July 31, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:34 PM


US troop fatalities in Iraq drop sharply: The toll is falling in the most dangerous provinces, not just in the Baghdad 'surge' zone. (Gordon Lubold, 8/01/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

As a single measure of success or failure in Iraq, the rate of American fatalities has its own limitations. But it does reflect the ability of the US to reduce insurgent-led violence. Two months ago, US fatalities climbed to 128, making May the third deadliest month for US troops in Iraq since the war began in 2003. But since then, as the surge of 30,000 new US forces has arrived, fatalities have fallen sharply. At press time, the toll for the month of July stood at 74, a decrease of 42 percent compared with May. That's the lowest fatality rate since last November.

When the surge was announced earlier this year, critics said adding more troops in one area would simply force insurgents to provoke violence in other areas. But according to an analysis by Pentagon officials, fatalities are down in July in all four of the most violent provinces of Iraq: Baghdad, Anbar, Salahaddin, and Diyala.

The boys were watching The Longest Day the other afternoon and could hardly process the idea that casualties that day were over half those for this entire war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 PM


Finding a Polish plumber is no joke in Warsaw (Patryk Wasilewski, 7/31/07, Reuters)

In western Europe, the Polish plumber has become the cliche of a low-paid immigrant who has profited from the European Union's eastward expansion.

In Poland, it is no joke.

The former communist country is short of everything from plumbers to pilots and that is pushing up wages dramatically and encouraging inflation, which threaten to choke off Poland's own economic boom.

Immigrants will be writing their own tickets in short order.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:29 PM


Kenya wants to grab piece of outsourcing pie (Helen Nyambura-Mwaura, 8/01/07, Reuters)

Instead of Bangalore, could it be Nairobi that banking customers from rich countries talk to next year?

Kenya -- impeded in the call centre industry to date by poor communications links to the rest of world -- is banking that the first fiber-optic cable in east Africa to be laid by mid-2008 will boost its status as the region's top economy.

Many Kenyan entrepreneurs hope that this, plus cheap labor, clear accents, and customer fatigue with Indian call centers could help the African country hook into the burgeoning call centre and outsourcing industry, worth $130 billion worldwide.

Once the technology is in place they hope Kenya's industry can take on established hubs in India and the Philippines.

Which would make them an excellent candidate for the Africa seat on the reconfigured Security Council.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 PM


Tehran the target of huge arms deal, says Rice (Ewen MacAskill, August 1, 2007, Guardian)

The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, increased pressure on Iran yesterday when she identified it as the biggest strategic challenge to America and the target of a proposed $63bn (£31bn) arms package.

US officials portrayed Iran as a growing spectre that was engaged in aggressive expansion and destabilising the region.

The Bush administration announced on Monday the huge arms sales package to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf state allies aimed at creating a bulwark against Iran. Speaking before a Gulf state conference at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Ms Rice said: "There isn't a doubt that Iran constitutes the single most important single-country strategic challenge to the United States and to the kind of Middle East that we want to see."

Just as we're justified in thwarting them, the Iranians are justified in desiring to be a nuclear power.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:19 PM


Dappled Cities perform in the Current studio (Barb Abney, July 31, 2007, Minnesota Public Radio)

Their new album Granddance was released stateside less than two months ago, and it's garnering raves all through the indie media. [...]

They dropped in the morning after their first date along with The Fratellis. While they were here they also discussed the first time they saw the Mississippi River, moving to the USA for six months, and life on the road.

The five-year old wanders around the house singing Fire, Fire, Fire.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:53 PM


Clyburn: Positive Report by Petraeus Could Split House Democrats on War (Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza, 7/30/07, Washington Post)

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Monday that a strongly positive report on progress on Iraq by Army Gen. David Petraeus likely would split Democrats in the House and impede his party's efforts to press for a timetable to end the war.

Clyburn, in an interview with the washingtonpost.com video program PostTalk, said Democrats might be wise to wait for the Petraeus report, scheduled to be delivered in September, before charting next steps in their year-long struggle with President Bush over the direction of U.S. strategy.

Clyburn noted that Petraeus carries significant weight among the 47 members of the Blue Dog caucus in the House, a group of moderate to conservative Democrats. Without their support, he said, Democratic leaders would find it virtually impossible to pass legislation setting a timetable for withdrawal.

"I think there would be enough support in that group to want to stay the course and if the Republicans were to stay united as they have been, then it would be a problem for us," Clyburn said.

If it weren't so sad it would be funnier that the primary consideration of the Democrats as regards the situation in Iraq is the internal atmospherics of their own caucus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:24 AM


Core inflation rises moderate 0.1% in June (Rex Nutting, 7/31/07, MarketWatch)

Core consumer inflation increased 0.1% for the fourth consecutive month in June, pushing the yearly gain in core inflation down to the lowest level in three years, the Commerce Department said Tuesday.

The core personal consumption price index rose 1.9% in the past year, the lowest inflation since early 2004, and just within the Federal Reserve's unofficial comfort zone of 1% to 2% for core inflation. Core inflation excludes volatile food and energy prices.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:07 AM


Cake de Cuba Libre (Contra Costa Times, 07/25/2007)

3 cups cake flour, sifted

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened, plus more for greasing

2 cups brown sugar, lightly packed

1 cup Classic Coca-Cola (not diet)

1/4 cup dark rum

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup whole milk


1 cup Classic Coca-Cola

11/2 cups white sugar

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

12 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup dark rum

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside. Liberally grease and lightly flour a standard bundt pan.

2. Beat the eggs with an electric mixer in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add the 2 sticks softened butter and the sugar and beat until creamy. Beat in the 1 cup Coca-Cola, 1/4 cup rum, vanilla and milk. Use only fresh, bubbly Coke, not "flat" Coke as called for in some recipes. The bubbles actually make a honeycomb effect in the finished cake.

3. Gradually add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl, beating constantly until you have a smooth batter. Pour the cake batter into the prepared bundt pan. Bake approximately 45-60 minutes, or until the cake tests done. Let the cake cool slightly, use a knife to work around the sides and center of the cake, and then invert the cake on a serving plate.

4. Bring the 1 cup Coca-Cola, sugar and corn syrup to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Continue cooking at medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until syrup thickens. Remove from heat and immediately stir in the 12 tablespoons butter and the 1/4 cup rum.

5. Serve the cake warm, spooning plenty of sauce over each individual serving. Yes, we sometimes double the syrup recipe when we are feeling especially decadent and our wives aren't looking!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Stephen Clarke can find humor in messy situations: The British author's humorous insights into life in Paris have translated into bestsellers. Hey, it happens. (Marjorie Miller, 7/31/07, LA Times)

So many writers come to France to write, and so many of them make la merde out of their careers, but British author Stephen Clarke is the only one I know of who has made a career out of la merde. Three books worth, to be precise: "A Year in the Merde," "Merde Actually" and, published in Britain this month, "Merde Happens." (It's scheduled to be published in the United States next May, according to his agent, although the impatient can order it through Amazon UK). These humorous novels are a hit in French airports and have made it onto various bestseller lists, giving Clarke a reputation as an outsider who actually, more or less, gets the French.

His first two titles are knockoffs of "A Year in Provence" and "Love Actually," but the excrement part is his alone, taken from the ubiquitous dog droppings on the sidewalks of Paris and the fact that his main character, Paul West, is constantly stepping into it, literally and figuratively.

West is a 27-year-old Brit who comes to Paris in the first book to help his French boss open a chain of tearooms. He runs up against the French "work culture," with a lot of cheek kissing and long meetings that result in very little. He experiences the fine art of stalling, encounters world-class French bureaucrats and has a few liaisons dangereuses, including one with his boss' daughter, before striking out on his own.

Trying to get The Wife to read the first one, as she's gotten a bee in her bonnet about taking a family trip to that hellhole, despite making my views rather clear.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


A violent tempest in New Orleans: As the city struggles to control crime, cases have been bungled, and Dist. Atty. Jordan has become a lightning rod for dissatisfaction. (Miguel Bustillo, July 31, 2007, Los Angeles Times)

The district attorney of this bloodstained city dropped murder charges this month against a man alleged to have massacred five teenagers, saying the sole witness was nowhere to be found.

A day later, an angry New Orleans police chief, who had not been warned that one of the city's most sensational criminal cases was being abandoned, trotted out the supposedly elusive witness at a news conference. He said it took his investigators three hours to locate her by calling a phone number sitting in the case file.

The bungling of the quintuple-murder case — which has outraged New Orleans and led some officials to call for the head of Dist. Atty. Eddie J. Jordan Jr. — illuminates the city's continuing inability to bring even high-profile suspects to justice.

Nearly two years after Hurricane Katrina, it has become clear that New Orleans' failure to control violent crime presents an obstacle to the city's repopulation every bit as big as the shortage of affordable rental housing and the slow disbursement of government aid to rebuild homes.

Yet the criminal justice system continues to be plagued by political backbiting, inexplicable communication breakdowns and, in some cases, outright incompetence.

W's fault.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


World's hairiest man wants to join Olympic torch relay (AP, 7/31/07)

The world's hairiest man is applying to take part in the Beijing Olympic torch relay, state media reported Tuesday.

Yu Zhenhuan, who has hair covering 96 percent of his body, told the official Xinhua News Agency that he would be an ideal candidate to take part in the event.

"First, I am a celebrity inside and outside of China and, secondly, I think my experience in coping with a disfigurement ties in with the notion of the Olympic spirit," he said.

Only his hirsute brethren, who can't light a barbecue without catching fire themselves, recognize the extraordinary courage he's demonstrating.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Congestion charge increased public transport use (The Local, 31st July 2007)

More people in Sweden used public transport last year than in previous years, and congestion charging in Stockholm is being singled out as the reason.

The number of people using public transport increased by five percent across the country. The rise is equal to 58 million journeys, according to statistics from the Swedish Institute for Transport and Communications Analysis Swedish Institute for Transport and Communications Analysis (SIKA).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


401(k)'s Grow for 4th Straight Year (DAN CATERINICCHIA, 7/31/07, AP)

[T]he average amount saved in a company- sponsored 401(k) account rose by 17 percent in 2006, the fourth straight year of growth. Since 1999, workers who contributed to these accounts saw their average savings grow by 79 percent to $121,202—despite the market downturn between 2000 and 2002. [...]

As expected, older savers had accumulated more in their accounts than their younger colleagues. The average balance for participants in their 60s was $157,727; in their 50s, $148,927; in their 40s, $108,262; in their 30s, $61,368; and in their 20s, $28,248.

"401(k) participants are a very hardy and committed group," Holden said. The plans have evolved from supplementary retirement accounts when they were introduced in the early 1980s, she said, into the primary or only one for many participants.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Getting Busted for Pot Can Cost Your Right to Vote (Silja J.A. Talvi, July 31, 2007, In These Times)

So, don't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Behind the Arab street's anti-American facade (Hussain Abdul-Hussain, 7/30/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

During my years as a reporter in Beirut, whenever I covered an anti-U.S. protest, I saw most of the protesters trying to hide their faces from cameras. Ask any of them about the reason for doing so, and they will tell you that they do not want to jeopardize getting a visa to the U.S. or to other Western countries.

But those who don't want to risk their visas are the same ones who fear retribution of their ruling regimes, or even their militant peers, if they express any support of the West. These people walk a tightrope. On the one hand, they want to keep their visa prospects high. On the other hand, they want to look as anti-Western as their oppressors want them to look.

The double-face theory explains a good deal of the social behavior of many Arabs. It explains why, even though the majority of Arabs appear to hate America, American multinational franchises are booming in Arab countries.

Whether it is Starbucks, McDonald's, Burger King or KFC, they are all in high demand in the Arab region. Hollywood movies are widely watched. American pop culture is as widespread in the Middle East as it is here in the U.S. Most Arabs know Ross and Rachel from the TV sitcom "Friends." Many of them know the rapper 50 Cent and often sing his tunes. Many of them strive to enter the U.S. universities mushrooming across the region.

If you ask these Arabs about the dilemma of loving America and hating it at the same time, the most common answer would be: We love America, but we hate its foreign policy.

American foreign policy, however, does not always work against what many of these Arabs want to see. Only a few would oppose the removal of their tyrant.

...if it was leaving you under an oppressive regime.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Bill Walsh, 75; legendary 49ers coach reshaped football
(Sam Farmer, July 31, 2007, LA Times)

Bill Walsh, known in football circles as "The Genius" for taking his San Francisco 49ers to three NFL championships and designing the "West Coast offense" that has countless devotees in both college and professional ranks, died Monday. He was 75.

Diagnosed with leukemia in 2004, Walsh had been in failing health for several months and died at his home in Woodside, Calif., according to Stanford University, where he had been a coach and athletic director.

Cerebral, introspective and innovative, Walsh had an uncanny eye for scouting players and designing refined game plans. His offensive scheme — predicated on short passes that depended on timing — fueled a dynasty in San Francisco with Super Bowl victories after the 1981, '84 and '88 seasons.

George Seifert, Walsh's defensive coordinator, who retained the same offensive system after Walsh retired, led the 49ers to two more Super Bowl victories after the 1989 and 1994 seasons.

John Madden, the Hall of Fame coach and longtime NFL broadcaster and analyst, said Monday that "Bill's legacy is going to be that he changed offense. Offense before Bill Walsh was run, run defense, establish the run. Run on first down, run on second down, and if that doesn't work, pass on third down. Bill Walsh passed on first down, passed on second down and used that to set up the run.

"People use the word genius and we usually scoff at that. In his case, I don't think you can scoff at it."

Behind 'genius' tag was another Walsh: Football writers recall surprising and off-guard moments with the coach away from the game. (Sam Farmer, July 31, 2007, LA Times)

When Walsh died Monday, I called some of my sportswriter friends in the Bay Area to reminisce.

Ira Miller, who for years covered the 49ers for the San Francisco Chronicle, used to butt heads with Walsh on a daily basis. Miller is a bulldog, who, in the most contentious of times, was barely on speaking terms with the coach.

Yet, after Walsh announced his retirement in 1989, the coach stepped away from the podium and made a beeline for Miller in the front row, throwing his arm around the cantankerous reporter.

"It's been 10 great years," Walsh said.

Miller was speechless.

"I wouldn't have been more surprised if Eddie DeBartolo said I was the new coach," Miller recalled with a laugh. "If those were 10 great years, I was thinking to myself, I must have missed some of them."

Seventeen years later, when Walsh wanted to let the world know about his cancer, Miller was one of the two reporters he called. The other was Lowell Cohn, formerly of the Chronicle, who's now a columnist for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

No reporter knew Walsh better than Cohn, who spent the better part of a year with the coach in writing, "Rough Magic — Bill Walsh's Return to Stanford Football."

The night before every Stanford home game, Walsh and Cohn had a routine. Walsh would work late at his office, scripting the first 15 to 20 offensive plays of the game, then would meet the reporter at the now-defunct Rickey's Hyatt House for one margarita — always one.

One night, as Walsh and Cohn were walking in, former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs was walking out. Gibbs was in town to watch his son, Coy, play linebacker for Stanford.

Cohn couldn't believe his luck. He'd get to see how two giants of the game would interact in a casual setting. Would Walsh give Gibbs a hug, or just a hearty handshake? Would he invite the Redskins legend to join them for a margarita? Or, better yet, dinner?

Instead, the coaches passed each other with barely a nod.

Later, while sipping his margarita, Walsh offered a simple explanation: "When we were coaches, he was my biggest rival."

For all his success, Walsh could be incredibly insecure at times. He was tormented by losing and forever haunted by the fear that his empire was on the decline. One of his biggest regrets was that he retired too early.

Cohn remembers leaving Stanford early one night while Walsh prepared for a game. But as the reporter walked through the parking lot toward his car, he got a creepy feeling someone was following him.

And someone was — Walsh.

"Lowell?" the coach said, startling him, "Do you think we can win?"

"Yeah," Cohn said, composing himself. "I'm sure you can win."

"Good. Good."

Imagine that, a three-time Super Bowl champion — a coach headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame — pleading for reassurance from a newspaper reporter.

Walsh was that way. Just like us.

July 30, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:02 PM


Himalayan chill over Sino-Indian relations (M. D. NALAPAT, 7/30/07, UPI)

When the Congress Party took over the governance of India in 2004 with the support of India's two major communist parties, Beijing had hoped for a policy more attentive to Chinese interests. After all, Congress President Sonia Gandhi was known to be an "old friend," and the Communists were even more deferential toward Chinese interests than they were toward Indian.

Three years on, optimism has faded. Recognition has arrived that India may indeed be on the threshold of a transformational relationship, not with China but with the United States -- a country that has a finite chance of going to war with Beijing over Taiwan.

Unlike U.S. President George W. Bush, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia or even Prime Minister G. P. Koirala of Nepal, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not go to the airport to either receive or see off Chinese President Hu Jintao. Hu received a tepid reception on his recent visit to India, and reciprocated by issuing boilerplate soporifics that were flowery in language but severely limited in substance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:53 PM


RISE AND SHINE - Urban, industrial and commercial India since 1991 (S.L. RAO, 7/30/07, The Telegraph)

A Kumbhakarna waking in India after sleeping since 1991, would have rubbed his eyes in disbelief. In the shops are apples from Fiji and China, Swiss chocolates, almost all the latest models of cars, cell phones, television, hi-fi equipment, and many consumer products including designer clothes, bags and other such luxuries. Most urban middle-class young men and women go to work, earning good salaries. So do the young from lower socio-economic strata with little education, in malls, multiplexes, fast food restaurants, supermarkets and hotels.

Housing loans at 10 per cent interest, the Sensex at 15,000 and rising, over $200 billion of foreign exchange reserves, the rupee rising every day in relation to the dollar and even other currencies, Indians welcomed as immigrants in most developed countries, India labelled as the new superpower of this century and sharply declining poverty levels make India a different country from what it was in 1991.

The rich and the middle classes are very much better off. But the over-fifty-fives of 1991 are now dependent on the generosity of their prosperous children because their savings are too small for the new higher prices of almost everything. The unorganized sector has more employment than before, but incomes remain low while agriculture has become an uncertain occupation for the many small land-owners.

Many industrialists in 1991 did not recognize that India had joined the world and would never again be an insular economy. Our opening the economy coincided with the revolution in telecommunications, information technology, travel and the growing shortage in the developed countries of people and of skills at affordable costs. Those Indian businesses that did not seize the new opportunities died or disappeared. There were many who did change and developed significant businesses. Some of them became the new barons of the Indian and the world economies.

It's easy enough to understand that the fall of the Iron Curtain liberated Eastern Europe, but less well comprehended that it deprived the "non-aligned" world of the only coherent counter-narrative to the Anglo-American model.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:56 AM


More Cubans leaving by sea again, many to Mexico (Anthony Boadle, 7/30/07, Reuters)

After a lull following Fidel Castro's illness last year, Cubans once again are taking to homemade boats or powerful speedboats manned by smugglers on a trip to the United States that often includes a detour through Mexico.

Since May, the U.S. Coast Guard has been intercepting more boat people in precarious craft crossing the Straits of Florida in the calm summer waters. The U.S. Border Patrol also has been processing rising numbers turning up at the U.S. frontier with Mexico.

Cubans coming across the 90-mile gap with Florida try to make it in anything that floats and has a motor -- from a hijacked fishing boat to an array of inner tubes tied together with a weed whacker for propeller.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:48 AM


Plugging the democracy gap (Anne-Marie Slaughter, July 30, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

Critics of current American strategy make several valid points. First, democracy really cannot be promoted, but only supported. By its nature, democracy requires the people of a particular country to actively want to govern themselves. Where that drive exists, external support can help it grow and flourish, but it cannot be implanted, much less imposed from the outside.

Second, promoting elections around the world often seems to empower governments or parties that don't like the United States - Hamas in the Palestinian territories, the Sadrists in Iraq, Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. How then does promoting democracy enhance the security of America and its allies?

The problem lies not in the strategy but in its execution. Democracy is not an end in itself, but a means to the end of securing individual liberty. To see the point, Americans would do well to look to America's own history. The framers of the Constitution wanted a republican government that would represent the people, but represent them in a way that protected against mob rule and maximized opportunities for careful deliberation in the best interests of the country as a whole. They insisted on a pluralist party system, a Bill of Rights limiting the power of the government, guarantees for free speech and a free press, checks and balances to promote transparent and accountable government and a strong rule of law enforced by an independent judiciary.

These rules and institutions are as essential to sustained government by the people as elections are. Without them, democracy would be nothing more than a recipe for tyranny of the majority or simply a stop on the road to renewed dictatorship.

If the point of the Republic was to secure individual liberty the Constitution would begin: "I, the person..." In fact, republican liberty is incompatible with such individualism, which is why the Constitution's stated ends are all social, rather than personal:
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:52 AM


In Opposing Tax Plan, Schumer Breaks With Party (RAYMOND HERNANDEZ and STEPHEN LABATON, 7/30/07, NY Times)

June was a busy month for Senator Charles E. Schumer. On the phone, at large parties and small gatherings around the nation, he raised more than $1 million from the booming private equity and hedge fund industries for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, of which he is chairman.

But there is another way Mr. Schumer has been busy with hedge fund and private equity managers, an important part of his constituency in New York. He has been reassuring them that he will resist an effort led by members of his own party to single out the industry with a plan that would more than double the taxes on the enormous profits reaped by its executives.

Mr. Schumer has considerable say on the issue. In addition to being the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate leadership, he is the only Democrat serving on both of the major committees, Banking and Finance, that have jurisdiction in the matter.

He has long been a pro-business Democrat and a fund-raising machine for the party, as well as a vociferous supporter of Wall Street issues in Washington, much the way Michigan lawmakers defend the auto industry and Iowa politicians work on behalf of corn farmers.

One man's pork is another's constituent servicing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 AM


Malthusian misery's comeback: With the world population growth outpacing food supply, say goodbye to the era of unlimited improvement. (Niall Ferguson, July 30, 2007, LA Times)

Malthus' key insight was simple but devastating. "Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio," he observed. But "subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio." In other words, humanity can increase like the number sequence 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, whereas our food supply can increase no faster than the number sequence 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 We are, quite simply, much better at reproducing than feeding ourselves.

Malthus concluded that there must be "a strong and constantly operating check on population." This would take two forms: "misery" and "vice," by which he meant not only alcohol abuse but also contraception and abortion (he was, after all, an Anglican minister).

I wish I could have a free lunch for every time I've heard someone declare "Malthus was wrong." Superficially, it is true, mankind seems to have broken free of the Malthusian trap. The world's population has increased by a factor of more than six since Malthus' time. Yet the global average daily supply of calories consumed has also gone up on a per capita basis, exceeding 2,700 in the 1990s. In France on the eve of the revolution it was just 1,848.

Having conceded the scientific falsity of the theory there's nothing left but faith.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 AM


Haiti debates a homegrown army: The country today is patrolled by U.N. troops. 'We should be doing this for ourselves,' some say. (Carol J. Williams, July 30, 2007, LA Times)

"In this land, we are the only masters," the Haitian national anthem proudly boasts of this country that in 1804 overthrew slavery and colonization.

But for more than a dozen years, Haiti has been without an army, dependent on a politicized national police force and foreign troops of the United Nations who protect its leaders, respond to natural disasters and quell violence in some of the hemisphere's most wretched slums.

That galls Joseph Alexandre, a 49-year-old lawyer who saw his military career and family heritage of service abruptly end in 1995 when then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide disbanded the army that had been complicit in his 1991 ouster.

"We should be doing this for ourselves," Alexandre, who holds the rank of major, said of patrols here by U.N. military units from Nepal, Croatia, Bolivia and more than a dozen other countries.

The Revolution secured independence, but it was Shays' Rebellion that created the nation. The one directed centralized force outwards, the other inwards.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 AM


Filmmakers put their faith in the Gospel: Producer Jeff Clanagan and 20th Century Fox are teaming up to make several movies for the Christian market. (Lorenza Muñoz, July 30, 2007, Los Angeles Times)

Jeff Clanagan wants to ride Tyler Perry's coattails.

So does 20th Century Fox.

They are pairing up to make several Gospel-inspired films that are much like the ones that have made Perry a sensation. Perry, a 37-year-old producer, writer, director and star, has shown Hollywood the gold to be mined from Gospel-infused entertainment.

Fox and Clanagan are pinning their initial hopes on a movie version of the popular play "Mama I Want to Sing." Scheduled to come out in March, starring R&B singers Ciara and Patty LaBelle, "Mama" is the first of several films that Clanagan will make under a deal with Fox Home Entertainment division FoxFaith.

Clanagan's goal is to build a full-fledged studio that makes, markets and distributes theatrical movies for African American and Latino audiences. His company, Codeblack Entertainment, already has seen success by making an eclectic group of low-budget movies and distributing them on DVD, such as Steve Harvey's comedy series. He's made a couple of faith-based films on DVD, including "Preaching to the Choir."

"These movies are not really recognized by the Hollywood elite," Clanagan said. " 'Mama' takes it to another level."

After "Mama," Clanagan will release "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," which has grossed $10 million as a stage play. Clanagan will begin production on several faith-inspired novels by ReShonda Tate Billingsley, such as "Let the Church Say Amen" and "Blessings in Disguise."

"Tyler was a pioneer in showing that gospel entertainment was more commercial than anyone had ever thought," Clanagan said. "Faith-based product will be our bread and butter."

What, no leprosy movies?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


Gas-station owners' profits hinge on thirsty customers (Ángel González, 7/30/07, Seattle Times)

Convenience-store owner David Malik earns about as much on a can of Coke as he does on a typical 10-gallon purchase of gas.

Malik's gross profit on gasoline is roughly 3 cents a gallon after paying for supplies and credit-card fees, but he earns 30 cents on the soft drink.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 AM


Sultan of Swat, reprise: Great-grandson of Ruth a slugger (Brian MacQuarrie, July 30, 2007, Boston Globe)

The brow and broad cheekbones look vaguely familiar as Chris Herrlein steps into the batter's box. But there is no paunch, and Herrlein is hitting right-handed, instead of left, as a peeling number 3 hangs to the back of his jersey.

It is the number that Babe Ruth, his great-grandfather, wore as the most famous player in baseball history. Three generations later, Herrlein does the Bambino proud by rocketing a softball high and deep for a three-run triple.

"There he goes," yelps Steve Wilson, co-manager of the Blues Maniacs, as Herrlein, 38, lugs a rebuilt right knee and two injury-prone shoulders around the bases in short, choppy, dust- raising strides.

Standing on third, catching his breath, Herrlein flashes a wide smile as the Maniacs chop away at the wrong end of a 9-0, first-inning deficit. Although the ready grin is also reminiscent of Ruth, only a few teammates knew of Herrlein's connection to the Bambino before the game last week.

"I want them to know me as me," says Herrlein, a Hewlett-Packard software salesman from Millis.

What they know, Wilson says, is a big-hearted first baseman with a .350 average in this modified fast-pitch league.

"I'm just in total awe," said second baseman Jason Malloy, 26, of Stow, as he waited to bat beside Framingham High School. "If you watch enough history stuff, you can see absolutely that he resembles Babe Ruth, just the way he looks at you."

Interesting the degree to which the popular view of the Babe is irrevocably shaped by newsreels filmed late in his career.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


Plate reader draws objections of ACLU (AP, 7/30/07)

Police in this Cincinnati suburb have turned to a mechanical watchdog that scans license plates on passing cars to try to snare fugitives, a practice that has drawn the attention of those who say it’s an infringement on a driver’s right to privacy.

The Mobile Plate Hunter 900 — two cameras mounted atop a cruiser — can read up to 900 license plates an hour on vehicles driving at highway speeds. [...]

Since the patrol began using the scanners in 2004, it has recovered 95 stolen cars — valued at $740,000 — and made 111 arrests, said patrol spokesman Lt. Shawn Davis. The plate hunter has made roads safer, he said.

The scanner’s gaze is too wide and it’s an infringement against the innocent drivers whose plates get captured, said Jeff Gamso, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

One does not look to the ACLU for common sense nor coherence, but, even for them, the argument that the state can require to display a plate for identification purposes but can not then observe said plate is lunatic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Boeing predicts $42bn India orders (Jul 30, 2007)
India will likely need 911 new passenger jets over the next 20 years to meet the growing demand for air travel, Boeing said, announcing an upward revision to its earlier forecast.

India's demand for new planes over the next 20 years could result in orders worth 86 billion US dollars ($42.5 billion) at current list prices, making it one of the world's largest markets for new jets, Boeing said in its latest market outlook for India.

India's rapid economic expansion in recent years, coupled with policies to break the monopoly of state-run companies in the airline sector has driven demand for air travel and new planes.
It's that breaking of state-run companies that sounds Airbus's death knell.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Repugnant Markets and How They Get That Way: Q&A with: Alvin E. Roth (Martha Lagace, 7/30/07, Working Knowledge)

Unfair. Undignified. Inappropriate, unprofessional, distasteful—and most of all, repugnant.

To the wonder and surprise of Alvin E. Roth, a Harvard economist, these harsh words are often hoisted to describe an important task of his: designing and building new markets. As Roth writes in a new working paper, he and fellow economists have found themselves handicapped by a problem just as real as any technological barrier or requirement of incentives and efficiency: the downright distaste that some people feel for particular transactions.

Roth's paper, "Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets," looks at a wide range of practices, legal and illegal, from dwarf tossing to slavery to California's ban on the human consumption of horse meat, and asks how economists can find a common language, if not a common point of view, with the winds of society. According to Roth, "We need to understand better and engage more with the phenomenon of ‘repugnant transactions,' which, I will argue, often serves as an important constraint on markets and market design." [...]

Roth recently elaborated on repugnance for HBS Working Knowledge.

Martha Lagace: How did you arrive at the subject of repugnant markets?

Alvin E. Roth: I started thinking about them while talking with kidney surgeons and learning about all the things they found repugnant. Meanwhile, a group of economists, particularly around Nobel Laureate Gary S. Becker at the University of Chicago, was quite perplexed that we just don't have a market.

As an economist who wants to understand things as they are, I wondered why we don't have some of the markets that economists like. Economists have the point of view that voluntary transactions should always be fine. If two people engage in a voluntary transaction, it must be because they both want to, and it makes them better off. The kinds of things I'm calling repugnant are transactions that some people don't want other people to engage in.

Repugnant is different from, say, disgusting. There are no laws against eating cockroaches in California, because nobody wants to eat cockroaches. The law of supply and demand takes care of that. But the reason there's a law against eating horse meat in California is because some people would like to eat horse meat, and others think that they're doing something repugnant.

That's similarly the story about kidneys: why I can't buy yours, although I could accept it as a gift.

Repugnance is different in different places and at different times. I feel a little bit like a sociologist when I look at these things.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


The Cross Still Stands: Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, from the Great War to the War on Terror by Michael Burleigh (H. W. Crocker III, June 2007, The American Spectator)

IF YOU WANTED TO SUMMARIZE the history of the West, you could do worse than say it's the story of the conflict between Church and State. That was true in Rome, true in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, true in the Protestant (and kingly and princely) revolt against the pope, true in the period of the French Revolution, true in the secularizing regimes of the 19th century (and in Bismarck's Kulturkampf), and certainly true in the 20th century, which is the taking off point for historian Michael Burleigh's Sacred Causes, a breathtaking examination of how the age of the dictators was an age of political religion trying to exterminate the real thing -- and how the real thing, one would almost say miraculously, not only survived but was crucial to bringing down its longest-lived oppressor, the Soviet Union.

Burleigh covered the period from the French Revolution to the Great War in his previous book, the highly acclaimed Earthly Powers. Sacred Causes is just as powerful -- written as it is by a professor spilling over with erudition, entertaining arcana, magisterial summary judgments, and sarcastic asides, in a style that is both rococo and shot full of adrenalin. It has the additional fillip of closing with the battle we're in now: the clash of militant Islam versus the West.

But first things first, and first things here are what Burleigh deems "the political manifestations of what could be called mass spiritual need in deranged times" -- those times being the years following the First World War. And the focus, in this period, is not on Britain, but on the Continent. Europe (particularly Germany and Italy) found itself awash with prophets, preaching new gospels, some truly bizarre, others that seem less so only because we know they succeeded.

A Franciscan friar writing from Germany in 1924 remarked that the "war of Christianity against Teutonic paganism" had never ended, "the battle continued as a guerrilla war in the souls and the beliefs and religious customs... and there were always men who preferred Wotan to Christ. Today it seems as though this century-old skirmish will again become an open battle."

So it did.

No ideology was ever better calculated to appeal to the pagan impulse than Darwinism, with its worship 0f Nature.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


A War We Just Might Win (MICHAEL E. O’HANLON and KENNETH M. POLLACK, 7/30/07, NY Times)

VIEWED from Iraq, where we just spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel, the political debate in Washington is surreal. The Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility. Yet now the administration’s critics, in part as a result, seem unaware of the significant changes taking place.

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with. [...]

In addition, far more Iraqi units are well integrated in terms of ethnicity and religion. The Iraqi Army’s highly effective Third Infantry Division started out as overwhelmingly Kurdish in 2005. Today, it is 45 percent Shiite, 28 percent Kurdish, and 27 percent Sunni Arab.

In the past, few Iraqi units could do more than provide a few “jundis” (soldiers) to put a thin Iraqi face on largely American operations. Today, in only a few sectors did we find American commanders complaining that their Iraqi formations were useless — something that was the rule, not the exception, on a previous trip to Iraq in late 2005.

The additional American military formations brought in as part of the surge, General Petraeus’s determination to hold areas until they are truly secure before redeploying units, and the increasing competence of the Iraqis has had another critical effect: no more whack-a-mole, with insurgents popping back up after the Americans leave.

In war, sometimes it’s important to pick the right adversary, and in Iraq we seem to have done so. A major factor in the sudden change in American fortunes has been the outpouring of popular animus against Al Qaeda and other Salafist groups, as well as (to a lesser extent) against Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

These groups have tried to impose Shariah law, brutalized average Iraqis to keep them in line, killed important local leaders and seized young women to marry off to their loyalists. The result has been that in the last six months Iraqis have begun to turn on the extremists and turn to the Americans for security and help. The most important and best-known example of this is in Anbar Province, which in less than six months has gone from the worst part of Iraq to the best (outside the Kurdish areas). Today the Sunni sheiks there are close to crippling Al Qaeda and its Salafist allies. Just a few months ago, American marines were fighting for every yard of Ramadi; last week we strolled down its streets without body armor.

Another surprise was how well the coalition’s new Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams are working. Wherever we found a fully staffed team, we also found local Iraqi leaders and businessmen cooperating with it to revive the local economy and build new political structures. Although much more needs to be done to create jobs, a new emphasis on microloans and small-scale projects was having some success where the previous aid programs often built white elephants.

Shi'ite dominated state institutions hostile to Sunni recalcitrants working with American assistance--not a very complez formula, is it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


What kind of discipline would nurture a hate-filled academic such as fired professor Ward Churchill? (Gregory Rodriguez, July 30, 2007, LA Times)

Rather than targeting Churchill and making him a martyr for academic freedom (the American Civil Liberties Union has chimed in on Churchill's behalf), university officials should have been more self-reflective and asked themselves how someone as intellectually irresponsible as Churchill got to be head of a department at their esteemed institution in the first place. Sure, Churchill might be gone, but that doesn't solve the problem that his notoriety brought to public attention: the presence of activists posing as scholars on college campuses, particularly in colleges supported by taxpayers' money.

For years now, conservatives have been railing against what they consider the leftist takeover of elite U.S. universities. And many of their complaints are not without merit. But I buy the self-selection argument -- those who pursue a career in academics tend to be more liberal to begin with -- so I don't think surveys showing that a majority of professors are Democrats proves there's discrimination against talented GOP PhDs. Efforts to create ideological -- or at least partisan -- balance on campus would only lead to the creation of a new form of affirmative action. Furthermore, despite arguments to the contrary, Democrats are at least members of a mainstream political party.

What should concern us all, however, is academia's nurturance of loons like the hate-filled Churchill. No, they are not many, but they shout louder than their numbers would suggest. And though their influence is minor in American higher education overall, they can be very influential in particular fields, such as comparative literature and gender and ethnic studies. That's because the problem on campuses isn't rigorous Marxist materialists, as conservative stereotypes would have you believe, but craven emotional warriors in the arena of identity politics.

Ethnic studies departments, such as Churchill's, may be the worst offenders. Created in the wake of the ethnic pride movement in the early 1970s, many simply never had the same kind of academic oversight as more established and prestigious fields. Those professors generally toiled with little funding in isolated intellectual ghettos. Their scholarship wasn't tested in the high-stakes, high-profile competition that hones other academics and other fields. They earned their "psychic income" -- a phrase coined by former Gov. Jerry Brown -- trying to turn minority undergraduates into activists. (Meanwhile, the quality work on ethnicity was being done in more traditional disciplines.)

But by most accounts, today's undergraduates of all backgrounds tend to be in search of good jobs rather than ideological causes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Saudis 'destabilising Iraq' (Press Association, Jul 30, 2007)

The US ambassador to the United Nations has accused ally Saudi Arabia of undermining efforts to stabilise Iraq.

Zalmay Khalilzad's comments follow word from a senior defence official that a planned US weapons sale to Saudi Arabia and other moderate Gulf states was expected to be a topic this week when US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and defence secretary Robert Gates visit the Middle East. [...]

On their trip, Ms Rice and Mr Gates are expected to ask Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah for greater co-operation in Iraq. The United States says it will push for writing off millions in Iraqi debt dating to the Saddam Hussein era and security help for the government of Iraq's prime minister Nouri Maliki.

Two House Democrats, Representatives Anthony Weiner and Jerrold Nadler of New York, said they would introduce legislation to block the Saudi arms deal. "We need to send a crystal clear message to the Saudi Arabian government that their tacit approval of terrorism can't go unpunished," Weiner said in New York.

Weiner and Nadler noted that that 15 of the 19 hijackers on September 11 2001, were Saudi citizens.

You have to try pretty hard to hand those two the moral high ground, but they have it here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Ingmar Bergman, Famed Swedish Film Director, Dies at 89 (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 7/30/07)

Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, an iconoclastic filmmaker widely regarded as one of the great masters of modern cinema, died Monday, the president of his foundation said. He was 89.

''It's an unbelievable loss for Sweden, but even more so internationally,'' Astrid Soderbergh Widding, president of The Ingmar Bergman Foundation, which administers the directors' archives, told The Associated Press. [...]

The son of a Lutheran clergyman and a housewife, Ernst Ingmar Bergman was born in Uppsala on July 14, 1918, and grew up with a brother and sister in a household of severe discipline that he described in painful detail in the autobiography ''The Magic Lantern.''

The title comes from his childhood, when his brother got a ''magic lantern'' -- a precursor of the slide-projector -- for Christmas. Ingmar was consumed with jealousy, and he managed to acquire the object of his desire by trading it for a hundred tin soldiers.

The apparatus was a spot of joy in an often-cruel young life. Bergman recounted the horror of being locked in a closet and the humiliation of being made to wear a skirt as punishment for wetting his pants.

He broke with his parents at 19 and remained aloof from them, but later in life sought to understand them. The story of their lives was told in the television film ''Sunday's Child,'' directed by his own son Daniel.

Young Ingmar found his love for drama production early in life. The director said he had coped with the authoritarian environment of his childhood by living in a world of fantasies. When he first saw a movie he was greatly moved.

''Sixty years have passed, nothing has changed, it's still the same fever,'' he wrote of his passion for film in the 1987 autobiography.

But he said the escape into another world went so far that it took him years to tell reality from fantasy, and Bergman repeatedly described his life as a constant fight against demons, also reflected in his work.

The demons sometimes drove him to great art -- as in ''Cries and Whispers,'' the deathbed drama that climaxes when the dying woman cries ''I am dead, but I can't leave you.'' Sometimes they drove him over the top, as in ''Hour of the Wolf,'' where a nightmare-plagued artist meets real-life demons on a lonely island.

Bergman also waged a fight against real-life tormentors: Sweden's powerful tax authorities.

None are so deaf as those who will not hear.

-Ingmar Bergman Foundation
-INTERVIEW: Ingmar Bergman - The Legendary Playboy Interview: A candid conversation with Sweden's one-man new wave of cinematic sorcery (Playboy, June 1964)
-TRIBUTE: Ingmar Bergman (The Guardian, 7/30/07)
-ESSAY: Operation Ingmar: One Bergman film is undoubtedly a good thing, but 38?: Joe Queenan watched the director's entire oeuvre - from callow, depressing early efforts to sophisticated, depressing masterpieces (Joe Queenan, March 22, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Bergman, whose heyday stretched from the mid-50s to the mid-70s, but who made a film as recently as 2003 (Saraband), is renowned as a staggeringly gifted auteur given to directing uncompromisingly depressing motion pictures in which God's existence is brazenly challenged and the notion that life has any meaning is ceaselessly questioned, and oftentimes ridiculed. This is a reasonably accurate representation of his overall worldview, particularly in the mid-career films that define him as an artist, but the emphasis on God and life's ultimate meaning is somewhat misplaced. The 16 motion pictures he made before achieving international fame with The Seventh Seal in 1957 do not deal with God at all, and this is also generally true of the films he has made in the 35 years since Cries and Whispers was released.

The central theme of the movies that bookend his career, and at least a secondary theme of his mid-career films about God, man's place in the universe and the meaning of life, is that human existence is hell on earth, not because of supernatural forces who are either malicious or indifferent, but because of the cruelty men and women routinely inflict upon one another, usually in marriage. This is the theme of his early movies, including the ones featuring the cuddly-wuddly puppy and the self-incinerating oven; it is true of his classic films The Virgin Spring, The Magician, Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light; it is true of his gorgeous, hysterically pretentious Cries and Whispers, true of his ambitious television series Scenes From a Marriage, and equally true of his over-the-hill clunkers From the Life of the Marionettes, Autumn Sonata, After the Rehearsal and Saraband. It is even true of his comedies - yes, Ingmar Bergman made several lighthearted comedies (Smiles of a Summer Night, The Devil's Eye) and one out-and-out knee-slapper - All These Women, which was also his first colour film.

No one who ever ventured behind a camera has adopted a more unapologetically bleak view of the relationship between men and women than Ingmar Bergman. With a handful of exceptions (The Seventh Seal, The Serpent's Egg) where the director goes in somewhat different directions, Bergman's movies break down into three broad groups: the ones where men torment women, the ones where women torment men, and the ones where men and women torment each other. Not terribly surprisingly, Bergman's first movie (as an actor) is entitled Torment.

-OBIT: Ingmar Bergman dead (The Local, 30th July 2007)
-TRIBUTE: Bergman's anguished life inspired movie masterpieces (The Local, 7/30/07)

In his native Sweden he was often accused of portraying the country as a nation of neurotics though this softened in the last decade of his life.

Ernst Ingmar Bergman was born in Uppsala, Sweden, on July 14, 1918, the second of three children.

His father Erik was a Lutheran minister who imposed a strict upbringing on his children. Family relationships influenced Bergman profoundly and were reflected in all his work.

Bergman recounted some episodes of his childhood in "Fanny and Alexander," which won four Oscars in all and was his last major film for the cinema.

At Stockholm University, the young Bergman discovered his vocation when he chose the drama society, which put on plays by Strindberg and Shakespeare, over literature and art history classes.

He directed his first film "Crisis" in 1945 and for more than three decades produced on average a movie a year. He did not earn international acclaim until 1956 when "Smiles of a Summer Night" was shown at the Cannes Festival.

Known in Sweden mainly as a dramatist, Bergman obtained poor reviews for work that was considered dark and incomprehensible, with its focus on love, loneliness, existential angst and relations with God.

Women occupied a central role in his work. He had loved his mother intensely as a child and when a doctor advised her to put more distance in their relationship or he would be damaged for life, he felt the loss deeply.

-ARTICLE: "We never understood how big he was" (The Local, 30th July 2007)
-ESSAY: Widescreen: My generation never liked Ingmar Bergman (Mark Cousins, February 2003, Prospect)
-OBIT: Dark arthouse director Ingmar Bergman dies (Philippe Naughton and agencies, Times Online)
-OBIT: Ingmar Bergman is dead at 89 (The Associated Press, July 30, 2007 )
-OBIT: Ingmar Bergman is dead at 89 (Mervyn Rothstein, July 30, 2007, NY Times)
-ARCHIVES: RIP Ingmar Bergman: The critical buzz on the great Swedish director (Blake Wilson, July 30, 2007, Slate)
Ingmar Bergman: the sense of the world (Roger Scruton, 2007-08-03, OpenDemocracy)
Bergman's actors behaved, under the disciplined eye of his camera, with an unusual empathy for their rôles. They were not film-stars, pouting out their good looks, nor were their features adjusted to some predetermined repertoire. In Bergman's hands they were entirely reimagined, immersed in the story and guided by its inner meaning. And Bergman was not merely a master of the camera: he was a great storyteller, who knew how to cut the fabric of a tale, so that not a line or an image was superfluous.

Like Shakespeare or Wagner (and the comparison with the latter is irresistible), he entered into each of his characters, finding their words and gestures out of a true dramatist's abundance of sympathy. Evil enters the world of his films only metaphysically, as it were, as part of the human condition. He has no stage villains, or Hitchcock-like destroyers. For the most part he finds in his characters, whatever the degree of their loneliness and anxiety (and they are all suspended at some point on the scale of metaphysical solitude) the aspect which can be loved. He has given us some of the most tender images in all cinema - the reminiscences in Wild Strawberries, the death-scene in Cries and Whispers, the Shakespearian flowering of young love in Smiles of a Summer's Night - and, by bringing words and images together with the kind of exactness that unites the words and music in Wagner, he has shown what the cinema can do, by way of ennobling human sympathy.

Music was important to Bergman, and his lifelong fascination with The Magic Flute culminated, first in the strange puppet show version in The Hour of the Wolf, and then in his own realisation of the opera. This fascination was continuous with his love of symbols, Mozart's masterpiece achieving its effects only because we see its protagonists as symbols, without knowing what they symbolise or why. Each of Bergman's films follows that pattern, being organised on two dimensions, as drama, and as myth. For we live our lives, in Bergman's view of things, both as individuals and as archetypes. Much that happens to us enacts the universal myths that describe our pilgrimage through this world.

Hence, even at his most humorous, Bergman takes a religious view of human beings, as creatures who are not merely in the world, as animals are, but also aspiring to make sense of it. Wild Strawberries shows that we achieve that aspiration when we look upon all that has happened to us, and accept it in a condition of forgiveness. That very Christian theme constantly recurs in Bergman's most important films. It may be one reason why he has fallen out of fashion; but it is also a reason why he will very soon be in fashion again, and appreciated for what he was: the man who brought cinema into the fold of western art.

Artist & Artisan: Bergman's legacy. (Thomas Hibbs, 8/03/07, National Review)
Of course, Bergman specialized in the depiction of certain kinds of familial affliction — infidelity and divorce. To borrow from Diane Keaton’s line, Bergman never “got over it.” In his inability to get beyond the gravity of infidelity and the searing tragedy of divorce — as much as in his unvarnished style and his preoccupation with life’s big questions — Bergman set himself apart from contemporary filmmakers. As his script for Faithless — a telling line has it, “Divorce is no common failure . . . with one cut it slices more deeply than life itself.”

Why does infidelity matter? Why should we be plagued with guilt over past misdeeds, over harms caused to others? Why be burdened with a need to confess, to put into words and to come to see clearly where things went wrong? Why the insatiable desire for forgiveness? Despite his claim that, after the faith trilogy, he simply dropped the religious issue, these questions are as prominent in Bergman’s last artistic creations as in his earlier films.

Bergman’s inability to shake these terrifying questions, his direct and supple depiction of the strains, sorrows, and pains of infidelity, distinguish him as a master craftsman who will remain worthy of our attention for many years to come. Comparing himself to the craftsmen who built medieval cathedrals, he accurately observed in an interview with Andrew Sarris: “Whether I am a believer or an unbeliever, Christian or pagan, I work with all the world to build a cathedral because I am artist and artisan, and because I have learned to draw faces, limbs, and bodies out of stone.”

July 29, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 PM


Havana Mojito (Cox News Service, 7/29/07)

1 teaspoon powdered sugar

Juice from 1 lime (about 2 ounces)

4 mint leaves (plus 1 sprig of mint)

Premium white rum (2 ounces)

2 ounces club soda

Place the mint leaves into a long, tall Collins glass and squeeze the juice from a cut lime over it. Add the powdered sugar, then smash the mint into the lime juice and sugar with a muddler (a long wooden paddle device -- or the back of a fork or spoon if a muddler isn't available). Add crushed ice, then add the rum and stir, and top off with the club soda. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 2:47 PM


Swat somebody's butt, and yours belongs to the the D.A. (Mark Steyn, 7/28/07, Orange County Register)

Do you know Cory Mashburn and Ryan Cornelison?

If you do, don't approach them. Call 911 and order up a SWAT team. They're believed to be in the vicinity of McMinnville, Ore., where they're a clear and present danger to the community. Mashburn and Cornelison were recently charged with five counts of felony sexual abuse, and District Attorney Bradley Berry has pledged to have them registered for life as sex offenders.

Oh, by the way, the defendants are in the seventh grade.

Messrs Mashburn and Cornelison are pupils at Patton Middle School. They were arrested in February after being observed in the vestibule, swatting girls on the butt. Butt-swatting had apparently become a form of greeting at the school – like "a handshake we do," as one female student put it. On "Slap Butt Fridays," boys and girls would hail each other with a cheery application of manual friction to the posterior, akin to a Masonic greeting. [...]

[U]pon being caught butt-swatting, Mashburn and Cornelison were called to the principal's office, where they were questioned for several hours by vice principal Steve Tillery and McMinnville Police officer Marshall Roache. At the end of the afternoon, two boys who'd never been in any kind of trouble before were read their Miranda rights and led off in handcuffs to spend five days in juvenile jail.

Tough, but I guess they learned their lesson, right?

Ha! The state of Oregon was only warming up. After a court appearance in shackles and prison garb, the defendants were charged with multiple counts of felony sexual abuse, banned from school and forbidden any contact with their friends.

...There is, happily, a fund to help with legal expenses. As Mr. Steyn goes on to note, the families of these boys are in financial trouble due to legal fees but have so far refused a plea-bargain, instead opting to contest the charges. A guilty verdict could mean jail time and lifelong registration as sex offenders. According to Dennis Prager, you can make donations in the following manner:

If you have a Wells Fargo account, you can contact the Wells Fargo bank in McMinnville, OR 503-474-3501 and make a direct deposit to the Cory Mashburn and Ryan Cornelison Defense Fund. The account # is: 8785915359.

If you don't have Wells Fargo account, you can mail a check to the Cory Mashburn and Ryan Cornelison Defense Fund. Mail it to:
Wells Fargo Bank


Lawrence Law Firm
235 NE 3rd St. Suite #1
McMinnville, OR 97128

Let them know you heard about it on The Dennis Prager show.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


Witnesses to Persecution: DRIVEN OUT: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans By Jean Pfaelzer (PATRICIA NELSON LIMERICK, 7/28/07, NY Times Book Review)

In “Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans,” she tells the story of the “thousands of Chinese people who were violently herded onto railroad cars, steamers or logging rafts, marched out of town or killed,” from the Pacific coast to the Rocky Mountains. Despite the forceful adjective of Pfaelzer’s subtitle, this burdensome history has not been entirely “forgotten.” Scholars have written comprehensively and memorably about it. But it is surely accurate to say that a majority of Americans live without a recognition of the degree, scale and extent of these chilling undertakings.

Most know even less about the extraordinary record of the Chinese people’s responding to persecution with boycotts, petitions, lawsuits and demands for reparations. In Wing Hing v. City of Eureka, 53 Chinese men and women joined together in asserting that the Northern California city had a duty to protect its residents and in demanding reparations and financial compensation for the violence that drove them out in 1885. Confronted with the requirement, in the Geary Act of 1892, that Chinese immigrants carry an identity card proving they were in the country legally or else face deportation, thousands refused to submit to what they called the “Dog Tag Law,” thus undertaking what Pfaelzer says was “perhaps the largest organized act of civil disobedience in the United States.”

Altogether, Chinese immigrants filed more than 7,000 lawsuits in the decade after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, “and they won the vast majority of them,” Pfaelzer writes. In truth, these efforts to claim the protection of American law should require historians to come up with a whole new understanding — in geography, chronology and cast of characters — of the civil rights movement.

To a surprising and heartening degree, some white Westerners championed the Chinese in their assertion of rights.

While history always repeats itself, it's a healthy sign that folks like Tom Tancredo can't crank up the cattle cars.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


They won't cure cancer, but might get rid of cellulite: 'Aesthetic medicine' firms hope vanity has its price (Scott Kirsner, July 29, 2007, Boston Globe)

Looking good is about to get a lot more expensive.

A cluster of New England companies is developing drugs and medical devices that will reduce wrinkles and cellulite, grow hair where you want it and remove it where you don't, and help you manage your impulse to overeat.

And while keeping you young and slim may not be as socially redeeming as, say, devising a vaccine for the next flu pandemic, millions of dollars in venture capital funding are flowing into the sector dubbed "aesthetic medicine," puffing up local start-ups like a shot of collagen injected into a pair of lips.

In 2005, the US market for aesthetic devices and therapies was $2 billion, according to Windhover Information -- a number that is expected to grow to $4.2 billion by 2010.

Much of this will be driven by the vanity of aging baby boomers. "They are determined that they're not going to get old, and they're willing to spend the money to keep looking good," says Concord biotech consultant Michael Kobos.

Which is why "healthcare" is just another consumer good now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Oil-rich Iran turns heat on President over petrol rationing (Anne Penketh, 29 July 2007, Independent)

In Tehran, petrol queues have become a frequent sight. Last Friday night, as Tehranis returned to the city after their weekly day off, cars were backed up at midnight outside one petrol station in northern Tehran, home to the city's wealthy, Hermes-wearing elite, which has never been a fan of the populist President. Here, restaurant diners don't even look up from their lamb kebabs when a creature in a red scarf drives her matching red sports car along Valiasr Avenue, the tree-lined road that cuts through the city from north to south.

It's a different story in the working-class southern districts, where voters turned out in their hordes to elect the Tehran mayor as President in June 2005.

Impoverished Iranians who supplement their income as unofficial taxi drivers have been particularly affected by the petrol rationing, which was introduced with only three hours' notice on 27 June, prompting motorists to burn down a dozen petrol stations around Tehran.

Although pockets of rioting were also reported elsewhere in the country, the effects of the rationing are considered to be worst in the capital, a city of 14 million. Private motorists are allowed only 100 litres a month, or three litres a day, while official taxis get 800 litres a month. In the popular Iranian resort of Kish, an island on the Gulf, travellers say it is impossible to get a taxi because of the rationing. [...]

The question now is the extent to which the President's declining popularity will be further damaged by the rationing, which comes at a time when inflation – officially 13 per cent but estimated to be at least double that – is rising.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


Monarchy is the key to our liberty: The institutions that attract the keenest scorn are actually what protect our democracy today (John Gray, July 29, 2007, The Observer)

Liberal opinion clings to the ideal of self-determination as an article of faith, but the truth is that constructing nation-states is nearly always a bloody business. The US became a modern nation-state only after a savage civil war, and France only after Napoleon. China is pursuing a similar path today - with consequences that in Tibet are not far from genocide. Nation building is a prototypical modern project, and yet the result has often been to undermine modern values of personal freedom and cosmopolitanism.

Look at those successful countries with borders that enclose different 'nations': Spain with its Catalans; the United Kingdom with Scots, English, Welsh and Northern Irish; Canada with the Quebecois. It is worth pondering the fact that the few genuinely multi-national democracies that exist today are mostly monarchies and relics of empire. Except in these irrational relics, democracy has nowhere managed to flourish at a multi-national level. Multi-national democracy has been most enduringly embodied in pre-modern constitutions.

Happily, we do not face in Britain any of the horrors that have accompanied the building of nation-states in other parts of the world.

Those countries are, of course, devolving into nations as well. But the more risible bit here is the notion that the United Kingdom wasn't likewise the product of savagery. Edward was the Hammer, not the Pal of, of the Scots.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Brown hails alliance with America (Nicholas Watt, July 29, 2007, The Observer)

Gordon Brown today flies to Washington for his first summit with President George Bush, after issuing a ringing endorsement of Britain's 'special relationship' with the US.

As he prepares the Labour party for a possible election next spring, the Prime Minister attempted to neutralise the divisive issue of the transatlantic alliance with a declaration of where Britain's interests lie.

'It is in the British national interest that the relationship with the United States is our single most important bilateral relationship,' the Prime Minister said in remarks that are designed to make it clear that Brown will not abandon the Atlantic alliance for cheap electoral gain.

Brown's unequivocal declaration, as he prepares to hold his first talks as Prime Minister with President Bush over dinner at Camp David, is a strong signal of his determination to maintain the Atlantic alliance, after Washington had been alarmed by what it saw as mixed messages from London.

It's no coincidence that the relationship has grown deeper the less significant the British military has become and the more dependent they've grown on us for their security.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Scotland exempt from flag plan (Breitbart, Jul 28, 2007)

As part of a new scheme to increase a sense of Britishness, Gordon Brown said he wanted the national flag flown year round on Government buildings, and eventually on police stations and hospitals across the UK. [...]

Justice Secretary Jack Straw assured First Minister Alex Salmond that the new policy would not apply north of the border when he visited Scotland earlier this month, an SNP spokesman said.

He added: "Jack Straw agreed there are different considerations in Scotland than there are in England.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Workers are told to shape up or pay up: To hold down medical costs, some firms are penalizing workers who are overweight or don't meet health guidelines. (Daniel Costello, July 29, 2007, Los Angeles Times)

Looking for new ways to trim the fat and boost workers' health, some employers are starting to make overweight employees pay if they don't slim down.

Others, citing growing medical costs tied to obesity, are offering fit workers lucrative incentives that shave thousands of dollars a year off healthcare premiums.

In one of the boldest moves yet, an Indiana-based hospital chain last month said it decided on the stick rather than the carrot. Starting in 2009, Clarian Health Partners will charge employees as much as $30 every two weeks unless they meet weight, cholesterol and blood-pressure guidelines that the company deems healthy.

"At first, I was mad when I thought I would be charged $30 for being overweight," said Courtney Jackson, 28, a customer service representative at Clarian. "But when I found out it was going to be broken into segments — like just $10 for being overweight — it sounded better."

Jackson said she was going to try to slim down before the plan took effect. "If I still have weight to lose when it starts," she said, "I'll deserve to pay the $10."

Just put the staff into HSAs and they pay the entire cost of their own pathologies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Executive privilege touchy for presidential hopefuls: Openness sounds good, but some candidates act as if they might use such a power in the future. (Peter Nicholas, July 29, 2007, LA Times)

[T]he steady expansion of presidential power in recent decades, as well as the histories of Clinton and Giuliani, suggest that the 2008 election might not bring drastic change.

Clinton was widely criticized for secrecy when she led her husband's effort to design a new healthcare system. A task force she headed ran afoul of federal law when it tried to hold closed meetings. "The public has the right to know what information is being presented," U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth wrote in 1993.

President Clinton used executive privilege in an attempt to shield the first lady from questioning about Whitewater real estate deals and the Monica S. Lewinsky affair. On both issues, courts overruled the claim.

"The Whitewater and Lewinsky assertions [of executive privilege] were indefensible," said Stephen Gillers, a New York University law professor.

"It's doubtful that the president would assert the privilege for conversations between [White House aides] and Mrs. Clinton without her acquiescence," Gillers added. "So that's something she has to explain."

The senator learned from the experience and would be more open as president, a campaign spokesman said.

Giuliani resisted outside efforts to evaluate municipal programs and review city records when he was mayor. As he was leaving office in 2001, he had thousands of mayoral records hauled to a private warehouse — a move that gave rise to a city law barring such action.

"He simply backed up a truck and filled it up with his papers as if they were his private possession and took them off to this warehouse in Queens," said historian Mike Wallace of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The files are now back in public hands. But critics said it was impossible to know whether records were purged.

In another case, when the state comptroller tried to evaluate city programs, he was turned away. City agencies, newspapers and watchdog groups had to sue to look at city records. A state judge cautioned the Giuliani administration that the law called for "maximum access, not maximum withholding."

In one incident, Giuliani objected to an ad for a New York magazine that appeared on city buses, and the transit authority removed the displays. The ad had said the magazine was "possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn't taken credit for." Citing freedom of speech, the courts ordered the ads restored.

A Giuliani campaign spokeswoman, Maria Comella, declined to comment.

As a threshhold matter, there's a terrible confusion of privilege with the fundamental separation of the branches here. But, perhaps because no one has ever come to the Oval Office having more clearly thought through the purposes of his presidency or perhaps because his dad had held the office, George W. Bush was always a defender of the prerogatives of the presidency, even when campaigning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


A Hall of Famer as sweet as his swing (Bill Plaschke, July 29, 2007, LA Times)

This is a Tony Gwynn story. But, as with every Tony Gwynn story, it is about somebody else.

It was 20 years ago in Cincinnati. I was covering the San Diego Padres for this newspaper. My little brother Andrew had joined me on the trip.

It was the early evening hours after a day game. I was in the hotel room finishing work. Andrew was in the hotel lobby waiting impatiently for dinner.

As you may remember from a column several years ago, Andrew suffers from cystic fibrosis. At 13, the terminal illness kept him thin and small.

Swallowed by an overstuffed chair in an elegant hotel lobby, Andrew wasn't easily noticed.

Tony Gwynn noticed him.

Tony Gwynn didn't even know him, and he noticed him.

Upon returning from the game, Gwynn saw him sitting alone, looking lost, so he walked up, sat down, and started talking.

He talked hitting, he talked life. Andrew eventually introduced himself and they talked some more. At one point, Andrew wondered why one of the best players in baseball was hanging out in a hotel lobby on a Saturday.

That's when the pizza arrived.

Keeping with his nightly ritual, Gwynn had ordered a pizza that he would eat in his room while watching videotape.

Only this time, he opened it up on the expensive lobby furniture and shared it with Andrew.

By the time I got downstairs, Gwynn was waving goodbye and disappearing up the stairs, leaving Andrew with crusts and memories.

The next day I thanked Tony, and, typically, he shrugged.

"Thanks for what?" he said. "For eating dinner?"

How were he and Cal Ripken not unanimous?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


No Such Thing (Joe Sheehan, August 12, 2003, Baseball Prospectus)

There's no such thing as a pitching prospect.

I probably use that phrase a couple of times a week. It comes up a lot around trade-deadline time, as teams swap known quantities for unknowns in Double-A or lower and make a big deal about how those guys will be throwing 200 innings and saving 30 games in a few years' time. It doesn't happen that way.

What does it mean, though? Clearly, hundreds of young men pitch for baseball teams below the level of the major leagues, and many of them have the chance to become major-league pitchers. They're prospective ones, so literally, the phrase is untrue. Pithy, but untrue.

"There's no such thing as a pitching prospect" (TNSTAAPP, for short) is actually a shorthand way of expressing the idea that minor-league pitchers are an unpredictable, unreliable subset of baseball players. The concept isn't mine, although I'm probably the most dogmatic BPer on the subject. Gary Huckabay was the first to use the phrase; some Googling turned up credit to him in the late 1990s on rec.sport.baseball.

The principles behind TNSTAAPP are pretty simple. Pitchers are unpredictable. They're asked to perform an unnatural act--throw baseballs overhand--under great stress, thousands of times a year. They get hurt with stunning frequency, sometimes enough to cost them a career, more often just enough to hinder their effectiveness. (Modern medicine has dramatically changed what a pitcher can do to his arm and still have a career.) Even the better ones--Andy Pettitte, for instance--have wide year-to-year variations in their performance. It's only the very top 0.1% of pitchers who are consistently good year-in and year-out over substantial careers.

That's major-league pitchers, who have proven themselves to be the best in the world at what they do, and are physically mature. Minor-league pitchers have all of the inconsistencies of the class, and are still developing in significant ways: physically, mentally and emotionally. If you can't predict where most major-league pitchers will be two years out, it's quite a conceit to think you can predict where any minor-league pitcher will be even one year out.

Within the baseball industry, placing outsized expectations on boys too young to buy a drink after their game is a time-honored tradition. Every night in small towns across America, scouts get worked up over the physical attributes and ability shown by 19-, 20- and 21-year-olds. What they don't see, however, is the stress and strain placed on developing shoulder muscles and elbow joints. They don't see the third pitch so essential to major-league success, because that third pitch often doesn't exist. They certainly don't see that dominating a game in the Eastern League or the Florida State League is absolutely nothing like doing so in even the high minors, much less the major leagues.

TNSTAAPP, to a certain extent, means throwing up your hands and admitting that there's no way of knowing which pitchers are going to come through that wringer intact. The irrational exuberance that develops over teenagers who can propel horsehide at high velocity is one of those inside-baseball things that, as an outsider, I just don't get and don't want to. The path from dominating teenagers in states with two-word names to being a successful major-league pitcher is long and difficult. One-hundred forty years into the baseball industry, how to navigate that path is still an open question, and while there's been progress, I see no one turning teenagers into rotation starters on a regular basis.

July 28, 2007

Posted by Matt Murphy at 5:26 PM


The Gospel According to J.K. Rowling: The magic world of Harry Potter begins yielding to a 'deeper magic.' (Bob Smietana, 7/23/07, Christianity Today)

I first met Harry Potter when my grandmother was dying.

On New Years Day 1999, she had a massive stroke from which she would never recover. Not wanting her to die alone, we took turns sitting by her bedside, round the clock. The night I spent with her, I brought along my Bible, the biggest cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee I could find, and a new novel, picked up from the bookstore on the way to the hospital: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Both the Bible and the "Boy Who Lived" proved good company during the watches of the night. Both pointed the way to hope in the face of death.

And there was at least one echo from the Scriptures in the Sorcerer's Stone: Lord Voldemort, the Hitleresque dark wizard in J.K. Rowling's fictional works, was defeated not by power but by love—by a young mother who sacrificed her life to save her young son. In Rowling's world, that kind of love is stronger than any magic. It can even conquer death.

By the time Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows opens, however, it seems that death finally has the upper hand. Albus Dumbledore, Voldemort's greatest enemy, lies buried on the ground of Hogwarts. Lord Voldemort's Death Eaters have launched a reign of terror and are on the verge of replacing the Ministry of Magic with a Nazi-style government that will enslave muggles and "mudbloods" alike. Anyone who stands in their way will be eliminated.

The body count starts early—on page 12, to be exact—and the hunt for Harry and his friends doesn't let up for the next 700 pages. [...]

When the Dark Lord broke into their house, James Potter rushes to defend his wife and son, but it was hopeless. Caught without a wand in hand, he was no match for Voldemort.

Lily, on the other hand, had a choice. Voldemort wants to kill Harry, not her, and tells her to step aside. She could live and let her boy die. Instead, she lays down her life to protect him. The act of substitutionary sacrifice saved her son's life, just before the opening of the Sorcerer's Stone.

As Rowling said in an online interview (mugglenet.com/jkrinterview.shtml), the "caliber of Lily's bravery was, I think in this instance, higher because she could have saved herself. Now any mother, any normal mother, would have done what Lily did … but she was given time to choose. James wasn't. It's like an intruder entering your house, isn't it? You would instinctively rush them. But if in cold blood you were told, 'Get out of the way,' you know, what would you do?'"

One should always be careful before guessing an author's intentions, but J.K. Rowling has definitely hinted that her religious views strongly influenced her stories. It is therefore worth noting that the most moving and memorable parts of the Harry Potter series -- including the final chapters of the last book -- read like creative narrative commentaries on 1 Corinthians 13.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 5:18 PM


They Don't Really Support the Troops: The latest from the New Republic and the Nation. (William Kristol, 7/30/07, The Weekly Standard)

With the ongoing progress of the surge, and the obvious fact that the vast majority of the troops want to fight and win the war, the "support-the-troops-but-oppose-what-they're-doing" position has become increasingly untenable. How can you say with a straight face that you support the troops while advancing legislation that would undercut their mission and strengthen their enemies?

You can't. So those on the cutting edge of progressive opinion are beginning to give up on even pretending to support the troops. Instead, they now slander the troops.

Two progressive magazines have taken complementary approaches in this effort. In its July 30 issue, the Nation has a 24-page article based on interviews with 50 Iraq veterans. The piece allegedly reveals "disturbing patterns of behavior by American troops in Iraq"--indeed, it claims that the war has "led many troops to declare an open war on all Iraqis." Needless to say, the anecdotal evidence in the article comes nowhere close to supporting this claim. [...]

The New Republic, in its July 23 issue, takes a different tack. Its slander of American soldiers appears to be fiction presented as fact, behind a convenient screen of anonymity.

A column entitled "Shock Troops" is said to be the work of "Scott Thomas"--"the pseudonym for a soldier currently serving in Baghdad." "Thomas" colorfully describes three sets of alleged misdeeds he and his buddies committed in Baghdad: They humiliate a woman in a military dining hall who has been disfigured in an IED explosion (the woman "wore an unrecognizable tan uniform, so I couldn't really tell whether she was a soldier or a civilian contractor"); they discover human remains and one private spends a day and night playing around with a child's skull ("which even had chunks of hair"), amusing his fellow soldiers; and one private routinely drives a Bradley Fighting Vehicle recklessly and uses the vehicle to kill stray dogs.

My colleague Michael Goldfarb raised questions about this account in a July 18 post on THE WEEKLY STANDARD website, asking for assistance from soldiers and veterans in assessing the truth of the stories told by "Scott Thomas." Within a day, dozens of active duty soldiers and veterans had come forward to point out errors, implausibility, and indeed the well-nigh-impossibility (in the case of the Bradley) of what was claimed. The editors of the New Republic provided to Goldfarb a couple of allegedly corroborating details--for example, the name of the Forward Operating Base, FOB Falcon, where the taunting of the badly disfigured female IED victim was said to have taken place. Soldiers who served at the base have come forward to say no such woman has been seen there. As we go to press on July 20, the New Republic has said they are investigating their own story, and the mainstream media seem to be hoping against hope that they won't have to cover yet another embarrassing episode of journalistic malpractice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:33 PM


Sherwin Wine, 79, Founder of Splinter Judaism Group, Dies (DENNIS HEVESI, 7/25/07, NY Times)

Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine, founder of a movement in Judaism that says there is no reason to believe in God but that the religion’s highest ethical traditions and the value of each person should be revered, died on Saturday in Essaouira, Morocco.

He was 79 and lived in Birmingham, Mich.

Rabbi Wine was killed in a car accident while on vacation with his companion, Richard McMains, said Rabbi Miriam Jerris, president of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:57 PM


Democrats dis DLC convention (David Paul Kuhn, Jul 28, 2007, Politico)

It's a Democratic prom without a king, a queen or really any of the popular kids, only the star quarterback of yesteryear. Three hundred and fifty politicians will be present, key governors to ambitious state legislators, from almost every state.

But none of the eight Democratic contenders for the White House are making time for the Democratic Leadership Council convention Sunday and Monday in Nashville, although DLC staffers sought for weeks to woo the candidates. [...]

The DLC may have reached its heyday in 1992. Two of its founding members, Bill Clinton and Al Gore, won the White House. In subsequent years, Clinton stacked his staff with third-way centrist Democrats like Bruce Reed, now president of the DLC.

Fifteen years later, Bill Clinton is attending the national DLC convention this weekend, sans wife and those who wish to overtake her as the Democratic front-runner.

The DLC is counting on the eventual Democratic nominee to speak next year.

Centrist Democratic governors like Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Brian Schweitzer of Montana will be attending. Still, for some the gathering feels like a concert without the lead acts.

"We invited the candidates. We would have liked to have had them," From said, before claiming his glass was half-full: "President Clinton is not chump change."

Congressional Democrats finally got tired of losing and not only ran to the Right in '06, but installed members who oppose immigration reform, gun control, abortion and the like. At the presidential level though, two disastrous races where the candidate distanced himself from Bill Clinton and the Third Way notion of New Democrats have taught them nothing. The candidates are terrified of being seen by the Party activists to be too close to the governing ideology of the Clinton years, the only successful Democratic presidency since Grover Cleveland.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


One Man's Vision for Peace in Long-Troubled Kashmir: Separatist Leader Puts Ideas in Book (Emily Wax, 7/28/07, Washington Post)

Sajad Lone perused the tattered, yellowed pages of a book he salvaged from his father's library. Written nearly 60 years ago during Kashmir's prosperous but brief heyday of self-rule, the book detailed some of the region's successes and failures, and his father referred to it often.

"When I look at this book, I remember my father's thoughts and hopes," Lone, 41, said on a rainy afternoon as he glanced at shelves in his library filled with tomes outlining peaceful solutions to the world's endless conflicts. "It was a time when Kashmir flourished."

His father, Abdul Gani Lone, a popular, moderate separatist leader, was gunned down in May 2002 by unidentified attackers.

Like his father, Sajad Lone has pushed for an end to the conflict in Kashmir, a stunningly beautiful mountainous region that once was a tourist wonderland where Bollywood movies were filmed but is now a heavily militarized war zone claimed by both India and Pakistan. [...]

Last January, India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, asked Lone to help develop a plan for Kashmir with Indian negotiators during talks in New Delhi, the capital. Lone said that the opportunity pleased him but that he told Singh he needed time to respond with a well-thought out proposal.

Lone returned to Kashmir, rented a hotel room in the Gulmarg ski area and wrote his own book, a kind of hopeful sequel to the one from his father's library, that offered a fresh road map back to peace in Kashmir.

The 266-page book, titled "Achievable Nationhood," is the first of its kind to be presented by a separatist leader since the latest round of hostilities began in Indian-administered Kashmir in 1989. In the book, released several months ago, Lone proposes a unified Kashmir that would be administered by autonomous leaders.

Under Lone's plan, which he calls a "vision document," the Indian- and Pakistani-held parts of Kashmir would share a wide range of institutions. The creation of an Economic Union would allow tax-free trade between the two sides of Kashmir and allow a free flow of people and goods. Kashmir's defense could be the joint responsibility of Kashmiri, Indian and Pakistani authorities, Lone said.

"There was always confusion over what we want in Kashmir," said Lone, a hulking man who speaks slowly and often appears to be deep in thought. "This is just my idea put down on paper. And I hope it will spark more interest in Kashmir."

The Kashmiri think of themselves as a people, so they are a nation. We're just quibbling over the pace at which that's accepted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


It's aqua, but is it fina? Pepsi's bottled water same as tap (VINNEE TONG, 7/28/07, The Associated Press)

So you thought that water in your Aquafina bottle came from some far-away spring bubbling deep in a glen?

Try the same place as the water in your tap.

PepsiCo is the latest company to offer some clarity about the source of its top-selling bottled water as it announced on Friday it would change the label on Aquafina water bottles to spell out that the drink comes from the same source as tap water.

The notion that water from some fetid stream is better than tap water is just paganism anyway. Most of what people perceive as advances in modern medicine is really just a result of water treatment and washing in it more often.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Musharraf and Bhutto 'secret talks' (Press Association, Jul 28, 2007)

Reports of the meeting come amid intense speculation that Musharraf would seek Bhutto as an ally in his plans to seek reappointment from legislators for another term.

The plans face constitutional hurdles, weakening the hand of Musharraf, an army general who seized power in 1999 and who is a key US ally in the fight against terrorism.

The talks faltered when Bhutto, who leads the Pakistan People's Party from self-imposed exile in London, refused to agree to support Musharraf if he did not resign from the military, Geo television reported, citing unnamed sources.

A potential deal would include changing part of Pakistan's constitution that blocks Bhutto from becoming prime minister again, The Nation and other newspapers reported.

There's no need to be a general when you're the commander-in-chief.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Indian officials hail nuclear accord with U.S. (Somini Sengupta, July 28, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

After a year of negotiations, India and the United States announced completion of a civilian nuclear accord Friday that Indian officials hailed as preserving India's national security interests and as a testament to its emerging strategic importance to the United States.

The Indian national security adviser, M.K. Narayanan, called it "a touchstone of a transformed bilateral relationship between India and the United States."

In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the agreement a "historic milestone" that would enhance relations with India.

The agreement, forged during five rounds of negotiations, requires India to separate its civilian nuclear power reactors and open them to international inspections.

...is the national pride that Indians feel for having "wrung concessions" from America. If we want them to be a player on the world stage it's important that they see themselves as one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Two Trillion Spent on Healthcare Each Year: A Sick Way to Prop Up an Ailing Economy (Joshua Holland, 7/28/07, AlterNet)

As Michael Mandel wrote in Businessweek last September, "Without [the health sector], the nation's labor market would be in a deep coma." Between 2001 and 2006, 1.7 million new jobs were added in the healthcare sector. Meanwhile, the rest of the private sector added exactly zero new jobs (net) during that period.

(The conventional wisdom is that the economy needs to add about 150,000 jobs per month to keep up with the growth of the working-age population.)

If current trends continue, 30 percent to 40 percent of all new jobs created in the United States over the next 25 years will be in the healthcare business. Mandel argued that this trend is partly responsible for the United States' low overall unemployment rate. "Take away healthcare hiring in the U.S.," he wrote, "and quicker than you can say cardiac bypass, the U.S. unemployment rate would be 1 to 2 percentage points higher."

One could argue that this is precisely how a vibrant economy should work. A dynamic industry takes off and compensates for weaknesses in other sectors. When it cools, another field will explode, perhaps one we can't even conceive of today.

What's more, healthcare jobs have increased at the same time as we've shed millions of relatively high-paying manufacturing jobs. Wages in the health sector vary widely, but the average is slightly higher than the average income in the private sector as a whole. Healthcare is labor-intensive, so a lot of the more than $2 trillion we'll spend this year in the Unites States will end up in healthcare workers' pockets. It's also an industry in which offshoring and outsourcing are uncommon; you might be able to schedule your colonoscopy with a guy at a call center in Mumbai, but ultimately your [butt] has to be in the same country as the personnel who do it.

So, is a healthcare economy a bad thing?

It is, and for three reasons in particular. The most obvious is that these jobs are coming at a cost that the United States can't continue to pay without facing severe consequences (especially as the baby boomers get into their Golden Years). According to government data (PDF), healthcare costs exploded between 2000 and 2005 -- increasing by a whopping 47 percent. Over a longer period, from 1995 to 2005, per capita healthcare spending increased by 77 percent. That's slowed a bit, but not by much; total costs are projected to reach $2.25 trillion dollars this year, up 14 percent just since 2005.

That kind of growth outpaces the overall growth in the economy by a mile -- the share of America's total economic output being sucked into healthcare has increased from just under 14 percent in 2000 to over 16 percent this year, and is expected to equal one fifth of the total economy in 10 years.

Mr. Holland, not atypically, fails to understand his own case. What this growth demonstrates is that health care is just another consumer good now, like tvs or waffle irons. A people with a massive surplus of disposable income and savings has chosen to spend much of the money on itself, the spending just happens to be in the form of healthcare.

Now, it is certainly the case that the Left has historically claimed that it knows better than ordinary citizens how money should be distributed, so it's perfectly consistent for the author to want to take that money and do with it what he wishes, rather than what 300 million other people want to do with it, but that's inconsistent with the basic principle of republican liberty.

As to his fretting about the jobs that the industry is creating, that's just one of the reasons that immigrants are going to have so much power vis-a-vis developed nations in the coming years. Aging populations are going to require many more nurses and caretakers and the failure to reproduce at a high enough rate means that the folks to fill those jobs will be imported. The contest for those imports will give them economic and political leverage, allowing them to pick and choose among destinations and perqs upon arrival.

Meanwhile, one notes Mr. Holland's anger that healthcare workers are pocketing too much of his money and wonders what ever became of the sensible Left. What he's observing is precisely the sort of redistribution of wealth that his ilk supposedly favor. Can there be any other source for his ire than the fact that this redistribution is happening without being consciously directed by the state--as his ideology requires--and that healthcare providers are generally private businesses?

There is, however, one valid point here. The rising costs of procedures, medicines, etc, within the sector is problematic. It is also, of course, a function of 70 years of trying to remove healthcare from the operating of normal market forces. The emphasis of healthcare reform efforts needs to be on returning what is really just another sector of the consumer economy to the same basis that the rest of that economy operates on: competition for the consumer dollar.

July 27, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 PM


Open-Heart Surgery--90% off (Steve Forbes, 08.13.07, Forbes)(

A fast-growing phenomenon--"medical tourism," which will be a $40 billion industry by 2010--is showing how we can "solve" the health care financing crisis.

More and more Americans are choosing to go abroad for elective and/or major surgeries. What entrepreneurs began more than a decade ago by constructing world-class facilities to lure patients from the U.S. and around the world into traveling for cosmetic surgery has now blossomed into freshly built foreign hospitals offering a wide array of other types of medical procedures. India, Thailand and Singapore are among the countries heavily involved. Panama and others are just entering this arena.

The hospitals and physicians are usually first-rate and, amazingly, can provide operations at 10% to 30% of the cost in the U.S. For instance, knee replacement surgery that might cost $16,000 here can be done for $4,500 in a top-tier (by U.S. standards) Indian hospital. Dr. John Helfrick, president of the International Society for Quality in Health Care, and Dr. Robert Crone, CEO and president of Harvard Medical International, tell of one dramatic example: A patient was in need of complicated heart surgery. His hospital said the cost would be $200,000 and wanted $100,000 up front. The patient's son, a medical student, knew of the medical tourism industry and arranged for his father to have the operation overseas. The complicated surgery was a success. The cost: $6,700.

How is this possible? Excellent hospitals can be built overseas without the bureaucratic red tape found in the U.S., thereby saving construction time. Construction costs are lower, as are nursing, physician and administrative expenses. Expat doctors who have trained here and in Europe are returning home, where money goes considerably further than in, say, New York or California. More and more these foreign hospitals--currently numbering about 120, and growing--are not just mirroring the best U.S. practices but are emerging as innovators. They are certified by Joint Commission International, a not-for-profit subsidiary of the Joint Commission, which accredits U.S. hospitals. The international accreditation process is as rigorous as it is in the U.S.--but without the unnecessary bureaucratic paperwork.

The delivery of health care in the U.S. could become an innovative, infinitely less costly business than it is today. How? By fundamentally changing our third-party-based payment system, which fosters bureaucracy and crushes innovation and productivity. Health Savings Accounts are the answer--but they won't be able to truly revolutionize health care unless obstacles are removed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 PM


The daily 3-in-1 super pill all men over 50 should take to avoid heart attacks (FIONA MACRAE, 28th July 2007, Daily Mail)

All men over 50 should take a "polypill" to cut heart attacks and strokes, says the Government's leading cardiac expert.

It would contain a cholesterol-busting statin, aspirin and drugs to cut blood pressure.

Professor Roger Boyle, the Department of Health's national director for heart disease and stroke, said it would transform the nation's health and relieve pressure on the NHS.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 1:27 PM


Stacking the Court (Jean Edward Smith, 7/26/07, New York Times)

When a majority of Supreme Court justices adopt a manifestly ideological agenda, it plunges the court into the vortex of American politics. If the Roberts court has entered voluntarily what Justice Felix Frankfurter once called the “political thicket,” it may require a political solution to set it straight.

The framers of the Constitution did not envisage the Supreme Court as arbiter of all national issues. As Chief Justice John Marshall made clear in Marbury v. Madison, the court’s authority extends only to legal issues.

When the court overreaches, the Constitution provides checks and balances. [...]

But the method most frequently employed to bring the court to heel has been increasing or decreasing its membership. The size of the Supreme Court is not fixed by the Constitution. It is determined by Congress. [...]

[T]here is nothing sacrosanct about having nine justices on the Supreme Court. Roosevelt’s 1937 chicanery has given court-packing a bad name, but it is a hallowed American political tradition participated in by Republicans and Democrats alike.

If the current five-man majority persists in thumbing its nose at popular values, the election of a Democratic president and Congress could provide a corrective.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:58 PM


Strong U.S. economy helps slow drop in world markets (Reuters, The Associated Press, July 27, 2007)

Global financial markets endured a rollercoaster ride Friday as investors struggled to balance robust corporate earnings and signs of strong economic growth against fears of a global credit crunch.

Data showing the U.S. economy grew at a faster-than-expected pace in the second quarter pulled stocks up from deep losses earlier. Bonds pared gains and the dollar rose against the yen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:55 PM


Strike Two (Charles Krauthammer, July 27, 2007, Washington Post)

For Barack Obama, it was strike two. And this one was a right-down-the-middle question from a YouTuber in Monday night's South Carolina debate: "Would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea?"

"I would," responded Obama.

His explanation dug him even deeper: "The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them -- which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration -- is ridiculous."

From the Nation's David Corn to super-blogger Mickey Kaus, a near-audible gasp. For Hillary Clinton, next in line at the debate, an unmissable opportunity. She pounced: "I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year." And she proceeded to give the reasons any graduate student could tick off: You don't want to be used for their propaganda. You need to know their intentions. Such meetings can make the situation worse.

Just to make sure no one missed how the grizzled veteran showed up the clueless rookie, the next day Clinton told the Quad-City Times of Davenport, Iowa, that Obama's comment "was irresponsible and frankly naive."

...but without the latter's honor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:41 PM


Sublime Frequencies: The Field turns Lionel Richie and the Mac into thundering, florid ambient triumph (Rob Harvilla, July 24th, 2007, Village Voice)

Though he's got the laptop and the 'stache, no one at the broiling Greenpoint spot Wednesday night mocks Swedish minimal-techno maven Axel Willner, a/k/a the Field. He ain't laughing either. Or smiling. But that laptop burps forth monstrous bass whumps, visceral and violent, with mastodon-heartbeat regularity, each powerful enough to cause its own midtown volcano. Such brute force contrasts wildly with the placid, almost playful trance inducements and ethereal chopped-and-screwed vocals that have helped make the Field's full-length debut, From Here We Go Sublime, metacritic.com's most glowingly reviewed record of 2007. (Eat it, Patty Griffin!)

Describing music of this ilk is notoriously dangerous, a trapdoor into the kind of florid nature writing that anyone who has somehow found themselves describing glaciers in a Sigur Rós review knows all too well. Put simply, Axel specializes in extracting tiny portions of (semi-)beloved pop songs—a split-second, a single beat, a yearning vowel—and looping them ad nauseam into gorgeous ambient Frankensteins that hiccup incessantly until time and pressure hammers those blips into a purring pastoral blur. (For the analog version, turn on VH1 Classic, crank the volume, then stick your finger in your ear and shake vigorously.) Consider Sublime's most sublime moment, "Everyday," which mounts a handful of microscopic moments from Fleetwood Mac's "Everywhere"—mostly snatches of Christine McVie's sonorous soprano, as preserved on the Mac's Tango in the Night, 1987, do yourself a favor —into a rhapsodic, hyperventilating slide show, skipping so joyfully and forcefully it glides.

At times, a song's source material is tougher to pinpoint, unveiled in the last few seconds in its original, umolested form as a magician's reveal. Or a punchline. "A Paw in My Face" dices up a handful of plucked guitar notes, runs them on a melodramatic synth-pop treadmill for five minutes—a sweeping sense of urgency and unease—and, as the track fades, casually flips over its cards: You've been listening to a repurposed snippet of the guitar solo in "Hello," by Lionel Richie. The one with the video where the blind lady sculpts a bust of Lionel's head, yes.

Not sure whether Willner intends this as passionate homage (lookit how beautiful the original is) or a tongue-in-cheek rescue mission (lookit how beautiful this track I made from a butter-slathered ear of '80s corn is). He doesn't strike the Studio B crowd as a hotfooting prankster type, in any event, meekly tipping his bottle of Stella to the few soused revelers who approach the DJ booth.

So, I cut a deal with The Wife--she let me buy a six pack of that Miller Chill they were advertising during the All-Star Game--heartily recommend it and it's nice salty afterbite--if she could buy this Stella stuff (our beer selection is normally limited to Sam Adams and leftovers from what guests brought to dinner parties). I'd never heard of it, but the Other Brother said he went into a bar with a younger co-worker who said it's pretty much replaced Heineken as the ruling yuppie brew. One taste though raises a question: why would the Belgese work so hard to replicate Coors Light?

-MP3s: "The Field" (Hype Machine)
-REVIEW: of The Field: From Here We Go Sublime (Dominic Umile, April 5, 2007 , Phoenix)
Is It Too Early for the First Great Post-Rave Album of the Century?: Axel Willner has spun a golden, hypnotic web of new music from the threads of yesteryear's pop songs (Rachel Shimp, Seattle Weekly)

As the Field, Willner has spun a golden, hypnotic web of new music from the threads of yesteryear's pop songs—if you can figure out which they are. After he submitted a demo tape to Cologne's inimitable ambient/techno label Kompakt (yeah, that method still works), Willner's first 12-inch appeared in 2005, followed by last year's Sun & Ice EP, which rippled through the global music underground like an electric eel. The subsequent full length, From Here We Go Sublime, was released this March to probably more acclaim than any album as unusual—even indie bastion Pitchfork gave it a 9.0 rating. "I could never expect anything like this at all," says Willner of the critical response.

He's still employed by the Systembolaget (Sweden's government-owned liquor stores), and had to work it out with his boss before accepting a near-headlining slot at this summer's Pitchfork Music Festival, according to Pitchfork Editor in Chief Ryan Schreiber. Willner says he isn't recognized as a local celebrity in Stockholm and rarely hears himself on the radio. Here, KEXP has put Sublime into regular rotation, with interesting results. Seemingly because of the songs' abrupt bookends, DJs often halt their sets to announce and explain a Field song, unsure of how to segue it. The album's 10 tracks range from four to 10 minutes long. Each is a riff on a song from Willner's past, from the Flamingo's "I Only Have Eyes for You" (the title track) to Kate Bush's "Under Ice" ("Over the Ice"). Willner locates an element or three in the original song and transforms them into a continuous series of loops and edits that bury the original, creating hazy, trancelike meditations out of material as comfortingly familiar as a baby blanket. They're manipulated on fairly ancient editing software and mixed live, allowing quirks and mistakes to stay in. Hints to the songs' origins are in their re-worked titles, and moments such as the four-second vocal snippet in "Everyday" that lets you know it's Fleetwood Mac (previously "Everywhere").

"It always sounds to me like someone bumped the turntable and there's some pop single that's just skipping back on its peak moment," says Schreiber, who considers Sublime one of his favorite electronic albums of the decade. Playing it during prime time is an adventurous move for KEXP, which is sponsoring the Field's appearance at this month's Broken Disco party at Chop Suey.

"I think the indie scene wouldn't like it, though it seems that a lot of people do," says Willner. "But there are no parallels to rock and roll. There's no chorus, verse—nothing at all. Perhaps it's because the samples that I use are often from artists, so they can understand it on another level."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 PM


U.S. to announce nuclear exception for India (David E. Sanger, July 27, 2007, NY Times)

Three years after President George W. Bush urged global rules to stop additional nations from making nuclear fuel, the White House will announce on Friday that it is carving out an exception for India, in a last-ditch effort to seal a civilian nuclear deal between the countries. [...]

[I]n an interview Thursday, R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, who negotiated the deal, said, "Iran in no way, shape or form would merit similar treatment because Iran is a nuclear outlaw state."

He noted that Iran hid its nuclear activities for many years from international inspectors, and that it still had not answered most of their questions about evidence that could suggest it was seeking weapons.

Because India never signed the treaty, it too was considered a nuclear outlaw for decades. But Bush, eager to place relations with India on a new footing, waived many of the restrictions in order to sign the initial deal. It was heavily supported by Indian-Americans and American nuclear equipment companies, which see a huge potential market for their reactors and expertise.

Representative Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who opposed the initial deal and said he would try to defeat the new arrangement, said Thursday, "If you make an exception for India, we will be preaching from a barstool to the rest of the world."

Accidentally revealing. While Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush are the sorts of guys you'd like to share a bar with, Mr. Markey could never tell the difference between an ally like El Salvador and an enemy like Nicaragua in the '80s and apparently can't tell India and Iran apart now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 PM


Dracula in Disneyworld: Vampire Weekend's goofy charms (Kevin O'Donnell, July 24th, 2007, Village Voice)

As fresh-faced Columbia grads, the four guys in Vampire Weekend are aiming to perfect the smartest brand of party rock since David Johansen moonlighted as Buster Poindexter. Not to mention the weirdest. Crying out for a record deal, they're unlike any other band going in New York, offering up a killer blend of funked-up Afrobeat, slick '80s pop, and polite punk. And their lyrics--mixing references both low- (Peter Gabriel, Louis Vuitton) and highbrow (Oxford commas, mansard roofs)�are by turns goofy and whip-smart. Their musical influences are symptomatic of just how much stuff people can absorb these days: Cuts like "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" mix Radio Disney bubblegum with the diluted world music of Paul Simon's Graceland, whereas "APunk" could be a toss-off from the Clash's Sandinista. Still, doesn't their band name sound like a black-metal group from Scandinavia? "It fits the music," guitarist Ezra Koenig explains. "Although, once you get past the 'vampire' part and you realize it's more about 'vampire-plus-weekend,' then it kind of makes sense." Sure.

MP3s: "vampire weekend" (HypeMachine)
-PROFILE: Vampire Weekend (Mike Powell, 2007-06-25, Stylus Magazine)
-REVIEW: Preppie Afro-Pop and Other Odd Blends (KELEFA SANNEH, 6/18/07, NY Times)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 AM


The verdict of Qom (The Economist, 7/19/07)

Why suppose that Qom of all places might become an agent of change? Conventional wisdom from afar saw the success of Khomeini's revolution as Qom's victory too. Didn't the revolution stop modernisation in its tracks and jerk Iran back to the Middle Ages, delivering political power to turbaned clerics in thrall to an unfathomable theology? And does it not follow that the turbaned clerics of Qom have a strong belief, buttressed by a strong vested interest, in preserving the theocratic principles of that revolution?

As a matter of fact, no. Khomeini's central idea, the doctrine of velayat-e faqih, gives the Islamic Republic its theological underpinning. This holds that until the appearance of the Shias' “hidden imam” (of which more below) society should be governed by a supreme leader, the clerical judge best qualified to interpret God's will and the meaning of Islamic law. It is this doctrine that makes Ayatollah Khamenei supreme leader and all others subordinate to him. But Qom itself has never felt completely at ease either with Ayatollah Khomeini's idea or Ayatollah Khamenei's succession. Indeed, many of the most revered clerical minds in Qom see this doctrine, and especially the way it has been implemented since Khomeini's death, as negating their tradition.

To understand why requires a digression into theology. The quarrel between Sunnis and Shias is about succession. Shias believe that the last rightful imam to follow Muhammad was his son-in-law Ali, but that he and his ten successors were murdered by Sunni caliphs. The twelfth imam therefore went into hiding, promising not to return until the end of time. Most Shia clerics have long held that during this period of “occultation” there can be no lawful political authority. Until the emergence of the hidden imam, politics must be inherently invalid and men of religion should be careful not to implicate themselves in it.

Velayat-e faqih seems to turn this long-standing assumption upside down, especially when it is interpreted as implying that the faqih derives his authority from God and is not answerable to the people. Many of Qom's clerics flatly repudiate this idea. They say that there exists no blueprint for government during the time of occultation, and that nobody has special authority to guide society during this period.

It is not clear exactly how the theological arguments of Qom travel from the seminary into Iran's politics, but they do. President Khatami's reform movement drew heavily on the views of clerics, some of whom were astonishingly outspoken. One, Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar, began to argue in the 1990s that Iran could not have clerical rule and claim to be a democracy at the same time. He was jailed for saying that the freedom Iranians had sought through their revolution was being replaced by a new clerical despotism. From house arrest, Grand Ayatollah Ali Hossein Montazeri, a revered cleric who was Khomeini's designated successor before complaining too much about the mass execution of political prisoners after the war with Iraq, supported Hojatoleslam Kadivar. “What the conservative leaders are practising today is not Islam, and I oppose it,” he said.

Such criticisms are especially damaging to the present supreme leader. Ayatollah Khomeini was not just the father of the revolution but also a charismatic scholar of immense learning. In the eyes of Qom, Ayatollah Khamenei is by contrast a clerical lightweight (but effective politician) whom Khomeini prematurely fast-tracked to ayatollahdom when he was looking for a successor. What was acceptable in the charismatic is not necessarily acceptable in the apparatchik.

Although the government has tried to stifle dissent, Qom remains an argumentative place, continuing to exert a potentially disruptive influence on politics. Even during the present crackdown, the visitor to its seminaries quickly encounters a spectrum of clerical opinions on everything from velayat-e faqih to the wearing of the hijab to relations with Israel and America. “Qom's seminary is like an ocean in which you can find anything you desire,” Hojatoleslam Kadivar told a recent interviewer from Asharq Al-Awsat, a pan-Arab daily.

It's lamentable that neither President Bush nor any of his advisers understood this fatal weak point of the Khomeinist model as President Reagan and Richard Pipes understood the similar flaw in the Soviet model. The key passage, seldom recognized, of Reagan's famed Westminster Speech was directed at the leaders and theoreticians of the Marxist world, not at his Western audience:
In an ironic sense Karl Marx was right. We are witnessing today a great revolutionary crisis, a crisis where the demands of the economic order are conflicting directly with those of the political order. But the crisis is happening not in the free, non-Marxist West, but in the home of Marxist-Leninism, the Soviet Union. It is the Soviet Union that runs against the tide of history by denying human freedom and human dignity to its citizens. It also is in deep economic difficulty. The rate of growth in the national product has been steadily declining since the fifties and is less than half of what it was then.

The dimensions of this failure are astounding: A country which employs one-fifth of its population in agriculture is unable to feed its own people. Were it not for the private sector, the tiny private sector tolerated in Soviet agriculture, the country might be on the brink of famine. These private plots occupy a bare 3 percent of the arable land but account for nearly one-quarter of Soviet farm output and nearly one-third of meat products and vegetables. Overcentralized, with little or no incentives, year after year the Soviet system pours its best resource into the making of instruments of destruction. The constant shrinkage of economic growth combined with the growth of military production is putting a heavy strain on the Soviet people. What we see here is a political structure that no longer corresponds to its economic base, a society where productive forces are hampered by political ones.

The decay of the Soviet experiment should come as no surprise to us. Wherever the comparisons have been made between free and closed societies -- West Germany and East Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, Malaysia and Vietnam -- it is the democratic countries what are prosperous and responsive to the needs of their people. And one of the simple but overwhelming facts of our time is this: Of all the millions of refugees we've seen in the modern world, their flight is always away from, not toward the Communist world. Today on the NATO line, our military forces face east to prevent a possible invasion. On the other side of the line, the Soviet forces also face east to prevent their people from leaving.

The hard evidence of totalitarian rule has caused in mankind an uprising of the intellect and will. Whether it is the growth of the new schools of economics in America or England or the appearance of the so-called new philosophers in France, there is one unifying thread running through the intellectual work of these groups -- rejection of the arbitrary power of the state, the refusal to subordinate the rights of the individual to the superstate, the realization that collectivism stifles all the best human impulses.

Note that the basis of this indictment is not that socialism is inconsistent with our values, but, far more devastating, that it is a failure on its own terms. It could hardly matter to a Marxist that Marxism is unChristian/unAmerican, but that when put into practice it is unMarxist is dispositive.

As the article above lays out, an identical opportunity exists for President Bush to indict Khomeinism as both a failure in its own terms and, devastatingly, inconsistent with Shi'ism. He could then, rather easily, draw out the similarities of Shi'ism, as regards temporal government, to Judaism and Christianity, though Reformers might prefer that he leave that to them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 AM


Khomeini's children: Not happy, but probably not eager to become Westernised either (The Economist, 7/19/07)

[M]any of the smartly dressed young people of Tehran seem quite unmoved (some are amused) by the official hate-mongering. They do not admire George Bush. But to judge by dress, behaviour, viewing and consumption habits—and even more by the regime's terror of a creeping “Westoxification”—they do admire at least some of America's ways.

Not surprisingly, the attitudes of the young are a source of anxiety to the revolution's managers. Young people and especially university students played a significant part in bringing down the shah, and now there are many more of them. The population has doubled since 1979, which means that two out of three Iranians are under the age of 30 and fewer than one in three can remember the revolution. Young Iranians are also much better educated these days: literacy is near-universal and the student population has soared. The demographic surge has been accompanied by rapid urbanisation: seven out of ten Iranians now live in cities.

The young suffer disproportionately from the regime's failures. In 2006, by the government's own reckoning, nearly every other Iranian between the ages of 25 and 29 was unemployed. A lack of jobs is no doubt one reason for the prevalence of heroin addiction and other social ills. In this nominally austere society, alcohol is consumed widely, even though it is illegal for Muslims. Prostitution is widespread.

Will the disaffection of the young bring down the regime? That is what those outsiders who see the Islamic Republic as a crude despotism lacking popular support sincerely hope. But how many Iranians see their regime that way? It seems highly likely that if the government continues to thwart the aspirations of young voters, they will punish it at the next election. Yet it would be a terrible mistake to assume that every youthful, fast-urbanising country facing economic hardship must be eager to throw off its regime and embrace Western values.

Iran remains a strongly religious society. Though the proportion of city-dwellers has soared, they are different from the atomised individualists of Europe or North America: the extended family and traditional social networks have survived even in teeming Tehran. And though the government is not popular, most Iranians seem to accept its right to govern. One sign that millions continue to have faith in the country's institutions is that more than 60% of eligible voters turned out in the presidential elections of 2005, at a time of deep cynicism following the blocking of President Khatami's political reforms.

A year ago an American firm, Zogby International, polled Iranians on a range of issues by phoning in from abroad. At that time 41% of those polled said the country's top priority should be the economy, 27% thought developing nuclear weapons was more important and only 23% put more freedom at the top of their list. Those who wanted Iran to become more religious and conservative (36%) outnumbered those who wanted it to become more secular and liberal (31%). However, in a similar poll last month by “Terror Free Tomorrow”, an American think-tank, 88% saw the economy as the top priority, compared with 29% who listed nuclear weapons. And 79% said they would prefer a democratic system in which all leaders, including the supreme leader, were elected by a direct popular vote.

Given that Iranians are naturally wary about what they tell strangers on the phone, these are striking results. They underline the regime's economic vulnerability.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM


Russia's Gorbachev says U.S. is sowing world disorder (Guy Faulconbridge. 7/27/07, Reuters)

Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev criticized the United States, and current President George W. Bush in particular, on Friday for sowing disorder across the world by seeking to build an empire.

Gorbachev, who presided over the break-up of the Soviet Union, said Washington had sought to build an empire after the Cold War ended but had failed to understand the changing world.

"The Americans then gave birth to the idea of a new empire, world leadership by a single power, and what followed?" Gorbachev asked reporters at a news conference in Moscow.

"What has followed are unilateral actions, what has followed are wars, what has followed is ignoring the U.N. Security Council, ignoring international law and ignoring the will of the people, even the American people."

Of all people, you'd think the last leader of the USSR would by now realize that disordering evil regimes is what America does best. But there's never been any indication that he understood what Ronald Reagan did to him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 AM


Burke has residence far removed from her constituency: The L.A. County supervisor is living in Brentwood despite laws requiring that she reside in her South L.A. district. She has a townhouse nearer her constituents, but acknowledges she spends little time (Jack Leonard and Matt Lait, July 27, 2007, LA Times)

Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke, who was elected to represent some of the county's poorest neighborhoods, is living in a gated Brentwood home, despite laws requiring her to reside in the predominantly South Los Angeles district she serves.

In an interview with The Times two weeks ago, Burke said it was only on weekends and special occasions that she used her Brentwood home — a 4,000-square-foot residence with a swimming pool and tennis court that she and her husband have long owned. She said she lived at a 1,200-square-foot townhouse in Mar Vista, on a busy street just inside the border of her district.

But over a three-week period in which she was observed by Times reporters, Burke spent every weekday evening at her Brentwood house, in the district of Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. When confronted by reporters Wednesday, Burke changed her story and acknowledged that she has rarely slept in the Mar Vista townhouse, which she has declared as her primary residence since she purchased it more than a year ago.

The Father Judd was one of those liberal Northern pastors of the 60s, so, wanting a church in a city with a mixed population, he ended up in East Orange, NJ. While it had reached about 60% black/40% white, the demographics had more or less stabilized and there seemed a possibility of maintaining a genuinely integrated community. Then, for some demented reason, after the Newark riots the city lifted the residency requirement for its employees. The overwhelmingly white police force and fire department were out of town by sundown and the slide into serious ghettohood took off. By the time the Mother Judd was able to move us to West Orange the public school we attended was over 90% black.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


‘Constitutions are created by revolutions, not jurists’ : In our era of nitpicking over dull charters of rights, the republication of the Declaration of Independence should make your heart beat faster. (John Fitzpatrick, July 2007, spiked review of books)

It is refreshing...and very instructive, to have the opportunity to look again at a constitutional document that should make any heart beat faster.

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.’

Take that. It is all there really, in those few lines – if you throw in the fact that this Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, was part of the successful institution of a new government in a new country. For the first time in human history, a government was established on the explicit basis that all men are equal, that sovereignty lay with the people, and that unjust governments were there to be overturned. Women and negroes had to wait, but the crucial point is that they came to be included very much more because of this statement of principles, than despite it. Even in the doldrums and alarums of our world today, it is hard to envisage the catastrophe that would see humanity falling back again to a point before this moment in our history – although undoubtedly without vigilance a catastrophe is ever possible. [...]

The American revolt, which inspired the French, had itself been inspired by earlier developments in England. When Jefferson penned those words that still resound across the world, he was of course leaning on the philosophy and phrases of men such as Thomas Paine (his Common Sense was published in January 1776) and John Locke (his Second Treatise of Government was published in 1690). He was also leaning on the struggles of men such as the Levellers who fought in Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army during the 1640s.

The Levellers and their supporters in the Army drew up a document which was proposed by ‘five regiments of horse’ and read to the General Army Council at Putney on 29 October 1647. It was entitled An agreement of the people for a firm and present peace upon grounds of common right and freedom and it set out some ‘principles or rules of equal government for a free people’. It declared that the people (nearly all males, that is) were the sovereign power and should choose a new parliament every two years composed of representatives from constituencies of equal size, that there should be equality of all under the law, that every person (without qualification) should enjoy freedom of religion and freedom from conscription, and so on. It was subject to furious debate, and amendment, and eventually it was headed off by Cromwell and the grandees. But it left a mark, and set an example.

In each case, a group of human beings had consciously articulated a set of demands about how society should be organised on the basis of the equality of all, and had struggled to make those demands real. The democratic principles that survive in constitutional form today from these attempts are important both as a standard to be fully realised or transcended, and also as a lesson in how we might go about achieving such things again.

The problem that isolationists, Realists, and the rest always run up against is that the redefinition of sovereignty, whereby Britain and America (in particular) incorporate the requirement of consensual government as the basis of legitimacy, is an (the) essential element of the Founding of both states. To be untrue to the principle is to be unfaithful to the country's essential character.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Protesters occupy Red Mosque in Pakistan (The Associated Press, July 27, 2007)

Hundreds of religious students occupied the Red Mosque here Friday, raising a black flag and demanding the return of its pro-Taliban cleric, two weeks after a bloody army siege left more than 100 people dead.

Security forces stood by as protesters clambered onto the roof of the mosque and daubed red paint on the walls after forcing a government-appointed cleric assigned to lead Friday prayers to retreat.

The protesters demanded the return of the mosque's pro-Taliban former chief cleric, Abdul Aziz - who is in detention - and shouted slogans against the country's president, General Pervez Musharraf. Later a cleric from a seminary associated with the mosque led the prayers.

Red Mosque? It's more like a roach hotel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


The U.S.economy grew 3.4 percent, best rate in a year (The Associated Press, July 26, 2007)

The U.S. economy snapped out of a lethargic spell and grew at a 3.4 percent pace in the second quarter, the strongest showing in more than a year. A revival in business spending was a main force behind the energized performance.

The new reading on gross domestic product, released by the Commerce Department on Friday, marked a big improvement from the first three months of this year, when economic growth skidded to a near halt at just a 0.6 percent pace, the slowest in more than four years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Senate presses border security: A $3-billion amendment for enforcement is added to a spending bill that exceeds Bush's budget. (Nicole Gaouette, July 27, 2007, LA Times)

After a day of partisan feuding over illegal immigration, Senate Republicans and Democrats agreed Thursday to commit $3 billion to gain "operational control" over the southern U.S. border within two years.

The money would be used to build more fencing, vehicle barriers, and camera and radar towers, as well as hire additional border and immigration agents.

The decision to attach the funding to the Homeland Security spending bill puts President Bush — who has said he would veto the overall legislation — in the uncomfortable position of opposing a popular initiative to improve border security.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Chasing the Mahdi Army through Baghdad's hall of mirrors (Joseph Krauss, 7/26/07, AFP)

On a searing summer afternoon the streets of the Al-Hurriya neighbourhood in western Baghdad are bustling, the shops are open, the people are smiling and chatting and lounging outside in the shade.

Ask anyone and they will tell you there is complete security in their corner of central Baghdad -- no militias, no insurgents, no worries.

But no one calls this a victory for the five-month-old Baghdad security plan, and the US soldiers who police Al-Hurriya are convinced that most of its people are in the grip, or on the payroll, of a shadowy militia.

"The reason they say it's safe is that all the Sunnis they worry about -- neighbours they lived with for generations -- are dead," Lieutenant William Cone of the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne said.

If the security of the Shi'a majority depends on whacking irreconcilable Sunni, then that's what ought to happen.

July 26, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 PM


Bid to punish Bush aides may fail: The House and Senate have escalated efforts in the US attorneys case, but the White House may delay a resolution (Gail Russell Chaddock, 7/27/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

[E]ven if lawmakers approve these contempt citations, President Bush can tie up the matter in legal red tape until the end of his term. Moreover, both sides have a lot to lose if the issue is finally settled in court, rather than through political compromise.

"We're talking about a matter that is at the heart of executive power: the president's ability to receive confidential advice on an executive power that is indisputably his," says Douglas Kmiec, a professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., and former Reagan administration official. "But this constitutional principle has always existed in a quiet, untested tension with Congress's ability to investigate. If the law courts pronounce in a black-and-white fashion, they will advantage one side or another going into the future."

How would the Court enforce its decision either?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 PM


U.S. officials voice frustrations with Saudis, citing role in Iraq (This article was reported by Helene Cooper, Mark Mazzetti and Jim Rutenberg, and written by Ms. Cooper., July 26, 2007, NY Times)

During a high-level meeting in Riyadh in January, Saudi officials confronted a top American envoy with documents that seemed to suggest that Iraq's prime minister could not be trusted.

One purported to be an early alert from the prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, to the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr warning him to lie low during the coming American troop increase, which was aimed in part at Mr. Sadr's militia. Another document purported to offer proof that Mr. Maliki was an agent of Iran.

The American envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, immediately protested to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, contending that the documents were forged. But, said administration officials who provided an account of the exchange, the Saudis remained skeptical, adding to the deep rift between America's most powerful Sunni Arab ally, Saudi Arabia, and its Shiite neighbor, Iraq.

Now, Bush administration officials are voicing increasing anger at what they say has been Saudi Arabia's counterproductive role in the Iraq war. They say that beyond regarding Mr. Maliki as an Iranian agent, the Saudis have offered financial support to Sunni groups in Iraq. Of an estimated 60 to 80 foreign fighters who enter Iraq each month, American military and intelligence officials say nearly half are coming from Saudi Arabia and that the Saudis have not done enough to stem the flow.

One senior administration official says he has seen evidence that Saudi Arabia is providing financial support to opponents of Mr. Maliki. He declined to say whether that support was going to Sunni insurgents because, he said, "That would get into disagreements over who is an insurgent and who is not."

Senior Bush administration officials said the American concerns would be raised next week when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates make a rare joint visit to Jidda, Saudi Arabia.

This comes perilously close to apprehending the War.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 PM


For whom the cat's bell tolls: feline 'knows' when death nears (Ray Henry, 27 July 2007, Independent)

Oscar the cat seems to have an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, by curling up next to them during their final hours.

His accuracy, observed in 25 cases, has led the staff to call family members once he has chosen someone. It usually means they have less than four hours to live.

Boy, what Michael Schiavo wouldn't give for a cat like that...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:08 PM


Today's cooks can rediscover an ancient mix (Heather McPherson, 7/26/07, Orlando Sentinel)

I sampled dukkah (DOO-kah), an addictive mixture of ground nuts, seeds and spices, years ago. But at a recent dinner, a friend presented me with a jar. [...]

Essential elements include peppercorns, coriander, cumin and sesame seeds, but nothing is set in stone. I like the way fresh thyme and rosemary leaves enhance the subtle flavor of coarsely ground pistachios. [...]

For those who must have a road map, consider this recipe from cookbook author Claudia Roden: Roast 1 cup sesame seeds, 13/4 cups coriander seeds, 2/3 cup blanched hazelnuts (skinned) and 1/2 cup cumin seeds in 350 F oven. Cool. In food processor, pulse nuts and seeds with 1/2 tsp. sea salt 1/4 tsp. black pepper. Don't overdo it, or you will end up with paste. Dukkah should be a dry mix.

Now you can walk like an Egyptian, and dukkah like one, too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:57 PM


Microbe Makes Energy From Light (Associated Press, July 26, 2007)

he wonderland known as Yellowstone National Park has yielded a new marvel — an unusual bacterium that converts light to energy.

The discovery was made in a hot spring at the park where colorful mats of microbes drift in the warmth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:31 PM


War Crimes and the White House: The Dishonor in a Tortured New 'Interpretation' of the Geneva Conventions (P.X. Kelley and Robert F. Turner, July 26, 2007, Washington Post)

The Supreme Court held in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld last summer that all detainees captured in the war on terrorism are protected by Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which prescribes minimum standards of treatment for all persons who are no longer taking an active part in an armed conflict not of an international character. It provides that "in all circumstances" detainees are to be "treated humanely."

This is not just about avoiding "torture." The article expressly prohibits "at any time and in any place whatsoever" any acts of "violence to life and person" or "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment."

Last Friday, the White House issued an executive order attempting to "interpret" Common Article 3 with respect to a controversial CIA interrogation program. [...]

It is firmly established in international law that treaties are to be interpreted in "good faith" in accordance with the ordinary meaning of their words and in light of their purpose. It is clear to us that the language in the executive order cannot even arguably be reconciled with America's clear duty under Common Article 3 to treat all detainees humanely and to avoid any acts of violence against their person.

By which standard, unfortunately, Hamdan is obvious nonsense, since by no ordinary meaning of the words in the treaty does it cover the detainees of the WoT.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:13 PM


Nationals' Lannan ejected in first career start (AP, 7/26/07)

Washington's John Lannan was thrown out in his major league debut after hitting Philadelphia's Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in consecutive at-bats in the fifth inning Thursday.

There have been less auspicious debuts though--in 1989, the Texas Rangers were pressed for pitching (what else is new) and called up 19 year old Wilson Alvarez for a start. He failed to record an out and was sent back to the minors with an ERA of infinity...for two years! Having claimed him in a fantasy league the first time and been burned I savvily held off the second time...when he proceeded to throw a no-hitter in his second ever start...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:01 PM


Pa. Immigrant Law Voided (MICHAEL RUBINKAM, 7/26/07, AP) - A federal judge on Thursday struck down the city of Hazleton's tough anti-immigration law, ruling unconstitutional a measure that has been copied around the country. [....]

In a 206-page opinion, Munley said the act was pre-empted by federal law and would violate due process rights.

"Whatever frustrations ... the city of Hazleton may feel about the current state of federal immigration enforcement, the nature of the political system in the United States prohibits the city from enacting ordinances that disrupt a carefully drawn federal statutory scheme," Munley wrote.

"Even if federal law did not conflict with Hazleton's measures, the city could not enact an ordinance that violates rights the Constitution guarantees to every person in the United States, whether legal resident or not," he added.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:56 PM


Boxer life support to be turned off (Press Association, 7/26/07)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:47 PM


Minimum Wage Hike Means Tax Breaks: Congress softened the bite of higher wages with a raft of tax deductions for small biz that take effect this year (John Tozzi, 7/27/07, Business Week)

Workers earning the federal minimum wage enjoyed a boost from $5.15 to $5.85 an hour on July 24, the first of three annual hikes that will bring the rate to $7.25 in 2009. But along with the raise, Congress passed a package of $4.8 billion in tax breaks for small businesses that go into effect this year. While employers in 30 states and the District of Columbia won't be hit directly in the first year of the raise because state laws already mandate wages higher than the new federal rate, those businesses can still take advantage of the new tax breaks.

The biggest boon for most small-business owners is an expanded deduction for new purchases. Any firm making purchases of pretty much anything from livestock to software, real estate excluded, can take advantage of this so-called Section 179 deduction.

Illusory wage hikes and actual tax cuts are the sole Democrat "victory" of this Congress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:34 PM


Courage About Population Needed (Froma Harrop, 7/27/07, Real Clear Politics)

"Population Explosion" was a call to arms for American environmentalists 40 years ago, amid fears that baby boomers would have big families. That didn't happen, but hyper-population-growth is occurring now due to large-scale immigration.

California has just projected a population of 60 million by mid-century, up 5 million from its forecast of only three years ago. We're talking about a 75 percent leap between 2000 and 2050 -- by any measure, a population explosion.

That's the truth, but one that has sent many environmental leaders into hiding. Most of California's population growth will come from immigrants and their relatively high birthrates, but the Sierra Club refuses to touch the matter. Once a tiger on U.S. population growth, it has retreated behind calls for a global approach that, it contends, will reduce the demands to immigrate to the United States.

Problem. Despite great strides in reducing birthrates in many poor countries -- Mexico is one of the success stories -- the world's population is still expected to jump to 9 billion from 6 billion by 2050. Mass immigration to the United States, if anything, eases the pressure on other governments to promote family planning.

Not a few Sierra Club members have challenged the group's spineless response to a spiraling American population.

Mr. Ehrlich's despicable book was written in 1968, when the US population wasn't yet 200 million. Today we're over 300 million. Find someone who thinks Americans -- nevermind eastern Europeans, Africans, etc. -- had better material circumstances in the 60's than they do today and we'll show you an idiot.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:16 PM


Captain 'Pug' Mather (Daily Telegraph, 26/07/2007)

On January 5 1953 Mather was a member of 801 Naval Air Squadron, flying from the carrier Glory, when his Hawker Sea Fury was struck by flak and blew up. His wingman watched the aircraft go into a vertical spin without engine or tail, and saw Mather thrown from the cockpit, apparently lifeless.

But Mather recovered consciousness in freefall to pull his parachute ring and float downwards while the Koreans continued to shoot at him. He was so incensed that he fired back with his pistol.

On hitting the snow he threw away the gun, and stood up to surrender to the waiting soldiers. This was "unwise", he recalled, as they were still firing, and he had to fling himself to the ground.

Months of imprisonment in appalling conditions followed. Although his first guards were "reasonable fellows", when he was force-marched 50 miles to Pyongyang, he was locked up with 10 others in a room so small they had to take turns to lie down to sleep.

They were fed only a bowl of rice at dawn and dusk. There was no medical treatment for those suffering burns, frostbite or gangrene, and no washing facilities. Mather soon became lousy.

The Koreans tried to extract operational information from him, but he refused to give more than his name and rank (naval officers did not then have numbers). During the interrogation, he was made to stand outside, lightly clad in freezing weather, and placed in solitary confinement before being passed on to the Chinese to be "re-educated".

Mather protested that he wanted to go to a prisoner-of-war camp but was told that he did not qualify as he was an enemy of humanity and would be treated as a war criminal; this meant that he would not be subject to the Geneva Convention until he renounced the Queen.

After refusing to oblige, he was kept in a cell six feet long and five feet high so that he could not stand upright; and he was not allowed to sleep. On several nights he was taken out to dig his own grave in the frozen ground.

But on being moved to a new cell Mather found a pile of old airmail copies of The Daily Telegraph. On being given tobacco, he found the Telegraph made better cigarette paper than the Communist newspapers he was given to read.

As Ms Kineke says, "They don't make Brits like they used to..."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:57 AM


India embraces US, Israeli arms (Siddharth Srivastava, 7/27/07, Asia Times)

here is also a school of thought emerging that most recent deals cleared have either involved Israel or the United States.

Even with the US entry into India's defense market, no decline in defense trade between India and Israel is expected, as the US generally sells complete major systems such as fighter jets and naval ships, while Israel specializes in compatible ancillaries.

India's importation of military hardware and software will reach $30 billion within the next five years, the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry said recently.

India's cabinet committee on security, under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, recently cleared a joint venture between India and Israel for the co-production of missiles. The medium-range surface-to-air missiles with the capability of hitting aerial targets up to 70 kilometers away will be produced at an estimated total cost of Rs100 billion ($2.5 billion). Defense officials say the missile will be an extended version of the Barak-8, also called Barak NG, a naval missile under development.

India has also procured electronic warfare systems and advanced radars from Israel.

Washington's befuddling line on Iran (Gareth Porter , 7/27/07, Asia Times)

[The] administration line ignores the fact that Iran's primary ties in Iraq have always been with those groups who have supported the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, including the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and Da'wa Party and their paramilitary arm, the Badr Corps, rather than with anti-government militias. That indicates that Iran's fundamental interest is to see the government stabilize the situation in the country, according to Professor Mohsen Milani of Florida International University, a specialist on Iran's national-security policies.

Milani argues that Iran's interests are more closely aligned with those of the US than any other state in the region. "I can't think of two other countries in the region who want the Iraqi government to succeed," said Milani.

He believes the Iranians are so upset with the efforts by the Saudis to undermine the Shi'ite-dominated government that they may try to use the talks with the US on the security of Iraq to introduce intelligence they have gathered on Saudi support for al-Qaeda and Sunni insurgents.

Trita Parsi, author of a new book on Iranian-Israeli security relations, agrees that Iran's support for the Maliki government stands in contrast to the attitude of the leading US Sunni ally in Middle East, Saudi Arabia. "Look at what the Saudis are calling the Maliki government - a puppet government," he observed. "You're not hearing that from Iran."

James A Russell, a lecturer in national-security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and a specialist on security affairs in the Gulf region, agrees that Iran and the US do indeed share common strategic interests in Iraq, at least in terms of rational, realist definitions of strategic interest.

The problem, Russell said, is that the history of the relationship and domestic political constituencies pose serious obstacles to realizing those common interests.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:47 AM


Reagan the Astute: a review of THE REAGAN DIARIES Edited by Douglas Brinkley (Edward N. Luttwak, Times Literary Supplement)

Memoirs, biographies and policy studies gradually replaced the bungling-bumbling caricature with more realistic depictions, but it is only now, with the publication of his diaries, that we encounter a shrewd and watchful Reagan determined to have his way not only with political opponents and evil or misguided foreigners, but also with his own officials and bureaucracies – the greater challenge in many cases, for diversions can be very subtle, and obstructionism is so easily disguised.

Reagan’s policy towards the Soviet Union of replacing coexistence with de-legitimization had been proclaimed right through the 1980 campaign in which he defeated President Carter’s re-election attempt, but it was so shockingly revolutionary that many in Washington and around the world took it for granted that it was mere talk, destined to be quietly set aside once the new Administration took office. When State Department officials came to brief his transition officials on policy towards the Soviet Union, they did it by listing the inter-agency issues that would have to be resolved to prepare for the next “ministerial with Gromyko”. They focused on process, incidentally noting that there would be close consultations with Anatoly Dobrynin as usual, because in their eyes the only possible policy was to pursue coexistence. That Andrei Gromyko had held his office as Foreign Minister since 1957 and Dobrynin his Washington post as Ambassador since 1962 underlined the stolid continuity of the Soviet Union, which those senior State Department officials assumed would simply continue, as did most people around the world. It followed that any attempt to de-legitimize the Soviet Union was utterly unrealistic in their view, and very dangerous of course, for the recent invasion of Afghanistan had showed that Soviet leaders were willing to use their vast military forces very boldly. (These days it is widely assumed that the decrepitude of the late Soviet Union extended to its armed forces, but that is simply not true. For example, by the time US Intelligence detected and assessed that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had started, five army divisions and four assault regiments had already secured Kabul and seized key locations throughout the country.)

Nor could the State Department satisfy Reagan by calibrating the normal coexistence policies in a hardline direction, because the Carter Administration had already done that in response to the invasion of Afghanistan, imposing a grain embargo among other things. It was only with considerable difficulty that Reagan’s first National Security Adviser, Richard Allen, managed to explain to the State Department diplomats who met the transition team that policy towards the Soviet Union would have to be defined in an entirely new way, with aims very different from the preparation of the next meeting with Gromyko, which was duly “de-scheduled”. The only concrete result of that session was the revocation of Dobrynin’s unique privilege of entering the State Department directly from the garage. When his car swept into the garage entrance as usual, it was stopped and sent back to park in the street, forcing Dobrynin to enter on foot like all other diplomats. More substantively, Dobrynin lost his famed access to the White House under the new Reagan policy of minimizing instead of maximizing communications as well as inter-state relations with the Soviet Union, which overturned decades of conventional wisdom because its aim was not to domesticate the Soviet leadership but rather to undermine and indeed overthrow the entire regime.

On Wednesday, February 4 1980, during his fifteenth day in the White House, in the context of a Cabinet discussion of the grain embargo, Reagan wrote in his diary: “Trade was supposed to make Soviets moderate, instead it has allowed them to build armaments instead of consumer products. Their socialism is an ec[onomic] failure. Wouldn’t we be doing more for their people if we let their system fail instead of constantly bailing it out?”. This was no mere outburst, because policies of economic denial and de-legitimization were quickly implemented, beginning with the previously sacrosanct sphere of arms-control negotiations. The new policy alarmed European leaders to the point of panic in some cases, and evoked furious reactions from détente enthusiasts, but it was not much resisted by the State Department because Alexander Haig was the Secretary, and he had just enough personal contact with Reagan himself to realize that nothing would change his mind. It was an opposite problem that emerged, because Haig loyally set out to achieve Reagan’s purposes strategically, and therefore wanted to turn the new entente with China into a veritable alliance – there was even talk of combining infinite Chinese manpower with US military technology across the board, and not just the long-range radars already secretly installed in Xinjiang. There was a price, however: the abandonment of Taiwan, starting with the denial of arms sales.

But Reagan’s outlook was ideological, not strategic. He was not just anti-Soviet power but anti-Communist, and therefore would not abandon Taiwan.

You can basically boil the American redefinition of sovereignty down to the simple point of rejecting co-existence with totalitarianism and insisting on consensual government. At that point the commonality of Washington, Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, Reagan and W emerges clearly and American policy becomes so glaringly consistent that their domestic opponents can be said to be literally unAmerican.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 AM


Microsoft cuts Xbox DVD player to $179 (Reuters, 7/26/07)

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT.O: Quote, Profile, Research) said on Thursday it would lower the price of the high-definition DVD player accessory for its Xbox 360 game console in the United States to $179 from $199, and add five free movies to anyone who buys the machine in August or September.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:27 AM


Jobless claims fall 2,000 in latest week (Reuters, 7/26/07)

The number of new claims filed for U.S. jobless benefits fell unexpectedly in the latest week, dropping 2,000 to the lowest in more than two months, the government said on Thursday. [...]

The four-week moving average, a more reliable gauge because it irons out most of the weekly fluctuations, fell to 308,500 from 312,500 the prior week.

You know how Democrats always claim that new jobs are just white collar workers getting hired to flip burgers at McDonald's? Then why is Mickey D's hiring 15 year olds?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:18 AM


Abbas Hopes for Agreement With Israel (KARIN LAUB, 7/26/07, Associated Press)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday he hopes to reach a peace deal with Israel within a year, after reportedly receiving a promise from President Bush to push hard to conclude a Mideast agreement before the end of his term in 2008.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wants to start by formulating a "declaration of principles" with Abbas on the contours of a Palestinian state in Gaza and most of the West Bank, Olmert's aides said, confirming a report in the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:16 AM


YANKEES BUZZ (Dan Graziano, 7/26/07, Newark Star Ledger)

The Yankees have been calling a few teams to see if they'd be interested in taking center fielder Johnny Damon off their hands. One of those teams is the Braves, whose answer (according to an official with one of the teams involved, who requested anonymity because he was talking about deals that weren't completed) was that they liked Damon, "but not at that price." Damon is signed through 2009 at $13 million per season, and if the Yankees were to trade him, which they technically could if they believe Jason Giambi is coming back soon from his foot injury, they'd probably have to chip in a good chunk of that salary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:04 AM


But let's go with the real premium placed on being a professional pol.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Pentagon Study Sees Threat in Guantánamo Detainees (WILLIAM GLABERSON, 7/26/07, NY Times)

Accelerating the public relations battle over terrorism suspects held at Guantánamo Bay, a new study of detainees in 2004 and 2005 requested by the Pentagon argues that many were a proven threat to United States forces. They included fighters of Al Qaeda, veterans of terrorism training camps and men who had experience with explosives, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, it said.

The report, by a terrorism study center at West Point, is essentially a rebuttal by the military of growing assertions by advocates for detainees that the American naval station at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, is filled with hapless innocents and low-level cooks and other support personnel who pose no real threat.

It paints a chilling portrait of the detainees, asserting that publicly available information indicates that 73 percent of them were a “demonstrated threat” to American or coalition forces. In all, it says, 95 percent were at the least a “potential threat,” including detainees who had played a supporting role in terrorist groups or had expressed a commitment to pursuing violent jihadist goals. The study is based on information from detainees’ hearings in 2004 and 2005.

Set up a work-release program that allows the detainees to work on Capitol Hill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Shifting Migration Patterns Alter Portrait of Pr. George's (Philip Rucker and Avis Thomas-Lester, 7/26/07, Washington Post)

[T]he changes are visible in northern parts of the county, where several communities such as Bladensburg, Edmonston and Langley Park have become heavily Latino.

Also, the migration patterns are transforming several of Maryland's outer suburbs, notably Charles County. With 140,000 people, the county has one the nation's fastest-growing black populations, census data show.

The patterns detailed in the census data and the Brookings report confirm a trend suggested for years by anecdotal evidence: On the whole, upwardly mobile African American families who have left Prince George's for bordering suburbs are being replaced by people with lower incomes.

"It's quite common for urban economies to routinely lose many of their middle- and higher-income households and watch as they're replaced by newcomers that are less well-heeled," said Anirban Basu, a Baltimore-based economist who studies demographic trends.

But in Prince George's, it was middle-class black homeowners who transformed the county a generation ago as they replaced the working-class white residents moving out.

History always repeats itself, just in different colors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Palestinians to Blair: We want a state (Ali Waked, 07.24.07, Israel News)

Chief Palestinian negotiator Dr Saeb Erekat said the meeting dealt with the need to establish a Palestinian state.

"We made it clear that we are no longer interested in talks, declarations or even initiatives. We are interested in the creation of mechanisms in order to implement all the ideas for the establishment of a Palestinian state."

Mechanisms? Britain, Israel, America and the Palestinians could declare it one today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Shah's mourners recall a golden era: Iranian monarchists make their trek to Mohammed Reza Pahlavi's Cairo tomb and share memories of parties, discos and peace. (Borzou Daragahi, July 26, 2007, Los Angeles Times)

Stylish in tiny black dresses and tailored suits, the mourners gathered in the lobby of an upscale downtown hotel. They filled the air with expensive perfume and cologne, their handbags and sunglasses gilded with the logos of Chanel, Armani and Dolce & Gabbana.

On Wednesday, as they do every year, scores of Iranian monarchists from around the world were visiting the Egyptian capital to pay homage to the late Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi and dreamily recall the long-lost Middle Eastern belle epoque he represented — to them.

Before Al Qaeda and the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, at a time when Sunnis and Shiites intermarried and there were no American warplanes scouring the region, the shah and his wife reigned over a land where, for the well-to-do, local currencies traded as high as skirt hemlines and the future shone brightly.

"It was the greatest era of my life," said Shahareh Shirvani, a Houston real estate agent who left Iran as a teenager but comes to the memorial each year.

Most historians don't share that gauzy view of the shah's reign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Marriage wall pains new Israelis: Citizenship's a snap for Jewish immigrants, but Orthodoxy's strict qualification standards won't let many wed. (Vita Bekker, July 26, 2007, LA Times)

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima party has promised a law to help those unable to wed because of Jewish religious rules. Israel Our Home, a party in Olmert's coalition that largely represents Soviet immigrants, has proposed a solution resembling a civil marriage, which does not exist in the country.

But the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, also part of the coalition, stands in the way of altering the status quo. Such laws "would hurt the Jewish image of the only Jewish country in the world," party spokesman Roei Lachmanovich said.

Jews account for more than three-quarters of Israel's population, with Muslims, Christians and Druze making up most of the rest. Each religious authority has exclusive control over marriages within its community.

Those without religious classification, or those who wish to marry outside their religion, cannot wed within the country. Israel recognizes marriages conducted abroad for such couples, however, and Cyprus, less than an hour away by plane, is a popular destination for civil wedding ceremonies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Democrats shift approach on abortion: As lawmakers and candidates appeal to religious voters, their language and policy goals on the issue have a ring of conservatism. (Stephanie Simon, July 26, 2007, Los Angeles Times)

Sensing an opportunity to impress religious voters — and tip elections — Democrats in Congress and on the campaign trail have begun to adopt some of the language and policy goals of the antiabortion movement.

For years, the liberal response to abortion has been to promote more accessible and affordable birth control as well as detailed sex education in public schools.

That's still the foundation of Democratic policies. But in a striking shift, Democrats in the House last week promoted a grab bag of programs designed not only to prevent unwanted pregnancies, but also to encourage women who do conceive to carry to term.

The new approach embraces some measures long sought by antiabortion activists. It's designed to appeal to the broad centrist bloc of voters who don't want to criminalize every abortion — yet are troubled by a culture that accepts 1.3 million terminations a year.

Such is the nature of a political realignment that the minority party only gets to govern when it acts like the majority party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Normal policing 'can thwart terror' (Breitbart, Jul 24, 2007)

Suicide bombers can be thwarted by the same methods used to combat ordinary crime, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner said.

Sir Ian Blair said moves to counter terrorism must not be separated from mainstream policing.

He said the terrifying threat of suicide bombs can be stopped through patrols, intelligence, forensics, and detective work.

But he added that, even with the best police work, it will be ordinary people who uncover terrorists and defeat terror.

July 25, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:33 PM


Senators trade jabs over border security bill: $3 billion legislation gets bogged down in political wrangling (MICHELLE MITTELSTADT, 7/25/07, Associated Press)

The tensions over illegal immigration, which dominated Senate debate in May and June, erupted anew as Republicans sought to offer an amendment to the homeland security spending bill adding $3 billion for enhanced security at the U.S.-Mexico border and reviving proposed restrictions such as mandatory jail time for visa overstayers.

With Republicans seeking to toughen enforcement before dealing with other immigration issues, Democrats fired back with their own plan: A $3 billion border security increase paired with a huge guest worker program for the agriculture industry and a fast track to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came here as children and are in good standing in college or the military.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:24 PM


US-Iran dialogue on a tortuous path (Kaveh L Afrasiabi, 7/26/07, Asia Times)

Coinciding with a new low in Iranian-Saudi relations, reflected by Iran's intense reaction to a religious decree by two prominent Saudi clergymen sanctioning the destruction of revered Shi'ite shrines in Iraq, this second round of US-Iran talks is supposed to enhance the initial contact between Washington and Tehran in late May. Yet an important prerequisite for a successful breakthrough in the talks is missing: a common recognition of the reasons for the chaos in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

Increasingly, Iran's officials and media pundits have focused on the negative role of Saudi Arabia, wondering aloud why the US government and US public are quiet about the irrefutable evidence of the Saudi role in fomenting the instability in Iraq, this in light of the US military's latest report that more than 60% of the foreign fighters are Saudi nationals and several thousand of them are in US custody in Iraq.

"What would happen if, instead of Saudis, these suicide bombers were from Iran?" an Iranian parliamentarian recently asked reporters when he accused the US of duplicity and double standards in turning a blind eye to Saudi Arabia's subversive role.

Hence it is expected that at their meeting with the US diplomats in Baghdad, Iran's delegation will raise the issue of US laxity vis-a-vis Saudi Arabia and, indeed, the whole Wahhabi and Salafi movement, which, per a recent Tehran daily editorial, is "opposed to the security talks between Iran and the US government".

Most Iranian political analysts are in agreement that the Saudis are afraid of democracy in Iraq and the empowerment of Iraqi Shi'ites, which they believe would inflame the situation of the long-oppressed Shi'ite minority in Saudi Arabia. "It is not just the Saudi kingdom, the whole Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] states run by oil sheikhs are wary of an Arab democracy blossoming in Iraq," a Tehran University political scientist recently said.

We're allies whether we like it or not.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 PM


Maverick Leads Charge for Charter Schools (SAM DILLON, 7/24/07, NY Times)

Steve Barr, a major organizer of charter schools, has been waging what often seems like a guerrilla war for control of this city’s chronically failing high schools.

In just seven years, Mr. Barr’s Green Dot Public Schools organization has founded 10 charter high schools and has won approval to open 10 more. Now, in his most aggressive challenge to the public school system, he is fighting to seize control of Locke Senior High, a gang-ridden school in Watts known as one of the city’s worst. A 15-year-old girl was killed by gunfire there in 2005.

In the process, Mr. Barr has fomented a teachers revolt against the Los Angeles Unified School District. He has driven a wedge through the city’s teachers union by welcoming organized labor — in contrast to other charter operators — and signing a contract with an upstart union. And he has mobilized thousands of black and Hispanic parents to demand better schools.

Educators and policy makers from Sacramento to Washington are watching closely because many believe Green Dot’s audacious tactics have the potential to strengthen and expand the charter school movement nationwide.

“He’s got a take-no-prisoners style,” said Jaime Regalado, the director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles. “He’s channeled the outrage of African-American and Latino parents into the public space in a way that’s new.”

If only the GOP weren't hostage to middle-class white districts, it could be channeling that anger.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 PM


Simple sun-cooker takes off as a way to help Darfuris: Grass-roots giving for the solar cooker, donated to women who fled Darfur, takes root in the US. (Daniel B. Wood, 7/26/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

Some 200,000 women and children live in refugee camps across the border from Sudan. More than 6,000 cookers have been distributed in the Iridimi refugee camp, that has almost no vegetation but sunshine 330 days a year. Another 10,000 are expected to be supplied in the Touloum camp nearby over the next year. [...]

Two solar cookers can save a ton of wood per year, according to JWW. They free women from tending fires to do other tasks, and provide income for female refugees because the cookers are manufactured on-site. Envision foil-covered cardboard (about four feet by two feet) folded upward to direct sun's rays on a black pot, placed in the center, and covered in a plastic bag. Millet, rice, eggs, and other ingredients are put in the pot, surrounded by the water-moistened plastic bag that provides softening condensation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 PM


In Europe, skylines reflect the rise of Islam: After decades of worshiping in basements and courtyards, Muslims are building hundreds of new mosques across the continent. (Isabelle de Pommereau, 7/26/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

In the Rhine Valley city of Mannheim, the glittering minaret of Germany's biggest mosque overshadows what was once the region's most vibrant church, testifying to Muslims' new confidence as Christian churches are closing down.

Years ago, 180 sisters of the Catholic order of the Sisters of the Divine Savior were the pulse of the city. Today, eight remain. Every weekend, roughly 150 Roman Catholics attend mass at the Liebfrauen Church, while up to 3,000 Muslims throng the Yavuz-Sultan-Selim mosque. Since the mosque was opened in 1995, Muslim shops and youth centers have become a magnet for the Muslim community.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:23 PM


House panel votes for contempt of Congress citations for 2 Bush aides (The Associated Press, July 25, 2007)

The Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives voted for contempt of Congress citations Wednesday against the White House chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, and President George W. Bush's former legal counselor, Harriet Miers.

The 22-to-17 vote, which would sanction the pair for failure to comply with subpoenas on the firings of several federal prosecutors, advanced the citation to the full House and opened up the possibility of a fine and prison sentence for the two.

Given the inability to do anything about the citations, Congress merely makes itself look trivial.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:14 PM


Pepper-Mint Limeade (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 7/25/07)

4 limes, juiced

1 cup white sugar

2 sprigs fresh mint

1/2 gallon water

1 fresh jalapeno pepper, sliced

In a large pitcher, stir together the lime juice and sugar until dissolved. Stir in mint sprigs, and mash with a wooden spoon to release some of the oils.

Pour in water, and mix well. Mix in jalapeno slices. Put a lid on the pitcher, and refrigerate 8 hours, or overnight.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:09 PM


Put bacon inside the burger (J.M. HIRSCH, 7/25/07, The Associated Press)

Bacon is such a wonderful accompaniment to burgers that it’s a must. But slapping slices of cooked bacon on top of a burger is never satisfying; it doesn’t provide enough bacon to ensure plenty for each bite of burger.

A better technique is to cook the bacon in a skillet, then chop it up and add it to the raw beef. This method infuses the hamburger with a more uniform bacon flavor. [...]


Start to finish: 20 minutes.
Servings: 4.

½ pound bacon
1 small yellow onion
1 roasted red pepper
1 pound ground beef (85 percent lean)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Heat a large skillet over medium-high flame. Add the bacon and cook until crisp, about 3 to 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Coat the grill rack with oil or cooking spray. Preheat the grill to medium-high.

Place the onion in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. You may need to scrape down the sides several times. Add the bacon and roasted red pepper, then pulse again until just chopped. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Add the ground beef, salt, pepper and cheese to the bowl, then use your hands to gently combine until just mixed. Divide the meat into four equal, patties.

Grill the burgers for 4 to 5 minutes per side. Do not press the burgers during cooking.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:09 PM


Indian cabinet okays U.S. civilian nuclear pact (Y.P. Rajesh, 7/25/07, Reuters)

India's cabinet approved a bilateral agreement for civilian nuclear trade with the United States on Wednesday but the landmark deal still faces hurdles before it can be finalized, officials and analysts said.

The deal aims to give India access to U.S. nuclear fuel and equipment for the first time in 30 years to help meet its soaring energy needs, even though it has stayed out of non-proliferation pacts and tested nuclear weapons.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:02 PM


Russian youth: Stalin good, migrants must go: poll (Reuters, 7/25/07)

Russia's youths admire Soviet dictator Josef Stalin -- who presided over the deaths of millions of people -- and want to kick immigrants out of Russia, according to a poll released on Wednesday.

If you're more than just emotionally anti-immigrant, your hero better be a genocidal monster.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:50 PM


AUDIO INTERVIEW: The Voice of Harry Potter - Jim Dale (Diane Rehm Show, 7/25/07) MP3 Podcast

The award-winning actor describes how he found, created, and kept track of over 200 voices in order to narrate the seven books in the Harry Potter series.

Like Lisette Lecat's rendition of the Ladies Detective Agency series and Simon Vance's readings of Aubrey/Maturin, Mr. Dale's audio presentation is itself a work of art and makes listening to the books an even greater pleasure than reading them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:41 AM


Ancient Egyptian Ball Game Discovered (Rossella Lorenzi, July 25, 2007, Discovery News)

Throwing stone balls along a lane might have been a popular game in ancient Egypt, according to evidence unearthed some 56 miles south of Cairo by Italian archaeologists.

A mixture of bowling, billiard and bowls, the game was played at Narmoutheos, in the Fayoum region, in a spacious room which appears to be the prototype of a modern-day bowling hall.

The room was part of a structure, perhaps a residential building, which dated from the Roman period, specifically between the second and third century A.D.

"We first discovered a room with a very well-built limestone floor. Then we noticed a lane and two stone balls," Edda Bresciani, an Egyptologist at Pisa University, told Discovery News.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:39 AM


Britons' assets worth 'four times debt' (Press Association, July 25, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Britons have nearly four times as much money in their savings and homes as they owe in debt, research shows today.

People's homes are collectively worth £4.3 trillion, while consumers have also set aside £820bn in savings accounts, according to research carried out by Alliance & Leicester (A&L).

The value of people's assets dwarfs the £1.1 trillion they owe in mortgages and the £200bn debt they have racked up on credit cards, loans and overdrafts.

The total value of assets that Britons hold is further boosted when you take into account the £1.8 trillion they have in pension funds and property investments.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:34 AM


Haiti tastes peace under Preval: The president, who shies from the spotlight, nudges his traumatized nation slowly forward -- too slowly for some (Carol J. Williams, July 25, 2007, LA Times)

A year into his second tenure as president, Rene Preval has broken ranks with two centuries of despots and demagogues.

Preval has eschewed the politics of brutality and confrontation, quietly achieving what only a year ago seemed unimaginable: fragile unity among this country's fractious classes.

Allies and adversaries alike credit the reclusive president with creating a breathing space for addressing the poverty and environmental devastation that have made Haiti the most wretched place in the Western Hemisphere. Preval has taken small steps to crack down on crime and corruption, and improve Haiti's infrastructure and food supply. But he largely holds fast to the strategy he used in defeating more than 30 rivals in the presidential race last year: Make no promises, raise no expectations.

Observers say Preval's low-key approach may be what Haiti has needed, but they worry what will happen if his shaky health takes a turn for the worse or if the country's 8 million people start to lose patience with his go-slow approach.

Just another regime change that's working out reasonably well in W's Crusade.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:32 AM


Apple Crumble (ELIZABETH PUDWILL, 7/25/07, Houston Chronicle)

* 5 tart apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored and sliced thin
* 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
* 1/2 cup granulated sugar
* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
* 1 1/2 cups Kroger 100% Natural Cereal With Raisins
* 1/2 cup flour
* 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
* 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
* Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the apples, lemon juice, granulated sugar, cinnamon and orange zest in a large bowl. Mix gently.

Place the apple mixture in a 9-inch baking dish. Mix together the cereal, flour and brown sugar. Cut in the butter with 2 knives or a pastry blender until crumbly. Top the apples with the cereal mixture. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the topping is golden brown and the apple mixture bubbly. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:07 AM


More Girls Go 'Mild' in Modesty Revolution (Audrey Barrick, 7/23/07, Christian Post)

More young women want to return to modesty – the no-tank-tops-without-a-shirt-or-sweater, the not-too-short-shorts, and the modest-neckline (no lower than four fingers below the collar bone) type of modesty. And that also includes the curfew and abstinence-until-marriage pledge.

It's what Lucky magazine's special projects director, Allyson Waterman, calls a "backlash" to what is being seen in Hollywood. Being modest, as opposed to the barely dressed pop icons, isn't about being frumpy, Waterman told ABC News.

"This is about embracing a woman's body in an elegant way."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 AM


A watershed in Islamic history: Victories for the rule of law and moderates in Pakistan and Turkey will marginalise the Islamists in the region (Whit Mason, July 25, 2007, The Australian)

LAST weekend brought a double dose of that rare commodity, great news from the Muslim world.

First, in Pakistan, a resounding triumph for the rule of law; then in Turkey, a thundering victory for temperate, thoughtful democracy over fearmongering and jingoism.

On Saturday in Pakistan, the Supreme Court demonstrated true judicial independence virtually for the first time in the country's 60-year history when it reinstated Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, nemesis of Pakistan's "progressive" military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf.

Then on Sunday, Turks delivered the biggest electoral triumph in 50 years to the Justice and Development Party, a political movement that demonstrates the possibility of transcending the apparent tension between being devoutly Muslim in private and progressive and democratic in politics.

These two events mark a watershed in the modern history of the Islamic world: both are principled popular rebellions against military elites whose will has traditionally gone unchallenged.

Turkey: Democracy affirmed (International Herald Tribune, July 24, 2007)
The impressive re-election victory by Turkey's conservative Muslim ruling party is a tribute to the growing maturity of that country's politics and an inspiration for the cause of democracy in the broader Muslim world.

Voters rightly rejected the claim asserted by the traditional military-secular establishment that there is any fundamental incompatibility between democracy and Islam. Instead, they rewarded a party that has given the country its most competent and successful government in recent decades. That is exactly how democracy is supposed to work.

Unfortunately, in Palestine we're helping the secular military to thwart popular Islamic democracy.

Feminism, Turkish-style: Opportunities for women in Turkey have expanded under the conservative AKP party )Senay Ozdemir, July 25, 2007, LA Times)

[S]ince 2001, Turkey has undergone enormous political and social improvement. There is plenty to criticize about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but more feminist organizations have been founded under the AKP than during any part of Turkey's 80-year democracy. These women's organizations were smart: They got their issues on the national agenda just as Turkey needed to show the EU that it was making progress on human rights.

As a result, finally, men and women in Turkey have equal rights concerning marriage, divorce and property ownership. For the first time, the law says explicitly that women have autonomy over their own bodies. Before this change, women belonged to their male relatives or husbands. Turkish feminist Duygu Asena, the granddaughter of Ataturk's personal secretary, died a year ago but, happily, lived long enough to see this profound change in the law. Her women's magazines and newspaper columns were an inspiration to a generation of Turkish women. She was the first to dare speak the word "orgasm" in public, and she shocked Turkey with her 1987 book, "The Woman has No Name," excoriating marital oppression.

While Westerners wring their hands about secularism, they miss the larger point: Turkey is getting more and more democratic. The lively public debate leading up to the election illustrates the progress that was already visible in legislation, media, employment and politics. Fifteen years ago, few people argued politics or took a public stance for one party or another. Now everybody is free to do so.

Yes, a party led by religious conservatives remains in power. But my expectations of progress for Turkish women remain high. The mentality is changing there -- across the secular-religious spectrum. Religious women may not be associated with feminism, but they now use the same laws to gain access to schools, universities and the media. Even if they wear head scarves, shouldn't we encourage them in these pursuits? Aren't religious women allowed to be ambitious? Isn't that pure democracy?

I see similar changes in mentality among men, who want to benefit from the nation's economic boom. Economic necessity and the desire for more freedom (mobility, property) are bringing men around to the idea that women can work and earn their own income. Highly educated Turks in particular are proud of their successful wives and supportive of their careers. They're learning about successful women from the source: 50% of Turkish professors are female. So are 57% of senior managers, those who run banks, private industry and museums.

The "liberation" of women is just a function of the democratic ethos and technology.
Blair avoids Hamas on Mideast trip: In his new post as envoy, he met with Israeli and Palestinian officials. He plans to return in September (Louise Roug, July 25, 2007, LA Times)
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair met Tuesday with Palestinian and Israeli leaders in Jerusalem and the West Bank but avoided Hamas officials on the second day of his initial visit as the new Middle East envoy.

"I think there is a sense of possibility, but whether that sense of possibility can be translated into something, that is something that needs to be worked at and thought about over time," Blair told reporters.

There's no possibility of meaningful progress if you ignore the popular government. Indeed, it's likely to be counterproductive, since it insults the Palestinian people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM


Phone masts 'pose no health risks' (Press Association, Jul 25, 2007)

Radio waves emitted by the masts appear to be harmless both to vulnerable and normal healthy individuals, at least over short periods of time, scientists found.

One of the largest investigations of its kind found that sensitive volunteers appear to feel genuinely unwell when they know they are being exposed to radio waves.

But carefully designed experiments showed that their symptoms are likely to be psychosomatic and probably originate in their heads.

Control for hysteria and we're all absurdly healthy, thanks to better hygiene and nutrition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 AM


Iran-Mexico-Joint Commission (IRNA, 7/22/07)

Iran and Mexico reached an agreement to set up a joint economic commission next year.

In a meeting between Iran's new Ambassador to Mexico Mohammad Hassan Qadiri-Abyaneh with Mexican Deputy Foreign Minister Lurdes de Aranda the agreement was achieved.

Qadiri also invited Mexico to attend the Non-Aligned Movement foreign ministers meeting in Tehran on human rights and cultural diversities.

Which will make the inevitable American/Iranian alliance that much easier to put together.

US, Iran will cooperate on Iraq security: Agreement marks major shift in policy (Farah Stockman, July 25, 2007, Boston Globe)

During a tense seven-hour meeting in Baghdad yesterday, the United States accepted an Iranian proposal to set up a joint committee on security in Iraq, marking a major shift in US policy toward engagement with the Iranian regime.

The committee will provide the first direct, sustained forum for dialogue between the United States and Iran in 27 years. The group, which will include Iraqi officials, is expected to focus on fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq, securing Iraq's borders, and controlling violent militias, according to Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Iraq.

Iran made the proposal for such a committee in May at a landmark meeting between Crocker and Iran's ambassador to Iraq.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Dugh (The Associated Press, 7/24/07)

1 cup whole-milk yogurt

1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint (or a dash of dried mint, crushed)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups club soda or spring water, chilled

In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt for about a minute, then transfer to a pitcher. Add the mint, salt and pepper, then stir well.

While stirring, slowly pour in the club soda. Add 3 to 4 ice cubes and stir again. Chill before serving.

July 24, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:21 PM


$100 Laptop Goes into Mass Production: The One Laptop per Child group says the first XO laptops for use in schools will be manufactured by Quanta in October (Tom Espiner, 7/24/07, Business Week)

The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) organisation has announced that its ruggedised laptop, the XO, is going into mass production.

The laptop will be manufactured in Shanghai by Quanta. The production line will be turned on in August for testing procedures, and the first mass-produced laptops for use in schools will be made in October.

The XO laptop, which OLPC plans to sell eventually for $100 per machine, is designed to improve the educational opportunities of children in the developing world. The costs of manufacture are currently estimated by OLPC at $175 per laptop.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:10 PM


TiVo to sell trimmed down premium TV video recorder (Reuters, 7/24/07)

The company said its TiVo HD model, capable of recording up to 20 hours of high-resolution TV signals, would sell for about $300, starting in August.

That contrasts with the nearly $800 price tag of its TiVo Series3 HD Digital Media Recorder, which holds about 30 hours of HD programming and has more high-end audio and video features.

There'd be a coupon for $500 off in your TV Guide, if that publication weren't free on-line now....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:08 PM


Electing Gore - Non-Linear Climate Change Politics (Bill Henderson, 24 July, 2007, Countercurrents.org)

A Gore run for president will only happen and be successful when this true appreciation of danger from climate change pushes far ahead of more immediate economic and security electoral concerns.

There's an easy sell: I'll take your job and the warmth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 PM


Germany mulls opening job market to eastern Europeans (AFP, Jul 24, 2007)

The German government said Tuesday it was considering loosening its employment restrictions on workers from EU member states in eastern Europe to plug a yawning labour gap in key sectors.

"If we continue to suffer from a labour shortage in Germany, we could consider lifting the limits on eastern European labour before 2009," Gerd Andres, state secretary at the labour ministry, told the daily Hanoversche Allgemeine Zeitung.

He said Germany lacked staff both in high-qualification fields such as engineering as well as in the low-wage sector.

Soon they'll have to offer cash to get the increasingly valuable immigrants.

More than 700,000 immigrants given right to work in just one year (JAMES SLACK, 25th July 2007, Daily Mail)

More than 710,000 foreigners were given the right to live and work in Britain last year - including 321,0000 Eastern Europeans.

It takes the total number of National Insurance numbers handed out to immigrants to more than two million in the past four years alone.

Yesterday's figures reveal that - despite Labour's promise to switch to a policy of "controlled" immigration - the number of people being handed the right to work here is still increasing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 PM


Delays mount at Brazil airports (Todd Benson, 7/24/07, Reuters)

More than half of all flights in Brazil were delayed or canceled on Tuesday for the third straight day as the country's air crisis deepened following a deadly crash last week and a major radar outage.

Brazil's airports authority, Infraero, said 590 flights were delayed nationwide and 298 more were canceled by the evening, further angering travelers who have already been subjected to repeated disruptions in the past 10 months.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 PM


Senior Taliban militant kills himself during raid in Pakistan (Salman Masood, July 24, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

One of the most wanted Taliban militants in Pakistan killed himself when troops raided a hideout in Baluchistan Province, government officials said Tuesday. [...]

[Abdullah] Mehsud, who was 32 and was missing a leg, was known for his daredevil personality and bravado. He spent 25 months in American custody at the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, before being released in March 2004.

...but, at least he didn't dress up like a woman to try sneaking away.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 PM


How to Save Iraqi Kurdistan from Itself (Morton Abramowitz, July 2007, Foreign Policy)

As if disaster in Baghdad were not enough, Washington has largely stood by as Iraq’s Kurds have become embroiled in a fierce dispute with Turkey that threatens to explode into violence, destabilize northern Iraq, and further embitter relations between the United States and Turkey, a vital strategic ally for 60 years. With parliamentary elections out of the way, Turkey may well invade northern Iraq, a move that—to put it mildly—would complicate an already complicated situation in the Middle East.

There is still time for the United States to prevent such a catastrophe, but this season’s bloody offensive by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a separatist guerrilla group labeled a terrorist organization by the United States, has brought tensions to a near-boiling point. Turks are enraged that PKK forces can launch bombing attacks in Turkey and then find safety and sympathy in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. The Turkish military increasingly warns that it needs to attack these safe havens, and it has massed tens of thousands of troops at the border.

Turkish concerns over northern Iraq, of course, run deeper than the PKK. The mostly autonomous Kurdish entity next door is the threat to Turkey’s territorial integrity that its leaders long feared—potentially deepening Kurdish nationalism among its 12 to 15 million-strong Kurdish minority.

It is precisely because Turkey has been such a good ally that we ought to explain to them that they aren't going to be able to maintain their territory. The Kurds aren't Turks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 PM


In 10-nation poll, Africans see a better future (Lydia Polgreen and Marjorie Connelly, July 24, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

Despite a thicket of troubles, from deadly illnesses like AIDS and malaria to corrupt politicians and deep-seated poverty, a plurality of Africans say they are better off today than they were five years ago and are optimistic about their future and that of the next generation, according to a poll conducted in 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa by The New York Times and the Pew Global Attitudes Project.

The poll results offer an unusual and complex portrait of a continent in flux, a snapshot of 10 key modern African states as they struggle to build accountable governments, manage violent conflict and turn their natural resources into wealth for the population.

It found that in the main, Africans are satisfied with their national governments and a majority of respondents in seven of the 10 countries said their economic situation was at least somewhat good. But many said that they face a wide array of difficult and sometimes life-threatening problems, from illegal drug trafficking to political corruption, from the lack of clean water to inadequate schools for their children, from ethnic and political violence to deadly disease.

Face-to-face interviews were conducted in April and May in Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. The survey sampled nationwide adult populations except in South Africa, which was completely urban, and the Ivory Coast, which was disproportionately urban. The margins of sampling error were plus or minus either 3 or 4 percentage points.

The data reveal that the struggle for democracy and good governance in Africa is more like a patchwork of gains and setbacks than a steady tide of progress across a continent that has suffered some of the worst instances of misrule. While all of the countries surveyed are nominally democracies, half of them have suffered serious rollbacks of multiparty government in recent years. A majority in each country said corrupt political leaders are a big problem.

Can any continental Europeans see a better future?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 PM


The Most Important Person You’ve Never Heard Of (Pejman Yousefzadeh, July 24, 2007, American)

Last week, Dr. Norman Borlaug won the Congressional Medal of Honor. He wasn’t broadly famous, so the well deserved award was a quiet event by modern standards. But it’s still a shame that the award ceremony didn’t get more publicity, because Norman Borlaug has saved more lives than any person currently living. Indeed, he may have saved more lives than anyone who has ever lived.

Shocked and changed by the scenes of starvation he witnessed as a young man working in the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, Dr. Borlaug devoted himself early in his life to the task of ending hunger. As a research scientist in Mexico in the 1940s, Dr. Borlaug used his expertise in plant pathology and genetics to develop varieties of wheat that were both high-yield and resistant to diseases. These new strains of wheat were introduced to developing countries along with modern production and farming techniques. Thanks to these innovations, Mexico became a net wheat exporter in the early 1960s. Over that decade, both Pakistan and India saw their wheat crop double, and they became self-sufficient wheat producers by 1968 and 1974 respectively. Because the wheat crops Dr. Borlaug cultivated have shorter and stronger stalks (“semi-dwarf”), they are able to prosper even in environments where the soil is poor and where longer stalks would wilt under the weight of extra grain. Dr. Borlaug’s contributions have been credited with saving the lives of over 1 billion people and are the key ingredient in what is popularly known as the “Green Revolution.” His work won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.

The Green Revolution helped avert the Malthusian vision of people like Paul Ehrlich, who famously predicted the onset of mass starvation and famine during the 1970s and 1980s (Ehrlich famously lost a bet on this score with Julian Simon). Dr. Borlaug’s methods are now at work in Asia and Africa, and if they meet with the same success that they did in Mexico, India and Pakistan, starvation and famine in these places will be made much rarer, if not wiped out altogether.

But no good deed goes unpunished.

His enemies were hoping for the Soylent Green Revolution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 PM


Obama’s Bad Night: At the Democratic debate, the Illinois senator’s experience gap was showing. (Byron York, 7/24/07, National Review)

Sen. Barack Obama’s closest political adviser, David Axelrod, wants you to know that Obama did not say what he appeared to say at Monday night’s Democratic debate here in Charleston. A questioner, speaking via debate sponsor YouTube, asked whether, in the spirit of “bold leadership,” the candidates would “meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration…with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries.” Obama had a ready answer.

“I would,” he said without hesitation. “And the reason is that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding principle of this administration — is ridiculous. Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like JFK constantly spoke to the Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire. And the reason is because they understood that we may not trust them and they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we had the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward.”

With those words, Obama seemed to commit himself to talks with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bashar al-Assad, Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, and Kim Jong Il — separately, without precondition. He even said it was “a disgrace that we have not spoken to them.” But after the debate, speaking to reporters in the spin room, Axelrod claimed Obama didn’t mean any such meetings would actually take place.

It's a bittersweet irony, here in the 21st Century, but the only thing he has going for him is race. He has all the gravitas of a Fizzy-Lifting Drink junkie.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 PM


UFO sightings bring town to a standstill (Daily Mail, 24th July 2007)

A crowd of 100 stunned stargazers brought a town centre to a standstill when five mysterious UFOs were spotted hovering in the sky.

Drinkers spilled out of pubs, motorists stopped to gawp and camera phones were aimed upwards as the five orbs, in a seeming formation, hovered above Stratford-Upon-Avon for half an hour.

The unidentified flying objects lit up the otherwise clear night sky above Shakespeare's birthplace in Warwickshire on Saturday.

And the experts aren't even there to cover it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 PM


Retirement Accounts Climb to $16.4T (EILEEN ALT POWELL, 7/24/07, AP)

Americans have accumulated a record $16.4 trillion in retirement accounts, with about half of it in company-sponsored plans like 401(k)s and in Individual Retirement Accounts, according to a study by the Investment Company Institute.

Just one of the reasons that fretting about the national debt is a mark of one's deep silliness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 PM


Missing from 'Harry Potter" – a real moral struggle: Without inner conflict, the hero's tale was hollow. (Jenny Sawyer, 7/25/07, CS Monitor)

Successful storytelling rests on a few basic principles. One of them is this: A story is about someone who changes, who grows through a moral struggle. What is Harry's struggle? Exactly. [...]

The truth of the matter is that Harry the character had nowhere to go. And thus, the overarching moral dilemma of the series, the compelling inner crisis that begged resolution, had nothing to do with our beloved hero.

As awful as the Star Wars series ended up being, there is at least something compelling about acquiring the power to thwart the death of your loved ones.

Rowling Pulls It Off: The Harry Potter finale is magical, even for Muggles (MEGHAN COX GURDON, July 24, 2007, Opinion Journal)

Every reader, and Harry too, knows that events must end with the death of either the boy-wizard or his snaky, red-eyed nemesis. There can be no survival for the both of them. This ominous understanding has been building in faithful readers for a decade, and makes the final quarter of the book a heart-stopper.

It has been widely observed that J.K. Rowling owes a creative debt to Christian fantasists J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis (apart from their fondness for initials). It's odd now to remember that, at the same time, some parents have objected to the magic depicted in the Harry Potter books as a glorification of satanic practices. For "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" confirms something else apart from the well-thought-out-ness of Ms. Rowling's moral universe: It is subtly but unmistakably Christian.

The principal Hogwarts holidays have always been Christmas and Easter, but it took five books before Ms. Rowling really began tipping her hand. In Book Six, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," she addressed concepts of free will, the power of love, and the sanctity of the soul. But in the final volume she gently lays it all out. The preciousness of each human life; bodily resurrection after death; mercy, forgiveness and redemption; sacrificial love overcoming the powers of evil--strip away the elves, goblins, broomsticks and magic wands and these are the concepts that underpin the marvelously intricate world of Harry Potter.

There are clues throughout. At one point, Harry is led to a weapon that will enable him to destroy the Horcruxes when he finds them: "The ice reflected his distorted shadow and the beam of wandlight, but deep below the thick, misty gray carapace, something else glinted. A great silver cross . . ."

Two unattributed New Testament quotations recur in the story after Harry sees each on a tombstone in the village where he was born and his mother and father died. He discovers on the Dumbledore family tomb "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also," from Matthew. And on the grave of his own parents, he finds this, from I Corinthians: "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." On seeing it, Harry feels momentary horror: Does it imply a link between his parents and Voldemort's followers? Hermione gently sets him straight: "It doesn't mean defeating death in the way the Death Eaters mean it, Harry. It means . . . you know . . . living beyond death. Living after death."

And it goes on.

Even Christ was at least tempted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


Start wearing sunglasses early, and they may help to preserve your sight in later life (Jeremy Laurance, 24 July 2007, Independent)

Age-related macular degeneration affects about 500,000 people in the UK. It occurs when cells in the centre of the retina at the back of the eye become damaged. Symptoms are the loss of central vision and visual distortion. Both conditions are most common in the elderly – and as we live longer, the numbers affected are growing. The eyes, in common with other organs, need protection if they are to last. Some eye specialists say that protecting the eyes of children is the most effective way to prolong 20-20 vision into old age.

Ian Anderson, an optometrist and the chairman of the Eyecare Trust, a charity devoted to promoting eye health, said: "Your eyes can be damaged by ultraviolet light. There are two types in sunlight – UVA and UVB. UVA sunlight penetrates quite deeply and can damage the lens and the retina. People should be aware that they need to wear dark glasses and do more to protect their eyes."

People who have fair skin are at greatest risk. They have less pigment and their eyes are thus most vulnerable to UV light, while dark-skinned people are better protected.

But it is a myth that blue-eyed people are more sensitive to light and therefore more vulnerable to eye damage. The iris is almost opaque, although there are differences in the amount of pigment in the retina, Anderson said.

Children are worse off because their eyes are young and the lens and vitreous – the fluid behind the lens – are clearer, so the light goes straight through and goes on to hit the retina.

"Children need sunglasses, but parents need to be careful that they are not toys with tinted lenses. That causes the iris to open and let more light through. Parents need to be very careful to buy sunglasses with the right CE marking to show that they filter out UV light. It is more important to wear sunglasses when young to protect the eyes."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


Outsourcing the Picket Line (Keith L. Alexander, 7/24/07, Washington Post)

The picketers marching in a circle in front of a downtown Washington office building chanting about low wages do not seem fully focused on their message.

Many have arrived with large suitcases or bags holding their belongings, which they keep in sight. Several are smoking cigarettes. One works a crossword puzzle. Another bangs a tambourine, while several drum on large white buckets. Some of the men walking the line call out to passing women, "Hey, baby." A few picketers gyrate and dance while chanting: "What do we want? Fair wages. When do we want them? Now."

Although their placards identify the picketers as being with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters, they are not union members.

They're hired feet, or, as the union calls them, temporary workers, paid $8 an hour to picket. Many were recruited from homeless shelters or transitional houses. Several have recently been released from prison. Others are between jobs.

You could hire Telepicketers for about $2 an hour.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Via video, voters bluntly query Democratic field (Susan Milligan, July 24, 2007, Boston Globe)

Democratic presidential candidates were pelted last night with scores of questions from the people who will decide which of them becomes the Democratic nominee: American voters posed unapologetically blunt queries about race, gender, Iraq, and gay marriage.

The debate -- a first-of-its-kind forum that had voters framing questions through the Internet video site YouTube -- featured often anguished questions and equally passionate responses from the candidates, who for the first time spent two hours together contending with the frustrations and worries of ordinary voters.

Shedding the formality and deference often shown to the prominent office-holders on the stage at the Citadel military college in Charleston, S.C., men and women from Boston to Darfur were direct in their questions sent in the form of grainy, homemade videos: How can the United States pull out of Iraq with the situation there so unstable? Should women be subject to the draft? Do African-Americans deserve reparations for the enslavement of their forefathers? [...]

Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, after viewing a video from a gun owner who called his gun his "baby," appeared horrified before he reiterated his commitment to strong gun laws. "If that's his baby, he needs help," Biden said. "I don't know if he's mentally qualified to own that gun."

Dodd, asked if the Hurricane Katrina response would have been better if the affected region had not been heavily populated by poor and African-American people, said he believed the federal government response would have been quicker if the storm had hit a predominantly white area.

Global warming was also on voters' minds, with one questioner doing a voice-over for a snowman, who asked if his son -- a small snowman -- would survive climate change.

The candidates expressed their commitment to reducing global warming, but nearly all sheepishly raised their hands when asked if they took private jets to attend the debate. Kucinich said he did not; Gravel said, "I took the train."

The notion that such a self-selected cadre, as people who'd film questions for YouTube, is representative of the electorate is daft.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


In Iraq, liberals flip on genocide: In the 1990s, they argued for humanitarian foreign intervention where there was little U.S. interest. (Los Angeles Times, July 24, 2007)

Barack Obama says preventing genocide isn't a good enough reason to stay in Iraq.

"By that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now -- where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife -- which we haven't done," he told the Associated Press. "We would be deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven't done. Those of us who care about Darfur don't think it would be a good idea."

It's worth at least pointing out a key difference between the potential genocide in Iraq and the heart-wrenching slaughters in Congo and Sudan: The latter aren't our fault. But if genocide unfolds in Iraq after American troops depart, it would be hard to argue that we weren't at least partly to blame. Yes, the mass murder would have more immediate authors than the United States of America, but we would undeniably be responsible, at least in part, for giving a green light to genocide. Obama offers precisely that green light in his proposed Iraq War De-escalation Act.

Actually, the key difference that needs to be pointed out is that they aren't holding Democrats like Senator Obama responsible for the position that Saddam's actual genocides were none of our business.

July 23, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:22 PM

"I RECOMMEND IT" (via Glenn Dryfoos)

Ex-Brown pitched against Babe Ruth (Rick Hummel, Jul. 23 2007, ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH)

Rolland Mays "Lena" Stiles, the oldest living former major-league baseball
player, died Sunday morning in his sleep at the age of 100 at Bethesda
Southgate nursing home in St. Louis. [...]

While with the Browns, Mr. Stiles often was matched against Philadelphia
Athletics Hall of Famer Lefty Grove. He also recalled facing the great New York
Yankees' teams, including Hall of Famer Babe Ruth.

"I had a great game against him," Mr. Stiles told the Post-Dispatch's Derrick
Goold last November. "I held him to three hits."

Besides winning the service award from the baseball writers, Mr. Stiles also
had received the lifetime achievement award from the St. Louis Amateur Baseball

Of his playing career, Mr. Stiles told the Post-Dispatch last year, "It was
good. It was nice. A baseball career — I recommend it."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:11 PM


Winds of Reform in France: The French Parliament is making big changes, thanks to a philosophical shift at the top. (Jurgen Reinhoudt, July 23, 2007, American)

The French House approved a 10 to 13 billion Euro per year tax cut package on July 16th, while the Senate is set to review it starting the 25th. And while the House was busy reviewing the tax cut package, the Senate reviewed ways to make it more difficult for unions to organize paralyzing strikes.

The Senate’s measure would force workers, on an individual basis, to declare themselves in favor of a strike to their employers 48 hours before beginning any strike. In addition, the Senate voted to mandate that, if employers so wish, a secret ballot vote must be held among workers on whether or not to continue a strike beyond an 8-day period. The bill also mandates that a minimum level of ground transport (rail and other) service be maintained throughout the duration of a strike, making full paralysis much more difficult for unions to achieve. The House is set to review this set of reforms, the so-called “minimum service law”, starting July 30th.

Needless to say, this package of reforms has angered the left, in and outside of Parliament. Unions have already announced a protest day, July 31st, to express their anger at the reforms, with an alphabet soup of major national unions all participating. Their anger doesn’t mean that the right to strike has been fatally wounded; to the contrary, it would emerge unscathed. The change concerns what effect those strikes can have: implicitly, Sarkozy’s cabinet and his Parliamentary majority want to remove the de facto veto that unions currently hold over decisions taken by democratically elected legislators. The right to strike is one thing, but bringing the country—including those who are not striking—to a standstill is quite another.

Also in store: much-needed reforms to France’s stale system of higher education, proposals for which have already angered leftist student organizations.

Yet what matters as much as the measures themselves is the fundamental change in attitude that Sarkozy and his team bring to the table.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:06 PM


Socialism - what is it? (Zain Sardar, 23 July 2007, New Statesman)

Socialism, for me, is not merely a socio-economic/political system, but way of looking at the world. [...]

Its main conceptual principles correspond to this; equality, cooperation and community. Socialism, a primarily egalitarian system, has as its central point equality of outcome. We all require certain basic material things in life- food, a home to live in, clothes...etc, and these things should be had by everyone. Hence, if people had the basic needs that human beings require at least to live a reasonably comfortable existence, the gap between the rich and poor would be greatly reduced. To push up the standard of living of those in utmost poverty (by ensuring they have basic needs); money needs to come from somewhere; one of the most popular forms is through a redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor.

....that, to a socialist, you are "greedy" if you want to keep what you worked for, but not if you want to force someone to give you what they've worked for. That may do more violence to the normal definition than is even done to "cooperation."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 PM


Last King of Afghanistan Dies (JASON STRAZIUSO, 7/24/07, AP)

Afghanistan's last king, a symbol of unity who oversaw four decades of peace before a 1973 palace coup ousted him and war shattered his country, died Monday. He was 92.

Mohammad Zahir Shah's demise ended the last vestige of Afghanistan's monarchy and triggered three days of national mourning for a man still feted as the "Father of the Nation" since his return from exile after the 2001 ouster of the Taliban.

Though he was not always effective during his 40-year reign, Zahir Shah is remembered warmly by his conflict-weary countrymen for steering the country without bloodshed.

When the fall of the Taliban in 2001 offered fresh hope for national reconciliation, many clamored for Zahir Shah's return—not only to his homeland but to the throne.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:47 PM


Traffic Deaths Decline, NHTSA Says (BETSY TAYLOR, 7/23/07, Associated Press)

Traffic deaths in the United States fell to their lowest total in five years in 2006, and the rate of deaths per miles traveled dropped to a record low, a federal safety official said Monday. [...]

The fatality rate of 1.42 deaths per 100 million miles traveled in 2006 was the lowest rate recorded by the Department of Transportation, she said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 PM


Stem Cell Movement Faces Setbacks in Mo. (ANDALE GROSS, 7/23/07, Associated Press)

Some researchers even fear the techniques known as therapeutic cloning could still be outlawed in Missouri.

Scientist Kevin Eggan had once considered packing up his lab at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and moving to Missouri. Now he's reluctant.

"I couldn't possibly come to a place where I thought the potentially lifesaving research I want to do could become illegal," said Eggan, who works on degenerative nerve disorders like Lou Gehrig's disease.

The setbacks began when conservative Missouri lawmakers stripped funding for some prominent life sciences projects, including a $150 million research center at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

Then in June, a medical institute in Kansas City announced it would halt its $300 million expansion project because of controversy over the research. The founders of the Stowers Institute of Medical Research had financed most of the $30 million campaign to pass the amendment.

Critics of embryonic stem cell research are opposed to the process because it requires embryos to be destroyed to harvest their cells.

"I think stem cell research is extraordinarily promising and exciting and that we ought to move forward on it. But Missouri does not need to clone human embryos in order to become a leader in life sciences," said state Sen. Matt Bartle, a Republican who wants to repeal November's vote.

Opponents were also encouraged when three teams of scientists announced last month that they had produced the equivalent of embryonic stem cells in mice without destroying embryos.

Two weeks later, President Bush vetoed a bill that would have permitted human embryonic research—a clear signal to like-minded Missourians who saw November's vote, 51 percent to 49 percent, as anything but a clear mandate.

It's like getting a chance to buy back your soul from the Devil.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 PM


Castro blames U.S. for new athlete defections (Reuters, 7/23/07)

Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro deplored the defection of three athletes and a coach during the Panamerican Games in Brazil, saying on Monday they had betrayed Cuba for dollars.

Cuba's Olympic and world amateur boxing champion Guillermo Rigondeaux and teammate Erislandy Lara failed to appear for their scheduled bouts in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.

A member of the Cuban handball team, Rafael Dacosta, and gym trainer Lazaro Lamelas defected earlier, Castro lamented, accusing the United States of luring Cuba's best athletes.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 PM


Nonprofit may launch $350 laptop by Christmas (Jim Finkle, 7/23/07, Reuters)

A nonprofit group that designs low-cost computers for poor children may start selling $350 laptops on the commercial market by Christmas, an executive said on Monday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 PM


XM, Sirius promise low cost packages, more choice (Franklin Paul and Rachelle Younglai, 7/23/07, Reuters)

U.S. satellite radio companies Sirius and XM promised on Monday a variety of subscription packages that cost up to 46 percent less than current plans if their merger is approved.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 PM


Nissan to test auto Breathalyzer (Kyodo News, 7/24/07)

Nissan Motor Co. said Monday it will join local authorities Aug. 1 in testing an onboard Breathalyzer designed to curb drunken driving.

The system, which measures alcohol in the breath, disables the ignition when the driver is deemed to have consumed more than a certain level of alcohol, the carmaker said.

The device will be installed in vehicles used by local government staff in Fukuoka, Tochigi and Kanagawa prefectures, according to Nissan.
No one is so naive as not to concede they'll be required in our Puritan Nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:36 PM


Wal-Mart to Cut Prices on 16,000 Items (ANNE D'INNOCENZIO, 7/23/07, AP)

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, set the stage for price wars Monday as it announced it's cutting prices on more than 16,000 items starting this week in a bid to turn around sales for the critical back-to-school season.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 AM


Brown Won't Rule Out Action Vs. Iran (AP, 7/23/07)

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday that tougher sanctions are likely against Iran over its contested nuclear program and declined to reject outright the prospect of future military action.

Not only was it always silly to imagine that Britain and America would be chastened by the Iraq experience, but it's foolhardy to imagine that leaders new to power won't be eager to use it. A President Hillary Clinton would be no less likely to attack Iran than a President Cheney, likely more so.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:15 AM


An Unusually Effective Minority: Bush and the congressional GOP embarrass the Democrats (Fred Barnes, 07/30/2007, Weekly Standard)

The biggest surprise in Washington in 2007 is who's turned out to be the strongest force in town. It's not Democrats, though they control the House and the Senate. It's not a bipartisan alliance of moderates, who often imagine themselves as pivotal but never are. And it's certainly not a conservative coalition, if only because there aren't enough conservative Democrats in Congress to fill a closet at the Heritage Foundation. The most powerful group is President Bush and congressional Republicans.

But of course, you say. A Republican president and Republican legislators are a natural coalition. Except not in this case. After the calamitous 2006 election, there was no love lost between the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill. Republicans blamed Bush for losing Congress, while he and his aides felt congres sional Republicans had largely brought disaster on themselves. Full-scale cooperation seemed unlikely. But it's happened.

True, Bush and the Republicans aren't dominant. They're a minority, but an unusually effective one. One measure of this: At the end of 2007, there will be more American troops in Iraq than when Democrats took over Congress in January. Another: Democrats have momentum on no domestic issue, not even health care. A third: Senate Republicans last week defeated an amendment urging Bush not to pardon former White House aide Scooter Libby and won overwhelming passage of another that says terrorists jailed at Guantánamo shouldn't be transferred to U.S. soil.

There's more, much more.

It's understandable that Democrats are surprised -- they're delusional -- but how can the Beadle be so after thirty years in Washington?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:12 AM


Election results in Turkey a snub to the old guard (Sabrina Tavernise, July 23, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

The Islamic-inspired governing party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrated a larger-than-expected victory in the nationwide parliamentary elections, taking close to half the total vote in a stinging rebuke to Turkey's old guard.

With all the votes counted, Erdogan's Justice and Development Party won 46.5 percent of the vote, Turkish elections officials said Monday, far more than the 34 percent the party garnered in the last election, in 2002.

The secular state establishment had expected that voters would punish Erdogan's party for promoting an Islamic agenda. But the main secular party, the Republican People's Party, received just 20.9 percent, compared with 19 percent in the last election. The Nationalist Action Party, which played on fears of ethnic Kurdish separatism, won 14.3 percent, officials said.

The result was a broad mandate for Erdogan's party, with large numbers of voters sending the message that they do not feel it is a threat to Turkish democracy.

It's long past time to get over the fear of Islamic Democrat parties.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 AM


Monetarism: Dead at Last?: If the economy decides to demand more money, how then does money supply matter? (Thomas E. Nugent, 7/23/07, National Review)

The Journal piece also included this revealing Laffer paraphrase on inflation: “The ‘velocity’ of money is soaring as the world demands more of it (money), [Laffer] says, so there is no inflation threat.” In other words, Laffer is implying that the demand for money is dramatically increasing, even though the Fed deserves high marks for controlling the growth in the money supply as measured by the monetary base.

Now here’s the point. If the economy decides to demand more money, as reflected by the “soaring” demand for it, how then does money supply matter? The Fed’s supposed tinkering with the monetary base as reported in the weekly data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis is meaningless. In fact, its tinkering has everything to do with maintaining the fed funds target rate and nothing to do with attempts to control the money supply. The “demand side” theory of money creation, or the “quality of money” theory, is in essence liquidity created by the system since the structure demands that liquidity. Effective money supply is determined by money demand, or velocity.

The idea that central-bank increases to the money supply are inflationary is debunked by the modern Japan example. The Bank of Japan (BOJ) lowered its policy interest rate to zero, without regard to controlling interest rates, in order to pump money into the economy. This surge in money supply was enormous, yet inflation in Japan was non-existent. In fact, the problem in Japan was deflation, even though central-bank-induced money supply was exploding.

The reason why the increase in money supply didn’t increase inflation was that money demand also was non-existent. No matter how much money the central bank “printed,” the liquidity wasn’t demanded by the private sector. Wayne Angell accurately described this phenomenon as the money-demand equation, or what Laffer calls the “velocity,” or rate of turnover, of money. (For more on the Japan example, and monetary demand, see my article: “Print More Money, Create Higher Inflation?”)

The primary implication of the extinction of monetarism is that the U.S. Federal Reserve is marginalized by the ability of the markets to function efficiently as reflected by the changing velocity of money.

...as a corollary, isn't it also possible that a booming global economy's demand for secure bonds can also require us to run deficits and maintain the national debt?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 AM


U.S.-led forces kill dozens of militants in Afghanistan (AP, 7/23/07)

Dozens of suspected Taliban militants have been killed in battles with Afghan-Coalition forces in southern Afghanistan, the U.S.-led forces said Monday.

Afghan and Coalition forces routed a large number of Taliban fighters during a patrol in the northern province of Helmand in an overnight battle, the U.S.-led Coalition said in a statement.

"More than four dozen insurgents had been confirmed killed by Afghan army at the scene, including what intelligence suggests were two mid- level Taliban commanders," it said, adding there were no Afghan or Coalition casualties.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM


Netflix cuts prices of two more rental plans (Gina Keating, 7/23/07, Reuters)

Netflix Inc. cut monthly subscriptions for two of its most popular plans by $1 on Sunday, a day ahead of a quarterly earnings report that will show whether rival Blockbuster Inc has further dented the online DVD rental company's growth.

Netflix now has cut prices on its four most popular plans this year, bringing them in line with the prices of Blockbuster By Mail plans.

The two companies are locked in a price war for the second time since Blockbuster launched its online service in 2004.

The real price drop will come when discs are phased out altogether and you just access data files online.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


Harrington Outlasts Garcia To Win First Major (TONY DEAR, July 23, 2007, NY Sun)

Allowed this time to look after itself with the help of an ever-present, albeit gentle, breeze, Carnoustie offered one of the best Open Championships in living memory, and one that will still be celebrated in Ireland long after Padraig Harrington has left for the great links in the sky. Sixty years after Fred Daly won the Open at Hoylake, the Emerald Isle has its long-awaited second Claret Jug and one which will no doubt need a thorough cleaning before heading to Royal Birkdale next year, in order to get rid of all the Guinness stains.

For Harrington, the moment is long overdue. An ungainly swinger of the club and considerably less gifted than a number of his peers, he has nevertheless ranked among the world's top dozen or so players for most of this century thanks to a work ethic that would impress Vijay Singh and a desire to succeed that only Tiger Woods might call moderate.

It's fitting perhaps that Carnoustie should be the scene of his first major triumph. Itself slightly ungainly and often overlooked in discussions of the world's best courses, it has worked hard in recent years to re-establish its reputation after the nightmare of 1999.

Long, superbly designed, and exposed to numbing North Sea winds, Carnoustie needed the forest of rough it got for protection in '99 like Fort Knox needs another padlock. Reaction to what happened eight years ago was probably over the top, but how much better it was to see a handful of world-class golfers chasing birdies around a course that certainly proved testing, but not overwhelming. In '99, the object was to shoot the least high number and get to the safety of the clubhouse without humiliating yourself or even crying in your mother's arms. Whereas this year, players had the chance, at least, to go low. And how ironic that Sergio Garcia, the man, or rather boy, who shot plus-30 for two rounds in '99 and then sought solace from his mommy, should go lower than anyone except, of course, for Harrington.

Jean van de Velde must feel vindicated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


New insurance chief goes beyond expectations: Auto deregulation shocks industry (Bruce Mohl, July 23, 2007, Boston Globe)

James Harrington , executive director of the Massachusetts Insurance Federation, said former Governor Mitt Romney had championed auto insurance deregulation. By contrast, Governor Deval Patrick had said almost nothing about auto insurance on the campaign trail and [Nonnie S. ] Burnes, his pick for commissioner, had a blank slate.

"We viewed the incoming Patrick administration with some degree of trepidation," he said.

But Burnes last week shocked almost everyone. She not only mastered the minutiae of auto insurance regulation in a matter of months, but also set out to break a 30-year-old industry stalemate on deregulation. She said she planned to usher in "managed competition" next year, allowing automobile insurers to set their own rates under the close supervision of state regulators.

The decision, which will end Massachusetts's distinction as the only state where regulators set all auto insurance rates, will probably have a major impact on the wallets of the state's four million drivers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' is a literal page-turner (Jacqueline Blais, 7/22/07, USA TODAY)

Fans adore it. Critics love it. It's flying out of bookstores at a record-setting pace.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the much-anticipated final book in J.K. Rowling's fantasy series, sold 8.3 million copies in 24 hours starting Friday at midnight, U.S. publisher Scholastic reported Sunday. First printing: 12 million, the most ever for a Potter book.

The end: Final Harry Potter book triumphs as it flies to a spellbinding close (Liz Rosenberg, July 23, 2007, Boston Globe0

'Is Little Nell dead?" rose the cry along America's wharves in 1841, from readers awaiting the last installment of Charles Dickens's "The Old Curiosity Shop." Perhaps not since the fate of Little Nell hung in the balance has a book been as hotly awaited as "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the seventh and last in J.K. Rowling's series.

We are lucky to live in the time of a novelist as gripping, unpredictable, and wildly popular as Dickens himself. Though there is plenty about the book to critique, I won't go so far as to give crucial plot elements away. Unlike every age that will follow ours , we read the Potter books for the first time, and the freshness is part of their charm.

Rowling once described these books as being, in a deep sense, all one work. Is this last volume a good book? In many ways, yes. There are thrilling chase scenes, glowing tableaus ("moths began to swoop under the canopy, now lit with floating golden lanterns"), new magical effects (the Thief's Downfall, a cataract of water), and revelations by the dozen. Rowling still has a brilliant ear for dialogue and knows how to evoke dark, complicated emotions, as when "Harry felt as though a brick had slid down through his chest onto his stomach. He remembered. . . ."

No author since Dickens has been able to conjure so completely both the eerie and the ordinary genius that resides in places.

Rowling deep in forums of fantasy; It's the sum of her parts that stand Harry Potter's creator apart (Sophie Masson | July 24, 2007, The Australian)
LIKE millions of people throughout the world, I spent most of Saturday curled up in a chair, racing through the latest, and last, Harry Potter novel, not only because of the breakneck pace of the story but because my 17-year-old son was due home on Sunday and there would be dire consequences if I didn't hand over the book immediately.

Six enchanted hours after beginning, I re-emerged, exhilarated, both as a reader and a writer. She had done it. She had pulled off an intensely satisfying end to what has been the most extraordinary literary success story of our time. [...]

Rowling's work is sometimes unfavourably compared to the books of other great fantasy authors, such as Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Philip Pullman, and the quality of her prose and artistic vision questioned. Often critics appear not to have read the works but rely on the sanctification of time or literary awards to persuade them that Rowling's work is inferior to the others'. But I've read all the authors in question, and I disagree.

All of these books share the great themes of good and evil and the quest for wisdom and love. Their authors also share a strong background in classical literature, myth and fairytale. They are all great storytellers. Rowling shares with Tolkien a glorious gift for what the old ringmaster called "the art of subcreation, the power to give fantasy the inner consistency of reality" and also a good eye for a satisfying ending, but thank heavens she doesn't share with him a taste for tedious genealogies, over-solemnity or ghastly dwarf songs.

She shares with Lewis a spring-like freshness, sense of fun, broad satire and a marvellous inventiveness but, unlike him, she finished her series well: the final book in the Narnia series, The Last Battle, was a bitter disappointment to me as a child as it's far too polemical and theme-driven. This is also true of Pullman's much-admired His Dark Materials, which begins magnificently with Northern Lights, starts to falter in The Subtle Knife and falls in a heap in The Amber Spyglass which, mirroring the final book in the series of his bete noire, Lewis, fails to trust its characters and story and descends into preaching (of the opposite viewpoint). With Pullman, however, Rowling shares a happy talent for names, and terrific pace and timing.

As to the quality of her prose, I reckon Rowling pretty much matches Lewis: engaging, bright and child-oriented, with a great clarity and playfulness of expression, mixed with some clunky bits and some cliched moments. (Pullman and Tolkien are perhaps more consistent, more adult-oriented prose stylists, though they too have their flaws.) Her characters are archetypal but so are all the others': fantasy thrives on the archetypes which live deep in all of us.

Rather than appealing to "the lowest common denominator", the Harry Potter books, like the great fantasy novels, fairytales and myths, appeal to the deepest common denominator.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Memories of '99 British Open Haunt ‘Carnasty' (TONY DEAR, July 18, 2007, NY Sun)

Early indications are that the course dubbed Carnasty eight years ago is considerably more playable this time round, with some players even saying it's actually gone too far the other way and will be too easy. "I think the fairways are very wide, and there's no rough," South Africa's David Frost said yesterday. "It's too lenient. I just think it should have been tighter."

K.J. Choi, who played with Lawrie in 1999 was also surprised to see how different the course looks now. "You can hit the ball anywhere and find it," the Korean said. "You can still see the ball."

The wind, however, will make the course extremely challenging said Choi, who hit a wedge to the green on the 499-yard 18th hole in practice on Saturday and a 5-wood on Sunday when the wind had shifted 180 degrees.

Really, a decent breeze is all that Carnoustie needs to challenge the best, and failing to recognize that was perhaps the R&A's biggest mistake in 1999. Jack Nicklaus, who finished joint-runnerup there in 1968 and tied for third seven years later regards Carnoustie as the hardest course on the Open Championship rotation. He said it's plenty tough enough without any help from a malevolent greenkeeper. Likewise Ernie Els, who tied for 24th in 1999 at 14 over par, says it's the toughest of the lot. "It's got length and it's got great bunkering," he said. "You've really got to have your wits with you to play this golf course, and it seems like the wind always blows here."

Equally impressed are Tiger Woods, who thought the conditions in 1999 took away from the course's status as one of the best in the world, and Mickelson who made three visits last week and came away very pleasantly surprised. "I didn't realize what a wonderful course it is," he said. "It's terrific."

Woods, with two runners-up finishes in the majors so far this year, will be desperate to win and reestablish his dominance over a chasing pack that has seen one or two glimpses of vulnerability from him recently and which seems better equipped to take advantage of those vulnerabilities than it did in 2000, when the world no. 1's brilliance was met with little resistance.

Mickelson, who has shown typically extravagant unpredictability in recent weeks, certainly can win, but he'll have to forget his terrible record in this championship (one top-10 finish in 14 starts) and the disappointment of losing the Scottish Open last weekend in a playoff with France's Gregory Havret.

Pick three golfers and we'll add up their scores--having one miss the cut knocks you out.

July 22, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:41 AM


The Fundamentalist Moderate: Religious scholar Javed Ahmad Ghamidi has become a popular figure in Pakistan for his strict reading of the Koran -- which, he says, dictates against gender discrimination, terrorist jihad, and other favorites of modern Islamists (Shahan Mufti, July 22, 2007, Boston Globe)

AFTER THE SUICIDE bombing in Islamabad last week that killed 17 civilians, I picked up a slick hardbound book called "The Islamic Shari'ah of Jihad" in a local bookstore. As I read through the first few pages it became clear to me that this was no apology for Islamic holy war. The book analyzed every verse of the Koran that mentions the word "jihad" and related it to its precise social context in seventh-century Arabia in order, it said, to "remove some grave misconceptions."

I opened to the chapter titled "Suicide Bombers." I was disturbed by the events in the city -- the joyous mood of a pro-democracy rally, with thousands swaying to anthems, snuffed away in a moment of scattered body parts -- and I wondered about the Islamic basis for what I had witnessed.

The chapter was brief, barely two pages long, and it focused on one verse (5:32) of the Koran: "He who killed a human being without the latter being guilty of killing another or being guilty of spreading disorder in the land should be looked upon as if he has killed all mankind."

There was little else left to say.

The book was written by Javed Ahmad Ghamidi. Like anyone who has spent time in Pakistan or even watched Pakistani television, I recognized the name of the slightly built, graying Muslim religious scholar, or alim. It is typical of Ghamidi to speak -- at conferences, on television, on the radio -- about the most politically charged issues with calm religious authority. The popular media gravitates to him for his impeccable oratory and the ease with which he makes common sense out of millennium-old religious texts. Of late he has become a bit of a rock star -- adored, hated, popular, and notorious all at once -- thanks to his extraordinary interpretation of Islamic Law.

At a time when many pin their hopes on "moderate" secular Muslims to lead the charge against radical militant Islam, Ghamidi offers a more forceful and profound deconstruction of the violent and bitter version of Islam that appears to be gaining ground in many parts of the Muslim world, including Pakistan. He challenges what he views as retrograde stances -- on jihad, on the penal code of rape and adultery, on the curricula in the religious schools, or madrassas -- but he does so with a purely fundamentalist approach: he rarely ventures outside the text of the Koran or prophetic tradition. He meticulously recovers detail from within the confines of religious text, and then delivers decisive blows to conservatives and militants who claim to be the defenders of Islam.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:37 AM


Immigrant parents struggle to keep their children bilingual (Maria Sacchetti, July 22, 2007, Boston Globe)

After a lunch of hot dogs and rice, Jordy Berges blasted a ball off the wall of the lunchroom at his mother's office, his stomping grounds for the summer.

"No juegues aquí," Yovanna Berges scolded her 7-year-old son, telling him in Spanish to stop.

"Sorry," he answered her, in English.

Berges, an immigrant from Peru, is growing accustomed to such conversations with her son. She is struggling to raise him to speak English and Spanish fluently, which might not seem like a big challenge in the city with the highest proportion of Latinos in Massachusetts. But researchers say Berges and immigrant parents nationwide are confronting a difficult truth: Their children are losing their languages.

According to research presented to Congress in May, even the children of immigrants prefer to speak English by the time they are adults.

Rubén G. Rumbaut, a sociologist at the University of California at Irvine, and his team of researchers looked at 5,700 adults in their 20s and 30s in Southern California from different generations to see how long their language survived. A key finding centered on 1,900 American-born children of immigrants. The shift toward English among them was swift: While 87 percent grew up speaking another language at home, only 34 percent said they spoke it well by adulthood. And nearly 70 percent said they preferred to speak English.

"English wins, and it does so in short order," said Rumbaut, who presented his findings to the US House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration in May. "What we're talking about is a real phenomenon."

It is difficult for children to sustain their parents' languages amid the tidal wave of American pop culture, including movies and television, coupled with societal pressure to speak only English.

It was much harder to assimilate all the Eurowogs, in the pre-mass media age.

By a twist of fate, he found his passion early: A young Temecula man hopes to win the world championship of Rubik's Cube solving. Where from there? He'll see what he can line up. (David Kelly, July 22, 2007, Los Angeles Times)

They met at a mall and Ryan Patricio sensed the chemistry immediately. He was drawn to it, called by it and he knew — perhaps they both did — that he would ultimately possess it.

"You know when you meet someone and really click with them?" he asked. "Well, that's what happened."

And click he did. And click some more.

The possibilities — all 43 quintillion of them — seemed endless.

Then, after months of manipulation, he broke down its defenses, and the rest is Rubik's Cube history.

Patricio didn't just crack the maddening puzzle, he became a star "cuber" in the process. He could do it fast, do two at a time, do it one-handed, even do it blindfolded.

He performed at high school pep rallies and at 16 broke the world record by outwitting the cube in 31 seconds.

Last month, the 18-year-old Temecula resident did it in a mere 14.17 seconds to win the U.S. Open Rubik's Cube Championship in Chicago, making him national champion. His trophy, a Rubik's Cube enclosed in a bigger, transparent cube, now sits in his living room beside other cube-within-cube awards. His next stop is Budapest, Hungary, for the world championship in October.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


Constant filibuster threat is tying Senate in knots (Margaret Talev, 7/22/07, McClatchy Newspapers)

Democrats have trouble mustering 60 votes; they have fallen short 22 times this year. That's largely why they haven't been able to deliver on campaign promises.

By sinking a cloture vote last week, Republicans successfully blocked a Democratic bid to withdraw most combat troops from Iraq by April, even though a 52-47 Senate majority voted to end debate.

Republicans also have blocked votes this year on immigration legislation, a no-confidence resolution for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and major legislation dealing with energy, labor rights and prescription drugs.

Nearly one in every six roll-call votes in the Senate this year has been a cloture vote. If this pace of blocking legislation continues, this 110th Congress will be on track to roughly triple the previous record number of cloture votes — 58 each in the two Congresses from 1999-2002, according to the Senate Historical Office.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., forced an all-night session on the Iraq war last week to draw attention to what Democrats called Republican obstruction.

"The minority party has decided we have to get to 60 votes on almost everything we vote on of substance," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. "That's not the way this place is supposed to work."

It was John McCain and the Gang who preserved the filibuster, which is saving the GOP now. Democrats, being the reactionary party, are likely to try and get rid of it just in time to lose their majority and hand President McCain a mighty weapon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


Rowling poised to work her magic on classic tale of underworld hero (MARC HORNE, 7/22/07, scotlandonsunday.com)

JK ROWLING'S next major project is set to feature a charismatic hero who uses magic powers to overcome diabolical and grotesque adversaries.

Yet the next chapter of the author's literary career is expected to focus on Orpheus rather than Harry Potter.

Edinburgh-based publishing firm Canongate has offered Rowling the chance to retell the adventures of the legendary Greek hero, who is best known for attempting to rescue his wife Eurydice from the underworld.

Rowling has already expressed an interest in covering the classics after her studies in Greek and Roman mythology at Exeter University in the 1980s, and now Canongate has invited her to become its latest celebrity writer to contribute to its best-selling Myths series.

If she could use her marketability to get kids reading classic tales it would be a very good thing.


The plot was pretty much outlined in the previous book. Voldemort has sequestered his soul in seven artefacts, or horcruxes, and these leave him vulnerable. There are, however, over two hundred inconsequential pages before the quest to eliminate the horcruxes gets underway; and even then it is conflated with another "search and succeed" mission to find the eponymous Deathly Hallows. By the time that Harry is wondering if his friends "had only agreed to come on what now felt like a pointless and rambling journey because they thought he had some secret plan", the reader can only concur.

Deathly Hallows does have its virtues. As usual, the set piece battles and chases are carried off with verve and pace, even on an overcrowded canvas. Especially well done is a daring heist on Gringotts Bank, which is well balanced between nervous anticipation and rollicking action. The reader learns more about Dumbledore’s youth, which introduces an element of moral complexity and ambiguity to the narrative; and, in one instance, this is truly shocking - far more Certificate PG than UC. The plans of the Death Eaters are genuinely sinister, and their slogans (such as "For the Greater Good") and schemes (such as the "Muggle-Born Registration Commission") effectively give meaning and depth to their wickedness.

Rowling has taken care to develop characters that might have been - or indeed, previously have been - stereotypes. There is room for generosity, not only towards Harry’s Muggle tormentors but to the misguided villains, the Malfoys. There are also moments of weakness for the heroic, and heroism from the weak. If part of growing up is seeing the world in shades of grey, then the Deathly Hallows succeeds, despite its black and white moral universe.

But the problems that have been with the series from the outset are in plentiful evidence as well. The prose is sometimes risibly clichéd: take, for example, "she was kissing him as she had never kissed before, and he was kissing her back, and it was blissful oblivion, better than Firewhiskey; she was the only real thing in the world". Sentences are clotted with adverbs - "milkily pink" seems particularly inelegant, a snake "rose, seemingly endlessly" - why not just endless? The dialect is straight out of ’Allo ’Allo at times: Fleur says "whezzer" for "whether", Krum says "vunce" for "once". It is hardly the subtlest form of dialogue. Rowling may be waving her wand, but no-one is wielding a blue pencil.

Rowling is a story-teller rather than a plotter, and towards the end, the narrative stalls as she provides copious back-story and needless reams of explication. The critic Michiko Kakutani has referred to Rowling’s "magpie talent", which is a euphemistic way of saying that originality was never her strongest suit. In this volume, there are nods at Obi Wan Kenobi, the Arthurian sagas and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Even the horcrux thread seems indebted to video games. Even the animalistic Patronus Charms seem a little too close to the daemons of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

Fans will indubitably be delighted by the Deathly Hallows, and sceptics will find incontrovertible proof to sustain their position. For critics of a more psychological persuasion, the importance of motherhood in the Potter-verse takes a place tellingly centre-stage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Obama Says He Would Walk Picket Line (MIKE GLOVER, 7/21/07, Associated Press)

Democrat Barack Obama told union activists Saturday night that he would walk a picket line as president if organized labor helps elect him in 2008.

Imagine what a mess we'd be in if Maggie and The Gipper hadn't broken the unions?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


Science chief: cut birthrate to save Earth: New museum head says lower population would cut CO2 at a fraction of renewable energy cost (Robin McKie, July 22, 2007, The Observer)

The new head of the Science Museum has an uncompromising view about how global warming should be dealt with: get rid of a few billion people. Chris Rapley, who takes up his post on September 1, is not afraid of offending. 'I am not advocating genocide,' said Rapley. 'What I am saying is that if we invest in ways to reduce the birthrate - by improving contraception, education and healthcare - we will stop the world's population reaching its current estimated limit of between eight and 10 billion.

Their need to deny being genocidal stems from the fact that they are.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


Fair and balanced radio? (Derek Hunter, July 21, 2007, Politico)

If there is one thing everyone (I hope) could agree on it is that corporations want to make a profit. If there were a demand for more than one liberal station in a market, it would be filled. Simply because one liberal station stays afloat doesn’t mean a second one would. It may imply it, but it doesn’t mean it. Why would any company decide to scrap a successful lineup on the off chance a new one might work as well? While that might make sense to groups funded by Hungarian billionaires, it doesn’t fly in the market.

Ratings are the most important factor in determining which shows stations program. The only exception being Air America, the failed all-liberal talk network that was supposed to take on conservative talk radio but has burned through money, management and hosts like it’s an Olympic event and Air America is going for the gold.

The fact that ratings don’t factor into this “study” exposes either a fundamental lack of understanding of how markets work or a wanton disregard for truth on the part of its authors.

To cover this glaring omission, they lay blame for conservative dominance at the feet of corporate station owners. Well, in a bizarre and twisted way that has nothing to do with their argument, they are correct -- but only in the sense that those corporations choose shows based upon each show’s ability to bring in an audience. Where free-market forces exist they see bias and an agenda. If a liberal host could draw in and hold an audience on a regular basis, that host would also be successful.

In fact, liberal talk is becoming more common every year, a trend that will probably continue. But it should earn air space through the normal marketplace of ideas.

That’s not good enough for liberals, who want a government that bullies station owners into “balancing” their lineups. Instead of competing, they prefer mandates.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Looking to close the deal: With three-shot lead, Garcia on the verge of his first major victory (Jim McCabe, July 22, 2007, Boston Globe)

[I]f it is Sergio Garcia's tournament to win, being in possession of a three-stroke lead, Steve Stricker is at peace with that, because after a passionate soul search, he is where he belongs.

"This is what I'm meant to do," said Stricker, 40, who a few years ago reassessed the doubts he had about his PGA Tour pursuits and recommitted to the game. On several occasions over the last two seasons, flashes of his once-upon-a-time promise reappeared, but it was under the glare of yesterday's third round that it shined brightest.

He mastered these majestic links hard by the North Sea, and in doing so equaled the course record with a 7-under-par 64 to hurdle 18 players and pull into second place at 6-under 207. Splendid stuff, for sure, but for an encore he'll be asked to take on Garcia, and that projects to be a formidable task.

At least it will be if the young Spaniard has turned a page in his career and has, as he insists, learned to keep calm and close the deal. If so, he would become just the seventh player in the illustrious history of this championship to own the outright lead after all four rounds.

"I can't wait to start," said the precocious 27-year-old after he shot 68 to get in at 9-under 204, his closest pursuer Stricker, though there's a seven-player logjam six back at 210 that includes Ernie Els (68), Padraig Harrington (68), and Chris DiMarco (66), while Tiger Woods (69) labors well back, tied for 15th at 1-under 212.

...since Tiger did anything that made you just say, "Wow!"

July 21, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:04 PM


New leaders say pensive French think too much (Elaine Sciolino, July 21, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

France is the country that produced the Enlightenment, Descartes's one-liner, "I think, therefore I am," and the solemn pontifications of Jean-Paul Sartre and other celebrity philosophers.

But in the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy, thinking has lost its cachet.

In proposing a tax-cut law last week, Finance Minister Christine Lagarde bluntly advised the French people to abandon their "old national habit."

"France is a country that thinks," she told the National Assembly. "There is hardly an ideology that we haven't turned into a theory. We have in our libraries enough to talk about for centuries to come. This is why I would like to tell you: Enough thinking, already. Roll up your sleeves."

Citing Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America," she said the French should work harder, earn more and be rewarded with lower taxes if they get rich.

...is the transition from Brightness to Stupidness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:53 AM


Getting Hezbollah to Behave (NICHOLAS NOE, 7/21/07, NY Times)

[W]ithout widespread public support from Lebanese of all religious persuasions, Muslim and Christian alike — especially now that the Syrian enforcers have ostensibly left Lebanon — violent operations would not only be extremely difficult, Hezbollah leaders acknowledge, but also domestically hazardous for their Shiite base.

This is precisely the reason that Hezbollah, since the 2000 Israeli withdrawal, has reduced its overt military presence and taken part in Lebanese politics in ways that it once would have avoided as corrupting or unnecessary, including a cabinet portfolio in 2005 and a surprisingly sturdy alliance in 2006 with the main Christian leader, Gen. Michel Aoun. This may be also why Hezbollah has been so uncharacteristically quiet in the confrontation between the Lebanese Army, which is enjoying a surge of public support at the moment, and Qaeda-inspired militants at the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al Bared in northern Lebanon.

Undermine the rationale for violence directed at Israel — a rationale which, like it or not, is accepted by a great many Lebanese — and you have gone a long way toward reducing Hezbollah’s ability to act violently both along the border and even farther afield (that is if the American assertions of Hezbollah involvement in Iraq are to be believed).

In the meantime, you will have also pushed Hezbollah further into the muck of “normal” Lebanese politicking — an unflattering arena in which the Party of God is already uncharacteristically flip-flopping a- round, hurling accusations of “collaboration” at one moment while at the next suggesting the formation of a “national unity” government with some of those same “collaborators.”

For this oblique form of containment to work, however, the United States must first address what Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has long termed the “four bleeding wounds” that engender public support for his party’s use of violence against Israel.

These are the handing over of maps of the land mines the Israelis left in South Lebanon during the occupation; the return of all Lebanese prisoners; an end to Israeli overflights of Lebanon (which are arguably unnecessary in any case); and, finally, Israel’s relinquishing of the disputed Shebaa Farms area, which, according to a report last week in the Israeli daily Haaretz, the United Nations may declare as Lebanese by the end of the month.

As Mr. Nasrallah put it shortly after the last successful prisoner exchange with Israel in 2004, “These fools do not learn from their past mistakes: when they withdrew from Lebanon, they continued to occupy the Shebaa Farms and kept our brothers in custody.” By doing that, Mr. Nasrallah said of the Israelis, “they opened the door for us.”

Cut to the chase and recognize the sovereign state of South Lebanon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:47 AM


Fight Over Documents May Favor Bush, Experts Say: Contempt Charge Precedents Cited in Firings Case (Dan Eggen and Amy Goldstein, 7/21/07, Washington Post)

The Bush administration's vow this week to block contempt charges from Congress could prove to be a successful strategy for protecting White House documents about the multiple firings of U.S. attorneys, Democratic legal scholars and legislative aides said yesterday.

The experts cautioned that complaints by Democratic lawmakers about the administration's legal stance are undercut by a Justice Department legal opinion issued during the Clinton administration. It contended, as the Bush administration did this week, that Congress has no power to force a U.S. attorney to pursue contempt charges in cases in which a president has invoked executive privilege to withhold documents or testimony.

Separation of Powers just isn't all that complex.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 AM


PAC tries new tactic to boost Obama run: Sees way around spending limits (Michael Kranish, July 21, 2007, Boston Globe)

The group sponsoring the Web page is not Obama's campaign, but an independent political action committee called Vote Hope 2008, which says that its goal is to help Obama become president and that it will spend $2 million to get out the vote for him.

Federal law prohibits political action committees, or PACs, from spending more than $5,000 in support of a candidate.

But Vote Hope's founders argue that this restriction does not apply to their group because they do not plan to coordinate their spending with Obama's campaign. Thus, there's no limit to what they can spend promoting him, they said.

What's more, the group said contributors who have given the maximum $2,300 individual do nation to Obama's campaign can give $5,000 to Vote Hope 2008, the maximum individual donation to a PAC.

Vote Hope then would spend these donations promoting Obama, giving donors a way to nearly triple their maximum contribution to Obama's cause.

The implications are potentially dramatic, according to campaign finance specialists, especially if other PACs follow Vote Hope's example for Obama or other candidates.

"I haven't seen another one like this," said Kent Cooper, a former Federal Election Commission official and co founder of PoliticalMoneyLine, a nonpartisan group that tracks money and politics.

If the group is able to raise money successfully, it could be copied by others and that in turn "would create a wide new avenue for campaign-related cash."

If the Senator were a new kind of pol he wouldn't not do such things, just be more honest about them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 AM


Mariners inch closer to Angels: Batista escapes early trouble; Seattle one game out in AL West (JOHN HICKEY, 7/21/07, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER)

Kenji Johjima held his right thumb and right index finger about half an inch apart.

"This is how close we came," Johjima said.

The words he didn't have to use at the end of that sentence were "to losing." That's because Gregg Zaun's bases-loaded ground ball down the first base line didn't go for a three-run double.

By the margin Johjima indicated, or even less, the ball was foul. Moments later, Zaun grounded into a double play. One run scored, but Seattle starter Miguel Batista got two badly needed outs.

A three-run double versus a double play. It was a lopsided trade for Batista, who went on to become the Mariners' first 10-game winner of the year as Seattle beat the Blue Jays 4-2.

And, although he didn't know it at the time, Johjima's approximation could stand for the Mariners' position in the American League West race. With the Angels losing to the Twins on Friday, the Mariners come into Saturday one game out of first place in the division.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


An Iraqi's progress report: Baghdad's national security chief lists the advances and argues for more time. (Mowaffak Rubaie, July 21, 2007, LA Times)

The military force increase by the United States called "the surge" is only one element in the Iraqi and coalition strategy. The other elements are the political/diplomatic initiatives and economic progress — and the reality is that the strategy is working in spite of the monumental obstacles presented by international terrorists and difficult conditions inside Iraq.

Iraqi and coalition security forces are having major success against Al Qaeda and some of the other groups that are the principal sources of the violence that aims to overthrow our young democracy. From Al Anbar to Diyala, from Nineveh to Basra, the atrocities of the terrorists against our people are backfiring, and our citizens are coming forward to offer themselves to counter them.

Increasingly, Iraqis are showing confidence in our steadily improving security forces by leading them to hidden weapons and terrorist locations.

Iraq is continuing to increase the size and capabilities of its forces in the expectation that soon it will be able to decrease its reliance on coalition forces for direct combat functions. In no other modern country has the creation of new forces been as rapid and effective as in Iraq.

We also recognize that we have a long way to go.

Of course, Democrats and moderate Republicans also turned against the Cold War just as President Reagan was winning it.

The American leap of faith -- and ignorance (George H. Rosen, July 21, 2007, Boston Globe)

It is a truism that Americans have always been interested -- seriously, deeply interested -- in building heaven on earth. From John Winthrop's "city on a hill" to Brigham Young's Utah, and through the clusters of Fruitlands, Amanas, Zions, and towns called Hope, we have always followed millenarian dreams.

Though, to call them millenarian is perhaps misleading. The millenarian paradise comes at the end of time, and Americans have always believed -- in fact, insisted -- on their right to build heaven immediately, right now and right here. It is why political figures have always spoken so easily and often about the American Dream as an inalienable birthright. One doubts if the Uruguayan or Albanian dream comes as readily to the political tongue, and it would be understandable if the Iraqi dream right now is not heaven on earth, but merely the prospect of going to the market without being blown up.

There can be an instability to millenarian certainty, our American expectation of paradise now: a dangerous impatience. It is one thing to cherish a vision of earthly paradise and work for it, best exemplified in our modern history by the civil rights movement, where the heavenly visions of gospel anthems gave sustenance for the real world of struggle. It is quite another to have a rigid vision of the perfect, which when the world doesn't live up to one's expectations, deteriorates into scorn for one's fellows and a desire to run off, to escape the fallen world into a dimly understood somewhere else.

Living between ecstatic hope and black despair, we sometimes have a short fuse before our frustrations lead to flights that can harm, not only ourselves -- like the suicidal sea cook's -- but the real people who inhabit what is, for the escapees, a dim and imaginary refuge.

The foremost cautionary tale of such a disaster in our history is the story of William Walker, the Tennesseean who led a band of American fanatics and mercenaries south of the border in 1853 to take over a country -- any country -- as a haven for English-speaking rulers and the institution of slavery. Walker first tried seizing a chunk of northern Mexico, failed, and then moved further toward the equator.

In bloody encounters, he momentarily became the master of Nicaragua, where he repealed the country's 30-year-old emancipation proclamation, only to be driven yet further from home and sanity in repeated attempts to retake the country. Walker died before a Honduran firing squad in 1860 with a trail of pointless carnage behind him, quickly forgotten in his own land, but long remembered in the Central American countries that suffered at his hands.

Sadly, this peculiar strain in our national character may shed some light on our Iraq disaster.

It's a function of the immaturity of the Left that it can never get past the fact that the City on the Hill still has sewers. The Religious, unlike the Rationalist, understand that Man can not create perfection.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 AM


Garcia holds his two-shot lead: He plays a steady round with an even-par 71, two shots ahead of Choi. Woods fouls up his first shot and shoots a 74, leaving him seven behind. (Chuck Culpepper, July 21, 2007, LA Times)

Note the wizened old hand who clung to his perch Friday. He persevered when Carnoustie ramped up its surliness. He rescued himself right off the bat on No. 1 with a daydream of a chip. He held on for his toilsome, even-par 71. He played the role of grizzled sage in his 36th major tournament while others foundered and floundered.

Well, if it isn't Sergio Garcia, still 27 after all these years, and the 136th British Open somehow has become all about him. He's still hunting his first major title, just days after the retirement of his pioneering countryman Seve Ballesteros. [...]

All this, after Garcia missed the first two major cuts this year and arrived at Carnoustie with a new belly putter.

Fortunately, European men have no pride.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


In Brazil, an air of outrage over crash (Reed Johnson, July 21, 2007, LA Times)

As with the energy crisis, the aviation crisis appears to have raised doubts among many Brazilians about their government's ability to deal rapidly and effectively with an ongoing problem, hold officials accountable for their decisions and punish those responsible for failure.

While much of this week's indignation has been directed at the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, some say the problem goes beyond his administration and reflects more fundamental flaws in Brazilian society.

Lula and other top officials this week have avoided making public pronouncements about the crash at Sao Paulo's central city Congonhas airport that killed at least 190 people. However, they have been advancing theories that it might have been caused by mechanical failures with the plane rather than more systemic failures, and some here perceive what they say as an age-old tendency by Brazil's ruling classes to shirk blame.

"The Brazilian state does not acknowledge to any extent the notion of accountability," said Roberto Romano, a professor at the Institute of Philosophy and Human Science at the State University of Campinas in Sao Paulo state. "This happens again and again, and it has been worsened by two dictatorships of absolute power."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Harry Potter review: Is all well in the end? (Tibor Fischer, 21/07/2007, Daily Telegraph)

The mythology, jargon and cross-references that Rowling has built up makes Deathly Hallows nigh-on impossible to follow for the newcomer, despite the fact that Rowling has the characters discuss and regurgitate the plot at several points for easier reading.

Rowling has always insisted she had spent a long time mulling the story and she's always (like a good magician) had some surprising cards up her sleeve. The books have always gone as much backwards in time as forwards, and there are more revelations about the past of the Potter family, the now deceased Dumbledore, and my favourite character, Severus Snape.

There are very sound reasons why the Potter books have sold so well.

Rowling is extremely adroit at twists. The comic element that was so prominent in the earlier volumes (Rowling even indulged in a little political satire with the Ministry for Magic) nearly entirely evaporates here.

There is a huge set-piece battle between good and evil at Hogwarts as Voldemart's hordes besiege the school.

It's Armageddon. Ragnarok. But of course, it all boils down to single combat between Harry and Voldemort.

This part of the novel is far darker than anything in the other books and (although I doubt many of Rowling's readers will pick up on it) draws on the heroic stereotype from Achilles through to Christ.

We're on the Cape and were in downtown Falmouth tonight, where pretty much every business was participating in a big contest where you had to find letters, unscramble them, and sole a poem. There was an undeniable frisson of excitement when we peaked through a window and saw the crates of books in the backroom at the bookstore. Nevermind Ms Rowling's literary bona fides, she's created such a unique social phemonon that she deserves every penny she's made.

Harry and the final party: As midnight strikes around the globe, fans line up for the seventh and last installment of the magical J.K. Rowling story. (Josh Getlin and Martha Groves, July 21, 2007, LA Times)

If ever there was a global party, this was it.

The lines began forming outside London and Paris bookstores early in the morning Friday — hours before Los Angeles readers woke up — and the scene was repeated across the United States as Harry Potter fans gathered for midnight bashes to celebrate the release of J.K. Rowling's final installment in the blockbuster series: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."

In England, at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, Rowling began reading excerpts to an exclusive group of 1,000 invited children in London's imposing 19th century Natural History Museum, a suitable substitute for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

A mile down the road in Piccadilly, several thousand fans besieged Waterstone's, the London bookshop that has become the focal point for sales of the book. Flourish and Blotts, where Harry bought all his school books, was never so crowded.

The fans came from all over: Australia, Israel, Italy and Spain. A group from Turin, Italy, appeared dressed as a Quidditch team. Some readers came from America.

"We're going to grab our copies and rush back and read and read all night, then get together and talk," said Rita Gill, 18, of Laguna Beach. Gill, dressed in wizard's robes, had been waiting since 6.30 a.m. Thursday.

She was joined by Bri Sanders of San Clemente. The friends are sad that the Potter saga is ending but, as Sanders said, "It's so exciting too."

"Yeah, I'm sad but I think it's right it ends now; everything needs closure," Gill said philosophically.

There's magic in the air as fans cross globe to buy Potter finale (TIM CORNWELL, 7/21/07, The Scotsman)
In Australia, a man had to be rescued from a freezing lake after jumping in to retrieve his receipt for a pre-ordered book. In Bangkok, the British Ambassador was to present the first of 10,000 pre-ordered copies.

In Britain, the children's counselling service ChildLine said it had enlisted extra volunteers to field calls from distressed fans.

Senior ChildLine supervisor Kate Trench said: "For many children, Harry Potter and his friends have become a major part of their childhood. Death and loss of any kind can make children feel upset, angry and afraid."

A supermarket price war saw the book selling yesterday for a third of its recommended price, with Asda selling copies for £5 and Morrisons undercutting it by one penny.

The internet marketer Amazon said global pre-orders had hit 2.2 million. That was a 47 percent increase on the previous record for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the last book. The Waterstone's chain said it expects to sell three million copies.

Edinburgh became a Mecca for British and international fans yesterday. Outside Waterstone's branch opposite the Balmoral Hotel, where Rowling reportedly finished the book's last words, the queue began at 11am.

New Zealand sisters Brittney and Steffi Silk were first in line. They had saved for two years to fly over for a four-day Potter tour in London and Edinburgh.

"It's the final Harry Potter book," said Brittney, 16. "I've been a fan for half my life, so I thought we would come and experience it where it started."

July 20, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:01 PM


Senate erases Libby vote (Ken Strickland, 7/20/07, NBC: First Read)

Last night, the US Senate erased a page of history -- literally. The body agreed to permanently remove from the constitutionally mandated Congressional Record a vote they'd taken earlier in the evening on a measure saying the president should not pardon Scooter Libby. The vote failed 47-49, but any reference to the vote itself was expunged as though it never happened.

The Senate was in the process of finishing up an education bill, when various Republican senators called for votes on measures having nothing to do with education, like Gitmo and the Fairness Doctrine. After apparently getting annoyed, Democrats countered with the Libby amendment. "If you are going to shoot this way, we have to shoot that way," said Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) on the floor.

Republicans were besides themselves. "Until this last amendment, I haven't seen politically inspired amendments before this body," Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said in opposition. There was so much audible grumbling from senators in reaction (and disbelief), that Kyl had to pause for it to subside. After the Libby vote failed, Republicans struck back hard, offering a amendment condemning about a dozen previous pardons by President Clinton. As one GOP aide put it, "we brought our gun to the knife fight." But cooler heads prevailed when both party leaders decided not to have the Clinton vote, and the Majority Leader Harry Reid simply asked that the Libby vote "be vitiated and stricken from the record."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:34 PM

FETCH REWRITE... (via Brian Boys):

Tiny Brain No Problem for French Tax Official (Der Spiegel, 7/20/07)

The commonly spouted wisdom that people only use 10 percent of their brain power may have been dismissed as a myth, but one French man seems to be managing fine with just a small fraction of his actual brain.

In fact the man, who works as a civil servant in southern France, has succeeded in living an entirely normal life despite a huge fluid-filled cavity taking up most of the space where his brain should be. [...]

"The case is extreme, but there are other cases of patients with incredibly little brain matter," Florian Heinen, a brain development expert at the Dr. von Hauner's Children's Hospital at Munich University, explained to the Süddeutsche Zeitung. "Obviously these few nerve cells can achieve just as much as the millions more cells that other people have."

...because a whole bunch of the Darwinists' Just So stories just became even more ludicrous.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:25 PM


Has the Religious Right Found Its Man in Thompson? (David Domke, 7/20/07, Real Clear Politics)

Here's what Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention had to say in early April: "Fred Thompson reminds me of a Southern-fried Reagan. To see Fred work a crowd must be what it was like to watch Rembrandt paint."

In June Southern Baptist executive committee president Morris Chapman, who said he hasn't settled on a candidate yet, nonetheless added: "Another Southern Baptist called Fred Thompson the Ronald Reagan of the South, and I think he has some of that appeal. He is a magnetic personality. He seems to articulate his opinions clearly. He seems to be unflappable." [...]

In late March, Focus on the Family's James Dobson said he doubted that Thompson was a Christian. But Gilgoff--whose 2007 book The Jesus Machine documents the rising political influence of Dobson--reported that Dobson is now "rumored to be reassessing Thompson." Indeed, a Dobson spokesman laid out the political pathway for Reagan, er Thompson, telling CNN that "Thompson hasn't clearly communicated his religious faith, and many evangelical Christians might find this a barrier to supporting him."

Translation: show us a sign--a public sign--and we'll believe. Expect Thompson, therefore, to deliver a high-profile speech about values and faith in the coming months, perhaps even before he kicks off his campaign (now rumored to be set for just after Labor Day).

He probably has to almost move to SC, because he'll have to break Maverick's IA/NH momentum to have a shot.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:21 PM


Born gay? No Way! (Richard Cohen, 20 July 2007, New Statesman)

“Born gay? No way.” That’s what I said to the therapist who tried to convince me that I was born with the homosexual feelings I so deeply wanted to overcome. I experienced unwanted same-sex attractions (SSA) since I was in grade school. In middle school and high school those desires intensified. As my male friends became increasingly interested in girls, I became increasingly interested in them. In my undergraduate years of college, I had a male partner for three years. But, with all my heart, I wanted to marry a woman and have a family.

Fast forward to today. My wife and I just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. Our three children created a beautiful celebration. Our oldest son is in medical school, our daughter is a high school English teacher, and our youngest son is in the seventh grade. It was a monumental moment for our family.

So how did I finally fulfill my dream to marry and create a loving family? I searched long and hard to find those who could help me understand the meaning of my homosexual feelings. “Born gay?” I knew in my gut that was not true, at least not for me. I learned there were several contributing factors which led to my unwanted SSA: 1) I had quite a sensitive temperament which led me to experience people and situations very deeply; 2) my dad and I didn’t connect, our characters were so different; 3) my mom and I were too close, our characters were very similar; 4) my older brother was deeply hurt by our dad and took his pain out on me; and 5) a friend of the family sexually abused me when I was five years old. When I worked through the pain of each relationship and grieved the losses of my past, literally, my unwanted SSA left my body and soul. It took quite a long time, and today I am living my dream.

Wow, the whole secret formula.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:26 AM


Bush's Cognitive Dissonance (Eugene Robinson, July 20, 2007, Washington Post)

Last week, George W. Bush invited nine conservative pundits to the White House for what amounted to a pep talk, with the president providing the pep. Somehow I was left off the list -- must have been an oversight. But some columnists who attended have been writing about the meeting or describing it to colleagues, and their accounts are downright scary.

National Review's Kate O'Beirne, who joined the presidential chat in the Roosevelt Room, told me that the most striking thing was the president's incongruously sunny demeanor. Bush's approval ratings are well below freezing, the nation is sooooo finished with his foolish and tragic war, many of his remaining allies in Congress have given notice that come September they plan to leave the Decider alone in his private Alamo -- and the president remains optimistic and upbeat.

Bush was "not at all weary or anguished" and in fact was "very energized," wrote Michael Barone of U.S. News & World Report. He was "as confident and upbeat as ever," observed Rich Lowry of National Review. "Far from being beleaguered, Bush was assertive and good-humored," according to David Brooks of the New York Times.

Excuse me? [...]

One of the more unnerving reports out of the president's seminar with the pundits came from Brooks, who quoted Bush as saying: "It's more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn't exist."

The confusion is pretty fundamental. Mr. Bush believes that such gifts impose responsibilities and can be lost when they aren't accepted and the gift defended. Mr. Robinson thinks every gift ought to be a free lunch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Southwest orders 25 Boeing 737s (JAMES WALLACE, 7/20/07, Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Southwest Airlines, which announced Thursday that its legendary chairman and co-founder, Herb Kelleher, will resign in May, has ordered another 25 Boeing 737s.

The order is worth about $1.7 billion at the list price of the 737-700. Southwest said it exercised options to buy the jets, which will be delivered starting in 2013.

The Boeing Co. said the Southwest jets were among 36 new orders that it won in the past week, raising its total for the year to 616 net orders. Other new orders included six 787s and two 777s.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Plame's Suit Against Top Officials Dismissed (Carol D. Leonnig, 7/20/07, Washington Post)

A federal judge yesterday dismissed a lawsuit filed by former CIA officer Valerie Plame and her husband against Vice President Cheney and other top officials over the Bush administration's disclosure of Plame's name and covert status to the media.

U.S. District Judge John D. Bates said that Cheney and the others could not be held liable for the disclosures in the summer of 2003 in the midst of a White House effort to rebut criticism of the Iraq war by her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. The judge said that such efforts are a natural part of the officials' job duties, and, thus, they are immune from liability.

"The alleged means by which defendants chose to rebut Mr. Wilson's comments and attack his credibility may have been highly unsavory," Bates wrote. "But there can be no serious dispute that the act of rebutting public criticism, such as that levied by Mr. Wilson against the Bush administration's handling of prewar foreign intelligence, by speaking with members of the press is within the scope of defendants' duties as high-level Executive Branch officials."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Broader Privilege Claimed In Firings: White House Says Hill Can't Pursue Contempt Cases (Dan Eggen and Amy Goldstein, 7/20/07, Washington Post)

Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.

The position presents serious legal and political obstacles for congressional Democrats, who have begun laying the groundwork for contempt proceedings against current and former White House officials in order to pry loose information about the dismissals.

Under federal law, a statutory contempt citation by the House or Senate must be submitted to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, "whose duty it shall be to bring the matter before the grand jury for its action."

But administration officials argued yesterday that Congress has no power to force a U.S. attorney to pursue contempt charges in cases, such as the prosecutor firings, in which the president has declared that testimony or documents are protected from release by executive privilege. Officials pointed to a Justice Department legal opinion during the Reagan administration, which made the same argument in a case that was never resolved by the courts.

You'd think they'd understand the Separation of Powers by now and realize that the courts have no say either.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Band of the Week: Los Campesinos! (Eric Lach, 15 Jul 2007 , Paste)

Los Campesinos! are a typical college band. First, a bar-stool conversation about The Decemberists inspires a few fellow students to start playing music together. On Wednesdays, they pack into a dorm room and jam out. Then they add a violin. They play some shows. Then they record an EP with a respected producer and get picked up by a label. Following graduation, they get ready to play Lollapalooza. Yeah, typical school-kid stuff.

“We were making these noises but we had no idea what it sounded like all together,” says Gareth Campesinos! (like the Ramones, Los Campesinos! have all adopted the band’s name as their own) about the group’s formation as a septet in early 2006. “It wasn’t until probably about our sixth or seventh gig that we had a decent set [and] we could actually hear what the songs sounded like all together.”

From the start, the group’s mission was to have fun and keep things loose. Both the music and the band show a sense of humor that undercuts pretension. Gareth, who sings and plays keyboards, brought a glockenspiel to his first rehearsal. “I owned a glockenspiel," he recalls, "and I thought, ‘How can I show everybody else that I’m the man they want to sing in their band? I know, I’ll take a glockenspiel; nobody else will have one.'”

For Los Campesinos!, the past 12 months have sped by in a way that justifies the exclamation point at the end of their shared moniker. In September, the band recorded four tracks with producer David Newfeld (Broken Social Scene). Initially, they planned to release the songs “We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives,” “It Started With A Mixx,” “Don’t Tell Me To Do The Math(S),” and “You! Me! Dancing!” as singles. But when respected Canadian label Arts and Crafts signed the group, Los Campesinos! decided to add two more tracks, including a cover of Pavement’s “Frontwards,” and package the songs as an EP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


N.H. couple evade death and taxes: The Browns have been holed up, refusing to pay the IRS or go to prison. It's a battle that might end in bloodshed. (Erika Hayasaki, July 20, 2007, LA Times)

The Browns stopped paying income taxes in 1996. They say the Constitution and Supreme Court decisions support their claims that ordinary labor cannot be taxed. But a judge ruled against them in January, convicting the Browns of conspiring to evade paying taxes on $1.9 million in income from Elaine's dentistry practice.

Now, the Browns say they're in a battle for freedom, and it just might end in bloodshed right here, in a towering turreted house with 8-inch-thick concrete walls and an American flag fluttering over the double-car garage. They have garnered national support, with blogs devoted to news about the standoff and supporters regularly showing up on the couple's doorstep with groceries.

Government and law officials have cut off power, Internet, house phone, cellphone, television and mail service to the couple's 110-acre compound. But their house is equipped with solar panels, a watchtower, a satellite dish and a stockpile of food.

"We are self-sustained like a ship," Ed says. "We don't need power from the shore to run the ship."

FBI agents are trying to avoid a deadly shootout reminiscent of Waco, Texas, or Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

It's nothing like Waco, very like Ruby Ridge. The folks at Ruby Ridge deserved what they caused too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


America’s Opera Boom (Jonathan Leaf, July/August 2007, American)

Lakmé is one of five operas that the Minnesota Opera will present this year, and the success of the production illustrates one of the most unexpected developments in American life today: the burgeoning popularity of live opera. Even as symphony attendance declines and movie-theater admissions stagnate, opera-going has blossomed. The U.S., believe it or not, is one of the global leaders.

The U.S. now has 125 professional opera companies, 60 percent of them launched since 1970, according to the trade group OPERA America. The U.S. has more opera companies than Germany and nearly twice as many as Italy. In the most comprehensive recent study, the National Endowment for the Arts found that between 1982 and 2002, total attendance at live opera performances grew 46 percent.

Annual admissions are now estimated at 20 million, roughly the same attendance as NFL football games (22 million, including playoffs, in 2006–07). In part, this reflects a shift toward seeing opera domestically. “Foreign opera destinations like Salzburg and Glyndebourne are more expensive, and more Americans are staying home—and probably feeling safer for it,” says Richard Gaddes, general director of the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico.

Consequently, opera travel within the U.S.—even by foreigners—is booming. The Opera Theatre of Saint Louis drew attendees last year from 42 U.S. states, in addition to France, Germany, Britain, and Canada. Likewise, the Seattle Opera gets loads of Germans eager to see its highly regarded productions of Wagner’s operas. Gaddes says his company is “the major economic engine of tourism in Santa Fe.”

And the number of American opera productions continues to increase. As of 2005, OPERA America included companies under its aegis in 44 states. They put on 3,012 performances (up by one-third in just four years) of 420 different opera productions. Opera companies, moreover, are raising large amounts of money: $387 million in private contributions in 2005 alone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Deals in Iraq Make Friends of Enemies: In Tactical Shift for U.S., Informal Amnesties Win Some Insurgents' Cooperation (Thomas E. Ricks, 7/20/07, Washington Post)

Despite a White House report last week concluding that a formal amnesty initiative would be "counterproductive" for Iraq today, U.S. military officials in Iraq believe that successful counterinsurgency campaigns almost always involve some form of forgiveness as a means to ending the fighting and achieving political reconciliation.

Though no formal arrangement exists for granting amnesty to insurgents, the current deals amount to a kind of don't-ask-don't-tell pardon system. U.S. forces cooperate with former enemies in exchange for information about roadside bombs, weapons caches and sanctuaries of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the mainly Iraqi group that has sought to intensify the country's low-level civil war.

"Our engagement efforts with groups who were once adversaries is about getting them to point their weapons at al-Qaeda and other extremists," Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, said in a briefing yesterday, offering the most extensive public comments on the subject thus far. "We are ready and willing to engage with key leaders of any groups opposing AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] or other extremist groups." He said that U.S. forces have reached deals with a variety of groups, both Sunni and Shiite, "throughout Iraq," citing Baghdad, the provinces of Anbar and Diyala, the towns of Taji and Iskandariyah, the Arab Jabour region, and southern Iraq.

"They're all very different; they're all very localized," Odierno said of the arrangements. But, he added, they tend to follow three basic steps.

First, the leaders of the groups agree to stop attacking U.S. and Iraqi forces. Then they pledge to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq. Finally, U.S. and Iraqi officials try to get them to become part of Iraqi security forces, usually the police.

"There are no signed agreements," Odierno added. "They are . . . handshake agreements."

As with torture, the ability to test the intelligence they're giving you immediately makes it worthwhile. If they're lying just attack them.

July 19, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:42 PM


The Case for the Strong Executive: Under some circumstances, the rule of law must yield to the need for energy. (HARVEY C. MANSFIELD, May 2, 2007, Opinion Journal)

The case for a strong executive should begin from a study, on this occasion a quick survey, of the American republic. The American republic was the first to have a strong executive that was intended to be republican as well as strong, and the success, or long life, of America's Constitution qualifies it as a possible model for other countries. Modern political science beginning from Machiavelli abandoned the best regime featured by classical political science because the best regime was utopian or imaginary. Modern political scientists wanted a practical solution, and by the time of Locke, followed by Montesquieu, they learned to substitute a model regime for the best regime; and this was the government of England. The model regime would not be applicable everywhere, no doubt, because it was not intended to be a lowest common denominator. But it would show what could be done in the best circumstances.

The American Founders had the ambition to make America the model regime, taking over from England. This is why they showed surprising respect for English government, the regime they had just rebelled against. America would not only make a republic for itself, but teach the world how to make a successful republic and thus improve republicanism and save the reputation of republics. For previous republics had suffered disastrous failure, alternating between anarchy and tyranny, seeming to force the conclusion that orderly government could come only from monarchy, the enemy of republics. Previous republics had put their faith in the rule of law as the best way to foil one-man rule. The rule of law would keep power in the hands of many, or at least a few, which was safer than in the hands of one. As the way to ensure the rule of law, Locke and Montesquieu fixed on the separation of powers. They were too realistic to put their faith in any sort of higher law; the rule of law would be maintained by a legislative process of institutions that both cooperated and competed.

Now the rule of law has two defects, each of which suggests the need for one-man rule. The first is that law is always imperfect by being universal, thus an average solution even in the best case, that is inferior to the living intelligence of a wise man on the spot, who can judge particular circumstances. This defect is discussed by Aristotle in the well-known passage in his "Politics" where he considers "whether it is more advantageous to be ruled by the best man or the best laws."

The other defect is that the law does not know how to make itself obeyed. Law assumes obedience, and as such seems oblivious to resistance to the law by the "governed," as if it were enough to require criminals to turn themselves in. No, the law must be "enforced," as we say. There must be police, and the rulers over the police must use energy (Alexander Hamilton's term) in addition to reason. It is a delusion to believe that governments can have energy without ever resorting to the use of force.

The best source of energy turns out to be the same as the best source of reason--one man. One man, or, to use Machiavelli's expression, uno solo, will be the greatest source of energy if he regards it as necessary to maintaining his own rule. Such a person will have the greatest incentive to be watchful, and to be both cruel and merciful in correct contrast and proportion. We are talking about Machiavelli's prince, the man whom in apparently unguarded moments he called a tyrant.

The American Founders heeded both criticisms of the rule of law when they created the presidency. The president would be the source of energy in government, that is, in the administration of government, energy being a neutral term that might include Aristotle's discretionary virtue and Machiavelli's tyranny--in which only partisans could discern the difference. The founders of course accepted the principle of the rule of law, as being required by the republican genius of the American people. Under this principle, the wise man or prince becomes and is called an "executive," one who carries out the will and instruction of others, of the legislature that makes the law, of the people who instruct or inspire the legislature. In this weak sense, the dictionary definition of "executive," the executive forbears to rule in his own name as one man. This means that neither one-man wisdom nor tyranny is admitted into the Constitution as such; if there is need for either, the need is subordinated to, or if you will, covered over by, the republican principle of the rule of law.

Yet the executive subordinated to the rule of law is in danger of being subordinate to the legislature. This was the fault in previous republics. When the separation of powers was invented in 17th-century England, the purpose was to keep the executive subordinate; but the trouble was the weakness of a subordinate executive. He could not do his job, or he could do his job only by overthrowing or cowing the legislature, as Oliver Cromwell had done. John Locke took the task in hand, and made a strong executive in a manner that was adopted by the American Founders.

Locke was a careful writer, so careful that he did not care if he appeared to be a confused writer. In his "Second Treatise of Government" he announces the supremacy of the legislature, which was the slogan of the parliamentary side in the English Civil War, as the principle that should govern a well-made constitution. But as the argument proceeds, Locke gradually "fortifies" (to use James Madison's term) the executive. Locke adds other related powers to the subordinate power of executing the laws: the federative power dealing with foreign affairs, which he presents as conceptually distinct from the power of executing laws but naturally allied; the veto, a legislative function; the power to convoke the legislature and to correct its representation should it become corrupt; and above all, the prerogative, defined as "the power of doing public good without a rule." Without a rule! Even more: "sometimes too against the direct letter of the law." This is the very opposite of law and the rule of law--and "prerogative" was the slogan of the king's party in the same war.

Thus Locke combined the extraconstitutional with the constitutional in a contradiction; besides saying that the legislature is "the supreme power" of the commonwealth, he speaks of "the supreme executive power." Locke, one could say, was acting as a good citizen, bringing peace to his country by giving both sides in the Civil War a place in the constitution. In doing so he ensured that the war would continue, but it would be peaceful because he also ensured that, there being reason and force on both sides, neither side could win conclusively.

The American Constitution adopted this fine idea and improved it. The American Founders helped to settle Locke's deliberate confusion of supremacy by writing it into a document and ratifying it by the people rather than merely scattering it in the treatise of a philosopher. By being formalized the Constitution could become a law itself, but a law above ordinary law and thus a law above the rule of law in the ordinary sense of laws passed by the legislature. Thus some notion of prerogative--though the word "prerogative" was much too royal for American sensibilities--could be pronounced legal inasmuch as it was constitutional. This strong sense of executive power would be opposed, within the Constitution, to the rule of law in the usual, old-republican meaning, as represented by the two rule-of-law powers in the Constitution, the Congress which makes law and the judiciary which judges by the law.

The American Constitution signifies that it has fortified the executive by vesting the president with "the executive power," complete and undiluted in Article II, as opposed to the Congress in Article I, which receives only certain delegated and enumerated legislative powers. The president takes an oath "to execute the Office of President" of which only one function is to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." In addition, he is commander-in-chief of the military, makes treaties (with the Senate), and receives ambassadors. He has the power of pardon, a power with more than a whiff of prerogative for the sake of a public good that cannot be achieved, indeed that is endangered, by executing the laws. In the Federalist, as already noted, the executive represents the need for energy in government, energy to complement the need for stability, satisfied mainly in the Senate and the judiciary.

Energy and stability are necessary in every form of government, but in their previous, sorry history, republics had failed to meet these necessities. Republican government cannot survive, as we would say, by ideology alone. The republican genius is dominant in America, where there has never been much support for anything like an ancien régime, but support for republicanism is not enough to make a viable republic. The republican spirit can actually cause trouble for republics if it makes people think that to be republican it is enough merely to oppose monarchy. Such an attitude tempts a republican people to republicanize everything so as to make government resemble a monarchy as little as possible.

Although the Federalist made a point of distinguishing a republic from a democracy (by which it meant a so-called pure, nonrepresentative democracy), the urge today to democratize everything has similar bad effects. To counter this reactionary republican (or democratic, in today's language) belief characteristic of shortsighted partisans, the Federalist made a point of holding the new, the novel, American republic to the test of good government as opposed merely to that of republican government.

The test of good government was what was necessary to all government. Necessity was put to the fore. In the first papers of the Federalist, necessity took the form of calling attention to the present crisis in America, caused by the incompetence of the republic established by the Articles of Confederation. The crisis was both foreign and domestic, and it was a crisis because it was urgent. The face of necessity, the manner in which it first appears and is most impressive, is urgency--in Machiavelli's words, la necessità che non da tempo (the necessity that allows no time). And what must be the character of a government's response to an urgent crisis? Energy. And where do we find energy in the government? In the executive. Actually, the Federalist introduces the need for energy in government considerably before it associates energy with the executive. To soothe republican partisans, the strong executive must be introduced by stages.

One should not believe that a strong executive is needed only for quick action in emergencies, though that is the function mentioned first. A strong executive is requisite to oppose majority faction produced by temporary delusions in the people. For the Federalist, a strong executive must exercise his strength especially against the people, not showing them "servile pliancy." Tocqueville shared this view. Today we think that a strong president is one who leads the people, that is, one who takes them where they want to go, like Andrew Jackson. But Tocqueville contemptuously regarded Jackson as weak for having been "the slave of the majority." Again according to the Federalist, the American president will likely have the virtue of responsibility, a new political virtue, now heard so often that it seems to be the only virtue, but first expounded in that work.

"Responsibility" is not mere responsiveness to the people; it means doing what the people would want done if they were apprised of the circumstances. Responsibility requires "personal firmness" in one's character, and it enables those who love fame--"the ruling passion of the noblest minds"--to undertake "extensive and arduous enterprises."

Only a strong president can be a great president. Americans are a republican people but they admire their great presidents. Those great presidents--I dare not give a complete list--are not only those who excelled in the emergency of war but those, like Washington, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, who also deliberately planned and executed enterprises for shaping or reshaping the entire politics of their country.

This admiration for presidents extends beyond politics into society, in which Americans, as republicans, tolerate, and appreciate, an amazing amount of one-man rule. The CEO (chief executive officer) is found at the summit of every corporation including universities. I suspect that appreciation for private executives in democratic society was taught by the success of the Constitution's invention of a strong executive in republican politics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 PM


Obama: Don't stay in Iraq over genocide (PHILIP ELLIOTT, Associated Press)

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Thursday the United States cannot use its military to solve humanitarian problems and that preventing a potential genocide in Iraq isn't a good enough reason to keep U.S. forces there.

There's a perfectly rational argument to be made that one nation need not care about the genocide of another, and there's even a possibly compelling argument that some national interests can trump our moral obligation to stop a genocide, but it is morally repellent to argue that genocide isn't a good enough reason for America to intervene abroad.

Suppose, for example, that China decided to murder every Tibetan. Easy enough to argue that we have no political or economic interest in such a matter, but to then argue that the moral interest we'd have is not good enough to justify intervention is profoundly unAmerican.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 PM


Al Sharpton on the Return of Imus (RADAR, 7/19/07)

Imus buddy Bo Dietl dropped heavy hints on a radio show over the weekend that the aging shock jock will be back at WFAN no later than September. That would mean a mere five months of wandering in the wilderness for the I-Man, who was fired in April by CBS Radio and MSNBC after calling female college basketball players "nappy-headed hos."

Sharpton, of course, played no small part in Imus's downfall, even inviting the man onto his radio show to apologize to viewers only to declare his apology inadequate. Yet the Rev. tells Radar he would not oppose Imus's return this fall.

Imus will be rehired for the same reason he was fired. When sponsors started pulling ad money it scared programmers, but they can't find anyone to match his ratings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 PM


The Old World Order (ADAM KIRSCH, July 18, 2007, NY Sun)

Like the peace-makers at the end of every great war, the powers who assembled at Vienna promised the world that its sacrifices would not go for nothing. Napoleon had redrawn the map of Europe according to his own wishes, erasing a country here and creating one there, turning monarchs into paupers and his relatives and henchmen into kings. But the Allies, led by the moralistic and self-mythologizing Tsar Alexander, had vowed that they were fighting to return the principles of justice to international affairs. Mr. Zamoyski, who finds Alexander a repellent but irresistible subject, writes that the tsar "had come to view his struggle with the French Emperor not only as a personal contest, or as a clash between two empires, but as a veritable Armageddon between good and evil."

The problem was that good did not defeat Napoleon; the armies of three monarchs did, and each of those monarchs had his own vision for postwar Europe. Combining impressive scholarship — "Rites of Peace" cites sources in English, French, Russian and German — and a gift for clear narrative, Mr. Zamoyski unravels the tangle of motives and propaganda to show just what was at stake for each participant in the Congress. France, ironically, had the least to gain or lose. Her borders had been decided on months earlier, when the allied armies entered Paris. Instead, the major problems had to do with Poland and Germany, whose political arrangements had been thrown into complete chaos by the war.

Geographically, the problem at Vienna was roughly the same as the one facing the Allies at Potsdam in 1945. Russia, which bore the brunt of the war against Napoleon, had marched its armies across Europe and was now effectively in control of Poland and much of Prussia. Alexander, who had a messianic dream of restoring Poland to the map as a kingdom under his control, refused to give back the parts of Poland that had formerly belonged to Prussia. As a result, Prussia sought compensation to the west, demanding to annex the independent kingdom of Saxony. Austria, meanwhile, under the wily conservative Metternich, hoped to maintain a balance of power, to rein in Alexander's ambitions, and to keep Prussia from dominating the smaller German states. It was a thoroughly unedifying spectacle, in which the great powers swapped cities and provinces like horse-traders, while the claims of small nations were ruthlessly ignored.

By the time the Congress produced its Final Act, in June 1815 — after a hiatus for Napoleon's Hundred Days, a romantic episode to which Mr. Zamoyski devotes little attention — no one could still believe that a fairer world was in the offing. "We are completing the sad business of the Congress," wrote one diplomat, "which, by its results, is the most mean-spirited piece of work ever seen." As in 1945, power trumped justice, especially in Eastern Europe. Mr. Zamoyski has little patience for the argument, made by Henry Kissinger in his 1957 study "A World Restored," that at least the Congress established a workable international system that could guarantee peace.

In fact, he insists, the settlement of Vienna — which frustrated national aspirations in Germany and Italy, and installed "legitimate" autocrats in Spain and elsewhere — guaranteed an endless cycle of repression and revolution, which finally issued in the cataclysmic wars of the 20th century. "The peacemakers of Vienna," Mr. Zamoyski concludes, "had attempted to reconstruct a European community in total disregard of the direction in which the Continent was moving," and rulers and peoples alike paid the price.

The lesson of the English/American Revolution is so simple and yet we've had so much trouble learning it: governments have to be consensual to be legitimate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 PM


Growing links for US and India (Xenia Dormandy, July 19, 2007, Boston Globe)

Defense cooperation is booming, with many potential acquisitions on the line. India is modernizing its military, putting out large bids for aircraft, with US companies as some of the front-runners. This past year, the US Navy transferred its decommissioned ship the USS Trenton to the Indian Navy. We are close to deals on large transport aircraft. Also, joint military exercises are expanding, to include the participation of Japan alongside the United States and India.

In science and technology, cooperation continues, whether through a new "green revolution" that is being jump-started with large financial commitments from both nations, or space cooperation recently promoted by the announcement of US instruments being placed on an Indian lunar shuttle. People-to-people links have multiplied: For the last three years, India has sent more students to the United States than any other country including China. At the same time, the number of American students in India has doubled over the past year. More and more Indian entrepreneurs are returning to India after some years in America in a "reverse brain-drain."

Notwithstanding lack of progress on the Doha negotiations, trade and investment between the two countries have also multiplied. While it has not achieved the intended "doubling of bilateral trade in three years" that was announced in March 2006, trade is growing by over 20 percent per year with steady advances as Indian markets open up and tariffs are removed in both countries. Niche market it might be, but after 18 years of disputes, Americans can now buy Indian mangos.

The links keep expanding, whether in counterterrorism where the two countries are working ever more intimately, to disaster relief, pandemics, health, energy, and the environment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 PM


Hamilton: Time for US to get tough on war-on-terror allies: The former co-chair of the Iraq Study Group said the US's relationship with Pakistan needs to be reevaluated. The US also needs to be firmer with Iraq's prime minister on meeting deadlines for benchmarks (David Cook, 7/19/07, CS Monitor)

"I think that our relationship with Pakistan needs to be reconsidered, reevaluated.… What has driven our relationship with Pakistan has been the fear that the alternative to Musharraf would be a radical government with a nuclear bomb. I think that fear is overstated…. I believe it is necessary for the United States to be able to go after the sanctuaries in Pakistan," [Lee Hamilton] said.

When he was asked whether such action could cause the Musharraf government to fall, Mr. Hamilton responded, "It is a risk, and it is a risk I would be willing to take."

Indeed, from a purely military perspective the alternative is welcome because it just makes everything in country a legitimate target.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 PM


Curtis LeMay: Bombing To Win (CARL ROLLYSON, July 18, 2007, NY Sun)

"Whatever other names arise," Barrett Tillman writes in "LeMay: A Biography", General Curtis LeMay and Admiral Chester Nimitz "were the two commanders most responsible for defeating the Japanese Empire." Nimitz rebuilt the Navy after Pearl Harbor and at Midway delivered a blow to the Japanese carrier force from which it could never recover. Similarly, LeMay took the air battle to the Japanese homeland, perfecting the B29 on bombing missions that may well have won the war even without the atomic bomb.

Not that LeMay opposed the bomb. He was certain it would shorten the war and minimize the huge losses an American invasion of the Japanese homeland would entail. Indeed, World War II confirmed LeMay's military doctrine of stipulating the use of maximum, overwhelming force to defeat an enemy. He deplored the gradual escalation of firepower in Korea and Vietnam, and as soon as he heard of plans for the Bay of Pigs invasion, he pronounced the invasion force doomed, especially when air cover was withdrawn, leaving the invaders easy targets for Castro's army.

LeMay was the quintessential Cold Warrior who gave no quarter. He was called a Neanderthal because he favored a first strike against the Soviet Union. But to LeMay it made no sense to absorb the deaths of millions of Americans and then retaliate.

LeMay emerges as a tragic figure in Robert Rhodes's Dark Sun, though that's not the author's intent. When his superiors quibbled that strinking moscow in the immediate post-war poeriod was too dangerous, LeMay had bombers make phony bombing runs to demonstrate that they
could do so with complete impunity. Instead of taking advantage, we absorbed the deaths of ten of millions over fifty wasted years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 PM


Busted! Red-light cameras nab 13,966 drivers in a rush (Roxana Popescu, 7/19/07, Seattle Times)

Red-light cameras installed at four Seattle intersections last year have resulted in nearly 14,000 traffic citations and brought in just over $900,000 in revenue, according to a preliminary report to be issued today.

But their real value, the city says, is they have led to a marked drop in violations for running red lights and in the severity of traffic collisions at the intersections.

At the intersections, red-light violations dropped by a third over the course of the year, after a brief initial spike, according to the report. Weekly citations per camera went from about 90 in July 2006 to just under 60 in May.

There also was a reduction in the severity of accidents at the intersections, though only a slight drop in frequency.

Objections to things like traffic cameras and passive alcohol detectors are just a function of folks wanting to skirt the law.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 PM


Iranian Public Ready to Deal on Nuclear Weapons, But Not Uranium Enrichment: The Iranian public is ready to support a deal committing the Iranian government to renounce the development of nuclear weapons and allow full inspections. Iranians are not willing, however, to support giving up the enrichment of uranium for nuclear energy. (World Public Opinion, 7/19/07)

A new poll by sponsored by Terror Free Tomorrow and conducted by D3 Systems shows that a slight majority of Iranians (52%) believe their country should develop nuclear weapons. Nonetheless, overwhelming majorities support a deal under which Iran would provide “full inspections and a guarantee not to develop or possess nuclear weapons” in exchange for incentives, including:

• trade and capital investment overall to create more jobs (favored by 80%)
• trade and capital investment in energy refineries to lower the price of gasoline (79%)
• medical, education and humanitarian assistance to Iranian people in need (80%)
• technological assistance for developing peaceful nuclear energy (80%)

A slight majority (51%) would also be willing to offer “full transparency by Iran to assure there are no Iranian endeavors to develop or possess nuclear weapons” as part of a process of normalizing relations with the United States.

Iranians are not ready to negotiate away their nuclear energy program, however. In the Terror Free Tomorrow (TFT) poll an extraordinarily high 92 percent approves (78% strongly) of Iran’s effort to develop nuclear energy. [...]

Polls from other organizations also suggest that though Iranians support nuclear energy, they do not put a high priority on developing nuclear weapons. A WPO poll conducted in the fall of 2006 found that two thirds approved of Iran being part of the NPT, even when reminded that this meant Iran was prohibited from developing nuclear weapons. Only 15 percent favored Iran withdrawing from the treaty while 60 percent were opposed.

The TFT poll shows that only 29 percent of Iranians consider “developing an arsenal of nuclear weapons” to be a “very important long-term goal” for the government of Iran. In contrast, “improving the Iranian economy” is considered very important by 88 percent and “seeking trade and political relations with Western countries” by 47 percent.

And so Mahmoud finds himself with no support from above or below.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 PM


Who's Your Daddy? (Michelle Cottle, 07.18.07, New Republic)

To watch Thompson work a crowd like this is to glimpse the primordial roots of the Fred Fever currently gripping the GOP. Part of the appeal is obvious: A well-known actor, Thompson carries with him an inherent star quality that cannot be overestimated in our celebrity-obsessed culture. Moreover, after years of portraying a particular type of folksy authority figure, Thompson gives voters the sense that they already know who he is and what sort of leader he would be. Conversely, as a still relatively unknown political commodity, the candidate has a touch of the blank-slate phenomenon working for him, allowing savior-hungry Republicans to project onto him whichever personal and ideological traits they most desire. Underlying all of this, however, is an even more primal allure: In any given situation, Fred Thompson fundamentally seems like more of a man than anyone else around him.

If there's one thing conservatives are obsessed with these days, it's manliness.

How can someone be employed as a political analyst if they don't grasp the truism that conservatism is male and liberalism female?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 PM


Democracy has never been an idyll (Ziauddin Sardar, 19 July 2007, New Statesman)

Presented by the historian Bettany Hughes, Athens: the Truth About Democracy argues that the Athenian model was rooted in military adventurism and the economic exploitation of slave labour. This democracy was not inclusive: it veiled women in public and excluded them from public life. Deeply rooted in superstition, it labelled all objectors "idiotes". In short order this newfangled democracy destroyed itself through endemic warfare, enthusiastically supported by the select voting populace.

In other words, democracy is no idyll; it is what people make of it. It is no good looking at an idealised model. What Athenians did with it is at least as relevant. Socrates, who gave us our noble ideal of free speech, was condemned to death for upsetting the established moral order. The political ideas of his student Plato were eulogised by Stalin and Hitler.

Rather than being true to the xenophobia that was a defining quality of the classical Greek world-view, we would do well to consider their achievements in context. This is one of two opportunities missed in the Channel 4 documentaries. Their focus is on an Athens detached from its vibrant, Middle Eastern contemporaries. The Greeks did not emerge from nothing. Their thought, art and science derived from the sophistication of the Middle Eastern civilisations with which they contended for dominance.

The second missed opportunity is the failure to explore properly the suggestion that there are explicit parallels between the histories of Athenian democracy and the United States, the country that most resembles the classical model. Like Athens, the US is an imperial power based on a war economy. Like Athens, America exploits the people and wealth of other nations. Like Athens, American democracy is elitist. And like Athens, America needs to be judged not by its claims, but by what it makes of its high ambition.

So close to an insight, only to stumble at the post. The point of his own comparison is actually that, while America is not perfect in the abstract, when judged against its contemporaries it is easy to see why its aspirations have made it dominant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 PM


Onward, Christian Soldiers: God's War is the new standard in the field; a review of God's War: A New History of the Crusades by Christopher Tyerman (Alfred J. Andrea, 7/19/2007, Christianity Today)

Tyerman takes pains to point out that the old moralistic reductionism does violence to the complexities of history. He ends his book on a subtle note: "[T]he internal personal decision to follow the cross, to inflict harm on others at great personal risk, at the cost of enormous privations, at the service of a consuming cause, cannot be explained, excused or dismissed either as virtue or sin. Rather, its very contradictions spelt its humanity."

Adjectives for God's War almost fail. "Comprehensive," "monumental," and "epic" come to mind, and they are appropriate but scarcely adequate.

In brief, this is a work by a master historian that will replace Runciman's classic as the standard survey in the field. The spirit of Sir Steven constantly pops up throughout its pages, often as a foil for Christopher Tyerman's assertions and conclusions that run counter to those of his great predecessor.

Among the other misconceptions that Tyerman attacks head on is one that Runciman did not articulate but which has become fashionable today. It says that medieval holy wars between the Cross and the Crescent led directly to such phenomena as Western imperialism and contemporary Islamic anger over a presumed millennium-long assault on it by the Christian West.

Tyerman dismisses such putative connections as nonsensical inventions. In doing so, he mirrors an emerging consensus among Crusade historians that the Islamic world largely forgot about the Crusades after 1300. After all, it had been the victor, and under Ottoman leadership, it put Christian Europe on the defensive for about 400 years. All of this changed around 1900. At that time, Muslim anger over European imperial designs on the Middle East provided sufficient context for it to create the image of the "crusading Christian West."

A book that runs more than 1,000 pages (including notes) might be ponderous and unreadable. It is not. Tyerman's touch is light, his prose sparkles, and his delightful wit gives it spice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 PM


The unruly end of empire: An epic tragedy brought about by hubris, confused thinking and lack of planning: a review of The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan
By Yasmin Khan (The Economist 7/19/07)

SIXTY years ago this August one of the greatest and most violent upheavals of the 20th century took place on the Indian subcontinent. It was an event whose consequences were entirely unexpected and whose meaning was never fully spelled out or understood either by the politicians who took the decision or the millions of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs who were to become its victims. In 1947, faced with irreconcilable differences over the demand for a separate state for India's Muslims, Britain decided, with the consent of a majority of India's political leaders, to partition the country and give each bit its independence. Tragedy followed.

The break-up of Britain's Indian empire involved the movement of some 12m people, uprooted, ordered out, or fleeing their homes and seeking safety. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, thousands of children disappeared, thousands of women were raped or abducted, forced conversions were commonplace. The violence polarised communities on the subcontinent as never before. The pogroms and killings were organised by gangs, vigilantes and militias across northern, western and eastern India. They were often backed by local leaders, politicians from Congress and the Muslim League, maharajahs and princes, and helped by willing or frightened civil servants.

Yasmin Khan, a British historian, has written a riveting book on this terrible story.

It's a mark of just how little we ever recall of history that folks imagined the decolonization of Iraq would not be accompanied by any similar movement of peoples or outright killings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 PM


The Democratic Wimp-Out (Cal Thomas, 7/19/07, Real Clear Politics)

Senate Democrats, who had announced an all-nighter Tuesday to reiterate their anti-war positions, packed it in shortly before midnight, surrendering to a greater desire for a few hours sleep. Only a handful of stalwart senators kept the Senate -- technically -- in session. We know that Senate Democrats don't have the staying power to win the war in Iraq, but can't they even make it through the night without some shuteye?

"Harry, sweetheart," said Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, who led a group of Democrats in pleading with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for a delay in voting, "5:30 or 6?" Reid complied and senators abandoned the chamber so fast you would have thought it was on fire. This was not a demonstration of the strength needed to strike fear in the hearts of those who can tough it out in caves while plotting new ways to destroy us.

Eliza Doolittle could have "danced all night," but the prospect of staying awake all night was too much for the aging bodies and weakened spirits of most senators. Having surrendered to the loony left and having sent signals to our enemies that they are no longer in the fight to win it, most went to sleep.

Sellf-righteousness is only really a problem when you fool yourself into believing you're destined to win just because you're right. It typically takes some heavy lifting too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 PM


The meaning of EADS: In the end, it was a fight between globalisation and nationalism—and globalisation won (The Economist, 7/19/07)

A MEETING at the Airbus head office between Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy on July 16th was due to bring the drama of EADS to a climax. But the expected face-off in the battle for control of European Aeronautic Defence and Space, the parent company of Airbus and Eurocopter, never happened. For even before the German chancellor and the French president sat down together, the company announced that the dispute had been satisfactorily resolved.

In some ways the story of EADS has been a one-off. No firm has ever been so bitterly fought over by two governments. No company has ever been saddled with such a daft management structure in consequence. No corporate saga has ever demonstrated quite so conclusively that politics and business don't mix. But the tale illustrates a general point too: that even the maddest manifestations of economic nationalism give way in the end to the pressure of globalisation.

Bridging the globalism-nationalism gap (Max Fraad Wolff, 7/20/07, Asia Times)
The United States is fundamentally dependent on the rest of the world and the present financial and trade architecture. The US imports 64% of the world's savings and increasing portions of its food, energy, appliances, clothing, toys, vehicles and inputs to production. Foreign nationals, funds, firms and governments have been literally supporting US households, firms and the government with credit.

At present 52% of marketable US Treasury debt obligations are foreign-owned. More than $1 of every $3 lent to Uncle Sam is lent by a foreign government, and 35% of marketable US Treasuries are owned by foreign government institutions. Foreign entities own 20% of US corporate bonds and 14% of US equities.

You would never know it from the political rhetoric and debate in the US. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is currently terror-baiting numerous firms - disproportionately foreign - on its official website. The United States is fast becoming the worst offender in terms of political policy, statements and actions that ignore interdependence and offer nasty hyperbole. Real tensions with Russia are seen in a mini-cold war light as US pundits and politicians just cannot seem to fathom divergent opinion.

Blocking deals with Middle Eastern and East Asian firms proliferates as US private-equity firms, hedge funds and investment advisers look offshore for growth opportunities. Massive tariffs against Chinese goods are regularly debated in Congress. Some are beginning to refer to rumblings and restrictions with China as a trade war.

A rapidly growing portion of America's goods and services are imported. A rising percentage of American workers are employed in foreign enterprises or in export industries. More than 5% of US private employment is in foreign multinational affiliates operating in the United States. Investment flows into foreign mutual funds have topped the charts for the past several years. Leading US firms operate in more and more foreign lands and are growing and shifting operations offshore.

US multinational enterprises and their affiliates employed more than 31 million offshore workers in 2004. The foreign component of reported corporate earnings has been rising more rapidly than gross domestic product. US corporations earned a reported US$292 billion from offshore activities during the first quarter of 2007. Leading American politicians, pundits and business leaders preach to the world about free trade and unfettered market efficiency.

Nationalists, nativists, isolationists, statists, etc., can win an occassional holding action, but they're continually losing ground overall and the only question is the pace at which they lose the war.

The cross of gold: The Democratic candidates have veered to the left (The Economist, 7/19/07)

AT LEAST no one will be able to say that they were not given a clear choice. It is 15 months to election day, and the identity of the nominee on each side remains shrouded in uncertainty. But it is already pretty clear that whoever the two candidates are, the Democrat will run well to the left of the Republican. The 2008 presidential election is shaping up to be a battle over nothing less than America's attitude to globalisation. [...]

The Democrats who, in the 1990s, gave America the Uruguay round, the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and permanent most-favoured-nation trading status for China have changed. Alas, none of the leading candidates, and precious few Democrats of any stripe, would now call themselves free-traders.

Even Hillary Clinton, the most centrist of the leading Democratic contenders, whose husband signed all three of those big trade deals, has found it politic to project herself as a trade sceptic. She opposes a free-trade deal with South Korea, America's seventh-biggest trading partner, and voted against the Central American Free-Trade Agreement. She has said that America needs a “little time out” before making any further trade deals. The two leading candidates to her left have gone further. John Edwards and Barack Obama have both denounced NAFTA and called for its renegotiation. None of the three supported moves to extend the president's “fast-track” trade negotiation authority, which expired last month.

The Economist, naturally, does not take this view. It would be naive not to recognise that many middle-class Americans feel that the huge burst of globalisation since the 1990s has not benefited them much: real average wages have been flat and perceived job insecurity has increased. But globalisation is a scapegoat; many economists argue that rising inequality has far more to do with technology (which Mrs Clinton, strangely enough, is not condemning) than with trade. And what happens to American jobs when foreigners start retaliating with trade barriers of their own?

Sweating in Sarkoland: Coping with the irksome notion of hard work (The Economist, 7/19/07)
A DISTURBING thought is gently dawning on the French. What if President Nicolas Sarkozy really means it about working hard in the new France? How, but how, in the land of the 35-hour week, are the French to cope?

Worrying signs that he may be serious abound. At a time when the French usually head off on their long summer break, the president has ordered deputies to attend a special session of parliament until August 3rd. The “hyper-president” is setting the pace with his own whirlwind schedule. At his White House-style briefing last week, his spokesman, David Martinon, had already lost his voice.

Christine Lagarde, the finance minister, has unveiled a new “law in favour of work”. “France is a country that thinks,” she declared. “But enough thinking now! It's time to roll up our sleeves.” Mr Sarkozy campaigned on the slogan “working more to earn more”, lauding “the France that gets up early”. Ms Lagarde intends to put this into action. It was time, she said, to break with a French “tradition of contempt” for work “that reaches back to the ancien régime.”

The culture shock promises to be brutal.

End of Dreams, Return of History (Robert Kagan, 7/19/07, Real Clear Politics)
The world has become normal again. The years immediately following the end of the Cold War offered a tantalizing glimpse at a new kind of international order, with nations growing together or disappearing altogether, ideological conflicts melting away, cultures intermingling through increasingly free commerce and communications. But that was a mirage, the hopeful anticipation of a liberal, democratic world that wanted to believe the end of the Cold War did not end just one strategic and ideological conflict but all strategic and ideological conflict. People and their leaders longed for "a world transformed." Today the nations of the West still cling to that vision. Evidence to the contrary -- the turn toward autocracy in Russia or the growing military ambitions of China -- is either dismissed as a temporary aberration or denied entirely. [...]

When the Cold War ended, it was possible to imagine that the world had been utterly changed: the end of international competition, the end of geopolitics, the end of history. When in the first decade after the Cold War people began describing the new era of "globalization," the common expectation was that the phenomenon of instantaneous global communications, the free flow of goods and services, the rapid transmission of ideas and information, and the intermingling and blending of cultures would further knit together a world that had already just patched up the great ideological and geopolitical tears of the previous century. "Globalization" was to the late twentieth century what "sweet commerce" was to the late eighteenth -- an anticipated balm for a war-weary world.

In the 1990s serious thinkers predicted the end of wars and military confrontations among great powers. European "postmodernism" seemed to be the future: the abandonment of power politics in favor of international institutions capable of managing the disagreements among nations. Even today, there are those who believe the world is moving along the same path as the European Union. John Ikenberry recently described the post-Cold War era, the decade of the 1990s, as a liberal paradise:

NAFTA, APEC, and the WTO signaled a strengthening of the rules and institutions of the world economy. NATO was expanded and the U.S.-Japan alliance was renewed. Russia became a quasi-member of the West and China was a "strategic partner" with Washington. Clinton's grand strategy of building post-Cold War order around expanding markets, democracy, and institutions was the triumphant embodiment of the liberal vision of international order. 22

Perhaps it was these grand expectations of a new era for humankind that helped spur the anger and outrage at American policies of the past decade. It is not that those policies are in themselves so different, or in any way out of character for the United States. It is that to many people in Europe and even in the United States, they have seemed jarringly out of place in a world that was supposed to have moved on.

As we now know, however, both nationalism and ideology were already making their comeback in the 1990s. Russia had ceased to be and no longer desired to be a "quasi-member" of the West, and partly because of NATO enlargement. China was already on its present trajectory and had already determined that American hegemony was a threat to its ambitions. The forces of radical Islam had already begun their jihad, globalization had already caused a backlash around the world, and the juggernaut of democracy had already stalled and begun to tip precariously.

After the Second World War, another moment in history when hopes for a new kind of international order were rampant, Hans Morgenthau warned idealists against imagining that at some point "the final curtain would fall and the game of power politics would no longer be played. " But the world struggle continued then, and it continues today. Six decades ago American leaders believed the United States had the unique ability and the unique responsibility to use its power to prevent a slide back to the circumstances that produced two world wars and innumerable national calamities. Although much has changed since then, America 's responsibility has not.

Perhaps missing the point that China and Russia--nevermind al Qaeda--offer no alternative to the Western (Anglo-American) model and are trivial military challengers. Folks seem awfully bothered that the End of History didn't happen with a snap of the fingers. You'd think some patience might be warranted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 PM


The riddle of Iran: Iran's leaders think a nuclear weapon could rejuvenate their tired revolution. How can they be stopped? (The Economist, 7/19/07)

After the false intelligence that led America into Iraq, and the mayhem that followed, it may seem hard to believe that America or Israel are pondering an attack on a much bigger Muslim country. But they are—and they are not mad. This time, after all, there is no question of false intelligence: the world's fears are based on capabilities that Iran itself boasts about openly. Nor would there be another invasion: this would be an attack from the air, aimed at disabling or destroying Iran's nuclear sites. From a technical point of view, launching such an attack is well within America's capabilities (America has lately reinforced its carrier fleet in the Persian Gulf) and perhaps within Israel's, too.

Yet such an attack would nonetheless be a huge gamble. Even if it delayed or stopped Iran's nuclear programme, it would knock new holes in America's relations with the Muslim world. And if only for the sake of their domestic political survival, Iran's leaders would almost certainly hit back. Iran could fire hundreds of missiles at Israel, attack American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, organise terrorist attacks in the West or choke off tanker traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, the world's oil windpipe. How could any Western leader in his right mind risk initiating such a sequence of events?

The succinct answer of Senator John McCain is that although attacking Iran would be bad, an Iran with nuclear weapons would be worse. He is not alone: most of America's presidential candidates would consider military force.

...contrary to the gallons of ink that have been spilled, Iraq will have virtually no effect on our hastening into the next war, no matter who's president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 PM


Army Plans Offensive in Pakistan's Northwest: Pitched Battles Follow Killing Of 17 Troops by Insurgents (Griff Witte and Kamran Khan, 7/19/07, Washington Post)

The Pakistani army fought pitched battles with militants Wednesday in a restive tribal area bordering Afghanistan following an insurgent assault that killed 17 troops.

The fighting in North Waziristan, an area where the al-Qaeda leadership is believed to be active, went on late into the night, residents said. A local official confirmed that at least six loud explosions were heard in the hills that surround Miram Shah, the main town in North Waziristan. It was not immediately clear who or what had been targeted.

The fighting came during a period of deep turmoil in Pakistan, with radical fighters carrying out a string of deadly attacks after a government raid against a mosque in Islamabad last week.

...they'd be leaking details--even if invented out of whole cloth--about how the US and Israel are providing the Pakistani military with assistance. The more fevered the boil there the better.

AUTHOR AHMED RASHID ON PAKISTAN'S CRISIS: 'The Umbilical Cord between the Military and Mullahs Must Be Cut' (der Spiegel, 7/19/07)

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Rashid, the battle over the Red Mosque is over and the government in Islamabad has prevailed. But can Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, also win the greater struggle against the Islamists?

Rashid: The key to winning the greater conflict will be whether Musharraf is finally able to cut the umbilical cord that connects the army to these extremist groups. The lesson of the Red Mosque is that the nexus between the military and the mullahs has to be broken. Now is the right time to do that.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How much power do the extremists have within Pakistan's army?

Rashid: Generally, extremists aren't strongly represented in the higher command. But lower down in the ranks there is a lot of sympathy for Islamic causes. Many in the army have been brought up with the philosophy of jihad and the idea that defending Islam can at times trump defending the nation. The real issue is a political one: During the Cold War, the army depended on extremists to project its support for Kashmiri insurgents and the Taliban. These extremist groups were used as cannon fodder in those wars. Today the military even allows Pakistanis in large numbers to go and fight at the side of the Taliban. Of course, the blow back effect of this is what we are seeing in the tribal areas on the Pakistani side of the border. Today, there is a new phenomenon called the Pakistani Taliban, which has become a major threat to the state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 PM


Spicy, garlicky cashew chicken (Seattle P-I, 7/19/07)

1 cup roasted, salted cashew nuts

6 tablespoons chopped cilantro, with some stems

1/4 cup canola or safflower oil

4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1 to 2 jalapeno peppers, sliced (discard seeds or not, to taste)

Juice of 1 lime, plus lime wedges for garnish

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 pounds chicken thighs and/or drumsticks.

In a blender or food processor, combine nuts, 2 tablespoons cilantro, oil, garlic, soy sauce, sugar, jalapeno, lime juice and 2 tablespoons water. Blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Smear on enough cashew mixture to thoroughly coat pieces. (Set aside any remaining mixture.) Let marinate at room temperature while you heat grill or broiler. Or refrigerate for up to 12 hours before cooking.

Preheat broiler or grill. Grill or broil chicken, turning frequently, until it is crisp and golden on outside and done on inside (cut a small nick to check), 20 to 30 minutes.

Sprinkle chicken with remaining cilantro and serve with lime wedges and remaining cashew mixture.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 PM


Hypeful About Harry Potter (and Wizard Rock!) (Hypeful, 7/19/07)

Wizard rock?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 PM


Stocks Close Above 14,000 For First Time (CBS News, 7/19/07)

Wall Street moved soundly higher Thursday, sending the Dow Jones industrials to their first close above 14,000 as investors kept jitters about the economy at bay and focused on a string of upbeat earnings reports. [...]

The catalyst? A global boom that's sending stock prices soaring for multinationals like the airplane manufacturer Boeing (+15 percent), Caterpillar (+41 percent), which makes farming equipment, and the technology company Honeywell (+35 percent), adds Mason.

Academicians seldom sound more detached from reality than when they opine that George W. Bush's will be considered a failed presidency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 PM


How to squeeze jihadi culture out of Pakistan: Putting faith in President Musharraf hasn't worked. But here's what the US can do (Vali Nasr, 7/20/07, CS Monitor)

Afghanistan has always been a strategic concern for Islamabad. Pashtuns make up 40 percent of Afghanistan, but there are more Pashtuns in Pakistan, where they constitute 15 percent of the population. Afghanistan has never recognized the border (Durand line) between the two countries, and for most of Pakistan's existence, Pashtuns in control of an independent Afghan state have been allied with India and laid irredentist claims to Pakistan's Pashtun Northwest Province.

It was only when Pakistani-backed Afghan mujahideen or the Taliban ruled Kabul that Pakistan felt secure in its relations with Afghanistan. Pakistani generals counted on the "strategic depth" that their neighbor to the northwest would provide in a war against India.

These days, they see Afghanistan as an adversary. They are irked by Afghan President Hamid Karzai's strong ties to Delhi and the mushrooming of Indian consulates across Afghanistan. The territory that they "owned" until 9/11, thanks to the Taliban, is now at best neutral and at worst the playground of their arch rival, India. Pakistan does not view Afghanistan through the prism of the war on terror, but in the context of its own vulnerabilities in the competition for power and influence with India. That's why Islamabad has everything to gain by playing the Taliban card, giving its fighters and their Al Qaeda allies a lair in Pakistan's border region, to keep Kabul weak and southern Afghanistan free of Indian influence.

They can have more normal relations with a coherent Pashtunistan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:36 AM


In Africa, an island of democracy asks: Where is US help?: Somaliland, a breakaway republic of Somalia, considers itself a model for the region. (Ginny Hill, 7/19/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

During the last 16 years, as Somalia has torn itself apart, Somaliland's leaders have disbanded a guerrilla movement, drafted a constitution, and held multiparty elections.

Development consultant Mark Bradbury, who monitored parliamentary elections in 2005, says the republic performs as well as, if not better than, other countries in the region, such as Ethiopia and Eritrea, on public participation in the democratic process and freedom of speech. Said Noor, the foreign minister, goes one step further: "We have created a modern, African parliamentary system. It's a model for the region."

Civil war is our friend.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:54 AM


A Country Of Sex & Kleptocracy (OTTO PENZLER, July 18, 2007, NY Sun)

A few years ago, John Burdett was searching for an exotic locale that hadn't been the background for other thrillers. He had been to Thailand many times but had no serious interest in its sex industry, famous in every corner of the world.

His research, both in the bars of Bangkok and in a Buddhist monastery, paid off wonderfully with his outstanding first crime novel, "Bangkok 8," the police district of his series character, Sonchai Jitpleecheep, a detective in the Royal Thai Police.

Sonchai was again featured in the second novel, "Bangkok Tattoo," a little disappointing after the stunning first novel, and now he's back for a third time in "Bangkok Haunts" (Knopf, 305 pages, $24.95) and returns to the heights of the first book.

Certain elements of Thai life permeate all three novels: the sex trade, Buddhism (which comfortably includes an unquestioning belief in ghosts, the memory of former lives, and other manifestations of spirituality shared by few in the West), and complete corruption, so ubiquitous that it is good-naturedly accepted without question.

His novels-- like those of Donna Leon, or a host of others set abroad -- point up just how minor is the "corruption" in America that the Pork Busters and their ilk whine about.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


17-year-old scandal catches up with Chirac (James Sturcke, July 19, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Jacques Chirac, the former French president, was today being questioned by a judge over a party financing scandal dating back to when he was mayor of Paris.

Judge Alain Philibeaux was interviewing Mr Chirac as a material witness, judicial officials said, meaning the possibility of criminal charges remained open. The meeting was taking place at the Paris office of Mr Chirac, whose presidential term ended in May, in the presence of his lawyer.

Mr Chirac's presidency was dogged by sleaze allegations from his tenure at Paris city hall but, as head of state, he enjoyed immunity from prosecution and could not be questioned by investigators. That protection ran out after he left office.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Another US nudge for Pakistan (Jim Lobe, 7/18/07, Asia Timnes)

According to the report, which represents a consensus judgment of Washington's 16 intelligence agencies, the group's resurgence has been made possible primarily by the "safe haven" it has enjoyed in the tribal areas of western Pakistan and also by its association with al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has helped to "energize the broader Sunni extremist community, [to] raise resources, and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives".

Those conclusions were immediately seized on by critics, including the Democratic leadership in Congress, of the administration's anti-terror strategy.

...the first Democrat who proposes sending US troops to the tribal areas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


Last 'Potter' book has convincing inevitability: a review of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS By J.K. Rowling (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, 7/18/07, THE NEW YORK TIMES)

J.K. Rowling's monumental, spellbinding epic, 10 years in the making, is deeply rooted in traditional literature and Hollywood sagas -- from the Greek myths to Dickens and Tolkien to Star Wars -- and true to its roots, it ends not with modernist, Soprano-esque equivocation, but with good old-fashioned closure: a big screen, heart-racing, bone-chilling confrontation and an epilogue that clearly lays out people's fates.

Getting to the finish line is not seamless -- the last portion of the final book has some lumpy passages of exposition and a couple of clunky detours -- but the series' conclusion and its determination of the main characters' story lines possess a convincing inevitability. [...]

Harry's journey will propel him forward to a final showdown with his archenemy, and also send him backward into the past, back to the house in Godric's Hollow where his parents died, to learn about his own family history and the equally mysterious history of Dumbledore's family. At the same time, he will be forced to ponder the equation between fraternity and independence, free will and fate, and to come to terms with his own frailties and those of others.

It is Rowling's achievement in this series that she manages to make Harry both a familiar adolescent -- coping with the banal frustrations of school and dating -- and an epic hero, kin to everyone from the young King Arthur to Spider-Man and Luke Skywalker.

In doing so, she has created a world as fully detailed as L. Frank Baum's Oz or J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth, a world so minutely imagined in terms of its history and rituals and rules that it qualifies as an alternate universe -- which may be one of the reasons the Potter books have spawned such a passionate following and such fervent exegesis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


An interview with Jim Brosnan (David Davis, 7/17/07, LA Observed)

Soon after I graduated from the John R. Tunis school of sports literature, I began reading through my dad's collection. He had some cherce books: James T. Farrell's My Baseball Diary, Lawrence Ritter's Glory of Their Times, Roger Kahn's Boys of Summer, Ring Lardner's You Know Me Al, the works of Roger Angell and George Plimpton (though my dad thought Plimpton a snob), Jim Bouton's Ball Four, Pat Jordan's A False Spring, and Robert Coover's Universal Baseball Association, Inc.

Two of the best – and most literate -- were written by an obscure relief pitcher named Jim Brosnan: The Long Season (1960) and Pennant Race (1962). Before their publication, sports books by and/or about athletes were one-dimensional and hagiographic. Both Long Season and Pennant Race were season-in-the-life diaries that gave readers an insider's peek into the daily toil of a ballplayer: how they prepare for spring training, what they talk about in the bullpen, what it feels like to be traded.

Here's Brosnan on Dodgers ace Don Drysdale: "When Drysdale is fast -- on some days a pitcher throws harder than on others -- his fast ball pops the leather of the catcher's mitt. Like a sledge hammer slamming a fence stump. The very sound can numb a batter's hands, even before he gets out of the on-deck circle. 'Got to get out in front -- got to be out in front on the pitch,' he says to himself. Of course, Drysdale also throws a fast curve ball. If the batter sets himself to get way out in front on the fast ball, and the pitch turns out to be a curve ball, he may suffer the embarrassment of looking like he's chasing bumblebees with a butterfly net." [...]

LAO: You're known more for your books than for your pitching. How would you characterize your playing career?

JB: I got better at it. I never was able to throw the Tommy Bridges curve ball. [Bridges threw what was considered to be a nasty curve.] I just wasn't getting that break. It was years later, when [coach] Howie Pollet taught me how to throw a slider, that I began to understand it.

I once threw a Tommy Bridges curve ball to Ken Boyer, after I had gone to Cincinnati from St. Louis. Boyer was a good friend, and the pitch had a break that went almost straight down and was a strike. He just stood there and stared at me. Later on, he said to me, "If you'd only been able to throw that pitch when you were with us, we would have won."

LAO: You faced Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Duke Snider, among others. Who was the batter you feared the most?

JB: Mays hit a ball off me over the top of the roof at the Polo Grounds. And, just to prove that he could do it on the West Coast, he hit one clear over the left-field stands [at Candlestick Park]. As far as I'm concerned, he was the best opponent that I couldn’t get out. Well, I once struck him out three times in a game that I started. It was all over the papers the next day -- it was me saying, "I just struck out Willie Mays three times."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


At Least One of Shankar's Girls Followed Papa's Lead: On her latest recording, Rise, Anoushka Shankar infused ancient raga melodic forms with subtle keyboards, electronic effects, and other non-traditional instruments. (Sam Prestianni, 7/17/07, Seattle Weekly)

Unlike her snoozy superstar half-sister Norah Jones, Anoushka Shankar is very much her father's daughter. Which is saying something when your pops is the pioneering sitar player Ravi Shankar. The hippest Beatle, George Harrison, once called Ravi "the godfather of world music" for his revolutionary East-meets-West fusions, which boldly transformed American pop, jazz, and dance grooves in the '60s and '70s. His work continues to resonate in the hybrid soundtracks of the 21st century—a genre-elusive space where Anoushka has recently emerged as a leader.

On her fourth and latest recording from 2005, Rise, the follow-up to the Grammy-nominated Live at Carnegie Hall, Anoushka Shankar infused ancient raga melodic forms with subtle keyboards, electronic effects, and other nontraditional instruments (both acoustic and electric). As she explained in an NPR interview at the time, she created "an album that's hopefully more accessible but still retains the actual heart of the music." Indeed, Shankar's compositions serve as a refreshing contemporary portal for Western listeners to experience the hypnotic sounds of northern India.

This is new territory for the 26-year-old London-born sitarist, whose previous efforts focused exclusively on the classical modes first gleaned from her father when she was just 7. It seems that once she had proved herself a devoted adept of the old school—even receiving a rare award (the House of Commons Shield) from the British government for her skills as "a pre-eminent musician of the Asian Arts"—she felt confident to explore her voice as a modern composer-improviser. "I've played this beautiful classical instrument, done this ancient musical style that is a huge part of who I am," Shankar told NPR, "but there's so much more. And it just makes sense that they should come together."

Choose Rise from the Playlist here.

-ALL SONGS CONSIDERED: George Harrison's "Inner Light" performed by long-time friend Jeff Lynne and Ravi Shankar's daughter, Anoushka Shankar (NPR)
-AOL: Music: Anoushka Shankar
-INTERVIEW: My father, my hero; my daughter, my joy: Ravi Shankar and his daughter Anoushka top the bill next week at the first main Prom dedicated to Indian music. (Peter Culshaw, 7/28/05, Daily Telegraph)
-PROFILE: Anoushka Shankar: An Indian Classic (Aryn Baker, October 4, 2004; TIME Asia)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Democracy Doesn't Come First (Thomas Sowell, 7/18/07, National Review)

[W]e tried to create democracy in Iraq before we created the security — the law and order — that is a prerequisite for any form of viable government.

Having made democracy the centerpiece of the reconstruction of postwar Iraq, Americans have been hamstrung by the inadequacies of that government and the fact that our military could not simply ignore the Iraqi government when its politicians got in the way of restoring law and order.

People will support tyranny before they will support anarchy. Both can be avoided by creating an interim government based on competence, rather than on its being an embodiment of democratic ideals.

Neither in Europe nor in Asia did today’s democracies begin as democracies. As late as 1950, no one could have called Taiwan or South Korea democracies.

Even today, Singapore does not have the kind of freedom that Westerners regard as democratic. But it is a decent and prosperous society, vastly superior in every way to what it was at the end of World War II.

Trying to create democracy in places where it has never existed — and where the prerequisites for democracy may not exist — has been a needless gamble.

While it was obvious, in 2003, that we should stand up a semi-authoritarian transitional regime, supported by Ali Sistani, and hand over sovereignty immediately, it's hard to quibble with the Americanism that motivated attempts to create a democratic multi-confessional regime instead. Just because the Sunni have shot themselves in the foot repeatedly and fostered conditions that make a more oppressive and exclusionary Shi'a regime a logical next step does not mean that they had to do so. It was easy to underestimate how completely they'd bought into Saddam's propaganda about their being a majority in Iraq. The reality that they are a mere fraction of the population just dawned too late to stifle the futile resistance movement, so it has to be beaten into submission.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Christianity sparks China's new cultural revolution (Robert L. Moore, July 15, 2007, Orlando Sentinel)

The driving force behind these conversions is a sense of spiritual emptiness. China's new dominant ideology is not communism but consumerism, a consumerism that leaves many middle-class Chinese feeling somehow empty. It is these newly prosperous Chinese who are most strongly drawn to Christianity.

A story typical of the many I heard this summer is that of a professional woman who works for China's government-owned television network. She told me that she became interested in Christianity after getting to know an American with whom she practiced English. Later, influenced by a Chinese Christian professor at her school, she joined an underground Protestant church. He introduced her to a "sister" in his congregation whose kindness very much impressed her.

She had felt that her life was rather empty at that point. "So you get good grades," she said, "so what? So you can buy things, so what? So you have a good husband and a child, so what? Christianity offers something more in life, something of value. The people in the church are like a family to each other. They are also a source of comfort."

She had some difficulty with her parents, who were staunch Communists, but eventually they came to accept her religious conversion and even welcomed her Christian husband into the family.

China's contemporary churches come in various forms, both Catholic and Protestant, officially sanctioned and "underground." The government, for example, recognizes the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association as the official Catholic Church. But this church, with its estimated 5 million members, is dwarfed by the underground Catholic congregation, which some say includes 8 million to 10 million members. In fact, the secrecy necessary for the survival of the underground churches makes their size difficult to ascertain.

Raymond Huang, an anthropologist at People's University who has been researching China's churches, calculates that the official figures drastically underestimate church memberships. He believes that the Chinese government estimate of 20 million Protestants should be raised to 30 million or 40 million. Others, less systematic in their research methods, would put this figure even higher.

July 18, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:16 PM


Breaking: Reid Yanks Defense Authorization Bill To Force GOP's Hand (Greg Sargent , 7/18/07, TPM Cafe)

Ratcheting up the stakes in the wake of the GOP's successful blocking of a vote on Iraq withdrawal just moments ago, Harry Reid just announced on the Senate floor that he won't allow a vote on the entire Defense Authorization bill until the Senate GOP drops its filibustering of votes on Iraq.

Dude does love banjo, eh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 AM


Senate Republicans defeat Iraq withdrawal bill (AP, 7/18/07)

Senate Republicans on Wednesday scuttled a Democratic proposal ordering troop withdrawals from Iraq in a showdown that capped an all-night debate on the war.

The 52-47 vote fell short of the 60 votes needed to cut off debate under Senate rules. It was a sound defeat for Democrats who say the U.S. military campaign, in its fifth year and requiring 158,000 troops, cannot tame the sectarian violence in Iraq.

...to stop summering on the Chattooga?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 AM


Democrats Kiss Up to K Street (David Sirota, July 18, 2007, In These Times)

[I]n a certain sense, Republican corruption is the purest form of honest graft. The Republican Party does not pretend to be anything other than the party of Big Money. Take the famous K Street Project: designed by Republican congressmen to use the promise of access --and the threat of no access --to force corporate lobbying organizations in Washington to fire Democrats and hire Republicans, so that those new Republican lobbyists could siphon as much corporate campaign contributions as possible to Republican political candidates.

Had this operation performed its work in secret, one might be able to say Republicans at least tried to pretend they were something they were not. But the K Street Project actually had its own public website, bragging to the world about its pay-to-play scheme.

This is "honest" graft -- that is, being open and honest about what the American Heritage Dictionary defines as the "unscrupulous use of one's position to derive profit or advantages." The Republican Congress didn't make any serious effort to pretend to be anything else. [...]

Democrats rode their populist, anti-corruption platform to victory in 2006. But as we are now beginning to see, what we may have with the Democrats is merely a transfer from honest graft to dishonest graft --that is, corrupt behavior that pretends to be done in the people's name and that flies in the face of what the people were promised.

On May 10, a handful of Democratic congressional leaders held a press conference to trumpet a so-called "deal" with the Bush administration to push forward a package of lobbyist-written trade deals -- the very same kinds of trade deals 100 of their candidates in 2006 said they would work to stop if elected to Congress. Though Democrats said they had secured basic labor and environmental protections in these deals, Thomas J. Donohue, the Bush-connected head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told reporters that he had been given "assurances that the labor provisions [in the deal] cannot be read to require compliance."

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) provides a good example of dishonest graft. In 1993, Emanuel was the Clinton administration aide charged with ramming NAFTA through Congress "over the dead bodies" of labor and environmental groups, as American Express's CEO cheered at the time. Emanuel orchestrated weekly meetings with K Street lobbyists to strategize about how to pressure Democratic lawmakers. Emanuel went on to cash in as an investment banker, raking in roughly $16 million over a two-year period. From his Wall Street perch in 2000, he published a scathing Wall Street Journal op-ed demanding Congress pass the China free trade deal --another K Street-backed goodie that has helped keep American wages stagnating in the face of skyrocketing corporate profits, and is now projected to destroy at least 1 million American jobs, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Just two years after grossly outspending an opponent to buy an Illinois congressional seat, Emanuel was appointed to the House Ways and Means Committee, the panel that oversees trade policy and that helped corporate lobbyists ram NAFTA through back in 1993. Emanuel also was appointed head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which ran millions of dollars worth of ads trumpeting Democrats anti-corruption platform, and which supported the scores of Democrats running against the very lobbyist-written trade policies Emanuel has based his political career on.

Now, with Emanuel as Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, we see dishonest graft kick into high gear. The same day as the press conference, a group of House Democrats wrote a formal letter to Emanuel demanding he hold a Democratic Caucus meeting to discuss the secret trade negotiations going on between a handful of Democrats and the White House. That letter, according to The Hill, was "rebuffed" even though, again, it was Emanuel's DCCC that aggressively supported Democrats 2006 fair trade candidates. No meeting occurred, and instead Democratic leaders held their press conference, announcing a secret trade deal that, like NAFTA, is strongly backed by K Street lobbyists, but opposed by organized labor, environmental groups, health care groups and grassroots Democrats. Meanwhile, when Emanuel was asked by the Politico's Jeff Patch for details about why Democrats were now backing off their promises to reform lobbying laws so as to prevent Abramoff-style abuse, he did his best Dick Cheney impression, telling the reporter, "Why don't you go [****] yourself."

If they're so Bright and we're so Stupid why is it they (among whom we may include the libertarians who went all pork-bustery) who expect clean government?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM


Legacy Of a Maoist Injustice (Perry Link, July 18, 2007, Washington Post)

In 1957, the "rightists" were largely intellectuals: writers, journalists, editors, doctors, professors, students and liberal-minded officials. In fact, they were almost all idealistic socialists, eager to make such slogans as "serve the people" into living realities. They criticized abuses of power but, with rare exception, were only trying to help the new "People's Republic" by their criticism. The eminent Chinese journalist Liu Binyan, labeled a "major rightist" in 1957, later recalled his surprise at the charges that had been leveled against him. He felt innocent on every count, but on the other hand, "How could Mao be wrong? There must be something in me that I still need to dig out and examine."

Soon thereafter Liu -- whose story is typical of many -- was publicly humiliated, separated from his family and sent to labor in a remote, poverty-stricken village. There he had an epiphany. He came to see "two kinds of truth" in China: the "truths" of communism, which descended from the Propaganda Department and infused newspapers at all levels, and truths that emerged from the ground up, out of the hard life of the farmers in the poor village. The "two truths" seemed unrelated.

This separation of formal political language from the language of daily life was a recurrent theme at the 50th-anniversary conferences. [...]

Hypocrisy is, of course, not unique to China; nor did Mao Zedong invent the Chinese version of it. And the post-Mao leadership has done much to create the current values crisis by telling the Chinese people that so long as they remain politically docile, they are free to make money just about any way they like.

Still, the cynicism that permeates China seems in important ways traceable to the "two truths" problem that emerged under Mao. In the words of one "1957 rightist" at UC-Irvine, "Mao stole social idealism from us, and we have never regained it."

Thus the fascinating recent comment by Qiu Xiaolong, that he doesn't particularly like his own Inspector Chen, due to the compromises even a decent man like Chen must make to function within such a system.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM



* 6 ears corn
* 3 to 4 slices bacon
* 2 tablespoons sugar
* 2 teaspoons cornstarch
* ¼ cup milk
* 1 to 2 tablespoons butter
* Salt, to taste

Scrape the corn kernels off the cob using a sharp knife, getting as much ``milk'' from the cob as possible. Set aside.

In a heavy skillet, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon onto a plate lined with paper towels, leaving the drippings in the pan, and set aside.

Stir the corn kernels into the hot drippings. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Add 2/3 cup water and sugar. Stir until most of the liquid gets absorbed and the mixture starts to thicken.

Mix the cornstarch with the milk. Add it to the corn, stirring as it thickens further. Stir in the butter and salt. Top with crumbled bacon slices.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 AM


Ice fueling AIDS resurgence (The Australian, July 18, 2007)

Professor David Cooper, head of the National Centre for HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, has revealed that he believes stimulant drugs are playing a key role in a comeback of the dreaded virus.

Australia's rate for new HIV infections has doubled since 2000, to almost 1,000 fresh reports a year.

New figures show that one in eight people in their 20s have tried amphetamines in the past year, and an increasing number are choosing more potent crystal meth, or ice, over speed powder.

The drug has been linked to a rise in brutal violence and hospitalisations for psychosis.

Prof Cooper says this dangerous amphetamine is also responsible for a new kind of sexual abandon which is putting an increasing number of young Australians, both gay and straight, in “grave danger” of contracting HIV and other sexually-transmitted disease.

“The methamphetamine epidemic is a big worry because the drug makes people hyper-sexual and seek sexual partners without assessing the risk or taking preventative measures,” Prof Cooper said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


Survey reveals nation of 'armchair ecologists' (Alison Benjamin and agencies, July 18, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Fewer than half of those questioned were prepared to make more lifestyle changes such as taking steps to reduce their use of domestic water, while only one in four people claim to be choosing public transport over their car. [...]

Although 27% said they did buy environmentally friendly products wherever possible, only 8% of UK adults said they had switched to a green energy tarrif.

Our attitude towards green taxes, revealed in a separate survey also published today, seems to further demonstrate our reluctance to seriously reduce our carbon footprints.

Only 29% of UK adults said they would support additional green taxes according to the survey by market research agency, BMRM and BPRI.

Two thirds of adults, however, claimed they would support green taxes that were offset by a reduction in other taxes and a third said they would support "pay as you throw" schemes that charge householders for each bag of waste collected.

Consumption taxes--offset by breaks elsewhere--will force folks to do what they think they ought to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:10 AM


People in the Granite State really do live free - of income taxes (L. IAN MACDONALD, July 11, 2007, Montreal Gazette)

New Hampshire, famously, has no state income tax and no sales tax. None. Zero. Nada. Massachusetts, the free-spending liberal state next door, is in some flinty New Hampshire circles scorned as Taxachusetts.

No one seeking state-wide office in New Hampshire would ever propose a personal income tax or sales tax. At least, no one with any thought of winning.

"You would have to take the pledge," Drisko says.

No new taxes.

When the first George Bush broke a famous 1988 campaign pledge, "Read my lips, no new taxes," the voters of New Hampshire reminded him of it by punishing him in the 1992 presidential primary, flocking to right-wing maverick Pat Buchanan. Bush put out a grim two-word statement, "Message understood."

But how, in the absence of personal tax revenues, does the state run its services and maintain its infrastructure?

Well, there's the revenue from the renowned tax-free state liquor stores. There's the state lottery, tickets available at the liquor stores. There's excise tax on tobacco. There are state tolls on the Interstates. There's a business profit tax, an interest and dividend tax, a state education property tax, a timber tax and even a gravel tax.

But no personal taxes, and no sales tax. Yet the New Hampshire House recently passed a budget that saw expenditures increase by 25 per cent. And this in a state whose constitution requires a balanced budget. How can that be?

It is, Dick explains, covered by the previous year's surplus. So, a state with no taxes usually runs a surplus.

"What would you say," I asked him, "if the government proposed a tax cut, and only 27 per cent of the voters were in favour of it, and 71 per cent favoured investments in new services instead?"

"I'd say that was pretty unusual," he allowed.

I explained this was, indeed, the case in Quebec, New Hampshire's next-door neighbour to the north.

Of course, the two government models aren't exactly the same. Quebec, one of the highest-taxed jurisdictions in North America, allocates about 45 per cent of spending to delivery of public health care, which doesn't exist in the U.S. Quebec also subsidizes private secondary education and public universities to a degree unheard of anywhere else in North America.

Thus, if only 27 per cent of Quebecers wanted a tax cut, that could be because 42 per cent of them don't pay any provincial income tax, and would prefer to receive more services they're not paying for anyway.

Dick Drisko shook his head in wonderment.

Demand for free services is logically unlimited.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Absolut Capitalism (Eric Roston Wednesday, July 11, 2007 , American)

Absolut Vodka is manufactured by the V&S Group. The company, you might assume, is the one that got away from the industry giants, an ornery and obscure private firm that distills grain into money. Behemoths of the spirits industry stamp across newspaper front pages every couple of years. Diageo or Pernod Ricard or Bacardi pick off valuable competitors as easily as you might coax an olive off a tiny plastic saber with your front teeth. V&S, you figure, is the one they just missed.

Except that the V&S Group is a public company in the fullest sense of the word, a wholly owned subsidiary of King Carl XVI Gustav and the people of the constitutional monarchy of Sweden. Now, however, the new leaders of Sweden’s government are eager to get out of the spirits business—and other businesses as well. V&S has been valued at $5.7 billion by research analysts, and while no one knows the accuracy of that particular figure, a sale would be highly enriching to the Swedes. It would amount to fully 2 percent of their annual gross domestic product, or more than $600 per person. (Imagine a government-owned U.S. company worth $180 billion.)

In March, the center-right coalition led by Fredrik Reinfeldt asked Parliament for permission to sell holdings in half a dozen industries, signaling a change in Swedish economic policy and the start of a race for the Absolut jewel in the king’s crown. Details have not been revealed yet. The ideological push to get out of key industries (the state owns 55 groups employing 190,000 people, or about 4 percent of the workforce) has, for months, triumphed over the mechanics for how to do so. In coming weeks, Parliament is expected to vote on the privatization request, and a sale is not expected before autumn at the earliest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Left could push pro-Israel voters to GOP (Jennifer Rubin, July 18, 2007, Politico)

Support for Israel has long been a tenet of both political parties. Major Democratic and Republican 2008 presidential contenders have demonstrated their support for Israel by, among other things, attending the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington, touting their pro-Israel voting records and personally traveling to the region.

Yet pockets of anti-Israel sentiment are active in American politics and have found a home among a small group of Democratic lawmakers and leftist activists. While it's tempting to dismiss them as irrelevant, the left's views on Israel have in recent years seeped into mainstream politics.

A small but significant group of overwhelmingly Democratic members of Congress have consistently voted against efforts to support Israel in its continual struggle against terrorists and now an Islamist Hamas government in Gaza. These votes demonstrate that anti-Israel views are a minority in Congress -- but a minority composed primarily of the most left-leaning members of the Democratic Caucus.

Except that polls consistently demonstrate that American Jewish voters are neither particularly Jewish nor Zionist, which is why they oppose George W. Bush so steadfastly.

July 17, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:59 PM


Miranda Lambert succeeds on talent, grit (Mario Tarradell, 5/07/07, The Dallas Morning News)

Sitting on the redwood deck of Miranda Lambert’s cottage conjures images of Norman Rockwell’s wholesome Americana paintings. Picture 24 acres of tranquil, nature-kissed greenery, a couple of friendly Labradors, a lake and two houses side by side.

Now throw in some dark, American Gothic undertone. All is not as it seems.

That could be Lambert’s motto. One quick look and she appears to be the fresh-faced example of Texas upbringing. The pretty and petite blonde is personable, genuine and hospitable. She fits right in with the rural lifestyle and yet carries herself beautifully in a more urban setting.

Dig a little deeper, and you may be surprised by what you uncover. The 23-year-old Lambert writes and sings country songs with a rock edge. Onstage, she’s a tough, no-nonsense firecracker. The daughter of semiretired private investigators who followed philandering spouses for a living, she knows her way around firearms. She’s got a license to carry a pistol. In her songs, she defends herself with gunpowder and lead.

In fact, “Gunpowder & Lead” is the lead track from her bold second CD, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” which arrived in stores Tuesday.

Someone who understands the music business will have to explain how Gunpowder & Lead isn't a breakout tune for a singer who looks like Hayden Panettiere, does Country like Hank, and sings songs that Robert Johnson might cover.

NB: Serendipitously, it's the NPR Song of the Day on Wednesday, so you can listen to it there.

-ARTIST SITE: Miranda Lambert
-MY SPACE: Miranda Lambert
-Miranda Lambert (AOL Music)
-WALMART SOUNDCHECK: Miranda Lambert (May 2006)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:59 PM


Still No.1: Wounded, tetchy and less effective than it should be, America is still the power that counts (The Economist, 6/28/07)

EVEN the greatest empires hurt when they lose wars. It is not surprising then that Iraq weighs so heavily on the American psyche. [...]

Nor is it just a matter of geopolitics. American bankers are worried that other financial centres are gaining at Wall Street's expense. Nativists fret about America's inability to secure its own borders. As for soft power, Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, America's slowness to tackle climate change and its neglect of the Palestinians have all, rightly or wrongly, cost it dearly. Polls show that ever fewer foreigners trust America, and some even find China's totalitarians less dangerous.

A sense of waning power is not just bad for the self-esteem of Americans. It is already having dangerous consequences. Inside the United States, “China-bashing” has become a defensive strategy for both the left and the right. Isolationism is also on the rise. Most Democrats already favour an America that “minds its own business”.

Outside America, the consequences could be even graver. Iran's Islamic revolutionaries and Russia's Vladimir Putin have both bet in different ways that a bruised Uncle Sam will not be able to constrain them. Meanwhile, a vicious circle of no confidence threatens the Western alliance: if Italy, for instance, concludes that a weakened America will not last the course in Afghanistan, then it will commit even fewer troops to the already undermanned NATO force there—which in turn prompts more Americans to question the project.

Yet America is being underestimated. Friends and enemies have mistaken the short-term failure of the Bush administration for deeper weakness. Neither American hard nor soft power is fading. Rather, they are not being used as well as they could be. The opportunity is greater than the threat.

The Economy Gets No Respect (James Pethokoukis, June 28, 2007, US News)
The economy is reaccelerating after a bit of a soft patch, unemployment is low, and the stock market is near record highs. Yet poll after poll shows people are sour on the economy. An American Research Group survey last week found that 55 percent of respondents say the economy is "getting worse" vs. 16 percent who say it's "getting better." And the recent Conference Board numbers on consumer confidence fell to a 10-month low. To help figure out what is going on here, I dropped an E-mail to Bryan Caplan, an economist at George Mason University, coauthor of the EconLog blog and author of a new book, The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies. Is it Iraq? Is it gas prices? Caplan gives me his two cents:

"Key starting point: It's 'normal' for people to think the economy is doing worse than it really is. The puzzle is why people are 'especially' pessimistic about the economy when it's doing pretty well. I haven't studied recent trends enough to say with any confidence, but I suspect that your Iraq and gas price stories are the main reasons. Pessimism about Iraq is spilling over to other areas, and people greatly exaggerate the importance of gas prices because they're so visible."

One of the mistakes the Administration has made in the Middle East is to be insufficiently ambitious and triumphalist. Not only did we fail to welcome the Palestinian elections as a victory for Reform but we've left enemies, like Baby Assad, in place. The combination makes victories look like losses and leaves us dwelling on Iraq instead of moving on to the next regime change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 PM


O Gore, deliver us from evil: Al Gore, whose Live Earth concerts rock the planet this weekend, has styled himself as a superstar prophet bringing salvation to mankind. (Frank Furedi, spiked)

It is hard to ignore the high moral tone of Gore’s missives. In his own words, he has a ‘compelling moral purpose’. He never misses an opportunity to spread his aura of sanctimony. And yet, curiously, his moral crusade depends for its legitimacy on the authority of science. There is very little that is transcendental about Gore. Revelation for him comes through science rather than supernaturally revealed truths. His crusade, he says, is aimed at preventing a catastrophe that is foretold by Scientific Truths. In his dogmatic worldview, today’s categories of good and evil, of virtuous behaviour and improper behaviour, are rooted in truths revealed by science.

However, it would be wrong to see Gore as a man who is fervently committed to science. Rather, he is in the business of politicising science, or more accurately, moralising it. In Gore’s world, science is not so much about testing out hypotheses and carrying out experiments; instead, under the Gore narrative, scientific evidence gives way to scientific (inconvenient) truths. Such science has more in common with the art of divination than of experimentation. That is why the science is always seen as having a fixed and unyielding, and thus unquestionable quality. Frequently, Gore and others will prefix the term science with the definite article ‘the’. So Sir David Read, vice-president of the Royal Society, recently said that ‘the science very clearly points towards the need for us all – nations, businesses and individuals – to do as much as possible, as soon as possible, to avoid the worst consequences of climate change’.

Unlike ‘science’, this new term – ‘The Science’ – is a deeply moralised and politicised category. Today, those who claim to wield the authority of The Science are really demanding unquestioning submission.

The notion that something as reactionary as Science has been politicized/moralized is a naive one though.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 PM


Canada's senior moment (HEATHER SCOFFIELD and TENILLE BONOGUORE AND DAWN WALTON, July 17, 2007, Globe and Mail)

Canada had better hope age becomes it.

The Canadian work force is aging so quickly that there are barely enough young people to replace those about to retire, Statistics Canada reports today in the release of the age and sex portion of the 2006 census.

In 10 years, not only will retirees outnumber newcomers to the work force, they're likely to outnumber children too, Statscan has warned.

“We do see a trend where children are on the decline and seniors are on the increase, and these two lines are going to cross in about 10 years,” said Rosemary Bender, director general of social and demographic statistics for Statistics Canada.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 PM


The Case for the Colombia FTA (Jose Maria Aznar , 7/17/07, HACER)

Mr. Uribe has been elected twice -- once in 2002 and again in 2006 -- precisely because he promised that, under the rule of law and democracy, he would employ all of the weapons available to the state to defeat terrorism. This is also the wish of those who took to the streets of Colombia just last week.

Mr. Uribe also has another anti-democratic challenge coming from Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his hemispheric project to spread what he calls "21st century socialism." Mr. Chávez's ideology despises Western values and wherever it has taken root, freedom has begun to recede. It is a threat to the entire region and it is no coincidence that its proponents are allies of the FARC, which regards Colombian democracy as a foe that must be defeated.

Colombia needs its friends, not least because these enemies of freedom are powerful and well-equipped. Cocaine consumption in rich countries is the main source of financing for the FARC, a fact that makes support for Mr. Uribe's efforts both an ethical obligation for Western democracies and also in their own interests. Plan Colombia, an initiative to combat narcotrafficking begun during the administration of President Clinton with support from Europe, recognizes this obligation. President Bush continues to support the plan.

Colombia also has to strive to reduce peasant dependency on growing coca crops by fostering economic development. Integrating Colombia into the world economy will boost economic growth and serve to consolidate democratic capitalism. This is why it is unbearably cynical for U.S. politicians to cite the failings of the Colombian democracy as an excuse to kill the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

The U.S. would commit a grave strategic error, one that would have dire consequences, should it reject the FTA with Colombia. As a former head of government, I am perplexed as to how blocking the FTA from Washington could possibly make sense. Is it worth lashing out at the Colombian people, damaging U.S. security interests and handing a victory to the FARC simply to punish Mr. Bush? What about the consequences that are bound to accumulate when the U.S. abandons its best South American friend? Does the U.S. wish to push Colombia toward the path of 21st century socialism led by Mr. Chávez?

If Western values are to prevail in Latin America against terror and anti-democratic authoritarianism, Europe and the U.S. must adopt a clear strategy of supporting democratic capitalism.

The American Left basically wants to punish Colombia for Chile's success under Pinochet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 PM

TAMP 'EM UP SOLID (via Mike Earl):

India to hold biggest ever naval exercise in Bay of Bengal (PTI, 7/13/07)

Twenty warships from five countries, including three aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and fighters, will assemble in the Bay of Bengal in September for a major naval exercise to be hosted by India. The other countries taking part in the wargame are the US, Japan, Australia and Singapore and the warships that will be fielded for it include two American nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, USS Nimitz and Kitty Hawk, defence ministry officials here said today. [...]

Australia's Defence Minister Brendan Nelson allayed Beijing's fears, saying there was no quadrilateral security alliance comprising Australia, the US, India and Japan in the offing.

As Friend Earl put it: "And I am Marie of Romania."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 PM


J K Rowling, a good author in a bad industry: The book trade was given an opportunity unlike any other - and conspired to lose money on it (Terence Blacker:, 18 July 2007, Independent)

For Rowling, the pressure of expectation as she wrote - the business of being in competition with her last successful book - was part of her life from the second Harry Potter novel onwards. As her characters and ideas became public property, not only readers but film executives and publishers from all over the world will have had their say as to what should happen in future stories. All, it seems, were ignored.

The glamour and apparent literary unworldliness which made Rowling so promotable soon posed a problem: she became a celebrity, the stuff of mad websites, and a target for stalkers and sleazebag journalism. Her private life was pored over, an ex-husband told his story in a Sunday paper. On holiday, she was given the long-lens treatment by photographers, lurking for a bikini shot. When she was snapped buying some underwear in Agent Provocateur, the photograph made the national press.

Then there were the sneerers and the nutters. Not too many nights' sleep were probably lost at the Rowling residence when A S Byatt grandly declared that "J K Rowling's magic world has no place for numinous" and that her books were "written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons and the exaggerated mirror world of soaps, reality TV and gossip".

On the other hand, the accusations of plagiarism and the increasingly nutty attacks by religious zealots must have been distressing until they became too obviously ludicrous to take seriously - a spiritually-minded Potter fan has just announced on her website that the series has been an extended religious allegory, and that in the last book Harry will die and rise again.

They're just now figuring that out?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


Maximo Park performs in the Current studio (Mary Lucia, July 17, 2007, Minnesota Public Radio: The Current)

Newscastle's Maximo Park are touring the U.S. in support of their new album, "Our Earthly Pleasures." They aimed to craft a warmer sound than that on their Mercury Prize-nominated debut. Mary Lucia talked with Paul Smith about karaoke and having an original sound.

Songs performed: "Girls Who Play Guitars," "Our Velocity," and "Books from Boxes."

Books from Boxes is an especially good tune:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 PM


Marlins suspend pitcher Olsen (CLARK SPENCER, 7/17/07, Miami Herald)

Randy Messenger punched him in the eye. Miguel Cabrera poked him on the side of his head. Joe Girardi grabbed him by the front of his jersey. Now comes Sergio Mitre, the latest Marlin to get into a row with hot-tempered pitcher Scott Olsen.

The two starters scuffled inside the Marlins dugout during Sunday's game.

The result: The Marlins found Olsen guilty of ''insubordination and conduct detrimental to the team,'' and suspended him for two games without pay. [...]

Olsen has long acknowledged that his temper has landed him in trouble throughout his baseball career. He said in June, after the incident in Milwaukee, that he was routinely thrown out of games from the time he was a Little Leaguer.

''You know how I am,'' Olsen said in June. ``I don't take losing well.''

He bristled when asked if he had ever thought about enrolling in an anger management course.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:31 PM


US and Iran plan fresh talks on Iraq (Mark Tran, July 17, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Iran and the US have agreed to hold a second round of talks about Iraq's security, to follow up on a landmark meeting held in May, American officials said today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:05 PM


Hanover Feeling Tops at No.2: It Outranks All but One on Money's List of Liveable Towns (David Corriveau, 7/17/07, Valley News)

For now, Hanover remains one of the smaller communities in Money's top 100, made up this year of towns of between 7,500 and 50,000. At about 8,500, it ranks last in population among the 12 New England towns on the list, including Salem, N.H. (No. 85) at 30,000.

And what Hanover lacks -- so far -- in population, it makes up with its status as the home of Dartmouth College, and as the neighbor and birthplace of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Along with providing jobs, up-to-date health care and cultural opportunities, those institutions, and a growing high-tech industry, help the town maintain a nonwhite population of about 20 percent with some 25 nationalities represented, according to the Money survey. [...]

Money's reasons to move here also include the easy proximity to the White Mountains and the Green Mountains, and the quality of the school system -- reading and math scores 26 percent above the state average, both better than the overall best-places average.

Time to start on that wall...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Harry Potter and the Mysterious Ending (ERICA GRIEDER, July 17, 2007, NY Sun)

The following predictions will be unintelligible to those who are not familiar with Harry's adventures these past 10 years. But just in case, please be advised that they contain spoilers about the books that are already published. [...]

4. Lily Potter Was a Death eater.

Ms. Rowling has said that we will discover something "incredibly important" about Harry's mother, Lily, in "The Deathly Hallows." We may now discover she was a Death Eater, spying on the Order of the Phoenix and even on her own husband. We know suspiciously little about Lily Potter. Voldemort, who seldom hesitates to kill, gave her a chance to step aside before he killed her. Her non-magical sister, Petunia, is frightened of wizardry. In her youth, Lily was a defender of Snape. The most important thing we know about her is that she died in an effort to protect the infant Harry. But that does not prove whose side she was on. Even a villain may love her children.

The evidence against her is entirely circumstantial and the idea is admittedly farfetched, but it is morally appealing. Harry Potter has never questioned his allegiance to the good side. He was born into it. Yet Ms. Rowling repeatedly makes the point in the books that choices make the wizard, not accidents of birth. A painful truth about his mother would force Harry to examine his own soul and act according to its directives.

Can't you just hear the Ramones playing: Lily was a Death Eater?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Friend Siegel sends a link to a Today Show feature about the guy for whom the Mulligan is named. Now we eagerly await a profile of the fella who gave us the Flying Shapiro.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Russell Kirk, Postmodern Conservative? (James G. Poulos, 7/17/2007, American Spectator)

Since becoming editor of the University Bookman, Russell Kirk's classic journal of letters founded roughly a half-century ago, Gerald J. Russello has revitalized the venerable quarterly without making way for fad or fluff -- without, one could say, modernizing the Bookman. What a stroke then for Russello to have just released The Postmodern Imagination of Russell Kirk (University of Missouri Press). It's a book titled to give any conservative pause, and any postmodern who can recognize Kirk something a bit more severe. But conservatives, to whom this book will be more useful at the crossroads of what was once called simply "the movement," would do well to stop, think, read, and reconsider.

The reputation of postmodernism as a sort of intellectual funhouse for the damned has regrettably led many a searching mind to avoid such work by reflex. If to modernize is to contrive, surely to postmodernize is to revel in contrivance as a substitute for thinking? By examining not only Kirk's imagination but the role of imagination itself in his political thought, Russello suggests that the conservatism which Kirk narrated may both antedate and postdate modernity in significant ways. [...]

JGP: For a lot of people -- maybe conservatives particularly -- explanation has to begin at the word "postmodern," before you even get down to the business of giving a conservative that label. Was Kirk "a" postmodern, or was his a variety of postmodern thought?

GJR: My research for the book has persuaded me that Kirk's work has certain sympathies with postmodernism, and that Kirk himself illustrated some traits of postmodernity. As I explain in the book, Kirk shared with postmodernism a fundamental antipathy toward parts of the Enlightenment project; by happenstance, his friend Bernard Iddings Bell was one of the first to use the term "postmodernism," in a 1926 book, and he was no radical but a conservative cleric. But he parted company with them by seeing, after the rejection of absolutes and the playful montage of "symbols" that he used so effectively, that there was a core of mystery to human existence that could not be "pomo'd" away. His significance I think lay in this approach to the conundrums of modernity without giving way to either the despair or silliness of a lots of postmodern writings. And of course, he was in no way a postmodern, in the sense of using (or probably even knowing much about) capital "T" Theory or having even a passing radical phase.

It predates modernity by its demonstration that Reason is inherently illogical, but postdates it by its demonstration that faith suffices.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


The Dow Nears a New Pinnacle: The blue-chip average pulled up 50 points shy of 14,000 Monday. Better-than-expected earnings this week could push it over the top (David Bogoslaw , 7/16/07, Business Week)

In view of the size of last week's gains, the Dow could hit 14,000 any day, says Art Hogan, chief market analyst at Jefferies & Co. But the higher the index goes, the smaller the percentage gain is between major milestones, making the next significant threshold all the more attainable according to market psychology, he adds. Hence, the feat of advancing from 13,000 to 14,000 is much less daunting, or impressive, than the move from 10,000 to 11,000 once was.

But there are fundamental factors that are bolstering that technically oriented view of the market, he said. He estimates that the aggregate growth rate in earnings for the Standard & Poor's 500 Index will be 4.5% in the second-quarter. But given that earnings growth in the first quarter was more than double the forecast of 3.8%, earnings could substantially exceed estimates, causing analysts to adjust their models and give added credence to the notion of extended gains to come, he said.

The fact that the U.S. economy will probably be stronger in the second half of the year than in the first half, and that roughly 40% of the Standard & Poor's 500 are tied to the global economy rather than only the domestic economy should also support stock prices, Hogan said. Barring some momentous oil price shock or interest rate hike, he predicted that stock valuations were sustainable for at least the next six months and probably into 2008.

From the perspective of Michael Farr, of Farr, Miller and Washington LLC in Washington, D.C., the five-year-old bull market has entered its final psychological phase, characterized by the kind of exuberance that shrugs off all bad news -- higher oil prices, new terror alerts in the U.S. and the United Kingdom -- and embraces all good news. It's the kind of exuberance that former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan called irrational.

But that doesn't mean there's any imminent danger of a major correction. "Trends and momentum can last a long time," Farr says.

He notes that this is the longest run the stock market has had since 1926 without a 10% correction, and he thinks that a correction, whenever it comes, will feature "a significant rotation among sectors and sector performance," with basic materials giving up the ghost to blue-chip mega-cap stocks that are best insulated from currency moves and that have seen earnings increase over the past six years without a commensurate gain in the stock price.

The comparative dearth of negative earnings pre-announcements for the second quarter and the uptick in the Institute for Supply Management manufacturing index into the mid-50 range are also adding to investor confidence about the state of the U.S. condition, said James McGlynn, of Summit Investment Partners.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Brave new world of Iranian nuclear cooperation (Kaveh L Afrasiabi, 7/18/07, Asia Times)

Iran's objective of getting its nuclear dossier out of the hands of the United Nations Security Council and back to its "proper forum", the International Atomic Energy Agency, was leapfrogged last week by the IAEA's high-level visit to Iran that culminated in a "serious and substantial" agreement heralding a new level of Iran-IAEA cooperation.

Heinonen, said that Iran agreed on four or five steps. "If the cooperation continues like this, we hope that the problems will be solved, not now but in a reasonable future," Heinonen has been quoted as saying.

If all goes as planned, Iran and the IAEA will draw up a plan of action within the next 60 days to resolve all the "outstanding issues", which include "information relevant to the assembly of centrifuges, the manufacture of centrifuge components ... and research and development of centrifuges or enrichment techniques".

In addition, Iran has agreed to the IAEA's inspection of the heavy-water reactor under construction in Arak, as well as to short-notice inspection of the uranium-enrichment facility in Natanz - "beyond the provisions of its agreement with the IAEA", according to Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh. He was quick to add that IAEA cameras are in place in Natanz, that regular IAEA inspections have been taking place in accordance with Iran's arrangements with the agency, and that Heinonen has stated on record that the IAEA "has no concern about diversion at Natanz".

Economic growth is needed to save the Republic, not nukes.

July 16, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:26 PM


A fight to the death on Pakistan's border (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 7/17/07, Asia Times)

large US base is under construction on a mountaintop at Ghakhi Pass on the Pakistan-Afghanistan (Bajaur) border.

Militants believe this is in preparation for an operation inside Pakistan to clamp down on them as well as to renew the hunt for bin Laden and his associates. As a result, the militants have attacked the new base in an attempt to delay its construction.

"This is a matter of life and death for the mujahideen. We will shed our blood, but we will never let this base be completed," Dr Ismail told Asia Times Online while standing at the grave of his son, who was killed a few weeks ago by US forces while attacking the base.

The tall and well-built Ismail is the leader of the TNSM and a main source of inspiration for the jihadis in Bajaur. "My son sacrificed his life against American designs to build this base over our heads. I shall never allow them to complete it, I will fight till my last.

"Martyrdom for the cause of jihad is actually an open invitation to all Muslims to join forces with the mujahideen. The fresh faces of the mujahideen after martyrdom, the aroma from their flesh and blood, are living miracles and prompt youths of the area to join forces with the mujahideen to defeat the Western coalition in Afghanistan," Ismail said.

Whoever dreamt up that base is a genius.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:05 PM


Can Fatah Compete with Hamas? (Dennis Ross, 07.16.07, New Republic)

First, Fatah must have new leaders. If there was one phrase I heard more than any other, it was "Fatah must have new faces." No one meant that a simple veneer would suffice. Rather that the Palestinian public would never believe that Fatah had remade itself if the same people led Fatah. Interestingly, I found great support for Salam Fayyad, now the prime minister, foreign minister, and finance minister of the new emergency government of the Palestinian Authority (PA). He is not a member of Fatah, but his insistence on creating new institutions in the PA will inevitably build the credibility of the PA and, by extension, the credibility of Fatah.

Second, Fatah must be seen as delivering. What matters more than anything else is action and deeds, not only words. New faces in Fatah represent a starting point. But Fatah and the PA must be seen as active at the local level and being responsive socially and economically. Being responsive also means ending corruption and re-establishing not only the rule of law but a sense of security for Palestinians. It is interesting that Hamas is now trying to present itself in Gaza as restoring law and order. Fayyad is clearly trying to do the same thing in the West Bank. I saw an unprecedented number of heavily armed security forces in uniform on the ground in Ramallah. And Fayyad told me that this is deliberate: He is trying to establish a presence in each city to show that the PA is re-establishing order. Will the armed militias and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades disarm or be incorporated in a disciplined way into the security forces? That remains a huge question, but Fayyad, at least, is trying to make the decree on disarming something other than an empty promise. Time will tell whether he can deliver on what he is trying to do, but I found much support for his efforts among some of the Tanzim that I met.

Third, there does need to be a sense of possibility about peace with Israel. A process, negotiations, dialogue, and the promise of changes on the ground will count for a lot. Ironically, I did not find the Palestinians I spoke with--and the number is now over 40 in my two visits here in the last six weeks--wanting to raise false expectations. No one expects an immediate breakthrough and resolution of the permanent status issues. Of course, that would be desirable. But what I saw was a desire for real, not illusionary changes. Changes that showed that day-to-day life, economically and practically in terms of mobility, would be transformed. Such changes would make permanent status negotiations more believable. Permanent status disconnected from the day-to-day realities will have no credibility. Palestinians would ask me, "If I cannot get from Nablus to Jenin, am I supposed to believe that I will have a state with an East Jerusalem capital?" That is why security and any political process are inevitably tied together.

All this has lessons for American statecraft now. We must keep our eye on the essential objective. The key question now is whether the Palestinians will have a secular future or an Islamist future. Our stake in a national, secular future for the Palestinians is very clear.

It is only slightly too polemical to say that: when you look at the effects that secularism has had on European nations (like Israel)--particularly the demographic divergence from religious America--a policy of forcing secularism on the Palestinians borders on exterminationism, or, at best, a suicide pact.

Yes, you can work with Hamas: The US approach to the Palestinian territories is inviting disaster. (Augustus Richard Norton and Sara Roy, 7/17/07, CS Monitor)

How did the US end up in its current predicament? In January 2006, Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza cast their ballots. Voting for the first time in 10 years, and resentful of corruption and arrogance in the Palestinian Authority, they decided for Hamas, described by many in the West as a terrorist group. Blindsided by its legitimate victory, the Bush administration faced a stark dilemma. If it accepted the result, a group that has launched terrorist attacks against Israel would be permitted to enjoy power. However, since the US had strongly backed the elections, rejecting the outcome would be hypocritical. [...]

Despite the dangerous division of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, it is unlikely that Palestinians will cede their desire for a state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Hamas voters overwhelmingly support a two-state solution, and the Hamas leadership has declared it would honor any agreement ratified by popular referendum.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:43 AM


Acclaimed producer/DJ puts his own spin on tunes by Radiohead and Coldplay (Mark Kennedy, 7/16/07, The Associated Press)

It takes a certain audacity to cover a Radiohead song. It takes something close to lunacy to do it with a trumpet and two saxophones.

Mark Ronson seems to have a bit of both.

The British-born DJ and producer decided last year to turn the angst-ridden band's morose song "Just" into what can only be described as a funk jam.

"I hadn't been doing music that I really enjoyed for a long time," he says during an interview in his studio. "I'd just been kind of miserable for about a year. It was the first time I was like, 'Wow. This is really fun."'

Other people seemed to agree — the song was played both on indie rock and soul stations in England. But he worried about one thing: What did Radiohead think?

Ronson was naturally nervous when he approached Ed O'Brien, the band's guitarist, like a "crazed, stalker fan" after a recent show. O'Brien said he liked the cover.

"He was quizzically amused," recalls Ronson, 31. "Even for somebody who makes such progressive music, I had done something that had even stumped him a little bit."

Ronson's been doing a lot of that lately, shaking up the pop music scene with a whiff of Motown as he spearheads the blue-eyed soul movement.

A D.J. Segues to His Other Job, His Band Close at Hand (JON PARELES, 7/13/07, NY Times)
A disc jockey’s job is to pick songs and revamp them for the dancing crowd. “Version” is a collection of other people’s songs, and instead of remixing them with the latest beats and effects, Mr. Ronson has backdated them toward 1960s soul. His band included a horn section (the Haggis Horns), and even in hip-hop songs the rhythms harked back to Motown and Memphis soul. The closest approach to the present was an echo of 1970s South Bronx hip-hop, with Mr. Ronson tapping a two-headed bell.

Lately, Mr. Ronson has produced albums full of retro soul grooves for the English singers Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse (who both sing on “Version” but didn’t join him on Wednesday). And he knows how horn-section riffs and a live drummer can stir up a crowd. Many of the songs on “Version” are bitter lovers’ plaints, like “Toxic,” from Britney Spears, and “Amy,” by Ryan Adams. But Mr. Ronson’s remakes have far more strut than sigh.

-MP3 ARCHIVES: "mark ronson" (Hype Machine)
-PODCAST: Mark Ronson (East Village Radio)
-ARCHIVES: Mark Ronson (AOL: Music)
-REVIEW ARCHIVES: Version by Mark Ronson (MetaCritic)
-PROFILE: Life After Life: How Mark Ronson parlayed his status as the city’s most ubiquitous D.J. into a real career (Jon Caramanica, New York)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


Nader considers run in '08 (AP, 7/16/07)

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader told the Green Party’s national convention that he is considering a 2008 presidential run and accused Democrats of trying to shut smaller parties out of the political process. [...]

In 2000, Nader got 2.7 percent of the votes in the general election.

Even better for Gaia would be to recruit Al Gore as the party's nominee.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


U.S. fears Palestinian leader politically weak (Robin Wright, 7/16/07, The Washington Post)

A flurry of intelligence assessments have warned that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas may not be politically strong enough to salvage the Mideast peace pro­c­ess, according to U.S. officials.

The assessments also caution that his opponents in Hamas, the Islamic movement that is being shunned by Abbas, Israel and the U.S., will not be easily marginalized.

The White House is betting that Abbas, replenished by the return of aid from the West and tax revenue withheld by Israel, can create a stable enclave in the West Bank and resume peace negotiations with Israel.

...you know you've made a bad bet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


Pakistan Truce Appears Defunct: Insurgents Strike Police, Troops; At Least 44 Die (Griff Witte and Imtiaz Ali, 7/16/07, Washington Post)

A controversial peace deal between the Pakistani government and local tribal leaders in an area where al-Qaeda is known to be regrouping appeared to collapse Sunday, as tensions escalated and a fresh wave of bombings killed at least 44 people.

The 10-month-old deal in the restive region of North Waziristan was designed to curb cross-border attacks against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. But it has been widely criticized by security analysts and, lately, U.S. officials, who said it provided terrorist groups including the Taliban and al-Qaeda with a safe haven in which to train recruits and plot attacks.

On Sunday, local Taliban fighters proclaimed the deal dead and announced the start of an all-out guerrilla war against the Pakistani army. Pakistani officials stopped short of conceding the agreement's demise, but the military has been moving tens of thousands of troops toward troubled spots along the border in recent days, after the president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, last week announced a new crackdown on extremism.

July 15, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:09 PM


New Populism Spurs Democrats on the Economy (ROBIN TONER, 7/16/07, NY Times)

Their language, and to some degree their proposals, reflect a striking contrast with the approach taken by Democrats during much of the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton asserted that trade would create American jobs and that paying attention to the concerns of Wall Street would help the economy by lowering interest rates. The more populist tone is one indication of a broader debate among Democrats over economic policy and how much they should break with the careful centrism of the Clinton years embodied by Robert E. Rubin, the former treasury secretary, who was a champion of free trade and cutting deficits.

So far, Republicans have, by and large, stuck by their free-market philosophy. They point to a rebounding stock market, declining deficits and steady if unspectacular economic expansion as evidence that conservative policies of tax cutting, less regulation and more trade are working.

But Democrats say they are responding to economic trends that the statistics in the headlines do not capture...

A helpful admission, at least, that their hysteria is divorced from reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 PM


Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism and the Spread of Sunni Theofascism (Ambassador Curtin Winsor, Jr., June/July 2007, Mideast Monitor)

The United States has largely eliminated the infrastructure and operational leadership of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network over the past five years. However, its ideological offspring continue to proliferate across the globe.

American efforts to combat this contagion are hamstrung by the fact that its ideological and financial epicenter is Saudi Arabia, where an ostensibly pro-Western royal family governs through a centuries-old alliance with the fanatical Wahhabi Islamic sect. In addition to indoctrinating its own citizens with this extremist creed, the Saudi government has lavishly financed the propagation of Wahhabism throughout the world, sweeping away moderate interpretations of Islam even within the borders of the United States itself.

The Bush administration has done little to halt this ideological onslaught beyond quietly (and unsuccessfully) urging the Saudi royal family to desist. This lack of resolve is rooted in American dependence on Saudi oil production, fears of instability in the kingdom, wishful thinking about democracy promotion as an antidote to religious extremism, and preoccupation with confronting Iran.


Wahhabism is derived from the teachings of Muhammad ibn abd al-Wahhab, an eighteenth century religious zealot from the Arabian interior. Like most Sunni Islamic fundamentalist movements, the Wahhabis advocated the fusion of state power and religion through the reestablishment of the Caliphate, the form of government adopted by the Prophet Muhammad's successors during the age of Muslim expansion. What sets Wahhabism apart from other Sunni Islamist movements is its historical obsession with purging Sufis, Shiites, and other Muslims who do not conform to its twisted interpretation of Islamic scripture. [...]

The Question of Iran

The Bush Administration's reluctance to challenge the Saudis after 9/11 initially encountered impassioned objections from conservative and liberal commentators alike, but the outrage has tapered off as attention has became increasingly focused on Shiite Iran and its nuclear weapons program. In the view of the administration, the Iranian threat to American national security not only supercedes the threat of Sunni theofascism, but supercedes it to such a degree that a more accommodating policy toward Saudi Arabia is warranted. However, while the prospect of militant Shiite clerics in possession of nuclear weapons is understandably disconcerting to many Americans, the Iranian threat is mitigated by several important factors.

For all of the shrill and unsettling words of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his government's foreign policy is driven more by Iranian nationalism than Shiite Islamism (this is evident, for example, in Tehran's support for the predominantly Christian nation of Armenia in its dispute with Shiite Azerbaijan). This is not surprising, as Iran (known as Persia prior to the twentieth century) has existed in one form or another since biblical times, while it embraced Shiite Islam just 500 years ago. While Ahmadinejad exploits Iranian nationalism to win public support in his confrontation with the West, it can easily turn against him if he were to embark on a global adventure. Wahhabi clerics may support the Saudi royal family as a necessary evil in order to protect their global proselytizing mission, but they recognize no Saudi Arabian "nation" whose interests take precedence over their agenda. Such is not the case in Iran.

Furthermore, Shiite Islamism does not exhibit theofascist tendencies. Radical clerics in Iran have been responsible for horrendous abuses of power, but they do not regard non-Shiite Muslims as "unbelievers" who must be systematically purged - and even if they did, the fact that Shiites comprise only 10-15% of the world's Muslims would make such a project impractical. Even within the Shiite world, there is no prospect of a Wahhabi-style Iranian takeover of religious discourse because unlike the Sunnis, Shiite Islam is rigidly hierarchical. Iraqi and Lebanese Shiites gladly accept Iranian financial and military support, but they are fiercely loyal to their own clerical establishments.

An even greater fallacy is the widespread belief in Washington that a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia is an asset in confronting Iran. On the contrary, coddling the Saudis makes it more difficult for the United States to deal with Iran. The Bush administration's refusal to hold Saudi leaders accountable for their incitement of Wahhabi jihadists (who have murdered far more Shiites than Americans, mostly in Iraq and Pakistan) is a source of deep resentment in the Shiite world. It is no surprise that the only two major public demonstrations against Al-Qaeda in the Islamic world after the 9/11 attacks were both organized by Shiites (in Tehran and Karachi, Pakistan).

It is interesting to note that the recent escalation of US - Iranian tensions has made the Saudis less accommodating about Iraq than ever before. Reports that the Saudi Government is threatening to openly fund and arm Sunni insurgent groups if American forces withdraw from Iraq are a case in point.[34] In effect, the Saudis are signaling to the Bush administration that they will thwart any American plan to cede control of Iraq to its Shiite-dominated, democratically-elected government, while signaling to the Sunni insurgents in Iraq that they can reject American efforts to broker a political settlement and not be left to face the consequences alone.

Iran has no history of direct aggression against its neighbors, and unlike Saddam's Sunni-dominated Iraq, they have never used weapons of mass destruction during invasions of neighbors or against their own people. The strongest argument for this approach lies with the extent that Iran craves recognition of its actual status as the historically authentic nation state in the Middle East. Iran has long aspired to be and probably will be the region's predominant Islamic regional power.

Not terribly complicated, but folks have the devil's own time grasping it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 PM


Free people movement is the way to global prosperity (Mirko Bagaric, 16 July 2007, Online Opinion)

The best way to ameliorate third world poverty is by massively increasing migration to the west. Left to their own devices many people would gravitate to life sustaining resources, leading to a rough equilibrium between the world’s resources and its population.

That’s not to suggest that Africa would empty overnight into the western world. Some of its citizens are too destitute to hobble to a more plentiful border. Some will not want to come, in any event. But huge numbers will follow the yellow brick road to prosperity in the west.

There is one fundamental obstacle to western nations relaxing border controls: racism. Discrimination on the basis of race is the lynchpin of the whole of western migration policy.

Nationhood and the practice of excluding others from our shores is so embedded in our psyche that many readers will find it jarring to contemplate that this practice is morally objectionable. No doubt our forefathers would also have found disconcerting the suggestion that precluding aboriginals from voting and taking their children from them was founded on a racist ideology.

While most of the western world has made remarkable strides in recent decades by eliminating most forms of discrimination and ensuring that most people enjoy something approaching adequate (if not equal) access to the resources of the nation, there is a fundamental failing with this enlightenment: the benefits are limited to people within the borders of the nation.

For most of human history there have been few migration limits. Now we are moving to an age of “anti-migration”. In 1976 only about 7 per cent of UN members had restrictive immigration policies. This rose to 40 per cent in the early part of the 21st century. Advanced (western) economies are at the forefront of this regrettable trend.

We must accept that restrictive immigration policies are racist unless there is a morally relevant basis for tightly limiting the number of people we permit to join our privileged society.

A relevant reason cannot be a person’s birth place. This is merely a happy or unhappy accident. Much of what is important to a person’s flourishing should not turn on so little - morality requires that to the maximum extent possible luck is taken out of the benefits and burdens equation.

National security is commonly used to justify a tight migration policy. While we have a legitimate right to security, this only justifies a policy of strict security checks. This is tacitly accepted by governments. Western nations accept a far greater number of tourists than migrants.

There is exactly one moral basis for excluding prospective immigrants: that they are personally at odds with the rules by which a society governs itself and the ideals upon which the political regime is founded. So long as a person wants to conform to those ideas they ought to be welcomed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 PM


Understanding Matejko's painting The Battle of Grunwald (Poland in the Classroom)

The July 15, 1410 battle fought between the villages of Grunwald and Tannenberg - as the village of Stębark was then called - was an epochal event. It was a battle between the Teutonic Knights, a mounted Military Order that had created its own German state along the Baltic Sea north of Poland, and the combined forces of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, recently joined through their ruler, King Własysław Jagiełło. It was a massive encounter pitting 24,000 men at arms on the Teutonic side against 39,000 on the Polish-Lithuanian side. Arguably, it was thus the largest battle of the Middle Ages, dwarfing the battle that took place on October 25, 1415 at Agincourt between the English and French forces that numbered 5900 and 20-30,000 respectively.

The battle, which in Germany continues to be referred to as the Battle of Tannenberg, has very much continued to live on in the consciousness of both Poles and Germans. In Poland, Grunwald remains a rallying cry for Polish patriotism. There is hardly a major town without its Grunwald Avenue, Square, Street or Cinema. The battle is viewed as having stemmed, for a time at least, the German "Drag nach Osten" (Push to the East), the Eastward quest of lands for settlement and trade, and thereby also to have prevented the otherwise likely Germanization of the country. In Germany also, Tannenberg has not been forgotten. Thus, for instance, when in late August 1914 in East Prussia the German Army faced 100,000 strong Russian Second Army, General, later Field Marshal, von Hindenburg is reputed to have said to General Ludendorf "Come on Ludi, let's get our own back for 1410" or words to that effect. The Russian army was duly annihilated in what is considered the most spectacular and complete German victory of the First World War. Thereafter, the encounter became known in Germany as the Second Battle of Tannenberg, presumably viewing it as a reprisal for the defeat suffered 500 years earlier at the hands Poles/Lithuanians, also Slavs.

When viewing the painting, it is well to be aware of the historical context of the time when it was created. To start with, over time, the Teutonic State morphed into the Kingdom of Prussia, an entity that participated in the 18th Century partition of the Polish State, annexing 20% Poland's territory in the process. Then the decade of the 1870s saw the rise of Prussia to unprecedented power. First, in 1970, the year in which Majeko conceived the painting The Battle of Grunwald, a coalition of German states led by Prussia defeated the Armies of France and besieged Paris. The following year, saw the successful culminations of Bismark's efforts to unify Germany, a process that led the King of Prussian becoming the German Emperor. Meanwhile the efforts to germanize the areas of Poland in the German partition intensified significantly. The can be little question that in deciding to create a painting of the ancient battle, Matejko had political motives in mind, wanting to remind his fellow Poles of their former success and thereby to give them both hope and incentive to resist the germanization efforts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 PM


Violence ebbing. Wealth returning. Can this be Iraq?: The clamour is growing in America and Britain for troops to be brought home. Violence grips large parts of the country. But elsewhere the green shoots of recovery are showing through the rubble (Peter Beaumont, July 15, 2007, Observer)

[T]here are two Iraqs in evidence these days: not just the one where weddings are bombed and young women murdered in reply. The other Iraq is harder to dramatise but it is equally real. It is a place where boring, ordinary things take place. And in taking place become extraordinary in the context of conflict.

Last week it was the opening of a new $20 million government centre next to Tal Afar's ancient ruined fort. The day before Jamil detonated his explosives' belt, the sheiks and dignitaries came in and crowded through the building's corridors, muttering approvingly as they examined its new painted walls, the photocopiers, printers and computers - some of them still wrapped in plastic - sitting on the brand new desks. [...]

In Mosul, which once hosted 21,000 US soldiers in the city, now only a single battalion, in the mid-hundreds, remains inside the city, matched by an equivalent drop in attacks. And it is not only in Mosul that security is improving. The sense that things are getting better is reflected in Nineveh Province. In two years US troop levels around Tal Afar, once the heartland of al-Qaeda, have been reduced from 6,000 to 1,200.

The general trend for acts of violence - despite some spikes - also has been steadily decreasing. Indeed, until Jamil Salem Jamil detonated his human bomb there had not been a suicide vest attack in Tal Afar since 14 January.

And there are other striking indicators. The last time that I flew across this area, two years ago, what agriculture there was was sporadic. Now it has turned golden with a vast expanse of freshly cut wheat fields that have turned the flat plains that touch the Kurdish foothills into a vast prairie, using almost every patch of viable land.

But the other Iraq lingers here strongly too. Despite two years of effort, organised destabilising violence still exists, largely displaced out of the urban centres to the villages of Nineveh's plain. From their hideouts there, insurgents have turned their attention to hitting infrastructure, attacking roads, bridges and power lines with the aim of separating its rival population groups.

But ask Iraqis or Americans what the biggest problem is in both Tal Afar and Mosul and they will mention the government of Iraq. All of which raises two critical questions: whether what has happened in Iraq's north can be sustained, and whether - with the same time available - it is applicable elsewhere.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 AM


Saudis' role in Iraq insurgency outlined: Sunni extremists from Saudi Arabia make up half the foreign fighters in Iraq, many suicide bombers, a U.S. official says (Ned Parker, July 15, 2007, LA Times)

Although Bush administration officials have frequently lashed out at Syria and Iran, accusing it of helping insurgents and militias here, the largest number of foreign fighters and suicide bombers in Iraq come from a third neighbor, Saudi Arabia, according to a senior U.S. military officer and Iraqi lawmakers.

About 45% of all foreign militants targeting U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians and security forces are from Saudi Arabia; 15% are from Syria and Lebanon; and 10% are from North Africa, according to official U.S. military figures made available to The Times by the senior officer. Nearly half of the 135 foreigners in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq are Saudis, he said.

Fighters from Saudi Arabia are thought to have carried out more suicide bombings than those of any other nationality, said the senior U.S. officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the subject's sensitivity. It is apparently the first time a U.S. official has given such a breakdown on the role played by Saudi nationals in Iraq's Sunni Arab insurgency.

He said 50% of all Saudi fighters in Iraq come here as suicide bombers. In the last six months, such bombings have killed or injured 4,000 Iraqis.

The situation has left the U.S. military in the awkward position of battling an enemy whose top source of foreign fighters is a key ally that at best has not been able to prevent its citizens from undertaking bloody attacks in Iraq, and at worst shares complicity in sending extremists to commit attacks against U.S. forces, Iraqi civilians and the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

It takes a level of expertise unknown to the laymen to not be able to figure out that it's us and the Shi'a vs the Sunni Arabs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


Iraq: We’ve got it covered (BASSEM MROUE, 7/15/07, The Associated Press)

Al-Maliki sought to display confidence at a time when pressure is mounting in Congress for a speedy withdrawal of U.S. forces. On Thursday, the House passed a measure calling for the U.S. to withdraw its troops by spring, hours after the White House reported mixed progress by the Iraqi government toward meeting 18 benchmarks.

During a press conference, al-Maliki shrugged off the progress report, saying that difficulty in enacting the reforms was “natural” given Iraq’s turmoil.

“We are not talking about a government in a stable political environment but one in the shadow of huge challenges,” al-Maliki said. “So when we talk about the presence of some negative points in the political process, that’s fairly natural.”

Al-Maliki said his government needs “time and effort” to enact the political reforms that Washington seeks – “particularly since the political process is facing security, economic and services pressures, as well as regional and international interference.”

But he said if necessary, Iraqi police and soldiers could fill the void left by the departure of coalition forces.

“We say in full confidence that we are able, God willing, to take the responsibility completely in running the security file if the international forces withdraw at any time they want,” he said.

We're entirely incidental to the future of Iraq.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


Wilder trumps media by playing his "Ace" (Mark Rahner, 7/15/07, Seattle Times)

It's not in my own best interest to turn you on to "Ace in the Hole" (The Criterion Collection, 1951, $39.95). Like I need to see one more poll that places journalists somewhere between pharmaceutical lobbyists and E. coli in the public esteem.

But if you're a fan who made it one of the most-requested and oddly absent titles on DVD, cough up the extra for Criterion's excellent two-disc edition. If you've never seen it, knock a child out of the way to do so.

Billy Wilder made this jarringly cynical, dark commentary on the media's exploitation of human suffering right after he'd cleaned Oscar house with "Sunset Boulevard." The protagonists of both are the same species. Unscrupulous reporter Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) has screwed up at so many papers that he bullies his way into a small-town rag hoping for a story that'll catapult him back to the big time. Stopping for gas on the way to a dull feature assignment, he finds one: a man trapped in a mountain tunnel.

"Bad news sells best. 'Cause good news is no news," Tatum says. [...]

The movie flopped in the States. In his audio commentary, scholar Neal Sinyard suggests critics took Wilder's insult personally, and the movie may also have been ahead of its time.

Which is to miss the point entirely. The film is timeless because that's what the press is like and always has been. The notion that journalism has degraded recently is a canard.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


Lofton: Sheff is right on Joe (, July 15th 2007, NY Daily News)

Gary Sheffield isn't the only player who feels Joe Torre treated black players differently than white players, as Sheffield's former teammate, Kenny Lofton, chimed in with his thoughts yesterday before his Rangers played in Anaheim.

Lofton, who played for Torre in 2004, concurred with Sheffield's assessment of the Yankee manager and his attitude toward African-American players.

"All I can say is, Sheffield knows what he's talking about," Lofton told The Associated Press when asked to respond to Sheffield's comments about Torre. "That's all I'm going to say."

...except that, oddly enough, none of them are black.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


Pakistan army dispatched to halt holy war (MUNIR AHMAD, 7/15/07, Scotland on Sunday)

THOUSANDS of troops were deployed to Pakistan's northwestern frontier to try to dissuade outlawed Islamic militants from launching a holy war against the government for its bloody attack on a radical mosque. [...]

The region along Afghanistan's border has seen increased activity by both local militants, the Taliban and, according to a recent US assessment, al-Qaeda.

"With help from local tribal elders, we are trying to ensure militants lay down their arms and stop issuing calls for jihad against the government," said a senior military official.

He said there were no immediate plans for combat operations against Maulana Fazlullah, a radical cleric who has pressed for the imposition of Taliban-style rule in Pakistan, much like the leaders of the Red Mosque.

Pakistan troops overran the Islamabad mosque last Wednesday, following an eight-day siege with a hard-line cleric and his militant supporters that left more than 100 dead.

Fazlullah, who has close links to the outlawed Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law, told supporters to prepare for jihad, or holy war, against President General Pervez Musharaff for the assault, the official said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Boswell's Life of Johnson (47 of 261) (Daily Lit)

I acknowledged, that though educated very strictly in the principles of religion, I had for some time been misled into a certain degree of infidelity; but that I was come now to a better way of thinking, and was fully satisfied of the truth of the Christian revelation, though I was not clear as to every point considered to be orthodox. Being at all times a curious examiner of the human mind, and pleased with an undisguised display of what had passed in it, he called to me with warmth, 'Give me your hand; I have taken a liking to you.' He then began to descant upon the force of testimony, and the little we could know of final causes; so that the objections of, why was it so? or why was it not so? ought not to disturb us: adding, that he himself had at one period been guilty of a temporary neglect of religion, but that it was not the result of argument, but mere absence of thought.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


A Resolute Condoleezza Rice (Maria Bartiromo, 7/14/07, Business Week)

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been at George W. Bush's side since he was sworn in as President in 2001, first as National Security Advisor and now as the nation's top diplomat. Like the President, she has been pilloried for not adequately recognizing the al Qaeda threat before September 11 and for helping to lead America into a quagmire in Iraq after the attacks. But her resolve has never wavered, and her poise has rarely been pierced. Both those qualities were on display during a lengthy and compelling discussion at the State Dept.

What will your legacy be?

It's too early to think about legacies. Today's headlines are rarely the same as what history's judgment is going to be. If I look back, though, what I'm most glad we did is to put the promotion of democracy at the center of American foreign policy. I'm a firm believer that unless America stands for the fact that every man, woman, and child deserves to live in a system that permits them a say in who governs them, that permits them to educate their boys and girls, to be free from the knock of the secret police at night—unless we stand for those very basic human rights, no one will.

But in the Middle East, we had a policy of exceptionalism. We somehow argued that stability was what mattered. And I know when you look at the Middle East today, you say: "Whoa, it's not very stable." Well, it wasn't very stable before, either. It was a false stability in which dictators like Saddam Hussein put 300,000 people in mass graves, where Syria occupied Lebanon for decades, where healthy political forces were squeezed out because authoritarian regimes gave them no place to develop. Instead, al Qaeda become the expression of politics in the Middle East. So I am very proud that this President has put democracy at the fore.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


McCain rolls out leaner campaign in New Hampshire: He says he can outcampaign those with more funds (MICHAEL COOPER, 7/15/07, Associated Press)

Without much money, or a private jet or even one of his trademark campaign buses, Sen. John McCain brought his newly stripped-down campaign to an American Legion post here on Saturday and stood in a stifling hot room for an hour and a half fielding questions from voters like Frank Fahey.

Fahey, a 64-year-old retired teacher who is a registered Republican, told McCain that he was "an American hero" who received his vote in the state Republican presidential primary in 2000. But he wanted to know about the perception that McCain had become too close to President Bush since then. And what, he asked McCain, about those pundits who "pretty much sang the death knell of the McCain campaign" on television last week?

McCain looked out at the crowd and said: "Look, I have had tough times in my life. This is a day at the beach compared with some others."

It was the kind of one-on-one exchange that McCain and his aides say will have to dominate his campaign for president now that it has spent most of the $24 million it has raised.

Two of his top strategists quit in the past week, scores of workers were laid off and McCain has gone from presumed front-runner to underdog. Now the campaign is being pared down. Staff members were just asked to turn in their parking passes, and the campaign is considering a move from its Virginia headquarters to a cheaper space.

Now, he said, he will focus on just three states: New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina. It is a return to the kind of lean insurgent's campaign that he ran in 2000, say the aides who are left

For New Image, McCain Looks to His Past (Dan Balz, 7/15/07, Washington Post)
"Look, we're going to be fine," he said. "I know how to campaign. I can win in New Hampshire, as I did in 2000. I never was going to rely on money to win this campaign. I'm not a very good fundraiser. I'll admit it. But I can out-campaign any of these guys, and I will and I can and we'll do just fine -- here, in Iowa and in South Carolina."

He was planning to rely on money, as the initial budget projections from his campaign now testify. He expected to raise and spend $154 million, then revised that to $137 million, then $120 million. But he was right about another thing -- he did not turn out to be much of a fundraiser. Now he is reduced to what has long been his essence -- grit, determination, a willingness to say what he thinks and the exhilaration that comes with being an underdog.

The Senator just needed to look to his own experience and past his CFR rhetoric--money isn't important. In America you win when you run as an insurgent outsider, no matter how far inside the Beltway you really are.

July 14, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 PM


Europe's plunging birth rate 'will lead to pensions crisis' (Nina Lakhani, 15 July 2007, Daily Telegraph)

The average birth rate in the European Union is down to 1.5 children per woman, and officials warn that unless it rises to 1.7, the EU will have difficulty financing its pension system.

Portugal's birth rate fell last year to the lowest level since records began in 1935. Poland, with one of Europe's lowest fertility rates, recently began a programme of tax breaks, longer maternity leave and better pre-school provision to encourage larger families. The Nordic model includes financial incentives and flexible working, and has seen the birth rate increase slightly in Norway and Sweden.

The population projection for the EU in 2050 is 450 million, almost 10 million fewer than in 2005. Before the end of the decade the proportion of people aged 60 or over will exceed the proportion of those under five.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 PM


Lock terror suspects up indefinitely say police< (Mark Townsend and Jamie Doward, July 15, 2007, The Observer)

One of Britain's most senior police officers has demanded a return to a form of internment, with the power to lock up terror suspects indefinitely without charge.

The proposal, put forward by the head of the Association of Police Chief Officers (Acpo) and supported by Scotland Yard, is highly controversial. An earlier plan to extend the amount of time suspects can be held without charge to 90 days led to Tony Blair's first Commons defeat as Prime Minister. Eventually, the government was forced to compromise on 28 days, a period which Gordon Brown has already said he wants to extend.

The Observer understands that the Acpo proposal has been discussed in meetings between Brown and senior police officers.

How much fun would it be, after all the Brit bitching, to ship the guys we're holding to them for permanent detention.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 PM


A Book for No Seasons: The forgotten aspects of John Scopes's famous biology textbook. (Garin Hovannisian, 07/12/2007, Weekly Standard)

EIGHTY-TWO YEARS ago this week, Dayton, Tennessee received its summer of fame with Scopes v. State. The town's charming county courthouse bloomed with celebrities--among them, superstar populist William Jennings Bryan, attorney Clarence Darrow, and journalist H.L. Mencken, whose 25,000 words on the impending trial would echo between the nation's coasts. At the center of the moment sat John Scopes, the quiet schoolteacher accused of teaching evolution from a textbook mandated, ironically, by the state.

George William Hunter's A Civic Biology: Presented in Problems (1914) was the book that sparked the controversy. Condemned as heretical in 1925, today it would seem to be a manual for enlightenment's battle against religion's perceived mysticism. Yet if John Scopes were to teach the very same Civic Biology in a modern classroom, he would probably be put on trial again. Because buried under the dust of history is the fact that this progressive, pro-evolution text was also quite racist.

Take, for example, these lines from page 196 of Hunter's original version:

At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; the American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe
and America.

Hunter was also a proponent of eugenics. "[T]he science of being well born," his text instructed, is an imperative for sophisticated society. "When people marry there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand," he wrote, arguing that tuberculosis, epilepsy, and even "feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity."

"If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading," Hunter lamented in Civic Biology. "Humanity will not allow this but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race."

Darwin put it bluntly enough himself in Descent of Man:
At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.

Of course, in Darwinian terms the Anglo-Saxon is inferior to the Chinaman, which is why he has to import a qualitative measure. Even Darwin wasn't a Darwinist.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 6:07 PM


The French Are Revolting (Jonah Goldberg, 7/14/00, National Review)

Today is Bastille Day, which commemorates the capture of an almost entirely empty prison, the cold-blooded murder of six unarmed soldiers, and the execution of one French governor already captured by the mob.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 3:40 PM


Springfield, Vermont to Host 'The Simpsons Movie' Premiere (Ray McDonald, 7/11/07, Voice of America)

Just say "D'oh!" Springfield, Vermont has been chosen to host the premiere of The Simpsons Movie.

The tiny hamlet - population 9,300 - topped 13 other like-named U.S. cities on July 10. Its 100-seat cinema will on July 21 host the full-length animated comedy, which opens nationwide six days later. [...]

Since its debut on December 17, 1989, The Simpsons has aired 400 episodes over 18 seasons. The show has been renewed for a 19th season, beginning September 23. Currently the longest-running U.S. situation comedy, The Simpsons was in 1999 named the best television series of the 20th Century by Time Magazine.

If a personal note can be excused, it perhaps illustrates the occasionally quirky nature of my upbringing that my mom was encouraging my brothers and I to watch The Simpsons when many parents absolutely forbade their children to view it. I could, and still can, recite lines from the show almost in my sleep.

No offense intended to the writers of the film, but if they have blown this one they'll be asking their assistants on July 28th if the angry mob outside their doorsteps made an appointment. And I'll be happy to lend out torches and pitchforks.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 3:30 PM


Democrats block amendment to prevent Fairness Doctrine (Frederic J. Frommer, 7/13/07, Associated Press)

Senate Democrats on Friday blocked an amendment that would have prevented the return of the Fairness Doctrine, a federal rule requiring broadcasters to air opposing views on issues.

Although no legislation has been offered to bring back the regulation, which was scrapped in 1987, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman and other Republicans have been mounting a pre-emptive attack in recent weeks. They argue that a return to the old rule would give the government too much power in regulating content. The House recently passed an amendment banning the rule's return. [...]

Ed Schultz, a North Dakota-based liberal-leaning talk show host who has more than 3 million listeners on more than 100 stations, also said the airwaves belong to the public.

He said the Republicans' efforts are overreactions, and said he is traveling to Washington next week to talk to talk to Democrats about the issue.

"The issue is liberal talkers haven't even been given a market opportunity in many markets across the country," he said.

He is frustrated because his show is not airing in such major markets as Boston and Philadelphia, where he says certain companies are keeping progressive shows out.

"I'm just open to hearing these conservative companies explain their thought process," he said.

Anybody here want to clue him in?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Hold the tacos, New Orleans says
: Mexican-food trucks are outlawed in a parish. Is it racism wrapped in a health issue? (Miguel Bustillo, July 14, 2007, LA Times)

Jefferson Parish politicians, who have long turned a blind eye to whites and blacks peddling shrimp out of pickup trucks and snow cones on the street, recently outlawed rolling Mexican-food kitchens, calling them an unwelcome reminder of what Hurricane Katrina brought. [...]

[T]he new ethnic eateries are emerging at a time when many traditional New Orleans restaurants are struggling in the face of sagging tourism and a smaller population — one that's noticeably browner than before Katrina. New Orleans now has about 260,000 residents, down from about 460,000. Roughly 50,000 are Latinos, up from 15,000.

So taco trucks have become fodder for a larger debate over whether to recreate the past or embrace a new future in New Orleans — a discussion that's thick with racial undertones.

To advocates of reclaiming the old ways, new establishments that do not build upon the city's reputation, and may not even be permanent, represent a barrier to progress. As New Orleans City Council President Oliver Thomas recently put it in an interview with the Times-Picayune, "How do the tacos help gumbo?"

Yet many New Orleanians welcome anyone willing to repopulate the city — and surprising numbers are eagerly munching tongue and cow's head tacos, broadening their palates in a city where the civic pastime is eating and talking about where to eat next.

Mary Beth Lasseter, who chronicles food history at the University of Mississippi's Southern Foodways Alliance, said she was helping rebuild Willie Mae's Scotch House, a famed New Orleans soul food restaurant, when she sampled the offerings of a taco truck in the parking lot of a home improvement store. Most clients then were Latino workers coated in mold and dust. A few months later, half the customers were native Southerners like her.

"That was the first time the dots connected for me and I realized we were about to have a food revolution in this city," Lasseter said. "Food so often tells the story — that's our premise here — and that is when I knew that New Orleans would be changing again."

So far, the revolution looks one-sided: Latino laborers don't seem to care for shrimp Creole, oyster po' boy sandwiches — or even hamburgers, as long as there is Mexican food around.

"Crawfish? The little lobsters? I tried it, but to be honest it did not suit me," Abel Lara, 33, said as he stopped at a taco truck during a quick break from his job laying floors at a medical center. "I don't understand why it's so popular."

Amen, brother. If they were to do nothing but rid us of that outpost of Frenchness, the immigrants would be welcome.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Beneath Pixar's digital dazzle lies reverence for the past (Jake Coyle, 7/14/07, The Associated Press)

he visual splendor of Pixar (owned by the Walt Disney Co.) again has obscured its most essential characteristic: old-fashionedness.

Beneath the eye-catching CGI sheen of Pixar's dazzle lies a nostalgia and style indebted to classic filmmaking.

"People in Hollywood, the press always fixates on technology because it's easier to quantify," Brad Bird, director of "Ratatouille" and 2004's "The Incredibles," recently told The Associated Press. "The truth of the matter is the technology has never been the answer. The same answers to making a good movie are the answers that were around 80 years ago."

As Michael Medved so often points out, it's true year after year that Hollywood's most successful films are predominantly and unsurprisingly those with conservative values and family orientation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Democrats Divided Over Farm Bill Changes: Despite Wish to Reduce Subsidies, Leaders Worry About Freshmen in 'Red' States (Dan Morgan, 7/14/07, The Washington Post)

[Ohio Democrat Zack] Space's resistance to change highlights the struggle within the Democratic Party as the farm bill moves to center stage on Congress's legislative agenda. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) have told Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.) that they will not support a "status quo" bill.

A coalition of Democratic-leaning environmental organizations, anti-poverty groups and church organizations are pushing to redirect some subsidies to conservation, wetlands preservation, rural development and nutrition. But top Democrats are reluctant to push too hard for changes that could put at risk Democratic freshmen from "red" states, which backed President Bush's reelection in 2004 and where the farm vote is still a factor in close elections.

At stake in the new farm bill are billions of dollars affecting the fortunes of farmers, as well as groups that include soft-drink manufacturers using corn sweeteners and poor families relying on food stamps. In 2006, more than 475 organizations reported lobbying on agricultural issues, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The programs currently in effect are set to expire on Sept. 30. Under the proposed bill, $80 billion over the next 10 years would go to price guarantees, income supports, disaster payments and other benefits for farmers. An additional $690 billion is slated for programs such as food stamps, child nutrition, conservation, agricultural research, rural development, and bio-fuel research and development. The tensions within the Democratic Party have strengthened the hand of the farm bloc in the House and led to frictions with the Bush administration, which has joined the effort to make changes in the safety net for farmers.

Yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns sent a letter to Peterson saying he "cannot support a farm bill that ignores the need for reform." He said Peterson's bill relies on "budget gimmicks" to arrive at projected savings.

Red State Democrats weren't elected to "help" the poor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Rivalries Split McCain's Team: After Months of Staff Fights, Rick Davis Emerges as the Leader of a Diminished Campaign (Michael D. Shear, Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza, 7/14/07, Washington Post)

That this campaign was going to be different from the guerrilla operation of 2000, when McCain was overwhelmed by Bush's vast superiority in endorsements and resources, was evident from the preliminary budget drawn up last November. A copy of the document, which includes page after page of detailed spending and fundraising projections, was made available to The Washington Post.

Put together under Davis's supervision, the budget envisioned first-quarter fundraising of nearly $48 million. It assumed that by now the campaign would have raised another $23 million and would have spent $26 million, leaving about $45 million in the bank. Instead, the campaign is broke.

Davis, in a phone interview yesterday, said the rosy fundraising projections were taken almost literally from a budget prepared for Bush's 2004 campaign. "Everybody agreed up until about January that the Bush model was a good model -- it worked," he said. "If we could raise as much money, we wanted to do what he did."

The initial blueprint called for numerous highly paid consultants and state directors, mega-offices in New York and California that were to open in the first months of this year, and state offices not just in Iowa and New Hampshire but around the country.

The campaign anticipated paying directors of the larger offices $140,000 a year and directors of headquarters in states such as Iowa and New Hampshire $90,000 a year.

But as January turned to February, it became clear that the campaign was bringing in far less than Davis and Carla Eudy, the finance chief, had predicted.

In part, that was the result of a difficult political environment that was far different than the one McCain faced in 2000. As the situation in Iraq deteriorated, his staunch support for Bush's troop increase became a drag on his national poll numbers. The problem became worse during an April trip to Iraq, where he walked through a marketplace -- protected by 100 soldiers and their vehicles -- and remarked afterward how safe it was. His comments were mocked by war critics for weeks.

McCain attended only a handful of fundraisers during January, and several lavish fundraising "town halls" for wealthy donors cost more and brought in less than officials had hoped. As top campaign aides received daily "cash sheet" e-mails, the fundraising staff began revising the projections downward.

The growing tension about money revived the argument inside the campaign about who was in charge -- and who was to blame.

"This budget is the result of mine and other people's labor," Davis said. "There was no division of attitude toward this budget when it started. I don't think there was any question that, getting started, we were optimistic about how much we could raise and therefore optimistic about what we could spend."

The campaign raised just $24 million in the first six months of the year and spent nearly all of it. Campaign officials reported last week that they had $2 million in cash still available, but GOP sources said that when debts are subtracted, the actual amount will be well under $1 million.

The largest early expenditures in the initial budget were for costs associated with fundraising -- almost $10 million through the first six months of the year. The campaign had contracted with fundraisers, paying them as much as $10,000 a month. One campaign source said the campaign actually lost money on some of those fundraisers, who produced less in contributions than they were paid to raise them. Their contracts have been renegotiated.

The cost of travel ate up more money. McCain travels by private charter, and because he is a stickler for rules, he pays the full cost of such jets. One Republican familiar with the campaign's spending said the cost of moving McCain from state to state amounted to between $250,000 and $300,000 a month.

Nelson loyalists, of whom by then there were many, blamed Davis and Eudy for devising a plan that was out of whack with reality.

One campaign source said Nelson, who came aboard as campaign manager after the initial budget was drawn up, sought to reduce the projected $154 million figure to a still-lavish $137 million. In early February, in the face of fundraising problems, the budget was reduced to $100 million for the primaries, and further reduced to $78 million in March as the disappointing first-quarter numbers were totaled.

Davis supporters blamed Nelson and Weaver for profligate spending and for mismanaging the day-to-day operations of the campaign. One high-level McCain official said Weaver and Nelson did not act aggressively enough. They made "minor cutbacks" and "figured this to be a fundraising problem, not a problem with the whole model he had for the campaign. They misunderstood the problem."

Nelson considered resigning in the spring, feeling he did not have the full authority to implement changes that he thought were required. Others say Davis complained to Cindy McCain that the team was not effectively managing the budget.

By mid-April, it was clear that something had to change. Nelson and Weaver urged McCain to remove Eudy as finance chief. Later that month, the senator did just that, replacing her with Mary Kate Johnson, a former Bush fundraiser and an ally of Nelson's.

At the same time, at Nelson's urging, McCain shifted Davis's duties to include traveling the country to meet with donors in an attempt to boost fundraising. As some in the campaign saw it, the move was an attempt by Nelson and Weaver to get Davis out of the way.

"He won Round One," said one Nelson supporter.

The political strategists who rode the Straight Talk Express bus with McCain in 2000 referred to their national headquarters in Alexandria as "the Pentagon," a nickname that reflected their disdain for bureaucracy, which they felt could destroy McCain's insurgent bid.

Eight years later, some of those same strategists created a behemoth of a bureaucracy to support McCain's second try at the White House. The top four -- Davis, Nelson, Weaver and Salter -- believed that a competitive campaign required all the tools of a modern operation, otherwise it would be at a disadvantage against former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

"When [McCain] went into the campaign, it was like everyone was going to use the techniques the Bush campaign used in 2004," said one Republican who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

By the middle of the second fundraising quarter, it was clear to those inside the campaign that a mistake had been made. Without an enormous amount of money to fuel the spending, McCain's Bush-like operation was becoming a liability, not an asset.

The only difference between the McCain campaign today and the Reagan campaign after firing John Sears in 1980 is that the Gipper had already lost Iowa by then.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Special relationship will survive - as before (John O'Sullivan, 14/07/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Why does the special relationship manage to survive and re-emerge repeatedly in foreign affairs? Its enemies - they include European states, the State Department, Europhile politicians in Britain, some ultra-nationalist Tories, and Little Englanders - tend to attribute its annoying permanence to sentimentality, especially on the British side.

In fact the special relationship is rooted in two things. First, because Britain and the US (and Australia, Canada, New Zealand and India) share a common language, culture, and legal and political traditions, they tend to see the world in much the same way. The "Anglosphere" countries believe in a liberal international order and are more prepared to uphold it by force than other liberal powers.

Second, since 1941 Britain and the US (and, again, countries such as Australia, Canada, etc.) have developed practices of mutual cooperation in fields as various as war, trade, electronic spying, investment, and international institution-building.

These suit both (or all) countries very well. The British armed forces and defence industry have benefited enormously from their intimate relationship with larger and more technically advanced partners in the US. It is one reason why Britain is the single most important military power in Europe (even under a penny-pinching Labour government).

Well, now it's déjà vu all over again.

...will only serve to strengthen the relationship.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


This time, the Potter parties won't fly: Warner Bros. rules anger bookstores (David Mehegan, July 14, 2007, Boston Globe)

Midnight launch parties at bookstores have become a tradition with Harry Potter novels. But with the approach of next Saturday's publication of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the last book in the series, many of those throwing parties are being forced to revise their plans, including some intended to benefit charities. [...]

The rules for the parties come from both Warner and Scholastic Inc. Scholastic has limited rights to publish the books, and use the artwork in them, in the United States. Warner Bros., part of the Time-Warner empire, owns worldwide rights to the Harry Potter trademarks, including characters, themes, and incidents for use in movies, DVDs, video games, and merchandise from clothing to mugs to toys.

Before they could receive their copies of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," booksellers had to sign a contract with Scholastic. Besides agreeing to keep the books secure until 12:01 a.m. Saturday, they had to agree to a list of guidelines, mainly focused on keeping them from straying beyond the publisher's rights. One item says, "Please ensure that you keep to our policy: that the book marketing campaign should be separate and distinct from the Warner Bros. film campaign and licensed merchandise programs" -- meaning neither images from the movies nor Harry Potter products can be used to promote the book.

It's the section about parties that has booksellers grumbling. Most of the points are uncontroversial -- parties must be decent and safe, nonpolitical, held no earlier or later than 24 hours from the release hour. Other conditions have taken some booksellers by surprise: "No fees are charged for admission or any activities at the event . . . no third parties are associated with the event in any way . . . the event is small-scale, local, non commercial, not-for-profit."

No one is preachier about the evils of commercialization than independent stores, so it's fun to hear them whine about not being able to cash in on the book parties.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


In town split in two by al-Qaida, a ray of hope for the country: As US digests mixed report on war strategy, one community says it is time to rebuild (Peter Beaumont, July 14, 2007, Guardian)

[I]n a country beset by terrible news, the story of the returnees to Tal Afar is remarkable. For the town, set amid wide prairies of wheatfields to the west of Mosul, was once notorious as one of al-Qaida's strongest bases in Iraq, a transit point for foreign fighters travelling across from the western desert plain.

The place where al-Qaida came to set the sects apart, as these residents put it, is now showing the first signs that despite deep mutual suspicion between the two communities some roots of reconciliation may at last be taking hold.

The town has not yet left war behind. The bombed buildings remain, with their concrete roofs sagging to the floor, or reduced to rubble. So do the heavily armed checkpoints of Iraqi police that control traffic through the town. US and Iraqi Humvees cruise the streets.

But in the Shia market in the centre, where the shutters have been sucked out by the force of multiple explosions, the little shops, closed for so long, are gradually reopening. There is a tarmac road being laid through town, and the open spaces, the narrow flat-bottomed gullies that bisect the town, have been emptied of their vast drifts of rubbish.

Tal Afar is an interesting case history. It is in this town of 200,000 that the US forces first attempted the policy of "clear, hold, build", putting US troops into "outposts" among the population - the same policy being attempted with less success so far in the capital, Baghdad. It is here too - as well as in the neighbouring city of Mosul - that signs of a war-weariness may at last be in evidence, although whether it is strong enough to end the killing is not clear.

For while Tal Afar is not immune from occasional attacks - a suicide bomber with an explosive vest hit a Shia wedding party on Thursday - incidents of violence have declined sharply.

And so Tal Afar, along with the rest of western Nineveh province, has become one of the few stories of success, amid a generally bleak picture.

Those who have returned so far - 20-30 families of up to 10 members a week - have come of their own accord. Now, bolstered by the success, the town's civil and military officials are planning a far more ambitious effort: to persuade some 25,000 Sunnis who fled to Mosul to come back, by offering a "soft amnesty" to any not deeply "embedded in insurgent violence".

To encourage families to return, they are being offered 1m dinars each - around £400 - by the central government (although none of those who have returned so far have yet seen any money). The Iraqi army has offered to contract trucks to help transport the belongings of those who wish to return.

There is a final incentive. Houses empty since the fighting in 2005 will be made available to those coming home.

July 13, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:03 PM


Baiting the devout: Intellectuals who have lost their belief in progress are turning venomously on those who retain a vision of the good society: the religious. (Michael Fitzpatrick, June 2007, spiked review of books)

Readers of these books will learn little about religion; they are much more revealing about their authors’ own insecurities. Lacking much knowledge of religious faith, its contemporary critics focus on its superficial aspects and extreme manifestations (notably, Christian and Islamic fundamentalism). Once-influential radicals, now condemned to the margins of society, tend to exaggerate the importance of religious authorities, who in reality have little more legitimacy than the politicians who patronise them, in the (often mistaken) belief that they provide links to the masses. Having lost their own belief in progress and liberation, secular intellectuals are irked by their encounters with people who, on whatever basis, retain a vision of the good society and a commitment to realising it.

Their rationalist vision failed disastrously while our religious one moves from strength to strength--why shouldn't they be bitter?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:59 PM


The Real Che Was No T-Shirt Idol, As Cuban-American Author Finds (INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY, 7/10/2007 )

Cuban-American author Humberto Fontova researched the man behind the image, exploring why pop culture seems so enamored of Che Guevara. Speaking to dozens of Cubans who knew and fought with Guevara (1928-1967), Fontova pieced together a very different picture of Guevara for his book, "Exposing The Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him."

We spoke with Fontova about the real Che, one of history's most undeservedly idolized mass murderers. [...]

IBD: You mention that the regime imprisoned people. What kinds of figures are you talking about?

Fontova: Cuba in 1961 had 6.3 million people. According to Freedom House, 500,000 Cubans have passed through Cuba's prison systems, proportionately more than went through Stalin's Gulag. At one time in 1961, 350,000 Cubans (were) jailed for political crimes and 1 out of 18 Cubans was a political prisoner. These were people who were overheard talking badly against regime. It's very difficult for people to visualize what a totalitarian regime is — after all, doesn't Latin America always have dictatorship?. Yeah, but Latin America does not have totalitarian Stalinist dictatorships, except in Cuba.

IBD: How did Che create this?

Fontova: It wasn't two weeks after Castro entered Havana that Soviet agents entered. Che was the main conduit with Soviet intelligence agencies.

The Cuban regime executed more people proportionately in its first three years in power than Hitler did in six. Think about that execution rate and then think about that slogan associated with Che — "resist oppression." The ironies are so rich, comparing what Cuban-Americans read and what they experienced.

IBD: Guevara bragged from the podium of the United Nations that "we do executions."

Fontova: And he said "we will continue to do executions" in 1964. According to the Black Book of Communism, published in Paris, 14,000 men and boys were executed in Cuba by that stage, that would be the equivalent of 3 million executions in the U.S., and yet that man who carried them out was hailed by Jesse Jackson, who wrote a book condemning capital punishment.

IBD: Speaking of communist chic, Cameron Diaz got into trouble for toting a Mao bag in Peru, where people knew Maoist terror.

Fontova: But you will notice that Cameron Diaz apologized, so I attribute 80% of the Che paraphernalia seen on people to ignorance. Especially when I am in a generous mood. I hate to think people are that dumb.

Yet folks are surprised that the Left has such a FARCed up view of Colombia?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:56 PM


As Bush stays firm, House votes pullout (Michael Kranish, July 13, 2007, Boston Globe)

The 223-to-201 vote, which is not enough to override Bush's threatened veto, came after the president delivered a report to Congress that said Iraq is making satisfactory progress on only eight of 18 benchmarks the United States has set for it.

...for the Department of Family Services to intervene in this abusive relationship, since the Democrats seem intent on going back for more drubbings?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:30 PM


Clubs from the '80s bring round in 80s for Snedeker (Steve DiMeglio, 7/13/07, USA TODAY)

"We have to start getting Tiger to use persimmon woods to keep up with him," [Tour rookie Brandt] Snedeker, 26, says. "Make him use old irons, too. And an old ball."

Snedeker arrived at this approach as a test subject for USA TODAY. The 6-1, 190-pound former Vanderbilt All-American enthusiastically agreed to play a round of golf with a set of previous-generation clubs.

Obviously figuring his round would be made more difficult, Snedeker was nonetheless surprised how drastically golf had changed in just a matter of years.

"I don't know how to explain the sound" at impact with the old clubs and ball, he says. "It feels like the ball is getting stuck on the clubface. The old ball feels so soft, like a marshmallow."

His oversized metal woods, perimeter-weighted irons and state-of-the-art shafts and golf balls were pitted against woods actually made of wood; heavy, steel shafts and diminutive irons that were far less forgiving than today's advanced sets and balls last seen 20-25 years ago. Snedeker last hit a wood driver when he was 8 and then only in goofing with his dad's set.

After my second summer at caddy camp and after paying off ten weeks room and board ($350), I had $300 left to buy golf clubs. that should have been enough to buy the mid-range Wilson's, the 1200's, but they had proved so popular that the store was trying to get rid of the top of the line Wilson Staffs. The sweet spot on those babies is so small that you can barely play the 2-iron and they reputedly never even sold a 1-iron. But when you hit the ball right you're rewarded and when you don't you're punished. It's real golf.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:31 PM

THUS THE TIME ZONE RULE (via Glenn Dryfoos):

$600-a-pound coffee: Indonesia's kopi luwak is a rare delicacy of peculiar provenance -- beans plucked from the droppings of wild civets. (Paul Watson, July 13, 2007, LA Times)

TO connoisseurs of fine coffee, only one is good to the last dropping.

Human hands don't harvest the beans that make this rare brew. They're plucked by the sharp claws and fangs of wild civets, catlike beasts with bug eyes and weaselly noses that love their coffee fresh.

They move at night, creeping along the limbs of robusta and hybrid arabusta trees, sniffing out sweet red coffee cherries and selecting only the tastiest. After chewing off the fruity exterior, they swallow the hard innards.

In the animals' stomachs, enzymes in the gastric juices massage the beans, smoothing off the harsh edges that make coffee bitter and produce caffeine jitters. Humans then separate the greenish-brown beans from the rest of the dung, and once a thin outer layer is removed, they are ready for roasting. The result is a delicacy with a markup so steep it would make a drug dealer weep.

In a related story, the Beech-Nut coffee was just $2 a can at Shaw's the other day, so we're off the generic for a couple weeks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:30 PM


'Some people will absolutely loathe it' (FERGUS SHEPPARD AND CRAIG BROWN, 7/12/07, The Scotsman)

IT IS the clearest sign yet that the last in the Harry Potter series of novels will not end happily. The author JK Rowling is seen in a forthcoming TV documentary looking over the just-finished version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on her laptop. She declares: "Yeah, think I've finished."

As an off-camera film-maker offers his congratulations, Rowling, 41, says: "Thank you...yeah, you don't know, it might be rubbish. Some people will loathe it, they will absolutely loathe it. For some people to love it, other people must loathe it. That's just in the nature of the plot."

She adds, "I'm actually really, really happy with it", before bowing her head on the keyboard to exclaim: "Oh my God!"

The remarkable footage is from ITV's documentary A Year in the Life...JK Rowling which it says has been made with "unprecedented" behind-the-scenes access.

Excerpts released at STV's scheduled launch in Glasgow yesterday might add fuel to the conspiracy theory gripping Potter fans across the globe - that the boy wizard Harry dies at the end of the seventh and final novel. The rumour mill has gone into frenzied overdrive in the run-up to the worldwide release of the last Potter novel on 21 July.

To save Harry would be to ruin the series.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:06 PM


Rickey Henderson A Steal for the Mets (TIM MARCHMAN, July 13, 2007, NY Sun)

Today is a glorious day. The Mets have done themselves, their city, and their game proud. Rickey Henderson — the greatest — is finally back in the majors, the newest addition to the Mets' coaching staff.

A few years ago, legend has it, San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers found the following message on his voice mail: "This is Rickey calling on behalf of Rickey. Rickey wants to play baseball." At the time, Rickey was 43 and still better than quite a few players in the majors. Towers demurred, Rickey moved on to the Boston Red Sox and put up a .369 on base average in 72 games, and the Padres lost 96 games.

There are a thousand Rickey Henderson stories, and I would like to believe that every single one of them is true, from the time he supposedly framed a check for a million dollars without bothering to cash it, to his supposed response when Tony Gwynn told him he could take any seat he'd like on the team bus, on account of his tenure. ("Ten? Rickey got 20 years in the big leagues!") They probably are all true. Why wouldn't they be? What's stranger, after all — the idea of Rickey standing naked in front of a mirror before every game declaiming, "Rickey's the best!" or the idea of a 47-year-old ballplayer, one of the 10 or 15 best of all time, playing for the San Diego Surf Dawgs?

If the Mets manage to make the playoffs it won't be surprising to see him on the active roster.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:54 AM


Bargain shopping pushes up sales: In June, discounters and warehouses bested department stores. (Leslie Earnest, July 13, 2007, Los Angeles Times)

Retailers Thursday posted moderate sales results for June as shoppers kept spending but tried to get more for their money.

Wall Street celebrated the sales report with major gains, seeing evidence that the retail economy was not collapsing amid a nationwide housing downturn. But retail experts also saw an increased price consciousness among consumers.

Sales dropped on average at department stores but rose more than expected at warehouse stores such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s Sam's Club and BJ's Wholesale Club Inc.

"I think it's a story of price," said Michael Niemira, chief economist for the International Council of Shopping Centers. "With a softer feel to the economy, there's been a shift to the discounters and wholesale clubs."

In the modern Hooverville, an economic crisis is when you have to buy the same stuff for less at a different store.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:47 AM


Born and raised in a North Korean gulag (Choe Sang-Hun, July 9, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

[Shin Dong Hyok], now 24, was a political prisoner by birth. From the day he was born in 1982 in Camp No. 14 in Kaechon until he escaped in 2005, Shin had known no other life. Guards beat children, tortured grandparents and, in cases like Shin's, executed family members. But Shin said it did not occur to him to hate the authorities. He assumed everyone lived this way.

He had never heard of Pyongyang, the capital city 90 kilometers, or 55 miles, to the south, or even of Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader.

Race To Save a Korean Christian (ARI LAMM, July 13, 2007, NY Sun)
Efforts to save the life of Son Jong Nam, a North Korean evangelist who faces a death sentence from the communist regime for practicing Christianity, will reach the State Department today, when Mr. Son's younger brother is scheduled to meet with administration officials and plead for their intervention.

The brother, Son Jong Hoon, met yesterday with members of Congress to request their help in freeing his sibling.

Son Jong Nam fled North Korea for China with his wife, daughter, and nephew in 1998 after his pregnant wife was severely beaten by North Korean government interrogators, resulting in a miscarriage. She would later die from her injuries.

Mr. Son was converted to Christianity by Chinese missionaries and returned to North Korea to evangelize — a criminal act under the regime of Kim Jong-il. In 2001, Mr. Son was arrested by Communist Chinese authorities and extradited to North Korea. He was released in 2004, but then arrested again in 2006 and sentenced to public execution by the Kim regime.

Although the charges against Mr. Son — illegal border crossing, meeting with enemies of the state, and disseminating anti-state literature — are vague, advocates for him said he is essentially being executed because he is a Christian.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:45 AM


England and Serbia fined over racism row (Staff and agencies, July 13, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

The Football Association has been fined just over £2,000 by Uefa following trouble in the tunnel at the end of last month's European Under-21 Championship match between England and Serbia. The incidents followed a game that had been marred by racist chanting from some Serbia fans towards England's black players.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:43 AM


Iran relaxes stance on nuclear inspections (Mark Tran, July 13, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Iran appears to have ceded ground following meetings this week between the IAEA deputy director, Olli Heinonen, Iran's deputy nuclear negotiator, Javad Vaaedi, and Mohammad Saeedi, the deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation.

Last month, Iran and the IAEA agreed to draw up an "action plan" on how to resolve questions about the country's disputed nuclear programme.

Earlier this week, the head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, said Iran had scaled back its uranium enrichment programme, in an indication that it wanted to resolve the dispute over its nuclear programme.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Ship of fools: Johann Hari sets sail with America's swashbuckling neocons: The Iraq war has been an amazing success, global warming is just a myth – and as for Guantanamo Bay, it's practically a holiday camp... The annual cruise organised by the 'National Review', mouthpiece of right-wing America, is a parallel universe populated by straight-talking, gun-toting, God-fearing Republicans. (Johann Hari, 13 July 2007, Independent)

From time to time, National Review – the bible of American conservatism – organises a cruise for its readers. I paid $1,200 to join them. The rules I imposed on myself were simple: If any of the conservative cruisers asked who I was, I answered honestly, telling them I was a journalist. Mostly, I just tried to blend in – and find out what American conservatives say when they think the rest of us aren't listening.

I arrive at the dockside in San Diego on Saturday afternoon and stare up at the Oosterdam, our home for the next seven days. Filipino boat hands are loading trunks into the hull and wealthy white folk are gliding onto its polished boards with pale sun parasols dangling off their arms.

The Reviewers have been told to gather for a cocktail reception on the Lido, near the very top of the ship. I arrive to find a tableau from Gone With the Wind, washed in a thousand shades of grey. Southern belles – aged and pinched – are flirting with old conservative warriors. The etiquette here is different from anything I have ever seen. It takes me 15 minutes to realise what is wrong with this scene. There are no big hugs, no warm kisses. This is a place of starchy handshakes. Men approach each other with stiffened spines, puffed-out chests and crunching handshakes. Women are greeted with a single kiss on the cheek. Anything more would be French.

I adjust and stiffly greet the first man I see. He is a judge, with the craggy self-important charm that slowly consumes any judge. He is from Canada, he declares (a little more apologetically), and is the founding president of "Canadians Against Suicide Bombing". Would there be many members of "Canadians for Suicide Bombing?" I ask. Dismayed, he suggests that yes, there would.

A bell rings somewhere, and we are all beckoned to dinner. We have been assigned random seats, which will change each night. We will, the publicity pack promises, each dine with at least one National Review speaker during our trip.

To my left, I find a middle-aged Floridian with a neat beard. To my right are two elderly New Yorkers who look and sound like late-era Dorothy Parkers, minus the alcohol poisoning. They live on Park Avenue, they explain in precise Northern tones. "You must live near the UN building," the Floridian says to one of the New York ladies after the entree is served. Yes, she responds, shaking her head wearily. "They should suicide-bomb that place," he says. They all chuckle gently. How did that happen? How do you go from sweet to suicide-bomb in six seconds?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


No Sure Thing in the NL This Year (CLAY DAVENPORT, July 13, 2007, NY Sun)

The Mets' recent tailspin might give fans in Flushing some trepidation, but despite a strong pair of challengers in the NL East, they're still basically in the same boat as the Central-leading Brewers. That's because both teams — and the Padres and Dodgers in the NL West — seem to be knotted up as far as the quality of their teams and of their performances. All four teams generate nearly identical forecasts of roughly 90 wins apiece, but where the possibilities of a stretch swoon may well kill off the Mets or Brewers entirely, the Padres and Dodgers have the benefit of scenarios where not winning the division doesn't necessarily mean falling so low that they blow their shots at the wild card. What does that mean? To put it more plainly, the Mets or Brewers would really have to slump to be overtaken by the Braves or Cubs — which is pretty possible, happening about a quarter of the time in the simulated million completed seasons we run — and would almost necessarily slump so badly that it would create an opening for both of the leaders out in the West to make it into post-season play.

That's the math of it, but the picture is muddied still further by the fact that none of the teams in NL East really have problem-free rosters. The Mets, Braves, and Phillies all have rotations that are a bit of a jumble, and while Omar Minaya and company are anticipating Pedro Martinez's rehab as a potential cure for what ails them, the Braves have been fruitlessly shopping for a veteran starter for weeks, and that was before John Smoltz's latest breakdown. What the Braves have that the Mets may well lack is flexibility: Their not having an established first baseman probably frees up John Schuerholz to go shopping, where the Mets simply have to hope that Carlos Delgado's recent modest hot streak can build into something hot enough to help power a lineup that has seen its outfielders breaking down with the alarming regularity of Spinal Tap's drummers. If the Braves add an Adam Dunn or a productive veteran first baseman, let alone that starter they need to help them skip guys like Buddy Carlyle and Kyle Davies, and things could get very uncomfortable for the Mets.

In the Central, the division is the Brewers' to win or lose, but they seem to have already sorted out a number of roster kinks. [...]

Out West, the proposition is much more simple. It's another Padres-Dodgers death match, the same as last year, but with the Snakes and Rockies both assembling solid ballclubs, and the Giants at least dangerous as spoilers with a heavily veteran rotation and the Bonds show, it's one with a relatively combustible set of possibilities.

Remarkably, the good AL teams are even better this year and the best NL teams worse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Survey finds reading is up, sex and pregnancies are down (JENNIFER C. KERR, 7/13/07, The Associated Press)

Fewer high school students are having sex these days, and more are using condoms. The teen birth rate has hit a record low.

More young people are finishing high school, too, and more little kids are being read to, according to the latest government snapshot on the well-being of the nation’s children. It’s good news all around, experts said of the report being released Friday.

“The implications for the population are quite positive in terms of their health and their well-being,” said Edward Sondik, director of the National Center for Health Statistics. “The lower figure on teens having sex means the risk of sexually transmitted diseases is lower.”

Such is life in a Puritan Nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


HOOKA: Stars (Indie 911)

The Night Starts Here

Download "The Night Starts Here" (mp3)
from "The Night Starts Here"
by Stars
Arts & Crafts

    More On This Album

    -MY SPACE: Stars
    -BAND SITE: Stars (Arts&Crafts)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVE: Set Yourself on Fire by Stars (MetaCritic)
    'Set Yourself On Fire' with Montreal's Stars (World Cafe, August 17, 2005)

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


    Mosque siege reveals the Chinese connection (Howard W. French, July 12, 2007, NY Times)

    Seminarians in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, who were associated with the city's notorious Red Mosque, site of a recent gun battles and a military siege, were scouring the town in search of redoubts of "loose morals."

    After weeks of free rein in the city attacking fellow Pakistanis, the squads of self-appointed enforcers of strict Shariah, consisting of armed male and female students, raised the stakes, and selected a foreign target.

    On June 23, the seminarians entered a Chinese-run health care center, which is often a euphemism for sex parlor, and kidnapped seven Chinese people, including five females whom they believed to be prostitutes.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


    Bronx Bumblers: How can a team with four Hall of Famers fall so far? (Allen Barra, July 10th, 2007, Village Voice)

    The idea that the Yankees don't have enough talent to make a run at the Red Sox," wrote Mike Lupica in the July 3 Daily News, "is ridiculous." Is it? Few who have watched Joe Torre's teams over the last six seasons doubt that they are chronic underachievers and that their manager has contributed to that syndrome. But what about the Yankees' talent level? Is it really on a par with the Red Sox and other American League pennant contenders? Are the team's main problems physical, or, as Yogi might put it, is half their game 90 percent mental?

    Despite winning back-to-back series against the Twins and the Angels to close out the first half , the 2007 Yankees look to be the worst team the franchise has seen since Buck Showalter was fired at the end of the 1995 season, the first squad since then to be under .500 at the break. But the 1995 team, though it was just 33-39 at the midway point (of a season shortened to 144 games because of the lockout), finished 46-26 in the second half to win the wild-card playoff berth. The 2007 Yankees, with five wild-card contenders ahead of them, are going to have a much tougher path to the playoffs, even if they do finish 20 or so games over .500 between now and the end of the season.

    But what are their chances of playing that well from here on in? A quick survey of the available resources would indicate two probabilities: slim to none. This year's Yanks may well become the first team in baseball history to have four Hall of Famers on the roster and still lose more games than they won.

    The Yankees could withstand a losing year, but there's little reason to believe they'll improve much in the next few years, given a barren farm system and the dearth of young talent on the major league roster.

    July 12, 2007

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:37 PM


    North Korea military proposes talks with U.S. (AP, 7/12/07)

    North Korea’s military proposed Friday holding direct talks with U.S. forces, an unusual plea amid recent progress on the nuclear standoff between the two countries.

    The North’s Korean Peoples Army proposed the talks, also be attended by a U.N. representative, “for the purpose of discussing the issues related to ensuring the peace and security on the Korean peninsula,” the chief of the North Korean military’s mission at the truce village of Panmunjom said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:46 PM


    Musharraf declares war on Muslim extremists (David Blair, 13/07/2007, Daily Telegraph)

    President Pervez Musharraf pledged to combat Muslim extremists across Pakistan yesterday as furious crowds demonstrated against the storming of the Red Mosque and two suicide bomb attacks left six dead.

    In a televised address to the nation, Gen Musharraf said that those inside the mosque and its adjacent madrassa, or Muslim college, were "terrorists" who directly threatened Pakistan's security. They had also tarnished Islam's reputation as a tolerant and peaceful religion.

    "What do we as a nation want?" he asked. "What kind of Islam do these people represent? In the garb of Islamic teaching they have been training for terrorism. They prepared the madrassa as a fortress for war and housed other terrorists in there."

    Anything that forces him to crackdown on the extremists in Pakistan is good for the rest of the world, though it's likely to turn Pakistan pretty ugly.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 PM


    Boris Johnson will run for Mayor of London (Andrew Pierce, 13/07/2007, Daily Telegraph)

    An announcement from Mr Johnson, which could come as early as today, will electrify the race and pose the most serious challenge to Ken Livingstone's hopes of winning a third term.

    Mr Johnson, a columnist on The Daily Telegraph, is the party's best known MP. His appeal extends across party lines and he has become a regular on television panel games, such as Have I Got News For You.

    Which makes this the perfect time to pick up Bill Buckley's best book:

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 PM


    Immigrants are better citizens than the British (JAMES SLACK, 13th July 2007, Daily Mirror)

    The extraordinary attack came from Keith Best, head of the Immigration Advisory Service - a government-backed charity which receives £13million of public money every year.

    The former Tory MP was responding to an article in the Mail revealing that a foreigner is granted a UK passport every five minutes.

    He said: "These people have actively sought British citizenship because they want to make a contribution to the UK.

    "I am not sure how many people born in this country have the same commitment. The tests for citizenship are greater than they have ever been.

    "We are now turning immigrants into better citizens than people born with a British passport."

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 PM


    A tamed US deficit, but can it last?: At $205 billion, the 2007 deficit is expected to be half its '04 peak, as corporate tax revenues surge. (Peter Grier, 7/13/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

    According to the Office of Management and Budget's annual mid-session review, the federal budget deficit is now predicted to come in at $205 billion for the fiscal year that ends this October.

    That's $43 billion lower than last year's deficit and about half the recent peak of $413 billion, hit in 2004. In fact, it's $15 billion lower than OMB predictions of only five months ago.

    It seems extraordinarily unlikely that the US can prop up the world economy if we're running such a nugatory deficit to go with the trivial national debt.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 PM


    Broken China: Beijing can't clean up the environment, rein in stock speculation, or police its companies. Why the mainland's problems could keep it from becoming the next superpower (Pete Engardio, Dexter Roberts, Frederik Balfour and Bruce Einhorn, 7/12/07, Business Week)

    The same Communist Party apparatus so proficient at censoring the Internet can't keep peddlers in the heart of Beijing from selling knockoff Callaway golf clubs and fake iPods, despite solemn promises to Washington since the early 1990s about enforcing intellectual property rights. Shanghai's stock exchange may be one of the world's hottest and may boast a state-of-the-art paperless trading system. But it was a casino when it opened in 1990 with eight listings, and after years of flaccid regulation it's an even bigger casino with 1,118. Beijing proclaims all sorts of green initiatives, yet heavily polluting new factories and coal power plants keep going up. The party has talked for decades about building a social safety net, yet as the working population ages the government isn't investing nearly enough to head off looming crises in health care, education, and pensions. China spends more than Japan on research and development, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD), but its record of innovation is underwhelming.

    China observers dismiss these flaws as the growing pains of a nation making a breathtakingly fast transition from a command economy to a free market. But now it's becoming clearer that these and other structural problems aren't being addressed. The same policies that have been so successful at boosting the gross domestic product by developing new export industries and public works projects, it turns out, undermine initiatives that might move China's economy to a higher level. In its pursuit of growth at all costs, China skimped on investments needed to provide basic affordable health care and the regulatory machinery that can enforce environmental, safety, and corporate governance regulations nationwide. Solving these shortcomings will require a massive shift of the resources that are now being plowed into capital projects. While Beijing would like to cool the economy, however, it is wary of doing anything that would slow the high growth needed to generate jobs for the millions of youth pouring into the workforce each year, especially with a pivotal leadership conference scheduled this fall. "China's economic development model was based on the simple concept of expansion of production," says economist Chen Xiushan of People's University in Beijing. "This model has reached a critical point."

    A more intractable problem is China's power structure itself. Although Beijing holds a monopoly on politics, local Communist Party officials enjoy wide latitude over social and economic affairs. They also have huge professional and financial incentives to spur GDP growth, which they often do by ignoring regulations or lavishing companies with perks. As a result, China has built a bureaucratic machine that at times seems almost impervious to reform. Even if Beijing has the best intentions of fixing problems such as undrinkable water and unbreathable air, it is often thwarted by hundreds of thousands of party officials with vested interests in the current system.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 PM


    Arresting developments: Computer science and biological science have a lot to teach each other (The Economist, 7/12/07)

    THERE is, at the moment, a lot of interest in the idea of artificial life. The ability to synthesise huge screeds of DNA at will means the genomes of viruses can be replicated already, and replicating those of bacteria is not far off. But that merely copies what nature already manages routinely. David Harel of the Weizmann Institute in Israel reckons he can do better. He proposes to recreate living organisms inside a computer.

    As with many biologists, his creature of choice is a worm called Caenorhabditis elegans. This tiny nematode (it is just a millimetre long) was the first organism to have its developmental pathway worked out cell by cell and the first multicellular one to have its genome sequenced completely. It is probably, therefore, the best understood animal in biology.

    As he told “The next 10 years”, a conference organised by Microsoft Research in Cambridge, England, Dr Harel has been working on a computer model of C. elegans. He hopes this will reveal exactly how pluripotent stem cells—those capable of becoming any sort of mature cell—decide which speciality they will take on. He thinks that a true understanding of the processes involved will be demonstrated only when it is possible to build a simulation that does exactly—but artificially—what happens in nature.

    ...because the notion that one would be artificial is hilarious.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 PM


    Democratic revolution: Sark may pay a price for losing its feudal exceptionalism (The Economist, 7/11/07)

    Two campaigners for reform are Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, twin tycoons who live part-time on Brecqhou, a nearby tiny island over which Sark claims overlordship. The Barclays, who bought Brecqhou in 1993 and have built a neogothic castle there, have repeatedly used the European Convention on Human Rights to challenge Sark's feudal ways. [...]

    Yet upholding human rights is an expensive business. The island's two volunteer constables now need a paid assistant to keep track of charge sheets and to ensure that overnight guests in the island's cells are properly monitored. Taxes were once set by a committee that guessed what each person owed. “Tax law used to take up half a page; now it's a book,” laments Michael Beaumont, the seigneur. He remembers when the meetings of Chief Pleas wound up in time for lunch. Now each of its sessions lasts two days. It, too, has begun employing an administrator.

    The shock of the new is placing a heavy burden on an island that cannot afford a full civil service. It may one day have to throw itself upon Guernsey, its much larger neighbour—and in so doing, lose its right to set taxes, which are currently rock bottom. Sark's democratic revolution sounds good in principle but it may cost the island its independence.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:15 PM


    A hero at home, a villain abroad : Colombians reckon that Álvaro Uribe saved their country. It's a pity for them that so many outsiders don't see their president that way (The Economist, 7/12/07)

    WHEN hundreds of thousands of Colombians poured into the streets on July 5th to protest at the killing of 11 hostages who had been held by the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), President Álvaro Uribe chose to read this as support for his tough security policies. “This demonstration is notice to the international community that we cannot, in this hour of pain, give in to the criminals,” he said. But much of the “international community” no longer sees events in Colombia in the way most Colombians do.

    At home Mr Uribe is seen as the saviour of a country that was in danger of being turned into a failed state by the rampaging violence of drug-traffickers, left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries. Since he took office in 2002, violence has fallen sharply. As confidence returns, the economy is growing at 8% a year. According to Invamer-Gallup, a pollster, Mr Uribe's approval rating has remained steady at between 70% and 80% over the past year. [...]

    At the end of June the Democratic leadership in America's House of Representatives announced that it would oppose ratification of a free-trade agreement with Colombia until it could see “concrete evidence of sustained results” on reducing violence, on punishing the killings of trade unionists and on prosecuting politicians with links to paramilitaries.

    ...means siding with drug running thugs against an ally whose saved his country's democracy, history shows us that the Democrats won't hesitate. Heck, most of them still wish Sal Allende had turned Chile into a Marxist hellhole rather than have Augusto Pinochet turn it into the most advanced country in Latin America.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:08 PM


    Samoan Butterflies Evolving Fast (Associated Press, July 12, 2007)

    The dramatic comeback of a tropical male butterfly, which was almost wiped out of existence by an invasive parasite, shows just how fast natural selection can work in practice, researchers said Thursday.

    When researchers sampled the numbers of the Blue Moon butterfly species on the South Pacific island of Savaii at the beginning of 2006, the males accounted for just one percent of the population.

    By the end of the year, a period that is equivalent to 10 generations of Blue Moon butterflies, that figure had jumped to almost 40 percent.

    At least when the Darwinists were faking the peppered moth evidence they were pretending the things had actually evolved.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:31 PM


    Nectarine-berry pie with black pepper crust (Susan LaTempa and Donna Deane, Los Angeles Times)

    2 cups flour
    1 tsp. salt, divided
    1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
    2/3 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces, plus 1 Tbsp. butter, cut into 1/4 -inch pieces, divided
    4 Tbsps. ice water
    10 nectarines (about 3 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/2 -inch slices
    2 cups blackberries
    1 tsp. lemon juice
    1/2 cup sugar
    3 Tbsps. cornstarch
    1/4 cup corn syrup
    1 egg, beaten
    1 Tbsp. Demerara sugar

    1. Combine the flour, three-fourths teaspoon salt and black pepper. Add the two-thirds cup of butter pieces and toss to coat. Use a pastry blender or your hands to work the butter into the dry ingredients until small pieces of butter remain and the flour-butter mixture resembles coarse-ground meal with no large pieces of butter visible.

    2. Sprinkle the ice water over the flour mixture and stir with a fork until the dough holds together and forms a ball. On a lightly floured surface, cut the dough in half and shape into two equal disks. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

    3. In a large bowl, toss together the nectarines, blackberries and lemon juice. You should have about 4 cups of fruit. Let stand while rolling out the dough.

    4. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to stand 10 to 15 minutes. Roll out half of the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch circle about one-eighth-inch thick. Roll the dough around the rolling pin. Carefully lift the dough onto a 9-inch pie plate and gently press it into the bottom and up the sides, leaving excess dough hanging over the edge.

    5. Roll out the second round of dough into a rectangle about 13 by 10 inches and one-fourth-inch thick. Cut the dough lengthwise into eight strips about 1-inch-wide.

    6. In a bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch and remaining one-fourth teaspoon salt. Pour the mixture over the fruit, stirring to coat. Then stir in the corn syrup. Fill the pie shell with the fruit and juices. Sprinkle over the remaining 1 tablespoon cut-up butter.

    7. Lay half the strips of dough over the top of the pie. Lay the remaining strips of dough diagonally over the top of the first strips. Or weave the strips by laying 4 strips over the top of the pie. Fold the first and third strips back (about three-fourths of the way across the pie), then place a strip across the second and fourth strips. Unfold the first and third strips over the perpendicular strip. Fold the second and fourth strips back; add another strip across the first and third strips. Now unfold the second and fourth strips. Repeat with 2 more strips of dough, working your way across the pie.

    8. Pinch the edges of the dough together and fold the edges under to fit the pie dish. Pressing the rim of the dough between two fingers, flute the edges. Brush the crust with the beaten egg and sprinkle with Demerara sugar. Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake for about 50 to 55 minutes until the pie is well-browned and bubbly. Let the pie cool to warm before serving.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:05 PM


    Hope has replaced gloom for Mariners fans (TED MILLER, 7/12/07, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER)

    THERE ARE TWO types of sports fan stress. There's the "@$%&" stress and there's the "please, please, please!" stress.

    The @$%& stress involves fans howling about administrative, managerial and athletic incompetence and another season of losing. It's about helplessly watching special players who connect with the community walk away.

    The "please, please, please!" stress involves fans sniffing success and wanting to wallow in it. It's relentless scoreboard watching, projecting scenarios over the future schedule and endless barstool jibber-jabber.

    It's hope.

    For the first time in three years, Mariners fans face the second half of the season eagerly wringing their hands over the latter, rather than the former.

    The reason to hope is that most of their offensive guys haven't been particularly hot yet and it is at least possible that Felix Hernandez can stay healthy in the second half. The reason to be cautious is that there are six teams as good or better in the AL and four got off to better starts.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:53 PM

    AM I STILL MY BROTHER'S KEEPER? (via Brian McKim):

    If we leave Iraq, do we lose for good? (Camille Paglia, Jul. 11, 2007, Salon)

    [I] don't share your admiration of President Bush's post-9/11 speech about terrorism. His warning to the world -- "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists" -- may please the ear with its syntactical symmetries, but it reveals a shockingly simplistic reading of geopolitics and indeed of life itself.

    Since when did any nation -- even America, which I love -- become the dictatorial arbiter of morality? On what authority did President Bush, imperfectly advised by incompetent or mendacious underlings, divide the human race into those with us or against us? Who are we to demand or enforce such exclusivity and privilege? Why should our own self-interest take priority over that of all others? This is hubris, the excessive pride that both the Hebrew Bible and Greek tragedy warned against.

    Ms Paglia is usually pretty good, but at the point where you're suggesting that everyone ought to get to define morality themselves you're not just not referencing the Bible or classic philosophy but no longer even discussing American reality. Hers is the sort of argument that libertarians make when they rage against Lincoln for waging the Civil War, that isolationists make against fighting Hitler and that the Left makes against removing Saddam.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:51 PM


    Balmy Weather May Bench a Baseball Staple (MONICA DAVEY, 7/11/07, NY Times)

    Careers at stake with each swing, baseball players leave little to sport when it comes to their bats. They weigh them. They count their grains. They talk to them.

    But in towns like this one, in the heart of the mountain forests that supply the nation’s finest baseball bats, the future of the ash tree is in doubt because of a killer beetle and a warming climate, and with it, the complicated relationship of the baseball player to his bat.

    “No more ash?” said Juan Uribe, a Chicago White Sox shortstop, whose batting coach says he speaks to his ash bats every day. Uribe is so finicky about his bats, teammates say, that he stores them separately in the team’s dugout and complains bitterly if anyone else touches them.

    Okay, now Global Warning has gone too far.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:43 PM


    Digging for Ghosts (OTTO PENZLER, July 12, 2007, NY Sun)

    As in the previous five books about Arkady Renko, beginning with the modern classic "Gorky Park" and continuing with 2004's "Wolves Eat Dogs," Martin Cruz Smith's new novel, "Stalin's Ghost" provides an intense, close-up look at the "new" Russia, and it's not a pretty picture. [...]

    For more than a quarter of a century, Mr. Smith has been both a best seller and one of the smoothest, most readable and stylish authors in the mystery field. A large cast of characters interact in this novel, which has a plot busier than a rat on a rope, but once you get used to the Russian names, each has a separate and easily identifiable personality, limned perfectly by the accomplished author.

    Among the players are Zhenya, the chess prodigy unofficially adopted by Renko, who now lives on the street; Ilya Platonov, the Grandmaster, always drunk but a loyal friend to Zhenya and Arkaday; Ginsberg, a Jewish hunchback photojournalist who Urman calls a dwarf but who says he is merely "abridged"; a couple of American political consultants hired to help Isakov's campaign; and Tanya, the gorgeous blonde harpist who has many surprises in store for Renko (which I'd love to tell you about because they are colorful, but you should discover them for yourself).

    At the murder scene of one of the Black Berets, his wife, so drunk she can barely stand, has improbably used a meat cleaver in a perfect arc onto her husband's neck. She soon turns up dead, too, and Renko looks at her body: "She was the indeterminate color of an old rug and possibly that was what she had been in life."

    That is not an attractive epitaph, but Mr. Smith's vivid depiction of the corrupt and despairing country that often looks back to a time of terror as a better time than the present is not attractive either. That he can offer hope for a happy outcome for even a few of its inhabitants is a monumental achievement.

    Havana Bay offered a nicely dark take on the Left's favorite island paradise too.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:41 PM


    Derby on DVD - An Interview with Harmon Killebrew (Chris Yandek, Chicago Sports Review)

    Before the reality TV era of today, there was Home Run Derby. The 1959 show pitted two of the best hitters in baseball against each other in a nine-inning home run contest for cash prizes. Baseball Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, who is considered by many to be one of the best hitters ever in baseball, took the time to speak with Chris Yandek, of thesportsinterview.com, about the TV series coming to DVD and his own MLB career. [...]

    CY: What do you remember about the TV show almost 50 years later?

    HK: Not many of us were use to being on television in those days. I think the short answers we gave in between innings is something I will always remember. After our time was up, three outs, we would walk back and visit with Mark Scott who was the announcer. He would ask short questions and we gave very short answers to those questions. I think the people that get this new DVD will enjoy watching it. I know I am enjoying watching this first release of this volume coinciding with the All Star Game. The second one will be out in August and the third one in September.

    CY: Home Run Derby was in a way reality TV before the competition shows of today like Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, Survivor, where you had two big baseball players in front of a TV audience. You have no clue what's going to happen and in return they get cash prizes which weren't really huge by today's standards.

    HK: It was big in those days. A lot of us thought it was very huge. You got 2000 to win, 1000 if you lost. If you hit three home runs in a row you got an extra $500. It was a big deal.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:07 AM


    New Wii controller turns your video game into workout (TODD BISHOP, 7/11/07, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER)

    [Nintendo] unveiled a pressure-sensitive, high-tech board Wednesday that will add more physical activity to a notoriously sedentary pastime. It will sit on the floor and work with Nintendo's Wii console to lead people through workouts and provide a new way to control games.

    By detecting distribution of weight, for example, the board can tell whether a user's yoga routine is properly following the on-screen instructions. And in a virtual soccer game, the goalie can shift back and forth to block incoming shots.

    Another feature: A body mass index tracker that works by weighing a person through the board. [...]

    Wii Fit continues a trend that began with Nintendo's development of the Wii's motion-sensitive controller, widely credited for making video-gaming more physical. It also reflects efforts by Nintendo and others in the industry to expand the market for video games well beyond teenagers engaged in animated warfare.

    July 11, 2007

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 PM


    A Night of Wine and Memories for Kiner (RICHARD SANDOMIR, 7/12/07, NY Times)

    Ralph Kiner, the last surviving original Mets announcer, was reminiscing yesterday during a conference call with members of the news media about an interview with Choo Choo Coleman, an original Mets catcher.

    “How did you get your name?” Kiner asked, expecting to learn that Coleman loved toy trains or that his father worked on the railroad.

    Instead, Coleman said, “I don’t know.”

    “What’s your wife like?” Kiner also asked.

    “She likes me, bub,” Coleman said.

    Kiner, 84, is no longer a regular Mets voice and when he shows up (five appearances so far this season, with six more to come) he calls only a few innings. For his 45 years in the booth (he alternated between radio and TV with Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson for 17 of those years), he will be honored Saturday night against the Cincinnati Reds at Shea Stadium. The Hall of Famers Tom Seaver, Yogi Berra and Bob Feller, as well as various former Mets, will pay tribute to him.

    Just when he'd started to skate a little--with Nelson gone, Murphy mostly exiled to radio, and an awful Met team--they brought in Tim McCarver to work with him. They were to baseball what Hank Stram and John Madden were to football--the first announcers to assume that fans could understand, and be interested in, the intricacies of the game. They conducted a clinic on the air.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 PM


    China executes ex-food safety chief (Geoff Dyer, July 10 2007, Financial Times)

    China on Tuesday executed its former chief food and drug regulator for taking bribes to approve medicines, in an apparently draconian warning to other officials after a series of scandals about the quality of Chinese products.

    As JAB points out, start executing corrupt bureaucrats in China and it will make the Cultural Revolution look like a minor dust-up.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 PM


    Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Wizard Begins Acting Like a (Real) Troubled Teen: Evil won't stay buried, or out of Harry's head, in this dark, satisfying new Potter installment. (Scott Foundas, 7/10/07, Seattle Weekly)

    The magic has returned to the Harry Potter franchise—albeit magic of the old, black variety. The darkest and most threatening by far of the five Potter films, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is also the only series entry outside of the third, Alfonso Cuarón's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, that feels like the product of a vivid cinematic imagination and not just a slavishly faithful transposition of a runaway kid-lit best seller. The director, David Yates, who has never before helmed a project of this scale, brings an energy and efficiency to Potter land—this is the series' fastest-moving (and, at a mere 138 minutes, shortest) installment—that may stem from his many hours spent directing British television projects (including the recent The Girl in the Café, with Bill Nighy). Yates isn't the only new blood here: Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg, cameraman Slawomir Idziak (who shot the Three Colors trilogy for Krzysztof Kieslowski), editor Mark Day, and composer Nicholas Hooper are also Potter neophytes. They collectively infuse the series' heretofore storybook atmosphere with a down-and-dirty grittiness—Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has never looked more like a drafty, downtrodden pile of bricks—and great, nightmarish imagery that's as startling to our senses as it is to young Mr. Potter's.

    Credit J.K. Rowling, too: Order of the Phoenix gives us what may be the most compelling premise for a Potter picture yet, because it's the one least chained to an elaborate, mechanized plot. In narrative terms, not that much happens, but as for Harry's emotional journey—well, that's nearly epic.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 PM


    Sources: Yankees willing to talk extension with A-Rod during season (ESPN.com news services, July 11, 2007)

    The New York Yankees are willing to bend their own rules to keep Alex Rodriguez in pinstripes beyond this season.

    The Yankees have changed their traditional stance and are now willing to negotiate during the season with their star third baseman on a contract extension, MLB sources told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney.

    ...to have a Yankee reclaim the Babe's homerun mark yet have never won a World Series.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 PM


    Why are Immigrants' Incarceration Rates so Low? Evidence on Selective Immigration, Deterrence, and Deportation (Kristin F. Butcher, Anne Morrison Piehl, July 2007, NBER Working Paper No. 13229)

    The perception that immigration adversely affects crime rates led to legislation in the 1990s that particularly increased punishment of criminal aliens. In fact, immigrants have much lower institutionalization (incarceration) rates than the native born - on the order of one-fifth the rate of natives. More recently arrived immigrants have the lowest relative incarceration rates, and this difference increased from 1980 to 2000. We examine whether the improvement in immigrants' relative incarceration rates over the last three decades is linked to increased deportation, immigrant self-selection, or deterrence. Our evidence suggests that deportation does not drive the results. Rather, the process of migration selects individuals who either have lower criminal propensities or are more responsive to deterrent effects than the average native. Immigrants who were already in the country reduced their relative institutionalization probability over the decades; and the newly arrived immigrants in the 1980s and 1990s seem to be particularly unlikely to be involved in criminal activity, consistent with increasingly positive selection along this dimension.

    Those coming here are already American. Those trying to stop them aren't.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:18 PM


    Gaza's New Rulers Seek to Win Over the West: Having gained control of the Gaza Strip, Hamas is now trying to polish its image. Seen by many as Islamist terrorists, the group wants to win over the West with law and order. (Christoph Schult, 7/09/07, Der Spiegel)

    Hamas is clearly taking steps to restore order to the Gaza Strip -- and broadcasting its efforts to the public in Gaza, Israel and the West. After facing worldwide criticism for their brutal power grab in the region, the Islamists are now intent on demonstrating that they speak more than just the language of violence. Indeed, they have little choice in the matter. Economic recovery is unlikely as long as Western aid money pours into the Fatah-ruled West Bank, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has established a relatively moderate emergency government. [...]

    Hamas' recent statements are at odds with its fundamentalist reputation. There should be freedom of the press and freedom of opinion in Gaza, says Ahmed Yussuf. He insists that a woman's choice to wear a headscarf should be purely "her personal decision." Instead of Saudi Arabia or Iran, Yussuf cites Turkey as a model. "We are not the Taliban," he claims, "we are like (Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip) Erdogan."

    As promising as this sounds, it contradicts much of the rhetoric coming from other Hamas leaders in recent weeks. Prominent hardliner Mahmoud al-Sahar says Hamas intends to introduce Shariah law in Gaza. "There are different schools of thought here," Ahmed Yussuf admits, although he is quick to add that the moderates are gaining in influence within Hamas.

    If what he claims is true, Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who has been held hostage by Hamas for more than a year now, should finally be released. Yussuf admits that the government has been locked out of negotiations with the Israelis aimed at brokering a deal. "This is purely the fault of the military wing of Hamas," he says. All hopes now rest with the Egyptians, who withdrew their envoys from the Gaza Strip after the Islamist takeover. "It is in our interest," says Yussuf, adopting a statesmanlike tone, "to resolve this crisis as quickly as possible."

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:02 PM


    A whole new ball game, but some don't see: Australia's defence doctrine has moved on from the small-army days (Greg Sheridan, July 12, 2007, The Australian)

    There were...a number of quite striking features of the update which slipped by mostly unnoticed.

    One of the most striking is the unusually robust language concerning China. The update declares that Australia has no better friend in Asia than Japan and proudly recounts the new strategic relationship with Tokyo, clearly putting Japan ahead of China.

    The update praises China's economic growth but comments: "But the scope and pace of its military modernisation, particularly the development of new and disruptive capabilities such as the anti-satellite (ASAT) missile (tested in January 2007), could create misunderstandings and instability in the region."

    For a public document, this is remarkably frank. It chimes perfectly with US policy, and my guess is it was co-ordinated with Washington. It calls for greater transparency in Chinese military matters.

    US policymakers called for transparency after the Chinese anti-satellite test in part because they suspected the Chinese Government itself may not necessarily have had absolute control of the People's Liberation Army, or did not understand all the implications of what the PLA was doing. Our update will be read all over Asia. These words carry a lot of freight. On Taiwan, the update supported the one-China policy, which means Taiwan and China share sovereignty. But it also explicitly supported the status quo, which is de facto Taiwanese independence. It also called on all parties to pursue their interests peacefully, which means China cannot take Taiwan back by force. It even placed the status quo ahead of the one China policy.

    On terrorism, the update declared: "Terrorism can have a strategic effect." This may seem to be stating the bleeding obvious, given terrorists' known desire to acquire nuclear weapons. But in the rarefied world of the defence bureaucracy these words have great import. They are an official rebuttal of those strategic analysts, trapped by paradigm paralysis, who see terrorism as essentially a police matter which will never be more troubling than a bad storm.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:52 PM


    Shanghai noir (Todd Crowell, 7/12/07, Asia Times)

    Welcome to contemporary Shanghai.

    And welcome to the world of Qiu Xiaolong, a Chinese writer who is making a name for himself and finding a wide readership with his Inspector Chen mysteries, of which When Red Is Black is the third in the series.

    A native of Shanghai, Qiu has lived, worked and taught in the quintessential middle-American city of St Louis, Missouri, for the past 18 years. There could hardly be a starker contrast between his adopted home and the wild, bustling, corrupt Shanghai, the setting for all his mysteries.

    Qiu is one of two exiled Chinese writers living and working in the United States. Perhaps the more famous of the two goes by the name of Ha Jin, though he works in the literary-fiction genre, not detective novels.

    Their careers have followed similar trajectories. Both were in the US as visiting scholars - Ha Jin at Brandeis University in Ohio and Qiu at Washington University in St Louis - when the 1989 Tiananmen massacre occurred in Beijing. They decided to stay in the US.

    "Ha Jin is a friend of mine," Qiu told Asia Times Online in an e-mail interview. "In some Chinese reviews we have been lumped together - not all that favorably. They ask, 'Why are you writing in English instead of Chinese?' Are we just trying to please a Western audience?"

    Well, in fact, they are pleasing a growing number of Western readers. Ha Jin won the National Book Award in 1999 for his book Waiting. Qiu's first novel, Death of a Red Heroine, won the 2001 Edgar Award for Best First Mystery.

    There is a lot of Qiu in his Inspector Chen character. Both are intellectuals. Like Qiu, Chen studied English literature and is fluent in English (which is why he is commissioned to translate the New World brochure). Both have a passion for poetry, especially that of T S Elliot, a native of St Louis.

    But Qiu hastened to add, "I have never been a cop or a [Communist] Party member." Indeed, he says he doesn't much like Inspector Chen. "For me Inspector Chen is a kind of anti-hero, a survivor in the system, although he is trying his best to do a good job as a cop."

    It's wrenching to see the compromises a decent man, like Inspector Chen. makes to function in an indecent society.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:29 AM


    Marital Discord: Bill Clinton was the ultimate free trader. But Hillary, tacking left, is sounding protectionist notes. Can Bill win this argument? (John Heilemann, New York)

    Here’s the curious thing, however. One of the central tenets of Clintonomics was its embrace of globalization; indeed, a convincing argument can be made that Clinton did as much to advance the cause of free trade as any president of either party in the past 50 years. Yet as far as I can see, none of the top-tier Democratic runners has come close to offering a full-throated endorsement of this aspect of Clintonism. And although that may come as no surprise with regard to Obama or John Edwards, the distance between Hillary and her husband on the topic is both noteworthy and telling—not just about the brass-tacks electoral calculations behind her policy positions, but about the shifts now under way in Democratic economic orthodoxy.

    Just how far apart are Mr. and Mrs. Clinton on the question of global economic integration? The gap is yawning. For the former president, three sweeping and historic trade agreements did much to cement his reputation as bone-deep internationalist: the passage of NAFTA, the ratification of the Uruguay Round of the gatt, and the extension of permanent normal trading status to China and its inclusion in the WTO.

    But for the current senator, much of this apparently seems dubious, at least as a road map to the future. “We just can’t keep doing what we did in the twentieth century,” she told a reporter from Bloomberg, adding that we may need “a little time-out” before the enactment of any further trade deals. Accordingly, in 2005, she voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Last month, she announced her opposition to the South Korean Free Trade Agreement. She has backed legislation that would impose trade sanctions on Chinese goods unless Beijing stops holding down the value of the yuan. She has even repeatedly spouted skepticism about the wisdom of NAFTA—while stopping short of blaming her husband for its deficiencies. “NAFTA was inherited by the Clinton administration,” she informed Time magazine.

    He may not like it, but Bill Clinton gets that his entire historical legacy rests on the times he acted like a Republican. He's our Grover Cleveland. She, on the other hand, seems to have learned almost nothing during their stay in the White House.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:04 AM


    Alas, Poor Couric: But pity her not. ( Joe Hagan, New York)

    At a May benefit for colon cancer at the bowling lanes at Chelsea Piers, Couric arrives right after delivering the evening news, still in her dark pantsuit, but now with a red T-shirt underneath that reads STRIKE OUT COLON CANCER. Since her husband, Jay Monahan, died of cancer in 1998, Couric has made fund-raising for the disease a major part of her public profile, prompting her most famous TV moment, the on-air colonoscopy in 2000. Standing before a bank of photographers on the red carpet, she mugs with a bowling ball alongside a few B-list celebrities (Steve Schirripa from The Sopranos and RuPaul), flashing a smile that is amazing for how unforced it seems. She bids farewell to Whoopi Goldberg, who apparently has lost weight since Couric last saw her. “Call me, woman!” says Couric, making a phone gesture with her thumb and pinkie. “Now that you’re all skinny and s[tuff]!”

    It’s the “girlfriend” Katie, the former Tri-Delt sorority sister at the University of Virginia, the one whose cell-phone ring was recently identified as the Pussycat Dolls’ “Don’t Cha (Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me),” the one who bonded with American women over cooking and fashion and parenting segments on Today. The one who doesn’t fit the mold of an evening news anchor.

    Before Couric went on the air at CBS, there was much speculation about whether America was ready for a female anchor. Would she be able to attract new audiences to a dying medium? Or would she turn off longtime viewers of the Evening News who were used to something more stolid and comfortable (and masculine)? As it turns out, the answer to both questions is yes. Couric has attracted new audiences, specifically women; in the New York City market, she doubled the number of female viewers between the ages of 18 and 49 in June sweeps compared with last year. The trouble is that the average evening news viewer is still a 60-year-old holdover from a previous era. And he seems to prefer Old Man Gibson with the glasses on the end of his nose doing line readings of the day’s headlines.

    As one CBS News correspondent put it, “Moonves said people don’t want to listen to the ‘voice of God’ anymore. And it’s exactly what they want.”

    Couric says that one of the reasons she took the job was because she thought it had value “in a larger societal way.” And it’s hard not to notice that Couric’s personal publicist, Matthew Hiltzik, once handled Senator Hillary Clinton, another polarizing female figure breaking into the men’s club. (Hiltzik orchestrated Couric’s much-touted “listening tour” to dramatize the seriousness of her new endeavor, modeled on the kind he arranged for Clinton in 2000 during her first Senate run.) But Couric is circumspect about comparisons to Clinton. “I mean obviously there are some parallels, but I think discomfort or comfort or perception—you could compare Mitt Romney and Charlie Gibson,” she says, wriggling free of the question.

    She’s also wary of playing the gender card now that things aren’t working out as planned. “I’m not naïve. I’m sure there is a percentage of the population that for whatever reason may not feel completely comfortable with a woman in a heretofore male-dominated role,” she says. “I think there’s a whole confluence of factors that contribute to some people not gravitating toward the program.”

    But her closest friends—a group of women from her UVA and post-college days that includes fund-raiser Kathleen Lobb, Vanity Fair publicist Beth Kseniak, and Larry King Live executive producer Wendy Walker—believe sexism is a big part of the problem and a major source of frustration for Couric. Media criticism—like Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley’s piece about Couric’s coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings—never fails to describe her clothes and appearance, while those details are rarely observed about Gibson or Williams. “Personally, that really bothered me for her,” says Lobb of the Stanley column. “Because it’s not about evaluating the quality of her work.”

    Couric’s response has been to tone down her wardrobe. “I try to give them as little to talk about as possible, without becoming Pat on Saturday Night Live,” she says.

    But even conservative pantsuits can’t quell the interest in Couric beyond her performance on the news. The tabloid press has been particularly harsh in its analysis of her romantic relationships. Larry King’s marriage to a woman a quarter of a century his junior barely registers as surprising, but when Couric started dating a preppy 33-year-old entrepreneur and amateur triathlete named Brooks Perlin, the Post gleefully dubbed her a “cougar” for “devouring” a younger man. “It’s all so stupid,” says Couric, agitated. “The people who come up with this garbage and the people who market in pettiness … Do people enjoy this? Is this how they get their kicks?”

    Of course, it’s not just the tabloid press that’s on the attack. Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather (with whom Couric says she has always had a “perfectly pleasant, nice relationship”) recently told MSNBC radio host Joe Scarborough that Moonves was “dumbing down” and “tarting up” the broadcast with Couric. Moonves retaliated by calling Rather’s comment sexist: “For certain people in America, they’re not used to getting their news from a woman,” Moonves says. “It’s going to take time for people to adjust. There’s an automatic assumption on the part of certain people that they would rather get news from a man.”

    Rather says his “tarting up” comment was taken out of context. “There’s a long list of women whom the public accepts in all kind of roles,” observes Rather, mentioning Christiane Amanpour as one of the most respected reporters on television. Moonves, he says, “thinks the audience is redneck and the press is a bunch of assassins. I have so much confidence in the audience. The audience is not going to buy that. They look at what’s on the air, and that’s where they make their decisions.”

    And that, perhaps, gets to the heart of the matter. The reaction to Couric as anchor has less to do with the fact that she is a woman than it has to do with the type of woman she is—or at least the type she has played on TV. Despite a long list of accomplished interviews with world leaders and politicians, from Tony Blair to President Bush to Kofi Annan, Couric has a hard time shaking the perception that she’s light and girlish, as opposed to serious and mature.

    She blames it on the later incarnation of the Today show. “I think the show got increasingly soft during my tenure, during the end of it,” she says, referring to the version of the program run by former executive producer Tom Touchet, with whom she often clashed. “And that’s one of the reasons I wasn’t fulfilled journalistically in the job. Perhaps the most recent memory of me in the eyes of some people is of the softer, fun aspects of the Today show, which I totally enjoyed and I think I did well in, but it wasn’t the whole enchilada for me.”

    The algorithm for why a news personality appeals or doesn’t turns out to be much more complicated than gender or reporting chops or whether someone came from morning television. After all, Charlie Gibson—the leader in the ratings—came from Good Morning America. Although, as Couric points out, “he was more of an avuncular figure on that show. I was encouraged to show a fun, playful side more.” And Diane Sawyer, Couric’s chief competitor for the mantle of most powerful and respected woman in television news, has done basically the same job as Couric for the last decade, yet no one questions Sawyer’s seriousness and credibility when she bags exclusive interviews or does hard news.

    Couric suspects that if Sawyer were doing an evening news broadcast, she might have run into the same issues. “Perhaps.” But as it stands, Sawyer has exceptionally high favorability ratings, topping a Gallup poll last year measuring viewer opinion on TV news people. Meanwhile, as Couric has shifted away from her flirty, funny, line-flubbing, relatable morning personality to a harder, edgier, and ultimately more humorless evening persona, her Q score—the gold standard of favorability ratings—has declined. (As of last year, she was on par with Dan Rather.) [...]

    [W]ith ratings hovering between 6 and 7 million viewers a night, CBS News has to figure out how to salvage the estimated $75 million it’s paying Couric over five years. For now, the goal is simply to stanch the viewer bleed. Executive producer Rick Kaplan’s job is to bring consistency to the program. He’ll bring new ideas to the show, he says, “but it’s not necessarily new flaky ideas. Or new sketchy ideas. It’s about maybe some new but basic ideas.”

    Couric admits that her original version of the show had problems. “Perhaps some of the pieces were too long, they weren’t as compelling. ‘FreeSpeech’—maybe every night it didn’t hold up.” But she still believes in what they were trying to achieve. “People can get the news anywhere, they don’t have to wait for the television. Take, say, up-armored vehicles: one vehicle that wasn’t up-armored, the ramifications of that on a soldier from Dallas. That’s a humanistic illustration of a news-making story.”

    Couric seems determined not to let anyone see her suffer, but according to several people familiar with the situation, she is privately frustrated (“Going through hell,” says one producer) and moody about the ratings. The stress has caused her to blow up at her staff for small infractions on the set. During the tuberculosis story in June, Couric got angry with news editor Jerry Cipriano for using a word she detested—“sputum”—and the staff grew tense when she began slapping him “over and over and over again” on the arm, according to a source familiar with the scene. It had seemed like a joke at first, but it quickly became clear that she wasn’t kidding.

    “I sort of slapped him around,” Couric admits. “I got mad at him and said, ‘You can’t do this to me. You have to tell me when you’re going to use a word like that.’ I was aggravated, there’s no question about that.” But she says she has a good relationship with Cipriano. “We did ban the word sputum from all future broadcasts. It became kind of a joke.”

    So they banned a medical term because she's a prima donna and they wonder why folks don't take her doing real news seriously?

    Posted by Ted Welter at 10:03 AM

    Immigrant Punk

    Eugene Hutz is the charismatic frontman of Gogol Bordello, a multinational, multicultural explosion of a band whose new album is called Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike. The band mixes punk, ska, jazz, and the traditional Roma music of Ukraine, where Hutz grew up. Hutz and violinists Sergey Ryabtsev and Yury Lemeshev visit NPR's Studio 4A, where they perform a few songs and talk about their music:

    NPR in Performance: Interview/Live Performance with Gogol Bordello (April 2006, NPR.org)

    Read a Short Review of Gogol Bordello's New Album, Super Taranta! (July 2007, Onion AV Club)

    Gogol Bordello does to the Gypsy/Klezmer/Eastern European folk tradition what the Pogues and Boiled in Lead have done to the Celtic/British Isles folk tradition--play it much louder, much faster, and much more crudely (both musically and lyrically). Lotsa fun; parental advisory on some of the lyrics. Hutz appears in Everything is Illuminated (which I haven't yet seen, any opinions?), and GB appears on the soundtrack.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:58 AM


    Hoping for a masterstroke: As audience dwindles, PBS readies a makeover for venerable series (Joanna Weiss, July 11, 2007, Boston Globe)

    It could be argued that the heroines of Jane Austen's novels are the precursors to "Desperate Housewives" -- or even the ladies of "Sex and the City." So if anyone can convince TV viewers that PBS's "Masterpiece Theatre" is relevant and modern, it might be a British woman who has been dead for nearly two centuries.

    Of course, a new, living host could help, too.

    Both will be enlisted as "Masterpiece Theatre," the iconic series produced by WGBH, prepares for an unprecedented makeover. At a conference for TV critics in Beverly Hills today , producers will outline a four-month Austen festival to launch the new season in January, including dramatizations (old and new) of all six Austen novels and a new biopic, "Miss Austen Regrets."

    The Austen push is part of a much larger effort to rebrand the series as a whole, drawing in viewers who left long ago for flashier TV fare. Producers have a sense that with this new image, the future of the series is at stake. But with no major changes planned in the direction of programming, critics are already questioning whether new window dressing will make "Masterpiece," or PBS, feel relevant today.

    Okay, so one night a week for a few weeks a year they'll return to cl;assy programming--how will that change the fact that they've reduced their brand to reunion concerts and self-help gurus for yuppies?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


    Zito's Deal May Rank Among the All-Time Worst (TIM MARCHMAN, July 11, 2007, NY Sun)

    For San Francisco Giants fans, last night's All-Star Game should have been a wonderful event, a chance to show off their beautiful ballpark and shower love on the twin pillars of their franchise — Barry Bonds, their unaccountably beloved left fielder, and Barry Zito, their $126 million ace. Events, though, take their own course. The Giants are in last place, and Zito is a bust. His 6–9 record and 4.90 ERA are bad enough, but the man simply doesn't have a fastball anymore, and never having been much of a control pitcher, he doesn't look to have much of a chance of making this deal look even tolerable by becoming a classic crafty lefty.

    When Zito was a free agent last fall, there were two schools of thought on his future. The first, with which I agreed, was that his tremendous durability and persistent ability to induce bad contact made him a risk worth taking. The second was that his mediocre stuff and mediocre command would catch up with him. Some people looked at him and saw Tom Glavine, others saw Mike Hampton; on early returns, it looks as though the skeptics were right.

    Making it look even worse is that they could have had the comparable Ted Lilly for four years/$40 million.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 AM


    AL Teams' Playoff Odds Show It's Anyone's Year (CHRISTINA KAHRL, July 11, 2007, NY Sun)

    The All-Star break might be seen as a time to rest and celebrate stardom at the Midsummer Classic, but what it really represents is a pause that gives teams the opportunity to take stock of what kind of season they're having. In particular, they can gauge whether they have a shot at contending, and, perhaps most important with regard to longterm planning, whether they should be buyers or sellers at the end of this month. This can mean dealing talent for prospects to help retool for a club's next serious bid, or patching up that gaping hole or two on the roster that might keep a team from making the serious money that comes with playing deep into October.

    In the American League, a changing dynamic as far as who makes it can already be seen. Gone are the days when you could assume that the Yankees and Red Sox had the AL East title and Wild Card locked up between them. The AL Central has had four teams, with the exception of the hapless Royals, make playoff runs in the last three years, while the AL West has seen the A's and Angels trade off division titles since the Mariners' record-setting 116-win title in 2001. As a result of having produced five different pennant winners in as many years, the American League is in the midst of the liveliest competitive environment it has seen since the 1980s. Then, eight different pennant winners emerged between 1981 and 1988. This year there are even pretty good odds of a sixth in six, with the Indians and Mariners boasting the best chances of making it so, if also representing a nightmare for network programmers.

    There's little to choose between the Tigers, Angels, Red Sox and Indians and even the Twins and Mariners might be better than any NL team, while the A's tend to get hot in the second half.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


    Stereogum Presents...: OKX: A Tribute to OK Computer (Stereogum, 7/11/07))

    To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Radiohead's OK Computer we've asked some of our favorite musicians to participate in a song-by-song covers compilation. Indicative of the album's continued importance, each invitee jumped at the chance; the results are personal, intense, tellingly various. Slow down, dig in, enjoy. But note: we did this all legal and everything, so we can't keep these up forever...get 'em before someone else does.

    One can (must?) question whether it's their best album, but....

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


    Odd cookbooks (AP, Jul. 11, 2007)

    Online bookseller AbeBooks.com recently asked its customers for their votes for the weirdest cookbooks ever. Who knew that cooking on the engine of your car was stranger than wookie cookies? The top 10:

    1. “Manifold Destiny: The One! The Only! Guide to Cooking on Your Car Engine!” by Chris Maynard and Bill Scheller.

    2. “The Original Road Kill Cookbook” by Buck Peterson.

    3. “The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook” by David G. Gordon.

    4. “Special Effects Cookbook” by Michael E. Samonek.

    5. “Cooking in the Nude: For Playful Gourmets” by Debbie Cornwell and Stephen Cornwell.

    Doing geoseismic work in the Permian Oil Basin, we'd just put a can of soup (Chunky) or chili (Wolf Brand) on one of the truck manifolds and let it drive around for awhile, then pluck it off later & chow down.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM



    * 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
    * ½ cup confectioners' sugar
    * Pinch salt
    * Juice of 1 lemon
    * 1 (12-ounce) container Cool Whip
    * 1 cup finely chopped pecans
    * 1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
    * 1 (11-ounce) can mandarin orange sections, drained
    * 1 cup red or green grapes, halved
    * 1 (7-ounce) bag shredded coconut
    * 1 cup maraschino cherries, halved
    * 2 (9-inch) prepared graham-cracker crusts or 1 deep-dish pie crust, baked blind
    * Additional fruit for garnish, if desired

    Using an electric mixer, blend the cream cheese, sugar, salt and juice until smooth. Gently fold in the Cool Whip by hand. Add the remaining ingredients, and spoon the batter into pie crust or crusts. Garnish if desired.

    Chill overnight or until firm. Keep the pie refrigerated until ready to serve.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


    Economists question dominance of free-market ideas in U.S. universities (Patricia Cohen, July 11, 2007, NY Times)

    Challenging free-market orthodoxy may be like saying you believe in intelligent design at a Darwin convention, but in recent months, economists have started a lively debate over how their specialty is taught around the United States.

    The difference, of course, is that Adam Smith's ideas work when applied to economics but not when applied to biology.

    July 10, 2007

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:40 PM


    Shifting pension benefits to UAW protects workers (Detroit News, 7/08/07)

    Health care costs are part of what's crippling the domestic auto industry, but a solution appears to be near and it doesn't rely on taxpayer bailouts or government intervention. Instead it rightly places the responsibility -- but not the costs -- for managing retiree benefits with the union that demands absolute protection of them. [...]

    Neither the Big Three nor its suppliers can afford to pay the extravagant benefits that union members have enjoyed for decades. But what's been promised shouldn't be taken away. The domestic automakers also need to insist that the new contract have more realistic health care and retirement provisions -- moving to higher employee contributions and health savings accounts as well as defined contribution programs instead of defined benefit plans -- to ensure that they're not faced with another ballooning problem down the road./blockquote>
    What's good for General Motors is good for America, eh?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:26 PM


    Democrats Step On NCLB Running Into Teachers' Arms (Ruben Navarrette, 7/10/07, Real Clear Politics)

    NCLB also lifts the curtain on which kids are learning and which aren't by calling for testing in the third through eighth grades and once in high school, and requiring districts to group students' test scores by race and ethnicity. For the most part, teachers hate the emphasis on testing. At their convention, some wore buttons and stickers proclaiming:

    "A child is more than a test score." And they really hate having to advertise to the world what sort of job they're doing in teaching students of certain racial and ethnic backgrounds.

    This suggests that teachers know more than they're letting on about which students they're serving and which they're sacrificing. The law shares the information with the rest of us.

    So you might think that the Democrats running for president, who rarely miss an ethnic celebration and who claim to have the best interests of African-Americans and Latinos at heart, would rush to defend No Child Left Behind -- especially since the candidates who were in Congress in 2001 voted for the legislation.

    You know better. The only thing close to the heart of politicians is cold cash, and those with the cash -- i.e., unions such as the NEA -- want this law tossed into the dustbin. NCLB comes up for reauthorization in Congress later this year and the campaign to kill it is well under way.

    According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the NEA gave more than $1.9 million to candidates in the 2006 federal elections. Another union, the American Federation of Teachers, gave more than $2.1 million.

    And, if the pattern of contributions during over the last three decades is any indication, the lion's share of that money went to Democrats over Republicans by a margin of 9-1.

    Of course, Democrats didn't even realize that NCLB contained a voucher system (not that the Stupid Party did either) and that they truly do have to oppose or else poor kids will get decent educations and break the cycle of dependence while public teachers unions will be attrited.

    Why can't British students write like Americans?: Expression and thought are linked. Crude language means crude thinking (Sarah Churchwell, 11 July 2007, Independent)

    Every spring, I have Rex Harrison's voice in my head, singing: "Why can't the English teach their children how to speak? Norwegians learn Norwegian; the Greeks are taught their Greek." For eight years I've been teaching extremely bright, overwhelmingly middle-class university students studying American and English literature, who achieved minimum A-level scores of three Bs. They are intelligent, skilled at passing exams, and most of them don't know what defines a complete sentence. This is not sarcasm: every year I ask my students to name the three parts of a complete sentence. Usually they mumble, "subject, verb, object" or "subject, verb, predicate". I have never had an English student who knew the answer. The Norwegians and the Greeks do. So do the Americans, because they were taught grammar, vocabulary, and spelling. The majority of middle-class Americans who went to a state school, like me, have known the definition of a complete sentence since age seven. (In case anyone is wondering, the answer is: subject, predicate - which essentially means verb - and complete thought.)

    Why doesn't the BBC just buy Grammar Rock?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 PM


    WHAT'S THIS ABOUT A FREE PREVIEW? (Baseball Prospectus)

    Most of our content is only available to those with a Baseball Prospectus Premium subscription. From July 9 to 15, however, everyone can access the great baseball content and stats that subscribers get year-round.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 PM


    Professors Find God in Groves of Academe (GARY SHAPIRO, July 10, 2007, NY Sun)

    Contrary to popular opinion, the majority of professors — even at elite schools — are religious believers, a new study shows.

    Accounting professors are the most religious among the top 20 bachelor's degree-granting disciplines, with 63% saying they believe in God. Overall, American professors are less religious than the general public, but a majority of academics do believe in God, the survey of about 1,500 professors found. A professor at Harvard University, Neil Gross, and a professor at George Mason University, Solon Simmons, conducted the survey.

    A professor of religion at Barnard College, Randall Balmer, said the study helps to refute the notion that academics are almost universally atheist or agnostic. A research scholar at New York University's Center for Religion and Media, Jeff Sharlet, likewise said the idea that the ivory tower is detached from the main currents of religious life is as sound as believing that "The Beverly Hillbillies" is a fair representation of rural poverty. About accountants being so religious, Mr. Sharlet quipped, "The god is in the details."

    The new research shows that mechanical engineers are those whom one is least likely to be seated next to at a church, mosque, or synagogue. [...]

    Mr. Balmer said he was surprised that biologists were among the disciplines that were most atheist and agnostic. Between 20% and 30% of professors overall termed themselves atheists or agnostics.

    You have to really not be paying attention to not realize that for biologists Darwinism is just a God substitute.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:11 PM


    The New Franco-German Split: Only a few months after France's new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, hurried to Germany for a show of friendship, Paris and Berlin are again battling for dominance over European aerospace giant EADS. A showdown may be on the agenda for next week. (Christian Reiermann, 7/09/07, Der Spiegel)

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel was unexpectedly frank in a chat last week with her predecessor, ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Sipping a glass of white wine at an event on Tuesday, Merkel told Schröder that Germany might soon have trouble with the new French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. Schröder, a glass of red wine in his hand, nodded and listened, having navigated troubles of his own with France. Merkel said Sarkozy had played a constructive role at the European Union summit in Brussels last month because his interests coincided with Berlin's. But it was only a matter of time, she said, before the Germans and French would be at odds again.

    A date for the showdown may already be set. Merkel will meet Sarkozy in Toulouse on July 16. Scheduled as a routine meeting, the mini-summit could flare into something else. Schröder and former French President Jacques Chirac (Sarkozy's predecessor) exploited every chance to show that the two countries enjoyed a harmonious friendship. But the meeting in Toulouse will be anything but a chummy get-together. Sarkozy will try to cement French dominance in the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), the massive public-private parent company of aircraft manufacturer Airbus. The Sarkozy team's plans include nothing less than an assumption of power in the complex French-German company -- which, so far, has been organized to give equal say to Paris and Berlin.

    But Merkel won't submit without a fight. The bitter tug-of-war over positions and financing shares currently transpiring behind the scenes resembles a strange mixture of arm wrestling and chess.

    Though you could at least land a plane on an unpopulated atoll, unlike a Western city.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:14 AM


    Al Gore’s Personal Energy Use Is His Own “Inconvenient Truth”: Gore’s home uses more than 20 times the national average (Tennessee Policy, Feruary 2007)

    In his documentary, the former Vice President calls on Americans to conserve energy by reducing electricity consumption at home.

    The average household in America consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the Department of Energy. In 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh—more than 20 times the national average.

    Last August alone, Gore burned through 22,619 kWh—guzzling more than twice the electricity in one month than an average American family uses in an entire year. As a result of his energy consumption, Gore’s average monthly electric bill topped $1,359.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


    60 million Californians by mid-century: Riverside will become the second most populous county behind Los Angeles and Latinos the dominant ethnic group, study says. (Maria L. La Ganga and Sara Lin, July 10, 2007, LA Times)

    Over the next half-century, California's population will explode by nearly 75%, and Riverside will surpass its bigger neighbors to become the second most populous county after Los Angeles, according to state Department of Finance projections released Monday.

    California will near the 60-million mark in 2050, the study found, raising questions about how the state will look and function and where all the people and their cars will go. [...]

    The figures show that the majority of California's growth will be in the Latino population, said Dowell Myers, a professor of urban planning and demography at USC, adding that "68% of the growth this decade will be Latino, 75% next and 80% after that."

    That should be a wake-up call for voting Californians, Myers said, pointing out a critical disparity. Though the state's growth is young and Latino, the majority of voters will be older and white — at least for the next decade.

    "The future of the state is Latino growth," Myers said. "We'd sure better invest in them and get them up to speed…. Older white voters don't see it that way. They don't realize that someone has to replace them in the work force, pay for their benefits and buy their house."

    The Right apparently doesn't realize either.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


    Parisians are 'rude and smelly' - say their own tourist chiefs (Daily Mail, 9th July 2007)

    Parisians have been told they are rude AND smelly - by their own tourism chiefs.

    Tourist officials in Paris have told the city's notoriously grumpy waiters, shopkeepers and taxi drivers that their bad manners and poor personal hygiene are driving visitors away.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


    Kazakh Uighurs feel threat from China (Natalia Antelava, 7/10/07, BBC)

    Uighurs, who are ethnically Turkic Muslims, share a history in which victims outnumber heroes, and stories of persecution overshadow tales of greatness.

    For centuries, Uighurs fought the Chinese over the land they call Eastern Turkistan. But on the map it is called Xinjiang, and it lies in the north of China.

    Over the past 200 years, millions of Uighurs fled wars and persecution and settled in Central Asia, but they never gave up the dream of their own land.

    And that is a problem for Beijing. As some Uighurs continue to call for greater autonomy from China, Beijing says that their separatism is breeding terrorism.

    Failure to grant them statehood breeds the terrorism.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


    European Communion: Islamophobes rejoice! EU countries are becoming more Christian (Phillip Longman, July 2007, Washington Monthly)

    A new offering from Penn State historian Philip Jenkins provides a brilliantly researched, intellectually honest, and surprising account of Europe’s cultural future. In God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis, Jenkins is guardedly optimistic, though not for reasons that will leave most secular Americans comfortable. Europe will survive, indeed will flourish. But in the process, it will become far more religious and morally conservative.

    One reason is simple demography. In a society in which childless and single- children families have become the norm, an overwhelmingly large share of the children who are born descend from highly conservative, religious parents who follow the injunction of the Bible and the Koran to go forth and multiply. Jenkins makes this more than just an abstract proposition by providing on-the-ground reporting of a Christian reawakening that is already occurring in Europe.

    How many Americans would have guessed, for example, that the Catholic Church is now flourishing in London? Jenkins quotes one parishioner, “We used to celebrate Mass three times on a Sunday and we were never full. Now we have six or eight services every Sunday and people are standing outside in the street.” Britain is still very secular compared to the United States. In 2001, only 33 percent of adults attended church during the Christmas season, but by 2005 that number had surged to 43 percent. In part, these numbers reflect the migration of Polish Catholics to Britain in recent years. But around Britain, American-style Protestant megachurches are also flourishing, such as Holy Trinity in Brompton, which now attracts 3,000 to its Sunday services and is organized into lay-led groups of twenty-five to thirty members who meet fortnightly.

    In a particularly elucidative chapter entitled “Faith Among the Ruins,” Jenkins points to similar examples of religious revival across Europe. The number of young Italian women entering convents is surging. In 2005, the German Protestant Convention in Hanover attracted a record crowd of 400,000. In Finland, most people may be fed up with the official Lutheran Church, but large numbers of urban teenagers and young adults are flocking to the alternative “Thomas Mass,” which is based on liturgical traditions of the Lutheran Church, heavily influenced by ecumenicism. Jenkins estimates that Europe’s evangelicals, charismatics, and Pentecostals, many of them immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, outnumber Muslims by almost two to one, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

    When I first read Jenkins’s book, my reaction was “interesting, if true.” But as it happened, I found myself in Poland this May, and was surprised to discover the Catholic churches of Warsaw and Krakow filled to the last pew—and not just with old ladies, but with enthusiastic young professionals and their children as well. Religious icons, like the black Madonna of Czestochowa, attract throngs of pilgrims, as does the birthplace of Pope John Paul II. A three-day conference of the World Congress of Families in Warsaw, at which I was a token backsliding secularist speaker, drew thousands of religious conservatives from across Europe who vibrated with energy.

    Thank goodness for the Poles.

    July 9, 2007

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:55 PM


    Grassroots rebellion could halt growth in flights (Jeff Gazzard, 10 July 2007, Independent)

    The UK's strategies to reduce greenhouse gases now look somewhat lame in the face of the continuing seemingly inexorable growth in air travel emissions. But at a local level, around the UK's expanding airports, where more noise, worsening air quality, habitat loss and increased road traffic also have significant negative environmental impacts, there are signs of change. Communities, local authorities and in one or two cases the Government's planning regime are starting to not just question but actually say "no" to unrestrained airport development.

    Is the Government's plan to grow passenger numbers from today's 220 million to around 500 million per year by 2030 starting to fall apart?

    Now might just be the time when the concentrated efforts of communities and local government can present strong evidence-based reasons why airport development should be constrained and more importantly increase the pressure on airport management to make legally-binding commitments to live within their means.

    ...at least in democracies.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:52 PM


    Food Fight: The case for turning crops into fuel. (William Saletan, July 7, 2007, Slate)

    Biofuel is our next logical technology. We've had an agricultural revolution, an industrial revolution, and an information technology revolution. Now, we're putting them together to harness the power of life. Ecologically, it's ideal: a fuel that literally grows on trees.

    But biofuel has aroused the same fears as free trade, with a twist. The argument against free trade was that people in poor countries would underbid and take jobs from people in rich countries. The argument against biofuel is that people in rich countries will outbid and take food from people in poor countries. The old buzzword was job security. The new buzzword is "food security."

    What critics of free trade forget is that people in rich countries aren't just producers; they're consumers: Competition from poor countries drives down wages but compensates by lowering prices. Conversely, what critics of biofuel forget is that people in poor countries aren't just consumers; they're producers. Crop purchases by rich countries drive up prices but compensate by driving up incomes. Castro says turning food into fuel is a "waste," but that's not true. Fuel helps make food available and affordable.

    Castro thinks the very idea of making fuel from food is "diabolical." But using food for fuel wasn't Satan's idea. It was God's. Fuel is the whole point of food. That's why edible crops such as corn and cassava are also easy ethanol sources: They're loaded with energy-bearing starch.

    Biofuel doesn't feed people directly. But we've been diverting food from direct human consumption since we domesticated animals. Most of the corn we export today feeds livestock, not people. Two months ago, a U.N. report calculated that one-third of the increased demand for food over the next 30 years will come from people shifting their eating habits to meat and dairy—a net loss of dietary efficiency—as they become able to afford it. I don't see Castro complaining about that diversion. In fact, he worries that biofuel is taking land from "producers of beef cattle." Evidently, he's suffering an irony deficiency.

    Castro says Bush insists that biofuels "must be extracted from foods." That's false. Bush points out that corn is an inefficient ethanol source. In its place, Bush touts sugar cane, wood chips, and switchgrass. Such "cellulosic" ethanol could lower the output of greenhouse gases and deliver up to six times as much energy as its production requires.

    If you want to help poor people, biofuel beats the heck out of oil. In a biofuel economy, the chief asset is open land. Who has open land? Poor countries.

    ...and harness the sun before it even grows the plants?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:44 PM


    Sham-a-Lot (JOSEPH EPSTEIN, July 9, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

    Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., John Kenneth Galbraith, Richard Goodwin and Theodore Sorensen were among the circle around Kennedy -- a president the British humorist Malcolm Muggeridge called "The Loved One" -- who have kept pumping away at his already inflated reputation. Scheslinger, who started out in life as an historian and ended up as a courtier, worked most assiduously at this project, writing thick, overly dramatized books on both Jack and Bobby Kennedy, books with a very low truth quotient. But everyone pitched in. All had a stake, for the greater they could make John F. Kennedy seem, the more heightened would the drama of their own lives appear.

    The Kennedy public-relations juggernaut continues to roll. Recent evidence of it is found in the July/August issue of Washington Monthly. Its cover story, "The Speech I Wish the Winner Would Give," was written by Mr. Sorenson, who is best known for the phrase, planted in his boss's inaugural address, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." He is -- only in America! -- the country's most famous ghostwriter; or, if you prefer, its most noted political ventriloquist.

    The speech Mr. Sorenson would write for the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee contains neither surprises in the realm of policy nor lilting turns of speech. Instead, it would have the candidate essentially avow that he will do nothing George W. Bush has done.

    The speech is, then, the usual canned goods, notable only for straining after the Kennedyesque tone; its final paragraph begins: "I'm told that John F. Kennedy was fond of quoting Archimedes . . ." Yet in its very insubstantiality it reminds one of how the Kennedy administration's insignificant years in office and the decades-long public-relations campaign that followed it have skewered and ultimately helped wreck the Democratic Party.

    John F. Kennedy & Co. took the party up-market, making it an Ivy League and, later, a Hollywood operation. After the Kennedy administration, the Democrats were no longer the party of the little man (Harry Truman's party), or the party of the underdog (Franklin Delano Roosevelt's party), but that of the intellectual and cultural sahibs pretending to speak for the little man and the underdogs because it makes them feel virtuous to do so; they turn politics into an affair of snobbery, where politicians are judged on elegance not substance.

    ...is that following too blowout losses by the eggheaded Adlai Stevenson to the prototypically Stupid Ike, these supposedly smart guys turned the Democrats into a Stevensonesque party.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:08 PM


    Do Business and Islam Mix? Ask Him (G. PASCAL ZACHARY, 7/08/07, NY Times)

    HE is a moderate Muslim religious leader and a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. He is also a twice-married jet-setter, and he owns hundreds of racehorses, valuable stud farms, an exclusive yacht club on Sardinia and a lavish estate near Paris.

    He has poured money into poorer, neglected parts of the world, often into businesses as basic as making fish nets, plastic bags and matches, while also teaming up with private-equity powerhouses like the Blackstone Group on a huge $750 million hydroelectric system in Uganda.

    And as he tries to present a less threatening face of Islam on the global business stage during a time of war, the Aga Khan — one of the world’s wealthiest Muslim investors — preaches the ethical acquisition and use of wealth and financial aid that promotes economic self-reliance among developing countries and their poorest people.

    In a rare interview, the Aga Khan, who is chairman of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, a for-profit company based in Geneva, says he is more concerned with the long-term outcomes of his investments than with short-term profits. Rather than fretting daily over the bottom line, he says, he tries to ensure that his businesses become self-sustaining and achieve stability, which he defines as “operational break-even,” within a “logical time frame.”

    “If you travel the developing world, you see poverty is the driver of tragic despair, and there is the possibility that any means out will be taken,” he says in a telephone interview from Paris. By assisting the poor through business, he says, “we are developing protection against extremism.”

    The company’s main purpose “is to contribute to development,” he adds. “It is not a capitalist enterprise that aims at declaring dividends to its shareholders.” Central to his ethos is the notion that his investments can prompt other forms of economic growth within a country or region that results in greater employment and hope for the poor.

    Economic developments experts say the Aga Khan’s activities offer a useful template for others — including philanthropists like Bill Gates and George Soros — who are trying to assist the world’s poorest by marrying business practices to social goals, but whose foundation work usually stops short of owning businesses outright in poor countries.

    Paul Collier, an economist at Oxford University who specializes in the problems of poor countries, says he believes that aid agencies could benefit from operating more like venture capitalists — and more like the Aga Khan. [...]

    THE Aga Khan was born Prince Karim in 1936 in Geneva. He grew up in Nairobi during World War II, and he attended a Swiss boarding school before he was named imam at age 20.

    There have been 49 Ismaili imams over the centuries, but only three previous Aga Khans, a title the King of Persia bestowed on the family in the 1830s. The third — the current Aga Khan’s grandfather — was Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, a legendary figure in colonial India who later moved to Britain and served as a president of the League of Nations.

    Upon his death in 1957, Shah Aga Khan’s will instructed that his son (the current Aga Khan’s father), Aly Khan, be passed over in favor of his grandson, Prince Karim, who was studying Islamic history at Harvard at the time.

    That the Aga Khan attended secular universities, wore Western dress and espoused Western values reflected his sect’s historical need to adapt to varying cultures. The Ismailis are a minority within the minority Shia branch of Islam and have experienced frequent persecution through the centuries; as recently as the 1990s, the Taliban in Afghanistan persecuted Ismailis.

    Over the centuries, as the Ismailis dispersed across Asia and Africa and later Europe and North America, they often adopted Western ways. This invited criticism from other Muslims, who questioned how someone could wear a suit and still call himself an imam. But Ismailis say they see no conflict between Westernization and their faith.

    “The central trait of their long history is a remarkable tendency to acculturate to different contexts,” says Ali S. Asani, a professor of Indo-Muslim languages and culture at Harvard and an Ismaili.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:54 PM


    Her Jewish State (ROGER COHEN, 7/08/07, NY Times Magazine)

    [I]sraelis these days fret about how they are seen. They like to convey the spirit of the underdog — that of Israel’s heroic beginnings — as if discomfited by the adornments of an increasingly moneyed, Americanized and postheroic society. More powerful than ever, Israelis are also more anxious than ever, a paradox with U.S. parallels that they find maddening. Israel’s strength and wealth grow, but the country’s long-term security does not grow with them. The shekel rises; so does the billowing smoke just over the border in Gaza. Two Israeli withdrawals, from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005, have ended up bolstering two groups that the West and Israel brand as terrorists — Hezbollah and Hamas. Some Israelis, watching the black-masked militia of Hamas take over Gaza, have taken to calling the benighted sliver of territory “Hamastan.”

    The mother of all conflicts — the 59-year-old battle for the same land of Zionist and Palestinian national movements — has become even more tangled. It has been dragged into the wider crisis of Islamic civilization that daily spawns fervid death-to-the-West jihadists. To a Palestinian national struggle for a homeland, there is an answer, at least in theory. To a religious and annihilationist campaign against Israel, there is none. One of [Tzipi] Livni’s catchphrases is, “There is a process of delegitimization of Israel as a Jewish state.” She sees herself in a race against time.

    To manage that race, she wants to lead. Her diplomatic energy, not least in helping put together the multinational United Nations force now in Lebanon, has impressed in capitals from Washington to Europe. Her restiveness is clear. After the spring publication of the Winograd Commission’s interim report on the 2006 Lebanon war, which lambasted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for lacking “judgment, responsibility and prudence,” Livni told him he should quit but did not resign herself. She also said she would one day stand for leadership of their centrist Kadima Party. This unusual act of defiance toward her boss, widely criticized as only half an insurrection, was a measure of Livni’s ambition, impatience and lingering uncertainties.

    “Stagnation works against those who believe in a two-state solution,” Livni said in our first conversation. The West, she suggested, needs to tell Hamas, the Islamist movement battling Fatah for control of a Palestinian movement now split between Gaza and the West Bank, that it must not only recognize Israel’s right to exist but also “the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, which is not that obvious anymore.”

    The Jewish state has been tied to the Livni family with a special bond since zero hour. For Livni, personal history is national history. Her parents were among the first couples to marry in the newborn state, the day after its foundation, on May 15, 1948. Her father, Eitan, served as operations chief for the Irgun, the Zionist guerrillas who used what would today be called terrorist methods to blast the British out of Mandate Palestine. Her mother, Sarah, was also an Irgun fighter; she suckled her daughter on visions of Eretz Israel, the biblical “Land of Israel,” including Judea and Samaria on the West Bank. Territorial compromise for peace had no place in the family lexicon. It was the weak talk of the peaceniks.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:51 PM


    Hearts and minds of young Muslims will be won or lost in the mosques: The new honesty of community leaders must be matched by a strategy from government that is patient and painstaking (Madeleine Bunting, July 9, 2007, The Guardian)

    Two days after the 7/7 bombings in London two years ago, Muslim community leaders gathered at the London Muslim Centre to consider the impact of the attacks and who might have organised them. Many present refused to accept it might have been Muslims - the common refrain was that it could have been the French, because they had just lost the bid to host the Olympics.

    The discussion had the younger generation of professional British-born Muslims grinding their teeth with frustration at the stubborn naivety of an older generation of leadership. Their elders had completely failed to grasp how the community had been swept up in a global political conflict that was interacting with a local crisis of identity and generational conflict.

    Wind forward two years and the story has changed. On Friday, a campaign was launched with full-page newspaper adverts condemning the attempted bombings in London and Glasgow and pledging full support to avert future attacks. On Saturday, Muslim activists and imams from across the country gathered in London to consider what could be done to tackle extremism. Among the speakers were members of the Metropolitan police's counter-terrorism operations. More advertising campaigns are planned this week. Britain's Muslims have launched their most concerted attempt yet to win the hearts and minds of the public and distance themselves from the activities of violent extremists who claim to act in the name of their faith.

    For a younger generation of community activists it's been the breakthrough for which they've been waiting for years. They admit that there has been denial in the community, which has inspired fanciful conspiracy theories, but what has enabled them to challenge that has been the sheer volume of evidence in recent trials. Violent extremism cannot be dismissed as the responsibility of the odd loner.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:48 PM


    In France, "le jogging" is a right-wing activity (Preeti Aroon, 07/09/2007, FP Passport)

    Nicolas Sarkozy, perhaps the most pro-American president in French history, has been stirring up a furor in the French and British media this summer with his most right-wing activity of all: jogging. And to add insult to injury, he often runs in his favorite NYPD T-shirt.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:38 PM


    Britons believe climate change threat 'exaggerated' (BBC, Jul 3, 2007)

    An opinion poll carried out in Britain has found that the British public remain unconvinced that the impact of climate change will be as bad as experts say. [...]

    Phillip Downing, from Ipsos Mori, who carried out the poll, says 56 per cent of respondents felt the problem was exaggerated. [...]

    "More frighteningly still, they believe that the scientific debate is still raging, and the jury is still out."

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 PM


    Democratic Capitalism and its Discontents (Jamie Glazov, July 9, 2007, FrontPageMagazine.com)

    Frontpage Interview's guest today is Brian Anderson, the editor of the Manhattan Institute's flagship magazine, City Journal. He is the author of Raymond Aron: the Recovery of the Political, the controversial 2005 book South Park Conservatives: the Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias, and now, a new book of political theory, Democratic Capitalism and its Discontents, just out from ISI. [...]

    FP: What inspired you to write this book?

    Anderson: Puzzlement over an undisputed historical fact: what is it about our prosperous, free-market democracies-by far the freest and most comfortable in human history-that makes them dissatisfying to so many, primarily on the left but also to some extent on the right, too. A series of essays that I'd written for various magazines circled around this theme, and they became the book's starting point.

    The book defends democratic capitalism from its ideological opponents but also tries to be open-eyed about what existential weaknesses erode free societies from within. I take as my guides a number of very profound thinkers-historian François Furet, social theorists Francis Fukuyama, Irving Kristol, and Michael Novak, the Italian philosopher Rocco Buttiglione, French political thinkers Raymond Aron, Bertrand de Jouvenel, and Pierre Manent, and the skeptical conservative John Kekes, among other broadly contemporary writers, and, looming in the background, that giant of Western political thought, Alexis de Tocqueville.

    But the book also takes aim at such haters of free societies as the bloodthirsty Jean-Paul Sartre, the one-time terrorist and anti-globalization prophet Antonio Negri, and-particularly influential in our universities and legal culture-the philosopher of justice as "fairness," John Rawls.

    FP: What are some of the challenges that democratic capitalism faces in the new millennium?

    Anderson: The late Furet provides a historical gateway into problems seemingly inseparable from our free societies. His magisterial The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century, published in French in 1995, argues that Communism's blend of wild revolutionary will and murky pseudo-science proved so attractive to so many because it exploited two primal weaknesses of the bourgeois regime.

    The first, says Furet-and I discuss this at length in my opening chapter, "Capitalism and the Suicide of Culture"-is the egalitarianism unleashed by liberal democracy. The idea of man's universal equality, claimed by liberal democracy as its foundation, is inherently unstable-and subject to a kind of radical overbidding. The very freedoms that liberal societies secure-to pursue wealth, to better one's condition, to create, to strive for success-unceasingly generate new inequalities, since not everybody has the same talent, the same background, the same luck, the same propensity to work. Equality becomes a kind of imaginary horizon, forever retreating as our societies seek to approach it. Communism said it would achieve this equality, once and for all; it just had to break a few eggs, get rid of some political obstacles, accelerate history. Rawls promises something similar, in a calmer, more prosaic way, though not without its own totalitarian implications: achieving a more equal society, muses Rawls, may require genetic engineering, to overcome natural differences.

    The second primal weakness of the "bourgeois city," as Furet calls it, is moral indeterminacy. Basing itself on the individual, liberal democracy rebels against, or at least downplays, any extra-human dimension that might provide "hard" answers to the ultimate questions. For all the wondrous liberations of the bourgeois city-its freedom from political tyranny and the dictatorship of material poverty-it privatizes these existential questions, frustrating a natural human impulse to see our highest ideals reflected in our political institutions. Communism, usurping the role of religion, said it would answer these questions politically; the fanatics of Islam seek to politicize human ends as well.

    My book is basically saying: live with these two bourgeois dissatisfactions, and keep them in check. Certainly don't try to get rid of them politically. The alternatives are much, much worse-indeed have led to horrible suffering.

    Which is why the genius of the Founding lies in both its explicit grounding in the Creator and its establishment of a republic, which emphasizes liberty (equality before the law), not freedom or egalitarian results.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 PM


    The Wrong Direction (MARK STEYN, July 9, 2007, NY Sun)

    When the President talks about needing immigrants to do "the jobs Americans won't do," most of us assume he means seasonal fruit pickers and the maid who turns down your hotel bed and leaves the little chocolate on it. But in the United Kingdom the jobs Britons won't do has somehow come to encompass the medical profession. Aneurin Bevan, the socialist who created the National Health Service after the Second World War, was once asked to explain how he'd talked the country's doctors into agreeing to become state employees: "I stuffed their mouths with gold," he crowed. Sixty years ago, no amount of gold can persuade Britons to spend their working lives in the country's dirty decrepit hospitals (they spend enough of their non-working lives there, waiting to be seen, waiting for beds, waiting for operations). According to a report in The British Medical Journal, white males comprise 43.5% of the population but now account for less than a quarter of students at U.K. medical schools: in other words, being a doctor is no longer an attractive middle-class career proposition. That's quite a monument to six decades of Michael Moore-style socialist health care. [...]

    The NHS is the biggest employer in Europe, and it's utterly dependent on imported staff such as Dr. Asha and Dr. Abdulla. In the west, we look on mass immigration as a testament to our generosity, to our multicultural bona fides. But it's not: A dependence on mass immigration is always a structural weakness and should be understood as such.

    Can be, not "is." Indeed, you'd have to use rather creative reasoning to construct an argument that a society so wealthy it has rendered medicine from a profession to menial labor is structurally weak.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 PM


    Arab League sends panel to Israel (STEVE WEIZMAN, 7/09/07, The Associated Press)

    An official League visit would be a diplomatic coup for Israel. The League historically has been hostile toward the Jewish state, but it has grown increasingly conciliatory in response to the expanding influence of Islamic extremists in the region – a concern underscored by Hamas’ violent takeover of the Gaza Strip last month. [...]

    Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said the foreign ministers would lead an Arab League mission to Israel to discuss the Arab peace plan, which would trade full Arab recognition of Israel for an Israeli withdrawal from all lands captured in the 1967 Mideast war and the creation of a Palestinian state.

    “This is the first time the Arab League is coming to Israel,” Regev said. “From its inception the Arab League has been hostile to Israel. It will be the first time we’ll be flying the Arab League flag.”

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 PM


    Man disguised as tree robs bank (AP, 7/09/07)

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:29 PM


    The greatest story ever sold (KATE TAYLOR, 7/06/07, Globe and Mail)

    It's not hard to see why the Harry Potter books are popular. They're fast-paced and humorous, with page-turning plots that are essentially teen-detective stories.

    And in an era when parents worry about boys' literacy, and the entertainment industry believes boys won't accept female protagonists, the male hero draws in readers of both sexes. The books have also increasingly crossed over into the adult market, where they are sold with darker, photographic covers, partly because young adults now read them as fantasy titles, and partly because Rowling has held on to her readers as they grow up – only slightly faster than Harry, who has aged seven years in a decade.

    What this doesn't explain is why the Potter books are, with the exception of such religious and political tracts as the Bible, Pilgrim's Progress and The Thoughts of Chairman Mao, the bestselling books of all time, with numbers already challenging even J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and Agatha Christie's top titles. Academic critics of the books, some of whom praise their power as popular culture, some of whom condemn their formulaic prose and question their political messages, speculate there are particular social circumstances that have given rise to the mania. [...]

    Issues of race and class in the books are more complicated. Some argue that the four houses at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry reflect the social structure of Tony Blair's Cool Britannia, with the hated Slytherin representing the aristocracy and the Gryffindor representing the dependable lower-middle class. This is a place where social status is predetermined and immutable.

    Purity of blood is a recurring theme in the books: The Slytherin are prejudiced against any witch or wizard of common or Muggles parentage; the term “mudblood” induces instant offence and outrage. Because these attitudes are those of the villains, Rowling is often seen as a liberal: In her book A Guide to the Harry Potter Novels (2002), British journalist Julia Eccleshare, for example, argues that the series is clearly a statement against racism.

    Subtler critics argue, however, that this is only a gloss. Gupta notes that Rowling's magical world is essentialist: Harry is the chosen one; it is in his essence to be a wizard, just as it is in the nature of house elves to be slaves (despite Hermione's campaign to free them.) Gupta complains that “...everything significant in the Harry Potter books is innate, inborn, essential, simply manifest and definitively inexplicable in terms of rational principles,” and argues that the books are thus guilty of their own kind of social or racial prejudice.

    Gupta also argues that the books are anti-rational – Harry's world operates on magic, after all – and speculates that they may appeal to a society that is both alarmed by racial diversity, and distrustful of science and technology.

    Such a political debate may seem rarefied, but it is not entirely lost on parents of Potter fans. Just as feminist defenders of the books will argue they depict a world of gender imbalance as children experience it (rather than as feminists might like to imagine it), so do parents occasionally attribute the books' success to their lack of political correctness.

    Indeed, Eccleshare traces Harry's initial success to a reaction against the social-realist school of children's literature of the 1980s and 1990s that had attempted to prepare children for a real world of divorce, danger and diversity with stories about single-parent families, child abuse and gay couples: Refreshingly, Harry does not have two mummies.

    Theorists of popular culture are kinder to the books than literary critics, and less skeptical of their success. If Gupta thinks the series might appeal to a fear of science, Peter Appelbaum, a professor of education at Arcadia University near Philadelphia and a specialist in how to teach mathematics, has argued that the books are popular with children because they represent magic the same way children experience technology: as a consumer commodity.

    Indeed, part of the charm of the Harry Potter books is the way in which Rowling creates magical equivalents for iPods, cellphones and Nike running shoes: Harry has a much-coveted Nimbus Two Thousand broomstick; his school books feature moving images; and Quidditch, the sport that Hogwarts pupils play on broomsticks, is like a three-dimensional version of a computer game.

    If Harry's magic can seem amusingly modern, it is also appropriately dusty, relying as it does on ancient spells, forgotten codes and mouldy books. Kevin McNeilly, a University of British Columbia English professor who uses Harry Potter as a case study in classes on popular culture, argues that images of books and reading are central to the series. He believes the series itself is about literacy.

    “The students tend to discover it's about reading, why people have to have books,” McNeilly says, citing books as the characters' main source of knowledge about magic. “The kids in Harry Potter don't have mass media, the telephone, the Internet. Instead they have magic, and they need books.”

    He speculates that in the real world, the books are therefore greeted with great enthusiasm by a society worried about literacy. “Amid middle-class North Americans, there must be some kind of anxiety about missing books.… People were ready to read again,” he says.

    It would, of course, be speciesism, not racism, but is likewise evident in the apartheid/homeland nature of Hogwarts (and the whole parallel daily world of the wizarding community) and the general treatment of Muggles, who come off little better than the black characters in a Charlie Chan film.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:18 PM


    Rare butterfly makes comeback on L.A.-area beaches: The tiny El Segundo blue has returned to two locations where it has not been seen in decades. Scientists are surprised at the resurgence. (Deborah Schoch, July 9, 2007, LA Times)

    Amid surfers and skaters, a tiny blue butterfly has scored a telling victory in its fight against extinction.

    The rare El Segundo blue has returned to two popular beaches southwest of Los Angeles where it has not been seen in decades.

    This is no mere academic sighting of a rare species.

    Scientists say they are surprised at the resurgence.

    Damn facts, they never fit the theory.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:29 PM


    Spoon Feeds Delicious Nutrition (MATTHEW OSHINSKY, July 9, 2007, NY Sun)

    For those who hadn't seen or heard a metronome since the days of their grandmother's Steinway, it may have seemed incredible that a band with more than a decade of experience would need one, or, even more so, that the cadent tick-tock would be audible over four instruments and a room full of hipsters. But for those who have followed Spoon from sloppy Texas bar band to tucked-in riff monsters, it made perfect sense. And for those who hear "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga," which will be released tomorrow by Merge Records (you can hear the full album at AOL Listening Party, it could even be considered the fifth member of the band, the not-so-silent partner.

    If that sounds ominous, it's worth noting that "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga" (or "Penta-Ga," as I prefer to call it), is the most open-aired and wide-ranging Spoon album since the band's 2001 milestone, "Girls Can Tell." Occasionally brilliant and always solid, the record is a sonic delicacy of rhythm and restraint, where kotos and chamberlains dance seamlessly with guitars and pianos, and where something as austere as a metronome (though inaudible on the record) plays just as important a role in the tonic.

    That's because Spoon, which is known to be one of the tightest bands in the world, has always worked within self-imposed limits, a minimalist ethos that has less to do with sparse soundscapes and more to do with applying a particular process to rock 'n' roll and seeing what can be made within and without of carefully crafted parameters. The White Stripes, who just released their own sixth studio album, are proponents of the same theory, if not the same aesthetic, and it explains why both bands have managed to avoid being criticized for refusing to update or rearrange their styles.

    LIVE: Spoon on The Interface (AOL: Spinner)
    MP3s: "spoon" (HypeMachine)
    -LIVE: Spoon - Live at Webster Hall, New York New York 6.9.05 (It's Hard to Find a Friend)
    LIVE ARCHIVES: Spoon (Internet Archive)
    -LIVE: Spoon (Morning Becomes Eclectic, MAY 13, 2005, KCRW)
    -REVIEW: of 'Gimme Fiction' by Spoon (Ken Tucker, June 27, 2005, Fresh Air from WHYY)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Gimme Fiction by Spoon (Metacritic)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga by Spoon (Metacritic)

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:10 AM


    Boeing rolls out Dreamliner for the world (Dominic Gates, 7/09/07, Seattle Times)

    After five years of development, Boeing on Sunday unveiled the first 787 Dreamliner and put on a grand global show to celebrate.

    The 787 was towed from the paint hangar into position outside the huge assembly bay, while inside a crowd of some 15,000 employees, customers, politicians and invited guests waited expectantly.

    When the huge doors of the bay slowly opened, the crowd greeted the new jet with a great roar and a sea of raised cameras.

    The market has greeted the jet with similar enthusiasm. Airlines have placed 677 firm orders to date, and jet-leasing companies are offering the Dreamliner at an astonishing premium rate of $1 million a month. [...]

    Hazy also suggested the rush to buy the plane is far from over. He said big legacy carriers, such as American, Delta, United and British Airways, still haven't ordered.

    "As soon as the big guys get on the train, and place orders for potentially hundreds of these aircraft, there'll be no positions available until 2015 or 2016," Hazy said.

    It's that prospect, he suggested, that's fueling smaller airlines' rush to buy.

    Another selling point that has suddenly taken on new importance is environmental concerns over fossil-fuel emissions. Boeing has bragged about how the 787 is quieter on takeoffs and landings, and uses 20 percent less fuel than any previous commercial jet.

    Jeff Hawk, who heads the 787's environmental efforts, said Friday the Dreamliner consumes about one gallon of fuel per seat per 100 miles of travel.

    "That's less than a typical sedan," said Hawk, "and a half to a third the fuel consumption of an SUV."

    Note that the plane built by a capitalist company in a democracy takes into consideration the impossibility of getting airports to accept noisier planes that create even more traffic problems and require huge new runway projects.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


    Canadian climatologist says sun causing global warming (Dennis T. Avery, July 9, 2007, Enter Stage Right)

    Another scientist has added his voice to the Global Warming debate. Canadian climatologist Tim Patterson says the sun drives the earth's climate changes—and Earth's current global warming is a direct result of a long, moderate 1,500-year cycle in the sun's irradiance.

    Patterson says he learned of the 1,500-year climate cycle while studying cycles in fish numbers on Canada's West Coast. Since the Canadian West had no long-term written fishery records, Patterson's research team drilled sediment cores in the deep local fjords to get 5,000-year climate profiles from the mud. The mud showed the past climate conditions: Warm summers left layers thick with one-celled fossils and fish scales. Cold, wet periods showed dark sediments, mostly dirt washed from the surrounding land.

    Patterson's fishing profiles clearly revealed the sun's 87 and 210-year solar cycles—and the longer, 1500-year Dansgaard-Oeschger cycles found since the 1980s in ice cores, tree rings, and fossil pollen.

    "Our finding of a direct correlation between variations in the brightness of the sun and earthly climate indicators is not unique," says the climatologist from Carleton University. "Hundreds of other studies, using proxies from tree rings in Russia's Kola Peninsula to water levels of the Nile, show exactly the same thing: The sun appears to drive climate change."

    ..had voted for Al Gore instead of Pat Buchanan, he'd have extinguished the Sun by now.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 AM


    Brawling toward better team spirit (Larry Stone, 7/09/07, Seattle Times)

    The Mariners spent the first half of the season establishing their credibility.

    Sunday, they cemented their camaraderie.

    Call it bench-clearing diplomacy; in sports, the team that fights together ignites together.

    The Mariners exited their hockey game with Oakland feeling closer than ever before, and we're not talking about the scant 2 ½ games that separates them from the Angels at the All-Star break.

    "People know now we are a team," said pitcher Miguel Batista. "We're going to win as a team, lose as a team, fight as a team.

    "We're there to win fairly and squarely between the lines of the game. But they will find out — we're a team in every way."

    The incredible thing is that Jose Guillen didn't start the brawl.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 AM


    Sony to cut PlayStation 3 price by $100 (TODD BISHOP, 7/09/07, Seattle P-I)

    Sony is cutting the price of its primary PlayStation 3 game console by $100 in the United States, seeking to regain traction in a market it has long dominated.

    Putting a new twist into the video-game console wars, the company on Monday is announcing a new price of $499.99 for the 60-gigabyte PlayStation 3, effective Monday.

    Sony says it also plans to introduce a new PlayStation 3 model, with an 80-gigabyte hard drive, at a price of $599.99.

    DVD liquidator ensures you see the bigger pictures for less: It's one of Hollywood's little secrets (LORENZA MUÑOZ, 7/09/07, LOS ANGELES TIMES)

    Chances are that when you rummage through old movies in discount bins at Wal-Mart, Best Buy or even a local car wash, [Ryan] Kugler's fingerprints are on them.

    "It's like guys who buy foreclosures -- they get the house they want for a lower price," said Kugler, who runs Burbank-based Distribution Video & Audio Inc. with his brother, Brad.

    With the growth in DVD sales leveling off, and stores such as Sam Goody and Tower Records closing, Kugler's DVD liquidation business is booming.

    Last year, the company grew by 40 percent, generating about $24 million in revenue on the sale of more than 17 million DVDs, CDs, video games and books.

    When we were kids and our Dad was a pastor, we used to stare longingly at the film catalogues that used to come in the mail. But just renting a movie to show in your church basement then cost more than a DVD player and a disc does now.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


    The demographic predicament (SERGIO DELLAPERGOLA, 7/08/07, THE JERUSALEM POST)

    THE COMMON thread of all of these issues is a diffused sense that facing the growing challenges from outside and from inside, while world Jewry stagnates at zero population growth, there is a need for new ideas - here and now. As against the current trends, time is working against us.

    Quite a hot debate exists on whether the Jewish majority over the whole territory of the State of Israel and the West Bank - the area dominated by Israel since the disengagement from Gaza - is 62%, as maintained by the pessimists, or 67%, according to the optimists. But everyone would agree that the current rate of population increase is nearly double among the Palestinians in Israel and in the territories than among Israeli Jews.

    Over this whole territory in question, the percentage of Jews out of total inhabitants is declining year by year. This trend increasingly raises the question of the ability of the State of Israel to provide Jewish identity and civilizational experience to its citizens, without compromising democratic principles and of civil rights.

    The volume of Jewish immigration - currently close to its minimum historical levels - does not contribute much to the Israeli population balance. As against this, Jews in Israel still aim at an ideal family size of four children. This uniquely Israeli ideal goal will not be attained unless active steps are taken in the economic sphere concerning facilities for moving to larger housing, developing the existing early childhood infrastructure, and carefully monitoring the implications of motherhood for women's personal achievement - including women's working conditions and leaves of absence.

    AMONG DIASPORA Jewry, another stormy debate has developed over the real rate of out-marriage among American Jews - whether it is 45% or 55%. But few would question that based on the available evidence and under the present circumstances, out-marriage is a factor of erosion of the younger Jewish generation and thus contributes to the ongoing Jewish population aging and decline. Diaspora Jews are far from even approaching the level of generational replacement that still prevails in Israel.

    Judaism, quite obviously, does not begin or end with numbers. However, one should be careful about expecting the growth of quality while totally disregarding quantity.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


    Ultratalented Upton on fast track to D-backs (Jerry Crasnick, 7/09/07, ESPN.com)

    "The ball jumps off his bat," said Don Money, manager of Milwaukee's Huntsville affiliate in the Southern League. "There's an old saying that a kid needs 2,000 at-bats in the minors before you can really form an opinion. Well, I don't think he's going to get any 2,000 at-bats."

    If all goes well, the Diamondbacks could bring Upton up for a September cameo and give him a legitimate crack at a starting job next spring. [...]

    Scouts agree that Upton has the requisite arm strength to handle right field. He showed it by uncorking a strong throw that elicited plenty of "ahhs" during the U.S. squad's 7-2 loss to the World team Sunday.

    That was nothing compared with the charge he put into the crowd in the third inning, when he turned on a 96-mph fastball from White Sox prospect Fautino De Los Santos and hit a tracer into the left-field seats at AT&T Park. The swing made a distinct impression on U.S. team manager Dave Winfield. [...]

    Upton carries himself with the poise of a player who has been around a while, and he clearly has benefited from watching his brother's growing pains in Tampa Bay. B.J. Upton bounced from one position to another before finally settling in at second base for the Devil Rays. He's hitting .320 in 200 at-bats this season.

    Justin, selected a year after the Diamondbacks drafted Stephen Drew, switched from shortstop to the outfield and is destined to stay there for the long haul. Right now, it's simply a matter of refinement. He's receiving help in the fine art of outfield play from Mobile manager and former major leaguer Brett Butler.

    After fiddling around with a number of stances last year, Upton has concentrated on taking a more consistent approach this season. He also spent a lot of time this past winter working on flexibility drills and other exercises to enhance his durability. [...]

    The 2005 draft produced a mother lode of outfielders. Upton, Bruce, Detroit's Cameron Maybin, Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury and St. Louis' Colby Rasmus all appeared in this year's Futures Game and are regarded as potential All-Stars if they continue to progress.

    The old-timers sure seem to appreciate Upton's game. Arizona coach Kirk Gibson called Upton a "19-year-old sponge" in spring training because of the way he asks questions and retains information, and Winfield predicted big things for the kid down the road.

    The D'backs are talking about bringing him up now to "solve" their offensive problems, which seems a bad idea both for a 19-year old and a potential playoff team. Trade some of the other youngsters for a real bat.

    July 8, 2007

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 PM


    FDR's Constituency of Dependency (George Will, 7/08/07, Real Clear Politics)

    Some mornings during the autumn of 1933, when the unemployment rate was 22 percent, the president, before getting into his wheelchair, sat in bed, surrounded by economic advisers, setting the price of gold. One morning he said he might raise it 21 cents: "It's a lucky number because it's three times seven." His treasury secretary wrote that if anybody knew how gold was priced "they would be frightened."

    The Depression's persistence, partly a result of such policy flippancy, was frightening. In 1937, during the depression within the Depression, there occurred the steepest drop in industrial production ever recorded. By January 1938 the unemployment rate was back up to 17.4 percent. The war, not the New Deal, defeated the Depression. [...]

    Before the 1930s, the adjective "liberal" denoted policies of individualism and individual rights; since Roosevelt it has primarily pertained to the politics of group interests. So writes Shlaes, a columnist for Bloomberg News, in "The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression." She says Roosevelt's wager was that, by furiously using legislation and regulations to multiply federally favored groups, and by rhetorically pitting those favored by government against the unfavored, he could create a permanent majority coalition.

    Actually, Rooseveltian liberalism is individualist as well, depending for its existence on the destruction of any and all institutions that intervene between the individual and the State.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 PM


    U.S. hopes success in Anbar, Iraq can be repeated (John F. Burns, July 8, 2007, NY Times)

    Until only a few months ago, the Central Street bazaar was enemy territory, watched over by U.S. machine-gunners in sandbagged bunkers on the roof of the governor's building across the road. Ramadi was the most dangerous city in Iraq, and the area around the building the deadliest place in Ramadi.

    Now, a pact between local tribal sheiks and U.S. commanders has sent thousands of young Iraqis from Anbar Province into the fight against extremists linked to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. The deal has all but ended the fighting in Ramadi and recast the city as a symbol of hope that the tide of the war may yet be reversed to favor the Americans and their Iraqi allies.

    ...al Qaeda can't win.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 PM


    Eating at the wheel doubles accident rates (Roger Dobson, 08 July 2007, Independent)

    New research shows that drivers are nearly twice as likely to be taken by surprise if a pedestrian walks in front of their car when they are snacking at the wheel.

    The research will bolster calls for eating while driving to be made illegal.

    ...entail a corresponding loss of "freedoms."

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 PM


    What Bono doesn't say about Africa: Celebrities like to portray it as a basket case, but they ignore very real progress. (William Easterly, July 6, 2007, LA Times)

    [T]he problem with all this Western stereotyping is that it manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of some current victories, fueling support for patronizing Western policies designed to rescue the allegedly helpless African people while often discouraging those policies that might actually help.

    Let's begin with those rampaging Four Horsemen. Do they really explain Africa today? What percentage of the African population would you say dies in war every year? What share of male children, age 10 to 17, are child soldiers? How many Africans are afflicted by famine or died of AIDS last year or are living as refugees?

    In each case, the answer is one-half of 1% of the population or less. In some cases it's much less; for example, annual war deaths have averaged 1 out of every 10,800 Africans for the last four decades. That doesn't lessen the tragedy, of course, of those who are such victims, and maybe there are things the West can do to help them. But the typical African is a long way from being a starving, AIDS-stricken refugee at the mercy of child soldiers. The reality is that many more Africans need latrines than need Western peacekeepers — but that doesn't play so well on TV.

    Further distortions of Africa emanate from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's star-studded Africa Progress Panel (which includes the ubiquitous Geldof). The panel laments in its 2007 news release that Africa remains "far short" of its goal of making "substantial inroads into poverty reduction." But this doesn't quite square with the sub-Saharan Africa that in 2006 registered its third straight year of good GDP growth — about 6%, well above historic averages for either today's rich countries or all developing countries. Growth of living standards in the last five years is the highest in Africa's history.

    The real Africa also has seen cellphone and Internet use double every year for the last seven years. Foreign private capital inflows into Africa hit $38 billion in 2006 — more than foreign aid. Africans are saving a higher percentage of their incomes than Americans are (so much for the "poverty trap" of being "too poor to save" endlessly repeated in aid reports). I agree that it's too soon to conclude that Africa is on a stable growth track, but why not celebrate what Africans have already achieved?

    Tough to assuage your guilt if you acknowledge progress.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 PM


    No happy ending for divorced boomers (Stephen Lunn, July 09, 2007, The Australian)

    AUSTRALIA'S first wave of baby-boomer divorcees are far less happy as they approach retirement and suffer more physical and mental health problems than their married friends.

    No matter how many years have passed since their split, members of the growing grey army of over-55 divorcees without a new partner are likely to be less satisfied with life than a married person.

    And to confirm it is divorce that has the negative effect on wellbeing, divorced women who remain single are less happy than widows in the same situation.

    Groundbreaking research to be presented later this week by the Australian Institute of Family Studies paints a disturbing picture of the long-term impact of divorce on the emotional health and circumstances of those in their mid-50s and above.

    If you could be happy alone men would have another rib.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 PM


    Scientists call for wider search for alien life (Carl Zimmer, July 8, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

    A panel of scientists convened by America's leading scientific advisory group says the hunt for extraterrestrial life should be greatly expanded to include what they call "weird life": organisms that lack DNA or other molecules found in life as we know it.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 PM


    Live Earth branded a foul-mouthed flop (TAHIRA YAQOOB, 9th July 2007, Daily Mail)

    Live Earth has been branded a foul-mouthed flop.

    Organisers of the global music concert - punctuated by swearing from presenters and performers - had predicted massive viewing figures.

    But BBC's live afternoon television coverage attracted an average British audience of just 900,000.

    In the evening, when coverage switched from BBC2 to BBC1, the figure rose to just 2.7million.

    And the peak audience, which came when Madonna sang at Wembley, was a dismal 4.5million. Three times as many viewers saw the Princess Diana tribute on the same channel six days before.

    Two years ago, Live 8 drew a peak television audience of 9.6million while Live Aid notched 10million in 1985.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:18 AM



    IT TOOK just two consecutive batters Wednesday to be reminded that being stuck in a car, trying to listen to a Yankees game, is an unsurpassable form of elective torture. At least the prep for a colonoscopy provides the opportunity to read a good book.

    Wednesday, we tuned in just as Hideki Matsui hit a home run. As later seen on TV, it was a pretty standardized homer, into the lower stands. But John Sterling made it sound as if it would still be going had it not smacked off the Space Shuttle.

    Sterling gave it his "It is high! . . . It is far! . . ." treatment, which, as self-serving signature calls go, remains the most ill-serving, just plain stupid one in the annals of attention-starved sportscasting.

    Consider that by prematurely implying that so many deep fly balls are home runs, Sterling not only describes all deep flies as exactly the same - line drives are indistinguishable from arching flies - he chooses to go backwards.

    A buddy in Idaho listens to baseball on Satellite Radio and we have the MLB audio package, and we were discussing this very problem the other day. While your announcers are entitled to be homers, Mr. Sterling is so deeply biased that the listeners can't have any faith in his descriptions of the game. If a radio play-by-play guy is supposed to be painting a picture for us, he is Picasso, producing ugliness in the service of a lie.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 AM

    "EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW" (via Gene Brown):

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


    The United States Of Israel (Margaret Kimberley, 07 July, 2007, Black Agenda Report)

    The 4th of July is supposed to be a celebration of U.S. independence. But no one can honestly claim that the U.S. is independent of Israel and its immensely powerful domestic lobby. Certainly not the Congressional Black Caucus, all of whose members voted for a resolution charging Iran with "genocide" because of a deliberately misquoted statement by the Iranian president. Israel's interests override the truth every time. The pro-Israel lobby terrorizes presidential candidates, threatening them with political death if they utter a hint of criticism of the regime.

    Americans celebrate their nation's independence on the Fourth of July. On that day in 1776 a group of propertied, nearly all slave holding, white men declared that Britain's American colonies no longer existed as such. America was an independent nation and would fight to retain that status. How ironic that in July 2007, America is anything but independent from foreign influence.

    The Israeli government tells the American government and by extension, the American people, what they will do and when they will do it. Israel's influence was always immense, but the Bush administration's desire for endless empire makes that nation a perfect partner in crime.

    The question is whether Israel, among several isolated allies, is well-served by being independent. Were it to join the Union its demographic crisis would recede in importance and it would no longer need its own nuclear deterrent.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


    The philosophers of France should take a running jump (Bernard Wasserstein, 08 July 2007, Independent)

    So Nicolas Sarkozy is a fascist because he goes jogging! Worse, according to Alain Finkielkraut, his over-energetic exercise and sweat-filled brow constitute an offence against good taste. Instead, according to his critic, the newly elected president should walk "like Socrates or Rimbaud". [...]

    Behind the complaints against Sarkozy lurks a suspicion that his behaviour is quasi-American, a grave accusation in France. But the passion for jogging that seems to afflict denizens of the White House, notably Bush père et fils, is of recent vintage.

    Defenders of the French model needn't worry until he starts clearing brush.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


    Bring It On: "Our kids are over-scheduled!" is a major worry and rallying cry for parents today. But is it really just a suburban legend? (Bryant Urstadt, July 8, 2007, Boston Globe)

    A study published in "Social Policy Report" last fall...differed significantly from the conventional wisdom. It confounds the notion that children are too busy, despite what many adults think they see. For their research, a team of three professors led by Joseph L. Mahoney, an associate professor of psychology at Yale, took a close look at several preexisting studies of time-use data and a wide range of developmental indicators. They found that most kids ages 5 to 18 are busy simply because they want to do a lot of different things, not because their parents force them to. "Enjoyment," for instance, was listed over trying to get into college as a primary reason for joining a team or club.

    The study also found that kids are actually spending less time on extracurricular activities than word on the suburban street seems to have it, with the average school-age child participating in only about five hours of organized activities per week and an astonishing 40 percent participating in none at all. The study’s authors confirmed links between participation in organized activities and indicators of a well-adjusted child. And even the crazy-busy kids, the 3 to 6 percent who averaged 20 hours a week or more in organized activities, were no worse off – and sometimes better off – than the kids who did nothing at all. Which makes a parent like me wonder: Could "downtime" be overrated? Has culture over-hyped the busy kid?

    It has nothing to do with the kids, just parental griping.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


    An Upside To Inequality?: By paying for performance, companies reward the people who really produce (James Sherk, 7/09/07, Business Week)

    Is the American Dream dead? Some seem to think so. They point to studies showing that income for the rich is growing faster than for the poor. In this view, we've become a class society where a minority lives in opulence while most struggle with little hope of getting rich themselves. But new research suggests that greater inequality may be both fair and beneficial.

    According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, much of the increased inequality in the past generation—including almost all the gains among top earners—occurred because companies upped their use of performance pay. That is, inequality has risen for a good reason: The economy is increasingly rewarding hard work.

    Of itself, inequality is neither positive nor negative. What matters is why incomes are unequal. In a class-based society where a few families control wealth through inheritance or coercive means, rising inequality does indeed cause harm. Higher inequality, in 17th century England or in Saudi Arabia today, means increased hardship for most workers.

    However, in a society where most wealth is earned, some greater inequality can benefit most citizens. Consider Google Inc. (GOOG )founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who each worth $16 billion, thanks to their stake in the search giant. Their success has made America a demonstrably less equal country—who wouldn't want to swap paychecks with them?—yet most people are better off for it. Google's services allow tens of millions of Americans to find what they want fast on the Internet and use a quality e-mail service free of charge. Page and Brin got rich, and thus increased inequality, by improving the lives of others.

    That's why it's dangerous for government to intervene when hard work and innovation raise inequality. Instead, policymakers ought to examine what caused inequality before concluding it ought to be rectified.

    Liberty requires that every man be treated equally before the law, not on payday.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


    White House Will Deny New Request In Attorneys Probe (Peter Baker, July 8, 2007, Washington Post)

    The White House has decided to defy Congress's latest demand for information regarding the dismissal of nine U.S. attorneys, sources familiar with the decision said yesterday. Such an action would escalate the constitutional struggle and propel it closer to a court showdown. [...]

    The impasse is leading to "a monumental clash between the executive and legislative branches of government," Taylor's attorney, W. Neil Eggleston, wrote in a letter sent yesterday to Fielding and leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "This clash may ultimately be resolved by the judicial branch."

    It is because the clash is between two branches that the third has no role.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


    With Old-School Sluggers, A 'Derby' Done Right (Curt Fields, 7/06/07, Washington Post)

    [I]t will lack the innocent charm of "Home Run Derby, Volume One," which is being released Tuesday by MGM Home Entertainment ($14.98). "Home Run Derby" was a television show in 1959 that pitted baseball's great power hitters against each other in head-to-head matchups. The rules were essentially "home run or nothing," as grounders, pop flies, strikes and fouls all counted as outs. Each batter got three outs per inning in a nine-inning contest. Along with its original run, the show has occasionally been broadcast on such outlets as ESPN Classic, although it has been several years since its last television appearance.

    Some of the legendary names of the sport took part. Eight episodes are featured on "Volume One," and they include Mickey Mantle vs. Willie Mays, Mantle vs. Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron vs. Ken Boyer and -- Senators fans, take note -- Mantle vs. Harmon Killebrew and Aaron vs. Jim Lemon.

    The winner of each contest received $2,000, and the loser got a consolation prize of $1,000. If someone hit three homers in a row, he picked up a $500 bonus. It's enlightening in the fat-contract era of today to see the players' obvious intensity and desire to pick up the extra cash to supplement their incomes.

    Watching icons of the game in their primes is satisfaction enough for many fans. But the true value of the show is in seeing a glimpse of their personalities.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


    Taiwan Leader Vows to Pursue Vote on Island's Name (Edward Cody, 7/08/07, Washington Post)

    President Chen Shui-bian said Taiwan will press ahead with a controversial referendum on whether the self-ruled island should apply for U.N. membership under the name Taiwan, dismissing U.S. objections as appeasement of China.

    Indeed, it's one of W's few blindspots.

    July 7, 2007

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:34 PM


    Bush Imagines Cuba After Castro's Death (Peter Baker, 6/29/07, Washington Post)

    President Bush on Thursday openly anticipated the death of ailing Cuban President Fidel Castro, picturing it as an opportunity to bring freedom to the Caribbean island after nearly half a century of iron-fisted rule by the fiery communist leader.

    "One day, the good Lord will take Fidel Castro away," Bush said during a question-and-answer session at the U.S. Naval War College here. As the audience laughed and began to applaud, Bush seemed to realize that cheering the death of another head of state, even an enemy, might appear unseemly and quickly quieted the crowd. "No, no, no," he told audience members.

    But he then imagined what it would be like once Castro is gone and forecast a debate over how aggressively the United States should try to open up the totalitarian system in Havana. "The question is, what will be the approach of the U.S. government?" he said. "My attitude is that we need to use the opportunity to call the world together to promote democracy as the alternative to the form of government they have been living with."

    Allowing his regime to remain in power is one of the signal failures in American history.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 PM

    STRAIGHTS NEED NOT APPLY? (via Kevin Whited):

    Speech Police, Riding High In Oakland (George Will, 6/29/07, Real Clear Politics)

    Marriage is the foundation of the natural family and sustains family values. That sentence is inflammatory, perhaps even a hate crime. [...]

    Some African American Christian women working for Oakland's government organized the Good News Employee Association (GNEA), which they announced with a flier describing their group as "a forum for people of Faith to express their views on the contemporary issues of the day. With respect for the Natural Family, Marriage and Family Values."

    The flier was distributed after other employees' groups, including those advocating gay rights, had advertised their political views and activities on the city's e-mail system and bulletin board. When the GNEA asked for equal opportunity to communicate by that system and that board, it was denied. Furthermore, the flier they posted was taken down and destroyed by city officials, who declared it "homophobic" and disruptive.

    The city government said the flier was "determined" to promote harassment based on sexual orientation. The city warned that the flier and communications like it could result in disciplinary action "up to and including termination."

    Effectively, the city has proscribed any speech that even one person might say questioned the gay rights agenda and therefore created what that person felt was a "hostile" environment. This, even though gay rights advocates used the city's communication system to advertise "Happy Coming Out Day." Yet the terms "natural family," "marriage" and "family values" are considered intolerably inflammatory.

    The treatment of the GNEA illustrates one technique by which America's growing ranks of self-appointed speech police expand their reach: They wait until groups they disagree with, such as the GNEA, are provoked to respond to them in public debates, then they persecute them for annoying those to whom they are responding. In Oakland, this dialectic of censorship proceeded on a reasonable premise joined to a preposterous theory.

    How could truth fail to inflame deviants?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


    Counting on Failure, Energy Chairman Floats Carbon Tax (EDMUND L. ANDREWS, 7/07/07, NY Times)

    A powerful House Democrat said on Friday that he planned to propose a steep new “carbon tax” that would raise the cost of burning oil, gas and coal, in a move that could shake up the political debate on global warming.

    The proposal came from Representative John D. Dingell of Michigan, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and it runs directly counter to the view of most Democrats that any tax on energy would be a politically disastrous approach to slowing global warming.

    But Mr. Dingell, in an interview to be broadcast Sunday on C-Span, suggested that his goal was to show that Americans are not willing to face the real cost of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. His message appeared to be that Democratic leaders were setting unrealistic legislative goals.

    The GOP could score spectacularly by embracing the consumption tax as a Green measure and proposing income tax offsets for the middle class, forcing Democrats to vote against Nature and the voters.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:52 AM


    Sly Stone's Higher Power: Sly Stone vanished into rumor in the 1980s, remembered only by the great songs ("I Want to Take You Higher," "Dance to the Music") he left behind. What's become of the funky leader of the Family Stone since he forsook his Woodstock-era utopianism for darkness, drugs, and isolation? After a few sightings—most notoriously at the 2006 Grammys—the author tracked the last of the rock recluses to a Bay Area biker shop, to scope out where Stone's been, where he's headed, and what's behind those shades. (David Kamp, August 2007, Vanity Fair)

    [I]n his prime, Stone was a fantastic musician, performer, bandleader, producer, and songwriter. Even today, his life-affirming hits from the late 60s and early 70s—among them "Stand!," "Everyday People," and "Family Affair"—continue to thrive on the radio, magically adaptable to any number of programming formats: pop, rock, soul, funk, lite. He was a black man and emphatically so, with the most luxuriant Afro and riveted leather jumpsuits known to Christendom, but he was also a pan-culturalist who moved easily among all races and knew no genre boundaries. There was probably no more Woodstockian moment at Woodstock than when he and the Family Stone, his multi-racial, four-man, two-woman band, took control of the festival in the wee hours of August 17, 1969, getting upwards of 400,000 people pulsing in unison to an extended version of "I Want to Take You Higher." For one early morning, at least, the idea of "getting higher" wasn't an empty pop-culture construct or a stoner joke, but a matter of transcendence. This man had power.

    He also had a compelling penchant for folly. In the jivey, combustible early 1970s, when it was almost fashionable for public figures to unleash their ids and abandon all shame—whether it was Norman Mailer's baiting a roomful of feminists at New York's Town Hall or Burt Reynolds's posing nude on a bearskin for Cosmopolitan—Sly was out on the front lines, contributing some first-rate unhinged behavior of his own. Like marrying his 19-year-old girlfriend onstage in 1974 at Madison Square Garden before a ticket-buying audience of 21,000, with Soul Train host Don Cornelius presiding as M.C. Or appearing on Dick Cavett's late-night ABC talk show while conspicuously, if charmingly, high. "You're great," Stone told his flummoxed host in 1971, in the second of two notorious visits to Cavett's soundstage. "You are great. You are great. You know what I mean? [Pounds fist on heart.] Booom! Right on! Sure thing. No, for real. For real, Dick. Hey, Dick. Dick. Dick. You're great."

    Cavett, grasping for some sense of conversational traction, smirked and replied, "Well, you're not so bad yourself."

    "Well," said Sly, eyes rolling up in contemplation, "I am kinda bad … "

    Sly Stone is my favorite of the rock-era recluses, and, really, the only big one left. Syd Barrett, the architect of Pink Floyd's entrancingly loopy early sound, passed away last summer at the age of 60, having resisted all entreaties to explain himself or sing again. Brian Wilson, the fragile visionary behind the Beach Boys, has been gently coaxed out of his shell by his friends and acolytes, and now performs and schmoozes regularly. He doesn't count as a recluse anymore.

    But Sly has remained elusive—still with us, yet seemingly content to do without us.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:34 AM


    Missionary Man (ALEKXANDRA CRAPANZANO, 7/07/07, NY Times)

    I had been warned that “The River Cottage Meat Book,” by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, contained photographs that would possibly turn me into a vegetarian. But as I leafed through the 543-page tome (something of a cross between a cookbook and a treatise on all things meat), pausing here and there to ogle a perfectly marbled hunk of beef or a hunter’s bounty of hanging partridges, I felt no unpleasant sensations. Then, as I reached for the phone to call my local butcher, the book fell open to a photograph of a cow, seconds before slaughter, staring up at me with big, innocent eyes. Butcher undialed, I shut the book.

    Until the following morning, when curiosity and appetite again prevailed. “The River Cottage Meat Book,” after all, has become something of a cult best seller in England, where Fearnley-Whittingstall is a much-admired chef, farmer, TV host and sustainable-food activist (River Cottage is his food-advocacy organization). I cracked the book a second time, careful nevertheless to jump straight to the recipe section in the second half — thereby avoiding all torture scenes and moral jeremiads in the first. [...]

    Citrus-Braised Lamb Shanks

    3 tablespoons olive oil

    1 carrot, finely diced

    1 onion, finely diced

    2 celery ribs, finely diced

    3 sprigs thyme

    2 bay leaves

    2 garlic cloves, chopped

    1 tablespoon tomato paste

    1 ½ cups white wine

    1 cup chicken broth

    Juice and finely grated zest of

    1 lemon

    Juice and finely grated zest of

    1 orange

    4 12-ounce New Zealand lamb shanks

    Salt and freshly ground black pepper

    Chopped parsley, for garnishing.

    1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil in a large casserole. Add the carrot, onion and celery, and sweat over low heat, until tender. Add the thyme, bay leaves, garlic, tomato paste, wine, and broth, along with all but a few pinches of the zests and a tablespoon of each juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer.

    2. Meanwhile, season the lamb with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining olive oil in a separate large sauté pan and brown the shanks on all sides. Add the shanks to the casserole and cover. Transfer to the oven and cook until the meat is completely tender, about 2 1/2 hours.

    3. Remove the shanks from the pan and keep warm. Skim the fat from the surface of the sauce. Reduce the sauce to the desired consistency. Stir in the reserved citrus juices and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve the lamb shanks and sauce on warmed plates (with Israeli couscous or some good bread). Sprinkle with a little parsley and the remaining citrus zest.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 AM


    Aryan Rhapsody: a review of NAZI GAMES: The Olympics of 1936 By David Clay Large (GEOFFREY WHEATCROFT, NY Times Book Review)

    A movement began to call for a boycott of the Berlin Games, but one man who rose to the occasion was the appalling Avery Brundage, well-nigh the chief villain of Large’s book. Brundage had competed in the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympics before making a fortune in the notoriously corrupt Chicago construction business, and then becoming president of the American Olympic Committee. He was determined that the Berlin Olympics should go ahead, and protest — which he privately attributed to Jewish agitation — only hardened his resolve.

    In fact, some prominent figures in the boycott movement were Irish-American or, in the case of Ernest Jahncke, German-American; Jahncke was a member of the International Olympic Committee, and he campaigned against the Berlin Games bravely but unsuccessfully. Various shabby maneuvers helped the Games go ahead: one American official said he had wanted to get “at least one Jew on the German Olympic team,” and when Helene Mayer was chosen as a fencer, he announced, “I feel that my job is finished.” In what he evidently thought was a good argument, Brundage pointed out that his own men’s club in Chicago did not admit Jews, and it was certainly true that anti-Semitism existed in America. But it was not the most egregious form of racism there: given the treatment of black Americans, not least athletes, with formal segregation and discrimination in the South and informal in the North, there was surely an element of hypocrisy in American indignation.

    To Brundage’s delight, the Berlin Games did go ahead, even after Hitler reoccupied the Rhineland in March 1936 and the Spanish Civil War broke out in July. The American team was graced by Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals. Hitler snubbed all the black Americans, Owens included, by not greeting them, but Owens affected not to mind, and on his return home lamentably praised the Führer as a “man of dignity.”

    What emerges from Large’s story is that the Berlin Olympics were less Orwell’s orgy of hatred than a propaganda coup. They were brilliantly stage-managed, in a way that showed Joseph Goebbels at his craftiest: as he said, “Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.” Overt Jew-baiting was toned down for the duration, visitors were treated well, and at Goebbels’s insistence the German news media covered the Games in a sporting spirit.

    As the scholar and diarist Victor Klemperer saw more clearly than Orwell, what all of this meant was that the Games were “an entirely political enterprise.” Most foreign competitors, spectators and reporters colluded, whether they knew it or not. It should be said that this newspaper does not come off well in Large’s account, with “the Times reporter Frederick T. Birchall often sounding like one of Goebbels’s hacks.”

    In The New York Herald Tribune, J. P. Abramson was sharper-eyed, as he described the way the Olympics were being manipulated. That was echoed by The Manchester Guardian: the Games were a “Nazi Party rally disguised as a sporting event.” As if to confirm that, the gifted but odious Leni Riefenstahl directed “Olympia” as a companion piece to “Triumph of the Will,” her Nuremberg movie.

    Yet people don't think the PRC propaganda fest must be boycotted?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 AM


    Britain in the age of patience: a review of AUSTERITY BRITAIN: 1945–51 by David Kynaston (Ferdinand Mount, Times Literary Supplement)

    Some later historians have sought to play down those ambitions and present the Attlee Government as little more than a group of well-meaning but short-sighted social democrats who were undone by their own timidity. Yet, at the start, their hopes were vaulting high. Even Herbert Morrison, the voice of down-to-earth moderation, declared that "part of our work in politics and in industry must be to improve human nature". The private goal of Sir William Haley, the BBC's Director-General, was that in time the Third Programme would become so popular that the Light Programme and the Home Service would no longer be required. And when television limped on to the scene, Haley anticipated the time when that medium, too, "working with all the other beneficent influences within the community will have the capacity, to make for a broader vision and a fuller life".

    Along with this idealism went a good deal of contempt for the British people as they actually were. [...]

    Few of the new elite would have agreed with Frederic Osborn, writing to Lewis Mumford: "I don't think philanthropic people anywhere realise the irresistible strength of the impulse towards the family house and garden as prosperity increases. They think the suburban trend can be reversed by large-scale multi-storey buildings in the down-town district, which is not merely a pernicious belief from the human point of view but a delusion". The vogue for planning and the revolt against suburbia coincided with two other irresistible forces: the preference for public ownership over private speculative building and, above all, the need to cope with the desperate housing crisis.

    The Attlee Government is best remembered today for nationalization and the National Health Service. But, as Kynaston makes clear in his wonderful melange of statistics, gossip and quotation, housing was easily the top issue throughout the 1945 Parliament and at the 1950 general election. A quarter of Britain's dwellings did not have their own lavatory, nearly half lacked a fixed bath. The shortage of homes was estimated at somewhere between 700,000 and double that figure. In Glasgow, nearly half the population were thought to need rehousing. And the progress made under Labour was impressive. By 1951, a million new homes had been built, four-fifths of them for local authorities. When Harold Macmillan went on to set and meet a target of 300,000 homes a year, the majority too were council-owned. The trend continued under later Tory and Labour administrations, so that by the 1970s a third of the total housing stock was owned by the council – a transformation of the pattern of housing tenure more revolutionary in its implications even than the arrival of the National Health Service, which was, after all, a development of existing publicly financed health services along lines set out, though less ambitiously, by H. U. Willink (later Sir Henry) for the wartime Coalition.

    The NHS in fact plays a strangely minor part in Kynaston's account – nothing like the iconic prominence it occupies today in our recollections. The public reaction he describes was one of weary gratitude, with only a little muttering about the inevitable shortcomings of the service and those who abused it. Much the same is true of the other great new arrival of 1948, the introduction of the national insurance scheme. In the dark days of the war the Beveridge Report had sold 630,000 copies, but now the enthusiasm had settled down into a placid acceptance of what were pretty modest levels of benefit.

    Altogether, what strikes one looking back is not any great splurge on the "welfare state" – a term which Lord Beveridge himself disliked as a distortion of his intentions – but rather the tight-fisted caution with which it was introduced. The NHS never looked like meeting Aneurin Bevan's innocent hope that the service would make the nation so healthy that its costs would eventually come down. But the government made strenuous efforts to control the cost overrun (£50 million on an estimate of £176 million) and did not hesitate to overrule Bevan and bring in charges for false teeth and spectacles. By severely rationing treatment, it proved possible to keep the service more or less affordable, until several decades later the expectations of affluence broke the dam.

    Kynaston is surely right in saying that "if the Tories had been returned to office in 1945, they almost certainly would have created a welfare state not unrecognisably different". As it was, Britain was spending less of her GDP on social welfare than Belgium, Austria, or West Germany. This part of Correlli Barnett's argument – that the British voted themselves too comfortable a peace – is not wholly convincing. After all, the queues and shortages of the Labour years were largely due to the determined diversion of almost all manufactures to export. Britain's share of world trade in manufactured goods actually rose under Labour. In 1950, the British motor industry enjoyed a startling 52 per cent of world exports.

    But if the costs of welfare did not cripple the British economy, Barnett was surely right in arguing that imperial overstretch did. As Maynard Keynes bitterly observed in 1944, "all our reflex actions are those of a rich man", whether in insisting that the sterling area must play a leading role, or that the atomic bomb must have a Union Jack on top of it, or that that not a single brick in the imperial arch be abandoned, for fear that the whole lot would come tumbling down. Doubling defence expenditure from the pre-war level of 7 per cent, to meet the demands of the Korean War, was a breathtaking piece of bravado for a country still so ravaged by war and in hock to its creditors.

    Yet the most corrosive causes of long-term decline surely lay within the structures of industry rather than springing from the overblown pretensions of government. It was not so much the obsession with occupying the commanding heights of the economy that did the damage. It was the failure to attend to what was going on down below. In manufacturing, for example, competition on price was virtually defunct. Collusive price agreements covered about 60 per cent of output, as against 25–30 per cent before the war. The clearing banks too had come to operate as a dozy cartel. Oliver Franks recalled that being Chairman of the Midland Bank "was like driving a powerful car at twenty miles an hour". Restrictive practices such as working to rule, overtime bans and the closed shop were spreading fast. And there was more to come, as trade union membership hit a peak of 9.3 million in 1951. In the Coventry car plants it was the shop stewards who called the shots. Labour in the docks had been decasualized, but far from improving as predicted, the turn-round time had fallen off badly. Most managers had little appetite for reform, since they had it relatively easy in a world where the United States was still struggling to supply its home market, and Germany and Japan were flat on their backs. Even Geoffrey Crowther, Editor of the Economist, who denounced the British system as "stiff, rigid and unadaptable", did not greatly care for the American system either, "where to my mind they have too much competition and pay too high a price for their wealth". All in all, what Bevan slightingly described as "the light cavalry of private industry" seemed to be trotting, quite blithely, into the Valley of Death.

    Luckily their Britishness was strong enough that we didn't make them complete welfare queens.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 AM


    'Wife shortage' to hit nation in 2020s (Li Fangchao, 2007-07-07, China Daily)

    Today's boys may face a major problem when they become tomorrow's men - they will find it very difficult to get hitched, simply because there won't be enough women.

    Sociologists are calling for swift measures to be taken to address the nation's growing gender ratio imbalance.

    China now has 37 million more males than females, the People's Daily reported on Friday, without giving the source.

    And the number of males below the age of 15 is 18 million more than females in the same age group, the report said.

    Welcome to Oz.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


    LA mayor’s image tarnished by affair (MICHAEL R. BLOOD, 7/07/07, The Associated Press)

    Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villarai­gosa likes to say “dream with me,” but it’s hard hear those words these days without a collective snicker. The telegenic mayor known for his Chiclet smile and boyish energy has run out on his wife and taken up with a sultry newscaster who announced the mayor’s separation on the air.

    Two years ago, the mayor walked with his wife and two kids in hand and Cardinal Roger Mahoney at his side after being sworn in. Now front pages are filled with tales of an affair and the mayor’s less-than-forthright answers about the romance.

    Who cares about California’s wildfire season when the mayor is fueling his own?

    Note that where Jim McGreevey was playing hide the salami the Mayor at least took up with a smokin' hottie.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


    Syphilis rate up for gay men with HIV: Left untreated, the STD leads to neurological complications in 1 in 50 men, a study says. (Mary Engel, July 6, 2007, LA Times)

    The medical community has a new warning for HIV-positive gay and bisexual men.

    With syphilis rates in that population increasing dramatically, a study has found that, if left untreated, the sexually transmitted disease leads to mental confusion, blurred vision, difficulty walking or other serious neurological complications in about 1 in 50 HIV-positive men.

    Don't they mean it's caused by mental confusion?

    July 6, 2007

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:40 PM


    Economy Booming, So What Might Start the Next Recession? (James Pethokoukis, July 06, 2007, US News)

    "If you want a job and you're a college grad, you can get one," is the smart—only somewhat overstated—observation that Roy Krause, head of staffing company Spherion, just imparted to me over the phone. Indeed, college grads had just a 2 percent unemployment rate in June, according to new Labor Department data, vs. 3.5 percent for those with "some college," 4.1 percent for high school grads, and 6.7 percent for those who did not finish high school.

    More good news came from the June income numbers: Real wages for workers—not managers—increased by 3.9 percent, year over year. Deflate by the core May inflation rate of 2.3 percent—the latest numbers available—and you get real wage growth of 1.6 percent. Not too shabby. Right now, Wall Street recession expectations are pretty low. "The threat of recession has abated, as job and income gains provide the wherewithal to support consumer spending," is the analysis of former Federal Reserve governor Lyle Gramley. In fact, the Big Money Crowd is more worried about China than U.S. housing as a source of future trouble. Case in point: this missive "What Would the Next Recession Look Like" that Goldman Sachs just sent me:

    "So, what constitutes a recession in modern times, and when do they occur?"

    This much we know, after 25 years without, they'll have to change the definition in order to pretend we're in one.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:34 PM


    From political darkness, economic optimism (Shawn W Crispin, 7/07/07, Asia Times)

    After nearly two years of political doom and gloom, suddenly Thailand’s economic prospects are brightening. Foreign investors have ushered in the 10th anniversary of Thailand’s spectacular 1997 collapse with a buying binge, recently bidding up the local bourse and currency to 10-year highs. But should foreign punters be so optimistic?

    Foreign capital is rushing into the country, with foreign equity inflows so far this year exceeding US$3.7 billion, including an inrush of US$600 million over the last fortnight. Foreign direct investments (FDI) has also exceeded expectations, and some economic analysts believe those capital inflows could accelerate in the months ahead as the government approves more foreign applications to produce so-called “eco-cars”.

    Political uncertainty and policy miscues have this year weighed against the Thai bourse’s performance, which on a price-equity ratio basis has lagged badly most other global emerging markets. Now with deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra fading from view, and the ruling military junta that ousted him sticking to its promise to hold democratic polls by year’s end, investors see new clarity in the country’s political outlook.

    “It’s clear now that Thailand is not going to fall off the cliff anytime soon,” says Cem Karacadag, an economist with Credit Suisse. “And it’s the cheapest market in Asia.”

    Gotta be able to tell an authoritarian phase from a totalitarian regime.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:31 PM


    Let a thousand democracies bloom (David Shambaugh, July 6, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

    As the 17th Congress of China's Communist Party approaches this autumn, party organizations in Beijing are abuzz with talk of democracy. Expect lots of "democracy" initiatives at the Congress. Some of these were signaled in an important speech by the party general secretary, Hu Jintao, to Politburo members and others at the Central Party School on June 25th.

    While these initiatives do not constitute democratic institutions and procedures as recognized in real democracies, they nonetheless represent serious efforts to broaden what the Chinese describe as "inner-party democracy," "electoral democracy," and extra-party "consultative democracy." All of these forms go under the broad rubric of "socialist democracy" or "democracy with Chinese characteristics," as described in Hu's speech.

    What do these terms mean in the Chinese political context? Recent discussions with high-level party organizations in Beijing offer some clues.

    For the last several years, Hu Jintao has promoted "inner-party democracy" as a key to avoiding a similar sclerosis that beset the former Soviet Communist Party, the CPSU. The Chinese analysis of the Soviet Union's collapse pointed to many causes, but a central one was the top-down, inflexible nature of the CPSU.

    The notion that a bit of tinkering around the edges will allow Maoism to succeed just puts them deeper in the hole.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:19 PM


    Katrina brought a wave of Hispanics (JOHN MORENO GONZALES, 7/02/07, Associated Press)

    For proof that Hurricane Katrina is transforming the ethnic flavor of New Orleans — and creating altogether new tensions — look no further than the taco trucks.

    Lunch trucks serving Latin American fare are appearing around New Orleans, catering to the immigrant laborers who streamed into the city in search of work after Katrina turned much of the place into a construction zone. [...]

    The mobile luncheonettes are operated mostly by Mexican and Central American families.

    "I'm looking for an opportunity. That's why I left my country, and that's what led me here," said Maria Fuentes, 55, who came to the United States from Mexico a decade ago and settled in New Orleans after the storm. "This is the first time I've owned my own business and my dream is to have traditional restaurants, not trucks, all over this town."

    The six-wheel vans have Spanish names emblazoned on their sides like "La Texanita" and "Taqueria Buen Gusto," and, like street vendors in Latin America, serve such dishes as carne asada, or grilled steak, pork and chicken, garnished with sliced radishes and diced cilantro.

    Beverages include tamarind- and guava-flavored drinks, often in the old-time bottles that require an opener, just as in Latin America.

    The trucks usually park on street corners in areas with heavy construction activity, attracting laborers and native New Orleanians alike.

    "It's better than Taco Bell. I can tell you that," said Michael Gould, 53, who lined up at Fuentes' truck during a recent lunch hour.

    There was a pizzeria near our grandparents summer house -- in Brightwaters, NY -- that used to send a truck around at night selling slices in the neighborhood. How cool would a taco truck be?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:57 PM


    Another consumer product disaster in China: exploding mobile phone batteries (David Barboza, July 6, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

    Not often enough.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:53 PM


    Scandals hint at reality behind China's 'miracle' (Howard W. French, July 5, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

    The warning that Chinese officials reportedly gave to the World Bank was that to release such details could affect social stability, which in today's China amounts to something akin to a paramount ill.

    The government's message to the public is to get on with your lives. This isn't such a big deal, Beijing's spokesmen have protested in recent days on the question of the safety of China's food exports, in what has become a sort of stock response in situations like these.

    Such answers are, in fact, a fairly reliable indicator that all is not right, and one suspects that in all of these cases, what is known is the very tip of the iceberg. And the signs are growing that the Chinese public deserves a lot more credit for being able to grasp this.

    In the broadest sense, what the deluge of scandals suggests is that reality is catching up with the old and familiar story line of the "Chinese miracle." Indeed, this country has been deluding itself and much of the world with the notion that healthy and lasting prosperity can be built on a foundation of counterfeiting, of exploitation and of fraud.

    To keep company with the constant rejoinders about preserving stability, the prevailing creed would seem to have only one other thought: that to make money, in the immortal words of Deng Xiaoping, "is glorious."

    As governing philosophies go, "Shhh, quiet, we're busy making money," is not a very inspiring one, and it leaves a country and its people without any moral or ethical compass, beyond crudities like "might makes right," or "the ends justify the means," or "I got here first."

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:21 PM


    No embrace of modernity (Christopher Pearson, July 07, 2007, The Australian)

    JULIAN Barnes, the English novelist, neatly summed up one of the prevailing vanities of our times, saying he was sick of the way "we expect the past to suck up to the present". Most of us, and many professional historians, view the past in a narcissistic way, emphasising the elements that may serve to show modern man in a flattering light and reassure us of our own relative sophistication and moral superiority. We tend to see previous generations mainly through the prism of our preoccupations and governing assumptions, rather than on their own terms, and judge them accordingly.

    It's part and parcel of the Whig view of history, the triumphal march of progress. The Enlightenment broke the shackles of superstition and unleashed reason and empirical inquiry. The undoubted advances in science, technology and medicine during the past 300 years have lent so much plausibility to that scenario that most of the developed world takes it for granted.

    In a sense, we are all slaves to the zeitgeist. The only significant critiques of modernity come from radical Islam and the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

    Most importantly, we're terrified of judging ourselves by their terms, because we'd come off so badly--such is the impetus for relativism.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:07 PM


    White Stripes rock T.O. kids' camp (Karen Pinchin, 7/06/07, Canadian press)

    Alt-rock duo the White Stripes thrilled dozens of children at a Toronto day camp Thursday afternoon with an impromptu gig that had the youngsters clapping their hands and wriggling in time to the music.

    More than 65 children between the ages of five and 12 sat in a semi-circle on the floor to catch a five-song set by bandmates Jack White and Meg White. About 80 adults were allowed in the room, including some fans who talked their way through the door.

    "This is my fifth year here and something like this has never happened before," said 11-year-old Camille, waving his hands for emphasis.

    "When I saw them perform I was like, 'Wow, I really need to download these songs when I get home."'

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:24 AM


    With Bloomberg on Stage, Harsher Light on Giuliani (Alec MacGillis, 7/06/07, Washington Post)

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 AM


    Boeing bets 787 has right stuff: Analysts say composite materials used to make the new plane will be revolutionary. A festive rollout is planned. (Peter Pae, July 6, 2007, LA Times)

    "It will be revolutionary," said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst for aerospace research firm Teal Group Corp. "It will represent a major technological shift in the way a plane is made and in the way it operates."

    The 707 changed aviation by enabling airlines to fly to far-flung destinations more quickly than propeller-driven planes. It allowed carriers to begin offering economy seating, making air travel more affordable.

    The Dreamliner is groundbreaking for a different reason: It's the first large passenger jet to have more than half of its structure made of composite materials (carbon fibers meshed together with epoxy) instead of aluminum sheets.

    If the design works as planned, analysts say, composites will revolutionize aircraft as dramatically as the industry's shift from wood to metal 80 years ago.

    Chicago-based Boeing has promised airlines that the use of composites and a newly developed engine will result in the 787 burning 20% less fuel than jetliners of a similar size.

    The Third World can get by in niche markets on monkey-see-monkey-do, but only Americans innovate.

    Delivery of Boeing jets surges in 2nd quarter (The Associated Press, 7/06/07)

    Boeing said Thursday it delivered 114 commercial airplanes in the second quarter, its highest total since 2001.

    The deliveries ran the aerospace company's total through the first half of the year to 220, leaving it on target to reach its full-year estimate of 440 to 445.

    Boeing's deliveries for the quarter included 86 737s, 21 777s, four 747s and three 767s.

    The last time it had a higher total was the fourth quarter of 2001 when it delivered 144 commercial jets.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:11 AM


    Fatah on shaky ground in West Bank: Many are looking to the fractured Palestinian party to curb Hamas' reach, but some wonder whether it will be able to hang on to its stronghold (Ken Ellingwood, July 6, 2007, LA Times)

    Routed in the Gaza Strip, the Fatah party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is fractured and adrift at a moment when it is viewed by the outside world as the best hope for blunting the militant Hamas movement in the West Bank.

    Once dominant in Palestinian affairs, the organization long led by the late Yasser Arafat is beset by a weak and aging leadership, internal schisms and a widespread reputation among Palestinians as corrupt, ineffectual and out of touch. Those troubles have some Palestinians wondering whether Fatah is more likely to lose the West Bank than to recapture the Gaza Strip from Hamas.

    The crisis facing Fatah has deepened since Hamas crushed its forces in Gaza last month, leaving Fatah's authority limited to the West Bank. The United States, Israel and European allies have promised to bolster Abbas, a relative moderate, and his party as a way to isolate Hamas.

    ...but it's shocking that W seems to believe that Palestinians would freely choose a secular socialist party. You'd think the elections alone would have disabused him.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:33 AM


    Blah blah blah sports! Surprise, guys gab as much as girls (RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, 7/06/07, The Associate Press)

    Another stereotype – chatty gals and taciturn guys – bites the dust.

    Turns out, when you actually count the words, there isn’t much difference between the sexes when it comes to talking.

    A team led by Matthias R. Mehl, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arizona, came up with the finding, which is published in today’s issue of the journal Science.

    ...their chatter wouldn't be so annoying.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


    Cute, boppy, and fun: With energetic dancing and airy songs, 'High School Musical' pulls in kids (Louise Kennedy, July 6, 2007, Boston Globe)

    "High School Musical" is to the theater what Harry Potter is to literature. Whatever adults may think of its artistic merits, they can't help rejoicing at its power to pull in new devotees to the art form they love. And, whatever its artistic merits actually are, it's entertaining enough to let those same adults enjoy it along with their kids.

    So it's small wonder that North Shore Music Theatre's production, the New England premiere of the Disney Channel movie's stage adaptation, has been selling like crazy. And, to judge from the enthusiastic young audience packing the house at last night's press opening, this show does what it's supposed to do: It gets kids hooked on live theater.

    Devotees of the TV movie will note some changes for the stage, notably the addition of a narrator -- a guy who reads announcements, which neatly double as scene transitions, over the school's PA system. (In an oddly antique reference for this youth-oriented show, he calls himself "the Velvet Fog of East High School.") For the most part, though, the show remains pretty much what it was on the small screen: a poppy, boppy musical about high school kids putting on a musical.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:29 AM


    Greenland ice yields hope on climate: DNA hints warm era didn't melt entire cap (Colin Nickerson, July 6, 2007, Boston Globe)

    An international team of scientists, drilling deep into the ice layers of Greenland, has found DNA from ancient spiders and trees, evidence that suggests the frozen shield covering the immense island survived the earth's last period of global warming.

    The findings, published today in the journal Science, indicate Greenland's ice may be less susceptible to the massive meltdown predicted by computer models of climate change, the article's main author said in an interview.

    "If our data is correct, and I believe it is, then this means the southern Greenland ice cap is more stable than previously thought," said Eske Willerslev, research leader and professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Copenhagen. "This may have implications for how the ice sheets respond to global warming. They may withstand rising temperatures."

    ...who was the spiders' Al Gore?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


    Beckett deal a winner: Early signing pays off (Rob Bradford, July 6, 2007, Boston Herald)

    It was exactly one year ago Terry Francona and the Red Sox [team stats] saw what turned out to be a golden opportunity standing at Tropicana Field.

    Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett [stats] was wiling away the time during his team’s batting practice when the manager made his move.

    “I said to (general manager) Theo (Epstein) when we were sitting in the dugout, ‘Do you want to sign this guy to a long-term contract?’ He said, ‘For the right number,’ ” Francona recalled last night. “I went out to shortstop, where Beckett was taking grounders, and said, ‘Do you want to stay here?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’

    “I said, ‘Are you going to ask for crazy money?’ He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘What are you worth?’ He said the number and I went back to Theo and said, ‘You better sign this guy.’

    “I’m probably oversimplifying it, but basically that was my role. They obviously worked hard on getting it done. It was more that Beckett had a very mature way of going about it.”

    The thing about the Sox staff isn't just its depth and dominance but its youth and affordability.

    July 5, 2007

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 PM


    Grilled flank steak with poblanos and onions (Carol Mighton Haddix, 7/05/07, Chicago Tribune

    1 tsp. each: ground cumin, coarse salt
    1/2 tsp. Spanish smoked paprika or Hungarian paprika
    1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
    1/2 cup chopped cilantro
    1 flank steak, about 1 1/2 pounds
    2 poblano chilies
    1 red onion
    1 Tbsp. olive oi

    1. Mix cumin, salt, paprika, pepper and 2 Tbsps. of the cilantro in a small bowl. Rub the mixture over both sides of the steak. Set aside.

    2. Heat a grill or grill pan for medium-high heat. Stem and seed the chilies; cut into strips. Cut onion in half; slice in 1/4-inch slices. Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add chilies and onions; cook, stirring over high heat, until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes, or to desired doneness. Set aside.

    3. Grill steak to medium rare, about 7 minutes per side, or to desired doneness. Transfer to cutting board; let sit 5 minutes. Slice thinly on the diagonal. Divide meat among 4 plates. Top with chilies and onions; sprinkle with remaining cilantro.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 PM


    Iran's leader hints at rights for women (Nasser Karimi, 06 July 2007, Independent)

    Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has signalled a willingness to reinterpret Islamic law in favour of women's rights, but not following Western convention, his official website and state-run television reported yesterday.

    The Ayatollah's comments come amid criticism of Iran by international human rights groups for persecuting women's rights activists.

    "Some issues about women, which exist in religious jurisprudence, are not the final say. It is possible to interpret new points through research by a skillful jurist," the website quoted Ayatollah Khamenei as saying during a speech to commemorate national women's day. The Supreme Leader has final say over all state matters.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 PM


    'This is Glasgow. We'll just set aboot ye': John Smeaton, the airport baggage handler who grappled with a terrorist suspect, has become an instant icon thanks to the website dedicated to his deeds. Lawrence Donegan on the phenomenon of 'Smeatomania' (Lawrence Donegan, July 5, 2007, The Guardian)

    When asked if he had a message for the bombers, John Smeaton, the baggage handler who helped thwart Saturday's 4x4 attack on Glasgow airport, said, "This is Glasgow. We'll just set aboot ye."

    The city of Glasgow's marketing department, which has spent 20 years trying to obliterate Glasgow's "No Mean City" reputation, might have winced at the sentiment. But the rest of the world was enchanted, and Scotland - and the internet - had found a new hero.

    Smeaton confronted one of the men from the 4x4, who was fighting with a police officer. "I got a kick in," he said. "Other passengers were getting kicks in. The flames were going in two directions ... You know when you're younger, you put a can of Lynx [aftershave] on the fire, and it's like a flame thrower." And: "Me and other folk were just trying to get the boot in and some other guy banjoed him". (To banjo is Scottish slang for to hit someone as hard as you can.)

    Another day, another paean to the man: yesterday's contribution came from Michael Kerr, whose own efforts at tackling one of the would-be terrorists were rewarded with a couple of smashed teeth, a broken leg and a supporting role in a worldwide phenomenon henceforth known as Smeatomania.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 PM


    Angry barber reveals Edwards' $1,250 haircut (David Usborne, 06 July 2007, Independent)

    The hairdressing flap that engulfed the presidential hopeful John Edwards earlier this year has burst back to life with the Beverly Hills stylist at the centre of it all revealing that he once charged the former senator much more than the $400 that was originally reported. A single trim in Atlanta cost $1,250.

    The stylist, John Torrenueva, kept his counsel when news first broke in April about the pricey cuts he had given to Mr Edwards. But now the barber, who has tended to the likes of Marlon Brando, is blabbing and the details threaten to inflict even greater damage on his former client.

    For instance, he reports first meeting Mr Edwards in 2003 as he was preparing for his first presidential run. It was in a Los Angeles hotel and he wasn't the only one invited. Also in the room were a bevy of other fashion experts all recruited to spruce up the senator's look.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:29 PM


    Ageing Chinese city promotes two-child policy (Reuters, 7/05/07)

    Single-child families in the booming Chinese city of Guangzhou are being encouraged to have a second child to counter the social and economic problems of a rapidly ageing population, state media said on Thursday. [...]

    "If the ageing of the population continues, this will have a certain effect on social and economic development, and on employment and social security," Xinhua said, citing a report from Guangzhou's official family-planning agency.

    By 2010, Guangzhou would be home to more than 1 million people over 60 years of age, but would only be able to accommodate 40,000 in aged care homes, the China Daily said in a separate report.

    ...is that the old wield political power.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:25 PM


    RED, WHITE & LEWD: Reading our presidential candidates between the sheets (Kiki T., 7/05/07, NY Press)

    The presidential election is still more than a year away, but that doesn’t mean the potential candidates aren’t already whoring themselves out there for us all. We know you’re already tired of all the same hum-drum rhetoric and, come on, to uncover anyone’s authentic character is to discover how he or she screws. Just short of Monica Lewinskying all the candidates, the next best way to find out each sign’s true self (lover) is by diving into their astrological make-up and dissecting all their sexual proclivities with the precision of a surgeon to reveal the freak behind those well-groomed facades. So check out these Democrat and Republican frontrunners’ Astrosexology charts. After all, wouldn’t you want you to know who really is the lesser of two evils and who gets off being that way? How kinky!

    ...this is a better analysis of the candidates strengths and weaknesses than you'll find anywhere amongst the political pundits.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:55 PM


    Voters to get direct say on local spending: Cash for schemes such as parks, litter and Asbos to be decided by ballot (Patrick Wintour, July 5, 2007, The Guardian)

    Voters will be given powers to decide how ten of millions of pounds should be spent in their neighbourhood under radical plans being unveiled today.

    In a potentially dramatic extension of direct democracy, councils will have to hold ballots before deciding where money should be targeted. It would mean that, for the first time, people could direct cash to areas that concern them most, such as parks, curbing antisocial behaviour, targeting drug trouble spots or cleaning up litter.

    The idea comes from Latin America where it is being rapidly adopted. It began in 1989 in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, but has swept through the region and some of the more radically led cities. Thanks in part to the success of the scheme, the UN has nominated Porto Alegre as the Brazilian city with the "best quality of life".

    When Hazel Blears, the new communities secretary, outlines the scheme she will say that she wants every neighbourhood to have control of some of the council's cash within five years.

    She told the Guardian that communities will be asked to take control of council budgets through local debates, neighbourhood votes and public town meetings.

    By radical they mean American.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:48 PM


    Skilled workers leaving Eastern Europe in droves, report finds (Judy Dempsey, July 5, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

    [H]aving carved out a niche in car manufacturing in recent years, Slovakia is suffering from the same regional labor shortage that is exacerbating concerns that foreign investment could be deterred.

    The shortages have become so acute that several countries, particularly Poland, are issuing special work permits to citizens from Ukraine and Belarus, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in an attempt to plug the holes, according to the institute.

    Last month, officials from the Polish Labor Ministry even traveled to India and China to recruit young skilled employees after repeated complaints to the government from the electronics, technology and construction sectors that they could not find enough staff.

    In a few years we won't be able to afford the price prospective immigrants will be able to extract from desperate dying nations.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 PM


    We are meant to be here: People are not the result of a cosmic accident, but of laws of the universe that grant our lives meaning and purpose, says physicist Paul Davies. (Steve Paulson, Jul. 03, 2007, Salon)

    Forget science fiction. If you want to hear some really crazy ideas about the universe, just listen to our leading theoretical physicists. Wish you could travel back in time? You can, according to some interpretations of quantum mechanics. Could there be an infinite number of parallel worlds? Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg considers this a real possibility. Even the big bang, which for decades has been the standard explanation for how the universe started, is getting a second look. Now, many cosmologists speculate that we live in a "multiverse," with big bangs exploding all over the cosmos, each creating its own bubble universe with its own laws of physics. And lucky for us, our bubble turned out to be life-friendly.

    But if you really want to start an argument, ask a room full of physicists this question: Are the laws of physics fine-tuned to support life? Many scientists hate this idea -- what's often called "the anthropic principle." They suspect it's a trick to argue for a designer God. But more and more physicists point to various laws of nature that have to be calibrated just right for stars and planets to form and for life to appear. For instance, if gravity were just slightly stronger, the universe would have collapsed long before life evolved. But if gravity were a tiny bit weaker, no galaxies or stars could have formed. If the strong nuclear force had been slightly different, red giant stars would never produce the fusion needed to form heavier atoms like carbon, and the universe would be a vast, lifeless desert. Are these just happy coincidences? The late cosmologist Fred Hoyle called the universe "a put-up job." Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson has suggested that the universe, in some sense, "knew we were coming."

    British-born cosmologist Paul Davies calls this cosmic fine-tuning the "Goldilocks Enigma." Like the porridge for the three bears, he says the universe is "just right" for life. [...]

    Is this what John Wheeler, the famous theoretical physicist, talked about when he made the case for a "participatory universe"?

    Yes. Now we're into another variant of the anthropic principle -- which is sometimes called the "final anthropic principle" -- where, somehow, the emergence of life and observers link back to the early universe. Now, Wheeler didn't flesh out this idea terribly well, but I've had a go at trying to extend it. This has some appeal because the conventional theistic explanation and the conventional scientific explanation both suffer from the same shortcoming. They attempt to explain the universe by appealing to something outside it. In the religious explanation, appeal is made to an unexplained God who simply has to be there in order for the universe to be created in the form that it has. In the scientific explanation, the laws of physics just happily exist for no particular reason, and they just happen to have exactly the right properties, but it's all unexplained and it's all pushed off to outside of the universe. What appeals to me about John Wheeler's idea is that it attempts to provide an explanation for the bio-friendliness of the universe from entirely within it. Now, the difficult point is that we have to explain why life today can have any effect on the laws that the universe emerged with at the time of the big bang.

    This sounds like it's coming right out of science fiction. Somehow, future people can go back in time and have some role in creating the universe. It's pretty far-fetched.

    It is pretty far-fetched until you stop to think that there is nothing in the laws of physics that singles out one direction of time over another. The laws of physics work forward in time and backward in time equally well. Wheeler was one of the pioneers of this underlying time symmetry in the laws of physics. So he was steeped in the fact that we shouldn't be prejudiced between past and future when it comes to causation. The particular mechanism that Wheeler had in mind has to do with quantum physics. Now, quantum physics is based on Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. In its usual formulation, it means that there's some uncertainty at a later time how an atom is going to behave. You might be able to predict the betting odds that the atom will do this or that, but you can't know for certain in advance what's going to happen. Now, this uncertainty principle works both ways in time. There's no doubt about this. If we make an observation of an atom in a certain state now, then its past is uncertain just as its future is uncertain.

    So one way to think about this is that there will be many past histories that will lead up to the present state of the universe. In the remote past, its state was fuzzy. Now in the lab, it's all very well to put an atom in a certain state and experiment on it at a later time. But when we're applying quantum physics to the whole universe, we simply can't establish the universe in a well-defined quantum state at the beginning and make observations later. We're here and now. So we can only infer backward in time. It's part of conventional quantum mechanics that you can make observations now that will affect the nature of reality as it was in the past. You can't use it to send signals back into the past. You can't send information back into the past. But the nature of the quantum state in the past can't be separated from the nature of the quantum state in the present.

    So you're not talking about super-smart beings in the far future who go back in time and somehow fiddle with the laws of physics to create the big bang. You're saying this happens just through the act of observation itself, through the fact that human beings or other intelligent beings are aware of the universe.

    Right. I'm not talking about time travel. This is just standard quantum physics. Standard quantum physics says that if you make an observation of something today -- it might just be the position of an atom -- then there's an uncertainty about what that atom is going to do in the future. And there's an uncertainty about what it's going to do in the past. That uncertainty means there's a type of linkage. Einstein called this "spooky action at a distance."

    But what's so hard to fathom is that this act of observation, which has been observed at the subatomic level, would affect the way matter spread right after the big bang. That sounds awfully far-fetched.

    Well, it's only far-fetched if you want to think that every little observation that we perform today is somehow micromanaging the universe in the far past. What we're saying is that as we go back into the past, there are many, many quantum histories that could have led up to this point. And the existence of observers today will select a subset of those histories which will inevitably, by definition, lead to the existence of life. Now, I don't think anybody would really dispute that fact.

    What I'm suggesting -- this is where things depart from the conventional view -- is that the laws of physics themselves are subject to the same quantum uncertainty. So that an observation performed today will select not only a number of histories from an infinite number of possible past histories, but will also select a subset of the laws of physics which are consistent with the emergence of life. That's the radical departure. It's not the backward-in-time aspect, which has been established by experiment. There's really no doubt that quantum mechanics opens the way to linking future with past. I'm suggesting that we extend those notions from the state of the universe to the underlying laws of physics themselves. That's the radical step, because most physicists regard the laws as God-given, imprinted on the universe, fixed and immutable. But Wheeler -- and I follow him on this -- suggested that the laws of physics are not immutable.

    I'm trying to understand how the laws of physics could change. You're suggesting that they were different 10 billion years ago. How could they change through the act of observation?

    I have to explain my point of view in relation to the laws of physics. In the orthodox view, the laws are regarded as just unexplained, fixed, idealized mathematical relationships. It's an idea that goes right back to Newton-- that the universe is governed by these infinitely precise mathematical laws.

    This is basically the Platonic view of the universe.

    Plato had the view that mathematics lies outside of the physical universe, in a realm that's not part of space and time. It's often called the "Platonic heaven." But there's another view of the laws of physics, which is gaining increasing currency, that has really come about because of the information revolution. So a lot of physicists think that we should regard the laws of physics not as perfect, immutable mathematical forms that just happen to exist for no reason in this Platonic realm, but rather that they're more like computer software.

    Let me explain that. When the Earth goes around the sun, we can imagine applying Newton's laws to predicting how it's going to move.

    Tut-tut...you've already conceded that the whole Universe goes around the Earth.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:35 PM


    Iraq Flexes Arab Muscle (Christopher Hitchens, 2 April 1976, The New Statesman)

    An Arab country with the second largest proven oil reserves, a fierce revolutionary ideology, a large and recently-blooded army, and a leadership composed almost entirely of men in their thirties is obviously a force to be reckoned with. Iraq, which has this dynamic combination and much else besides, has not until recently been very much regarded as a power. But with the new discussions in Opec, the ending of the Kurdistan war and the new round of fighting in Lebanon, its political voice is being heard more and more. The Baghdad regime is the first oil-producing government to opt for 100-per-cent nationalisation, a process completed with the acquisition of foreign assets in Basrah last December. It was the first to call for the use of oil as a political weapon against Israel and her backers. It gives strong economic and political support to the ‘Rejection Front’ Palestinians who oppose Arafat’s conciliation and are currently trying to outface the Syrians in Beirut. And it has a leader — Saddam Hussain — who has sprung from being an underground revolutionary gunman to perhaps the first visionary Arab statesman since Nasser.

    Remember when just being a secular socialist strongman was enough to make Hitch a fanboy?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:20 PM


    A Glimmer of Hope in Gaza: Why push Hamas toward collapse when a long-term cease-fire is closer than ever? (Mitchell Prothero, July 5, 2007, Slate)

    This tension between armed militancy and good governance is hard to reconcile. Hamas might have won the war to control Gaza, but it also finds itself more vulnerable to outside pressure than ever before in its 20-plus-year history. Hamas officials know that after their violent rise to power, they have to deliver more than rhetoric and martyrs. And Gaza is sick of both. It needs money, jobs, and security. In the past three weeks, despite the awful way they came to power, Hamas has delivered on the security. But to supply more, they need the help of their sworn enemies.

    What is often overlooked about Hamas is that although destroying Israel is certainly high on its to-do list, the group represents the much broader agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood, or "Ikwhan," is a Pan-Arab movement out to prove that most Arab regimes are corrupt, brutal, and ineffectual—a point that's hard to dispute when you've visited a few of them. The Brotherhood solution is to combine religious discipline with technocratic know-how to build a better society for the Arab world. Some consider them a moderating influence on the al-Qaida types, others point out that both groups share the same sources of intellectual inspiration, and many scholars make a reasonable argument that the Muslim Brotherhood is just radical Islam in a competent bureaucrat's cheap suit. That debate won't and can't be solved here.

    But Hamas now runs Gaza, and it wants to succeed. They've delivered security, but they also know that if the economy doesn't pick up and wages aren't delivered, they're likely to be thrown out of power. If that were to happen, Gaza would descend back into chaos, and the best chance they've had to prove to the rest of the Arab world that they could meld Islam and modern governance will be lost.

    Does this mean the United States, Israel, and President Mahmoud Abbas should suddenly embrace Hamas and help them prove their experiment could succeed? I doubt any of the three think that's such a good idea. But they should note that for the first time in Hamas' existence, the group desperately wants to be taken seriously as Palestinian political figures. It might be a risky gambit in light of Hamas' refusal to accept Israel's right to exist—it's not unreasonable that negotiating partners start with a premise that one side has a right to live—but shrewd, or even brutal, negotiations could eventually force Hamas to deliver things that the region certainly needs.

    Take Islamic Jihad. The militant group has stayed out of inter-Palestinian politics, preferring to concentrate on killing as many Israelis as it can. Talk to any Islamic Jihad leader and you'll come away impressed—on some level—with their single-minded devotion to fighting Israel. They never negotiate with Israel or anyone else. They also ignore calls to halt rocket attacks against Israel from Gaza.

    But since the Hamas takeover, some funny things have been happening. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have conducted a few rocket and mortar attacks on Israel, but most of them have been aimed at military instillations or have been responses to Israeli military incursions. At least two top Islamic Jihad commanders have been called into meetings with Hamas officials and told to halt rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. One categorically refused. The next day, his car exploded in what Hamas and Islamic Jihad called an Israeli airstrike. The Israelis—who tend to openly admit killing IJ commanders—denied responsibility. I saw the car, and after years of experience in Iraq, Lebanon, and Gaza, I believe a bomb had been planted under the driver's seat.

    Other Islamic Jihad commanders are getting nervous. Every few days, confrontations between Hamas forces and IJ rocket teams almost turn into shootouts. Fatah—for all of its peaceful rhetoric—never actually tried to stop Islamic Jihad or Hamas from conducting attacks; they lacked both the means and the will.

    Just as Arafat had no interest i accepting an offer of statehood from Israel, so Israel ands America have no apparent interest in offering statehood if it's to Hamas.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:26 AM


    Halberstam’s History: No hero (Mark Moyar, 7/05/07, National Review)

    Through articles and bestselling books, Halberstam and his most famous colleagues in Vietnam, Neil Sheehan and Stanley Karnow, horribly tarnished the reputations of some very fine Americans, including Gen. Paul Harkins, who served as head of U.S. forces in Vietnam, and Frederick Nolting, who was U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam. The relatives of the victims were deeply scarred by these false portrayals, as I learned from them after I exposed the falsehoods in my recent history, Triumph Forsaken.

    Halberstam, Sheehan, and Karnow inadvertently caused enormous damage to the American effort in South Vietnam—making them the most harmful journalists in American history. The leading American journalists in Vietnam during 1963, they favored American involvement in Vietnam, in stark contrast to the press corps of the war’s latter years. But they had a low opinion of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem and decided that he would need to be removed if the war was to be won. Brazenly attempting to influence history, Halberstam, Sheehan, and Karnow gave Diem’s opponents in the U.S. government negative information on Diem in print and in private. Most of the information they passed on was false or misleading, owing in part to their heavy reliance on a Reuters stringer named Pham Xuan An who was actually a secret Communist agent. The journalists convinced Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge to accept their reports in place of much more accurate reports from the CIA and the U.S. military, which led Lodge to urge South Vietnamese generals to stage a coup. Press articles suggesting that Diem had lost his principal ally’s confidence made the South Vietnamese generals receptive to coup plots — the Vietnamese elites generally misinterpreted American news reporters as official spokesmen of the U.S. government.

    After Diem’s assassination, the South Vietnamese fared very poorly in their war against the Communists, which was why the U.S. eventually had to send half a million troops to South Vietnam. Halberstam, Sheehan, and Karnow quickly realized that as advocates of Diem’s ouster they could be held responsible for wrecking the South Vietnamese government, and so they devised a masterful strategy for neutralizing the accusation. Based on a few faulty pieces of evidence, they contended that the South Vietnamese war effort had crumbled before Diem’s overthrow, not after it. No one of influence succeeded in pointing out that these men’s own articles in 1963 contradicted this claim. The journalists thus succeeded in persuading the American people that Diem, rather than his successors, had ruined the country, and therefore that the press had been right in denouncing him. Newly available American and Vietnamese Communist sources, it turns out, show that the South Vietnamese were fighting very well until the last day of Diem’s life, and that their performance plummeted immediately after the coup because the new rulers purged suspected Diem loyalists and failed to lead.

    There was more damage to come, subtler in nature but still very toxic. When the American intelligentsia became disillusioned with Vietnam during the late 1960s, Halberstam and Sheehan abandoned support for the U.S. defense of South Vietnam. Like many journalists today, they avoided reporting on American military heroism in the belief that reports of American valor would increase support for the war in the United States and would put servicemen in a more favorable light than those who did not serve. We have these journalists, as well as historians, to blame for the fact that the pantheon of American military heroes is empty for the period from the end of the Korean War in 1953 onward. Of course, when one type of hero is rejected, another is usually inserted in its place. To the horror of many who served in Vietnam, Halberstam, Sheehan, and Karnow became heroes, as has been reflected in the obituaries for Halberstam.

    When you folks calling for toppling Maliki you realize how little is ever learned from history.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM


    The Great American Novel was written by: (a) Steinbeck (b) Cather (c) none of the above (Julia Keller, 7/01/07, Chicago Tribune)

    But if you had to pick just one ...

    That's my mantra this time of year, as I try to entice friends and colleagues into playing my favorite parlor game: Name the Great American Novel.

    Resistance is always prompt and principled: There's no such thing. America is large and diverse; different novels have different agendas; and what does "great" actually mean, anyway?

    To which I always retort: Yeah, yeah. But if you had to pick ...

    With the glorious Fourth looming dead ahead, it's an excellent time to play the home version of this game: What's your pick for Great American Novel? Not the best novel written by an American. Rather, the best novel written by an American that most clearly reflects the spirit, character and destiny of America, both its good and bad sides, its mistakes and its triumphs.

    Her picks, like those of the Modern Library (which is what got Brothers Judd rolling lo those years ago) and most other lists put together by academics and critics, are pretty much crap. Among the better options would be several novels that are seldom considered to be great literature: Ben Hur; All the King's Men; Bang the Drum Slowly; The Witchfinder; Cool Hand Luke; The Chosen: Shane; Falls the Shadow; The Killer Angels; Bright Lights, Big City; and even some flawed classics, like Robert Coover's Universal Baseball Association or Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


    Fun and Relaxation? Not for a Presidential Candidate on the Fourth of July (ADAM NAGOURNEY, 7/05/07, NY Times)

    For most Americans, Independence Day is a day of relaxing: beaches and barbecues, fireworks and parades.

    For Americans who happen to be running for president, the Fourth of July is an opportunity. And nowhere was that more evident on this July 4 than in Iowa, the state with the caucuses that start the presidential nomination process.

    Like it or not — and Iowans tend to like it — there were presidential candidates everywhere: at parades here and in Pella; at a picnic at Marshalltown; at a backyard barbecue; and a park and a Class AAA baseball game in Des Moines.

    There was even a Chris Dodd float in our local parade--who knew he was still running?

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


    HERO CABBIE: POLICE TOOK MY GOOD NIKE TRAINERS (John Ferguson, 7/04/07, Daily Record)

    BATTLING taxi driver Alex McIlveen faced down the Glasgow Airport terror suspects ... and his courage cost him his favourite pair of trainers and a £30 parking fine.

    Dad-of-two Alex punched and kicked the two men after they crashed a Jeep Cherokee loaded with gas canisters into the door of Terminal One.

    The 45-year-old booted one of the suspects, whose body was covered in flames, as hard as he could between the legs.

    But the man didn't appear to feel the blow, and a police doctor told Alex later that he'd damaged a tendon in his foot.

    After the drama, police confiscated Alex's trainers for forensic tests.

    And when he went back to the airport to pick up his cab, he was stunned to find that he'd been given a parking ticket.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


    The Bronx Zoo, 30 Years Later (STEVEN GOLDMAN, July 5, 2007, NY Sun)

    Several years ago, before Ron Guidry had come out of retirement to become the pitching coach of the Yankees, I asked him a question that had been bothering me for years: Given the volatility of George Steinbrenner in those days, manager Billy Martin's mood swings, the constant hiring and firing, and the combustible mix of personalities in the clubhouse, was it possible that the Bronx Zoo years were less fun for the players than they were for the fans?

    Guidry winced. He elbowed the nearest player, gestured at me, and then pointed his index finger at his temple and rotated it 360 degrees in the universal "Get a load of the crazy person" gesture. Making no effort to disguise the "are you kidding me?" tone in his voice, he said, "I thought that was the best time we ever had! I would have never changed anything, because believe it or not we had the best soap opera ever. All right? The best soap opera was the team we had here in the 70s. Everybody would pick up the papers […] — they couldn't wait to pick up the papers the next morning to see what was going on in New York. I thought it was the best time I've ever had."

    On Saturday, the Yankees will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the 1977 championship team, gathering many of the members of the club. No doubt all present who lived through those days will look back with nostalgia, as Guidry did, and remember the positives, in the same way that veterans of the Civil War, looking back at the bombs, bullets, and bloodshed from the vantage point of middle- or old age, wrote without embarrassment about how they wished they could go back and do it all over again.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


    Rockies sweep 2 N.Y. teams in same year (The Associated Press, July 5, 2007)

    For the series, the Rockies outscored the Mets 34-12. Add in a three-game sweep of the Yankees from June 19-21, and Colorado outscored the Big Apple teams 47-17.

    "You'd better not get caught wearing a Rockies cap in New York," reliever Tom Martin cracked.

    The last team to sweep series from two New York clubs during the regular season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, was the Milwaukee Braves, who whitewashed the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants in 1956. After moving to Los Angeles, the Dodgers swept the Yankees in the 1963 World Series after sweeping the Mets four times during the season.

    "Got that going for us," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said with a smile.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


    Is Sarkozy an old-style Gaullist in disguise? (Katrin Bennhold, July 5, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

    [I]n recent days, criticism of Sarkozy's interventionist language and unapologetic intent to ignore EU budget rules is mounting. The question that Eurocrats, central bankers and fellow politicians are asking is the same they asked three years ago: Is the man who wants to shake up France's labor market and ignite economic growth with a flurry of tax cuts the liberal European he claims? Or is he an old-style Gaullist in modern disguise?

    The answer may be more mundane, says Elie Cohen, an economist at the National Center for Research and Studies. Sarkozy's election program, which includes some €13 billion, or $17.7 billion, in tax cuts, is not compatible with a commitment by Euro zone countries to balance the budget by 2010, heralding more clashes in the months and years ahead.

    "There is a fundamental contradiction," Cohen said. "He is respecting his campaign promises and that is getting him into trouble with Brussels. He has put himself into a bind."

    This contradiction has come into sharper focus in recent days. Sarkozy has been quick to take credit for saving the EU from its constitutional impasse and misses no opportunity to display his pro-European credentials. His presidential portrait, which graces city halls across France, shows him against the backdrop of both a French and European Union flag. The traditional Bastille Day parade next week will be held under the European banner, with units from the other 26 EU countries participating.

    But at the same time the new president has stepped up his rhetoric against several of the bloc's institutions.

    Tony Blair stumbled over the same contradiction.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


    Taking U.S. citizenship oaths in Iraq: Hundreds of American immigrants serving in the military are naturalized in ceremonies around the war-torn country. (Molly Hennessy-Fiske, July 5, 2007, LA Times)

    U.S. soldiers and Marines filed into the marble hall of Saddam Hussein's former Al Faw Palace on Independence Day as foreigners at home as well as here. But they left the room as American citizens.

    Standing under a glittering chandelier, 161 service members took the oath of citizenship Wednesday, the largest group to be naturalized at once in Iraq since the conflict began in March 2003. The mostly young, mostly male troops with last names such as Toledo and Serrano stitched across the backs of their caps vowed to "support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America against all enemies," an abstract promise with a deeper daily meaning here.

    "You chose to endure the same sacrifices as your fellow comrades in arms to preserve the freedom of a land that was not yet fully yours," Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, military commander in Iraq, told the gathering in Baghdad. "It is the greatest of honors to soldier with you."

    It was fully theirs, they just weren't fully ours yet.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


    Staying in America: Millions of immigrants could be naturalised before the next election (The Economist, 7/05/07)

    More than 8m immigrants are thus eligible for naturalisation. Roughly a third are Mexican. Permanent residents from Mexico have historically applied for naturalisation at lower rates than immigrants from other countries, partly because it is easy to go back and forth between Mexico and the United States.

    But now many legal immigrants from Mexico want full citizenship. And many Latino citizens want them to get it. In January 2007 the Ya es hora ¡Ciudadania! campaign was launched. (The name translates roughly as “Citizenship—now is the time!”) Its goal is to help 1m people get naturalised this year. Their votes, say organisers, will matter in forthcoming elections—and could be especially interesting in Florida, a key swing state. As citizens, they could add their voices to calls for immigration reform.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM

    WHAT A SISSY (via Lou Gots):

    Follow the leader ... or not (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 7/06/07, Asia Times)

    The militant students besieged in the radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad cannot defy the state apparatus and should surrender, one of the brothers who run the mosque said.

    Maulana Abdul Aziz was captured on Wednesday while trying to flee the mosque disguised as a women in a full-length veil. [...]

    The bearded Aziz, still dressed in a woman's burqa, said his mosque had "a relationship of love and affection with all jihadi organizations" but no actual links with them. [...]

    The interviewer asked Aziz why he tried to escape in a burqa, when he had always lectured on bravery and jihad. "I never intended to be arrested. I disguised myself and don't consider it wrong [edited] ... It was a strategic move over which I consulted my brother."

    It's notable how little is left of the jihadi movement once you remove the homoeroticism.

    July 4, 2007

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:43 PM


    Rudy Giuliani Flip-Flops, Now Won't Answer Roe Abortion Question (Steven Ertelt, July 4, 2007, LifeNews.com)

    Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani appears to have flip-flopped on what he thinks about the Supreme Court potentially overturning its landmark Roe v. Wade abortion ruling. Giuliani hasn't suddenly become pro-life; instead, he told the Wall St. Journal he now won't answer the question of what he thinks.

    In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published over the weekend, Giuliani was asked: “Roe v Wade, should it be overturned?”

    Giuliani demurred, saying, “I don't answer that because I wouldn't want a judge to have to answer that."

    Which tells you how that There's room for a pro-death Republican" strategy worked out. The interesting thing is that he could beat Hillary in the primaries, but not the general.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:06 PM


    Private contractors outnumber U.S. troops in Iraq: New U.S. data show how heavily the Bush administration has relied on corporations to carry out the occupation of the war-torn nation. (T. Christian Miller, July 4, 2007, LA Times)

    More than 180,000 civilians — including Americans, foreigners and Iraqis — are working in Iraq under U.S. contracts, according to State and Defense department figures obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

    Including the recent troop buildup, 160,000 soldiers and a few thousand civilian government employees are stationed in Iraq.

    The total number of private contractors, far higher than previously reported, shows how heavily the Bush administration has relied on corporations to carry out the occupation of Iraq — a mission criticized as being undermanned.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:33 AM


    Home run king and gentleman (Bruce Wallace, July 4, 2007, Los Angeles Times)

    IT is four hours before the night's first pitch will be thrown and Sadaharu Oh is already in his temple, standing behind the batting cage simulating a hitter's swing, talking religion. Oh's house of worship is a ballpark — any ballpark will do, but in this case it's the Fukuoka Dome in southern Japan where he is manager of the Softbank Hawks — and his temporal faith follows the scripture on hitting a baseball.

    "It's all about bat speed and how sharply you swing," he says, explaining why batters don't need Popeye arms, a Schwarzenegger chest or a vial of pharmaceuticals to hit home runs. "Bigger players tend to put more emphasis on power instead of technique. But for smaller players, the ball flies as long as you hit the sweet spot."

    Oh knows the feeling. In his days as a player with the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants from 1959 to 1980, he hit more home runs than any professional player who has ever stepped into a batter's box: 868. More than Babe Ruth (714), more than Hank Aaron (755), and probably more than whatever number San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds — who at 751 is closing in on Aaron's Major League Baseball record — finishes with.

    And though there are Japanese fans who say Oh's 868 should be recognized as the true home run record, Oh is having none of it.

    "I am the man who hit the most home runs — in Japan," he says diplomatically. "The Japanese media want to describe me as the true record holder. But I never considered myself that way."

    The answer is characteristically humble from a man whose public persona could be described as the anti-Bonds.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:26 AM


    DANCING WITH THE DEVIL: Charting the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood (Der Spiegel, 7/03/07)

    "We've freed the people from a corrupt regime," says Khalil Abu Leila. The 55-year-old with the speckled gray beard sits in the courtyard of an apartment building wearing a plain gray suit and leather sandals. On the table in front of him is a copy of the Koran.

    Like many Hamas leaders, Abu Leila studied in Egypt. And like many Islamists, he chose to become a pharmacist because he wished to heal mankind's ills. While in Cairo he first came into contact with the Muslim Brotherhood. After returning to the Gaza Strip he opened a pharmacy in the Khan Yunis refugee camp and met Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, a doctor. Together they created their own Gaza branch of the Brotherhood in the late 1970s. According to Abu Leila, they founded Hamas in 1987 as the military wing of the Brotherhood. It was the beginning of the First Intifada.

    Abu Leila does his best to play down the violent reputation of the Muslim Brotherhood. "We want to bring peace and justice to the entire world," he says. Western society is sick, its families are falling apart and its children threatened by drugs. And most Arab countries are being destroyed by corruption. "We have the proper medicine against it all," he says pointing to the Koran. "Islam. We want to spread this medicine throughout the whole world."

    For many Muslims, Hamas is the tip of the Brotherhood's spear, the polished diamond of political Islam. The neighboring secular Arab regimes see it as a threat to their very existence -- or in Syria's case -- as a means to an end in the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

    Both Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah moved quickly to support moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week. Mubarak said Hamas had undertaken a "putsch" in Gaza. He sent his diplomats stationed there to Ramallah in the West Bank, where Abbas' Fatah party remains in control, and he closed the border crossing into Egypt at Rafah.

    But Mubarak and Abdullah already seemed to be plagued by doubts at a summit at Sharm el-Sheik. The number two leader of the Islamist terrorist network al-Qaida, the Egyptian Ayman al Zawahiri, had called on all Muslims to support Hamas only a few hours earlier. Mubarak that evening quietly urged Fatah to negotiate with the new rulers in Gaza.

    No other regime in the region is as concerned about the implications of the takeover by Hamas as Egypt is. The most populous Arab nation has good reasons to be so. The newspaper Al Ahram, which acts as an Egyptian government mouthpiece, commented that "the problem of Hamas isn't limited to Gaza. Here in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood does not recognize the legitimacy of the government, the constitution and the law. Whoever ignores that takes us to the gates of Hell, which Gaza has opened."

    Duh? If the regime were legitimate it could hold and win open elections.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:17 AM


    Democracy works - only very slowly (Nathan Brown, July 4, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

    [B]efore we rush to abandon democracy, we should turn our attention to a more genteel political crisis that has been occurring in Kuwait. The oil minister, a member of the ruling family, recently provoked harsh parliamentary criticism when he spoke admiringly of one of his predecessors in the post, a relative accused of bilking state coffers of untold millions. But while some have tried to bring the minister down, members of Kuwait's Islamic Constitutional Movement have tried to defuse the crisis by securing an apology from the minister. They are motivated not merely by agreeable sentiments but also by the fact that they currently hold a position in a cabinet that they hardly wish to see collapse.

    While Kuwait's Islamic Constitutional Movement, or ICM, is thus acting as a normal political party, Hamas has both been forced and chosen to act outside the rules of the democratic game. But both movements share a common origin - they are local offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization founded in Egypt in 1928. The different paths followed by the ICM and Hamas show what democracy can - and cannot - do to domesticate Islamists.

    When Islamist movements are offered democratic openings, they generally take them. And as they operate within democratic systems, they generally moderate their positions. Democracy does affect them. But there are two problems: Democracy works slowly and it is hardly the only factor at work.

    Working slowly is hardly a drawback.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:17 AM


    FROM HAMBURG TO THE NEW WORLD: New Museum Pays Respect to Europe's Emigrants (Cameron Abadi, 7/04/07, Der Spiegel)

    On Wednesday, a new museum devoted to the vital role Hamburg played in sending vast numbers of Europeans on their way to the New World opened its doors. Carefully scheduled to coincide with America's Independence Day on the Fourth of July, the new BallinStadt-Port of Dreams exhibition will highlight Hamburg's role as a point of departure for the "tired, hungry and poor" on their way to the shores of Ellis Island. More than that, though, the museum seeks to restore ties with tens of millions of Americans who can trace their lineage back to the city's docks.

    "We don't want to look at emigration simply as a list of historical facts and figures, but as an ongoing and complex issue to which everyone can relate," says Volker Reminers, BallinStadt's managing director.

    It's an ambitious mandate. Between 1850 and 1939, more than 5 million Europeans left for the New World via Hamburg -- resulting in 40 million present-day Americans with German ancestry.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


    Galatians 5:13-14 (King James Bible)

    5:13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

    5:14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


    The sloppier, the better with these joes (J.M. HIRSCH, 7/04/07, The Associated Press)

    1 small onion
    1 tablespoon pickled hot or sweet peppers, chopped (such as jalapenos or Peppadews)
    3 cloves garlic
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1 teaspoon smoked paprika
    ½ teaspoon cumin
    ½ teaspoon chili powder
    ½ teaspoon dry yellow mustard
    1¼ pounds ground beef (not lean)
    ½ cup ketchup
    1½ cups tomato puree
    1 tablespoons cider vinegar
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    4 hamburger buns
    Bread and butter pickle slices, for serving

    In a food processor, combine the onion, hot or sweet peppers, and garlic. Pulse until very finely minced. You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl several times. Set aside.

    Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion mixture and saute for about 4 minutes. Add the paprika, cumin, chili powder and mustard powder. Stir well and saute another 4 minutes, or until the onions are very soft.

    Add the beef and saute, breaking up the clumps with a spoon, until the meat is just browned, about 5 minutes.

    Meanwhile, in a large measuring cup, whisk together the ketchup, tomato puree and vinegar. Add this to the meat, bring to a simmer, then lower heat to medium and cook, uncovered, 10 minutes, or until slightly thickened.

    Season the sloppy joes with salt and pepper. Arrange each bun on a serving plate, then spoon a quarter of the sloppy joes into each. Serve with pickles.

    July 3, 2007

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:59 PM


    Baking soda, buttermilk rise to the occasion (ELIZABETH PUDWILL, 7/04/2007, Houston Chronicle)

    Irish Soda Bread

    * 4 cups flour, white or whole wheat
    * 1 cup sugar
    * ½ teaspoon baking soda
    * 4½ teaspoons baking powder
    * ¾ teaspoon salt
    * ½ cup raisins
    * ½ teaspoon caraway seeds, or more to taste
    * 1 egg
    * 1¼ cups buttermilk or sour milk
    * ¼ cup shortening, melted
    * Butter

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

    Sift the flour, sugar, soda, powder and salt together; stir in the raisins and caraway seeds.

    In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg and buttermilk; stir in the melted shortening.

    Combine the wet and dry ingredients.

    Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Knead lightly for about 1 minute.

    Shape into a round loaf. Score in quarters, and dot each section with butter.

    Allow the dough to stand 10 to 15 minutes before baking it for about an hour.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 PM


    BBC reporter Alan Johnston freed (Staff and agencies, July 4, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

    Alan Johnston, the BBC journalist who has been held hostage in Gaza for almost four months, was released this morning.

    A spokeswoman from the BBC said: "We can confirm he has been freed from his kidnappers."

    The foreign office said Mr Johnston has spoken to the consul general in Jerusalem by phone.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 PM


    Hamas surrounds kidnap hideout as Johnston's fate hangs in balance (Donald Macintyre, 04 July 2007, Independent)

    Hamas's armed militias have intensified pressure for the release of the BBC correspondent Alan Johnston by taking up strategic positions around the populous Gaza City neighbourhood where the kidnappers are based.

    A civilian was killed in an exchange of fire early yesterday afternoon between Hamas and residents of the small neighbourhood in Sabra district. Hamas blamed members of the Dogmush family - one of whom leads the Army of Islam which claims responsibility for the kidnap 16 weeks ago - for the death.

    Hamas executive-force members guarded street corners and were deployed on roofs of high-rise buildings bordering the Dogmush neighbourhood. At the same time, contingents of the Army of Islam's military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam brigades, could be seen, dressed in black balacalavas, on side streets and wasteland close to the neighbourhood's west side.

    In what appeared to be an increasingly concerted squeeze on the kidnappers, witnesses said that the Hamas forces had detained four more members of the family. There were unconfirmed reports that water and electricity had been cut off from some streets. In one street running through the neighbourhood, a concrete roadblock, apparently erected by Dogmush militants, was visible.

    An Interior Ministry spokesman, Khaled Abu Hilal, said security forces "will not spare any efforts to free the British journalist".

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 PM


    Black Pepper Lemonade with Watermelon (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 3, 2007)

    1/2 cup sugar

    1/2 cup water

    1 teaspoon black peppercorns, bruised

    1/2 to 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice


    Watermelon pieces


    Combine the water, sugar and peppercorns and simmer until the syrup is clear. Cool it and strain.

    Pour this into a big pitcher, add freshly squeezed lemon juice and water to taste. Just before serving, add ice and small pieces of watermelon.

    Posted by Matt Murphy at 6:09 PM


    For President, Libby Case Was a Test of Will (Sheryl Gay Stolberg, 7/3/07, New York Times)

    President Bush’s decision to commute the sentence of I. Lewis Libby Jr. was the act of a liberated man — a leader who knows that, with 18 months left in the Oval Office and only a dwindling band of conservatives still behind him, he might as well do what he wants.

    The decision is a sharp departure for Mr. Bush. In determining whether to invoke his powers of clemency, the president typically relies on formal advice from lawyers at the Justice Department.

    But the Libby case, featuring a loyal aide to Vice President Dick Cheney who was the architect and chief defender of the administration’s most controversial foreign policy decision, the war in Iraq, was not just any clemency case. It came to symbolize an unpopular war and the administration’s penchant for secrecy. [...]

    Mr. Bush comes at the decision a weakened leader, with his public approval ratings at historic lows for any president, his domestic agenda faltering on Capitol Hill and his aides facing subpoenas from the Democrats who control Congress. Those circumstances offer him a certain amount of freedom; as Mr. Black said, “He knows he’s going to get hammered no matter what he does.”

    Indeed, to administration critics, the commutation was a subversion of justice, an act of hypocrisy by a president who once vowed that anyone in his administration who broke the law would “be taken care of.”

    Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party, called it a “get- out-of-jail-free card.” Representative Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, called it “a betrayal of trust of the American people.” [...]

    From the outset, Mr. Bush tried to keep his distance from the Libby case, which grew out of the investigation into who leaked the name of an undercover C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson. He declined to talk about it, and until Monday had insisted that he would let the legal process run its course before considering a pardon.

    But aides said the judge in the case, Reggie B. Walton of the Federal District Court, pushed Mr. Bush into a decision when he ordered Mr. Libby to begin serving his time — a decision upheld Monday by a three-judge panel. So, unlike predecessors, including his father, who used their powers of clemency as they were leaving office, Mr. Bush was forced to act now. He has 18 months left to absorb the political risks, and benefits, of his decision.

    The implicit assumption that the GOP has to worry about the fallout from this Nothingburger story 18 months hence makes this a classically clueless New York Times story. They've gone years now without figuring out that no one cares.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 PM


    Is John McCain the Next Ronald Reagan? (David Brody, July 3, 2007, Brody File: CBN)

    Read below from an article written by The Associated Press in 1979. This was the story about Reagan back then:

    "Ronald Reagan, regarded as a leading candidate for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination, is trailing other GOP candidates in financial contributions this year, according to federal reports. The Federal Election Commission said Wednesday that Reagan's campaign committee has reported $1.4 million in contributions so far this year. That compares with these other GOP presidential contenders and the funds they have reported raising: Rep. Philip M. Crane of Illinois, $2.5 million. Former Texas Gov. John Connally, $2.2 million. Former CIA Director George Bush, $1.5 million.. And although Reagan wasn't the leading fund-raiser, he was the biggest spender, using nearly $1.3 million of the $1.4 million he raised."

    Here's another one from The Washington Post in June of 1980 after Reagan won the Republican Primary:

    "It is true that Reagan entered the campaign with enormous assets. But Reagan had to overcome doubts about his age and ability, an ill-advised Iowa strategy, a major staff shake-up in the middle of the campaign and serious money problems."

    Then there's this one from The Washington Post in 1980:

    "Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign yesterday accepted a federal check for $100,000, ending weeks of internal debate over whether Reagan should accept federal matching funds and the spending limits that go with them. It was the Reagan campaign's first such check. Its second will be far larger.. The decision reflects the Reagan campaign's realization that its fundraisers could not gather enough contributions to run the campaign without federal money, campaign treasurer Bay Buchanan said. 'Our feeling was, don't take matching funds until you have to, she said."

    It all sounds very familiar doesn't it?

    In the GOP, the next in line has a quadrennial problem and it's tightly interknit with his overwhelming advantage. Everyone knows him, most have given to him already, and his front-runner status leads to a bloated campaign staff and a too cautious strategy. Of course, they all recover once the voting starts and they get their heads handed to them a couple times. The familiarity that bred contempt prevents their ever actually losing the nomination.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:33 PM


    Standing in the courthouse door (E.J. Dionne, 7/03/07, Seattle Times)

    Just say no.

    The Senate's Democratic majority — joined by all Republicans who purport to be moderate — must tell President Bush that this will be their answer to any controversial nominee to the Supreme Court or to the appellate courts.

    The Senate should refuse even to hold hearings on Bush's next Supreme Court choice unless the president reaches agreement with the Senate majority on a mutually acceptable list of nominees.

    Hard to unwind all the idiocy here, starting with the departure from so much as a pretense of respect for the Constitution, but if Mr. Dionne thinks the Democrats who just helped the far Right spike immigration reform are going to the mattresses to defend racial quotas that favor blacks, he must be doing PCP.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


    REVIEW: of Jar City: Myrin (Iceland-Denmark-Germany) (EDDIE COCKRELL, Variety)

    A taut police procedural that craftily blends ripped-from-the-headlines genetic issues with foreboding Icelandic stoicism, "Jar City" reps a supremely confident stride into mass-appeal genre fare for Icelandic hyphenate Baltasar Kormakur. Already the country's most successful local production, pic reps a refreshingly commercial change-of-pace for fests, could be bottled in any market where crime sells and is a natural for ancillary.

    Celebrated Icelandic crime writer Arnaldur Indridason's 2000 novel "Tainted Blood," which was initially translated into English under the moniker "Jar City," follows weary cop Erlendur (played by Ingvar E. Sigurdsson) as he struggles to link the mysterious 1974 death of a little girl to the recent murder of a reclusive lowlife. "A typical Icelandic murder," he sighs. "Messy and pointless."

    Common thread unravels via a national genetics database, hacked by Orn (Atli Rafn Sigurdarson), a dad distraught at the death of his own daughter. As the methodical Erlendur tracks down leads with fellow investigators Oli (Bjorn Hylnur Haraldsson) and Elinborg (Olafia Hronn Jonsdottir), he also grapples with the drug addiction of pregnant daughter Eva Lind (Agusta Eva Erlendsdottir).

    Kormakur's no-nonsense approaches dispenses with any reverence toward characters that have captured the Icelandic imagination, instead favoring a gimlet-eyed look at the messiness of crime and the straight-ahead practicality employed to solve them.

    The books are terrific, not just mysteries but archaeological digs into Iceland's past. Can't find the movie at Amazon, Peerflix or Netflix though.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


    The Founding Immigrants (KENNETH C. DAVIS, 7/03/07, NY Times)

    A PROMINENT American once said, about immigrants, “Few of their children in the country learn English... The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages ... Unless the stream of their importation could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious.”

    This sentiment did not emerge from the rancorous debate over the immigration bill defeated last week in the Senate. It was not the lament of some guest of Lou Dobbs or a Republican candidate intent on wooing bedrock conservative votes. Guess again.

    Voicing this grievance was Benjamin Franklin. And the language so vexing to him was the German spoken by new arrivals to Pennsylvania in the 1750s, a wave of immigrants whom Franklin viewed as the “most stupid of their nation.”

    We all have a tremendous need to believe our racism uniquely justified ands distinct from that of our fathers, but the most notable feature of nativism is its sameness from generation to generation.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


    Beverly Sills, people's diva, dies: Soprano bridged cultures (Mark Feeney, July 3, 2007, Boston Globe)

    Beverly Sills, whose radiant soprano and vibrant personality made her "America's Queen of Opera," as Time magazine called her in 1971, died last night. She was 78.

    It had been revealed a few days ago that Ms. Sills was gravely ill with inoperable lung cancer. The singer, who never smoked, died about 9 p.m. at her Manhattan home, said her manager, Edgar Vincent.

    Ms. Sills, who retired from the stage in 1980, sang some 70 roles in her career. The two opera companies with which she was most closely associated were the New York City Opera and the Opera Company of Boston, headed by Sarah Caldwell. Ms. Sills was a mainstay of the latter throughout the 1960s.

    Both companies were operatic underdogs, which contributed to Ms. Sills's democratic, one-of-us image, as did the fact she spent most of her career performing in the United States. Her friendly, extroverted manner helped popularize opera in this country. This was equally true during her performing career and then as an administrator at City Opera, New York's Lincoln Center, and the Metropolitan Opera. [...]

    Ms. Sills recorded 18 operas and several recitals, twice winning Grammy Awards. Still, the recording studio never meant as much to her as the stage. "I like the audience," she told Opera News in 1975, "and I'm not thrilled by the sight of a microphone."

    Perhaps her most memorable stage performance came when she finally made her Met debut, in Rossini's "The Siege of Corinth." Rudolf Bing, the Met's famously autocratic director, had said of Ms. Sills a few years before, "I have heard her sing, but not lately, and I can't remember in just what." She made her debut after Bing resigned. When the curtain rang down that night, Ms. Sills received 26 curtain calls and the standing ovation lasted 18 minutes and 20 seconds.

    She was only 50 when she sang onstage for the last time. "I wanted people to say, 'You left too soon,' not 'You left too late,' " she said in a 2002 Globe interview. She professed never to regret the decision. "Since I retired," she added, "I've been singing nothing but 'Happy Birthday,' and now even my family doesn't ask me to do that."

    Retirement from the stage did not mean retirement from opera. Ms. Sills served as general director of City Opera from 1979 to 1989; chairwoman of New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts from 1994 to 2002; and chairwoman of New York's Metropolitan Opera from 2002 to 2005. Ms. Sills was the first woman to hold each of those positions.

    "While I no longer do what made me famous," Ms. Sills said in her 1985 Christian Science Monitor interview, "I'm still pretty much of a driving force in the same area."

    Ms. Sills received the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1980. A Kennedy Center honoree in 1985, she was a recipient of the National Medal of Arts in 1990. She also won two Emmy Awards.

    "Oh, I always knew I was going to be an opera star," Ms. Sills said in that Monitor interview, "not just an opera singer, an opera star. The moment I saw Lily Pons on the stage, I knew that." She was 8.

    BEVERLY SILLS: 1929-2007: Famed soprano Beverly Sills dies (Chris Pasles, July 3, 2007, LA Times)

    Beverly Sills, whose sparkling coloratura soprano and warm, spunky personality made her an international opera celebrity and whose experience as a mother made her a passionate advocate for children with special needs, died Monday in her Manhattan home. She was 78.

    Sills, a nonsmoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer last month, according to Edgar Vincent, her longtime manager.

    Dubbed "America's Queen of Opera" by Time magazine, the Brooklyn-born Sills, widely known as "Bubbles," was an American success story. She rose to stardom without receiving what was considered mandatory — training in Europe. Moreover, she made her career essentially outside the sacred portals of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, paving the way for generations of wholly American-trained singers to succeed in the field without Met certification.

    Her repertoire eventually encompassed more than 70 roles, and she recorded 18 full-length operas and several solo recital discs. Her "Manon" received the Edison Award for best operatic album of 1971, and her Victor Herbert album won a Grammy Award in 1978.

    Sills also gave opera a human face through television appearances: Her optimism, wit and lack of diva temperament endeared her to general audiences as much as her technically accomplished, emotional and insightful dramatic interpretations won her the affection of opera aficionados.

    A Voice That Carried Weight (Tim Page, 7/03/07, Washington Post)
    The record companies did not do well by Sills. Her great fame dated from the 1966 New York City Opera production of Handel's "Giulio Cesare," when the world suddenly awakened to the fact that there was a distinctly American diva in our midst, with a voice that was sweet, healthy and versatile, and a temperament that was suited to both daffy pyrotechnics and hefty dramatic roles.

    Unfortunately, like many another so-called overnight success, Sills had then been working hard for quite some time -- 1966 was her 11th season with the City Opera, and there was radio before that -- and, during the years when her voice was at its freshest, she was invited to make only one recording, a complete performance of Douglas Moore and John Latouche's "The Ballad of Baby Doe" in 1959.

    And so admirers were delighted in 2006 when Video Artists International discovered and released on DVD a telecast of Richard Strauss's "Ariadne auf Naxos" from January 1969. The late Erich Leinsdorf conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra and there were winning performances from Claire Watson, John Reardon, Robert Nagy as Bacchus, and a very young Benita Valente.

    But Sills absolutely stole the show, with the joyous, flighty celebration of unfettered hedonism that Strauss created for his character Zerbinetta. It is the coloratura aria to end all coloratura arias -- all trills, arpeggios and stratospheric leaps -- and it goes on forever. Still, when sung with Sills's radiant good humor and triumphant virtuosity, it calls to mind nothing so much as a Fourth of July sparkler that not only refuses to burn out but throws off ever brighter, bolder light as its time elapses.

    For those who remember Sills mostly as a personality, through her decades as an arts administrator and her appearances on talk shows, let this remarkable "Ariadne" provide posterity with palpable evidence of what the excitement was all about.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


    Seven doctors held over al-Qa'eda bomb plot (Duncan Gardham, Nigel Bunyan, Auslan Cramb and Richard Edwards, 03/07/2007, Times of London)

    The suspected al-Qa'eda terrorists behind the attempted car bomb attacks on Britain were almost all foreign doctors working in the NHS, it can be disclosed today.

    It comes as an eighth person - also a foreign doctor who has worked in the UK - was arrested in Australia in connection with the attacks.

    ...is that anti-immigrationists who are trying to not sound nativist often protest that they are really just concerned about security and favor letting the highly skilled immigrate.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


    A rethink on the Middle East (Daniel Levy, July 3, 2007, Boston Globe)

    The new urgency is in finally ending the occupation and achieving a Palestine living in peace alongside Israel. Delay has been the enemy, not the friend of achieving a permanent status compromise. The Oslo process has been blamed, but its five-year timetable expired even before we entered the new millennium. It is approaching seven years since the last Israeli-Palestinian political negotiations and the last US effort to frame the parameters of a solution. In the context of today's regional instability, there is an added urgency to moving beyond the occupation toward an agreed and secure border between Israelis and Palestinians. It is more difficult today. It will require deft political management, inclusiveness, and an ability to work several channels at once.

    The strategic change that is required is not simple, unpalatable to many, and made all the more so by recent events. Our friends in Fatah, Abbas, Fayad, et al., cannot do it alone. Hamas will need to be on the inside of the proverbial tent. Palestinian politics is going through a phase of post-Arafat transition. Single-party Fatah rule cannot be re imposed, nor should it be. Hamas is a permanent feature of the political landscape that needs to be digested. Admittedly, Hamas does not come in a bottle of milk of magnesia -- its actions and language are often coarse. It is also part of the Palestinian and regional reality -- a mainstream political Islamist movement that rejects Al Qaeda, that is isolated and accepts help from Iran, while trying to reach out to the West. Hamas leaders have given increasingly strong hints of their acceptance of the 1967 lines and the reality of Israel and have both offered and adhered to a cessation of hostilities in the past.

    If America and Israel are now pursuing confidence-building measures with extra vim in order to defeat Hamas, then they are likely to get neither. That is the lesson of at least the last 18 months since the Palestinian Parliamentary elections. A peace process with Hamas on the outside is likely to be effectively torpedoed. Having Hamas on the inside will add resilience and stability and perhaps be decisive. There will be efforts, sooner or later, to bring Fatah and Hamas together again in a national Palestinian political accommodation. These efforts might be initiated by Arab states, by elements within both factions, or as happened in the past, by prisoners affiliated to both movements. When this happens, the United States and Israel should accept such initiatives. The policy of encouraging civil conflict and driving to irreconcilability the existing Hamas-Fatah division has been counter productive. A bear hug Israeli-American embrace of Fatah will not be that movement's ticket back to Palestinian popularity and credibility.

    Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


    Libby's Independence Day (Debra Saunders, 7/03/07, Real Clear Politics)

    OK. I'm glad President Bush commuted the 30-month prison sentence of Scooter Libby, the former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.

    Like Bush, I buy the jury's verdict that Libby committed perjury and obstructed justice in a Department of Justice probe to discover who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson. Perjury is no small crime and Libby could have spared himself a long legal ordeal if only he had not lied to investigators. Libby made his own bed. [...]

    Bush split the judge's sentence down the middle. He did not pardon Libby, but instead upheld the $250,000 fine and two years of probation. Bush reasoned that the fine, probation and prison time, however, were "excessive."

    As Bush noted in a written statement, in making the sentencing decision, the judge "rejected the advice of the probation office, which recommended a lesser sentence and the consideration of factors that could have led to a sentence of home confinement or probation."

    Why Bush Saved Libby: Sure it’s controversial. But it’s what presidents do. (Byron York, 7/03/07, National Review)

    The White House expected the outrage. The president has been thinking about clemency for quite a while, although he decided he