to let discrepancies between biblical chronology and the fossil record stand unresolved. What evangelicals do not like is what some call "scientism": the attempt to teach evolution or any other subject in such a way as to rule out the possibility of the existence and activity of God.

Evangelicals are more optimistic than fundamentalists about the prospects for moral progress. The postmillennial minority among them (which holds that Christ will return after a thousand years of world peace, not before) believes that this process can continue until human society reaches a state of holiness: that the religious progress of individuals and societies can culminate in the establishment of a peaceable kingdom through a process of gradual improvement. This is a view of history very compatible with the optimism of liberal Christians, and evangelicals and liberal Christians have in fact joined in many common efforts at both domestic and international moral improvement throughout U.S. history. Although the premillennial majority is less optimistic about the ultimate success of such efforts, American evangelicals are often optimistic about the short-term prospects for human betterment. [...]

The growing influence of evangelicals has affected U.S. foreign policy in several ways; two issues in particular illustrate the resultant changes. On the question of humanitarian and human rights policies, evangelical leadership is altering priorities and methods while increasing overall support for both foreign aid and the defense of human rights. And on the question of Israel, rising evangelical power has deepened U.S. support for the Jewish state, even as the liberal Christian establishment has distanced itself from Jerusalem.

In these cases as in others, evangelical political power today is not leading the United States in a completely new direction. We have seen at least parts of this film before: evangelicals were the dominant force in U.S. culture during much of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth. But the country's change in orientation in recent years has nonetheless been pronounced.

Evangelicals in the Anglo-American world have long supported humanitarian and human rights policies on a global basis. The British antislavery movement, for example, was led by an evangelical, William Wilberforce. Evangelicals were consistent supporters of nineteenth-century national liberation movements -- often Christian minorities seeking to break from Ottoman rule. And evangelicals led a number of reform campaigns, often with feminist overtones: against suttee (the immolation of widows) in India, against foot binding in China, in support of female education throughout the developing world, and against human sexual trafficking (the "white slave trade") everywhere. Evangelicals have also long been concerned with issues relating to Africa.

As evangelicals have recently returned to a position of power in U.S. politics, they have supported similar causes and given new energy and support to U.S. humanitarian efforts. Under President Bush, with the strong support of Michael Gerson (an evangelical who was Bush's senior policy adviser and speechwriter), U.S. aid to Africa has risen by 67 percent, including $15 billion in new spending for programs to combat HIV and AIDS. African politicians, such as Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo and Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, have stressed their own evangelical credentials to build support in Washington, much as China's Sun Yat-sen and Madame Chiang Kai-shek once did. Thanks to evangelical pressure, efforts to suppress human trafficking and the sexual enslavement of women and children have become a much higher priority in U.S. policy, and the country has led the fight to end Sudan's wars. Rick Warren, pastor of an evangelical megachurch in Southern California and the author of The Purpose Driven Life (the single best-selling volume in the history of U.S. publishing), has mobilized his 22,000 congregants to help combat AIDS worldwide (by hosting a conference on the subject and training volunteers) and to form relationships with churches in Rwanda.

Evangelicals have not, however, simply followed the human rights and humanitarian agendas crafted by liberal and secular leaders. They have made religious freedom -- including the freedom to proselytize and to convert -- a central focus of their efforts. Thanks largely to evangelical support (although some Catholics and Jews also played a role), Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998, establishing an Office of International Religious Freedom in a somewhat skeptical State Department.

Despite these government initiatives, evangelicals, for cultural as well as theological reasons, are often suspicious of state-to-state aid and multilateral institutions. They prefer grass-roots and faith-based organizations. Generally speaking, evangelicals are quick to support efforts to address specific problems, but they are skeptical about grand designs and large-scale development efforts. Evangelicals will often react strongly to particular instances of human suffering or injustice, but they are more interested in problem solving than in institution building. (Liberal Christians often bewail this trait as evidence of the anti-intellectualism of evangelical culture.)

U.S. policy toward Israel is another area where the increased influence of evangelicals has been evident. This relationship has also had a long history. In fact, American Protestant Zionism is significantly older than the modern Jewish version; in the nineteenth century, evangelicals repeatedly petitioned U.S. officials to establish a refuge in the Holy Land for persecuted Jews from Europe and the Ottoman Empire.

U.S. evangelical theology takes a unique view of the role of the Jewish people in the modern world. On the one hand, evangelicals share the widespread Christian view that Christians represent the new and true children of Israel, inheritors of God's promises to the ancient Hebrews. Yet unlike many other Christians, evangelicals also believe that the Jewish people have a continuing role in God's plan. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, close study of biblical prophecies convinced evangelical scholars and believers that the Jews would return to the Holy Land before the triumphant return of Christ. Moreover, while the tumultuous years before Jesus' return are expected to bring many Jews to Christ, many evangelicals believe that until that time, most Jews will continue to reject him. This belief significantly reduces potential tensions between evangelicals and Jews, since evangelicals do not, as Martin Luther did, expect that once exposed to the true faith, Jews will convert in large numbers. Luther's fury when his expectation was not met led to a more anti-Semitic approach on his part; that is unlikely to happen with contemporary evangelicals.

Evangelicals also find the continued existence of the Jewish people to be a strong argument both for the existence of God and for his power in history. The book of Genesis relates that God told Abraham, "And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee. ... And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee all families of the earth be blessed." For evangelicals, the fact that the Jewish people have survived through the millennia and that they have returned to their ancient home is proof that God is real, that the Bible is inspired, and that the Christian religion is true. Many believe that the promise of Genesis still stands and that the God of Abraham will literally bless the United States if the United States blesses Israel. They see in the weakness, defeats, and poverty of the Arab world ample evidence that God curses those who curse Israel.

Criticism of Israel and of the United States for supporting it leaves evangelicals unmoved. If anything, it only strengthens their conviction that the world hates Israel because "fallen man" naturally hates God and his "chosen people." In standing by Israel, evangelicals feel that they are standing by God -- something they are ready to do against the whole world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:36 PM


The new axis of intervention (John Feffer, 8/25/06, Asia Times)

There is a new force in foreign policy: the "axis of intervention". Two allies are official members: the United States and Israel. With its recent invasion of Somalia, Ethiopia has joined the grouping. A fourth nation, Japan, is petitioning for membership. [...]

The new axis of intervention targets not only sovereign states such as North Korea and non-state actors such as Hezbollah. With the news of Israeli attacks against Red Cross vehicles and a clearly marked United Nations observation post in Lebanon, the real target of the axis of intervention becomes clear: the institutions of international law. By resorting to military force and scorning diplomacy, both Israel and the United States have undermined the UN and key global agreements such as the Geneva Conventions. It remains to be seen whether Japan and Ethiopia will sign on to this larger agenda.

The possibilities of global cooperation opened up by the end of the Cold War have come to a dead end. The axis of intervention promises a future that resembles the distant past, what the English theorist Thomas Hobbes called the "war of all against all". It is a world, ironically, where both aggressive countries like the US and Israel and aggressive non-state actors like al-Qaeda and the Islamic courts will feel right at home.

Even under traditional sovereignty, states that can't control non-state actors--like al Qaeda or hezbollah--are, be definition, not sovereign. In order to be considered sovereign you have to exercise authority over the entire territory you claim.

However, more importantly, we have Redefined Sovereignty to have a normative component and now require that governmens be consensual and protect the inalienable rights of those they govern. It's hard to imagine a less Hobbesian development.

Meanwhile, if Mr. Feffer can be excused not understanding the revolution that the United States has effected in sovereignty over the course of its history, it's less easy to excuse his failure to acknowledge that the axis also includes Britain, Australia, Canada, Poland, etc.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:20 AM


Butterfly Kiss-Off (JEFFREY A. LOCKWOOD, 8/24/06, NY Times)

The North American Butterfly Association is as unhappy as a butterfly in a Buffalo blizzard (the association points out that these fragile creatures could suffer such a fate). Their primary concern is the release of butterflies from one locale into a different region. Federal regulations prohibit the shipments to states where a species doesn’t naturally occur, as if Long Island was the same ecological system as Albany.

The butterfly association also raises the concern that interbreeding of otherwise separate populations could cause genetic deterioration of endemic varieties that have adapted to local conditions and warp migratory behaviors. In principle, the farm-raised butterflies may also carry unfamiliar strains of pathogens, although diseased larvae rarely survive to adulthood.

Why should astronomers get to make the biggest asses of themselves when Darwinists have nearly retired the title?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:03 AM

RARE ROCK NON-IDIOTS (via M. Ali Choudhury):

Megadeth targets United Nations on new album (Billboard, 8/23/06)

Heavy metal maven Dave Mustaine is so angry with the United Nations that he is naming his group Megadeth's next album "United Abominations."

"I was watching TV and saw the trucks that said 'UN' on them and said, 'Man, you are so uncool, ineffective, anything," the singer/guitarist said in a recent Billboard interview.

"I thought, 'Wow, I've got to run with this. I got it -- United Abominations, 'cause it's an abomination what they're doing!"

Not the first time Mr. Mustaine has made good sense

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 AM


Astronomers Say Pluto Is Not a Planet (The Associated Press, August 24, 2006)

Leading astronomers declared Thursday that Pluto is no longer a planet under historic new guidelines that downsize the solar system from nine planets to eight.

This will go exactly as well as when they tried foisting metrics on us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


The beginning of the Feller legend (Anthony Castrovince, 8/24/06, MLB.com)

The boy stood tall on the mound.

He peered into the mitt of catcher Charlie George much the same way he'd stared at the outhouse at which he chucked baseballs as a boy back on the Iowa farm where he cut his baseball teeth.

But on this day -- 70 years ago this week -- the target sat on a grander stage.

And on this day, the boy, named Bob Feller, would become a man.

The date was Aug. 23, 1936, and the event was an otherwise nondescript, series-ending ballgame at League Park between the second-place Cleveland Indians and the lowly St. Louis Browns.

The Tribe was looking for a series sweep of the visitors, but general manager Cy Slapnicka and manager Steve O'Neill also wanted to get a look at what this 17-year-old pitching sensation, who'd come out of the cornfields of the Hawkeye State, could do in the big leagues.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 AM


The Pentagon Plans for The Long War: The Pentagon is close to approving a command for Africa, where poverty and corruption make it a vulnerable area for extremists and terrorists (SALLY B. DONNELLY, 8/24/06, TIME)

In what may be the most glaring admission that the U.S. military needs to dramatically readjust how it will fight what it calls 'the long war,' the Pentagon is expected to announce soon that it will create an entirely new military command to focus on the globe's most neglected region: Africa.

Pentagon sources say that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is close to approving plans for an African Command, which would establish a military organization to singlehandedly deal with the entire continent of Africa. It would be a sign of a significant strategic shift in administration policy, reflecting the need to put more emphasis on pro-active, preventative measures rather than maintaining a defensive posture designed for the Cold War.

The Long War is Philip Bobbit's and mostly won. This smacks more of Thomas Barnett's Gap, much of which still needs to be filled.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


A Matter of Appearances (NY Times, 8/24/06)

When Judge Anna Diggs Taylor was given the job of deciding whether the Bush administration’s wiretapping program was unconstitutional, she certainly understood that she would be ruling on one of the most politically charged cases in recent history. So it would have been prudent for her to disclose any activity that might conceivably raise questions about her ability to be impartial. Regrettably, it was left to a conservative group, Judicial Watch, to point out her role as a trustee to a foundation that had given grants to a branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, a plaintiff in the case.

The point isn't that she was an interesed party in the litigation but that she showed no interest in the Constitution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


Giuliani Aide Found Strangled in Manhattan (RUSSELL BERMAN, August 24, 2006, NY Sun)

A man who once served as a press secretary to Mayor Giuliani was strangled to death in his Greenwich Village home Monday night as an apparent tryst turned fatal, police said.

The body of Martín Barreto, 49, was found lying naked on the bed of his eighth floor apartment in the Albert building at 23 E. 10th St., near University Place. He died of "asphyxia due to compression of the neck" and his death has been ruled a homicide, the medical examiner's office said yesterday.

No arrests have been made. Police were looking for two people who they believe entered his apartment Monday evening based on interviews with a doorman at the building, sources said. There were no signs of a break-in, and the door was locked when police entered the home. An open condom wrapper and lubricant were found near the body, the sources said.

Which is why Rudy can't win GOP primaries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


The Beginning of Iran's End (JONATHAN PARIS, August 24, 2006, NY Sun)

The Lebanon war has brought two issues into focus: Iran's war of radical ideas, and the opportunity of the West to ultimately return Iran to its people and its national self-interest. The weakest links in the Iranian arsenal against the West are the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria. One by one, their potency is being diminished. The Islamic Jihad, a wholly financed subsidiary of Iran without mass support among the Palestinians, has launched a dozen suicide bombings and hundreds of rockets against Israel since the hudna of early 2005. They have been decimated by the IDF in the two months since the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit on June 25. Implicated in that kidnapping, Hamas, which poses as the government of the Palestinian Authority, has been shunted off the headlines. Rendered impotent on the Gaza battlefield, Hamas is looking less and less like an effective resistance movement. [...]

That leaves the Iranian regime with a lot of short sticks.The best strategy of the West against Mr. Ahmadinejad is to do the unexpected: continue to break Iran's weak sticks, one by one, and then undermine Iran quietly from the inside.The Iranian regime thinks of itself as carpet weavers, patiently working for a long-term victory.The West can defeat the Iranian regime not through appeasing it and striking some grand bargain that leaves it intact to bully the region and provoke ideological wars against Arabs and Israelis alike, but through a step by step strategy of stripping the Iranian regime of its sticks and leaving it and Mr. Ahmadinejad with nowhere to go but down.

Hamas, like Ahmedinejad himself, was broken by the ballot box. The failure to deliver economic development and improving living standards is fatal in a democratic country. The exorbitant foreign aid the Iranians are shelling out for is just icing on his cake of unre-electability.

Sweating Out the Truth in Iran (MAZIAR BAHARI, 8/24/06, NY Times)

Fantasizing has become something of a national sport here. Our president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, predicted that the national soccer team would finish third or fourth in the World Cup. He also thinks we can become a nuclear powerhouse, even though we have a hard time manufacturing safety matches or making light bulbs with life expectancies of more than two weeks. By the way, the soccer team didn’t make it out of the first round. [...]

Iran helped create Hezbollah in the early 1980’s, it is Hezbollah’s most vocal supporter, and before the war it sent the group millions of dollars of cash, medicine, arms and of course posters of Ayatollahs Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Khamenei, which accompanied every aid package and arms shipment.

Does this Iranian aid make Hezbollah Iran’s puppet? From all evidence, Hezbollah, to a great extent, makes decisions independently of Iran. Hezbollah is an indigenous Lebanese armed resistance group that owes its popularity to Israeli atrocities, biased American policies and corrupt Lebanese politicians. When the United States and Israel try to portray Hezbollah as an Iranian proxy, they are pointing the finger in the wrong direction.

But Iran definitely uses the threat of its influence over Hezbollah to further its objectives. And its prime objective is the survival of the Islamic regime at any price. The clerics and non-clerics (they are now mostly non-clerics) in power in Iran are not the old revolutionary zealots the Americans tend to imagine. They are pragmatic men who have enjoyed the fruits of power for 27 years and don’t want to lose them. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, Iranian statesmen were so scared of American retaliation that for the first time since the revolution, no one chanted “Death to America” in Iran for 10 days.

The regime’s rhetoric about the United States and Israel is a remnant of the time when seizing embassies and staging revolutions were in vogue. But now the Islamic Republic has one of the world’s younger populations. Most young Iranians I know don’t care for their fathers’ ideals. They prefer the better things in life, like plasma TV’s on which to watch Britney Spears and the exiled Iranian pop diva Googoosh on illegal satellite channels. (No, Mr. Cheney, they don’t want the United States to invade their country.) The government spends much of its $60 billion in annual oil revenue to import goods and keep its youth happy.

The paradoxes of the regime have exposed its hypocrisies. On one hand, the fiery slogans are the raison d’être of the Islamic Republic, and on the other, acting openly on those slogans would spell its demise. The most expedient thing to do has been nothing, while continuing to chant.

Up until the start of the war in Lebanon, that was just fine.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


50 crimes a day 'too trivial' to prosecute (MICHAEL HOWIE, 8/24/06, The Scotsman)

MORE than 50 offences a day reported by police to prosecutors are going unpunished because they are judged to be "too trivial", new figures have revealed.

A report published today shows more than 19,000 incidents were discarded by prosecutors in 2004-5 because further action would be "disproportionate".

The BBC recently contacted us to see if we'd be willing to ask Ian Rankin a question on an upcoming Book Club program. So we submitted the following: "From an American perspective Scotland seems to be a nation in precipitous moral decline, prey to a whole host of social pathologies, and Inspector Rebus seems like the last Calvinist, willing to judge that society and fight the rot--is that how you see him?"

They called and asked if we could edit the question so their world audience would appreciate it and it was a bit shorter. So we dropped the opening clause. The producer said: "No, keep that--we love the moral decline stuff...."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Steele gaining blacks' support (Jon Ward, August 24, 2006, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

The Maryland Democratic Party's traditional support among blacks appears to be slipping, now that hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons -- who has helped register thousands of Democratic voters -- has endorsed Republican Michael S. Steele for the U.S. Senate. [...]

"Russell Simmons is one of the leading progressive voices in America," said Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign.

"This is a major endorsement for Lieutenant Governor Steele that will help him attract young people, as well as black voters," Ms. Brazile said. "Once again, this should serve as a wake-up call to Democrats not to take their most loyal constituents and voters for granted."

African-American women step up in business world (Jim Hopkins, 8/24/06, USA TODAY)

[N]ew research, published last week by the Small Business Administration, shows that women drove much of the growth in black entrepreneurship.

Black women owned 547,341 companies in 2002, up 75% from five years before, when the Census Bureau last counted. The number owned by men rose a smaller 29%, to 571,670, says the study by economist Ying Lowrey in the SBA's Office of Economic Research.

For the first time since the government began counting, black women now likely own more companies than black men, assuming growth rates stayed constant after 2002, says Gwen Martin, director of research at the Center for Women's Business Research.

Black women, like all female owners, still lag behind men by some key measures. The majority of their companies are part-time ventures, often run from home at night or on weekends to supplement daytime pay. Just 5% had employees, vs. 10% for black men. Annual revenue averaged about $39,000, vs. $114,000 for black men, Lowrey's research shows.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


Europe’s Eroding Wealth of Knowledge (JEAN PISANI-FERRY, 23 August 2006, Financial Times)

Europe is much better endowed with buildings and machines than brains.

There is a clear gap between the US and the EU as regards human capital. The US economy is ahead of the pack for both human and physical capital, the EU for physical capital only. This shows up in trade structures. The US mostly exports skills-intensive goods, such as high-technology products, while the EU specialises in goods of high capital intensity and medium-skill intensity, such as cars and chemicals.

This puts the US and the EU in different positions vis-à-vis globalisation. Harvard University’s Richard Freeman notes that globalisation means an almost sudden “doubling of the global labour force”: that is, the entry into the world economy of new workers initially deprived of access to capital. In this context, there is an advantage in specialising in capital-intensive goods for which there are few competitors. In the short run, globalisation increases the world demand for those goods – and the countries that specialise in them benefit from a form of rent. Its trade specialisation puts Europe on the side of globalisation’s winners, as its advantage is actually strengthened by the entry of new players. This explains why European exports have thrived in recent years – and suggests that many complaints about the effects of globalisation ignore its benefits to Europe.

The good news, however, may stop here. Europe’s high savings helped in accumulating capital in the low capital mobility context of the past, but those times have gone and capital is gradually moving to the countries with good economic institutions, infrastructures and human capital. With migrations, human capital to some extent agglomerates at the same places. Here the EU risks being at a disadvantage because of its slowness in Developing and upgrading its education systems, especially universities and other tertiary institutions. Also, few countries have devised a skilled migration policy that makes them an attractive place to study and work.

The US has about equal infrastructure, more investment in human capital, better economic institutions and a more active skilled migration policy. Capital is thus more inclined to move there as well as to the best-performing emerging countries. This should erode Europe’s comparative advantage.

Why should the secular care what happens when they're gone?

August 23, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:57 PM


WDOD Radio Switches From Air America To Music Format (Judy Frank, August 23, 2006, The Chattanoogan)

Chattanooga’s oldest radio station, WDOD, has ended its 11-month experiment with progressive talk radio.

At 10 a.m. this past Monday, the station switched to a format featuring musical oldies and standards from the late 1950s and the 1960s and 1970s, according to Danny Howard, director of programming and operations for WDEF and WDOD.

Although, there's no real difference between liberal talk and 70s rock.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:45 PM


Exclusive: McCain's Web Team. And Nicco Mele. (SHIRA TOEPLITZ and MARC AMBINDER, 8/23/06, Hotline)

Over the past several months, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has quietly recruited for his presidential campaign some of the most influential online strategists in the country, including one of the main architects of Howard Dean's pioneering website.

John Weaver, McCain's chief political strategist, confirmed today that Nicco Mele, the webmaster of Dean for America, is among those who have committed to help. Mele's work on Dean's campaign, which including , led Esquire to name him as one of the country's "best and brightest." His firm, EchoDitto, lists more than twenty major Democratic and liberal firms and candidates as clients. Mele did not respond to an e-mail seeking immediate comment.

Also committing, according to Weaver: Mike Connell of New Media Communications. He designed, developed and managed the Bush campaign's websites in 2000 and 2004.

Max Fose, McCain's webmaster in 2000, is also back on board. And so is GOP technological entrepreneur Becky Donatelli, the CEO of Campaign Solutions. Donatelli helped to coordinate online fundraising for McCain in 2000.

"We're honored such top professionals in this field support a potential McCain candidacy," said Weaver.

The range of experiences brought by these consultants suggests that McCain's web strategy will be integrated with the campaign's message, donation and political operations -- just like Dean's was in the primary, -- and certainly hewing to example set by the Bush campaign in 2004. Bush raised more money from the ‘Net than any candidate in history and campaign used its website to track thousands of volunteers and motivate Bush supporters.

Whatever else you may think of the Senator, you have to admit he's really gone to school on the Bush/Rove campaign strategies and tactics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:41 PM


Unions tighten grip on Labour (Graeme Wilson, 24/08/2006, Daily Telegraph)

The big unions have tightened their grip on Labour as the party struggles to repay more than £28 million in loans, it emerged yesterday.

New figures show that £3 in every £4 Labour receives in donations now comes from the unions, compared with just over half last year.

The party's growing dependence on union cash will increase fears that ministers will have to bow to their demands at next month's TUC conference to scrap plans to give private firms a bigger role in the NHS and schools.

It also underlines how the cash for peerages scandal and the ensuing police investigation have scared off many of the rich businessmen and wealthy donors who have supported New Labour.

As with his friend, Bill Clinton, it will be as if Tony Blair never happened to the Left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 PM


New year, new school concepts in New Orleans: Charter schools, student input, hope - and controversy - are hallmarks of the revamped school system to come. (Stacy A. Teicher, 8/24/06, CS Monitor)

Parents face potentially bewildering choices: There are 31 autonomous charter schools, some monitored by the state and others by the local Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB). Only five schools are still operated directly by OPSB. Seventeen schools are run by the state-controlled Recovery School District (RSD). After Katrina, RSD's authority was expanded by the legislature so it could take control of schools that had performance scores below the state average, even if they were meeting yearly progress goals. That gave the state authority over more than 100 schools.

"Individual parents might say, 'Oh, this school looks a little better ... but public education has always been a local responsibility, and long term you need an engaged community," says Theresa Perry, a professor at Simmons College in Boston and part of the National Coalition for Quality Education in New Orleans.

If they voted for Republicans and universal vouchers they could revolutionize the school system in a more orderly fashion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 PM


The Complete List: The Top 100 Global Universities (Aug. 13, 2006, Newsweek)

In response to the same forces that have propelled the world economy toward global integration, universities have also become more self-consciously global: seeking students from around the world who represent the entire spec­ trum of cultures and values, sending their own students abroad to prepare them for global careers, offering courses of study that address the challenges of an inter­ connected world and collaborative research programs to advance science for the benefit of all humanity. To capture these developments, NEWSWEEK devised a ranking of global universities that takes into account openness and diversity, as well as distinction in research.

And folks wonder why the world resents us?

Meanwhile, the reality is that considered just as educational institutions all 25 of these are as good or better than any of the schools on the list.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:27 PM


Pie in the Sky? (Brian James, September 2006, History Today)

On Sunday, September 17th, Britain will once again remember the epic struggle of Fighter Command in the Second World War at a service of thanksgiving and rededication in Westminster Abbey before a congregation of airmen past and present. Like the great flypast of three hundred airplanes last September, the event will encourage Britons everywhere to recall how a handful of heroes saved these islands from invasion. But is this true – or the perpetuation of a glorious myth?

It is not mere revisionist history that puts this question, and indeed offers the suggestion that it would be at least equally fitting if, on this Battle of Britain Day, the Royal Navy were to send its ships in procession along our coasts – for it was the navy, not the RAF, that prevented a German invasion in 1940. This is the contention of three senior military historians at the Joint Services Command Staff College. Together they run the High Command course that teaches the past to the air marshals, generals and admirals of the future. What today’s senior officers learn of Britain’s military history they learn from this trio – and some of what they may be told goes against many popular beliefs.

In the words of Dr Andrew Gordon, head of maritime history:

I cheered like crazy at the film of the Battle of Britain, like everyone else. But it really is time to put away this enduring myth. To claim that Germany failed to invade in 1940 because of what was done by the phenomenally brave and skilled young men of Fighter Command is hogwash. The Germans stayed away because while the Royal Navy existed they had not a hope in hell of capturing these islands. The navy had ships in sufficient numbers to have overwhelmed any invasion fleet – destroyers’ speed alone would have swamped the barges by their wash, hardly a need for guns.

It could perhaps be argued that Andrew Gordon looks back to the past from a sailor’s perspective. Yet Dr Christina Goulter, the air warfare historian, supports his argument.

While it would be wrong to deny the contribution of Fighter Command, I agree largely with Andrew’s perspective that it was the navy that held the Germans from invading. As the German general Jodl put it, so long as the British navy existed, an invasion would be to send ‘my troops into a mincing machine’.

Facing the truth about what a spent force the Nazis were by 1941 would do us too much psychic damage for it ever to happen. In the words of Ernest Renan: "To forget and, I will venture to say, to get one's history wrong are essential factors in the making of a nation."

It is amusing though how patently idiotic is the notion of a German invasion of Britain.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 12:29 PM


The following item appears in a trade publication:

Air America will switch its flagship station, WLIB (1190 AM), to a 24/7 black gospel music station as of September 1. The station, under its new "Praise and Inspiration" format, will air only gospel music for its first month and then intersperse the format with new hosts. WLIB chose this format over two others, oldies and country.

I thought the Air America types hated religion....oh well, you've got to pay the bills....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 AM


The Battle of Baghdad (ZALMAY KHALILZAD, August 23, 2006, Opinion Journal)

The deterioration of security in Baghdad since February's attack on the Samara Mosque is the result of the competition between Sunni and Shiite extremists to expand their control and influence throughout the capital. Although the leadership of al Qaeda in Iraq has been significantly attrited, it still has cells capable of operating independently in Baghdad by deploying car bombs to Shiite neighborhoods. At the same time, Sunni and Shiite death squads, some acting as Iranian surrogates, are responsible for an increasing share of the violence. This cycle of retaliatory violence is compounded by shortcomings in the training and leadership of Iraq's National Police. To combat this complex problem, Iraq's national unity government, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, has made securing Baghdad its top priority. The government's Baghdad Security Plan has three principal components:

• Stabilizing Baghdad zone by zone.Four Iraqi Army battalions, two Coalition brigades and five military police companies will be redeployed to Baghdad, resulting in more than 12,000 additional forces on the city's streets. The National Police will simultaneously undergo intensive retraining, with each brigade to be subjected to a three-day assessment period, with its leadership evaluated and, if necessary, replaced. Each brigade will subsequently receive additional training focused on countering violent sectarianism before redeployment. Over the last 10 days this approach began to be implemented in five areas of Baghdad--Doura, Ghazaliyah, Rashid, Ahmeriyya and Mansour. In coming weeks other districts will be added.

Iraqi government and Coalition forces are adopting new tactics to stem sectarian killings. Increased checkpoints and patrols are being used to deny freedom of movement and safe haven to sectarian killers. The leaders of the death squads are being targeted. Security forces have started to work with cross-sectarian neighborhood committees. These and other new tactics will drive toward the goal of achieving security neighborhood by neighborhood. As each district of Baghdad is secured, operations will expand into contiguous zones over coming weeks and months.

• Disrupting support zones. Even as Iraqi and Coalition forces concentrate on securing specific neighborhoods, they will continue to conduct targeted operations in other zones that are staging areas for the violence. This includes targeted raids and other operations on areas outside of Baghdad's center, where planning cells, car-bomb factories and terrorist safe houses are located. This will degrade the ability of the terrorists and death squads to mount offensive operations into the areas we are working to stabilize.

• Undertaking civic action and economic development. One of the most tragic elements of the increasing violence in Baghdad is that it has robbed the Iraqi people of the sense of normalcy they desperately seek after living under crushing tyranny for more than three decades. In the immediate aftermath of Iraq's liberation, the entrepreneurial spirit of the Iraqi people was demonstrated as Baghdad's shops overflowed with consumer goods prohibited under the previous regime. However, the increasing violence in the streets of Baghdad has forced many Iraqis to close their shops for fear of their safety.

Consequently, after joint Coalition and Iraqi military operations have secured a neighborhood or district, a structure of Iraqi security forces sufficient to maintain the peace is expected to be left in place and reinforced with the capacity to undertake civic action and foster economic revitalization. This will be supported with $500 million in funds from Prime Minister Maliki's government and at least $130 million of U.S. funds.

These economic support funds will be used to offer vocational training and create jobs, especially for 17-to-25-year-old males; to foster public support through improved services, such as medical care and trash and debris removal; and to build local governmental capacity to protect and provide for their citizens. These goals will be achieved through a mixture of high-impact, short-term programs; mid-term programs designed to stabilize these initial gains; and programs focused on long-term economic development. Prime Minister Maliki's plan for securing Baghdad is also closely tied to the national unity government's larger program for reconciliation, which seeks to foster political understanding between Sunni and Shiite forces, including those that either control or influence unauthorized armed groups involved in sectarian conflict.

In addition, a moral compact between the religious leaders of the two Islamic communities--which will ban sectarian killings--will delegitimize the violence. Such a compact would deny the killers a political or religious sanctuary while Iraqi and Coalition forces deny them physical shelter. For the longer term, the plan seeks to induce insurgents and militias to lay down their arms by implementing a program to demobilize unauthorized armed groups. It will also review the implementation of the de-Baathification process--referring those accused of crimes to the judiciary and reconciling with the rest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 AM


Iran running out of options (Kaveh L Afrasiabi, 8/22/06, Asia Times)

[T]he package, consisting of generous offers of state-of-the-art nuclear assistance, a nuclear-fuel supply, trade incentives and certain pledges on security issues, is very enticing. Iranian leaders have repeatedly praised it as positive and a step in the right direction to end the dispute over their nuclear program.

It is too bad, then, that there is a big string attached, namely the demand for the full suspension of Iran's enrichment-related activities and the termination of construction of a heavy-water reactor in Arak. Iran's Atomic Energy Organization said on Monday that it would start operating the plant "in the near future", describing it as one of the country's greatest achievements. [...]

There are suggestions that enrichment could be suspended after the talks, and not as their precondition, and also of interim suspension and a standby option. The last is borrowed from the United States' own experience of putting one of its largest enrichment facilities on both cold and warm standby, incurring a substantial cost, principally to prevent the equipment from decaying and keeping scientific personnel on payroll.

Of course the US wants none of that, and senior government officials have promised a swift UN reaction should Iran reject the package. And German Chancellor Angela Merkel has demanded a "firm response" that would not contain shades of gray.

Iran, however, is desperately looking precisely for that. There is, after all, a real threat of a US military strike, corroborated by the US media recently, which has not disappeared as a result of the war between Israel and Hezbollah.

ran Pushes For Talks Without Conditions: U.N. Demand for Freeze On Nuclear Work Rejected (Dafna Linzer, August 23, 2006, Washington Post)
Iran offered yesterday to enter into immediate and "serious" negotiations on a broad range of issues with the Bush administration and its European allies but refused to abide by a U.N. Security Council demand that it suspend work at its nuclear facilities by the end of the month.

Tehran's proposal came in response to an offer in June by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China for talks on the country's nuclear program, and the possibility of future cooperation, if the Islamic republic would first agree to suspend its uranium-enrichment work.

In order to save face, Iran needs the suspension to be a condition of an agreement rather than a precondition for talks, hardly a point worth our stumbling over. However, the West should insist on negtiating directly with the mullahs, not the president, and make it clear that the pre-condition has been dropped in deference to his assurances that the program is peaceful. Negotiations are a wedge to be driven between Ahmedinejad, Khamanei and the electorate. In agreeing to them Ahmedinejad has already lost.

Iran Sanctions Could Fracture Coalition (HELENE COOPER, 8/23/06, NY Times)

While only the permanent members can veto, the rising fear, particularly among European diplomats, is that smaller countries on the Council are so angry over how the United States, and now France, have handled the Lebanon crisis that they will give Russia and China political cover to balk against imposing tough sanctions.

While France, for instance, has been almost as insistent on a tough stance against Iran’s nuclear program as the United States, France has also in recent days alienated many members of the Security Council by offering only 200 troops to a peacekeeping effort in Lebanon.

“The Lebanese situation has caused a lot of bad faith and I think that will play into this,” said one European diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity under normal diplomatic rules.

Getting the group to punish Tehran was always going to be difficult. Russia and China have deep economic interests in Iran and dislike the blunt instrument of sanctions. And the West must tread carefully because any sanctions levied in the place that could actually hurt Iran — its energy sector — would ratchet up already high global oil prices and end up harming the West.

That was the tough road Ms. Rice faced even before the Lebanon crisis began. Now, “Lebanon has proven that there’s no military solution to the problem in the Middle East,” said Trita Parsi, the Iranian-born author of “Treacherous Triangle: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States,” which Yale University Press plans to publish next year.

While there is no talk among the world powers right now about hitting Iran militarily, European diplomats in particular said they worried about a downward spiral if the sanctions did not work. “They’ve been dragged into three wars over there by the U.S.,” Mr. Parsi said, referring to Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon. “They don’t want a fourth.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 AM


The Cross and the State: why...the crusades were important in shaping the ideology and fiscal and political structures of the secular state. (Christopher Tyerman, September 2006, History Today)

[T]he legacy of medieval crusading stands as more than a myth, an object of antiquarian fascination or literary quarrying. It contributed to the conceptual, cultural and political map of modern Europe. From the fifteenth century, nation-states were created by centripetal forces which included imagined communities supported by consent, coercion, fiscal exploitation, military necessity and ideologies that combined sacral rule with a popular sense of shared membership of a providential community. However secular these states were to become, they were forged on the anvil of polities defined in religious terms, one of which was the crusade.

Crusading rendered the lands being attacked or conquered sacred, lending them a new identity cast in the image of the conqueror’s holy rhetoric. In the Baltic, the fiction that Livonia (modern Latvia) was the inheritance of the Virgin Mary and Prussia that of St Peter helped the military Order of the Teutonic Knights delineate their right to power into the sixteenth century; in Prussia this cultural cohesion formed a basis for the secular duchy that succeeded them after 1525. The appropriation of St James as a warrior patron saint by Spanish rulers fighting their Muslim neighbours from c.1100 signalled the development of a myth of reconquest, throwing a gaudy cloak of religious motivation over political competition and territorial aggrandizement while providing Spanish rulers with access to church money, through crusade taxes or the bula de la cruzada system – papally sanctioned grants of spiritual privileges in return for cash payments that were only finally abolished by the Second Vatican Council (1962–65).

As the Spanish example illustrates, crusading also sacralized the lands from which the holy warriors came, providing a clear link with developing national states. As Christendom fragmented, its distinct kingdoms, principalities and cities appropriated the semiotics of crusading, including the concepts of a Holy Land and a Chosen People. In 1311 Pope Clement V, a Gascon, declared ‘Just as the Israelites are known to have granted the Lord’s inheritance by the election of Heaven … so the kingdom of France has been chosen as the Lord’s special people.’ In 1377, the chancellor of England told Parliament that ‘God would never have honoured this land in the same way as he did Israel…if it were not that He had chosen it as His heritage.’ Such national providentialism pointedly borrowed the language of crusading. Henry V’s chaplain had the King call his troops ‘God’s people’ as they put on ‘the armour of penitence’ before the battle of Agincourt (1415), exhorting them to follow the example of Judas Maccabeus. On his return to London after the victory, Henry was met by patriotic tableaux praising the blessed kingdom of England. Infected by ubiquitous crusade mentalities and images, nations and their wars acquired a holy tinge.

In the fifteenth century, on the frontier with the Ottoman Turks from Poland to the Adriatic, the idea of nations as bastions of Christianity allowed rulers to promote national exceptionalism and their own authority through crusading imagery. Away from the frontline, par­ticip­ation in crusading consolidated municipal identity in Pisa, Genoa, Florence and Venice. The reputation of the most famous crusader saint, Louis IX of France (d.1270, canonized 1297), flattered his successors into the nineteenth century, encouraging a proprietorial relationship with crusading that cast a long shadow shading nineteenth-century French Mediterranean colonialism and historiography. French diplomats even used it as a reason to be given a mandate in Syria after the First World War; Emir Feisal, palmed off with Iraq, was unamused, pointing out, to no avail, that the crusaders had in fact lost.

Some practical trappings of crusading were incorporated into national endeavour. From 1200 on, the cross was widely adopted as a national or civic symbol from Florence to Denmark. The kings of medieval Hungary, as also those of Scandinavia, found participation in crusades an entrée into Christendom’s corridors of power and a convenient means of harnessing public religion to their dynastic and national interest. In England in the 1260s royalists, backed by papal crusading bulls, wore red crosses against rebels who claimed religious sanction by wearing white ones. By the fourteenth century, the red cross, by now attached to the invented cult of St George as national patron, had become the emblem of English troops, yet simultaneously remained identified with crusading.

The secular apparatus of crusading influenced state-building across Europe too. Crusading was presented as open to all members of free society, especially after 1200, when it became possible for the lame, young, elderly and females to redeem crusade vows for cash. Crusader privileges, ostensibly guaranteed by the Church authorities and courts, in practice required the express approval of lay authorities, at once defining and blurring the respective areas of lay and ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Administration of crusading had always and on all fronts rested with lay powers, local or national. The popular crusading movements known as the Children’s Crusade (1212) and Shepherds’ Crusades (1251, 1320), in seeking the patronage and approval of secular rulers, revealed a wide civil society, well-versed in political affairs, capable of forming collective opinions and taking targeted collective action.

Both on the home front and on every large campaign, pace the image of domineering princes, decisions and control were exerted through formal consultations with confraternities, assemblies, councils, public courts and, in the words of a leader of the Fourth Crusade (1201-04), parlements. Crusading did not create civil society, but the way in which it depended on a measure of individual and communal consent encouraged free individual and communal decisions. Crusading demanded the mobilization of men by persuasion, outside the normal disciplines of lordship, by engineering wide public consent for the expeditions and involving all social groups via fiscal demands and targeted liturgy. The crusades insisted on overt public response, not just tacit approval, so stimulating direct political activism. The increasing use of mercenaries by crusade leaders after the twelfth century may have reflected the inconvenience of having to cope with this wider civil participation which, technically, was of equals. Crusades were by no means exercises in proto-democracy, but many of them witnessed consensual government by a self-conscious body described as ‘the people’. One of the major themes of the creation of modern states has been how medieval communal politics became controlled, disciplined and subverted by central government or civil interest groups, in the name of the nation. The decline in freelance crusading reflected this shift, linking it closely with the creation of modern Europe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 AM


'Ethical' stem cell lines created (BBC, 8/23/06)

Human embryonic stem cell lines have been generated without embryos being destroyed, according to researchers.

A US team created stem cell lines by removing single cells from embryos, a process that left them intact, they report in the journal Nature.

At present, growing this type of stem cell results in embryo destruction.

The researchers say their findings may remove some of the ethical barriers to this field and provide a way of bypassing current US legislation. [...]

Using spare human IVF embryos, the researchers removed single cells from them, employing the same procedure used for pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), a technique that has been used in IVF so cells can be removed from the embryo and tested for genetic disorders.

The process, said the team, leaves the embryo intact, enabling it to continue and grow into a healthy foetus.

Of the 16 embryos used, they developed two long-term stem cell lines, which, Professor Lanza said, were "genetically normal and able to generate all of the cell types of the body".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 AM


Bill Clinton Was Right: He Saw the Roots of America's Welfare Problem (Robert Rector, August 23, 2006, Washington Post)

To fully understand Clinton's role in the passage of this landmark legislation, one must go back to the early days of the 1992 presidential campaign when Clinton first began trying out his welfare themes. According to New York Times reporter Jason DeParle, Clinton regarded his welfare message as the "all-purpose elixir" of his campaign for the presidency.

It was a values message, an economic message and a policy message all in one. And it generated more interest than any other topic Clinton addressed.

A surprising thing about Clinton's welfare message is that it found resonance with many people in low-income neighborhoods. It won Clinton respect from the poor, a group most analysts figured would object strongly to any welfare reform plan.

DeParle reports that in the fall of 1991, Clinton dispatched campaign aide Celinda Lake to North Carolina to conduct focus groups with black voters. The campaign was worried that Clinton's pledge to "end welfare as we know it" might invite Virginia's black governor (and presidential aspirant) Doug Wilder to attack Clinton as a "racist."

Lake found otherwise. "The welfare message, worded correctly, plays extremely well in the black community," Lake reported. Low-income African-Americans were all for cutting welfare, so long as they sensed a corresponding commitment to help them acquire the dignity that comes from gainful employment.

A major turning point in the debate over welfare reform came in late 1993 when Clinton made a series of remarkable public statements about the links between social problems, welfare dependency and unwed childbearing. No president before him had addressed this topic.

It started in Memphis, where Clinton addressed a group of black church leaders. Employing the rhythm, cadence and blunt-spoken hard truths of an old-style sermon, it was the kind of speech that would have caused most white liberals to turn red with embarrassment.

But the audience loved it, repeatedly interrupting with applause.

At one point in the speech, the president imagined what Martin Luther King, Jr. would say if he were "to reappear by my side today and give us a report card."

The slain civil rights leader, Clinton suggested, would say: "'I did not live and die to see the American family destroyed. . . . I fought for freedom, but not for the freedom of . . . children to have children and the fathers of the children walk away from them and abandon them as if they don't amount to anything.'"

Later that day, at another black church in Memphis, Clinton attributed the rise in inner-city crime to four things: "the breakdown of the family, the breakdown of other community supports, the rise of drugs . . . and the absence of work."

Several weeks later, in a television interview with NBC, Clinton admitted that he had found "a lot of very good things" in Dan Quayle's infamous 1992 speech on family values. "I think he got too cute with 'Murphy Brown,'" Clinton said, "but it is certainly true that this country would be much better off if our babies were born into two-parent families.

"Once a really poor woman has a child out of wedlock," he continued, "it almost locks her and that child into the cycle of poverty, which then spins out of control further."

The president went on to note that, contrary to popular belief, this cycle of poverty is not primarily a problem of race. "If you look at the figures for black, two-parent families with children, their incomes are almost three times as high as single white mothers who had their children out of wedlock," Clinton said. "So, it's not, primarily 'a racial problem' -- it's a problem of income, family structure, and educational level."

Not surprisingly, Clinton's message astonished many liberals.

Similarly, while SS Reform doesn't look like it will get done on his watch and someone else wouyld eventually have proposed the same thing, it will be George W. Bush who will have been primarily responsible for its eventual privatization.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM


Is the Bush Doctrine Dead?: The president's critics are wrong. That includes the neocons. (NORMAN PODHORETZ, August 23, 2006, Opinion Journal)

So misrepresented has the Bush Doctrine been that the only way to begin answering that question is to remind ourselves of what it actually says (and does not say); and the best way to do that is by going back to the speech in which it was originally enunciated: the president's address to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 20, 2001.

In analyzing that speech shortly after it was delivered, I found that the new doctrine was built on three pillars. The first was a categorical rejection of the kind of relativism ("One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter") that had previously prevailed in the discussion of terrorism, and a correlative insistence on using such unambiguously moral categories as right and wrong, good and evil, in describing the "great harm" we had suffered only nine days earlier. But, the president went on, out of that harm, and "in our grief and anger, we have found our mission and our moment."

In spelling out the nature of that mission and moment, Mr. Bush gave the lie to those who would later claim that the idea of planting the seeds of democracy in Iraq was a hastily contrived ex post facto rationalization to cover for the failure to find weapons of mass destruction there. Indeed, the plain truth is that, far from being an afterthought, the idea of democratization was there from the very beginning and could even be said to represent the animating or foundational principle of the entire doctrine:

The advance of human freedom, the great achievement of our time and the great hope of every time, now depends on us. Our nation, this generation, . . . will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage.

The second pillar on which the Bush Doctrine stood was a new conception of terrorism that would, along with the "mission" emerging out of the rubble of 9/11, serve as a further justification for going first into Afghanistan and then into Iraq. Under the old understanding, terrorists were lone individuals who could best be dealt with by the criminal-justice system. Mr. Bush, by dramatic contrast, now asserted that they should be regarded as the irregular troops of the nation-states that harbored and supported them. From this it followed that 9/11 constituted a declaration of war on the United States, and that the proper response was to rely not on cops and lawyers and judges but on soldiers and sailors and Marines.

Again giving the lie to those who would later accuse him of misleading the American people as to why he had led us into Iraq, the president said:

Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them. Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.

Furthermore, this war that we were about to fight would be

a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. . . . From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

In thus promising to "pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism," the president touched on the third pillar on which the Bush Doctrine was built: the determination to take pre-emptive action against an anticipated attack. But it was only three months later, in his State of the Union Address on Jan. 29, 2002, that he made this determination fully explicit:

I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.

Here it is important to note what, for better or worse, the president did not say. He did not say--as almost everyone imagines he did--that he would act unilaterally, or that he would pay no attention to the opinions of our allies, or that he would ignore the U.N. Nor did he say--as would later mendaciously be charged in the relentless campaign to prove that he had "hyped" the danger posed by Saddam Hussein--that the threat had to be "imminent" before pre-emptive action could legitimately be taken. Nor did he use that word a few months later when, in the next major address he devoted to the Bush Doctrine, he restated the same point:

If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. . . . The war on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge.

The reason it was now necessary to act in this way, the president explained, was that the strategy we had adopted toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War (or World War III in my accounting) could not possibly work "in the world we have entered"--a world in which "unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons or missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies."

Having thus set the foundation for a new American policy in the broader Middle East, the president was left with the problem of how it could and should be applied to the narrower Middle East--that is, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. In October 2001, only a month after 9/11, George W. Bush had become the first American president to come out openly for the establishment of a Palestinian state as the only path to a resolution of that conflict. But by June 2002, he had also arrived at the realization of a glaring contradiction between his own doctrine and his support for the creation of a Palestinian state that would, as things then stood, inevitably be run by terrorists like Yasser Arafat and his henchmen. He therefore added a number of conditions to his previously unqualified endorsement of Palestinian statehood:

Today, Palestinian authorities are encouraging, not opposing, terrorism. This is unacceptable. And the United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure.

This, he added, required the election of "new leaders," who would embark on building "entirely new political and economic institutions based on democracy, market economics, and action against terrorism."

And because he recognized that the Palestinians were "pawns in the Middle East conflict"--by which he clearly meant the war the Arab/Muslim world had been waging against Israel for "decades"--he broadened his demands to cover that world as well:

I've said in the past that nations are either with us or against us in the war on terror. To be counted on the side of peace, nations must act. Every leader actually committed to peace will end incitement to violence in official media and publicly denounce homicide bombs. Every nation actually committed to peace will stop the flow of money, equipment, and recruits to terrorist groups seeking the destruction of Israel, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah. Every nation committed to peace must block the shipment of Iranian supplies to these groups and oppose regimes that promote terror, like Iraq. And Syria must choose the right side in the war on terror by closing terrorist camps and expelling terrorist organizations.

With these portentous words, Mr. Bush eliminated the contradiction between waging a war on terror in the broader Middle East and supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state run by terrorists in the narrower. [...]

It is utterly inconceivable that the wish for an American defeat could ever find room in the mind or heart of a traditionalist conservative like the columnist George Will (though it could and has taken up comfortable residence in the thinking of rabid paleoconservatives like Patrick J. Buchanan). Even so, after many months of expressing his unhappiness with the Bush Doctrine mainly through hints and asides, Mr. Will's exasperation with it has finally boiled over. This administration, he laments in a recent column, is

currently learning a lesson--one that conservatives should not have to learn on the job--about the limits of power to subdue an unruly world.

In preaching this lesson to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Will joins forces with the likes of Philip Gordon within the old foreign-policy establishment who have long since appropriated and adapted it to their own political and ideological purposes (which are very far from Mr. Will's). Unlike the realists, however, but like the liberal internationalists, Mr. Will fears that enough life is left in the Bush Doctrine to continue doing damage. Hence he does not, as they do, see in the "ascendancy" of Ms. Rice one of the leading indicators of a retreat from, never mind a death blow to, the Bush Doctrine. To the contrary, he criticizes her for echoing the doctrine in seeming to consider "today's turmoil preferable to the Middle East's 'false stability' of the past 60 years," and accuses her of being stuck in the illusion that democratization is necessarily an antidote to terrorism.

Here Mr. Will comes perilously close to sounding like Brent Scowcroft, the elder President Bush's national security adviser (whose political purposes as an enemy of Israel are even further from Mr. Will's than are those of the old foreign-policy establishment). Some months ago, in an argument with Ms. Rice, who is his former protégée, Mr. Scowcroft drew an invidious comparison between the turmoil her boss's policy was creating in the Middle East and the "50 years of peace" the old policy had brought us. Though I very much doubt that George Will himself would ever describe as "years of peace" a period during which some two dozen wars were fought, he does deride Ms. Rice's claim that the "stability" the Middle East enjoyed in those years was "false"; and with regard to democratization, he also seems to agree with Mr. Scowcroft's contention that "you cannot with one sweep of the hand or the mind cast off thousands of years of history."

Accordingly, I would give the same answer to Mr. Will that I once gave to Scowcroft:

But the despotisms in the Middle East are not thousands of years old, and they were not created by Allah or the Prophet Muhammad. All of them were established after World War I--that is, less than a century ago--by the British and the French. This being the case, there is nothing "utopian" about the idea that such regimes--planted with shallow roots by two Western powers--could be uprooted with the help of a third Western power and that a better political system could be put in their place. And, in fact, this is exactly what has been happening before our very eyes in Iraq.

This is not an answer, however, that would cut any ice with William F. Buckley Jr., the other major traditionalist conservative who has, after much hesitation, decisively given up on the Bush Doctrine. The reason my argument would fall on deaf ears if directed at Mr. Buckley is that his own break with Mr. Bush's policies has not primarily been driven by the apparent conflict between Mr. Bush's "ideological certitudes" and sound conservative principles. The main factor is what Mr. Buckley has become convinced is the failure of these policies to pass the acid test of Iraq. [...]

In opposition to Messrs. Will and Buckley, and with at least the partial exception just noted of David Frum, my fellow neoconservatives are still heavily invested in the Bush Doctrine. But an increasing number of them also charge that it is being killed off--not by the obdurate realities of the Middle East; and not by any conceptual flaws; and not by its enemies at home and abroad, but rather by its author's loss of nerve in seeing it through. For the more aggressive remedy they prescribe, they have been cast out of the conservative community by no less an erstwhile political friend and ally than George Will himself. Neoconservatism, he has now concluded, is "a spectacularly misnamed radicalism"--a dirty word in Mr. Will's vocabulary. Though he thinks this administration richly deserves severe criticism, the kind it is getting from the neoconservatives is "so untethered from reality as to defy caricature."

What Mr. Will is referring to in this uncharacteristically fevered attack is a July 24 piece in The Weekly Standard by its editor, William Kristol, advocating an immediate military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Going all the way, Mr. Kristol denounces the administration's delay in launching such a strike as a form of appeasement.

Now as it happens, there is a split among neoconservatives on the desirability of military action against Iran. For reasons of their own, some--including Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute--are just as opposed to such a course as is Mr. Will himself. They do not, however, agree with Mr. Will (who here again joins hands with the old foreign-policy establishment) that a nuclear Iran can just as successfully be contained as the Soviet Union was in World War III. As Eli Lake writes (New York Sun, Aug. 1, 2006):

There are those of us who have long endorsed a plan to bolster Iran's opposition as an alternative to a war with Iran, and there are sound arguments that bombing Iran's nuclear infrastructure would scuttle the efforts of Persian democrats to rescue their country from the mullahs. But let's not pretend that Iran is not at war with America and Israel. If it was true that Iran could be contained with a nuclear threat capability, then how does one explain its emboldened recklessness with regard to its proxies, Hezbollah?

Moreover, the fervent commitment of this group of neoconservatives to the democratization of the entire Middle East must similarly strike Mr. Will as tainted by the sin of radicalism and as "untethered from reality." So, at least, one is entitled to infer from another argument he makes against Ms. Rice:

America's intervention was supposed to democratize Iraq which, by benign infection, would transform the region. . . . But elections have transformed Hamas into the government of the Palestinian territories, and elections have turned Hizballah into a significant faction in Lebanon's parliament, from which it operates as a state within the state. And as a possible harbinger of future horrors, last year's elections gave the Muslim Brotherhood 19 percent of the seats in Egypt's parliament.

But listen to what the exiled Iranian columnist Amir Taheri has to say about this argument:

Disappointed by the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian election and the strong showing of the Muslim Brotherhood in last year's polls in Egypt, some doubt the wisdom of pushing for elections in the Muslim world. . . . The holding of elections, however, is a clear admission that the principal basis for legitimacy is the will of the people as freely expressed through ballot boxes. In well-established democracies, this may sound trite; in Arab societies, it is a revolutionary idea.

And listen also to the corroborative testimony of Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins. Speaking with the authority of one born and raised in Lebanon who is also an eminent student of the history of the Middle East, Mr. Ajami flatly asserts that "while the ballot is not infallible," it has "broken the pact with Arab tyranny."

Where Iran is concerned, those neoconservatives who oppose military action, and detect no possibility of even relatively free elections there, have instead placed their hopes in an internal insurrection that would topple the mullocracy and replace it with a democratic regime. They also keep insisting that the failure of this long-predicted insurrection to materialize is largely the fault of the Bush administration, whose own failure to do everything in its power to help the democratic opposition is in their eyes a blatant betrayal of the Bush Doctrine.

On this account, Richard Perle, one of the most influential of the neoconservatives, is furious with the president (in whose administration he formerly served as chairman of the Defense Policy Board). "Why Did Bush Blink on Iran? (Ask Condi)" reads the headline of a piece he recently published in the Washington Post. Here Mr. Perle charges that Mr. Bush has "chosen to beat . . . an ignominious retreat" by yielding to the State Department's wish "to join talks with Iran on its nuclear program." In thereby betraying the promises of his own doctrine, Mr. Perle adds, the president has crushed the hopes that his "soaring speeches" had once aroused in the young democratic dissidents of Iran.

Other neoconservatives focus on what they see as other betrayals. In his column in the Los Angeles Times (July 12), Max Boot singles out Egypt as a prime example of "the downsizing of President Bush's democracy-promoting agenda." Joshua Muravchik of the American Enterprise Institute, in "A Democracy Policy in Ashes" (Washington Post, June 27), likewise concentrates on "the bitter disappointment that Egypt's democrats feel over the apparent waning of the Bush administration's ardor for their course." Moving beyond Iran and Egypt, Michael Rubin, editor of the Middle East Quarterly, begins a piece entitled "Fight for Mideast Democracy Failing" (Philadelphia Inquirer, July 14) by offering examples of how, thanks to the Bush Doctrine, "democracy took root in what many once dismissed as infertile ground," but ends by showing how, "in the face of Bush's reversal," democratic dissenters throughout the region, who were emboldened by the president's pledge "to seek and support the growth of democratic movements," are now being silenced and repressed once again, while "U.S. allies who once considered reform now abandon it."

According to still other neoconservatives, it is not only in the Middle East that the administration, instead of carrying on with the struggle to "end tyranny in our world," has inexplicably pulled down this pillar of the Bush Doctrine by adopting a new policy of "coddling despots" like the repressive leaders both of Russia and China. North Korea makes for a comparably strong argument that the third pillar--the pledge to move pre-emptively against gathering threats--has also been blasted out from under the Bush Doctrine. Thus Nicholas Eberstadt, a neoconservative expert on that country, charges that Mr. Bush's policy toward the regime of Kim Jong Il is, if anything, worse than President Clinton's:

Apparently unwilling to move against North Korea's nuclear challenges by itself, and evidently incapable of fashioning a practical response involving allies and others, the Bush administration's response to Pyongyang's atomic provocations is today principally characterized by renewed calls for additional rounds of toothless diplomacy.

Kenneth Adelman, yet another strong partisan of the Bush Doctrine, adds insult to injury by telling an interviewer that its day is done, and that the administration's handing of North Korea (and Iran) amounts to "the triumph of Kerryism."

Two extraordinary features mark the consensus that has formed on the death of the Bush Doctrine. One is that it embraces just about every group all along the ideological spectrum, critics and friends of Mr. Bush alike: the realists, the liberal internationalists, the traditionalist conservatives, the paleoconservatives and the neoconservatives. The other extraordinary feature is that the only group that has refused to join in this unprecedented consensus is made up of Mr. Bush's enemies on the left.

Take the inveterate Bush hater Fred Kaplan, who, in the left-liberal webzine Slate, argues that "reports of the death of 'cowboy diplomacy' are greatly exaggerated," and that while there has been a "moderating tone in Bush's rhetoric . . . his actual policies have barely changed." It is in Slate, too, that its editor Jacob Weisberg (the same Jacob Weisberg who has devoted himself to collecting "Bushisms" supposedly proving how stupid the president is and how adept at finding "new ways to harm our country") posted his article acknowledging Mr. Bush's persistent refusal to engage with "rogue regimes." Moving further to the Left, we come upon Mother Jones, where one Ehsan Ahrari also denies that "cowboy diplomacy" has really ended.

No doubt, both Mr. Ahrari and Mr. Kaplan would very much prefer to agree that Mr. Bush has abandoned his wicked ways, and to congratulate the left on this great accomplishment. But the best they can do is concede that he is now "drifting" rather than pushing forcefully ahead (Mr. Kaplan) and to hope that Iran and North Korea will eventually force a real change in his overall approach (Mr. Ahrari). As for me, unaccustomed as I am to finding myself siding with my ideological enemies on the left, I have no honest choice but to admit that I think Fred Kaplan's analysis of where the Bush Doctrine now stands is closer to the mark than any of the others discussed above, including the ones offered by some of my fellow neoconservatives.

Neocons have one very simple problem, common to all intellectuals: they may love democracy in theory but they're dismayed with the level of religiosity (irrationality) it brings into office both domestically, in the form of George W. Bush and the congressional GOP, and in the Middle East, where they seem bizarrely surprised that Muslims are electing Islamic governments not the secular rationalist ones they drew up around think tank conference tables.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


Feasting On Fear (Will McClatchy, 8/22/06, ETFZone)

Bearish sentiment is rampant on Wall Street, but not for lack of profits. U.S. corporations are generating cash flow as never before. To the classic buy-and-hold investor, this apparent contradiction signals a strong buy opportunity.
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Seemingly forgotten in the fear of war and inflation are operating profits. They have been ample in recent years, and analysts expect them to climb further still. Oblivious to rising earnings, bears are keeping a lid on stock prices and causing a slide in price/earnings multiples.

Stocks are cheap, but how cheap in historical terms? Not since 1990 have we seen price/operating earnings so low, according to Standard & Poor's. Investing in such low P/Es has nearly always reaped excellent long-term term gains. [...]

Can bears be completely wrong, or do they have a case for staying out of the markets? In fact they identify real threats: terrorist plots, costly oil and rising interest rates among others. The problem is that their solution, staying out of the market, is too draconian.

Threats to market valuations are real, but they are not new, and they will not go away soon. Oil was already at $55 a barrel a year ago, and terrorists struck Manhattan five years ago. The Fed has raised interest rates 17 times in the past two years, and avian flu has been circling the globe for years.

As in 1992, the primary reason it's so important to defeat Clinton is so that Democrats don't get undeserved credit for a terrific economy, fueled by globalization, undervalued stocks, deflation and a peace dividend.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


Divisions on Mideast alarming Liberals
: Key party members say discipline unravelling amid long leadership race (CAMPBELL CLARK, 8/23/06, Globe and Mail)

Key figures in the Liberal Party warned yesterday that discipline within its caucus of MPs is unravelling over the issue of the Middle East conflict, in a party stretched over a long leadership race.

Some candidates for the leadership called for MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj to be removed from his post as deputy foreign affairs critic over his reported assertion that Hezbollah should be involved in Mideast negotiations and removed from Canada's list of banned terror groups.

That dispute is only the latest that has seen MPs and senators criticize their party's Mideast position, as well as the decision of Mississauga Liberal MP Wajid Khan to accept a post as Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's adviser on the Middle East.

Leadership candidate Bob Rae said he has concerns about MPs "freelancing" their views in public comments that will undermine confidence in the Liberal position.

The Left's natural hostility to Israel is a tough sell in the Anglosphere.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


The Constitution vs. Counterterrorism (RICHARD A. POSNER, August 22, 2006, Wall Street Journal)

Last week a federal district judge in Detroit ruled that the National Security Agency's conduct of electronic surveillance outside the boundaries of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is illegal. As a judge I cannot comment on the correctness of her decision. But I can remark on the strangeness of confiding so momentous an issue of national security to a randomly selected member of the federal judiciary's corps of almost 700 district judges, subject to review by appellate and Supreme Court judges also not chosen for their knowledge of national security.

A further strangeness is that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (which hears appeals from FISC) have been bypassed, with regard to adjudicating the legality of the NSA program, in favor of the federal district court in Detroit. The reason is that the jurisdiction of those courts is limited to foreign intelligence surveillance warrants, and the NSA program under attack involves warrantless surveillance.

In June, the Supreme Court in the Hamdan decision invalidated the military commissions that the Defense Department had established to try captive terrorists -- commissions that had never succeeded in conducting any trials. And the pending Senate bill to revise the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act contemplates the submission of NSA programs to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for an opinion on their legality -- a problematic procedure because federal courts are not permitted to render advisory opinions. A court might even hold that a surveillance "program," as distinct from the surveillance of specific individuals, was a "general warrant," which the Fourth Amendment forbids.

Five years after the 9/11 attacks, the institutional structure of U.S. counterterrorism is in disarray. The Department of Homeland Security remains a work in progress -- slow and painful progress -- and likewise for the restructuring of the intelligence community decreed by Congress in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. And now, in the wake of Hamdan and the Detroit case, we learn that we do not have a coherent judicial dimension to our efforts to combat terrorism. (One reason may be that there is no official with overall responsibility for counterterrorism policy.) Other than the judges assigned to the two foreign intelligence courts, federal judges do not have security clearances and, more to the point, have no expertise in national security matters. Moreover, the criminal justice system is designed for dealing with ordinary crimes, not today's global terrorism, as is shown by the rules, for example, that entitle a person who is arrested to a prompt probable-cause hearing before a judge and require that criminal trials be open to the public.

It's a national security matter, not a criminal matter.

A Law Unto Herself (ANN ALTHOUSE, 8/23/06, NY Times)

For those who approve of the outcome , the judge’s opinion is counterproductive. It will be harder to defend upon appeal than a more careful decision. It suggests that there are no good legal arguments against the program, just petulance and outrage and antipathy toward President Bush. It helps those who have been arguing for years about result-oriented, activist judges.

Laypeople consuming early news reports may well have thought, “What a courageous judge!” and “It’s a good thing someone finally said that the president is not above the law.” Look at that juicy quotation from Judge Taylor’s ruling: “There are no hereditary kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution.”

But this is sheer sophistry. The potential for the president to abuse his power has nothing to do with kings and heredity. (How much power do hereditary kings have these days, anyway?) And, indeed, the president is not claiming he has powers outside of the Constitution. He isn’t arguing that he’s above the law. He’s making an aggressive argument about the scope of his power under the law.

It is a serious argument, and judges need to take it seriously. If they do not, we ought to wonder why a court gets to decide what the law is and not the president. After all, the president has a sworn duty to uphold the Constitution; he has his advisers, and they’ve concluded that the program is legal. Why should the judicial view prevail over the president’s?

This, of course, is the most basic question in constitutional law, the one addressed in Marbury v. Madison.

The Republic's version of the original sin. Disposing of it would make George W. Bush the most significant president in our history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 AM


A bad deal for Sox: Front office caught in a mess with trade for Lopez (Tony Massarotti, 8/23/06, Boston Herald)

For what it’s worth, Lopez was not in the starting lineup for last night’s 4-3 loss as manager Terry Francona sent right-hander Kyle Snyder to the mound against the Angels. The Sox are 2-7 with Lopez behind the plate, including Monday’s 2-1 loss to the Yankees in which the winning run scored on a wild pitch that could just as easily have been a passed ball.

Now the kicker: After emphasizing pitching and defense throughout a winter reconstruction, the Red Sox went out and rolled the dice on a bat by acquiring the 35-year-old Lopez, who slugged all of .412 this year with the Orioles. There were those in the organization who wanted the Sox to pick up a defensive-minded catcher who could help soften the loss of Varitek behind the plate, but general manager Theo Epstein and his staff went the other way.

Now the Sox are coming off a series in which the Yankees abused their pitchers and went 6-for-7 in stolen base attempts. All six bases were stolen against Lopez, who has yet to throw out a runner in 11 attempts since joining the Sox. The only unsuccessful attempt in the New York series came on a botched hit-and-run with Doug Mirabelli behind the plate and Jon Lester on the mound. In Mirabelli’s other start against New York, the Yankees did not attempt a steal.

Middle relievers have such huge variations from year to year that it's a mistake to sign them as free agents for decent money, as the Sox did Rudy Seanez and Julian Tavarez this Winter. But, with the forgiveable exception of Coco Crisp's finger injury, the rest of their gambles have paid off better than anyone could have anticipated--especially the offensive production they've received from Loretta, Gonzalez, Lowell & Wily Mo. The one glaring error is not seizing the opportunity that the Varitek injury afforded to bring in a real catcher and help the pitchers who'd struggled with him behind the plate. Even Doug Mirabelli posts better Catcher ERAs than Varitek, but surely there was some defensive specialist wallowing somewhere who could have been obtained even if he'd only hit .090. Opting to go in the opposite direction and get a guy who's worse defensively than Varitek just because he once had a big bat was not just a bad move but one so inconsistent with the team philosophy that you have to wonder if it was a Lucchino move and not an Epstein/James move.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


Sharia Law for Buccaneers: Somalia's Islamist militia has taken control of a major base of piracy north of Mogadishu. The waters off the Horn of Africa has long been a dangerous region for shipping. Now, the militants said they will put an end to the seaborne threat. (Der Spiegel, 8/23/06)

The West may have the better navy -- outfitted with all the newest high-tech toys -- but Islamist militias in Somalia seem to have the upper hand battling piracy. Last week, Somalia's Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which has spent months consolidating control over the southern part of the country, moved up the coast and took control of a town widely considered to be a base for piracy operations off the Horn of Africa.

"The actions of the pirates were unlawful, unacceptable and un-Islamic," Sheikh Said Ali, an ICU official, told the AFP news agency. "Anybody suspected of aiding pirates or being among them will be punished according to Sharia law."

The pirates, belonging to at least four different groups and based largely out of the town of Haradere some 400 kilometers north of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, had made the waters off the coast of the Horn of Africa some of the most dangerous in the world. Since March of 2005, the International Maritime Bureau has recorded 41 attempted seizures off the Somali coast -- with pirates being successful in 19 cases within almost the same time period according to the United Nations. Along with waters near Bangladesh and Indonesia, the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia ranks as one of the world's regions most prone to attacks by pirates. [...]

The move to reign in piracy along the Somali coast has been welcomed by the UN World Food Program. Pirates had disrupted UN aid shipments to the country on more than one occasion and tradesmen had largely ceased doing business in the affected areas. According to the WFP, more than 1.4 million Somalis are suffering from hunger as a result of draught.

By providing security where none previously existed they shrink the Gap, even if such is not necessarily their intent.

The 'New Middle East' Bush Is Resisting (Saad Eddin Ibrahim, August 23, 2006, Washington Post)

[P]resident Bush made something of a comeback in the first year of his second term. He shifted his foreign policy rhetoric from a "war on terrorism" to a war of ideas and a struggle for liberty and democracy. Through much of 2005 it looked as if the Middle East might finally have its long-overdue spring of freedom. Lebanon forged a Cedar Revolution, triggered by the assassination of its popular former prime minister, Rafiq Hariri. Egypt held its first multi-candidate presidential election in 50 years. So did Palestine and Iraq, despite harsh conditions of occupation. Qatar and Bahrain in the Arabian Gulf continued their steady evolution into constitutional monarchies. Even Saudi Arabia held its first municipal elections.

But there was more. Hamas mobilized candidates and popular campaigns to win a plurality in Palestinian legislative elections and form a new government. Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt achieved similar electoral successes. And with these developments, a sudden chill fell over Washington and other Western capitals.

Instead of welcoming these particular elected officials into the newly emerging democratic fold, Washington began a cold war on Muslim democrats. [...]

According to the preliminary results of a recent public opinion survey of 1,700 Egyptians by the Cairo-based Ibn Khaldun Center, Hezbollah's action garnered 75 percent approval, and Nasrallah led a list of 30 regional public figures ranked by perceived importance. He appears on 82 percent of responses, followed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (73 percent), Khaled Meshal of Hamas (60 percent), Osama bin Laden (52 percent) and Mohammed Mahdi Akef of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood (45 percent).

The pattern here is clear, and it is Islamic. And among the few secular public figures who made it into the top 10 are Palestinian Marwan Barghouti (31 percent) and Egypt's Ayman Nour (29 percent), both of whom are prisoners of conscience in Israeli and Egyptian jails, respectively.

None of the current heads of Arab states made the list of the 10 most popular public figures. While subject to future fluctuations, these Egyptian findings suggest the direction in which the region is moving. The Arab people do not respect the ruling regimes, perceiving them to be autocratic, corrupt and inept. They are, at best, ambivalent about the fanatical Islamists of the bin Laden variety. More mainstream Islamists with broad support, developed civic dispositions and services to provide are the most likely actors in building a new Middle East. In fact, they are already doing so through the Justice and Development Party in Turkey, the similarly named PJD in Morocco, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine and, yes, Hezbollah in Lebanon.

These groups, parties and movements are not inimical to democracy. They have accepted electoral systems and practiced electoral politics, probably too well for Washington's taste. Whether we like it or not, these are the facts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


Germany's Immigrants: Integration in Theory, Alienation in Practice (Rose-Anne Clermont, 8/23/06, Der Spiegel)

"The symptoms that led to the riots in France," says Marcus Weinberg, a member of parliament with the conservative Christian Democrats and a former high school teacher in Hamburg, "are very similar to those that caused the Rütli School violence. The youth have a self consciousness of being losers, of having no perspective."

Unfortunately, statistics seem to show that they are right. Though many pupils from immigrant families do make it, there is an alarming gap between children with immigration backgrounds and those from German backgrounds. In Berlin, ethnic minority pupils are three times more likely to drop out of school than their German peers, according to a May report based on the most recent PISA study -- a study of education systems in 41 industrialized nations conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. German pupils are also much more likely to earn a diploma than their classmates with immigrant backgrounds. [...]

But while the PISA report and the Rütli school incident have placed the focus squarely on Germany's schools, there have been other recent events that have shifted attention toward the country's immigrant population as a whole. Rioting among immigrants in city suburbs across France last autumn had many in Germany wondering if the same could happen here. The cartoon riots earlier this year also had some questioning where exactly Germany's largely Turkish immigrant population stood. The foiled terror plot in Britain earlier this month -- and Germany's own recent scare -- have just been the icing on the cake of jitters.

And the uncomfortable answer to all those questions seems to be that Germany -- even if its immigrant population has not so far shown a penchant for violence -- may not be any better at integration than other European countries.

From the cake of custom to the cake of jitters without ever once stopping at the something better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


Democrats' Shameful Wal-Mart Demonization (LA Times, August 23, 2006)

The gusto with which even moderate Democrats are bashing Wal-Mart is bound to backfire. Not only does it take the party back to the pre-Clinton era, when Democrats were perceived as reflexively anti-business, it manages to make Democrats seem like out-of-touch elitists to the millions of Americans who work and shop at Wal-Mart.

One reason the Democrats may have a tin ear on this subject is demographic. Certainly most of the party's urban liberal activists are far removed from the Wal-Mart phenomenon. The retailer has thrived mainly in small towns and exurbs, which is one reason a Zogby poll found that three-quarters of weekly Wal-Mart shoppers voted for President Bush in 2004, and why 8 out of 10 people who have never shopped at Wal-Mart voted for John Kerry. Denouncing the retailer may make sense if the goal is to woo primary activists, but it's a disastrous way to reach out to the general electorate. Or to govern, for that matter.

In his new book, Welcome to the Homeland, NPR correspondent Brian Mann tries to explain rural America to urban America and why the former has come to wield such political power over the latter. The Democrats' derangement as regards Wal-Mart--a central institution of life outside cities--suggests there's much 'splainin' to do.

Forget the World Bank, Try Wal-Mart (Michael Strong, 22 Aug 2006, Tech Central Station)

Between 1990 and 2002 more than 174 million people escaped poverty in China, about 1.2 million per month.[1] With an estimated $23 billion in Chinese exports in 2005 (out of a total of $713 billion in manufacturing exports),[2] Wal-Mart might well be single-handedly responsible for bringing about 38,000 people out of poverty in China each month, about 460,000 per year.

There are estimates that 70 percent of Wal-Mart's products are made in China.[3] One writer vividly suggests that "One way to think of Wal-Mart is as a vast pipeline that gives non-U.S. companies direct access to the American market." [4] Even without considering the $263 billion in consumer savings that Wal-Mart provides for low-income Americans, or the millions lifted out of poverty by Wal-Mart in other developing nations, it is unlikely that there is any single organization on the planet that alleviates poverty so effectively for so many people.[5] Moreover, insofar as China's rapid manufacturing growth has been associated with a decline in its status as a global arms dealer, Wal-Mart has also done more than its share in contributing to global peace.[6] [...]

An unreflective passion for social justice may be one of the biggest obstacles to creating peace and prosperity in the 21st century. While there are most certainly factory owners in China whom we would rightly regard as criminal in their treatment of their workers, it is very important not to confuse these incidents with the phenomenon of globalization. It is a good thing that Wal-Mart is encouraging more humane standards in its supplier's factories. And yet it is also important to remember that Wal-Mart's "vast pipeline that gives non-U.S. companies direct access to the American market" is a vast pipeline of prosperity for the hundreds of millions of rural Chinese whose lives are more difficult than we can imagine.

Act locally, think globally: Shop Wal-Mart.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Durley Can Play With the Big Boys (Washington Post, August 23, 2006)

Aaron Durley towers over the competition at the Little League World Series. The 13-year-old first baseman for Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, stands 6 feet 8 and weighs 256 pounds.

"I was standing next to him and I was up to his elbows," said Scott Kingery , a 12-year-old, 4-foot-9 Phoenix shortstop. [...]

Durley -- who wears size 19 shoes -- has walked twice, singled and scored two runs in two games for his unbeaten Arabian American squad -- whose players' parents primarily work for oil companies in the Middle East -- during this tournament.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Bush Signs Order on Health Care: Agencies Required to Provide Data on Cost, Quality of Services (Michael A. Fletcher, 8/23/06, Washington Post)

President Bush signed a measure Tuesday ordering federal agencies to do more to inform beneficiaries about the cost and quality of their health-care services, which federal officials hailed as a major step toward bringing greater efficiency to the nation's medical system.

The executive order requires four federal agencies that oversee large health-care programs to gather information about the quality and price of care, and to share that information with one another and with program beneficiaries.

The initiative underscores Bush's belief that the nation's health-care system would be more efficient if consumers could shop for the best care at the best price, administration officials say. "The fact is, if you have excellent information about quality, about service and about price, people make good decisions," Bush said during a roundtable here to discuss the initiative.

It's also a necessary pre-condition for universal HSA's, so that as Americans become normal consumers of medical care again they can shop for low-cost quality services.

August 22, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 PM


Snake in the Grass: The pompous, hypocritical hucksterism of Günter Grass (Christopher Hitchens, Aug. 22, 2006, Slate)

The German right is of course highly incensed, and now accuses the man who lectured Germans for so long of being not just a hypocrite but a huckster: uncorking the hideous revelation to enhance the sale of his latest memoirs. Full of acrimony as this charge may be, it has some inescapable truth to it. Grass was one of those who dragged the Nazi period into everything, including into discussions where it did not belong. When German reunification finally occurred after 1989, he referred to it with scorn as an Anschluss whereby the West had annexed the former "German Democratic Republic." When challenged on the absurdity of this, he wielded the truncheon of moral blackmail and said that, after Auschwitz, his critics had no right to speak about history. At a discussion in a Berlin theater at about that time, I heard him defend these propositions and felt that I was listening to a near-perfect example of bogus pseudo-intellectuality. By this stage, he had already become something of a specialist in half-baked moral equivalences. At the PEN conference in New York in the mid-1980s, for example, he had sonorously announced that conditions in the South Bronx put the United States on a par with the Soviet Union … I didn't like being lectured by a second-rater then and I like it no better when I discover I was being admonished by a member, however junior or conscripted, of Heinrich Himmler's corps d'elite. [...]

Grass' many defenders have not asked themselves the question that needs to be posed, which is: Has he at last decided to appeal to the new German readership that is, so to say, a bit fed up with hearing about how dreadful the Nazis were? If this admittedly rather cynical suggestion has any merit, then at least his recent boring writings and operatic confessions would, in combination, make perfect sense. But they would also make absolute nonsense of his previous career as a literary policeman and a patroller of the line of taboo. "Let those who want to judge, pass judgment," Grass said last week in a typically sententious utterance. Very well, then, mein lieber Herr. The first judgment is that you kept quiet about your past until you could win the Nobel Prize for literature. The second judgment is that you are not as important to German or to literary history as you think you are. The third judgment is that you will be remembered neither as a war criminal nor as an anti-Nazi hero, but more as a bit of a bloody fool.

In fairness to Mr. Grass, it's not like Mr. Hitchens was covering himself with glory in the Reagan years. There's plenty of foolishness to go around on the post-war Left.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 7:52 PM


Spiegel Interview with Jimmy Carter (Der Spiegel, August 15th, 2006)

SPIEGEL: Mr. Carter, in your new book you write that only the American people can ensure that the US government returns to the country's old moral principles. Are you suggesting that the current US administration of George W. Bush of acting immorally?

Carter: There's no doubt that this administration has made a radical and unpressured departure from the basic policies of all previous administrations including those of both Republican and Democratic presidents.

SPIEGEL: For example?

Carter: Under all of its predecessors there was a commitment to peace instead of preemptive war. Our country always had a policy of not going to war unless our own security was directly threatened and now we have a new policy of going to war on a preemptive basis. Another very serious departure from past policies is the separation of church and state, which I describe in the book. This has been a policy since the time of Thomas Jefferson and my own religious beliefs are compatible with this. The other principle that I described in the book is basic justice. We've never had an administration before that so overtly and clearly and consistently passed tax reform bills that were uniquely targeted to benefit the richest people in our country at the expense or the detriment of the working families of America.[...]

SPIEGEL: One main points of your book is the rather strange coalition between Christian fundamentalists and the Republican Party. How can such a coalition of the pious lead to moral catastrophes like the Iraqi prison scandal in Abu Ghraib and torture in Guantanamo?

Carter: The fundamentalists believe they have a unique relationship with God, and that they and their ideas are God's ideas and God's premises on the particular issue. Therefore, by definition since they are speaking for God anyone who disagrees with them is inherently wrong. And the next step is: Those who disagree with them are inherently inferior, and in extreme cases -- as is the case with some fundamentalists around the world -- it makes your opponents sub-humans, so that their lives are not significant. Another thing is that a fundamentalist can't bring himself or herself to negotiate with people who disagree with them because the negotiating process itself is an indication of implied equality. And so this administration, for instance, has a policy of just refusing to talk to someone who is in strong disagreement with them -- which is also a radical departure from past history. So these are the kinds of things that cause me concern. And, of course, fundamentalists don't believe they can make mistakes, so when we permit the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib, it's just impossible for a fundamentalist to admit that a mistake was made.

And here is a short take from Fr. Neuhaus in this month’s First Things, which will be online in about a month.

Former President Jimmy Carter has written another book on American values. He is deeply saddened by the way the “religious right” uses religion for partisan political purposes. In an interview with an Atlanta magazine, he explains his concern: “Carter fittingly used a parable to illustrate the way he’s like to see the political/religious debate unfold. ‘I was teaching a Sunday school class two weeks ago”, he recalls. ‘A girl, she was about 16 years old from Panama City, asked me about the differences between Democrats and Republicans. “I asked her, ‘Are you for peace, or do you want more war?” Then I asked her, “Do you favor government helping the rich, or should it seek to help the poorest members of society? Do you want to preserve the environment, or do you want to destroy it? Do you believe this nation should engage in torture, or should we condemn it? Do you think each child today should start life responsible for $28,000 in debt, or do you think we should be fiscally responsible?” ‘I told her that is she answered all those questions, that she believed in peace, aiding the poor and weak, saving the environment, opposing torture,...then I told her, ‘You should be a Democrat.’

Jimmy Carter is deeply saddened by the way religion is used for partisan political purposes.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 7:24 PM


Glaciers have been shrinking for 100 years (International Observer Online, August 22nd, 2006)

Greenland's glaciers have been shrinking for the past century, according to a Danish study published on Monday, suggesting that the ice-melt is not a recent phenomenon caused by global warming.

Danish researchers from Aarhus University studied glaciers on Disko island, in western Greenland in the Atlantic, from the end of the 19th century until the present day.

"This study, which covers 247 of 350 glaciers on Disko, is the most comprehensive ever conducted on the movements of Greenland's glaciers," glaciologist Jacob Clement Yde, who carried out the study with Niels Tvis Knudsen, told AFP.

Using maps from the 19th century and current satellite observations, the scientists were able to conclude that "70 percent of the glaciers have been shrinking regularly since the end of the 1880s at a rate of around eight metres per year", Yde said.

"We studied 95 percent of the area covered by glaciers in Disko and everything indicates that our results are also valid for the glaciers along the coasts of the rest of Greenland," he said.

In contrast, the panicked popular conviction that melting glaciers are an unnatural and terrible thing is a very recent phenomenon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:07 PM


A Faith Divided: Will Sunni-Shia war engulf the new Middle East? (MASOOD FARIVAR, August 22, 2006, Opinion Journal)

In the succession crisis that followed the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632, the majority of Muslims elected as caliph one of the Prophet's closest companions. A minority dissented, arguing that the Prophet had passed the leadership of his community to Ali, his cousin and son-in-law. The dissenters became known as "Shiat-Ali," or Partisans of Ali. The followers of Muhammad's "Sunna," or tradition, became known as Sunnis. In time, each side developed what Mr. Nasr calls a distinct "ethos of faith and piety."

The Shia got their wish when Ali became the fourth caliph, but the pivotal moment in Shia history came in 680 when Ali's son Hussein and 72 of his followers were massacred in the desert of southern Iraq after challenging the authority of Islam's sixth caliph. For the Shia, Hussein came to symbolize resistance to tyranny; his martyrdom is commemorated to this day as a central act of Shia piety.

With the exception of a few short-lived Shia dynasties (Iraq is not the first Shia Arab state), the Shia never really wielded political power, living mostly as a marginalized minority under Sunni rule. This historical experience, Mr. Nasr observes, has long imbued the Sunnis with a sense of "worldly success," and a presumption of mastery, while furnishing the Shia underdogs with a narrative of "martyrdom, persecution, and suffering."

Except that in Iran and Iraq they were a marginalized over-whelming majority and in the Lebanon a marginalized plurality, if not majority. Their narrative is ours--majority rule.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:52 PM


Iranians Upset at Government's Financial Aid to Hezbollah in Lebanon (Ali Nouri Zadeh, 8/21/06, Asharq Al-Awsat)

The Iranian government's pledge of 500 million dollars to Hezbollah has angered many Iranians who say they are still awaiting money to help rebuild their homes that were damaged by wars and natural disasters, informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The anger is particularly fierce in the Khuzestan district, which sustained severe damage during the Iran-Iraq war, and in Bam, which was hit hard by an earthquake three years ago. [...]

“Informed sources” told Asharq Al-Awsat that spontaneous demonstrations were staged in Bam and in Khuzestan on Friday as protesters shouted slogans critical of Hezbollah and the government. They were demanding their homes be rebuilt instead of the government intervening in Lebanese affairs.

Ahmedinejad's ravings aren't helping the economy, which is why he won't be re-elected.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:45 PM


No black holes after all? (Aug. 11, 2006, Courtesy Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and World Science staff)

One of the brightest and furthest known objects in the universe might not be a black hole as traditionally believed, but rather an exotic new type of object, a new study suggests.

And the researchers say this raises doubts as to whether other so-called black holes are really that, either.

Let's settle this in the traditional way: everybody clap real hard and say you believe in black holes....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:37 PM


Educators Question Absence of Evolution From List of Majors Eligible for New Grants (SAM KEAN, 8/22/06, The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Like a gap in the fossil record, evolutionary biology is missing from a list of majors that the U.S. Department of Education has deemed eligible for a new federal grant program designed to reward students majoring in engineering, mathematics, science, or certain foreign languages.

That absence apparently indicates that students in the evolutionary sciences do not qualify for the grants, and some observers are wondering whether the omission was deliberate.

Give them to the Darwinists and next the Wiccans will have their hands out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:54 PM


Need a veteran lefty? Red Sox's Wells clears waivers (ESPN.com news services, 8/22/06)

After suffering a five-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees, the Red Sox might have to begin looking toward 2007. If Boston does cut bait on this season, David Wells will be available to the highest bidder.

Wells cleared waivers on Aug. 3, ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney reports. That means if the Red Sox wanted to trade him they could do so to any team they want.

Given how well he's pitched, his post-season excellence, and the scarcity of available pitching you'd think they can get a decent young player for him, maybe from the Mets, Angels or Dodgers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:49 PM


Democrats had sneak peek at GOP playbook months ago (JULIE MASON, 8/21/06 Houston Chronicle)

Democrats caught flat-footed by the Bush administration tactic of linking the war in Iraq with the larger war against terrorism, and campaigning hard on both, have only themselves to blame. White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove gave the playbook away seven months ago.

Right on schedule, the White House stepped up its rhetoric last week, portraying President Bush and the Republican Party as the better choice for defending America against terrorism.

Here's a possibility that you'd think even the MSM has to consider: maybe the Democrats are always caught unprepared by national security questions because they genuinely are not credible on the issue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:20 PM


Free Fox On Demand (Louis Hau, 08.21.06, Forbes)

The race among major TV networks to offer some of their programming online for free has taken a new turn with News Corp.'s announcement that its Fox Digital Media subsidiary has begun showing episodes of hit shows from Fox Broadcasting on the Internet.

CBS and Walt Disney subsidiary ABC plan to offer some of their TV programming this fall via their respective network Web sites. Unlike those ventures, Fox Digital will show episodes of hit shows like Prison Break and Bones via the local Web sites of individual Fox TV stations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 PM


The Fertility Gap: Liberal politics will prove fruitless as long as liberals refuse to multiply (ARTHUR C. BROOKS, August 22, 2006, Opinion Journal)

Simply put, liberals have a big baby problem: They're not having enough of them, they haven't for a long time, and their pool of potential new voters is suffering as a result. According to the 2004 General Social Survey, if you picked 100 unrelated politically liberal adults at random, you would find that they had, between them, 147 children. If you picked 100 conservatives, you would find 208 kids. That's a "fertility gap" of 41%. Given that about 80% of people with an identifiable party preference grow up to vote the same way as their parents, this gap translates into lots more little Republicans than little Democrats to vote in future elections. Over the past 30 years this gap has not been below 20%--explaining, to a large extent, the current ineffectiveness of liberal youth voter campaigns today.

Alarmingly for the Democrats, the gap is widening at a bit more than half a percentage point per year, meaning that today's problem is nothing compared to what the future will most likely hold. Consider future presidential elections in a swing state (like Ohio), and assume that the current patterns in fertility continue. A state that was split 50-50 between left and right in 2004 will tilt right by 2012, 54% to 46%. By 2020, it will be certifiably right-wing, 59% to 41%. A state that is currently 55-45 in favor of liberals (like California) will be 54-46 in favor of conservatives by 2020--and all for no other reason than babies.

The fertility gap doesn't budge when we correct for factors like age, income, education, sex, race--or even religion. Indeed, if a conservative and a liberal are identical in all these ways, the liberal will still be 19 percentage points more likely to be childless than the conservative. Some believe the gap reflects an authentic cultural difference between left and right in America today. As one liberal columnist in a major paper graphically put it, "Maybe the scales are tipping to the neoconservative, homogenous right in our culture simply because they tend not to give much of a damn for the ramifications of wanton breeding and environmental destruction and pious sanctimony, whereas those on the left actually seem to give a whit for the health of the planet and the dire effects of overpopulation." It would appear liberals have been quite successful controlling overpopulation--in the Democratic Party.

They focused on themselves and ended up with nothing but.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:43 AM


How We Ended Welfare, Together (BILL CLINTON, 8/22/06, NY Times)

TEN years ago today I signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. By then I had long been committed to welfare reform. As a governor, I oversaw a workfare experiment in Arkansas in 1980 and represented the National Governors Association in working with Congress and the Reagan administration to draft the welfare reform bill enacted in 1988. [...]

On Aug. 22, 1996, after vetoing two earlier versions, I signed welfare reform into law. At the time, I was widely criticized by liberals who thought the work requirements too harsh and conservatives who thought the work incentives too generous. Three members of my administration ultimately resigned in protest. Thankfully, a majority of both Democrats and Republicans voted for the bill because they shouldn’t be satisfied with a system that had led to intergenerational dependency.

The last 10 years have shown that we did in fact end welfare as we knew it, creating a new beginning for millions of Americans.

The tragedy of his presidency is that he didn't use that Republican majority to end SS as we know it as well. With a Republican president you have to get to 60 seats in the Senate to reform it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 AM


We Don't All Have AIDS (Michael Fumento, 8/22/2006 , American Spectator)

Since 1985, when Life magazine blared in huge red letters: "Now No One Is Safe from AIDS," activists have fought furiously against the idea that AIDS targets those who engage in selective behaviors. Yet over two decades later AIDS remains in this country overwhelmingly a disease of homosexual males and intravenous drug users. Fewer than 39,000 Americans were diagnosed with AIDS in 2004 (latest data available), and fewer than 16,000 died from it. That's about one in 770 and one in 1,875 respectively. Fact is, almost everybody is safe from AIDS. [...]

Meanwhile, worldwide AIDS spending averaged $1.7 billion between 2002-2004 but reached $8.3 billion for 2005 and is slated to hit $10 billion in 2007. The size of that pie, and the desire to have a slice of it, is all you need to know to understand how the Toronto conference could attract a stunning 24,000 attendees who have been rightly labeled "the AIDS industry." Nevertheless, insists UNAIDS, that $10 billion isn't nearly enough.

No matter that even the current AIDS budget swamps spending on malaria and tuberculosis, which together kill about twice as many people annually as does AIDS. Antiretroviral therapy for AIDS cures no one and while it costs relatively little in the Third World -- $300-$1,200 per year -- compared to North America, TB can be cured with $65 of medicine. Malaria in Africa and Asia can be prevented for a pittance by spraying DDT, yet environmental activists and the European Union have essentially blocked its use in those areas that need it most.

Alas for these victims, they don't have a politically correct disease. And for that they must die.

Mr. Fumento's Myth of Heterosexual Aids is a classic of the myth-busting genre. Below are some others.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


Russian jet with 171 aboard crashes in Ukraine (MSNBC, 8/22/06)

An airliner flying from southern Russia to St. Petersburg crashed on Tuesday in eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian Emergencies Ministry said.

The ministry said helicopters circling the site about 30 miles north of the regional town of Donetsk saw the aircraft, a Russian-made Tupolev 154, in flames.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:29 AM


Tories open nine-point lead as Labour drops to 19-year low (Julian Glover, August 22, 2006, The Guardian)

David Cameron is on course for a possible general election win, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today that shows support for the Conservatives climbing to a lead that could give them a narrow majority in the Commons, while Labour has plunged to a 19-year low. [...]

The rating is worse than Labour achieved at the 1987 or 1992 elections and worse than almost every poll result under Neil Kinnock and John Smith's leadership.

Meanwhile the Conservatives have climbed one point to 40%, passing the confidence-boosting threshold for the first time in a Guardian/ICM poll since August 1992, in the wake of John Major's election victory.

Shocker: Democrat lead in US House race drops to only two points (Election Watchdog, 08-21-2006, Human Events)
And just as I reported earlier today on the problems with the Gallup poll and other surveys showing a bias for Democrats, the Gallup poll suddenly reports a dramatic drop in the Democrat lead in the US House race to only two points.

In a poll taken over the weekend, the poll of registered voters shows that Democrats now lead only 47%-45% which is down from a nine percentage point lead earlier in August. This is well within the poll's margin of error (+-4%) so the race is essentially even. It is the best showing for Republicans in this poll since just before the 2004 November election when Democrats were ahead by four points among registered voters, but Republicans still won the popular U.S. vote and a 232-203 lead in House seats.

Late Summer polls notoriously skew Left because of people vacationing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


Hispanic influx reshaping big cities (Anushka Asthana, 8/22/06, The Washington Post)

While they were still losing some whites, the more dramatic shift was the increase in Hispanics, some of whom were moving from California and elsewhere in the United States in search of a better — and more affordable — life.

Figueroa is part of a Hispanic population in Phoenix that has increased from 34 percent of the population to 48 percent in just five years.

"For years, Phoenix has been a retirement magnet, but now the big gain is immigration and secondary migration from California," Frey said. "Phoenix is still West but more affordable. All three cities are influenced by the exodus from California, and Hispanics are part of that."

He said Phoenix and Denver were "new-West cities" where economic change and new industries had created jobs.

Harry Garewal, president of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said part of the explanation for the growth in the Hispanic population is the area's "very robust economy."

Speaking from his Phoenix office, he said growth has created a greater demand for labor, particularly in construction. He said Arizona has 35,000 Hispanic-owned businesses, adding that the "Hispanic population in the state of Arizona have $26 billion in buying power." The local white population, he said, has benefited from a Hispanic-driven boost to the economy.

Which is why nativists are natural protectionists: destroy the economy and you get rid of jobs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


Outfielder's socks in a twist over poll's missing feet (Dwight Perry, 8/22/06, The Seattle Times)

Devil Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli wasn't happy to hear that ex-teammate Toby Hall, now with the Dodgers, didn't even rate the top 10 in an SI players' survey to determine baseball's slowest-footed players. Blue Jays catcher Benjie Molina figuratively ran away with the honor, garnering a whopping 56 percent of the vote. "I'm not going to say for sure that Toby was the slowest," Baldelli told the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, "but for him not to be included on the list at all leads me to question the validity of the entire poll. He earned the right to be on that list."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


IS MARRIAGE RATIONAL?: In the debate over who can marry, both sides imbue the institution of marriage with an importance it neither deserves nor possesses. (G. Pascal Zachary, 8/22/06, AlterNet)

In the context of my own cynicism about marriage, the current fervent pursuit of the right to marriage by gays and lesbians is perplexing. But equally perplexing is the defense of heterosexual-only marriage by judges and religious conservatives. In the debate over who can marry, both sides imbue the institution of marriage with sanctity and an importance that it neither deserves nor possesses.

I don't say this simply because I had the most painful divorce in human history. (Well, maybe not as painful as the fellow in Manhattan who recently blew up his home -- with himself in it -- to stop his wife from getting the place in the final dissolution.) Certainly, failed marriages are no justification for the end of marriage itself. Even I remarried, three years ago, though once again cynically, in order to help my new life partner gain permanent residency in the United States. There are unquestionably practical benefits to marrying. That's why I'm in favor of gay marriage as a legal matter. But in favoring a more liberal criteria for marriage, I worry that we lose sight of the wider and weirder problem of permitting government to validate our most personal social partnerships. [...]

All these changes highlighted the essential arbitrariness of marriage, undermining fatally the claims that romantic partnerships must be endorsed by God in order to qualify as moral or legal. The government accepted that marriage was purely civil and subject to the same rules of procedure as any other. Of course, the implications of this principle have delivered us to our present conundrum.

Quite right. It's not a rational matter and is purely religious. Government ought to have no role other than to extend certain benefits to those who marry as per God's design for Man:
002:020 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air,
and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not
found an help meet for him.

002:021 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he
slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh
instead thereof;

002:022 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a
woman, and brought her unto the man.

002:023 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my
flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of

002:024 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and
shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

But there's no reason the legal system can't extend normal contractual protections to other sorts of couples.

Mohels to Mozambique: The case for genital mutilation (William Saletan, Aug. 19, 2006, Slate)

ut why stop with girls? Why not rescue boys, too? That's the argument of the anti-circumcision movement, whose constituencies—groups such as Mothers Against Circumcision, Jews Against Circumcision, and Catholics Against Circumcision—are flooding the Internet. There's a site for "intactivists" and another for foreskin restoration. There's a gallery of naked men, literally uncut. Some groups troll for personal injury plaintiffs; others promote marches on Washington to honor Genital Integrity Awareness Week.

To its credit, the movement has challenged custom and inertia. It has pleaded for "scientific research" and "an open mind," and doctors have listened. Seven years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that evidence of potential benefits was "not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision." The American Medical Association agreed. Fewer boys are being circumcised today than in 1970, and more medical residency programs that teach circumcision are including anesthesia.

But scientific rebellions against religion have a nasty habit of becoming religions themselves. [...]

Have these people lost their heads?

The stakes in that question are becoming deadly serious. Of the 5 million people who contracted HIV last year, two-thirds lived in sub-Saharan Africa. In Swaziland, more than one-third of adults have the virus. In South Africa, nearly 30 percent of pregnant women are carrying it. Four years ago, an analysis of 38 studies by the U.S. Agency for International Development, mostly in Africa, concluded that circumcised men were less than half as likely as uncircumcised men to get HIV, apparently because of the susceptibility of foreskin. Last fall, reporting on a randomized controlled trial in South Africa, scientists found that circumcision reduced female-to-male transmission by 60 percent. "Male circumcision provides a degree of protection against acquiring HIV infection, equivalent to what a vaccine of high efficacy would have achieved," they wrote. It was, they observed, "the first experimental study demonstrating that surgery can be used to prevent an infectious disease."

Forget the benefits, it's the Covenant, silly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


Colonel walks Baghdad 'to make people believe' (Jim Michaels, 8/21/06, USA TODAY)

The Humvee has barely rolled to a stop, and Iraqi army Col. Talib Abdul Razzaq is already out of the vehicle.

He moves like a politician, stopping on the sidewalk to playfully cuff a young boy on the head and joke with a man selling shoes. He quizzes several people about violence and militias in the neighborhood. Most say the streets have been quiet.

"I'm trying to make people believe in the Iraqi army," Razzaq says at the next stop, where a sidewalk vendor gives him a complimentary sandwich from his cart. "They will feel more safe." Razzaq hands the sandwich to an aide and keeps moving. [...]

President Bush has said the United States will be able to withdraw its forces when the Iraqi government and military can take over responsibility for the country's security. The U.S. military says it has trained and equipped 275,000 security forces: 115,000 in the military and 160,000 police officers.

Whether they will stand and fight, and whether they will win the respect of Iraqis, depends largely on the quality of the men who lead them.

"Equipment and arms are important, but they only go so far," says U.S. Army Lt. Col. John Nagl, an Iraq veteran who wrote a book on counterinsurgency warfare.

Iraq security adviser says violence levels falling (Reuters, 8/22/06)

The level of violence in Baghdad has fallen sharply since July thanks to troop reinforcements and the new government's efforts to reconcile warring Shi'ites and Sunnis, Iraq's national security adviser said on Tuesday.

Mowaffaq al-Rubaie insisted that the sectarian and insurgent bloodshed that has seized Iraq was not a civil war, a description U.S. President George W. Bush's administration has strenuously avoided in the face of mounting casualties.

"This is absolutely not a civil war," Rubaie told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Japan. "Al Qaeda tried for that for three years and failed miserably. But it has created a crack between Shias and Sunnis."

Inhofe optimistic on Iraq: It's well on the way toward handling its own security, he says (RANDY KREHBIEL, 8/22/2006, Tulsa World)
"Iraqi security forces now number 275,000 trained and equipped," he said. "The commanders in the field and the Iraqis say when this reaches 325,000, that would equal 10 divisions, and that's what we need to take care of our own security."

Inhofe has visited Iraq 11 times.

"What's happened there is nothing short of a miracle," he said.

Nevertheless, Inhofe said the current international situation makes him "wistful for the Cold War."

"Then we had one powerful opponent, in the Soviet Union," he said. "They were predictable; we knew what they had. This is not predictable."

Except that Communism killed a hundred million people and Islamicism has only racked up a few thousand.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Gas prices slip, and the worst may be over for this year (Barbara Hagenbaugh, 8/22/06, USA TODAY)

A number of analysts, including those at Moody's Economy .com, Wachovia and Global Insight, say gasoline prices likely will continue to decline in coming weeks. But they warn that a number of factors could toss out that forecast and send oil and gasoline prices higher.

"Unless you get another Katrina-Rita (hurricane) kind of event, odds are we've probably seen the worst of it," Bill O'Grady of A.G. Edwards says.

The average U.S. price of a gallon of regular gasoline fell for the 11th consecutive day Monday, motor club AAA and the Oil Price Information Service said.

We eagerly await the spate of stories tying the milder than normal hurricane season to global warming....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


A Wrong Turn Led to the 'L-Word' (E. J. Dionne Jr., August 22, 2006, Washington Post)

Why are liberals the way liberals are? What is it about the L-word that has become so offensive to so many? It has become such a turnoff that countless liberals dare not admit to their own label.

At its best, liberalism is about the defense of the underdog, of minority rights, of social justice, of active but restrained government, of civil liberties, of openness and tolerance. [...]

But liberalism has also become associated with elitism, arrogance and disdain for the values of average Americans.

In a country that wasn't just necessarily Founded on Judeo-Christianity but remains overwhelmingly faithful, Left liberals insist that tolerance, which is the denial of morality, is the highest human value and then wonder why Americans reject them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 AM


Likud MKs angry at Bibi's silence (Gil Hoffman, Aug. 21, 2006, THE JERUSALEM POST)

Likud MKs criticized party chairman Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday for remaining silent on the issue of whether a state commission of inquiry would be formed to investigate the mistakes of the war in Lebanon.

The MKs said that the most obvious candidate to call for a commission to investigate Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz would be the opposition leader, who ran against them for the premiership. They said that Netanyahu had been "strangely silent" on the issue for what they said were personal political reasons.

He can't win if he makes people think he'd pursue war more forcefully.

August 21, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:51 PM


Calendars show Armitage met reporter (MATT APUZZO and JOHN SOLOMON, 8/21/06, Associated Press)

Then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage met with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in mid-June 2003, the same time the reporter has testified an administration official talked to him about CIA employee Valerie Plame.

Armitage's official State Department calendars, provided to The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act, show a one-hour meeting marked "private appointment" with Woodward on June 13, 2003. [...]

A person familiar with the information prosecutors have gathered, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because the material remains sealed, said Woodward's meeting with the confidential source was June 13, 2003.

The calendar released to the AP is the first confirmation that Woodward and Armitage met during the key time in the CIA leak case that was the focus of Fitzgerald's probe.

The identity of Woodward's source remains one of the big mysteries in the case because the Post reporter is the first member of the news media known to have discussed Plame's CIA employment with an administration official.

Woodward's former Post editor, Ben Bradlee, has speculated publicly that Armitage was the reporter's "likely source."

And defense attorneys for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the lone administration official charged in the CIA leak case, also have suggested Armitage could have been Woodward's source when they unsuccessfully tried to persuade a court to order the release of State Department documents.

In a sane media, the story would be the CIA running an op against the elected government, which is why political appointees like Powell, Armitage, Cheney, Rove and Libby would think Woodward and company should know.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:45 PM


Behind the dispute over Shebaa Farms: The resolution that quieted the fight between Hizbullah and Israel requires the UN to address who owns this land. (Joshua Mitnick, 8/22/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

The UN Security Council is scheduled to revisit the thorny question of whom Shebaa Farms belongs to. A diplomatic solution, analysts say, could eventually bolster stability along the Israel-Lebanese border by weakening Hizbullah's justification for holding onto its weapons.

"It would lead to the marginalization" of Hizbullah's militia, says Gidi Grinstein, the president of the Reut Institute, a Tel Aviv think tank. "The goal of eliminating Hizbullah from Lebanon is not achievable, therefore we should make Hizbullah's life more difficult through the politics of legitimacy."

Palestine has demonstrated how deathly it is for the radicalism of these groups to get what they claim to want. Keep shifting responsibility to them and making them ever more answerable to their people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 PM


'Evolution' Study Implies U.S. Science Education Lagging Behind Europe (Mary Rettig, August 21, 2006, AgapePress)

A researcher from Michigan State University studied beliefs about evolution in 34 countries, including the United States. The study found that in most European countries, at least 80 percent of adults believe in evolution. However, in the U.S. only about 40 percent were whole-hearted believers in Darwin's theory -- and 39 percent called it "absolutely false."

Jon Miller, the MSU researcher who conducted the study, attributes his findings, in part, to the influence of what he calls "fundamentalist religious beliefs on attitude toward evolution [and] pro-life attitudes" as well as the politicization of the evolution issue in America.

Mr. Miller wildly understates his case. In order to get to 40% you have to include about 27% of respondents who say they believe in Natural Selection but that God (or some other Intelligence) steers it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 PM


Yanks finish Boston beatdown, sweep five-game series (AP, 8/21/06)

The New York Yankees completed an unimaginable five-game sweep at Fenway Park, beating Boston 2-1 behind six shutout innings by Cory Lidle and extending their AL East lead to a season-high 6½ games over the Red Sox.

After bashing Boston in outscoring them 47-25 over three days and two early morning, the Yankees relied on their pitching to win the sleepy series finale.

Manager Joe Torre shouted in the Yankees' dugout and exchanged hearty handshakes with his coaches after the hard-to-believe sweep.

The Red Sox hadn't been swept in a five-game series since the Cleveland Indians did it in 1954. The Yankees swept Boston in five games in New York in 1951 and at Fenway in '43.

It was 28 years ago that the Yankees came to Fenway in September with a four-game deficit and left tied for the division lead -- a series remembered in baseball as the "Boston Massacre." New York, which had trailed by as many as 14 games, won the AL East in a one-game playoff settled when Bucky Dent's popup settled into the net above the Green Monster.

That's the beauty of being a Sox fan. Any team could have lost three or four well played games and no one would ever remember the series. But there's an epic beauty to a loss of this thoroughness, such that twenty years from now they'll still talk about it. Given that neither of these teams are good enough to win it all, such a memorable weekend was well worthwhile.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:07 PM


Law makes significant changes to 401(k)s: Employers will soon see plans in a different light. So should you (PAMELA YIP, 8/21/06, The Dallas Morning News)

The 401(k) is transforming.

The pension reform bill that President Bush signed into law last week makes 401(k)s friendlier to workers and encourages employers to help savings-challenged Americans build their nest eggs for retirement.

"One of the lasting influences of the Pension Protection Act is to begin laying a foundation for a transformation of the 401(k) as we know it today," said Christopher Jones, chief investment officer at Financial Engines Inc., an investment advisory firm.

The most potent change is the provision that smoothes the way for employers to automatically enroll workers in 401(k) plans, bump up their contributions over the years, and put them in suitably aggressive investments to meet their retirement needs. [...]

The 401(k) was invented in the 1980s as a supplement to company pension plans. The new law – in its realization that corporate pension plans are distressed and dying, and its efforts to make 401(k)s more automatic and universal – in effect anoints the 401(k) as America's new primary retirement plan.

Ms Yip thinks the 401k evolved due to Darwinism, when, in fact, it was intelligently redesigned.

President Bush and Social Policy: The Strange Case of the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit (Political Science Quarterly, Summer 2006)

DOUGLAS JAENICKE and ALEX WADDAN analyze the distinctive partisan politics that culminated in the passage of the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act, which not only created a new prescription drug benefit for the elderly but also advanced a Republican agenda for re-structuring Medicare and health care more generally. They argue that while electoral expediency drove most Republicans to support drug coverage for the elderly, their stealth-like conservative reforms of Medicare caused most Democrats to oppose the details of the Republicans’ legislation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:35 PM


Pre-Emptive Surveillance (James Q. Wilson, August 21, 2006, Wall Street Journal)

Federal district court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor has ruled that the warrantless interception of telephone and Internet calls between a foreign agent and American persons is illegal and unconstitutional. It is possible that she is right about the illegality, but she is almost surely wrong that it is unconstitutional. [...]

What is most striking about Judge Taylor's decision is that she nowhere discusses the approval of warrantless searches by other and higher federal courts. In 1980, the Court of Appeals for the fourth circuit held (U.S. v. Truong Dinh Hung) that "the Executive need not always obtain a warrant for foreign intelligence surveillance." That is because a "uniform warrant requirement" would "unduly frustrate" the discharge of the president's foreign policy duties. It would "delay executive response to foreign intelligence threats" by requiring the judges instantly to make decisions about rapidly evolving events.

In 2002 the FISA review court itself held (In Re: Sealed Case) that the president "did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence information." The Supreme Court has never spoken on this matter, but it is astonishing that Judge Taylor never discusses the FISA and appellate court decisions that bear directly on this question.

It is possible that the surveillance violates the FISA law.

It's hardly a difficult rule of construction to grasy that the Legislative Branch can not by law take away a power that the Constitution gives to the Executive Branch. Mr. Wilson is, therefore, wrong that the matter will be decided by the Court. Even Senator Specter realized that either the courts can agree with the president or be ignored by him, but not reverse him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:30 PM


Hip-hopper sings Steele praise (Washington Times, August 21, 2006)

Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons will be the host of a campaign fundraiser Thursday for Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele's run for U.S. Senate. [...]

Mr. Simmons, who often has used his music empire to advance liberal political activism, has backed the Republican administration in Maryland.

He applauded Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, in February 2005 for winning over black voters with urban initiatives, especially criminal-justice reforms, and raising the Republican Party's profile among blacks nationwide.

"He raised the whole party up," Mr. Simmons said at the time. "He makes every Republican open for discussion" among black voters. Mr. Simmons campaigned in 2002 for Mr. Ehrlich's Democratic rival, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, and said he initially had negative impressions of both Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Steele. But he says the Ehrlich administration has demonstrated that both men "should be held up to the light as examples" of Republican leaders who are committed to all of their constituents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:29 PM


PM rules out negotiations with Syria (THE JERUSALEM POST, Aug. 21, 2006)

Syria is the "single most aggressive member of the axis of evil," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday, ruling out a resumption of negotiations with Damascus at this time.

"I am the last person who will say I want to negotiate with Syria," Olmert said in unusually harsh comments. In a visit to northern Israel, Olmert noted that rockets that hit the town in 34 days of Israel-Hizbullah fighting came from Syria.

According to the prime minister, "When Syria stops supporting terrorism, when it stops giving missiles to terror organizations, then we will be happy to negotiate with them."

So why squander the golden pretext Hezbollah handed you?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:12 PM


Banish The Bling: A Culture of Failure Taints Black America (Juan Williams, August 21, 2006, Washington Post)

Have we taken our eyes off the prize? The civil rights movement continues, but the struggle today is not so much in the streets as in the home -- and with our children. If systemic racism remains a reality, there is also a far more sinister obstacle facing African American young people today: a culture steeped in bitterness and nihilism, a culture that is a virtual blueprint for failure. [...]

[Bill] Cosby asked the chilling question: "What good is Brown " and all the victories of the civil rights era if nobody wants them? A generation after those major civil rights victories, black America is experiencing alarming dropout rates, shocking numbers of children born to single mothers and a frightening acceptance of criminal behavior that has too many black people filling up the jails. Where is the focus on taking advantage of new opportunities to advance and to close the racial gap in educational and economic achievement?

Incredibly, Cosby's critics don't see the desperate need to pull a generational fire alarm to warn people about a culture of failure that is sabotaging any chance for black people in poverty to move up and help their children reach the security of economic and educational achievement. Not one mainstream civil rights group picked up on his call for marches and protests against bad parenting, drug dealers, hate-filled rap music and failing schools.

Where is the civil rights groundswell on behalf of stronger marriages that will allow more children to grow up in two-parent families and have a better chance of staying out of poverty? Where are the marches demanding good schools for those children -- and the strong cultural reinforcement for high academic achievement (instead of the charge that minority students who get good grades are "acting white")? Where are the exhortations for children to reject the self-defeating stereotypes that reduce black people to violent, oversexed "gangstas," minstrel show comedians and mindless athletes?

Out bitching at Republicans for trying to transfer ownership of the welfare net from the government to the poor themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:36 PM


Tiger Woods wins PGA Championship (DOUG FERGUSON, 8/21/06, AP )

He paid tribute to Earl Woods again, his voice steady this time. He even managed a wisecrack about how his father taught him to putt.

"I kept saying all day, 'Just putt to the picture.' He actually knew what he was talking about," Woods said.

This celebration was routine. Woods plucked the ball out of the cup and put it in his pocket, thrust his fists in the air and gave a thumbs-up sign as he walked over to pick up the Wanamaker Trophy.

"This is sweet. This is really sweet," he said.

He became the first player to win the PGA Championship twice on the same course. Woods outlasted Sergio Garcia by one shot at Medinah in 1999. This one was never close.

Woods twice made birdie putts over 40 feet, and the margin of victory might have been greater had he not aimed for the middle of the green and lagged for par over the closing holes. [...]

So much for those worries about Woods after he missed the cut at the
U.S. Open. He now has won his last three tournaments, the first time he has done that in five years.

"Jack Nicklaus, he's the only other guy I've ever seen who looks more comfortable leading on the back nine of a major than playing the first hole of a tournament," Chris DiMarco said. "And that's pretty scary. He just puts the hammer down."

Congrats to des harte, jeff and Jim in Chicago. E-mail your addresses and I'll send books.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:15 PM


Tokyo looks Down Under (Purnendra Jain, 8/22/06, Asia Times)

During his recent visit to Tokyo, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer raised the prospect of signing a security pact with Japan in his discussion with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and and the front-runner prime-ministerial candidate, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe.

This is a significant development in the countries' bilateral history, marking a great transformation in Australia's attitudes toward Japan. [...]

A further development in the bilateral defense and strategic relationship occurred in the early 2000s through its triangulation with the United States, the principal ally of both Australia and Japan. The three national governments began official moves to initiate their first formal dialogue on issues of regional security in 2001.

In turn we'll bind both to India.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:07 PM


The peacekeepers of Penzance (Spengler, 8/22/06, Asia Times)

Like W S Gilbert's cowardly policemen in The Pirates of Penzance, Europe's prospective peacekeepers have decided that "a policeman's lot is not a happy one". [...]

Otto von Bismarck pronounced the Balkans unworthy of the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier, and Europe's governments seem unwilling to sacrifice a single soldier to maintain the peace in southern Lebanon. This raises the question: What is Europe's interest in the Middle East? The answer appears to be: To disappear and be forgotten with the least possible fuss.

A people without progeny will not accept a single military casualty. If this generation is the last, there will be no children for whom to sacrifice. Today's Europeans value their distractions and amusements more than they do prospective children. Germany's 2005 birth rate of only 8.5 per 1,000 inhabitants indicates that Europe is following the low variant of UN population estimates. These guarantee the virtual disappearance of the Europeans by the end of the present century.

Only 300 million Europeans, nearly half of them geriatric, will remain at the end of the present century against more than 700 million (including all of Eastern Europe) today. Europeans younger than 60 years of age now number about 560 million; that number will fall by only 150 million by the year 2100. This number excludes immigrants, overwhelmingly from the Middle East and Africa, who show no signs of assimilating as Europeans.

The number of Americans will exceed the number of Europeans, Russia included, by around the year 2080, although the aggregate numbers mask the true extent of the catastrophe, for nearly half of Europe's survivors will have reached retirement age. A fifth of Europeans are past 60 now; by 2050 more than a third will be above 60; and by the end of the century nearly half. The United States' elderly will number about 30%, so that the number of Americans younger than 60, at 280 million, will be close to double the number of young and working-age Europeans.

Note too that all such projections assume that young Christian Europeans will be content to hang around there while it transitions from Secular Rationalism to Islam.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:03 AM


Pakistanis Find U.S. an Easier Fit Than Britain (NEIL MacFARQUHAR, 8/21/06, NY Times)

The stretch of Devon Avenue in North Chicago also named for Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, seems as if it has been transplanted directly from that country. The shops are packed with traditional wedding finery, and the spice mix in the restaurants’ kebabs is just right.

Similar enclaves in Britain have been under scrutiny since they have proved to be a breeding ground for cells of terrorists, possibly including the 24 men arrested recently as suspects in a plot to blow up airliners flying out of London.

Yet Devon Avenue is in many ways different. Although heavily Pakistani, the street is far more exposed to other cultures than are similar communities in Britain.

Indian Hindus have a significant presence along the roughly one-and-a-half-mile strip of boutiques, whose other half is named for Gandhi. What was a heavily Jewish neighborhood some 20 years ago also includes recent immigrants from Colombia, Mexico and Ukraine, among others.

“There is integration even when you have an enclave,” said Nizam Arain, 32, a lawyer of Pakistani descent who was born and raised in Chicago. “You don’t have the same siege mentality.” [...]

[O]ne major difference between the United States and Britain, some say, is the United States’ historical ideal of being a melting-pot meritocracy.

“You can keep the flavor of your ethnicity, but you are expected to become an American,” said Omer Mozaffar, 34, a Pakistani-American raised here who is working toward a doctorate in Islamic studies at the University of Chicago.

Britain remains far more rigid. In the United States, for example, Pakistani physicians are more likely to lead departments at hospitals or universities than they are in Britain, said Dr. Tariq H. Butt, a 52-year-old family physician who arrived in the United States 25 years ago for his residency.

Nationwide, Pakistanis appear to be prospering. The census calculated that mean household income in the United States in 2002 was $57,852 annually, while that for Asian households, which includes Pakistanis, was $70,047. By contrast, about one-fifth of young British-born Muslims are jobless, and many subsist on welfare.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 AM


Europeans Delay Decision on Role Inside Lebanon (MARLISE SIMONS and JOHN KIFNER, 8/21/06, NY Times)

The shaky, United Nations-brokered cease-fire in Lebanon suffered another blow on Sunday when the European countries that had been called upon to provide the backbone of a peacekeeping force delayed a decision on committing troops until the mission is more clearly defined.

You pretty much have to have snoozed through the past century to keep using the word "backbone" and European in the same sentences.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:10 AM


10 years after, welfare reformers look to build on gains (Cheryl Wetzstein, 8/21/06, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Looking back, America's disenchantment with the 1960s "War on Poverty" programs reached its zenith in the 1990s. Despite the programs' good intentions, grinding poverty, unemployment and low wages -- especially among minority males -- as well as crime, substance abuse and unwed childbearing grew unabated.

The average stay on welfare was eight years, with many mothers relying on welfare checks for 13 years, studies found. Tales of fraud, abuse and indolent, baby-making "welfare queens" abounded, as did complaints about the skyrocketing costs of welfare.

Welfare reform was a perennial legislative issue during the 1980s and 1990s, but no matter what Congress did, caseloads grew, peaking at 14.2 million people in 1994. A watershed moment came when Mr. Clinton offered his 1992 campaign promise to "end welfare as we know it." Momentum was also building in the states, where dozens of governors, led by Wisconsin's Gov. Tommy Thompson, were using federal waivers to revamp their welfare programs.

Mr. Clinton's initial welfare reform -- which would have cost an extra $9 billion -- fell to the wayside. House Republicans seized the moment and included welfare reform in their Contract With America, the banner under which the party swept into power in 1994.

The resulting 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act passed with strong bipartisan support and was signed by Mr. Clinton on Aug. 22, after having vetoed two earlier versions.

Under the 1996 law, states received fixed (rather than unlimited) federal funds in exchange for flexibility in designing their own welfare programs within federal guidelines. There was a new five-year limit on federal welfare checks and a mandate for states to assist welfare recipients to prepare for, find and keep jobs -- or lose their benefits. "Work first" was the new mantra.

The welfare caseload plummeted by more than 60 percent or nearly 10 million people. As of December 2005, which ended the first quarter of fiscal 2006, the caseload stood at 4.3 million recipients and 1.8 million families, according to HHS.

Republicans and their allies are proud of the 1996 reform, which has also resulted in a lower rate of child poverty and higher rate of employment among single mothers. The welfare-reform debate showed "how 'we the people' can bring about profound change that dramatically improves the lives of millions of our fellow citizens," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told the recent Ways and Means hearing.

Before 1996, unwed childbearing rates were growing at a rate that would have taken them to 42 percent of all live births by 2003, Heritage Foundation welfare analyst Robert Rector said in his House hearing testimony. However, the welfare debate, with its focus on personal responsibility, work and time-limited welfare, helped slow the growth of the illegitimacy rate, he said. Today, just under 35 percent of births are out of wedlock, a relatively modest increase compared with the 32 percent figure in 1996.

Brookings Institution scholar Ron Haskins, a former Republican House staff member who has written a new book about his front-row seat at the welfare debates, noted that the 1996 reform also strengthened child-support enforcement, expanded funding for abstinence education, made it easier for faith-based groups to provide welfare services and ended welfare checks to newly arrived immigrants as well as to prisoners and substance abusers.

"Taken together, these reforms constitute the most fundamental change in American social policy since the Social Security Act of 1935," Mr. Haskins wrote in "Work Over Welfare: The Inside Story of the 1996 Welfare Reform Law."

A hundred years from now -- when the paragraph on the 1990's in the history books includes only the Peace Dividend, Welfare Reform, Free Trade, and Monica-- Bill Clinton will be seen as a Grover Cleveland doppleganger.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 AM


Five Years On (MARK STEYN, August 21, 2006, NY Sun)

One way to measure how the world has changed in these last five years is to consider the extraordinary address to his nation by General Musharraf on September 19th 2001. Pakistan was one of just three countries in the world (along with "our friends the Saudis" and the United Arab Emirates) to recognize the Taliban — and, given that the Pakistanis had helped create and maintain them, they were pretty easy to recognize. President Bush, you'll recall, had declared that you're either with us or you're with the terrorists — which posed a particular problem for Musharraf: He was with us but everyone else in his country was with the terrorists, including his armed forces, his intelligence services, the media, and a gazillion and one crazy imams.

Nonetheless, with American action against Afghanistan on the horizon, he went on TV that night and told the Pakistani people that this was the gravest threat to the country's existence in over 30 years. He added that he was doing everything to ensure his brothers in the Taliban didn't "suffer," and that he'd asked Washington to provide some evidence that this bin Laden chap had anything to do with the attacks but that so far they'd declined to show him any. Then he cited the Charter of Medina (which the Prophet Muhammad signed after an earlier spot of bother) as an attempt to justify providing assistance to the infidel, and said he'd had no choice but to offer the Americans use of Pakistan's airspace, intelligence networks and other logistical support.

He paused for applause, and after the world's all-time record volume of crickets chirping, said thank you and goodnight.

That must have been quite the phone call he'd got from Washington a day or two earlier. And all within a week of September 11th. You may remember during the 2000 campaign an enterprising journalist sprung on Gov. Bush a sudden pop quiz of world leaders. Bush, invited to name the leader of Pakistan, was unable to. But so what? In the third week of September 2001, the correct answer to "Who's General Musharraf?" was "Whoever I want him to be." And, if Musharraf didn't want to play ball, he'd wind up as the answer to "Who was leader of Pakistan until last week?"

Do you get the feeling Washington's not making phone calls like that anymore?

Mr. Steyn has the misfortune to have this essay appear in the NY Sun newsletter just below another one citing Pakistan, Targeting Air Traffic (AMNON RUBINSTEIN, August 21, 2006, NY Sun)
The plot failed: cooperation between the security services of the United Kingdom, Pakistan, and America foiled the plan to massacre hundreds of air passengers over the Atlantic through the explosion of sophisticated undetectable chemicals set off by Islamist British-born suicide terrorists.

That the phone calls occur now before the attacks is not retrograde movement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 AM


Canadians hammer Taliban
: Troops, artillery inflict heavy casualties on insurgents in battle near Kandahar (GRAEME SMITH, 8/21/06, Globe and Mail)

Canadian soldiers scored a major victory against Taliban insurgents on the weekend, pounding their opponents just hours after they took charge of security in one of Afghanistan's most volatile regions.

A heavy barrage from Canada's precision-guided artillery, apparently aimed using remote-controlled aircraft, helped Afghan and Canadian forces kill as many as 72 insurgents and protect a key district near Kandahar.

As many as seven Afghan soldiers died in the battle, but no Canadians were injured and no civilian casualties were reported. The burned and shredded bodies sprawled in the dust after the battle were wearing traditional clothing and ammunition belts, suggesting they were Taliban fighters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 AM


McCain Mines Elite of G.O.P. for 2008 Team (JOHN M. BRODER, 8/21/06, NY Times)

Senator John McCain is locking up a cast of top-shelf Republican strategists, policy experts, fund-raisers and donors, in a methodical effort to build a 2008 presidential campaign machine, drawing supporters of President Bush despite the sometimes rocky history between the two men.

Mr. McCain’s effort to woo a diverse lineup of backers and scare off rivals has augmented his travel schedule on behalf of Republicans — which this week and next includes trips to Iowa, Louisiana, Virginia, South Carolina, Ohio and Florida.

The effort is fueling a fund-raising operation that has helped him build loyalty throughout the party by doling out more than $800,000 to candidates since the start of last year through his political action committee.

Other Republican presidential hopefuls are doing likewise, but Mr. McCain is widely judged to be farther along in assembling the kind of national network necessary to sustain a long, expensive campaign for his party’s nomination to succeed President Bush.

Folk are failing to understand that in a hierarchical party, it's just his turn.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


Power and the people: Iran says it wants nuclear energy to fuel its economy. The US says it wants to build an 'Islamic bomb'. But what do Iranians think about the deepening crisis? Given rare access, Simon Tisdall spoke to people on the streets of Tehran - and to the men in charge of the country's nuclear programme (Simon Tisdall, August 21, 2006, The Guardian)

Tehran is a city of elegant parks. And none is more serene than Saee Park, off Vali Asr Avenue, one of the capital's main thoroughfares. Known as the "lovers' park", it is where young and not-so-young couples sit at dusk beneath a canopy of fragrant chinar, cypress and pine trees, exchanging gossip and intimacies, sharing ice creams and swapping phone numbers.

According to Reza, 27, and his girlfriend, things are more easy-going socially than they were 10 years ago. They attribute the change to the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad's reformist predecessor. Despite Ahmadinejad's conservative instincts, the new government has been unable to put the street culture genie back in the bottle, Reza says.

"There's more personal freedom. You don't get harassed like you used to. The young people are changing the older people's attitude. They have to accept it - they have no choice, so they go with the flow." And in a country of 70m, where two-thirds of the population is under 30, the trend appears irreversible.

The present hardline government is not popular among many inhabitants of Saee Park. They complain about its failure to expand and diversify an economy that is roughly 80% state-controlled. Younger people worry about careers and jobs, about the difficulties of foreign travel and internet censorship, about the lack of things to do and places to meet. Leila, 27, says she would like to go to parties, to clubs; she would like to sing. "But they won't allow female singers, did you know that? Female vocalists are banned. They say they are too alluring to men. Poor men! They have weak brains!"

Yussuf, 63, has a different perspective. "I was a metallurgist until I retired. I trained in the US during the Shah's time. I worked all my life. But now I have to take part-time jobs because my pension isn't enough. This government is no good, they're all no good." Yussuf has another complaint: the government is sending money to Hizbullah in Lebanon that would be better spent at home, he says. "First you must look after your own people."

His friend, Ali, agrees. He wants to know into whose pockets Iran's record oil revenue is going. "Some of them [the governing elite] are buying cars for $100,000. Think of that! Did they get that money by working?"

All the same, Ahmadinejad's personal brand of nationalist populism, typified by his defiant handling of the nuclear issue, has many admirers in Saee Park and beyond. "Why don't they just leave us alone and let us live under our own rules?" asks a 32-year-old engineer.

"Iran has the right to nuclear power," chanted a crowd in Ardabil, in northern Iran, last week. During a series of nine rallies addressed by Ahmadinejad, the sentiments expressed by ordinary people are the same. Western attempts to deny Iran nuclear technology are "an obvious attempt to keep us down, like they want to keep all the developing countries down," says Majid, a 30-year-old teacher in Tehran. "We don't want nuclear weapons. But we want to build our country. What's wrong with that?"

Iranians may be cut off from the modern western world in many ways, but they are well versed in the long history of western intervention in Persia. From the Treaty of Golestan in 1813, by which Russia took control of Iran's Caucasus territories, to the 1953 CIA-led coup that toppled Iran's democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddeq, from the US embassy hostage siege to the Iran-Contra scandal, a tale of national subjugation and degradation forms the context in which Iran looks at the west. And Iranians hear, in derogatory western talk of "mad mullahs", an echo of a 19th-century British diplomat's sneering reference to "incomprehensible orientals". It smacks of disrespect.

And now, with Washington's neo-conservatives on one side and Ahmadinejad's neo-conservatives on the other, this mutual antagonism and misunderstanding is coming to a head. In some analyses, it has brought the two countries to the brink of military conflict. If the US attacks, experts say it is likely to take the form of "precision strikes" on the four main nuclear facilities and possibly Iranian armed forces and Revolutionary Guard bases, too. But Pentagon planners know Iran has the potential to retaliate, as the unexpected success of Hizbullah in Lebanon has shown. This week the US ambassador to Iraq highlighted what he said were Iranian attempts to push Shia militants into attacks on coalition forces in Iraq. And Baghdad is only one possible theatre for Iranian reprisals should the US pull the trigger.

Mohammad Saeidi is a practical man. Sidestepping the political, ideological and historical aspects of the nuclear dispute with the west, the vice-president of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation is focused on a set of problems that must be solved logically if the country and its people are to develop to their full potential. "The country's oil and gas reserves will last a maximum of another 25 or 30 years," he says. "Therefore we have to provide other resources."

About 7,000 people work in Iran's atomic establishment - principally in Tehran and at the Bushehr, Arak, Isfahan and Natanz complexes. Saeidi says there are plans to build 20 nuclear power stations in all, at a cost of $24-$25bn. The first, at Bushehr, built with Russian help, is expected to come on stream next year. Saeidi says that in going nuclear Iran is only following the example of other countries with growing populations and rising energy demand. Nuclear power is cheaper, and its raw component, naturally occurring uranium, is in plentiful supply in Iran's central deserts.

It is the cascade of 164 centrifuges constructed at Natanz that has drawn most international attention since Ahmadinejad announced last April that Iran had mastered the processes for uranium enrichment. It was Natanz that finally prompted the US to join with European negotiators in offering the compromise incentives package that is now on the table. But like Larijani, Saeidi stresses the research stage nature of this work - and the ongoing inspections of Natanz and other plants by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

To try to divert nuclear material for bomb-making purposes without the UN knowing would be "impossible", he says, and if a deal is struck, Tehran would be ready to reintroduce spot checks. But, in any case, bomb-making is not Iran's aim, Saeidi says - even if it had the capacity, which it does not. Overall, independent experts tend to agree that, at present, Iran does not have the wherewithal to build a nuclear weapon. But that does not mean it will not in future.

Saeidi denies that Iran kept its facilities at Natanz secret, as claimed in 2003 by the Bush administration. He says there was no legal necessity to notify the IAEA before nuclear material had entered the plant. "Natanz is a very large factory. You cannot hide it. It wasn't secret."

He also denies receiving help from Pakistan, now or in the past, despite a spate of disclosures concerning the proliferation network run by the Pakistani scientist, AQ Khan. "We don't have any relation to Pakistan on the nuclear issue. All the equipment and components we are using are made by Iranian companies and factories."

Needless to say, such statements are disputed by the US and other western governments who suspect that Iran may be running a hidden, parallel uranium enrichment programme using more advanced centrifuges. They worry it is also experimenting with plutonium reprocessing. But all such claims are met with a flat denial.

"We don't have any secret programme. We don't have any secrets," Saeidi says. Iran does not want the bomb, he and other officials insist; and it has no plans to build one. What it does want is a plentiful future supply of nuclear energy to fuel the rise of a new, more powerful nation - and in this ambition, it will brook no obstacles.

There's ample time to help the Iranians replace Ahmedinejad democratically, but we need to stop puffing him up and to reverse ourselves and convince Reformers that voting against him matters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


Misreading the Lebanon war (EDWARD N.LUTTWAK, 8/20/06 , THE JERUSALEM POST)

What is perfectly true is that the Israelis lacked a coherent war plan, so that even their most purposeful bombing came off as brutally destructive (though with a deterrence payoff, as Syria's immobility showed), while the ground actions were hesitant and inconclusive from start to finish.

There was a fully developed plan, of course, in the contingency folders - a sophisticated blend of amphibious, airborne and ground penetrations to swiftly reach deep behind the front, before rolling back, so as to destroy Hizbullah positions one by one from the rear, all the way to the Israeli border.

That plan was not implemented because of the lack of casualties among Israeli civilians. It had been a fair assumption that thousands of Hizbullah rockets fired in concentrated barrages would kill many civilians, perhaps hundreds of them each day. Barrages cancel out the inaccuracy of unguided rockets, and powerfully compound blast effects. That would make a large-scale offensive by more than 45,000 soldiers a compelling necessity, politically justifying the hundreds of casualties that it would certainly have cost.

Hizbullah, however, distributed its rockets to village militias that were very good at hiding them from air attacks, sheltering them from artillery and from probing Israeli unmanned air vehicles, but quite incapable of launching them effectively, in simultaneous launches against the same targets.

Instead of hundreds of dead civilians, the Israelis were therefore losing one or two a day, and even after three weeks, the grand total was less than in some one-man suicide bombings.

That made it politically unacceptable to launch the planned offensive that would kill young soldiers and family men, while not eradicating Hizbullah anyway, because it is a political movement in arms, and not just an army or a bunch of gunmen.

For that very reason, the outcome of the war is likely to be more satisfactory than many now seem to believe. Hassan Nasrallah is not another Yasser Arafat, who was fighting for eternal Palestine and not for actually living Palestinians, whose prosperity and safety he was always willing to sacrifice for the cause.

Nasrallah has a political constituency, and it happens to be centered in southern Lebanon. Implicitly accepting responsibility for having started the war, Nasrallah has directed his Hizbullah to focus on rapid reconstruction in villages and towns, right up to the Israeli border.

Hezbollah wants more responsibility and Israel and the U.S. are in a position to give it to them.

War Turns Nasrallah Into a Cult Figure: The military conflict in Lebanon has ended with a cease-fire. No proper peace treaty has been signed. Still, Hezbollah is celebrating the ceasefire as a victory over Israel. Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has achieved cult status among the Middle East's Islamic radicals -- and he's become more dangerous than ever. (Matthias Gebauer, 8/21/06, Der Spiegel)

Nasrallah's rise to glory is the climax of an unusual career. He was born in the slums of Beirut in 1960. His parents saved the little money they had so he could attend a private school, where he was known as a devout Muslim. When civil war broke out in 1975, Nasrallah was 15. He was quick to escape to Iraq, where he attended an Islamic seminary in Najaf. Not much later, he moved to Qom in Iran. He was considered charismatic there and attracted considerable attention.

Nasrallah, who is addressed as "Prime Minister Nasrallah" by his followers, is not a religious fanatic. He never moved far up in the clerical hierarchies of Islam because he wasn't all that interested in the Koran. His former schoolmates describe him as hard-working but not particularly talented. Nasrallah is, however, an experienced politician: He regularly visited Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri for tea before the latter was assassinated. It was always possible to reach an agreement with the Shiite leader, Hariri once said.

Nasrallah has been an important political factor in Lebanon for years now. He's even met United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, once, as the leader of Hezbollah. Timur Gocksel, who was for many years the leader of the UN forces stationed in southern Lebanon, describes Nasrallah as a pure pragmatist. "He was hungry for knowledge," Gocksel recalls. "He had always read the paper. Of course he was interested in Israel and military matters, but he read about many other things too."

Israel and the US are still focused on the wrong issues: Every major political issue - Lebanon, Iraq, radicalism - links back to the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Rami G Khouri, August 21, 2006, Guardian)
Hizbullah has many people working backwards. While the American-Israeli effort to disarm Hizbullah aims mainly to protect Israel, the fact is that Hizbullah has developed its military capability primarily in response to a need to protect Lebanon from repeated Israeli attacks in the past four decades. (Lebanese calls to disarm Hizbullah are motivated more by a desire to prevent the party from bringing more ruin from Israeli attacks, or to prevent it from taking over the country's political system and aligning it with Syria and Iran.)

The way to end Hizbullah's status as the only non-state-armed group in Lebanon is to rewind the reel, and go to the heart of the problem that caused Hizbullah to develop its formidable military capabilities in the first place. If we solve the Arab-Israeli conflict in a fair manner, according to UN resolutions, we would eliminate two critical political forces that now nourish Hizbullah's armed defiance: the Israeli threat to Lebanon, and the ability of Syria and Iran to exploit the ongoing conflict with Israel by working through Lebanon.

Rather, the way to end that status is to recognize that Hezbollah heads a state.

August 20, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:28 PM


Take a holiday, companies tell worried American workaholics (Harry Mount, 21/08/2006, Daily Telegraph)

Americans, who are already the hardest workers in the Western world, are taking fewer holidays than they have done for almost 30 years, a survey says. [...]

The attitude of the Americans, who take an average of just 16 annual holiday days, including public holidays, differs greatly with that of some European nations. The Italians, for instance, take an average of 42 days, while the Germans take 35 days. The average in Britain is 28 days and the French take 37 days.

Is it any wonder that folks who want to work hard come here by the millions?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:59 PM


Kerry Calls Lieberman the New Cheney (ED O'KEEFE, Aug. 20, 2006, ABC News)

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., blasted a fellow Democrat, Sen. Joe Lieberman, for continuing his bid in the Connecticut Senate race despite a narrow loss to newcomer Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary earlier this month.

"I'm concerned that [Lieberman] is making a Republican case," Kerry told ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" in an exclusive appearance.

For a second there it sounded like word had leaked that the Senator was moving up to VP when Mr. Cheney steps down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 PM



According to the poll - which will hit newsstands tomorrow - Clinton would be the only Dem to make it a real race against GOP favorite Sen. John McCain.

The poll shows a statistical dead heat, with McCain getting 49 percent of the vote to Clinton's 47 percent. The 2-point gap is within the poll's margin of error.

By comparison, McCain would wallop John Kerry by 10 points, and slap former veep Al Gore by 9.

Americans appear to have at long last warmed to Bubba's long-suffering wife. She has the highest favorable rating of big-dog Dems: 53 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of her. That tops Gore at 49 percent, and former Sens. John Edwards and Kerry at 46.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 PM


Jewish Liberals — a Hezbollah casualty?: Many in the Jewish community are reassessing their Liberal party loyalty and looking upon the Conservatives under Stephen Harper with fresh eyes (Leslie Scrivener, Aug. 20, 2006, Toronto Star)

David Gelberman has thought of himself as a Liberal his whole life, but that has changed, he declares, because of the Prime Minister. "Thank God for Stephen Harper," says Gelberman, 57, his eyes fixed on the television news from Israel.

"It's about time someone had some cojones. Most other politicians are wishy-washy."

There are enthusiastic nods from his customers, smoked meat sandwiches in hand, at Wolfie's Deli, on Sheppard Ave., which Gelberman runs with his wife Gila and father-in-law Wolf Zimmerman. [...]

Harper made his pro-Israel views known quickly, issuing a statement the day after Israel sent its forces into Lebanon. Meanwhile, the Liberals' perspective remained unclear. Five days passed before interim Liberal leader Bill Graham said the government's position was a "grave error," one that threatened Canada's reputation as a peace broker and mediator. Leadership candidates offered a range of opinions.

In the meantime, high-profile Jewish Liberals, including Onex Corp. President Gerry Schwartz, his wife, Indigo Books & Music CEO Heather Reisman, and film producer Robert Lantos, publicly expressed support for Harper's stance and, in the case of the latter two, tore up their party membership cards, if not in fact, then in their minds.

At a July 26 rally in Toronto to support Israel, Lantos received a standing ovation when he thanked Harper for his government's "principled support" and said he was tossing off his "lifelong federal Liberal hat."

But support for Harper among Jews is wider than a few influential business leaders. Across the community there are rumblings of discontent with the Liberals.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 8:49 PM


Paris Hilton's tirade against promiscuity
(Hindustan Times, Asugust 19th, 2006)

Socialite Paris Hilton has launched a campaign to fight the spiralling problem of sexually transmitted diseases and is urging women to pull back on promiscuity for the sake of their health.

The reality TV star has shaken off her raunchy reputation after her sex tape with Rick Salomon was exposed in 2004 and is reinventing herself as a positive female role model.

Hilton, who recently vowed to avoid sex for a year, is encouraging women to do the same and retain their dignity, reports hollywood.com.

She said: "It's sexier when a girl is flirty but she doesn't do anything. I think women should be confident and strong. They often underestimate themselves and give in to men."

She added: "Girls need realise that sex isn't everything. It's frightening. Women are getting as bad as boys now for sleeping around."

That she wasn’t in Toronto to debate this fellow must go down as one of life’s greatest missed opportunities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 PM


It's breeding obvious, mate: This is the text of his 2006 CD Kemp lecture at the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne last night (Mark Steyn, August 18, 2006, The Australian)

The question posed here tonight is very direct: “Does Western Civilization Have A Future?” One answer’s easy: if western civilization doesn’t have a past, it certainly won’t have a future. No society can survive when it consciously unmoors itself from its own inheritance. But let me answer it in a less philosophical way:

Much of western civilization does not have any future. That’s to say, we’re not just speaking philosophically, but literally. In a very short time, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and other countries we regard as part of the western tradition will cease to exist in any meaningful sense. They don’t have a future because they’ve given up breeding. Spain’s population is halving with every generation: Two grown-ups have a total of one baby. So there are half as many children as parents. And a quarter as many grandchildren as grandparents. And an eighth as many great-grandchildren as great-grandparents. And, after that there’s no point extrapolating, because you’re over the falls and it’s too late to start paddling back. I received a flurry of letters from furious Spaniards when the government decided to replace the words “father” and “mother” on its birth certificates with the less orientationally offensive terms “Progenitor A” and “Progenitor B”. This was part of the bureaucratic spring-cleaning of traditional language that always accompanies the arrival in law of “gay marriage”. But, with historically low numbers of progeny, the designations of the respective progenitors seem of marginal concern. They’d be better off trying to encourage the average young Spaniard to wander into a Barcelona singles bar and see if anyone wants to come back to his pad to play Progenitor A and Progenitor B. (“Well, okay, but only if I can be Progenitor A…”)

Seventeen European nations are now at what demographers call “lowest-low” fertility – 1.3 births per woman, the point at which you’re so far down the death spiral you can’t pull out. In theory, those countries will find their population halving every 35 years or so. In practice, it will be quicker than that, as the savvier youngsters figure there’s no point sticking around a country that’s turned into an undertaker’s waiting room. So large parts of the western world are literally dying – and, in Europe, the successor population to those aging French and Dutch and Belgians is already in place. Perhaps the differences will be minimal. In France, the Catholic churches will become mosques; in England, the village pubs will cease serving alcohol; in the Netherlands, the gay nightclubs will close up shop and relocate to San Francisco. But otherwise life will go on much as before. The new Europeans will be observant Muslims instead of post-Christian secularists but they will still be recognizably European: It will be like Cats after a cast change: same long-running show, new actors, but the plot, the music, the sets are all the same. The animating principles of advanced societies are so strong that they will thrive whoever’s at the switch.

But what if they don’t? In the 2005 rankings of Freedom House’s survey of personal liberty and democracy around the world, five of the eight countries with the lowest “freedom” score were Muslim. Of the 46 Muslim majority nations in the world, only three were free. Of the 16 nations in which Muslims form between 20 and 50 per cent of the population, only another three were ranked as free: Benin, Serbia and Montenegro, and Suriname. It will be interesting to follow France’s fortunes as a fourth member of that group.

If you think a nation is no more than a “great hotel” (as the Canadian novelist Yann Martel described his own country, approvingly), you can always slash rates and fill the empty rooms – for as long as there are any would-be lodgers left out there to move in. But there aren’t going to be many would-be immigrants out there in the years ahead – not for aging western societies in which an ever smaller pool of young people pay ever higher taxes to support ever swelling geriatric native populations. And, if you believe a nation is the collective, accumulated wisdom of a shared past, then a dependence on immigration alone for population replenishment will leave you lost and diminished. That’s why Peter Costello’s stirring call – a boy for you, a girl for me, and one for Australia – is, ultimately, a national security issue – and a more basic one than how much you spend on defence.

Americans take for granted all the “it’s about the future of all our children” hooey that would ring so hollow in a European election. In the 2005 German campaign, voters were offered what would be regarded in the US as a statistically improbable choice: a childless man (Herr Schroeder) vs a childless woman (Frau Merkel). Statist Europe signed on to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s alleged African proverb – “It takes a village to raise a child” – only to discover they got it backwards: on the Continent, the lack of children will raze the village. And most of the villagers still refuse to recognize the contradictions: You can’t breed at the lethargic rate of most Europeans and then bitch and whine about letting the Turks into the European Union. Demographically, they’re the kids you couldn’t be bothered having.

One would assume a demographic disaster is the sort of thing that sneaks up on you because you’re having a grand old time: You stayed in university till you were 38, you took early retirement at 45, you had two months a year on the Cote d’Azur, you drank wine, you ate foie gras and truffles, you marched in the street for a 28-hour work week… It was all such great fun there was no time to have children. You thought the couple in the next street would, or the next town, or in all those bucolic villages you pass through on the way to your weekend home.

But the strange thing is that Europeans aren’t happy. The Germans are so slumped in despond that in 2005 the government began running a Teutonic feelgood marketing campaign in which old people are posed against pastoral vistas, fetching young gays mooch around the Holocaust memorial, Katarina Witt stands in front of some photogenic moppets, etc., and then they all point their fingers at the camera and shout “Du bist Deutschland!” – “You are Germany!” – which is meant somehow to pep up glum Hun couch potatoes. Can’t see it working myself. The European Union got rid of all the supposed obstacles to happiness – war, politics, the burden of work, insufficient leisure time, tiresome dependents – and yet their people are strikingly unhappy. Consider this poll taken in 2002 for the first anniversary of 9/11: 61 per cent of Americans said they were optimistic about the future, as opposed to 43 per cent of Canadians, 42 per cent of Britons, 29 per cent of the French, 23 per cent of Russians and 15 per cent of Germans. I wouldn’t reckon those numbers will get any cheerier over the years.

What’s the most laughable article published in a major American newspaper in the last decade? A good contender is a New York Times column by the august Princeton economist Paul Krugman. The headline was “French Family Values”, and the thesis is that, while parochial American conservatives drone on about “family values”, the Europeans live it, enacting policies that are more “family friendly”. On the Continent, claims Professor Krugman, “government regulations actually allow people to make a desirable tradeoff – to modestly lower income in return for more time with friends and family.”

How can an economist make that claim without noticing that the upshot of all these “family friendly” policies is that nobody has any families? Isn’t the first test of a pro-family regime its impact on families?

As for all that extra time, what happened? Europeans work fewer hours than Americans, they don’t have to pay for their own health care, they don’t go to church and they don’t contribute to other civic groups, they don’t marry and they don’t have kids to take to school and basketball and the county fair.

So what do they do with all the time?

Forget for the moment Europe’s lack of world-beating companies: They regard capitalism red in tooth and claw as an Anglo-American fetish, and they mostly despise it. And in fairness some of their quasi-state corporations are very pleasant: I’d much rather fly Air France than United or Continental. But what about the things Europeans supposedly value? With so much free time, where is the great European art? Assuredly Gershwin and Bernstein aren’t Bach and Mozart, but what have the Continentals got? Their pop culture is more American than it’s ever been. Fifty years ago, before European welfarism had them in its vise-like death grip, the French had better pop songs and the Italians made better movies. Where are Europe’s men of science? At American universities. Meanwhile, Continental governments pour fortunes into prestigious white elephants of Euro-identity, like the Airbus 380, the QE2 of the skies, capable of carrying 500, 800, a thousand passengers at a time, if only somebody somewhere would order the damn thing, which they might consider doing once all the airports have built new runways to handle it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’s a swell idea. It’ll come in very useful for large-scale evacuation operations circa 2015.

“When life becomes an extended picnic, with nothing of importance to do,” writes Charles Murray in In Our Hands, “ideas of greatness become an irritant. Such is the nature of the Europe syndrome.” The Continent has embraced a spiritual death long before the demographic one. In those 17 Europeans countries which have fallen into “lowest-low fertility”, where are the children? In a way, you’re looking at them: the guy sipping espresso at a sidewalk café listening to his iPod. Free citizens of advanced western democracies are increasingly the world’s wrinkliest teenagers: the state makes the grown-up decisions and we spend our pocket money on our record collection. Hilaire Belloc, incidentally, foresaw this very clearly in his book The Servile State in 1912 – before teenagers or record collections had been invented. He understood that the long-term cost of a softened state is the infantilization of the population. The populations of wealthy democratic societies expect to be able to choose from dozens of breakfast cereals at the supermarket, thousands of movies at the video store, and millions of porn sites on the Internet, yet think it perfectly to demand that the state take care of their elderly parents and their young children while they’re working – to, in effect, surrender what most previous societies would have regarded as all the responsibilities of adulthood. It’s a curious inversion of citizenship to demand control over peripheral leisure activities but to contract out the big life-changing stuff to the government. And it’s hard to come up with a wake-up call for a society as dedicated as latterday Europe to the belief that life is about sleeping in.

Too little, too late for Russia (DAVID WALL, 8/21/06, The Japan Times)

In his recent State of the Union speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the "most important [matter] for our country is the demographic problem." He said Russia's population is declining by 700,000 a year -- this from a base of 143 million. Russian demographic experts suggest that the decline is actually now running at 900,000 a year and from a lower base, maybe lower than 140 million. [...]

Social, political and economic conditions in Russia today imply that policies to slow the male death rate are not likely to succeed; nor are they designed to improve the quality of life for those who do survive. Alcoholism and drug abuse, along with the attendant problems of malnutrition and HIV infection (more than 2 million men are now HIV positive), are getting worse despite Draconian attempts to deal with them.

Women show little sign of wanting more babies amid the cash incentives that Putin is proposing. The allowances are too small to have any impact on the quality of housing, education and health care. As a result, Russian women are emigrating in growing numbers.

Another aspect of the population problem is location. Anyone who can move is moving to Moscow and other cities in European Russia. They want to escape the harsh climate and poor living conditions of Siberia, the Far East and the Caucasus.

The move west -- something like 20 to 25 percent of the population have moved out of Siberia and the Far East in the last 10 years (including around half a million Jews who migrated to Israel) -- is a major problem for the development of Russia, as Putin has recognized.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:27 PM


Ozone-friendly chemicals lead to warming (JOHN HEILPRIN, 8/20/06, Associated Press)

When more than two dozen countries undertook in 1989 to fix the ozone hole over Antarctica, they began replacing chloroflourocarbons in refrigerators, air conditioners and hair spray. [...]

In theory, the ban should have helped both problems. But the countries that first signed the Montreal Protocol 17 years ago failed to recognize that CFC users would seek out the cheapest available alternative.

The chemicals that replaced CFCs are better for the ozone layer, but do little to help global warming. These chemicals, too, act as a reflective layer in the atmosphere that traps heat like a greenhouse.

That effect is at odds with the intent of a second treaty, drawn up in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 by the same countries behind the Montreal pact. In fact, the volume of greenhouse gases created as a result of the Montreal agreement's phaseout of CFCs is two times to three times the amount of global-warming carbon dioxide the Kyoto agreement is supposed to eliminate.

This unintended consequence now haunts the nations that signed both U.N. treaties.

The case for nuking North Korea just gets stronger and stronger--as the resulting nuclear winter effect would nicely balance the warming.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 2:18 PM


Hezbollah warned not to violate truce (Al Jazeera, August 20th, 2006)

The Lebanese government, in an unprecedented move, has warned Hezbollah against violating the UN-brokered truce.

In an implicit warning to the militia, Elias Murr, Lebanon's defence minister, said on Sunday that anyone who violated a cease-fire deal by firing rockets into Israel from Lebanon would be arrested and tried by a military court.

"Any violation ... any rocket that would give Israel a justification [to hit Lebanon] will be treated harshly," Murr told a press conference.

"It will be considered as direct collaboration with the enemy," Murr said, adding that those responsible "will be tried and referred to a military tribunal".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:05 PM


Most States Have Budget Surpluses (Lois Romano, 8/19/06, Washington Post)

For first time since Sept. 11, 2001, the vast majority of states reported saving an average of 10 percent of their budgets, one of the highest percentages of unspent money in decades. The $57 billion in unexpected revenue has afforded states an opportunity to find all sorts of creative ways to spend and save their cash, according to a report released this week by the National Conference of State Legislators. [...]

Nationwide, state lawmakers have been struggling with budgets since the 2001 attacks triggered an economic downturn. After several years of fast-declining revenues, states were conservatively planning based on scaled-back expenditures. Even as revenues started to climb, states were reluctant to count on the money and based budgets on lesser income. As a result, all but five states -- Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan and Wisconsin -- reported surpluses.

The study noted that revenues had been projected to grow by only 2.7 percent for last budget year, but they ended up growing by nearly 7.7 percent. Because state budget drafts forecast 18 months in advance, it is often difficult to accurately predict actual revenue.

In New Mexico, the state was bestowed with unexpected revenues from oil and gas leases, and in Connecticut capital gains taxes proved more generous than expected.

"We saw it coming, but what we didn't see coming was the bounce that we got through capital gains revenues," said Susan Shimelman, director of Connecticut's Office of Fiscal Analysis. "So it wasn't budgeting. It's sort of a largess."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:55 PM



"The Dodgers are a big-market team with a $100 million-plus payroll and they have better young players than the Mets have," said an NL GM. "Now [on] the Mets' left side of the infield [Jose Reyes and David Wright] are two of the best players in the game. But the Mets don't have depth in pitching and the pitching is old. But they do have the wherewithal to sign pitching every year."

In 2006, at the least, the Mets were cruising along under the belief that they were far superior to the rest of the NL competition. But as our NL GM said, "The Dodgers might have a better team than the Mets, right now."

Supposedly Tom Glavine also has a blood clot that could finish his year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:23 PM


Pluto's New Place in Space Could Be as a 'Pluton' (Rob Stein, 8/16/06, Washington Post)

Hoping to end the agonizing over whether Pluto is really a planet, an international committee of astronomers has come up with a new definition that would save the tiny body's place in the sun's family.

Under the long-awaited proposal, Pluto would remain in the pantheon of planets by becoming the prototype of a new subcategory of small, outer solar system objects dubbed "plutons" -- planets, but distinct from the eight larger "classical" planets closer to the sun.

The changes would require astronomy textbooks to be rewritten and every schoolchild to be taught a new vision of the solar system, because three other orbs would get promoted to planet status, as well -- expanding the total from the traditional nine to 12.

"Everybody's been wanting to know: 'Is Pluto a planet?' " said Richard P. Binzel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who served on the seven-member committee assembled by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to settle the explosive issue.

Actually, people could care less, but these guys are in danger of sinking into the sort of omphalomancy that Darwinists use when they pretend there's been speciation. On the other hand, they nicely illustrate the truth of homocentrism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:10 AM


Brazil's Road to Energy Independence: Alternative-Fuel Strategy, Rooted in Ethanol From Sugar Cane, Seen as Model (Monte Reel, 8/20/06, Washington Post)

Record oil prices have made the world's energy landscape a darkly foreboding place this year, inhospitable to optimism and celebration. Except in Brazil.

It has been something of a banner year here, full of milestones. The government predicts that for the first time in its history, Brazil will achieve energy equilibrium, exporting as much oil as it imports. The production of sugar cane-based ethanol is expected to reach an all-time high. And just three years after the introduction here of flex-fuel vehicles -- cars that run on either ethanol or gasoline -- several major automakers predict that such vehicles will represent 100 percent of their production by the end of the year, eliminating gas-only models. [...]

Since President Bush this year emphasized ethanol as one possible solution to U.S. oil dependence, Brazil has become a destination of choice for curious U.S. lawmakers and venture capitalists searching for a crystal ball in which to glimpse America's future. Ethanol is not solely responsible for Brazil's newfound energy independence -- domestic oil exploration has exploded in recent years -- but it has replaced about 40 percent of the country's gasoline consumption, according to Caio Carvalhal, an analyst with Cambridge Energy Research Associates in Rio de Janeiro.

"It's amazing how sharply the level of interest in our experience here has jumped in recent months," said Eduardo Pereira de Carvalho, president of Sao Paulo's sugar cane producers union. "We receive visiting politicians from the U.S., and we get invitations to speak to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and to leaders of investment funds. They know that Brazil's ethanol program exists, but beyond that, most of them have very little information about our actual experience."

That experience has been a sometimes painful 30-year evolution, marked by plenty of foresight and numerous false starts. It was born of a uniquely Brazilian political and economic environment, but industry analysts say it nevertheless provides lessons for a fledgling U.S. ethanol program that is already on pace to dethrone Brazil's as the largest in the world.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 10:18 AM


‘Hobbit’ was a disabled caveman (Jonathan Leake and Tom Baird, The Times, August 20th, 2006)

The remains of a fossilised stone age pygmy, hailed as a new species of human when it was found two years ago, probably belonged to a disabled but otherwise normal caveman, researchers have claimed.

The discovery of the 18,000-year-old “homo floresiensis” on the Indonesian island of Flores was thought to be a major development in tracing human evolution when it was announced in 2004.

However, a new analysis of the 3ft skeleton, nicknamed the “hobbit”, along with other remains found at the site, has indicated they probably belonged to an early human suffering from microcephaly, a condition that causes an abnormally small head and other deformities. [...]

The controversy began in October 2004 when Nature, a leading British science journal, published what appeared to be a groundbreaking paper about a new species of human. [...]

Nature has confirmed that it subjected the manuscript to the normal scientific review process in which it was scrutinised by outside experts who approved its contents.

Let’s cut them some slack here. It’s an easy mistake for religious fundamentalists to make.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 9:52 AM


Our foreign policy is just plain wrong
(Menzies Campbell, The Observer, August 20, 2006)

Foreign affairs is a world of relative values; it is no place for evangelism, which elevates belief over knowledge, conviction over judgment and instinct over understanding. In the Middle East, knowledge, judgment and understanding are more useful allies than belief, conviction and instinct, particularly when all three are wrong.

The real argument over the Iraq adventure is not about its impact on the opinions of the Muslims living in Britain, but that it was wrong in conception and execution. The same evangelical impulse lumps together different situations that present different problems and require different solutions.

'Axis of evil' and 'an arc of extremism' are lazy descriptions of complex problems, as if you can solve them more easily by describing them more simply, as if a soundbite description will allow a soundbite solution.

There is a real threat from Muslim fundamentalism, but it takes many forms and arises for many reasons. If you do not understand or accept its variety, and treat all examples of extremism as if they were the same, you make it harder to deal with and end up playing into the hands of its advocates.

By seeing disparate elements of extremism as a global conspiracy, you grant extremists the status and legitimacy they crave. What better reward for jihadists than to have their criminality and callous disregard for life described in their own apocalyptic language.

How easy it is to forget what the world looked like exactly five years ago in August, 2001. A huge and contiguous swath of the globe from Lebanon through Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan was openly hostile to the West, crushing any kind of liberal dissent, spewing uncontrolled menacing rhetoric, boasting of terrifying weapons and fostering lethal, uncontrolled terrorist militias funded by limitless Saudi money. The UN and the entire Western transnational community wallowed with equanimity in a celebration of mau-mauing barbarity at Durban and spent long hours in workshops trying to fashion universal human rights out of the vilest anti-Semitic rhetoric this side of Julius Streicher. And then on September 11th, we all learned just where unchallenged and unchecked hate can lead and how morally obtuse the root cause crowd were.

When President Bush promised a long war, most of us were still feeling the fears and emotional searings from 9/11.We told ourselves we were up to the challenge. For about a year, the left was mute and the self-abnegating moral relativism that had led us blindly to such danger was relegated to the fevered margins. But then the worst possible thing happened to undermine our resolve–-early, dramatic success. Both Afghanistan and Iraq fell quickly, Syria retreated from Lebanon, the Saudis became hostile to terrorism, Pakistan was forced into a pro-Western, cooperative stance and domestic security thwarted any more of the terrorist attacks we all “knew” were unavoidable. Rather than rationing, war bond drives and the re-tooling of factories, the war years have been marked by an historic real estate boom, unprecedented personal consumption (and debt) and national angst over the saga of Brad and Jen. Few are left who really believe any of us but soldiers are “at war” in any but a remote, abstract sense.

Bit by bit the fellow-travellers in the media and academia emerged from their hiding places and used these very successes to argue that the whole thing was unnecessary and unprincipled. For many, the defence of the world against madness has morphed into just another foreign adventure with no discernable connection to our future beyond the size of the national debt. We do not know whether Mr. Campbell has any clear notion of what he thinks might have happened had President Bush and Prime Minister Blair not drawn lines in the sand, but it seems pretty clear he has no fear of being asked.

Mr. Campbell believes the enemy is fundamentalist thinking, which presumably he would define as the belief that any principle is worth fighting for. Of course, he fails to see his own frightening extremism. His is the voice of the fanatical mediator who is so determined to understand and validate opposing viewpoints, however vile, that he makes a point of proudly having no ideals of his own. The avoidance of conflict is not just his highest principle, it’s his only one, and as he knows of no others worth defending without compromise, he is open to allowing himself to be convinced barbarity is just an alternative life style and civilization is conquering oppression. Such fools have guided the West intellectually for close to a hundred years now and several times we have had to wrench control of the zeitgeist from them to confront menacing catastrophes looming right before our eyes. As they seem to be such resilient parasites, some days it is hard not to regret we’ve been so good at it up until now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:30 AM


Democrats Bump Up Nev., S.C. on Calendar (JIM KUHNHENN, 8/19/06, Associated Press)

Democrats shook up tradition on Saturday by vaulting Nevada and South Carolina into the first wave of 2008 presidential contests along with Iowa and New Hampshire -- a move intended to add racial and geographic diversity to the early voting.

The decision by the Democratic National Committee leaves Iowa as the nation's first presidential caucus and New Hampshire as the first primary, but wedges Nevada's caucuses before New Hampshire and South Carolina's primary soon afterward.

The move also packs all four state contests into a politically saturated two weeks in January. The change means a potentially huge cast of Democratic presidential candidates could winnow quickly by the beginning of February.

Party officials embraced the change, though New Hampshire Democrats joined several likely presidential candidates and former President Clinton in opposing the move.

NH isn't going to let someone else go first, so if Democrats choose not to contend here they just hand over the new cycle to John McCain for a couple weeks.

Democrats Set Primary Calendar and Penalties (ADAM NAGOURNEY, 8/20/06, NY Times)

Despite the vote, the fighting over the calendar may not be over. A number of potential 2008 contenders — including Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts; John Edwards, the former senator from North Carolina; and Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana — have expressed support for New Hampshire.

Several Democrats said candidates might make the calculation that it is worth losing delegates — assuming New Hampshire defies the party and the party penalizes candidates — to get the attention that might come from an early New Hampshire victory.

A spokesman for Mr. Bayh, Dan Pfeiffer, said that the senator had asked the Indiana Democratic delegation to oppose the rule change, and that he intended to campaign in New Hampshire.

“Senator Bayh, should he decide to run, intends to stand by his commitment to New Hampshire,” Mr. Pfeiffer said. “At the end of the day, the D.N.C. and the various states will set the final calendar and all Senator Bayh can do is compete in the contests as they come — and that includes New Hampshire.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


Shi'ite revival roiling Mideast (David R. Sands, 8/20/06, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Even before the Lebanon clash, events across the Muslim world had inspired debate over a new "Shi'ite Crescent."

Following U.S.-backed elections, Iraq's Shi'ite majority dominates the government in Baghdad for the first time in a millennium, while Shi'ite militias battle largely Sunni insurgents for control of the country. Iran's Shi'ite Islamic Republic has seen two regional rivals -- the Sunni fundamentalist Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam's Sunni-dominated secular dictatorship in Iraq -- crushed by U.S.-led military campaigns, while its Hezbollah ally is the strongest and best-armed force in Lebanon.

"Freed from the menace of the Taliban in Afghanistan and of Saddam in Iraq, Iran is riding the crest of the wave of Shi'ite revival," according to Mr. Nasr, "aggressively pursuing nuclear power and demanding international recognition of its interests."

Shi'ite Muslim communities in Sunni-dominated Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain -- which has a Shi'ite-majority population -- have recently begun to demand greater rights and economic opportunity.

The world's 120 million Shi'ites represent about 10 percent of Muslims worldwide, and are a majority of the population in just a handful of countries, including Iran (90 percent), Iraq (60 percent), Azerbaijan (75 percent) and Bahrain (75 percent).

Shi'ites make up an estimated 45 percent of Lebanon's population, and are smaller but still significant minorities in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the Persian Gulf states.

Shi'ite Muslims, with a religious tradition that did not focus on state power, have long complained of marginalization at the hands of Sunnis, even in countries such as Iraq, where Sunni Muslims were a minority.

Some of the most open fears of rising Shi'ite power, often linked to fears of a rising Iran, have come from the Arab world's Sunni leaders.

Who did you think we were liberating?

THIRD FOUNDATION (Brothers Judd, 8/08/06)
With Iran's help, Hezbollah is a force to be reckoned with (Carol Rosenberg, 8/20/06, McClatchy Newspapers)

"This was a real army, a command army, well-trained and well-equipped," said political scientist Gerald Steinberg, the director of the Conflict Management and Negotiation program at Israel's Bar Ilan University. The Palestinian Hamas movement, he said, "will want it more than they ever wanted it before, and they'll have to work harder than ever to get it. Everybody is going to be much more aware and much more willing to let Israel take action precisely to prevent a situation where Gaza turns into south Lebanon."

To be sure, Israel knew much about Hezbollah's military capabilities. Israeli intelligence had detected a 2003 shipment of long-range, Iranian-made Zelzal-2 missiles, which arrived at the Damascus airport in flights returning to Syria after delivering blankets and other emergency relief supplies to earthquake victims in Iran. Israeli officials said they didn't reveal the shipment at the time because they were afraid of tipping off Hezbollah and its allies to their sources.

Israeli military officers also were aware that Hezbollah was constructing a network of bunkers and tunnels on Israel's northern border. They knew as well that Hezbollah fighters were regularly shuttling between Lebanon's Bekaa Valley and Iran for advanced training.

But the depth of Hezbollah's development only became clear once Israel attacked its installations in Lebanon in what some initially envisioned as a one- or two-week campaign. After slightly more than four weeks, Israel agreed to a cease-fire that left Hezbollah intact as the strongest political and military force in Lebanon.

The Israeli invasion showed that Hezbollah, with Iran's help, had taken hundreds of small steps to create a powerhouse. Among them:

• It acquired thousands of Russian-made anti-tank missiles from Syria and Iran, then trained its forces to use them. The missiles were startlingly effective not just against Israeli tanks but also against houses and other buildings where Israeli troops sought shelter.

• It set up a top-down, stealthy military structure that tightly controls operations and is led by a covert chief of staff whose name isn't known to the Israelis or at least isn't made public.

• It established a combat-ready organization: a logistics branch to handle the delivery of food, fuel and munitions; a black-clad special-forces unit to conduct daring combat missions and abduct Israeli soldiers; navy commandos; and an infantry that trains for complex operations and supports the other units.

• It set up a reserve system that consists of former full-time fighters who can be called back to service.

It also created an intelligence unit that recruited a Bedouin spy inside the Israeli army and an air wing that sent drones on test runs over Israel in 2004 and 2005 on flight paths similar to those that its Katyusha rockets followed this summer.

It has Shiite fighters who speak Hebrew. This makes some Israeli soldiers suspect that they were being overheard.

"It's a well-organized army, unified, well-equipped — a big Shiite army," said Iftach Shapira, an analyst for The Middle East Military Balance, a publication of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv. "It happened slowly. We knew this army was being built, but I think we didn't appreciate just how strong it was."

Israelis think that Iran is intimately involved in training Hezbollah, which was founded largely at the behest of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Muslim cleric who toppled the shah of Iran in 1978 and died in 1989.

At the time of Hezbollah's beginnings, Israel occupied southern Lebanon and the United States had sent peacekeeping forces in an effort to separate warring Lebanese sides in a civil war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Arab media slam Syrian president (Associated Press, THE JERUSALEM POST, Aug. 19, 2006)

The bitterness over Bashar Assad's speech last week will likely stir up a gathering of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on Sunday. The meeting is supposed to pave the way for a summit of heads of state later in the month that will draw up plans to help rebuild Lebanon - and try to launch a new Arab peace initiative with Israel.

So far governments have not commented on Assad's jibes - instead, the task has been left to newspapers in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan - some of which are state-guided - which have been sizzling with personal and direct attacks on Assad the like of which the region has not seen directed against an Arab leader in years.

One paper described the Syrian president as a rose that has failed to bloom. Another berated him for remaining silent throughout Israel's offensive on Lebanon. And a third mocked all his talk about resistance when not a single bullet has been fired from Syria toward the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Assad had been silent throughout the 34 days of fighting in Lebanon between Israel and Hizbullah, a Syrian ally. But the day after a cease-fire set in, he gave his speech.

August 19, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 PM


Byers calls on Labour to scrap inheritance tax (Patrick Hennessy, 20/08/2006, Sunday Telegraph)

One of Tony Blair's closest political allies has issued an explosive demand for the Government to scrap inheritance tax.

Stephen Byers, the former transport secretary and a leading Blairite "outrider", claims that the tax, which brought in a total of £3.3 billion last year, is "a penalty on hard work, thrift and enterprise".

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph today, he brands it a "tax on death" and calls for it to be abolished.

His remarks will be seen as the political equivalent of lobbing a grenade under the door of Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, who jealously guards all areas of tax policy.

Mr. Blair wasn't about to let the Tories get to his Right.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 1:11 PM


Just dating, but in counselling (Amy Brown-Bowers, National Post, August 19th, 2006)

Therapy isn't just for married couples any more.

Therapists say more and more dating couples are seeking formal third-party involvement to resolve conflict, sometimes after just a few months together.

"Definitely, I'm seeing more and more couples who are dating who aren't necessarily getting married or living together," says Catherine Wood, a Toronto psychotherapist and couples coach for 13 years. About a third of her clients are couples who have been dating for as little as six months, and this part of her practice is growing.

Too bad they don’t yet have counselling services for blogs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:20 AM


French kiss-off (Chicago Tribune, August 19, 2006)

Farce is a French word, right? Well, it's the mot juste for what happened Thursday as the United Nations scrambled to assemble a robust force to keep the peace in Lebanon.

France led the diplomatic charge for the truce in Lebanon, calling for a cease-fire almost immediately. It played a central role in crafting the resolution that would send a UN force of about 15,000 to help the weak Lebanese army control the south and stop arms shipments to Hezbollah.

France, one UN official said, was supposed to be the backbone of the force, leading it and contributing significant numbers of troops.

But then came a splash of cold reality, a bracing reminder about why the words "France" and "backbone" rarely appear in the same sentence.

What about: if you turn your back on a Frenchman....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:13 AM


Dugout Pastimes: Saving Faces (Ben Reiter, Sports llustrated)

Michelangelo, da Vinci, Botticelli ... Baldelli? Devil Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli may not rank among the Italian masters, but he has made a lasting contribution to art, one that won't biodegrade for 2,000 years. While on the bench during a long recovery from assorted injuries, Baldelli, 24, doodled on Styrofoam coffee cups, using a sunflower seed as his stylus. Soon, he was carving portraits of teammates -- each took about five innings to complete -- and refining his technique. "I'd need a sharp seed to do the outlines," he says, "then I'd use the dull end to do the shading."

Baldelli did three portraits. Pitcher Mark Hendrickson was "shocked" by the resemblance; catcher Toby Hall admires Baldelli's rendering of facial hair ("long, fuzzy little chin hair, eyebrows, everything"). But all agree Baldelli's masterpiece is his Julio Lugo. "Impressive," says the shortstop. "The mustache he got right, and the nose, that's the difficult part."

Posted by Peter Burnet at 10:21 AM


Chanting the mantra of harm reduction (Tom Blackwell, National Post, August 19th, 2006)

About midway through the International AIDS Conference, Dr. Mark Wainberg, the bookish-looking AIDS scientist from Montreal and the meeting's co-chair, found himself in the thick of a chanting demonstration of prostitutes.

As the sex workers and their supporters, including a statuesque Indian transvestite, shouted out for legalization, Dr. Wainberg shouted along. As they punched the air in defiance, the respected microbiologist punched, too.

At this massive and extraordinary conference, supporting such causes is almost compulsory. As is speaking out for the rights of injection drug addicts, lamenting the plight of the overlooked transsexual and tolerating promiscuity, so long as that multiple-partner sex involves condoms.
Abstinence is a dirty word and human rights take precedence over quarantine.

To some outsiders it might seem like political correctness run amok. But as the largest-ever AIDS conference ended yesterday, researchers and agency leaders said the science is irrefutable that judgmental approaches to the groups most at risk of getting HIV do not work; trying non-coercively to change that behaviour or make it less likely to spread HIV -- something called harm reduction -- is the best hope.

"Yes, a number of people can get emotional about the issues ... but the fact is that it ought to be scientific agendas that drive what we do," Dr. Wainberg said in an interview.

"And it's as simple as this: Harm reduction works -- that is established medicine -- abstinence [programs] does not work and people lie about their sexuality and their sexual behaviour all the time...."

"Anyone who would articulate that being faithful is the solution to this problem is clearly putting their heads in the sand," Dr. Wainberg said.

It’s too bad the reporter wasn’t quick enough to ask Dr. Wainberg how science and sex-workers came to have identical agendas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:15 AM


Experts Fault Reasoning in Surveillance Decision (ADAM LIPTAK, 8/19/06, NY Times)

Even legal experts who agreed with a federal judge’s conclusion on Thursday that a National Security Agency surveillance program is unlawful were distancing themselves from the decision’s reasoning and rhetoric yesterday.

They said the opinion overlooked important precedents, failed to engage the government’s major arguments, used circular reasoning, substituted passion for analysis and did not even offer the best reasons for its own conclusions.

Discomfort with the quality of the decision is almost universal, said Howard J. Bashman, a Pennsylvania lawyer whose Web log provides comprehensive and nonpartisan reports on legal developments.

“It does appear,” Mr. Bashman said, “that folks on all sides of the spectrum, both those who support it and those who oppose it, say the decision is not strongly grounded in legal authority.”

The main problems, scholars sympathetic to the decision’s bottom line said, is that the judge, Anna Diggs Taylor, relied on novel and questionable constitutional arguments when more straightforward statutory ones were available.

Of course, their notion that the statutes can trump the Constitution is itself anti-constitutional.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:11 AM


It's art, says the naked woman who'll hug a dead pig on stage (Daily Mail, 18th August 2006)

After pickled sheep, unmade beds and painting with elephant dung, some questioned where modern art could go next.

Kira O'Reilly will provide her own answer today by spending four hours naked, hugging a dead pig - at the taxpayer's expense.

The controversial Irish performance artist will invite one person at a time to watch her sit in a specially-constructed set and perform a 'crushing slow dance' with the carcass in her arms.

She claims the bizarre exhibition is an attempt to 'identify' with the pig, which she cuts with a knife during the show.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 AM


Some relief appearing at the pump (DAVID S. ROSEN, 8/18/06, Houston Chronicle)

Is it for real?

Are gasoline prices, after hovering just below $2.90 a gallon for weeks, actually on their way down?

If Tom Kloza's right, they are.

According to AAA, prices dropped across the state an average of 6 cents this week — 7 cents in Houston to $2.86 — prompting the analyst with the Oil Price Information Service to predict prices will drop more.

If there aren't any tropical storms or crude oil prices don't bounce back up, "we're on a collision course for somewhere in the next 30 days when we're going to say, 'My goodness, those are cheaper than they were a year ago,' " Kloza said.

Heading into November....

Company claims to have developed new technology that provices unlimited free energy (Gizmag, August 19, 2006)

Steorn, an Irish company, claims to have produced a groundbreaking (we do not use this word lightly) technology which is based on the interaction of magnetic fields and produces free, clean and constant energy. If the claims are true, the new technology will enable a significant range of benefits, from the convenience of never having to refuel your car or recharge your mobile phone, to a genuine solution to the need for zero emission energy production. It will also provide a secure supply of energy, since the components of the technology are readily available. Steorn’s technology is claimed to allow the production of clean, free and constant energy. Steorn’s technology appears to violate the ‘Principle of the Conservation of Energy’, (energy can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only change form) considered by many to be the most fundamental principle in our current understanding of the universe. Fully aware that its claims will be considered bunkum by anyone who has graduated kindergarten, Steorn today issued a challenge to the global scientific community to test its free energy technology. Steorn has placed an advertisement in The Economist to attract the attention of the world’s leading scientists working in the field of experimental physics. From all the scientists who accept the challenge, twelve will be invited to take part in a rigorous testing exercise to prove that Steorn’s technology creates free energy. The results will be published worldwide.

NRG Energy Considers Making Ethanol (MATTHEW DALTON, 8/19/06, Dow Jones Newswires)
Independent power producer NRG Energy Inc. is considering entering the ethanol-making business.

If the Princeton, N.J.-based company proceeds, it would be one of the first moves by a power company to invest in ethanol, a low-polluting transportation fuel made from corn or sugar.

NRG is considering building an ethanol plant that would use steam from an existing power plant or from a new coal-fired boiler, Bob Henry, NRG senior vice president of operations, told Dow Jones Newswires in an interview.

"We are chasing a lot of different permutations on the theme of ethanol," Henry said.

Oil, Gas Rig Count Rises by 34 This Week (Associated Press, 8/18/06)
The number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the United States this week rose by 34 to 1,762.

Of the rigs running nationwide, 1,427 were exploring for gas and 330 for oil, Houston-based Baker Hughes Inc. reported Friday. Five were listed as miscellaneous.

A year ago, the rig count was 1,433.

Baker Hughes has kept track of the count since 1944. The tally peaked at 4,530 in 1981, during the height of the oil boom. Several record lows were set in 1999, bottoming out at 488.

So cheap we don't even look for it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 AM


Airbus Deflates (Jeremy Slater, 18 Aug 2006, Tech Central Station)

The news out of the company since has not improved as Airbus has announced that the launch of another new airplane, the A350, which is meant to rival Boeing's Dreamliner for long-haul international flights, is to be delayed, as the new management wants to reconsider the venture.

All in all, it is hard not to think of a major company that has so audaciously snatched defeat from the mouth of victory in the past few years. It will be hard for observers in the US not to say, "I told you so". They will point to a classic example of government meddling in the market place, a poor rate of productivity and other microeconomic issues that have left the continent's two biggest economies moribund for several years all leading to yet another European company failing. Further they will gloat that it is obvious that even when Europe tries to work together its efforts are scuppered by national rivalries or simply poor management practice that borders on the criminal.

It's hard to disagree with that assessment.

If suburban women see your cities on fire when they turn on CNN, they aren't hopping on your planes to fly to Disney.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:53 AM


Vital lessons from a 'premature' war (David Horovitz, 8/18/06, THE JERUSALEM POST)

In the very first days of the war with Hizbullah, Israel's top political and military echelons simply could not contain their delight.

Displaying quite horrifying misplaced confidence, ministers crowed in private briefings that Sheikh Nasrallah's fighting force would be broken in a week.

It was already 20 percent, no 30%, no 40% demolished, the generals chimed in, insisting furthermore that the job could be done overwhelmingly from the air; there was no need to risk a bloody ground war.

The Lebanese public was being alienated not by Israel but by Nasrallah and his destructive Iranian proxy army, they all chorused. The fighting, furthermore, would not end without the unconditional release of the two kidnapped soldiers. And moderate Arab states were signaling a shift in attitude to Islamic extremism, finally, that was being seized upon by the watching Western world and that boded well for the existential challenge posed by Teheran.

The variety and gravity of such misconceptions point to a level of arrogance and complacency probably unparalleled since the false pride bred by 1967's military achievements was punished so bitterly by the surprise of the 1973 war.

With speed, Hezbollah picks up the shovel: Group's engineers, funds pour into war torn Lebanon (Thanassis Cambanis, August 19, 2006, Boston Globe)

Lebanon's government is still talking about its own reconstruction plan, but Hezbollah has already flexed its organizational muscle to deploy heavy machinery, hundreds of engineers, and thousands of workers across the country, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, and in the process leaving the government looking flat-footed.

Flush with cash that it says comes from Iran, Syria, and other donors, including Islamic charities and Shi'ite groups, Hezbollah was able to hire contractors and give money to the displaced even before the shooting stopped. The donor largesse has enabled Hezbollah to plan for reconstruction with a budget party officials described as ``without limit." Meanwhile, Lebanon's debt-saddled government is still seeking reconstruction financing from Western and Arab donors.

Nasrallah promised when a cease-fire halted the monthlong war on Monday that the ``Party of God," which led Lebanon into the conflict with a cross-border raid into Israel, would also lead the reconstruction effort.

Through the first week of the cease-fire, the intensive Hezbollah effort has underscored the group's speed and strength relative to the central government's plodding bureaucracy. With its urgent efforts, the group also signaled to Lebanese that it was prepared to assert itself in the country's postwar political dynamic.

``The Lebanese state takes three months to bring help. The United Nations takes three years. Hezbollah is there the next day," said Timur Goksel, who worked as a liaison officer in Lebanon between Hezbollah and the United Nations in Lebanon for more than a decade and knows the group intimately.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 AM


Filipino 'dwarf' judge loses case (BBC, 8/18/06)

A Philippines judge who said he consulted imaginary mystic dwarves has failed to convince the Supreme Court to allow him to keep his job.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:46 AM


Why is AIDS so special? (MICHAEL COREN, 8/19/06, Toronto Sun)

Now that the fuss and glamour of the great Canadian AIDS conference in Toronto is largely over, perhaps we can speak honestly about this terrible disease.

First we have to be clear. We must fight against any preventable death and ease all suffering, irrespective of gender, race, age or sexuality.

Sadly, the trend is the opposite. Governments are increasingly legalizing the killing of the elderly, the ill and the disabled. But when it comes to AIDS, it seems politicians and public figures cannot do enough, or at least be seen to be doing enough.

Movie stars, rock singers, authors and activists demand that we pump billions of dollars into their cause. The irony is that AIDS is one of the few diseases where personal behavior rather than medical research could save millions of lives.

At its most simple, stop fornicating.

There, I've said it. One of the things that can end a career in North American media. Yet it's true. AIDS in the West is still overwhelmingly a threat to male homosexuals and intravenous drug users.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:42 AM


Unforgettable moment hit home 39 years ago (Bob Ryan, August 18, 2006, Boston Globe)

It was Friday, Aug. 18, 1967, and the town was alive because the Red Sox were in an honest-to-God, late-summer pennant race for the first time in 17 years. The fourth-place Red Sox (3 1/2 games back) were playing the fifth-place Angels (four back) in the first of four and it was baseball as baseball was meant to be until that awful moment in the bottom of the fourth with Tony Conigliaro batting against California righthander Jack Hamilton.

The sound. Rico Petrocelli will never forget the sound.

``It was a `squish,' " recalls Petrocelli, the on-deck hitter, ``like a tomato or melon hitting the ground."

It was the sound of a baseball hitting Tony C in the left eye.

The Dickie Thon injury was the worst I ever saw.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 AM


What's Large, Gray and Likes to Play Polo?: U.S. Elephant Team Ready for 1st Match (Dan Zak, 8/19/06, Washington Post)

The posting on Craigslist went like this:

Join the DC Elephant Polo Team as we go to Thailand for the 2006 Kings Cup Elephant Polo Championships! . . . No previous polo experience is necessary .

Many responded. Some were curious, others incredulous. But two were willing to saddle up with intelligence analyst Kimberly Zenz, the team's 29-year-old founder and captain, and her boyfriend and sister.

In two weeks, they will journey to Hua Hin, Thailand. When the opening gong sounds, they'll find themselves playing polo on elephants for the first time.

They are the first U.S. team to enter the six-day tournament, one of three majors on the circuit. (The others are in Sri Lanka and Nepal.)

Theirs also appears to be the only organized elephant polo team in the Americas.

And last weekend, the fate of an entire hemisphere on their shoulders, the D.C. Elephant Polo Team had its first practice, running around with homemade eight-foot-long bamboo mallets in a back yard in Alexandria.

One jumbo problem: The elephants are in Asia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 AM


Palestinian deputy PM arrested (AP, 8/18/06)

Israeli soldiers arrested the Palestinian deputy prime minister Saturday, the highest-ranking Hamas official rounded up in a seven-week-old crackdown against the ruling party.

Troops burst into the home of Nasser Shaer around 4:30 a.m. and took him away, said the deputy prime minister's wife, Huda.

Best not to act surprise when they want their prisoners back.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


Cheney Gets Flawed Neocon Briefings on Iran (Larisa Alexandrovna, August 19, 2006, Raw Story)

The Bush administration continues to bypass standard intelligence channels and use what some believe to be propaganda tactics to create a compelling case for war with Iran, US foreign experts and former US intelligence officials have said.

Strange, it seemed he was getting all the intelligence required to make a compelling case for war from the public pronouncements of Ahmedinejad.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 9:00 AM


What the war is about (Saul Singer, Jerusalem Post, August 17th, 2006)

It is hard to find anyone in Israel who says we won this war besides the prime minister and those around him. The same goes for Israel's friends abroad, who almost uniformly term it a resounding defeat. But I found someone who disagrees - in Lebanon:

"Hizbullah at best won a tactical victory in standing its ground. However, its rocket deterrent has effectively been neutralized for years, because Shi'ite civilians cannot soon be put through such trauma again.

"Hizbullah's skills were on display in a fight that was largely meaningless, and you can be assured that next time the Israelis will come better prepared; the vague Lebanese consensus behind the party, never very strong anyway, has been shattered, so that Hizbullah cannot be as adventurist in the future as it was in the past. Arab hostility to Hizbullah has escalated, and was on display during the recent diplomacy; and for the foreseeable future Hizbullah will have to behave more like the Salvation Army than a 'resistance' because of the hundreds of thousands of Shi'ites it must take care of.

"For all these reasons and more, I don't see this as a victory for Hizbullah, and I'm not even mentioning the billions of dollars of losses Lebanon must face. In its calculations, strangely, Hizbullah never seemed to factor in the losses outside the Shi'ite community."

Never in the field of human conflict has so much conflicting, confusing analysis been thrown at so many by so few. Anyone reading the strategic wisdom of pundits far and wide over the past week could be forgiven for feeling as if he is in a dream where all the world’s sportswriters are arguing bitterly about which team won a baseball game that was called for rain in the third inning. In an Israel that has just devastated south Lebanon and badly bruised the enemy, rage against the political and strategic blunders of this “defeat” is being thrown around willy-nilly in the most apocalyptic of language, which is bizarre to anyone who remembers 1973. Surely, though, we are now familiar enough with Arab psychology to know that the mass crowing over Hezbollah’s “victory” and the mindless hero-worship of Nasrallah are pretty good clues that they know full well they didn’t win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


G.O.P. Deserts One of Its Own for Lieberman (ANNE E. KORNBLUT, 8/19/06, NY Times)

Facing Senator Joseph I. Lieberman’s independent candidacy, Republican officials at the state and national level have made the extraordinary decision to abandon their official candidate, and some are actively working to help Mr. Lieberman win in November.

Despite Mr. Lieberman’s position that he will continue to caucus with Democrats if re-elected, all three Republican Congressional candidates in Connecticut have praised Mr. Lieberman and have not endorsed the party’s nominee, Alan Schlesinger. An independent group with Republican ties is raising money for Mr. Lieberman, who has been a strong supporter of President Bush on the Iraq war.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, while saying he would support the Republican nominee, is not planning to campaign for him, and even allowed two of his aides to consult with the Lieberman camp before the Aug. 8 Democratic primary. And Newt Gingrich, the Republican who once served as House speaker, has endorsed Mr. Lieberman’s candidacy.

If you couldn't buy his change of parties with a committee chairmanship then his critics are quite wrong about him.

August 18, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:55 PM


In South Carolina, A Major Endorsement For McCain (MARC AMBINDER, 8/17/06, Hotline)

For John McCain, the road to the '08 nomination has several byways. One of them is especially critical: identifying, and then mitigating, the roadblocks that kept McCain from winning the nomination last cycle. To these tasks, John Weaver, Mark Salter and other members of McCain's brain trust have dedicated their waking hours. Not enough money? McCain builds a broad and multi-layered donor base. Lack of Southern support? A methodical courtship of Southern politicians and donors (many in Texas). Lack of credibility with the activist elite in some of the early primary states? High profile opinion drivers are joining McCain's PAC. Opposition from social conservatives? McCain is going out of his way to be civil and accomodating (although not necessarily changing his views).

In South Carolina, one obstacle was particularly galling for McCain in '00. He basically split the veterans' vote with George W. Bush. One major reason was Maj. General Stan Spears, the chief of the state's National Guard forces and the man who almost single-handedly convinced thousands of veterans to vote for Bush. Tonight, that obstacle is unblocked. At a fundraiser in Columbia, SC, Spears said publicly he will support McCain if he runs in '08.

The timing was a surprise, even to McCain's aides.

The only obstacle that really matters is that in '08 he's got Bush/Rove on his side.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:03 PM


Bush Vows to Fight Wiretapping Ruling (ADAM LIPTAK and ERIC LICHTBLAU, 8/18/06, NY Times)

President Bush said today that he is confident that a federal court ruling against his administration’s electronic surveillance program will be overturned, and he described those who hailed the ruling as naïve.

“I would say that those who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live,” Mr. Bush said in a question-answer session at Camp David, Md. “I strongly disagree with that decision, strongly disagree. That’s why I instructed the Justice Department to appeal immediately. And I believe our appeals will be upheld.”

“We believe, strongly believe, it’s constitutional,” the president added. “And if Al Qaeda is calling into the United States, we want to know why they’re calling.”

He could hardly ask more than a ruling that demonstrates he was right about not leaving national security up to the courts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:22 PM


Statement on the Terrorist Surveillance Program (Office of the Press Secretary, August 17, 2006, WhiteHouse.gov)

Last week America and the world received a stark reminder that terrorists are still plotting to attack our country and kill innocent people. Today a federal judge in Michigan has ruled that the Terrorist Surveillance Program ordered by the President to detect and prevent terrorist attacks against the American people is unconstitutional and otherwise illegal. We couldn't disagree more with this ruling, and the Justice Department will seek an immediate stay of the opinion and appeal. Until the Court has the opportunity to rule on a stay of the Court's ruling in a hearing now set for September 7, 2006, the parties have agreed that enforcement of the ruling will be stayed.

United States intelligence officials have confirmed that the program has helped stop terrorist attacks and saved American lives. The program is carefully administered, and only targets international phone calls coming into or out of the United States where one of the parties on the call is a suspected Al Qaeda or affiliated terrorist. The whole point is to detect and prevent terrorist attacks before they can be carried out. That's what the American people expect from their government, and it is the President's most solemn duty to ensure their protection.

The Terrorist Surveillance Program is firmly grounded in law and regularly reviewed to make sure steps are taken to protect civil liberties. The Terrorist Surveillance Program has proven to be one of our most critical and effective tools in the war against terrorism, and we look forward to demonstrating on appeal the validity of this vital program.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 3:37 PM


'Asteroid busters' widen search to protect Earth (William J. Kole, Globe and Mail, August 18th, 2006)

They are out there, hidden among a haze of stars –– killer asteroids. Now the world's astronomers are keeping a wary eye to the skies for giant objects on a collison course with Earth.

Experts say there are about 1,100 comets and asteroids in the inner solar system that are at least 800 metres across, and that any one of them could unleash a global cataclysm capable of killing millions in a single blinding flash.

On Thursday, the International Astronomical Union said it has set up a special task force to sharpen its focus on threats from such “near-Earth objects.”

“The goal is to discover these killer asteroids before they discover us,” said Nick Kaiser of the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy, which hopes to train four powerful digital cameras on the heavens to watch for would-be intruders.

There is currently no way to stop one, but scientists believe that some day a defence could be devised, such as using spacecraft to divert a killer comet.

Sure the details need to be worked out, but it seems obvious to us already that the solution lies in a new UN treaty and a sharp reduction in American living standards.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:32 PM

The 5th annual WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon starts Friday, August 18 at 6 a.m.

The 18-hour radio-telethon will be broadcast live on WEEI and NESN, featuring celebrity guests and callers as well as personal stories of the patients, doctors and researchers supported by the Jimmy Fund.

Over the past four years, the Radio-Telethon has raised more than $5 million to support research and care at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The 2006 event is expected to raise an additional $2.6 million! This incredible sum will directly support Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's search for cures and translate into lives saved.

For more information or to make a gift please visit:


Posted by Peter Burnet at 3:20 PM


Taliban talk about disarming (Bruce Campion-Smith, Toronto Star, August 18th, 2006)

In a significant move, Canadian and NATO officials in southern Afghanistan are involved in sensitive negotiations with Taliban fighters after discreet backroom signals from insurgents that they might be willing to lay down arms.

News of the surprise offer was quietly welcomed by allied military officials caught in the crosshairs of a swelling insurgency that has killed seven Canadian soldiers since July 22.

Disarmament talks are unfolding even as "hundreds" of fighters mass west of Kandahar in an ominous prelude to a potential battle.

The overture for potential peace came when a faction of Taliban insurgents in Panjwai region southwest of Kandahar signalled it wanted to talk to NATO's International Security Assistance Force or the United Nations about disarming.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 2:43 PM


Suspects linked to hardline Islamic group (Sandra Laville, The Guardian, April 18th, 2006)

A fundamentalist Islamic movement is emerging as a common link between several of the men arrested on suspicion of plotting to blow up transatlantic airliners.

And here we were worried they might be disgruntled French soccer fans.

Posted by Peter Burnet at 2:16 PM


To be a burden is to be truly human (Mary Kenny, The Times, August 18th, 2006)

How pitiful to have lived for over half a century on this planet and not to have observed that the very core of being human is admitting of dependence upon others. There is such a thing as society, and we are all part of it. Our interdependence is part of our humanity, and indeed, our civilisation. Only an automaton is autonomous. We are all burdens upon each other at various cycles of our lives; but we grow in bearing one another’’s burdens and draw enlightenment and wisdom from the experience.

To see a man who was once big and strong and bestrode his world like a colossus now reduced to the frailty of extreme old age; or to see a woman who once ruled her domestic dominion like an empress now sweetly accepting of a second childhood —— this is to understand that it is vulnerability that makes human beings heroic, not strength and dominance and power. The poignant heart of humanity is vulnerability: if we don’t understand that, we are indeed as the brute beasts of the fields, with whom the euthanasia lobby so often likes to draw a parallel, calling to be put down like their own domestic animals.

And to care for the sick and old and dying through the last days of their journey through life is the very mark of civilisation itself. Anthropology tells us that undeveloped peoples do not do this. Certain aboriginal peoples abandon the lame and the halt to the elements; in the Arctic tundras, when the elderly could no longer hunt or contribute to the tribe, they were exposed to the cold so they would not take up space or use of food stores. This was functional —— what the Darwinists would call a survival strategy —— and for the purpose of survival, people take many desperate measures.

But wherever this was practised, tribes failed to develop, intellectually and even emotionally: because development comes through the experience of altruism, and the understanding that there is more to the human spirit than the next meal. Development also requires moral virtues such as courage and fortitude in the face of well-understood trials and difficulties. Problem-solving is advanced by caring rather than elimination. But development comes when, instead, we invent a wheelchair.

It is astounding how successful the pro-death lobby has been in convincing us there is nothing in it for them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:11 PM


We mentioned the new book, Confrontation at Lepanto, and the publisher just provided us with a couple extra copies to give away. How about everyone can pick three golfers in this week's PGA Championship and we'll give books to whoever's three combine for the lowest stroke total (all have to make the cut). They're already on the course, so you can even see who's doing well. We'll cut off entries around midday tomorrow.

Looking up to the top at PGA Championship (Thomas Bonk, 8/18/06, Los Angeles Times)

[W]ho knew there would be so many birdies at Medinah? The layout is 7,561 yards, but with four par-5s and a par of 72, not to mention soft greens, Medinah was there for the mauling.

Most successful at discovering birdies were Chris Riley and Lucas Glover, who shared the first-round lead at six-under 66 on what turned out to be a good day for scoring. There were 20 players who shot in the 60s.

But there were also 60 who shot under par, including Seattle native Fred Couples and Ryan Moore of Puyallup, who each fired 1-under 71s. If that sounds like a lot, it is. It's the highest number of players to shoot under par in any round of the PGA Championship. The previous record was 58 in the second round in 1995 at Riviera Country Club.

Glover, 26, is 14th in Ryder Cup points and could win a place on the team with a good week. Riley, 32, from San Diego, has already played on a Ryder Cup team, but he's looking for his first PGA Tour victory in four years and hasn't had a top-10 finish in 18 tournaments this year.

"My back is up against the wall now, and it's time to play golf, and I'm fine with that," Riley said. "My attitude's a lot better. Nothing bothers me and I know I hit the ball well enough, so if I make a bogey, I'm going to have a lot of birdie chances."

I've got Mr. Riley in our fantasy golf pool, but was so dubious I didn't even pick him in this contest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:13 AM


Young to Quit Wal-Mart Group After Racial Remarks (Abigail Goldman, 8/18/06, LA Times)

Andrew Young, the civil rights leader and former U.N. ambassador, said Thursday that he would resign as head of a Wal-Mart advocacy group, acknowledging "demagogic" remarks about Jewish, Asian and Arab business owners.

Young, 74, has been lobbying minority groups and civic leaders to accept Wal-Mart stores in their neighborhoods, a relationship that has drawn criticism from other African American leaders. In an interview published in Thursday's Los Angeles Sentinel, he was asked about the retailer's role in displacing mom-and-pop stores.

"Well, I think they should; they ran the 'mom-and-pop' stores out of my neighborhood," he told the Sentinel, the oldest and largest black-owned weekly newspaper in the West.

"But you see those are the people who have been overcharging us — selling us stale bread, and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they've ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it's Arabs, very few black people own these stores."

Of course, he's being fairly accurate -- though not necessarily about the quality of the goods and services provided-- but when you've made a living mau-mauing you ought to know better than to describe ethnic reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:57 AM


A Long Road to ESPN (Tony Lane, 8/18/06, Valley News)

Studio lighting doesn't illuminate like X-rays, so ESPN audiences had no clue about the four-alarm fire pounding inside the chest of Robert Stanbury “Buster” Olney III when he first appeared on Baseball Tonight in the summer of 2003.

No one told the Randolph Center native how to condense a 900-word game story into a glib, 2-minute spiel. No one told him how to talk over a highlight, how to avoid diarrhea of the mouth, how to sneak in a valid point over a two-second spit of video.

It was trial, error, fumbling, bumbling -- and then improving, easing, delivering, flowing. Just as Olney the newspaper writer totally blew his first deadline story, but later played chicken with the clock -- i.e., starting a Yankees gamer for The New York Times in the sixth inning -- Olney the television personality is now finding his rhythm under the klieg lights.

“I want to get better in television,” Olney professed yesterday in a phone interview. “I want to get my heart rate down from about 250 when I first did it. Now it's around 90; I want to get it down around 60.”

Olney, 42, has become a ubiquitous observer in the world of Major League Baseball, which only befits an ex-beat writer for the Padres, Orioles, Mets and Yankees. He has written a bestseller, Last Night of the Yankees Dynasty, and has another tome about Yankees owner George Steinbrenner bubbling forth from his laptop.

Olney could have easily wrapped himself in the print medium for the rest of his career, especially after six years at the Times. But after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the winds were shifting at the august paper. Howell Raines assumed the executive editorship and nudged sports editor Neil Amdur over to staffing and national recruiting. Greater emphasis for college sports -- particularly college football -- took hold. By 2003, Olney decided to vote with his feet.

“It got to the point where … I either needed to shut my mouth and stop complaining about it or I could find something else to do,” he said. “It couldn't have been more than 48 hours after I made that up in my mind that I got a call from ESPN.

He's pretty bad on tv and radio--and the story he shared last Friday made men drive off the road--but his book is terrific and should really be read as part of a trilogy with Moneyball and Feeding the Monster, in which Gene Michael innovates a way of building a team that can compete for years, the A's follow suit, and then just as Steinbrenner blows up the Michael method the Sox are adopting it.

Of course, yesterday the wretched Royals signed Mark Grudzielanek to a contract extension, suggesting that they've never read any of the three books.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:03 AM


Bruno Kirby (Daily Telegraph, 18/08/2006)

Bruno Kirby, who died of leukaemia on Monday aged 57, was a dependable American film actor, giving perhaps his best remembered performance as Billy Crystal's moustachioed friend and romance counsellor in When Harry Met Sally (1989). [...]

He was born Bruno Giovanni Quidaciolu in New York on April 28 1949. His father was the actor Bruce Kirby, most recently seen as Matt Dillon's father in Crash (2005).

After growing up in Hell's Kitchen, Bruno Kirby moved to California in the late 1960s and soon began landing small parts in films and television, including the first episode of M*A*S*H, the army hospital comedy set during the Korean War. His breakthrough came in 1974, when he was cast in The Godfather Part II as the mobster Pete Clemenza, who tempts the young Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) into bad habits. Thereafter Kirby appeared regularly in such television series of the time as Kojak, Columbo - in which his father had a long-running part as an assistant to Peter Falk - and Fame, before again making his mark in the cinema in This is Spinal Tap (1984), the spoof rock documentary directed by Reiner. The joke was that his character, the chauffeur to the band, actually preferred Frank Sinatra to rock music. This was taken from life by the film's writer Christopher Guest, who had also played softball with Kirby.

The notion that a guy who appeared in the Godfather films is best remembered for a chick flick is at best metrosexual.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:58 AM


Tories to convert council rent into mortgage (Rosie Murray-West and George Jones, 18/08/2006, Daily Telegraph)

Every social housing tenant will be given the opportunity to own his or her home under a Conservative government, David Cameron announced yesterday.

He wants to create a revolution in ownership by allowing any council tenant the right to convert rental payments into a mortgage.

"In this way we can create a whole new generation of home owners," the Tory leader said. "Millions of people would be able to own their flat, own their home. Millions of people would be able to pass property on to future generations."

Under the proposals, unemployed people would be able to use housing benefit to build up equity in their homes.

Funny to read folks who misinterpret the Democrats ability to filibuster SS privatization as the death knell for the Ownership Society when the rality is that whichever party is most closely identified with the Third Way (by whatever euphemism the candidates settle on--New Democrat and compassionate conservative being the most recent) will win the White House.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 AM


Plot to blow up airlines 'sanctioned by al-Qaida chief' (Duncan Campbell, August 18, 2006, Guardian)

A Pakistani security official yesterday claimed that a plot to blow up transatlantic airlines had been sanctioned by Ayman al-Zawahri, the man described as the number two in al-Qaida. The claim came as eight foreign nationals, some of whom have been detained for more than two years as Taliban and al-Qaida suspects, were released in Pakistan protesting their innocence.

"We have reason to believe that it was al-Qaida sanctioned and was probably cleared by al-Zawahri," a senior security official told the Associated Press yesterday. Previously the Pakistani authorities have suggested that a plot had been hatched slightly further down the supposed al-Qaida chain of command.

Rashid Rauf, the Briton detained last week in Bahawalpur, Punjab, was still being held and questioned by Pakistani authorities. They have now been joined by a team of what is believed to be six detectives from the UK.

Another off-the-record security briefing suggested a British Muslim of Afghan origin, an Eritrean national and a Pakistani are also being sought by the Pakistani police.

Gotta love how Democrats, on the one hand, are trying to convince us that they're capable of handling national security while, on the other, seemingly half the Left denies this plot was even real.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 AM


Brighter ’06 Deficit Outlook, but Long Term Looks Grim (EDMUND L. ANDREWS, 8/18/06, NY Times)

The federal budget deficit will shrink this year to its lowest level since 2001, but the fiscal outlook for the next 10 years is as bleak as ever, the Congressional Budget Office said Thursday.

The budget office estimated the deficit for the 2006 fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, at $260 billion. That would be $58 billion less than last year, $112 billion less than the agency estimated in March and even lower than the White House’s most recent forecast.

The improvement is almost entirely a result of an unexpectedly big jump in tax revenue, particularly in corporate tax receipts and what appear to be higher payments by the nation’s wealthiest households.

Measured as a share of the nation’s total output, this year’s deficit would equal about 2 percent of gross domestic product, a level that Donald B. Marron, acting director of the budget office, described as “sustainable.”

Unexpected? Hasn't the president been saying since '99 that tax cuts would fuel higher growth and revenue? Meanwhile, cut the 2%+ of GDP he's added for defense and the budget is balanced (though neither we nor the global economy could afford that eventuality).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM


U.S. men, women still worlds apart (Jennifer Harper, 8/18/06, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Vive la difference: Despite feminists, metrosexuals and gender-neutral language, we just can't surrender those old ways. Men, it seems, are still chivalrous, protective of their womenfolk and perhaps endearingly stubborn about certain things. And women? They like to shop, they're fastidious, and yes, they will ask for directions.

"American men and women tend to embrace many well-known sexual stereotypes, admitting to patterns of behavior commonly attributed to their gender," according to a poll released yesterday by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University.

"Recall that male passengers on the Titanic agreed to give up their places on the lifeboats for women and children," the researchers said in framing their question to more than 1,000 Americans. "If there were a similar life-or-death situation today, do you think men should be expected to die and allow women to live?"

Almost two thirds of the men -- a manly 63 percent -- said they should be expected to lay down their lives. Only 39 percent of the women agreed; 43 percent of the ladies, in fact, thought the idea was "old-fashioned," compared with 23 percent of the men.

Females had a practical edge: While almost half the men said that someone had told them that they were reluctant to ask for directions, the number was just 13 percent among women. And 65 percent of the guys had run out of gas while driving, compared with 47 percent of their feminine counterparts.

Watched Ghosts of the Abyss with our sons last night, in which Bill Paxton frets aloud about how, since he was about eight, he's often worried about whether he'd act with the same class as the men who helped their wives and children on to lifeboats and then faced their own deaths. It's one of those topics that comes up late at night around a tap and every guy will admit he's pondered the same.

Meanwhile, at one point they come up from a dive and as they're ascending a crew member notes that it is September 11, 2001. In some weird way, the wreck of the Titanic, already freighted with plenty of symbolism, becomes a stand-in for that other unreachable gravesite. When they lay a memorial plaque on the hull it's far more moving than you'd expect.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 AM


U.S., Hezbollah vie to rebuild for Lebanese (Sharon Behn, 8/18/06, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

The United States and its allies are rushing billions of dollars for the reconstruction of Lebanon while Iran provides cash through its proxy, Hezbollah, in a race to establish long-term political influence among the country's war-ravaged Shi'ite communities.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are sending $2 billion, said a Lebanese source close to the majority party in government, and the United States has publicly promised $50 million in humanitarian assistance. That sum will likely be increased at an international pledging conference later this month.

Hezbollah, which successfully held off the Israeli military in the monthlong war that ended Monday, is already working with residents of the south to rebuild homes and businesses destroyed in the conflict.

"This is an opportunity to do more than just rebuild, but to help to shape Lebanon's future, and probably that is the biggest challenge," said Rick Barton, who studies post-conflict reconstruction at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

South Lebanon's future.

Start Talking to Hezbollah (LAKHDAR BRAHIMI, 8/18/06, NY Times)

WHAT a waste that it took more than 30 days to adopt a United Nations Security Council resolution for a cease-fire in Lebanon. Thirty days during which nothing positive was achieved and a great deal of pain, suffering and damage was inflicted on innocent people. [...]

[W]e must recall that Hezbollah came into existence as a consequence of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Like all movements, it has evolved: it was initially a militia and a resistance movement against foreign occupation. It then developed into both a political party and a social organization, providing valuable services to its impoverished community.

Rather than trying to isolate Hezbollah, we should be encouraging it to play a responsible role in the internal dynamics of Lebanon.

isolation would be ideal, in its own Shi'a state. If it results in sovereignty for the South Lebanese and a rebuilding effort the war won't have been a waste at all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 AM


What a Farce (SETH GITELL, August 18, 2006, NY Sun)

In a classic case of the French being the French, reports indicate that President Chirac is balking at sending troops from his nation to be part of the international force to enforce the United Nations-orchestrated "peace" deal. [...]

France's track record is not good. We need look no farther than to the words of 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, General Wesley Clark, for a sickening example. After years of watching European nations diplomaticize, discuss, and dither while thousands of innocents were slain in the Yugoslav civil war, America in 1999 became the driving force to protect ethnic Albanian Muslims in Kosovo. (Prior to this, when it came to protecting actual Islamic lives in their own backyard, the French were almost as ineffective as they were in saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust.) In his 2001 memoir "Waging Modern War," General Clark writes of his fear that some of his "allies" were providing information to the enemy. "Back in October, one of the French officers working at NATO headquarters had given key portions of the operations plan to the Serbs," he writes. Later in the war, the Europeans objected to Clark's desire to bring in Apache helicopters, use ground troops, and bomb a troublesome Serb airbase in Montenegro. "This was a matter of protecting our American and NATO forces," according to Clark. After Clark ultimately ordered air strikes, France protested.

Any time the Frech aren't trading Jews for chocolate bars they're behaving with unaccustomed bravery.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM


All eyes on Sox-Yanks rivalry this weekend: The teams are so evenly matched that a sweep by either is highly unlikely, but hey, you never know. (SEAN McADAM, 8/16/06, Providence Journal)

Ever since a May rainout expanded a four-game set to a five-game reality series, the Red Sox-Yankees marathon scheduled for this weekend has loomed large.

The teams haven't met since the first full week of June. Since then, the clubs have seesawed for American League supremacy. The Red Sox once led by as many as four games in the standings as the Yankees dealt with a series of injuries to starters Robinson Cano, Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui.

More recently, the Yankees have surged ahead as the Red Sox nurse injuries of their own to Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek and Trot Nixon. The Sox fell out of first place on Aug. 2, a date which dovetails almost exactly with the losses of Nixon (July 30) and Varitek (July 31).

On a couple of occasions in the last week, the Yanks' margin had grown to three full games -- four in the loss column -- but the events of the last two days have sliced that gap in half. As the first five-game series between the two teams in 33 years kicks off, the Yankees are ahead by just a game and a half thanks to two straight losses to the Orioles and Boston's win over Detroit Wednesday night.

And that's how it should be. Since the 2003 season, though the Yankees have finished first each time, the clubs could not be more evenly matched. Consider that since the start of the 2003 season, the teams have met 81 times, or the exact equivalent of half a season. The Red Sox hold the slimmest of edges, 41-40.

That's why we got the 50" Samsung, honey.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 AM


Why go to war if you don't intend to fight? (Evelyn Gordon, 8/16/06, THE JERUSALEM POST)

[I]t turns out that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert never had any military aims - or, more accurately, he never had any intention of doing what was necessary to achieve them.

NO SANE person, for instance, would say that stopping deadly rocket fire on civilian population centers is an illegitimate military goal. And early on, it became clear that aerial bombardment alone could not achieve this, as Olmert and IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz had foolishly hoped. From that point, military planners were unanimous about what was needed: a major ground operation to push Hizbullah's short-range rockets out of range of Israel (according to the army, long-range rockets actually can be dealt with largely from the air). Scarcely a day passed without some senior officer explaining this to the press; not one ever proposed an alternative solution.

YET OLMERT refused to order such an operation. Instead, he approved only small-scale operations near the border - which, incidentally, increased Israel's casualties by effectively negating the IDF's numerical advantage over Hizbullah. Thus we witnessed the incredible sight of Defense Minister Amir Peretz telling the Knesset on August 7 - 26 days after the war began - that "if, within the coming days, the diplomatic process does not reach a conclusion, Israeli forces will carry out the operations necessary to take control of Katyusha rocket launching sites in every location."

In other words, Peretz openly admitted that until then, Israel had not been doing what was needed to achieve this. So what exactly were its military operations meant to achieve?

Similarly, no sane person would argue that hitting Hizbullah hard enough to ensure that it can no longer threaten Israel is an illegitimate military aim - particularly as there was virtually unanimous recognition, both in Israel and abroad, that neither the Lebanese Army nor any international force would be willing to undertake this task. And here, too, once the initial fighting had amply disproved Halutz's fantasy that this was doable by air power alone, military planners were unanimous: Israeli troops had to advance to the Litani River, seal off south Lebanon and begin a slow search-and-destroy mission of the area in order to eliminate Hizbullah's bunkers, arms caches, communications centers and fighting force.

However, Olmert refused to order such an operation - until, bizarrely, this past Friday, when the UN Security Council was already finalizing the cease-fire that took effect Monday morning. By that time, the move had no chance of success: Military planners said it would take at least three days to reach the Litani and two weeks to conduct the search-and-destroy mission, and the course of the fighting until then indicated that both figures were likely to prove underestimates. And indeed, few units managed to reach the Litani before the cease-fire, while the army had no time at all for search-and-destroy missions.

SO WHAT exactly were the military goals that justified all the death and destruction on both sides?

Had they done any strategic planning before the war they'd never have undertaken it. Even Israeli intelligence said Hezbollah posed no serious threat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


The Ned Scare (Peter Beinart, 08.17.06, New Republic)

Is Ned Lamont today's Carl Maxey? Maxey, an obscure Spokane attorney and anti-Vietnam activist, seized his 15 minutes of fame in 1970 when he challenged Washington state's famously hawkish Henry "Scoop" Jackson in the Democratic Senate primary. Maxey, unlike Lamont, got crushed. But his antiwar allies took over state parties in Washington and across the country. And, two years later, in a stunning upset, they powered George McGovern to the Democratic presidential nomination.

Does Lamont's victory over Jackson's ideological heir--Joe Lieberman--mean McGovernism has returned? Yes, but not in the way you think. The big similarity between today's antiwar Democrats and yesterday's is structural: Both movements shifted power from politicians to grassroots activists. Before 1972, Democratic presidential nominees were chosen largely by Democratic politicians--bosses like Chicago Mayor Richard Daley who controlled whole blocs of convention delegates. In 1968, they handed Hubert Humphrey the nomination even though he had not competed in a single primary. The McGovernites changed that. After 1968, they pushed through reforms that barred backroom deals and ensured ethnic and gender diversity. The bosses were emasculated. When the party convened to nominate McGovern in 1972, only 30 of 255 Democratic congressmen were among the delegates. Daley's Illinois slate was rejected for running afoul of the new rules and replaced by one led by the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

In the 1980s, the pendulum swung back. The party created "superdelegates" to give politicians a larger role in choosing presidential nominees. The newly formed Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) attacked liberal activists for pulling party nominees too far to the left. And, when the DLC's candidate, Bill Clinton, won the nomination in 1992, he dispensed with the laundry-list platforms of the past, which had promised goodies to each interest group. To this day, the DLC remains an organization of politicians that believes the less beholden politicians are to grassroots activists, the better they will represent voters as a whole.

Not coincidentally, Bill Clinton -- the most conservative president between Coolidge and W -- is the only Democrat to be elected to two terms since FDR rode the Depression fluke.

August 17, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 PM


Reform erodes the future of US pensions (Mark Trumbull, 8/18/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

The primary goal of America's new Pension Protection Act was to secure the health of traditional worker pension programs, but the "fix" appears likely to hasten their slow decline. [...]

[A]t a time when barely half of American workers are covered by any form of workplace retirement plan, the law does little to entice more employers to offer traditional pensions. If anything, it adds new reasons for employers to do what they are already doing: Opting for 401(k)-style benefits that shift the retirement burden onto workers.

Hey, briars!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 PM


Lebanon crisis puts France back in the diplomatic spotlight (Katrin Bennhold and Dan Bilefsky, August 7, 2006, International Herald Tribune)

With the United States militarily stretched in Iraq and deeply unpopular in the Arab world, France has become a pre-eminent player in efforts to resolve the Lebanon crisis. [...]

Underlying France's desire to refashion itself as Middle East peacemaker are its colonial ties to Lebanon, which came under the direct control of France following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.

But beyond the emotional ties, there is also realpolitik. Its power diluted in the expanded EU, which France has traditionally used to project itself onto the world stage, the country is looking elsewhere to solidify its relevance.

French officials say the country has a historical imperative to help Lebanon and to counterbalance America's support of Israel - effectively to be a central player in a multipolar world, rather than one dominated by a single superpower.

"France wants to show that it is still a big player with a global vocation in foreign policy," said Daniel Keohane, international security expert at the London-based Center for European Reform. "It also wants to show that isn't just the U.S. that decides things in the world or the Middle East."

There also is a lesson for Europe in France's re-emergence on the diplomatic scene, Moïsi said. "If you want to count diplomatically," he said, "you have to count militarily."

France Throws U.N Peacekeeping Plans Into Disarray: Chirac Rebuffs Pleas to Make Major Contribution to Mission (Colum Lynch, August 17, 2006, Washington Post)
France has rebuffed U.N. pleas to make a major contribution to a peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon, setting back international efforts to send a credible military force to the region to police a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah, according to U.N. and French officials.

French President Jacques Chirac instead committed Thursday to send a relatively small military engineering company of 200 soldiers...

How can you help but laugh at them?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:22 PM


Longtime Lieberman Aide Has Joe Punching Back in Connecticut Race (Jennifer Siegel, August 18, 2006, The Forward)

In the days before Lieberman lost in the Democratic primary last week, [Dan] Gerstein, age 39, emerged as one of the senator’s most effective defenders. He offered up verbal punches: “‘There’s a small but vocal pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel and perhaps antisemitic faction of the Democratic Party.” [...]

Now, in the aftermath of Lieberman’s bruising primary defeat, Gerstein has been tapped as the communications director for the senator’s independent general election bid — a hire, some insiders say, that likely signals a more hard-hitting strategy.

“No one has ever accused Dan of being a shrinking violet, and I have to think that his aggressive approach is well-suited to what will surely be a closely fought campaign,” former Lieberman spokesman Adam Kovacevich wrote in an email to the Forward. Kovacevich, who worked with Gerstein both in Lieberman’s Senate office and on the 2004 presidential campaign, added that “near the end of the primary campaign you started to see a more aggressive posture on the part of the Lieberman campaign, in terms of confronting criticism head-on, and I think you’ll probably see more of that in the weeks ahead.”

If you were in the Rove Cave drawing it up on a map you could hardly ask for better than the leading Jew in America accusing the Democrats of being an anti-Semitic party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:35 PM


Lies, Damned Lies: The Origins of the Closer (Nate Silver, 8/16/06, Baseball Prospectus)

Before we proceed, let’s concoct a quick-and-dirty way to evaluate a closer’s effectiveness. We can define a Closer Efficiency Index (CEI) as…

CEI = RA+ x (Saves x 2 – SvOpp) x (162 / TeamG)

…where RA+ is a pitcher’s run average relative to his league and park average, and TeamG is the number of games that the pitcher’s team plays during the regular season (this term is intended to put pitchers from strike-shortened seasons on equal footing).

CEI is not intended to replace something like WXRL, which is a far more informative metric, but it should do well for our purposes. John Smoltz in 2004, had an RA+ of 1.66 (his RA was 66% better than league average), and 44 saves in 49 opportunities; this produces a CEI of 64.8. This is an outstanding score--anything over 50 might be considered a great season, while anything over 100 is a Hall of Fame type season. The highest CEI’s of all time are as follows:

Jose Mesa 1995 183.7
Dennis Eckersley 1990 178.3
Eric Gagne 2003 171.1
Rollie Fingers 1981 163.5
Mike Jackson 1998 155.9

Jon Papelbon is within striking distance of this group; his CEI is 165 as of this writing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:18 PM


Judge Nixes Warrantless Surveillance (SARAH KARUSH, Aug 17, 2006, AP)

A federal judge ruled Thursday that the government's warrantless wiretapping program is unconstitutional and ordered an immediate halt to it.

U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit became the first judge to strike down the National Security Agency's program, which she says violates the rights to free speech and privacy as well as the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution.

"Plaintiffs have prevailed, and the public interest is clear, in this matter. It is the upholding of our Constitution," Taylor wrote in her 43-page opinion.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of journalists, scholars and lawyers who say the program has made it difficult for them to do their jobs.

Even had it not been filed by the ACLU on behalf of intellectuals, it's impossible for Democrats to defend this in midterm debates.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:47 PM


Myanmar gets serious about reform (Larry Jagan, 8/17/06, Asia Times)

Myanmar's military rulers are planning a major economic-reform program, expected to be rolled out this year. The plans involve opening large sections of the economy to foreign investors, privatization of state-run enterprises, and major structural reforms for the collapsing banking system and misaligned fixed-exchange-rate regime. [...]

Myanmar's broad privatization plans were originally launched more than 10 years ago, but were soon shelved when the country's top military rulers got cold feet about foreign penetration in the economy. The plan's recent revival is intended to develop the country's lagging industrial sector, which has stagnated badly in recent years. Rising global fuel prices and US-led economic sanctions on trade and new investments in the country also have hit hard.

The new reform plans have been prompted by the military government's desperate need to raise new funds, especially to finance the building of the new national capital, which was abruptly established last November about 400 kilometers north of the old capital Yangon. The economy is also racked by widespread shortages and chronic inflation of crucial food staples.

Behind the scenes, Chinese advisers are pushing the regime to privatize the country's state-owned enterprises and undertake other structural economic reforms.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:27 PM


Highway Safety Agency Unveils New Campaign Against Drunken Driving (MATTHEW L. WALD, 8/17/06, NY Times)

In a major shift in highway safety strategy, the federal government is turning its focus from seat belts to alcohol. [...]

About 20 percent of highway fatalities last year involved accidents in which one driver had a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher; the number of deaths was 12,945, down from 13,099 the previous year. The numbers are higher if drivers with slightly lower amounts of alcohol in their bloodstreams are included. They may be impaired even if they are not legally drunk. (Driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 is illegal in every state.)

Federal statistics show that progress against drunken driving has slowed. The percentage of all motor vehicle fatalities where one driver had a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or more fell sharply from 1985 to 1995, to 36 percent from 46 percent. But in the next decade, it hardly moved and last year was about 34 percent.

It also slowed by another measure. From 1985 to 1995, the number of people killed in crashes where one driver had a blood alcohol of at least 0.08 fell almost 25 percent, to 15,242 from 20,086. But from 1995 to last year, the number fell about 15 percent.

In contrast, seat belt use has risen sharply in the past two decades and is now more than 80 percent for front-seat passengers. Ms. Nason’s agency is still pushing for higher seat belt use, because it reduces fatalities in drunken driving accidents, rollovers and other kinds of crashes. But the emphasis will shift. For example, random patrols and roadblocks may now be conducted later in the evening, when unbelted drivers are harder to spot but drunken drivers may be easier to pick out.

The television advertisements are directed toward men 21 to 34, who have the highest rate of fatal crashes while intoxicated.

As with belts, it'll be more effective to just require that new cars have passive systems installed that test the driver.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:24 PM


President Joins in G.O.P. Attacks on Democrats About Terrorism (JIM RUTENBERG, 8/16/06, NY Times)

Referring to the disruption of the plot in Britain, he said, “And so we’ve got to use new tactics, new efforts, new assets to protect ourselves against an enemy that will strike us at any moment.”

Mr. Bush denounced those who have called for a law enforcement approach to fighting terrorism.

Might be better not to try to combine that attack with taking credit for what law enforcement just achieved.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


Schoolteacher Arrested in JonBenet Ramsey Case (JAMES BARRON, 8/17/06, NY Times)

An American identified as a schoolteacher was arrested in Bangkok yesterday in the death of JonBenet Ramsey, the 6-year-old beauty pageant princess who was found strangled in her home on Dec. 26, 1996.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:58 PM


Eye on Election, Democrats Run as Wal-Mart Foe (ADAM NAGOURNEY and MICHAEL BARBARO, 8/17/06, NY Times)

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, a likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2008, delivered a 15-minute, blistering attack to warm applause from Democrats and union organizers here on Wednesday. But Mr. Biden’s main target was not Republicans in Washington, or even his prospective presidential rivals.

It was Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer.

Among Democrats, Mr. Biden is not alone. [...]

“My problem with Wal-Mart is that I don’t see any indication that they care about the fate of middle-class people,” Mr. Biden said, standing on the sweltering rooftop of the State Historical Society building here. “They talk about paying them $10 an hour. That’s true. How can you live a middle-class life on that?”

A couple who between them worked a hundred hours a week at $10 an hour would make something like $52k a year. They wouldn't be wealthy in America's unique terms, but that's at least two and a half times poverty level for a family of four.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:50 PM


Home Rule: The struggle between sovereignty and chaos in the Middle East (Gadi Taub, 08.17.06, New Republic)

Both Hezbollah and Hamas had much to gain from dragging Israel back into the territories from which it withdrew. Take Lebanon first. Hezbollah is a guerrilla army inside a sovereign state. When Israel was the occupier, Hezbollah guerrillas could portray themselves as freedom fighters seeking Lebanese independence. With Israel gone, they looked more like agents of foreign powers bent on undermining Lebanese independence. A stable and prosperous Lebanon--not to mention peaceful coexistence with Israel--would spell Hezbollah's doom. Nasrallah may have been surprised by the ferocity of Israel's response. But, if he is able to portray himself as a hero in the holy war against Zionism, and if he can make Lebanon seem like Vietnam (which many people believe he did), he will have bought himself years of political prestige and vitality.

Hamas is a different case. Unlike Hezbollah, Hamas now holds sovereign power and will lose it if Israel reoccupies Gaza. On the surface, it doesn't make sense that a ruling party would voluntarily risk losing power. But, in the case of Hamas, it actually does: Hamas prospered under the occupation, and its uncompromising anti-Israeli ideology thrived on despair. A sovereign Gaza threatens to force it into the pragmatic world of politics, which would compromise the very ideology that brought it into existence.

Hamas, then, has all the old reasons for preventing partition. Partition would neuter the most effective weapons in the war to destroy Israel: demography; the international isolation of Israel caused by the occupation; the unified Arab front against Zionism; and the corrosive effects of the occupation on Israel's internal unity and democratic institutions. Could it be that Hamas overheard what Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Israelis during the last election campaign--that partition is the only way to save Zionism? Did they act to subvert his plans for withdrawal?

Think of it this way: Any lasting peaceful solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict depends on the logic of sovereignty. This means stable governable states, separated by acknowledged borders. Whatever undermines this logic--terrorism, continued occupation, chaos, invasions--subverts the chances for future peace. It is in Israel's interest to support and strengthen stable sovereign governments on the other side of its borders.

If Israel were serious about subverting Hezbollah as a terrorist organization it would treat Nasrallah as a head of state and foment the sovereignty of South Lebanon.

Video provokes questions of Lebanese army (CNN, 8/17/06)

A video showing Lebanese soldiers cordially offering Israeli troops glasses of tea during the military offensive earlier this month has hit Israeli and Hezbollah airwaves.

The video, shot by Israelis on August 10, when Israeli troops "took control" of the southern Lebanese town of Marjeyoun, aired on Israel's Channel 2 on Wednesday.

Hezbollah's al-Manar TV network and pro-Hezbollah NEW TV then picked up the video and condemned the Lebanese soldiers as deserters.

Lebanese politics is about preventing the plurality from assuming their place at the table.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:40 PM


Pat Buchanan's 'State of Emergency' (Tony Blankley, August 16, 2006, Washington Times)

On page 240 of Pat Buchanan's stunningly logical new book, "State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America" appear the following words: "One of the truly major issue with which America must deal [is] the vast tidal wave of human beings coming from the Third World. There is a fragmentation going on in this country. At what point does cultural, racial diversity become a kind of social anarchy? How do you get national cohesion this way?"

But those are not the words of my friend and political sparring partner Pat Buchanan. They are words he quoted from a 1987 interview in the Christian Science Monitor with Eric Sevaried, the CBS correspondent and close associate of Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow.

Not that one doesn't admire the irony of a just-off-the-boat limey quoting a mic quoting a wegian on the perils of immigration, but how does he do it with a straight face when that quote undermines his own point? Has any nation ever had a better quarter century than the one America has enjoyed during these years of the immigration tidal wave? In particular, has any nation ever done a better job of turning the clock back on social pathologies than America has since 1980?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 PM


Drop in clothing prices key in lowering inflation (Martin Crutsinger, 8/17/06, The Associated Press)

Core consumer prices rose by 0.2 percent, the smallest increase in five months, the Labor Department reported one day after disclosing that core inflation at the wholesale level actually fell 0.3 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:50 AM


From the dust of war, a more potent Hezbollah? (Rick Jervis and Andrea Stone, 8/17/06, USA TODAY)

"Hezbollah has demonstrated that total Arab defeat is not inevitable. ... Israel has lost its tremendous psychological advantage," says George Friedman, an intelligence analyst and CEO of Stratfor, a private intelligence firm in Austin.

That could embolden Israel's old adversaries, especially Syria, which wants the Golan Heights that Israel captured in 1967 and later annexed. "Israel will be perceived by its enemies as weak, constrained and dysfunctional," says Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. Middle East negotiator now at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

The conflict also has dealt a blow to Bush's campaign to bring democracy to the region. It bolstered Iran, Hezbollah's main patron, and Shiites elsewhere — including in Iraq, where, "having first experienced the limits of American power, (the Shiites) are now seeing the expanding boundaries of Iranian power," Friedman says.

As for U.S. and Israeli hopes that the conflict would create a strong Lebanese government capable of neutralizing Hezbollah and dousing Syrian and Iranian influence here, the opposite appears to be unfolding. On Monday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed that his group would not be disarmed by "intimidation or pressure" — a reference to the U.N. resolution passed last week that demanded Hezbollah give up its weapons.

Over the years, Hezbollah has defied international and local pressure to disarm, claiming it was protecting the country from Israel, says Misbah Ahdab, a Sunni Muslim lawmaker close to Lebanon's prime minister. The recent conflict will increase that defiance, he says.

"Not even the battle is over yet, let alone the war," says Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a leading Lebanese expert on Hezbollah. "Hezbollah is going to stick to its guns, literally."

There are multiple levels of confusion here. First, the Ba'athists of Syria have nothing like Hezbollah's competence and it is precisely because Syria is a sovereign state that it is so easily defeated--all structures of the state are legitimate targets. More importantly, the triumph of the Shi'a is necessary for the spread of democracy in the Middle East. They were, after all, an oppressed majority in Iraq and plurality in the Lebanon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:10 AM


Hispanics scold Democrats for ad mixing illegals, terrorists (Charles Hurt, 8/17/06, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) yesterday pulled an ad from its Web site after Hispanic groups accused Democrats of unfairly equating illegal aliens to terrorists.

"To liken Latino immigrants to bazooka-toting terrorists not only undermines the positive relationship our party has with this community, but it also lowers us to a despicable level as breeders of unfounded fear and hatred," Houston City Council member Carol Alvarado, a Democrat, said in a letter to Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who heads the DSCC.

The 35-second ad, released on its Web site earlier this week, criticizes the Bush administration as leaving America unsecured by showing illegal aliens scaling a border fence. That scene is mixed with images of Osama bin Laden and North Korean President Kim Jong-il.

Democrats figure Pat Buchanan parlayed the issue into political gold?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


Resolve Is Eroding in Face of Call to Disarm Hezbollah (BENNY AVNI, August 17, 2006, NY Sun)

[A]s [Israel's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni,] called implementation of resolution 1701 "a test" for the United Nations, Secretary of State Rice was quoted as saying the multinational force envisioned in the resolution is not expected to disarm Hezbollah, which she said should be done "voluntarily."

Announcing that the Lebanese army will deploy troops in the south, officials of Prime Minister Siniora's government yesterday left vague the question of Hezbollah's disarmament. Lebanon's army will allow no troops other than its own and those in the multinational force to carry weapons, they said, leaving open the possibility that Hezbollah will still maintain huge concealed arms caches.

Paris yesterday again sidestepped an announcement about the size and scope of the French contribution for the multinational force. Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said France was ready to lead the force but complained that its mandate remained "fuzzy."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Brazil's Embraer in Talks to Sell E190s (ALAN CLENDENNING, 8/15/06, The Associated Press)

Brazil's Embraer, the world's fourth largest aircraft manufacturer, is in talks aimed at selling its E190 jets to the investor group trying to revive struggling airline Varig, Embraer's CEO said Monday. [...]

Varig virtually collapsed in July amid mass flight cancellations, until Volo bought the company for US$500 million (euro390 million) at a bankruptcy auction.

Many analysts have questioned whether Volo will be able to remake Varig, Brazil's former flagship airline, amid heavy competition from rivals Tam Linhas Aereas SA and Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA. The two sapped Varig of nearly all of its market share as the company's bankruptcy troubles worsened.

Embraer's E190 seats about 100 people more comfortably than smaller jets frequently used on regional routes, and sales are expanding worldwide, including purchases by U.S.-based JetBlue Airways Corp. Neither U.S.-based Boeing Co. nor Europe's Airbus compete in the niche Embraer has carved out.

You're not going to get Americans to fly Third World passenger jets, but you can carve out a niche selling these winged buses for commuters. Dodge the markets Boeing wants and you can do okay.

Posted by Stephen Judd at 7:50 AM


For those who were "jonesing" for your fix of Brothers Judd yesterday, the fiber running to the HostMySite datacenter where we're hosted was cut in a construction accident yesterday. As a result, the site was down for about ten hours.

August 16, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 PM


Peretz: Hezbollah had been IDF's bottom priority (Amos Harel, Aluf Benn and Yossi Verter, 8/17/06, Haaretz)

When Defense Minister Amir Peretz took office four months ago, Hezbollah and the missile threat were at the bottom of the priority list senior IDF officers presented him, Peretz says. In private conversations over the past few days, Peretz said officers did not tell him there was a strategic threat to Israel, and did not present him with all relevant information about the missile threat.

Nasrallah didn't mean to (Amira Hass, 8/17/06, Haaretz)
During the past month, Hezbollah's Katyushas killed 18 Israeli Arabs among the 41 Israeli civilians who died in the war.

Tactical, not strategic, and ineffective at that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 PM


Groundhog Day (James K. Galbraith, August 16, 2006], The Nation)

Let's see... It's August. Bush is in Crawford on a "working vacation." His polls are in the tank. Congress is in revolt. The economy is going soft. The next elections don't look good. Cheney is off in Wyoming, or wherever he goes. It's 2001. No, it's 2006.

In The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx reports that "Hegel writes somewhere" that the great events of history tend to occur twice, first as tragedy and then as farce. [...]

From all official statements so far, we are led to believe that August 10 was a highly developed, far-advanced conspiracy, under surveillance for some time, which could have been put into action within just a few days. And perhaps 8/10 really was the biggest thing since 9/11. But then again, perhaps it wasn't. We don't know yet.

Always smart for them to cite Marx just in case there's a straggler in the room who's taking them seriously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:04 PM


Ditch US in terror war, say 80pc of Britons (Toby Helm, Chief Political Correspondent and Philip Johnston, 17/08/2006, Daily Telegraph)

A majority of British people wants the Government to adopt an even more "aggressive" foreign policy to combat international terrorism, according to an opinion poll conducted after the arrests of 24 terrorism suspects last week. [...]

A majority also wants tougher domestic legislation that would allow police more time to detain suspects while they investigate complex terrorism plots.

Some 69 per cent said that the police should be able to hold suspects for up to 90 days without charge, rather than be bound by the current 28-day limit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 PM


http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0817/p06s01-wome.html>For stoic Lebanese, a cycle of rebuilding (Nicholas Blanford, 8/17/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

[T]he turmoil in this region stretches back to 1948 when the state of Israel was created and tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees fled into neighboring countries, including Lebanon. [...]

Lebanon's independence from French mandatory rule in 1943 passed by unnoticed by most southerners, the region's farmers and fishermen considering it an abstraction that had little bearing on their daily lives. But Mr. Shaalan does remember the arrival of the Palestinian refugees five years later during the first Arab-Israeli war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 PM


Johnny Cash, Cornball: Can pop music be both great art and shameless kitsch? (Jody Rosen, Aug. 15, 2006, Slate)

Rubin's vision of Cash as Ye Olde Goth is evident in the choice of repertoire—he steered the singer toward dark, death-haunted folk songs like "Mary of the Wild Moor" and covers of Danzig and Nine Inch Nails—and in the relentlessly monochrome musical settings. Rubin has always favored minimalism. (Even his hip-hop records are stark.) But the fastidiously unadorned and solemn music on the American Recordings series—bare-bones rock ensembles playing stately tempos, with Play Mediabass piano notes tolling like church bells over minor chords—seems designed to clobber listeners with the idea that they are in the presence of a Great Man Singing the Truth. We usually associate kitsch in music with the big and blowzy, but the Cash-Rubin records use the opposite musical tactic for emotional manipulative effect. It's schlock austerity.

Not that Cash and Rubin were afraid to indulge in outright tear-jerking. From the tremulous versions of all-time weepers like "Danny Boy" and "Play MediaFirst Time Ever I Saw Your Face" to Cash's spoken interludes in "Play MediaWe'll Meet Again" and the new album's "Play MediaA Legend in My Time" (which packs an extra "My Way"-style self-mythologizing wallop), the American Recordings albums include some of the most purple musical moments this side of Mantovani. Cash's emotional forthrightness was a refreshing change from irony-choked popular culture. Still, sometimes too much is too much. Many a pop balladeer has been raked over the coals for lesser sins than Cash's corn-pone recitation of the Old West poem "Play MediaA Cowboy's Lament."

The most celebrated product of the Cash-Rubin partnership was the cover of Nine Inch Nail's "Hurt," and the resulting Mark Romanek-directed video was nominated for Video of the Year in 2003. But that video is the prime example of the occasionally dodgy taste that surrounded the rebirth of Cash. Trent Reznor's song was an ambiguous ballad about masochism; Cash reportedly interpreted it as a drug-addict's confession. But the Romanek video turns the song into ghoulish hagiography, interspersing file footage from Cash's younger years with lingering shots of the present-day singer, looking very old and unwell—an unseemly mix of reverence (Johnny is God) and exploitation (Johnny's Gonna Die Soon).

The problem with all this Cash-worship is that it's reductive. Cash had a long and varied career as an entertainer. Sure, he specialized in gothic country songs and murder ballads, and yes, he had a drug problem, wrecked some hotel rooms, and did other "rebellious" things. But he also recorded albums of children's music and clowned around with the Monkees on The Johnny Cash Show, a tacky ABC variety program he hosted for two years.

The odd point here seems to be that, Johhny Cash had a variety of different personae over the years but the last is particularly inauthentic?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 PM


'Trying to do it right’ results in deportation (Judy Gibbs Robinson, 8/15/06, The Oklahoman)

Shortly after saying their vows, the couple went to an immigration lawyer for help changing Sergio’s status to legal, since he had married a U.S. citizen.

“We were young. We were trying to do it right,” she recalls.

But the lawyer was not encouraging: Because Sergio had once been deported, their marriage was not enough to win him a green card. Re-entry after deportation is a felony, and those who do it are barred from coming back for 10 years.

A friend recommended they get a second opinion from Isabel Pairazaman, a notary public who runs a business called “Hispanic Help Line” helping fill out immigration applications.

“She told my husband she had, like, 14 years’ experience. We thought she was pretty good at it,” Rios said. Pairazaman contradicted the lawyer’s opinion about the previous deportation, assuring them they could get a waiver, Rios said. They believed her. “We thought she was a lawyer,” Rios said.

During the next four years, the couple paid Pairazaman at least $3,500 while waiting for Sergio’s case to work through the system, Rios said. “We keep filling all the applications, and she just keep asking for more and more money,” Rios said. In the end, the immigration lawyer was right. Sergio’s application called him to the attention of immigration officials, who summoned him to an interview in October 2004. The couple thought it was part of the process for getting a green card, but when Sergio was called into an interview room, he was taken into custody for expedited deportation.

When we were coyoting guys around Texas we always told them just to keep their heads low and not trust anyone, including us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 PM


Harrington to donate PGA winnings to charity (Reuters, 8/15/06)

Ireland's Padraig Harrington hopes to hoist the PGA Championship trophy and hand the winner's check of $1.2 million to charity to honor Darren Clarke's late wife, Heather, who died of cancer on Sunday.

Harrington told reporters at Medinah Country Club on Tuesday that he and other European players were competing on the urging of Northern Ireland's Clarke rather than withdrawing from the year's final major to attend the funeral.

A teammate of Clarke on the last European Ryder Cup squads, Harrington said he would donate any money he earned at the championship to a charity of Clarke's choice.

If you're a team it's a team game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 PM


Homes for sale, but not for a song: Home sales nationwide have fallen 7 percent in the past year, but prices are up 3.7 percent. (Mark Trumbull, 8/16/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

"It's much more a stabilized, normal market," says Michael Maloney, managing broker at Keller Williams Realty in Richmond, Va. Prices continue to rise, he says, but unlike a year ago, "we're not seeing the frantic multiple offers and bidding wars." [...]

The pattern is evident in new data released this week by the National Association of Realtors. Despite a rise in both interest rates and the inventory of homes, the median sales price of previously owned homes was up 3.7 percent in the second quarter from the same period a year ago.

A clkassic case where no amount of reality can disabuse folks from believing their own anecdotes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 PM


Ireland – a Polish home from home: Even in the most distant parts of Ireland, a country which opened its labour market for new EU citizens only 2 years ago, any Pole will feel at home. (Iwona Lajmen, 8/15/06, Polskie Radio)

The streets, shops and offices are full of Polish people passing by, opening their businesses or assisting other Poles to help them order a coffee in Polish. This is how numerous Polish immigrants have made their way into a country on the other end of the European Community.

Ireland, one of the few countries which decided to open itself to all EU communities, claims it has taken one of the best decisions ever. When the Celtic Tiger develops and its people get better off there are still too few hands to work. Especially that this island is not among the most densely populated. Out of the 4 million Irish living there now every 10th is an immigrant. According to official statistics about 150 thousand of them are Poles, mainly coming for two or five years, just to make the money to have an easier start back at home.

'I had a job and my boyfriend had one too. I worked in an Atlantic shop with underwear and earned 300 euros a month, now I make 350 a week, so that's a big difference.'

'Yes, it's hard work, but not as much as people think... I guess here's the same like in Poland... not so different, but I still miss the family.'

Like many other young and dynamic Poles in their 20s Karolina followed her boyfriend all the way to Dublin. Now, working in Mc Donald’s and living with several other people in one apartment, she looks very positively into her future:

'I didn't plan this trip... I graduated in 2004. I had some friends here, so it wasn't so bad at the beginning. I applied for a few jobs and still being in Poland had three interviews. Then I came here straight away and had a job after three days.'

It’s not a secret that most of the hands are needed at construction sites and this is where Przemek found his work just within a week after he arrived in Dublin in June this year.

Every Pole that stays in Europe instead of coming here is a little defeat for us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:37 PM


New Lieberman Retooling Race as Independent (PATRICK HEALY and NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, 8/16/06, NY Times)

Far from sulking in defeat, Senator Lieberman has fired most of his senior aides, energized his broad base of donors from his campaigns for president and vice president, produced a new television advertisement explaining his political intentions, and attacked Mr. Lamont over the London terror plot.

The senator appears so emboldened that in spite of the Democratic unity around Mr. Lamont, some Washington Democrats are now acknowledging that a Lieberman victory in November is a distinct possibility. [...]

In a state where Republican and independent voters make up a majority of the electorate, Mr. Lieberman is still developing a message about bipartisanship, but his aides say it will involve adopting positions from both parties and being willing to criticize Democrats as well as Republicans. Meanwhile, Mr. Lamont, a Greenwich millionaire, now has to calibrate his own identity as self-described liberal.

“Given the demographics of Connecticut, it’s still an uphill battle for Lamont, even as the Democratic nominee,” said Donna Brazile, a Democratic consultant and official with the Democratic National Committee, which is supporting Mr. Lamont. [...]

Mr. Lieberman also faces a Republican candidate, Alan Schlesinger, but on Monday President Bush’s spokesman refused to say that the White House was endorsing him, reinforcing concerns about his viability and suggesting that Mr. Lieberman could mine Republican votes.

Lamont advisers said that they had hoped Democratic pressure on Mr. Lieberman to quit would have been unbearable. Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has called on Mr. Lieberman to drop out, but other Democratic leaders have questioned whether it makes sense to take on the senator — and perhaps anger him — when he appears determined to run and relatively formidable right now.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:27 PM


Google set to connect its entire home town to Internet for free (Michael Liedtke, 8/16/06, Associated Press)

Google on Wednesday plans to offer free, high-speed Internet access to everyone in its Silicon Valley home town — a hospitable gesture that the online search leader hopes to see spread to other parts of the country.

The new wireless, or "Wi-Fi," network, is believed to establish Mountain View, Calif., as the largest U.S. city with totally free Internet access available throughout the entire community, according to both Google and city officials.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


Historic Milestone (ROBER WARD,
August 16, 2006, NY Sun)

As conservatives lament budget trends in Washington, a historic milestone came and went with little notice last month: The Census Bureau reported that state and local governments nationwide now collect more than $1 trillion a year in taxes.

It wasn't that long ago — 1970, to be exact — when the entire output of the American economy totaled $1 trillion. Sure, inflation since then means the figures aren't exactly equivalent. But there's only one conclusion to be drawn from this latest fiscal indicator. State governments, and the localities they control, are inflicting an increasingly unsustainable cost burden on workers and businesses.

Odd, the sensible conclusion would seem to be that this level of taxation has made it possible to increase the economy twelvefold. It helps, of course, that the total tax burden is low by the standards of the developed world and has even been reduced from our own historic highs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


The Dark Secrets Of Black Noir (OTTO PENZLER, August 16, 2006, NY Sun)

Many white writers have used black characters in their fiction, but none as consistently and convincingly as George Pelecanos.

The first really successful book about a black cop was "In the Heat of the Night" by John Ball, who, in spite of creating the iconic Virgil Tibbs, was an excruciatingly bad writer, his prose more wooden than Sherwood Forest. He had a terrific idea for a novel, assigning a black policeman down South to work with a redneck sheriff, and sent it off to the greatest mystery editor who ever lived, Joan Kahn. She painstakingly worked with Ball to rewrite again and again, finally pulling a book out of him that was good enough to win the Edgar Allan Poe Award. It then became a motion picture starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger that was a colossal hit.

Ball sent the sequel to Kahn who, again, required him to do a great deal of rewriting. Ball agreed to do some but refused to do any heavy lifting, reminding her that he was so talented that he'd won an Edgar. He never had another successful book and his career sailed away, carrying him back into the obscurity from which he had briefly surfaced.

By far the most successful white author with a black protagonist is James Patterson, whose Alex Cross novels sell in the stratospheric millions. Cross, however, doesn't seem any more black than Malibu surfers — he works in a largely white environment with white colleagues, chasing white bad buys.

By contrast, the majority of the characters in the new novel by Mr. Pelecanos, "The Night Gardener", are black, and they seem pretty authentic to me.

I'm pretty sure Ed McBain had made Arthur Brown a regulart of the 87th Precinct before Virgil Tibbs debuted, but Mr. Pelecanos is certainly a must read, not least because we owe him for his work on The Wire

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


A Split In the Racist Right (Heidi Beirich and Mark Potok, August 16, 2006, Intelligence Report)

For a gathering of people devoted to denouncing the inferiority of blacks and sounding the alarm about civilization-threatening Muslims, the biannual conferences thrown by the New Century Foundation, publisher of the racist newsletter American Renaissance, are decidedly genteel affairs. Men dress in suits and ties, women in formal business attire, and there are no uniformed skinheads or Klansmen to be seen. Large plasma television screens, Starbucks coffee spreads and fancy linens adorn the hotel meeting hall. Epithets have no place here.

Or at least they didn't. At the latest edition of the conferences that began in 1994, held this February at the Hyatt Dulles hotel, a nasty spat broke out that upset the gathering's decorum -- and may even shape the future of the radical right.

It began when David Duke, the former Klan leader and author of Jewish Supremacism, strode to a microphone after French author Guillaume Faye wrapped up a talk vilifying Muslims entitled "The Threat to the West." Duke thanked Faye for remarks that "touched my genes." But then he went one further.

"There is a power in the world that dominates our media, influences our government and that has led to the internal destruction of our will and spirit," Duke said, according to an undisputed account in The Forward newspaper.

"Tell us, tell us," someone in the back yelled.

"I'm not going to say it," Duke replied. Laughter began to fill the room, until a short, angry man leaped from his seat, walked up to Duke and began to curse.

"You f[***]ing Nazi, you've disgraced this meeting!" he said.

And with that, Michael Hart, a Jewish astrophysicist and long-time attendee at American Renaissance conferences, headed for the door. As many as 50 people at the conference began to jeer and point at the rapidly disappearing Hart.

This extraordinary incident marked the beginning of an open rift between those on the radical right who see blacks, Hispanics and Muslims as the primary enemy, and those who say "the Jews" are ultimately behind every evil -- a split that has usually stayed just below the surface but now threatens a leading institution of American extremism. While in the past he has managed to bridge this divide mainly by ignoring it, American Renaissance founder Jared Taylor now must finally come to terms with the split. His dilemma boils down to this: Throw out the anti-Semites and try to build a larger movement with electoral possibilities like those increasingly seen in Britain and Germany; or openly join hands with the very energetic neo-Nazis, even though that means the loss of any remaining shred of respectability.

These guys should have their own wing at Guantanamo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


Hezbollah Leads Work to Rebuild, Gaining Stature (JOHN KIFNER, 8/16/06, NY Times)

[Hezbollah] is already dominating the efforts to rebuild with a torrent of money from oil-rich Iran.

Nehme Y. Tohme, a member of Parliament from the anti-Syrian reform bloc and the country’s minister for the displaced, said he had been told by Hezbollah officials that when the shooting stopped, Iran would provide Hezbollah with an “unlimited budget” for reconstruction.

In his victory speech on Monday night, Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, offered money for “decent and suitable furniture” and a year’s rent on a house to any Lebanese who lost his home in the month-long war.

“Completing the victory,” he said, “can come with reconstruction.”

Israel and the U.S. squandered the opportunity to help rebuild Palestine following Hamas's election too.

August 15, 2006

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 PM


Cardin promises cancer cure (Doug Donovan, August 15, 2006, Baltimore Sun)

With a month to go before primary voters head to the polls to choose Senate nominees, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin kicked off yesterday a weeklong effort to highlight his congressional record and vision on health care by making the mother of all campaign promises - to cure cancer. [...]

"We are going to lick cancer by 2015," Cardin told a group of 15 people at the HopeWell Cancer Support Center on Falls Road.

C'mon, have the courage of your convictions: promise to cure it by election day or not to serve if elected.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:27 PM


Little Green Footballs, Staged War Photos, and the Story the Press Won't Tell (Eric Boehlert, 8/15/06, Huffington Post)

As Little Green Footballs, the right-wing warblog, continues to be toasted in the press for helping ferret out a Reuters news photo that was marginally altered to show...

There's an opening sentence that virtually screams out: stop reading!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:19 PM


President Signs Bill to Save San Diego Cross: The legislation labels the icon on public land a federal war memorial, an effort to make it harder for foes to force its removal. (Tony Perry, August 15, 2006, LA Times)

President Bush on Monday signed a bill designed to save the cross atop Mt. Soledad here from being removed, but both sides in the 17-year court battle predicted more politicking and litigating before the fate of the cross is finally decided.

Bush signed a bill sponsored by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) that designates the 43-foot cross and the city land beneath it as a federal war memorial under control of the Department of Defense.

A federal judge in May declared the cross a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state and ordered it removed by Aug. 2. That order was stayed last month by the U.S. Supreme Court until other legal issues can be resolved. [...]

The cross, erected in 1954 as a memorial to military personnel killed in Korea and the two world wars, has long enjoyed enormous popular support in this military community. Voters have twice endorsed measures to keep the cross, visible from Interstate 5, atop what is one of the most prominent hilltops in San Diego.

Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Carlsbad) said he fears that forcing the removal of the cross could lead to court-ordered removals of crosses at other locations, including veterans cemeteries. "What's next?" Bilbray said. "Remove the crosses at Arlington or Normandy?"

This seems a perfect instance for the executive to just tell the judiciary to stick it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 PM

SON, WE DO THIS EVERY DAY (via Tom Morin):

Ask Spengler (Spengler, 8/08/06, Asia Times)

Dear Spengler:

As chief executive of the world's largest Christian denomination, I plead for an immediate stop to the killing in the Middle East. I am surprised that American evangelical Christians seem less concerned about peace than about victory, and appear to be more pro-Israeli than the Israelis themselves. I can understand how Christians can support their own country in time of war, although the consequences may be tragic. But American Christians have no direct stake in this fight. How is it that the evangelicals and I come to such radically different conclusions?

Tired on the Tiber

Dear Tired:

You have already half-answered the question. During World War I, Benedict XV tried to persuade the combatants to stop, and rightly so. Russia considered itself the only true God-bearing nation (Fyodor Dostoyevsky's phrase) and the seat of the Third Rome after the fall of Constantinople; Austria the rump of the Holy Roman Empire and thus the arbiter of Christian Europe; France fought for its national grandeur, pursuing the delusion institutionalized by Cardinal Richelieu; and Germany mistook Siegfried for Christ, in Franz Rosenzweig's phrase. They were idolaters all of them, worshipping their own image in place of that of the crucified Christ. The next time they fought, in 1939, Germany and Russia marched under pagan banners and France did not fight at all. That is why Christianity is dead in Europe and why your great cathedrals are full of tourists and empty of congregants.

American evangelicals have no cathedrals, no Magisterium, no pontifical universities, no monastic orders with institutional memories back to the 4th century. They have mega-churches in shopping malls, mass commercial culture, and Christ crucified. Americans evaded Europe's tragedy because they rejected the idolatry that you and your predecessors, including the great Benedict XV, failed to control. Their forbears came to America to be Israel. They do not have the staff of St Peter upon which to lean, only their own wobbly legs to ascend the road to Calvary.

What binds American Christians to Israel is that the inner journey of each Christian, in his conversion from Gentile to child of Abraham, recapitulates the story of Israel, just as Jesus' own story recapitulates the entire story of Israel's redemption. American evangelicals are not baptized and raised as Christians; they must become Christians at the age of sentience. But to become a Christian is to undertake Israel's journey. You consider your Church to be Israel; evangelicals are children of Abraham by adoption, which is not to say that they are less loved by their foster father than the children of his flesh. But because they love their adoptive father, they love his natural children all the more.

Have you heard the one about the Jews?: As a writer on The Ali G Show I can do insulting jokes. But the anti-Jewish sentiment at Edinburgh is shocking (Jamie Glassman, 8/15/06, Times of London)

Wandering through the streets of Edinburgh during the world’s largest arts festival, you never know what sight or sound you will be bombarded with next. Half-naked men on 6ft stilts meander by, half-naked girls rush to sell you their show, troops of Japanese acrobats tumble past. But I wasn’t prepared for the verbal assault I got when I wandered into a comedy gig this week.

There have always been anti- Semitic jo