May 31, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 PM


The right (wing) man for the World Bank job (Emad Mekay, 6/01/07, Asia Times)

"Replacing one Bush appointee with another will not resolve the fundamental governance problems of the World Bank," said Peter Bosshard, policy director of the International Rivers Network, a watchdog group that monitors bank projects and policies from San Francisco.

"Member governments should reject a back-door deal that leaves the bank's governance structure intact, and should press for an open, merit-based selection process," he said.

Zoellick's name also raised eyebrows among development groups for his close ties to the US establishment and corporate interests.

Until last July, Zoellick, now 53, was the US deputy secretary of state. He is best known, however, for his role as a former US Trade Representative (USTR), a job in which he campaigned, with mixed results, to force developing countries to open their markets to US businesses and goods.

He is credited with helping bring mainland China and Taiwan into the World Trade Organization, which, like the World Bank and the IMF, often promotes neo-liberal policies criticized as harmful to developing countries. Zoellick also launched the unpopular multilateral Doha Round of trade talks at the WTO, aimed at creating a laissez-faire trade environment, and increased the number of US free trade agreements.

Were they expecting Pat Buchanan?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 PM


After the talks, Iran starts talking (Kaveh L Afrasiabi, 6/01/07, Asia Times)

[I]ranian liberals and reformists have uniformly reacted positively to the Baghdad meeting. For example, Ahmad Shirzad, a leading member of the Islamic Participation Front, said the dialogue is like passing a difficult and tall obstacle. "If the level of talks increases beyond the ambassadorial level, then we can be hopeful that both sides can reach common points and arrive at agreements on them."

"Changing monologue to dialogue", reads the headline of a reformist paper, Shargh, recently resurrected after a temporary suspension. It states: "Perhaps the most important result of this talk was the pursuit of a common strategy toward resolving the major tensions in the Middle East ... It signaled the need for cooperation based on common grounds ... The continuation of these talks can itself to a large extent reduce or bracket the alternatives of war or absolute sanctions on the plate of American warmongers."

The Shargh editorial ends by optimistically hoping that "perhaps the Baghdad meeting can be a step for resolving the Lebanon crisis in the near future with the participation of Iran, France and other relevant countries".

Hardline groups, on the other hand, have been weary of the dialogue exceeding the limits set by Khamenei. Thus Lotfolah Forouzandeh, associated with the powerful Jamait-e Eesargaran, demanded that the government publish the details of the Baghdad meeting, to make sure it did not surpass the restrictions imposed by the leader.

Hussain Shariatmadari, the publisher of Kayhan and adviser to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, has minimized the significance of the Baghdad talks by calling it "just a talk".

In contrast, conservative groups have opted for a middle line between the reformists' "optimism" and the hardliners' "guarded cynicism". They say, for example, that the talks might result in nullifying the 1979 revolution's principles reflected in the late ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's comparison of the US and Iran as wolf and sheep.

Thus Foad Sadeghi, writing on the website, interpreted the Baghdad meeting as a "turning point in the third decade of the Islamic Revolution". According to Sadeghi, the United States' willingness to engage in diplomatic interaction with Iran means that "the scenario of regime change is closed and the substitution of soft power for the hard-power approach toward Iran".

The fact that the US government disbanded the anti-Iran "Iran Syria Policy and Operation Group" right after the Baghdad meeting has been hailed as a positive development by all Iranian pundits.

Note that they can't even achieve a high enough level of repression to force a party-line.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 PM


West Baghdad residents rise up against Al Qaeda (The Associated Press, May 30, 2007)

Heavy fighting raged Thursday in west Baghdad where residents reported U.S. troops backed by helicopter gunships moved in when residents called for American help against al-Qaida intimidation that kept students away from final exams and the people huddled indoors to escape blazing gunfire.

U.S.-funded Alhurra television reported that non-Iraqi Arabs and Afghans were among the fighters. Residents said the gunbattles first erupted Wednesday. [...]

"The events of the past two days are promising developments. Sunni citizens of Amariyah that have been previously terrorized by al-Qaida are now resisting and want them gone. They're tired of the intimidation that included the murder of women," [Lt. Col. Dale C. Kuehl, Commander of 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment] said. [...]

The heaviest fighting shuttered through the neighborhood at 11 a.m. when gunmen — identified by residents as al-Qaida fighters — began shooting randomly into the air, forcing residents to flee into their homes and students from classrooms.

They said the fighters drove through the streets using loudspeakers to claim that Amariyah was under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaida front group.

Armed residents were said to have resisted, set some of the al-Qaida gunmen's cars on fire and called the Americans for help.

Casualty figures were not immediately available. But a district councilman said the al-Qaida leader in the Amariyah district, known as Haji Hameed, was killed and 45 other fighters were detained.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 PM


Border Safety at Focus of TB Case (ROBERT BLOCK, 5/31/07, Wall Street Journal)

When news of the TB case first broke, it appeared that the patient had slipped into the country undetected. Andrew Speaker, 31 years old, drove as far as New York City before going to a hospital, despite an international manhunt by U.S. authorities. The Centers for Disease Control had caught up with Mr. Speaker in Rome, where it advised him that under no circumstances should he use commercial aircraft.

In what appears to be a coincidence, Mr. Speaker is the son-in-law of Robert C. Cooksey, a microbiologist who works in the CDC's Division of Tuberculosis Elimination. In a written statement, Mr. Cooksey said Mr. Speaker's ailment "did not originate from myself or the CDC's labs, which operate under the highest levels of biosecurity." Dr. Cooksey said also that he wasn't involved "in any decisions my son-in-law made regarding his travel."

According to people familiar with the investigation, the CDC notified U.S. Customs and Border Protection -- part of the Department of Homeland Security -- last week that Mr. Speaker, a U.S. citizen, may have been attempting to gain entry into the country from Europe. The information was placed into Customs' nationwide database, which is available to agents at every airport, seaport and land-border crossing.

The advisory warned officers that Mr. Speaker was highly contagious. It cautioned them to wear protective masks and gloves and to detain him before notifying the CDC.

According to investigators, it appears that when Mr. Speaker arrived on May 24 at the crossing at Champlain, N.Y., his passport was swiped, activating the flag on his records and the warning. Records show that Mr. Speaker spent less than two minutes at the border post before being cleared to enter the country.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Kevin Corsaro earlier this week said that Mr. Speaker had passed through the Champlain crossing and didn't appear sick to agents.

Time to deport the natives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 PM


Cervical cancer vaccine for all women could cut cases by half - study (Polly Curtis, June 1, 2007, The Guardian)

Vaccinating all women against cervical cancer could save hundreds of lives a year in the UK alone, according to the largest study of the vaccine. Government health advisers are considering whether to vaccinate pre-pubescent girls but the research published in Lancet suggests rates would be nearly halved if women in their 20s were offered a catch-up boost.

The study of more than 20,000 women around the world was sponsored by Merck which makes the vaccine Gardasil. The Lancet said the research was peer-reviewed and fast-tracked for publication because it was "clinically important".

The vaccine protects women against the common human papilloma virus (HPV) which causes 70% of cervical cancers. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is due to meet in three weeks to continue their discussion of whether to recommend the vaccination.

The study finds that it protects against 99% of infections in women who have never had sex before vaccination and has a 44% protection rate in those who are sexually active and likely to have been exposed to an HPV virus. Around 1,000 women die a year in the UK from cervical cancer.

They conclude: "The results of this ... HPV vaccine programme provide strong evidence that implementation of HPV vaccination campaigns in pre-adolescent girls and young adult women will reduce rates of cervical cancer worldwide."

If it was the Commies who tricked us into fluoridation, presmably this is an Islamicist ploy?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 PM


New theory rejects popular view of man's evolution (Ian Sample, June 1, 2007, The Guardian)

The team, led by Robin Crompton at Liverpool University and Susannah Thorpe at Birmingham University, claim our tree-dwelling ancestors learned to walk on two feet because it helped them edge along outer branches while having their hands free to grasp ripe fruit. The tactic also enabled them to clamber between neighbouring trees without having to descend to the forest floor.

The scientists reached their conclusions after spending a year observing the movements of orang-utans in Sumatra. The great apes of the region are the only species to spend their entire lives in the trees. Footage of nearly 3,000 movements showed the apes consistently walked on two legs to reach the outer branches of trees, using their arms primarily for balance. Unlike gorillas and chimps, which bend their knees to walk on the ground, the orang-utans straightened their legs to adopt a more human-like gait.

Professor Crompton said such skills would have benefited early human ancestors enormously between 24m and 5m years ago, when eastern and central Africa experienced dramatic climatic cycles and the forests first thickened and then died back. "As the forests became sparse, the strategy of our human ancestors was more or less to abandon the canopies and come down to the ground, where they could use this bipedalism immediately to get around," he said.

The beauty of Darwinism is that your Just So story is no less plausible -- nor provable -- then the next guy's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 PM


When drivers complained about children playing in a cul de sac, what did the council do? They banned the children (DAVID WILKES, 5/31/07, Daily Mail)

For generations, children with energy to burn have enjoyed a kickabout in the street.

And the footballing youngsters of Utah Close, a small suburban cul de sac of 15 homes, are no exception.

Now, however, their simple pleasure has been outlawed by the local council which said their games of street soccer 'posed a danger' to the public.

The children can no longer put temporary goalposts in the street, and have even been told "jumpers for goalposts" must be "removed from the road immediately" because they are classed as obstructions.

A society that values cars over children deserves what it gets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 PM


German brain drain at highest level since 1940s (Tony Paterson, 01 June 2007, Independent)

For a nation that invented the term "guest worker" for its immigrant labourers, Germany is facing the sobering fact that record numbers of its own often highly-qualified citizens are fleeing the country to work abroad in the biggest mass exodus for 60 years.

Figures released by Germany's Federal Statistics Office showed that the number of Germans emigrating rose to 155,290 last year - the highest number since the country's reunification in 1990 - which equalled levels last experienced in the 1940s during the chaotic aftermath of the Second World War.

The statistics, which also revealed that the number of immigrants had declined steadily since 2001, were a stark reminder of the extent of the German economy's decline from the heady 1960s when thousands of mainly Turkish workers flocked to find work in the country.

Leading economists and employers say the trend is alarming. They note that many among Germany's new breed of home-grown "guest workers" are highly-educated management consultants, doctors, dentists, scientists and lawyers.

OECD figures show that Germany is near the top of a league of industrial nations experiencing a brain drain which for the first time since the 1950s now exceeds the number of immigrants.

...always insist that the ambitious members of a society will be content to stay aboard the sinking ship.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 PM


Sarkozy heads for parliamentary landslide (John Lichfield, 01 June 2007, Independent)

President Nicolas Sarkozy, ever-present, hyperactive, and riding high in the polls, appears to be heading for an overwhelming victory in the French parliamentary elections this month.

According to the most recent poll, M. Sarkozy's centre-right party and its centrist allies could take as many as 430 of the 577 seats in the national assembly in the two-round election on 10 and 17 June.

Such a tidal wave is not unprecedented. The right did even better in 1993. But an electoral landslide would place President Sarkozy in a commanding position - politically and morally - to force through his programme of social and economic reforms.

Because 200 hundred years of losing ground to the Anglosphere is enough?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 PM


Iraq Is Korea?: Bush's latest appalling historical analogy. (Fred Kaplan, May 31, 2007, Slate)

In 1950, the United States beat back North Korea's invasion of South Korea, became embroiled in a Chinese-assisted guerrilla war, fought the Communists to a stalemate, and, in 1953, after suffering 54,000 combat deaths, negotiated a truce (but not a formal peace). Ever since, American troops—at present, 37,000 of them, stationed at 95 installations across the Korean peninsula—have remained on guard at the world's most heavily armed border.

In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, overthrew its regime (which posed a hypothetical threat), and, in the four years since, has kept about 150,000 troops in the country to kill terrorists (who weren't in Iraq before the war), to train the Iraqi army (which the Bush administration, for still-mysterious reasons, dismantled at the occupation's outset), and to keep a "low-grade" sectarian civil war (which erupted amid a vacuum of authority) from boiling over.

In the half-century-plus since the Korean armistice of 1953, just 90 U.S. soldiers have been killed in isolated border clashes in Korea. In the mere four years since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, more than 3,000 American servicemen and women have been killed, and the number rises every day.

To sum up, we intervened in South Korea as a response to an invasion and as part of a broad strategy to contain Communist aggression.

It certainly is an interesting comparison, though imprecise: while we intervened in Iraq because it invaded its neighbors and as part of a broader policy to ensure that a state that sponsored terrorism couldn't hand out WMD, we have sustained almost no casualties in the intervening 16 years and rather than simply quarantining the evil regime and starving the people under its control have sought to provide liberal democracy to all. That's led to a state of affairs that is less quiet but substantially less lethal and entirely more consistent with our values than the one we've imposed on the Korean Peninsula. It does seem unlikely that the Iraqis will require or want a US troop presence for fifty years, but we'd hardly notice such a minimal one so should stay if they want us to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:07 PM


It's Torture! It's Porn! What's Not to Like? Plenty, Actually: Movie Producers Are Abusing Woman and Making a Profit Off It (Lenore Skenazy, May 28, 2007, Ad Age)
It's enough to make you nostalgic for good ol', all-American porn. Hard core, soft core, Peace Corps -- doesn't matter. All I know is: Bed hopping beats head chopping.

If we start accepting 'Captivity' and other torture porn flicks as just 'extreme' horror, the baseline will change. What once seemed out of line will become mainstream.

But bed-hopping/head-chopping is the worst.

Unfortunately, that's what America is in for, thanks to the newest rage in Hollywood: torture porn.

You know -- movies where women are bound and gagged, have tubes shoved up their noses and blood spurting out. And then they're hung upside down with -- in hommage to Janet Jackson -- a single breast exposed.

And you thought "Wedding Crashers" was crass.

While it is indisputably great to live in a country where freedom of expression is guaranteed, it is also vomit-inducing to hear that this kind of movie is becoming, ho-hum, just another cinematic genre. Let's see, we've got musicals, comedies, dramas and, oh yes, that new category where the star gets raped and disemboweled.

As reported by this magazine, the latest upchuck of this genre is called "Captivity," by the company After Dark. Billboards for the movie, banned by the Motion Picture Association of America, went up all over L.A. in March, ostensibly by accident (as if billboards go around erecting themselves). The series of four photos featured a woman first with a gloved hand over her mouth, then in a cage, then with the bloody nose tubes, and then partly nude and totally dead. As Ethel Merman sang, "Who could ask for anything more?"

Me. Your local, resident school marm. But you know what? School marms speak the truth. Go marms!
...why do the folks in Hollywood who produce such stuff still have jobs?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:39 PM


Don't expect inconvenient loyalty from our great friend (Owen Harries, 6/01/07, Quarterly Essay)

THE three great struggles of the 20th century were conflicts concerning the central balance of the international system. In each case dissatisfied revisionist powers were concerned to challenge the existing balance, and in the case of World War II and the Cold War those revisionist powers had totalitarian values and goals that were inimical to those held by Australians.

In each of the three cases, but especially in the last two, victory for the revisionists would have had profound adverse significance for Australia, whether we were immediately and directly attacked or not. We would have been left a weak liberal-democratic country in an overwhelmingly hostile and menacing international environment. In those circumstances, it made perfectly good sense for Australia to support Britain and the US, the main upholders of the existing central balance, in these conflicts.

Does this then mean that the Howard Government has also been right in its support for the US in Iraq? No, it does not. This for two reasons. First, the Islamist terrorists do not threaten the central balance in the way that Nazi Germany or the Stalinist Soviet Union did, and attempts to pretend that they do are ludicrous. Second, under George W. Bush a hegemonic US went out of its way to emphasise that its overriding concern was no longer to uphold a status quo but to alter the international system profoundly, and by force if necessary. It does not seem to me that this would serve the interest of Australia, a quintessentially satisfied, status quo country.

While Mr. Harries is certainly correct that Islamicism is not an existential threat to Australia, his formulation requires one of two ludicrosities of its own: either the values and goals of the Islamicistsa are consistent with those of Australia or else Nazism and Communism had to have been existential threats to Australia. The fact of the matter is that Nazism and Communism threatened Europeans peoples, with whom Australians, like Mr. Harries, felt some residual kinship. On the other hand, Islamicism only threatens Muslims, predominantly in Asia and Africa. You can see why a self-satisfied Australian wouldn't care about such others, but it would be a betrayal of Australia's historic values to be isolationist just because the nation isn't at stake.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:28 PM


What I Think About Evolution (SAM BROWNBACK, 5/31/07, NY Times)

If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.

There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today. Many questions raised by evolutionary theory — like whether man has a unique place in the world or is merely the chance product of random mutations — go beyond empirical science and are better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology.

The most passionate advocates of evolutionary theory offer a vision of man as a kind of historical accident. That being the case, many believers — myself included — reject arguments for evolution that dismiss the possibility of divine causality.

Ultimately, on the question of the origins of the universe, I am happy to let the facts speak for themselves. There are aspects of evolutionary biology that reveal a great deal about the nature of the world, like the small changes that take place within a species. Yet I believe, as do many biologists and people of faith, that the process of creation — and indeed life today — is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him. It does not strike me as anti-science or anti-reason to question the philosophical presuppositions behind theories offered by scientists who, in excluding the possibility of design or purpose, venture far beyond their realm of empirical science.

Darwinists' precise objection to disbelievers is that they insist on empirical evidence, making the former ideologues and the latter scientific.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:15 PM


As wife packs up, is A-Rod out at home? (ADAM LISBERG in Toronto KATHIE KLARREICH in Miami and DAVE GOLDINER in New York, 5/31/07, NY DAILY NEWS)

In New York, A-Rod used to be a regular at the VIP Club, where he always asked for a dancer who performs under the stage name Monique.

Monique is 5-feet-5 with brown hair and brown eyes and has a well-toned, muscular figure, a pal said.

When the stripper jumped over to the Hustler Club, Rodriguez started going there to see her perform and buy sexy lap dances, a source said.

He even took her out for a pricey shopping spree at the Versace store on Fifth Ave., the source said.

A petite stripper at the Hustler Club said A-Rod "likes the she-male, muscular type. They brought me up to the champagne room one time. I spun around once and that was it. I'm not his type."

At the point where femininity turns you off, you've got issues.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:54 AM


Real India: the slow road to Agra (Tom Plate, 5/31/07, Seattle Times)

If you want to understand as much as possible about India in a single day, maybe the best way to go is to take the slow bus to Agra. And by slow, I mean slow as in the speed of a backlash of taffy.

There are no fast buses to Agra because the road to Agra more resembles a war zone in which countless people seem to be fleeing somewhere for their life. Someday the new highway will be up and running, but who knows how long that will take? It sometimes seems as if India goes out of its way to be inefficient.

Most people go to Agra to get to the justly famed and fabulous Taj Mahal. From New Delhi, that's about a four-hour trip. The journey itself is worth at least as much as the destination. India itself is too great to rush through, even if that were remotely possible.

India is often touted as the next slam-dunk superpower, after emerging China, and of course, established United States. The big buildup mainly comes from the Western media, especially in the U.S. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations have imagined India as a kind of balancing superpower to China, should the latter get too feisty, aggressive or in any way profoundly obstreperous to U.S interests.

With more than a billion people (half of which are under the age of 25) and a tremendous science and technology base (the legacy of its first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru), India might not be a bad bet to make it. But it has a long way to go, perhaps much longer than Western hype or India's own best hopes would suggest.

Travel the road to Agra and you see what's out there in the real world of ancient India. You leave the fancy hotels and well-kept tourist sites in the nation's capital and discover reality.

The most basic reality is that its billion people have a per capita GDP of less than $4k. It's no more likely to ever be a superpower than China is, but its tilt towards the Anglosphere in both its national security politics and its economics suggests that it can have a reasonably good run as it boosts that GDP and it is certainly a nice counterweight to the Communists and Islamists its sandwiched between..

Calm down, the rise of China's power is being exaggerated: Beijing's Leninist corporatism hobbles the nation's economic development (Will Hutton, June 01, 2007, The Australian)

THE China challenge is a mutual collusion of misunderstanding between East and West. China ardently wants the world's respect. And the West's political and business elites want to pin the blame for every ill, from job insecurity to the inability to finance a generous welfare state, on the unstoppable rise of China, so excusing themselves for any responsibility for Western capitalism's travails.

Neither side has an interest in portraying China for what it is: a profoundly dysfunctional economy and society struggling to make the transition from communism to a form of capitalism that will almost certainly lead to political and economic upheavals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:50 AM


Recovery complete, S&P finally clears dot-com high (Tomoeh Murakami Tse, 5/31/07, The Washington Post)

The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index hit a record high Wednesday, marking a four-year recovery of U.S. stocks battered by the burst of the tech bubble, the collapse of Enron and WorldCom, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Dow Jones industrials also climbed to a record, and Boeing shares cleared $100 to set an all-time high.

The S&P 500 is in many ways the key major market indicator because it includes a broader range of stocks. It reached its previous high of 1,527.46 on March 24, 2000, at the end of the tech boom that had big guys on Wall Street and college kids on laptops sapping up shares of Silicon Valley wonders that proved too good to be true.

The S&P 500 hit bottom, at 776.76, on October 9, 2002. It has been a long recovery since.

Not that anyone takes academics seriously anyway, but when you see these polls of historians and they rank George W. Bush as one of the worst presidents ever, it's helpful to look at his record.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:24 AM


White House envisions "Korean model" in Iraq (Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press, 5/31/07)

President Bush would like to see the U.S. military provide long-term stability in Iraq as it has in South Korea, where thousands of American troops have been based for more than half a century, the White House said Wednesday.

White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters Bush believes U.S. forces eventually will end their combat role in Iraq but will continue to be needed in the country to deter threats and to help handle potential crises, as they have done in South Korea.

The United States has kept forces in South Korea since war erupted with North Korea in 1950 and currently has about 30,000 troops there.

"At some point you want to get to a situation in which the Iraqis have the capability to go ahead and handle the fundamental matters of security ... so that if you need the ability to react quickly you can be there, but the Iraqis are conducting the lion's share of their business," Snow said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:19 AM


Arrest could bring big drop in spam (Kyung M. Song and Jennifer Sullivan, 5/31/07, Seattle Times)

With the arrest Wednesday of a Seattle man accused of sending out tens of millions of spam e-mails, federal prosecutors say that computer users across the globe should see a significant drop in spam messages.

Robert Soloway, a 27-year-old dubbed the "Spam King" by Interim U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Sullivan, was arraigned Wednesday on 35 counts of mail and wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, money laundering and fraud in connection with electronic mail.

Soloway is the first spammer federal prosecutors have charged with aggravated identity theft. The charge stems from his alleged theft of identities and business names for his widespread e-mail broadcasts -- which included advertisements for diplomas and penis enlargement, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Warma.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:05 AM


The lessons of Vietnam: Iraq desperately needs a political solution in the short term to make the war more manageable for the next president (Henry A. Kissinger, May 31, 2007, LA Times)

[A] brief recapitulation of the Indochina tragedy is necessary.

It must begin with dispelling the myth that the Nixon administration settled in 1972 for terms that had been available in 1969 and therefore prolonged the war needlessly. Whether the agreement, officially signed in January 1973, could have preserved an independent South Vietnam and avoided the carnage following the fall of Indochina will never be known. We do know that American disunity prevented such an outcome when Congress prohibited the use of military force to maintain the agreement and cut off aid after all U.S. military forces (except a few hundred advisors) had left South Vietnam. American dissociation triggered a massive North Vietnamese invasion, in blatant violation of existing agreements, to which the nations that had endorsed these agreements turned their backs.

Two questions relevant to Iraq are raised by the Vietnam War: Was unilateral withdrawal an option when Richard Nixon took office? Did the time needed to implement Nixon's design exhaust the capacity of the American people to sustain the outcome, whatever the merit?

When Nixon came into office, there were more than 500,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam, and their number was increasing. The official position of the Johnson administration had been that U.S. withdrawal would start six months after a North Vietnamese withdrawal. The "dove" platform of Sens. Robert F. Kennedy and George McGovern, which was rejected by the Democratic Convention of 1968, advocated mutual withdrawal. No significant group then advocated unilateral withdrawal.

Nor was unilateral withdrawal feasible. To redeploy more than half a million troops is a logistical nightmare, even in peacetime conditions. But in Vietnam, more than 600,000 armed communist forces were on the ground. They might well have been joined by large numbers of the South Vietnamese army, feeling betrayed by its allies and working its way into the good graces of the communists. The U.S. forces would have become hostages and the Vietnamese people victims.

A diplomatic alternative did not exist. Hanoi insisted that to obtain a cease-fire, the U.S. had to meet two preconditions: First, the U.S. had to overthrow the South Vietnamese government, disband its police and army and replace it with a communist-dominated government. Second, it had to establish an unconditional timetable for the withdrawal of its forces, to be carried out regardless of subsequent negotiations or how long they might last. The presence of North Vietnamese troops in Laos and Cambodia was declared not an appropriate subject for negotiations.

Nixon correctly summed up the choices when he rejected the 1969 terms: "Shall we leave Vietnam in a way that — by our own actions — consciously turns the country over to the communists? Or shall we leave in a way that gives the South Vietnamese a reasonable choice to survive as a free people?" A comparable issue is posed by the pressure for unilateral withdrawal from Iraq.

Of course, there is no North Iraq, its Viet Cong is even weaker, and there's no USSR or PRC. Shiastan & Kurdistan aren't loseable. A disorderly withdrawal would just exacerbate the internecine killing, though that's not necessarily a bad thing either.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Thompson wants to be 2008's outsider (Susan Page, 5/31/07, USA TODAY)

Politician-turned-actor Fred Thompson has been coy with audiences as he flirts with a bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

In an interview with USA TODAY, however, the former Tennessee senator not only makes it clear that he plans to run, he describes how he aims to do it. He's planning a campaign that will use blogs, video posts and other Internet innovations to reach voters repelled by politics-as-usual in both parties.

"I can't remember exactly the point that I said, 'I'm going to do this,' " Thompson says, his 6-foot, 6-inch frame sprawled comfortably across a couch in a hotel suite. "But when I did, the thing that occurred to me: 'I'm going to tell people that I am thinking about it and see what kind of reaction I get to it.' "

His late start carries some problems but also "certain advantages," he says. "Nobody has maxed out to me" in contributions, he notes, and using the Internet already "has allowed me to be in the hunt, so to speak, without spending a dime."

Which is why, if he's serious about winning, he should just stay out of the official race until the fall and then concentrate on SC and after. The only reason to get in now is to organize in IA and NH, which is a waste of his resouces and energy since he can't catch up to McCain in either. After Maverick wins the first two, Mr. Thompson becomes the default "Stop McCain" candidate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Bush seeks $30B for AIDS program (David Jackson, 5/31/07, USA TODAY)

President Bush asked Congress Wednesday to boost funding to fight AIDS and treat up to 2.5 million people with the disease around the world.

His proposal for $30 billion over five years would extend an existing AIDS prevention program, which Congress first approved in 2003 and expires next year. The president often has touted the program, which also fights tuberculosis and malaria, as a key piece of his foreign policy.

"Villages in Africa now talk of the 'Lazarus Effect,' dying communities being brought back to life thanks to the compassion of the American people," Bush said in the Rose Garden.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Caution: E-mail installments of 'Moby-Dick' may prove habit-forming (CECELIA GOODNOW, 5/31/07, Seattle Post Intelligencer)

Call me Ishmael.

Whew -- that's enough literature for one day.

Fortunately, I can resume this fish tale when DailyLit sends my next "Moby-Dick" installment in tomorrow's e-mail. It's due to arrive at 8:30 a.m.

DailyLit, a free service created by a husband-wife team with roots in publishing and online networking, is like a One-A-Day vitamin for the literarily malnourished.

Choose from among the 370 public-domain works at, specify when and how you want to receive installments -- e-mail or RSS feeds -- and you're good to go.

Each day's fare is sized to be read in five minutes or less. That's about a screenful of single-spaced text -- not quite as pithy as "Call me Ishmael," but less daunting than staring down Herman Melville's 700-page masterpiece in its entirety.

DailyLit creators Susan Danziger and Albert Wenger said the service is designed largely for harried techies who can't break away from the tube long enough to read the books they studiously avoided in high school.

Except that they just read Atlas Shrugged and Star Trek books (in Klingon).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Blogger unmasked, court case upended (Jonathan Saltzman, May 31, 2007, Boston Globe)

It was a Perry Mason moment updated for the Internet age.

As Ivy League-educated pediatrician Robert P. Lindeman sat on the stand in Suffolk Superior Court this month, defending himself in a malpractice suit involving the death of a 12-year-old patient, the opposing counsel startled him with a question.

Was Lindeman Flea?

Flea, jurors in the case didn't know, was the screen name for a blogger who had written often and at length about a trial remarkably similar to the one that was going on in the courtroom that day.

In his blog, Flea had ridiculed the plaintiff's case and the plaintiff's lawyer. He had revealed the defense strategy. He had accused members of the jury of dozing.

With the jury looking on in puzzlement, Lindeman admitted that he was, in fact, Flea.

The next morning, on May 15, he agreed to pay what members of Boston's tight-knit legal community describe as a substantial settlement -- case closed.

May 30, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:33 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 PM


Iraq-friendly Foreign Minister closes lid on Chirac era (Jim Nolan, 31 May 2007, Online Opinion)

The contrast spoke volumes. Last week I mentioned the name Bernard Kouchner to a friend. This well-connected university academic was puzzled and asked who he was. Two days later I asked Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari his thoughts on the appointment by new French President Nicholas Sarkozy of Kouchner as his Foreign Minister, the co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières having been a minister in the Mitterrand socialist government, the UN governor of Kosovo from 1999 to 2001 and still one of France's most popular politicians.

Zebari, a Kurd and a genuine resistance fighter against Saddam Hussein, greeted the name warmly because he well knew what a local sophisticate had no idea about: that Kouchner was a true friend of all Iraqis. Visits to Iraqi Kurdistan were early examples of the heartburn which Kouchner regularly created for those who are now under him.

Richard Holbrooke, the former US ambassador to the UN, told The New York Times: "It's an amazing appointment, a stunning event in French foreign policy ... He's motivated by an anti-totalitarian drive whether he sees injustice from the Left or the Right."

He added: "It will be very positive for US-French relations, because he does not come with a visceral anger towards the American 'hyperpower'."

Should Hilary Benn become deputy Labour leader and Britain's deputy prime minister, as seems likely, it is hard to imagine Britain and French will not continue to support the democratically elected Iraqis. What has been a pathetic deference to Jacques Chirac's "realism" in the "liberal" West will no longer be a convenient fig leaf. The "sophisticated" Europeans (read France) have just left the building.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 PM


Budget airlines and green activists unite to fight airport plan (Dan Milmo, May 31, 2007, The Guardian)

Budget airlines and green activists, normally on opposite sides of the argument on climate change, called a truce yesterday as they united to oppose the expansion of Stansted airport.

The makeshift alliance was formed at the start of a public inquiry into allowing more flights at Britain's third largest airport. Environmental groups described it as the sternest test of government aviation policy since climate change became a major political issue.

Ryanair, whose chief executive, Michael O'Leary, regularly refers to climate change campaigners as "tree huggers", joined with other no-frills carriers and green organisations in calling for the plan to be thrown out.

Stansted's owner, BAA, is seeking permission to increase the maximum number of passengers flying in and out of rural Essex from 25 million to 35 million people a year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 PM


1688 and All That: Michael Barone explains how the "Glorious" Revolution led to the American one. (ANDREW ROBERTS, May 29, 2007, Opinion Journal)

When the English-speaking peoples consider the forces that have made them the global hegemonic political culture since the mid-19th century--representative institutions, the rule of law, religious toleration and property rights among them--they look back to Britain's "Glorious" Revolution of 1688. What at first looks merely like a minor coup d'état that replaced the Catholic King James II with his Protestant Dutch nephew and son-in-law, King William III, was much more than that. It heralded nothing less than a complete realignment of worldview for the Anglosphere. It changed everything.

Michael Barone, the distinguished political commentator and co-author of "The Almanac of American Politics," demonstrates both an encyclopedic knowledge of late 17th-century European politics and a keen appreciation of their long-term implications. He sees in the Glorious Revolution--which he dubs The First Revolution--the genesis of "changes in English law, governance and politics that turned out to be major advances for representative government, guaranteeing liberties, global capitalism, and a foreign policy of opposing hegemonic powers." He argues that it was essentially in defense of the rights won in 1688 that the American colonists rose against George III in 1776.

The handful of Whig aristocrats who secretly invited Prince William of Orange over from Holland to overthrow their anointed monarch, James, were undeniably rebels and traitors, as were, of course, the American colonists who signed the Declaration of Independence. Yet they both acted in the name of an ancient, inherent, legitimate and noble cause: liberty. English common-law rights dating back to Magna Carta were perceived to be under threat from King James, and they trumped whatever allegiance might have been owed him. The Founding Fathers were thus repeating 88 years later, and in an American and republican context, largely what the "first" revolutionaries had done in 1688.

Which, of course, is why forcing the King to agree to the Magna Carta was our ur-revolution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 PM


My Overactive Fantasy Life: What happens when you love your fantasy baseball team a little too much. (David Roth, May 30, 2007, Slate)

It's already building by the time the players start showing up in Florida and Arizona. When the first drowsy spring training games appeared on television, I could feel it. And so it was with great excitement and anticipation that I did what countless other baseball fans did as Opening Day approached: I turned on my computer and started studying. About a week before the big leaguers began their season, I began mine. Not in sunshine but in the lonely blue glow of my computer, and not with the crack of the bat but with the click of the keyboard.

I am far from alone in this pursuit: Sixteen million people played fantasy baseball in 2006. In basements that smell like pizza and dudes, in conference rooms on the company clock, or in notional, Java Applet-powered online "draft rooms," we fantasy baseball GMs build the teams over which we will obsess for the next six months. And I have no problem with that. The strange part, I have come to realize, is that the baseball team I care about the most this summer will be my fantasy squad. This doesn't mean that I've stopped caring about my favorite big-league team. But it's a certainty that I'll spend more time worrying about a team named "Garkness Visible" (after Indians first baseman Ryan Garko) than about my beloved New York Mets.

I'm sure this indicates that I have any number of problems. But, once again, it's not just me. Over the last decade, fake sports, be they fantasy sports or video-game sports, have come to rival in popularity the professional sports they reference and emulate. Fantasy newbies and nonbelievers are well within their rights to ask why.

The Wife and I were at one of the Tom Clancy movies and Jack Ryan has a techie helping him hack into someone's computer. The kid says: "Don't worry, everybody uses his wife or kids name or one of their birthdays."

The Wife: "So, do you use me name?"

The Husband: "Um, not quite..."

The Wife: "What do you use?"

The Husband: "Um, the name of the centerfielder on my Rotisserie team..."

The Wife: "#@$#@%"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 PM


Barron Staffer: Assassinate Leroy Comrie's Ass (Azi Paybarah, May 30, 2007, NY Observer)

“If it takes an assassination of his ass, he will not be borough president in the borough where I live.”

That was the chief of staff to Charles Barron speaking about another City Council member, Leroy Comrie, who is black and voted to abstain today on a failed proposal today to rename a street after black nationalist Sonny Carson. [...]

Plummer’s “assassination” remark was very much in the tradition of the sort of militant language employed by Carson himself. (“I’m not anti-Semitic, I’m anti-white,” he once said.) Carson's supporters have said that it's unfair to judge his entire life by his most extreme comments.

Of course, you can't be for the street renaming and upset about the comment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 PM


Expert: Sadr gaining ground among Shiites (UPI, 5/30/07)

Mahdi Army leader Moqtada Sadr appears to be gaining ground at the expense of other Iraqi Shiite leaders, a U.S. expert says.

"If reports that (Abdul-Aziz al-) Hakim (leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq) is truly ill with lung cancer are true, this could seriously shift the balance of power," Anthony H. Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a Washington think tank, said in a statement.

"SCIRI does seem to be losing political influence and strength in the oil-rich southeast, while Sadr's Mahdi Army remains a major force. Coming back (to Iraq from Iran) allows him to reassert control and game U.S.-led security operations," Cordesman said.

"The Sadrists have also shown that they can cooperate just enough with the United States and the Iraqi Security Forces to take the credit for improvements for local security in the areas where the Sadr militia already plays the role, and get away with claiming the credit for any successes in aid while still blaming the United States and government for the overall lack of progress," the analyst said.

It's hard to believe this wasn't the point of the surge--even down to moving him off-site while we whacked the extremists he'd fingered--except that it's rare for government to function with quite such precision.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 PM


A politically-charged question for the candidates (George F. Will, May 30, 2007, Daily News Tribune)

Liberals are more concerned with equality, understood, they insist, primarily as equality of opportunity, not of outcome.

Liberals tend, however, to infer unequal opportunities from the fact of unequal outcomes. Hence liberalism's goal of achieving greater equality of condition leads to a larger scope for interventionist government to circumscribe the market's role in allocating wealth and opportunity.

Liberalism increasingly seeks to deliver equality in the form of equal dependence of more and more people for more and more things on government.

Hence liberals' hostility to school choice programs that challenge public education's semimonopoly. Hence hostility to private accounts funded by a portion of each individual's Social Security taxes. Hence their fear of Health Savings Accounts (individuals who purchase high-deductible health insurance become eligible for tax-preferred savings accounts from which they pay their routine medical expenses - just as car owners do not buy automobile insurance to cover oil changes). Hence liberals' advocacy of government responsibility for - and, inevitably, rationing of - health care, which is 16 percent of the economy, and rising.

Steadily enlarging dependence on government accords with liberalism's ethic of common provision, and with the liberal party's interest in pleasing its most powerful faction - public employees and their unions.

Conservatism's rejoinder should be that the argument about whether there ought to be a welfare state is over. Today's proper debate is about the modalities by which entitlements are delivered.

Mr. Will was one of the ,more vocal sufferers of Conservative Derangement Syndrome, but the midterm appears to have sobered him up. He sounds like a W flack these days.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 PM


Truth, Fiction and Lou Dobbs (DAVID LEONHARDT, 5/30/07, NY Times)

Mr. Dobbs argues that the middle class has many enemies: corporate lobbyists, greedy executives, wimpy journalists, corrupt politicians. But none play a bigger role than illegal immigrants. As he sees it, they are stealing our jobs, depressing our wages and even endangering our lives.

That’s where leprosy comes in.

“The invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans,” Mr. Dobbs said on his April 14, 2005, program. From there, he introduced his original report that mentioned leprosy, the flesh-destroying disease — technically known as Hansen’s disease — that has inspired fear for centuries.

According to a woman CNN identified as a medical lawyer named Dr. Madeleine Cosman, leprosy was on the march. As Ms. Romans, the CNN correspondent, relayed: “There were about 900 cases of leprosy for 40 years. There have been 7,000 in the past three years.”

“Incredible,” Mr. Dobbs replied.

Mr. Dobbs and Ms. Romans engaged in a nearly identical conversation a few weeks ago, when he was defending himself the night after the “60 Minutes” segment. “Suddenly, in the past three years, America has more than 7,000 cases of leprosy,” she said, again attributing the number to Ms. Cosman.

To sort through all this, I called James L. Krahenbuhl, the director of the National Hansen’s Disease Program, an arm of the federal government. Leprosy in the United States is indeed largely a disease of immigrants who have come from Asia and Latin America. And the official leprosy statistics do show about 7,000 diagnosed cases — but that’s over the last 30 years, not the last three.

The peak year was 1983, when there were 456 cases. After that, reported cases dropped steadily, falling to just 76 in 2000. Last year, there were 137.

“It is not a public health problem — that’s the bottom line,” Mr. Krahenbuhl told me. “You’ve got a country of 300 million people. This is not something for the public to get alarmed about.” Much about the disease remains unknown, but researchers think people get it through prolonged close contact with someone who already has it.

What about the increase over the last six years, to 137 cases from 76? Is that significant?

“No,” Mr. Krahenbuhl said. It could be a statistical fluctuation, or it could be a result of better data collection in recent years. In any event, the 137 reported cases last year were fewer than in any year from 1975 to 1996.

The only surprising this is that he hasn't reported about their using Christian babies to make tortillas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 PM


Bush's Quiet Idealist: Robert Zoellick has been designated the new president of the World Bank following Paul Wolfowitz's departure. Many Germans remember him as the likeable mediator who helped bring about German reunification. But Zoellick's maxim is still "America first." (Marc Pitzke, 5/30/07, Der Spiegel)

Robert Zoellick will be the first World Bank president to take office already decorated with the Federal Cross of Merit, Germany's distinguished state honorary badge. His predecessors John McCloy and Jim Wolfensohn also received the Cross -- but only later. Zoellick already wears it, in recognition of his efforts to help bring about German reunification. As the main United States mediator in the "Two Plus Four Agreement" -- the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany that emerged from the 1990 talks between the two German states and the four World War II victors, and which led to German reunification -- he vigorously championed German self-determination. The Germans thanked him by awarding him the order.

On Wednesday, US President George W. Bush will nominate Zoellick as the successor to controversial World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz. In Germany, Zoellick is considered a friend, an "Atlanticist" and a bridge-builder. He once described his bond with Berlin in a speech here as a common, German-American vision of the future, a transition to "prosperity, security and hope for hundreds of millions of people."

An outstanding choice and welcome news for Australia (Greg Sheridan, May 31, 2007, The Australian)
THE confirmation that Bob Zoellick will be the new president of the World Bank, as predicted by The Australian last week, is good news for the World Bank and very good news for Australia.

Treasurer Peter Costello yesterday spoke to US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson about Zoellick's appointment and Costello welcomed his accession to the leadership of the World Bank.

Zoellick is outstandingly qualified to head the World Bank and a long-time friend of Australia. It was Zoellick, as US trade representative in George W.Bush's first administration, who negotiated the free trade agreement between the US and Australia.

The FTA was an idea that Zoellick had first suggested a decade earlier when he was the shadow of Jim Baker, who was successively White House chief of staff, secretary of the treasury, secretary of state and then chief of staff again, under first Ronald Reagan and then George HW Bush.

Zoellick held senior positions in all those agencies when Baker was in charge of them. Zoellick is one of those ludicrously over-achieving Americans, fuelled by endless ingestions of Diet Coke and with an insane work ethic, who got into a senior position young and has been at the centre of policy almost ever since.

He's Paul Wolfowitz without the demonization.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 PM


All the wrong moves: Yankees are paying price for refusing to play hardball (John Donovan, May 30, 2007, Sports Illustrated)

Hindsight being as eagle-eyed as it is, it's easy to see just where the present-day Yankees went wrong. They tried to restock their farm system and compete at the big league level at the same time. They pulled away from what they do best -- nobody bullies people in baseball with a checkbook quite like the guys in the pinstriped front office, whether it's in the free-agent market or at the trade table -- and that's costing them now.

Face it: These Yankees are dead meat. They might not be completely done, at 14½ games out of first place in the AL East and 8½ behind the wild-card leader with June 1 peeking around the corner. But if I'm looking for medium-well done, this thing already is too far gone. I'm sending it back.

Let's look, with some of that unerring hindsight, at just some of the ways that the Yankees have burned this baby... [...]

4) They forgot just how old they really were. The Yankees saw the aging of their roster coming. They were trying to get younger. That's the whole idea of re-stocking the farm system. It's an admirable goal, and it's needed. But they might have waited too long.

At 29.9 years old the Yankees are among the majors' oldest teams, ranking in the bottom third in average age. That's showing up in a lot of ways: Bobby Abreu's slow start, Johnny Damon's sore wheels, Jason Giambi's heel spurs, Mike Mussina's creaky legs and Mariano Rivera's sudden mortality.

The Michael/Torre/Jeter teams that won were actually built around a nucleus of home-grown talent -- Jeter, Posada, Rivera, Pettite, Mendoza, etc. -- and second-tier stars and seeming scrubs whose skills they evaluated better than others had--Scott Brosius, Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson, etc. -- so they were getting bargains. Now they have a wholly unproductive farm system and they pay premium dollar for guys who command that sort of money because they are exactly at or past their peaks. The perception that the Yankees have been unlucky this year is exactly wrong. In fact, they were especially lucky the past couple seasons when this same breakdown was always imminent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:57 AM


A Full Tank of Hypocrisy (Robert J. Samuelson, May 30, 2007, Washington Post)

It's one of those delicious moments when Washington's hypocrisy is on full and unembarrassed display. On the one hand, some of America's leading politicians condemn high gasoline prices and contend that they stem from "gouging" by oil companies. On the other, many of the same politicians warn against global warming and implore us to curb our use of fossil fuels that emit carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. [...]

In late May, gasoline prices hit a national average of $3.22 a gallon, which, after correcting for inflation, is roughly as high as in early 1981, the recent peak. This elicited the usual expressions of outrage. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) suggested breaking up big oil companies that he says may be to blame for "the sky-high gas prices." By a vote of 284 to 141, the House passed the Federal Price Gouging Prevention Act, which would make it illegal during an "energy emergency" (to be declared by the president) to sell gasoline at a price that is "unconscionably excessive."

The legislation, said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), would "punish those who are cheating America's families by artificially inflating the price of gasoline."

The problem is that left alone the prices will come back down or stay this low. You have to impose a consumption tax (offset by income tax cuts) to get prices high enough to matter much.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:09 AM

CQ Radio: John McCain (Ed Morrissey, 5/29/07, Captain's Quarters)

Update: We got a chance to continue the conversation past the end of the live stream. Be sure to download the podcast in order to hear Senator McCain's full interview!

Today, on CQ Radio (2 pm CT), we'll talk live with Senator John McCain regarding the immigration bill, his campaign for President, and the Iraq War. Senator McCain will join us in the second half of the show, and before that, we'll tackle the stories of the day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


The Rise Of the Bottom Fifth: How to Build on the Gains Of Welfare Reform (Ron Haskins, May 29, 2007, Washington Post)

Imagine a line composed of every household with children in the United States, arranged from lowest to highest income. Now, divide the line into five equal parts. Which of the groups do you think enjoyed big increases in income since 1991? If you read the papers, you probably would assume that the bottom fifth did the worst. After all, income inequality in America is increasing, right?

Wrong. According to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study released this month, the bottom fifth of families with children, whose average income in 2005 was $16,800, enjoyed a larger percentage increase in income from 1991 to 2005 than all other groups except the top fifth. Despite the recession of 2001, the bottom fifth had a 35 percent increase in income (adjusted for inflation), compared with around 20 percent for the second, third and fourth fifths. (The top fifth had about a 50 percent increase.)

Even more impressive, the CBO found that households in the bottom fifth increased their incomes so much because they worked longer and earned more money in 2005 than in 1991 -- not because they received higher welfare payments. In fact, their earnings increased more in percentage terms than incomes of any of the other groups: The bottom fifth increased its earnings by 80 percent, compared with around 50 percent for the highest-income group and around 20 percent for each of the other three groups.

When considering this explosion of work among those in the bottom fifth, remember that they all had children to take care of, that more of these households were headed by single mothers than households in the four better-off groups, and that they had the least money to, say, fix their cars or tide them over if they got sick. Those who do not admire this performance should live for a year on $16,800 and see if they could increase their earnings by 80 percent.

Now imagine if the singles just married, like normal people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


Justices’ Ruling Limits Suits on Pay Disparity (LINDA GREENHOUSE, 5/30/07, NY Times)

The Supreme Court on Tuesday made it harder for many workers to sue their employers for discrimination in pay, insisting in a 5-to-4 decision on a tight time frame to file such cases. [...]

Workplace experts said the ruling would have broad ramifications and would narrow the legal options of many employees.

In an opinion by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the majority rejected the view of the federal agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, that each paycheck that reflects the initial discrimination is itself a discriminatory act that resets the clock on the 180-day period, under a rule known as “paycheck accrual.”

“Current effects alone cannot breathe life into prior, uncharged discrimination,” Justice Alito said in an opinion joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. Justice Thomas once headed the employment commission, the chief enforcer of workers’ rights under the statute at issue in this case, usually referred to simply as Title VII.

Under its longstanding interpretation of the statute, the commission actively supported the plaintiff, Lilly M. Ledbetter, in the lower courts. But after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case last June, the Bush administration disavowed the agency’s position and filed a brief on the side of the employer. [...]

As with an abortion ruling last month, this decision showed the impact of Justice Alito’s presence on the court. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, whom he succeeded, would almost certainly have voted the other way, bringing the opposite outcome.

It's nice to be the natural party of government in America, but you have to control the Court to realize the full potential.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Airlines Balking at Latest A350 Design: More bad news for Airbus as clients call for a redesign of the widebody. New technology and infrastructure would send costs soaring (Business Week, 5/29/07)

Aircraft manufacturer Airbus, already struggling with delays to its A380 superjumbo, now faces problems with its A350 long-range widebody aircraft due to customer dissatisfaction with the current design.

The first version of the new A350 was rejected out of hand, now the second version hasn't come up to scratch either. A number of important customers are demanding changes in Airbus' technology, which could cause further delays at the troubled aircraft manufacturer.

The latest incarnation of the A350 has been found wanting by Emirates, Singapore Airplines, Qatar Airways and the leasing company ILFC, Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reports on Tuesday. "In my opinion the current Airbus proposal represents an intermediate stage," the newspaper quotes Emirates boss Tim Clark.

The customers have called on Airbus to modify its design of the fuselage by baking the body, made out of carbon-fiber composites, on a huge mold, as Boeing does with its 787 Dreamliner, instead of riveting sections together.'re really in trouble.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


A two-state solution could work (Rafi Dajani and Ori Nir, May 30, 2007, Boston Globe)

One alternative is perpetual conflict. Israeli and Palestinian hard-liners say there will be peace only when the other side is defeated. Surrender is not an option for either side, as we have seen in 20 years of on-again-off-again violence. But repeated Israeli attempts to defeat the Palestinians militarily have not brought Israel security. And Palestinian violent resistance has hurt the Palestinian economy, people, and cause rather than force Israel to end the occupation. Neither side can defeat the other, make the other disappear, or drive the other away.

The other alternative is propounded by those, mainly on the Palestinian (and Israeli) far left, who support a "one-state solution," the revival of the old chimera of a binational Israeli-Palestinian state. This two-headed monster is as unrealistic and undesirable today as it ever was. A binational state means, for all practical purposes, dismantling the state of Israel. Would Israeli Jews ever accept that? Would Palestinians -- or anyone else, for that matter -- ever be able to impose it? Why should Israelis give up on their dream and why should Palestinians give up on their yearning for a national homeland? And how would the two communities share in government and administration? [...]

The two-state solution stipulates a historic compromise, a grand deal that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians have repeatedly said they support. It involves an end to Israeli territorial claims in the West Bank and an end to Palestinian claims inside Israel. It requires a Palestinian recognition that those refugees from the 1948 war choosing to return will largely do so to a new Palestinian state rather than to what is now Israel, and an Israeli recognition that a fulfillment of the right they believe they have to settle in the West Bank will be either in a Palestinian state or as part of a negotiated minor West Bank land swap. It requires complex compromise-formulae to both divide and share the holy city of Jerusalem as the capital of two states, to divide and share resources such as water.

We are used to dynamics on the ground making it increasingly difficult for both sides to consider such compromises. But that is not always the case. Now, for example, the League of Arab States is urging Israel to consider a substantial incentive for compromising: full peace and normal relations with all 22 members of the Arab umbrella-organization, in return for an Israeli withdrawal from the territories it occupied 40 years ago. Senior Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his defense and foreign ministers, have lately expressed interest in exploring the Arab League's initiative. has to acknowledge that the single state solution isn't working to well for the Israelis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


China's culture of abortion (Kent Ewing, 5/30/07, Asia Times)

What will it take to jar Chinese leaders out of their long-standing fiasco of a family-planning strategy?

Not that it was really needed, but the past two months have provided further evidence that the State Population and Family Planning Commission needs a new game plan - and the sooner, the better. Instead, however, once again the response has been to suppress dissent and soldier on with a policy that has provoked violent protests in the countryside and exacted a terrible price in human life.

Riots in the southern province of Guangxi this month over the one-child policy - implemented in 1979 to curb China's runaway population growth - are only the latest manifestation of that policy's inherent inhumanity. The unrest also serves as a reminder of its erratic and sometimes brutal implementation, which has led to forced abortions and sterilizations. At the same time, there are signs that because of the woeful lack of sex education in China, young women are increasingly turning to abortion - often multiple times - as a favored form of contraception.

While officials seem to note all this with due gravity, they don't pledge to do much about it. The recent riots in Guangxi provide a textbook case in point.

According to a report last month on National Public Radio (NPR) in the United States, dozens of women in Guangxi have been forced to have abortions as late as nine months into their pregnancies. The report, which ran on NPR's Morning Edition, described the harrowing ordeal of Liang Yage and his wife, Wei Linrong. The couple already had one child but wanted a second. But, according to Wei, in the seventh month of her pregnancy, family-planning officials forced her to abort her child in a Baise city maternity hospital. The Christian couple do not believe in abortion.

An unmarried 19-year-old woman, He Caigan, told NPR that her forced abortion occurred just days before her scheduled delivery. The report also cited an anonymous witness who counted 41 occupied beds on one floor of the same Baise city hospital and said he believed all the women on that floor were there against their will.

Corruption in China: The anger boils over (Carl Minzner, May 29, 2007, International Herald Tribune)
The vicious nature of the Guangxi enforcement campaign is all the more striking because it directly conflicts with the orders of China's top leaders.

In January, Communist Party and government officials in Beijing issued a joint directive ordering stronger enforcement of China's population planning laws - precisely the aim of the Guangxi authorities. But the national directive clearly emphasized the need to rely on positive financial incentives to reward compliance with birth control policies - not coercive measures.

Indeed, national officials touted the directive as a move away from "administrative" controls on population growth. The director of China's national family planning council even suggested that the authorities would waive fines for poor citizens.

So how can there be such disconnect between the bright ideas coming out of Beijing and the hard reality of the Guangxi streets?

One reason is that the central authorities are not in full control of their country. This may seem difficult to believe, particularly to outsiders accustomed to images of Chinese security forces dragging away protesters in Tiananmen Square. But Beijing actually has major difficulties supervising local officials.

Sure, you can demand that the local authorities meet designated birth control, tax revenue or economic development targets. But how do you supervise this? How do you ensure that local officials don't simply falsify data? Or that they don't rely on their own private goon squads to brutalize local residents into meeting whatever targets have been set?

In other countries, a range of independent, bottom-up channels help monitor and check the behavior of local officials. A free press exposes government corruption. Independent judicial institutions evaluate whether the actions of the local authorities accord with national law. Open elections allow citizens to remove officials engaged in unethical behavior.

These channels don't exist under China's one-party system. Local Chinese party secretaries exercise sweeping control over the local media, legislatures and courts.

Naturally, this breeds corruption and abuse of power. It also means that local party officials can effectively choke off information to Beijing, blinding the central authorities as to exactly how their mandates are carried out.

Some localities have degenerated into private fiefdoms run by local party officials. This has serious consequences for people whose rights have been violated by local officials. Citizens are far from passive. They resort to any and all channels to get redress - lawsuits, petitions, foreign media. But these often don't work.

Always amusing, if chilling, to hear folks claim that China has developed an effective alternative to Western liberal democracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


In Queens, Classes in Mandarin Are Also Lessons in Adaptation (ELLEN BARRY, 5/29/07, NY Times)

[M]an-Li Kuo Lin’s weekly Mandarin class — arranged by Ms. Harrison’s successor, Councilman John C. Liu — provides a different view of Flushing. Ms. Lin’s students filter in after finishing a day’s work as paramedics or elementary school teachers. They set up chairs under pipes labeled “hot kitchen/bath” and “chilled water supply,” which are periodically traversed by mice. Some eat supper discreetly out of paper bags. Then they stumble, with boisterous good humor, over the basics of Mandarin grammar.

In the center of the front row, every Wednesday, sits an old man with a freckled scalp and a frizz of white hair. This is Frank Sygal, 85, a retired stockbroker whose enthusiasm in pursuit of Mandarin amazes and amuses his classmates.

His first question of the night during one recent class, delivered in the accent of his native Poland, was followed rapidly by several dozen follow-ups: “Why do you say two words for ‘bladder’? I have one bladder! For one bladder it’s two words? What is word for state of Israel? What is word for ‘oral surgeon’? If I go to study medicine in China, what do they teach me?”

“Nobody taught you in Poland to speak Chinese,” Mr. Sygal said.

Mr. Sygal grew up outside Krakow and lost his parents on an August day in 1942 when German soldiers rounded up Jews, stripped off their jewelry and machine-gunned them. His facility with languages helped him survive: He spoke Russian with the Russian soldiers, Ukrainian with the Ukrainians and German with the Germans, reserving Hebrew for private spaces. Once he arrived in New York in 1949, there were two more languages to learn — English and Spanish.

Now, at 85, he has embarked on his last great linguistic effort. His progress has been maddeningly slow; at one point, Mr. Sygal approached “dozens” of Chinese people, he said, in a fruitless attempt to translate the word “ka-ching,” a term he had seen in a headline in The New York Post and assumed to be Chinese. He hopes that he will be able to carry on a conversation in Mandarin by the time he is 95.

“If I be around,” he said, “I be able to speak.”

To his left was Cathy Stenger, driven to this class by the stubborn silence in her building’s elevator. She bought an apartment in a Flushing co-op in 1986 and has since seen 90 percent of the units go to Korean and Chinese families. She has a mute bond with a woman from the sixth floor, who embraces her every time they meet, and with an elderly man who soulfully grabs her hand.

“The fact of the matter is, I can’t talk to them,” said Ms. Stenger, 65, whose parents immigrated from Hungary.

Her interest is not casual. Her co-op board is threatened by a breakaway group of Asian tenants, she said, who are challenging bylaws about subletting or dividing units. A downstairs neighbor manufactures medicinal herbs, and though the woman added ventilation after Ms. Stenger complained, the scent sometimes wafts up through her radiator connections. And when gas leaked into a hallway recently, Ms. Stenger said, one of the neighbors hesitated to call 911 because she was afraid that she would be charged for the service.

Still, none of the changes have made her consider leaving Flushing.

“A lot of my friends it bothers,” she said. “My friends moved.”

The Mandarin classes, now in their second 10-week session, were the brainchild of Donald Henton, 73, a retired city bus driver who has lived in Flushing since 1968.

Mr. Henton asked Councilman Liu to sponsor the lessons last year during a community meeting at which most of the comments were made in Mandarin. He feels a responsibility for the classes’ success; on Tuesday nights, he calls 40 people just to remind them to come.

There have been moments of disappointment for Mr. Henton, who expected the classes to be standing-room-only. He has met cold shoulders among his own neighbors in the Bland Houses, where 78 percent of the tenants are black or Hispanic. On a sunny afternoon in the housing project’s courtyard, Robert Winston, whose family moved to New York from Jamaica, responded to the idea of studying Mandarin with a long belly laugh. Anita Garcia, whose parents moved from Puerto Rico, practically spat.

“I was born here,” said Ms. Garcia, who is 44. “Why should I learn their language?”

"Why can't I be the last one into the lifeboat?"

May 29, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 PM


Bush tightens squeeze on Sudan: His new sanctions Tuesday seek to press the regime but not deepen the Darfur crisis. (Peter Grier and Scott Baldauf , 5/30/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

Economic sanctions announced May 29 are an expansion of existing US financial restrictions and reflect US impatience with continued obstinacy on the part of Sudan's president, Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, on allowing international peacekeepers into his country.

At the same time, the US may not want to alienate other nations crucial to any eventual Sudan settlement, such as China. Nor do officials wish to precipitate a further military and humanitarian crisis to which the world community may be ill-equipped to respond.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 PM


Who's Afraid of Tariq Ramadan?: The Islamist, the journalist, and the defense of liberalism. (Paul Berman, 05.29.07, New Republic)

Everyone knows by now that Al Qaeda can trace its roots to a splinter tendency within the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt during the 1960s and even earlier, and this history raises an awkward question, which Ramadan has had to answer more than once in the years since September 11. He answered the question one more time in Buruma's Times magazine profile in February. He acknowledged that, yes, Al Qaeda emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood. But not from Grandfather al-Banna's legacy. Al Qaeda drew its inspiration, instead, from Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), who enlisted in the Muslim Brotherhood only after al-Banna's assassination. About al-Banna and Qutb, Ramadan said, "They didn't even know each other"--which is true, narrowly speaking. Buruma quoted the remark and had every reason to do so (though it was odd of him not to mention how misleading was Ramadan's observation, seen from a broader angle--a point to which I will return). Still, Buruma did go on to quote Ramadan's account of his grandfather's un-Qutb-like political goals. Al-Banna, in Ramadan's phrase, "was in favor of a British-style parliamentary system, which was not against Islam."

This second observation, though--is it equally correct, from a narrowly factual angle? In the Times magazine, Buruma elected to be wryly noncommittal. "This may or may not be an accurate representation of Hassan al-Banna," he observed--which is the mark of Buruma's charm as a writer, his gift for understatement and indirection. Even so, understated indirection is not always the best way to inform the public. He might have pointed out that Ramadan, in his book Aux Sources du Renouveau Musulman, or The Roots of the Muslim Revival, in 1998, devotes some two hundred pages to al-Banna and his visionary ideas. Ramadan concedes that al-Banna did want to replace the multi-party system in Egypt with a single national council, which might appear to be a one-party state--but Ramadan explains that, because of the fundamentally democratic nature of Islam, al-Banna's proposal was tantamount to a multi-party system. Such is the interpretation in The Roots of the Muslim Revival. And Buruma might have pointed out one of the principal alternative interpretations of al-Banna and his ideas, if only to offer a little perspective on Ramadan and his way of thinking. According to this second interpretation, al-Banna is best described as a fascist.

This used to be a fairly common judgment on the Arab left, not to mention among European Marxists--maybe in some cases because "fascist" is every left-winger's favorite insult, and for no larger reason. Still, something called "clerico-fascism" (to use the traditional term) is an old concept on the left, dating back to the 1920s in Italy, where it used to refer to the militant wing of the Catholic extreme right. And the applicability of that sort of label to al-Banna's new movement in Egypt did seem, at least to some people in the past, hard to miss--an obvious applicability based on the populism and demagogic emotionalism of the Muslim Brotherhood, together with its authoritarianism, intolerance, violence, invasiveness, and a certain kind of giddy twentieth-century-style utopianism, not to mention some of the direct influences that wended across the Mediterranean Sea from fascism's original home in Europe. Then, too, in the eyes of a fair number of scholarly and journalistic observers today, a fascist label, or some reasonably similar term, seems faintly applicable--or more than faintly--even now.

You can see a sophisticated political-theory presentation of this analysis in the writings of Bassam Tibi, the Syrian-German scholar, though in regard to al-Banna and his legacies, Tibi, in his precision, prefers the loftier Arendtian word "totalitarian" (which, anyway, was coined by Mussolini) to the label "fascist" (likewise coined by Mussolini). A discussion of al-Banna's fascism turns up repeatedly in the current literature on Tariq Ramadan. Paul Landau, in The Saber and the Qur'an, describes al-Banna, in his position as chief guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, as a figure comparable to Il Duce and the Führer. Landau attributes a lot of importance to al-Banna's friendship with Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem--who, as Hitler's ally, helped organize a Muslim division of the Waffen-SS and then, after the war, when he was wanted for war crimes (owing to his SS division), succeeded in escaping to Egypt, thanks to help from al-Banna himself. Ian Hamel reprises Landau's point about al-Banna and the mufti of Jerusalem in The Truth About Tariq Ramadan--though Hamel's purpose is normally to knock down everything said by Landau, if he can. Even Hamel describes al-Banna as a man with a "totalitarian organization and an extremist program."

Caroline Fourest offers a more striking observation in Brother Tariq by pointing to al-Banna's Epistle to the Young. The epistle lays out, under the six clauses of his slogan ("God is our goal; the Prophet is our guide; the Qur'an is our constitution; struggle is our way; death on the path of God is our ultimate desire; God is great, God is great"), the five stages of his program. To wit: the creation of a properly Muslim individual person, in thought and belief; of a properly Muslim family; of a properly Muslim people or community; of an Islamic state; and, finally, the resurrection of the ancient Islamic Empire--which al-Banna describes by referring admiringly to what he calls the "German Reich" and to Mussolini's dream of a resurrected Roman Empire, though naturally al-Banna regards his own resurrected Islamic Empire as vastly preferable and theologically more legitimate than anything Mussolini could have contemplated.

Back in the early 1940s, the British authorities in Egypt took this sort of sentiment seriously enough and, in the hope of avoiding anything resembling the pro-Axis coup d'état that took place in Iraq in 1941, presided over al-Banna's arrest more than once. But the pointed aspect of Fourest's discussion of al-Banna and his Epistle lies in her observation that Ramadan, in presenting the Epistle in one of his own popular audio recordings, has omitted the fascist references--which raises anew the question about forthrightness.

Among the present-day commentaries on al-Banna and fascism that I have lately stumbled on, the most eye-opening turns up in an essay by the Iranian scholars Ladan Boroumand and Roya Boroumand, which appears in an anthology called Islam and Democracy in the Middle East, edited by Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner, and Daniel Brumberg. The Boroumands (who are sisters) arrive at a grim evaluation: "The man who did more than any other to lend an Islamic cast to totalitarian ideology was an Egyptian schoolteacher named Hassan al-Banna." By "totalitarian ideology," the Boroumand sisters have in mind the doctrines of the Italian Fascists and the German Nazis, whose influence on al-Banna they underline. And they point out the disastrous consequences: "From the Fascists--and behind them, from the European tradition of putatively transformative' or purifying' revolutionary violence that began with the Jacobins--Banna also borrowed the idea of heroic death as a political art form."

There is nothing especially novel or bizarre in noticing that al-Banna displayed an eager interest in the aesthetic cult of death. The classic history of the Muslim Brotherhood, The Society of the Muslim Brothers, by Richard P. Mitchell, which appeared in 1969, was quite lucid on this topic even then. Al-Banna came up with a double phrase about the importance of death as a goal of jihad--"the art of death" (fann al-mawt) and "death is art" (al-mawt fann). This phrase became, in Mitchell's description, a famous part of al-Banna's legacy. Stringing together his own paraphrases with al-Banna's words, Mitchell wrote: "The Qur'an has commanded people to love death more than life" (which, I might add, is a phrase that we have heard more than once in terrorist statements during the last few years, for instance in the videotape that was made by the Islamist group that attacked Madrid in 2004). And al-Banna continued, in Mitchell's presentation: "Unless the philosophy of the Qur'an on death replaces the love of life which has consumed Muslims, they will reach naught. Victory can only come with the mastery of the art of death."

But what might strike some people as novel or controversial is the Boroumand sisters' observation that al-Banna borrowed these grisly ideas from Europe, instead of deriving them, as al-Banna himself claimed to have done, from Qur'anic tradition. Hassan al-Banna, seen in this light, did something dreadful to Islam. He founded the modern vogue for suicide terror--the cult of death as political art form par excellence--and he attached this cult to Islam. This interpretation of al-Banna corresponds to Bassam Tibi's view, though Tibi emphasizes that al-Banna served mostly to clear the way for Sayyid Qutb, and it was Qutb who played the crucial role. [...]

Ramadan's various opinions and interpretations ought not to be conflated with Islam itself--and this point, as I have learned from experience, requires emphasis, and even double emphasis. When I wrote about Ramadan some years ago, I noticed that all too many non-Muslim readers are quick to seize on any disagreeable or troubling statement by a Muslim thinker and pin it on Islam as a whole--even if these readers are warned not to do anything of the sort. So I stress the point. Nor does Ramadan himself claim to be speaking for every last Muslim on the planet. He identifies several modern currents of Islamic thought or Muslim self-identification, even apart from the ancient denominations that have transfixed everybody's attention right now, and he knows that all these currents do not accord with one another. In the Times magazine, Buruma very properly asked Ramadan to specify which of the currents is his own, and Ramadan answered with a simple phrase. His own current of Islamic thought is the one that goes under the paradoxical-sounding label of "salafi reformist."

Which means? Buruma came up with a definition by plucking a sentence out of Ramadan's Western Muslims and the Future of Islam. A "salafi reformist," Buruma explained, quoting Ramadan's book, is someone who aims at the following goals: "to protect the Muslim identity and religious practice, to recognize the Western constitutional structure, to become involved as a citizen at the social level, and to live with true loyalty to the country to which one belongs." This quotation is accurate, in a fashion--I have located it on page 27 of Ramadan's book, as well as in a slightly different setting in To Be a European Muslim--but, then again, less than accurate because of the way that Buruma has severed the quoted words from some other remarks on the same page and the previous one. Taken by themselves, the quoted words make salafi reformism sound like an earnest and slightly dowdy do-good effort to adapt Islam to the modern liberal world. But that is a mistake. It is an old mistake, too, that journalists persist in making, as both Fourest and Landau point out with a lot of exasperation in their respective books. In a footnote on the topic of "reformism" in his book The Roots of the Muslim Revival, back in 1998, Ramadan himself halfway acknowledges the potential for misunderstanding, though he thinks he is justified in using the term anyway.

Salafi reformism, in his usage, signifies something precise, which has nothing to do with liberal reformism in the conventional sense. Buruma asked Ramadan to list his two favorite Muslim philosophers. Ramadan duly named Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh--the late nineteenth-century figures whom Ramadan regards as the progenitors of Hassan al-Banna's Islamic revival and the Muslim Brotherhood (though other people would insist rather sharply that al-Banna's Islamism, in its radicalism and rigidity, departed fundamentally from those nineteenth-century thinkers). Anyway, not many readers of the Times magazine are likely to have recognized these nineteenth-century names. And yet if Buruma had thought to ask Ramadan about some more recent thinkers in the salafi reformist mode, Ramadan could have gone on listing names, and some of those additional names would, in fact, be recognizable to a good many readers. Ramadan has already listed the names in Western Muslims and the Future of Islam--has done this, as it happens, in the paragraph directly preceding the one from which Buruma has plucked his misleading definition.

Here, on page 26, is Hassan al-Banna; and Abul Ala Mawdudi from the South Asian subcontinent, whose activities Tariq's father, Said Ramadan, coordinated with the Muslim Brotherhood; and Ali Shariati, Ayatollah Khomeini's fellow thinker in Iran. And here is Sayyid Qutb, one more influential reformist among the others, listed without comment--even if Qutb's legacy, in one of its offshoots, did lead to Al Qaeda. In Ramadan's usage, salafi reformism turns out to be the philosophical underpinning for modern Islamism in the sundry versions that descend from al-Banna's (and Mawdudi's) original idea. Naturally, these sundry versions do not always chime with one another, and this, too, Ramadan carefully spells out. In Western Muslims and the Future of Islam, he divides the descendants of the original reformist idea into subcurrents or tendencies--though in order to distinguish among these tendencies, you have to inspect his account rather closely, unto the fine print, meaning the footnotes. And this kind of close inspection is worth undertaking, not just to shed a little light on Ramadan's philosophy but also to cast an extra glance at the related but different theme of Ramadan's image in the press.

So, then, the subcurrents of salafi reformism, as per Tariq Ramadan. One of these subcurrents turns out to be his own: the outspokenly Western variant, the version whose particularities Ramadan defines with the attractive language that Buruma has mistakenly applied to the entire movement--a language of preserving Muslim identity and becoming loyal citizens of democratic countries. Ramadan's subcurrent is not the principal one, however. The principal subcurrent flourishes only in the Muslim world (and, in Ramadan's book, only in the footnotes)--though "flourishes" may give the wrong impression, since, as he observes with a touch of bitterness, the organizations and movements within this subcurrent "are almost everywhere, though in different degrees, subjected to imprisonment, torture, and persecution." Plainly, Ramadan is writing here about the Muslim Brotherhood, together with (I suppose) its several national and sectarian variations and offshoots--the Muslim Brotherhood in the Muslim countries themselves, where martyrdom has come to figure as part of the movement's identity. The intention of this, the most prominent current of the salafi reformists, is fully revolutionary: it is to establish an Islamic society.

And then, in his honesty, Ramadan somewhat ruefully cites still another sub-current that flows from the salafi reformist source--though, in his view, this final tendency has emptied salafi reformism of almost all of its original content. This final tendency, he tells us, has gone over to "strictly political activism," joined to "a literalist reading" of the sacred texts, leading to "radical revolutionary action." Ramadan describes this tendency as "political literalist Salafism"--which Buruma in the Times magazine mentions by name, though without identifying it as an offshoot of the salafi reformist idea. Ramadan explains that political literalist salafism has attracted "a lot of public attention"--though it is represented in the Western countries only "by structures and factional networks." This last phrase is incomprehensible to me, but it communicates an impression that, in spite of the public attention, political literalist salafism does not count for much. Ramadan disapproves of this tendency, owing to its textual literalism and its unspecified departures from salafi reformist principles--though he also rushes to ascribe the tendency's errors not to any elements intrinsic to its salafi reformist roots but to the ghastly way that Muslim governments have suppressed the mainstream salafi reformists.

As to why the political literalist salafists should have attracted "a lot of public attention," Ramadan says nothing at all in his main text. Only in a footnote does he mention "violent and spectacular actions," and not even there does he remark on any sort of radical departure from basic morality. Nor does he define any relation that might exist between this sort of thing and the legacies of Qutb. A veil of timidity and euphemism hangs over the entire discussion, which could lead a sleepy reader to miss his meaning altogether.

And yet it is obvious what Ramadan is talking about in this particular passage. Political literalist salafism is the doctrine underlying the terrorism that has emerged from salafi reformism--the vast wave of random murder, the vogue for "violent and spectacular actions," that has swept across so many regions of the Muslim world and beyond. That is what he means by "radical revolutionary action." He does refer somewhat cautiously in a footnote to "a section" of the Islamic Salvation Front of Algeria, by which he must have in mind the people who went about slaughtering whole villages in Algeria during the 1990s and who are evidently not finished yet. But mostly he is the sphinx. At least Ramadan does not deny the estranged sibling relation between his own wing of salafi reformism and the champions of "radical revolutionary action"--these different currents that descend from the same source. Ramadan is, on this particular theme, more straightforward than his Times profiler.

Still, Ramadan has left out a few details, and these do add up to something. On the topic of al-Banna and Qutb, for instance, it is true, yes, that in spite of being exact contemporaries, the two men never did meet in person. Al-Banna was a salafi reformist from the start, but Qutb, in his younger years, was a secular intellectual, a poet, and a literary critic--which meant that al-Banna and Qutb disapproved of each other. Still, they did not live on opposite sides of the earth. Qutb, as I learn from a biography by Adnan A. Musallam called From Secularism to Jihad: Sayyid Qutb and the Foundations of Radical Islamism, adhered to a school of Romantic poetry in Egypt, influenced by Coleridge among others, and his ideas about poetry led him to seek truth in his own heart (as opposed to following the traditions of established schools) and at the same time to yearn romantically for death. Qutb's poetry took an apocalyptic turn as well--which, though his biographer does not make the point, could be compared stanza for stanza with some of the apocalyptic poetry of the fin-de-siècle European Symbolist poets. And all of this, the Romantic and Symbolist literary impulses, mirrored al-Banna's Islamic thinking pretty closely.

What was salafi reformism, after all, if not a belief that truth could be obtained directly from the Qur'an and the seventh century (as opposed to following the traditions of the established schools of Islamic jurisprudence)? And what was al-Banna's phrase about "the art of death" and "death is art" if not an Islamic variation on Qutb's Romantic-poetry yearning for the eternity of the tomb? As for Qutb's Symbolist-poetry apocalyptic fantasies--well! This was Islamism itself, in its Mussolinian, Third Reichstyle yearning for the final showdown. Seen from this angle, Qutb's Romantic secularism and al-Banna's Romantic Islamism were variations on a theme.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 PM


Presidential Preferences (American Research Group, Inc., May 29, 2007)

John McCain continues to receive support from independents who are likely Republican primary voters/caucus goers in Iowa (48%), New Hampshire (40%), and South Carolina (41%).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 PM


I Was On the Global Warming Gravy Train (David Evans, 5/28/2007,

I devoted six years to carbon accounting, building models for the Australian government to estimate carbon emissions from land use change and forestry. When I started that job in 1999 the evidence that carbon emissions caused global warming seemed pretty conclusive, but since then new evidence has weakened that case. I am now skeptical.

In the late 1990s, this was the evidence suggesting that carbon emissions caused global warming:


Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, proved in a laboratory a century ago.

Global warming has been occurring for a century and concentrations of atmospheric carbon have been rising for a century. Correlation is not causation, but in a rough sense it looked like a fit.

Ice core data, starting with the first cores from Vostok in 1985, allowed us to measure temperature and atmospheric carbon going back hundreds of thousands of years, through several dramatic global warming and cooling events. To the temporal resolution then available (data points more than a thousand years apart), atmospheric carbon and temperature moved in lockstep: they rose and fell together. Talk about a smoking gun!

There were no other credible causes of global warming.

This evidence was not conclusive, but why wait until we are absolutely certain when we apparently need to act now? So the idea that carbon emissions were causing global warming passed from the scientific community into the political realm. Research increased, bureaucracies were formed, international committees met, and eventually the Kyoto protocol was signed in 1997 to curb carbon emissions.
"Correlation is not causation, but in a rough sense it looked like a fit."

The political realm in turn fed money back into the scientific community. By the late 1990s, lots of jobs depended on the idea that carbon emissions caused global warming. Many of them were bureaucratic, but there were a lot of science jobs created too.

I was on that gravy train, making a high wage in a science job that would not have existed if we didn't believe carbon emissions caused global warming. And so were lots of people around me; there were international conferences full of such people. We had political support, the ear of government, big budgets. We felt fairly important and useful (I did anyway). It was great. We were working to save the planet!
But starting in about 2000, the last three of the four pieces of evidence above fell away. Using the same point numbers as above:

2. Better data shows that from 1940 to 1975 the earth cooled while atmospheric carbon increased. That 35 year non-correlation might eventually be explained by global dimming, only discovered in about 2003.

The temporal resolution of the ice core data improved. By 2004 we knew that in past warming events, the temperature increases generally started about 800 years before the rises in atmospheric carbon. Causality does not run in the direction I had assumed in 1999 — it runs the opposite way!

It took several hundred years of warming for the oceans to give off more of their carbon. This proves that there is a cause of global warming other than atmospheric carbon. And while it is possible that rising atmospheric carbon in these past warmings then went on to cause more warming ("amplification" of the initial warming), the ice core data neither proves nor disproves this hypothesis.

4. There is now a credible alternative suspect. In October 2006 Henrik Svensmark showed experimentally that cosmic rays cause cloud formation. Clouds have a net cooling effect, but for the last three decades there have been fewer clouds than normal because the sun's magnetic field, which shields us from cosmic rays, has been stronger than usual. So the earth heated up. It's too early to judge what fraction of global warming is caused by cosmic rays.

There is now no observational evidence that global warming is caused by carbon emissions.

The Fraud of Evolution: How science cheats at proving its pet theory (Mark Nash, May 29, 2007, The Trumpet)
Evolution is the belief that life spontaneously erupted from non-living chemicals—all life today coming from that eruption. It includes the idea that all creatures alive today have, after many varied steps, come into existence from some previously existing creatures. For example, it is claimed that a fish in the past began changing, then, over millions of years and many intermediate steps, became a mammal of today.

Evolution supporters suggest that fish somehow became amphibians and amphibians somehow became mammals. This process is supposed to have taken many millions of years, involving millions of intermediate steps to achieve.

Do not confuse the theory of evolution with adaptation of a species or genetic variation. Adaptation simply means that something changes to fit its environment, not that it changes into some other species. Genetic variation occurs when there are limiting factors in the available gene pool. But again, it does not produce some new species—only changes within the same species.

This can be seen in the different breeds of animals such as horses. Draft horses have been bred to produce size and power; miniature horses for smallness and quarter horses for quickness. No one denies that they have common ancestors, but no one suggests they are no longer horses either. These differences do not represent evolution. Horses are still horses. The evolutionist suggests that perhaps walruses changed into horses, or the other way around.

To investigate evolution, it is necessary to observe the evidence and decide whether the conclusions of evolutionists follow logic and are in harmony with the physical evidence, or if those conclusions are established by conjecture and opinion based on preconceived beliefs. [...]

Another example worth mentioning is that of the peppered moths. “Most peppered moths were light-colored in the early part of the 19th century, but during the Industrial Revolution in Britain the moth populations near heavily polluted cities became predominantly ‘melanic,’ or dark-colored. … [E]xperiments suggested that predatory birds ate light-colored moths when they became more conspicuous on pollution-darkened tree trunks, leaving the dark-colored variety to survive and reproduce” (Wells, op. cit.).

To demonstrate the camouflage of the dark moths, many books, when explaining evolution, have pictures of peppered moths on tree trunks. The dark moths blend in and the light moths stand out clearly. This is supposed to prove the theory of “natural selection.” But fraud and lies permeate this deception as well.

As ridiculous as it may seem, the pictures are themselves faked. Peppered moths do not land on tree trunks in nature; they light on the undersurface of small horizontal branches higher in the trees. One researcher (Cyril Clarke) noted that in 25 years of observation he had only seen one peppered moth on a tree trunk. So where did the pictures of peppered moths on tree trunks come from? Dead moths were glued or pinned to the tree trunks. This fact has been known since about 1980, and still the faked pictures are being published in textbooks as proof of evolution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:05 PM


Mr. 3,000?: Hitters with the best shot at joining the exclusive club (Tom Verducci, May 29, 2007, Sports Illustrated)

On the cusp of 2,000 hits this week at age 33, and having cranked out at least 165 hits for nine consecutive seasons, Johnny Damon would seem to have 3,000 hits in his long-term sights. Indeed, the Bill James Handbook projects Damon to a career total of 2,922. (Only one player in the stat-savvy modern era ever exceeded 2,900 hits and didn't continue to 3,000: Frank Robinson at 2,943.)

But when I asked the Yankees center fielder if the occasion of his 2,000th hit brought to mind the possibility of 3,000, Damon gave me an answer that might surprise you -- or not if you've watched him struggle somberly through this season.

"I don't know," he said. "I'll enjoy this, and then we'll see what happens. You're talking about six more productive years, maybe five if I finish this year strong. Five [more] very productive years with 180 hits or so.

"It's not out of the question, but right now I don't know if this is what I want to be doing when I'm 37, 38, 39 -- playing baseball. I don't know about that."

Who could have predicted that Damon, the chief Idiot of the frenetic Red Sox teams and the rabble rouser last season of the otherwise placid Yankees clubhouse, would lose his mojo suddenly at 33?

The Red Sox, who let him walk?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:07 PM


The Great American Savings Myth (GENE EPSTEIN, 5/28/07, Barron's)

IF YOU BELIEVE THE OFFICIAL NUMBERS, personal saving in the U.S. has collapsed: It fell in the late 1990s, tumbled all the way to a 70-year low by 2001, then cascaded off that cliff into minus territory in 2005 and has languished there ever since. It seems like an impending catastrophe. If Americans live beyond their means they can't accumulate the wealth to provide for their retirement, much less create a nest egg big enough to see them through rainy days.

But a look at that nest egg calls into question the whole personal savings story. Household net worth -- assets minus debt -- has never been higher, having grown rapidly even as the personal savings rate nose-dived (see chart below). How can we be getting richer without saving? It's more likely that the existing definition of personal savings will no longer do. In fact, a broader measure, far from running negative, reached a 50-year peak in 2004 and was still near it by 2006 (lower chart). [...]

PEOPLE OFTEN ASSOCIATE "SAVINGS" WITH THE quaint picture of a hard-working employee dutifully depositing part of a paycheck in a passbook bank account. Such venues are hardly extinct. Of the $55.6 trillion in household net worth by year-end 2006, $6.7 trillion was in checking accounts, time deposits and money-market funds. But in a modern economy, most saving is money put at risk, often with the hope of large returns and the chance of substantial losses.

When politicians, ecxonomists and pundits start going on about the crisis we face because we don't put our savings into such unproductive venues you can safely tune them out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM

YOU ONLY BUY THE AIRBUS... (via Kevin Whited):

Boeing spares no detail streamlining innards of new 787 (Elizabeth M. Gillespie, 5/29/07, AP)

Boeing Co. has snagged hundreds of orders for its new 787 with a sales pitch that leans heavily on the light, sturdy carbon-fiber composites replacing most of the aluminum on the plane to make it guzzle less fuel and cost less to maintain.

But Boeing says it has designed everything inside the plane, from air filters and electric generators to high-tech cabin lighting and in-flight-entertainment systems, with an equally steadfast eye toward cost-cutting and comfort.

The 787 will have much less wiring than the comparably sized 767 — about 61 miles (98 kilometers) compared to 91 (145) — which will make it cheaper and easier for airlines to repair while opening up space for bigger overhead bins and more elbow room for passengers.

Philippine Airlines doubles its order for Boeing 777s (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 5/29/07)
Philippine Airlines Inc. doubled its firm order for Boeing Co. 777-300ER planes to four Monday as part of plans to boost U.S. flights.

Asia's oldest airline, and Philippines' largest carrier, decided to exercise options on two planes at a board meeting, spokesman Rolando Estabillo said in a phone interview in Manila. "We have to increase our capacity to the U.S. and other long-haul routes." [...]

The Philippine carrier, which is owned by the nation's second-richest man, Lucio Tan, plans to add services to the U.S., where it gets a fifth of its revenue, to capture sales from Singapore Airlines Ltd. and other Asian carriers.

...if you're a state-owned airline.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


U.S., Iran Open Dialogue On Iraq: Diplomats Call Meeting Positive; More Talks Likely (John Ward Anderson, 5/29/07, Washington Post)

Monday's four-hour meeting between diplomats from the United States and Iran yielded no breakthroughs, but comments by Crocker and Qomi suggested that the two countries shared surprisingly similar assessments of the security problems facing Iraq, if not the causes. Both men characterized the meeting as positive.

"The two sides dealt with the issues in a very frank and transparent and clear way," Qomi told reporters in a news conference at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad. "The views of both sides were unified and identical on the question of the security issue."

Crocker said, "There was pretty good congruence right down the line -- support for a secure, stable, democratic, federal Iraq, in control of its own security, at peace with its neighbors." But then the two sides parted ways, he said.

"This is about actions, not just principles, and I laid out to the Iranians direct, specific concerns about their behavior in Iraq and their support for militias that are fighting Iraqi and coalition forces," he said. Crocker said he did not present a dossier of evidence, but he impressed upon his Iranian counterpart that the United States was "looking for results" and wanted "a change in Iranian behavior."

He said Qomi did not respond to the comments.

At his news conference, Qomi said allegations that Iran is supplying insurgents with weapons, munitions and training have been denied by Iran on numerous occasions and "don't prove anything."

In what may be one of the more significant ideas raised at the meeting, Qomi said that Iran had proposed the creation of a special security committee composed of Iranian, U.S. and Iraqi officials that could deal with all U.S. allegations about Iranian activities in Iraq. Such a committee could also offer a framework for future meetings, Qomi said.

Crocker said he would forward the proposal to Washington, adding, "My comment at the time was that [the proposed committee] sounded very much like the meeting we were sitting in.

"Their main focus was on the mechanisms, if you will, and principles, rather than the detailed security substance that we need to see improvement on," Crocker said.

Both sides said the talks were instigated by Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and were held in his office. Maliki welcomed the ambassadors, who shook hands, and then escorted them into a conference room. The prime minister did not attend the meeting; Iraq was represented at the session by national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie.

You'd think the press and pundits would be past the point where they're surprised to discover the commonality of interests between the US and the Shia Crescent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Do-Nothing Democrats - Quelle Surprise! (Ronald A. Cass, 5/29/07, Real Clear Politics)

The seeds were planted in the strategy for winning last fall. Democrats Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel saw a road to getting back majorities in the Senate and House. Their strategy built on Republican negatives: public anger over scandals involving Mark Foley, Jack Abramoff, and Tom Delay, special interest earmarks, inflated spending, and a war that - judging from the daily drumbeat of bad news in mainstream media - was going badly without clear purpose or end-game.

Rather than push hard-core liberal themes that lost elections for a dozen years, Schumer and Emanuel followed a different path. Their plan was to find moderates or even conservatives to run as Democrats in potential swing districts, criticize the Bush Administration and Republicans, talk a lot about hope and civility and bipartisanship, and let the candidates say whatever their constituents wanted to hear. The strategy worked, giving Democrats majorities in both Houses of Congress.

Given the sources of the victory last fall, the story of this Congress has to be told in three parts: ethics, Iraq, and everything else. Ethics concerns included the misbehavior of individual congressmen as well as the systemic problems with earmarks and lobbyists.

From the very start, things got off on the wrong foot. Nancy Pelosi's first act as Speaker was to push anti-war activist and vocal critic of all things Republican, John Murtha, as her choice for House majority leader, despite serious issues respecting Murtha's ethics. The Democratic Caucus helped Ms. Pelosi out by rejecting her choice, but Pelosi has made Murtha her caucus' number one voice on war policy.

Another ethics problem for Democrats is William Jefferson of Louisiana, whose "frozen assets" consisted of $90,000 wrapped in foil in his freezer, marked bribe money demanded by Jefferson in exchange for helping a business secure government contracts. Jefferson was filmed taking the bribe, but his colleagues have not censured him, and the work of the House Ethics Committee on this matter stopped when Democrats took over last January.

Ms. Pelosi has been eager to make a show of raising ethical standards, but not at the expense of her colleagues' or her own ability to bring home the bacon. She tacked an earmark for $25 million for California strawberry farmers onto the emergency appropriations bill for US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill, which the President just signed into law, ultimately was stripped of every significant Democrat initiative on Iraq but still became a wonderful Christmas tree decorated with provisions giving special favors - and $17 billion in extra spending - for the pet projects of dozens of Democrats. In addition to something for Ms. Pelosi, it has a $23 million earmark for Mr. Murtha's district. When criticized for that earmark, Mr. Murtha responded with a choice four-letter curse, and a threat to prevent his Republican critic from ever getting anything for his district. So much for civility and bipartisanship!

If the practice of earmarking hasn't ended, it has changed a bit - for the worse. House Appropriations Chair David Obey, Democrat of Wisconsin, says he has so many requests for earmarks to add to major legislation - over 30,000 in five months - that he has no choice but to tack them on after work on the bill is complete and won't reveal them until after both Houses vote. The other real change is that not all earmarks are put in writing - now Democrats who don't want anyone to know what they're doing can simply phone in the instructions on where to send the money (a practice Washington insiders now call "phone-marking"), as Harry Reid did in a call to the Energy Department.

Far from draining the swamp, Democrats have been wallowing in it.

May 28, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 PM


Sheehan quits as face of US anti-war fight (Dan Glaister, May 29, 2007, The Guardian)

Cindy Sheehan, whose soldier son was killed in Iraq three years ago, said yesterday she was stepping down from her role as the figurehead of the US campaign against the war.

"This is my resignation letter as the 'face' of the American anti-war movement," she wrote in a sometimes bitter diary entry on the website Daily Kos. "I am going to take whatever I have left, and go home. I am going to go home and be a mother to my surviving children, and try to regain some of what I have lost."

Lucky they didn't need her in the mean time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 PM


Yankees hold hour-long meeting before Monday night's game in Toronto (CBS, May 28, 2007)

His team stuck in a rut, manager Joe Torre wanted to talk to the New York Yankees.

For an hour.

Sensing an attitude problem on his struggling team, Torre held a lengthy meeting before Monday night's game in Toronto. The session ran so long the Yankees were nearly a half-hour late taking the field for stretching and batting practice.

"I've seen some tentativeness," Torre said. "If there's a word to characterize this whole thing, it's 'frustration."'

Attitude? Unless the meeting was to introduce six or seven new pitchers, you get more of this.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 PM


Murtha sent earmark letter five weeks after deadline (Susan Crabtree, May 22, 2007, The Hill)

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) submitted an earmark certification letter for the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) May 1, more than five weeks after the Intelligence Committee’s deadline and the day before the panel marked up its authorization bill, according to copies of the letter and the notice of the deadline sent to the entire committee.

Murtha addressed the letter only to Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), not Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the panel’s ranking member. Hoekstra has said he was not given a copy—an apparent violation of House rules. All earmarks must be disclosed in writing to both the chairman and ranking member.

Only minorities think rules ought to apply to majorities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 PM


Iraqi Kurdish region to take charge of own security (AFP, 5/28/07)

Iraqi Kurdistan's autonomous government will take charge of security in its mountainous northern region this week in a transfer of command from the US-led coalition, officials said.

At a ceremony Wednesday in the regional capital Arbil the commanders of the peshmerga - former anti-Baghdad guerrillas and now staunch US allies - will be handed responsibility for three northern provinces.

"This week, the responsibility for security in the Kurdistan region will be officially transferred from multinational forces to the peshmerga affiliated with the regional government," said Jabar Yawar, a Kurdish military spokesman.

One would hope the President has had Jim Baker drop a quiet word to the Turks about the consequences if they were to intervene in Kurdistan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 PM


Name game can have racial tinge: Foes ignore Jindal's chosen nickname (Bill Walsh, 5/28/07, New Orleans Times Picayune)

Mention the name "Bobby" in Louisiana political circles these days and most everyone will assume you are talking about Bobby Jindal, the popular second-term congressman now running at the top of the polls for governor.

But some Democrats would like to remind voters that Bobby Jindal has another name: Piyush.

In news releases, interviews and small talk, they frequently refer to Jindal by his Indian, given first name. Last week, "Piyush" popped out of the mouth of former Sen. John Breaux, D-La., who briefly considered running for governor.

If the wahoo Right weren't in full howl the GOP could take advantage of this nationally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 PM


Amnesty in hot water on abortion (Barney Zwartz, May 28, 2007, The Age)

AMNESTY International is facing upheaval and mass resignations after it decided last month to advocate that abortion be decriminalised worldwide.

Many Christians, especially Catholics, are expected to resign and may establish an alternative human rights organisation.

The Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference is considering its response, but a senior Catholic said yesterday he thought "a parting of the ways" was inevitable. Amnesty estimates that 500 Catholic schools in Australia have member groups, as do other Christian schools.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 PM


The director Timur Bekmambetov turns film subtitling into an art (Alice Rawsthorn, May 27, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

There is nothing conventional about the subtitles in Timur Bekmambetov's movie, "Dnevnoy dozor" (Day Watch), which will introduce American schlock-horror-chopper movie fans to the screaming vampire, shape-shifting lover and other equally implausible characters, after opening in the United States on Friday. (The film opened last year in Russia and will open in many European countries in the autumn.) [...]

We live at a time when most things are neurotically over-designed. We can all think of examples. Over-styled cars. Overcomplicated cellphones. "Come-in-Cape-Canaveral" espresso machines. I could continue, but it's too depressing. Over-design is so rife that it is rare for any area of contemporary life to escape it (and rarer still if it would actually benefit from more design attention) but one example is the subtitling of foreign language films.

Subtitles are almost always badly designed. Illegible typefaces drift on- and off-screen at the wrong moments, lurking so low that the bottoms of the letters are chopped off, and obstructing the audience's view of gripping twists in the plot, or especially beautiful scenes. It doesn't seem to matter how good - or bad - the film is, the size of its budget, the quality of the cinematography, sets, costumes or titles, because the subtitles are still dire. Every other area of movie aesthetics has a proud design history, except subtitling.

"It's not exactly an after-thought, but people tend to do it expediently," said Stuart Comer, curator of film at Tate Modern museum in London. "Subtitling often takes place after the film is completed. It isn't necessarily done by the director, and there is less quality control. That's why it can seem thoughtless."

In fairness to filmmakers, the traditional method of making subtitles wasn't exactly conducive to creativity. After coating each frame of film in paraffin wax, the words of the subtitle were stamped on in a zinc strip. The film was then bathed in bleach, which stripped off everything that wasn't protected by the wax, namely the subtitles. It was an unreliable process that often resulted in the subtitles being out of synch with the narrative, and in spelling mistakes.

Digital technology has since made the process simpler and more flexible, but filmmakers have been slow to take advantage. In the unlikely event that someone compliments a movie's subtitles, it is likelier to be because of their literary qualities, than the design; except for Timur Bekmambetov's films.

Just another good reason to watch his films, day or night.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 PM



Clay Buchholz fanned eight over 5.2 shutout innings, becoming the first Sea Dog pitcher with at least seven strikeouts in eight straight starts, as the Portland Sea Dogs completed a four-game sweep of the Reading Phillies with a 4-1 win before 7,217 fans at Hadlock Field. The win was Portland's 500th at Hadlock Field in franchise history.

Buchholz (2-1) earned his second Double-A win, allowing only two singles and three walks with his eight strikeouts. The Phillies did not put a runner past second base against the right-hander and advanced only two runners past second base on the afternoon. Buchholz broke Josh Beckett's record of consecutive 7-strikeout games and moved into the Eastern League lead with 69 strikeouts on the season.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:58 PM


President Bush Commemorates Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery (George W. Bush, 5/28/07, Arlington National Cemetary)

Thank you, all. Secretary England, members of the Cabinet, General Pace, members of Congress, members of the United States military, veterans, families of the fallen, our fellow citizens: Welcome.

Today we honor the warriors who fought our nation's enemies, defended the cause of liberty, and gave their lives in the cause of freedom. We offer our love and our heartfelt compassion to the families who mourn them. We pray that our country may always prove worthy of the sacrifices they made.

For seven generations, we have carried our fallen to these fields. Here rest some 360,000 Americans who died fighting to preserve the Union and end slavery. Here rest some 500,000 Americans who perished in two world wars to conquer tyrannies and build free nations from their ruins. Here rest some 90,000 Americans who gave their lives to confront Communist aggression in places such as Korea and Vietnam.

Many names here are known: the 18-year-old Union soldier named Arthur MacArthur, who grabbed a falling flag and carried it up Missionary Ridge; the Tuskegee Airmen who defended America abroad and challenged prejudice at home; the slain war hero and President who asked that we "assure the survival and success of liberty" and found his rest beneath an eternal flame. Still others here are remembered only by loving families. Some are known only to God.

Now this hallowed ground receives a new generation of heroes -- men and women who gave their lives in places such as Kabul and Kandahar, Baghdad and Ramadi. Like those who came before them, they did not want war -- but they answered the call when it came. They believed in something larger than themselves. They fought for our country, and our country unites to mourn them as one.

We remember Army Specialist Ross Andrew McGinniss. Ross was born on Flag Day in 1987. When he was in kindergarten, he said he wanted to grow up to be "an Army man." He enlisted at 17 -- the first day he was eligible. He deployed to Iraq. Last December, a grenade was thrown into his Humvee as Ross was patrolling the streets of Baghdad. The soldiers inside could not escape in time, so Ross leapt into the vehicle and covered the grenade with his own body. By sacrificing himself to save four other men, he earned a Silver Star -- and the eternal gratitude of the American people.

We remember Marine Sergeant Marc Golczynski of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Marc volunteered for a second tour of duty in Iraq. He knew the dangers his service would entail. Before he deployed, he wrote the following in an email to his family and friends: "Please don't feel bad for us. We are warriors, and as warriors have done before us we fight and sometimes die so our families do not have to." Marc left behind an eight-year-old son, Christian, who is with us today; he managed to be brave while he held his father's folded flag.

With us are other children and families mourning moms and dads and sons and daughters. Nothing said today will ease your pain. But each of you need to know that your country thanks you, and we embrace you, and we will never forget the terrible loss you have suffered. I hope you find comfort in knowing that your loved ones rest in a place even more peaceful than the fields that surround us here.

The greatest memorial to our fallen troops cannot be found in the words we say or the places we gather. The more lasting tribute is all around us -- a country where citizens have the right to worship as they want, to march for what they believe, and to say what they think. These freedoms came at great costs -- and they will survive only as long as there are those willing to step forward to defend them against determined enemies.

As before in our history, Americans find ourselves under attack and underestimated. Our enemies long for our retreat. They question our moral purpose. They doubt our strength of will. Yet even after five years of war, our finest citizens continue to answer our enemies with courage and confidence. Hundreds of thousands of patriots still raise their hands to serve their country; tens of thousands who have seen war on the battlefield volunteer to re-enlist. What an amazing country to produce such fine citizens.

Laura and I have met many of them; we've sat at the bedsides of the wounded. This morning, I met service members who received medals for distinguished service -- and found myself humbled by their grace and their grit. I had the honor of meeting with families of the fallen in the Oval Office, and was amazed by their strength and resolve and decent grace under pressure. We've heard of 174 Marines recently -- almost a quarter of a battalion -- who asked to have their enlistments extended. For these extensions, they would earn no promotion and no promise of a favored posting. They want to serve their nation. And as one of them put it this way: "I'm here so our sons don't have to come and fight here someday."

Those who serve are not fatalists or cynics. They know that one day this war will end -- as all wars do. Our duty is to ensure that its outcome justifies the sacrifices made by those who fought and died in it. From their deaths must come a world where the cruel dreams of tyrants and terrorists are frustrated and foiled -- where our nation is more secure from attack, and where the gift of liberty is secured for millions who have never known it.

This is our country's calling. It's our country's destiny. Americans set off on that voyage more than two centuries ago, confident that this future was within our reach -- even though the shore was distant, and even though the journey may be long. And through generations, our course has been secured by those who wear a uniform, secured by people who man their posts, and do their duty. They have helped us grow stronger with each new sunrise.

On this Day of Memory, we mourn brave citizens who laid their lives down for our freedom. They lived and died as Americans. May we always honor them. May we always embrace them. And may we always be faithful to who they were and what they fought for.

Thank you for having me. May God bless you and may God continue to bless our country. (Applause.)

Or listen to the MP3

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:28 PM


The French Correction The principled new foreign minister shows how much France has changed of late. (Christopher Hitchens, May 28, 2007, Slate)

During the early debates over the Iraq war, one was constantly being challenged to contrast the "unilateralism" of the Bush administration with the more mature and "European" approach of Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schröder and Vladimir Putin, the gleesome threesome who (along with the Chinese dictatorship) protected Saddam Hussein at the United Nations. What a difference a couple of years has made. Tony Blair may be stepping down as prime minister of the United Kingdom, but for the first time in a very long time, the heads of state in Paris and Berlin are both "Atlanticist" in their outlook. One might add that Chirac quit the Élysée Palace looking and sounding like a stroke victim who had long ceased to have anything relevant to say and that Schröder disgraced the German Social Democrats by barely waiting to leave office before signing up as a lobbyist for a Russian-based energy cartel. And is it necessary to add that Putin has revived the worst traditions of Great Russian chauvinism, crushing all domestic opposition at home while bullying Ukraine, Georgia, and most recently Estonia, and flaunting his connection to the ultra-reactionary Russian Orthodox Church. What a crew they were and are! The fourth member of the anti-Bush coalition of the willful, the cold-eyed Chinese post-Stalinists, are still engaged in a blood-for-oil scandal whereby Beijing provides the sinews of war to the genocidal regime that cleanses Darfur, while paying to buy most of Sudan's petroleum.

The single best symbol of the change in France is the appointment of Bernard Kouchner to the post of foreign minister. Had the Socialist Party won the election, it is highly unlikely that such a distinguished socialist would ever have been allowed through the doors of the Quai d'Orsay. (Yes, comrades, history actually is dialectical and paradoxical.) In the present climate of the United States, a man like Kouchner would be regarded as a neoconservative. He was a prominent figure in the leftist rebellion of 1968, before breaking with some of his earlier illusions and opposing the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan—the true and original source of many of our woes in the Islamic world. The group he co-founded—Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières—was a pioneer in the highly necessary proclamation that left politics should always be anti-totalitarian. (His former counterpart, Joschka Fischer of Germany, also took a version of this view before Schröder's smirking Realpolitik became too much, and too popular in Germany, for him to withstand.)

His principles led Kouchner to defend two oppressed Muslim peoples—those of Yugoslavia and Iraqi Kurdistan—who were faced with extermination at the hands of two parties daring to call themselves socialist. The Serbian Socialist Party of Slobodan Milosevic and the Arab Baath Socialist Party of Saddam Hussein are at last receding into history, leaving behind them a legacy of utter stagnation, hysterical aggression, and mass graves. I personally find it satisfying that a French socialist was identified with both these victories.

Except that, like Mr. Hitchens, he had to leave behind his Socialist friends and become a neocon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 PM

WHAT BO KNEW (via Brad S.):

The legend of Bo: Bo Jackson didn’t believe the hype, saying he was just another guy. But really, he was superhuman. (JOE POSNANSKI, May. 26, 2007, Kansas City Star)

Bo said he was just another guy. He wasn’t some sort of folk hero, like John Henry or Pecos Bill. No, he hurt like other players. He made mistakes like other players. He struck out a lot. He wasn’t forged out of steel, and he couldn’t outrun locomotives, and he couldn’t turn back time by flying around the world and reversing the rotation of the earth.

“I’m just another player, you know?” he said.

Then the game began, Royals vs. Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

First time up, Bo hit a 412-foot homer to center field.

Second time up, Bo smashed a 464-foot opposite-field home run. Longtime Yankees fans said that ball landed in a far-off place where only home runs by Ruth, Gehrig and Mantle from the left side ever reached.

“Colossal,” teammate George Brett would say. “I had to stop and watch.”

Third time up, Yankees manager Stump Merrill walked out to the mound to ask pitcher Andy Hawkins how he intended to get Bo out this time.

“I’ll pitch it outside,” Hawkins said.

“It better be way outside,” Merrill replied.

Hawkins threw it way outside. Jackson poked the ball over the right-field fence for his third homer. The New York crowd went bananas.

Bo never got a fourth time up that day. Instead, Bo hurt his shoulder while diving and almost making one of the great catches in baseball history. New Yorkers stood and cheered Bo as he walked off the field. It’s possible that no opposing player ever heard those sorts of cheers at Yankee Stadium.

“You know what?” Royals Hall of Famer Frank White would say almost 20 years later. “I really did play baseball with Superman.”

A buddy and I went to Fenway specifically to check him out and he got up the firstbase line faster on grounders than anyone who's ever played the game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:18 AM


Chirac and the ‘secret £30m account in Japan’ (Matthew Campbell, 5/27/07, Times of London)

ON HOLIDAY last week, Jacques Chirac, the former French leader, took his usual suite at La Gazelle d’Or, a luxury hotel in Morocco. He may consider extending his restful sojourn under the palms indefinitely.

It has emerged that besides being questioned about an illegal fundraising scandal when his immunity from prosecution expires on June 17, Chirac will also face a grilling over £30m he allegedly kept in a secret Japanese bank account.

He had previously denied the existence of any account but judges investigating a separate scandal recently stumbled across statements showing deposits being made in his name over several years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 AM


Study: Immigration agencies talk big on anti-terrorism (MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN, 5/28/07, The Associated Press)

U.S. immigration agencies say anti-terrorism is their primary mission, but they tried to deport only 12 people on terrorism-related charges from 2004 through 2006, according to a private research study released Sunday. [...]

The overwhelming majority of deportation cases – 86.5 percent – were based on traditional immigration violations such as sneaking past border inspections, not having a valid visa or overstaying a student visa, TRAC said.

...that nativism hides behind.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


Grilled Beef Fajitas (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

5 pounds Western griller or shoulder London broil, 3/4-inch thick

4 teaspoons salt

2 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups lime juice

3 tablespoons minced garlic

3/4 cup minced yellow onion

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips

2 green bell peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips

2 yellow bell peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips

1/2 red onion, sliced

16 corn or flour tortillas, 6 inches in diameter

Trim the meat to remove any visible fat. In a medium bowl, combine the salt, pepper, lime juice, garlic and minced onion. Transfer to a baking dish. Add the beef, cover and refrigerate. Marinate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

When ready to cook, preheat a gas grill to high. If you are using a charcoal grill, build a fire and let it burn down until the coals are glowing red with a light coating of white ash. Spread the coals evenly. Clean the cooking grate.

Grill the steaks for 7 to 8 minutes per side for medium done. Remove the steaks from the grill and allow them to cool, about 5 minutes. Cut the steaks into 1/4-inch-thick strips, being sure to cut across the grain, and on a slight bias. Set aside.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the peppers and onions for 5 to 7 minutes, or until they just begin to soften. Add the steak and cook until just heated through, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, grill or toast the tortillas until softened and warm, about 20 seconds per side.

Serve the steak mixture with the tortillas and a variety of toppings, such as cheese, sour cream, guacamole or salsa.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM



Rudy Giuliani's White House campaign has been going retro - getting tangled in issues that haunted his first-ever political run, for City Hall, in 1989, political observers say.

Politicians try to learn from past missteps, but Giuliani has been reliving some of his - from his stumbles over the abortion issue to controversies about his business clientele.

"He's maximized the discussion of [his vulnerable points], and that's not smart," said GOP consultant Nelson Warfield, the spokesman for Giuliani's 1989 Republican primary rival, Ronald Lauder.

"There's something missing when it comes to the discipline required to stay on his message. He doesn't seem to have the campaign gene."

Which is why he ultimately won't run.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


The Real Jack Sparrow: He would have eaten Johnny Depp for breakfast (CHRISTOPHER HUDSON, 26th May 2007, Daily Mail)

His name was Bartholomew Roberts. The most successful raider in the history of piracy, he took prisoner an astounding 470 vessels, and so renowned was his ferocity that many of those ships were surrendered to him without a fight.

Black Bart was the nickname he was given - and not only because of his black locks and dark eyes. When this swashbuckling Welsh buccaneer had to fight for his prizes, he was merciless.

In 1720, the crew of a 42-gun Dutch vessel anchored off Dominica in the Caribbean dared to resist. In the close-quarters cannonade which followed, several of his crew were cut down. Even more were slaughtered in the hand-to-hand fighting as Black Bart’s pirates swarmed over the vessel.

Roberts ordered an exemplary revenge. Those Dutchmen who had not been killed in the fighting were hung from the yardarm, or stripped of their shirts and lashed at the masthead until they lost consciousness in the blistering sun, then mutilated.

The Dutch captain’s ears were cut off and presented to him as a reminder to listen harder when Roberts told him what to do. The torture and butchery did not end until the last Dutchman had been dragged out and carved up in similar fashion.

Roberts renamed the ship the Royal Fortune, and sailed it with his great black flag at the helm, which showed Black Bart standing, with cutlass uplifted, on two skulls, representing his dominance over the islands of Barbados and Martinique.

He was one of the many sailors who took to freebooting after his own ship had been captured by pirates.

Born in Wales, 325 years ago this month, he went to sea in 1695 at the age of 13.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Kerry said to weigh politics in 2002 vote (Michael Kranish, May 28, 2007, Boston Globe)

[Bob] Shrum, who was brought into the campaign to help provide Kerry with a strategic overview, provides a vivid de scription about the events leading up to Kerry's decision to vote for the war.

He writes that Kerry telephoned him on the eve of the Oct. 11, 2002, vote. Shrum said Kerry was skeptical of Bush's claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that he "didn't trust Bush to give the diplomatic route a real chance." Nonetheless, Kerry asked Shrum whether he would "be a viable general election candidate if he was in the small minority of senators who voted no."

Shrum wrote that he told Kerry it was "impossible to predict the political fallout if we went to war." But he wrote that Jim Jordan, Kerry's former Senate press secretary and future campaign manager, "was insisting that he had to vote with Bush."

Shrum wrote that Jordan had "hammered" Kerry with a warning: "Go ahead and vote against it if you want, but you'll never be president of the United States." Kerry voted for the war resolution and Jordan became Kerry's campaign manager three months later.

You don't get to be head cabana boy by talking back to the boss, and for a politician the people are the boss.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


His was the 'war to end all wars': Frank Buckles, 106, is one of three living U.S. veterans of World War I. He will be the toast of a capital parade (Aamer Madhani, May 28, 2007, Chicago Tribune)

The life of Frank Buckles in some ways tracks a timeline in the rise of America as a superpower. World War I brought about the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and the United States has been ascendant since. He has been witness to it all — and is one of very few alive to tell about it.

At 106, Buckles is thought to be one of three living American veterans of World War I, the Department of Veterans Affairs says.

Buckles' voice is raspy, he has difficulty walking and he needs help getting dressed each morning. But his mind is keen and the memories of his two years in Europe during the war remain clear.

Today, Buckles will serve as a marshal in the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, sharing the starring role with actor Gary Sinise.

Buckles said he didn't mind all the attention. It's a salute to his generation, and he just happens to be the only one of his contemporaries available to take a bow. But he said he was a bit concerned over whether he was the right guy for the parade.

"What are you supposed to do when you lead a parade?" he asked.

The other living World War I veterans are Harry Landis, a 107-year-old in Sun City Center, Fla., and Russell Coffey, a 108-year-old in North Baltimore, Ohio.

After the last Navy veteran and the last American woman to serve in World War I died days apart in March, the Department of Veterans Affairs made a public appeal to identify additional veterans of the war besides Buckles, Landis and Coffey. There were no responses.

Although World War I marked the decline of the British Empire and led to the remapping of the Middle East, it has largely become the forgotten war of American history, said Eli Paul, director of the newly opened National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Mo.

Paul said the story of "the war to end all wars" had been eclipsed by the "Greatest Generation" of Americans who fought in World War II.

"These World War I veterans raised a generation that did them one better," said Paul, who added that museum visitors regularly commented that they hadn't realize the scope or importance of the war. "They got overshadowed in this country on Dec. 7, 1941, and never got out of the shadow."

The failure to win the peace overshadowed the "victory."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Changes to immigration bill possible: Republican senators on opposite sides say they are ready to negotiate (Molly Hennessy-Fiske, May 28, 2007, LA Times)

Leading Republican senators on both sides of the immigration debate said Sunday that they would work together to modify the bipartisan legislation being considered in the Senate.

Initially, some conservative Republicans condemned what has been dubbed the "grand bargain" on immigration that emerged this month. The legislation would increase border security and workplace enforcement of immigration laws, long favored by Republicans, in exchange for delivering on the Democrats' promise to offer legal status to an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants and to create guest worker programs.

The compromise, backed by President Bush, won support from conservative Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) but was criticized by another GOP conservative from a border state, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.

Last week, Bush met with Hutchison and several other Republican opponents at the White House. On Sunday, Hutchison said she considered the legislation "better than the status quo."

If nothing else, the fact that they're the party of business, and that the economy requires more workers, will force enough Republicans into line to hand the President a historic win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


John Edwards' populism is a risky bet: The presidential candidate takes a forceful tone on poverty that appeals to the Democratic base but might alienate others (Janet Hook, May 28, 2007, LA Times)

For more than two years, Edwards has been methodically building his campaign around an issue long shunned by leading Democratic candidates: the plight of the poor and working class. He has backed up his public appearances with unusually detailed proposals to provide universal healthcare, raise taxes on the rich and eliminate poverty over the next 30 years.

"This is a huge moral issue facing the country," Edwards said in a telephone interview as he headed into a Memorial Day weekend campaign swing through Iowa. "I don't see in polls that it is a driving issue [for voters], but it is for me."

In adopting poverty and low-wage work as his themes, Edwards has struck a far more combative, populist tone than in his 2004 presidential campaign. And that has helped him elbow into the top tier of a field dominated by better-financed candidates Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) — and has even boosted him to a lead in polls in the key early-voting state of Iowa.

But Edwards' 2008 strategy carries risks, in part because it speaks most directly to a slice of the electorate that has notably little political clout. Perhaps the last major presidential candidate to make fighting poverty a central theme was Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) in 1968, before his assassination that June. Some analysts warn that an agenda that might suggest "class warfare" risks alienating middle-class swing voters and moderate Democrats who do not want to revive criticisms that theirs is the party of the poor.

Is it too much to hope that for the third consecutive presidential election the Democrats will revert to the Second Way?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Dwight D. Eisenhower: Order of the Day (June 6, 1944)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


How brewing your tea for five minutes can make you live longer (NICK MCDERMOTT, 28th May 2007, Daily Mail)

The traditionalists say that the best cuppa is made by giving tea leaves a lengthy soak in a pot.

And now scientists have been forced to agree.

Research suggests that tea left to steep for five minutes releases more health-giving properties than tea bags briefly dipped in a mug of hot water.

The old-fashioned brew has a higher concentration of antioxidants - disease-fighting molecules which help to neutralise the free radicals which damage cells and play a role in everything from ageing to cancer.

The antioxidants reach their peak after five minutes' brewing. It does not matter whether the tea is loose or in bags - so a tea bag left in a mug of hot water for five minutes would have the same beneficial effect.

One assumes that most Americans, schooled on coffee, steep their tea that long just so it tatses like something.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


365 Days #148 - Roger Hallmark - A Message to Khomeini / Maharishi (mp3s) (John Mitchell, WFMU Beware the Blog)

Just classic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Sweep in heart of Texas: Red Sox get away with one (Amalie Benjamin, May 28, 2007, Boston Globe)

Waiting beside Coco Crisp's locker in the visiting clubhouse was a crush of reporters, anxious to hear Crisp's thoughts on his running, diving, game-saving catch to end the seventh inning. Crisp greeted them, smiled at the notion that their presence signaled a good day at the ballpark, and noted his preference for a good day and no questions to answer over a good day and a pack of media.

So, after slowly dressing, slowly donning his jewelry, and slowly packing his No. 10 duffel bag, Crisp politely declined to speak with those assembled, saying, "Thank you, though."

Quite a departure from the speed he used to recover from a bad initial move on a gap shot to right center by Frank Catalanotto with two on in the seventh, but the catch spurred on the Sox' efforts to retake the lead and claim a 6-5 series-sweeping win yesterday in front of 40,323. [...]

"The key was Coco's play there," said Joel Pineiro, the beneficiary of the eighth-inning comeback, as he took the win in relief of starter Julian Tavarez, who gave one of his best performances of the season. "He picked me up. He picked everybody up. That kind of gave us the momentum when we came back then, and scored those runs."

While it was nice to see Manny and JD Drew hit a little this weekend, and Coco continue to play Gold Glove centerfield, the Sox swept for the same reason they've been winning all season--the starters (even the 4th and 5th) keep them in every game, the relief corps is exceptional (Pineiro and Kyle Snyder would be starting for 25+ other teams), and Kevin Youkilis is playing like an MVP, while Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek enjoy nice Indian Summers. They get their best pitcher, Josh Beckett, back this week and Jon Lester is nearly ready. It's hard to remember a team getting off to this good a start that had so many guys under-performing and almost no one having a career year, a sobering thought for the rest of the AL.


The Sea Dogs look for the four-game sweep on Memorial Day with Clay Buchholz (1-1) facing Heath Totten (2-4) at 1:05 p.m. The game can also be seen live throughout New England on NESN with Eric Frede and the Voice of the Sea Dogs Mike Antonellis with the call.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


A Foreign Policy for America (Roger Kimball, 5/28/07, Real Clear Politics)

A friend recently passed along a 5000-word essay by Senator Barry Goldwater called "A Foreign Policy for America." This remarkable work, which appeared in March, 1961 in National Review, is instructive on many levels. I was impressed not only by the substance of the essay--its sober appreciation of the realities of human interplay on the stage of foreign affairs--but also by its tone. The word is out of fashion, I know, but no other term will do: Senator Goldwater's essay exhibits a manly tone, his sober insights are expressed in a sober, virile manner. This is a serious man writing seriously about a most serious subject.

You might think that an essay written in 1961 would, in mid-2007, be little more than an historical curiosity, a sepia-tinged memento from a bygone era. After all, Goldwater was writing at the height of the Cold War: John F. Kennedy had only recently taken office, most people hadn't even heard of Vietnam, Ronald Reagan was a B-list movie actor, Islam was a curiosity, not a threat, and the new wall separating East from West Berlin seemed as impermeable as the Soviet Union itself.

How different the world looks today! As different, I suppose, as the world in 1961 seemed in comparison with the world of 1914--forty six years encompasses a deal of change. But the curious thing about Senator Goldwater's reflection is not how dated but how pertinent it seems. Substitute the phrase "radical Islam" for "Communist," make allowances for a few other anachronisms, and "A Foreign Policy for America" could as well have been written today as in 1961. This is partly because of the clear-eyed view of human nature that informs the essay. The "ultimate objective" of American foreign policy, Goldwater argues, is to foster the largest measure possible of peace, freedom, and economic prosperity around the world, but especially in the United State. The qualification "largest possible measure" is critical, he explains, "because any person who supposes that these conditions can be universally and perfectly achieved--ever--reckons without the inherent imperfectability of himself and his fellow human beings, and is therefore a dangerous man to have around."

That last phrase is a good indication of Goldwater's anthropological maturity--and his political wisdom.

As pivotal as Barry Goldwater was in giving wide public voice to the ideas of the conservative movement, he was a rather notorious mental lightweight, hand selected by Bill Buckley and Brent Bozell to be a mouthpiece. The wisdom of his writings in that period was generally Bozell's and in his latter years, having outlived his usefulness, he lurched into unwise libertarianism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Source: Vick 'one of the heavyweights' in dog fighting (Kelly Naqi, 5/28/07,

Our confidential source said he's been involved in dog fighting for more than 30 years. He has trained and fought -- by his estimation -- about 2,000 pit bulls and was poised to tell "Outside the Lines" about the time in 2000 when his dog squared off against a dog owned by someone he referred to as one of the "heavyweights" of the dog fighting world: Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.

"He's a pit bull fighter," the source said of Vick. "He's one of the ones that they call 'the big boys': that's who bets a large dollar. And they have the money to bet large money. As I'm talking about large money -- $30,000 to $40,000 -- even higher. He's one of the heavyweights."

On April 25, authorities raided a house in Surry County, Va., owned by Vick and reportedly found -- among other things -- 66 dogs (most of which were pit bulls), a dog-fighting pit, bloodstained carpets and equipment commonly associated with dog fighting. Vick was not at the scene and denied knowledge of dog fighting at the property. To this point, no charges have been filed against him. But questions about Vick and his possible connection to dog fighting linger.

This source -- who required anonymity as a condition of our interview -- has helped law enforcement by supplying information on dog fights that has led to dozens of felony arrests.

You just don't want the animal rights crowd mad at you.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Enjoy your Decoration Day

If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.

These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.

These things I command you, that ye love one another.

-Arlington National Cemetery
-Memorial Day (History Channel)
-National Memorial Day Concert (PBS)
-SPEECH: Memorial Day Speech (Peter W. Schramm, May 2004)

[Originally posted: 5/30/05]

May 27, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 PM


Picking up the pieces: As draft approaches, heat's on Cashman to change past (BILL MADDEN, May 27th 2007, NY Daily News)

The annual June draft - i.e. "The Great Baseball Crapshoot" - will take place a week from Thursday, and while most fans greet this as a day of anticipation, intrigue and hope, Yankee legions have come to view it as a day of dread. For until last year, when GM Brian Cashman took over the supervision of the draft from the incompetents (read: since-fired scouting director Lin Garrett) in Tampa, the Yankees' record in this annual exercise was abysmal.

Although the jury remains out for at least a couple of years on the trio of blue-chip starting pitchers - Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain and Dellin Betances - Cashman & Co. took with their first, second and eighth picks last year (Kennedy and Chamberlain are off to good starts in the minors at Tampa, while Betances is set to open at Staten Island), the fact that the Yankees haven't produced a single impact position player out of the draft since taking Derek Jeter in the first round in 1992 speaks directly to the crisis they face now with an aging team and no saviors looming in the system. It's been said here before - with the exception of Phil Hughes (who certainly looks like the real deal) as their No. 1 pick 2004 - the Yankees have drafted more than 700 players since 1992 and for none of them to make it to the big club as starters, well, you can't try to be that bad.

Prior Yankees' GMs have understood that your prospects don't need to be that good as long as they're surrounded by NYC hype. That makes it so you can trade them for talent that's already in the major leagues. Brian Cashman seems to believe that he'll prove himself by holding onto the thoroughly marginal players in the Yankee system instead of trading them to fill the many holes on the big league squad. It's an epochal error.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 8:07 PM


Dartmouth alumni elect conservatives to trustee board (5/25/07, Associated Press)

For two decades, Dartmouth College has tried to rein in rowdy fraternities -- such as the one that inspired the movie "Animal House" -- and make the campus more welcoming to women, minorities and scholars.

Now, some alumni who appreciated the old Dartmouth are pushing back.

However much we all might like to see the press be more open about it's biases, it's a riot watching them write stuff like that and then tell us they're fair.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


What's on Tehran's Mind? (David Ignatius, 5/27/07, Washington Post)

Tehran fears the same thing it has since 1979: an American plot to undermine the Islamic revolution. This suspicion of foreign conspiracies animates every Iranian decision. The Americans say they support Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, but Tehran doesn't fully believe it. Why would America create a friendly Shiite government in Iraq and thus give Iran more power in the region?

Tehran asks: What is Bush's real game? America's friends the Saudis favor a coup in Baghdad by Ayad Allawi, the former Iraqi interim prime minister who was trained by the master of all secret conspiracies, the British spy service MI-6. The American conspirator in chief, Vice President Dick Cheney, went to Riyadh this month and told the Saudis to support Iran's ally, Maliki. The Iranians are perplexed. If the Bush administration really does support Maliki, the Iranians want to hear it from Ambassador Ryan Crocker on May 28 in Baghdad.

In Tehran's mind, there looms the larger American conspiracy of regime change. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice disavowed this goal in a recent interview with the Financial Times, but she didn't halt spending from the $75 million fund created last year to broadcast pro-democracy messages to Iran and help Iranian NGOs. Tehran believes this money is really aimed at encouraging a "soft revolution'' in Iran, on the model of the recent color revolutions in Lebanon, Georgia and Ukraine. [...]

For Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the overriding task is to preserve the legitimacy of the revolution -- not an easy task in a country where the clerical rulers are unpopular. Khamenei wants a U.S.-Iranian dialogue about Iraq that generates enough domestic support so he can sign his name to it. In that sense, he is a follower more than a leader. Khamenei fears American attempts to play factional politics -- to play off pragmatists against hard-liners -- which will make his job as keeper of consensus more difficult.

The pragmatists and the reformers give him a majority and cement the Republic, with a few tweaks, in perpetuity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Democrat presidential hopefuls shun Fox News debate: But Congressional Black Caucus still hopes to salvage the event on network seen as conservative and pro-Republican (RAYMOND HERNANDEZ and JACQUES STEINBERG, 5/27/07, New York Times)

Four years ago, the leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus began looking for a television outlet to co-sponsor and broadcast a presidential debate to address the concerns of minority voters.

Only one news channel made a proposal acceptable to the caucus, and an unlikely channel at that: Fox News, in what some Democrats viewed as an effort to associate itself with a group that could help it make good on its claim of presenting "fair and balanced" news coverage.

But now that relationship is being shaken by the decision of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina to shun the debate, a move that has exposed fault lines among two major constituencies of the Democratic Party. While the withdrawals frustrated members of the black caucus, it mollified liberals who had objected to the involvement of Fox News, whose programming includes some of the most conservative and pro-Republican commentary on the air.

Funny how the black side of the party always has to take a back seat to the elite white side.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


America the Generous: A Lost Story of Citizenship (LAWRENCE DOWNES, 5/27/07, NY Times)

Congress has taken the week off from the debate, with members going home to districts that have already been inflamed by the loud and loony right, which has decided that the bill is that filthy thing “amnesty” and that the nation’s character would be defiled if it ever forgave illegal immigrants for coming here to do our worst jobs, or let too many more people in to put down roots. You could call that view unkind and uncharitable. You could also call it unwise, given economic realities.

I would add un-American.

My view has been informed by “Americans in Waiting,” a book by Hiroshi Motomura, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, about what he calls a lost story of a confident young country that opened itself to newcomers in ways that seem unthinkably generous today.

For about 150 years, Professor Motomura writes, from shortly after the country’s birth to the end of the Ellis Island heyday in the 1920s, when there were no numerical limits to immigration and the flow was mostly from western Europe, new immigrants could gain many of the rights of citizens by signing a document declaring their intention to naturalize. They became Americans in waiting, able to work, vote, buy land and clear homesteads.

The elegant idea was that immigration was simply the beginning of an inevitable transition toward full membership in a growing country. The ancestors of so many Americans, including today’s immigration hard-liners, benefited from it.

Funny how the last one into the lifeboat always thinks he filled it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


My Life as a Diplomat (NURUDDIN FARAH, 5/2/07, NY Times)

My career as an emissary began last July. A man in the executive directorate of the Islamic Courts Union, then in control of Mogadishu, telephoned me in Cape Town, where I now live. (I was born and raised in Somalia.) The man, who shall remain nameless, asked if I would “carry fire between the two sides,” as the Somali idiom has it.

The timing was understandable. Talks between the Islamists and the government had broken down; the Islamists were laying siege to Baidoa, the seat of the government, and Ethiopia was sending troops to defend the garrisoned town.

The choice of a mediator, however, wasn’t so readily apparent. “Why me?” I asked.

“Because the I.C.U. admires your opposition to Ethiopia, Somalia’s archenemy, and because of your avowed interest in peace,” he replied.

And, truth be told, I admired some of what the Islamists had accomplished. Indeed, they had done the impossible: in a series of fierce battles from March to June last year, they had routed the warlords and pacified Mogadishu. For the first time in many years, the city enjoyed peace.

Like many Somalis, though, I also had my reservations about them. Even though almost all Somalis are Muslim, very few embrace the union’s fervent brand of faith: the group supports Shariah law and it treats the federal charter, which is secular, with disdain. Then there was the matter of clan rivalry, which hinted that devotion might be masking politics: the top Islamists belonged to the clans known to be antagonistic to the president’s clan.

Of course, my feelings about the transitional government were also ambivalent. The government came into being in 2004 after a two-year-long national reconciliation conference held in exile. I supported the president’s desire for an African peacekeeping force to stabilize Somalia; at the same time, I was fearful that he was susceptible to pressure from Ethiopia.

Still, the Islamic Courts Union, as my interlocutor told me, was holding out a proposal that just might lead to peace. According to him, the union was offering to let the government move to Mogadishu from Baidoa and to let the president bring with him a force of 1,000 from his home province, Puntland.

I felt this was promising. A peace deal would not just bring stability — it would reduce the opportunities for foreign intervention by Ethiopia, which had thwarted every national and international effort to bring Somalia’s strife to a peaceful end, and by the United States, which seemed inclined to support Christian-run Ethiopia as a bulwark against the Islamists. (It didn’t help, of course, that the union’s defense spokesman had used the red-flag word “jihad” in his firebrand declamations.) [...]

My first meeting in town was with Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, then the spiritual head of the Islamic Courts Union; he struck me as being more reasonable than many others in the group. In all, I spent three and a half hours in our first meeting, much of it alone with him. [...]

After my meeting with the Islamists, I headed for Baidoa to meet the president. When we met in his office, across the courtyard from his residence — he emerged dressed in gray, his bearing immaculate, hair groomed with care and face glowing, after a good night’s sleep. (How, I asked myself, was this possible in a town with no modern amenities?)

The president and I sat facing each other, and his intent stare reminded me that he and Sheik Aweys come from the same part of the country; I couldn’t help being mindful that the two of them had engaged in armed skirmishes in the early ’90s, soon after the structural collapse of the state. The sheik had led an Islamist takeover of Puntland; the president, opposing him, had won that round.

The president accepted my offer to open channels between the two sides. But it was another message from him that would ring in my ears: “I know what war is,” he said. “I have fought in three of them. I won’t attack Mogadishu, but if the I.C.U. invades Baidoa, someone will regret it. Tell the sheik this. From me.”

Back to Mogadishu. I met Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, the executive director of the union; also present was the interlocutor who had called me in the first place. Regrettably, my interlocutor would allude neither to our initial conversation, nor to his suggestion that the transitional government move to Mogadishu, with guarantees. As we spoke, officials came and went, some bowing low, others kneeling in deference to the sheik. It was clear that I was in the presence of a power — a power who was unwilling to confirm that he had knowledge of my interlocutor’s offer.

I had to wonder. Was the Islamic union negotiating in bad faith? Had I embarked on a peace mission that was doomed to fail? Or did the powers that be in the Islamic union reject the idea of a rapprochement with the government and forget to tell me? I chose to play dumb, and so I provided the sheik’s secretary with contact information for the president’s men — as if everything else was on track.

The following day, I went to meet Sheik Aweys at his home. I got lost on the way. He lived in a part of town unfamiliar to me. With no paved roads, and with the rains having created ravines with crumbly sides, and with no street names, the entire area was virtually impassable. My driver and I got stuck in the sandy chasms.

After I arrived, the sheik and I talked amicably, with his 2-year-old son sitting on his lap. I dared not share with him the president’s threatening remarks.

Before we parted, he commended me for my “audacious” attempt to bring the Islamic union and the transitional government closer. He suggested not giving up hope, however, adding that there was bound to be further need for my involvement once “the Somali people” routed their enemies, “and you know who these are,” he grinned. I offered to return in a few months.

I didn’t make it back. Over Christmas, Ethiopia, perhaps intending to provide a gift for the festive season to its American ally, invaded Mogadishu and expelled the Islamists.

We'll eventually help Sheik Aweys return to power.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Sox’ lead as big as Texas: Win adds to strong start to season (Jeff Horrigan, May 27, 2007, Boston Herald)

Red Sox hitters and pitchers are working in perfect synchronicity and the rest of the American League is paying the price.

Once again operating under the complementary formula of strong pitching making the most of generous offensive support and vice versa, the Sox took the latest step in their historic start to the season by pounding the pitiful Texas Rangers, 7-4, last night at Rangers Ballpark.

Keyed by Manny Ramirez’ four hits, the Red Sox won their 32nd consecutive game when scoring at least five runs and widened their AL East to an almost unthinkable 11 games before the arrival of Memorial Day. The lead is the Sox’ largest this early in a season and the biggest since an 11-game advantage on Sept. 17, 1995. The earliest occasion in franchise history with a lead of at least 11 had been 106 games into 1995 (Aug. 20). The 2001 Seattle Mariners, who ended up winning 116 games, are the only other team ever to hold such an enormous lead this early in the season.

Synchronicity? Manny and JD Drew haven't started hitting yet and John Lester is still rehabbing. The team hasn't even hit its stride yet. It shows though why Theo and company are building around a dominant young pitching corps.

May 26, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 PM


Kevorkian's Cause Founders As He's Freed (KATHY BARKS HOFFMAN, 5/26/07, AP)

For nearly a decade, Dr. Jack Kevorkian waged a defiant campaign to help other people kill themselves.

The retired pathologist left bodies at hospital emergency rooms and motels and videotaped a death that was broadcast on CBS' "60 Minutes." His actions prompted battles over assisted suicide in many states.

But as he prepares to leave prison June 1 after serving more than eight years of a 10- to 25-year sentence in the death of a Michigan man, Kevorkian will find that there's still only one state that has a law allowing physician-assisted suicide - Oregon.

Experts say that's because abortion opponents, Catholic leaders, advocates for the disabled and often doctors have fought the efforts of other states to follow the lead of Oregon, where the law took effect in late 1997.

Notice he didn't take the out he campaigned for?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 PM


Hunt for 'traitors' splits Taliban: Spy mania grips the Afghan rebels as top commanders fall victim to tip-offs by informers to coalition troops (Jason Burke, May 27, 2007, The Observer)

Taliban insurgents fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been hit by a wave of defections and betrayals that has resulted in a witch-hunt within the militant movement. [...]

[T]wo of the Taliban's most senior commanders have now been killed after being betrayed by close associates. Up to a dozen middle-ranking commanders have died in airstrikes or other operations by Afghan, Nato or Pakistani forces based on precise details of their movements received from informers. Few details have been publicly released, but senior military sources speak of 'major hits' that they wish they could talk about openly.

The successes may be the result of the more sophisticated strategy now employed by coalition, Afghan and Pakistani forces, say observers.

'There have been desultory efforts over several years to penetrate the Taliban and to play off the various factions within the militancy and along the frontier against each other, but now that has become the keystone of the intelligence effort,' said one Pakistan-based source. 'That's paying off.'

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 PM


Boy purportedly tops 'Hogzilla' kill (AP, 5/26/07)

>Hogzilla is being made into a horror movie. But the sequel may be even bigger: Meet Monster Pig. An 11-year-old Alabama boy used a pistol to kill a wild hog his father says weighed a staggering 1,051 pounds and measured 9-feet-4 from the tip of its snout to the base of its tail. Think hams as big as car tires.

If the claims are accurate, Jamison Stone's trophy boar would be bigger than Hogzilla, the famed wild hog that grew to seemingly mythical proportions after being killed in south Georgia in 2004.

Hogzilla originally was thought to weigh 1,000 pounds and measure 12 feet in length. National Geographic experts who unearthed its remains believe the animal actually weighed about 800 pounds and was 8 feet long.

Gonna need bigger chickens for the bacon and eggs...

Posted by Matt Murphy at 8:42 PM


‘Sicko,’ Castro and the ‘120 Years Club’ (Anthony DePalma, 5/27/07, New York Times)

Cuba works hard to jam American TV signals and keep out decadent Hollywood films. But it’s a good bet that Fidel Castro’s government will turn a blind eye to bootleg copies of “Sicko,” Michael Moore’s newest movie, if they show up on the streets of Havana.

“Sicko,” the talk of the Cannes Film Festival last week, savages the American health care system — and along the way extols Cuba’s system as the neatest thing since the white linen guayabera.

Mr. Moore transports a handful of sick Americans to Cuba for treatment in the course of the film, which is scheduled to open in the United States next month, and he is apparently dumbfounded that they could get there what they couldn’t get here.

“There’s a reason Cubans live on average longer than we do,” he told Time magazine. “I’m not trumpeting Castro or his regime. I just want to say to fellow Americans, ‘C’mon, we’re the United States. If they can do this, we can do it.’ ” [...]

Dr. Robert N. Butler, president of the International Longevity Center in New York and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author on aging, has traveled to Cuba to see firsthand how doctors are trained. He said a principal reason that some health standards in Cuba approach the high American level is that the Cuban system emphasizes early intervention. Clinic visits are free, and the focus is on preventing disease rather than treating it.

Dr. Butler said some of Cuba’s shortcomings may actually improve its health profile. “Because they don’t have up-to-date cars, they tend to have to exercise more by walking,” he said. “And they may not have a surfeit of food, which keeps them from problems like obesity, but they’re not starving, either.”

Cuban markets are not always well stocked, but city streets are dotted with hot dog and ice cream vendors. Bellies are full, but such food can cause problems in the future, as they have in the United States.

Dr. Butler has just completed a study that shows it is possible that because of the epidemic of obesity in children, “this may be the first generation of Americans to live less long than their parents.”

There could be one great leveler for Cubans and Americans. While all Cubans have at least minimal free access to doctors, more than 45 million Americans lack basic health insurance. Many are reluctant to seek early treatment they cannot afford, Dr. Butler said. Instead, they wait to be admitted to an emergency room.

“I know Americans tend to be skeptical,” he said, “but health and education are two achievements of the Cuban revolution, and they deserve some credit despite the government’s poor record on human rights.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:07 PM


France considers paying migrants to go home (Renata Goldirova, 5/25/07, EU Observer)

France's newly set up ministry of immigration and national identity has made itself heard for the first time, with its chief, Brice Hortefeux, floating an idea to financially reward those immigrants who voluntarily return to their native country.

"We must increase this measure to help voluntary returns. I am very clearly committed to doing that," French minister Brice Hortefeux was cited as saying by the BBC.

According to the long-time friend and ally of president Nicolas Sarkozy, a family with two children would be paid €6,000 to leave French territory.

It's like Satan not just letting you out of Hell but giving you parting gifts too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:56 PM


Winning on Iraq, Bush Turns to Immigration (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, 5/26/07, NY Times)

Having won his fight with Congressional Democrats on an Iraq war spending bill, President Bush is now waging an equally aggressive battle with Republicans, as he tries to persuade them to support an immigration bill that he hopes will be a signature domestic achievement.

As the Senate debated the immigration measure, Mr. Bush spent the past week lobbying behind the scenes to build support for it.

It's practically the ideal bill for a president to be pushing because none of the details matter and all compromises are allowable, so long as the final product includes de facto amnesty for the folks already here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:46 PM


Haunting Echoes of Eugenics (Andrew J. Imparato and Anne C. Sommers, May 20, 2007, Washington Post)

This month marked the 80th anniversary of the disgraceful Supreme Court decision in Buck v. Bell, which upheld Virginia's involuntary sterilization laws. In his majority opinion, Holmes declared: "It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind . . . Three generations of imbeciles is enough."

Although eugenics was eventually dismissed as "junk science," it didn't happen before states authorized more than 60,000 forcible sterilizations and segregated, institutionalized, and denied marriage and parental rights to those deemed "genetically unfit."

Though society may be inclined to regard Holmes's detestable opinion in Buck v. Bell as a relic of a time past, eerie similarities exist in contemporary remarks of the well-respected.

Justifying the sterilization of "genetically unfit" individuals, Holmes wrote that Carrie Buck was "the probable potential parent of socially inadequate offspring."

Some 72 years later, renowned embryologist Bob Edwards said, "Soon it will be a sin for parents to have a child that carries the heavy burden of genetic disease. We are entering a world where we have to consider the quality of our children."

Not long ago, an embryo entrepreneur boasted on her business's Web site, "In the process of screening donors, we select only those that have clean medical backgrounds. . . . The embryos that are available have all been medically 'graded,' so that the recipient family knows the quality of the embryos that they will be implanting."

In the past, eugenicists emphasized the "burden" of disability. Holmes wrote that individuals with disabilities "sap the strength of the State."

In recent years, Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University, has said, "It does not seem quite wise to increase any further draining of limited resources by increasing the number of children with impairments."

As Leo Alexander wrote of medical science under the Nazis:
Whatever proportions these crimes finally assumed, it became evident to all who investigated them that they had started from small beginnings. The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of the physicians. It started with the acceptance of the attitude, basic in the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived. This attitude in its early stages concerned itself merely with the severely and chronically sick. Gradually the sphere of those to be included in this category was enlarged to encompass the socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted and finally all non-Germans. But it is important to realize that the infinitely small wedged-in lever from which this entire trend of mind received its impetus was the attitude toward the nonrehabilitable sick.

It is, therefore, this subtle shift in emphasis of the physicians' attitude that one must thoroughly investigate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:29 AM


Comic rapper's CD stirs serious reaction (Agustin Gurza, May 26, 2007, LA Times)

Chingo Bling, the Tex-Mex rapper known for his cultural parodies, wasn't ready for the sobering response he got to his new album, "They Can't Deport Us All," a defiant retort to opponents of illegal immigration.

The title — emblazoned on T-shirts, bumper stickers and Chingo Bling's promotional van — triggered death threats, dirty looks and vandalism.

The van got the worst of it during a series of incidents earlier this year in Houston, where he lives. Somebody scrawled "Go Home" on the side and erased the letter "t" in "can't," thus reversing the slogan to say "They Can Deport Us All." At another point, the vehicle's front windshield was shattered by what appears to be gunshots. Then one day, the van was inexplicably towed from its legal parking spot at a roadside flea market, where it was visible to passing motorists. Earlier this month it vanished again. It was reported stolen, but hasn't been seen since.

The satirist, whose real name is Pedro Herrera III, had always been good at attracting attention to his act. But nothing like this.

"I was surprised to see it really upset people," Herrera told me this week. "It just brings to light, I guess, the feelings at the core of this debate: the fear, xenophobia, ethnocentrism and all kinds of good stuff."

Anyone checked Lou Dobbs's garage?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:25 AM


Impostor shakes up Stanford
: University to check security after woman is accused of living on campus as a student for 8 months (Richard C. Paddock and Jennifer Delson, May 26, 2007, LA Times)

Azia Kim arrived at Stanford University last fall from Fullerton and took up residence on campus at Kimball Hall.

She ate in the dining hall and seemed to do her homework, often working late into the night on school papers. She told people she was a human biology major and talked about her upcoming exams.

There was only one problem: She had not been admitted as a student.

Relying on the generosity and friendliness of Stanford's students, the Fullerton Troy High School graduate managed to keep up the pretense for eight months, until she was found out this week, according to university officials, Kim's friends and news accounts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


Algeria's quiet revolution: Gains by women (Michael Slackman, May 26, 2007, NY Times)

In this tradition-bound nation scarred by a brutal Islamist-led civil war that killed more than 100,000, a quiet revolution is under way: women are emerging as an economic and political force unheard of in the rest of the Arab world.

Women make up 70 percent of Algeria's lawyers and 60 percent of its judges. Women dominate medicine. Increasingly, women contribute more to household income than men. Sixty percent of university students are women, university researchers say.

In a region where women have a decidedly low public profile, Algerian women are visible everywhere. They are starting to drive buses and taxicabs. They pump gas and wait on tables.

Although men still hold all of the formal levers of power and women still make up only 20 percent of the work force, that is more than twice their share a generation ago, and they seem to be taking over the machinery of state as well.

"If such a trend continues," said Daho Djerbal, editor and publisher of Naqd, a magazine of social criticism and analysis, "we will see a new phenomenon where our public administration will also be controlled by women."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


White House weighs big Iraq troop cut for '08 (DAVID E. SANGER and DAVID S. CLOUD, 5/26/07, New York Times)

The Bush administration is developing what are described as concepts for reducing U.S. combat forces in Iraq by as much as half next year, according to senior administration officials in the midst of the internal debate.

It is the first indication that growing political pressure is forcing the White House to turn its attention to what happens after the current troop increase runs its course.

The concepts call for a reduction in forces that could lower troop levels by the midst of the 2008 presidential election to roughly 100,000, from about 146,000, the latest available figure, which the military reported on May 1. They would also greatly scale back the mission that President Bush set for the U.S. military when he ordered it in January to win back control of Baghdad and Anbar province.

The mission would instead focus on the training of Iraqi troops and fighting al-Qaida in Iraq, while removing Americans from many of the counter-insurgency efforts inside Baghdad.

Note how carefully the leak jibes with al-Sadr's reappearance and renewed call for a drawdown?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


Challenging Nancy (Robert Novak, 5/26/07, Real Clear Politics)

Nancy Pelosi staved off the biggest intraparty challenge during her brief tenure as speaker of the House Monday, standing her ground in support of two free-trade treaties during an uproarious meeting of the House Democratic Caucus behind closed doors.

Pelosi backed deals on Peru and Panama treaties negotiated by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel despite fierce protests by rank-and-file Democrats. The caucus was to consider Iraq, immigration and the trade treaties, but the debate over trade was so extended that it took up all the time.

Did they think there were no strings when the corporate donors lined up?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


GREAT PERFORMANCES AT THE MET: "The Barber of Seville" (Premieres May 26, 2007 on PBS)

Composer: Gioacchino Rossini

Librettist: Cesare Sterbini, based on the play by Pierre Beaumarchais

Production: Bartlett Sher

Conductor: Maurizio Benini

Performers: Joyce DiDonato (Rosina), Juan Diego Flórez (Count Almaviva), Peter Mattei (Figaro), John del Carlo (Dr. Bartolo), John Relyea (Don Basilio), Claudia Waite (Berta), Mark Schowalter (Sergeant), Brian Davis (Fiorello), Rob Besserer (Ambrogio)

May 25, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 PM


Et tu, Sherrod, Zack and Charlie? (And more: a Kucinich aide leaves) (Sabrina Eaton and Stephen Koff, May 25, 2007, Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Anti-war bloggers and web site activists are fuming over yesterday's congressional vote to keep funding the Iraq war without requiring a pull-out date. They say they feel betrayed by Democrats -- including Sen. Sherrod Brown and Reps. Zack Space and Charlie Wilson -- who won office opposing the war, then voted to keep sending money that, activists say, merely keeps the war going.

Off with their heads, say some, including, a progressive group seeking defeat of Democrats who supported the war-funding bill. Its web site has posted calls for "aggressive progressive" candidates to mount primary challenges against several dozen Democrats including Space and Wilson.

The site's entries on Wilson and Space were penned by none other than David Swanson, a media consultant who sends out press releases on behalf of Cleveland Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich's presidential campaign. Or who did until a few minutes ago, anyway. After we asked him and Kucinich's congressional office about the propriety of soliciting primary opponents to run against Kucinich's Democratic colleagues, Swanson sent an e-mail saying he is "taking a leave of absence from the Kucinich campaign."

Folks gotta back off the crazy pills.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 PM


The Pope's Favorite Rabbi (DAVID VAN BIEMA, 5/24/07, TIME)

In his new book, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI devotes 20 pages to A Rabbi Talks with Jesus, a 161-page grenade [Jacob] Neusner lobbed in 1993. In that volume, the professor (now at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.) and noncongregational rabbi projected himself back into the Gospel of Matthew to quiz Jesus on the Jewish law. He found the Nazarene's interpretation irredeemably faulty. In his 14-years-delayed response, Benedict not only compliments Neusner as a "great Jewish scholar" but also recapitulates the thesis of A Rabbi Talks and spends a third of one of his 10 chapters answering it.

There is no real precedent for this. The last time Christianity and Judaism had knockdown debates was during medieval "disputations" convened by Christian authorities and decisively rigged against the Jews. Although the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65 renounced the Roman Catholic teaching that Jews were Christ killers and John Paul II acknowledged Jews' ongoing presence by visiting a synagogue, postwar papal discourse has focused on Christianity's view of Judaism, not the reverse, and steered serenely around fundamental controversies. Jesus of Nazareth takes the next huge step: "a Pope taking seriously what a Jew says--and says critically--about the New Testament," marvels Eugene Fisher, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' liaison for Catholic-Jewish relations. "Wow. This is new."

In choosing Neusner as his muse, Benedict selected a man as formidable and controversial in the field of Jewish studies as the Pope is in Catholicism. An expert on the sprawling literature of the 1st through 6th century rabbis who shaped modern Judaism, Neusner is an empire builder, a central figure in wrestling an examination of Judaism into America's universities. He accomplished this through brilliance (he developed his own secularly comprehensible synthesis of rabbinics), superhuman productivity (he has written more than 950 books, although he will admit to a certain reprocessing of material) and a knack for grooming gifted protégés who now run Jewish studies at top schools. He is equally famous for alienating many of his disciples with what came to be known as "Neusner's drop-dead letters." (Neusner calls the complaint "overstated.") He can keep friends--Harvard classmate John Updike wrote a fond 1986 short story featuring a "Josh Neusner"--but as Neusner admits, he remains one of the most contentious people he knows.

Contention was the very soul of A Rabbi Talks. Neusner based his book on the common scholarly understanding that the New Testament's Gospel of Matthew was written as an invitation to Jesus' fellow Jews, trying to convince them, by dint of purportedly predictive passages in the Jewish Bible and Jesus' striking interpretations of Jewish Scripture, that he was Israel's longed-for Messiah. His claim in the Sermon on the Mount that he came "not ... to abolish the Torah and the [writings of the] prophets ... but to fulfill them" is one of the great hinge sentences connecting Western monotheisms.

But Neusner insists it doesn't parse. A Rabbi Talks argues, for instance, that Jesus' line that "he who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me" defies the commandment to "honor thy father and mother" and that his liberties with Saturday rules on grounds that "the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath" flout the one that explicitly orders all humans to observe the day. Most important, Neusner read Jesus' repeated rhetorical formula "You have heard that it was said [in the Torah] ... But I say to you ... " as his claim to be not merely the religio-military Messiah some Jews hoped for at the time but also above the Torah and hence God...

Isn't that the point?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 PM


The state is always wrong and the individual is always right. Don't old habits die hard?:
The term Kafkaesque answers to a deep anxiety in us about power being wielded cruelly (Howard Jacobson, 26 May 2007, Independent)

Does literature serve us ill sometimes? Or, to put that another way, do we sometimes learn the wrong lessons from it?

What if Joseph K. was guilty? "Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K," is how Kafka's great novel The Trial begins, "for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning." But what if no one was telling lies and Joseph K really had done something wrong?

Part of what makes that opening so chilling is its understated menace. The morning is fine. Terrible things happen in storms, in literature as in life, but at least you get a bit of warning with a storm. Our greatest dread is catastrophe striking when we least expect it, when the weather's good, all seems right with the world, and our defences are lowered. Unprepared, we are at our most vulnerable.

And more vulnerable still when the attack comes not only from a clear blue sky but through an agency unknown. Someone. An unidentified person or persons, acting we don't know where or when or why. It's all surmise. Not "someone was telling lies about Joseph K" but someone "must have" been telling lies about Joseph K. A deduction, in the dark of day, working backwards from the inexplicable arrest. Inexplicable, because the man is innocent.

Assuming that he is.

Does anyone actually root for Kafka's characters?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 PM


Latin America: Beating The Oil Curse: Mexico's troubled national oil company could siphon some good ideas from Brazil's petroleum success story (Geri Smith, 6/04/07, Business Week)

With oil prices as high as they are, you'd think Mexico's state-run oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), would be awash in cash. But it lost money five out of the past six years and racked up just $3.9 billion in profits in 2006 on a record $97 billion in sales. Why? Because it had to hand almost $54 billion in taxes and royalties to the national treasury last year, accounting for nearly 40% of the government's revenues.

Pemex is Mexico's piñata. Politicians are so accustomed to the steady flow of cash from the company that they've never mustered the discipline to cut government spending or carry out major tax reform. Now, after years of underinvesting in exploration, Pemex is watching helplessly as output from its biggest oil field, Cantarell, declines by 20% a year. At current production rates, Mexico's oil reserves will last less than 10 years, meaning the world's sixth-largest oil-producing country runs the risk of becoming an oil importer.

Contrast Pemex's woes with the situation in Brazil. At the time of the price shocks of the 1970s, Brazil imported all its crude and the economy nearly collapsed. Since then, state oil company Petróleo Brásileiro (PBR ) (Petrobras) has been driven with a missionary zeal that led the country to become self-sufficient in oil last year. The richest deposits were offshore, at depths that hadn't been attempted even by Big Oil multinationals. But Petrobras' engineers developed innovative techniques and equipment that allowed them to pump crude in more than 6,000 feet of water—a record at the time and still among the deepest operations worldwide. To help pay for the effort, Brazil's political leaders floated Petrobras shares on the New York Stock Exchange (NYX ) in 2000, raising $4.1 billion while keeping 56% of voting power under government control. Investors have been rewarded: The stock has since quadrupled in value.

Two state-owned oil companies, two different stories. Pemex and Mexico represent a classic example of what economists call the "oil curse" that plagues countries endowed with so much of the valuable resource that they become complacent—and dependent. Mexico, which nationalized its oil industry in 1938, has spent decades "administering the abundance," as one former President put it, with little planning for the future. The result: By some estimates, production could fall as low as 2 million barrels daily by 2012 from a peak of 3.8 million barrels a day in 2004. Petrobras, in contrast, started from scratch in 1954, pumping just 2,700 barrels of oil daily. Today it produces 1.9 million. "Pemex is like a well-fed dog that has never needed to search for its next meal," says John Albuquerque Forman, a Brazilian energy consultant. "Petrobras is that lean, scrawny dog that has to rummage through the trash cans to survive."

Now Pemex is turning to the hungry hound for help. With 60% of its reserves in deep water, Mexico needs Petrobras' knowhow. The companies signed a broad cooperation agreement last year that may give Pemex a helping hand. "The situation in Mexico is desperate—they are losing their reserves very quickly," says Guilherme Estrella, Petrobras' chief of exploration and production.

John Ghazvinian's new book, Untapped, is excellent on the oil curse, as it applies in Africa.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:30 PM


Can Adam Everett lead MLB for the fifth straight season? (John Dewan, May 23, 2007, ACTA Sports)

Here are the top shortstops in 2007 thus far:
Adam Everett, Hou +11
Tony Pena, KC +9
John McDonald, Tor +7
Julio Lugo, Bos +5
Troy Tulowitzki, Col +5
J.J. Hardy, Mil +5

Vizquel is at a respectable +2 so far while last year's American League Gold Glover, Derek Jeter, is at -9, second worst in MLB at shortstop to Hanley Ramirez at -10.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:13 AM


House Republicans Jolt Democrats on Lobbying Overhaul (Congressional Quarterly, 5/24/07)

Democrats who campaigned successfully last year against a “culture of corruption” in the Republican-controlled Congress found themselves one-upped today when more than 30 of their own members voted for a GOP motion to strengthen the package.

By 228-192, the House adopted a motion by Lamar Smith, R-Texas, to recommit the first of two lobbying bills — a measure requiring quarterly disclosure by lobbyists of bundled contributions to candidates and party units — to broaden the disclosure requirement to cover bundled donations to other PACs as well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:02 AM


The American Liberal Liberties Union: The ACLU is becoming very selective about what it considers "free" speech. (WENDY KAMINER, May 23, 2007, Opinion Journal)

"ACLU Defends Nazi's Right to Burn Down ACLU Headquarters," the humor magazine The Onion announced in 1999. Those of us who loved the ACLU, and celebrated its willingness to defend the rights of Nazis and others who had no regard for our rights, considered the joke a compliment. Today it's more like a reproach. Once the nation's leading civil liberties group and a reliable defender of everyone's speech rights, the ACLU is being transformed into just another liberal human-rights group that reliably defends the rights of liberal speakers.

Ms Kaminer's need to believe that it is the ACLU that changed rather than she is understandable, if risible. Of course, having moved Right she now gets the joke.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:44 AM


China Publishes Commentaries Shunning Democratic Reforms (Edward Cody, 5/25/07, Washington Post)

China dropped another hint of internal debate over political reform Friday, publishing commentaries saying the country should shun European-style democratic socialism.

The brief commentaries, by a pair of established Beijing academics, ran side by side in People's Daily, the official Communist Party organ. Both argued that China could borrow useful policies from democratic countries but should remain faithful to the "socialism with Chinese characteristics" that has been official doctrine here since the 1980s.

"The path of democratic socialism is not able to save China," said Xin Xiangyang of the government-sponsored Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "Only the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics can make China flourish."

The commentaries, by contesting the idea that democracy would be good for China, suggested some within the party are pushing for political reforms to match the dramatic economic loosening that has taken place during the past 25 years.

Of course, democratic socialism is just as deadly. Ask the French.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 AM


Once considered suspect, he’s now something special (Rob Bradford, May 25, 2007, Boston Herald)

“That,” Sox first base coach Luis Alicea said, pointing to the out-of-place 22-year-old, “is the next big-time pitcher.”

Skeptics would say Alicea’s analysis was smothered in bias, considering he had managed Buchholz in each of the hurler’s first two professional seasons. The opinion, however, soon spread throughout City of Palms Park. The wide-eyed, wiry, 6-foot-3 Texan has a tendency of wasting no time in making an impression.

“The kid is going to be something else,” Red Sox starter Curt Schilling [stats] said in an e-mail one day after Buchholz first faced big league hitters in that spring training game against Tampa Bay. “He’s an incredible athlete with a dream body for a young power guy. He’s thin and will fill out, and his fastball has hair, big time. He’s going to be special. . . . When catchers talk up a guy after a bullpen (session), the way they were with him, you know you’re seeing something special.”

That’s the type of reaction the Red Sox had hoped Buchholz would elicit since June 7, 2005 - the day when, through a somewhat convoluted set of circumstances, the former all-everything high school wide receiver, shortstop and occasional pitcher became part of their club.

Sea Dogs’ Bowden a major talent (Michael Silverman, May 25, 2007, Boston Herald)
Clay Buchholz gets all the buzz, but the Red Sox [team stats] do have another pitching prospect every bit as worthy: Michael Bowden.

A 20-year-old right-hander, Bowden was the 47th overall pick in the 2005 draft. He was taken five spots after the Sox selected Buchholz, his current teammate at Double-A Portland.

Bowden started this season at Single-A Lancaster (Calif.) and showed that his 2006 numbers - 3.56 ERA, 131 strikeouts, 36 walks over 118 innings in stops at Single-A Greenville (S.C.) and Wilmington (Del.) - were no fluke. Pitching in the hitter-friendly California League, Bowden went 2-0 with a 1.37 ERA in eight starts, striking out 46 and walking just eight. Those results prompted a call-up to Portland this month.

He made his second start there yesterday and got the no-decision in the Sea Dogs’ 3-2 win against Trenton. Although he struggled with his control, walking five in four innings, he did not allow a run and struck out three. In his first start May 18, he recorded the win, allowing one run in five innings.

“He’s a little (two years) younger than Clay, coming out of high school, but he’s a similar pitcher,” said Mike Hazen, the Red Sox’ director of player development. “Michael is one of our hardest workers and best makeup guys. He’s tremendously driven.”

Tyler Clippard, SP, NYA (Tim Dierkes, 5/25/07, Waiver Wired)
Baseball America describes Clippard's outlook as "solid #4." He's lost a little velocity on the heater, and doesn't have that one nasty out pitch. He does throw a decent curve and change, and has a deceptive delivery. He should stick in the Yanks' rotation until Phil Hughes returns, which might be four starts from now. Worth a look in AL-only, at least until the scouting reports get around.

When hitters can sit on your 88 MPH fastball, you're a AAA 4th starter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 AM


Immigration Bill Provisions Gain Wide Support in Poll (JULIA PRESTON and MARJORIE CONNELLY, 5/25/07, NY Times)

As opponents from the right and left challenge an immigration bill before Congress, there is broad support among Americans — Democrats, Republicans and independents alike — for the major provisions in the legislation, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Taking a pragmatic view on a divisive issue, a large majority of Americans want to change the immigration laws to allow illegal immigrants to gain legal status and to create a new guest worker program to meet future labor demands, the poll found. [...]

Two-thirds of those polled said illegal immigrants who had a good employment history and no criminal record should gain legal status as the bill proposes, which is by paying at least $5,000 in fines and fees and receiving a renewable four-year visa.

Many Republican lawmakers have rejected this plan, calling it amnesty that rewards immigrants who broke the law when they entered the United States. But the poll showed that differences are not great between Republicans and Democrats on this issue, with 66 percent of Republicans in the poll favoring the legalization proposal, as well as 72 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of independents.

Which two thirds of the American people want they get.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 AM


First, Get the Knowledge (DIANE RAVITCH, May 25, 2007, NY Sun)

Who was the greatest American president? According to the latest Gallup poll, 18% of Americans picked Abraham Lincoln. Second place goes to Ronald Reagan, 16%, followed by John F. Kennedy, 14%, Bill Clinton, 13%, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, 9%.

George Washington should obviously be in that front rank, having made a presidency possible and established its moderate tone. And JFK was a complete failure as president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


Study: Smoking forbidden in most U.S. households (AP, 5/25/07)

Smoking is forbidden in nearly three out of four U.S. households, a dramatic increase from the 43 percent of homes that prohibited smoking a decade ago, the federal government reported Thursday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which conducted the survey in 2003, said it was the first study to offer a state-by-state look at the prevalence of smoking in American homes.

Utah led the nation, with people in nearly nine out of 10 homes saying smoking was never allowed. The state's large population of Mormons, who eschew tobacco, probably contributed to that statistic, the agency said.

Kentucky was in last place, with a little more than half of households sending smokers outside (or, at least, to the garage).

But even in Kentucky, smokers found fewer place to light up. Ten years earlier, only a quarter of the state's households barred smoking.

And then the tobaccophiles can't understand why the sheeples allow smoking to be banned at work and in restaurants....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 AM

BUBBLICIOUS (via Jim Yates):

How economic bubbles built America (NEIL REYNOLDS, 5/23/07, Globe and Mail)

In 1820, as calculated by the English economist Angus Maddison in The World Economy: Historical Statistics, the United States produced 1.8 per cent of the world's gross domestic product. China and India together produced 50 per cent.

In 1920, the U.S. produced 15 per cent of world GDP, the same percentage as China and India. With 4 per cent of world population, the U.S. now produces 25 per cent of world GDP, twice the combined share of China and India. With a $13-trillion (U.S.) economy, the country now routinely increases GDP by hundreds of billions a year -- or more than the entire GDP of such dynamic economies as South Korea. What explains this explosive American growth -- uniquely sustained for two centuries?

Normally, by way of explanation, people cite democratic institutions, the rule of law and free-market capitalism. But these essential attributes of most prosperous countries don't explain the profound differences between rowdy, expansive American growth and (for example) discreet, orderly European growth. [...]

In his new book Pop! Why Bubbles are Great for the Economy, [Daniel Gross, a columnist for Slate] argues that excessive enthusiasms - "outbursts of entrepreneurial id" - are indeed a defining aspect of the American Way. These outbursts invariably produce bubbles, he says, the long-term consequences of which are invariably good. All by themselves, bubbles have given the United States a huge competitive advantage and constitute one reason why the country was able to build itself "from almost nothing to become, for all its faults and failings, the most prosperous nation in the history of mankind."

Nice qualifier. Of course, one of the main faults in the eyes of folks like Mr. Gross, is that we likewise pursue enthusiasms for Reforming places like Europe, Asia, the Middle East... It's all of a piece.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


Another Reason to Go Wii: Metroid Prime 3: Corruption continues Retro Studios' science fiction series. Using the nunchuk controller makes for intense action (Chris Buffa, 6/04/07, Business Week)

There are plenty of really cool looking games being developed for the Nintendo Wii, chief among them Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, the third installment in Retro Studios' successful science fiction series. Once again, you'll assume the role of bounty hunter Samus Aran and do battle against a myriad of evil space pirates and other bizarre creatures, all the while solving intricate puzzles and navigating our heroine around detailed alien environments. But while Corruption looks similar to its predecessors (and that's both good and bad), it sure doesn't play like them. That's where the Wii remote comes into play, providing us with a different type of experience we just can't get anyplace else.

By and large, Metroid Prime 3 bears a striking resemblance to the last two games, and that's actually wound up being both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, we're quite fond of the work Retro's done over the years in bringing the Metroid universe to life. The architecture, creepy aliens, and various effects shine, especially on a high definition monitor. But the fact remains that Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime 2: Echoes were released ages ago, and while they still look good, that's not the type of visuals we want to see from a supposed "next generation" console. We know that the Wii isn't a graphical powerhouse, but we were looking for some extra oomph, some pristine sparkle that we'd never seen before. But unfortunately, Corruption looks like a GameCube title. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and for all we know the game's appearance might be significantly beefed up in the time leading up to its release, but for now, we're not pissed, just content.

Now that we've gotten that issue out of the way, we definitely subscribe to the theory that there's more to a game than its graphics, and with that being said, Corruption (at least what we've played of it) has the potential to be one of Nintendo's premier games, and it all has to do with the innovative control scheme.

Is petulant teenager really the tone the magazine is shooting for?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


Globalization vs. Immigration Reform: Can we have free flow of goods and capital without free flow of labor? ( Michael Mandel, 6/04/07, Business Week)

How can this borderless view of the global economy be reconciled with a bill that actually requires the construction or acquisition of at least 20 new detention facilities capable of holding 20,000 "aliens," as they are called in the bill? The answer is it can't, at least for now. One view of the world tears down the walls that separate countries; the other view builds them up.

Europe is wrestling with the same conflicts as the U.S. The European Commission is considering proposals for a crackdown on the large number of illegal immigrants, even as it looks for new ways to admit legally the temporary workers needed for construction, tourism, and agriculture. Meanwhile, Britain has gotten a substantial boost to growth from the migrants from those Eastern European countries that joined the European Union in May, 2004, while France and Germany still have tougher rules for these workers.

Lant Pritchett, an economist at the World Bank and Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and the author of the 2006 book Let Their People Come, argues that the global pressure for labor movement across national borders is rising. He cites, in particular, the combination of big gaps in wages between rich and poor countries and the slow population growth of many developed countries, which will soon lead to a shrinking workforce unless more immigration is allowed. Cheap communications make a difference as well, says Pritchett, since "it is less psychically costly to move when one can stay in touch."

If Pritchett is right, immigration seems likely to increase rather than decrease in the future, just as trade and communications between countries have grown by leaps and bounds. And no piece of legislation, no matter how finely balanced, is likely to change that.

Any bill that doesn't allow for broader regularized legal immigration will just be followed by another amnesty in a few years. Americans don't mind the immigrants, we just want them to be here legally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Live Free or Else!: A walk on the libertarian side. (Jonah Goldberg, April 27, 2007, National Review)

Obviously, every political movement has its own problems, conservatism included. But if you had to identify libertarianism’s Achilles’ heel, it would almost certainly be its tolerance for zealots, purists, mavericks, and, well, whack-jobs. Since the libertarians don’t see themselves as Left or Right, one can’t use the phrase “no enemies on the left [or right]” to explain their stance. But “love me, love my whack-job” gets close to the heart of it.

The revolutionary ardor of libertarianism combines with its fetishization of rationalism and consistency to make a soft spot in the libertarian heart for intellectual extremism. Murray Rothbard, the genius father figure of modern libertarianism, converted to anarcho-capitalism from classical liberalism when someone asked him: If the social contract can justify a small government, “why can’t society also agree to have a government build steel mills and have price controls and whatever? At that point I realized that the laissez-faire position is terribly inconsistent, and I either had to go on to anarchism or become a statist.” Now, there are good answers to this social-contract question — though obviously none of them satisfactory to Rothbard. The point is that only something akin to inconsistency-phobia would force someone to believe that one must endorse a Soviet Five-Year Plan if one is willing to enjoy the protection of police or courts. But Rothbard was a highly unusual type: He refused to vote for president for fear of being conscripted into “compulsory jury slavery.” Indeed, while Doherty treats him lovingly, he notes that Rothbard was a man of “crippling phobias” of such things as “traveling, bridges, and planes.”

Or consider the Libertarian party, once the repository of libertarian dreams of social transformation and now little more than an ideological chum bucket for the political refuse of the American two-party system. As Doherty notes, there is now a high wall of separation between libertarianism’s best and brightest intellectuals and policy experts and the party that ostensibly speaks for them. Gary Greenberg, the founder of the New York State LP, tells Doherty that any attempt to be relevant to electoral politics amounts to “selling out.” The “very idea of worrying about the LP becoming a major force is essentially selling out,” he explains, “because hardcore libertarianism has no mass constituency. And if you are constantly covering it up you are just playing games. There is no mass constituency for seven-year-old heroin dealers to be able to buy tanks with their profits from prostitution, and once you face that the LP has to decide: Are they compromising their principles for votes, or are they running candidates for the opportunity to educate people?”

Libertarians are the guys who think being in the AV Club in high school was the peak moment of their lives and just want to go on living it, blissfully ignoring fact that everyone else in school thought them a bunch of closeted losers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Al-Sadr is back in Iraq, U.S. says (Thomas E. Ricks and Sudarsan Raghavan, 5/25/07, The Washington Post)

Muqtada al-Sadr, the influential Shiite cleric and militia leader who went into hiding before the launch of a U.S.-Iraqi security offensive in February, is in the southern city of Kufa, senior U.S. military commanders said Thursday. [...]

Al-Sadr's movement is wooing Sunni leaders and purging extremists in the cleric's Mahdi Army militia in an attempt to strengthen his image as a nationalist who can lead all Iraqis at a time when anti-war sentiments are growing in the United States and Iraq's political landscape is fractured.

Al-Sadr's apparent re-emergence comes days after his main Shiite rival, the influential cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, went to Iran for treatment of lung cancer. Hakim also is trying to strike a nationalist stance, recently renaming his party from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq to the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq.

There are growing signs that extremists in al-Sadr's militia are disobeying his orders to stand down, as U.S. troops raid and patrol their strongholds.

After three months of sharp declines, sectarian violence is rising again in Baghdad, a possible indication that Shiite militiamen are resuming reprisal attacks. Al-Sadr's aides have described the cleric's orders as intended to improve his credibility and dispel allegations that the Mahdi Army was fueling sectarian violence.

Note how integral we are to making him credible.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Pigeon club members face U.S. charges: Area hobbyists kill thousands of hawks and falcons annually, wildlife officials allege, because some raptors attack their birds (Joe Mozingo, May 25, 2007, LA Times)

Federal agents went undercover, conducting nighttime surveillance, setting up remote cameras and digging through trash cans, searching for possible criminal activity among Southern California's roller pigeon rings.

Roller pigeons, you ask?

Roller pigeons are bred for a genetic quirk that strikes in mid-flight, causing a brief seizure that sends the birds spiraling uncontrollably toward the ground. Thousands of hobbyists compete to see who can best make their birds roll in unison.

But for a hawk or falcon, a plummeting roller pigeon is fast food. Fed up by raptors spoiling their sport, some of the leading competitors in the roller pigeon field began illegally killing the predators, according to a federal indictment released Thursday.

Environmentalists don't care to acknowledge it, for obvious reasons, but pretty nearly the entire raptor comeback is a function of hunting bans.

May 24, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 PM


Is al-Qaeda on the Run in Iraq? (JOE KLEIN, 5/23/07, TIME)

There is good news from Iraq, believe it or not. It comes from the most unlikely place: Anbar province, home of the Sunni insurgency. The level of violence has plummeted in recent weeks. An alliance of U.S. troops and local tribes has been very effective in moving against the al-Qaeda foreign fighters. A senior U.S. military official told me—confirming reports from several other sources—that there have been "a couple of days recently during which there were zero effective attacks and less than 10 attacks overall in the province (keep in mind that an attack can be as little as one round fired). This is a result of sheiks stepping up and opposing AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] and volunteering their young men to serve in the police and army units there." The success in Anbar has led sheiks in at least two other Sunni-dominated provinces, Nineveh and Salahaddin, to ask for similar alliances against the foreign fighters. And, as TIME's Bobby Ghosh has reported, an influential leader of the Sunni insurgency, Harith al-Dari, has turned against al-Qaeda as well. It is possible that al-Qaeda is being rejected like a mismatched liver transplant by the body of the Iraqi insurgency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 PM


House Approves Stricter Lobbying Limits (CHARLES BABINGTON, 5/25/07, Associated Press)

Top Democrats had a few minor setbacks when several freshman joined most Republicans in approving proposals that Democratic leaders initially opposed.

One item, offered by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, would require disclosure of lobbyists' bundled donations not only to individuals but also to political action committees, or PACs.

Democrats receive more PAC money than do Republicans, said Smith, who called the omission of bundled PAC donations a loophole ``big enough to ride a Democratic donkey through.''

Also added to the broader bill was a GOP amendment to apply the disclosure requirements to lobbyists for public universities and state and local governments.

The House earlier had changed its rules to bar members and employees from accepting gifts, meals or trips from most lobbyists. A Republican proposal Thursday would extend that ban to state and local government lobbyists.

Democrats are apparently learning to love getting rolled by the GOP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 PM


Life after Polly: Connie Booth (a case of Fawlty memory syndrome): Most people would be happy to trade on the success of 'Fawlty Towers'. But the American actress who co-wrote the sitcom with John Cleese has declined to appear in a programme reuniting the stars. (Cahal Milmo, 25 May 2007, Independent)
Mblockquote>Connie Booth has a simple explanation for why she lost her enthusiasm for sitcoms. The actress and co-writer of Fawlty Towers once said: "I used to watch a lot of comedy until I got divorced. Then I went off it."

The American-born actress - whose status as a creator of the show voted the greatest in British television history has often been overlooked - endeared herself to millions as Polly, the sensible but harried waitress who was the comic foil to the insanity of Basil Fawlty, played by John Cleese, her husband at the time.

But when their marriage began to unravel just as the couple were writing the second series of Fawlty Towers in 1978, Booth began to go off other things as well.

Not least among those was acting itself and the media spotlight that followed her every move, resulting in one of the more perplexing changes of heart in recent showbusiness history. [...]

The couple, who had a young daughter, Cynthia, at the time they were writing Fawlty Towers between 1975 and 1978, were separated when they began writing the second series and yet still managed to work together under Cleese's exacting requirements.

Speaking soon after the marriage ended in divorce in the autumn 1978, Booth said: "There had been difficulties for some time in the marriage, which is why we went for counselling. If it hadn't been for group therapy, I don't think we could have worked on the second series."

Although neither Cleese nor Booth has offered any insight to the reasons for the break-up beyond the fact that no one else was involved, the crucible-like atmosphere in which Fawlty Towers was created was a significant contributory factor.

In a recent interview, Cleese said: "Each episode took me and Connie six weeks to write and a week to rehearse and record. Before every recording, which was on a Sunday, I'd work all day Saturday to make sure the timing and the words were as good as possible.

"I had a perfectionist streak and I got terribly wound up over things. Writing Fawlty Towers meant going over everything again and again until we got it right. That attitude contributed to our break-up."

Cleese met Booth in the late 1960s while he was working the comedy circuit in New York. He was a Cambridge graduate in the early stages of a promising but as yet low-level performing career.

She was the daughter of a Wall Street magnate and a actress who had moved to New York state after Connie was born in rural Indiana. With her mother's encouragement, Booth began an acting career and was balancing jobs as a Broadway understudy and a waitress when she met her future husband.

Cleese said: "I went into a restaurant where all the waitresses were great-looking out-of-work actresses. Connie was one of them.

"With Connie, I had at last met someone who could express themselves as I would like to have done. It was instant attraction. But the tensions that took over during the making of Fawlty Towers struck a killer blow."

The couple, who married in 1968, got the idea for Fawlty Towers while working in Britain with the Monty Python team.

They stayed at the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay where the owner, a former naval officer, made it clear he cared little for the foibles of his guests, throwing out those who complained until he was locked in his private apartment by his domineering wife.

Cleese hinted that both he and Booth, the first of his three wives, recognised a fiery side to their own temperaments. It is one of the ironies of the couple's subsequent and separate lives that Cleese is now married to a American psychotherapist, Alyce Faye Eichelberger. He is still friends with Booth and the couple both attended the marriage of Cynthia in 1995.

Cleese said: "Connie and I have always had a thing about people who can't suppress their rage, which neither of us can. There was a certain part of me in Basil... and, I suppose, a certain part of Connie too."

For her part, Booth has spoken only of the demonstrative nature of her upbringing. The rows between her parents were so loud that at times police were called by concerned neighbours.

She said: "My family was given to affection and anger and it was expressed with less restraint than in England. You could easily get smacked or spanked."

When the first six episodes of Fawlty Towers were broadcast on BBC2 in 1975, it was slated by critics and largely ignored. But when it was repeated on BBC1 the next year, it was a huge hit, attracting 12 million viewers and became a comedy classic.

Cleese's career continued on its upward trajectory thereafter but Booth's stuttered as she fell out of love with the glamour and clamour of showbusiness.
He didn't actually go upward from the pinnacle of tv comedy, though he's done much other good work.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 PM


Iran interest rate cut sparks panic selling (Robert Tait, May 25, 2007, The Guardian)

Iran's financial system suffered a fresh jolt yesterday with panic selling on the stock market after the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, abruptly ordered banks to cut interest rates sharply, despite surging inflation.

The order, which Mr Ahmadinejad issued by telephone during a visit to Belarus and which flew in the face of expert advice - has triggered warnings of a financial crisis and spiralling corruption amid fears of a capital flight from the country's lending institutions.

Mr Ahmadinejad's decree forced all state-owned and private banks to slash borrowing rates to 12%. Inflation is officially 15% but is generally believed to be much higher. State banks had been offering rates of 14%, while those in the private sector ranged from 17% to 28%.

The decision caused panic in the Tehran stock exchange, with private banks losing much of their share value overnight. Shareholders in one bank, Karafarin, queued on Wednesday to sell their stock when previously there had been 1.2 million applicants to buy its shares.

The reason we defeat the isms so easily is because our foes truly believe in them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 PM


Sox prospect outperforms Clemens (Rob Bradford, May 24, 2007, Boston Herald)

It was the Red Sox’ little secret.

While more than 100 media members and Waterfront Park’s largest crowd ever converged on the home of the Trenton Thunder to digest all things Roger Clemens, a few onlookers focused their attention elsewhere.

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, his assistant, Allard Baird, and a smattering of scouts focused on the pitcher much of baseball is truly drooling over. And it wasn’t the one scheduled to make more than $18 million over the next four months.

Clay Buchholz used baseball’s latest big stage to show why losing the Roger Clemens sweepstakes might not sting for Sox fans too much longer.

“I would have more confidence in this kid (Buchholz) starting a major league game tomorrow than the other guy (Clemens),” said one American League scout in attendance for Clemens’ second minor league tune-up for the New York Yankees, a start for the Double-A Thunder in their 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Portland Sea Dogs. “We need one game to win the division and you’re giving me a choice between starting (Buchholz) or Clemens, I’m taking (Buchholz) off of what I saw tonight.”

Buchholz and the other guy (Rob Bradford, 5/24/07)
It was one thing to hit 95 mph, but to drop the hammer of a curve he has developed was impressive. A huge positive was that he throws all four pitches (fastball, curve, slider, change) for strikes. As one scout said, “You can see why he strikes guys out so much.”

An interesting aspect of last night’s start for Buchholz was that he actually got pushed back a day so that he could pitch on the big stage. While it was Michael Bowden’s turn, the organization wanted to allow Buchholz a chance to experience the pomp and circumstance that went with the Roger Clemens media circus. It was the second step down this path, with Buchholz’s outing in the final game of spring training serving as the first step. It was effective (thanks Mike) as Buchholz admitted to being a bit nervous at the beginning. It showed not only in four straight singles, but also because of his delivery, which was unusually quick with those first few runners on base.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:43 PM


Dems’ panel chiefs cash in on bundling (Alexander Bolton, May 24, 2007, The Hill)

Powerful Democratic chairmen and subcommittee chairmen have relied on lobbyists to raise money during the first three months of this year, according to recent fundraising reports, which cast light on the strong opposition to lobbying reform legislation scheduled to reach the floor today. [...]

It appears many Democrats — and Republicans, for that matter — would prefer that the public not know how much fundraising help lobbyists provide. Recent campaign-finance reports offer a glimpse of the interactions between lobbyists and lawmakers in private dining rooms around Washington.

Lobbyists have hosted at least three fundraisers for Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Lobbyists at Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds and Wiley Rein spent $2,600 on catering and room rental fees to hold fundraisers for Oberstar in January and March, according to a fundraising report. [...]

Many lawmakers have questioned whether these proposed regulations are too ambiguous.

“If a lobbyist helps put on the fundraiser, are you saying that everyone who contributes is part of a bundled contribution?” Schadl said.

You must have to be Stupid not to find that a perplexing question.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:23 PM


The frayed knot (The Economist, 5/24/07)

There is a widening gulf between how the best- and least-educated Americans approach marriage and child-rearing. Among the elite (excluding film stars), the nuclear family is holding up quite well. Only 4% of the children of mothers with college degrees are born out of wedlock. And the divorce rate among college-educated women has plummeted. Of those who first tied the knot between 1975 and 1979, 29% were divorced within ten years. Among those who first married between 1990 and 1994, only 16.5% were.

At the bottom of the education scale, the picture is reversed. Among high-school dropouts, the divorce rate rose from 38% for those who first married in 1975-79 to 46% for those who first married in 1990-94. Among those with a high school diploma but no college, it rose from 35% to 38%. And these figures are only part of the story. Many mothers avoid divorce by never marrying in the first place. The out-of-wedlock birth rate among women who drop out of high school is 15%. Among African-Americans, it is a staggering 67%.

Does this matter? Kay Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think-tank, says it does. In her book “Marriage and Caste in America”, she argues that the “marriage gap” is the chief source of the country's notorious and widening inequality. Middle-class kids growing up with two biological parents are “socialised for success”. They do better in school, get better jobs and go on to create intact families of their own. Children of single parents or broken families do worse in school, get worse jobs and go on to have children out of wedlock. This makes it more likely that those born near the top or the bottom will stay where they started. America, argues Ms Hymowitz, is turning into “a nation of separate and unequal families”.

A large majority—92%—of children whose families make more than $75,000 a year live with two parents (including step-parents). At the bottom of the income scale—families earning less than $15,000—only 20% of children live with two parents. One might imagine that this gap arises simply because two breadwinners earn more than one. A single mother would have to be unusually talented and diligent to make as much as $75,000 while also raising children on her own. And it is impossible in America for two full-time, year-round workers to earn less than $15,000 between them, unless they are (illegally) paid less than the minimum wage.

But there is more to it than this. Marriage itself is “a wealth-generating institution”, according to Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe, who run the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. Those who marry “till death do us part” end up, on average, four times richer than those who never marry.

It seems fair to say that modern American poverty--even the rather comfortable poverty that characterizes such an affluent society--is essentially a moral choice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:18 PM


Israel's wasted victory: Six days of war followed by 40 years of misery. How can it ever end? (The Economist, May 24th 2007)

Part of the trouble was the completeness of the triumph. Its speed and scope led many Israelis to see a divine hand in their victory. This changed Israel itself, giving birth to an irredentist religious-nationalist movement intent on permanent colonisation of the occupied lands (see article). After six days Israel had conquered not just Sinai and the Syrian Golan Heights but also the old city of Jerusalem and the West Bank—the biblical Judea and Samaria where Judaism began. In theory, these lands might have been traded back for the peace the Arabs had withheld since Israel's founding. That is what the UN Security Council proposed in Resolution 242. But Israelis were intoxicated by victory and the Arabs paralysed by humiliation. The Arabs did not phone to sue for peace and Israel did not mind not hearing from them. Instead, it embarked on its hubristic folly of annexing the Arab half of Jerusalem and—in defiance of law, demography and common sense—planting Jewish settlements in all the occupied territories to secure a Greater Israel.

The six-day war changed the Palestinians too. They had been scattered by the fighting that accompanied Israel's founding in 1948. Some fled beyond Palestine; others became citizens of the Jewish state or lived under Egypt in Gaza and Jordan in the West Bank. The 1967 war reunited them under Israeli control and so sharpened their own thwarted hunger for statehood.

Democrats seem singularly unwilling to learn the lesson that while we excel at war we're dreaful at peace. Having won a war we ought to just leave posthaste.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM


Syriana Writer Weds Oil Heiress (Radar, May 2007)

For filmmaker Stephen Gaghan, oil money is the gift that keeps on giving.

Gaghan, the writer-director behind 2005's Syriana, got married last weekend, to Minnie Mortimer, a member of one of New York's most prominent society clans. Mortimer is the great-granddaughter of Standard Oil president Henry Morgan Tilford (and sister-in-law of sometime Radar mascot Tinsley Mortimer).

Syriana, of course, was a "scathing" (as it was invariably described in reviews) look at the politics of the international oil business. Promoting the film in a Huffington Post blog, Gaghan wrote, "This massive pile of wealth, of found money from a puddle under the earth, has the same effect as the gravity of a black hole that bends and swallows the morality of all who pass into its orbit. You think you're immune? Well, I suspect you just haven't been induced yet, you haven't met your devil."

Gaghan and his devil met at Barry Diller's annual pre-Oscars picnic, according to, and were wed on Saturday at Manhattan's St. Thomas Church.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:09 AM


It's even got a nice shot at nativists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:47 AM


In the Democratic Congress, Pork Still Gets Served: 'Phonemarking' Is Among Ways Around Appropriations Process (John Solomon and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, May 24, 2007, Washington Post)

When the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives passed one of its first spending bills, funding the Energy Department for the rest of 2007, it proudly boasted that the legislation contained no money earmarked for lawmakers' pet projects and stressed that any prior congressional requests for such spending "shall have no legal effect."

Within days, however, lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) began directly contacting the Energy Department. They sought to secure money for their favorite causes outside of the congressional appropriations process -- a practice that lobbyists and appropriations insiders call "phonemarking."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:41 AM

2AM? (profanity alert):

Red Eye for the Straight Guy (George Gurley, May 22, 2007, NY Observer)

If Red Eye isn’t quite Fox’s answer to The Daily Show—that distinction belongs to Fox’s truly awful The ½ Hour News Hour—the show’s giddy roster of New York–area media stars and camera-craving bloggers, who are probably unknown and unattractive to the vast majority of Fox viewers, is evidence that Fox wishes to make itself a respectable place to do business for the next-generation New York media elite.

While the show runs largely on jokes, riffs and loopy news bits, it’s prevented from relaxing too much into apolitical anarchy by the hand of Fox News president Roger Ailes, who dropped sultry conservative Toronto Sun columnist Rachel Marsden smack in the middle of the merry band of pranksters to make it clear that politics with a rightward bent is still the Fox brand, particularly if it arrives on long legs.

So far, about 300,000 viewers are tuning in to the show, which is taped at 8:40 p.m. and airs at 2 a.m. The format is unscripted. In the studio with Mr. Gutfeld are his sidekick, Bill Schulz (a Muppet-like fellow that Mr. Gutfeld described as “the funniest person I’ve ever met in my life”); the coltish (and Coulter-ish) Ms. Marsden; and guests, who recently have included gadfly Christopher Hitchens, comic Jackie Mason, blogger Rachel Sklar, Fox News correspondent Laurie Dhue and redneck comedian Larry the Cable Guy. The topics whiz past—most segments barely last a minute. Mr. Gutfeld has a stack of blue cards with things written on them such as “woman’s severed finger found in purse,” and he’ll toss the conversational ball around.

“I feel like I’m a lion tamer holding chain saws,” Mr. Gutfeld said. “Because I want to say something funny, but I’m too busy going, O.K., what do I do next?” The surreal feeling of the show blends into the type of commercials running at that insomniac hour—Vermont Teddy Bears, adjustable beds, giant tomatoes. [...]

While Mr. Gutfeld tries to keep the show from idling too long on partisan territory (“They get that 23 hours a day”), his own politics are fairly at home on Fox. He dismisses liberalism as “romantic notions that are false, based on the idea of making yourself look good to other people. That’s why most men—Bill Clinton is a good example—are liberal, because they need to get laid. If you look at most left-wing guys, they’ve made a deal with the devil. They don’t really believe that s[***]—they’re going against their own innate nature, because liberalism is anti-man. If you believe that peace and love work, you’re not a man, because this world works on war. The only people who respect you are people who are scared of you—and that’s why Reagan was a great President. And the idea that you can negotiate with people who want you dead is a complete lie. That’s why the left is the most self-absorbed, vanity-driven enterprise. These are people who would rather feel good about themselves at a cocktail party that actually protect people’s lives. If you’re at a party and you say, ‘The war on terror is the most important thing in the world’—you won’t get a nod. But if you say, ‘Global warming is the biggest threat,’ you will get laid.”

Jon Stewart?

“His show is an arena built on self-congratulation,” said Mr. Gutfeld. “He meets his audiences’ assumptions, and that makes them feel good. And I think that’s weak. At times he’s funny, but that’s the easiest job in the world—to show up and have people kiss your a[**].”

Mr. Gutfeld’s journey from lad-magazine editor to Fox personality happened the way Fox does a lot of things—quickly and without much fuss. Last summer, after his contract at Maxim UK wasn’t renewed, he was living in London, writing for The American Spectator and drinking.

He flew to Los Angeles to visit his friend Andrew Breitbart, a regular contributor at the Drudge Report. Over dinner, a guy from Fox News told Mr. Gutfeld about a new show. “I was drunk enough to say, ‘I’ll be the host!’” said Mr. Gutfeld. “I never probably would have said that otherwise. It was still a vague idea. They didn’t know what they wanted, but they knew that they wanted something.”

He flew to New York and met with Fox News producer John Moody and Fox News president Roger Ailes. “[Ailes] liked me and asked me how much I was making,” Mr. Gutfeld said. “I said, ‘It’s not important—working at Fox is a perfect fit for me, because I’m an outsider and Fox is an outsider.’ In some bizarre way, I charmed them into letting me do this.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:37 AM


France's Sarkozy calls to tighten sanctions on Teheran (JPOST.COM STAFF AND AP, 5/24/07)

French President Nicholas Sarkozy called Wednesday for sanctions on Iran to be tightened if the country does not adhere to the West's demands to cease its nuclear agenda.

If Iran attains nuclear weapons, Sarkozy warned, a road to an arms race will be paved that could endanger Israel and southeast Europe, he said during an interview with a German magazine.

Sarkozy announced that France will join the official US-led struggle against head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei, who recommended that Iran be allowed to enrich uranium in some of its nuclear plants.

The Kouchner effect: A new minister signals a new foreign policy (The Economist, 5/24/07)

“OUR silence in the face of the 200,000 deaths and 400,000 refugees of wars in Chechnya is not tenable. Nor is our indifference in the face of the 200,000 deaths from ethnic massacres in Darfur. We need urgently to act, so that Darfur does not remain a shameful page of our own history.” France's new humanitarian foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner? Actually, his boss, Nicolas Sarkozy, during his campaign.

Mr Kouchner's appointment is more than just a deft political gesture. It reflects Mr Sarkozy's desire for a new French “doctrine”, based on values, designed to strengthen France's voice. One element is more emphasis on human rights, particularly in Darfur and Russia. This is where Mr Kouchner, co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières, and a former UN governor in Kosovo, comes in. The day after taking office, he held a weekend meeting about Darfur.

A contempt for knee-jerk French anti-Americanism also unites the two men. Mr Sarkozy has called America “the greatest democracy in the world”, and denounced the “arrogance” (if not substance) of France's hostility to war in Iraq. Mr Kouchner was one of the few Frenchmen to see merit in the Iraq intervention, though he criticised its aftermath. Both would hope for better Franco-American relations, which soured after 2003 (though Mr Sarkozy has no plans yet for an official trip). One plus is the choice of Jean-David Levitte, France's ex-ambassador to America, as Mr Sarkozy's national security adviser.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:35 AM


War spending bill splits Democrats (Carl Hulse, May 24, 2007, NY Times)

Congressional contortions over the Iraq spending bill could end up with most House Democrats momentarily occupying the position they were so desperate to vacate: the minority.

The decision by the Democratic majority to strip the measure of a timetable for troop withdrawal has raised the prospect that it could be approved mainly by Republicans with scattered Democratic support.

The idea that many Democrats would be left on the losing side in a consequential vote has exposed a sharp divide within the party, drawn scorn from antiwar groups, confused the public and frustrated the party rank hand file.

Seems unlikely that the public is confused.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Atheist Wilson Gives $22.5 Million for Catholic Fund (Patrick Cole, 5/24/07, Bloomberg)

Philanthropist and retired hedge-fund manager Robert W. Wilson said he is giving $22.5 million to the Archdiocese of New York to fund a scholarship program for needy inner-city students attending Roman Catholic schools.

Wilson, 80, said in a phone interview today that although he is an atheist, he has no problem donating money to a fund linked to Catholic schools.

``Let's face it, without the Roman Catholic Church, there would be no Western civilization,'' Wilson said. ``Shunning religious organizations would be abhorrent. Keep in mind, I'm helping to pay tuition. The money isn't going directly to the schools.''

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Clinton Camp Resists Aide’s Advice to Skip Iowa (ADAM NAGOURNEY, 5/24/07, NY Times)

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign has considered — and rejected — a plan to stop competing in Iowa, the traditional kickoff state in the nominating process, and to concentrate instead on later states, including the 20 or so that are slated to vote on a single day in early February.

The recommendation to pull out of Iowa was in a memorandum written by Mike Henry, Mrs. Clinton’s deputy campaign manager. He made a case that Iowa would consume too much time and money that could be better invested elsewhere.

Mr. Henry’s memorandum, dated May 21, said Mrs. Clinton would have to spend $15 million and 70 days in the state to be competitive there, and suggested that if she did not pull out she might not have the money she would need for the rapid-fire series of contests that follow. The Iowa caucuses are scheduled for Jan. 14, with the New Hampshire primary eight days later, Florida a week after that and about 20 other states on Feb. 5.

The Clinton campaign said Mr. Henry’s advice had been rejected. Soon after learning that the memorandum would become public, the campaign announced that Mrs. Clinton, a New York Democrat, would be campaigning in Iowa this weekend.

Will Tsunami Tuesday be an afterthought?: Iowa and New Hampshire are still the 'big' states to watch (Chuck Todd, 5/22/07, NBC News)
February 5, a.k.a. "Tsunami Tuesday," is not just going to be anchored by California’s primary. Other big states, like New York, New Jersey, Illinois and possibly Texas, are going to be on the same day.

This guarantees that California will get no more attention than it gets in any other cycle. In fact, arguably because of the cost of talking to California voters, it may get even less since there are so many other states one can concentrate on.

From my perspective, all this frontloading has done only one thing: make Iowa even more important.

As the very first test, the "winner(s)" of the Iowa Caucuses is (are) going to take on greater significance than ever before – particularly since there is no break between Iowa and everything else. Momentum will be the driving force for these candidates post-Iowa, not money or message.

The only chance Iowa and (to a lesser extent) New Hampshire have in becoming less relevant to the process this year is if the two states move up so early that there are a few weeks, rather than just a few days, between them and every other state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Poll: Are you OK with bombing civilians? (Preeti Aroon, 5/23/07, FP Passport)

Some people think that bombing and other types of attacks intentionally aimed at civilians are sometimes justified while others think that this kind of violence is never justified. Do you personally feel that such attacks are often justified, sometimes justified, rarely justified, or never justified?

In December of last year, a sample of Americans was asked this question in a poll by the Program on International Public Attitudes, and their responses were:

* often- 5%
* sometimes- 19%
* rarely- 27%
* never- 46%
* The remainder said "don't know" or refused to respond.

Recently, a survey by the Pew Research Center (pdf) asked Muslim Americans:

Some people think that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies. Other people believe that, no matter what the reason, this kind of violence is never justified. Do you personally feel that this kind of violence is often justified to defend Islam, sometimes justified, rarely justified, or never justified?

The responses were:

* often or sometimes- 8% (15% for those ages 18-29)
* rarely- 5% (11% for those ages 18-29)
* never- 78% (69% for those ages 18-29)
* The remainder said "don't know."

...they're still in the process of assimilating, so shouldn't be expected to be as willing to target civilians as the rest of us are yet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


No Decline Here: Rumors of our demise have been greatly exaggerated. (Victor Davis Hanson, 5/24/07, National Review)

After the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1991, America proclaimed itself at the “end of history” — meaning that the spread of our style of democratic capitalism was now inevitable. Now a mere 16 years later, some are just as sure we approach our own end.

But our rivals are weaker and America is far stronger than many think.

Take oil. With oil prices at nearly $70 a barrel, Vladimir Putin, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Hugo Chavez seem invincible as they rally anti-American feeling.

But if we find alternate energy sources, or reduce slightly our oil hunger, we can defang all three rather quickly. None of their countries have a middle class or a culture of entrepreneurship to discover and disseminate new knowledge.

Russia and Europe are shrinking. China is an aging nation of only children. The only thing the hard-working Chinese fear more than their bankrupt Communist dictatorship is getting rid of it.

True, the economies of China and India have made amazing progress. But both have rocky rendezvous ahead with all the social and cultural problems that we long ago addressed in the 20th century.

And European elites can’t blame their problems — a bullying Russia, Islamic terrorists, unassimilated minorities, and high unemployment — all on George Bush’s swagger and accent. The recent elections of Angela Merkel in Germany and Nicolas Sarkozy in France suggest that Europe’s cheap anti-Americanism may be ending, and that our practices of more open markets, lower taxes, and less state control are preferable to the European status quo.

In truth, a never-stronger America is being tested as never before. The world is watching whether we win or lose in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Middle East is either going to reform or remain an oil-rich tribal mess that endangers the entire world.

A better way to assess our chances at maintaining our preeminence is simply to ask the same questions that are the historical barometers of our nation’s success or failure: Does any nation have a constitution comparable to ours? Does merit — or religion, tribe, or class — mostly gauge success or failure in America? What nation is as free, stable, and transparent as the U.S.?

The broader point is that the question of whether these places Reform is existential to them, but only matters to us because of our Judeo-Christian ethos. We intervene out of neighbor-love, not because of any legitimate national security concerns, which is why our leaders have historically manufactured pretexts for our foreign wars.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Olney saw end of Yanks’ dynasty before anyone else (BILL REYNOLDS, 5/24/07, Providence Journal)

Think of it this way: If you took away the pinstripes and the mystique, took away the history and the amount of money spent on payroll, would anyone be in awe of this particular team? Would anyone right now be thinking of them as a great team?

In fact, it was two years ago that Buster Olney, who covered the Yankees for five years, wrote The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, a book whose premise was that the Yankees already were a very different team than the one that lost in the 2001 World Series to Arizona, that we were seeing the last days of the dynasty, like the morning after the party, just the stragglers and the empty bottles left.

It was Olney’s contention that the glory days had been built on a foundation of great pitching and a core of players who had all come of age together, a core whose whole was greater than the sum of the parts. In short, it was a team with a shared purpose, run by a manager who both trusted his players and had their respect.

But all of that was gone now, as the Yankees tried to buy the future with a succession of free agents. To the point they began to resemble more of an all-star team than a team that had grown up together, some who bought into the team’s ethos, some who didn’t. All in an environment that had no patience with anything other than winning world championships, everyone from the owner, to the fans, to the tabloids that screamed out every morning with their big bold headlines.

“The others in the Yankee clubhouse had inherited the legacy, and like second-generation scions, they found that everything they did was held up against the daunting standard of years before,” wrote Olney. “The burden of those expectations weighed on the team, especially the newcomers.”

It was Olney’s contention that what we were seeing in 2004 was the dynasty’s last gasp, an attempt to cling to something that was already gone.

Now it’s three years later, and it’s only more so.

The two most salient facts in the book are that the winning team was basically a creation of Stick Michael while George was suspended and that once the guys from that squad started leaving Jeter and Torre checked out emotionally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Stanley Miller, 77; chemist was a pioneer in studying the origins of life (Thomas H. Maugh II, May 24, 2007, LA Times)

Stanley Miller, the UC San Diego chemist who was the first to demonstrate that the organic molecules necessary for life could be generated in a laboratory flask simulating the primitive Earth's atmosphere, died Sunday from heart failure in a hospital in National City. He was 77.

Miller had suffered a series of strokes since 1999 and had been living in a nursing home, according to his brother, Donald.

"Stanley Miller was the father of origin-of-life chemistry," said marine chemist Jeffrey L. Bada of UC San Diego, a former graduate student of Miller's. "And he was the leader in that field for many decades…. It was the Miller experiment that almost overnight transformed the study of the origin of life into a respectable field of inquiry."

Once you know Creation is just an experiment...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Children say they prefer daddy to drive (Daily Mail, 24th May 2007)

Women drivers have long faced slurs from men over their prowess behind the wheel. Now it seems even their children are critics.

Research among youngsters has found 47 per cent feel unsafe being driven by their mother, compared with 39 per cent who feel unsafe with their father.

On the other hand, 0% feel unsafe on the train.

May 23, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM


Is Edwards an Easy Mark (Steve Kornacki, May 22, 2007, NY Observer)

Granted. The issue of John Edwards’ pricey haircut is a silly one. And its staying power—the story is weeks old, yet the press still asks about it—is rightly insulting to Democrats who want their Presidential primary defined by weightier things.

But the truth is that it matters. It’s exactly the kind of tidbit that Republicans have used—to devastating effect—against three of the last four Democratic nominees, utterly overwhelming Democratic efforts to focus the elections on policy. [...]

The stories generated by the revelation that the Edwards campaign had spent $400 for a trim fed into an ongoing attempt to caricature the former Senator as a slick, rich hypocrite—a “limousine liberal” who lectures about poverty while living in gated opulence.

The haircut affair, remember, was preceded by this winter’s story about Mr. Edwards’ new home—a 28,000-square-foot “compound” outside Chapel Hill, N.C., complete with an indoor basketball court. All for a man who has used his stump speech to implore audiences not to live in economic segregation.

Rats, how will the GOP convince voters that Hillary or Barack Obama isn't just one of the guys?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 PM


What happens when you have one candidate telling the GOP to get over baby-killing and the other cursing out fellow pols? Exactly what you'd expect.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:08 AM


Elon Musk Is Betting His Fortune on a Mission Beyond Earth's Orbit (Carl Hoffman, 05.22.07, Wired)

For a rich guy with a private jet and a million-dollar sports car, Elon Musk is unusually quiet and shy. He is tall, with long arms and big hands and a boyish face that often looks distracted; you can tell the wheels inside his head never quite stop spinning.

Before he founded SpaceX in 2002, Musk created two Internet companies: Zip2, which he sold to Compaq in 1999 for $307 million in cash, and PayPal, which went public shortly before being sold to eBay. Musk, the largest shareholder, was 30 years old, crazy rich, and "tired of the Internet."

Sitting in traffic on the Long Island Expressway in 2001, mulling the problems of the world, Musk started wondering about NASA's plans to send people to Mars. Which, he discovered when he finally reached a computer, didn't exist. Musk was horrified. A native of South Africa, he had earned physics and business degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and dropped out of a graduate program in physics at Stanford. He had always been interested in space, convinced that humans were destined to be a multiplanet species. But where were the Columbuses and da Gamas of the 21st century?

Still on Earth — because going to space is hard. An object in low Earth orbit stays there, 250 miles up, only when the force that put it up there equals the gravity trying to pull it back down. And that force comes from one thing: massive amounts of kinetic energy, also known as speed.

"Look," Musk says, scribbling equations on a notepad, "the energy increases with the square of the velocity. To go 60 miles into suborbital space, like Rutan and the X-Prize, you need to travel at Mach 3. The square of that is 9. But to get to orbit, you need to go Mach 25, and the square of that is 625. So you're looking at something that takes 60 to 70 times more energy. And then, to come back, you need to unwind that energy in a meteoric fireball, and if there's one violation of integrity, you're toast."

To date, only the interests of national security have harnessed the capital and intellectual muscle necessary to get to orbit. "Virtually every rocket that exists today in the US fleet is a legacy of ballistic missiles," says Roger Launius, a historian at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. The American and Russian space programs required armies of engineers working with nearly unlimited budgets. The Apollo lunar program cost more than $150 billion in 2007 dollars and took 300,000 people and more than 3 percent of the US federal budget for 1964 through 1966. Even the "cheap," reusable space shuttle is such a thoroughbred that it requires a ground crew of 50,000 and costs $1 billion every time it flies. (It also remains the most dangerous rocket system ever created.)

The handful of private companies that have managed to get something into orbit have basically used hardware developed under government programs. Their services aren't cheap: Lofting a satellite into orbit on a Sea Launch Zenit sets DirecTV or XM Satellite Radio back $50 million to $75 million. Putting a 550-pound payload into low Earth orbit on an Orbital Sciences Pegasus costs the Air Force $30 million. "If we can't figure out how to get to Earth orbit at a much lower price," Launius says, "we'll never be able to do the things we want to do in space." Musk's fee for hauling a 1,400-pound payload: $6.9 million.

The list of companies that have tried and failed to go orbital is long enough to have spawned a hackneyed joke: What's the fastest way to become a commercial space millionaire? Start as a commercial space billionaire. "Moore's law does not apply to rockets," says John Pike, a space analyst at "Humanity has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on space exploration in the past half century, and the numbers have not changed: about $10,000 per pound to put something in low Earth orbit. Elon Musk is asserting that his future is going to be remarkably different, and that's a tall claim."

No Ferdinand and Isabella, no Buck Rogers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:48 AM


Pork tastes good – and is good for you (JIM ROMANOFF, 5/23/07, The Associated Press)

Though its name is practically synonymous with bad health, pork doesn’t have to be banished from a good-for-you diet.

Thanks to advances in breeding and feeding techniques, pork actually is leaner than it was 30 years ago. In fact, cuts such as tenderloin are among the leanest meats you can buy, with just 139 calories and 4 grams of fat per 3-ounce serving.

Pork tenderloin also is convenient because it’s small – usually no more than 1½ pounds – and cooks quickly.

Though tenderloin can be pricey (as much as $7 a pound), compared to other cuts of pork there’s little waste. And a 1-pound pork tenderloin can easily feed four people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:34 AM


Fight Club: Bob Shrum v. John Edwards (Michael Crowley, 5/23/07, TNR Online)

Shrum discovered Edwards during the North Carolinian's first Senate campaign in 1998. Shrum writes that, after his encounter with Edwards, he telephoned his business partner and declared, "I think I just met a future President of the United States." But that view would change dramatically.

Shrum went on advising Edwards for several years, including as Edwards was contemplating his vote on the fall 2002 Iraq war resolution. In the one passage of the book already widely leaked, Shrum recounts how he and other political advisers pushed Edwards into a vote for the resolution that Edwards--and, even more so, his wife, Elizabeth--didn't want to cast. The episode didn't make Shrum look great. But the real damage is to Edwards, who comes across as a cipher taking orders from his handlers. As Shrum puts it: "[H]e was the candidate and if he was really against the war it was up to him to stand his ground. He didn't."

(Edwards aides have said Shrum exaggerates the importance of this meeting and wasn't in other pivotal meetings where Edwards deliberated. But, as an aide to a rival campaign recently pointed out to me, in a moment that passed largely unnoticed, Edwards seemed to confirm the basic thrust of this story during the first Democratic presidential debate last month in South Carolina. "I was wrong to vote for this war," Edwards said. "And the lesson I learned from it is to put more faith in my own judgment." It does sound as though Edwards is admitting that he allowed handlers to overrule his conscience.)

By early 2003 Shrum faced a choice: Would he work for Edwards's presidential 2004 campaign? Or would he go with another longtime client and friend, John Kerry? (Shrum had already ruled out two other would-be candidates seeking his services: Joe Lieberman had become "too monochromatic ... the Republicans' favorite Democrat," while Dick Gephardt's "time had passed.")

Shrum decided to go with Kerry. By now, he was coming to see Edwards as a lightweight--"a Clinton who hadn't read the books," as he puts it. Edwards didn't take the news well. Shrum writes that, in a dramatic early 2003 phone call, Edwards told him: "I can't believe you would do this to me and my family. I will never, ever forget it, even on my deathbed." The relationship has been poisoned ever since.

That surely helps to explain why No Excuses repeatedly portrays Edwards as a hyper-ambitious phony. Nowhere is that clearer--and more startling--than in a passage recounting Kerry's first meeting with Edwards during the summer 2004 running-mate selection process. Kerry had qualms about Edwards from the start, Shrum writes, but grew

even queasier about Edwards after they met. Edwards had told Kerry he was going to share a story with him that he'd never told anyone else--that after his son Wade had been killed, he climbed onto the slab at the funeral home, laid there and hugged his body, and promised that he'd do all he could to make life better for people, to live up to Wade's ideals of service. Kerry was stunned, not moved, because, as he told me later, Edwards had recounted the exact story to him, almost in the exact same words, a year or two before--and with the same preface, that he'd never shared the memory with anyone else. Kerry said he found it chilling, and he decided he couldn't pick Edwards unless he met with him again.

Which raises the obvious question: how creepy and featherweight would you have to be before Cabana Boy wouldn't pick you as a running mate?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM


Cole Slaw with Pecans and Spicy Dressing

1 head napa or savoy cabbage, shredded
4 carrots, shredded
2 Granny Smith apples, thinly sliced
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
Leaves from 1 bunch fresh mint, for garnish

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 lemon, juiced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the cabbage, carrots, apples, onion, and pecans in a large bowl. Mix well with your hands and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the mustard, sugar, cayenne, cumin, mayonnaise, and lemon juice until blended. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss well to coat. Taste again for seasoning, then mound onto a platter and garnish with mint leaves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Democrats Find Ethics Overhaul Elusive in House (DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, 5/23/07, NY Times)

House Democratic leaders pushing a promised lobbying overhaul are facing resistance from balky lawmakers and fending off accusations that a prominent member is flouting new ethics rules.

The Democratic leaders were forced to scrap a promise to double the current one-year lobbying ban after lawmakers leave office. Now, they are struggling to pass legislation requiring lobbyists to disclose the campaign contributions they “bundle” — collect and deliver — to lawmakers. Failing to deliver on both measures would endanger similar provisions already passed by the Senate.

Other House rules changes this year appear to have done little to alter business as usual on Capitol Hill. House Democrats voted along party lines on Tuesday to block the censure of one of their most powerful members, Representative John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania. He was accused of violating a new ethics rule that prohibits lawmakers from swapping pork for votes.

Still to come is a long-overdue report by a House committee considering the creation of an independent watchdog to monitor compliance with ethics rules. Democrats say the House is unlikely to endorse the idea, which the Senate has already rejected.

The Hollow Promise Reform Act (NY Times, 5/23/07)
The House’s new Democratic majority is flirting with disaster as it guts key provisions of the strict lobbying reform it promised voters last November. Rebellious lawmakers, worried about their own career path, fought their leaders to defeat tighter restrictions on the sleazy, revolving-door culture by which members of Congress move on from an apprenticeship of merely serving the people to real Washington money as insider lobbyists. [...]

For all the promises, the bundling disclosure mandate is in deep trouble as opposition mounts from Blue Dog, Hispanic and black caucus Democrats intent on protecting their re-election campaigns. The pity is that the proposal they are fighting doesn’t even stop this ethically indefensible practice — it merely puts the details on the record.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi knows failure to approve bundling disclosure will reduce the Democrats’ vaunted vows to political farce and shorten their chances of retaining the majority. Republicans are chortling, but the smarter moderates in their ranks better keep their eyes on the people’s agenda, not the lobbyists’ A.T.M.’s. A crucial vote over the lobby bill’s debating rule is about to determine whether reform dies at the hands of greedy incumbents. They might remember that next year’s voters will check for enactment of last year’s promises.

As God is their witness, the Timesmen thought Democrats could reform.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


Democratic Caucus Split by Iraq Troop-Withdrawal Concession (Nicholas Johnston and Laura Litvan, May 23, 2007, Bloomberg)

Anti-war Democrats criticized the decision. ``We've given everything away,'' Virginia Democrat Jim Moran said. ``It will split the Democratic caucus.''

Democrats Relent On Pullout Timetable (Shailagh Murray, 5/23/07, Washington Post)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was so disappointed with the outcome that she said she might vote against the Iraq portion of the package, which will be split into two parts when it comes before the House. "I'm not likely to vote for something that doesn't have a timetable," she said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 AM

WE LIKE MIKE (via Glenn Dryfoos):

LSU likely to ignore PETA, obtain new tiger mascot (Associated Press, 5/23/07)

A group of animal advocates is urging LSU not to replace its recently departed mascot with another live tiger but school officials appear unlikely to accept that idea.

"Big cats in captivity are denied everything that is natural and important to them, such as the opportunity to run, climb, hunt, establish their territory, and choose their mates," Lisa Wathne, of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, says in a letter to school officials.

"The LSU mascot is part of the LSU community, part of the LSU family; a tradition for 71 years," said Dr. David Baker of the LSU Veterinary School, who cared for Mike and was visibly shaken last week by the tiger's death from kidney failure. "And we intend to obtain another tiger."

Mike was the source of one of the most vital concepts in the discussion of film.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


The cauliflower clan is chock full of flavor and benefits (ANN LOVEJOY, 5/23/07, THE P-I)

Relatively low in carbs and high in fiber, the cauliflower family also contains health-promoting, cancer-fighting phytonutrients. The cauliflower clan -- members of the cabbage family -- offers almost 2 grams of protein per cup, for around 20 calories (and almost no fat).

So why don't we eat this stuff every day? Mostly because we don't know to cook it well. [...]


* 3 cups cauliflower (cheddar if available), cut into florets
* 3 cups broccoflower, cut into florets
* 2 cups tart cherry tomatoes
* 2-3 teaspoons olive oil
* 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
* 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Toss all ingredients, spread one layer thick in a large baking pan and bake at 350 degrees until tender (30-40 minutes).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Second child attacked by coyote in Middletown (CHRIS NEWMARKER, 5/22/07, Associated Press)

For the second time in as many months, officials believe a coyote has attacked a small boy in this wooded, suburban town in central New Jersey.

Police and state wildlife officials set traps Tuesday, and were looking for the animal that attacked 5-year-old Brayden Gazette.

Joann Gazette saw her son and 8-year-old daughter, Sydney, screaming as they ran to their home.

"He was bloody and they were crying," Gazette said.

She said the children were in the Lawrence family's yard across the street from their home at about 8:15 p.m. Monday when the animal bolted from a stand of trees and jumped on Brayden, biting his head.

You can't cultivate predators and then get upset when they do what they're born to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Rights not violated in home search, justices rule: A Southern California couple had been rousted from bed and held naked at gunpoint by deputies. (David G. Savage, May 22, 2007, LA Times)

Mistakes sometimes happen when police conduct home searches, the Supreme Court said Monday in throwing out a lawsuit brought by a white couple in Southern California who were rousted from bed and held naked at gunpoint by deputies looking for several black suspects.

The search of Max Rettele and his girlfriend, Judy Sadler, in their bedroom may have been an error, and it was certainly embarrassing to them, the justices said. But it did not violate their rights under the 4th Amendment, which protects against "unreasonable searches and seizures," they added.

Police obtain search warrants based on probable evidence, not "absolute certainty," the court said in an unsigned opinion. "Valid warrants will issue to search the innocent, and people like Rettele and Sadler unfortunately bear the cost."

It's a beautiful thing the way our messianism, which precludes the belief in perfect government, is considered to make us unrealistic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


The six-day war is not over. Today, it brings the spectre of al-Qaida in Gaza: Victory in 1967 was as much curse as blessing. It paved the way for 40 years of mortal, political and moral disaster (Jonathan Freedland, May 23, 2007, The Guardian)

I am as old as this war. Officially the war of 1967, the year of my birth, lasted for six days. In reality, it's still going on: it is the 14,600-day war. Witness the violence in Gaza, one chunk of the territory which the young state of Israel - then just 19 years old - conquered in that extraordinary, whirlwind victory. In Gaza, there is fighting among the Palestinians - a barely repressed civil war between the old Fatah movement of Yasser Arafat and the Islamists of Hamas - but also between them and the Israelis. Hamas has resumed firing Qassam rockets from Gaza into Israel, a break in their ceasefire. On Monday, one rocket succeeded in killing a civilian, a woman in the southern Israeli town of Sderot. And Israel has resumed its targeted assassinations, including one attack on the home of a Hamas member of parliament, killing eight people. The war which marks its 40th anniversary in a fortnight may have brought Israel a breathtaking victory - but it has brought no peace.

Ever since I first travelled properly in Israel, as a young student, I came to believe that what had been won in 1967 was as much curse as blessing. Yes, Israel had done something remarkable, defeating the armies of three nations that had vowed its destruction. And yes, it salved the wounded psyche of Jews all over the world to see that, just two decades after Auschwitz, the Jews were not fated to be history's permanent victims, but could defend themselves and win. I understood the pride of 1967, the sense of recovered dignity that it brought; subliminally, as a child raised in the glow it brought, I even shared in it.

But I could see 20 years ago what Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, had seen 20 years earlier. Even before the war was over, he was advocating a conditional withdrawal from the territories just won. He understood what holding on to those lands, and the Palestinian people who lived in them, would mean: a mortal, political and moral disaster for the state he had founded and loved.

Democrats make bad occupiers. Doing what needs to be done violates our own ideals as does not trusting the natives to figure it out themselves.

Resistance, not terror: The Grand Ayatollah Ahmed Alhasani al-Baghdadi (Munthir Alkewther, 5/24/07, Asia Times)

Munthir Alkewther: What do you think of the resistance in Iraq?

Grand Ayatollah al-Baghdadi: In the name of Allah and from him we seek help. There is a demagogic propaganda against the national and Islamic practical and political resistance, which asserts that [the resistance] targets and kills children, women and old people. Those who carry this propaganda are forgetting that the world is becoming a village and there is a difference between resistance and terror.

Resistance is the right to fight in order to kick out the occupiers from the Islamic homeland. This opinion is based on the Koran and the correct teachings of the Prophet Mohammed. It is also based on international law according to the Geneva Conventions. Terrorism, on the other hand, is what targets the infrastructure and popular areas, and this is one of the biggest sins from an Islamic point of view.

MA: Does this mean you support the resistance carrying guns to enable them to attack the American and British troops?

Al-B: There should be no doubt about it. People have the right to free their countries from any occupation; even President [George W] Bush in a speech condemned terrorism in Iraq and complimented the resistance when he said, "If my country was occupied, I would have fought."

MA: Are you demanding that the Americans leave immediately or gradually?

Al-B: I repeated many times: the Americans should be removed immediately from Iraq, but after I found that all the people who are resisting the occupation were asking for a timetable for the Americans to leave, then I accepted the principle of having a timetable. Even if the Americans' claims come true and a civil war broke out in Iraq, then that should not be a big issue, because as Iraqis we will reach an agreement in the end.

MA: What is the alternative you suggest to the Americans and the Iraqi government, which you describe as American agents?

Al-B: When the Americans and their agents leave we will establish an advisory council to have people with differing political opinions from this nation. We give the Americans a period of two years to leave, then a constitution has to be written by people who are specialized in law, and then this constitution is submitted to the Iraqis for their approval.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


VIDEO: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, with Robert A. Pape (Harry Kreisler, Conversations with History)

Conversations host Harry Kreisler welcomes political scientist Robert A. Pape for a discussion of how social science can help us understand suicide terrorism. Professor Pape also reflects on international relations theory and its implications for foreign policy. Series: "Conversations with History"

What Makes Suicide Bombers Tick?: A new report provides essential info for filtering fact from fantasy. The President would be wise to study its conclusions closely (Stan Crock, 7/06/05, Business Week)

"The presumed connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism is misleading and may be encouraging domestic and foreign policies likely to worsen America's situation and to harm many Muslims needlessly," he writes. Here's a summary of his analysis, which is based on the 315 suicide terrorist attacks from 1980 to 2003:

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers, a Marxist-Leninist Hindu group opposed to religion, committed the largest number of suicide attacks, 76. The Kurdish PKK, which used the tactic 14 times, is headed by a secular Marxist-Leninist, Abdulah Ocalan. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, another Marxist-Leninist group, and the al-Aqsa Brigade, which has ties to the socialist Fatah movement, account for a third of the attacks against Israel. Communist and socialist groups account for 75% of the attacks in Lebanon. Islamic fundamentalists, he concludes, were associated with about only half of the attacks from 1980 to 2003. And such fundamentalist Islamic countries as Iran and Sudan aren't producing any suicide bombers.

Pape argues that the common denominator among the bombers in 95% of the cases is that they're nationalist insurgents with a secular, strategic goal: ousting the military forces of democratic countries from land the insurgents believe is theirs. The suicide terrorists, who account for about 5% of all terrorist incidents but about 75% of all fatalities, believe their land and way of life are threatened. The religions of the occupier and the insurgents invariably are different, Pape notes, but he contends that difference is merely a useful recruiting tool and isn't at the root of the animosity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Real Planned Parenthood (Tom McClusky, 5/23/2007, American Spectator)

How much have you spent this year on the abortion-oriented services of Planned Parenthood? This question may seem too personal, or out of line with your religious beliefs. But the truth is that if you pay taxes, you support Planned Parenthood.

As the media runs stories of candidates getting into trouble for donating to Planned Parenthood, it's noteworthy to mention how much the controversial organization receives on the public dole. In 2005 Planned Parenthood got $272 million in our taxes, twice the money it made from its 255,000 surgical abortions. Since 1987, Planned Parenthood has taken in $3.2 billion in taxpayer funds for its deadly agenda. So, since 1973 Planned Parenthood has aborted 3.8 million babies with the help of over 3.9 billion tax dollars.

But the buck doesn't stop there. A number of companies also donate large amounts of money to the pro-abortion organization including Walt Disney Co., Bank of America, Johnson and Johnson, Cole, Levi Strauss, Nationwide Insurance, Prudential, Unilever, Wachovia and Whole Foods. Between taxpayer dollars, corporate monies and other donations, Planned Parenthood had over $882 million in total revenue in 2005. [...]

The true story of Planned Parenthood is more easily told by how it treats the young women who come in for "counseling." Two recently controversial cases come from Ohio where girls, one as young as 14, were brought in for abortions. In one case it was the young girl's soccer coach who brought the underage girl in for the abortion. In the other case, it was the victim's own father, who had repeatedly raped and abused her. Despite laws requiring Planned Parenthood officials to report the crimes of statutory rape or incest, the law was not followed. The victims were only sold abortions, paid for by their abusers.

Sadly, Planned Parenthood so routinely gets exposed instructing statutory rapist on how not to get caught, there are videos which can be watched even now at YouTube.

Interestingly, Planned Parenthood opposes true pregnancy care centers where adoption counseling and assistance for mothers can be found as well as medical assistance. A real pregnancy care center offers women a true choice, and such centers clearly explain to women that the choice they are about to make is not between a woman and her doctor, but between a mother and her child.

Because Planned Parenthood is most concerned with "terminating the pregnancy," the organization also fights against issues like parental notice, medical facility standards for abortion clinics, and the release of records of underage abortions, even with names and addresses deleted. This is key because such pregnancies indicate that crimes have been committed against the girls. Planned Parenthood hides under the guise of "patient privacy," as they have in Indiana and Kansas.

Adult Approaches (Michael Fumento, 5/22/2007, The American Spectator.)

If you or a loved one is currently ill or planning to be so in the near future, don't bother looking to embryonic stem cell (ESC) research to help. Instead, you need to consult the adult stem cell (ASC) literature whereupon you'll find these little guys currently treat or cure over 70 diseases and conditions even as they're involved in almost 1,300 human clinical trials.

At this point, all that ESCs hold is promise. They are used in no treatments, cures, or human clinical trials. They are used in raising false hopes and hence money. The University of California, Irvine's Hans Keirstead, who claims to have used ESCs to cure paralyzed rats, said last year he would start human clinical trials this year. Problem is, he's been saying "next year" since 2002. Check your calendar. Moreover -- and this is typical of ESC researcher grandstanding -- his rats weren't even paralyzed. Rather, as opposed to what he tells reporters, including the late Ed Bradley on 60 Minutes, the injuries were "moderate in severity [and] sparing some hind limb motor function," as he reported in a medical journal.

ESC lobbyists sniff that ASC research got a big head start. "Researchers began using adult stem cells from bone marrow back in 1960," claims on its website. (Note that the very name furthers the ESC lobby's goal of portraying all their opponents as religious fanatics.) "It was only in 1998 that other researchers were able to isolate and cultivate embryo stem cells. Adult stem cell research thus has an almost four decade head start compared to embryo-derived stem cells."

In fact, ASCs and ESCs were both discovered in rodents in the 1950s. But the ASCs -- from marrow -- were readily adaptable for treating leukemia and other human blood disorders. ESCs, conversely, precisely because of their much-touted flexibility, were so hard to work with that it wasn't until 1998, in the lab of the University of Wisconsin's James Thomson, that the first human line of ESCs was created. They remain a real bear to work with, which is why their domain remains primarily the Petri dish.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Carl Linnaeu: The man who named the natural world: His system of scientific names still shapes the way we think about the natural world. And today, 300 years after his birth, Carl Linnaeus matters more than ever (Michael McCarthy, 23 May 2007, Independent)

Happy anniversary: the man who gave us the key to the natural world was born 300 years ago today. Carl Linnaeus, who created the system of scientific names that we still use for all living things, began life in a turf-roofed farmstead in southern Sweden on 23 May, 1707. [...]

Take the emblematic bird of the Tower of London, for instance. The raven: Corvus corax. Unnecessary, you might think, a waste of time. Why not just call it a raven and have done with it? Until you remember that in France, a raven is a grand corbeau. In the Netherlands, it's a raaf. In Germany, it's a kolkrabe, while in Linnaeus's own Sweden it's a korp, never mind what it's called as you travel across Eurasia through Finland and Russia to Japan and Korea and China. Yet a biologist from any one of them can talk about a raven to a biologist from any other, and know they are referring to the same organism, because they both accept that this member of the crow family, for which they each have a different common name, is also universally known, scientifically, as Corvus corax, the name that Carl Linnaeus bestowed upon it two-and-a-half centuries ago.

Just how important this is starts to dawn on you when you realise how great is the variety of life on Earth. There are about 10,000 bird species in the world, and about half that number of mammals. There are more than 400,000 species of plants that have so far been described, and much more than a million species of insects, with perhaps another two to three million still to be discovered.

Any sufficiently precise system of classification is indistinguishable from magic.

May 22, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 PM


The Lay of the Land: A new report is likely to disappoint those who believe the electorate took a sharp left turn in 2006. (Matthew Continetti, 05/16/2007, Weekly Standard)

[Jim Kessler, Anne Kim, and Mark Donnell, who wrote Looking Red, Voting Blue: An Analysis of the 2006 Election] found that between 2004 and 2006 the Democrats gained 4.7 million votes. If you take a look at the demographic profile of these new Democrats, you see that--all things being equal--they ought to be Republicans. Almost all of them are men. All of them are married. Most are white and live in households making more than $100,000 a year. The Third Way researchers also found that close to 3 million new Democratic votes came from people who attend church at least once a week.

In 2006 all things were not equal, however. The study finds that these new Democratic voters had three things on their minds: Iraq, corruption, and Bush. The share of voters who disapproved of the Iraq war went from 46.2 percent in 2004 to a majority 56.6 percent in 2006. All these new antiwar votes went Democratic. Of the 74 percent of voters in 2006 who said corruption was "extremely" or "very" important in deciding for whom to vote, 56.5 percent voted for Democrats and 43.5 voted for Republicans. And Bush's drag on the GOP is no secret. According to the Third Way study, the number of voters who said they disapproved of the president increased by 8 million between 2004 and 2006.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:49 PM


Pelosi Defends Murtha Over Republican Effort to Reprimand Him (AP, May 21, 2007)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is defending a close Democratic ally whom Republicans want to reprimand for threatening a GOP lawmaker's spending projects.

Pelosi, D-Calif., said she had "no idea what actually happened" during a noisy exchange in the House chamber last week between Reps. John P. Murtha, D-Pa., and Mike Rogers, R-Mich. [...]

During a series of House votes Thursday, Murtha walked to the GOP side to confront Rogers, a former FBI agent. This month, Rogers had tried unsuccessfully to strike from an intelligence spending bill an item that would restore $23 million for the National Drug Intelligence Center, a facility in Murtha's Pennsylvania district.

According to Rogers' account, which Murtha did not dispute, the Democrat angrily told Rogers he should never seek earmarks of his own because "you're not going to get any, now or forever."

"This was clearly designed to try to intimidate me," Rogers told The Associated Press on Friday. "He said it loud enough for other people to hear."

House rules prohibit lawmakers from placing conditions on earmarks or targeted tax benefits that are based on another member's votes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:28 PM


Democrats pull troop deadline from Iraq bill (Carl Hulse, May 22, 2007, NY Times)

Congressional Democrats relented Tuesday on their insistence that a war spending measure set a date for withdrawing American combat troops from Iraq. Instead, they moved toward a deal with President George W. Bush that would impose new conditions on the Iraqi government.

The decision to back down was a wrenching reversal for leading Democrats, who saw their election triumph in November as a call to force an end to the war. It was the first time since taking power in Congress that the Democrats had publicly agreed to allow a vote on war financing without a timetable for troop withdrawal.

Surrender is habit forming.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:24 PM


I wouldn't rule out attack on Iran, says Cameron (MATTHEW HICKLEY and JANE MERRICK, 23rd May 2007, Daily Mail)

Britain would be prepared to back military strikes against Iran if David Cameron becomes Prime Minister.

The Conservative leader yesterday accused former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of diplomatic blundering when he ruled out the use of force against Tehran, and called for much tougher diplomacy to halt Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Just in case anyone harbored the delusion that Iraq had taught the Brits a lesson either.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:21 PM


Why this gang of yobs must now be called a 'group' (STEVE DOUGHTY, 22nd May 2007, Daily Mail)

Anyone who has been a victim of their contempt for the law or menacing behaviour might find it a little difficult to swallow.

But on the orders of a government agency, gangs of teenage criminals should no longer be called "gangs" because it might offend them.

Instead they should be referred to as "groups" and their crimes described as "group-related".

The instruction comes from the Youth Justice Board, which organises probation, training and detention for under 18s.

Assimilation requires intolerance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:15 PM


American presidential hopeful is paid nearly £30,000 - for a lecture on poverty (Daily Mail, 5/23/07)

American presidential hopeful John Edwards has come under fire for charging £27,500 to lecture students - on poverty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 PM


Hamels' changeup separating him from the pack (Jerry Crasnick, May 22, 2007, ESPN)

Cole Hamels was a shy kid growing up in San Diego -- skinny, undersized and content to hang in the background with his buddies. The main exception was the pitcher's mound, where he asserted himself at an early age and embraced the showman within.

"I've always wanted to impress people since I was 9 or 10 years old,'' Hamels said. "When you're in Little League, your mom and dad and grandparents are there and you want to show them what you're all about. Then it's scouts -- or girls. I guess that's the masculine thing, to want to impress people. But I've learned to use it in a good way.''

Hamels is now 23 and in his second season with the Philadelphia Phillies, and the list of admirers keeps growing. It consists of teenage girls, their little brothers and dads, scouts and front-office executives, teammates and local newspaper columnists. Even Howard Eskin at WIP radio has a hard time finding fault with him.

The man upstairs is equally impressed -- and we're not talking about Philadelphia general manager Pat Gillick.

"Every night, when Cole Hamels kneels beside his bed and says his prayers, he's interrupted by God, who breaks in and thanks himself for creating Cole Hamels,'' Phillies starter Adam Eaton said, with only a trace of a smile.

If only Red Smith were around to jot that one down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 PM


Cooperstown calling: Redemption proves elusive in Hall of Fame game (Tom Verducci, May 22, 2007, Sports Illustrated)

COOPERSTOWN, NY -- I will tell the story for years to come about how I played the outfield like Willie Mays in the 61st annual Baseball Hall of Fame exhibition game at historic Doubleday Field. I will conveniently forget to mention I did so like the Willie Mays of the 1973 World Series, turning a routine fly ball into a Sir Edmund Hillary-sized adventure.

Baseball, however, is a redemptive game, offering about 250 pitches worth of second chances every nine innings. I saw mine coming clear as day (which is more than I could say of the ball that caused my need to be redeemed.) It was carried on a seventh-inning fly ball headed toward the right-field gap and very possibly to the outfield seats. As a reprise to my 2005 story about playing one week with the Toronto Blue Jays in spring training, I played right field for the Jays against the Baltimore Orioles for five innings in the Monday exhibition. This fly ball would be my moment of glory, the very stuff Abner Doubleday himself might have had in mind when, at least as baseball mythology goes, he helped invent the game and its dreams right on these very grounds.

I ran toward the gap. The flight of the ball took me nearer and nearer to the wall. It wasn't until I felt my spikes first hit the cinder warning track that I knew with some certainty that I was going to catch it. I reached up and across my body for a backhand catch, calculating that the ball would hit my glove and the wall would hit me at just about the same time. The ball was not more than three feet from my glove, and then, suddenly .. nothing. Darkness. Black. The sky gone.

Worse: I got smacked in the nose and mouth by something, followed immediately by my back slamming against the wall. I knew even as I fell to the warning track what had happened. That darkness that blotted out the sky? A leather eclipse. Someone in the stands had reached over the wall and down toward the field to make the catch that should have been mine.

"Man, you had that!" center fielder Wayne Lydon told me, the disappointment clear on his face. "You had it."

A friend, since departed, hit a homerun out pof that park in high school, which is kind of cool.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:45 PM


Muslims assimilate better in U.S. than Western Europe, poll finds (Brian Knowlton, May 22, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

A new poll of American Muslims reveals a group that is better assimilated, more content and less politically polarized than counterpart Muslim populations in Western Europe - but also smaller in number than some Muslim groups had estimated.

For the survey, the Pew Research Center interviewed nearly 60,000 respondents - in Arabic, Urdu, Farsi or English - to find a representative sample of 1,050 respondents, for what appears to be one of the more rigorously complete looks at a population that is not well understood.

As a whole, the poll found a largely content and hard-working U.S. Muslim population, and one that is fast assimilating. Though 4 in 10 have arrived since 1990, a large proportion say their closest friends are non-Muslims. Their incomes are close to the national average. Even more than the general public, they say they believe that by working hard they can get ahead.

Eight in 10 said they were "very happy" or "pretty happy" with their lives.

Precisely what would a Europe which believes in nothing but the right to believe whatever you want be assimilating people to?

How terrorism finds root in the West: Alienation and radical European politics are factors. (John K. Cooley, 5/23/07, CS Monitor)

It's conventional wisdom that Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian terrorists attack Western societies partly as reactions to conflicts in their own regions, such as the Palestinian-Israeli strife. But there's plenty of evidence that extremist ideologies, even if born abroad, are often nurtured in the West.

New French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his advisers and supporters in the academic world realize this. It's why they recommend that France, Britain, and their European neighbors strengthen integration of their Muslim and other immigrant populations – in the way, for example, that millions of Arab-Americans, Iranian-Americans, and Hispanics have been helped to be successful members of US society.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:07 AM


The Great Forgotten Debate: Forty years ago, Reagan taught RFK a lesson that ought to be remembered. (Paul Kengor, 5/22/07, National Review)

On May 15, 1967, there was a fascinating debate between California’s new Republican governor, Ronald Reagan, and New York’s new Democratic senator, Robert F. Kennedy. The subject: the Vietnam War. The debate was titled “The Image of America and the Youth of the World,” and was billed by CBS as a “Town Meeting of the World.” It was broadcast from 10:00-11:00 P.M. EDT by CBS TV Network and CBS Radio Network. It was produced by later 60 Minutes brainchild Don Hewitt and hosted by CBS News correspondent Charles Collingwood. The debate was watched by a huge audience: 15 million Americans.

There was total agreement, including among media sources who revered Bobby Kennedy, from the San Francisco Chronicle to Newsweek, that Reagan overwhelmingly won the debate. “To those unfamiliar with Reagan’s big-league savvy,” reported Newsweek, “the ease with which he fielded questions about Vietnam may have come as a revelation.” Newsweek judged that “political rookie Reagan … left old campaigner Kennedy blinking when the session ended.” Not having a crystal ball into the tragic year ahead for Kennedy, Newsweek pondered whether the debate might be a “dry run” for a future set of “Great Debates” between these two promising presidential aspirants.

The late historian David Halberstam acknowledged that “the general consensus” was that “Reagan … destroyed him.” Lou Cannon, in a 1969 book on Reagan and California assemblyman Jesse Unruh, agreed that “Reagan clearly bested Kennedy.” Another of Reagan’s first biographers, Joseph Lewis, recorded that the “tanned and relaxed” Reagan “talked easily and precisely without a hint of uncertainty or hostility,” and “deflated” the “anguished” Kennedy, who “gulped in restrained agony” when answering questions. Kennedy, said Lewis, “looked as if he had stumbled into a minefield.”

Lewis’s metaphor was a good one, since the hostile questioners treated both Kennedy and Reagan like war criminals. Truthfully, this was not a debate between Ronald Reagan and Bobby Kennedy. Rather, it descended into a venomous America-bashing session by a panel of extremely rude international students, who seemed to bask in their big chance to unleash their torrent of anger on the two available representatives of the country they despised. Newsweek rightly described the leftist students as “interrogators.” Among them, there was one American student, Bill Bradley, the Princeton basketball star, future NBA all-star, and future U.S. senator, who at the time was studying at Oxford, and appeared troubled and overwhelmed by the level of bile directed at his country. Also among them was a beaming Soviet student, clearly thrilled with what he was witnessing from this group of young dupes who had obviously swallowed every dose of Kremlin propaganda hook, line, and sinker.

Reagan and Kennedy ended up debating the group of students, not one another. And it was there that Reagan was so effective, whereas Kennedy was passive, meek, and apologetic. Alarmed viewers looking for a defense of the United States as anything other than history’s greatest purveyor of global misery were frustrated by Kennedy’s lame responses but buoyed by Reagan’s strong retorts.

Of course, he made a political carer of mopping the floor with patrician featherweights. A few years ago, C-SPAN showed an old Panama Canal debate--to commemorate the surrender--and Reagan just stomped Bill Buckley and George Will.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:49 AM


Giuliani sends mixed signals about Iowa (MIKE GLOVER, Associated Press)

Some Iowa Republicans are questioning whether presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani intends to largely skip the state's leadoff caucuses.

A sluggish start to campaign organizing and indecision about whether to compete in a high-profile straw poll in August has prompted speculation that Giuliani will pay only cursory attention to Iowa and instead focus on other early election states where his high name recognition would pay off.

After bailing in IA he moves on to NH, where Senator McCain remains popular and Mitt Romney has the MA advantage and then to SC where the odds against a pro-death/pro-gay candidate are prohibitive? He's not going to run. Period.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:47 AM


Democrats drop insistence on Iraq withdrawal timeline: The major concession to the president on the war spending bill comes as leaders in Congress cannot muster veto-proof majorities. (Noam N. Levey, May 22, 2007, LA Times)

Scrambling to send President Bush an emergency war spending bill he will sign, Democratic leaders have decided to drop their insistence on a timeline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq.

The move — which comes just days after senior Democrats insisted that White House officials should support nonbinding timelines — is a significant concession to the president and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill, who have steadfastly rejected any dates for bringing U.S. troops home.

Other than that how did you enjoy the canoe trip, Mr. Reid?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:37 AM


Angler catches world's biggest carp - which weighs almost as much as Kylie (Dail Mail, 22nd May 2007)

British angler Graham Slaughter has scaled new heights by catching the world's biggest carp that weighed a whopping 88.6lbs - almost as much as Kylie Minogue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:35 AM


Chinese villagers riot over 'one-child' policy (Jonathan Watts, May 21, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Thousands of villagers in south-west China have attacked family planning officials, overturned cars and set fire to government buildings in a riot sparked by the state's "one-child" policy.

Riot police have been dispatched to at least four townships in the Guanxi autonomous region after a weekend of disturbances that led to multiple injuries and unconfirmed reports of two fatalities, witnesses and Hong Kong media reported today.

The unrest comes in the wake of a new crackdown by the Bobai county government against families that break birth control regulations. Financial penalties have increased and parents who fail to pay are being punished by having their property confiscated or destroyed.

At the height of the demonstrations on Saturday, a crowd of several thousand stormed the Shapi municipal office, pulled down a wall and chased and beat officials from the family planning department.

Europeans would riot if you asked them to have two.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


I'm pro-life, but not religious (Dean Barnett, May 21, 2007, Boston Globe)

I'm proudly Jewish, but not at all religious. Quite frankly, I'm the very picture of the Chinese food-eating secular Jew who drives some of my more devout co-religionists batty. But I'm pro-life, and adamantly so. Unlike the often erroneous stereotype of the pro-life citizen, I didn't arrive at my position as a matter of religious faith. Rather, my conclusions flow strictly from logical inquiry.

The big moral question regarding abortion is, "When does life begin?"

Nature offer few more amusing sights than the American who believes himself an atheist, despite having been formed in such a thoroughly religious environment. The question of "when life begins" is a trivial sideshow. The big moral question is whether human beings have a right to life. By focussing on the trivial he's already conceded the big and thus plumped himself down amongst the faithful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


The pure Reagan emerges from diaries: 'The Reagan Diaries' reveals a president who's thoroughly comfortable with himself. (Tim Rutten, May 22, 2007, LA Times)

THERE is a great deal of great interest in "The Reagan Diaries," but what sets the late president's personal recollections of his eight years in the White House apart from the recent spate of tell-all, inside-Washington books is what's absent: You can scour this thick volume from back to front and find not a trace of self-righteousness, self-pity or self-justification — all standard issue accouterments among today's office-holders and political appointees, whether their veins bleed red or blue.

Some of this has to do, of course, with the fact that the former actor and California governor experienced his eight years in office as a turbulent but successful period in his life and that the subsequent reviews of his performance have been good.

Of course, Ronald Reagan presided over a steep recession, barely survived assassination, saw his party get slaughtered in two mid-term elections, and was nearly impeached in his final years, all while being branded a fascist by the American Left and despised in Europe. W's presidency has been far less turbulent--especially economically--and more successful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Egyptian dream takes shape in alien suburbs: Idealized housing rises on the sand, an escape from crowded Cairo. (Ashraf Khalil, May 22, 2007, Los Angeles Times)

[H]ere, about 25 miles east of Cairo, the wind, even the light, feels different.

"The air is cleaner, isn't it?" Atia says, stepping out of the unfinished villa in a gated community called Katameya Residence. "It's not mixing with the car fumes and other stuff."

Atia is one of the pioneers of a new suburbia cropping up on the edges of Egypt's gridlocked and deteriorating capital. Their dream: a little peace, fresh air and a yard to call their own.

With luxury developments sporting names like Golden Heights, Swan Lake and Royal Meadows, Cairo's new suburbs promise an idealized vision of an appealingly alien lifestyle.

"It has to have a Western feel," says architect Hisham Bahgat, who helped design several of the developments, including Katameya Residence.

"They're selling an image of a life."

They're also, at times, pushing the boundaries of aesthetics, and provoking a debate over whether these ersatz and elite fringe cities will destroy Cairo's appeal.

Homes in some of the new communities combine red Mediterranean tile roofs, splashes of pastel colors, Roman columns and sheets of shimmering glass, like grafts taken from random pages of Architectural Digest.

Future University, one of dozens of new private schools dotting the suburbs, looks like a spaceship meshed with a half-scale model of Rome's Colosseum.

Bahgat's architectural firm partner, Ahmed Fahim, describes the aesthetic using an Egyptian colloquialism: "Fish, milk and tamarind." A huge mess.

After a fitful start, suburban construction is progressing nonstop, as is the debate over whether these new communities will help Cairo or finish it off. Critics argue that the building boom sets the stage for unprecedented social divisions.

"You can live in these areas and be totally detached from Egypt," said Manar Shorbagy, former director of the American Studies Center at American University in Cairo. "It's going to work like it did in the U.S. — wealthy suburbs and deprived and abandoned inner cities."

But even American University, which educates the children of Egypt's richest and most powerful, is about to move to the suburbs.

Egypt has always been a place of rigid class divisions, but until now the wealthy often lived in or near the same neighborhoods where they grew up, sometimes turning modest apartments of their youth into lavish palaces.

"We have never seen this kind of division," Shorbagy said.

"It's the Americanization of Egypt."

...requires that you provide opportunities such that everyone can move out of the godforsaken cities if they're willing to work.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


McCain's temper back on campaign's front-burner: His shouting match with a Senate colleague raises new questions about an old issue. (Ralph Vartabedian and Michael Finnegan, May 22, 2007, LA Times)

An angry, profane exchange between Sen. John McCain and another Republican senator last week prompted a new round of questions Monday about whether McCain's legendary temper is becoming a liability to his campaign for the presidency.

In a private meeting just off the Senate floor, McCain (R-Ariz.) got into a shouting match Thursday with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) over details of a compromise on immigration legislation. Cornyn accused McCain of being too busy with his campaign to take part in the negotiations, prompting McCain to utter "F… you."

McCain spokesman Danny Diaz acknowledged Monday that a "spirited exchange" had taken place, but said news reports had exaggerated its intensity.

That just leaves 97 more Senators he needs chew out...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Yuan Worries (Matthew J. Slaughter, 5/21/07, Wall Street Journal)

Fact 1: China runs a large and growing trade surplus with the United States. In 2006, the goods-trade surplus exceeded $232 billion. This was an increase from 2005 of $31 billion, an amount larger than the entire deficit just 12 years ago.

Fact 2: China focuses its monetary policy on fixing the exchange value of its currency, the yuan, relative to the U.S. dollar.

Many policymakers and pundits connect these two facts by asserting that an unfairly low value of the dollar-yuan peg is causing the massive bilateral trade imbalance. The 109th Congress introduced 27 pieces of anti-China trade legislation. The current Congress already has over a dozen such bills, many aiming to force an overhaul of China's exchange-rate regime. And late last week dozens of House members were poised to file a Section 301 petition, asking the U.S. Trade Representative to investigate undervaluation of the Chinese yuan.

These misgivings about the dollar-yuan peg are misplaced. Economic theory and data are very clear here on two critical points. Controlling a nominal exchange rate is a form of sovereign monetary policy. And monetary policy, in turn, has no long-run effect on real economic outcomes such as output and trade flows.

Take away the meaningless stuff and what would folks have left to obsess about?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Denial is not a strategy (Caroline B. Glick, 5/22/07,

As was the case last summer towards Hizbullah, today the Olmert-Livni-Peretz government has not set for itself the goal of defeating Hamas. Rather the goal of the current operations in Gaza is to send Hamas a message. Like last summer, today the government hopes that by killing a sufficient number of Hamas terrorists, it will induce the organization to stop attacking Israel.

But of course, by limiting its goal in such a way, the message that Israel is sending is not that Hamas should stop attacking Israel. By refusing to fight to victory, Israel is telling Hamas that it cannot lose, which is to say, it can go on fighting forever.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the government's refusal to understand the lessons of the last war and to apply them in the current battle is that Israel has far more options for defeating its enemies in Gaza than it had in Lebanon.

Gaza is a small territory and in contrast to Lebanon, Israel has the ability to take control of ingress and egress from the area. So too, Israel's intelligence capabilities are far greater in Gaza than in Lebanon. Then too, in Gaza, the enemy Israel confronts is not as well-armed or well-trained as Hizbullah.

Aside from all that, Israel controls Gaza's economy. Israel sells Gaza its water and electricity. Were Israel to decide to stop selling water or electricity to Gaza, its enemies would be hard-pressed to function.

All of these relative advantages that Israel can bring to bear in Gaza would enable Israel to cause long lasting damage to all of its enemies operating in the area while minimizing losses to its forces and civilians. But to take proper advantage of any of its strategic and operational assets, the government must first learn the proper lessons of the last war. Its refusal to do so bodes ill for the future.

The deep wisdom of Ariel Sharon was that Israel could only damage itself by remaining so deeply engaged with Palestine. But with him gone there appears to be no Israeli leader with sufficient political heft to disengage nor anyone to fill the vacuity the pundits analyses.

May 21, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 PM


US markets buoyant as S&P 500 sets new high (Stephen Foley, 22 May 2007, Independent)

The bust, the post-Millennium economic downturn and the financial fears awoken by the attacks of 11 September 2001 - the stock market scars of all of them were finally erased yesterday as US shares passed their peak of more than seven years ago.

The S&P 500, the broadest measure of the US stock market and the one most closely followed by the professionals on Wall Street, passed its closing record level of 1,527.46, which it set on 24 March 2000.

In so doing, it has more than doubled in value since the nadir of 2003, when the US was planning its war in Iraq and the global economy was yet to emerge from the doldrums.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 PM


Lloyd Alexander: Author of 'The Chronicles of Prydain' (Independent, 22 May 2007)

Lloyd Chudley Alexander, writer: born Philadelphia 30 January 1924; married 1946 Janine Denni (died 2007; one daughter deceased); died Philadelphia 17 May 2007.

Lloyd Alexander was an author of outstanding distinction, his fantasy novels setting new standards in meticulous craftsmanship powered by an individual imagination. Frequently cited by more junior American writers as one of their main literary influences when young, he was often seen as J.R.R. Tolkien's overseas successor for younger readers, in all but the sky-high sales. [...]

In Time Cat (1963), he describes how a cat - always a favourite character in his fiction - helps a young boy named Jason to travel through time to nine different countries. While writing it, he came across Welsh mythology and in particularly the Mabinogion, an epic that has inspired many writers. Casting his mind back to war-time Wales, he wrote The Book of Three (1964), the first of a five-part work entitled The Chronicles of Prydain.

This series features an assistant pig-keeper named Taran living in an imaginary kingdom something like an enchanted Wales, although Prydain is in fact the Welsh name for Britain. Accompanied by Princess Elilonwy, very much a liberated female before her time, faithful half-man half-beast Gurgi and Fflewddur Fflam, a bardic harpist whose strings break if he is telling a lie, Taran slowly grows to maturity during his long duel with Arawn, Death-Lord of the underworld.

Part two, The Black Cauldron (1965), was made into an animated Disney film in 1985 and part five, The High King (1968), won the 1969 Newbery Medal for the outstanding children's novel of its year. Filled with exciting action mixed with quiet wisdom as well as humour and as much interested in character as in plot, this was fantasy writing at its best.

More than 40 other books followed, some of which were translated into up to 13 different languages. These included The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian (1970), about a 19th-century violinist who helps a princess escape a plot to marry her to a villainous aristocrat. This won the 1971 National Book Award.

Westmark (1981) was the first of three novels in a trilogy starring Theo, an orphan printer's apprentice dangerously involved in political intrigue around the time of the French Revolution. Set in an imaginary country, this too sees the eventual triumph of good over evil, with the lowly born hero finally defeating adversity in his quest for justice, freedom and democracy. Drawing on the author's first-hand experience of warfare, these books still come over as freshly imagined as well as beautifully written.

Another six-part series was named after his principal heroine Vesper Holly, starting with The Illyrian Adventure (1986). Lighter-hearted in tone, these stories describe how Vesper, a young orphan from turn-of-the-century Philadelphia, sets out with her guardian Brinnie to pursue scientific interests in different parts of the globe.

Now living a few blocks away from where he was born, Alexander continued writing, producing one of his most charming books at the age of 77. This was The Fantastical Adventures of the Invisible Boy (2001), an affectionate portrait of David, an 11-year-old growing up in depressed Philadelphia at the time Alexander had been a child himself. This story cleverly contrasts everyday reality with the increasingly surreal tales that David tells himself in order to make his life more interesting. Witty, elegiac and delightfully written, here was proof that Alexander still remained a captivating children's author.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:58 PM


Pelosi, Dems threaten a Vital U.S. Ally (Robert J. Caldwell, 5/21/07, Human Events)

Congressional Democrats are taking aim at the decade-old alliance between the United States and Colombia, Washington's staunchest ally in Latin America. For sheer strategic myopia, it would be hard to beat this act of folly.

Even as much of Latin America moves left, Colombia's commendably democratic government continues to share the core U.S. values in the region - fighting terrorism, combating drug trafficking and liberalizing trade. Compare that agenda with the yanqui-bashing alliance pursued by Colombia's neighbor and rival, Venezuela, under leftist demagogue Hugo Chavez. While Chavez makes common cause with the Castro brothers in Cuba and courts Iran's radically anti-American regime, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe remains a committed democrat and firm friend of the United States.

You might assume, then, that Uribe would get a warm reception and a fair hearing on Capitol Hill when he visited Washington recently to lobby for ratification of the U.S.-Colombia free-trade pact and request continued economic and military assistance. What he got, instead, from the Democrats' congressional leadership was the equivalent of a diplomatic mugging.

The Democrats problem is that much of the congressional leadership has served so long they were there to lose Latin America -- and with it the Cold War -- to Ronald Reagan and can't get over it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:55 PM


How Israel Bungled the Second Lebanon War (Efraim Inbar, Summer 2007, Middle East Quarterly)

Unrealistic goals compounded poor preparation. Israeli political and military leaders erred in their belief that Israeli pressure on Hezbollah and the weak Lebanese government could generate a political process in which the Lebanese army could achieve a monopoly over the use of force in Lebanon.[41] From the earliest stages of the war, Israeli leaders insisted that they could encourage Lebanon to become a regular state and that the Israeli army could crush Hezbollah's Lebanese state-within-a-state. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert saw force as instrumental to implementing UNSCR 1559, which called for strengthening the central government in Lebanon by both removing foreign forces and disbanding militias.[42] He stated that the military operation constituted "an almost unique opportunity to change the rules in Lebanon."[43] Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni declared that the goal of the campaign was "to promote a process that will bring about a long-term and fundamental change in the political reality" and to create a regime in Lebanon that would be responsible for its entire territory.[44] She argued that the harder the IDF hit Hezbollah, the easier it would be for the Lebanese government and the world to implement UNSCR 1559.[45] Peretz's statement that Israel would not end its campaign until reality changed in Lebanon reflected the broad view of the Israeli political leadership.[46]

The military from at least the time of Yaalon's tenure as chief-of-staff accepted the same logic. Both Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizencott, chief of operations in the general staff, and Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former director of research at the IDF intelligence branch, believed that Israel's use of force could change the political equation in Lebanon.[47]

From the first day of the campaign, Halutz advocated attacking infrastructure beyond southern Lebanon to pressure the Lebanese government to counter Hezbollah.[48] This logic of transformation through force was reminiscent of the earlier attempt to transform Lebanese society through force. In 1982, Israeli officials sought not only to expel the Palestinian Liberation Organization but also to normalize relations with Beirut and its newly-empowered government.

In the contemporary Middle East, though, force seldom creates a new political environment.[49] For years after signing the Oslo accords, Israeli politicians turned a blind eye to Palestinian Authority actions rather than acknowledge that Yasir Arafat's administration did not live up to its agreements. In Lebanon, Israeli leaders might have adopted more modest goals. Rather than seek to change Lebanon's reality, they might have instead sought only to eviscerate Hezbollah's ability to harm Israel.

Fear of escalation clouded Olmert's strategic judgment. On the first day of the conflict, Mossad chief Maj. Gen. Meir Dagan recommended that the Israeli air force target Syrian sites.[50] Instead, Olmert sought to placate. Israeli leaders repeatedly said that Israel had no intention of expanding its military activities to target Syria.[51] Peretz even called for a renewal of peace negotiations with Syria.[52] Even when Hezbollah was launching Syrian missiles at Israeli cities, Israeli military officials announced that retaliating against Syria was not under consideration.[53] Rather than pressure Damascus to stop its resupply of missiles to Hezbollah, such statements, in effect, blessed the Syrian government's proxy warfare.

Such rhetoric contrasted sharply with past practice when the threat of escalation coerced Israel's adversaries into accepting its conditions. The Syrian government was susceptible to such pressure. After the February 14, 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, apparently at the Syrian leadership's behest, joint condemnation by Washington, Paris, and Riyadh reverberated through Damascus.

Israeli officials enjoyed similar sympathy after Hezbollah initiated the summer 2006 conflict. At the Group of Eight (G8) heads of states meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, on July 17, 2006, an open microphone caught U.S. president George W. Bush saying that they needed "Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit."[54]

But, the Israeli military's restraint cost it an opportunity to eliminate Syria's long-range missile capability. The risks of regional escalation were minimal. Iran was in no position to intervene directly. Tehran, rushing to complete its nuclear program, did not want to create a pretext for international action against it.

A successful campaign against Syria could have weakened Hezbollah and might even have strengthened the Lebanese government more than destroying Lebanese infrastructure did. An Israeli strike against Syrian targets would have signaled Israel's determination to deal with terrorist and proxy threats, enhancing Israeli deterrence. It would have also diminished both Iranian influence in the region and Tehran's ability to retaliate through Hezbollah in the event that its nuclear installations were attacked.

The simple reality is that the regime in Syria is an enemy, while a democratic Shi'a state in South Lebanon will be more concerned with its own problems than with Israel. The notion that you could create a coherent Lebanon by attacking Hezbollah was lunacy from Jump Street.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:46 PM

A Maverick Mitchslapping

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:50 PM


Why a Famous Counterfactual Historian Loves Making History With Games (Clive Thompson, 05.21.07, Wired)

What if the great events in history had turned out differently? How would the world today be changed?

Niall Ferguson wonders about this a lot. He's a well-known economic historian at Harvard, and a champion of "counterfactual thinking," or the re-imagining of major historical events, with the variables slightly tweaked. [...]

Ferguson was approached by Muzzy Lane, a game company that had created Making History -- a game where players run World War II scenarios based on exhaustively researched economic realities of the period.

As he played it, he realized the game was good -- so good, in fact, that it forced him to rethink some of his long-cherished theories. For example, he'd often argued that World War II could have been prevented if Britain had confronted Germany over its invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938. France would have joined with Britain, he figured, pinching Germany between their combined might and that of the Russian army. "Germany wasn't ready for war, and they would have been defeated," he figured. "War in 1938 would have been better than war in 1942."

But when he ran the simulation in Making History, everything fell to pieces. The French defected, leaving Britain's expeditionary force to fly solo -- and get crushed by Germany. His theory, as it turns out, didn't hold water. He hadn't realized that a 1938 attack would not leave Britain enough time to build the diplomatic case with France.

The game, in essence, helped him think more clearly about history. "I found that my scenarios weren't as robust as I thought. And that's really exciting, because normally counterfactuals happen in my head," he says. "Now they can happen on the screen."

What sort of historian doesn't anticipate the French stab in the back?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:34 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 AM


Those pesky puppies of war (Spengler, 5/22/07, Asia Times)

Thanks in part to reporting by Sami Moubayed (The two 'kings' of Iran, May 19) and Kaveh L Afrasiabi (Iran courts the US at Russia's expense, May 16), we know that Iran is steering away from confrontation with the United States.

With a newly elected pro-American president in Paris and an Atlanticist chancellor in Berlin, the Iranian leadership cannot count on discord in the West. Russia also seems less willing to play the spoiler where Iran's nuclear ambitions are concerned, not surprising given the fact that Russia and its Muslim minority are in the first line of any potential conflict. Moubayed reported on May 18 that Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants to "rein in" the country's bumptious President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, especially after the ill-fated seizure of British sailors and marines turned against Iran's advantage.

Tehran signaled its shift in a number of ways; one is the fact that Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad's rival in the 2005 presidential elections, gave the important Friday sermon two weeks in a row. Rafsanjani has close links to the Europeans, particularly the Germans, and German diplomats have been working hard behind the scenes to promote Rafsanjani as the prospective arbiter of a compromise solution to the nuclear issue. Another signal was an Iranian gesture toward Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, on whom Washington has placed much of its hope for stabilizing Iraq. That is the background to Washington's new willingness to speak officially with Iran about Iraqi stability; high-level talks are scheduled for June 28.

So much for the silly thesis that messianic visions of the imminent return of the Twelfth Imam motivated Iran's aggressive stance of the past year. Whether Ahmadinejad actually believes that the Mahdi will arrive shortly is a moot point; if he is mad, there are others in Tehran who are not.

...yet think Iran is a unity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:47 AM


Not Enough Pain from $3 Gas: Gas prices still aren't high enough to spur the needed transformation of the U.S. auto fleet to much higher average fuel economy (David Kiley , 5/21/07, Business Week)

Gasoline prices have surged more than 20 cents in recent weeks to a record nationwide average of $3.10 per gallon, surpassing the previous record of $3.07 per gallon set in September, 2005, according to the Energy Information Administration. As gas prices rise, owner loyalty in the large pickup and midsize and large utility vehicle segments drops, according to data gathered between February and April of this year by Power Information Network (PIN), an affiliate of J.D. Power & Associates.

Owner loyalty is measured by the percentage of owners in any given segment who trade for another vehicle in the same segment. [J.D. Power is a division of McGraw Hill (MHP), as is BusinessWeek.]

"We're seeing a broad, long-term—but gradual—movement to smaller vehicles," says Tom Libby, senior director of industry analysis at PIN. "For example, during periods of high gas prices over the past two years, we've seen movement from larger to smaller SUVs. However, the total SUV pie remains largely intact." Total SUV sales are still strong in large part because of the influx of car-based "crossover" SUVs that get better gas mileage and drive more like cars.

Additionally, sales of small vehicles, including cars and light trucks, as a percentage of total new vehicle retail sales, have risen from 26.3% in the first quarter of 2004 to 31.8% in the first quarter of 2007. That trend is due to consumer demand, which has prompted some automakers to enliven their small car offerings.

That's a start. But most consumers won't trade in their Ford Expeditions, Toyota Sequoias, and Chevy Tahoes until gasoline moves permanently north of $4 per gallon.

If any of the Democrats were serious about greenhouse gases they'd propose carbon consumption taxes to drive prices at least that high. They aren't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:34 AM


After Aiding Bill on Immigration, Employers Balk (ROBERT PEAR, 5/21/07, NY Times)

Employers, who helped shape a major immigration bill over the last three months, said on Sunday that they were unhappy with the result because it would not cure the severe labor shortages they foresee in the coming decade.

In addition, employers expressed alarm as they learned that the Senate bill would require them to check a government database to verify that all current and former employees — aliens and citizens alike — were eligible to work in the United States.

The bill's restrictions won't be enforced, it's just the periodic amnesty we demand so that our fellow Americans are legal. It's Reagan redux.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


Death by Veganism (NINA PLANCK, 5/21/07, NY Times)

WHEN Crown Shakur died of starvation, he was 6 weeks old and weighed 3.5 pounds. His vegan parents, who fed him mainly soy milk and apple juice, were convicted in Atlanta recently of murder, involuntary manslaughter and cruelty.

This particular calamity — at least the third such conviction of vegan parents in four years — may be largely due to ignorance. But it should prompt frank discussion about nutrition.

I was once a vegan. But well before I became pregnant, I concluded that a vegan pregnancy was irresponsible. You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants.

If God wanted us to be vegetarians we'd have a cud and pigs would be as fast as cheetahs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Support Voiced for a Giveaway of Public Apartments (ELIOT BROWN, May 21, 2007, NY Sun)

A Nobel-prize-winning economist, three former officials of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the head of one of the city's largest social-service agencies, and the chairman of the tenants council of a Harlem public housing project are among those offering at least guarded support for the idea of turning apartments in the city's public housing projects over to the tenants to own or sell.

The concept, floated on May 15 in a New York Sun editorial, "Paupers to Millionaires," envisions giving about 200,000 residents of the city's low-income public housing units ownership of their apartments, which often sit on high-priced land. The tenants, who average a 17.7-year stay, could then decide whether to keep or to sell their apartments, some of which could fetch as much as $1 million.

"I don't like public housing — I think I should be privately held, and I think this is a good way to get it into the hands of the private sector," a Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago, Gary Becker, said in a telephone interview. "These houses deteriorate quickly and badly over time, so giving them away would certainly be better than most other proposals."

Even better, sell the real estate to developers and relocate the tenants to houses of their own with the proceeds.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Edging Their Way Into Sadr City: U.S. Officers Try Negotiating Before Buildup in Baghdad Slum (Ann Scott Tyson, 5/21/07, Washington Post)

The U.S. military is engaged in delicate negotiations inside Sadr City to clear the way for a gradual push in coming weeks by more American and Iraqi forces into the volatile Shiite enclave of more than 2 million people, one of the most daunting challenges of the campaign to stabilize Baghdad.

So sensitive is the problem of the sprawling slum -- heavily controlled by militiamen loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr -- that Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, personally approves all targets for raids inside the Baghdad district, military officers said.

Cleric in Iraq recasts movement to appeal to Sunnis: Populist al-Sadr is also driving out militia extremists who target Sunnis (SUDARSAN RAGHAVAN, 5/21/07, Washington Post)
The movement of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has embarked on one of its most dramatic tactical shifts since the beginning of the war.

The 33-year-old populist is reaching out to a broad array of Sunni leaders, from politicians to insurgents, and purging extremist members of his Mahdi Army militia who target Sunnis.

Al-Sadr's political followers are distancing themselves from the fragile Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which is widely criticized as corrupt, inefficient and biased in favor of Iraq's majority Shiites.

And moderates are taking up key roles in al-Sadr's movement, professing to be less anti-American and more nationalist as they seek to position him in the middle of Iraq's ideological spectrum.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Drugged on the job? Today's tests make it easy to figure out (DALIA FAHMY, 5/21/07, THE NEW YORK TIMES)

"The drug and alcohol issue is a concern for America," said Mary Wheeler, co-owner of Wheeler Landscaping in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. She began screening job applicants five years ago and now randomly tests her 76 employees. "Until you have a drug-free workplace, you don't realize how prevalent it is."

Companies lose $82 billion in productivity each year because of substance abuse, the federal government estimates. Now, a growing number of employers are fighting back with workplace drug programs. They say better technology has made drug screening more reliable, while insurance discounts and government grants have made it cheaper.

The math is simple. More than three-quarters of America's 14.8 million drug users have jobs. Drug users are almost four times as likely to be involved in a workplace accident as sober workers and five times as likely to file a workers' compensation claim, according to government data. Drug users miss more days of work, show up late and change jobs more often. The cost of a drug test, meanwhile, is usually less than $50.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Lebanese soldiers battle militants: 39 are killed near Syria in clashes with Islamists (Hassan M. Fattah and Nada Bakri, 5/21/07, New York Times )

While anxious not to seem weak in the face of the militant challenge, military specialists say, the government and the military also want to avoid scenes that might draw comparisons to the Israeli attacks on Palestinian camps in the West Bank and Gaza.

"We cannot afford to have that here," said Elias Hanna, a retired army general, who warned against a direct assault. "This is not a question of the army's capabilities or its professionalism; you simply can't send the army into the camps to arrest 200 people without paying a heavy price in civilian casualties."

Tensions rose further last night when a car bomb exploded in a nearly empty parking lot in a Christian section of east Beirut, killing one person and wounding 10 others. Last month, Lebanese authorities charged four members of Fatah al-Islam with bombing two commuter buses carrying Lebanese Christians in the same district of Beirut, Achrafie.

Fatah al-Islam has been a growing concern for security authorities in Lebanon and much of the region. Intelligence officials say it counts about 150 fighters in its ranks and subscribes to the fundamentalist precepts of Al Qaeda.

The group's leader, Shakir al-Abssi, is a fugitive Palestinian and former associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia who was killed last year in Iraq. Both men were sentenced to death in absentia for the 2002 murder of an American diplomat, Laurence M. Foley, in Jordan.

In the six months since he arrived from Syria, Abssi has established a base at the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp on the northern outskirts of this city, and the scene of yesterday's fighting.

What began as a raid on several homes in Tripoli in pursuit of suspected bank robbers connected to the militant group Fatah al-Islam quickly escalated into an open confrontation with the group at their stronghold in the camp.

Three soldiers and four militants were killed in the early morning confrontation, said a Lebanese security official . Hours later, the official said, militants tied to the group attacked an army patrol in the Koura region north of Tripoli, killing four more soldiers.

Under an agreement with the Palestinian leadership and Arab countries, the army is not allowed to enter the refugee camps.

Beyond their necessary resort to the same justifications and actions as the Israelis it's worth noting that you aren't a sovereign if you can't put down a rebellion within the territory you claim.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Can’t We All Just Get Along?: A HISTORY OF RELIGIOUS COEXISTENCE (Zachary Karabell , 5/18/07, Commonweal)

The history of coexistence-sometimes warm and fruitful, often cold and indifferent (coexistence is the absence of lethal conflict, not the presence of amicable concord)-has survived in history classrooms, but it has had remarkably little traction in the popular imagination. College students can take courses about Muslim Spain, where Christian, Jewish, and Muslim scholars and mystics worked together to unlock the mysteries of the universe. They can study the Ottoman Empire, which for centuries was a patchwork collection of Balkan Christians, Turkish tribes, Arab clans, and hundreds of languages and ethnicities. The Ottoman sultan was largely indifferent to what his subjects believed, as long they as obeyed. The ruling classes were capable of great brutality, especially when challenged, yet their reprisals against Christian peasants in the Balkans were not notably harsher than the punishments meted out to Arabs or Persians who attempted to defy their will. And many cities of the empire were multicultural melting pots. At the end of the fifteenth century, the sultan welcomed the Jews evicted from Spain in 1492 to help revitalize Istanbul and Salonika. The Ottomans tolerated a range of religious sects, though non-Muslims were forced to pay an annual tax.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as the temporal power of organized religion receded in both Europe and the Muslim world, rulers and businessmen worked together to create a future that they naively but sincerely believed would be free of want and war. The building of the Suez Canal, orchestrated by a French diplomat allied with the ruler of Egypt, was one extraordinary example of that cooperation (though in time it became an albatross for the Egyptians and an excuse for British occupation), and there were countless others. The creation of the Suez Canal is a reminder that commerce and trade can help bring about peace and coexistence, a fact supported by the recent celebration of the European Union’s fiftieth anniversary on a continent that had been all but destroyed by nationalistic rivalries in the last century.

Yet, in the United States and even Europe today, there is precious little memory of peaceful interreligious coexistence. Instead, there is a prevailing sense that Islam and war go hand in hand and that war, conflict, and terror will be the norm until Muslims become less Muslim and push Islam into the nooks and crannies of private life. On the other side, in the Arab world, not only does the legacy of the Crusades still resonate, but it is routinely linked to the twentieth-century “Zionist invasion” that led to the establishment of Israel. Whether one is an American watching the body count rise in Iraq or an Egyptian watching the plight of the Palestinians on Al-Jazeera television, one knows only what one sees and hears, and rarely is that enough.

The relentless association of religion and conflict compresses the complexity of human lives into one narrow band. Anyone who travels and speaks with Americans or Arabs or Turks or Iranians quickly recognizes that religion is only one part of their identity and of their lives. How Johnny or Ahmed or Hannah or Leila are doing at school, whether he or she likes me, and how much money will I take home today-such concerns fill the days of people everywhere, even in war-torn Iraq. Praying at a mosque in the morning in Cairo does not preclude playing cards and drinking in the evening, however “un-Islamic” such behavior may be in theory. Like Christianity, Islam is practiced in a variety of ways, and the hypothetical ideal Islamic life is complicated by many nonreligious concerns.

Over the past few years, many religious groups have made Herculean efforts to bridge divisions through educational initiatives as well as gatherings of religious leaders. Seeds for Peace and Search for Common Ground, for example, have brought Arabs and Israelis together to air grievances and develop bonds. Such efforts are vital, but they continue to be overwhelmed by the larger culture of mistrust and animosity.

Part of the problem may be the tendency to view both the current conflicts and their solutions in strictly religious terms. The result is to reinforce the notion that all interaction among people of different faiths is “religious” in nature. That has never been the case. Indeed, when Muslims and Christians have fought, they have often done so for reasons that have little to do with Islam and Christianity. The dynastic ambitions of the Ottomans on the one hand and those of the Austro-Hungarians or Russians on the other were reason enough for those empires to go to war repeatedly between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries, and when they were not fighting one another, they were fighting their coreligionists. Religion was sometimes an adjunct to imperial expansion, but rarely the cause of it.

Even today, interaction among people of different faiths-both peaceful and antagonistic-is not necessarily driven by creed. Baghdad is a tragic mess, but five hundred miles to the south, the Gulf emirates are flush with hundreds of billions of petro-dollars and the rulers of Dubai are primarily interested in erecting the world’s tallest buildings and doing real-estate deals with Donald Trump, Boston Properties (run by the very pro-Israel Mortimer Zuckerman), and Kerzner International (a company controlled by South African Jews). Dubai would be difficult to emulate as an economic model. It is a small city-state with a tiny population, but Dubai does offer a different cultural paradigm, one where the benefits of economic growth appear to ameliorate religious conflict. Similarly, in Morocco, the imperative is to bring French tourists to Marrakesh and Fez, and hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of Casablanca in the summer of 2004 to protest bombings in that city committed by a fringe sect. In Jordan, King Abdullah strives to build a free-market meeting ground between the Arab world and the West.

..."Too busy to hate."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


UAW should take a tip from Bucyrus workers (John Torinus, May 19, 2007, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Ron Gettelfinger, president of the United Auto Workers, could make the spun-off Chrysler Corp. successful, at no disadvantage to his members. [...]

He could see the transparency system installed by Humana and the Business Health Care Group in Milwaukee, which shows net prices on three dozen hospital and clinic procedures.

He could take the temperature of employees in consumer-driven plans, and he would find out that they are satisfied - even happy - to be back in control of their health care decisions. They also have to be happy to be working at companies where profits are possible, and jobs relatively secure, because health costs are not dragging companies into the hands of buyout firms or oblivion.

The learning in the private sector over the last five years is that it's the economic structure of health care that's the problem - and that it can be fixed.

The stampede to creating a marketplace is on. By January 2007, there were 4.2 million health savings accounts in place, up 40% from 2006.

That introduction of incentives and consumerism, coupled with the bright spotlight of transparency, bring about the wonderful self-correcting disciplines of a marketplace.

In health care, there are only two possible solutions: government regulation with its price controls or the marketplace.

Education is crucial to success of HSAs (ANDI ATWATER, 5/20/07, The Wichita Eagle)
Health Savings Accounts aren't quite as popular among employers -- and employees -- as anticipated, but many are optimistic that the tax-free savings vehicle for medical expenses will soon catch on.

President Bush approved the creation of the much-touted HSA in his Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act effective Jan. 1, 2004.

But today, only an estimated 8 million employees are enrolled in HSAs -- roughly 3 percent of America's insured.

HSAs were part of an answer to rising health care costs, thought to widely appeal to employers because of their inherent cost savings and to employees by creating a savings account they own that can travel from job to job and, among other tax advantages, be passed on to heirs.

Tied to a high-deductible health plan, HSAs were hoped to be a bridge to consumer-driven health care, giving unprecedented control to employees over how they spends their health care dollars, thus bringing awareness of the cost of medical care into the public consciousness.

The key to making choice work in the health care marketplace is not leaving the choice of whether to be in an HSA up to those to whom health care coverage is being provided.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


White Stripes
Michel Gondry

May 20, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 PM


Brown's hero - the lost prophet of Glasgow: He treated Tories with contempt. But Maxton achieved little in Parliament beyond beautiful words (Johann Hari, 21 May 2007, Independent)

Brown has written that "the story of James Maxton and the Clydeside MPs who descended on Westminster in 1922 has fascinated me since I was a teenager." He wrote his PhD thesis on him, and as a young man even seemed to model his appearance on Maxton, growing a long forelock ("definitely not for tugging", he added).

So who was this lost prophet, and is he still lurking somewhere in Gordon Brown's psyche? James Maxton was the child of two middle-class schoolteachers born on the South Side of Glasgow in 1885 - and within a few decades he became the best-known revolutionary socialist in Britain. His politics were formed in a jolt in his early twenties when he was sent to teach in the Glaswegian slums. Confronted with "a class of pale, stunted tenement-dwelling slum children", he discovered that a thousand kids died every year in Glasgow of tuberculosis, and that emaciation and rickets were virtual infestations.

Maxton became prominent in a series of socialist strikes that brought Glasgow to a halt. When he opposed the First World War, he was tossed into prison for a year for "sedition". On his emergence, he announced: "Everyone should have at least 10 days in prison annually for the good of both their health and their immortal souls."

Maxton was the most famous of the "Red Clydesiders" elected as an MP in 1922, where Labour washed away the Liberals as the main opposition party. His manifesto called for a minimum wage in industry, family allowances at home, and a windfall tax on the super-rich. But he wanted much more, including mass nationalisation without compensation.

He treated the Tories in parliament with contempt. When he was accused of being "improper" and showing "bad breeding" in the chamber of the House of Commons for referring to a Tory MP by his name rather than his constituency, Maxton replied about Conservative policies: "I think it is the very worst form, that it shows bad breeding, to kick a man who is in the gutter, or to withdraw a crust from a starving child. That is the Glasgow idea of conduct and breeding."

Brown clearly saw a lot of himself in Maxton. In fascinating passages of Freudian projection, he wrote in his PhD: "Many of his beliefs sprang from the Christian principles of duty and service and not a little perhaps from a middle-class social conscience. 'I always feel guilty when I have something denied to the majority of my fellows', he once explained."

But Maxton achieved little in parliament beyond beautiful words. He ended his career hideously, calling for appeasement of the Nazis. He was unable to see the difference between the unjust catastrophe of the First World War and the necessary horrors of the Second. The great historian AJP Taylor said in an obituary: "He was a politician who had every quality, save one - the gift of knowing how to succeed."

To read a young Brown wrestling with the legacy of James Maxton is to wade into the first great political dilemma for anyone on the left. Do you stand outside the existing contaminated political structures, describe them with total honesty, and demand they be totally remade? This poses the risk of impotence. Or do you sully yourself, enter into the political process with all the ugly compromises that requires, and try to incrementally change it from within? This poses the risk of becoming corrupted.

We all know Gordon Brown's decision. But in the process - of sucking up to Rupert Murdoch, the CBI and all the rest - does any flicker of Maxton survive? would be sufficient if he were only contemptuous of the Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:37 AM


Lincoln’s Question for Rudy (Frank Pastore, May 20, 2007, Townhall)

Slavery was once both legal and immoral, much as abortion is today. The Dred Scott decision was overturned because it was both bad jurisprudence and immoral—just like Roe v. Wade.

In supporting the Dred Scott decision, the candidate for president, Stephen Douglas, argued that he didn’t care whether slavery was voted up or voted down. He only cared for the right of the people to decide.

Essentially, that’s Rudy Giuliani’s argument with regard to abortion. He is personally opposed to it, but he supports a woman’s right to choose because it is the law of the land.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


Do you have what it takes to become a citizen? (MSNBC)

When immigrants want to become Americans, they must take a civics test as part of their naturalization interview before a Citizenship and Immigration Services officer. The questions are usually selected from a list of 100 sample questions (see at ) that prospective citizens can look at ahead of the interview (though the examiner is not limited to those questions). Some are easy, some are not.
We have picked some of the more difficult ones.

Should you be welcomed immediately to the Land of the Free or sent home for some more homework? Find out!

(PLEASE NOTE: These questions are as asked on the official United States Immigration and Naturalization Services Web site. Candidates are not given multiple choices in the naturalization interview, which is conducted orally.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


French Welfare State Built On Cultural Contradictions (George Will, 5/20/07, Real Clear Politics)

Two decades ago, the sociologist Daniel Bell wrote about "the cultural contradictions of capitalism" to express this worry: Capitalism flourishes because of virtues that its flourishing undermines. Its success requires thrift, industriousness and deferral of gratifications, but that success produces abundance, expanding leisure and the emancipation of appetites, all of which weaken capitalism's moral prerequisites.

The cultural contradictions of welfare states are comparable. Such states presuppose economic dynamism sufficient to generate investments, job-creation, corporate profits and individuals' incomes from which come tax revenues needed to fund entitlements. But welfare states produce in citizens an entitlement mentality and a low pain threshold. That mentality inflames appetites for more entitlements, broadly construed to include all government benefits and protections that contribute to welfare understood as material well-being, enhanced security and enlarged leisure.

The low pain threshold causes a ruinous flinch from the rigors, insecurities, uncertainties and dislocations inherent in the creative destruction of dynamic capitalism. The flinch takes the form of protectionism, regulations and other government-imposed inefficiencies that impede the economic growth that the welfare state requires.

So welfare states are, paradoxically, both enervating and energizing -- and infantilizing. They are enervating because they foster dependency; they are energizing because they aggravate an aggressive (think of burning Peugeots) sense of entitlement; they are infantilizing because it is infantile to will an end without willing the means to that end, and people who desire welfare states increasingly desire relief from the rigors necessary to finance them.

Which, in a nutshell, is why the End of History has proved so disastrous for so many of the states that got there first and why those who believe that Fukuyama was a triumphalist haven't read him.

May 19, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:16 PM

A can, a pan, a pineapple cake (ELIZABETH PUDWILL, 5/18/07, Houston Chronicle


* 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
* 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 2 eggs
* 1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple with the juice
* Sliced strawberries, for garnish (optional)

Grease and flour (or spray with baking spray) a 9- by-13-inch baking pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix all the ingredients together, except for the strawberries, with a wooden spoon.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.

Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until the center springs back when lightly touched.

When cool, ice with Cream Cheese Icing. (Recipe follows.)

Garnish with sliced strawberries, if desired. Refrigerate the cake until you are ready to serve it.

Cream Cheese Icing:

* 4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) butter
* 1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese
* 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
* 1 cup chopped pecans

Beat the butter and the cream cheese in a small bowl until well-combined and creamy with no lumps.

Add the confectioners' sugar a little at a time.

Stir in the pecans or, if you prefer, sprinkle them on after you have frosted the cake.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:11 PM


Maximo Park

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:06 AM


Another Washington spending fiction (The Washington DC Examiner Newspaper, 5/18/07)

Under their “Pay-Go” rules, congressional Democrats promised not to raise spending unless there was specific federal revenue available to pay for it. The Reserve Fund is their way of guaranteeing a funding increase when — wink, wink — at a later date they will have found the needed revenues. Call it the “Spend Now, Maybe Pay Later” approach to federal budgeting.

Today’s congressional Democrats aren’t unique in using a sleight of hand like the Reserve Fund to mask the fact they are spending more of our hard-earned tax dollars on another of their favored special interests.

When the Republicans were in the majority, they used fictions like counting projected budget savings in future years to make this year’s budget appear to be balanced or at least getting closer to being balanced.

The problem is that like all lies, Washington’s spending fictions are meant to obscure the truth about irresponsible budgets, bureaucratic waste, fraud and rampant conflicts of interest.

The question is how much longer voters will tolerate politicians in both parties telling such whoppers with straight faces.

The realkity is that the American tax burden is so low we'll tolerate a little finagling until the Earth crashes into the Sun. A political party that didn't recognize that wouldn't last long.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:54 AM


Rudy’s First Trimester: Our Ex-Mayor Knew About G.O.P. and Abortion When He Got In, Now He’s in Trouble for Being a Little Bit Pregnant on Choice; Says One Pollster: ‘They’re Going to Prove How Right They Are’ (Jason Horowitz, May 15, 2007, NY Observer)

It isn’t so much that Rudy Giuliani’s tripped over the issue of abortion, which everyone knew was going to be a difficult one for a pro-choice candidate to navigate in the context of a pro-life primary.

It’s the amount of time it’s taking him to get back up. [...]

“No offense to those guys, but what do they know about Republican Presidential politics?” said Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster unaffiliated with any candidate. “And I think it’s all a reflection of Rudy. Any campaign would know that they were in trouble by keeping slipping on the same banana peel, but not these guys. They are going to prove how right they are. They are going to explain it.”

Mr. Fabrizio argued that instead of admitting differences on social issues with the Republican base and moving on to his perceived strengths, like matters of national security, the campaign’s “too-cute-by-half” explanations only had the effect of drawing more attention to the areas of disagreement.

“He’s a lawyer, and he thinks that the average voter is going to find the nuance—they’re not,” said Mr. Fabrizio. “Instead of finding a way not to focus and trip up on those differences, they have managed to trip, fall, stumble and just continually focus on those differences.”

Because it is his nature, the Mayor can't stop making these mistakes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:30 AM


It's time to let Joe Torre go (Jeff Pearlman, 5/18/07, ESPN)

When George Steinbrenner first hired Torre to replace Buck Showalter back in 1996, I was among the legions of people befuddled by the move. In his 14 years of guiding the Mets, Braves and Cardinals, Torre captured just one division title (with Atlanta in 1982) and never won 90 or more games. Surely there were more qualified candidates -- Gene Michael … Clyde King … Billy Martin's ghost … Alf … me.

Yet, in one of the great managerial achievements in Yankees history, Torre took a team of castaways (Mike Aldrete, Matt Howard, Charlie Hayes), youngsters (Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera) and big-name vets on the downside of their careers (Dwight Gooden, Cecil Fielder, Tim Raines) and molded the franchise's first world champion in 18 seasons.

Torre's touch was subtle, yet undeniable -- he knew when a button needed to be pressed, and when a player was best left alone. He allowed pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre to handle the arms, and hitting coach Chris Chambliss to deal with the intricacies of bat control. And he rarely overmanaged, opting for trust in his players over trust in his own brilliance.

Over the ensuing five years, Torre and the Yankees were an ideal match. The front office always managed to find the right piece -- be it Scott Brosius, Luis Sojo or Chili Davis -- to fit Torre's world. These were mostly mature, self-motivated men in their early-to-mid 30s who didn't need to be pumped up by their manager before a big game. Torre's greatest strength was not his handling of the bullpen or sticking with a steady lineup (in both areas he was only fair), but his innate ability to relate. Black players loved Torre, white players loved Torre, veterans loved Torre and rookies loved Torre. When the 32-year-old Jeter refers to his manager as "Mr. Torre," it is done not for effect, but out of respect.

Unfortunately for Torre, times have changed. With the departures of coaches like Stottlemyre, Willie Randolph and Don Zimmer, he is left with a cast of failed managers (Tony Pena, Larry Bowa) and future failed managers (Don Mattingly) as his assistants. Whereas once the Yankees built a team primarily through player development and small- and medium-scale trades, now it seems like the team (with rare exception) is built on other franchises' blocks. When you nurture and develop the Jeters and Riveras and Jorge Posadas of the world, those men will live and die for those pinstripes. On the other hand, when you shell out fat wads of cash for Alex Rodriguez and Carl Pavano and Jason Giambi, are you buying skill and passion, or just skill?

Watching the current Yankees -- 9½ games behind Boston and going nowhere fast -- answers that question. They are a flat tire, with nary a jack for miles. Here is a team in dire need of pizzazz, of intensity, of spirit, of soul.

Torre is routinely ripped for overworking his bullpen, but his biggest problem is that, quite frankly, nobody except for Jeter and Johnny Damon appears willing to surrender a left kidney for a win. And now they're going to throw Roger Clemens in the mix -- a man whose idea of teamwork is a Wednesday afternoon picnic with his wife and the ol' transistor radio. The old Joe Torre never -- never -- would have let Clemens come in and pitch under his own rules. The new Joe Torre said, "Eh, why not? Pour me some tea."

Just a few miles away at Shea Stadium, the New York Metropolitans scrap and claw and bite for every run. They play with immense heart, celebrate like puppies in a bowl of Triscuits and shave their heads in a sign of team unity. The Yankees, meanwhile, are blah. No spunk. No fire. No urgency. Torre is the best calming-influence manager in the game, perhaps in major league history. But when it comes to getting something out of nothing, he's no different than Don Baylor or Bill Plummer or any other run-of-the-mill skipper.

Buster Olney, Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, makes it painfully clear that Torre and Jeter just don't like or care about the guys who were brought in after the Tino, Brosius, etc, group and, therefore, don't even bother dealing with them, nevermind leading them. That, combined with Brian Cashman putting his fear of being fired above the good of the team, is why they've been adrift for five years. $200 million a year can cover up a lot of problems, but it can't make you a championship team.

And here's a moment that painfully encapsuklates the plight of the Yankees, Clemens, Bowden, & 30-0! (Kevin Thomas, 5/19/07, Clearing the Bases)

It is going to be a fun matchup when Roger Clemens, 44 and Michael Bowden, 20 face each other in the Portland Sea Dogs' Wednesday game in Trenton. And did you catch that California League score last night?

When Clemens was leading the Boston Red Sox to the playoffs in 1986, Bowden was born. Clemens now in another comeback, pitched for the first time last night in a Class A minor league game in Tampa. He gave up three hits (one homer), one run, and no walks over four innings. He struck out two, getting up to 91 m.p.h. on his fastball.

Bowden, a 2005 supplemental round daft pick in 2005, made his Double-A debut Friday night with the Sea Dogs. Bowden got the win, pitching five innings, allowing five hits, one run and two walks. He struck out five. Bowden retired the first 11 batters he faced (four strikeouts, five groundouts).

Bowden is every bit the pitching phenom that Philip Hughes is, but while Hughes is the only guy on the Yankees' 25 man roster who'll be with the team three years from now, Bowden will be the Sox 5th starter. Meanwhile, Roger is costing them $26 million dollars and prevents their fixing any of their other holes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 AM


A 2008 underdog worthy of our attention (JOEL CONNELLY, 5/18/07, Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

New Mexico Gov. Bill] Richardson is just back from his sixth journey to North Korea, the so-called Hermit Kingdom, where he headed a bipartisan delegation that secured the remains of six U.S. servicemen killed in the Korean War. [...]

How do you deal with a Stalinist dynasty headed by a film-buff dictator who quaffs French cognac and dines on lobster while his country is on starvation rations?

"It isn't rationally led," Richardson said. "It is one of the poorest nations on Earth. It is an agricultural country, yet there is no mechanization. On my last visit, I didn't see a tractor.

"Kim Jong Il has made a fundamental decision to move into the 21st century. He will accept a deal where they start to give up nuclear weapons. In return, North Korea gets an armistice, a formal end to the Korean War, and the assurance it doesn't get attacked. They get food, they get energy assistance."

Richardson condemns the Bush administration for its "axis of evil" rhetoric...

It's a shame that the Democrats are so reactionary that they're willing to accept such a degraded status for the people of North Korea just because George Bush doesn't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


How Much Change from Gordon Brown?: The next occupant of 10 Downing St. is distancing himself from predecessor Tony Blair, but details are vague (Sebastian Borger , 5/18/07, Business Week)

Brown has openly distanced himself from the style and the political choices of his predecessor. A government under his leadership will be "a government humble enough to know its place, where I will always strive to be on the people's side," Brown said, adding that "I do not believe politics is about celebrity."

However, Brown remains vague on the issues. There is talk of greater efforts in the area of public housing. Five low-emission, so-called "eco-cities" in the southeast of England are to alleviate the lack of housing there and provide new impulses for environmental protection, and obsolete Royal Air Force bases are being considered as possible locations. Brown has also promised the British parliament greater powers -- including the decision on whether or not to send British troops abroad, which until now has formally fallen to the prime minister.

Brown says he will go to Afghanistan and Iraq before making any decisions on the British military's two most important foreign deployments. "Mistakes" have been made in Iraq, Brown has said, but without going into details. So far, there has been nothing to suggest Brown disapproved of Britain's involvement in the Iraq war or that he would now demand a faster withdrawal of troops. The British want to withdraw most of their troops from southern Iraq by the end of this year anyhow.

For Brown, good (economic) relations with the United States have always been more important than European unity -- a unity that will once more be put to the test during the negotiations on the planned European constitution. Britain will "hide behind the Poles and the Czechs," Katwala predicts. Both of the new EU countries are hostile to the current attempts to revive the constitution, which was believed dead following its defeat in national referendums in France and the Netherlands.

Brown is considered a far greater euroskeptic than Blair.

The danger for Mr. Brown is that David Cameron seems to be Tony Blair's natural heir, as Blair was the Lady Thatcher's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Going deep inside Twinkies: Book delves into the origin of processed foods (PAULA HUNT, 5/18/07, SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS)

Consider the Twinkie.

Soft, sweet, golden sponge cake.

Fluffy, creamy melt-in-your mouth filling.

Thirty-nine ingredients.

And 14 of the country's most common chemicals.

That's the Twinkie for you -- it's more than a guilty pleasure, it's a bona-fide cultural touchstone whose shelf life is the stuff of urban legend.

So when Steve Ettlinger set out to write a book about processed food, the Hostess Twinkie turned out to be the perfect model.

"Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey To Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated Into What America Eats" chronicles Ettlinger's quest to find the source of every ingredient listed on the iconic snack cake's label.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Anatomy of a Home Run: In less time than it takes to blink an eye, pro hitters routinely achieve the extraordinary. (Davin Coburn, June 2007 , Popular Mechanics)

A bat vibrates at multiple frequencies when it collides with a ball. How much energy is transferred to the ball — instead of spread through the bat and the batter’s hands — depends on where the collision occurs. A bat vibrating at its fundamental frequency has a node of zero vibration about 6 1/2 in. from the barrel end (Node 1). This was long thought to be the bat’s sweet spot. But Rod Cross, a physicist at Australia’s University of Sydney, found that the spot is more like a zone. At a second frequency (in red), a bat has another node about 4 1/2 in. down the barrel (Node 2). Hits between the two produce minimal vibration — and transfer more energy — at both frequencies. "Every ball I’ve hit that I haven’t felt, I knew I hit well," Zimmerman says.

Boosting two factors — the mass of the bat and the speed of the swing — can raise batted ball speed (BBS), which adds distance to a hit. But swing speed can affect BBS more dramatically.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Carter attacks Blair's Iraq role (BBC, 5/19/07)

Former US President Jimmy Carter has criticised outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair for his "blind" support of the war in Iraq.

Mr Carter told the BBC Mr Blair's backing for US President George W Bush had been "apparently subservient".

He said the UK's "almost undeviating" support for "the ill-advised policies of President Bush in Iraq have been a major tragedy for the world".

His comments came as Mr Blair paid what is likely to be his last visit to Iraq.

If only Jimmy Carter and James Callaghan had been in power on 9-11...the buildings would still be smoking....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


My Morning Downlad has a track from that new Porter Waggoner disc: Commited to Parkview

May 18, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 PM


Bush rejects war bill concessions (IHT, May 18, 2007)

Democratic congressional leaders on Friday offered the first concessions in a fight with President George W. Bush over a U.S. spending bill for Iraq, but the White House turned them down.

The Democrats, in a meeting with Bush's top aides, said they would strip from a war spending bill billions of dollars in domestic spending that the White House had opposed. They also pledged to give Bush authority to waive compliance with a timetable to pull combat troops out of Iraq.

But no agreement emerged.

"To say I was disappointed in the meeting is an understatement," said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader. sure got a purty mouth, Harry.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 PM


Hamas threatens Israel suicide bombings (Mark Tran, May 17, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:03 PM


Sausage burger (Frita Cubana) (Charles Perry, Los Angeles Times)

1 (2 1/2-ounce) link pepperoni or Spanish-style chorizo
1 pound boneless chuck, trimmed of fat
4 hamburger buns
Chopped onions
1/4 cup shoestring potatoes

1. Grind sausage or process in food processor to size of peppercorns or smaller. Add chuck and process until mixture stands up on blade.

2. Remove meat and pick through to remove connective tissue. Form into 4 patties. Grill over medium heat 3 to 4 minutes per side.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 PM


Back to Balance?: Strong tax-revenue growth is narrowing the federal budget deficit -- again. (James C. Capretta, May 17, 2007, National Review)

Many Americans would be surprised to learn that the federal budget outlook has improved considerably over the last three years. The gap between federal revenue and spending continues to narrow, with the full-year deficit for 2007 likely to come in near 1.1 percent of GDP (or lower) -- which would make 2007 one of the best budget years of the last four decades.

The public's surprise at the improving budget picture would be understandable since a shrinking deficit runs directly counter to the media's portrayal of a hopeless U.S. fiscal situation caused by the Bush tax cuts. The remarkable, three-year revenue surge simply does not fit with that storyline.

...try explaining it to the Rightwingers who are as pork-obsessed as any crazy imam.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:42 PM

GRUDGE MATCH (via Ali Choudhury):

Christopher Hitchens Is a Treasure: A good, useful atheist. (Michael Novak, 5/17/07, National Review)

One of the writers whose courage and polemical force I highly admire is Christopher Hitchens. He gives frequent proof of a passionate honesty, which sometimes has obliged him to criticize ideological soul mates when he thinks they are wrong on some important matter. Many of our colleagues today pretend publicly to have no enemies on the Left out of a panicky fear that they might “help the wrong people” on the evil Right. Though always a man of the Left, Hitchens will have none of that.

Another thing: He does his homework and he thinks clearly. If you go to debate him, you had better think things through rather carefully and well, for his is a well-stocked, quick, and merciless mind. Withal, he is a brave and good man — and an excellent man (so others tell me) to have a drink with.

Normally, too, Hitchens is a fair man in debate — although employing often enough those wicked and withering rhetorical ploys that the British often display in verbal jousting. Agent Provocateur is Hitchens’s chosen pose. But this time it is a bit disappointing to find so much hostility and so many — unusually many — intellectual missteps in his latest tirade (not his first) against religion, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

For something peculiar happens to Hitchens when he wrestles against God with murderous intent. Hitchens always loses (and may secretly suspect that). Preposterous as this seems, one senses he may fear that one day he will wake up and see it all plainly, right before his eyes. Otherwise, why year after year keep striking another stake in the heart of God?

By the personal nature of his anger at God do you know the believer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:35 PM


Valued-based foreign policy (Anne-Marie Slaughter, May 17, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

American foreign policy has lost its compass. Voters across the United States, increasingly opposed to the war in Iraq and increasingly certain that the country as a whole is going in the wrong direction, are uncertain about the role that America should play in the world.

Some argue not only for pulling out of Iraq but for pulling back more generally, concentrating on America's broken health care and educational systems rather than on building democracy half a world a way.

Others would forsake a values-based foreign policy altogether and return to Kissingerian realism, in which the nature of a particular foreign government is far less important than its power and its ability to help further U.S. national interests. History tells us, however, that neither of these approaches has much staying power with the American public.

Isolationism is a nonstarter in a 21st century world of intense economic and security interdependence. And it is the backlash against Kissingerian realism - against the very idea that U.S. foreign policy would not be guided in some way by American values - that fed the neoconservative movement in the first place. matter how the needle wobbles it always ends up pointing in the same direction, just like our foreign policy always eventually settles in Crusade mode.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:34 AM


Use IT or lose it: New calculations shed more light on Europe's productivity malaise (The Economist, 5/17/07)

It is now generally accepted that in around 1995, after 20 sluggish years, American productivity growth began a remarkable surge that only now seems to be subsiding. Yet the advances in information technology (IT) and the dramatic cheapening of computing power that lay behind that surge have had much less effect on Europe's productivity. In 2006, admittedly, Europe's output per hour grew faster than America's. But the cheer over that number merely points up the disappointment over the many years that came before.

The recent appearance of a new database, the fruit of a project called EU-KLEMS, that accounts for the sources of European growth and productivity does not alter this broad impression. [...]

[E]urope was not only worse than America at making IT, but also much worse at using it. That is borne out by the EU-KLEMS economists' attribution of output growth to the various inputs. In this exercise, because of the limitations of the data, they used figures for only ten countries and compared 1995-2004 with the previous 15 years rather than 25. Most European countries used more IT, relative to other forms of capital, after 1995. But America underwent a much bigger shift into new technologies.

Y2K was the greatest broken baker's window in history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:24 AM


Hail Linnaeus (The Economist, 5/17/07)

As new areas are explored, the number of species naturally increases (see article). For example, the number of species of monkey, ape and lemur gradually increased until the mid-1960s, when it levelled off. In the mid-1980s, however, it started rising again. Today there are twice as many primate species as there were then. That is not because a new wave of primatologists has emerged, pith-helmeted, from the jungle with hitherto unknown specimens. It is because a lot of established subspecies have been reclassified as species.

Perhaps “reclassified” is not quite the right word. “Rebranded” might be closer. Taxonomists do not always get it right first time, of course, and what looked like one species may rightly later be seen as two. But a suspiciously large number of the new species have turned up in the limited group of big, showy animals known somewhat disparagingly as “charismatic megafauna”—in other words the species that the public, as opposed to the experts, care about.

One reason for this taxonomic inflation is that the idea of a species becoming extinct is easy to grasp, and thus easy to make laws about. Subspecies just do not carry as much political clout. The other is that upgrading subspecies into species simultaneously increases the number of rare species (by fragmenting populations) and augments the biodiversity of a piece of habitat and thus its claim for protection.

In the short term, this strategy helps conservationists by intensifying the perceived threat of extinction. In the long term, as every economist knows, inflation brings devaluation. Rarity is not merely determined by the number of individuals in a species, it is also about how unusual that species is. If there are only two species of elephant, African and Indian, losing one matters a lot. Subdivide the African population, as some taxonomists propose, and perceptions of scarcity may shift.

The trouble is that the idea of what defines a species is a lot more slippery than you might think. Since it is changes in DNA that cause species to evolve apart, looking at DNA should be a good way to divide the natural world. However, it depends which bit of DNA you look at. The standard technique says, for example, that polar bears are just brown bears that happen to be white. This is not good news for those relying on the Endangered Species Act. For a certain sort of Colorado rodent (with, alas, a nose for prime riverfront real estate) the question of whether it is “Preble's meadow jumping mouse” or a boring old meadow jumping mouse may be a matter of life or death: local property developers are on the death side. The Bahamas switched overnight from protecting their raccoons to setting up programmes to eradicate them when a look at the genetic evidence showed the animals were common Northern raccoons, not a separate species.

The 21st-century answer to this 18th-century riddle is that a species is what a taxonomist says it is.

That there is no such thing as species is one of the cult's worst kept secrets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:17 AM


Striking a new realism (Dimitri K. Simes, May 17, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

Neither the Democratic takeover of Congress nor the beginning of the presidential campaign has yet started a meaningful foreign policy debate in the United States. In fact, setting aside Iraq, neither presidential candidates, Congress, nor the media have shown much interest in a serious conversation about the direction of U.S. foreign policy. And a majority of legislators and opinion leaders act as if Iraq were an isolated mistake resulting from the peculiar incompetence of the Bush administration rather than a logical consequence of the country's flawed post-Cold War foreign policy approach.

The problem is not new. When the United States became the only superpower, quite a few in the foreign policy elite could not withstand the temptation of triumphalism and a sense of unlimited possibilities. Near unanimity emerged between liberal interventionist Democrats and neoconservative Republicans, who together were able to dominate discourse on world affairs.

The next Realist president will be the first.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


A ‘Second Chance’ at Career Goes Sour (STEVEN R. WEISMAN, 5/18/07, NY Times)

Paul D. Wolfowitz was ready to move on from the Pentagon in early 2005. He had been thwarted in his effort to become defense secretary or national security adviser. And the war in Iraq had deteriorated. So when the World Bank presidency came open, he jumped at the opportunity.

It offered him a “second chance” to redeem his reputation and realize his ambitions, says a friend who has known him for decades.

Months later, another friend ran into the new bank president and asked how he was enjoying the job. Mr. Wolfowitz unleashed a torrent of bitter complaints about the bank’s bureaucracy, saying it was the worst he had ever seen — worse than at the Pentagon.

Now, as friends and critics sort through the wreckage of Mr. Wolfowitz’s bank career, they wonder if it was doomed from the outset. Supporters say he arrived at the bank, a citadel of liberalism, from a four-year stint at the Pentagon, where he was an early champion of going to war with Iraq and left bearing its stigma. He was determined to shake up the status quo by rooting out what he saw as corruption and waste, and demanding measurable results from the bank’s many aid programs.

“The bank leadership didn’t like Paul challenging their assumptions,” said Robert B. Holland III, a Texas businessman who represented the Bush administration on the bank board until last year. “They have all been there a long time, and they are used to promoting each other’s interests and scratching each other’s back.”

Represented the Bush administration? Not America?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


The Kite Runner Author Returns Home (Lev Grossman, 5/17/07, TIME)

When Hosseini went back to Kabul, the prosperous, cosmopolitan metropolis he remembered was gone, replaced by a polluted, impoverished, war-shattered city. "There's a line in my first novel where this guy says, 'I feel like a tourist in my own country,'" Hosseini says. "I felt the same way." He strolled around Kabul for weeks visiting relatives and talking to people he met in the street. "Some of the things I heard, I wouldn't have believed. This one guy told me he walked into a house one day and saw these three girls: one killed, one in the process of being raped, one struggling--there was this militiaman, he had his hand around this girl's finger, trying to bite her ring off."

It was stories like that that made Hosseini realize he had to write A Thousand Splendid Suns. Unlike The Kite Runner, it has no scenes set in America. This is a book about Afghans in Afghanistan, covering the past 30-plus years of Afghan history almost month by month. Mariam is the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy playboy, forced into a loveless marriage to the boorish shoemaker Rasheed. Childless, the couple adopts 14-year-old Laila, who was orphaned by a rocket attack. Rasheed proceeds to take Laila as a second wife. Confined to a single claustrophobic household, beaten and denied love and set against each other, the two women form a remarkable bond. Against all odds, they find in each other the things that war and society and the Taliban have taken away from them.

A Thousand Splendid Suns probably won't be as commercially successful as Hosseini's first novel, but it is, to put it baldly, a better book. Where The Kite Runner told an appealing but somewhat programmatic tale of redemption, Suns is a dense, rich, pressure-packed guide to enduring the unendurable. (Though there's still plenty of action: "I have this almost pathological fear of boring the reader," Hosseini admits.) Where the characters in The Kite Runner ran heavily to unredeemable sinners and spotless saints, in Suns the characters are more complex and paradoxical--more human.

As you read you can almost feel Hosseini's range as a writer expanding. The Kite Runner was pretty much exclusively about men; Suns is largely about women--in the interest of authenticity Hosseini actually tried on a burqa.

It's a fine book, but it's really just the chick version of The Kite Runner.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


Tony Blair's Unshaken Logic (Michael Gerson, May 18, 2007, Washington Post)

[B]lair's liberalism not only purrs, it bites. When distant chaos grows too intense and threatening, Blair has advocated military interventions from Kosovo to Sierra Leone to Afghanistan to Iraq.

His muscular internationalism might best be described as half globalization theory and half Gladstone -- the Victorian-era, Liberal prime minister who symbolizes high-minded, humanitarian intervention. Blair speaks a neon language of right and wrong and sees Britain as a global force for good. And he has little patience for a trendy moral equivalence:

"The reason why the stance of a lot of public opinion is quite defeatist in my view is because we are still saying, 'Well, they've got a point, we understand their grievance, maybe it is our fault.' . . . We get rid of two of the most brutal and terrible dictatorships, who've killed hundreds of thousands of their people, we then say you can have a United Nations-backed process of democracy -- and you say that provoked them to terrorism. I mean, explain that one for me."

Blair's Imminent Conversion (DANIEL JOHNSON, May 18, 2007, NY Sun)
Prime Minister Blair and President Bush said their farewells at the White House yesterday. It was an emotional moment for both leaders. Their seven-year trans-Atlantic partnership has, in its way, been as important for the defense of the Free World as that of Prime Minister Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt, or Prime Minister Thatcher and President Reagan.

This time, the main threat has come from enemies who wage war against Jews and Christians in the name of Islam. So it is significant that the president and prime minister are united by the bond of a shared faith. They have been partners not only in war and peace, but also in prayer. Both are among the most devout statesmen ever to lead their countries.

Whereas Mr. Bush has talked openly about being born again, Mr. Blair has generally kept his religious experiences to himself. But that public reticence has not been able to quell periodic speculation about his private beliefs. His spokesman once told an inquisitive journalist: "We don't do God." Yet over his 10 years in office, evidence has accumulated that Mr. Blair would like to leave the Church of England, the faith of his parents, in order to convert to Catholicism, the faith of his wife and the one in which they have raised their four children.

While Mr. Blair was fêted in Washington, back home his impending conversion was the talk of London. A priest who is a close family friend was reported in the Times as saying that the prime minister would declare himself a Catholic soon after he leaves Downing Street on June 27.

Foreign minister in conservative French government is a Socialist humanitarian crusader (The Associated Press, May 18, 2007)
As cameras rolled, Bernard Kouchner came ashore bearing rice for starving Somalis. Against a backdrop of dying infants, the militant doctor fumed about "rich people everywhere ... who do nothing" in the face of misery.

That was in 1992, when the unorthodox Socialist was minister for humanitarian action and a key player in a French policy of turning intervention into a moral crusade.

On Friday, the former U.N. administrator for Kosovo and co-founder of the Nobel Prize-winning aid group Doctors Without Borders was named foreign minister in conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy's first Cabinet.

The appointment promises to make France's diminished world voice be heard loud and clear once again — with cameras in tow — and could signal a more interventionist, high-minded, and U.S.-friendly tone to its diplomacy.

A Very Foreign Minister: A French diplomat who doesn’t hate Israel? It’s the end of Le Monde! (Denis Boyles, 5/18/07, National Review)
[H]e’s one of the few political leaders in France open in his support for Israel and the American decision to invade Iraq. (My own favorite Kouchner moment, captured in brief by Le Nouvel Observateur, was in October 2003, when he described Tariq Ramadan, the putative Muslim “scholar” and anti-Semite so beloved by Time, the New York Times, this way: “Cet homme est une crapule intellectuelle.” Consider “crapule” a cognate. I wrote about the guy here, way back when.)

Given France’s behind-the-scenes role in encouraging Saddam to out-wait the demands of the U.S. and Britain, and the French efforts at the U.N. to diminish the significance of the Security Council’s resolutions, it might be argued that if this were the government in power in Paris five years ago, Iraq would not have been invaded, the U.N.’s role in the world would still be a speaking part, and the world would be richer by many thousands of lives.

One notes a certain sameness.

There's no one left: Andrew Stephen on how politics has shifted rightwards (Andrew Stephen, 21 May 2007, New Statesman)

If 60-year-old Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich was to abandon politics here, fly across the Atlantic and settle in his wife's native Upminster to embark on a new political career in Britain, I suspect he might fit in quite well. He is a likeable fellow, though a little odd in a Tony-Bennish kind of way: he is a vegan and is bewitched by his third wife (the one from Upminster), who is 31 years his junior and who, at 6ft, towers over him. They were a fascinating couple to observe at the Queen's garden party here the other day.

Politically, I suspect he would get the Labour vote and pick up some Liberal Democrats and a few Tories - perhaps even defeating Angela Watkinson, the sitting Tory MP. He wants to decrease the Pentagon's budget, but only by 15 per cent and by cutting out waste. He would bring troops home from Iraq, but then is one of the few Democrats who opposed the war in the first place. He is in favour of gun control, but not the banning of all weapons. In some areas he is downright conservative: soon after becoming a congressman in 1997, he voted for an investigation to decide whether Bill Clinton should be impeached for his involvement in the so-called Lewinsky scandal.

A political moderate, then? No, not in American eyes. Indeed, he is a living exemplar of why I've found it such an uphill task lately to convince British friends just how far the centre of gravity in American politics has shifted to the right. Kucinich in 2007 is perceived in the US just as Ralph Nader was when he ran for the presidency in 1996, 2000 and 2004: a beyond-the-pale lefty, whose candidacy for the US presidential elections in 2008 is nothing more than a national joke, and who invariably evokes either groans or laughter.

So when Brits ask me questions like, "What do people on the left in America think?" my answer is: "There aren't any, unless you count a few media groupies and policy wonks."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


An appeal for empire: a review of
Theology of Discontent by Hamid Dabashi
(Dmitry Shlapentokh, 7/19/07, Asia Times)

Hamid Dabashi, an eminent specialist in Iranian studies from Columbia University, following a sort of romanticized version of post-modernism, states that a philosophy based on a new interpretation of Islam was able to permeate the minds of Iranians and was the prime engine for change. Discarding socioeconomic or political reasons for discontent, he sees the revolution as caused primarily by a new vision of an ideal society that had been shaped by several key Iranian intellectuals.

In Dabashi's view, this dream about the ideal society is a myth. This statement is hardly novel. The assumption that revolution is a sort of attempt to materialize the myth is quite popular in European and Russian thought and has often been employed by conservative historians of the major modern European revolutions, eg, French and Russian, to demonstrate the basic unworkability of revolutions. The attempt to create the ideal society usually led, in the view of these historians, to the opposite result: a nightmare of tyranny and terror.

How different history might be if Ayatollah Khomeini had been exiled to London instead of Paris....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Q&A: 'Future computer will use intelligent design of DNA' (Times of India, 18 May, 2007)
Nevenka Dimitrova, senior director, Philips Research-India, divides her time between Bangalore, Eindhoven (The Netherlands) and Briarcliff Manor (New York, USA). She tells R Edwin Sudhir that she chose to work in India because of the exciting possibilities of the sheer number of people, the high quality of research and because 'there are more textures to life in this colourful country'. Her research interests include health care and data mining:

Q: What can biological systems do for computation?

There are some pretty smart computing systems in our body, starting with the DNA. The ultimate aim is to create a computer that uses the intelligent design of the DNA molecules.
You know the paradigm has shifted when folks don't even pretend Nature is random anymore.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


“Civil War” Doesn't Mean It’s Over: What's so wrong with taking sides? (Jonah Goldberg, 5/18/07, National Review)

The assumption behind this gambit is obvious: Declaring it a civil war is like blowing a whistle at the end of the game. There’s nothing left to do but pack up the equipment and go home.

Al Qaeda in Iraq (and perhaps the Iranians) have clearly figured this out. That’s why they consistently try to stoke sectarian passions by, for example, bombing the Golden Mosque in Samarra, Iraq’s holiest Shia shrine. That 2006 attack prompted the formation of Shiite militias and death squads, which in turn provided fresh evidence that Iraq was heading toward civil war.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration has been desperate to keep the press from describing the situation in Iraq as a “civil war,” for the obvious reason that the administration will lose its remaining support if the American public thinks this is just a civil war.

OK, but here’s what I don’t get: Why? Why is it obvious that intervening in a civil war is not only wrong, but so self-evidently wrong that merely calling the Iraqi conflict a civil war closes off discussion?'ve already taken sides in the civil war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


The two 'kings' of Iran (Sami Moubayed, 5/20/07, Asia Times)

[T]here appear to be more than two "kings" in Iran. The obvious one - who ironically is seemingly least in control - is President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. The second is the Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic.

Both "kings", however, are members of the same radical establishment, the "hawks" of Iranian politics. The other group of "kings" is headed by the so-called pragmatists, led by ex-president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who now heads the Expediency Council, and former reformist president Mohammad Khatami. Fate - and Ahmadinejad's policies - brought the two former presidents, who traditionally represent opposite ends of the political spectrum, into alliance. They are the "doves" of Iran.

Except that Rafsanjani was Ayatollah Khamenei's hand-picked choice for president last time around. The election of Ahmedinejad was unwelcome, which is why the Grand Ayatollah undercut him so quickly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


New Light on Solar Energy: The market isn't mature yet, but it's rapidly picking up speed thanks to rising environmental consciousness and innovative initiatives (Cassidy Flanagan, 5/17/07, Business Week)

Kermit the Frog once exclaimed, "it's not easy being green," but today being green is the fast track to raising both profits and environmental consciousness. Take the rapidly expanding solar-energy market, which has picked up momentum in the past few years and which was the topic of a RBC Financial Group report, "Investing in Solar Now," released on May 9.

The report from the New York City-based group provides a useful snapshot of the current state of the solar-energy industry and its potential for investors. According to the report, the demand for photovoltaic solar power will grow about 40% by 2011, making it an attractive market for venture capital and private investment.

"[Solar energy] isn't mature yet, so a lot of money is going into research and development. About $1.7 billion was invested as private equity and venture capital in the solar industry in 2006—mostly private equity for factories in China and investment in technology companies in the U.S. and Germany," explains Jenny Chase, a senior solar analyst for London-based investor research and information firm New Energy Finance. "In addition, $4.5 billion was invested in publicly quoted solar companies in 2006, most of which is being spent on expanding global manufacturing capacity," she adds. [...]

[D]espite growth in the sector, solar power still plays a minimal role in energy production, with only .03% of worldwide electricity generated from photovoltaic power. As Chase points out, the technology is still underdeveloped, though that hasn't stopped innovative engineers and designers using what's available to produce viable, commercially focused products.'d swear the global warming hysteria was being whipped up just to goose energy innovation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Nepali Climbs Everest for 17th Time (Sam Taylor, May 17, 2007, AP)

A Nepali mountaineer broke his own world record by summiting Mount Everest, the world's highest peak, for a breathtaking seventeenth time.

Mountaineering officials in Kathmandu said the staggering achievement by Appa Sherpa and his team was a proud day for the impoverished Himalayan nation, whose climbers have long been eclipsed by their higher-profile foreign counterparts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Don't count out McCain just yet (TOM BEVAN, 5/18/07, Real Clear Politics)

McCain is maintaining slim leads in the RealClearPolitics poll averages in all three crucial early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Even more important than his lead in the polls, however, is that McCain has been steadily plugging away building out organizations in these states while Rudy Giuliani has made far fewer visits and is still openly debating whether he will parti- cipate in the first critical test of the Republican race, which will come at the Ames, Iowa, straw poll in August.

• • A little-noticed indication of McCain's strength appeared last week when he edged ahead of Giuliani in the political futures markets. Much like the stock market where real money is being invested by real people, these markets often represent a more reliable and more accurate picture of where the race really stands than can be gotten from individual polls. As of this writing McCain and Giuliani were exactly tied in the political futures markets.

Taken together, these points indicate McCain's true strength as a candidate is probably being understated by the media and the national polls.

But Rudy does so well in generic polls....

May 17, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 PM


Bush gives Blair hearty benediction (Mike Allen, May 17, 2007, AP)

The British press got off on the wrong foot with President Bush, literally. When he and Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom walked into the sunny Rose Garden just before lunchtime on Thursday, most of the foreign reporters stayed in their seats, while the White House press corps followed tradition and stood in respect.

Partly, it's a British thing: Back home, the press stands for the queen, who is the head of government, but not for the prime minister. But some of the scribes admit that it's also partly an anti-Bush thing.

After opening statements in which Bush and Blair expressed effusive respect for each other, the U.S. and British press corps alternated, getting three questions apiece.

The Brits asked blunt, even rude, questions about Blair's relevance, the cost of his embrace of Bush and the unpopularity of the president across the pond.

"That's a lovely question," Bush observed sarcastically after Adam Bolton of Sky News asked Blair what he would say to those who are saying "you should go sooner."

After a follow-up by Bolton, Bush concluded with a tart, "Nice to see you again." Blair acknowledged the awkwardness, asking playfully, "You had kind of forgotten what the British media were like, hadn't you?"

In apparent reference to the reporter's failure to stand, Bush looked at the Sky News correspondent and said: "He woke up to ask the question."

Then Bush winked at him to salve the sting.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 PM


Rescued at sea - by the neighbour he'd never met (Cahal Milmo, 18 May 2007, Independent)

For most neighbours their first meeting is over the garden fence or while washing the car. Few get to make their introductions 4,000 miles from home during a storm in the Caribbean.

This was the stroke of good fortune that befell a British yachtsman, John Fildes, 32, when he put out a mayday call after spending two day adrift off the coast of Puerto Rico in treacherous seas.

The distress signal was answered by a passing multi-million pound cruise liner, the Crown Princess, which is captained by Alistair Clark, who has sailed the seas for 33 years from his base in Hampshire.

It was only when Mr Fildes had been safely extricated from his damaged 40ft trimaran that both men learnt they lived just a few yards from each other in the coastal village of Warsash, a fishing hamlet turned sailing haunt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 PM


Dems bend rules, break pledge (Patrick O'Connor, May 17, 2007, Politico)

Democrats are wielding a heavy hand on the House Rules Committee, committing many of the procedural sins for which they condemned Republicans during their 12 years in power.

So far this year, Democrats have frequently prevented Republicans from offering amendments, limited debate in the committee and, just last week, maneuvered around chamber rules to protect a $23 million project for Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.).

On Wednesday, Democrats suggested changing the House rules to limit the minority's right to offer motions to recommit bills back to committee -- violating a protection that has been in place since 1822.

But this was supposed to be Nirvana....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 PM


Farnsworth doesn't like Rocket rule: Yankees reliever says all teammates should be at park (AP, 5/17/07)

New York reliever Kyle Farnsworth thinks no one on the Yankees, not even Roger Clemens, should be allowed to leave the team when they aren't pitching.

Farnsworth was on Chicago's 670 AM The Score on Thursday morning when he first criticized the so-called "family plan" clause in Clemens' one-year, $28 million contract that allows the right-hander to leave the team for personal matters when he's not pitching.

Farnsworth reiterated his beliefs in the clubhouse before the Yankees' 4-1 loss to the White Sox.

"As far as a teammate and a player, I think everybody should be here whether they're pitching or not," he said. "You don't see guys who are hurt not sit on the bench. They're always there."

The Clemens deal is a cancer and Torre and Jeter checked out so long ago there's no one to fight the malignancy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 PM


D.C. May Be Losing Status As a Majority-Black City (N.C. Aizenman, 5/17/07, Washington Post)

The District of Columbia's longtime status as a majority-black city appears to be diminishing, even as Maryland and Virginia continue to experience a dramatic rise in their minority populations, according to census estimates released today.

The 14 percent increase in non-Hispanic white District residents and 6 percent decrease in blacks from 2000 to 2006 are probably the result of the gentrification of once-affordable city neighborhoods, demographers said.

The impact on the city's racial makeup is noticeable. In 2000, blacks made up 60 percent of the District's population. By 2006, that figure was 55 percent.

If the trends continue, the city will almost certainly cease to be majority black by 2020, said Robert E. Lang, director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech.

...when the GOP proposes shifting the nation's capital to the middle of the country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 PM


Unions, county agree to health plan: County: Savings of $1M isn't 'excess money' (Kristopher Wenn, May 16, 2007, Manitowoc Herald Times)

Union-represented county employees voted on Monday to accept health insurance coverage projected to save county government about $1.1 million in 2008 — a critically important reversal after employee insurance costs increased 130 percent since 2000.

"… This agreement brings hope for the very first time to taxpayers that the growth of health insurance costs will be contained into the future," County Executive Bob Ziegelbauer said in a written statement.

"We've agreed to accept health savings accounts as a Band-Aid to help stop the bleeding caused by a national crisis in health care affordability and accessibly," Neil Rainford, staff representative for AFSCME Council 40, said in his own press release.

From clipboards to keyboards: America's health-care industry has been slow to adopt information technology (The Economist, May 17th 2007)

The federal government is giving a push to EMRs, following the lead of the Veterans' Health Administration (VHA). Studies have shown that thanks in large part to its sophisticated national database, the VHA has fewer patient errors and better health outcomes than the health system at large, despite the fact that its patients tend to be older, poorer and sicker. George Bush wants a system of universal health-records by 2015. And Medicare, the government-run health scheme for pensioners, is shifting to a tiered reimbursement system in which it pays doctors more if they go electronic.

Employers are also keen on technology, since it promises to curb health-care costs and improve efficiency. [...]

Intuit, known for its accounting software, is convinced the market is ready for health-care software too. But when it tested such a product last year, it found that users were frustrated at having to fill in so many forms and search for bills and records to which they did not have easy access. So it now plans to offer its software in conjunction with health insurers, so that payment data and other information can be filled in automatically.

Aetna, a big insurance firm, has taken a different path by acquiring ActiveHealth, a firm that provides EMRs for around 14.5m users and also scours those health records with decision-support software to spot signs of trouble (such as missed doctors' appointments or early warnings of obesity). Aetna plans to offer this software to its own customers.

Others also hope to cash in on the expected health-care technology boom. Around 120 firms, from Panasonic and Cisco to Kaiser Permanente, have formed the Continua Health Alliance to promote open standards and interoperability among consumer-health products. Banks are licking their chops at the prospect of “health savings accounts”, and Intuit and WebMD are devising software to manage them. The prognosis for the wider adoption of technology in health-care is finally starting to look more promising.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 PM


Tough talk on New Orleans: Money key to rebuilding, recovery chief tells Loyola crowd (Adam Bednar, 5/16/07, Baltimore Messenger)

Edward Blakely became executive director of the city of New Orleans' Office of Recovery Management on Jan. 8, the same date in history that Gen. Andrew Jackson won the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. [...]

Blakely is concerned that the city, which is down from 430,000 to 260,000 residents, has 40,000 school-aged children, but no public school system.

"Birth control is probably something needed in Louisiana," he told the audience.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:50 PM


Too Late for Yanks To Turn It Around? (STEVEN GOLDMAN, May 17, 2007, NY Sun)

In his novel "Mother Night," the late Kurt Vonnegut laid out this maxim: "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." The Yankees have been pretending to be a losing team for nearly a quarter of the season, and it's worth asking whether they are now what they appear to be. [...]

In truth, the team's problems were foreseeable, if not to their fullest extent. Most who hedged on the Yankees focused on the team's lack of an ace starter, but Brian Cashman had arranged good pitching depth, something that has only been augmented by the Clemens signing. The real problem was on offense, where it was assumed that good performances by the stars would offset a pathetic bench and the inevitable injuries. But if Mickey Mantle can have an off year, then Bobby Abreu can, too.

History has shown these problems don't get fixed. The Yankees can do it, but their window for doing so narrows by the game and will soon close.

Bad defense and an aging core combined with a pitching staff where the two best arms are on a 45-year old and a 20-year old, who won't make forty appearances between them, is not just forseeably bad but inevitably bad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:35 PM

ON THE OTHER HAND... (via mc):

Lawmakers strike deal on immigration (JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, 5/17/07, Associated Press)

Key senators and the White House reached agreement Thursday on an immigration overhaul that would grant quick legal status to millions of illegal immigrants already in the U.S. and fortify the border.

The plan would create a temporary worker program to bring new arrivals to the U.S. A separate program would cover agricultural workers. New high-tech enforcement measures also would be instituted to verify that workers are here legally. was the incessant bitching by the Right, which dampened mid-term turnout, that hands W this final Reaganesque jewel in his crown.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:27 PM

MR. KIPPS (via Kevin Whited:

Signing up a few young men for new KIPP school (LISA GRAY, 5/12/07, Houston Chronicle)

In January, when Shawn Hardnett started recruiting boys for his new school, he wore a suit and tie.

Hardnett, 39, is from Rochester, N.Y., and in the Northeast, low-income parents respond well to an African-American teacher or principal wearing a suit. But in northeast Houston, his suit, combined with his pamphlets and true-believer zeal, flustered people.

Since then, Hardnett has refined his technique. Now when he's trolling apartment complexes or the YMCA, or handing out fliers at the Discount Food, he wears something casual but neat — maybe a linen shirt and loose jeans. His locks hang to the middle of his back, and a soul patch clings to his lower lip.

The revised look is more jazz deejay than missionary, but Hardnett hasn't toned down his message: Give me your son. I want to change his life.

In July, he'll open KIPP Polaris Academy, an all-male charter school, to its first class, somewhere between 60 and 70 fifth-graders; year by year, the middle school will grow to cover eighth grade. Hardnett expects that his boys will reflect their North Forest neighborhood: about 90 percent African-American, 10 percent Hispanic and almost entirely low-income.

Almost by definition, those boys are at risk, and no one argues that they're already well-served. References to the area's public school system, North Forest ISD, are often preceded by the word "troubled."

Hardnett brings the area KIPP, the Knowledge is Power Program, generally hailed as the country's most successful experiment in educating low-income minority youths. In 1994, the first KIPP school, in southwest Houston, began honing a formula that includes high goals, measurable results, long school hours, a long school year and, most of all, a white-hot commitment from students, teachers, principals and parents. That school created a culture strong enough to counteract the forces arrayed against its students — an immersive, education-is-important ethos so powerful that, like boot camp or a religious conversion, it could radically change lives.

Since then, the question has become not Does KIPP work? but Can KIPP work on a broader scale? Can that zeal be replicated? Its network has grown to more than 50 schools across the country. Over the next 10 years, KIPP plans to open more than 40 in Houston alone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:21 PM


Health Care's Retail Solution: A robust retail market is emerging from the ashes of the current health-care system (David Knott, Gary Ahlquist, and Rick Edmunds, 5/15/07, strategy + business)

Imagine a future in which the health-care system provides consumers high-quality care in a variety of convenient forms at competitive prices. In this vision, insurers, employers, and governments offer consumers financial incentives to take better care of themselves — to exercise, eat right, stop smoking, and follow treatment regimens for chronic problems such as asthma and diabetes. The system encourages consumers to plan for the health-care needs they can anticipate (i.e., nonemergencies) by “shopping” for products and services much as they do for a new car; consumers make informed decisions based on readily available reports on quality, service, and price. Providers and product manufacturers compete for different segments of the market using a variety of channels, formats, and business models. And consumers confused by the profusion of offerings can turn to agents who help them design the most suitable health-care programs for themselves and their families.

Such a robust retail health-care market is more than a vision; it is a real possibility. Today’s troubled U.S. health-care industry is the result of decades of good intentions and unintended consequences. Payers (defined as government and employers, who foot the bill for most health-care costs) and patients alike struggle to cope with complexity and cost. But most efforts to control costs — by government and by the private sector — have proven unsustainable and have unintentionally increased complexity. The upshot is a situation in which only 61 percent of employers offer coverage for active employees, approximately 30 percent cover retirees, and 46 million Americans are uninsured.

The problem is structural. Major decisions about health care in the U.S. have traditionally been made by employers, who determine for their employees which benefits and forms of coverage are needed, what types of providers are included in the network, and which organizations administer the benefits. But this paternalistic approach effectively allowed the consumer to be a passive participant in his or her own health care. The consumer has had no economic incentive to seek the best care at the fairest price, or to give up unhealthy habits. Limited competition, unclear pricing, inconsistent quality measures, and complex regulations preserve the disconnect among the three major stakeholders in the system — payers, consumers, and suppliers. This last group includes doctors and other care providers, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies.

Since 2003, however, the situation has come to seem far less intractable than it once did. That year, Congress enacted legislation that could lead to a transformation of the entire U.S. health-care industry from a wholesale to a retail model, in much the same way that retirement plans moved from defined-benefits to defined-contribution schemes. We’re already seeing early signs of a true retail marketplace:

• New health-care formats and competitors are gaining traction, with MinuteClinics and RediClinics — low-cost walk-in health-care centers for common ailments — at one end of the spectrum, and highly personalized “concierge care” at the other.

• Companies that aren’t traditional health-care players are leveraging their capabilities to create entirely new offerings that enable and encourage the move toward health-care consumerism. Fidelity, for example, is developing products and tools that exploit the emerging health–wealth intersection, such as a calculator that helps predict out-of-pocket health-care costs.

• More employers are starting to offer consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs): high-deductible policies that are usually paired with health savings accounts (HSAs) or health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) designed to help consumers save money that they can use to offset additional health-related expenses whenever they arise.

• In perhaps the single biggest change, the federal government and leading private-sector payers are driving providers to make cost and quality data more transparent so that consumers can make better-informed choices. Standardized data on cost, service, and outcomes has the power to establish a new basis of competition. Payers are also pushing for new payment mechanisms, such as pay-for-performance, that base reimbursement on outcomes or adherence to broadly accepted clinical guidelines, known as “evidence-based medicine.”

These are promising developments, but not all the pieces that make up a true retail market have fallen into place — and those missing pieces represent real opportunity. Drawing on experience and the insights gained from a 2006 Booz Allen Hamilton study of 3,000 consumers and 600 physicians, we are starting to see which factors will enable the system to work well. (See Exhibit 1.) To make competition and innovation among payers and suppliers possible, the system will require the following: consumers who live healthy lives and plan for their future health-care needs; a fundamentally restructured supply side that provides consumers all the information they need to make wise choices and is quick to respond to changing consumer demands; and new kinds of intermediaries (perhaps the payers of today, perhaps not) to help align the supply and demand sides and help consumers navigate the complex system.

The heath care revolution is just one of the arwas where W has built in the mechanisms that will boost his reputation over the coming decades.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:52 AM

JUST A FORMALITY (via John Beckwith):

Could Blair be on the verge of declaring himself a Catholic? (This is London, 17.05.07)

Tony Blair is preparing to convert to Roman Catholicism after he steps down as Prime Minister, according to a leading cleric.

His long-awaited formal switch to the faith of his wife and family will come shortly after he surrenders office, it is claimed.

The Prime Minister's decision to formalise his Catholic beliefs was revealed by Father Michael Seed, a leading cleric at Westminster Cathedral, when speaking at a memorial service.

He is Catholic, just a matter of announcing it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Jerry Falwell: A right-real influence (Bill Berkowitz, 5/18/07, Asia Times)

[F]alwell also had a significant impact on US foreign policy over the past 30 years, and was one of the founding fathers here of so-called Christian Zionism - the belief that the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of biblical "End Times" prophecy and thus deserving of political, financial and religious support.

From his pre-Moral Majority days when he preached against religious folk involved in the civil rights movement, to his support for president Ronald Reagan-backed contra movements in Central America and Africa that were responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people, to his invective against Nelson Mandela and South Africa's African National Congress and his support for the apartheid regime, Falwell was a Republican Party stalwart and a dependable voice of reaction.

Today, conservative evangelicals are a formidable lobby group in the United States and a key component of the Republican voting base. However, they had largely stayed out of politics until the mid-1970s, when Jimmy Carter's declaration during the 1976 presidential campaign that he had been "born again" rejuvenated the political activism of the evangelical community.

But Carter's more liberal positions on some social issues, and his support for a Palestinian homeland shortly after his election in 1977, alienated right-wing Christian Zionist leaders in the movement, like Falwell and New Right figures Paul Weyrich and Richard Viguerie, who steered evangelicals toward the Republican Party - where they remain today.

Christian Zionism was a particularly important movement as American Jews became post-Zionist or even anti-Zionist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


House Drops Some Senate Provisions From Lobby Reform Bill (Fox News, , May 16, 2007)

A lobbying reform bill discussed Tuesday by House Democrats would allow lobbyists to continue collecting campaign money anonymously for members of Congress.

Several provisions in a Senate-passed lobbying reform bill were not included in the draft of a House version that Democratic leaders plan to unveil this week, a sign that some lawmakers fear the restrictions went too far.

The House draft would not require lobbyists to disclose "bundling" practices in which they solicit and deliver multiple donations for a congressional candidate, party leaders said. Nor would it require retired or defeated lawmakers to wait two years before becoming a lobbyist, party leaders said.

May 16, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 PM


SPIEGEL INTERVIEW WITH FRENCH HISTORIAN MAX GALLO: 'Sarkozy's Victory Is that of Reality over Utopia' (Der Spiegel, 5/16/07)

Nicolas Sarkozy was inaugurated as France's new president on Wednesday. SPIEGEL spoke with French intellectual Max Gallo about why France wants Sarkozy, what his election means for la Grande Nation, and how Sarkozy is like Napoleon.

Historian Max Gallo, 75, has written numerous books about the major issues facing France and some of the country's most important figures. From 1983 to 1984, he was government spokesman for President Francois Mitterrand. In this election, he supported Nicolas Sarkozy. [...]

Gallo: [...] Sarkozy deliberately sought out the confrontation with the left's uniform way of thinking. He intentionally pushed for the break that Jacques Chirac still shied away from.

SPIEGEL: What exactly does that mean?

Gallo: Sarkozy's victory is not the result of a clash between two equally powerful forces. It is a victory over a ghost, a cadaver that still moves, but no longer has any intellectual strength. Ségolène Royal sensed this, which is why she clearly distanced herself from her own party during the campaign. The victory of the right is a victory of reality over utopia.

Mr. Gallo stumbles towards the exquisite irony: it is the faith-based Anglo-American system that conforms to reality while the rationalist isms are uniformly unrealistic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 PM


...the thought occurs that it would be really cool if this video turned into one of those Jetta ads?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 PM


U.S. Senate rejects bill with withdrawal timeline (Jeff Zeleny and Carl Hulse, May 16, 2007, NY Times)

A vote in the Senate on Wednesday that would have cut off moneys for combat operations in Iraq after March 31, 2008, fell far short of the needed votes in a defeat for war critics and a signal that the Democratic majority may have difficulty passing a war-funding plan that includes firm timelines.

The vote on the proposed amendment, sponsored by Senator Russell Feingold, a liberal Democrat from Wisconsin, was 29 to 67, well short of the 60 votes needed to end debate. Nineteen Democrats voted against it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 PM


The sailor's hosepipe that sent these pirates packing (COLIN FERNANDEZ, 16th May 2007, Daily Mail)

It sounds like a scene from a swashbuckling Hollywood film - brave sailor fights off marauding band of pirates armed to the teeth.

But for Michael Groves, it was terrifying reality.

He was the security officer on a cruise ship when a dozen Somalis in two boats opened fire with rocket launchers and machine guns.

The 41-year-old ex-policeman repelled the raiders with a highpressure hose and a hi-tech sonic cannon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 PM


Changes on Neptune Link Sun and Global Warming (NewsMax, 5/16/07)

Skeptics of manmade global warming have found further support in research linking solar output with the planet Neptune’s brightness and temperatures on Earth.

The findings appeared in a recent issue of Geophysical Research Letters. The authors of the article, H.B. Hammel and G.W. Lockwood from the Space Science Institute in Colorado and the Lowell Observatory in Arizona, note that measurements of visible light from Neptune have been taken at the Observatory since 1950.

Those measurements indicate that Neptune has been getting brighter since around 1980. And infrared measurements of the planet since 1980 show that Neptune has been warming steadily as well.

If only Antonin Scalia hadn't fixed the 2000 election, Neptune today would be as cold as Jerry Falwell's heart.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:06 PM


Reid sets Iraq litmus test (Elana Schor, May 15, 2007, The Hill)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) yesterday offered a unique litmus test for Democrats seeking a strongly anti-war supplemental, slating two votes to gauge support for competing plans for Iraq withdrawal.

Caught between a Democratic base hungry for increased congressional pressure on President Bush and a White House not shrinking from a second veto, Reid proposed — and cosponsored — two Iraq redeployment amendments to the water-resources bill. The amendments, which could come to a vote as soon as tomorrow, are certain to present a tangle of choices for senators chasing both reelection and the White House.

Reid’s first amendment, mirroring a measure first crafted by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), would give the Senate’s strongest war critics a symbolic victory similar to that won by the House Out of Iraq Caucus late last week. The second amendment replicates the first emergency supplemental that was vetoed last month, while adding waivers to allow Bush to sidestep any Iraq withdrawal timeline.

...but attaching them to extraneous legislation?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:03 PM


The Shrewd Craft of Building Depth (WILL CARROLL, May 16, 2007, NY Sun)

They play a game in the Boston Red Sox front office each off-season. A giant magnetic whiteboard is arranged with hundreds of small tiles. Each tile has the name of a player on it, and each tile's slot on the board gives that player's position and his location in the organization — Boston, Pawtucket, or Fort Myers. It is more than a depth chart, it is a list of assets as real as the balance sheet or the Green Monster outside.

In this game, one of the team's operations staff turns away from the board for a moment, and another surreptitiously takes a tile or two off the board. The first staffer then turns around and adjusts the chart to fill in for missing tiles. If Manny Ramirez pulls a hamstring, they've played the game enough times to know that Wily Mo Pena takes over in left, that Kevin Youkilis gets slotted in as the emergency left fielder, and that prospect David Murphy is only a phone call away and posting an OBP over .400 down on the farm. If it's Curt Schilling bleeding from the ankle, the Red Sox quickly shift Devern Hansack up from Pawtucket, or later in the season, they know they will have Jon Lester available.

I was told this story of the whiteboard at the 2005 Winter Meetings by a Red Sox staffer with a sly grin. I'm still not sure if they actually play this game, but every team has its version of the whiteboard, and every team at least considers what happens when — not if — injuries hit. The reason that it's believable with Boston is that they never seem to be caught unprepared. At any position on the diamond, in the rotation or the bullpen, the Sox have not just one option, but a range of possibilities that cascade out — shifting a player here, another player there, or start the web of phone calls from the front office to other teams when a trade is needed.

In contrast, Brian Cashman and the Yankees have a whiteboard or something similar somewhere in their offices, but when Cashman looks at it, he must only see more problems.

They're thin and shallow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:55 PM


Who Are the Merchants of Fear?Alexander Cockburn, May 28, 2007, The Nation)

No response is more predictable than the reflexive squawk of the greenhouse fearmongers that anyone questioning their claims is in the pay of the energy companies. A second, equally predictable retort contrasts the ever-diminishing number of agnostics with the growing legions of scientists now born again to the "truth" that anthropogenic CO2 is responsible for the earth's warming trend.

Actually, the energy companies have long since adapted to prevailing fantasies, dutifully reciting the whole catechism about carbon neutrality, repositioning themselves as eager pioneers in the search for alternative fuels, settling comfortably into new homes, such as British Petroleum's Energy Biosciences Institute at UC, Berkeley.

In fact, when it comes to corporate sponsorship of crackpot theories about why the world is getting warmer, the best documented conspiracy of interest is between the fearmongers and the nuclear industry, now largely owned by oil companies, whose prospects twenty years ago looked dark. The apex fearmongers are well aware that the only exit from the imaginary crisis they have been sponsoring is through a big door marked "nuclear power," with a servants' side door labeled "clean coal."

The world's best-known hysteric and self-promoter on the topic of man's physical and moral responsibility for global warming is Al Gore, a shill for the nuclear and coal barons from the first day he stepped into Congress entrusted with the sacred duty to protect the budgetary and regulatory interests of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Oak Ridge National Lab. White House advisory bodies on climate change in the Clinton/Gore years were well freighted with nukers like Larry Papay of Bechtel.

As a denizen of Washington since his diaper years, Gore has always understood that threat inflation is the surest tool to plump budgets and rouse voters. By the mid-'90s he'd positioned himself at the head of a strategic alliance formed around "the challenge of climate change," which stepped forward to take Communism's place in the threatosphere essential to political life.

Man, he must be having fun at cocktail parties.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:35 PM


J'lem Mayor: Hamas may take over city (THE JERUSALEM POST, 5/13/07)

"Jerusalem could, God forbid, end up not under Jewish sovereignty, but rather that of Hamas," Lupolianski said at the meeting, held at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center overlooking the Old City walls in honor of the 40th anniversary of the unification of the capital.

Hamas, Lupolianski said, "knows that it is possible to capture Jerusalem through demography within 12 years. We need a plan, and not crumbs, so that Jerusalem will remain Israel's capital forever."

A recent study carried out by Hebrew University demographer Prof. Sergio Della Pergola predicted that if the situation - and Jerusalem's borders - remained unchanged, only 60% of Jerusalem's residents would be Jews by 2020, with the remaining 40% Arab, while another survey predicted that the number of Jews and Arabs living in the city would reach parity within a quarter century.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:32 AM


GRILLED JAMAICAN JERK CHICKEN (The Associated Press, 5/16/07)

1 tablespoon ground allspice
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 large pickled jalapeno pepper, minced
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1½ tablespoons light brown sugar
1½ tablespoons olive oil
1¼ teaspoons black pepper
¾ teaspoon salt
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (5 ounces each)
8 scallions
2 large red bell peppers, seeded and cut into 32 chunks
24 canned pineapple chunks (about 1½ cups)

Combine allspice, garlic, ginger, jalapeno, vinegar, brown sugar, oil, black pepper and salt in large bowl. Measure out 2 tablespoons of mixture and set aside. Add chicken to mixture remaining in bowl and turn to coat on all sides. Refrigerate for 1 hour. (Don’t leave chicken longer than 1 hour, or ginger and vinegar will start to break down the chicken’s fiber.)

Trim scallions, leaving just a small portion of tender green. Cut each scallion into 3 pieces.

Preheat grill to medium. On each of 8 long skewers, alternately thread 3 pieces of scallion, 4 pieces of bell pepper and 3 pieces of pineapple.

Lift chicken from marinade and place chicken on grill. Brush reserved 2 tablespoons spice mixture over skewers and place on grill. Grill, turning chicken and skewers once, until chicken is cooked through and vegetables are crisp-tender, 5 to 10 minutes for the skewers, 10 to 15 minutes for the chicken.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:24 AM


Lastings' latest bad rap: Foul mouth strikes out (IAN BEGLEY, 5/16/07, NY DAILY NEWS)

Lastings Milledge's rap has gone from bad to worse.

Milledge, who ticked off Met teammates last season with his on and off-the-field antics, has taken poor judgment to a new level, performing on a rap song that would make Don Imus blush. [...]

Milledge, performing on, raps about "rich (N word)," "wealthy (N word)," a "top-notch ho" and having "a different bitch for every night" on the sexually explicit song "Bend Ya Knees."

Bet he doesn't get fired?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


Education secretary arranges boys' bookshelves (Sarah Crown and agencies, May 16, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

A list of more than 160 books, from Frankenstein to Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, has been published today in a bid to encourage teenage boys to read for pleasure.

The education secretary, Alan Johnson, who yesterday launched his campaign for the Labour party's deputy leadership, announced this morning that every state secondary school in England will be able to choose 20 of the titles in order to set up a dedicated "boys' bookshelf" in the library.

A list that has no Dumas, Verne or Burroughs is, by definition, crap.

Here are ten that got us through summer pretty well and withstood repeated reading (note that one effective strategy--especially with boys--is to get them started on a series or an author with multiple good books in a genre and then just let their acquisitiveness and need for completeness take over):

Knight of the Cross: A Story of the Crusades (Frederick Coe)

The Three Musketeers (Alexandre Dumas)

The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Tarzan of the Apes (Edgar Burroughs)

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower (C.S. Forester)

Doc Savage: Man of Bronze (Kenneth Robeson)

Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Once More Around the Park : A Baseball Reader (Roger Angell)

Lew Archer (Ross MacDonald)

The Chronicles of Narnia (C. S. Lewis)

Around the World in Eighty Days (Jules Verne)

Treasure Island (Robert Stevenson)

The Insidious Fu Manchu (Sax Rohmer)

The Kid from Tomkinsville (John R. Tunis)

The Shadow (Maxwell Grant)

The 87th Precinct (Ed McBain)

The Destroyer Warren Murphy & Richard Sapir)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM

Strawberries fit right into sweet and savory dishes (ANN LOVEJOY, 5/16/07, THE P-I)

Strawberries are among the changeable fruits, equally at home in a savory entree or a sweet dessert. Tart, less fully ripe strawberries work best in savory dishes, while perfectly ripe, freshly picked berries need little or no sugar even in a shortcake. [...]


* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* 2 cloves garlic, chopped
* 1 white or yellow onion, chopped
* 1-2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped
* 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
* 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* 1 cup tart strawberries, chopped

In a frying pan, heat oil, garlic, onion and jalapeños over medium-high heat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Cook, stirring, until tender (3-5 minutes). Add strawberries and heat through (1-2 minutes). Serve hot.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah and unseen footage (The Guardian, 5/16/07)

This month sees the 10th anniversary of the death of Jeff Buckley. The singer-songwriter, who drowned at the age of 30, has seen his popularity increase since his passing and a retrospective of his work - the first - is soon to be released. To commemorate the anniversary, we have exclusive footage of Buckley talking about his inspirations and an alternative video to his much-loved version of Hallelujah.

May 15, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 PM


The struggle to advance democracy in the Arab world: Democratic progress is slow. Promoting liberty and freedom may be more fruitful. (John Hughes, 5/16/07, CS Monitor)

Installation of democracy of the Jeffersonian character is unlikely. Where reform is budding, the outcome may be freer structures of representational government, but not necessarily patterned upon those of the United States or the West. They are more likely to incorporate local customs and traditions. Islamic countries would probably develop governmental systems that pay heed to religious beliefs. Afghanistan and Iraq are examples.

Considering the speed at which secular democracies are dying, that's a very good thing. Indeed, it's why Islam has a future.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 PM


Mounting Figures (HILLEL HALKIN, May 15, 2007, NY Sun)

"After 40 years, an ever less Jewish Jerusalem," was the headline of a dispatch filed today by The New York Times' Israel correspondent Greg Myre. That's hardly news in Israel. For years now, the country has been aware that the ratio of Jews to Arabs in its capital is steadily dropping. Once 3-to-1 after Jerusalem was greatly enlarged by the annexation of its Arab neighborhoods in 1967, it is now down to 2-to-1 and still declining.

This isn't because Jerusalem's Jewish population hasn't grown since then the Six Day War. On the contrary, it has grown by leaps-and-bounds, from an estimated 185,000 in 1967 to close to half a million today. It's just that the Arab population has grown even faster in the same period of time — from a little over 60,000 to about a quarter of a million. From a Jewish point of view, this is tantamount to running as fast as one can on a treadmill and losing ground all the time.

Israel shows new openness to Saudi peace plan: In Jordan, the Israeli prime minister said he was ready to discuss the Arab Peace Initiative with Mideast neighbors (Ilene R. Prusher, 5/16/07, The Christian Science Monitor)
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed increased interest Tuesday in discussing a Saudi-authored initiative for reaching a comprehensive Middle East peace, inviting the leaders of Arab countries to come to Israel to talk more seriously about the proposal and alternatively offering his own willingness to meet them in any of theirs.

Mr. Olmert's statement of openness to the multinational Arab initiative came in response to pointed questions posed by author Elie Wiesel at a conference in Petra, Jordan, aimed at bringing together Nobel Prize winners and young peace activists in search of new salutations to the region's troubles. And although the meeting, now in its third year, is not usually not a headline-grabber, a flurry of diplomatic activity surrounding the statement suggests that at least some of the region's leaders may be getting a second wind for giving peace talks a fresh chance.

If you ever want to see an easy illustration of why America is unique, go the the Museum of Science in Boston and check out the steadily mounting population counter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:22 PM


Television Evangelist Falwell Dies at 73 (SUE LINDSEY, 5/15/07, The Associated Press)

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, the television evangelist who founded the Moral Majority and used it to mold the religious right into a political force, died Tuesday shortly after being found unconscious in his office at Liberty University. He was 73. [...]

Falwell credited his Moral Majority with getting millions of conservative voters registered, electing Ronald Reagan and giving Republicans Senate control in 1980.

"I shudder to think where the country would be right now if the religious right had not evolved," Falwell said when he stepped down as Moral Majority president in 1987.

The fundamentalist church that Falwell started in an abandoned bottling plant in 1956 grew into a religious empire that included the 22,000-member Thomas Road Baptist Church, the "Old Time Gospel Hour" carried on television stations around the country and 7,700-student Liberty University, which began as Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971. He built Christian elementary schools, homes for unwed mothers and a home for alcoholics.

Liberty University's commencement is scheduled for Saturday, with former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich as the featured speaker.

Sen. John McCain, the school commencement speaker last year, said Tuesday that his prayers were with Falwell's family.

"Dr. Falwell was a man of distinguished accomplishment who devoted his life to serving his faith and country," McCain said.

Last year, Falwell marked the 50th anniversary of his church and spoke out on stem cell research, saying he sympathized with people with medical problems, but that any medical research must pass a three-part test: "Is it ethically correct? Is it biblically correct? Is it morally correct?"

Falwell had once opposed mixing preaching with politics, but he changed his view and in 1979, founded the Moral Majority. The political lobbying organization grew to 6.5 million members and raised $69 million as it supported conservative politicians and campaigned against abortion, homosexuality, pornography and bans on school prayer.

Falwell became the face of the religious right, appearing on national magazine covers and on television talk shows. In 1983, U.S. News & World Report named him one of 25 most influential people in America.

When he founded the Moral Majority the pundits laughed at him. Then he helped elect Ronald Reagan and the joke was on them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM

B. D. S.:

Just how crazy are the Dems?: A new poll on 9/11 indicates that they definitely have a paranoia problem. (Jonah Goldberg, May 15, 2007, LA Times)

Rasmussen Reports, the public opinion outfit, recently asked voters whether President Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks beforehand. The findings? Well, here's how the research firm put it: "Democrats in America are evenly divided on the question of whether George W. Bush knew about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in advance. Thirty-five percent of Democrats believe he did know, 39% say he did not know and 26% are not sure."

So, 1 in 3 Democrats believe that Bush was in on it somehow, and a majority of Democrats either believe that Bush knew about the attacks in advance or can't quite make up their minds.

Even loonier are the polls showing that blacks don't think Barry Bonds used performance enhancing drugs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


The Little Magazine That Could (THOMAS MEANEY, May 15, 2007, NY Sun)

The New Criterion was born at an important cultural moment that shows no signs of subsiding. In 1982, Hilton Kramer, exasperated by waning critical standards at the New York Times, left his post as chief art critic to start a new magazine dedicated, in T.S. Eliot's words, to "the elucidation of works of art and the correction of taste." Along with his co-editor, the late Samuel Lipman, the first issue featured Norman Podhoretz on F.R. Leavis, Joseph Epstein on the state of literary culture, Frederick Brown on Simon de Beauvoir, and Elias Canetti on his first impressions of Bertolt Brecht. Many of the best New York intellectual journals — the New Leader, Partisan Review, Commentary, the New York Review of Books — gave prominent coverage to the arts, but here at last was one devoted exclusively and unabashedly to high culture.

If the 0household gods of the magazine have been T.S. Eliot and Evelyn Waugh, its perennial targets have been the academy and assorted depredations of the art world. The magazine pits itself against the complacent, jacket-copy style reviewing of the popular press, as well as the obscurantism promulgated by some corners of the academy. Itching for old-style literary brawls, the editors have cherished their enemies and welcomed new ones. Few other conservative journals would deign to take an interest in a small magazine like the New Left Review, but Mr. Kimball was more than happy to oblige with an excoriating polemic. More recently, Stefan Beck launched an early attack on the newborn n+1, a magazine that had been heralded elsewhere with much fanfare.

Like all institutions of a certain age, the New Criterion has its tics. Mr. Kimball has said the magazine aims to "repopulate the vista of our yesterdays, showing what once mattered still matters." But the New Criterion can sometimes lapse into a veneration of the past that finds the present so wanting that it can contribute to the very cultural stagnation it deplores. The editors revere Eliot, but his reservations about the cultural shortcomings of capitalism and its effects on the arts are rarely examined with the same critical vigor applied to, say, vestigial Marxism.

But part of the fun of reading the New Criterion is arguing with it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


New Detainees Strain Iraq's Jails: Sharp Rise Follows Start of Security Plan; Suspects Housed With Convicts (Joshua Partlow, May 15, 2007, Washington Post)

The capture of thousands of new suspects under the three-month-old Baghdad security plan has overwhelmed the Iraqi government's detention system, forcing hundreds of people into overcrowded facilities, according to Iraqi and Western officials.

Nearly 20,000 people were in Iraqi-run prisons, detention camps, police stations and other holding cells as of the end of March, according to a U.N. report issued last month, an increase of more than 3,500 from the end of January. The U.S. military said late last week that it was holding about 19,500 detainees, up more than 3,000 since the U.S. and Iraqi governments began implementing the security plan in mid-February.

Building and staffing the number of prisons they'll require to put down the Sunni should provide plenty of good jobs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


'Space ties with India, a win-win situation' (Times of India, 15 May, 2007)

Senior officials of the NASA and scientists have told American law makers that there is a lot of merit in increasing international cooperation with leading space powers like India that will only see a win-win situation which benefits the United States and the partnering country.

At the same time at least one senior Republican law maker has voiced scepticism of going about with cooperation with such countries like China and Pakistan on the grounds that "tyrants and dictatorships" are actually a threat to the values of western civilisation

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Senate's Iraq vote likely to test Clinton, Obama (DAVID ESPO, 5/15/07, Associated Press)

A Senate test vote on Iraq has the makings of a turning point in the Democratic presidential campaign, obliging Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama to take a fresh look at calls for cutting off war funds.

Both have voted against binding timetables for troop withdrawals in the past, before public sentiment against the war hardened or they became presidential contenders.

Aides to the two 2008 presidential hopefuls declined comment on the issue Monday night, two days before a scheduled vote on Sen. Russ Feingold's proposal to cut off funding for nearly all military operations in Iraq after next March 31.

There's a real opportunity here for Hillary to make herself a viable candidate for president, though it would make her road to the nomination tougher.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Of All the Losers at RFK Stadium, One Is a (Giant) Head Above the Rest (Marc Fisher, May 13, 2007, Washington Post)

T.R. has been reincarnated at RFK as a jolly, woolly, plump fellow who is eager to please, 10 feet tall and thoroughly, unbelievably, impossibly incapable of winning.

During the fourth inning of each home game, Teddy and three other presidents -- Jefferson, Lincoln and Washington -- race from the right-field corner down the first-base line to a winner's tape stretched out near home plate.

Since the races began in the middle of last summer, the Author of the Declaration of Independence has won 19 races, the Great Emancipator, 17; the Father of Our Country, nine. Teddy has won squat.

But the scorecard lies, because Teddy, despite his frustrating record, is the star of nearly every race. Teddy is King Charlie Brown in a city packed to the rafters with little Charlie Browns. Teddy gets off to astonishing starts -- then stops to dance to the irresistible tune of "Singin' in the Rain," or loses interest and leaves the race to chat with fans, make nice to the ball girl or chase the Easter Bunny.

On Opening Day this year, it looked like the fix was in: Teddy soared past the competition, entering the ballpark on a zip line, flying down from the right-field roof toward first base. Alas, Teddy flopped over on landing and was disqualified.

While Washington wins, Teddy gets lost in the stands or stops to throw Cracker Jack at the fans. When Lincoln takes the prize, Teddy comes up lame with gastric distress or runs in the wrong direction. Jefferson once claimed victory in a race in which G.W. head-butted Teddy out of the running.

In a town where losers never quite disappear, there is surely a lush K Street office awaiting T.R. should he choose to slink off in shame. But like Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton and so many others before him, Teddy never drops his facade of bully cheer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Ken Griffey Jr. Knows How To Deal With Hecklers (Deadspin, 5/14/07)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The secret of Monet's 'blurred' painting - he couldn't see what he was doing (Daily Mail, 15th May 2007)

Scientists believe they have discovered the secret behind the work of Claude Monet, one of the founders of Impressionist painting.

The artist is known to have suffered from cataracts but new research shows how much and for how long this could have had an effect and how it may have produced his distinctive style.

And trend-sucking elites mistook it for art.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Giuliani's Choice (CAL THOMAS, May 15, 2007, Tribune Media Services, Inc.)

Imagine a Democrat telling his or her party what Mr. Giuliani said in his Houston speech: "If we don't find a way of uniting around broad principles that will appeal to a large segment of this country … we are going to lose this election." Would the Democratic Party drop its zealous support of abortion on demand, or its religious zeal over global warming, or its commitment to higher taxes and bigger government? No way. Only Republicans are supposed to compromise their principles and ignore — as liberals do — 40 million-plus dead babies.

If Mr. Giuliani believes this, how does he explain Ronald Reagan's two terms and the presidency of once pro-choice, but then pro-life, George H.W. Bush? The consistently pro-life position of the current President Bush did not keep him from winning two terms.

There is only one reason to "hate" abortion and that is that it ends a human life after it has begun, but before it has a chance to reach its potential. People who hated segregation did not sit back and, because of opposing views, do nothing to stop it.

Well, they actually did, but it was to their eternal discredit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


I'd deny Communion to Rudy, says priest (LAURIE FROST and CELESTE KATZ, 5/11/07, NY DAILY NEWS)

Holy Communion for Rudy Giuliani at St. Monica's Church? No way, says priest who cites Rudy's pro-abortion stance.

The priest of the Manhattan church where Rudy Giuliani had his second wedding says he would deny the presidential contender Holy Communion because of his public support for abortion.

"Because he publicly is against church teaching, the answer would be no" if Giuliani requested the sacrament, said Msgr. Thomas Modugno.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Doctor Is Out—to You: Pediatricians are encountering parents who refuse vaccinations for their children, prompting the doctors to show them the door (David E. Gumpert, 5/16/07, Business Week)

Shirley Reese, a mother of six, was thrilled last fall when she learned that her small town of Iron Mountain, Mich., was getting a full-time pediatrician. She quickly made an appointment to bring in her oldest son, nine-year-old Samuel, because of some concerns she had about his performance in school, as well as problems with his tonsils and adenoids.

By the time she left the appointment, she recalls, "I was crying." It had nothing to do with the pediatrician's assessment of Samuel. Rather, it was because Samuel's tenure as the pediatrician's patient had lasted less than an hour.

The pediatrician, Alexis Wolfe, had told Reese she should find another physician for Samuel because she refused to accept the doctor's recommendations to administer several vaccinations for the boy. Reese says she has another son who is autistic, which she thinks may have been brought on by vaccinations. "I'm not going to brain-damage any more of my children by having them vaccinated," she says.

Reese isn't alone. While no one knows exactly how many doctor-patient relationships are going up in flames, the number appears to be growing, and seems most commonly to be occurring among pediatricians over the issue of vaccination. In a survey of 302 pediatricians published a year-and-a-half ago in Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, 28% "said that they would ask the family to seek care elsewhere" for "refusing specific vaccines," and 39% said they would do so for families refusing all vaccines.

The brain damage appears to be a hereditary matter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


An Idiot’s Guide to Evolution (Stephen Webb, May 15, 2007, First Things)

The dirty Darwinian secret is now out of the closet: If evolution is true, then it must be true about everything. Most Darwinians used to be very restrained about the relevance of their theory for cultural and moral issues, for obvious reasons. If evolution is true about everything, then randomness and competition are the foundations for the highest human ideals as well as the lowest organic life forms. Scientists have trouble enough restricting Darwinism to biology. What if that restriction is unscientific? What parents would want their children being taught that Darwinism explains not only speciation but also altruism?

Some Darwinians take inordinate glee at the prospects for a thoroughly Darwinized curriculum and the wreckage it would cause for traditional moral and religious beliefs. Others are eager to persuade us that Darwinian imperialism would be good for us. David Sloan Wilson, distinguished professor of biology at Binghamton University, falls into the second camp. In Evolution for Everyone (2007), he laments the specializations in higher education that keep Darwin’s theory from being applied to every field of knowledge. He is, he says, an “evolutionist without any qualifiers.” This might sound threatening, but he reassures his readers that “the basic principles are easy to learn,” and indeed they are. You pick an object or agent, whether individual, social, or culture, and you ask how it is has changed in a given situation. Then you try to figure out what advantage it gained by changing. “Just about anyone,” he enthuses, “can become an evolutionist by learning to think like Darwin.”

Truer words were never spoken--all it takes to be a Darwinist is the mind of a mid-19th Century white British male.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Iran courts the US at Russia's expense (Kaveh L Afrasiabi, 5/16/07, Asia Times)

Iran's relations with the Arab world have taken a dramatic turn for the better, in light of Iran's overtures toward the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, as well as in President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's announcement that Iran is prepared to resume full diplomatic relations with Egypt.

That announcement was made on Monday as Ahmadinejad visited the United Arab Emirates and received a rousing official welcome. Widely interpreted as Iran's timely response to US Vice President Dick Cheney's tour of the region and his warning that the United States will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons or to dominate the region, Ahmadinejad's arrival in Dubai coincided with an Iranian olive branch toward not only Egypt but also the US. This is illustrated by Tehran's announcement that it has accepted the United States' invitation for direct talks between American and Iranian ambassadors in Baghdad.

"Iran's foreign policy is moving in the direction of constructive engagement on all fronts," a member of Iran's parliament, the Majlis, announced, adding that the resumption of relations with Egypt will have "positive effects on the whole region".

Tehran Both Warns And Reassures U.S.: Iran Cautions on Strike, Embraces Talks (Robin Wright, May 15, 2007, Washington Post)
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned yesterday that Iran would retaliate against any U.S. strike on his country and urged U.S. troops to "pack their bags" and leave the Persian Gulf region. But during a visit yesterday to the United Arab Emirates, he also acknowledged that Tehran is "ready and prepared" to hold talks with the United States.

The first U.S.-Iran bilateral talks are tentatively set for May 28 or earlier in Baghdad, say U.S. and Iranian officials. Ahmadinejad's comments reflect a tempered tone from the hard-line leader, who said the decision was made in order to "support the Iraqi people."

Safe to say that Ayatollah Khamenei is calling the shots.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Iran lawmakers seek U.S. friendship (ALI AKBAR DAREINI, 5/15/07, Associated Press )

Iranian deputies were gathering signatures to try and form an Iranian-U.S. friendship committee in parliament to hold contacts with the U.S. Congress, legislators involved in the effort said Tuesday.

It was the first effort organized by parliament to find a way to bridge nearly three decades of estrangement between the U.S. and Iran. It comes days after the governments of the two countries agreed to hold direct talks on one of the main issues dividing them—the conflict in Iraq.

Darioush Ghanbari, one of at least 10 deputies who has signed the document calling for the establishment of the committee, said Iranian parliamentarians were seeking to reduce tensions with America and "explain Iran's realities to the U.S. Congress."

The document had signatures from both conservatives and reformists and more signatures from the 290-member legislature were expected by the end of the day, Ghanbari said.

"In the absence of formal diplomatic relations, we seek to establish a parliamentary relationship with the U.S. Congress and fill the existing gap of contacts between the two nations," Ghanbari, a pro-reform lawmaker, told The Associated Press.

May 14, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 PM


Buying Anti-American: And the annoying whining in The Reluctant Fundamentalist isn’t even authentic. (Ann Marlowe, 5/14/07, National Review)

The commercial success and critical praise of Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist — currently on the New York Times best-seller list — are an ill omen for those who support the ideals of liberal society, not only here but in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq. As other writers notice its success, we can expect others to follow in its path of Islamic minstrelism, selling the Western audience what it expects to hear from angry Muslims. In this case, the merchant is a thoroughly Westernized, privileged beneficiary of American largesse.

On the website, Hamid disingenuously muses, “People often ask me if I am the book’s Pakistani protagonist. I wonder why they never ask if I am his American listener. After all, a novel can often be a divided man’s conversation with himself.”

Theoretically true, but Hamid’s published opinion pieces are nearly continuous with the hateful characterizations of Americans and America expressed in the long monologue that the book’s narrator, Changez, delivers to an unnamed American in a Lahore café. As a novel, RF is tripe — anti-American agitprop clumsily masquerading as a work of art. People who are buying RF are sending their money to someone who is aggressively anti-American. (The publicity for RF emphasizes Hamid’s American university degrees but does not mention that he turned in his green card in 2006 and applied for British citizenship instead.)

Why are Americans buying this book? Part of the explanation must be their nearly boundless goodwill and naiveté, ever interested in finding out “why they hate us.” Changez, however, is not even one of “them”; he is not an Islamic fundamentalist, but a poorly constructed and implausible character whose anti-Americanism is more aesthetic and snobbish than ideological. It’s closer to a certain strain of European anti-Americanism than anything from the Muslim world.

Try Ms Marlowe's own Book of Trouble instead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 PM


Who pays for Sweden's free lunch?: Sweden's generous welfare system has served to break down the protestant work ethic (Nima Sanandaji, 14th May 2007, The Local)

Sweden has traditionally relied heavily on the strong protestant work ethic of its citizens. A cornerstone of the country's welfare system has been a population which has been reluctant to misuse the system. Although taxes have been high and government benefits generous, the strong work ethic has stopped people from taking advantage of the welfare state. Alas, this attitude has been largely abandoned. As time has passed, people have adapted to the system.

Dependence on state handouts is widespread amongst the adult generations. Today around 21-22 percent of the Swedish population in working age is being supported by one form government handout or another, up from around 11 percent in 1970 (as reported by Swedish Public Television 15th March 2005).

Many unemployed people are unwilling to take jobs that pay less than their former employment. The reason is that government compensation is often almost as high as their previous salaries; taking a job that pays less than their old one might very well mean lower income than the state benefit.

In a survey form the Swedish Enterprise Institute 70 percent of companies with 10-200 employees say that they interviewed who did not even want the jobs offered. This phenomenon is explained by the fact that people seek jobs that they are unwilling to take, only in order to convince public officials that they are actively seeking employment so they can continue collecting government handouts.

As widespread as government dependence is amongst adults, it might yet become worse amongst the new generation of Swedes.'d have to admire the almost feedback mechanism whereby statist policies make people ever more dependent on the state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 PM


CERN scientists seek to replay the universe's birth (Dennis Overbye, May 14, 2007, NY Times)

The first thing that gets you is the noise.

Physics, after all, is supposed to be a cerebral pursuit. But this cavern almost measureless to the eye, stuffed as it is with an Eiffel Tower's worth of metal, eight-story wheels of gold fan-shape boxes, thousands of kilometers of wire and fat ductlike coils, echoes with the shriek of power tools, the whine of pumps and cranes, beeps and clanks from wrenches, hammers, screwdrivers and the occasional falling bolt. It seems no place for the studious.

The physicists, wearing hard hats, kneepads and safety harnesses, are scrambling like Spiderman over this assembly, appropriately named Atlas, ducking under waterfalls of cables and tubes and crawling into hidden room-size cavities stuffed with electronics.

They are getting ready to see the universe born again.

Again and again and again - 40 million times a second, to be exact.

They don't even pretend that their lab work doesn't demonstrate intelligent design.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:11 PM


Shiite cleric in Iraq gains sway across border (Anne Barnard, 5/14/07, The Boston Globe)

Iran's ruling clerics have long prided themselves on running the world's only Shiite Muslim state -- a state that imposes religion, dictating what imams can preach, what the media can report, and what people can wear.

So some Iranians are intrigued by the more freewheeling experiment in Shiite empowerment taking place across the border in Iraq, where -- Iraq's myriad problems aside -- imams can say whatever they want in political Friday sermons, newspapers and satellite channels regularly slam the government, and religious observance is respected and encouraged but not required.

In Tehran's storied central bazaar, an increasing number of merchants are sending their religious donations, a 20 percent tithe expected from all who can spare it, to Iraq's most senior Shiite cleric -- rather than to clerics closer to Iran's state power structure, said Jawad al-Ghaie, 48, a wholesaler of false eyelashes and nail extensions and a respected lay donor.

Speaking carefully to avoid directly challenging the Iranian government, he and several fellow merchants suggested that Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani holds more spiritual sway because of his lifelong commitment to quietism. That is the school of thought that says Shiite leaders should stay out of government, and Sistani has stuck to it despite the great temptation to wade into the chaos of Iraqi politics.

The interesting this is how Ayatollah Sistani resembles Pope Benedict on this point, recognizing the necessity for the Islamic World and Europe to succumb to Anglo-American Reformation.

From Brazil Resounds a Word Sharper than a Sword: A word that is a person: Jesus. The same person to whom Benedict XVI has dedicated the book of a lifetime. For the pope, the future of the Church in Latin American and in the world is bound up with obedience to Him. And he felt the need to remind the bishops of this (Sandro Magister, May 15, 2007, Chisa)

Among the twelve speeches, homilies, messages, and greetings pronounced by Benedict XVI during his four-day trip to Brazil, the one most keenly awaited was the inaugural address for the fifth conference of the bishops' conference of Latin American and the Caribbean, in Aparecida.

But the discourse that will be remembered in the future as the one most revealing of the pope's objectives was another. It was the one he delivered to the bishops of Brazil in the cathedral of Sao Paolo, at the end of Vespers on Friday, May 11.

It is the address reproduced further below.

The pope begins it with words "sharper than a sword": the words of the New Testament on perfect obedience to the Father of Jesus, the savior of all precisely because he was obedient in everything, even to the cross. The bishops, he asserts, are simply "bound" to this obedience: their mission is that of preaching the truth, baptizing, "saving souls one by one" in the name of Jesus.

"This, and nothing else, is the purpose of the Church," Benedict XVI emphasizes. Therefore, where the truth of the Christian faith is hidden, and where the sacraments are not celebrated, "the essential is also lacking for the solution of urgent social and political problems."

All of the instructions that the pope gave to the Brazilian bishops following the address descend from this foundation. Benedict XVI's clear intention is that of reestablishing Jesus, true God and true man, as the center of the Latin American Church: a Church that, in his judgment, has in recent decades strayed too far into political territory, under the influence of liberation theology.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 AM


Antiwar Iraqi in Washington Has a More Sectarian Agenda at Home (SCOTT SHANE and EDWARD WONG, 5/14/07, NY Times)

As Congress and the White House continue to spar over war plans, Iraqis representing all sides in the conflict are turning up in the halls of power here to press their views.

For two weeks, in meetings with a score of members of Congress, Muhammad al-Daini, a Sunni Arab member of the Iraqi Parliament who says he has survived eight assassination attempts, has offered a well-practiced pitch that emphasizes the need for American troops to withdraw.

“The problem in Iraq is the American Army,” Mr. Daini told a group of attentive American legislators gathered last week in the office of Representative Jim McDermott, an antiwar Democrat from Seattle. “What brought terrorism, what brought Al Qaeda and what brought Iranian influence is the Americans.”

Mr. Daini, soft-spoken and generally unsmiling, has been ushered from meeting to meeting by a public relations firm paid by an American businessman who calls the Iraqi politician “a true humanitarian.” The businessman, Dal LaMagna, says he is devoting the fortune he made selling his high-end grooming tools business, Tweezerman, to seeking an end to the violence in Iraq, a goal he says Mr. Daini shares.

But a closer look at Mr. Daini’s record in Iraq suggests a more complicated picture.

The notion that you need to think overmuch about the fact that a Ba'athist opposes the Shi'a is ludicrous.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


Pope shows more signs of swinging to the right in public (Ian Fisher and Larry Rohter, May 14, 2007, NY Times)

Pope Benedict XVI's first trip to Latin America has added to a sense, expressed recently by supporters and critics alike, that his papacy seemed to be moving closer to the mold that he embodied as Joseph Ratzinger, a conservative and contentious cardinal.

Were they expecting him to ditch the Commandments and move Left?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Third Way Is the Wrong Way (Guy T. Saperstein, 5/14/07, AlterNet)

An organization has emerged in Washington, D.C., Third Way, which claims to be both centrist and progressive and which has gained a foothold of influence with some Democratic lawmakers. It is important to assess if Third Way's political strategy makes sense, and to examine whether Third Way is undermining progressives' efforts. [...]

Recently, Third Way's President, Jon Cowan, made a presentation to the Democracy Alliance, a center-left organization that is attempting to build progressive political infrastructure. Cowan spent his speech shouting at the audience and half his time explaining that when he worked at the Housing and Urban Development Department under Andrew Cuomo, he worked to "blow up public housing" and replace it with two and three-story public housing. He characterized his work as "modernizing" progressive ideas.

What Cowan failed to explain, however, is that much of the public housing blown up was sitting on valuable urban land and was replaced, not by low-income housing, but by developments of mid and high-priced condominiums, while the poor were moved farther from cities, and that some of the blown up housing had been recently built and was in good condition.

You know a word has lost its meaning when to be "progressive" requires that you wish to continue warehousing the poor in ghettoes instead of moving them to suburban houses.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


CNN's Lou Dobbs Defends Claim That Illegal Immigrants Are Bringing Leprosy to America (Brian J. Levy, 5/14/07, Media Matters for America)

During a CBS News interview with correspondent Lesley Stahl, which aired on the May 6 edition of CBS' 60 Minutes, CNN host and CBS Early Show special contributor Lou Dobbs defended CNN correspondent Christine Romans' citation -- initially made on the April 14, 2005, edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight -- of the false claims that "there were about 900 cases of leprosy [in the United States] for 40 years," and that "[t]here have been 7,000 in the past three years." The day after the 60 Minutes interview, during the May 7 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, Dobbs and Romans again defended the claims, with Romans attributing them to the late "Dr. Madeleine Cosman" (who did not have a medical degree but, rather, a Ph.D. in English and comparative literature). In fact, according to the National Hansen's Disease Program (NHDP) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), there have been just 431 reported cases of Hansen's disease, or leprosy, over the "past three years." The NHDP reported 8,490 cases of Hansen's disease from 1966 to 2005, as compared with Cosman's claim in a 2005 article that "in 40 years ... 900 people were afflicted." Cosman appears to have derived her false claim by misinterpreting a February 18, 2003, New York Times article.

And they use Christian babies to make their tortillas....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM

WHAT ABOUT THE GIFT BAN? (via Gene Brown):>Cutting the Grass : Congressional Democrats prepare another assault on the First Amendment. (John Fund, May 14, 2007, Opinion Journal)

A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows 6 in 10 Americans think the Democratic Congress "hasn't brought much change." Eager to change this impression, the Democrats are frantically trying to pass legislation before Memorial Day. First on the agenda is a bill restricting lobbying, which is heading for the House floor with lightning speed. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to pass it tomorrow, sending it to the full House for a final vote next Tuesday or Wednesday.

When a bill moves that quickly, you can bet an someone will try make some last-minute mischief. Hardly anyone objects to the legislation's requirement that former lawmakers wait two years instead of one before lobbying Congress. Ditto with bans on lobbying by congressional spouses and restrictions on sitting members of Congress negotiating contracts with private entities for future employment.

But the legislation may be amended on the floor to restrict grassroots groups that encourage citizens to contact members of Congress. The amendment, pushed by Rep. Marty Meehan of Massachusetts, would require groups that organize such grassroots campaigns to register as "lobbyists" and file detailed quarterly reports on their donors and activities. The law would apply to any group that took in at least $100,000 in any given quarter for "paid communications campaigns" aimed at mobilizing the public. [...]

But the First Amendment specifically prohibits Congress from abridging "the right of the people . . . To petition the Government for redress of grievances." The Supreme Court twice ruled in the 1950s that grassroots communication isn't "lobbying activity," and is fully protected by the First Amendment. Among the groups that believe the Meehan proposal would trample on the First Amendment are the National Right to Life Committee and the American Civil Liberties Union. The idea goes too far even for Sen. John McCain, who voted to strip a similar provision from a Senate lobbying reform bill last January.

It's almost as if the Democrats were trying to figure out how to get Maverick in good with the base and whip up anger at Hillary and Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


As Surge Begins To Take Hold, Tribal Leaders Turn on Qaeda (ELI LAKE, May 14, 2007, NY Sun)

In the aftermath of America's recent troop surge in Iraq, tribal leaders throughout this country are turning on Al Qaeda, and American military commanders are trying to exploit the new development by bringing tribe members into the Iraqi Security Forces.

For those officers overseeing the new tribal diplomacy, signs are emerging that Iraq's deepest social networks — its tribes — are withdrawing their tacit acceptance of Al Qaeda and are becoming more willing to cooperate with American authorities to combat the terror network.

The plan is inspired by some successes that the Marines and the Army had with tribes in Anbar province, but it is still in the early stages. While the military and CIA have tried to reach out to Iraq's tribes since before the war, those efforts yielded mixed results. The majority of Sunni tribes cut deals with Al Qaeda for cash — between $30,000 and $40,000, according to sheiks here — to turn a blind eye to Al Qaeda's activities. That arrangement is starting to fall away.

"I see what I think is becoming a national trend, especially in areas influenced by Al Qaeda, where they have made inroads, and even in places where you see other forms of religious extremism, such as Jaish al-Mahdi, you have it from the South. It's coming, it's there," Lieutenant Colonel Richard Welch said in an interview.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Look for ways to offset costs of health care (Michael Miele, 5/13/07, Bradenton Herald)

Consumer-driven health care is characterized by accounts that participants use to fund everyday medical expenses not covered by their health care plan. With direct access to dollars to manage and spend on health care, employees learn to shop around and spend their money in a cost-conscious manner. These accounts are coupled with high deductible health plans that provide coverage for more serious medical problems.

The most popular plans are Health Savings Accounts (HSA) and Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRA). The cost of consumer-driven health plans - such as health savings accounts or health reimbursement arrangements - increased by an average of 2.8 percent from 2004 to 2005, according to the survey of 152 major U.S. employers. That compares to an 8 percent increase in total premiums for health maintenance organizations, an 8.5 percent increase for point-of-service plans and a 7.2 percent increase for preferred provider organizations.

A Health Savings Account (HSA) is a special account owned by an individual used to pay for current and future medical expenses. HSAs are used in conjunction with High Deductible Health Plans and offer many advantages. Some features include:

• Tax-deductible deposits

• Tax-deferred interest earned on the account.

• Tax-free withdrawals for qualified medical expenses.

• Carryover of unused funds and interest from year to year.

• Portability; the account is owned by you and is yours to keep - even when you retire.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Be like Ike: Show love to yourself (Jerry Larege, 5/14/07, Seattle Times)

Isaac Hayes used to comb his grandfather's hair.

He was a little kid and it was his way of showing his love, he told me last week.

The singer, songwriter and actor spoke at the Northwest Kidney Centers' annual Breakfast of Hope fundraiser last week.

Both his father and his grandfather died of complications of kidney disease, so he lends time to the fight against the disease.

His grandfather only had a little hair on the sides. Hayes' own head is famous for being devoid of hair.

No one had trouble spotting him in the crowd with his bald head, full beard, sunglasses and a maroon West African shirt-and-pants outfit.

Hayes said the deaths of his father and grandfather made him aware of kidney disease. He cleaned up his own diet and did what he needed to avoid their fate.

He figures other folks, hearing about his family, might be encouraged to do as he did.

And hearing a health message in that voice helps.

Heck, a voice like that got the first Isaac bound.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Guthrie gem tarnished (Steve Buckley, May 14, 2007, Boston Herald)

When he went out to the mound to pitch the ninth inning late yesterday afternoon at Fenway Park, Baltimore Orioles right-hander Jeremy Guthrie was mindful of a conversation he’d just had with manager Sam Perlozzo.

Guthrie would be coming out of the game if he allowed a baserunner. He knew that. Never mind that he had thrown only 85 pitches in shutting out the Red Sox for eight innings, or that he had a five-run lead. He’d be coming out.

But with one out, the Red Sox’ Coco Crisp [stats] hit a harmless pop fly in front of the plate. Orioles catcher Ramon Hernandez dropped his mask to make the catch. And then he dropped the ball. Guthrie then revised his position: I’m not coming out after that, he thought to himself.

Out he came anyway, as Perlozzo went to the bullpen. And so it was that Guthrie sat in the dugout and watched helplessly as the Red Sox rallied for six runs, emerging with a shocking 6-5 victory.

Let us suppose for a moment that there was a reason to yank young Mr. Guthrie, who'd been unhittable, after he forced a haremless pop-up that his catcher botched. (Of course, that begs the question of why you brought him out for the 9th, but...) If the situation had suddenly become that dire why don't you bring in your closer right then?

Mariners Cool Yankee Bats (Associated Press, May 14, 2007)

Horacio Ramirez and Seattle's bullpen put the Yankees right back into their offensive funk.

If Roger really just wanted to help the Yankees win again he'd have signed for the minimum sop they could go get the substantial help they need. You can almost hear his hamstrings tightening at the prospect of meaningless games in August.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Country walks 'can help reduce depression' (Nicola Boden, 14 May 2007, Independent)

Country walks can help reduce depression and raise self-esteem according to research published today, leading to calls for "ecotherapy" to become a recognised treatment for people with mental health problems.

You mean climbing the stairs of your housing project doesn't put you in your happy place?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Swedes among world's worst work whingers (The Local, 14th May 2007)

Sweden's workers have come joint second in a league table of worldwide workplace whingers, according to a new report published on Monday. [...]

The study has found that French workers more than anybody else love a good moan about work.

You just never want to be lumped with the French.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Key to Managing Stars? Think Team: Q&A with: Boris Groysberg and Linda-Eling Lee(Martha Lagace, 5/14/07, HBS Working Knowledge)

What contributes to an individual's ability to remain a star? To what extent does past star performance predicate future star performance? And to what extent does a key organizational factor—colleague quality—help or hinder the ability to sustain star performance? The performance of stars is an important career matter for individuals as well as for managers who want to inspire, nurture, and recruit stars.

A new study by Harvard Business School's Boris Groysberg and Linda-Eling Lee on star knowledge workers, specifically security analysts, addresses these questions. As they explain in a forthcoming article in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, it is true that a star's past performance indicates future performance—but the quality of colleagues in his or her organization also has a significant impact on the ability to maintain the highest quality output.

"Stars need to recognize that despite their talent, knowledge, experience, and reputation, who they work with really matters for sustaining top performance," say the authors.

The article, "The Effects of Colleague Quality on Top Performance: The Case of Security Analysts," outlines important implications for star players as well as their managers. Groysberg and Lee explained more in this interview with HBS Working Knowledge.

Martha Lagace: Let's begin with the key question you ask in your paper: Who "owns" top performance: individual stars or their organizations?

Boris Groysberg and Linda-Eling Lee: Both. We found that even though an individual's past performance can indicate future performance, the organization also significantly affects top performers' ability to maintain their performance.

Specifically, top performers rely on high-quality colleagues in their organizations to improve the quality of their own work and to deliver it effectively to clients.

Q: What is important now about knowledge workers from both a business and a theoretical perspective? Where do you see beliefs about performance playing out in business today?

A: Some have pointed out that the main difference between knowledge workers and, say, manual workers, is that knowledge workers own the means of production. That means they carry the knowledge, information, and skills in their heads and can take it with them. As the basis of competition shifts to superior knowledge and information, organizations have naturally become increasingly concerned that they attract, leverage, and retain the best knowledge workers.

In addition, our culture is very enamored of stars and with the idea that extraordinary talent accounts for individuals' extraordinary performance. The business media likes to treat star knowledge workers, such as top analysts, bankers, lawyers, and CEOs, as if they are star athletes. There is an assumption that these star knowledge workers, like star athletes, actually "own" everything they need to perform at the top level and can take that knowledge and skill anywhere. They are treated as free agents who can take their top performance to work for the highest bidder.

Our study debunks that myth. Star analysts rely a lot on the quality of the colleagues that their organization provides to sustain top performance. They cannot simply replicate their top performance in any organizational context.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


U.S., Iran to hold talks on Iraq: Washington wants to focus on reining in the insurgency. Tehran agrees to the agenda but may have broader aims. (Ramin Mostaghim and Louise Roug, May 14, 2007, LA Times)

The U.S. and Iran will hold rare meetings within the next few weeks in Baghdad to discuss the insurgency in Iraq, officials from the two nations said Sunday.

The talks, to be conducted between the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad and Iranian officials, would be the highest-level negotiations acknowledged between the two countries in recent years. The announcement suggested a new willingness on the part of the Bush administration to reach out to a longtime foe.

Tough to keep folks with common interests apart forever.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Vet raising ’Canes: Wilfork ready to mentor rookies (Karen Guregian, 5/14/07, Boston Herald)

Big brother already has given the boys a lecture. He’s already offered up a quick course in Patriots 101. And you better believe when Vince Wilfork talked, Brandon Meriweather and Kareem Brown listened. [...]

“Both the guys I gave the same speech. So, they understand what we expect out of them. They understand what I expect out of them,” Wilfork said Saturday night before participating in Kevin Faulk [stats]’s charity softball game. “They know what I’m talking about. Get ready to win ball games.

“I just told them, do what you do best . . . play football. Everything else will come to you. Just be willing to learn. You don’t know everything; you’re a rookie. . . . Just be able to learn.” [...]

“You’re a first-round draft pick, so there’s a lot expected out of you. He understands that. I’m not going to be in his ear every day. It’s like I’m going to be his big brother,” Wilfork said. “These guys are coming up to someplace they don’t even know, but they’re coming up here with someone they know, myself and (defensive lineman) Santonio Thomas, so we’re going to take care of them.

“But at the same time, they have got to get ready to play football. And that’s what we do best, play football.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Rising Exports Putting Dent in Trade Gap (JEREMY W. PETERS, 5/14/-07, NY Times)

Even as companies in the United States are gaining ground overseas, they are also sending more American-made products abroad. A weaker dollar is adding to their good fortunes, helping to make American goods and services more competitive in foreign markets.

As a result, it now looks as if the huge trade deficit, which swelled to a record $765.3 billion last year, could gradually decrease. The trade gap widened in March, mostly because of higher prices for imported oil, but the vast disparity between what Americans import and export is expected to narrow, which would allow trade to contribute to economic growth in the United States for the first time in more than a decade.

The shift to a more export-driven economy, if it continues, could add more jobs at home and help the United States bounce back from its slowest economic expansion in four years.

When the trade deficit shrinks, “home-grown demand is being fed by home-grown production instead of foreign production,” said Chris Varvares, the president of Macroeconomic Advisers, an economic research firm in St. Louis. “That requires more domestic employment, and that’s better for the domestic economy.”

Faster growth in Europe and Asia is helping to cushion the blow of a collapsing housing boom that has hampered domestic consumer spending, creating more demand from elsewhere for goods and services made in the United States.

Rather than hurting many American companies, a weak dollar is actually providing a strong lift. The exchange rate difference stokes profits from earnings generated abroad, countering the adverse effects on importers who must pay more and Americans traveling abroad with a less valuable currency in their wallets.

“The old notion that if the dollar’s bad, corporate profits have to go down is no longer correct,” said Howard Silverblatt, a senior analyst at Standard & Poor’s. “There’s a lot of growth going on in the rest of the world, and companies have to be there if they want to participate. There’s a lot to be sold.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Dadullah's death hits Taliban hard (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 5/15/07, Asia Times)

However, Dadullah's death is certainly a serious blow to the Taliban's "soul" and their field strategy, as Dadullah had emerged as a ruthlessly efficient leader in the battlefield.

He was to be the driving force behind this year's spring offensive - Ghazwatul Badr - and he had enhanced his influence in the North and South Waziristan Pakistani tribal areas, and even made contact with the Pakistani establishment.

Give them a week and they'll be explaining why this is a bad thing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Why the French Left Was Left Behind (Kang Kyung-hee, 5/14/07, he Chosun Ilbo)

Sarkozy harvested an unexplored "blue ocean" with policies and strategies that were new to France's right. Chirac was clever at exploiting France's national pride -- he would feign passionate tantrums and stalk out of meetings if French wasn't used at international conferences the way English is. In contrast, Sarkozy didn't hesitate to point out France's shortcomings. "France is lagging behind Britain because we work less than the British," he said. With his country mired in high unemployment and low growth, he urged the French to "work harder and make France competitive again."

Meanwhile the Socialist Party behaved as if it were the ruling party rather than the opposition, campaigning to keep the status quo and singing the party's past glories. It didn't press for change the way other European socialist parties have. Under Prime Minister Tony Blair's "Third Way," Britain's Labour Party guided the economy to a 10-year-long economic boom. In Germany, the Social Democratic Party's former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder pushed for reform and laid the foundation for the economic recovery that Germany is enjoying today.

But the French leftists weren't about change. In fact the Socialist Party called for re-nationalizing the public corporations that have been handed over to the private sector -- at a time when even China, a nominally communist country, is changing at a breakneck pace. With France wallowing in debt, the Socialist Party wanted to raise the minimum wage even further and keep the 35-hour work week.

An election is a business that retails dreams and visions. Faced with unpopular sentiment towards his ruling party, Sarkozy came up with attractive new commodities. But the Socialist Party just repackaged its old merchandise by wrapping it in the pretty packing paper of Segolene Royal.

As a result, the conventional wisdom that those with vested interests will always support the right while workers will always support the left proved wrong. In this election, 49 percent of white-collar voters and 46 percent of blue-collar voters supported Sarkozy. Fifty-seven percent of the young voters between 25 and 34 who wanted change backed Sarkozy. On the other hand, 55 percent of those with vested interests between 45 and 59 voted for Royal. Only belatedly has the Socialist Party examined itself and realized that it hasn't changed at all over the past 50 years.

At the End of History the Second Wayers have no choice but to be reactionary.

May 13, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:15 PM


Shiites move toward sovereign image, away from Iran (Garrett Therolf, 5/13/07, Los Angeles Times)

Iraq's largest Shiite party pledged its allegiance Saturday to the country's top Shiite cleric in a move apparently aimed at establishing its distance from Iran, where it formed and grew for decades before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion here.

The announcement by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq was not a sudden shift. It has sought to align itself with the cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, ever since coming out of exile in Iran, claiming one-quarter of Iraq's Parliament seats and taking control of the southern provinces centered in Najaf with its Badr Organization militia.

But the announcement did seem to be an effort to solidify a more sovereign Iraqi image, and it included pledges to oppose "terrorists" and cooperate with Sunnis, all commitments sought by the U.S.

In the announcement, party leader Abdelaziz Hakim said the changes were a reflection of "the new equilibrium ruling Iraq." As a result, the party dropped "revolution" from its name and will call itself the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 PM


China article triggers spat (Mark Dodd, May 14, 2007, The Australian)

FOREIGN Minister Alexander Downer has branded "foolish and irresponsible" remarks by Labor foreign affairs spokesman Robert McClelland supporting a closer relationship with China at the expense of the US alliance.

Mr McClelland issued a statement yesterday describing the article in a Melbourne newspaper as "a completely misleading representation of my discussions with the journalist".

But Mr McClelland's remarks on the future of the US alliance underline the weakness of Labor's commitment to it, Mr Downer said.

Anglo, not Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 PM


The God Solution: When it comes to religion in the public sphere, Columbia's Father knows best. (Andrew Flynn, The Bwog)

Richard John Neuhaus is Columbia's intellectual superstar you've never heard of. You've never written a paper for him, you've never checked his CULPA reviews, and you've certainly never shown up late to one of his classes. This is because Neuhaus's lectures are delivered not from a Hamilton Hall lectern, but from the pulpit in St. Paul's Chapel. Every Sunday for the past four spring semesters, Father Neuhaus has made his way uptown from his parish on 14th Street to say the 5 PM Mass at Columbia.

"Lecture" is a loose way of describing what Neuhaus does — but not that loose. The Catholic priest is an orator of Roman proportions — with a stentorian voice, perfect sense of tming, and a knack for rhetorical flourish. The sermons themselves are peppered through with references to great works of theology, philosophy, and literature—classic and contemporary. All are variations on a theme: "the attractiveness of the high adventure of Catholic faithfulness," as he puts it. They are recorded and archived on the Columbia Catholic Ministry's web site for the greater listening public.

Neuhaus's relationship with Columbia is also a variation on a theme: his status as a maverick intellectual. When New York Magazine named the top five intellectual movers and shakers in Manhattan, they grouped Father Neuhaus with Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia physics professor Brian Greene, NYU law professor Noah Feldman, and CUNY philosopher Saul Kripke; Neuhaus is the only one who does not teach at a university. Neuhaus is famous not only as speaker, but as the Editor-in-Chief of First Things, which is — as the New York Times put it, and First Things re-put it on their subscription cards — "the spiritual nerve center of the new conservatism." The monthly magazine of religion, politics, and culture is indeed the place to find top-notch conservative thought presented for a general reading audience. This is the work of impresario-Neuhaus. Once a far left-wing Lutheran minister, he re-emerged in the 1990s as a conservative Catholic priest and founder of First Things.

Both inside and outside its pages, he has mounted a paradigm attack against secularism in politics.

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Posted by Matt Murphy at 5:29 PM


Teachers stage fake gun attack on kids (5/13/07, Associated Press)

Staff members of an elementary school staged a fictitious gun attack on students during a class trip, telling them it was not a drill as the children cried and hid under tables.

The mock attack Thursday night was intended as a learning experience and lasted five minutes during the weeklong trip to a state park, said Scales Elementary School Assistant Principal Don Bartch, who led the trip.

"We got together and discussed what we would have done in a real situation," he said.

But parents of the sixth-grade students were outraged. [...]

During the last night of the trip, staff members convinced the 69 students that there was a gunman on the loose. They were told to lie on the floor or hide underneath tables and stay quiet. A teacher, disguised in a hooded sweat shirt, even pulled on locked door. [...]

Principal Catherine Stephens declined to say whether the staff members involved would face disciplinary action, but said the situation "involved poor judgment."

Just what precisely do public-school teachers have to do to get canned?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:40 PM


Obama Isn't Ready For Prime Time (Thomas Lifson, 5/13/07, Real Clear Politics)

With almost 18 months left until the general election, it is becoming painfully obvious to those who look through the media smokescreen that Barack Obama is not ready for prime time. A nice smile, two autobiographical and admittedly not strictly factual books, and a ready supply of feel-good bromides about fighting cynicism do not a capable president make.

John Hinderaker of Powerline has done an admirable job of exposing the sheer reckless mangling of facts by Obama (and his Media Matters defenders) when he attacked Detroit's Big Three and ludicrously claimed that Japan's automobile fleet gets an average of 45 miles per gallon, a claim that Toyota itself quickly refuted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:26 AM


Top Taliban commander killed in Afghan fighting (The Associated Press, May 13, 2007)

The Taliban's most prominent military commander, a one-legged fighter who orchestrated an ethnic massacre and a rash of beheadings, was killed in a U.S.-led military operation in southern Afghanistan, officials said Sunday.

Mullah Dadullah, a top lieutenant of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, was killed Saturday in the southern province of Helmand, said Said Ansari, the spokesman for Afghanistan's intelligence service. A NATO statement confirmed his death, saying it had dealt the insurgency "a serious blow."

Maybe they don't get how a fearsome Spring offensive is supposed to work?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


Two Leaders, Two Uses of Power (Jim Hoagland, May 13, 2007, Washington Post)

Tony Blair leaves office still a romantic, a leader who tried to do too much and failed because his ambitions were so high. Jacques Chirac's legacy is that of a political cynic who failed by trying to do too little.

The British prime minister has announced that on June 27, he will quit the unassuming townhouse at 10 Downing Street that he has occupied for 10 years. The French president departs from the majestic Elysee Palace this week after 12 years. Both leave in the same condition: politically scarred and deeply unpopular at home after sparkling beginnings.

These two leaders could have changed Europe and perhaps the world had they been able to work together. Instead, they became bitter rivals who repeatedly thwarted each other, sometimes for the fun of it.

The character gap helps explain why history will reassess Blair's record more generously than it will Chirac's.

...both Mr. Blair and Mr. Chirac were succeeded by Blairites. Chirac staked his presidency on opposition to the Anglosphere and left behind a France dying to enter it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


Reinventing newspapers is Murdoch's long-range goal (Richard Siklos, May 13, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

Whatever Murdoch says he may do with such a powerful enterprise, a close look at what he has done in the past - particularly how he has deployed his far larger Hollywood and television properties - is a telling indicator of what life may be like for Dow Jones in a Murdoch regime.

When Murdoch bought the struggling 20th Century Fox studio in 1985, Hollywood viewed him as just the latest arriviste, doomed to be suckered by the industry's vagaries. Yet Murdoch restored the studio, let his staff there produce the films they wanted (for the most part), and used Fox as a springboard to start his Fox television network and a passel of cable channels and other ventures around the globe.

"Rupert Murdoch is utterly consistent," said Barry Diller, who once ran Fox and now oversees IAC/Interactive. "It's not like he's adding toys. This is oxygen to him."

In almost every case, Murdoch endured years of losses to put new offerings like Sky Television in England and the Fox News Channel in the United States on the map.

There is scant evidence of Murdoch's envelope-pushing imprimatur at the studio that is the center of it all, just as it is less in evidence at the large quality newspapers he owns, including The Times of London and The Australian.

Murdoch's long-held desire to own The Journal fits into a similar grand plan: to revitalize if not save the original business on which he built his empire: newspapers. His vision is to unite the far-flung news businesses he owns into a seamless digital platform anchored by the Web-oriented Journal and, in the process, reinvent the newspaper industry that his company was built on.

"We are a relatively old company deeply rooted in print journalism," Murdoch told his top news executives in his Australian drawl a few days after the "Idol" party. "Now, we have to make a huge leap into a completely different world."

A couple of days embedded in the Murdoch camp yielded a few clues about what makes Rupert run and why. At the age of 76, he appears to be in his strongest position in years - with his company's share price up nearly 50 percent in the past two years and his grip over his company finally secure.

Murdoch's many critics over the years have accused him of a cynical world view that appeals to the lowest common denominator. In sum, they say, he is willing to sacrifice principle for profit.

"His business is privatized, government propaganda - that's all the company essentially does," says Bruce Page, a journalist who worked at The Sunday Times of London before Murdoch owned it and is among his toughest critics. Page's 2003 book, "The Murdoch Archipelago," portrayed him as nothing less than a threat to democracy.

"It isn't that Murdoch's particularly wicked," he wrote. "He's not a fearsome, warriorlike figure. He's Falstaff. He has absolutely no concept of honor."

Because honor resides in putting out unpopular anti-government propaganda like the dying portions of the media?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


War without limits: New scholarship on the origins of 'total war,' from the French Revolution to World War II, helps explain the war on terror. (Christopher Shea, May 13, 2007, Boston Globe)

Sometimes it seems as if the country has fallen into a high-stakes, all-consuming global conflict, and sometimes it seems that nothing has changed at all.

In the war on terrorism, American soldiers and intelligence agents are active on every continent. At home, our cities gird themselves for a major attack. The country, Vice President Cheney and others argue, faces an "existential" threat. We are pitted, one contributor to The Wall Street Journal wrote, against "an enemy who will stop at nothing to achieve world domination and force a life devoid of freedom upon all."

Yet most Americans live very much as they did before Sept. 11.

To historians, the situation poses an intriguing paradox that has sparked fresh interest in the concept of "total wars," conflicts that burst through the old boundaries of fighting and came to define warfare for at least the first half of the 20th century. The idea was first articulated during the mechanized horror of World War I, but historians today are pushing for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon, an effort that may yield insights into the conflicts unfolding today.

Two scholars have just published studies -- one on Napoleon's Europe, the other on the annihilation from the air, by German bombers, of the Basque city of Guernica in 1937 -- that trace the roots of total war. These works, and others, argue that total wars have been, in part, a product of modern technology (poison gas, bombs, etc.) and the modern economies that can produce these weapons on a mass scale. But, this burgeoning work suggests, total wars are also very much a product of modern ideologies that contribute to the idea that a nation at war should hold nothing back.

Folks would understandably not like to acknowledge the fact, but total war is an inevitable outgrowth of democracy. If sovereignty in a state resides in all of the people then all of the people are legitimate targets in wartime. The argument that they may be victims of their own regime can hardly hold water given "their duty, to throw off such Government."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Iran is a hot destination for Iraqis seeking calm: Religious tourism healing old wounds (Anne Barnard, May 13, 2007, Boston Globe)

Jalil Abbas prayed at the Shi'ite Muslim shrine he had dreamed of visiting all his life, relaxed and energetic even after a 19-hour bus ride across Iran. Free for the moment from the fear and tension of their home in southern Iraq, his young nieces explored the busy market, showing off matching pairs of pink-tinted sunglasses they bought earlier in the family's religious pilgrimage. Abbas's wife, Shukriya Hadi, soaked in the calm of the shrine's vast courtyard, where knots of women and children relaxed on the smooth paving stones.

It didn't bother them that they were Iraqi Arabs in mostly-Persian Iran. Nor did Abbas, 45, feel nervous here, even though he spent most of his 20s as a conscript solder in Saddam Hussein's bloody eight-year war with Iran.

Making his first trip across the border, Abbas said he saw a different Iran from the dangerous, meddling power that Iraqi and US officials describe when they accuse the neighboring country of fueling the fighting in Iraq. Instead, he and many of his fellow pilgrims found a deep resonance with their Shi'ite faith, a social order they admired and, most of all, a respite from violence.

"We envy the Iranians for the way they live," Abbas said on his fifth day in Iran. He felt a kinship with them, he said, that was growing stronger than his ties to Iraq's Sunni Muslims, who share his nationality, Arabic language, and ethnicity.

He even said he would like to see Iraq adopt a system of government like Iran's -- the theocracy established by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after the 1979 Islamic revolution, in which ultimate power rests with Shi'ite clerics.

"I believe justice would come with this system," Abbas said, challenging a long-held US assumption that Iraqi Shi'ites want their religious leaders to shun a direct role in government.

A Shi'ite Republic could work quite nicely if the clerics played the role of the monarchy -- retaining the power to call electionss and perhaps some veto power -- but did not try governing directly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Feud turned deadly in N.H.: Passerby guns down police officer's killer (Michael Levenson and John M Guilfoil, May 13, 2007, Boston Globe)

New Hampshire authorities said yesterday that they will not press charges against a former Marine who stepped into a deadly shooting and killed a 24-year-old high school dropout who had moments earlier fatally shot a police officer.

The former Marine, Gregory W. Floyd, 49, was driving with his son along Route 116 in Franconia on Friday night when he saw Liko Kenney, 24, shoot Franconia Police Corporal Bruce McKay, 48, four times in the torso. After Kenney drove his Toyota Celica over McKay as the officer lay on the ground, Floyd grabbed the officer's service weapon and shot and killed Kenney. [...]

New Hampshire's attorney general, Kelly A. Ayotte, said Floyd will not face charges because he was justified in using deadly force.

"Based on the results of the investigation, our conclusion is that Gregory Floyd's actions were justified based upon dangerous circumstances confronted with and efforts to assist McKay," Ayotte said at a news conference in Concord.

Which is why Ms Ayotte is our next governor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


NRI popularises 'the blues of India' (Times of India, 13 May, 2007)

An Indo-Canadian singer here is bringing several generations together with her music that combines ghazals, Punjabi folk songs and African blues, apart from other musical strains.

Many of India-born Kiran Ahluwalia's fans identify her as a singer of the "blues of India". [...]

The 40-year-old added that typically 80 per cent of her audience, even South Asians, can't understand the lyrics.

"My own friends don't understand the language because so many young South Asians never learned the language. English is their mother tongue. They don't understand the poetry. But the melody communicates the poetry to them. So they can enjoy the essence of the song and get the same emotional release from hearing it even if they don't understand the words," Kiran said.

Most of her songs are based on lyrics of South Asian poets.

"I'm always looking for poets and Toronto has a dearth of them. It's so exciting to compose something that was written right here in Mississauga or Brampton. The Toronto scene for Indian and Pakistani poets is pretty active," said the ghazal singer, who is presently busy with her next album "Wanderlust".

The new album is a fusion of Portuguese music, jazz and Saharan African blues with ghazals, the Toronto Star newspaper reported.

But she refuses to call it fusion music.

"I don't think any artist loves the word 'fusion'. I like calling it 'my music'. It reflects what my culture is - Indian and Canadian and all my influences," explained Kiran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


A Memphis political dynasty wanes: The Ford family has held elected office for two generations now. Their scandal-plagued era may be ending. (Jenny Jarvie, May 13, 2007, LA Times)

The 65th birthday of former state Sen. John Ford was yet another bad day for the Fords of Memphis.

The 31-year Democratic legislator marked the May 3 milestone in a Nashville court, scheduling a trial date with federal prosecutors who have charged him with concealing $800,000 in kickbacks from state contractors.

Less than a week earlier, a Memphis jury found him guilty of taking $55,000 in cash bribes, a conviction that carries a prison sentence of at least three years and 10 months.

John Ford's conviction represents the most significant smear thus far on a family that has been dogged by scandal for years. In the wake of several election setbacks last year for a younger generation of Fords, his troubles might serve as a coda to a decades-long political tale.

"The Ford political machine is coming to an end, and sometimes the end isn't as pretty as the beginning," said Larry Moore, a business law professor at the University of Memphis who has known the Fords for years.

If Harold Jr. were to switch to the GOP this would just be the beginning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Ethiopia's Iraq (David Ignatius, May 13, 2007, Washington Post)

"Get it done quickly and get out." That, says a senior U.S. diplomat here, was the goal of the little-noticed war that Ethiopia has been fighting, with American support, against Islamic extremists in Somalia. But this in-and-out strategy encounters the same real-world obstacles that America is facing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Conflict is less the problem than what comes after it. That's the dilemma that America and its allies are discovering in a world where war-fighting and nation-building have become perversely mixed. It took the Ethiopians just a week to drive a Muslim radical movement known as the Islamic Courts from Mogadishu in December. The hard part wasn't chasing the enemy from the capital but putting the country back together.

"The Ethiopians are looking for an opportunity to exit, but not until they are confident that the security environment will prevent a return to chaos," says a State Department official who helps oversee policy for the region. And in Somalia, a backward country that has had 14 governments since 1991, that process of stabilization will be anything but easy.

The obvious difference is that the Ba'athists will never return to power in Iraq while the Courts will resume their leadership of Somalia, and with our blessing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Pair of Sagging Sports Jump Back Into the Spotlight (George Solomon, May 13, 2007, Washington Post)

From the 1930s through the 1950s, when the late Shirley Povich was writing six or seven columns a week in these pages, horse racing and boxing were two of the top draws in sports, with baseball, college football and golf. The NFL hadn't yet gripped the nation, Red Auerbach was trying to convince fans that pro basketball was worth a look and Ultimate Fighting took place only in alleys.

But times change and the sports caravan moves on (who else condenses 77 years in one paragraph for you?). Fans don't watch the fights very much anymore, with the heavyweight division nearly extinct and stars of any weight class few and far between. The Triple Crown still has major appeal, but day-to-day horse racing struggles for even a few lines in most newspapers.

"Both sports were a big deal in the day," NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol said in a telephone interview. "But boxing can no longer get access to a big audience."


"Advertisers don't want to be involved in boxing. They think something will go wrong."

Ebersol said he couldn't be more pleased with NBC's ratings on the Derby ("a 50 percent jump" in seven years), adding that the sport "disappears" after the Triple Crown. "These great horses seldom race again beyond June 15. Nowadays a horse goes from the cradle to the Derby to stud. You can't create stars that way.

"Seabiscuit," Ebersol added, "raced twice a month for years."

Jim Gluckson, the spokesman for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, knows the sport has a problem once the Triple Crown ends. "We're pointing to the second half of the year, to the Breeders' Cup [Oct. 27] with the Breeders' Cup Challenge [24 qualifying races] in the coming months for 24 spots. And we'd like to promote our personalities, like Street Sense jockey Calvin Borel meeting Queen Elizabeth II at a state dinner at the White House."

Neither Mayweather nor De La Hoya was at the White House on Monday. Nor was any other fighter. That doesn't bother Junious Hinton, a veteran boxing coach who runs Sugar Ray Leonard's gym in Landover. "Back in the day, we just wanted an opportunity to fight in the ring. Today, the kids have other things they can do. But we still get them here. They dream of being the next Sugar Ray Leonard. We lose a third of our kids when they see the work it takes to become a fighter and we lose another third when they actually start boxing. The kids who stay love it."

Scott Buchanan stayed. A Spingarn product, he's been a sparring partner to some fighters and a mentor and trainer to others. Now, at 37, he wants his chance, knowing his age is not in his favor. "I love the discipline boxing demands and the challenge. I love the smell of the gym, the feel of the ring and even the old fight films. I believe what I tell the kids: I'd rather fight in the ring than the streets." He has a fight this month.

All of the greatest sports writings concern baseball, boxing, horse racing and hunting/fishing. But it may be that their very literary quality makes them bad fits for the modern media. After all, the less thought a sport requires the better it does on tv.

You would think though that if someone could manage to take over boxing and run the whole sport like a single league--getting rid of most of the current weight divisions and getting us back to something like 8 actual world champions -- it could thrive again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Religious Groups Reap Federal Aid for Pet Projects (DIANA B. HENRIQUES and ANDREW W. LEHREN, 5/13/07, NY Times)

Religious organizations have long competed for federal contracts to provide social services, and they have tried to influence Congress on matters of moral and social policy — indeed, most major denominations have a presence in Washington to monitor such legislation. But an analysis of federal records shows that some religious organizations are also hiring professional lobbyists to pursue the narrowly tailored individual appropriations known as earmarks.

A New York Times analysis shows that the number of earmarks for religious organizations, while small compared with the overall number, have increased sharply in recent years. From 1989 to January 2007, Congress approved almost 900 earmarks for religious groups, totaling more than $318 million, with more than half of them granted in the Congressional session that included the 2004 presidential election. By contrast, the same analysis showed fewer than 60 earmarks for faith-based groups in the Congressional session that covered 1997 and 1998.

Good thing the GOP has stacked the Court.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


In Search of Flannery O’Connor (LAWRENCE DOWNES, February 4, 2007, NY Times)

THE sun was white above the trees, and sinking fast. I was a few miles past Milledgeville, Ga., somewhere outside of Toomsboro, on a two-lane highway that rose and plunged and twisted through red clay hills and pine woods. I had no fixed destination, just a plan to follow a back road to some weedy field in time to watch the sun go down on Flannery O'Connor's Georgia.

Somewhere outside Toomsboro is where, in O'Connor's best-known short story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” a family has a car accident and a tiresome old grandmother has an epiphany. The fog of petty selfishness that has shrouded her life clears when she feels a sudden spasm of kindness for a stranger, a brooding prison escapee who calls himself the Misfit.

Of course, that's also the moment that he shoots her in the chest, but in O'Connor's world, where good and evil are as real as a spreading puddle of blood, it amounts to a happy ending. The grandmother is touched by grace at the last possible moment, and she dies smiling.

“She would of been a good woman,” the Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

O'Connor's short stories and novels are set in a rural South where people know their places, mind their manners and do horrible things to one another. It's a place that somehow hovers outside of time, where both the New Deal and the New Testament feel like recent history. It's soaked in violence and humor, in sin and in God. He may have fled the modern world, but in O'Connor's he sticks around, in the sun hanging over the tree line, in the trees and farm beasts, and in the characters who roost in the memory like gargoyles. It's a land haunted by Christ — not your friendly hug-me Jesus, but a ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of the mind, pursuing the unwilling.

Many people — me for instance — are in turn haunted by O'Connor. Her doctrinally strict, mordantly funny stories and novels are as close to perfect as writing gets. Her language is so spare and efficient, her images and character's speech so vivid, they burn into the mind. Her strange Southern landscape was one I knew viscerally but, until this trip, had never set foot in. I had wondered how her fictional terrain and characters, so bizarre yet so blindingly real, might compare with the real places and people she lived among and wrote about.

Hence my pilgrimage to Milledgeville this fall, and my race against the setting sun.

May 12, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:22 PM


Watch out, Nigella: dad's back in town: Nigel Lawson may be in idyllic semi-retirement in France - but, as he tells William Keegan, he still has the stomach for a battle over climate change that could keep him in the headlines alongside his celebrity offspring (William Keegan, May 13, 2007, The Observer)

The industrialist Sir Derek Hornby once related the following exchange: he was having a drink with Lord Lawson when his friend asked: 'Derek, you've got famous children, haven't you?' Hornby replied: 'Yes, I suppose I have - and a famous son-in-law.' (Sir Derek is the father of novelist Nick Hornby and father-in-law to novelist Robert Harris.)

Lawson pondered this, then asked: 'Do you find that people are more interested in your children than you?' (Lawson is the father of celebrity cook Nigella and journalist Dominic.)

Hornby considered. 'Yes, I suppose I do. It's rather nice, really.'

'So do I - and I was Chancellor of the Exchequer,' replied Lawson senior, with a twinkle in his eye.

Time moves on. Lord Lawson of Blaby, Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1983 to 1989, and before that a distinguished journalist on the Financial Times, the Sunday Telegraph and the Spectator (which he edited), is back in the news.

Lawson's contrarian stand on global warming has attracted much attention. His position is also more subtle than sometimes made out: he is quite happy to have fun by pointing out how often the scientific consensus of previous centuries was overturned by subsequent events and discoveries. But the gravamen of his attack is not so much his questioning of the science - Lawson is not in the George W Bush denial camp - as his scepticism about the conventional view as to what the response should be.

Um, that is the Bush camp.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:47 PM


Ross Ohlendorf-S- Yankees (RotoworldMay. 12, 2007)
Ross Ohlendorf was roughed up for six earned runs and nine hits in 2 2/3 innings Friday in a loss for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Well, the Yankees may not have landed Roger Clemens if they still had Randy Johnson, but they can't be liking their return for the big left-hander so far. Luis Vizcaino has been awful in the bullpen, and Ohlendorf has allowed 42 hits and 19 walks in 34 2/3 innings for Scranton. He walked a total of 29 batters in 182 2/3 innings last year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


Friend Bruno Behren, with whose blog and radio show many will be familiar, has entered an NPR talent show, with this parody, Wanna be a Talk Star .

Vote like it's Philadelphia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


First for UK as black and red kites produce two young (FRANK URQUHART, 5/12/07, The Scotsman)

IT HAS been a well-kept secret in the world of ornithology, but it was revealed yesterday that for the first time in Britain a rare migratory black kite has bred with a native red kite.

When we were kids there were Abbott and Costello movies, now there's Darwinism, though not for much longer...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


Exuberant spirit moves Arcade Fire (Joan Anderman, May 12, 2007, Boston Globe)

"Set my spirit free," begged Win Butler, a towering man standing on a tall riser coaxing massive chords from a pipe organ. Arcade Fire's frontman was singing "My Body Is a Cage" at the Orpheum on Thursday, accompanied by nine musicians and several thousand music lovers, all united in the vaguely defined but radically exuberant quest for release. For the Montreal indie band touring behind a glorious collection of dystopian epics called "Neon Bible," that means transcending the soul-numbing nightmare of modern life. For others, it signified freedom from finals. The particular circumstances hardly mattered.

The show was a revival disguised as a rock concert, a spirited gathering predicat ed on the belief that the right combination of hurdy-gurdies, French horns, electric guitars, and accordions can take you higher. There was an element of self-fulfilling prophecy to the proceedings -- crusades and concerts alike are largely a matter of preaching to the converted, and Arcade Fire's fans exhibit the fierce allegiance of early adopters whose obscure discovery has suddenly become a juggernaut. But the band played its part with heart and vigor.

Arcade Fire playlist here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


A show of hands: Leagues, titles, cash prizes? Rock, Paper, Scissors has come a long way. (Steve Friess, May 12, 2007, Boston Globe)

Ever since he was crowned regional champion, Matt Corron has been stopped on sidewalks and in bars by folks who want a crack at beating him. Last week, a stranger had to pay for Corron's breakfast after challenging him -- and losing -- at the Boulevard Diner in Worcester.

Corron rarely loses at Rock, Paper, Scissors, and for his talent he's on his way to Las Vegas this weekend for a shot at $50,000 and a national title.

Wait -- there's a national title for that? And money? For that innocuous childhood game and conflict resolution method most often used to decide who gets the last Creamsicle?

Believe it. The two-day 2007 USA Rock Paper Scissors Tournament Finals will bring together more than 300 regional finalists from across the nation, including about two dozen from New England. Each won a free contest at a neighborhood bar or restaurant, then triumphed again at a competition among several bars in their area to earn a berth for the ultimate prize.

"I take it very seriously," said Corron, 23, a history-political science major at Worcester State College. "If I win, that's a nice little paycheck."

Money cheapens the sport.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM

I'M SPECIAL, SO SPECIAL (via Gene Brown):

Cassandra v. Cassandra (Peter Huber, 05.21.07, Forbes)

The dire warming scenarios hinge on predictions about engines and power plants that burn fossil fuels in rich countries and ovens and livestock fueled by wood and grass in poor ones. All will be well if these old technologies can be curbed or displaced by new ones fueled by sun, wind, corn or uranium. Or alternatively, if billions of ordinary people have a change of heart and just stop craving more energy. The dire terrorism scenarios hinge on predictions about biological and nuclear technologies falling into the hands of sociopaths. All will be well if these technologies can be quarantined, or better still, eliminated altogether. Or, alternatively, if sociopaths have a change of heart and just stop craving more death.

Some people, in other words, see doomsday coming in the casual--but not intentionally destructive--behavior of ordinary people everywhere, and especially affluent Americans. Others see it coming in the conscious--and altogether malignant--scheming of fanatics hiding in huts and caves.

All warming predictions assume that the global political environment will stay cool. They assume that the global economy will continue to prosper, fueled in no small part by 600 billion barrels of oil pumped calmly and efficiently from the Persian Gulf over the course of the next half-century or so. They assume, in short, that people, politics, economics, religion and philosophy are more stable than the earth's climate.

More than stability, they imagine a human (and personal) significance for which there is little evidence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


Majority of Iraq Lawmakers Seek Timetable for U.S. Exit (KIRK SEMPLE, 5/12/07, NY Times)

A majority of Iraq’s Parliament members have signed a petition for a timetable governing a withdrawal of American troops, several legislators said Friday.

The withdrawal would depend on the growth and maturity of the Iraqi security forces, to ensure that the departure would not create a security vacuum and accelerate the sectarian conflict, the petition’s sponsors said.

“The troop withdrawal would move in parallel with the buildup of Iraqi troops, but their stay should not be for a long time,” said Saleh al-Igili, a member of the parliamentary bloc allied with the anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, which sponsored the petition.

Officials with Mr. Sadr’s bloc said 144 of Parliament’s 275 members — including Sunnis, Shiites and at least one Kurd — had signed.

It gets harder and harder to tell Mookie from W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


MIRACULOUS CONCEPTION: A REVIEW OF CHILDREN OF MEN: In Alfonso Cuarón’s brooding and brilliant new film, the promise of new life sparks a light in a lifeless world. (John Murphy, Godspy)

One character, a former midwife, observes, “As the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in. Very odd, what happens in a world without children's voices.” Very odd, indeed, and very grim: gray and crumbling buildings loom like lowering clouds over gray and crumbling people in a world bereft of hope. The year is 2027 and the youngest person in the world has just been murdered at age 18. Life, love and color have been drained from the monochromatic universe Cuarón & Co. have envisioned, where London resembles the ravaged war-zones of Baghdad, and random café bombings are commonplace.

Most sci-fi films offer panoramic shots of meticulously designed cityscapes and “ooh-ahh” visions of flying cars, life-like robots and sleek, silver skyscrapers reaching to the stratosphere. In 2001: a space odyssey, Stanley Kubrick imagined a hyper-mechanized future in which humans had become indistinguishable from the computers they’d created. In Children of Men, humanity is moving in the opposite direction, towards a pack-animal mentality—suspicious, ghettoized and violent. With the human species on the out, the brakes of society have come off. News broadcasts give glimpses of once-great cities toppled by fear, panic and rioting.

Somehow, I think Cuaron got things more right than the venerable Kubrick. Critics have called his vision of the future “dystopian,” but the most chilling element is its utter plausibility, even its familiarity. As mankind’s expiration date draws near, what would prevent civilization from falling prey to the second law of thermodynamics?

Entropy has a human face in the protagonist, Theo Faron. (“Theos” is Greek for God, so perhaps I spoke too soon when I said His name isn’t mentioned in the movie.) A one-time political activist turned listless alcoholic and cog-in-the-bureaucratic machine, the loss of Theo’s young son, Dylan, and humanity’s ticking time clock have sucked the joy from his life. The detail that he works as a paper-pushing grunt for the Ministry of Energy is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment of gallows-humor.

Like Graham Greene’s indelible Whiskey Priest, Theo is resistant to grace, disillusioned by life and reliant on belts of Bell’s snuck from his pocket to get him through the day. Played with masterful restraint and anti-movie-star grit by Clive Owen, Theo looks like he hasn’t shaved in a week or showered in a month. His disheveled hair, bleary, bloodshot eyes, crumpled trench coat, and hidden bottle of bourbon are the outward manifestations of a man, soul-sick and world-weary, drifting rudderless through a fog, his ideals swallowed by despair. Owen projects the wounded vulnerability beneath the cynical shell he’s adopted as a defense-mechanism; sixty years ago, Humphrey Bogart would have been cast in this part.

Big Brother encourages its Terminally Depressed to unburden society by means of an attractively packaged suicide-kit labeled “Quietus”. Members of the living dead not quite ready for Quietus, let alone a bare bodkin, find artificial means to escape bleak reality: catatonia, marijuana, virtual reality, art collecting, alcoholism. Theo seems like Quietus’s target audience until his ex-wife, Julian (Julianne Moore), re-enters his life. Unlike Theo, Julian has held fast to the activist ideals of their shared past. She’s the leader of the Fishes, an underground political movement dedicated to defending the rights of Britain’s illegal immigrant population (“fugees”). As bad as things are in Britain, they’re a lot worse elsewhere, and England is in permanent lock-down, closing its borders to immigrants and deporting foreigners who’ve managed to slip in.

One of those fugees is a young African woman named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey). When Julian calls on Theo to get his hands on transit papers for the girl—no easy task—he begrudgingly agrees in exchange for a sum of money. It’s not long, however, before Theo comes to realize that what’s at stake is beyond price: Kee is pregnant.

Into this lifeless world, the promise of new life sparks a light in Theo.

Mr. Murphy tosses off his most interesting point in passing, entropy is something we'd have to make a decision to surrender to, else we aren't subject to it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Vatican and Westminster: June 7-8, 1982: On Monday, June 7, 1982 Ronald Reagan was in Rome. He was there as part of a brief trip to Europe. It was a straightforward trip lacking many stops, but in its simplicity, it contained unparalleled steps in the rhetorical and symbolic war against the Soviet Union. (PAUL KENGOR, Chapter Ten in The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism)

For two seminal days in June 1982, Reagan made some of his strongest gestures to date, signaling to America and to the world his belief that Communism's days were running out.

With a media crush outside, as reporters jockeyed for position and at times literally tripped over one another, Reagan and the pope met at the Vatican, a little over a year after assassination attempts that almost took their lives. The day he was shot the pope had received a cable from Reagan, in which the president expressed his shock and prayers. Since then, the staffs of the two men had worked diligently to arrange a meeting between them. "It was always assumed the president would meet with the Holy Father as soon as feasible," said Bill Clark, among those most excited about the prospects, "especially after they both took shots . . . only a few weeks apart. I don't know if any one person said 'we have to see the pope.' It was just assumed because of their mutual interests that at some point the two men would come together and form some sort of collaboration."

Reagan had long coveted such an idea, and the events in Poland the previous December merely reinforced the importance of such a meeting. Not only had he long viewed the pope as the key to Poland's fate, but among his earliest goals as president was to officially recognize the Vatican as a state "and make them an ally."

Now, for the first time, the men spoke face to face inside the venerable Vatican Library. The subject of the shootings was broached. Pio Cardinal Laghi said that Reagan told the pope: "Look how the evil forces were put in our way and how Providence intervened." Bill Clark said that both men referred to the "miraculous" fact that they had survived; indeed, only later did we learn that both men had come perilously close to dying.

The Protestant and Catholic, said Clark, shared a "unity" in spiritual views and in their "vision on the Soviet empire," namely, "that right or correctness would ultimately prevail in the divine plan." That day, each shared their view that they had been given "a spiritual mission — a special role in the divine plan of life." Both expressed concern for "the terrible oppression of atheistic communism," as Clark put it, and agreed that "atheistic communism lived a lie that, when fully understood, must ultimately fail."

Together they expressed a common vision to end the Cold War. As Reagan said, "We both felt that a great mistake had been made at Yalta and something should be done. Solidarity was the very weapon for bringing this about." It was an important unity, and in his dramatic 1992 story for Time magazine, Carl Bernstein reported that it was at this meeting where Reagan and the pope secretly joined forces not only to strengthen Solidarity and pressure Warsaw "but to free all of Eastern Europe." In that first meeting, wrote Bernstein, they consented to undertake a clandestine campaign "to hasten the dissolution of the communist empire." The two men "were convinced that Poland could be broken out of the Soviet orbit if the Vatican and the United States committed the resources to destabilizing the Polish government and keeping the outlawed Solidarity movement alive after the declaration of martial law in 1981." Reagan told the pope: "Hope remains in Poland. We, working together, can keep it alive."

Both leaders were convinced that a free, non-Communist Poland would be, in Bernstein's words, "a dagger to the heart of the Soviet empire." They were certain that if Poland became democratic, other Eastern European states would follow. A cardinal who was one of John Paul II's closest aides put it this way: "Nobody believed the collapse of communism would happen this fast or on this timetable. But in their first meeting, the Holy Father and the President committed themselves and the institutions of the church and America to such a goal. And from that day, the focus was to bring it about in Poland." [...]

The day after his historic meeting with the pope, Reagan left the Vatican reinvigorated with a spiritual zeal to undermine Communism. Filled with a sense of grander purpose, he flew to London, where on June 8 at Westminster he gave the most prescient speech of his presidency.

Amidst all the Blair post-mortems, it's useful to recall that Reagan and Thatcher left office having "failed," according to the punditocracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Best of Enemies?: Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment looks at the future of Iranian-American relations, Iran's vulnerabilities, and whether we might one day see liberals ruling in Tehran. (Michael Young, May 9, 2007, Reason)

Are the United States and Iran heading toward a military confrontation over Tehran's nuclear program, or toward a diplomatic breakthrough? That's the paradoxical question that many foreign policy experts are asking themselves today. To shed light on the dynamics at play, Reason talked to Karim Sadjadpour, an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington D.C. Before moving to Carnegie, Sadjadpour was chief Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group. A leading researcher on Iran, Sadjadpour is invited regularly to BBC World TV and radio, CNN, National Public Radio, and PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer. He has also written for the Washington Post, the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, and the New Republic. Sadjadpour, who was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in Davos, received his B.A. from the University of Michigan and his M.A. from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. [...]

Reason: What would Iran's interest be in opening a new page with the U.S.? How divided is the Iranian leadership over this?

Karim Sadjadpour: I don't think Iran's leadership itself knows what it wants from the U.S. When asked what they seek from the Americans, Iranian officials usually reply with the word "respect," but seldom if ever have a concrete vision for U.S.-Iran relations or Iran's role in the Middle East. While Ahmadinejad and elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seem to prefer an alliance with Russia and China against the U.S., the influential head of the Expediency Council, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and other pragmatists have long advocated ties with the U.S. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei remains skeptical of all sides. When it comes to the hardliners, and I would put Khamenei in that category, I don't think they're interested in an amicable and expansive relationship with the U.S. per se, but they want to be recognized by Washington as an Islamic republic and a major regional player.

Reason: What are Iran's vulnerabilities as it faces off against the West, both on the nuclear issue and in general?

Karim Sadjadpour: Iran's greatest vulnerability is its economy. The leadership is going to have to make very hard decisions in the coming years regarding the oil industry. At the moment gasoline is heavily subsidized (a liter of gasoline is cheaper than a liter of water) and the country is churning out automobiles, so there is growing consumption and little conservation. At the same time, oil production is gradually decreasing, and given the uncertain political and business climate created by Ahmadinejad, foreign investment hasn't been coming in. If the regime continues at this pace--increased consumption and decreased output--within a decade it's conceivable that Iran could be a net importer of oil, potentially a remarkable occurrence given how dependent it is on oil revenue.

Something has got to give in the coming years. Either the regime is going to curtail gasoline subsidies and encourage conservation--which won't be easy for a president who ran on a populist platform of putting oil money on people's dinner tables; or the leadership is going to have to change its foreign policy approach in order to attract outside investment. Most likely it will need to be a combination of the two. But rest assured it will happen. Oil is Iran's lifeblood; the leadership can't afford to mess around. [...]

Reason: A lot of focus has been on Ahmadinejad. But real power in Iran is in the hands of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. What is his general outlook on Iran's relations with the outside, and how would he respond to a new opening to the U.S.?

Karim Sadjadpour: Khamenei's 18-year track record depicts a leader who is risk-averse--courting neither confrontation nor accommodation with the West--and paralyzed by mistrust. From a foreign policy perspective, he believes that the U.S. is not interested in changing Iran's external behavior but wants to change the regime itself. In Khamenei's worldview, the U.S. believes Iran's strategic location and energy resources are too valuable to be controlled by an independent-minded Islamic government, hence Washington aspires to go back to the "patron-client" relationship existing at the time of the shah. In this context, whether U.S. officials announce they want to have a dialogue with Iran or to isolate it, Khamenei presumes nefarious intentions. The U.S. refusal to acknowledge or respond to an Iranian overture for normalization in 2003 surely reinforced his negative perceptions. At the same time, Khamenei is equally wary of his domestic rivals and will not take any foreign policy decision that might undermine his own political interests. The Clinton administration's unsuccessful attempt to bypass Khamenei and engage Khatami and the reformists in 2000 is a case in point.

Reason: Who should we watch out for as a rising star in Iran, particularly on the matter of relations with the U.S.?

Karim Sadjadpour: There is a lot of buzz about current Tehran mayor Mohammed Bagher Ghalibaf. He ran a flashy presidential campaign in which he finished fourth. However, he managed to get a lot of name recognition. He's a former IRGC commander, but is considered much more pragmatic than Ahmadinejad on foreign policy. [...]

Reason: Is a liberal Iran possible in the next decade?

Karim Sadjadpour: I think a more liberal Iran is certainly possible, even probable. The most important external factor is U.S.-Iran relations. When and if Iran opens up to the U.S., it will be much more difficult to hold back the tremendous popular will to live in a more liberal society. The Islamic Republic in its current form can only persist in isolation.

And isolation isn't possible except in the short term.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Giuliani Takes On G.O.P. Orthodoxy on Social Issues (MARC SANTORA and ADAM NAGOURNEY, 5/12/07, NY Times)

Rudolph W. Giuliani directly challenged Republican orthodoxy on Friday, asserting that his support for abortion rights, gun control and gay rights should not disqualify him from winning the party’s presidential nomination.

He said that Republicans needed to be tolerant of dissenting views on those issues if they wanted to retain the White House.

People like him are the threat to Western Civilization that al Qaeda is not.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Sarkozy Vows Reform: How Far Can He Go?: France's center-right President-elect has plans for labor and the economy, but those changes may not be big enough to satisfy the business community (Carol Matlack, 5/07/07, Business Week)

[E]ven Sarkozy's strong showing at the polls—just over 53%, with a near-record 85% turnout—won't easily translate into an overhaul of the country's stagnating economy.

Getting legislation enacted won't be a problem, because Sarkozy's center-right UMP party is likely to win a comfortable majority in parliamentary elections next month. But labor unions are already threatening strikes over some of his proposals, such as his plan to encourage people to work more than the current maximum 35-hour work week, by exempting them from taxes on overtime hours.

To defuse the labor protests, Sarkozy and his government will have to rally the country behind his program. Otherwise, the strikes could spiral into a crippling public backlash, as happened last year when mass protests forced the former center-right government to withdraw an unpopular youth employment law.

Isn't the point of the election to stop doing what's popular in France and start doing what's popular in the Anglosphere?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Francis Collins: The Scientist as Believer (Interview by John Horgan, February 2007, National Geographic)

Francis Collins finds a balanced ride between science and religion.
The often strained relationship between science and religion has become particularly combative lately. In one corner we have scientists such as Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker who view religion as a relic of our superstitious, prescientific past that humanity should abandon. In the other corner are religious believers who charge that science is morally nihilistic and inadequate for understanding the wonders of existence. Into this breach steps Francis Collins, who offers himself as proof that science and religion can be reconciled. As leader of the Human Genome Project, Collins is among the world's most important scientists, the head of a multibillion-dollar research program aimed at understanding human nature and healing our innate disorders. And yet in his best-selling book, The Language of God, he recounts how he accepted Christ as his savior in 1978 and has been a devout Christian ever since. "The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome," he writes. "He can be worshiped in the cathedral or in the laboratory." Recently Collins discussed his faith with science writer John Horgan, who has explored the boundaries between science and spirituality in his own books The End of Science and Rational Mysticism. Horgan, who has described himself as "an agnostic increasingly disturbed by religion's influence on human affairs," directs the Center for Science Writings at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Horgan: Many people have a hard time believing in God because of the problem of evil. If God loves us, why is life filled with so much suffering?

Collins: That is the most fundamental question that all seekers have to wrestle with. First of all, if our ultimate goal is to grow, learn, and discover things about ourselves and things about God, then unfortunately a life of ease is probably not the way to get there. I know I have learned very little about myself or God when everything is going well. Also, a lot of the pain and suffering in the world we cannot lay at God's feet. God gave us free will, and we may choose to exercise it in ways that end up hurting other people. [...]

Horgan: I'm an agnostic, and I was bothered when in your book you called agnosticism a "cop-out." Agnosticism doesn't mean you're lazy or don't care. It means you aren't satisfied with any answers for what after all are ultimate mysteries.

Collins: That was a put-down that should not apply to earnest agnostics who have considered the evidence and still don't find an answer. I was reacting to the agnosticism I see in the scientific community, which has not been arrived at by a careful examination of the evidence. I went through a phase when I was a casual agnostic, and I am perhaps too quick to assume that others have no more depth than I did.

Horgan: Free will is a very important concept to me, as it is to you. It's the basis for our morality and search for meaning. Don't you worry that science in general and genetics in particular—and your work as head of the Genome Project—are undermining belief in free will?

Collins: You're talking about genetic determinism, which implies that we are helpless marionettes being controlled by strings made of double helices. That is so far away from what we know scientifically! Heredity does have an influence not only over medical risks but also over certain behaviors and personality traits. But look at identical twins, who have exactly the same DNA but often don't behave alike or think alike. They show the importance of learning and experience—and free will. I think we all, whether we are religious or not, recognize that free will is a reality. There are some fringe elements that say, "No, it's all an illusion, we're just pawns in some computer model." But I don't think that carries you very far.

Horgan: What do you think of Darwinian explanations of altruism, or what you call agape, totally selfless love and compassion for someone not directly related to you?

Collins: It's been a little of a just-so story so far. Many would argue that altruism has been supported by evolution because it helps the group survive. But some people sacrificially give of themselves to those who are outside their group and with whom they have absolutely nothing in common. Such as Mother Teresa, Oskar Schindler, many others. That is the nobility of humankind in its purist form. That doesn't seem like it can be explained by a Darwinian model, but I'm not hanging my faith on this.

Of course, Mr. Horgan's objections are precisely those that stem from self-absorption and lack of consideration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Schools Will Get Opera Simulcast (Tim Page, 5/12/07, Washington Post)

Washington National Opera will present a live simulcast of a matinee performance of Puccini's "La Boheme" to at least 16 colleges, universities and high schools across the nation Sept. 23. The troupe will also present its free simulcast to the Mall.

The institutions that will participate include the University of Virginia, Princeton, West Point, Wellesley, Rice and the University of Washington. High schools on both coasts will be represented, including Brockton High in Massachusetts and Lowell High in San Francisco.

The performance will take place at the Kennedy Center Opera House. The simulcast will be offered to the schools free of charge, with the cost -- about $15,000 per institution -- borne by WNO trustees.

If you want to build a new audience for opera why only make it available in dribs and drabs? At a minimum, it seems like the decades of opera broadcasts from NPR and PBS ought to be on-line and accessible.

May 11, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 PM


Warm Turkey (The Editors, 5/11/07, National Review)

[T]he first point to be made is that Turkey is settling a potentially dangerous constitutional crisis in a sensible and stable way — by an election. That settlement was helped by the European Union’s warning that a military coup would render the nation ineligible for EU membership. Alas, it was also hindered by Nicolas Sarkozy’s many statements that Turkey should not be admitted to the EU. Whatever the merit of Sarkozy’s argument — and it represents the opinion of many Europeans — now is not the time to make it. Threatening to exclude Turkey effectively tells the Turkish general staff that it has nothing to lose from a coup. In fact, like Turkey itself, it has a great deal to lose — and no great benefits to secure.

As several cool and intelligent observers — Fareed Zakaria, Claire Berlinski, and The Economist’s correspondent — have pointed out, what is happening in Turkey is not a culture war between Western secularism and jihadist Islamism. The AKP is not an Islamist party on the model of Hamas. It is a socially conservative Muslim party not unlike the German Christian Democrats. During its period in power, it has made no moves toward establishing sharia law. Its strong support for entry into the EU is entirely inconsistent with an Islamist move toward sharia. If anything, the AKP has moved in the opposite direction, recently launching a campaign against honor killings (which is more than the British or U.S. governments have done). A fervent secularist would naturally not vote for the AKP, but he or she has no reasonable grounds for thinking that it wants to impose a theocracy.

Misunderstanding on this point is based on a prior misunderstanding about the nature of Turkish secularism. This is not the separation of church and state on the U.S. model, but the control of Islam and other religions by a ministry of religious affairs — and the imposition in an overwhelmingly Muslim nation of a naked public square. This extreme secularism has always needed naked force for its survival, hence the Turkish army’s role as the guardian of the secular constitution. But this is fast becoming an impossible policy in modern Turkey. Both the evolution of democracy and the spread of Islamic piety make it essential for Turkey to develop a more tolerant secularism that will permit the public expression of religious commitment.

Elected Islamists Can Be Tamed (Bashir Goth, 5/11/07, Post Global)
For most of the Arab and Islamic world, the Bush administration’s boycott of the Palestinian Hamas-led government stands as the epitome of hypocrisy. America pushed for democracy in the Middle East, and in Palestine that’s what it got. But contrary to what it envisioned, elections across the region have brought Islamists to power.

It’s no secret that democratic elections sometimes bring out odd bedfellows, and the Islamists are undesirable bedfellows to many. It is, however, in the best interest of America and the West -- and indeed for the good of the peace in the Islamic world -- to accept Islamists when they come to power through the ballot box. The secret should be to tame them, not to shun them.

We don't need to tame them, their electorates will.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 PM


A French Neoconservative?: Nicolas Sarkozy is France’s first anti-anti-American leader. (Guy Sorman, 11 May 2007, City Journal)

Is the new French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, a neoconservative? Ever since his ascent to power, the French media have been brimming with various answers to that question. [...]

First, by not being anti-American, by actually meeting George W. Bush during his campaign, Sarkozy has given legitimacy to American ideas. It is no longer unpatriotic to compare France with the United States in ways not necessarily favorable to France. Many French intellectuals who didn’t dare cite American ideas of capitalism and democracy suddenly can do so without finding themselves dismissed as traitors or mavericks.

Moreover, Sarkozy’s rhetoric finds common ground with that of certain American neoconservatives, including an emphasis on ethics, law and order, and the free market. Sarkozy repeatedly mentions that Christian values are the basis of his political convictions.

So, no.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 PM


Giuliani reaffirms abortion-rights stance in Houston (DALE LEZON, May 11, 2007 Houston Chronicle)

Saying he believes abortion is "morally wrong," Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani told an audience at Houston Baptist University this morning that he respects a woman's right to choose to have the procedure.

The notion that one can have a right to immorality will hearten paedophiles.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:55 AM


Is Ahmedinejad’s Star Fading? (Niusha Boghrati, May 3, 2007,

[E]conomic failure has brought candid criticisms from well-known figures within the Islamic Republic.

Head of the powerful Expediency Discernment Council Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani warned Ahmadinejad's government that the "deadline of government" in regards to its economic promises had ended.

All members, including the head of the Council, which serves a consultative function to Ayatollah Khamenei, are directly appointed by the Supreme Leader.

Rafsanjani also added that during a meeting with the Khamenei, which took place after the ascension of the new government, he was reviewing the budget and noted that, "points could be seen that did not match the basic policies, but we decided to give some time to the government in order to apply his plans."

In an interview with the French daily Le Monde, Ayatollah Yoosef Sanei, one of Qom's prominent clerics and once a close ally of Ayatollah Khomeni, the leader of the Iranian Revolution, also criticized the economic policies of Ahmadinejad's government stating that, "they promised to put the oil income on people's plates, but now they are taking the money out of people's petrol tanks," alluding to the increase in the price of petrol.

Iran's nuclear program is the other key issue in the Islamic Republic, and its handling by the government has lately been subject to verbal attacks from powerful figures.

Unlike Ahmadinejad's initial bold statements, which faced no negative reaction inside the country, his recent speeches regarding the nuclear program have brought sharp criticisms.

Last February, in reaction to one of Ahmadinejad's fiery remarks stating that the "train" of the nuclear program was proceeding "without brakes and a rear gear," Rafsanjani warned the government about the consequences of shutting their eyes to the West's ire, asserting that, "the angry foe cannot be ignored."

At the same time Dariush Ghanbari, a member of Parliament's National Security Commission, criticized Ahmadinejad's remarks as "unprofessional" and "emotional," adding that such statements harmed the national security of the nation.

Another parliamentarian, Nooroddin Pirmoazzen, asked for a more effective role for the pragmatist conservatives such as Ali Akbar Velaiati and Ali Larijani, who would be placed under direct supervision of the Supreme Leader regarding the nuclear case, suggesting also a ban to prevent "others" from interfering with the issue.

Former reformist president Mohammad Khatami, who during his presidency had accepted the International Atom Energy Agency's request to halt the uranium enrichment, has also in various cases voiced his concern over current government policy.

"We have to pay a price for going nuclear and starting negotiations," said Khatami after the adoption of the United Nation's sanction-imposing Resolution 1737 against Tehran's nuclear activities, indirectly referring to the West's request regarding an enrichment freeze as a precondition to begin negotiations.

Hossein Moussavian, a former member of Iran's nuclear negotiating team led by the moderate Hassan Rohani, also advocated a policy of "flexibility, caution and patience" in order to "create trust, remove ambiguities, respond to questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency and negotiate."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 AM


Now, hubbies can take their wives' last name (Times of India, 11 May, 2007)

If you have taken a fancy for your wife's surname, consider moving to the US state of California.

The California Assembly has just passed a legislation making it easier for men to take their wives' surnames.

...for them to take their wives' Midol?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


To do with the price of fish: How do mobile phones promote economic growth? A new paper provides a vivid example (The Economist, May 10th 2007)

YOU are a fisherman off the coast of northern Kerala, a region in the south of India. Visiting your usual fishing ground, you bring in an unusually good catch of sardines. That means other fishermen in the area will probably have done well too, so there will be plenty of supply at the local beach market: prices will be low, and you may not even be able to sell your catch. Should you head for the usual market anyway, or should you go down the coast in the hope that fishermen in that area will not have done so well and your fish will fetch a better price? If you make the wrong choice you cannot visit another market because fuel is costly and each market is open for only a couple of hours before dawn—and it takes that long for your boat to putter from one to the next. Since fish are perishable, any that cannot be sold will have to be dumped into the sea.

This, in a nutshell, was the situation facing Kerala's fishermen until 1997. The result was far from ideal for both fishermen and their customers. In practice, fishermen chose to stick with their home markets all the time. This was wasteful because when a particular market is oversupplied, fish are thrown away, even though there may be buyers for them a little farther along the coast. On average, 5-8% of the total catch was wasted, says Robert Jensen, a development economist at Harvard University who has surveyed the price of sardines at 15 beach markets along Kerala's coast. On January 14th 1997, for example, 11 fishermen at Badagara beach ended up throwing away their catches, yet on that day there were 27 buyers at markets within 15km (about nine miles) who would have bought their fish. There were also wide variations in the price of sardines along the coast.

But starting in 1997 mobile phones were introduced in Kerala. Since coverage spread gradually, this provided an ideal way to gauge the effect of mobile phones on the fishermen's behaviour, the price of fish, and the amount of waste. For many years, anecdotes have abounded about the ways in which mobile phones promote more efficient markets and encourage economic activity. One particularly popular tale is that of the fisherman who is able to call several nearby markets from his boat to establish where his catch will fetch the highest price. Mr Jensen's paper* adds some numbers to the familiar stories and shows precisely how mobile phones support economic growth.

As phone coverage spread between 1997 and 2000, fishermen started to buy phones and use them to call coastal markets while still at sea. (The area of coverage reaches 20-25km off the coast.) Instead of selling their fish at beach auctions, the fishermen would call around to find the best price. Dividing the coast into three regions, Mr Jensen found that the proportion of fishermen who ventured beyond their home markets to sell their catches jumped from zero to around 35% as soon as coverage became available in each region. At that point, no fish were wasted and the variation in prices fell dramatically. By the end of the study coverage was available in all three regions. Waste had been eliminated and the “law of one price”—the idea that in an efficient market identical goods should cost the same—had come into effect, in the form of a single rate for sardines along the coast.

This more efficient market benefited everyone.

But Labour and the Democrats have decided they're tired of efficient markets?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Why Should Anyone Believe Anything At All (James Sire, UC Santa Barbara, 1998, Veritas)

Dr. Sire begins his talk by asserting that the mechanism of belief is inescapable in life. In addition, the question of why we believe what we do has been of ultimate importance for all people, at all times, and in all places. Arguing that we must learn to make the fine distinction between reasons to believe and causes of belief, Dr. Sire examines the social, psychological, genetic, and religious theories of belief by employing this distinction to each category. Finally, Dr. Sire argues that what one believes must cohere to reality, and he offers several arguments that the Christian faith is a system of belief that does just this.

The Rationalists are made tolerable by the amusement value in their inability to deal with the end results of Reason.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM

CAPONE WEPT (via Bryan Francoeur):

Untouchables sweep to power in India's most populous state (Randeep Ramesh, May 11, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

India's most prominent Untouchable leader pulled off a surprise election victory in the country's most populous state today, stalling the political ambitions of the Gandhi family's heir apparent.

Mayawati, who only uses a single name, leads the Bahujan Samaj party, which looks set to sweep the polls in Uttar Pradesh, a northern Indian state of 170 million people and the country's most important bellwether of public opinion.

Uttar Pradesh is a chronically poor rural backwater that would be the world's sixth most populous state if it were a nation. Less than half the women in the state can read or write their name, but it has also produced most of India's prime ministers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Year is young, Yankees aren't: Bad old days are here for suddenly aging outfield (BILL MADDEN, 5/11/07, NY DAILY NEWS)

[T]hese Yankees, particularly high-priced outfielders Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, look old and tired.

After yesterday's collective 1-for-12, that trio is now hitting .252 with five home runs, or one-third as many as Alex Rodriguez. Yes, it is still only May with well over two-thirds of the season still to play, but that sort of tepid production from an outfield making a combined $41 million ought to be a source of at least some concern. They are each 33 and, right now anyway, looking much older.

Certainly, Matsui (who was the DH yesterday) is no longer the iron man he was when he came here from Japan, as he missed much of last year with a broken wrist and three weeks of this season with a pulled hamstring. And while Damon has managed to maintain his streak of never having spent a day on the disabled list, the aching back and calves he has endured this season clearly are taking their toll on him. Once things got completely out of hand yesterday, Joe Torre mercifully removed him to rest those calves and the manager conceded he is questionable for starting tonight in Seattle.

As for Abreu, well, maybe Pat Gillick is going to get a measure of satisfaction anyway. The Phillies GM was vilified last summer after dumping Abreu on the Yankees and getting no prospects of any consequence in return. But while Abreu looked like such a perfect fit in that Yankee lineup last year, surrounded by all that proven firepower, this year he has taken on the appearance of a $15 million albatross, lost at the plate and challenged in the outfield.

In addition to another soft 0-for-4 at the plate, Abreu badly misplayed Gerald Laird's leadoff triple off the right field wall in the fifth and also missed (by my count, anyway) three cutoff throws. Even Torre conceded that Abreu seems lost right now.

You can get by with an aged offense when it goes so deep, but adding awful defense to bad pitching is a recipe for disaster. A guy who's only coming back to win a ring and make the money will either force a trade or fake an injury when there's no prospect of the playoffs. The checks don't stop when your hammy tightens.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


House Approves Revised War Bill: Two-Part Funding Faces Veto Threat (Jonathan Weisman, May 11, 2007, Washington Post)

The House last night pushed through its second plan to fund the Iraq war and reshape war policy, approving legislation that would provide partial funding for the conflict but hold back most of the money until President Bush reports on the war's progress in July.

Coming only a week after the Democrats' first war funding bill was vetoed, the House's 221 to 205 vote defied a fresh veto threat and even opposition from Democrats in the Senate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 AM


Ancient eruptions of carbon dioxide traced to oceans: Researchers say the gas may have accelerated Earth's warming after an ice age. (Alan Zarembo, May 11, 2007, LA Times)

The oceans burped … twice.

About 13,000 and 18,000 years ago, carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere in two giant belches that drove concentrations of the greenhouse gas from 180 to 265 parts per million, where it held relatively steady until the Industrial Revolution.

Scientists have long known about the jump in gas levels from looking at ice cores. They suspected the carbon dioxide originated in a deep, carbon-rich reservoir in the oceans but had no way to explain how the gas could accumulate and then be released so suddenly.

Reporting in the journal Science today, researchers said they found the answer in a sample of sediment drilled in the Pacific Ocean.

"This new study nails it," said J.R. Toggweiler, an oceanographer at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, who was not involved in the study. "If there were any doubters, I don't think they have a leg to stand on."

As if sweet, loving Gaia would really do such a thing. It's Man, Man, Man!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 AM


Angels must beg, borrow or steal
: Team needs to make a deal for a hitter so season won't go to waste. (Bill Plaschke, May 11, 2007, LA Times)

I don't believe what I just saw.

Jose Molina stole home.

In a year of the improbable, the impossible has happened.

Jose Molina stole home.

If the slowest cleats in organized baseball can steal a run, then I can steal Kirk Gibson sound bites, no?

All words escaped me Thursday in the fourth inning of the Angels' 8-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians, and for more reasons than that giant red jersey tumbling across home plate.

It's not only that Molina, with seven stolen bases in six major league seasons, swiped home.

It's that the Angels would be so desperate for runs they would actually ask Molina to swipe home.

"Right now, we're a team that needs to do stuff like this," bench coach Ron Roenicke said.

Here's hoping owner Arte Moreno was watching, and here's hoping he was understanding.

In May, the play was fun. In October, that play could be fatal.

If the Angels have to rely on Jose Molina's legs, someone should examine their heads.

...but one can't help picturing the episode of Mr. Ed where he tried out for the dodgers and in a scene where he slides across home plate they used a painfully obviously stuffed, and quite rigid, horse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 AM


The terrorist we tolerate: The administration's botched handling of Luis Posada Carriles says a lot about Bush's so-called war on terror. (Rosa Brooks, May 11, 2007, LA Times)

LIKE PIRATES, terrorists are supposedly hostis humani generis — the "enemy of all mankind." So why is the Bush administration letting one of the world's most notorious terrorists stroll freely around the United States?

I'm talking about a man who was — until 9/11 — perhaps the most successful terrorist in the Western Hemisphere. He's believed to have masterminded a 1976 plot to blow up a civilian airliner, killing all 73 people on board, including teenage members of Cuba's national fencing team. He's admitted to pulling off a series of 1997 bombings aimed at tourist hotels and nightspots. Today, he's living illegally in the United States, but senior members of the Bush administration — the very guys who declared war on terror just a few short years ago — don't seem terribly bothered.

I'm talking about Luis Posada Carriles.

Means don't make one a terrorist, ends do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Star Trek Scotty's ashes missing after rocket crashes in desert (Daily Mail, 11th May 2007)

The ashes of Star Trek's Scotty have gone missing after a rocket carrying his remains into space went crashed in the desert. [...]

Hundreds of spectators clapped and cheered as his ashes roared aloft along with those of some 200 other people, including astronaut Gordon Cooper, who first went into space in 1963. Cooper died in 2004 at age 77.

Space Services Inc. charges £250 to send a portion of a person's ashes into suborbital space.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Yoga-Loving UN Troops Struggle to Mesh With War-Zone Partners (Bill Varner, May 11, 2007, Bloomberg)

The yoga crew is more useful, for once.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Americans no longer married to the idea of divorce (DAVID CRARY, 5/11/07, The Associated Press)

Despite the common notion that America remains plagued by a divorce epidemic, the national per capita divorce rate has declined steadily since its peak in 1981 and is now at its lowest level since 1970. [...]

Other experts, however, are heartened by what they view as the increased determination of many couples to make marriage work. Among them is Bill Chausee of Child and Family Services of New Hampshire, which offers marriage-strengthening programs in a state where divorces dropped more than 25 percent between 2000 and 2005.

“People don’t see marriage problems as some sort of stigma any more,” said Chausee. “They’re really interested in learning how to stay married; a lot of them are realizing they need more skill.”

The decline of marriage is itself healthy, as couples who don't enter into the institution are acknowledging they aren't serious about their relationship.

May 10, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:23 PM


The end of New Labour (George Jones and Toby Helm, 11/05/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Labour set the stage for a new era under Gordon Brown yesterday by unceremoniously dumping Tony Blair's "New Labour" brand within minutes of the Prime Minister delivering an emotional and stage-managed resignation statement.

Tony Blair acknowledges the applause of supporters at Trimdon Labour Club after announcing his resignation
Tony Blair acknowledges the applause of supporters at Trimdon Labour Club after announcing his resignation. 'I did it my way,' he told them

As Mr Blair admitted that he had not always lived up to the public's high expectations when he entered Downing Street a decade ago, the "New Labour, New Britain" logo - the defining symbol of his leadership - was removed from the party's website and replaced with plain "Labour" and the red rose symbol.

The move emphasised the determination of senior Labour figures to regain hundreds of thousands of traditional supporters who have come to associate New Labour with a betrayal of the party's values. Mr Blair launched the name at his first conference as leader in 1994 at the start of a relentless programme of modernisation.

Enough modernity, back to the 30s!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:01 PM


OBITUARIES: Paul Erdman, 74; banker-turned-novelist< (Dennis McLellan, April 27, 2007, LA Times)

Paul Erdman, a noted economist and former Swiss banker who tapped his knowledge of international finance and monetary trends to write best-selling financial thrillers, including "The Billion Dollar Sure Thing" and "The Crash of '79," has died. He was 74.

Erdman died of cancer Monday at his ranch in Healdsburg in Sonoma County, said his son-in-law Hernan Narea.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), in a statement to The Times this week, called Erdman "one of the leading financial minds of the 20th century" and "a dear friend whose intellect was dazzling."

Paul Erdman, 74, Author of Finance-Based Novels, Dies (MARGALIT FOX, 4/25/07, NY Times)

Mr. Erdman was in all likelihood one of the few novelists whose books were routinely reviewed — often glowingly — in Business Week and The American Banker as well as in mainstream publications. His novels featured exotic locales, shadowy cartels and lots and lots of money.

Paul Erdman (Daily Telegraph, 11/05/2007)
Paul Erdman, who died on April 23 aged 74, was a Canadian-born financier who channelled his knowledge of economics and politics into writing 10 best-selling novels, including The Crash of '79 (1976) and The Panic of '89 (1987). [...]

His writing career started in the unpromising confines of a 17th-century Swiss prison cell, where he was being held in connection with the collapse of his private bank in 1970. As dungeons go, his was ritzier than most, with room service and fine wines provided (at the prisoner's expense) by the best local restaurants.

To pass the time Erdman started to knock out a non-fiction book on economics on his portable Olivetti; but because he had no access to a research library he turned the book into a novel.

Progress at first was slow, but it accelerated with the arrival of a new inmate, a Frenchman reputed to be Europe's leading safebreaker.In exchange for a couple of bottles of fine wine, "he told me a way for an amateur to crack a safe rather easily with ordinary equipment," Erdman recalled. "That became the first scene in the first chapter in my first novel."

The result - The Billion Dollar Sure Thing (1973) - received an Edgar award from the Mystery Writers of America. His second book, The Silver Bears (1974), was made into a film in 1978 starring Michael Caine and Cybill Shepherd.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:52 PM


Sarkozy's proposal for Mediterranean bloc makes waves (Katrin Bennhold, May 10, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

A proposal by Nicolas Sarkozy to gather the European, Middle Eastern, and North African countries of the strategic Mediterranean rim into an economic community along the lines of the early European Union has begun making waves even before the president-elect takes office.

The initiative, outlined by Sarkozy in a campaign speech in February, went largely unnoticed until he repeated it in his electoral victory address Sunday evening. Plans are still being drawn up, Sarkozy's aides said Thursday, but even at this early stage the proposal has cascading implications for the region. [...]

Sarkozy, who takes office next week, has said that he wants the countries ringing the Mediterranean - Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco - to form a council and hold regular summit meetings under a rotating presidency.

He wants to anchor regional cooperation in the fields of energy, security, counter-terrorism and immigration on a trade agreement, and create a Mediterranean Investment Bank, modeled on the European Investment Bank, that would help develop the economies on the eastern and southern edge of the region. He has offered French expertise on nuclear energy in return for access to North Africa's gas reserves.

"The time has come to build together a Mediterranean Union that will be the bridge between Europe and Africa," Sarkozy said in his victory speech Sunday.

That one had escaped our notice and seems to have certain drawbacks if France is, as we assume it will be, unable to shake free of the French model--anyone have any thoughts? Is there any reason to believe such a bloc would help Sarkozy in his task?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:44 PM


Q&A: 'India is an unlikely democracy' (A Srinivas, 11 May, 2007, Times of India)

Ramachandra Guha's recent work, India After Gandhi, on India's post-Independence period till 1989 celebrates the country's sheer survival as a democracy when everyone was busy writing it off as being too diverse to remain as one entity. In a conversation with A Srinivas, Guha discusses India's "unnatural" case.

Q: How would you compare India with EU?

India anticipated EU as a multilingual nation state. The real success of India is its linguistic pluralism. As for secularism, we admit that this is flawed, in theory and practice. Pakistan was divided on the basis of language, Sri Lanka is trapped in civil war because it enforced a common language. But India has 15 different languages and 15 scripts. It has never been attempted before. Language is a fundamental feature of human identity, more than even caste or religion. Usually a nation is defined on the basis of religion, language, a common enemy, a common shared history of victimisation in the hands of an oppressor. India is an unnatural nation and an unlikely democracy.

...than a former British colony becoming a democracy. But it will devolve into its constituent parts because it is an unnatural nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 PM


Bush and Democrats in accord on labor rights in trade deals (Steven R. Weisman, May 10, 2007, NY Times)

The Bush administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, breaking a partisan impasse that had dragged on for months, reached an agreement this evening on the rights of workers overseas to join labor unions.

Both sides predicted that the agreement would clear the way for congressional approval of several pending trade agreements. [...]

Despite the endorsement of Rangel and Speaker Pelosi, many Democrats say that half or more of the Democrats in Congress may vote against the deal. But the agreement is expected to pass with strong backing among Republicans, whose leaders will urge them to vote with President George W. Bush.

Have you thanked the Netroots today....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:12 PM


Giuliani to challenge his party on abortion (David Usborne, 11 May 2007, Independent)

Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York who has emerged as the leader among the Republicans running for president in 2008, is preparing to put his campaign at unexpected risk by clearly distancing himself from his party's anti-abortion orthodoxy.

Aides have signalled that over the coming days and weeks Mr Giuliani will use interviews, television appearances and a debate of all the Republican candidates forcefully to articulate his view that women should retain the right to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.

The strategy fits with the image that his advisers are trying to craft of a leader willing to state clear views even if they do not fit with the conventional political wisdom.

...because he's still afraid of Hillary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 PM


Can an American lead the French?: A malaise-ridden France just elected the most pro-American president in its history. But Nicolas Sarkozy's victory doesn't mean the French are eager to see their socialist perks disappear in a flurry of Anglo-Saxon reforms. France's new leader will need to be cunning, bold, and downright ruthless if he is to overcome the French resistance—and return his country to glory. (Patrick Belton, May 2007, Foreign Policy)

So what must he do? Lesson One he will draw from Reagan and Thatcher: Tame the public sector unions first. Look for him to start with the transport sector. He can’t get anything done without neutralizing the two major transport unions, so he may as well begin there. If Sarkozy can guarantee minimum train and bus service for two hours in the morning and evening, these unions can no longer exercise a veto by bringing France to its knees during rush hour. How can Sarkozy pull it off, if his predecessor Jacques Chirac couldn’t or didn’t dare? For one, Sarkozy was elected to do exactly this; he’s made his reformist intentions clear all along. (By contrast, Chirac was last elected solely for not being right-winger Jean-Marie Le Pen.) Sarkozy will also have a strong majority in the Assembly after next month’s elections, led by a bruising legislative quarterback in prime minister-to-be François Fillon, a veteran of pension-trimming battles royale.

Once he sidelines the unions, Sarkozy will need to get France’s job engine humming by resurrecting the controversial First Employment Contract (Contrat Première Embauche). Known as the Kleenex contract to its opponents because it makes it possible to “discard” employees, it was announced last year but foundered during two months of student and union protest. Along with allowing companies to grow and shrink with the market, the idea is, if companies could fire workers who didn’t pan out, they might be more willing to hire them in the first place. [...]

But what of the resistance? Two groups will matter most: the students and the banlieues.

Students are historically the most ardent partisans of any ancien régime. Already, students at Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne have voted for a general strike and to block off their campus. Some of their more radicalized numbers ran riot on election night, leaving behind 730 burned cars in what is certainly not the last of student unrest. Nor is it their fault, wholly; they’re merely following textbook French economics. In a survey last year of popular undergraduate economics textbooks, the International Herald Tribune found one asking students, “Are there still enough jobs for everyone?” If not, the book says, the state should create them in the public sector. How can Sarkozy neutralize this constituency? Better to learn a lesson from the Maginot Line, and go around: Pass labor reforms over the summer, while students are at the beach.

Then, there are the banlieues. These suburban rings around Paris and other major cities are bleak places, dominated by stark housing projects where every expanse is entrapped by barbed wire. In October 2005, the accidental deaths of two teenagers in Clichy-sous-Bois kindled three weeks of chaos in which 8,973 cars were burned and 2,888 rioters were arrested. Sarkozy, minister of the interior at that time, earned the bitter enmity of many in the banlieues for labeling the rioters “scum.”

Hated though he may be, Sarkozy is ironically the banlieues’ best hope of integration into the French mainstream. First, his tough talk has obscured his earlier record of conciliation. Until 2005, he was carving out a reputation as a mediator with the North African minority, creating a Muslim council for dialogue with the government and calling for relaxing French secular traditions to permit state aid to build mosques (so Muslims need not look abroad for money). He’s likely to appoint his campaign spokeswoman, Rachida Dati, who is of North African descent, to lead the proposed new Ministry of Immigration and National Identity. Second, Sarkozy’s message of moral responsibility and authority resonates in many quarters of the banlieues. And most importantly, Sarkozy’s focus on jobs and growth addresses the banlieues’ main problem: unemployment. Thus, a tough, but fair and hopeful message coupled with a growing economy is Sarkozy’s ticket to rapprochement with the banlieues.

The repeated estimate that France's problems are a couple decades old makes one despair for the possibility that the real ones will be dealt with.

Danger man?: The one thing everybody knew they would get from Nicolas Sarkozy was change. So no one will be surprised if the new French president goes into pitched battle with the trade unions and gets tough on immigration. He might even fall out with Gordon. (David Lawday, 14 May 2007, New Statesman)

Danger man! Brute! Chancer! Epithets that cling to the diminutive president-elect - mostly thrown by the humbled left, it must be said - have actually served to promote his cause: a break with past political thinking and with a national aversion to risk.

If this Thatcher-in-trousers is heading into an inevitable confrontation with the unions, no one can say he hasn't prepared France for the scrap. He will amend the 35-hour working week so that it is no longer the reposeful regulation it implies; he will force strikers to maintain a minimum service for trains, buses and other public services to prevent the total standstills to which France is wearily accustomed; he will slice into the bloated state bureaucracy, where the unions are strongest, by permitting one replacement for every two retiring government office workers. As a prospective union tamer, he has to contend not so much with the size of union membership (the numbers are proportionately smaller than in Britain), but with the benefit-driven French culture that the unions resolutely uphold.

Roughly stated, President Sarkozy's goal for the French is: put aside the welfare culture, work more, earn more and thereby enrich the country, thus creating more jobs. The accent is on the value of hard work and getting up early to start it. He and his supporters have coined a wonderfully bleak word for work-shyness that hardly needs translating - assistanat. Sarkozy's France is poised to remove equality and perhaps fraternity from the illustrious triad formed in 1789.

His is a free-market, self-responsibility venture that he claims every advanced country in Europe, from Britain to those in Scandinavia, and lately Germany, has adopted to its advantage. In this sense, he represents not so much novelty as catch-up politics with a conservative twist. Long ago, when he first started planning his assault on the presidency, he provoked fellow conser vatives by saying that the traditional "French model", pursued to differing degrees by both left and right, no longer worked. His iconoclastic solution: "When something doesn't work, change to something that does."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:58 PM


How to cool the world: A new report on the state of the planet offers some grounds for optimism (The Economist, May 10th 2007)

Some greenhouse-gas emissions, as the IPCC points out, can be cut at no cost at all—through straightforward measures such as improving insulation and binning wasteful incandescent light bulbs. Such measures could both save people and companies money, and save the planet from a chunk of carbon emissions. At present, they don't bother to do much, because electricity bills are not threatening enough; but governments might take a hand. The European Commission, for instance, is planning to ban incandescent light bulbs in two years' time. Such measures could make a difference, given that lighting accounts for 17% of global power consumption.

In other areas, low-carbon technologies would be more expensive than conventional ones—but not necessarily exorbitant. In power generation, for instance, the biggest single source of carbon, the cost of wind and solar power has fallen sharply over the past couple of decades to the point where, in favourable locations, wind power can compete, in price terms, with more conventional forms of energy. Better still, the cost is likely to fall further. Wind turbines are going to go on getting bigger, and thin-film technology is likely to bring down the price of producing solar panels.

Coal, as the IPCC recognises, remains a big challenge. It is enjoying a revival, partly because gas is expensive, and partly because coal supplies are widely distributed around the globe at a time when big energy consumers are keen to reduce their dependency on oil from politically volatile places such as the Middle East, Russia and Venezuela. Coal is the dirtiest fuel; but there are a number of projects to capture carbon dioxide emissions from coal and store them under the earth's surface. If that can be done on a large scale and at reasonable cost (a big if), it offers a quick fix for a sizeable proportion of emissions.

But to bring such technologies to market, the cost of generating energy from fossil fuels will have to rise or the cost of generating energy from clean sources will have to fall, or both. That can be achieved by taxing carbon or subsidising clean energy, or both.

Rumor has it, the reason they burned witches in the Dark Ages was because they predicted that in the future Man's chief worries would be overeating and warmth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:53 PM


China Stocks: Tick, Tick, Kaboom?: The speculative mania sweeping Chinese stock markets is getting frothy—Beijing will need a smart policy mix (and fast) to settle things down (Brian Bremner, 5/10/07, Business Week)

By any reasonable measure, China's domestic stock markets have moved into Alice in Wonderland territory. The Shanghai Stock Exchange composite index has shot up 50% this year, following a 130% gain in 2006. Even though the so-called "A-share" mainland companies are now trading at rich multiples of about 30 times projected 2007 earnings, Chinese investors continue to shovel more of their savings into stocks, betting this party is anything but over.

Few doubt that the frenetic speculation in Shanghai—and at the smaller Shenzhen Stock Exchange (its benchmark index is up 100%-plus in 2007)—is at big risk of ending in tears if the government doesn't do something soon and effectively. If not, Chinese domestic markets will be in for a major-league blowout, some argue. "We believe it's now critical for the government to take action and prevent the excess from building up further," Goldman Sachs (GS) equity strategist Thomas Deng warned in a note to clients on May 10.

To really have an impact, Chinese President Hu Jintao's government has to send a strong message to investors that shows it is deadly serious about cooling things off. It then needs to follow through with a mixture of tighter monetary policy, perhaps the introduction of a capital gains tax, and an acceleration of state-owned company share sales, more initial public offerings, and secondary stock sales to increase share supply.

Further out, the introduction of a vibrant futures market—in which investors could make money shorting stocks ripe for a fall—would add more stability.

The notion that adding greater freedom in China will bring stability is hilarious. The reguired measures will not just end the regime but begin the disintegration of the Empire.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM


Gnocchi with bacon and tomatoes (Carol Mighton Haddix, Chicago Tribune)

4 slices thick bacon, chopped
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 package (13 ounces) refrigerated or shelf-stable potato gnocchi
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley or shredded lettuce
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 tsp. each: salt, freshly ground pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese, optional

1. Heat a medium skillet over medium heat; add bacon and onion. Cook, stirring often, until onion starts to brown, about 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat a large saucepan of water to a boil; add gnocchi, cook according to package directions. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

3. Add some of the cooking water to the skillet; cook, stirring, to make a sauce. Add parsley, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Heat, about 1 minute. Add gnocchi; toss to coat. Serve with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:24 PM


Plan B For Iraq: Winning Dirty (Mort Kondracke, 5/10/07, Real Clear Politics)

The 80 percent alternative involves accepting rule by Shiites and Kurds, allowing them to violently suppress Sunni resistance and making sure that Shiites friendly to the United States emerge victorious.

No one has publicly advocated this Plan B, and I know of only one Member of Congress who backs it - and he wants to stay anonymous. But he argues persuasively that it's the best alternative available if Bush's surge fails. Winning will be dirty because it will allow the Shiite-dominated Iraqi military and some Shiite militias to decimate the Sunni insurgency. There likely will be ethnic cleansing, atrocities against civilians and massive refugee flows.
On the other hand, as Bush's critics point out, bloody civil war is the reality in Iraq right now. U.S. troops are standing in the middle of it and so far cannot stop either Shiites from killing Sunnis or Sunnis from killing Shiites.

Winning dirty would involve taking sides in the civil war - backing the Shiite-dominated elected government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and ensuring that he and his allies prevail over both the Sunni insurgency and his Shiite adversary Muqtada al-Sadr, who's now Iran's candidate to rule Iraq.

At some point you have to stop opposing the best interests of your allies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:18 PM


A real knockout: De La Hoya-Mayweather fight breaks records with 2.15 million buys and $120 million in revenue. (Larry Stewart and Lance Pugmire, May 10, 2007, LA Times)

And the new pay-per-view champion of the world is Oscar De La Hoya.

A record 2.15 million buys for De La Hoya's split-decision loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Saturday night on HBO Pay-Per-View generated a record $120 million in revenue.

Those numbers, released Wednesday, pushed the totals for 18 pay-per-view fights involving De La Hoya to 12.6 million buys and $612 million in revenue, both record highs.

Also, no boxer has ever made as much off one fight.

Counting his share of the pay-per-view, live gate, closed-circuit showings and merchandising, De La Hoya's total purse, according to two sources, will exceed $50 million.

Mayweather's take is expected to be $20 million.

For all that, it was a mediocre bout because Mayweather doesn't realize it's supposed to be entertainment. His refusal to ever bring the action to his foe and the sort of cautious out-pointing strategy is deadly dull. There's no way he should get to take a champion's crown off of such a defensive performance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:59 PM


Poll shows he will leave with voters' respect (Julian Glover, May 10, 2007, The Guardian)

Tony Blair will leave office with his ratings still sky-high among Labour supporters and with the grudging respect of voters of all parties, according to a Guardian/ICM poll out today.

Despite Iraq and Labour's steep decline in public support, Mr Blair will be remembered as a force for change in Britain - although not necessarily for the better - by 60% of all voters and 70% of Labour ones. Asked to give their impressions of the prime minister, taking into account his entire decade in power, 80% of Labour voters say that he was good for the country. Overall, 44% of voters agree - a rating that stands well ahead of Labour's current position in the polls.

Nearly every Blair post-mortem seems to start with the chestnut about all political careers ending in failure. How many British leaders have left (voluntarily) their country and party in better shape?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:33 PM


Toward a New Republic (DANIEL JOHNSON, May 10, 2007, NY Sun)

"What France needs is a revolution." Every Frenchman I have talked to during the recent election campaign said something like this. The women are in an even more revolutionary mood than the men, which is why a majority of them turned down the opportunity to elect their first female president.

During the 231 years of the American republic, France has had two empires, three monarchies, and five republics — not counting various occupations, the Paris Commune, and the Vichy regime. The present fifth republic has lasted longer than any of the others, but it has come close to collapse several times since 1968. Many people feel that only a new republic now can save France.

As much as the French love their revolutions, however, nowhere else is a revolution so likely to turn on its leaders as in France. Take just one example — Napoleon's Hundred Days. Remember how the deposed emperor merely had to return from Elba, virtually alone, for the restored Bourbons to flee their throne without a shot being fired? Yet all those who cheered "Vive l'empereur!" deserted him after Waterloo. No nation is as eager to hymn its revolutionaries one day and guillotine them the next.

Even so, few would have predicted that Mr. Sarkozy's honeymoon as president-elect would last less than 48 hours. On Sunday night alone, more than 1,000 cars were burned across France — and that is a gross underestimate. The riots have continued since. By yesterday, the mutterings of a nascent reaction could be heard: "Paris is burning — and where is Sarko? Sunning himself on a billionaire's yacht in the Mediterranean! He's just like all the others."

Nobody knows whether Mr. Sarkozy will be true to his instincts, but they seem to be remarkably sensible. A pro-American president with a penchant for horseback riding is unlikely to sneer President Bush as a "cowboy" — as so many of his countrymen do.

So long as egalitie is the premise of their system they'll never get the rest right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:49 AM


Parliament Votes to Let the People Decide (Der Spiegel, 5/10/07)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) and his Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül are old friends. Gül was a candidate for president until last Sunday.
The Turkish parliament on Thursday approved a major amendment to its constitution to allow the public -- as opposed to legislators -- to vote directly for president.

The amendment must be signed by President Ahmet Necdet Sezer to become law, but it sailed easily through parliament with 370 votes out of 550.

Sezer is among critics of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who say the law was rushed through without enough debate. He's hinted at a veto. It's true that the Islamic-rooted, center-right AKP promoted the amendment after its presidential candidate, Abdullah Gül, lost two divisive votes in parliament. The AKP has broad support in Turkey, and its leaders believe Gül can win a popular election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:42 AM


How Spain Thrives on Immigration: The open-border policy under Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero is driving a Spanish economic and social revival. (Carol Matlack, 5/10/07, Der Spiegel)

Imagine what would happen if a prosperous Western nation threw open its borders, allowing immigrants to flood in virtually unchecked. Soaring unemployment, overstretched social services, rising crime, even rioting in the streets? Not in Spain.

Over the past decade, the traditionally homogeneous country has become a sort of open-door laboratory on immigration. Spain has absorbed more than 3 million foreigners from places as diverse as Romania, Morocco, and South America. More than 11 percent of the country's 44 million residents are now foreign-born, one of the highest proportions in Europe. With hundreds of thousands more arriving each year, Spain could soon match the US rate of 12.9 percent.

And it doesn't seem to have hurt much. Spain is Europe's best-performing major economy, with growth averaging 3.1 percent over the past five years. Since 2002, the country has created half the new jobs in the euro zone. Unemployment has plummeted from more than 20 percent in the 1990s to 8.6 percent, within shooting distance of the 7.2 percent euro zone average. The government attributes more than half this stellar performance to immigration. "We are very thankful for all these people who have come here to work with us," says Javier Vallés, economic policy chief for Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero.

Their problem is that there is nothing to assimilate them to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:11 AM


An anchor in our sea of change (Jerry Large, 5/10/07, Seattle Times)

I've written about aspects of it, but Queen Elizabeth's U.S. visit this week helped me put it into perspective, temporarily. What I'm referring to is the breakneck pace of change around Puget Sound and especially in Seattle. [...]

Fast-paced change, good or bad, can make home feel unfamiliar.

We get attached to the things that define a place.

What the queen reminded me is that what's old and dear around here wouldn't be very old in many places. One Seattle neighborhood, Columbia City, last week marked the 100th anniversary of its annexation by Seattle.

The queen has chairs older than that. During her visit, this paper ran a story noting that British students hardly hear a mention in school about the American revolution.

British kids have 2,000 years of history to cover, and what's a pivotal event for us is lost in the millennia of history over there.

It was a mistake it's not too late to rectify.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Disillusioned Diva With Glimmers of Soul (JON PARELES, 5/10/07, NY Times)

Amy Winehouse is a tease. The songs on her second album, “Back to Black” (Universal Republic), revive the sound of 1960s and 1970s soul with tales of plunging into temptation and toughing out the consequences. She drinks, she cheats, she falls for the wrong guys, she cries; she refuses rehab with a magnificently simple refrain, “I said no, no, no.”

But the way she delivers those songs is far less forthright. At the Highline Ballroom on Tuesday night, she treated them with a shifting blend of casualness and concentration, arbitrary improvisation and precise inflections. She connected with the songs only intermittently, though when she did, she made a listener want more. [...]

Ms. Winehouse has grown up on hip-hop’s version of R&B, which chops the old dramatic arcs of soul and gospel into sound-bite hooks and showy, almost randomly applied slides and turns. Her voice glints with possibility: tart, smoky, ready to flirt or sob, and capable of the jazzy timing of a Dinah Washington or the declamation of soul singers like Martha Reeves and Carla Thomas. What she doesn’t have, and may not want, is the kind of focus the older singers brought to their songs. Onstage Ms. Winehouse added a British layer of detachment with a performance that switched between confession and indifference.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Supporters of abortion have no future in Church, Pope tells faithful (Richard Owen, 5/10/07, Times of London)

A combative Pope Benedict XVI opened his trip to Brazil yesterday in no-holds-barred mood, vowing to stem the defections of Roman Catholics to evangelical Protestantism and giving a warning that the penalty for supporting abortion was excommunication.

In uncompromising remarks on “core teachings” on board the papal plane from Rome, the Pope backed the Church hierarchy in Mexico for excommunicating politicians who voted for a law that legalised abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy in Mexico City, as well as doctors and nurses who performed abortions.

“This is nothing new, it is normal, it wasn’t arbitrary,” he told reporters. “It is what is foreseen by the Church’s doctrine.” He had reiterated previously the Vatican’s opposition to abortion but had not specifically backed the excommunications.

The Pope also spoke strongly against abortion during his first speech in Brazil. Speaking in Portuguese, he said he was certain that the bishops will reinforce “the promotion of respect for life from the moment of conception until natural death” as an integral requirement of human nature.

Were they expecting Kumbaya?

May 9, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:37 PM


The French Election and Globalization (James Pethokoukis, 5/08/07, US News)

Hey, it looks as if even the French don't believe in the French economic model, the one that has given them sluggish economic growth of 1 percent (2003), 0.5 percent (2004), 2.1 percent (2005), and 1.2 percent (2006) over the past four years and a current unemployment rate of over 8 percent. What other conclusion can be drawn, after all, from the crushing victory of Nicolas Sarkozy over Sègoléne Royal in last weekend's French presidential election?

Morgan Stanley analyst Eric Chaney explains that Sarkozy won "by arguing that a break in the management of the economy was necessary, that the 'French model' did not work anymore, that France should learn from other European countries which have achieved full employment, and that the election of the president should be a 'referendum for reforms.' This makes his election all the more important for France: If Sarkozy lives up to his promises, this could be the beginning of long-overdue structural reforms for the French economy."

Sarkozy-nomics: more-flexible labor markets, lower taxes, deregulation, smaller government. But the two megatrends underlying the Sarkozy victory are 1) an aging population that makes leviathan social welfare states financially untenable and 2) globalization that is forcing countries to optimize their economies to make them more competitive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:33 PM


The Yankees' Clean-Up Man: Giuliani Went to Bat for the Yanks, and Look What He Scored. (Wayne Barrett, 5/09/07, Village Voice)

The greatest love affair of Rudy Giuliani's life has become a sordid scandal.

His monogamous embrace of the Yankees as mayor was so fervent that when he tried to deliver a West Side stadium to them early in his administration, or approved a last-minute $400 million subsidy for their new Bronx stadium, New Yorkers blithely ascribed the bad deals to a heaving heart.

It turns out he also had an outstretched hand.

Sports fans grew accustomed to seeing Giuliani, in Yankee jacket and cap, within camera view of the team's dugout at every one of the 40 postseason home games the Yankees played while he was mayor. His devotion reached such heights that at the 1995 Inner Circle press dinner, he played himself handing the city over to George Steinbrenner in a lampoon version of the Broadway musical Damn Yankees, succumbing to a scantily clad Lola who importuned him on behalf of the Boss to the tune of "Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets)." Mike Bloomberg understood years later that the song was no joke; he nixed Rudy's stadium deal in his first weeks in office.

It is only now, however, as Giuliani campaigns for president, that we are beginning to learn that this relationship went even deeper. Giuliani has been seen on the campaign trail wearing a World Series ring, a valuable prize we never knew he had. Indeed, the Yankees have told the Voice that he has four rings, one for every world championship the Yankees won while he was mayor. Voice calls to other cities whose teams won the Series in the past decade have determined that Giuliani is the only mayor with a ring, much less four. If it sounds innocent, wait for the price tag. These are certainly no Canal Street cubic zirconia knockoffs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 PM


Tom Pocock (Daily Telegraph, 10/05/2007

Tom Pocock, who died on Monday aged 81, was a popular historian and journalist devoted, above all, to the study of Nelson and his times.

Vividly recounted with an easy elegance and a shrewd eye for landscape, the best of his eight works on the great man were Horatio Nelson and The Young Nelson in the Americas. The former captured the ambition, dash and selfishness combined with a natural sympathy for his fellow men which created the legend of "the Nelson touch"; the book was a runner-up for the Whitbread Prize, and has remained in print for 20 years, despite the flood of new books which greeted the bicententary of Trafalgar in 2005.

The Young Nelson in the Americas recounted the San Juan river expedition of 1780 to Nicaragua, which had been largely ignored by earlier authors. Retracing the 21-year-old post captain's journey through steaming jungle, Pocock showed how the attempt to dislodge a Spanish garrison almost ended a career barely begun; and, like his subject, Pocock lost a shoe in the red mud as he leaped ashore. [...]

Pocock's work did not always please the critics. One professional historian (not a naval specialist) complained that he wrote in a style reminiscent of the boys' writer GM Henty; and there were sniffs from others about his failure to include references. But one speaker at an international naval historical conference pointed out that, despite the dearth of footnotes, Pocock had sold more books than all of those present put together. say you write as well as Henty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 PM


Tale of the Tape: Fred Thompson vs. Ronald Reagan (Radar Online)

He's an actor, a Republican, and even has the support of wicked '80s spinster Michael Deaver—it didn't take long for the press and prominent Republicans to start comparing presumed '08 presidential candidate Fred Thompson to Ronald Reagan. Is it apt? After the jump, Radar digs deeper than the superficial similarities to uncover some startling common ground—and proximity to Kevin Bacon and David Hasselhoff—between the conservative saint and Law & Order's top crank.'ll feel shivers...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 PM


Democrats join chorus against missile shield (Thom Shanker, May 9, 2007, NY Times)

The Bush administration's proposal to construct two missile-defense bases in Europe has roiled relations with Russia and provoked sharp questioning in NATO capitals, where critics ask: With the system still unproved and, under the best of circumstances, years from completion, why rush construction now?

Now the Democratic majority in Congress is moving toward budget cuts aimed at slowing the administration's plans to break ground this year on a missile interceptor base in Poland.

Do you think their caucus still weeps for the Sandinistas?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 PM


Married teacher 'made pupil play xylophone during sex' (ANDREW LEVY, 9th May 2007, Daily Mail)

Michael Taylor - now a headmaster - began a secret relationship with the teenager days after she turned 15, the jury was told.

They allegedly met once a week for "music practice" - during which the girl, a talented percussionist, performed sex acts on him.

She was told to keep playing the xylophone during the incidents so anyone passing the classroom did not disturb the couple, the court heard.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 PM


Batting clean-up (Mike Allen, May 9, 2007, Politico)

The ’08 spokespeople need to break out the Kevlar. If you thought it was tough to convince the press your boss meant “Huckleberry Finn” when he praised a Scientology novel, try telling reporters your guy meant “at least 10” when he said “10,000.”

When Sen. Barack Obama exaggerated the death toll of the tornado in Greensburg, Kan, during his visit to Richmond yesterday, The Associated Press headline rapidly evolved from “Obama visits former Confederate capital for fundraiser” to “Obama rips Bush on Iraq war at Richmond fundraiser” to “Weary Obama criticizes Bush on Iraq, drastically overstates Kansas tornado death toll”...

What kind of sissy has the press making excuses for his gaffes?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 PM


So it's not Iraq or Afghanistan that drives terrorists - it's drunk women in nightclubs: What emerged in the bomb trial was a hotchpotch of prejudice, ignorance and sexual immaturity (Howard Jacobson, 05 May 2007, Independent)

So now we know where the destruction of Western civilisation is being plotted: not in the madrassas of Karachi and Lahore, not in the Taliban training camps of Helmand province, not even in the eschatological fantasies of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but in Crawley, West Sussex. I am not of course suggesting that we rule Karachi and Tehran out of the topography of terror altogether, only that we adjust the range of our apprehension and learn to grow afraid of the loathing for the way we live that's being brewed just around the corner, in the suburbs, in the green belts, in the new towns of our fair and pleasant land. Crawley, West Sussex - never did sound fun, but never did sound dangerous either. But there you are, nowhere's safe, now we all know how to make explosives out of aftershave, from the menace which is certainty.

Call it Islamic certainty, but what emerged in the course of the fertiliser bomb trial was such a hotchpotch of prejudice, ignorance, sexual immaturity, woman-hating and theology, that the only one murderous component we can identify with confidence is the absolute conviction of right. Most of us have horrible attitudes and wouldn't mind putting a figurative bomb under something or someone or other; what stops us is that we think differently the next day. If we want to get to the bottom of why some young men don't feel differently the next day we need to understand why one brain freezes and another doesn't. Disaffection is not an explanation; it is a consequence. Blame religion if you like, but a half-baked university education can have exactly the same effect. It isn't straightforward charting the progress of fanaticism.

But the trial has thrown up matter which should embarrass more people than it can console. Good that we got the hateful little bastards, but lives might have been saved had we got them earlier. Much has been made of this, calls for a public inquiry into our policing and our security services, etc. But I wonder how many of those calling for this inquiry were busy telling us not all that long ago that there was no terrorism for our security services to police. An invention of our respective governments - Blair's and Bush's - the lot of it. An inveigling us into fear for the purpose of controlling us.

...that this what happens to guys who don't have the AV Club at school and the novels of Ayn Rand to fall back on.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 PM


Iran's Economic Crisis: Ahmadinejad isn't bringing the oil money "to every dinner table." (AMIR TAHERI, May 9, 2007, Opinion Journal)

Last week tens of thousands of angry workers, forming an illegal umbrella organization, flexed their muscles against President Ahmadinejad on International Labor Day in Tehran and a dozen provincial capitals. Marching through the capital's streets, the workers carried a coffin draped in black with the legend "Workers' Rights" inscribed on it. They shouted "No to slave labor! Yes, to freedom and dignity!"

Mr. Ahmadinejad centered his 2005 presidential campaign on a promise to "bring the country's oil money to every family's dinner table." After the election his position was boosted by a dramatic rise in oil prices, providing him with more than $100 million a day in state revenues. And, yet, all official statistics show that, with inflation running around 18% and unemployment jumping to more than 30%, the average Iranian is worse off than three years ago. Under the previous administration of President Mohammad Khatami, the Islamic Republic scored average annual economic growth rates of around 4%. In a nation that needs to create a million new jobs to cope with its exploding demography, that kind of growth was certainly not enough to point to any Eldorado anytime soon. But it was enough to prevent the economy from sinking. Under President Ahmadinejad, however, the growth rate has dropped to around 3%--and that despite rising oil revenues.

Because it controls the oil revenue, which comes in U.S. dollars, the Islamic state has a vested interest in a weak national currency. (It could get more rials for the same amount of dollars in the domestic market.) Mr. Ahmadinejad has tried to exploit that opportunity by printing an unprecedented quantity of rials. Economists in Tehran speak of "the torrent of worthless rials" that Mr. Ahmadinejad has used to finance his extravagant promises of poverty eradication. The result has been massive flights of capital, mostly into banks in Dubai, Malaysia and Austria. Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi, the Islamic Chief Justice, claims that as much as $300 billion may have left the country since President Ahmadinejad was sworn in.

According to Abbas Abdi, a Tehran researcher and loyal critic of the regime, Iran is experiencing its worst economic crisis since the late 1970s. The effects of this are seen in the slowdown in real-estate prices--the first since 1997, even in Tehran's prime districts. Printing money and spending on a no-tomorrow basis are not the only reasons for the crisis. President Ahmadinejad's entire economic philosophy seems to be designed to do more harm than good.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 PM


EU shelves ban on imperial measures (Press Association, May 9, 2007)

Campaigners fighting EU plans to abolish imperial measures have claimed a victory for pounds and ounces.

A deadline of 2009 had been set for metric measures to finally replace Britain's traditional imperial measures but that has now been shelved following a change of heart at the European Commission.

Both the Conservative Party and the Metric Martyrs campaign group say they have won the battle to keep Britain imperial.

Resistance to the standardization of the metric system is a perfect symbol of Anglospheric anti-intellectualism/anti-Rationalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 PM


Moderate Tehran mayor re-elected (Pam O'Toole, 5/09/07, BBC News)

Tehran's mayor, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, has been re-elected in a move seen as a victory for pragmatic conservatives within the Iranian establishment.

Mr Qalibaf stood against Iran's hardline leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in the 2005 presidential election.

There has been speculation the mayor could be using his position as a stepping stone to standing against Mr Ahmadinejad in the next election. [...]

In a closely fought election, Mr Qalibaf stood against two other conservative candidates, one of whom is regarded as being close to Mr Ahmadinejad.

Mahmoud has been a dead man walking for a couple years now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:42 PM


Blair will resign as PM tomorrow (Daily Mail, 5/09/07)

Tony Blair is widely expected to announce his departure tomorrow at his constituency in Sedgefield.

It is believed Mr Blair will first inform Government colleagues at the regular weekly Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street before flying to his constituency in County Durham, where he kicked off his parliamentary career in 1983.

The public announcement will set in motion the procedure by which Mr Blair's 10-year premiership will draw to a close.

Both the Prime Minister and the Queen flew back to London last night, and many at Westminster expect Mr Blair to use his regular weekly audience at Buckingham Palace to inform Her Majesty in advance of his intentions.

But his official spokesman was yesterday unable to confirm whether an audience was scheduled for today.

Mr Blair's expected announcement tomorrow will not trigger his immediate departure as Prime Minister, but will kick off a process expected to result in the handover of the reins of power to Mr Brown around the start of July.

...he's moving here and converting to Catholicism?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:31 AM


The Clouds Poke Through the Sun (BRET MCCABE, May 9, 2007, NY Sun)

Indie rock's most incorrigibly happy band may have finally found something to frown about. When the 20-plus-member rock orchestra and choir the Polyphonic Spree invades the Manhattan Center's Grand Ballroom on Friday, gone will be the members' trademark flowing gospel robes and the band's defiantly upbeat musical sunshine, which owes as much to "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "The Electric Company" as it does to ELO, Wings, and the Beach Boys. In their place will be new uniforms — Chinese Cultural Revolution-like plain black work suits and a sound no less symphonic but decidedly less saccharine.

An eight-minute mash-up teaser of the band's latest album, "The Fragile Army," due June 19, reveals a band possibly embracing the underbelly and cracks in its perpetual glee. If so, it's exactly what the Polyphonic Spree needs to do right now. [...]

The Spree's biggest problem was that the world wasn't the same as it was when "The Beginning Stages" was recorded in 2000. Only the pharmaceutically maintained and delusional can hold a bulletproof smile in the face of anything. The big albums of 2004 — Kanye West's "The College Dropout," Green Day's "American Idiot," Modest Mouse's "Good News for People Who Love Bad News," Arcade Fire's "Funeral" — were disgruntled and anxious, at odds with the Spree's devotion to the sunny side of the street.

Huh? Given a country that has everything going for it that we have over the last 24 years, why isn't it the anxious who sound forced? Has there ever been a time and a place in History when it was more appropriate to be gruntled?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:59 AM


A Royal Lesson for Clinton?: French Candidate's Loss Shows Need to Balance Gender-Based Appeal (JACKIE CALMES in Washington and ALESSANDRA GALLONI in Paris, May 9, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

Elections abroad featuring female candidates, including this week's contest in France, don't answer the question of how open Americans are to electing their first woman president. But they do offer this hint: Voters have become more receptive to females who project gender-bending strength and substance, as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton tries to do, and more likely to reject those who don't.

Socialist Ségolène Royal lost her bid to be France's first female president after a campaign in which she played up her motherhood and underplayed policy details, while conservative winner Nicolas Sarkozy emphasized a hard-line platform against crime and immigration. In contrast, Angela Merkel won election in 2005 as Germany's first female chancellor with a campaign so focused on the dry economics of tax rates and labor rules that female commentators complained. "She has not shown any enthusiasm for so-called women's politics," Germany's best-known feminist, Alice Schwarzer, sniped at the time.

Now, as Mrs. Clinton seeks the Democratic nomination, and the chance to make U.S. history, the dicey politics of gender are central to the New York senator's strategy. She uses her gender to advantage where she can. "This is going to be an election about change," and "one big one is Hillary's gender," says Ann Lewis, a top Clinton strategist. "The excitement she engenders among women is an important asset."

The American primary system is particularly tough on Ms Clinton, because she has to play up chickness to win the nomination of the female party but then try to be guyish in the general.

New ratings low for Katie Couric (AP, 5/08/07)

It surely wasn't what CBS dreamed about when Katie Couric was hired: the "CBS Evening News" last week recorded its smallest audience since 1987, and probably many years before that.

At a time when the market faily cried out for a more conservative alternative to the MS
Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:56 AM


Warning issued over flaming toilets in Japan (9 May, 2007)

Japanese toilet makers issued a warning to electric bidet users on Wednesday, saying at least 105 units have caught fire or sent up smoke in Japan since 1984.

We had the same problem in our fraternity the semester we switched from Bud to Genessee Cream Ale.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:46 AM

A fight in which we have no weasel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


Pelosi threat to sue Bush over Iraq bill (Jonathan E. Kaplan and Elana Schor, May 09, 2007, The Hill)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is threatening to take President Bush to court if he issues a signing statement as a way of sidestepping a carefully crafted compromise Iraq war spending bill.

Pelosi recently told a group of liberal bloggers, “We can take the president to court” if he issues a signing statement, according to Kid Oakland, a blogger who covered Pelosi’s remarks for the liberal website

“The president has made excessive use of signing statements and Congress is considering ways to respond to this executive-branch overreaching,” a spokesman for Pelosi, Nadeam Elshami, said. “Whether through the oversight or appropriations process or by enacting new legislation, the Democratic Congress will challenge the president’s non-enforcement of the laws.” [...]

Indicating that he may consider attaching a signing statement to a future supplemental spending measure, Bush last week wrote in his veto message, “This legislation is unconstitutional because it purports to direct the conduct of operations of the war in a way that infringes upon the powers vested in the presidency.”


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


Benedict XVI Is in Brazil. But Meanwhile, the "Latinos" Are Invading the North: The United States is now fifth among the nations with the highest Latin American population. A survey by the Pew Forum on an emigration movement that is changing the face of Catholicism in the leading country in the West (Sandro Magister, May 9, 2007, Chiesa)

With 37 million Hispanic immigrants, the United States is now the fifth nation in the world – and soon will be the fourth – by Latin American population, after Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina, and ahead of all the other countries in Central and South America. One out of every three Catholics in the United States comes from Latin America, speaks Spanish or Portuguese, and prefers to attend churches where there are other faithful from the South.

Furthermore, almost half of the Hispanic immigrants in the United States identify themselves as Charismatics, exactly as in their countries of origin. And this is perceptibly changing the religious landscape in the United States, and also in regard to the Catholic Church. The Latin Americans are not only revolutionizing the numbers, but they are changing the way in which Catholicism is lived in the leading country in the West.

A survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public life, published in the United States on the eve of Benedict XVI's trip to Brazil, is the first in-depth study of this powerful transformation, which will have repercussions on the future of Catholicism worldwide.

Brown and faithful and you wonder that the Darwinists hate them?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


A New Pitchman -- and a New Pitch: As NRCC Chief, Cole Has Plan to Win Back House in 2008 (Juliet Eilperin and Michael Grunwald, 5/09/07, Washington Post)

[Rahm] Emanuel ultimately led the Democrats back to the majority. That's why Republicans wanted their own Patton -- their own Rahm -- to take back the House in 2008. And that's why they've elected Cole to chair the National Republican Congressional Committee, where he once served as executive director.

"A guy with that kind of résumé, we'd be paying millions of dollars for him as a consultant," said Rep. Candice S. Miller (Mich.), the head of recruiting for the NRCC.

It's true; Cole has run the Republican National Committee, the Oklahoma GOP and a lucrative consulting business. He has also been a state senator, congressional staff member and Oklahoma's secretary of state. He loves to read cross tabs, and he's a consummate insider. "His Rolodex," says former aide John Woods, "is like all of MySpace plus all of Facebook." [...]

Cole has run the numbers, and he doesn't think the GOP was doomed by appropriating federal money for bridges to nowhere in Alaska. His diagnosis includes Iraq, corruption scandals and a general sense that Republicans "overreached" after taking over Washington. He's a conservative Republican from a conservative district, but he says that the United States is a "center-right country, not a right-wing country." He wants the GOP to woo swing voters, and he believes they can be coaxed back into the fold with better messaging, better marketing and better performance.

"Oh, I don't think the problem was spending," Cole said. "People who argue that we lost because we weren't true to our base, that's just wrong." [...]

In 1952, the Democrats were saddled with Korea. Now the Republicans have Iraq.

Cole's district is a military stronghold where supporting the war and the president is no political liability. On a trip home this month, Cole received two standing ovations at a dinner for first responders at Tinker Air Force Base. The emcee introduced Cole as "a man who goes to sleep every night and wakes up every morning thinking about how he can make this country better."

Cole says there's no doubt that the Bush administration has made mistakes in Iraq, but he's still convinced that Americans want to win, and that demands for withdrawal are bad politics and bad policy. He thinks that every day that Americans hear about Pelosi and her antiwar rhetoric -- and especially her recent trip to Syria, which Cole called "a PR disaster of the first order" -- is a good day for House Republicans.

"That lady from California, can you tell her to stop gallivanting around the world trying to be president?" City Council member Larry O'Connell of Del City asked Cole after the dinner at the air base.

"Well, we're going to have to change the numbers," Cole replied with a laugh.

But the next morning, a 54-year-old wholesale car buyer named Bill Kirtley challenged Cole about the war at a town hall meeting in Pauls Valley. Kirtley, a Chickasaw, said he talked to a 20-year-old soldier who said he believes that it doesn't matter whether the United States withdraws tomorrow or a decade from tomorrow. He called Iraq a quagmire, a Vietnam War in the sand.

"I've been a registered Republican for 20 years, but I'm so ashamed of the party," he told Cole. "What are we doing in Iraq? Anyone with any sense can see this is crazy."

Cole spent the next 20 minutes debating with Kirtley, conceding that mistakes have been made, insisting that not all is lost, warning that Americans will pay the price if the Middle East is not transformed. "We can't go around the world stomping people," Kirtley said. Cole replied: "That's why you're seeing a different approach to Iran and North Korea."

In the end, the two agreed to disagree. "Tom's a good man," Kirtley said later. "But he's a Republican congressman, and they've just lost their way."

If only George Bush and Karl Rove were as cynical as the Left thinks they are, they'd have gotten out of Iraq and not only held the Hill in '06 but rung up close to 50 states in '04.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Cheney makes unannounced visit to Iraq (The Associated Press, May 9, 2007)

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney got a first-hand briefing on conditions in Iraq and the effectiveness of the U.S. military buildup on Wednesday from the top U.S. commander in Iraq in an unscheduled visit intended to press Iraqi leaders to do more to achieve reconciliation among factions.

"There's a lot going on. This is a very important time. There's a lot to talk about," Cheney said as he met with Gen. David Petraeus and the new U.S. ambassador here, Ryan Crocker.

Petraeus said recently that conditions in Iraq may get harder before they get easier and will require "an enormous commitment" over time by the United States.

Cheney made Iraq the first stop on a weeklong tour of the Middle East that will also include stops in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. The stop had not been announced publicly.

He could demonstrate the Administration's commitment by staying for the duration of the surge.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Giuliani gave to Planned Parenthood (Jonathan Martin, May 7, 2007, Politico)

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani in his campaign appearances this year has stated that he personally abhors abortion, even though he supports keeping a legal right to choose. But records show that in the '90s he contributed money at least six times to Planned Parenthood, one of the country's leading abortion rights groups and its top provider of abortions.

His campaign donors are, likewise, funding an abortion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Galileo system 'in a deep crisis' (BBC, 5/09/07)

Europe's proposed satellite-navigation system, Galileo, will need more public funds if it is to be built.

Hope is receding that a private consortium asked to run the system can end its infighting and meet a 10 May deadline to move the project forward.

This is likely to mean European taxpayers stepping in to cover costs.

German Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee, speaking on behalf of the EU, said: "Galileo is going through a deep and grave crisis."

He added: "We're in a dead end street. The cardinal problem is that the companies still have not been able to agree on the way forward. We need to find an alternative solution."

And there's one firm rule of the French Model, when you come to the dead-end, Forward March!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Bacon and Leek Quiche only needs a pinch of time (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 5/09/07)

# 1 9-inch frozen pie crust
# 6 eggs
# 1 medium leek, thinly sliced
# 1/2 cup sour cream
# 6 slices precooked bacon, crumbled

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Prick the bottom and sides of a pie crust with a fork. Whisk eggs in a medium bowl until frothy and use a little to brush an even coating of egg over pie crust. Bake crust for 6 minutes; take it out of the oven and let it cool.

Meanwhile, add leek, sour cream and bacon to the eggs in the bowl; whisk to combine. Pour egg mixture into cooled pie crust and bake 20 minutes, or until filling is set and quiche is lightly browned. Serve with mixed greens.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The political revival of Malaysia's Anwar (Chin Huat Wong, 5/10/07, Asia Times)

Anwar Ibrahim] has recently emerged as Malaysia's most visible opposition politician by campaigning on a racial-inclusion card - a message that elicited cheers in the majority-Chinese village of Machap Baru, a traditional stronghold for the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) political party currently represented in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

The United Malays National Organization (UMNO), Malaysia's largest political party and founder of the BN, has ruled the country uninterrupted since it achieved independence in 1957. Since 1970, UMNO has perpetuated the affirmative-action New Economic Policy (NEP), which grants preferential status in equity, employment and education to ethnic Malays and other indigenous groups known collectively as bumiputera. Although the policy ended officially in 1990, its pro-Malay measures remain in place.

Minority Chinese and Indians, who combined account for more than 33% of Malaysia's total population, have long carped about UMNO's race-based policies and contend that unequal treatment has led to the chronic brain drain of Malaysia's best and brightest to Western countries or neighboring Singapore. [...]

If Anwar has his way, Malaysia's next general election - which is due by May 2009 but many expect to be held either this year or in early 2008 - will be a de facto referendum on UMNO's unwavering support for the NEP, particularly in urban areas where Anwar apparently aims to swing the Chinese, Indians and progressive Malays to vote for his party.

Hardly surprising to see a mature Islamist offer a transcendental politics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Horse Talk (Roger Angell, May 14, 2007, The New Yorker)

Horses once abounded in New York, with a hundred and twenty thousand of them still in residence in 1908, when a reporter called them “an economic burden, an affront to cleanliness, and a terrible tax upon human life.” Their numbers declined precipitously thereafter, trailing off into art and sentimentality—who doesn’t remember the Steichen photograph of a misty, soft-edged Flatiron Building, with the silhouetted horse cab and plug-hatted cabbie in the foreground? Horsepresence took another hit last month, when the ancient Claremont Riding Academy, on West Eighty-ninth Street, closed its doors, reducing our equines to that redolent line of tourist-pullers on Central Park South. A few older city types (this writer among them) can remember cloppier times. The appearance of flower venders, with their brilliantly hued horse-drawn wagons of blooms, was once a certain sign that another city spring was at hand. Taken along to the theatre by your parents, and in among the dressed-up, perfumed, and excited hordes in the West Forties before curtain time, you were watched over by godlike city mounties, unmoving atop their enormous steeds.

There's something indescribably strange about seeing the horses walk out of the side of that building and onto the city street.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Inside Sadr City (Pepe Escobar , 5/10/07, Asia Times)

Sadr City is a giant dormitory. Hussein says, "Baghdad would become a ghost city if people from Sadr City would not go there to work." He adds, "Sadr City has become the symbol of stability for Baghdad and Iraq. Many merchants in Baghdad come from Sadr City." Community life is indeed stable; this is a peaceful, harmonious dormitory. Hussein describes local people as "naive, they accept everything, they have a great sense of sacrifice". Residents confirm they feel secure inside Sadr City, but never outside. They are not in the habit of complaining; a common expression is Sali ala al-Nabi ("Pray for the Prophet"), meaning in the end everything will be all right.

Take Hussein Maheidel, from Amara in Shi'ite southern Iraq, who has been living in Sadr City for the past 30 years. He was a construction worker, but has been handicapped for the past 12 years because of a nerve problem in his back. All the best Iraqi doctors have left the country, so an operation might not be successful.

He has no pension to support his family of nine children. So he's being helped by the office of Muqtada, who pays his monthly rent of $100, a figure considered low in Sadr City. The average monthly rental for a house in the neighborhood is $750.

The Maheidel family lives in bleak poverty and sleeps in the same small room. But the head of the household is not complaining. He hopes his children "will not be workers, like myself". They are all in school; the unfortunate exception is his six-year-old daughter, who spends the day caring for her father (he walks on crutches). The expression of infinite sadness in her eyes is extremely disturbing. There are polite smiles in Sadr City - but the impression is they are directed to the foreign visitor. Resignation in sadness seems to be the feeling among most adults.

All of which is why the surge is directed at the Sunni, not Mookie.

May 8, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:56 PM


HRD hopes to make $10 laptops a reality (Akshaya Mukull, 5/04/07, Times of India)

Having rejected Nicholas Negroponte’s offer of $100 laptops for schoolchildren, HRD ministry’s idea to make laptops at $10 is firmly taking shape with two designs already in and public sector undertaking Semiconductor Complex evincing interest to be a part of the project.

So far, the cost of one laptop, after factoring in labour charges, is coming to $47 but the ministry feels the price will come down dramatically considering the fact that the demand would be for one million laptops.

“The cost is encouraging and we are hopeful it would come down to $10. We would also look into the possibility of some Indian company manufacturing the parts,” an official said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:39 PM


Sarkozy faces an economic test in ailing Airbus (Mark Landler, May 8, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

For those trying to predict how France's newly elected president, Nicolas Sarkozy, will lead his country's economy, one of the first critical tests is likely to come here, at the home base of Airbus, the proud but ailing European plane maker.

Beset by costly delays in its flagship A380 plane and trailing its archrival Boeing, Airbus has embarked on a wrenching overhaul that could result in thousands of lost jobs and the sale of several factories.

The retrenchment at Airbus is also forcing its French and German shareholders to rethink the politically delicate, increasingly combustible, ownership arrangements that govern the plane maker's parent, the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, or EADS.

How Sarkozy navigates these thorny issues may help clarify whether he is, at heart, a free-market reformer or an economic nationalist determined to prop up France's industrial patrimony.

Given his track record and the imperatives of French politics, several experts said, he is likely to be a bit of both. Sarkozy, they predicted, will give Airbus leeway to proceed with cost-cutting, while at the same time moving to strengthen France's influence over the enterprise.

That could raise hackles in Germany, which has long chafed at France's proprietary attitude toward Airbus.

Margaret Thatcher broke the miners, RWR the air traffic controllers--Mr. Sarkozy is French.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 PM


Letwin: 'Cameron Conservatism' outflanks Brown's 'post-Marxism' (Andrew Grice, 09 May 2007, Independent)

David Cameron will win the "battle of ideas" against Gordon Brown with his vision of "social responsibility", the Tories' policy chief has declared.

Oliver Letwin spelt out the "big idea" of what he called "Cameron Conservatism" as he branded Mr Brown's version of New Labour as the heir to Marxism. He contrasted the Chancellor's "provision theory" - under which the state provided services - directly with Mr Cameron's "framework theory" in which services would be funded by the state but some would be run by the voluntary or private sector.

Mr Brown is expected to set out his policy agenda on Friday, the day after Tony Blair confirms his departure timetable, and will try to offer a combination of "continuity and change". He intends to head off the Tory charge that he would run a "big brother" government by stressing he is committed to an "enabling state" in which power is devolved to local level.

In a speech to the Policy Exchange think-tank, Mr Letwin predicted that, with the debate over a free market economy largely settled, society would be the main battleground at the election. He said: "Cameron Conservatives have recognised the profound consequences of the fact that we have entered a post-Marxist era. Politics - once econo-centric - must now become socio-centric. Instead of being about economics, politics in a post-Marxist age is about the whole way we live our lives; it is about society."

The Democrats have so thoroughly abandoned Bill Clinton that they offer nothing but reaction to the GOP's Third Way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 PM


Blacks, Latinos battle for California seat (Gebe Martinez, May 8, 2007, Politico)


That barely begins to describe the political turmoil in Southern California that is pinching one of the most sensitive of all political and cultural nerves: blacks versus Latinos.

Ground zero is the 37th Congressional District, one of the poorest in the state, which stretches from South Los Angeles to Long Beach and neighboring suburbs. The recent death of Democratic Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald is forcing a special primary election next month, and Latinos are claiming their right to take over the traditionally black House seat.

Blacks account for 25 percent of the district's registered voters, compared with 21 percent for Latinos. But the Latino voting-age population outnumbers blacks by more than 13 percentage points. Latinos want it, and blacks are nervous about possibly losing it.

The stakes for both ethnic groups are huge. The black community must keep the House seat to maintain its political clout in Washington. Hispanics must spur the low-voting Latino population to register and vote, as well as earn national political influence that matches its population growth.

What is happening in California is the result of major demographic changes that are rippling across the country.

This is a split that, but for its nativists, the GOP could exploit and ride the tide of demographics to easy dominance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 PM


How will Brown get on with Bush? (Con Coughlin, 09/05/2007, Daily Telegraph)

When Gordon Brown finally takes up official residence at Number 10, one of his first tasks will be to arrange an official visit with the White House's current incumbent.

The ritual of newly appointed British prime ministers rushing across the Atlantic to effect a personal introduction to their opposite number is almost as well established as the short journey they make to Buckingham Palace to present their credentials to the monarch. Edward Heath was alone among Britain's post-war prime ministers in being a reluctant transatlantic traveller, preferring to indulge his fantasy of pursuing European political union at the expense of maintaining good working relations with Britain's most important strategic ally. Not surprisingly, the alliance suffered its nadir in the early 1970s, and did not properly recover until Margaret Thatcher became prime minister in 1979.

As a self-confessed admirer of all things American, Gordon Brown is unlikely to repeat the mistake. Quite apart from the fact that he likes to take his annual vacation at Cape Cod, Brown has established ties with the American political establishment, albeit of the Democrat variety. Brown was a great admirer of the slick political operation that provided Bill Clinton with two impressive presidential election victories, and key Clinton aides, such as James Carville, were deeply involved in the mid-1990s in the creation of the New Labour spin machine that brought Blair and Brown to power 10 years ago.

There is no doubt that Brown would feel more at home if the Democrats controlled the White House as well as Congress but - for the next 18 months at least - he must reconcile himself to the fact that he will be dealing with the most Right-wing, and ideologically uncompromising administration of modern times.

Except that Mr. Brown is ideologically much closer to George W. Bush than to Al Gore, John Kerry, or, as she's running now, Hillary Clinton, both in terms of Third Way domestic policy and foreign crusading..

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 PM


Ulster's old foes to work together for peace (Tom Peterkin, 09/05/2007, Daily Telegraph)

The day that nobody thought would come finally arrived yesterday when Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness entered a power-sharing government and promised to bring lasting peace to Northern Ireland.

The old foes, who for so long were regarded as intractable leaders of Ulster's two warring tribes, set aside four decades of sectarian Troubles to seal a political deal under the watchful eye of Tony Blair.

For the Prime Minister, the extraordinary event at Stormont represented his hope that the end of his premiership will be remembered for something other than the war in Iraq or the cash for honours controversy.

Iraq will, of course, be remembered quite similarly once it too has time for built up pus to drain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 PM

Good one, Vernon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:06 PM


Not the End of the World as We Know It: How bad is climate change really? Are catastrophic floods and terrible droughts headed our way? Despite widespread fears of a greenhouse hell, the latest computer simulations are delivering far less dramatic predictions about tomorrow's climate. (Olaf Stamp, 5/08/07, Der Spiegel)

Svante Arrhenius, the father of the greenhouse effect, would be called a heretic today. Far from issuing the sort of dire predictions about climate change which are common nowadays, the Swedish physicist dared to predict a paradise on earth for humans when he announced, in April 1896, that temperatures were rising -- and that it would be a blessing for all.

Arrhenius, who later won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, calculated that the release of carbon dioxide -- or carbonic acid as it was then known -- through burning coal, oil and natural gas would lead to a significant rise in temperatures worldwide. But, he argued, "by the influence of the increasing percentage of carbonic acid in the atmosphere, we may hope to enjoy ages with more equable and better climates," potentially making poor harvests and famine a thing of the past.

Arrhenius was merely expressing a view that was firmly entrenched in the collective consciousness of the day: warm times are good times; cold times are bad.

During the so-called Medieval Warm Period between about 900 and 1300 A.D., for example, the Vikings raised livestock on Greenland and sailed to North America. New cities were built all across Europe, and the continent's population grew from 30 million to 80 million.

The consequences of the colder temperatures that plunged civilization into the so-called Little Ice Age for several centuries after 1300 were devastating. Summers were rainy, winters cold, and in many places temperatures were too low for grain crops to mature. Famines and epidemics raged, and average life expectancy dropped by 10 years. In Germany, thousands of villages were abandoned and entire stretches of land depopulated.

The shock produced by the cold was as deep-seated it was long-lasting. When temperatures plunged unexpectedly once again in the 1960s, many meteorologists were quick to warn people about the coming of a new ice age -- supposedly triggered by man-made air pollution. Hardly anyone at the time believed a warming trend could pose a threat.

It was not until the rise of the environmental movement in the 1980s that everything suddenly changed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:14 PM


Murder assault on Fort Dix would be easy, accused plotter says (John Shiffman, 5/08/07, Philadelphia INQUIRER)

The FBI arrested six people, including five in Cherry Hill, in connection with an alleged plot to kill soldiers at Fort Dix that unraveled with an alert store clerk, federal officials said today.

"If you want to do anything here, there is Fort Dix and I don't want to exaggerate, and I assure that you can hit an American base very easily," one of the men told an FBI informant, according to the FBI. "You take a map and draw it and then you calculate that there are areas where there are 100 to 200 individuals . . .

"When you got a military base, you need mortars and RPGs," the man allegedly said.

"My intent is to hit a heavy concentration of soldiers," the man on the tape said. "You hit four, five or six humvees and light the whole place up."

Greg Reinert, a Justice Department spokesman in Camden, described the six as "Islamic radicals . . . who were involved in a plot to kill U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix in New Jersey."

"Their alleged intention was to conduct an armed assault on the Army base and to kill as many soldiers as possible," he said.

The plot unraveled when a store clerk told the FBI that one of the suspects had brought a "disturbing" videotape to copy onto a DVD, authorities said.

"Today we dodged a bullet," said Jody Weis, the senior FBI agent in Philadelphia. "In fact, we dodged a lot of bullets. The unsung hero is that store clerk."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM


France: Another Political Thatcher is Born (Julio Godoy, 5/08/07, IPS News)

Nicolas Sarkozy's triumph in the French presidential elections could open the way for deep political and social changes, not unlike those that began with the era of Margaret Thatcher in Britain in the 1980s.

At the same time, Sarkozy's triumph, or rather, the defeat of the Left in the shape of Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal, can also bring an overhaul of political structures, according to some political analysts.

Sarkozy obtained 53 percent of the vote in the second round of the presidential elections, thanks to the decisive support of centrists and far right-wing voters, and even some leftist supporters, according to political surveys.

Sarkozy, who will take office May 16, declared immediately that during his mandate "values such as hard work, morality, authority, respect and merit will be rehabilitated."

Such wording, which he has used repeatedly during his campaign, has been widely interpreted as announcement of further dismantling of the welfare state, preference for neoliberal politics in favor of enterprises, and state authoritarianism.

While Ronald Reagan revived the West and won the Cold War, it seems increasingly clear that it is Thatcherism that has the more lasting influence in terms of a governing philosophy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


For Democrats, New Challenge in Age-Old Rift (ROBIN TONER, 5/08/07, NY Times)

Almost nothing rouses as much passion, anger or history for the Democrats as the issue of trade.

Defining the rules of engagement in a fiercely competitive global marketplace, trade policy cuts to the heart of the Democrats’ identity, how they view their party’s past and envision its future. It can divide them along regional and economic lines — Midwest vs. Pacific Rim, manufacturing vs. agriculture, Main Street vs. Wall Street.

Nobody knows this better than Representative Sander M. Levin, chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade and a 24-year veteran of the House from the suburbs of Detroit.

Mr. Levin is one of the newly empowered Democratic leaders trying to find a trade policy that can unite their party and heal a painful rift between those who see a globalized economy as inevitable and good and those who see the cost under current policies, in lost jobs and unsettled lives, as simply too great.

Yet at the same time that at least half the folks on the Left and a not inconsiderable proportion of the far Right think they can stop globalization we feign disbelief that so many in the Islamic world are likewise resistant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


The Louisiana Wunderkind: Beholding Rep. Bobby Jindal (JOHN J. MILLER, 5/06/07, National Review)

‘When my dad sat you down and said that you had ‘a lot of potential’ — that was not a good speech,” says Rep. Bobby Jindal, a Louisiana Republican. “It meant that you weren’t working hard enough.”

It’s difficult to imagine anybody accusing Jindal of not working hard enough. His life story so far — he’s 35 — is a tale of potential realized. The son of immigrant parents from India, Jindal went to Brown and earned a Rhodes scholarship. At the age of 24, he became the head of Louisiana’s Health and Hospitals Depart¬ment. At 26, he ran a national commission on Medicare. At 28, he became president of the University of Louisiana system. Jindal also served as an assistant secretary of health and human services in the Bush administration and, in 2004, was elected to Congress. He was reelected last year.

Is that good enough, Father Jindal?

The only blemish on this GOP whiz kid’s résumé came in 2003, when he ran for governor of his home state and lost by four points to Democrat Kathleen Blanco. Then came Hurricane Katrina, which laid waste not only to New Orleans but also to Blanco’s reputation as a leader. On March 20, she announced that she would not seek reelection.

Today, Jindal is the most popular politician in Louisiana — and he’s a strong favorite to win the votes for Blanco’s vacated seat from an electorate that’s experiencing a profound case of buyer’s remorse.

John Derbyshire wakes up screaming....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


A man without history: The Third Way was not an ideology, but a classy fudge that the Prime Minister soon abandoned for Messianic belligerence (David Marquand, 07 May 2007, New Statesman)

Tony Blair's prime ministership began as a paradox and ended as a tragedy. Electorally, he has been the most successful leader in Labour's history, and one of the two most successful party leaders since the Second World War. Labour's 1997 majority was its biggest ever, and the big gest any party had won since 1935. Its extraordinary sociological and cultural scope mattered even more than the numbers. In the intoxicating months that followed Blair's arrival at No 10, his vast coalition seemed to embrace virtually all sectors of opinion and to subsume almost all cultural and ethnic identities. Campaigners for gay rights rubbed shoulders with champions of family values; class-war mastodons marched alongside votaries of the free market; Diane Abbott's Hackney constituents held hands with Gisela Stuart's from leafy Edgbaston. Blair himself - classless, rootless and ideology-lite - seemed the summation of all the contradictions and ambiguities of the nation which had elected him.

Of course, there was a price. The Blair coalition was meant to be the vehicle of a Blair project, just as the preceding Thatcher coalition had been the vehicle of the Thatcher project. There was a profound difference between the two, however. Thatcher was a revolutionary. Her purpose was to extirpate the legacy, not just of the disastrous governments of the 1970s, but of all the governments of the preceding 60 years.

The Blair coalition was a very different animal. In domestic affairs, Blair was a consolidator, not a revolutionary. The last thing he wanted was to extirpate Thatcher's legacy. He wanted to take it over, to assimilate it and to embed it in the nation's psyche. To do that, he had to soften it at the edges; to humanise it; and, above all, to give it a less abrasive and intimidating aspect. But, unlike Thatcher, he could not openly explain what he was up to. For one thing, his coalition included most of the casualties of the Thatcher revolution as well as many of the beneficiaries, and he had to keep the casualties on board. He had to keep his party on board as well; and though it was willing to jump through an astonishing range of hoops to get back into power, an open avowal of his neo-Thatcherite intentions might have been too much for it. The coalition that had enabled him to command the political stage was, in fact, unfit for the purpose he had in mind.

Even as he prepares to exit the stage, no one has offered a more profound insight into Tony Blair than Geoffrey Wheatcroft in the Atlantic Monthly profile when he was first elected: "You have to remember," says someone who knows him, "that the great passion in his life is his hatred of the Labour Party"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Winehouse: natural and satisfying (Joan Anderman, May 8, 2007, Boston Globe)

[Amy] Winehouse opened with "Addicted" and closed with "I'm No Good," but to the chagrin of fans hoping to engage in a booze-fueled communal bender, the artist's only stumbles were a late start and a bit of trouble forming certain words between songs. Otherwise Winehouse was a total success, not by virtue of sparkling showmanship or sex appeal -- she sported surprisingly little of either, despite her nude-lady tattoos -- but just by being that rare creature we call a natural.

Backed by the eight-piece New York R&B ensemble the Dap-Kings, Winehouse sang all but one of the songs from her breakthrough album, last year's "Back to Black," tossing in a cover of the Zuton's "Valerie" and two tracks from her 2003 debut, "Frank." And sing was all she did, leaving the evening's move-busting in the capable hands (and legs and torsos) of her suave, loose-limbed back-up singers, both men. A bit of stiff hip-swivel ing was the beginning and end of Winehouse's body language.

But pressed to the microphone is where Winehouse belongs, and it sounds as though she's been there forever. Her languid, gritty phrasing and vintage-sounding soul tunes have deep roots, and yet Winehouse doesn't qualify as retro. Even the 23-year-old's inky beehive, a tangled and towering nest that required frequent nudging, seemed fresh. Part of that is wishful thinking; Generation Next deserves its own Motown sound. But mostly it's because Winehouse was so effortlessly, unassumingly herself: no airs, no anxiety, no ingratiating shout-outs to her heroes. Her endearingly awkward efforts to explain song meanings were a far cry from the smooth stage stylings of her predecessors.

Rumor has it, she's the next Bond girl.

Thanks to Ted Welter, there's an Amy Winehouse Playlist in our Media Master widget.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


A White-Tie Dinner for Queen’s White House Visit (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, 5/08/07, NY Times)

Presidents come and go, but for more than half a century, the queen has always been the queen.

So it was perhaps no surprise that Washington went a little gaga on Monday, as Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, began an official two-day visit to the capital.

Across the Atlantic, Helen Mirren, who won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Elizabeth in “The Queen,” shocked the British conscience over the weekend by turning down an invitation to dine at Buckingham Palace.

But on this side of the ocean, the queen was making Americans go weak in the knees.

If looks could kill, Mr Bush, you'd be a goner (EBEN HARRELL, 5/08/07, The Scotsman)

A CLOUDLESS blue sky, a military marching band, an immaculate red carpet - the White House managed to put everything in order yesterday for the Queen's first visit to the United States in 16 years. Everything, that is, except for George Bush.

In his opening remarks, the president managed to undo weeks of preparation in a single phrase. At the welcoming ceremony in Washington DC, Mr Bush had been talking about one of the Queen's previous visits, in 1976, which coincided with the 200th anniversary of American independence.

In front of more than 7,000 politicians, diplomats, White House staff and their families, Mr Bush told the Queen: "You helped our nation to celebrate its bicentennial in 17 ..." before hastily correcting himself and saying "1976."

The crowd laughed and the president paused, turned to the Queen and winked. He turned back to the lectern and quipped: "She gave me a look that only a mother could give a child."

The Queen laughed in response.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Fighting for Freedom: John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting speaks his mind. (John J. Miller, 5/06/07, National Review)

Nothing about Five for Fighting is what you would expect, starting with the name. It comes from hockey, indicating a five-minute major penalty for fisticuffs, and it would be a perfect moniker for a hard-charging punk-rock band. Yet the group’s songs tend toward piano-driven, lump-in-the-throat ballads, such as “100 Years” and “The Riddle.” Moreover, Five for Fighting isn’t really a group so much as a pseudonym for singer-songwriter John Ondrasik. In concert, there aren’t even five musicians on stage. The quintet is a quartet: just Ondrasik and three others. Is the fifth guy in the penalty box?

And one other thing: The title song on the latest Five for Fighting album, Two Lights, was inspired by a lunch with NRO columnist Victor Davis Hanson. In the history of rock music, surely this is some kind of first. [...]

Songs such as “NYC Weather Report” and “Johnny America” are best understood through the prism of 9/11. “That day made us aware that the world is not how we would like it to be,” says Ondrasik. “It’s not a liberal-conservative thing. It’s about having a world that’s safe for our kids.”

For Ondrasik, that means taking a clear-eyed look at America’s enemies. In “Freedom Never Cries,” which opened Friday night’s concert, Ondrasik sings:

I saw a man on the TV
In a mask with a gun
A man on the TV
He had a 10-year old son
I saw a man on the TV
His son had a gun
He says that he’s coming for me.

“The war trumps everything,” says Ondrasik. “We face a worldwide threat from Islamic terrorism. The obligation of the singer-songwriter is to say what he believes, and if we can’t have a conversation about the radical Islamic threat then we’re in trouble.”

May 7, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:52 PM


THE TRIUMPH OF THE CONSERVATIVES: France Lurches to the Right (Stefan Simons, 5/07/07, Der Spiegel)

Perhaps it wasn't exactly a landslide, but it was certainly an unambiguous result: France's 44 million voters have chosen Nicolas Sarkozy, the strong man of the governing UMP, with a resounding majority and a record turnout. They have chosen his vision of a radical revitalization of the Republic and a return to the nation's patriotic foundations. Sarkozy's convincing win is the triumph of political individualism over the rival worldview of the Socialist candidate Ségòlene Royal and her vision of a "participatory democracy" -- which too often got lost in vague affirmations. [...]

Sarkozy succeeded in retouching his image by dipping his hand into the toolbox of America's neoconservatives. Many French fear they are being defenselessly hurdled towards a disquieting and potentially even dangerous future, and Sarkozy fed these fears by pledging a categorical restructuring of society and an ideological return to traditional values. And what about his populist commitment to morals, authority and responsibility, his references to the contributions the nation had made to the world and his vision of an internationally strengthened France? What perfect balm for a nation's oppressed soul.

The retouching also involved a clearly recognizable shift to the right: Without any shyness and a demagogic deftness Sarkozy was able -- already at the first round of voting -- to win over the voters of the extremist National Front (FN). With his thinly veiled attacks against immigrants from the North African Maghreb and Sub-Saharan Africa and his pledge to create a "Ministry for Immigration and National Identity," he made the right-wing slogans of FN leader Jean-Marie Le Pen palatable. In doing so, he managed to hijack Le Pen's right-wing protest voters. Instead of voting for Le Pen this time, the French voted for a copy.

Nationalism, not patriotism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


Fat, Eccentric Planet Detected (Irene Klotz, 5/07/07, Discovery News)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Are the Arabs already extinct? (Spengler, 5/07/07, Asia Times)

Nothing less than the transformation of Islam from a state religion to a personal religion is required for the Arabs to enter the modern world, [the Syrian poet] Adonis told Dubai television:

I oppose any external intervention in Arab affairs. If the Arabs are so inept that they cannot be democratic by themselves, they can never be democratic through the intervention of others. If we want to be democratic, we must be so by ourselves. But the preconditions for democracy do not exist in Arab society, and cannot exist unless religion is re-examined in a new and accurate way, and unless religion becomes a personal and spiritual experience, which must be respected.

The trouble, he added, is that Arabs do not want to be free. Asked why Arabs glorify dictatorships, Adonis responded as follows:

I believe it has to do with the concept of "oneness", which is reflected - in practical or political terms - in the concept of the hero, the savior, or the leader. This concept offers an inner sense of security to people who are afraid of freedom. Some human beings are afraid of freedom.

Interviewer: Because it is synonymous with anarchy?

Adonis: No, because being free is a great burden. It is by no means easy.

Interviewer: You've got to have a boss ...

Adonis: When you are free, you have to face reality, the world in its entirety. You have to deal with the world's problems, with everything ...

Interviewer: With all the issues ...

Adonis: On the other hand, if we are slaves, we can be content and not have to deal with anything. Just as Allah solves all our problems, the dictator will solve all our problems.

The fact that the Arab world's most distinguished man of letters has rejected the premise upon which US policy is founded - that traditional Islam and democracy are compatible - one would have expected from American critics a better response than silence.

Thus the (probably accidental) genius of siding with the Shi'a.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Clemens Returns, and So Does Hope for Yankees (TYLER KEPNER, 5/06/07, NY Times)

On the last weekend of the regular season, a report surfaced in The Los Angeles Times in which the former Yankee Jason Grimsley, in an affidavit, identified Clemens and Pettitte as players who had used performance-enhancing drugs. Soon after, the United States attorney Kevin V. Ryan said the report contained “significant inaccuracies” but did not elaborate.

Pettitte left the Astros to sign with the Yankees, and Clemens was also a free agent who had not committed to continuing his career. If he did, though, Clemens planned to start his season later, as he did in 2006, to keep his body fresh for the stretch drive.

Cashman had a standing offer to Clemens of $25.5 million, from a meeting with Hendricks in March. The Yankees’ recent urgency gave Clemens leverage in negotiations and essentially cost the Yankees an extra $2.5 million.

Privately, the Yankees had been determined since last winter not to be outbid for Clemens, who made a prorated portion of $22 million with the Astros last year. His current annual salary is the highest in baseball.

The Yankees expected the Red Sox to make a substantial offer, and while they believe the Red Sox did that, an official directly involved in the talks said that Boston offered Clemens $10 million less than the Yankees, and the chance to be part of a five- or six-man rotation, depending on his preference. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to violate tampering rules.

The Sox didn't just offer $10 million less but as the 6th man idea and not adding him until July suggests, were looking to baby him because of his age and post-steroidal physical conditioning questions.

How Clemens landed in the Bronx (Buster Olney, 5/06/07, ESPN The Magazine)

The Yankees' first trial balloon in March: $25.5 million. Clemens also met with owner George Steinbrenner, who made a personal plea to the pitcher, reiterating how much he wanted Clemens to come back.

Clemens and Hendricks made it clear to everyone, even into late April, that he wouldn't make his decision until late May. But as Mike Mussina got hurt and then Carl Pavano, the Yankees felt they could and should become more aggressive. After landing in Texas, Cashman wanted to set up a meeting with Hendricks -- only to learn, to his horror, that the agent was meeting with the Red Sox, which the agent confirmed to Cashman with a text message on May 1. Hours later, Phil Hughes hurt his hamstring. The Yankees' need for pitching was acute.

Cashman and Hendricks e-mailed back and forth on Tuesday and Wednesday, kicking around the idea of meeting during the day Thursday in Houston, but there was a terrible storm in Arlington that forced the postponement of the game. The Yankees and Rangers were scheduled for a doubleheader Thursday, and Cashman felt that if he was away from the team during the game, then the media might get an inkling of how he was trying to make an aggressive move on Clemens. He had used the same approach in signing Johnny Damon: Make a very aggressive offer quickly and force a decision.

So Hendricks and Cashman spoke on Thursday night, and the financial parameters were laid out: Clemens would cost a prorated salary of $28 million. Hendricks got off the phone and called Clemens, and told him that the time was nearing for the pitcher to make a decision, and that if he was going to go to the Yankees, now was the time. "Let's do it," Clemens responded.

Cashman spoke with Steinbrenner and team president Randy Levine on Thursday night, laying out what the cost would be -- including salary and luxury tax, about $6.5 million per month to the Yankees.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Eager to Be Reagan's Heir, but Not Bonzo's Cousin (Chris Cillizza And Shailagh Murray, May 6, 2007, Washington Post)

When former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colo.) and Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.) each raised his hand in response to a question from moderator Chris Matthews during Thursday night's Republican presidential debate in California, signaling that they did not believe in evolution, it raised more than a few eyebrows among journalists.

But a look at public polling on the issue reveals that the three men aren't far from the mainstream in that belief.

A recent Newsweek survey presented people with three explanations for the origins of human life: that humans developed over millions of years, from lesser to more advanced forms of life, while God guided the process; that God played no hand in the process; and that God created humans in their present form.

The first option is a sort of hybrid creation-evolution endorsed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during the debate; "I believe in evolution," he said. "But I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon . . . that the hand of God is there also."

The second option is evolution as explained by science, and the third summarizes the idea of creationism.

Nearly half the sample, 48 percent, said the creationism option was closest to their beliefs, and 30 percent chose the hybrid option. Just 13 percent of the sample chose evolution alone as the best approximation of their view of human development.

Those results have been mirrored in a series of Gallup polls that have asked nearly the same question at several points over the past 25 years.

It's revealing that the folks on the Right who espouse Darwinism are generally those obsessed with racial matters, whether affirmative action, immigration, or Arabs and are, of course, secular (basically, the libertarians, neocons, and nativists).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Shortest of Honeymoons (MARK STEYN, May 7, 2007, NY Sun)

The discontented citizenry often complain about the lack of croissance — that's not a basket of crescent-shaped buttery breakfast pastries invented to mark Christendom's victory over Islam at the gates of Vienna in 1693, but the French word for "growth." The Fifth Republic has entirely missed out on the Reagan-Thatcher booms of the last quarter-century: its over-protected and over-regulated economy has led to permanently high unemployment and a lack of entrepreneurial energy, not to mention various social tensions from the blazing Citroens and Renaults lighting up the sky every night to entire suburbs that have effectively seceded from France to join the new Caliphate. It's a measure of the torpor of French politics that M Chirac regarded a presidential election against an elderly fascist as little more than a mildly embarrassing social faux pas rather than a profound indictment of a failing system So he spent his second term as he did the first, governing as an elegant narcissistic complacent hack.

When you mention "the French riots," most people assume you're talking about the excitable chaps rampaging around in 2005. But it was another set of riots six months later that symbolizes the trap in which the political class is caught. The fall 2005 rioters were "youths" (ie Muslims from the suburbs), supposedly alienated by lack of economic opportunity. The spring 2006 rioters were "youths" (ie pampered deadbeats from the Sorbonne), protesting a new law that would enable employers to terminate the contracts of employees under the age of 26 in their first jobs, after two years.

To which the response of most Americans is: you mean, you can't right now? No, you can't. If you hire a 20-year-old and take a dislike to his work three months in, tough: chances are you're stuck with him till mid-century. In France's immobilized economy, it's all but impossible to get fired. Which is why it's all but impossible to get hired. Especially if you belong to that first category of "youths" from the Muslim ghettos, where unemployment is around 40 to 50 per cent. The second group of "youths" — the Sorbonne set — protesting the proposed new, more flexible labor law ought to be able to understand that it's both necessary to the nation and, indeed, in their own self-interest: they are after all their nation's elite. Yet they're like lemmings striking over the right to a steeper cliff — and, naturally, the political class caved in to them.

When most of us on this side of the Atlantic think of "welfare queens," our mind's eye conjures some teenage crack whore with three kids by different men in a housing project. But France illustrates how absolute welfare corrupts absolutely. These Sorbonne welfare queens are Marie Antoinettes: unemployment rates for immigrants? Let 'em eat cake, as long as our pampered existence is undisturbed.

It would be helpful if there were exit poll numbers you could disaggregate, because the possibility, even likelihood, exists that Sarkozy won not because of any promised changes to French statism but because he was the candidate people trusted to give shoot to kill orders the next time the ghettoes explode. In effect, the Left's portrayal of him as an authoritarian racist may have played to his strength.

A sharp right turn (Leader, May 7, 2007, The Guardian)

For Mr Sarkozy the time for speechifying is over. Having acquired a reputation as the man who gets things done, the president-elect will storm into action. For this 6,000 riot police around Paris are braced. All police leave in the Seine-Saint-Denis region of north-east Paris, the scene of the worst riots in 2005, has been cancelled. The only brake on the president-elect's actions is the immediate prospect of parliamentary elections on June 10 and 17. These are likely to go the same way as the presidential election, and if they do the last hurdle will be cleared. If rioting does break out in the suburbs, the social unrest will not do anyone, least of all the immigrant communities, any good. It will only play into the hands of a president eager to earn his spurs as a tough, no-nonsense leader.

The same logic applies to the threat of the unions to make mass demonstrations on the streets, the "third round" of the presidential elections. Mr Sarkozy may be a divisive and dangerous figure for just under half of the French nation. But he has been elected by near-record numbers of voters. Not since 1965 have so many people participated in the fierce debate. This confers legitimacy on both Mr Sarkozy the president-elect and his programme, especially since he has been so blunt about what he intends to do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Clinton Steps Up Appeals to Female Donors (Matthew Mosk, 5/06/07, Washington Post)

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton is increasingly banking on politically active women to keep her on pace with Sen. Barack Obama in the ongoing sprint for campaign cash.

Clinton is rolling out a series of events tailored to women, a group her campaign believes has great untapped fundraising potential, beginning last month with a New York waterfront concert headlined by singer-songwriter Vanessa Carlton and continuing last week with a luncheon in Los Angeles.

Her effort is being coupled with a fresh push by Emily's List, the nation's largest political action committee, which recently mailed its supporters and appealed to them to contribute to Clinton's campaign.

"I think women are going to be the foundation of her victory," said Ellen R. Malcolm, president of Emily's List, which supports female candidates. "These are people who are thrilled with the idea of electing a woman president."

As Ms Royal just demonstrated, playing the woman card is dubious strategy in a general campaign, though it's obviously of benefit in the female party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Rediscovering Schumpeter: The Power of Capitalism: Q&A with: Thomas McCraw (Sean Silverthorne, 5/07/07, HBS Working Knowledge)

Q: Schumpeter introduced the term “creative destruction” and championed the role of the entrepreneur in both start-ups and in established companies. What can business leaders take away from his development of these ideas?

A: The main takeaway is the absolute relentlessness of creative destruction and entrepreneurship. In a free economy, they never stop—never. Schumpeter wrote that all firms must try, all the time, "to keep on their feet, on ground that is slipping away from under them." So, no serious businessperson can ever completely relax. Someone, somewhere, is always trying to think of a way to do the job better, at every point along the value chain. Whatever has been built is going to be destroyed by a better product or a better method or a better organization or a better strategy.

This is an extremely hard lesson to accept, particularly by successful people. But business is a Darwinian process, and Schumpeter often likened it to evolution.

Indeed, Darwin just borrowed his ideas from the early capitalist theorists. They work in economics, where intelligent design is obviously in play, just not in Nature.

May 6, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 PM


In China a call for democracy stirs secretive storm (Chris Buckley and Benjamin Kang Lim, 5/06/07, Reuters)

A veteran Chinese Communist's call for democracy has stirred a secretive campaign of condemnation from the party, wary of fanning disputes over political reform before a congress to cement President Hu Jintao's grip on power.

Xie Tao, 85, made his plea for "democratic socialism" in the magazine China Across the Ages (Yanhuang Chunqiu), a monthly backed by reformist party elders.

"Political system reform can no longer be delayed," Xie wrote in his essay published in February. "Only constitutional democracy can fundamentally solve the ruling party's problems of corruption and graft, only democratic socialism can save China!"

MORE (via jim hamlen):
David's Bookshelf 24 (David Frum, NRO)

In the 1980s, China's leaders commenced a gradual transition from a command economy to a market economy. This transition has yielded dramatic results, as all the world knows. But [Minxin Pei's China's Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy] warns that the transition is faltering - victim of the regime's determined refusal to share political power.

* The Chinese economy remains dominated by government monopolies. State-owned enterprises control all or virtually all the telecom and banking industries, as well as tobacco, grain distribution, power generation, among other industries. State-owned enterprises employ nearly half the industrial workforce.

* The Chinese state is growing rapidly. By the government's own (and probably understated) numbers, government expenditure grew 318% per year between 1978 and 2002, unadjusted for inflation. Over the same period, government revenues grew 65% per year.

NB a query from reader Matthew Rieff sends me back to Pei's text to double check this stat. And indeed I did misread it. The 318% PA increase refers to administrative expenses only. While Chinese state employment is rising rapidly, China's revenues are actually declining relative to GDP. This is especially true of the central government - see the following point:

* The Chinese state may be disintegrating. The fastest growth of both expenditures and revenues is at the district and local level. Local cadres seem increasingly effective at diverting revenues to themselves to build up their own local patronage machines.

* The state is overwhelmed by corruption. Pei cites a range of estimates on the pervasiveness of corruption and ends by guessing that corruption consumes somewhere between 4% and 17% of China's gross domestic product. Corruption is prosecuted rarely and ineffectively, a few spectacular exceptions notwithstanding.

* The Chinese Communist party's grip on power is tightening, not loosening. While 60% of entrepreneurs who launched businesses in the 1980s were workers, peasants, or other ordinary people, by 2002, two-thirds of China's business owners were former government officials, party cadres, or executives of state-owned enterprises. This is not a case of successful businessmen opportunistically joining the ruling party. Rather, it seems that the ruling party is oppportunistically seizing successful businesses.

* Social and class tensions are intensifying. China's tax collections fall most heavily on peasants and the countryside. Pei documents mounting tax resistance - and survey data showing that even relatively privileged city dwellers express growing concerns about corruption.

Pei argues that these disturbing trends represent something more than growing pains. He argues that they inhere in the path the Chinese Communist Party chose for the country it rules.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 PM


Time to lift glass to great Polish writer (John Kass, May 6, 2007, Chicago Tribune)

If you're celebrating Cinco de Mayo, I ask you to raise a good glass of beer, a strong Polish beer like Zagloba, and toast the birthday of a great Polish patriot.

Henryk Sienkiewicz -- the Nobel laureate whose wonderful novels of battles and intrigue and love and betrayal commonly known as "The Trilogy" helped give birth to modern Poland -- was born on May 5, 1846.

No offense to Mexican patriots is intended. The news will be full of Cinco de Mayo stories this weekend. But Sienkiewicz and the Poles should not be forgotten, either.

"Zagloba beer? Why not?" said Alex Kurczaba, professor of Slavic literature at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "I like beer. Quite honestly, you have just given me a thought. I am going to go out and taste."

Me, too. And if not beer, then honey mead in mass quantities, something that Zagloba, one of literature's great characters, would have endorsed.

Zagloba, the fat and crafty one-eyed Polish knight, loved his mead and would indulge from time to time unless he was busy tricking his way through disaster, or bragging about the Turkish sultan allowing him free access to the harem, or saving the beautiful Helen from the Tartars on the Steppe, or charging the Cossacks with sword drawn to avenge his friends.

And you thought "Braveheart" was a compelling story? Try this one. I won't give any more away, but the trickster Zagloba and his three friends -- Yan and Michal and their gentle giant buddy Longinus and his great sword "Cowlsnatcher" -- are waiting for you in "With Fire and Sword," the first book of Sienkiewicz's trilogy.

One warning though, be sure you get the W. S. Kuniczak translation, not the old Jeremiah Curtin one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:19 PM


Bush, Blair call France's Sarkozy to offer congratulations (The Associated Press, May 6, 2007)

U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair phoned Nicolas Sarkozy on Sunday to offer their congratulations for his victory in the French presidential election.

Bush spoke by telephone with Sarkozy — a staunch Washington ally who promised in a victory speech that the U.S. could "count on our friendship" — to congratulate him, a White House spokesman said.

"The United States and France are historic allies and partners. President Bush looks forward to working with President-elect Sarkozy as we continue our strong alliance," Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council, said in Washington.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:03 PM


Clemens announces return to Yanks (Bryan Hoch, 5/06/07,

Following the playing of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," public-address announcer Bob Sheppard instructed the crowd to draw its attention to the owner's box and the video screen.

The image of Clemens, holding a microphone, drew a loud ovation from the crowd at the game between the Mariners and Yankees, but his comments would soon be drowned out by an even more raucous ovation from the paid attendance of 52,553.

"It's a privilege to be back," Clemens said. "I'll be talking to you all soon.

What's the over/under on their getting 20 starts from a 45 year old in the AL East?

7Roger Clemens-S- Yankees (Rotoworld, May. 6 )

ESPN's Dan Patrick is reporting that Roger Clemens will receive a prorated salary of $28 million after signing with the Yankees on Sunday.

That means he'd earn $4.67 million per month or $18.67 million if he returns at the end of May as planned. So much for the Yankees' payroll reduction. This will put them back over $200 million, even after factoring in what the Rangers are paying Alex Rodriguez. In addition to the record salary, Clemens is expected to have the same travel privileges he did in Houston. So if he isn't pitching, there's a good chance he won't be with the teim (you can't tell us there's no I in team).

Heck, he only averaged 6 innings a start in the NL Central.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:22 PM


Nicolas Sarkozy elected French president: Socialist Royal reportedly concedes election; polls reflect conservative's win (MSNBC, 5/06/07)

French voters chose Nicolas Sarkozy as their new president on Sunday, giving the conservative a comfortable margin for victory and a mandate for change, result projections from four polling agencies showed. His Socialist opponent conceded minutes after polls closed.

The agencies said the conservative won 53 percent of the vote amid massive turnout, dashing Socialist Segolene Royal's hopes of being elected France's first woman president.

While it's unlikely that Mr. Sarkozy can effect much change, it is nonetheless the final renunciation of the egalitie that blighted two centuries of human history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


Labour to challenge poll result (EDDIE BARNES, 5/06/07, Scotland on Sunday)

THE Labour party is planning to snatch electoral victory from the Nationalists by preparing a legal challenge over a Holyrood seat which the SNP won by a handful of votes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


Thompson's Politics Much Like McCain's: But Unlike the Senator, Actor Is GOP's Darling (Perry Bacon Jr., May 6, 2007, Washington Post)

Fred Thompson fervently backed the Iraq war, railed against an expanding federal government, took stands that occasionally annoyed his party and rarely spoke about his views on social issues during his tenure as a senator from Tennessee or in his writings and speeches since leaving office.

In short, the man some in the GOP are touting as a dream candidate has often sounded like the presidential hopeful many of them seem ready to dismiss: Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

One oughtn't expect the Stupid Party to figure that out.

Thompson: How a small-town character made the big time: Prominence followed colorful, conflicted teens (BRAD SCHRADE, 5/06/07, The Tennessean)

The Latin teacher at Lawrence County High School had a warning for Bob Buckner's mother: Your son is hanging around with that troublemaker Freddie Thompson.

With his cutup personality, Freddie was a persistent disrupter of Miss Desda Garner's ninth-grade Latin class — and Bob, the teacher warned, was his cohort.

"Mom told me I was going to be forbidden to associate with him," Buckner told The Tennessean. "That was when we were freshmen. It went downhill from there."

The life of the man now known as Fred Thompson has twisted and turned like the country roads of the rural Lawrence County where he grew up: a used-car salesman's son, a kid who by all accounts was an unimpressive student and who married before he graduated from high school after getting his girlfriend pregnant, but who followed the winding road to Nashville, the U.S. Capitol, Hollywood and now, possibly, the White House.

In sleepy Lawrenceburg, few claim to have predicted the fame and stature that lay ahead of him. They remember Freddie as the class clown — he was likable and smart, though not studious.

They also say he matured quickly and deeply after becoming a young husband and father. They describe him as a genuine and decent man with a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

"He had a way of making you like what he was saying even if you didn't agree with him at first," said childhood friend Jan Clifton, gesturing toward a lamppost on the square. "He had a way, if I didn't think I could climb that pole, of convincing me I could do it."

As for the presidency, Lawrenceburg folks think this is Fred's right time.

"He comes across as so sincere," said Tommy Beurlein, one of Thompson's high school classmates. "He's not trying to answer some way to be popular at the minute."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Glass is half-full in eyes of New Hampshire GOP (DANIEL BARRICK, May. 6, 2007, Concord Monitor)

Despite the beating they took from voters six months ago, New Hampshire’s Republican leaders sound increasingly optimistic about their party’s chances of reversing last year’s Election Day losses.

Many Republicans point to the new Democratic-controlled Legislature in justifying their bullish outlook. They say much of the legislation championed by Democrats is at odds with popular opinion and will make it easy to portray them as out of touch and extremist.

The reality is that the state party and its candidates and issues don't matter much--John McCain at the top of the ticket swings the state back to all Red rather easily. The '06 midterm just happened not to have a Senate race and did have a governor who, though a Democrat, had to that point governed with the GOP, so there was nothing to drive turnout by Republicans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


Bush winning the political war (Joan Vennochi, May 6, 2007, Boston Globe)

PRESIDENT BUSH doesn't know how to win the ground war in Iraq. But he does know how to win the political war at home over Iraq.

All it takes is a simple message: A withdrawal date is a surrender date. If you tie war funding to a timetable for withdrawal, you betray the men and women who are fighting terrorism.

In Congress, it works like an evil charm.

The president delivered last week on his promise to veto a funding bill that set a pullout timeline. Democrats lacked the votes to override the veto. Now, they are talking about a new bill that might contain as yet undefined benchmarks for progress instead of specific timelines for withdrawal -- or perhaps no strings at all.'s still just the first 100 hours. Soon everything will be different....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


Patently obvious: A Supreme Court ruling with far-reaching consequences for American innovation turns on the definition of a single word (Drake Bennett, May 6, 2007, Boston Globe)

Last week, ruling in a dispute over the design of a gas pedal, the Supreme Court jolted the American patent system. The case, KSR International Co. v. Teleflex Inc., dealt with the placement of an electronic sensor in an accelerator that could be adjusted according to a driver's height -- not in itself a matter of national concern. But the court used its decision to issue a broad rebuke of the way in which American patent cases are decided. In the process, some patent lawyers say, it may also have added a new level of uncertainty to an area of the law that is vital to the nation's economy and our ability to protect and encourage innovation.

In a unanimous opinion, the justices ruled that the patent in question was invalid because designing a gas pedal in such a way was an "obvious" thing to do, at least to the average gas pedal designer, and therefore not really an invention. What's more, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, argued that the current patent regime threatened to stifle the sort of creativity that the Founding Fathers had originally created the system to foster. Courts, Kennedy wrote, have been upholding patents for technologies or designs that didn't need them, that would have been developed "in the ordinary course" of events. In doing so, they have allowed bogus inventions to steal business from legitimate ones, and discouraged true innovation.

To correct this, the Supreme Court made it more difficult for patent applicants to claim that they've actually invented something, while also making it easier for older patents to be challenged.

It matters less to America than to uncreative cultures like Japan's, where nearly all they do is add obvious gewgaws to stuff we innovated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Forget who'll win in France. Change is a loser. (Craig Smith, May 5, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

IN the months leading up to Sunday's presidential voting in France, there was a lot of talk about breaking with the past. Don't bet it will happen.

The French are notoriously resistant to change, and any new president would be hard-pressed to deliver any dramatic departure from the way people here live and work and get along with each other (or don't).

France's Margaret Thatcher (Seattle Times, 5/06/07)

Conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, a former interior and finance minister, may well prevail in the mode of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who shook up politics for a generation. This run-off election could set another record for voter turnout, topping the 84 percent from the first round of presidential balloting. Those results were clear to a point: Candidates on the ideological fringes were dismissed, and the centrist-party leader finished a distant third.

Sarkozy was comfortably ahead of socialist Segolene Royal, but she has campaigned hard to portray him not only as personally cold and taciturn, but also as a hard-liner on law and order and immigration. She is not proposing to shake things up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Mayweather: 'I am the best fighter of this era' (Dan Rafael, 5/05/07,

The pound-for-pound king still rules.

Perhaps it was more difficult than Floyd Mayweather Jr. expected it to be, but he used his speed and boxing ability to claim a split-decision victory over Oscar De La Hoya to win a junior middleweight title in one of the most heavily hyped fights in boxing history Saturday night, before an electric sold-out crowd of 16,700 at the star-studded MGM Grand Garden Arena.

"It was masterpiece of boxing," Mayweather said. "I showed you why I am the best fighter of this era."

Twenty years after Sugar Ray Leonard pulled an upset over Marvelous Marvin Hagler to lift the middleweight title, De La Hoya (38-5) tried to emulate Leonard's late-round flurries to steal rounds. It didn't work.

Judge Chuck Giampa scored it 116-112 and Jerry Roth had it 115-113, both for Mayweather, while judge Tommy Kaczmarek had it 115-113 for the Golden Boy. had it 116-112 for Mayweather (38-0). Had Roth judged the 12th round for De La Hoya, the fight would have ended in a draw.

...though whether Mr. De La Hoya should keep fighting is a different matter.

Speed Beats Power In Vegas: Mayweather Tops De La Hoya in 12 (Tim Dahlberg, 5/06/07, Associated Press)

Floyd Mayweather wanted to give Oscar De La Hoya a beating. He had to settle for just getting a win.

Mayweather won one of boxing's richest fights ever Saturday night by using his superb defensive skills and superior speed to take a 12-round split decision and win the WBC 154-pound title in his first fight at that weight.

The fight was billed as one that would save boxing, and while it didn't do that, it was an entertaining battle between two proud champions who both fought hard from the opening bell through the final round.

The fight ended with the sellout crowd on its feet roaring and two fighters trading punches wildly at the bell.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM

IT'S ABOUT US, NOT THEM (via Mike Daley):

The middle of nowhere: Western analysts are forever bleating about the strategic importance of the middle east. But despite its oil, this backward region is less relevant than ever, and it would be better for everyone if the rest of the world learned to ignore it (Edward Luttwak, May 2007, Prospect)

Strategically, the Arab-Israeli conflict has been almost irrelevant since the end of the cold war. And as for the impact of the conflict on oil prices, it was powerful in 1973 when the Saudis declared embargoes and cut production, but that was the first and last time that the "oil weapon" was wielded. For decades now, the largest Arab oil producers have publicly foresworn any linkage between politics and pricing, and an embargo would be a disaster for their oil-revenue dependent economies. In any case, the relationship between turmoil in the middle east and oil prices is far from straightforward. As Philip Auerswald recently noted in the American Interest, between 1981 and 1999—a period when a fundamentalist regime consolidated power in Iran, Iran and Iraq fought an eight-year war within view of oil and gas installations, the Gulf war came and went and the first Palestinian intifada raged—oil prices, adjusted for inflation, actually fell. And global dependence on middle eastern oil is declining: today the region produces under 30 per cent of the world's crude oil, compared to almost 40 per cent in 1974-75. In 2005 17 per cent of American oil imports came from the Gulf, compared to 28 per cent in 1975, and President Bush used his 2006 state of the union address to announce his intention of cutting US oil imports from the middle east by three quarters by 2025.

Yes, it would be nice if Israelis and Palestinians could settle their differences, but it would do little or nothing to calm the other conflicts in the middle east from Algeria to Iraq, or to stop Muslim-Hindu violence in Kashmir, Muslim-Christian violence in Indonesia and the Philippines, Muslim-Buddhist violence in Thailand, Muslim-animist violence in Sudan, Muslim-Igbo violence in Nigeria, Muslim-Muscovite violence in Chechnya, or the different varieties of inter-Muslim violence between traditionalists and Islamists, and between Sunnis and Shia, nor would it assuage the perfectly understandable hostility of convinced Islamists towards the transgressive west that relentlessly invades their minds, and sometimes their countries.

Arab-Israeli catastrophism is wrong twice over, first because the conflict is contained within rather narrow boundaries, and second because the Levant is just not that important any more.

The second repeated mistake is the Mussolini syndrome. Contemporary documents prove beyond any doubt what is now hard to credit: serious people, including British and French military chiefs, accepted Mussolini's claims to great power status because they believed that he had serious armed forces at his command. His army divisions, battleships and air squadrons were dutifully counted to assess Italian military power, making some allowance for their lack of the most modern weapons but not for their more fundamental refusal to fight in earnest. Having conceded Ethiopia to win over Mussolini, only to lose him to Hitler as soon as the fighting started, the British discovered that the Italian forces quickly crumbled in combat. It could not be otherwise, because most Italian soldiers were unwilling conscripts from the one-mule peasantry of the south or the almost equally miserable sharecropping villages of the north.

Exactly the same mistake keeps being made by the fraternity of middle east experts. They persistently attribute real military strength to backward societies whose populations can sustain excellent insurgencies but not modern military forces.

This is all true of the Europe of the 20th cEntury as well, yet we saved it from Kaiserism, Nazism, and Communism. We are our neighbors keepers, whether they "matter" or not. It's who we are that matters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Clemens could be Yankees' only hope (BOB KLAPISCH, 5/06/07, Bergen Record)

Kei Igawa's abominable performance Friday night against the Mariners should've convinced the Yankee hierarchy once and for all there's no in-house solution to the current pitching crisis. Not with Phil Hughes on the disabled list, Carl Pavano headed for surgery and Igawa unable to throw corner strikes. If only Chien-Ming Wang could start every day. Short of that, general manager Brian Cashman has only one choice and that's to court (actually, beg) Roger Clemens to wear the pinstripes.

This won't be an easy sales pitch, for a number of reasons. The farther the Yankees fall out of first place, the less incentive Clemens has to return to New York. Day by day, the Red Sox are becoming the best alternative, especially if the Rocket is telling the truth about focusing solely on another World Series ring. The Sox are the East's elite team, and they certainly already have the American League's top starting rotation. Adding Clemens would make them unbeatable. have no hope. He's a sentimental luxury for the Sox, an absolute necessity for the Yankees, if they're to fend off the D-Rays.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


With New Clout, Antiwar Groups Push Democrats (MICHAEL LUO, 5/06/07, NY Times)

On Thursday, leaders of the liberal group, including Tom Matzzie, the group’s Washington director who also serves as the campaign manager for the coalition, sent a harshly worded warning to the Democratic leadership.

“In the past few days, we have seen what appear to be trial balloons signaling a significant weakening of the Democratic position,” the letter read. “On this, we want to be perfectly clear: if Democrats appear to capitulate to Bush — passing a bill without measures to end the war — the unity Democrats have enjoyed and Democratic leadership has so expertly built, will immediately disappear.”

The letter went on to say that if Democrats passed a bill “without a timeline and with all five months of funding,” they would essentially be endorsing a “war without end.” MoveOn, it said, “will move to a position of opposition.”

You just know Harry Reid is going to walk into his kitchen one day and find a rabbit boiling away on his stovetop.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Crazy Like A Fox: Murdoch's bid to get his hands on The Journal may seem foolishly pricey, but he's got his reasons. Inside Murdoch's surprise attack on Dow Jones (Tom Lowry, Ronald Grover and Jon Fine, Business Week)

[T]he timing was classic Roop. Longtime Dow Jones CEO and Murdoch pal Peter Kann had just left the board. Kann's successor, Richard Zannino, 15 months into his tenure, "has done a good job of engineering a turnaround," says John Linehan, a fund manager at T. Rowe Price, which owns 15% of Dow Jones' outstanding shares. "The trajectory is favorable, and Rupert saw that. You'd rather make the bid early, rather than late in the game."

Still, $60 a share for a company that some media watchers figure was fully valued at $36. Why would the wily Australian-born mogul be willing to pay so dearly for a print-heavy company at a moment when newspapers are losing readers and advertisers? The answer takes you into a very Murdochian world that combines legacy, a quest for respectability, and an unerring instinct for what's at the heart of business and economic power.

Murdoch, 76, has long evinced a talent for peering around corners. That has allowed him to build a global media empire that encompasses newspapers, satellite television, the Web, a movie studio, and book publishing. Last year, News Corp. generated $2.3 billion in net income on $25.3 billion in revenues, both up nicely from the previous year. The company has amassed an $5.4 billion cash hoard—a nice thing to have when the boss is in an acquisitive mood.

Today, Murdoch sees a globalized world where financial information is the coin of the realm. The 2005 acquisition of MySpace signaled a late-life conversion to the power and possibilities of the Web. And each morning as he read The Wall Street Journal, Murdoch dreamed of exploiting the newspaper's high-caliber business journalism and deploying it to nourish his online, satellite, and television properties, which this autumn will include the Fox Business Channel. "Rupert wakes up in the morning and thinks about how he can change the media world and where there are white spaces," says Peter Kreisky of Boston-based Kreisky Media Consultancy. "He had a plan that made [the Dow Jones] assets worth more than they would in just about anyone else's hands."

Then there are the personal reasons. Murdoch mostly owns low- and middle-brow media properties—from the New York Post to Fox News. How satisfying to have in his hands the most respected business newspaper in America, whose editorial page meshes neatly with his own world view. What's more, Murdoch believes he and his organization have a role to play in shaping the debate on the world's pressing issues. He has strong views on taxes, war, domestic and foreign policy, and more. Murdoch has built his empire, in part, by assiduously courting the powerful. The Journal could be an invaluable tool of influence.

From the very start, Murdoch has been more consumed with vision than numbers. Chastised by Wall Street for most of his business life for taking on debt and giving short shrift to investors, Murdoch's modus operandi has always been straightforward: find places where entrenched rivals have grown lazy or where the more timid fear to tread.

In the 1980s, Murdoch was eager to take on the then-Big Three TV networks. With typical bravado and an almost pathological disregard for risk, Murdoch hooked up with junk bond king Michael Milken and in 1985 plunked down a then-hefty $2 billion-plus to buy seven TV stations in major markets. The outsize leverage contributed to a near-death experience for News Corp., which five years later came close to going under. But the company survived, and Murdoch's instincts proved prescient. His Fox network, launched in 1986, carried edgy programming that appealed to young viewers and gave the established networks agita. Not long after, Murdoch once again confounded his critics by paying more than $1 billion to steal from CBS the rights to show National Football League games on Sundays.

Murdoch—keen as always to influence public discourse—sensed a profound displeasure among middle-Americans with establishment TV and the way the cognoscenti cover politics. So he created an entirely new TV vernacular with Fox News, which zoomed past CNN in the ratings and has had an outsize influence on U.S. politics ever since.

Making the WSJ a serious national conservative alternative to the liberal establishment press would be huge.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


A Liberal Case for Gun Rights Helps Sway Judiciary (ADAM LIPTAK, 5/06/07, NY Times)

Laurence H. Tribe, a law professor at Harvard, said he had come to believe that the Second Amendment protected an individual right.

“My conclusion came as something of a surprise to me, and an unwelcome surprise,” Professor Tribe said. “I have always supported as a matter of policy very comprehensive gun control.”

The first two editions of Professor Tribe’s influential treatise on constitutional law, in 1978 and 1988, endorsed the collective rights view. The latest, published in 2000, sets out his current interpretation.

Several other leading liberal constitutional scholars, notably Akhil Reed Amar at Yale and Sanford Levinson at the University of Texas, are in broad agreement favoring an individual rights interpretation. Their work has in a remarkably short time upended the conventional understanding of the Second Amendment, and it set the stage for the Parker decision.

The earlier consensus, the law professors said in interviews, reflected received wisdom and political preferences rather than a serious consideration of the amendment’s text, history and place in the structure of the Constitution. “The standard liberal position,” Professor Levinson said, “is that the Second Amendment is basically just read out of the Constitution.”

The Second Amendment says, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” (Some transcriptions of the amendment omit the last comma.)

If only as a matter of consistency, Professor Levinson continued, liberals who favor expansive interpretations of other amendments in the Bill of Rights, like those protecting free speech and the rights of criminal defendants, should also embrace a broad reading of the Second Amendment. And just as the First Amendment’s protection of the right to free speech is not absolute, the professors say, the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to keep and bear arms may be limited by the government, though only for good reason.

The individual rights view is far from universally accepted. “The overwhelming weight of scholarly opinion supports the near-unanimous view of the federal courts that the constitutional right to be armed is linked to an organized militia,” said Dennis A. Henigan, director of the legal action project of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “The exceptions attract attention precisely because they are so rare and unexpected.”

The whacko Right has fallen for this strategy hook, line, and forceps.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Trades have been hit or miss: That's the deal on their swaps (Gordon Edes, May 6, 2007, Boston Globe)

There was considerable grumbling in some precincts about the Josh Beckett/Mike Lowell/Guillermo Mota deal last season, when shortstop Hanley Ramirez was playing his way to the National League Rookie of the Year Award and Anibal Sanchez was throwing a no-hitter for the Florida Marlins.

A month into this season, the trade has tilted back toward the Red Sox. Beckett, who will be going for his seventh straight win Tuesday night in Toronto, and Lowell, who is batting .302 with 21 RBIs after last night's 2-1 Sox loss to Minnesota, have played major roles in the Sox' hot start.

Ramirez continues to play at a high level for the Marlins, batting .350 at the start of the day, though he has just seven RBIs even with four home runs. But the Marlins just demoted Sanchez, who was 2-1 with a 4.80 ERA and had walked 19 batters in 30 innings, to the minors, hoping that he would be able to regain the control that allowed him to go 10-3 in 18 starts last season after his promotion from Double A.

The best way to look at the trades is holistically, because you're always going to win some and lose some. So the question is: as of today, would you rather have the guys you ended 2004 with--Pedro, Johnny Damon and Orlando Cabrera--or the guys you have in 2007--Beckett, Coco Crisp and Julio Lugo? In that regard, the team's record speaks for itself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


When to Hang It Up: The money in big-league sports has helped fuel enormous advances in sports medicine. But is the long-term health of athletes being sacrificed for teams' short-term gain? Leaving it all on the field. (Seth Mnookin, May 6, 2007, Boston Globe Magazine)

Last October, Chris Nowinski, a former varsity football player at Harvard and onetime World Wrestling Entertainment competitor, released Head Games, a book that details what Nowinski calls “football’s concussion crisis." For the 28-year-old Nowinski, who received two of the six concussions he’s aware of while playing college ball, this was no mere academic exercise. Before his premature retirement from wrestling, Nowinski was kicked in the back of the head with such force his opponent thought he might have broken his foot. (Even though much of the action in professional wrestling is scripted, many of the moves are real, and wrestlers experience injuries ranging from broken bones to concussions.) Nowinski blacked out in midair; his failure to complete his next “scripted" move momentarily threw the match into confusion. Two months later, Nowinski took a boot to the chin. Again, he became unaware of his surroundings. The next night, Nowinski, who felt as if he were in a “fog" for days, was on the losing end of what’s called a table match, which is exactly what it sounds like: The loser gets thrown through a table. A few weeks later, Nowinski tried to get back into the ring, but after a couple of fights, the WWE wouldn’t let him continue because of his condition. He would never get in the ring again.

As he soon discovered, the effects of his multiple concussions were not over. Twenty-four hours after his last match, Nowinski was in a hotel room in Indiana with his girlfriend. He woke up in the middle of the night, confused. “I found myself facedown on the floor, surrounded by shards of glass," he writes in Head Games. “I looked to my right. The nightstand was broken, and its glass surface was shattered. The lamp and the alarm clock that had been on the night stand were on the ground." As Nowinski tried to get his bearings, he heard his girlfriend crying out his name, and as he turned around, he saw her huddled in terror on the bed. She told him she had awoken to Nowinski’s otherworldly screams; he looked, she said, as if he were trying to climb up the hotel room’s walls. These days, he lives in fear of what his future will bring. He sometimes struggles with names. Is that normal forgetfulness? Or a harbinger of what’s to come?

Nowinski, like virtually all of the people advocating for more attention to the dangers of playing despite debilitating injuries, argues passionately about the harm faced by teenagers, whose developing bodies are especially vulnerable. At the beginning of his painstakingly researched book, Nowinski writes of 12-year-old Kyle Lippo, 16-year-old Osten Gill, and 17-year-old Edward Gomez. The three boys died within months of one another in the fall of 2003. All three deaths occurred soon after the boys played in football games, and two of the cases were clearly connected with blows to the head. Lippo, a trombone-playing Boy Scout from Round Lake, Illinois, asked his coach if he could sit out because of a headache. Five minutes later, his coach asked him if he wanted to go back in. Lippo started crying. “It hurts real bad," he said. He died after being airlifted to a local hospital. Deaths like these could be avoided, Nowinski says, if the public were better educated about the risks of playing with injuries. Cantu, who wrote the preface to Head Games, agrees.

A month after Nowinski’s book came out, Andre Waters, an NFL safety from 1984 to 1995, shot himself in the head. After reading about the suicide, Nowinski, suspecting that Waters had been suffering from a traumatic brain injury, persuaded Waters’s family to send sections of his brain to Dr. Bennet Omalu, a neuropathologist at the University of Pittsburgh. Omalu was a natural choice: He had examined the brains of Mike Webster and Terry Long, two former Pittsburgh Steelers who died young and experienced post-concussive brain dysfunction. (Webster went through periods of homelessness after retiring from football. He died of heart failure in 2002 at age 50 while suffering from dementia. Long, who doctors said had “punch-drunk syndrome," committed suicide in 2005 by drinking antifreeze. He was 45.) After studying tissue samples, Omalu said Waters’s brain resembled that of an 85-year-old with Alzheimer’s, and he believed the damage was caused or severely exacerbated by Waters’s many concussions.

Three months later, in February of this year, Ted Johnson went public with his struggles with depression and memory loss in the two years since he retired from the Patriots. Johnson attributed his difficulties to concussions he received during his playing career and spoke specifically about an incident that occurred in August 2002. According to Johnson, Patriots coach Bill Belichick went against the advice of the team’s trainer and insisted Johnson participate in full-contact practice drills just days after an exhibition game in which Johnson had been hit so hard that he blacked out. Johnson received another concussion that afternoon in practice, and, he says, his life has never been the same. He retired after the 2004 season, and the past two years have been the most brutal of his life. (Belichick has said that Johnson should have told him he wasn’t ready but also has expressed regret over how the situation unfolded.)

Because of the revelations involving Nowinski, Waters, and Johnson, football fans may soon be discussing second-impact syndrome and post-concussive syndrome as often as they talk about groin pulls or dislocated shoulders. Ironically, if not for research fueled by professional sports, the sad sagas of Johnson and Waters and Long might have been seen as tragic, isolated incidents.

Still, even now, advances in sports medicine don’t always mean that athletes are receiving the best possible care. There’s a long history of focusing solely on athletes’ playing careers when considering their medical treatment – think of the retired catchers who no longer have any cartilage in their knees or the once-proud linebackers who can’t walk on their own. And only recently has the sports world begun to collect data on major professional athletes after their playing days are over. (The research conducted today doesn’t focus as much as on smaller leagues and less popular sports because the financial stakes there are so much lower, making it less likely that players will push themselves – or be pushed – to the point at which they risk life-altering injuries.)

“For a long time, there was nothing but anecdotal evidence about the lives of athletes once they were out of sports," says Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz, the director of the University of North Carolina’s Center for the Study of Retired Athletes. Guskiewicz, who founded the center in 2001 with Dr. Julian Bailes, says he “wanted to find out what was really going on, and base that in science. And what we found was that a lot of the anecdotal evidence ended up being true." The center’s best-known studies have focused on just the type of post-concussive brain injuries that are receiving so much attention today.

“I might be able to limp through this ankle sprain and still be OK 10 years from now," Guskiewicz says. “But when we talk about brain injuries, you can’t limp through them. It’s scary. And when we talk about people dying on the playing field, it’s most often a high school athlete who still has an immature brain. With more advanced players, with National Football League players . . . there would very well be long-term depression or early-onset dementia." Among other things, he’s studying whether some people are predisposed to those conditions.

Guskiewicz is fighting an uphill battle, and often it seems as if virtually no one in professional sports is really paying attention to the type of research he’s doing. Earlier this year, NFL Players Association head Gene Upshaw said it was a player’s responsibility to decide when he could and couldn’t play. “If a coach or anyone else is saying, ‘You don’t have a concussion, you get back in there,’ you don’t have to go, and you shouldn’t go," Upshaw said. “You know how you feel. That’s what we tried to do throughout the years, is take the coach out of the decision making." That statement is so patently ridiculous it would be risible if the consequences weren’t so dire. In the moments after someone sustains an injury, he is the person least able to properly diagnose himself: The adrenaline coursing through his body serves as a natural painkiller. Concussions – which, by their very definition, leave a player disoriented – add a whole other wrinkle. And football players, who don’t have guaranteed contracts and live in fear of losing their jobs to the next guy on the depth chart, are infamous for not acknowledging injuries. Even without all of those factors, 20-something athletes who have never known life outside of sports are not famous for making decisions that realistically consider their futures.

While the NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee has been disturbingly slow to adopt – or even consider – recommendations made by researchers like Cantu, Guskiewicz, and Omalu concerning mandatory time off the field following a concussion, at least the league has started to analyze data it has collected on its own. In the National Hockey League, the players union has permitted teams to gather information about concussions so long as they don’t analyze any of what they collect.

“They’re afraid we’re going to say there are situations in which players can’t be out there," says a New England-based doctor who has worked with the league and who, like many physicians actively involved with professional sports teams, asked to remain anonymous to maintain their relationships. “The union won’t allow that. They want to ‘protect’ – and I’m fully aware of the irony there – their members’ right to go out and play whenever they want. Because God forbid they should lose their place on the first line."

At a minimum, you can't have folks with a monetary interest in the guys playing make the decision about whether it's in that player's own best interest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Tolstoy's Heir: Vasily Grossman's 'Life and Fate' is an unflinching chronicle of the Battle of Stalingrad (JOSEPH EPSTEIN, May 5, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

One Russian writer who until only recently slipped through my own net is Vasily Grossman (1904-64), author of a novel called "Life and Fate," which was written under the direct influence of "War and Peace." The first I had heard of this book was six or so months ago from my friend Frederic Raphael, the English novelist and screenwriter, a man never given to overstatement. "It's a masterpiece," he said, and, upon investigation, this assessment turns out to be precisely correct.

Grossman was born in Berdichev, in the Ukraine, near Kiev and the scene of one of the first large massacres of Jews before Babi Yar, the infamous mass execution of Jews outside Kiev. A chemist by training, he worked as a mining engineer, and then, following his instincts and talent, became a writer. During World War II, he covered -- was "embedded with" we should say today -- the Russian army on its eastern front. His dispatches for the publication known in English as Red Army were widely read, but nowhere more intensely than by Stalin, who, knowing Grossman had too much integrity to turn hack, was said to have been extremely wary of his ardor for truth-telling.

Like Isaac Babel, author of the "Red Cavalry" stories, Grossman was a Jewish writer with more of a taste than a physique for the military life. As a journalist, he indulged this taste by educating himself on all aspects of weaponry, strategy and tactics. He wrote about the great battle of Stalingrad and then followed the German army in its retreat, reporting on the extermination camps of Majdanek and Treblinka, arriving with the Soviet army in Berlin. He was unblinking in his accounts of war's devastation and horror, and turned in the most significant account of the bloodiest battle of the 20th century, the attack upon and defense of Stalingrad, which cost 27 million Russian soldiers and civilians and four million troops of the Wehrmacht.

That battle of Stalingrad is at the center of "Life and Fate." Grossman said that the only book he read -- which he read twice -- during his time as a journalist was "War and Peace." The parallel between Napoleon's attack on Russia through Borodino and Hitler's attack on Russia through Stalingrad is obvious. In each, the fate of Europe was at stake; in both battles the losses, but especially those incurred by the Russians, were unprecedented. On each occasion, against all odds, Russia emerged victorious.

To attempt a novel modeled on "War and Peace" is easy; to write one that is unembarrassing by comparison is not. Far from embarrassing, "Life and Fate" is one of the great novels of the 20th century. The book has more than 150 characters, panoramically representing almost all strains of Russian life during the nightmarish Stalin years; various plots and subplots are neatly interwoven with detailed descriptions of battles and penetrating excursuses on totalitarianism, on the history of the persecution of the Jews ("anti-Semitism," Grossman writes, "is . . . an expression of lack of talent, an inability to win a contest on equal terms"), on the evolution of morality and kindness. The novel is rich in apercus. Viktor Shtrum, one of its central characters, is an experimental physicist who claims that "the value of science is the happiness it brings to people," but he also holds that "science today should be entrusted to men of spiritual understanding, to prophets and saints. But instead it's left to chessplayers and scientists."

Like almost all first-order imaginative literature produced in the Soviet Union, the book could not be published there. Mikhail Suslov, a powerful member of the Politburo, said that it was unlikely to be published for another 200 or 300 years. History intervened to squash this prediction, yet in sad fact Grossman, who died of stomach cancer, did not live to see his great novel in print.

The Soviets won. The Russians lost.

May 5, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 PM

QUEERED PITCH (via David Hill, The Bronx):

Giuliani Emerging As Favorite of Gays (COLLEEN SLEVIN, 5/04/07, AP)

Rudy Giuliani emerged as a favorite among many members of the GOP's largest gay organization, who cited his record on social issues, taxes and defense.

Sister Boom-Boom for Surgeon General?:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 PM


Sarkozy set to unleash new French revolution: The right's candidate could canter home in today's election - but that will do little to heal deep divisions still raging in France. As hope for Socialist Segolene Royal slips away, Jason Burke finds a nation polarised (Jason Burke, May 6, 2007, The Observer)

[S]arkozy, 52, one of the most controversial and divisive figures of recent French political history, remains likely to replace outgoing President Jacques Chirac at the Elysee Palace. His slogan throughout months of campaigning has been 'Together, everything becomes possible'.

'That ... is the least you can say,' muttered Loïc Delaurens, 29, a newspaper seller near the Place de la Republique in Paris, who voted Communist in the first round of voting two weeks ago. Sarkozy's team has already started working on the formation of a government and planning legislation, sources close to the former Interior Minister admitted. 'We'll get the parliamentary elections out of the way [in six weeks] and then really get moving,' said one member yesterday.

The campaign has been extraordinarily bitter, reflecting a polarised and divided people who know they are making a historic choice between very different individuals and very different programmes. 'If Sarkozy has the will and the ability to turn his announced policies into reality, he will turn France upside down,' said Ivan Rioufol, a leader writer at the right-wing Le Figaro newspaper. Royal, 53, also provokes fierce emotions, attacked by the right as an incompetent spendthrift representative of an unreformed left responsible for decades of cultural, social and economic decline. But the career politician, daughter of an army officer and educated at elite universities, remains far less controversial than her rival, the son of an immigrant seen as an outsider even by the establishment right.

For those who are voting against him, Sarkozy, whose electoral strategy has been to hunt votes amid the third of French voters who profess a 'sympathy' with the ideas of the extreme right, is 'the abomination of abominations'. 'This is a man who shook the hand of George Bush, who will destroy the French social model, who will institute a police state,' said Geraldine Chene, a Lyon-based Socialist activist.

Hasten the day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Pico de Gallo Chicken Quesadillas: Submitted by Tony Cortez on (SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER, May 4, 2007)

2 tomatoes, diced

1 onion, finely chopped

2 limes, juiced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves -- cut into strips

1/2 onion, thinly sliced

1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 (12-inch) flour tortillas

1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1/4 cup sour cream, for topping

In a small bowl, combine tomatoes, onion, lime juice, cilantro, jalapeno, salt and pepper for the pico de gallo. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add chicken and saute until cooked through and juices run clear. Remove chicken from skillet and set aside.

Put the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the hot skillet and saute the sliced onion and green pepper until tender. Stir in the minced garlic and saute until the aroma is strong. Mix in half of the pico de gallo and chicken breast meat. Set aside; keep warm.

In a heavy skillet, heat one flour tortilla. Spread 1/4 cup shredded cheese on the tortilla and top with 1/2 the chicken mixture. Sprinkle another 1/4 cup cheese over the chicken and top with another tortilla. When bottom tortilla is lightly brown and cheese has started to melt, flip quesadilla and cook on the opposite side. Remove quesadilla from skillet and cut into quarters. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Serve quesadillas with sour cream and remaining pico de gallo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


Guesswork is running wild: No clear choice among this 20 (Mark Blaudschun, May 5, 2007, Boston Globe)
The first question to be answered today will be about the pace of the race. Hard Spun, a Philadelphia-bred who some consider in the mold of 2004 Derby winner Smarty Jones, drew everyone's attention Monday when he turned in a blistering 5-furlong workout time of 57.6 seconds, the fastest Derby week workout since General Assembly's 57.4 in 1979, before finishing second to Spectacular Bid.

Hard Spun, Cowtown Cat, and probably Teuflesberg will attempt to take the early lead. If Hard Spun runs like he did Monday, it will be a matter of chasing him down.

"He has a high cruising speed," said Hard Spun's trainer, Larry Jones, who is also looking for his first Derby victory. "I think he will come close to the front end."

Once the lead has been established, it then becomes a matter of the jockeys figuring out the best way to challenge. Look for the soft Derby choices, such as Scat Daddy and Great Hunter, to make their runs. And for Curlin's jockey, Robby Albarado, to make the moves that resulted in the 10-length victory in the Arkansas Derby.

The feeling here is that Hard Spun will work his magic at the start and then ward off the challengers down the stretch, especially Scat Daddy, who may be Pletcher's best horse. Also look for a closer, such as Tiago, the Santa Anita Derby winner, or Circular Quay, who even Pletcher admits will not be a factor early, to make a charge that will be too late.
Likely rain makes Kentucky Derby even harder to analyze (Paul Moran, 5/05/07, Newsday)

No starter in this Derby has won a graded-stakes race on a wet track. Hard Spun and Teuflesberg won ungraded sprint stakes on sloppy tracks last year. No horse in this field has won over a wet track at Churchill Downs, a sometimes-quirky surface when wet that many horses simply don't handle.

Scat Daddy was an easy winner of his career debut on a muddy surface at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., in June.

A dozen others, including several key contenders, have not yet raced in wet conditions.

Affinity for a wet track sufficient to improve performance is largely a function of pedigree and the most genetically suited include the Steve Asmussen-trained Curlin and Zanjero; two of Pletcher's quintet, Cowtown Cat and Any Given Saturday; and Hard Spun.

The lineage of others suggests a wet track will neither compromise nor aid performance, and their reactions to the uncertain conditions will be entirely individual and unpredictable.

Derby has a variety of possibilities: The 20-horse field at Churchill Downs is without a strong favorite and rain in the forecast further clouds who might be the best bet to win. (Robyn Norwood, May 5, 2007, LA Times)
Queen Elizabeth II is to witness her first Kentucky Derby from a clubhouse dining room that will remain dry — at least in the literal sense — while the masses revel in an infield soaked by two days of rain for a $40 admission fee.

The contrast in accommodations could be a metaphor for the 20-horse field that will load into the gate for the 133rd running of the world's most famous horse race.

The owner of Nobiz Like Showbiz, Elizabeth Valando, is said to have turned down $17 million for her imposing but distractible colt.

Teuflesberg, one of the last to make the field, was bought for a mere $9,000, and the owners of another longshot, Storm In May, paid $16,000 for a gray colt that is blind in his right eye.

Curlin, the slight 7-2 favorite over 4-1 Street Sense on the morning line, was named for Charlie Curlin, a former slave who joined the Union Army in 1864.

One of the part-owners is Curlin's great-grandson, a controversial Kentucky lawyer named Shirley Cunningham Jr. who would be the first African American to own a share of a Derby winner since 1891 if Curlin won.

Mint Julep (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 4, 2007)

Several fresh mint leaves, for drink and garnish

1 teaspoon confectioners' sugar


Crushed ice

2 1/2 ounces bourbon

Put a few fresh mint leaves in the bottom of a glass or julep cup with confectioners' sugar (not granulated sugar) and just enough water to dissolve the sugar.

Muddle the mixture with a wooden spoon handle.

Fill glass with crushed ice. Add bourbon. Pack in more crushed ice, and garnish with several mint sprigs.

Insert a straw short enough that you have to put your nose in the mint to reach it. Sip slowly from the bottom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Whirl awaits in Vegas: De La Hoya, Mayweather draw crowd at weigh-in (Kevin Paul Dupont, May 5, 2007, Boston Globe)

The single biggest event in the history of sports (OK, it's Vegas, and the hype can be, shall we say, intoxicating) finally takes center ring tonight at the MGM when Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. square off, the winner to rule the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the loser to be granted a can of OFF! and a map to one of Vermont's top-10 fishing holes. [...]

It took only three hours to sell out the Grand Garden Arena, totaling $19 million in seat money, and promoters remain confident that there could be as many as 2 million pay-per-view buys, at $55 each on HBO, for another cool $100 million-plus. De La Hoya could pocket upward of $30 million, and Mayweather, the favorite in this "World Awaits" battle, could carry home $12 million or more.

But it is boxing, the sport in which only two things are absolute -- that Don King 1. will never be lost for words and 2. will never be accused of a good hair day. The rest of it, much like a fight, is just sort of made up as they go along, until someone is counted out, lugged out, or laid out.

...on how many NFL players get arrested in Vegas this weekend?

This is Mayweather's break, too: Win or lose Saturday's title bout, he could use this public stage to start changing his image. (Bill Dwyre, May 5, 2007, LA Times)

There is a bigger opportunity for Floyd Mayweather Jr. than just winning a boxing match here tonight.

Right now, all that matters to him is whether he beats Oscar De La Hoya and, maybe, how. There is no other focus for Mayweather and his camp.

This is a huge payday, a moment when he is at the center of the boxing universe, when the ego strokes just keep coming. Finding perspective in the midst of all this is like finding a needle in a haystack.

For Mayweather, it has been nonstop. Constant media appearances, an HBO special, pictures of him and De La Hoya everywhere, some of them 40 feet high, snarling, smiling, smirking.

By 8:45 Friday morning, in the hallway leading to the MGM Grand Garden Arena, there were several thousand people lined up, waiting for the doors to open for the fight weigh-in. That was scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m., and the show was two men, standing on a scale in their underwear, for 20 seconds each.

Lost in all this is a chance for Mayweather to use this incredible public stage to start changing his image. Which is one of a jerk, a braggart, a hothead, a street punk. This can be achieved, win or lose.

Mayweather has been blessed in a way that hasn't occurred to him. He has spent time lately in the company of the perfect person to emulate: De La Hoya.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Mariners outslug Bronx Bombers: Seattle sets team record for runs at Yankee Stadium (DAVID ANDRIESEN, 5/05/07, Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

How crazy was it Friday night at Yankee Stadium?

It was so crazy that the Mariners scored 15 runs and still had to use their closer.

It was so crazy that Seattle starter Cha Seung Baek gave up seven runs in just 3 2/3 innings -- yet was still only the third-worst pitcher in the game.

It was so crazy that despite a total of 36 base hits, and 17 of 18 starting position players getting hits on the night, Derek Jeter went 0-for-6 to end the longest hitting streak in the major leagues.

The Mariners ran into the only team in baseball more worn out than they were, and after 3 1/2 hours of slugging it out like a couple of punch-drunk tomato cans, Seattle escaped with an exhausting 15-11 victory in the opener of a four-game series.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Deadly hijacking attempt reflects younger Cubans' discontent (South Florida Sun-Sentinel and The Associated Press, 5/05/07)

Cuba analysts said the deadly hijacking attempt reflected the discontent among the island's young people. More than 20 percent of Cuba's 11.4 million people were born after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the economic hardship that followed the fall of Cuba's once-powerful benefactor. At least one-third of the nearly 1 million Cubans who have left the island for the U.S. since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 did so after 1999, according to a Pew study of U.S. Census data.

"These were 19-, 21-year-old kids, and they obviously felt extreme desperation that they were willing to take those risks," said Brian Latell, a Cuba analyst and author of "After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro's Regime and Cuba's Next Leader."

A government statement said the American policy of letting most Cubans stay if they reach U.S. soil encourages violent attempts to leave this island, such as Thursday's incident that led to the fatal shooting of Acuña Velazquez by the two army deserters.

The headline in the Communist Party newspaper called the hijacking attempt an "act of terror promoted by the United States."

...for the relation America bears to Cuba is an "attractive nuisance."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Infant mortality declines in 2004 (LA Times, May 5, 2007)

U.S. infant mortality declined slightly in 2004 to the lowest level on record...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


After 15 months on the bench, Alito shows his colors (MARK SHERMAN, 5/05/07, Associated Press)

Alito has yet to write an opinion on a major constitutional issue, not uncommon for someone so new to the court. And he has been more measured than Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, declining to join their call to overturn the court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision on abortion, for instance.

"He has been as advertised, not someone who wanted to dramatically change the law or had a fixed vision of the Constitution," said Thomas Goldstein, a lawyer who argues before the court and tracks voting trends. "But he has moved the court a significant step to the right."

Alito has voted with Chief Justice John Roberts, Scalia and Thomas in every case in which the court has been ideologically divided.

When they've been joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, they've had a majority to uphold the first nationwide ban on an abortion procedure, to reinstate death sentences in California and Kansas and to give police more freedom to barge into homes and seize evidence.

You don't have to have gone to Yale or Harvard to know which is the right side of a constitutional issue, but you do need a certain interpersonal skill and collegiality to get four others to vote with you. No one was ever better at that than William Brennan.

Bush Much Greater (Ben Stein, 5/4/2007, American Spectator)

A little note on life and death in modern America and why George W. Bush is a much greater man than some think he is.

Last night I watched on CNN as news filtered in of a young mother in Arizona who had given birth in a gas station bathroom sink, then drowned her baby in that same sink -- then driven off to buy a high end car stereo nearby.

The commentators were hysterical. How could she do such a thing? How can anyone be so cruel and unfeeling and vicious? That's what the commentators were asking.

But wait a minute: How different is what this woman did from what millions of American women have done by aborting their babies, especially late in term when the babies could easily have lived with available care?

She got her own hands dirty instead of demanding that someone assist in the murder?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Democratic candidates' moves may stall deal on Iraq: Presidential contenders may be hindering bid to reach a deal on Iraq funding (JEFF ZELENY and CARL HULSE, 5/05/07, New York Times)

The aggressive attempts by Democratic presidential hopefuls to shape the war debate are threatening to complicate congressional efforts to reach a deal on the Iraq spending bill, as the candidates' calls for accelerating an end to the conflict compete with efforts by legislative leaders to extend funding for the war.

There was never a possibility of the Democrat-majority Congress doing anything meaningful for the Left anyway, but the absurdly early start to the presidential campaign certainly complicated the hopeless task.

Democrats' Momentum Is Stalling: Amid Iraq Debate, Priorities On Domestic Agenda Languish (Jonathan Weisman and Lyndsey Layton, 5/05/07, Washington Post)

In the heady opening weeks of the 110th Congress, the Democrats' domestic agenda appeared to be flying through the Capitol: Homeland security upgrades, a higher minimum wage and student loan interest rate cuts all passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

But now that initial progress has foundered as Washington policymakers have been consumed with the debate over the Iraq war. Not a single priority on the Democrats' agenda has been enacted, and some in the party are growing nervous that the "do nothing" tag they slapped on Republicans last year could come back to haunt them.

Trade Tensions Dividing Dems (Robert Novak, 5/05/07, Real Clear Politics)
The issue of international trade has produced a tense internal Democratic confrontation between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Rangel has succeeded in negotiating a compromise trade bill with Republicans on his committee (led by Rep. Jim McCrery) and the Bush administration. But Pelosi is attuned to the wishes of Democratic Caucus members, who are being pushed by organized labor to bar imports produced by lower-wage labor. Rangel's moderate position faces a challenge within the Ways and Means Committee from Rep. Sander Levin, chairman of the Trade subcommittee. Levin's Detroit-area district contains United Auto Workers members and pensioners who want trade protection.

Pursuing a partisan and unilateral strategy, which was necessary lest they alienate their psychotic base, cost them even the chance to pass measures where they could have worked with W and the Ownership Society sorts in the GOP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM

Wally Schirra, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Tom Stafford. Photographed by Michael O'Neill at the Dayton Convention Center in Dayton, Ohio, on July 18, 1998, for Vanity Fair.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


EADS execs told how to cut costs (Toby Sterling, 5/05/07, The Associated Press)

"If you want to reduce your work force, you should start with yourself," said Errol Keyner, representing the Dutch shareholders' organization VEB. "One CEO, one chairman, that's how you lead by example."

Lagardere said that EADS' dual-board system wasn't to blame for the company's troubles, but "I'm not saying that the group structure will stay the way it is for the next century."

French co-Chief Executive Louis Gallois said outsourcing more work to suppliers — like Boeing does — would help the company share risks and lower costs.

He said EADS' sales would likely fall in 2007 due to the weaker dollar, and it would have a negative cash flow of also around $1.4 billion due to more losses at Airbus. He predicted a profit in 2008.

In response to a question from a German shareholder, Gallois said high-profile cancellations by Federal Express and UPS for the A380 were "disappointing" but the situation was "not that bad."

"We have kept [most of] our customers and we are beginning again the campaign to sell the airplane, but to sell it we have to show that we can deliver," he said.

He confirmed that the number of A380s the company will need to sell to break even on the project has risen due to the delays, but declined to give specifics. Last year the company said it needed to sell around 420 of the planes to break even; current orders are 156 at last count.

"Sometimes I feel that the competition between the A350 and Boeing's 787 is already lost," said a woman who identified herself as Miriam Lange.

Meanwhile, they're eventually going to just cancel the A380 program.

May 4, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 PM


Will France choose Sarko or the road to ruin? (Simon Heffer, 05/05/2007, Daily Telegraph)

It rarely happens to a country that a clear opportunity is presented to it to save itself from ruin. Only once since the war has it happened to Britain, in 1979, when the people realised that the end of the road had been reached with the consensus that had prevailed since the Second World War, and it was time to start again on a different basis. Tomorrow, France can choose to have its 1979.

A post-war consensus similar to the one we ditched nearly 30 years ago has now prevailed in France since 1945, and after 62 years it is looking pretty threadbare.

The consensus they have to break out of is the one formed in 1789.

Sarkozy offers French a recipe for change, but is it to their taste?: Sebastian Rotella, May 5, 2007, LA Times)

For the last 30 years, French presidents have been grave, deliberate men with lofty airs who struggled to lead often weak and divided governments. The inability or unwillingness of those leaders to enact reforms reinforced the stereotype that the French do not want change.

Enter Nicolas Sarkozy, stereotype-buster. His presidential candidacy has been propelled by a conviction that he is strong enough to do what others have not: streamline a bloated state, revive a stagnant economy and restore a nation's fading grandeur. His promises of bold leadership and free-market reforms echo Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

So two questions accompany Sarkozy, the candidate of the center-right Union for a Popular Movement, or UMP, into Sunday's runoff election against another self-described standard-bearer of change, Segolene Royal of the Socialist Party. Do the voters share Sarkozy's vision? And if he wins, can he deliver? [...]

There's a simple explanation for his success despite the common wisdom, Sarkozy says: The elite have lost touch with the street.

"France does not fear change," he said during a recent television interview, "France hopes for it."

Sarkozy asserted that his critics "live in a milieu that is totally disconnected from the reality of the country. What I want is for the French to understand me. If tomorrow I'm elected, it won't be the press, the polls, the elites who chose me. It will have been the people."

Seven years of strikes and riots will tell a different story.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 PM


On the air in Saudi Arabia, a call-in show wins the king's ear (Hassan M. Fattah, May 4, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

Every Monday evening, Salama al-Zaid puts on his headphones, pulls his microphone close and goes to war on his radio talk show with some of the most powerful figures in the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

For two hours, Zaid opens the phone lines for callers to air their complaints, uncensored and unhindered. Then