November 30, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:46 PM


Rudy Giuliani campaign team backtracks on tryst talk (DAVID SALTONSTALL and MICHAEL SAUL, 11/30/07, NY DAILY NEWS)

The uproar grew Thursday over expenses for Rudy Giuliani's protection during his trysts with Judith Nathan as his campaign's initial defense - that its accounting methods were the same as previous mayors' - unraveled.

Joe Lhota, a deputy mayor in Giuliani's City Hall, told the Daily News Wednesday night that the administration's practice of allocating security expenses to small city offices that had nothing to do with mayoral protection has "gone on for years" and "predates Giuliani."

When told budget officials from the administrations of Ed Koch and David Dinkins said they did no such thing, Lhota caved Thursday, "I'm going to reverse myself on that."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 PM


Yankees leaning toward putting Hughes in deal for Santana (Buster Olney, 11/30/07, ESPN The Magazine)

A pivotal sticking point in the Yankees' trade talks with Minnesota about Johan Santana is the question of whether New York will include talented right-hander Phil Hughes in their offer.

And, within the internal discussions in New York's front office, there is a sense that the team is leaning toward putting Hughes in the deal.

"If they put Hughes in the deal," said one person familiar with the talks, "that could get it done for Minnesota."

If Theo can get the Yankees to add Austin Jackson too that would strip the Yanks of their two potentially significant youngsters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:50 PM


As dominating as it gets (Jayson Stark, November 30, 2007, ESPN)

Let's start with this:

• Santana has now led the American League in fewest baserunners allowed per nine innings in four straight seasons. So who else, you ask, has done that?

How about nobody?

Lefty Grove led the AL in that category for three straight years, from 1930-32. But that's as close as anyone gets in that league.

In the National League, only two pitchers ever did it four years in a row -- Carl Hubbell (1931-34) and Sandy Koufax (1962-65). And that's the whole list.

Pretty good group. Over the last 70 years, it's Santana and Koufax. Period.

• But over those same four seasons, Santana has also finished either first or second in the league in strikeouts. (And it could easily be four first-place finishes in a row, if rain hadn't forced him to exit early in his final start this year.)

And that's where Santana separates himself from Koufax and Hubbell.

Koufax slipped to fourth in strikeouts in 1964. Hubbell tumbled to sixth in whiffs in 1934.

So Santana is the only pitcher in history to run off a four-year stretch combining that kind of strikeout domination while allowing so few baserunners to run around.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:42 PM


Evel Knievel Dies at 69 (MITCH STACY, 11/30/07, The Associated Press)

Immortalized in the Washington's Smithsonian Institution as "America's Legendary Daredevil," Knievel was best known for a failed 1974 attempt to jump Snake River Canyon on a rocket-powered cycle and a spectacular crash at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. He suffered nearly 40 broken bones before he retired in 1980.

Although he dropped off the pop culture radar in the '80s, Knievel always had fans and enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years. In later years he still made a good living selling his autographs and endorsing products. Thousands came to Butte, Mont., every year as his legend was celebrated during the "Evel Knievel Days" festival.

The Snake River jump was only available on closed circuit at local movie theaters and the many who didn't get to go took a certain satisfaction in its being a flop.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:54 PM


Liberal bloggers target Rep. Wynn for primary (S.A. Miller, November 30, 2007, Washington Times)

A national coterie of liberal bloggers and Internet sites — collectively known as "netroots" — are pushing a primary challenge against eight-term Democratic Rep. Albert R. Wynn of Maryland and have their sights set on other Democrats whom they deem too cozy with President Bush and Republicans in Congress.

"We are already to the left. ... I don't know where they want to take the party," said Mr. Wynn, who has a solid Democratic voting record, including votes in favor of every antiwar measure this year and high scores from unions, environmentalists, homosexual rights groups and the pro-choice lobby.

Back to 1973!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:47 PM


Bush's Compassionately Conservative Subprime Fix (James Pethokoukis, 11/30/07, US News)

Plenty of homeowners—especially those who saved up for big down payments so they could get a low-rate fixed mortgage—have little sympathy for their fellow Americans who gambled on subprime loans and the teaser rates that often came with them. And they might be rolling their eyes at news that Hank Paulson and his Treasury Department are nudging the mortgage industry—as Arnold Schwarzenegger has done in California—to voluntarily refrain from resetting some $400 billion worth of subprime adjustable-rate mortgages when the teaser rates expire next year. [...]

The White House had to act. In a way, this is President Bush's compassionate-conservative approach to the mortgage crisis. It doesn't take the hardhearted "moral hazard" approach and allow homeowners who can afford their current mortgages to lose their homes when their loans reset. Yet it doesn't bail everybody out, either. Homeowners who can afford the reset—though it might be painful—as well as those who can't even afford their current teaser rate are probably out of luck.

And the Bush effort falls well short of some more expansive ideas, such as having the government buy up all the bad subprime debt. Nor is it some bureaucratic mandate manufactured in Washington.

Which is why the ideological Right and Left hate the Third Way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:43 PM


Gay Question Puts CNN on Defensive (JACQUES STEINBERG, 11/30/07, NY Times)

The president of CNN said yesterday that the cable channel would redouble its efforts to vet the campaign affiliations of questioners at open-forum debates, after a retired brigadier general was permitted Wednesday to ask the Republican presidential candidates about gay men and lesbians in the military without CNN’s knowing that he was listed on an advisory committee of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign.

“I think it’s pretty obvious, in retrospect, our search should have turned this up,” Jon Klein, the president of CNN’s domestic networks, said in an interview. “It’s in the nature of doing something that hasn’t been done before — you’re going to try to anticipate everything, and you’re going to fail at that.

“Had we known ahead of time,” Mr. Klein added, “we would probably not have used his question. It raised too many flags, in terms of motivation.”

It's not the questioners' motivation that's at issue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:41 PM


Citing Statistics, Giuliani Misses Time and Again (MICHAEL COOPER, 11/30/07, NY Times)

In almost every appearance as he campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination, Rudolph W. Giuliani cites a fusillade of statistics and facts to make his arguments about his successes in running New York City and the merits of his views.

Discussing his crime-fighting success as mayor, Mr. Giuliani told a television interviewer that New York was “the only city in America that has reduced crime every single year since 1994.” In New Hampshire this week, he told a public forum that when he became mayor in 1994, New York “had been averaging like 1,800, 1,900 murders for almost 30 years.” When a recent Republican debate turned to the question of fiscal responsibility, he boasted that “under me, spending went down by 7 percent.”

All of these statements are incomplete, exaggerated or just plain wrong. And while, to be sure, all candidates use misleading statistics from time to time, Mr. Giuliani has made statistics a central part of his candidacy as he campaigns on his record.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:36 PM


Not only does belong in the Hall on his existing numbers, but I believe it's the case that no player lost more at-bats to baseball's various work stoppages over the years and, if I recall correctly, he was colluded against twice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:36 AM


Fed chief offers new hint of a rate cut (Edmund L. Andrews, November 30, 2007, IHT)

Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, acknowledged that a "fresh wave of investor concern" had led to tougher credit conditions that posed new risks to the economy, reinforcing the view that the Fed is likely to cut interest rates again when it meets Dec. 11.

Gosh, and we didn't even get him a gift...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Scientist Presents Case Against Possible Pollocks (RANDY KENNEDY, 11/29/07, NY Times)

A forensic scientist said yesterday that a large group of paintings discovered several years ago and thought by some to be by Jackson Pollock included many containing paints and materials that were not available until after the artist’s death in 1956.

At least one was painted on a board that was not produced earlier than the late 1970s or early ’80s, said the scientist, James Martin, in a lecture last night sponsored by the International Foundation for Art Research in Manhattan.

Crap's crap.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


"A Doable Deal with Iran" (Gareth Evans, 30 November 2007, EU Observer)

The economic arguments advanced for domestically producing, rather than buying in, the fuel for a civil nuclear program are not very persuasive, but the psychological ones are: this is a country seething with both national pride and resentment against past humiliations, and it does want to cut a regional and global figure by proving its sophisticated technological capability.

One might prefer that it had chosen a less sensitive talisman in this respect than enriched uranium - space technology, say - but that die is now cast.

Against this background, the only way forward seems to be to go back to basics, for the international community to draw a new red-line where it matters most - between civilian and military capability - and to enter into unconditional negotiations on that basis. If the objective is not "zero enrichment", but "delayed limited enrichment with maximum safeguards", an agreement is within reach that both Iran and even the most nervous members of the wider international community should be able to sign up to.

The necessary starting point is a time-out, a time-limited "freeze for a freeze" - in which Iran would build no more centrifuges and the international community would add no more sanctions - to enable serious negotiations to take place.

The broad scenario for those negotiations would need to be understood by both sides at the outset, and would involve three basic elements. First, Iran would accept highly intrusive monitoring and inspection regimes, involving not only the application of the NPT Additional Protocol, but some other specially agreed access arrangements.

Second, Iran would spread out over an extended period, in defined stages, its R&D activity and development of enrichment activity, with the end result being an industrial scale facility, but one run as consortium with Iran having international commercial partners.

Third, these arrangements would be accompanied by international incentives, including the staged lifting of sanctions, the normalisation of diplomatic relations and technical support. In addition, there would be equally clear disincentives, including renewed sanctions and potentially even stronger measures, that would apply if any evidence emerged that Iran was pursuing in any way at all a nuclear weapons program.

The advantages of such an outcome for the international community are clear. It could be much more confident that Iran will not pursue a nuclear weapons program of any kind. With a fully normalised relationship with the West, Iran could become a cooperative partner on regional issues of great concern, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Lebanon, Hizbollah and Hamas. And there would be many new business opportunities for European and North American companies.

The primary use of negotiations would be to go over Mahmoud's head to Ayatollah Khamenei and further undercut the 12ers headed into the next election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


Happy Birthday, Jacques Barzun (Robert McHenry - November 30th, 2007, Britannica Blog)

At some point I became aware of a tall man of quite different mien. He had not been in the room earlier; as I was to learn, he was always late to these meetings, a fact usually attributed to his insistence on traveling by train rather than airplane.

When I say he was tall I mean not simply that his height as measured in inches exceeded that of others in the room, but that he stood to his full height, whatever it might have been, and quite visibly gave body to the very idea of uprightness. His lean face, with a tall forehead from which his hair was brushed straight back, was rather what I had imagined a good aristocrat’s might be – not stern or severe but reserved; not complacent but composed; not supercilious but observant and tolerant. In all, a figure conveying the strongest sense of austere self-possession.

“Who is that?” I asked my mentor at this affair.

“That’s Jacques,” he said simply.

Ah, Barzun. I knew the name, of course, and had at least some dim sense of why I should know it. One of the Columbia group out of which so much of what Britannica had done and how it had done it had grown. Mortimer Adler was in the room, along with Clifton Fadiman and – a second-generation representative – Charles Van Doren.

I squinted at Barzun’s brown suit, which despite an inexpert eye I suspected was of superior cut. What was that?

“That thin red line on his lapel – at the buttonhole. What is it?”

“That?” he echoed, looking at me with what seemed to be a touch of pity; “That’s the Legion of Honor.”

Whatever bit of crest I had permitted myself for having been invited to this gathering of genuine adults promptly fell and remained prostrate.

-Jacques Barzun at 100 (Jeffrey Hart, New Criterion)
Throughout his life he has written over forty books, some of them of permanent importance, all of them useful, and culminating in From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present (2000), his summa as a cultural critic.

How many times in one’s life does one get to welcome a masterpiece, which, without a doubt, that amazing work certainly is? Its 800 pages of text move quickly. With seeming ease, its architecture covers 500 years of Western history, which is the large movement of the book, and at the same time fills in the great sweep with a richness of detail that gives concrete life to the vast design. Among the particulars there are constant surprises, as in the detail of a Gothic cathedral. The intellectual clarifications come one after the other.

Here Barzun set out to trace in broad outline the evolution of art, science, religion, philosophy, and social thought during the last 500 years: “I hope to show that during this span the peoples of the West offered the world a set of ideas and institutions not found earlier or elsewhere.” He makes it clear that he celebrates these distinctive achievements. He believes that the West has pursued these characteristic purposes, carried them “to their utmost possibility,” and in so doing brought about decline and decadence. Barzun is a “cultural” historian because, in his narrative, intellectual developments are in the foreground, though his cultural tapestry is stitched onto a canvas of political, military, and economic history.

Barzun discerns a brilliant period of creativity around the turn of the twentieth century. Then came the catalyst that accelerated and intensified the tendencies leading to decadence: “The blow that hurled the modern world on its course of self-destruction was the Great War of 1914–1918.” A sense of futility and absurdity prevailed. Constructivism became destructivism. There resulted a collapse of manners and authority, anti-heroes and anti-art, the ridicule of anything established, the distortions of language and objects, the indifference to clear meaning, the violence to the human form, the return to primitive elements of sensation. “The root principle is ‘Expect nothing.’”

But Jacques Barzun is himself grounds for hope. No period is entirely decadent in which such a man could appear.

-Barzun Centennial
-Jacques Barzun (Encyclopædia Britannica)
-Jacques Barzun (Wikipedia)
-Barzun 100 (Leo Wong)
-AUDIO: Jacques Barzun (In-Depth, C-SPAN)
-INTERVIEW: The Man Who Knew Too Much: Jacques Barzun, Idea Man (ROGER GATHMAN, 10/13/00, Austin Chronicle)
-Closing time? Jacques Barzun on Western culture (Roger Kimball, The New Criterion)
Age of Reason: In his hundred years, Jacques Barzun has learned a thing or two (Arthur Krystal , 10/22/07, The New Yorker)
-Jacques Barzun (Columbia 250)
-Style in the House of Intellect (Rafe Champion)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


The thuggery behind the harmonious facade (Howard W. French, November 30, 2007, NY Times)

Last October, as Ma Shaofang prepared to travel from the Chinese city of Shenzhen to Beijing to attend a writers' conference, he received a menacing call from the police.

Why trouble a businessman who wants to attend a conference? The problem was that as a student hunger strike organizer during the Tiananmen protests in 1989, Ma had a "dossier" that still trails behind him wherever he goes in China.

The Chinese calendar is filled with special dates, "sensitive moments" whose association with events either historical or current put the authorities on alert and the people on guard.

October 2007 happened to be the month of the Communist Party's 17th Congress, a once-in-five years affair whose political significance is such that the capital is locked down, potential "troublemakers" rounded up and even the airwaves scrubbed with extra vigor by censors whose job it is to see that nothing can sully the image of a serene and clear-sighted leadership.

So with that backdrop in mind, the police "invited" Ma for tea. Ma's account of the meeting, which he recently published, and which was subsequently translated by the University of California at Berkeley's China Digital Times, offers a chilling glimpse of a Chinese reality that few foreigners ever see.

It is a side of China that not only persists, but also thrives. Of a state whose leaders are fond of proclaiming their attachment to advancing the rule of law but who cling to thuggery to intimidate the populace, silence critics and generally to enforce their will.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


Murtha's comments on 'surge' are a problem for House Democrats (John Bresnahan, 11/29/07, Politico: The Crypt)

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), one of the leading anti-war voices in the House Democratic Caucus, is back from a trip to Iraq and he now says the "surge is working." This could be a huge problem for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democratic leaders, who are blocking approval of the full $200 billion being sought by President Bush for combat operations in Iraq in 2008. Murtha's comments are a stark reversal from what he said earlier in the year.

Murtha has previously stated that the surge "is not working" and the United States faced a military disaster in Iraq.

Murtha told CNN on July 12, following a Bush speech, that the president's views on the success of the Iraq were "delusional." [...]

[P]elosi, who is scheduled to speak to a Democratic National Committee event in Virginia on Friday, will surely face tough questions from reporters regarding Murtha's statement on the surge.

"This could be a real headache for us," said one top House Democratic aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "Pelosi is going to be furious."

And we've all seen what Ms Pelosi can achieve when she's worked up...[chirp]...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The End of Hurricane Hugo?: Chávez may have sown the seeds of his own destruction (Roger F. Noriega Friday, November 30, 2007, The American)

In recent days, more and more Venezuelans have come to realize that the sweeping constitutional reforms championed by President Hugo Chávez represent a mortal threat to democracy. As the December 2nd referendum approaches, Venezuelans are contemplating the downside of dozens of radical changes that were approved by Chávez’s rubberstamp national assembly. Predictably, one of the proposed changes would extend the presidential term and allow indefinite reelection. Another would modify the military’s nonpartisan character to make it a servant of Chávez’s “Bolivarian” mission. Still others would permanently grant Chávez and his cadre the authority to expropriate private property, control the central bank, fire Supreme Court justices, and suspend essential rights as they see fit. Yet by overreaching in this manner, Chávez may have sown the seeds of his own destruction.

Unless he retreats in the face of widening opposition, he is provoking a showdown with Venezuelans of all stripes. Just this month, patriotic students protesting Chávez’s power grab braved bullets from masked gunmen. Jurists have questioned the very legality of the referendum. Absent the scrutiny of foreign observers, few trust the partisan electoral board that will conduct the process. Meanwhile, Chávez’s former defense chief, Raúl Baduel, has denounced the reforms as a coup d’etat and reminded the military of its institutional obligation to safeguard democracy.

Chávez has been galloping toward this cliff since he took office in 1998.

With the Western Left cheering him every step of the way....

November 29, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 PM


Analysis: Poll shows Labour in freefall (Anthony King, 29/11/2007, Daily Telegraph)

YouGov's latest findings for The Daily Telegraph are among the most devastating for any Government in the history of opinion polling. [...]

Two months ago Labour's lead was still 11 points. Now it is the Conservatives who are 11 points ahead.

The Tories now have their largest lead over Labour since Margaret Thatcher's heyday in 1988.

The headline figures are bad enough for Labour. The underlying figures are even worse and hint that a majority of voters may have fallen out of love permanently with the Brown Government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 PM


Iran's reformers to U.S.: Let's talk: Ex-president Khatami says don't let hard-liners in US and Iran dictate the relationship (Scott Peterson, 11/30/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Shirin Ebadi are among several key Iranian public figures saying that only direct, unconditional talks with the US can ease spiraling tensions. [...]

Khatami and Ebadi echo the sentiments of many Iranians – including some in the conservative government – who prefer dialogue and detente with the US to brinksmanship, though hard-line factions often undermine such efforts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 PM


Rays look like a future force (Buster Olney, November 29, 2007, ESPN)

[I]f the Devil Rays have a proverbial 29,028-foot climb, well, they are at least at base camp and rising, as they develop a competitive pitching staff for the first time in the organization's history. Matt Garza, the centerpiece of the trade for Delmon Young, has the stuff to develop into a viable No. 3-type starter in the AL East, and in a year or two, you can foresee a series when Tampa Bay's threesome of Scott Kazmir, James Shields and Garza could go into Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park with an on-paper advantage over their counterparts, depending on the matchups.

And within a couple of years, rival talent evaluators say, the Rays' rotation has a chance to fill out, with Andy Sonnanstine or 2007 No. 1 pick David Price or Mitch Talbot. Edwin Jackson may turn out to be Tampa Bay's version of Daniel Cabrera, a high-ceiling talent that is manifested too inconsistently. But Jackson, 24, did show signs of progress down the stretch, allowing three earned runs or fewer in nine of his last 14 starts.

The Tampa Bay bullpen has a chance to be much improved, with the makeup of the relief staff much different than the group that finished with a 6.16 ERA last season. Percival figures to be the Rays' closer, and in a market starved for relief, Tampa Bay could trade Al Reyes, who had 26 saves last season. Either way, the back end of Maddon's staff will have much more experience than it did at the All-Star break last year, with Dan Wheeler, Percival, Reyes, Juan Salas and Scott Dohmann.

And the Rays, who finished eighth in the AL in runs scored last year, should continue to be an improving offensive team, even without Young. Their lineup may look something like this by June 15:

2B Akinori Iwamura
LF Carl Crawford
1B Carlos Pena
CF B.J. Upton
DH Jonny Gomes?
3B Evan Longoria (who figures to start the year in the minors)
RF Rocco Baldelli?
C Dioner Navarro
SS Jason Bartlett

Bartlett can run and put the ball in play and fits Maddon's aggressive style. Navarro made a lot of progress in the second half of last season, his numbers climbing from .177/.238/.254 pre-All-Star break to .285/.340/.475 in the second half. There are more moves to come this offseason for Tampa Bay, which cannot count on Baldelli, given his recent injury history; the Rays clearly could use another hammer for the middle of their order (Tony Clark might fit in very, very nicely here, as a DH and clubhouse mentor).

He didn't even have to include the three young Ray starting prospects who are every bit as good as the Yanks & Sox best three--Wade Davis, Jacob McGee & Jeff Niemann.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 PM


Israel risks apartheid-like struggle if two-state solution fails, says Olmert (Rory McCarthy, November 30, 2007, The Guardian)

Israel's prime minister issued a rare warning yesterday that his nation risked being compared to apartheid-era South Africa if it failed to agree an independent state for the Palestinians. In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, Ehud Olmert said Israel was "finished" if it forced the Palestinians into a struggle for equal rights.

If the two-state solution collapsed, he said, Israel would "face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, and as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished". Israel's supporters abroad would quickly turn against such a state, he said.

"The Jewish organisations, which were our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents," he said.

South Africa was just as good an ally as Israel and we ditched them as soon as the USSR ceased to be a threat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 PM


Cameron in talks with Bush as Tories aim to restore historic ties (Nigel Morris, 30 November 2007, Independent)

David Cameron held talks with George Bush at the White House last night in a move to rebuild the Tories' historic ties to the Republican Party.

Making the first visit to Washington by a Conservative leader for six years, he discussed the international situation with the President during a 30-minute meeting. The talks covered the Middle East peace process, Afghanistan, Iran, global warming and free trade. Aides said the two men also swapped light-hearted anecdotes about cycling.

The meeting was a coup for the Tory leader's team who are keen to boost the party's image across the Atlantic. They believe that Tony Blair's departure has given them a crucial opportunity to repair the damage caused by former Tory leader Michael Howard's criticism of the conduct of the Iraq war.

Important as being the pro-American/anti-EU party is, they also need to steal back the Third Way.

David vs. Goliath (Liz Mair, November 29, 2007, The American)

Welfare reform is becoming a hot topic in Great Britain, where Conservative Party leader David Cameron is calling for a radical shakeup of the benefit system. Why the sudden fuss? For one thing, welfare rolls have barely contracted under a decade of Labour government. Despite the party’s pledges to get people off the dole and into work, since 1997 the number of benefit recipients has shrunk by just 300,000. Worse, according to the free-market Adam Smith Institute, more than 3 million Britons have been on welfare for over a year. Benefit dependency remains particularly widespread in Britain’s big cities. According to the Spectator magazine, one out of five people in Birmingham claims benefits; in Glasgow, Liverpool, and Manchester, that number rises to one in four.

According to Britain’s Treasury, millions of jobs have been created in the last decade, too—but more than 80 percent of them have been filled by foreign workers. It appears that many Britons now favor welfare over work. With as many as 51 separate benefits now available, there are plenty of options allowing them to stay on the dole.

Cameron and his new breed of Tories want to change this. In his speech to the annual party conference in Bournemouth this year, the Conservative leader said that Britain should look at reforms that have “worked elsewhere in the world.” Specifically, he is looking to Wisconsin, where ex-Governor Tommy Thompson implemented radical and aggressive reforms that ultimately cut benefit rolls by around 90 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 PM


In Chávez Territory, Signs of Dissent (SIMON ROMERO, 11/29/07, NY Times)

Even some of Mr. Chavez’s most fervent supporters are beginning to show signs of hesitation at supporting the constitutional changes he is promoting, including ending term limits for the president and greatly centralizing his authority.

New fissures are emerging among his once-cohesive supporters, pointing to the toughest test at the polls for Mr. Chavez in his nine-year presidency.

In the slums of the capital, where some of the president’s staunchest backers live amid the cinder block hovels, debate over the changes has grown more intense in recent days.

“Chávez is delirious if he thinks we’re going to follow him like sheep,” said Ivonne Torrealba, 29, a hairdresser in Coche who supported Mr. Chávez in every election beginning with his first campaign for president in 1998. “If this government cannot get me milk or asphalt for our roads, how is it going to give my mother a pension?”

Both Mr. Chávez and his critics say opinion polls show they will prevail, suggesting a highly contentious outcome. For the first time in years, Venezuela did not invite electoral observers from the Organization of American States and the European Union, opening the government to claims of fraud if he wins.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 PM


Former Rep. Henry Hyde dies (Jim Abrams, 11/29/07, AP)

Days before leaving office, President Bush presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The White House praised Hyde, a leading foe of abortion, as a "powerful defender of life" and an advocate for a strong national defense.

"What often struck me most about Henry was his keen sense of our nation's history and of the gifts bestowed on our Republic by the Founding Fathers, whose actions and deeds were never far from his mind," Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement.

"In his respect for the institutional integrity of the House of Representatives, Henry took second place to no one. He was a forceful advocate for maintaining the dignity of the House and for recognizing the sacrifices and struggles members make while in its service. Indeed, when Henry spoke in Committee or on the House floor, Members on both sides of aisle listened intently and they learned."

A Gadfly in the House: Amid all the pulse takers and poll watchers in Congress, Rep. Henry Hyde, who died this morning, was more interested in being right than in being popular (Marvin Olasky, March 9, 1992, Christianity Today)
Hyde is known as an antiabortion crusader, but he generally fights society's ruling ethos not just on one issue but across the board. The leaders of media and academia, he says,

Admire and implement the Enlightenment ethic, the notion that [theological] revelation has nothing to teach us. In their view, the obstacles to a good society are simply ignorance. "If only we could educate everybody," they cry, "not only would racism, sexism, and crime disappear, but we'd have a wonderful life—Utopia itself!" Ask them about sin, and they reply, "Sin? There's no such thing. Society is the cause of evil and crime."' Somehow, it appears, society has "'failed" the rapist, the dope dealer, the mugger, the murderer. Society's to blame, not the individual responsible for his choices.

There have been three great styles of twentieth-century American oratory—northern Irish, southern white, and black evangelical—and all three are disappearing under the pressure of media mavens who teach public figures to speak in clipped sound bites. Hyde's rolling cadences represent an unapologetic throwback to a better class of rhetoric. For example, while lots of conservative politicians like to mention the references to God in the Pledge of Allegiance and on the back of a penny, only Hyde issues the challenge: "A nation 'under God' means a nation under God's judgment, constantly reminded by our smallest coin that the true measure of ourselves comes from beyond ourselves."

Hyde's office walls display photographs of Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, but he also has words of praise for Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and sentences of scorn for those who decry the Religious Right: "There is a repressive fundamentalism extant in our country today, but it's not of the religious variety. It is the secular fundamentalism that the courts, the ACLU, People for the American Way, and many of our law schools are teaching."

Hyde is relaxed as he rocks softly in his office chair, but there is an edge to his voice as he talks about colleagues who roll over under media pressure: "People want to do what's right, but unfortunately they would rather be perceived as doing right than as actually doing what's right. I think they are torn, and perception wins out, because the adoration of the secular press is heady."

Hyde rolls in his right hand a long cigar as he discusses the job of a member of Congress: "You are supposed to be better informed than the average constituent who gets his information from a paragraph or two in the newspaper, or a sound bite on the television at night. You can make people aware of the truth."

Hyde is perhaps best known for his constant enunciation of one unpopular stand—that human life begins at conception. He became a pro-life advocate in 1969 while serving in the Illinois House of Representatives, and during his first term in Congress introduced the Hyde Amendment, which, since 1976, has prohibited the use of federal funds to pay for abortion. Yet, with over 90 percent of media leaders favoring abortion, Hyde acknowledges that many politicians are retreating from antiabortion positions. He is irritated by so-called seamless-garment rating systems that link abortion to other "life issues," such as the death penalty and nuclear deterrence. They are just a "way of protecting the Kennedys and the Moynihans," he says. He also does not care for the merging of birth control and abortion concerns found among some Catholics and fundamentalists: "Abortion is killing an innocent human life. The other is preventing conception of a human life, which I think is morally wrong, but there is a vast distinction."

No one did more to nip the American slide towards Enlightenment of the 60s/70s in the bud and his impeachment speech on the Senate floor is a model piece of rhetoric:
Mr. Chief Justice and Members of the Senate.

We are brought together on this most solemn and historic occasion to perform important duties assigned to us by the Constitution.

We want you to know how much we respect you and this institution and how grateful we are for your guidance and cooperation.

With your permission, we the managers of the House are here to set forth the evidence in support of two articles of impeachment against President William Jefferson Clinton. You are here seated in this historic chamber not to embark on some great legislative debate, which these stately walls have so often witnessed, but to listen to the evidence, as those who must sit in judgment.

To guide you in this grave duty you have taken an oath of impartiality. With the simple words "I do," you have pledged to put aside personal bias and partisan interest and to do "impartial justice." Your willingness to take up this calling has once again reminded the world of the unique brilliance of America's constitutional system of government. We are here, Mr. Chief Justice and Distinguished Senators, as advocates for the Rule of Law, for Equal Justice Under the Law and for the sanctity of the oath.

The oath. In many ways the case you will consider in the coming days is about those two words "I do," pronounced at two Presidential inaugurations by a person whose spoken words have singular importance to our nation and to the great globe itself.

More than four hundred fifty years ago, Sir Thomas More, former Lord Chancellor of England, was imprisoned in the Tower of London because he had, in the name of conscience, defied the absolute power of the King. As the playwright Robert Bolt tells it, More was visited by his family, who tried to persuade him to speak the words of the oath that would save his life, even while, in his mind and heart, he held firm to his conviction that the King was in error. More refused. As he told his daughter, "Margaret, "When a man takes an oath, Meg, he's holding his own self in his hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then - he needn't hope to find himself again..." Sir Thomas More, the most brilliant lawyer of his generation, a scholar with an international reputation, the center of a warm and affectionate family life which he cherished, went to his death rather than take an oath in vain.

Members of the Senate, what you do over the next few weeks will forever affect the meaning of those two words "I do." You are now stewards of the oath. It's significance in public service and our cherished system of justice will never be the same after this. Depending on what you decide, it will either be strengthened in its power to achieve Justice or it will go the way of so much of our moral infrastructure and become a mere convention, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. [...]

No one running for president (though John McCain comes closest) has the legislative record associated with just two measures named for him, the Hyde Amendment and the Hyde Act.

Indo-US nuke deal's architect dead (Rediff, November 30, 2007)

The former Illinois Republican Congressman Henry Hyde, known in India for the "Hyde Act" that paved the way for civilian nuclear cooperation with the United States, died on Thursday.

Rest in Peace: Henry Hyde, Champion of Life (Nancy Frazier O'Brien, 11/30/2007, Catholic News Service)

He was named a Knight of St. Gregory by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 in recognition of his longtime fight for life.
In 1976, as a freshman congressman, he introduced and successfully persuaded his colleagues to pass the Hyde amendment to an appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services. The amendment restricted the federal government from funding abortions.

"Because of the Hyde amendment countless young children and adults walk on this earth today and have an opportunity to prosper because they were spared destruction when they were most at risk," said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., in a statement.

"With malice toward none, Henry Hyde often took to the House floor to politely ask us to show compassion and respect -- even love -- for the innocent and inconvenient baby about to be annihilated," he said.

Hyde also supported the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act and was present in 2003 when Bush signed it into law.

"Henry Hyde is revered by the pro-life movement for his tireless efforts to protect the innocent, defenseless life in the womb," said Joseph Scheidler, national director of the Pro-Life Action League, in a statement. "It is a sad day for America. We have lost a truly great statesman and patriot."

Presenting the documents by which Pope Benedict named Hyde a Knight of St. Gregory in June 2006, now-retired Bishop Joseph L. Imesch of Joliet praised him as "a consistent, steady voice for life" and said, "The church owes you a great deal for that."

A member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bensenville, Hyde met three times with Pope John Paul II and once with Pope Benedict.

In addition to his pro-life work, Hyde's more than three decades in the House included a stint as chairman of the House International Relations Committee. At that time the U.S. committed to investing more than $15 billion to address the worldwide pandemic of HIV/AIDS and established an aid program for poor countries.

As a member of the Judiciary Committee, Hyde garnered support for President Bill Clinton's assault weapons ban in 1994. Hyde also made history in 1998 when he introduced legislation to investigate the case for the impeachment of Clinton. He led the impeachment hearings as chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

"With uncanny skill, determination and grace, he crafted numerous, historic bipartisan laws and common-sense policies that lifted people out of poverty, helped alleviate disease, strengthened the U.S. Code to protect victims and get the criminals off the streets," Smith said. "He was magnificent in his defense of democracy and freedom both here and overseas."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 PM


Economy Continues to Boom Despite Woes (James Pethokoukis, 11/29/07, US News)

Yes, the economic growth numbers for the third quarter were revised sharply upward today, from 3.9 percent to 4.9 percent. [...]

[C]onsider this: If you exclude housing, the economy grew at an astounding 6.1 percent rate, up from a 4.6 percent pace in the second quarter. My guys at Action Economics think gross domestic product growth will average 3.3 percent in the second half of 2007, versus a 2.2 percent average in the first half.

No matter how much Republicans hate Bill Clinton or Democrats hate George W. Bush, no presidents who presided over 8 years of such extravagant growth in national wealth will be treated badly by history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 PM


Kennedy announces run for Louisiana Senate seat (The Crypt, 11/29/07, Politico)

Louisiana state Treasurer John Kennedy, who recently switched his party affiliation to become a Republican, announced that he will challenge Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) next year in one of the only Senate races where Republicans are optimistic about their chances for a pickup.

“I will take the first steps and file the necessary paperwork to run for the United States Senate in 2008. I plan to officially kick off the campaign early next year,” Kennedy said in a statement.

...with Hillary or Obama or both at the top of your ticket? She barely survived last time without such a drag.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:20 PM


Vlad the Great (Orlando Figes, 29 November 2007, New Statesman)

What is Putinism? First, it is a reassertion of the state, a counter-revolution against democracy, which in the eyes of the president's supporters brought Russia to the verge of ruin during the 1990s. The men behind this counter-revolution are the siloviki (from the Russian word for power) - men like Putin from the old KGB (reformed as the FSB), or the armed forces and the "power ministries", which together formed an inner cabinet in Boris Yeltsin's government and brought in Putin as his replacement in 2000. [...]

The second element of Putinism is the intimate connection between politics and business. Senior state officials control and own the public media, sit on the boards of state-owned corporations and enrich themselves from it, have lucrative connections with the oligarchs, and own large shares of the country's banks as well as its oil, gas and mining companies. At a lower level, in many Russian towns, politics and business are closely intertwined with the police and organised crime. Much of this goes well beyond corruption in the conventional meaning of the term (businessmen offering bribes to officials). In Putin's Russia the politician is usually a businessman, too, and perhaps an FSB official as well, so he doesn't need to pay a bribe. Political connections are the fastest way to become rich. The most successful oligarchs are shadowy figures in the presidential entourage. And all the country's senior politicians are multimillionaires, their money safely stashed abroad for them by Kremlin-favoured businessmen. [...]

Meanwhile the Muslim population, with its historically high birth rates, continues to grow, in part as immigrants from central Asia fill the gaps in the labour market. There are 25 million Muslims in Russia today (demographers predict that they will be the majority within 50 years). Like the Jews in previous times, Russia's Muslims have become the focus of a rising wave of xenophobic Russian nationalism that is only partly satisfied by Putin's increasingly nationalist rhetoric. If it weren't for him, millions of Russians would vote for an ultra-nationalist - for instance, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whose Liberal Democratic Party is expected to come second, or perhaps third behind the Communists, with roughly 10 per cent of the vote. [...]

Nationalism is the third main element of Putinism, and perhaps the key to its success.

Richard Pipes, in his book on Russian conservatism, quotes a commentator of the 1870s (Rotislav Fadeev):
Russia represents the only example in history of a state the entire population of which, without exception, all estates taken together, do not acknowledge any independent social force apart from the sovereign authority...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:34 PM


Red Sox, Yankees both talking to Twins about Santana (Buster Olney, 11/29/07, ESPN The Magazine

The Red Sox and Twins are discussing the framework of a Johan Santana deal that would have Boston sending four players to Minnesota in return for the two-time Cy Young Award winner, including center fielder Coco Crisp, pitcher Jon Lester and minor-league shortstop Jed Lowrie, the trio that would to anchor the deal.

Red Sox pitcher Michael Bowden has been discussed as a possible fourth player, sources say, but the identity of the fourth player is in flux.

Buchholz would be preferable to Lester, but a great deal if the Sox can pull it off.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:25 PM


NFC Supremacy at Stake in Dallas (ALLEN BARRA, November 29, 2007, NY Sun)

In normal seasons — and normal here is defined as any year in which the 2007 New England Patriots aren't playing — tonight's Green Bay Packers–Dallas Cowboys match would be hailed as the regular season game of the year. In fact, it might have been billed as the regular season game of this century. Instead, it looks to be little more than an entertaining way of passing a Thursday night — at least for a while.

On ESPN Radio this morning, Ed Whirter noted that the record high in Dallas for January 20th (the date of the NFC Championship game) is 83, while the record low in Green Bay for the same day is -25, meaning the teams teams are potentially playing tonight for 108 degrees.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:37 AM


U.S. marks greenhouse gas decline: For the first time since 2001, carbon emissions were less than the year before, the Bush administration reports (James Gerstenzang, 11/29/07, Los Angeles Times)

The Energy Information Administration said that in 2006 the United States released 1.5% fewer tons than in 2005. [...]

The White House drew attention to the decline on the eve of a meeting in Bali, Indonesia, to launch negotiations on a global treaty to reduce such emissions.

President Bush said in a written statement that, when measured against economic growth, it demonstrated "the largest annual improvement since 1985." give that Nobel to someone more deserving?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:28 AM


English Usage Among Hispanics in the United States (Shirin Hakimzadeh and D'Vera Cohn, 11/29/07, Pew Hispanic Center)

Nearly all Hispanic adults born in the United States of immigrant parents report they are fluent in English. By contrast, only a small minority of their parents describe themselves as skilled English speakers. This finding of a dramatic increase in English-language ability from one generation of Hispanics to the next emerges from a new analysis of six Pew Hispanic Center surveys conducted this decade among a total of more than 14,000 Latino adults. The surveys show that fewer than one-in-four (23%) Latino immigrants reports being able to speak English very well. However, fully 88% of their U.S.-born adult children report that they speak English very well. Among later generations of Hispanic adults, the figure rises to 94%. Reading ability in English shows a similar trend.

As fluency in English increases across generations, so, too, does the regular use of English by Hispanics, both at home and at work. For most immigrants, English is not the primary language they use in either setting. But for their grown children, it is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Breaking Down The Blockbuster (Aaron Gleeman, 11/29/07)

[O]nce you get past the Garza-for-Young portion of the swap it tilts pretty heavily in the Devil Rays' favor both short and long term.

Garza ranked as the team's No. 1 prospect heading into the season and pitched well after being called up from Triple-A in July, posting a 3.69 ERA and 67-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 83 innings. A 2005 first-round pick who turned 24 years old earlier this month and won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2013 season, Garza looks capable of being a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter right now and has the potential to be a No. 1 starter down the road if his secondary pitches improve.

Morlan ranked as the team's No. 8 prospect coming into the season and improved his stock by posting a 3.10 ERA and 99-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 70 innings between high Single-A and Double-A. The 21-year-old former third-round pick has dominated in the minors and projects as a late-inning reliever who could be ready to make a significant big-league impact as soon as 2008. Meanwhile, Rincon is set to make about $4 million via arbitration and is in the midst of a steady decline.

Last but not least the Twins surprisingly sent their 28-year-old starting shortstop packing, although perhaps it isn't such a shock given the lengths that they went to avoid handing Bartlett the starting gig in the first place. Bartlett remained at Triple-A in favor of Juan Castro long after he'd proven himself in the minors and then hit .282/.350/.374 with 33 steals and strong defense in 239 games after finally taking over for Castro in mid-2006, yet a hitting-starved team with no clear replacement just let him go.

The package that the Twins received in return for Garza, Morlan, and Bartlett essentially means that Young must become a superstar for the trade to be successful.

Not only will the Rays head into the season with their best 25 man roster ever, they also have elite prospects at 3b (Evan Longoria), ss (Reid Brignac), of (Desmond Jennings), & sp (Jeff Niemann, Jacob McGee, Wade Davis, David Price). If you were to choose one system to try and contend in the AL East with over the next five seasons, it might be that you'd have to choose Tampa over the Sox and Yanks, though it could be a year or two before they put it all together.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


Thompson takes on D.C. expectations (Peter A. Brown, Nov 29, 2007, Politico)

Fred Thompson's presidential campaign has been unorthodox since Day One, and his decision to grab the "third rail" of American politics with both hands is a clear indication that he really is a different kind of candidate.

Since agreeing to run after a mild draft effort by conservatives looking to fill the void in the race for a candidate who shared their views and values, Thompson has pursued what can only be considered a nontraditional path.

He has eschewed the traditional 24/7 campaign run by his competitors and expected by the Washington, D.C.-based mainstream news media, which has labeled him poorly prepared, lazy and lackluster.

Yet he runs second in national polls of GOP voters and leads in parts of the South.

Now, the former Tennessee senator-turned-actor is making reform of Social Security and Medicare — the kind of issues presidential candidates typically avoid like the plague — major campaign topics as he seeks the Republican nomination.

Although some might consider that courageous, the conventional wisdom, at least inside the Beltway, is that this is akin to committing political suicide. It will put a big, bright target on his back.

Whether they should be or not is a separate question, but voters obviously aren't happy with the status quo that every other candidate is running to maintain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Study finds U.S. immigration at record level (Julia Preston, November 29, 2007, IHT)

Immigration over the past seven years was the highest for any seven-year period in U.S. history, bringing 10.3 million new immigrants, more than half of them without legal status, according to an analysis of census data released by the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington.

One in eight people living in the United States is an immigrant, the survey found, for a total of 37.9 million people, the highest level since the 1920s.

...and you can sneak any number in under their turned up noses.

November 28, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:45 PM


Will the USS Kitty Hawk cement U.S.-India military ties? (M.D. Nalapat, November 28, 2007, UPI Asia)

Thanks largely to India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who shared with his leftwing British friends a dislike of the Yanks, the geopolitically senseless alienation between the United States and India continued for five decades after India's independence in 1947. [...]

Even as late as the 1990s, the U.S. was pressuring India to surrender the Kashmir valley to Pakistan. At the same time the Clinton administration was covertly backing the jihadi elements that finally took power in Kabul in 1996 as the Taliban. Interestingly, as yet the U.S. Congress has not opened an enquiry into the 1994-96 policies that resulted in Osama bin Laden's patrons being given charge of Afghanistan, with consequences that have been disastrous for international security.

Relentless U.S. and British pressure since the 1950s on the Kashmir issue, and lavish military and civilian help given to Pakistan, caused New Delhi to gravitate toward the Soviet Union. Even in its 1971-1977 heyday, however, the strategic relationship between New Delhi and Moscow never resulted in a single Soviet soldier coming to India for basing or training.

Nowadays the U.S. military routinely undertakes joint exercises and training sorties in India. Fear of international jihad and worries over a fast-developing Chinese military have made the United States and India de facto military allies.

However, within both countries strong lobbies are still at work to abort this alliance. Within the United States these anti-India groups have coalesced around two poles. The first comprises those who take a Euro-centric view of the world, seeing it in terms of the West and the Rest. Such individuals see little value in a full-fledged alliance with India that might divert focus from NATO. According to this school, the only core international partners of value to the United States in worldwide conflicts are the other NATO countries.

The other lobby hard at work within the United States to sabotage the India-U.S. military alliance comprises backers of the Pakistan army.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 PM


This is pretty much Federalist 51 reduced to a great pop song.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM


Trading Places: Will the secular left soon attack the religious right for being pro-science? (JOSEPH BOTTUM, November 28, 2007, Opinion Journal)

[A]ll those editorialists and columnists who have, over the past 10 years, howled and howled about Luddites and religious fanatics thwarting science and frustrating medicine--were they really interested in technology and health, or were they just using all that as a handy stick with which to whack their political opponents? [...]

[T]his news turns on its head everything in what the nation's newspapers have delivered to us as a story of blinkered pro-lifers vs. courageous scientists.

The people who turn out actually to have believed in the power of science are the pro-lifers--the ones who said that a moral roadblock is not, in point of fact, an outrageous hindrance, for scientists will always find another, less-objectionable way to achieve their goals. President Bush's refusal of federal funding for new embryonic stem cell lines didn't halt major stem-cell advances, any more than the prohibition against life-threatening research on human subjects, such as the infamous Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, stopped the advance of medical treatments.

For those who attacked the pro-lifers in the name of science, however, things look a little different. As Maureen L. Condic explained to First Thigns readers this year in her careful survey, "What We Know About Embryonic Stem Cells," the promises of medical breakthroughs were massively overblown by the media.

But there were reasons for all the hype. I have long suspected that science, in the context of the editorial page of the New York Times, was simply a stalking-horse for something else. In fact, for two something-elses: a chance to discredit America's religious believers, and an opportunity to put yet another hedge around the legalization of abortion. After all, if our very health depends on the death of embryos, and we live in a culture that routinely destroys early human life in the laboratory, no grounds could exist for objecting to abortion.

We've long been of the opinion that someone should have done an editorial cartoon where Christopher Reeves, Ron Reagan, Michael J. Fox, Rudy Giuliani and company are sitting around a banquet table woofing down fetuses, which was all along, as Mr. Bottum points out, implicit in their argument.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 PM


The anti-war phonies (JOHN BRUHNS, 11/19/07, Philadelphia Inquirer)

I CAME HOME from Iraq in February 2004 and since then have fought tooth and nail for an end to the war.

I did so because I believe the war is immoral and illegal. I aligned myself with some high- profile lobbying organizations who I believed would have the most significant impact on ending the war. In doing so, I detached myself from the people of this country who are honestly committed to ending the war.

I traded my convictions for "special interest" groups who sometimes seem to be in place simply to smear those who disagree with their political agenda. But the agenda is not anti-war. The war is used by these organizations as ammunition against political foes - primarily Republicans. They are the enemy despite the fact that many Democrats vote the same way.

It was very hard for me to go "off the reservation." I didn't want to face the fact that these anti-war groups had other aims.

We watched as legislation that had no substantial impact on ending the war was debated. There ARE anti-war resolutions still floating out there that call for a real end to the war, but the groups I worked for wouldn't spend one dime to promote legislation considered out of the mainstream of the Democratic Party.

Any genuine anti-war message was filtered through media consultants who provide politically correct "talking points" to veterans for them to carry out a phony message that is beneficial to the campaign.

We threatened Republicans with "political extinction" if they didn't change their votes on Iraq. It was a partisan tactic that got us nowhere fast.

When I worked with these organizations, I did nothing to actually stop the war. I only put on a good show that would catch the attention of the media.

...W is ending the war by winning it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 PM


Official cleared of spying despite intervention by Iran's president (Robert Tait, November 28, 2007, The Guardian)

Mousavian, who served as nuclear negotiator during the 1997-2005 reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami, was detained for a week last spring before being freed on bail. The case became symbolic of a struggle for control over Iran's nuclear policy between Ahmadinejad, who refuses to suspend uranium enrichment, and pragmatists close to Rafsanjani who favour dealing with the west.

Ahmadinejad intervened directly in the case against Mousavian two weeks ago by publicly labelling him a "spy" while accusing critics of the government's nuclear policy of being "traitors" who were colluding with western governments. Ahmadinejad said Mousavian's supporters were pressuring the judge to clear him, but said he would not escape "justice".

Yesterday, Alireza Jamshidi, spokesman for the judiciary, appeared to condemn the comments. And the conservative newspaper Jomhouri Eslami, thought to have links to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, last week denounced the president's attacks as "immoral" and said the courts should consider prosecution.

...the absurdity of claiming it's a totalitarian state and the trouble the 12ers are in politically.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:01 PM


Cyber Monday Online Sales Jump 21 Percent (AP, 11/28/07)

American consumers jammed online shopping sites on Monday, the official start of the holiday season for e-tailers, resulting in robust sales, according to an Internet research company.

ComScore Inc. reported on Tuesday that consumers spent $733 million online on Monday, a 21 percent gain from the same day a year ago. ComScore had expected that sales would exceed the $700 million figure.

While the first Monday after Thanksgiving kicks off the online holiday shopping season, it's not the busiest day for retailers, according to comScore.

Last year, the busiest online shopping day was Wednesday, Dec. 13, generating $667 million in sales. The Monday after Thanksgiving was actually the 12th busiest day in terms of sales for the 2006 holiday period.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:58 PM


< a href=>6,000 Sunnis Join Pact With US in Iraq (LAUREN FRAYER, 11/28/07, AP)

Nearly 6,000 Sunni Arab residents joined a security pact with American forces Wednesday in what U.S. officers described as a critical step in plugging the remaining escape routes for extremists flushed from former strongholds.

The new alliance — called the single largest single volunteer mobilization since the war began — covers the "last gateway" for groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq seeking new havens in northern Iraq, U.S. military officials said.

U.S. commanders have tried to build a ring around insurgents who fled military offensives launched earlier this year in the western Anbar province and later into Baghdad and surrounding areas. In many places, the U.S.-led battles were given key help from tribal militias — mainly Sunnis — that had turned again al-Qaida and other groups.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:51 PM


Giuliani billed obscure agencies for trips (Ben Smith, Nov 28, 2007, Politico)

As New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani billed obscure city agencies for tens of thousands of dollars in security expenses amassed during the time when he was beginning an extramarital relationship with future wife Judith Nathan in the Hamptons, according to previously undisclosed government records.

The documents, obtained by Politico under New York’s Freedom of Information Law, show that the mayoral costs had nothing to do with the functions of the little-known city offices that defrayed his tabs, including agencies responsible for regulating loft apartments, aiding the disabled and providing lawyers for indigent defendants.

At the time, the mayor’s office refused to explain the accounting to city auditors, citing “security.”

There's an argument to be made that public officials are due some latitude in their private lives, but none as regards their mixing public and private for personal gain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:50 PM


Twins close to landing Delmon Young (La Velle E. Neal III, November 28th, 2007, Minneapolis Star Tribune)

The main pieces changing teams would be outfielder Delmon Young and righthander Matt Garza. But indications were strong on Wednesday that as many as six players could be involved.

In addition to Garza, the Twins would send Tampa Bay shortstop Jason Bartlett and reliever Juan Rincon for Young, shortstop Brendan Harris and outfielder Jason Pridie.

Rincon seems pretty much toast, but middle relievers have wild performance swings. Bartlett fills a big hole and a rotation of Kazmir, Garza, James Shields, Edwin Jackson, and Andy Sonnanstine/Jeff Niemann has a shot at being outstanding. If they'd just ink Carl Crawford to a long term deal there'd finally be reason for excitement in Tampa.

N.B. Buster Olney says the Rays are about to sign Troy Percival too.

Even better: the Rays apparently got a good prospect, Eduardo Morlan (a Cuban, no less), instead of Rincon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:06 AM


Move over Norway, Iceland is now the coolest place to live (ETHAN MCNERN, 11/28/07, The Scotsman)

ICELAND has overtaken Norway as the world's most desirable country in which to live, according to the latest UN index on human development.

Rich, free-market countries dominate the top places, with Iceland, Norway, Australia, Canada and Ireland the first five, while AIDS-afflicted sub-Saharan African states are once again at the bottom.

The United States slips to 12th place from eighth last year in the UN Human Development Index, with the UK taking 16th place behind Austria at 15th.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


The darling of the apple world (Jennifer Bain, 11/28/07, Toronto Star)

Honeycrisp is the apple of our eye these days.

With distinctive mottled red skin over a yellow background, these stunners are the hottest apples of the season. But it's the explosive crispness and mild, honeyed flavour that's really winning fans.

When Kathy McKay gave an "All About Ontario Apples" talk at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair earlier this month, the Ontario Apple Growers doled out Honeycrisps to everyone who asked a question.

"It's a new variety and some people haven't yet experienced it," says the association's Kelly Ciceran.

Scour the Internet and the praise gets positively effusive.

The Association of University Technology Managers, in its inaugural "Better World Report" last year, declared Honeycrisps one of 25 innovations that changed the world.

They grow them at a local pick-your-own farm and they're terrific.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 AM


Sources: Santana for Buchholz, Lester, prospect and $130 million (Bill Burt, 11/28/07, Eagle Tribune)

If the Red Sox want Johan Santana, probably among the top five starting pitchers in baseball, they can have him.

But it’s going to cost them.

According to two separate sources the Red Sox would have to, in the very least, give the Twins two of their best young pitchers, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, and another “major league” prospect … Oh yes, and about $130 million over six (or seven) years to Santana.

The Red Sox have apparently told the Twins that Jacoby Ellsbury is off limits.

If you don't even have to give up Ellsbury it's not a tough call.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 AM


Flat Tax Fred: Thompson's reform leads the GOP field (Wall Street Journal, November 28, 2007)

Mr. Thompson wants to abolish the death tax and the Alternative Minimum Tax and cut the corporate income tax rate to 27% from 35%. But his really big idea is a voluntary flat tax that would give every American the option of ditching the current code in favor of filing a simple tax return with two tax rates of 10% and 25%.

Mr. Thompson is getting aboard what has become a global bandwagon, with more than 20 nations having adopted some form of flat tax. Most--especially in Eastern Europe--have seen their economies grow and revenues increase as they've adopted low tax rates of between 13% and 25% with few exemptions.

The main political obstacle to such a reform in the U.S. has come from liberals, who favor punitive taxes for "class" reasons, and K Street corporate lobbyists who want to retain their tax-loophole empires. The housing and insurance industries, states and localities, charities, bond traders and tax preparers are all foes of low tax rates.

That's why the idea of a voluntary flat tax--introduced on these pages a dozen years ago--makes political sense.

It's something of a one-eyed man effect, but he's dusting the field as regards policy proposals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Where Boys Grow Up to Be Jihadis (ANDREA ELLIOTT, 11/25/07, NY Times Magazine)

The people of Jamaa Mezuak were no strangers to militant Islam. A few years earlier, five other men from the neighborhood said their own goodbyes. They went to Spain to seek their fortunes. But they became famous as key suspects in the bombings of four commuter trains in Madrid that killed 191 people on March 11, 2004. They called home a few weeks after the attacks, their voices urgent. They were hiding in an apartment on the city’s outskirts. As the Spanish police closed in, an explosion rocked the building. The men died instantly, in a ghastly group suicide.

In the years since Sept. 11, the question of what makes a terrorist has become ever more urgent. Much about young Muslim militants remains opaque, from the texture of their family lives to the full scope of their desires. Theories of radicalization have come and gone. Experts have variously blamed poverty, Arab nationalism, the Internet, geopolitics, alienation, charismatic sheiks, dictatorial regimes and youthful anomie. But in the study of contemporary terrorism, there has never been a laboratory quite like Jamaa Mezuak.

Perhaps no theory could have predicted Jamal Ahmidan, a mastermind of the Madrid bombings. He was a feisty drug dealer with a passion for motorcycles and a weakness for Spanish women. His fellow plotters from the old neighborhood in Morocco included petty criminals and a candy vendor. If they seemed a poor fit for militant Islam, so were the young men from Jamaa Mezuak who eventually left for Iraq. One styled his hair after John Travolta. Another was a frustrated comedian. They had yearned for a life in Europe, it seemed, not death in the Middle East.

What, then, caused them to embrace violent jihad? In a city flooded with televised images of civilians dying in Iraq, the forces of politics and religion surely weighed on these men’s lives. For some of them, public outrage merged with personal grievance. One man lost his job and left for Iraq six months later. Another was forbidden to marry the girl he loved. The drug dealer had languished in a Moroccan jail, separated from his young son.

Yet individual experiences and ideological convictions can only explain so much. Increasingly, terrorism analysts have focused on the importance of social milieu. Some stress that terrorists are not simply loners, overcome by a militant cause. They are more likely to radicalize together with others who share the same passions and afflictions and daily routines. As the story of Jamaa Mezuak suggests, the turn to violence is seldom made alone. Terrorists don’t simply die for a cause, Scott Atran, an anthropologist who studies terrorism, told me. “They die for each other.”

There is nothing isolated about Tetouan. This city of 400,000 on the northern tip of Morocco sits just miles from the Mediterranean Sea. It has long been a crossroads between Africa and Europe, a place steeped in many cultures. Today, some of its streets still carry the Spanish names of their colonial past. Men sip espressos in weathered cafes. The city is a short drive from Tangier, the onetime retreat of Paul Bowles and William Burroughs, where the Spanish coastline glimmers seductively on clear nights from across the Strait of Gibraltar. It is a constant reminder of what lies just over the horizon, the promise of a different life.

The neighborhood of Jamaa Mezuak rises up over a meandering, muddy river on the western side of Tetouan, at the foot of a craggy mountain. Lines of parched clothing crisscross the rooftops, sharing space with satellite dishes. Much of the area was once farmland owned by a wealthy man who built the first local mosque, or jamaa, in 1933 and gave it his family’s name, Mezuak. Squatters eventually populated the area. Thousands more poured in from the nearby Rif Mountains after a devastating drought in the early 1980s. Many of these farmers and peasants struggled to adapt to city life and would feel alienated for years to come.

Their neighborhood is a cacophonous blend of urban and rural. Sheep spill down alleys, weaving around oncoming traffic. At night, the animals scuttle into converted garages, watched over by aging shepherds with wooden canes. No one knows exactly how many people live in Jamaa Mezuak — the mayor of Tetouan puts the number at 6,000, though others insist that it is triple that. But the streets teem with life. Drug dealers idle near butcher shops, where plucked chickens hang limply for sale. Boys in soccer jerseys linger on stoops. Their uncles gamble in Cafe Chicago, smoking cigarettes rolled with hashish. Weddings are held at the Palace of Peace, a catering hall aglow with glass chandeliers. Down the street, bearded men in djellabas, the hooded robes, gather outside a mosque as women pass by in whispering clusters and slip behind the mirrored doors of beauty salons.

If there is one outlet for the neighborhood’s wellspring of male energy, it is soccer.

Say no more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


How to Fight for Life (Lisa Fabrizio, 11/28/2007, American Spectator)

Can one be pro-life and not in favor of a Constitutional Amendment which seeks a federal ban on abortion? The easy answer is that one can and probably should be both. But at this time in our history, the amendment process is, sadly, a pipe dream. Imagine trying to get two-thirds of both houses of our Democratic Congress to even propose such an amendment. Then further fantasize that three-fourths of the states would ratify it in the present political climate. This is an all-or-nothing approach that in all probability would save no lives.

Thompson correctly points out that working for the repeal of Roe v. Wade, then making the fight a state-by-state process, is a much more realistic and feasible goal. A states-rights argument should not only appeal to federalists, but ought to be seen as the best current solution by all who cherish life. I'm with the folks who say that abortion is murder, and in this country, murder and its consequences have always been defined by each individual state. And this is where the battle lines must be drawn.

One reason is that dealing with state legislators would be easier than battling their federal counterparts who are in the grips of lobbyists and other special interest groups; the locals are closer to the people they represent and therefore more accountable to them. Another, and probably more important, reason is that the pro-death faction fears this route the most.

They know that, should the question of abortion descend from the dark tower of judicial tyranny and land where it belongs, in the hands of the people, their "cause" is in trouble.

It's about winning, not ideological purity.

November 27, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 PM


Police and protesters clash near Paris (Katrin Bennhold, November 27, 2007, IHT)

Dodging rocks and projectiles, the police lined the streets of this tense suburb Tuesday where angry youths have vowed to seek revenge for the deaths of two teenagers who died in a weekend collision with a police car.

Police union officials warned that the violence was escalating into urban guerrilla warfare, with shotguns aimed at officers — a rare sight in the last major outbreak of suburban unrest, in 2005.

Mr. Sarkozy could hardly have asked for more useful foes.

In French Suburbs, Same Rage, but New Tactics (ELAINE SCIOLINO, 11/27/07, NY Times)

[W]hile the scale of the unrest of the past few days does not yet compare with the three-week convulsion in hundreds of suburbs and towns in 2005, a chilling new factor makes it, in some sense, more menacing. The onetime rock throwers and car burners have taken up hunting shotguns and turned them on the police. [...]

It is legal to own a shotgun in France — as long as the owner has a license — and police circles were swirling with rumors that the bands of youths were procuring more weapons.

“This is a real guerrilla war,” Mr. Ribeiro told RTL radio, warning that the police, who have struggled to avoid excessive force, will not be fired upon indefinitely without responding.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 PM


Bush and Blair unite in bid to create historic Middle East peace accord (DAVID GARDNER, 27th November 2007, Daily Mail)

Mr Bush was joined by more than 40 Arab leaders and international envoys, including Tony Blair, as he opened the conference at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

The former prime minister is there in his role as Middle East envoy for the quartet, which represents Europe, Russia, the U.S. and the UN.

Key role of America's Condoleezza Rice (Alex Spillius, 28/11/2007, Daily Telegraph)
If the Annapolis conference leads to Israel and the Palestinians signing a peace treaty by the end of next year, much of the credit will go to Condoleezza Rice.

The US Secretary of State has racked up 100,000 miles in eight trips to the Middle East over the past year with the sole aim of reviving a peace process ignored for six years by a Bush administration convinced peace was elusive after Bill Clinton's narrow failure to seal a deal in 2000.

Drilling a Hole in the Lifeboat (Barry Rubin, November 25, 2007, GLORIA)

What would you do if your foreign policy agenda had these priorities:

* Get Arab and European support for solving the Iraq crisis.
* Mobilize Arab and European forces against a threat led by Iran and its allies, Syria, Hamas, and Hizballah.
* Get Iran to stop its campaign to get nuclear weapons.
* Reestablish American credibility toward friends and deterrence toward enemies.
* Reduce the level of Israel-Palestinian conflict.

That pretty much describes the U.S. framework for dealing with the Middle East nowadays. The Annapolis conference is not going to contribute to these goals. The most likely outcome is either failure or a non-event portrayed as a victory because it took place at all. No one is going to say: We are so grateful at the United States becoming more active on Arab-Israeli issues that we are going to back its policy on other issues.

What to do is rather easy and entirely consistent with Anglo-American history: create independent democratic states in Iraq, Kurdistan, Palestine & South Lebanon. As in the Cold War, the rest of the world will love us for it after the fact despite bitching the whole time we effect it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 PM


The youth of Venezuela rise up: Student protests against a Dec. 2 referendum reveal that the mantle of 'the left' is up for grabs. (CS Monitor, November 28, 2007)

A Dec. 2 referendum in Venezuela that would grant extreme powers to Hugo Chávez isn't going as the budding dictator planned. Youth are protesting and the poor have doubts. Just who is the "left" in Venezuela is now up for grabs.

...the only folks who believe such a Marxist project will succeed are the Western Left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 PM


Super Mario Galaxy Is, Well, Out of This World: A breathtaking journey through space revives the mustachioed plumber (Chris Ward, November 25th, 2007, Village Voice)

There's no surer sign that a franchise is in trouble than when it blasts into outer space. So you were right to be nervous when Nintendo announced its plans to follow-up the subpar game Super Mario Sunshine with something called Super Mario Galaxy, which promised to launch the mustachioed plumber into orbit.

Well, take your protein pill and put your helmet on: After months of hype, Nintendo has delivered. Super Mario Galaxy is out of this world in just about every way. [...]

"Breathtaking" and "epic" may not have been the first words you'd use to describe the world of Mario, but they're merited here: Super Mario Galaxy might be the prettiest game ever made for the Wii. The first time you launch into the massive, stardust-covered horizon and crash-land in a shimmering water planet, you'll finally see what the system's graphic engine is capable of. You might even get a little choked up during the gorgeous, Big Bang-inspired finale . . . and not in the same way you did when Mario found out Sorry, but our Princess is in another castle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 PM


Iran's Secret Weapon: The Pope (Jeff Israely, Nov. 26, 2007, TIME)

The diplomatic chess game around Iran's nuclear program includes an unlikely bishop. According to several well-placed Rome sources, Iranian officials are quietly laying the groundwork necessary to turn to Pope Benedict XVI and top Vatican diplomats for mediation if the showdown with the United States should escalate toward a military intervention. The 80-year-old Pope has thus far steered clear of any strong public comments about either Iran's failure to fully comply with U.N. nuclear weapons inspectors or the drumbeat of war coming from some corners in Washington. But Iran, which has had diplomatic relations with the Holy See for 53 years, may be trying to line up Benedict as an ace in the hole for staving off a potential attack in the coming months. "The Vatican seems to be part of their strategy," a senior Western diplomat in Rome said of the Iranian leadership. "They'll have an idea of when the 11th hour is coming. And they know an intervention of the Vatican is the most open and amenable route to Western public opinion. It could buy them time."

If the situation heats up in the coming months, the question of exactly what role the Vatican would play could become pivotal. Says one high-ranking Vatican official: "The Iranians look to the Holy See with particular attention. It is born from our common religious matrix." [...]

Asked about the standoff with the West over his country's nuclear program, Fahima repeated Iran's insistence that it is seeking atomic power only for civilian purposes. Moreover, he said he doubts that the United States can resolve key regional issues in the Middle East, including Iraq and Lebanon, without the help of Iran. "We don't expect the superpower will attack," Fahima concluded. "But if they do, I am sure the Holy See would not be favorable to such a choice."

They opposed the Iraq War too and then appointed the most pro-American pope ever.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 PM


When Rudy met Hillary: Rudy Giuliani markets himself as the Republican with the best shot at beating Hillary Clinton next fall. But the first time the pair faced off, that's not how it worked out. (Rob Polner, Nov. 27, 2007, Salon)

Post 9/11, it may be hard for many outside New York to remember that city residents had started to tire of their mayor by 2000, as the end of Giuliani's second term neared. Giuliani's habit of hurling poison darts at Clinton was a reminder to New Yorkers of his appetite for confrontation and his need to belittle opponents. The Clinton operation stuck doggedly to discussing local issues at one campaign stop after another. Hillary would make 30 dutiful visits upstate between July 1999 and mid-February 2000. Giuliani trekked upstate much less frequently, and usually confined himself to city-centered themes and his mayoral record on crime and welfare cuts. The mayor also continued to paint Clinton as a panderer and part of the "liberal elite."

But all of his potshots failed to make a dent in the 10 percent sliver of undecided voters on which the outcome of the election appeared to depend. By January it was clear that Rudy's upstate advertising had not driven Hillary's numbers down or his own numbers up, and polls showed that the carpetbagger charge, never very wounding, had lost much of its power. Clinton ground out yardage little by little and hoped Rudy would beat himself by being, well, himself.

That's what Giuliani was doing on Feb. 7, when he read the lyrics to "Captain Jack" aloud at City Hall. If it was not the turning point in the campaign -- and perhaps it was, because Hillary would pull even with Rudy in some polls within three weeks -- it was at least emblematic of what the coming months would bring.

After Hillary's campaign officially launched on Feb. 6 with its embarrassing, but trivial, musical gaffe, Matt Drudge linked to her use of "Captain Jack" on his Web site. Giuliani operatives contacted reporters early the next morning, telling them to look at Drudge's site, and faxing them an outraged press release from William Donohue of the right-wing Catholic League. Reporters were prepped to ask Giuliani about the Billy Joel song.

At his City Hall press conference, after reading the lyrics aloud, Giuliani professed outrage. "Can you imagine," he asked, "if George Bush had held an event and right before the event a song was played that said, Let's say yes to drugs, let's glorify drugs, let's glorify pot?" He said there was a possibility the choice of songs had been intentional and wasn't just the product of a snafu. "It means that people of that ilk and that ideology are around you."

But the response to Giuliani's gambit, at least in New York City, might not have been what the candidate desired. On the local NBC TV affiliate, political reporter Jay DeDapper betrayed disdain as he explained how the Giuliani campaign had contacted local journalists, trying to interest them in the supposed controversy. "It's only February and it's come to this," said DeDapper, on air. At the end of the week, Daily News columnist Michael Kramer, no Clinton fan, awarded "Round 1" to Hillary, and said Rudy was the loser because he was "on one of his famous, petulant tears." Kramer cited the "Captain Jack" incident. "The mayor's rant," he said, "was petty and bullying." Kramer also slammed Giuliani for filling upstate talk-radio airwaves with "over-the-top" anti-Hillary commentary. Clinton continued to march through the snow.

By March 2, at least in a Siena College poll, the candidates were tied, 42 to 42. External events kept breaking Clinton's way. A jury acquitted the police of murder in the death of Amadou Diallo. George Bush became the all-but-certain Republican nominee for president. Both developments seemed to scare a few Democrats back into Hillary's column. Journalists began to describe Clinton as a greatly improved, dogged campaigner, and they noticed that she was closing in on 50 percent upstate. Democrat Chuck Schumer had hit that magic number when he knocked incumbent Republican Al D'Amato out of the Senate two years earlier. And then, with the race neck and neck, the mayor handed Clinton the lead. He did it not by attacking her or another politician, but by impugning the memory of a previously unknown resident of his city.

On March 16, an undercover cop working a "buy and bust" sting outside a Manhattan cocktail lounge tried to persuade a 26-year-old Haitian-American security guard named Patrick Dorismond to sell him some drugs. Dorismond took offense at the officers' overture. A scuffle erupted, a cop's gun went off, and Dorismond fell to the pavement dead. Amid the news of the fourth police shooting of an unarmed black man in the city in 13 months, Giuliani and his police commissioner, Howard Safir, released the dead man's sealed juvenile record to discredit him. The victim "wasn't an altar boy," the mayor said.

In fact, Dorismond had, literally, been an altar boy. He had even attended the same Catholic high school as Giuliani. As Time's Margaret Carlson would write, "Giuliani may want to consider saying he's sorry and letting Patrick Dorismond rest in peace." Instead, Giuliani said he had no regrets and had handled the matter "appropriately." Within days of the shooting and Giuliani's response, polls indicated that his electoral support within New York City, the advantage he'd enjoyed over any other potential GOP Senate candidate, had begun to collapse among two key groups, Latinos and Jews. At the start of the month, a Zogby poll had still shown Giuliani in the lead statewide; by March 25, another Zogby poll had Clinton 3 points ahead.

An early April New York Times poll gave Clinton an even larger lead, 8 points. Giuliani remained deadlocked with her upstate -- but then he scrapped an upstate campaign swing in order to attend the Yankees home opener, blowing off 400 ticket-holders to a "Women for Giuliani" luncheon in Rochester. Giuliani was unapologetic, telling reporters at the ballpark that he'd ignored the advice of his advisors so that he could do what he loved best. Clinton popped up outside a diner in Rochester, a portable microphone in her hand. "Well, I'm happy to be here," she said. "I have enjoyed coming to the Rochester area talking about the issues."

In a sense, it was all a replay of 1998 and early 1999, before either candidate had officially announced. Back then, Hillary had topped the polls because New Yorkers were, for a time, sympathetic to her and sick of Rudy. Throughout the state, voters had channeled their weariness with the GOP-dominated Congress' impeachment of President Clinton into support for his wife; at the same time, New York City voters expressed their irritation with Giuliani's insensitive handling of another police shooting -- the death of Amadou Diallo -- by withholding their support for him. Hillary as victim and Rudy as bully had meant a fleeting lead in the polls for the Democrat, one that evaporated once memories of Lewinsky and Diallo became less vivid. A year later, Rudy was again making Clinton the victim and himself the bully, and again helping his opponent.

After Dorismond, the bad news never stopped for Rudy. On April 27 he announced that he'd been diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer. Though he resumed campaigning within days of surgery, expressing eagerness to return to the trail, the New York Post soon published a photograph of the married father of two children standing next to a woman the tabloid described as a "Mystery Brunch Pal."

At the same time, the New York Conservative Party began to make good on its threat to back a third-party bid rather than endorse Giuliani. Former Rep. Joseph DioGuardi announced that he was seeking the nomination on the Conservative line, and party chair Mike Long called him "the right candidate." Just as in the present election cycle, when social conservatives have hinted they may boycott the candidacy of the pro-choice Giuliani, Long had been hinting throughout the 2000 Senate race that Giuliani would have to change his stand on abortion and several other litmus-test issues or forgo the Conservative Party's endorsement. No Republican had won statewide office in New York in more than two decades without appearing on the Conservative Party ballot line as well. In some cases, the endorsement had been worth 200,000 votes. Long's disenchantment was also personal; the endorsement had been withheld, at least in part, because of Giuliani's abrasive manner. "The mayor," said Long, "just doesn't know how to handle human beings."

Republican power broker Joseph Bruno, the majority leader of the state Senate, was soon pleading with Rudy to straighten out his marriage and focus on defeating Hillary. But by then it was too late. Giuliani was about to give himself the coup de grâce.

As Bruno's comments made headlines, the mayor disclosed at a May 10 press conference that he did indeed have a "very special friend." His secret affair with Judi Nathan had started some 10 months earlier, said Giuliani. By the way, he was also leaving his wife of 16 years, Donna Hanover.

Hanover apparently didn't know that last bit of information was coming. She learned about the dissolution of her marriage on the news. Badly stung, the mother of Giuliani's two children emerged from Gracie Mansion hours later to give her own press conference. Fighting back tears, Hanover accused her husband of conducting another earlier affair with a City Hall aide. He denied it.

After 10 rocky days of deliberation, Giuliani excused himself from the chaos. He dropped out of the race at a packed City Hall press conference on May 20. Giuliani cited his health. His once-promising career in politics looked finished, something he recognized in saying his illness taught him that politics was not the most important thing in his life any longer.

There were only 11 days left before the GOP's state nominating convention. Rep. Rick Lazio, who had never formally left the Senate race despite the party hierarchy's preference for Giuliani, stepped in to accept the Republican nomination.

He'll bail on this race too as it becomes apparent he can't win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 PM


Dalai Lama says heir should be elected (Richard Spencer, 27/11/2007, Daily Telegraph)

In a major break with tradition, the Dalai Lama has said his successor might be chosen before his death with the approval of the Tibetan people through a referendum.

After years of speculation over how the Tibetan leadership would deal with the prospect of his death in exile, the Dalai said he was considering holding a vote over the method of choosing his successor.

Just another religion we Reformed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 PM


Israelis and Palestinians pledge to reach peace pact by end of 2008 (Steven Lee Myers and Helene Cooper, November 27, 2007, NY Times)

The Israeli and Palestinian leaders committed themselves Tuesday to negotiate a peace treaty by the end of 2008, setting themselves a deadline for ending a conflict that has endured for six decades.

President George W. Bush announced the agreement at the opening of an international gathering here at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he declared that a peace between Israelis and Palestinians was part of a broader struggle against extremism in the Middle East.

"We meet to lay the foundation for the establishment of a new nation: A democratic Palestinian state that will live side by side with Israel in peace and security," Bush said, appearing in the academy's Memorial Hall, flanked by the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian authority.

"We meet to help bring an end to the violence that has been the true enemy of the aspirations of both the Israelis and Palestinians."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 PM


Dems marching backward on foreign policy (James Kirchick, Nov 26, 2007, Politico)

Observers would be forgiven were they to mistake Clinton’s and Gore’s campaign speeches as part of the dreaded “neo-con” oeuvre.

The specific targets of Clinton and Gore were the Republican realists — a breed of the foreign policy establishment embodied by Bush, along with his secretary of state, James Baker, and national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft.

In their talk of “coddling dictators from Beijing to Baghdad,” Clinton and Gore faulted the Bush administration for its feckless response to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and cooperation with Saddam Hussein.

How ironic, then, that in his column last week attacking Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, self-identified “progressive” and former Democratic Senate nominee Ned Lamont would hail Bush, Baker and Scowcroft — the latter described by Lamont as “Bush No. 1’s top foreign policy adviser” — as offering the prescription for the Democratic Party’s foreign policy woes.

The modern Democratic party, being secular and union-dominated, is naturally isolationist and protectionist, and when you add in how reactionary they are at a time when there's an Evangelical Republican in office, it's a wonder they don't nominate Pat Buchanan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 PM


Obama: Balance Gun Control: He Cites ‘Realities' of Hunting, Urban Crime (John P. Gregg, 11/27/07, Valley News)

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama yesterday said he believes the U.S. Constitution confers an individual right to bear arms but also said it must be balanced by laws designed to curb gun violence.

At a meeting with Valley News editors and reporters, the Illinois Democrat was asked about a case the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear this session that could re-open a longstanding legal debate about whether the Second Amendment's “right of the people to keep and bear arms” applies to individuals, or relates only to their service in a militia.

The 46-year-old Obama, the first black president of Harvard Law Review and currently on leave as a lecturer on constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School, said the Second Amendment was not one of his academic specialties but also said, “I think the decision that this just applies to militias probably did not fairly read the Second Amendment. I actually think, though, that just because it's an individual right doesn't preclude gun control.”

Not being around in 1994 he couldn't learn from it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:02 PM


The Qur'anist Movement (Jamie Glazov, 11/27/2007,

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Thomas Haidon, a Muslim commentator on human rights, counter-terrorism and Islamic affairs. He is active in the Qur'anist movement and works with a number of Islamic reform organisations as an advisor. He has provided guidance to several governments on counter-terrorism issues and his works have been published in legal periodicals, and other media. Mr. Haidon has also provided advice to and worked for United Nations agencies in Sudan and Indonesia.

FP: Tell us about the Qur'an Only movement.

Haidon: The Qur'anic movement is shift back to the Islam of the Qur'an. Qur'anic Muslims follow the words of the Qur'an alone, and reject the so-called traditions of Islam, as these traditions are not revelation. It is a rationalist movement that is based on the principle that the Qur'an provides a comprehensive guide and criterion for Muslims to live by. The Qur'anic movement does not consider the Sunnah and hadith as valid or reliable sources of Islam. This is primary because the Qur'an is the complete source of Islam ("And We have sent down to you the Book explaining all things, a guide, a mercy and glad tidings for those who submit" 16:89). The primary problem with the Muslim tradition is that it is often inconsistent with the Qur'an. Muslims have attempted to resolve these inconsistencies by interpreting the Qur'an through hadith, not the other way around. Put simply, the Qur'an is God's word, the Sunnah is not.

The so-called Sunnah was not written down until approximately 150 years after Muhammad's death. The rightly guided Caliphs fought against codifying the Sunnah out of fear that it would take a life of its own. Muslim jurisprudence has developed a complex approach to determining the veracity reliability of hadith. Early Muslims fought against the transcribing of the hadith, and were able to clearly see the difficulties. Each of the four righly guided Caliph's (Muhammad's companions) were opposed to the transcribing of hadith, regardless of whether they were valid or not. The Sunnah was initially used as a political tool to consolidate the political power of the Abbasids and Ummayids. There is nothing in the Qur'an explicitly requiring Muslims to follow these traditions, only generic verses that Muslim jurisprudence has exploited to serve Islamic rules. A key element of the Qur'anic movement is that it employs a contextual exegetical approach in interpreting the Qur'an. The Qur'an, without contextual and non-literal explanation, can be dangerous (even without reliance on the Sunnah). While many ahadith are innocuous, other ahadith encourage violence, rape and tyranny. Other ahadith (accepted as valid) are simply absurd, such as the ahadith extolling the virtues of camel urine. The Qur'anic approach puts this in perspective.

In my view, the Qur'anic movement provides the only effective mechanism to comprehensive Islamic reform. Importantly, a number of Islamic scholars including Sheikh Ahmed Mansour, Tarek Abdel Hamid, and Edip Yuskel, among others, have developed devastatingly clear arguments in justification of the approach. The Qur'anic movement is also becoming better organized and strategic. Edip Yuskel and other reformers have recently developed and published the "Quran: A Reformist Translation" which provides a contextual interpretation of the Qur'an along with commentary. It also sets out a strategic framework for the reform of Islam, consistent with the Qur'anic approach. The Qur'anic movement is not without its detractors or skeptics. Unlike other reformist approaches, however, the Qur'anic approach is one based in fact and logic. As the movement becomes more organized and develops greater capacity, it will begin to reach traditional Muslims.

It's Islam's turn for protestantization.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:53 PM


Accept Israel as the Jewish State? (Daniel Pipes, 11/27/2007,

Surprisingly, something useful has emerged from the combination of the misconceived Annapolis meeting and a weak Israeli prime minister, Ehud ("Peace is achieved through concessions") Olmert. Breaking with his predecessors, Olmert has boldly demanded that his Palestinian bargaining partners accept Israel's permanent existence as a Jewish state, thereby evoking a revealing response.

Unless the Palestinians recognize Israel as "a Jewish state," Olmert announced on November 11, the Annapolis-related talks would not proceed. "I do not intend to compromise in any way over the issue of the Jewish state. This will be a condition for our recognition of a Palestinian state."

...of why the Neocons didn't think it was okay for Saddam to insist that the Shi'a accept the permanent Sunni state of Iraq.

On the Jewish Question (BERNARD LEWIS, November 26, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

PLO and other Palestinian spokesmen have, from time to time, given formal indications of recognition of Israel in their diplomatic discourse in foreign languages. But that's not the message delivered at home in Arabic, in everything from primary school textbooks to political speeches and religious sermons. Here the terms used in Arabic denote, not the end of hostilities, but an armistice or truce, until such time that the war against Israel can be resumed with better prospects for success. Without genuine acceptance of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish State, as the more than 20 members of the Arab League exist as Arab States, or the much larger number of members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference exist as Islamic states, peace cannot be negotiated.

A good example of how this problem affects negotiation is the much-discussed refugee question. During the fighting in 1947-1948, about three-fourths of a million Arabs fled or were driven (both are true in different places) from Israel and found refuge in the neighboring Arab countries. In the same period and after, a slightly greater number of Jews fled or were driven from Arab countries, first from the Arab-controlled part of mandatory Palestine (where not a single Jew was permitted to remain), then from the Arab countries where they and their ancestors had lived for centuries, or in some places for millennia. Most Jewish refugees found their way to Israel.

What happened was thus, in effect, an exchange of populations not unlike that which took place in the Indian subcontinent in the previous year, when British India was split into India and Pakistan. Millions of refugees fled or were driven both ways -- Hindus and others from Pakistan to India, Muslims from India to Pakistan. Another example was Eastern Europe at the end of World War II, when the Soviets annexed a large piece of eastern Poland and compensated the Poles with a slice of eastern Germany. This too led to a massive refugee movement -- Poles fled or were driven from the Soviet Union into Poland, Germans fled or were driven from Poland into Germany.

The Poles and the Germans, the Hindus and the Muslims, the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, all were resettled in their new homes and accorded the normal rights of citizenship. More remarkably, this was done without international aid. The one exception was the Palestinian Arabs in neighboring Arab countries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:45 PM


Planet-saving madness (Christopher Booker, 27/11/2007, Daily Telegraph)

The scare over global warming, and our politicians' response to it, is becoming ever more bizarre. On the one hand we have the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change coming up with yet another of its notoriously politicised reports, hyping up the scare by claiming that world surface temperatures have been higher in 11 of the past 12 years (1995-2006) than ever previously recorded.

This carefully ignores the latest US satellite figures showing temperatures having fallen since 1998, declining in 2007 to a 1983 level - not to mention the newly revised figures for US surface temperatures showing that the 1930s had four of the 10 warmest years of the past century, with the hottest year of all being not 1998, as was previously claimed, but 1934.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:58 PM


An Epidemic of Falsehoods (Michael Fumento, 11/27/2007, American Spectator)

For its data, the U.N. had relied heavily on "sentinel-site surveillance" at prenatal clinics. This system was described and faulted six years ago in Rolling Stone magazine. "If a given number of pregnant women are HIV-positive, the formula says, then a certain percentage of all adults and children are presumed to be infected, too." Such an extrapolation from a small non-representative portion of the population to literally the whole world is nonsense.

And UNAIDS knew it because it had been told by a number of careful, knowledgeable scientists such as Berkeley epidemiologist Dr. James Chin.

Chin, when he worked for the UN, was responsible for some of the earliest world AIDS forecasts. Later he watched how politics -- not a virus -- made those figures zoom into the stratosphere.

Three years ago, Chin told me: "They [the UN] don't falsify per se" but "as an epidemiologist I look at these numbers and how they're derived. Every step of the way there is a range and you can choose the low end or the high end. Almost consistently the high end was chosen."

And guess what? Chin, who is also author of The AIDS Pandemic: The Collision of Epidemiology With Political Correctness, still thinks the numbers are too high. He estimates worldwide HIV infections to be 25 million, still about eight million less than the revised estimate.

So at some point the authorities will be forced to lower the figures again.

Given the near impossibility of transmitting the virus to heterosexual men, the estimates were always dubious.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:51 AM


Ethiopia bogged down in Somalia (BBC, 11/27/07)

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has acknowledged that his troops cannot withdraw from the conflict in Somalia.

Mr Meles said he had expected to withdraw his soldiers earlier in the year, after Islamists had been driven out of the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

But he said divisions within the Somali government had left it unable to replace the Ethiopians, while not enough peacekeepers had arrived.

We'll welcome the return of the Courts.

< a href=,1518,519776,00.html>INTERVIEW WITH CHAIRMAN OF SOMALIA'S COUNCIL OF ISLAMIC COURTS: 'The So-Called Legal Government Is a Farce': War-torn Somalia is experiencing ongoing fighting between Islamic insurgents and the Ethiopian-backed government. Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, chairman of the Council of Islamic Courts, talked to SPIEGEL ONLINE about how the Ethiopian forces are violating human rights and why he opposes al-Qaida. (Der Spiegel, 11/27/07)

Until this year, the strongest of the many groups which had been battling for power in Somalia was the Council of Islamic Courts (CIC). The loose-knit union of Islamic courts took control of Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia in 2006 and also threatened to take countrol of Ethiopia's Somali-speaking eastern region, the Ogaden.

The Islamists imposed Sharia law during the second half of 2006. They managed to reunite Mogadishu, which had been divided up among rival warlords, and brought some semblance of law and order to the anarchic country.

The Ethiopian army marched into Somalia in December 2006 to help Somali's interim government oust the CIC. The Islamic group, who are strongly opposed to the presence of Ethiopian troops in the country, fought back, prompting the current wave of violence.

However the CIC is not a homogeneous group but is divided between moderates and hardliners, all of whom claim they want to restore stability and the rule of law in the country. [...]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Ethiopians marched in to keep Somalia from turning into an Islamist state.

Sheik Sharif: That was a weak pretense which only complicated the situation even further. We never intended to declare an Islamic republic.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But it was clear which way things were heading in Somalia. Alcohol and music were outlawed and women had to wear veils. Some of your coalition partners declared open sympathy with the mujahedeen in Afghanistan. And didn't the terror network al-Qaida gain a foothold in Somalia?

Sheik Sharif: That was an evil slander. Even if a few of our comrades favored a strict interpretation of Islamic law, it was up to the citizens to orient themselves toward Islamic custom according to their own discretion. I was, and still am today, strictly against giving asylum in Somalia to al-Qaida criminals and their kind.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:44 AM


Study finds immigrants' use of healthcare system lower than expected: UCLA researchers find that Latinos in the U.S. illegally are 50% less likely to visit emergency rooms (Mary Engel, 11/27/07, Los Angeles Times)

By federal law, hospitals must treat every emergency, regardless of a person's insurance -- or immigration -- status. Illegal immigrants, who often work at jobs that don't offer health insurance, are commonly seen as driving both the closures and the crowding.

But the study found that while illegal immigrants are indeed less likely to be insured, they are also less likely to visit a doctor, clinic or emergency room.

"The current policy discourse that undocumented immigrants are a burden on the public because they overuse public resources is not borne out with data, for either primary care or emergency department care," said Alexander N. Ortega, an associate professor at UCLA's School of Public Health and the study's lead author. "In fact, they seem to be underutilizing the system, given their health needs."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:38 AM


Our enemy hands (Katherine Ashenburg, November 27, 2007, IHT)

It's hard to see Americans as under-washed. Sales of antibacterial soap, tooth whiteners and "intimate hygiene" products are skyrocketing. Scientists actually connect the rising rates of asthma and allergies in the West to our overzealous cleanliness. And yet, in a compulsively sanitized culture, cleaning one part of the body - the hands - seems to be more honored in the breach than the observance. Studies show that hospital doctors resist washing their hands, and researchers report that only about 15 percent of people in public restrooms wash their hands properly.

Our ancestors would have been bewildered by this discrepancy between relentlessly scrubbed bodies and neglected hands. Depending on their era and culture, they defined "clean" in a wide variety of ways. A first-century Roman spent a few hours each day in the bathhouse, steaming, parboiling and chilling himself, exfoliating with a miniature rake - and avoiding soap. Elizabeth I boasted that she bathed once a month, "whether I need it or not." Louis XIV is reported to have bathed twice in his long, athletic life, but was considered fastidious because he changed his shirt three times a day.

But through all these swings of the hygiene pendulum, one practice never went out of style - ordinary hand-washing. Which was fortunate, because hand-washing is the one cleansing practice canonized by modern science, a low-tech but effective way to prevent getting and passing on the common cold and infections from Clostridium difficile to MRSA, SARS and bird flu.

...hygiene and nutrition. The rest is gimmickry.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:05 AM


Hurricane predictions miss the mark (MARTIN MERZER, 11/26/07, Miami Herald)

Just before the season started on June 1, the nationally prominent Gray-Klotzbach team at Colorado State University predicted that 17 named storms would grow into nine hurricanes, five of which would be particularly intense, with winds above 110 mph.

A different team at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted 13 to 17 named storms, seven to 10 hurricanes and three to five intense hurricanes.

The actual results for the 2007 season: 14 named storms, five hurricanes, two intense hurricanes.

That turned a season predicted to be extremely active into one that was about average in number of storms and well below average in total intensity.

Even mid-season corrections issued by both teams in August -- somewhat akin to changing your prediction about a baseball game during the fifth inning -- proved wrong.

Their pre-season predictions in 2005 and 2006 were even worse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


Sell the Whole Farm for Santana (TIM MARCHMAN, November 27, 2007, NY Sun)

There has never been a pitcher quite like Johan Santana. You could call him a left-handed Pedro Martinez, but that would insult his uniqueness. Once thought too short to be a starter, the reticent Venezuelan hero has been the key to this decade's baseball renaissance in Minnesota, during which the Twins have made four trips to the playoffs and won approval for a new ballpark. With an explosive fastball, a notorious changeup, and total control of both, the peerlessly efficient Santana has dominated in the game's deepest division. He is the best pitcher in the sport as unquestionably as Martinez once was, and as Greg Maddux was before him.

After this coming season, Santana, 28, will be a free agent. While the Twins have reportedly offered a contract extension, it will likely take something near $150 million to keep Santana off the market, so there is a very real possibility that he will be traded. This has Yankees fans asking whether it would be worth giving up a young pitcher like Philip Hughes or even Joba Chamberlain as part of a package to land Santana. It's a silly question — if they can, they should.

It would be nice to keep Hughes, but if you can trade Charley Kerfeld's love-child, an outfielder who can't slug .400, and genetic 4th starter Ian Kennedy for Johan, how do you not do it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


Follow the Fundamentals (DAVID BROOKS, 11/27/07, NY Times)

Recently the World Economic Forum and the International Institute for Management Development produced global competitiveness indexes, and once again they both ranked the United States first in the world.

In the World Economic Forum survey, the U.S. comes in just ahead of Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and Germany (China is 34th). The U.S. gets poor marks for macroeconomic stability (the long-term federal debt), for its tax structure and for the low savings rate. But it leads the world in a range of categories: higher education and training, labor market flexibility, the ability to attract global talent, the availability of venture capital, the quality of corporate management and the capacity to innovate.

William W. Lewis of McKinsey surveyed global competitive in dozens of business sectors a few years ago, and concluded, “The United States is the productivity leader in virtually every industry.”

Second, America’s fundamental economic strength is rooted in the most stable of assets — its values. The U.S. is still an astonishing assimilation machine. It has successfully absorbed more than 20 million legal immigrants over the past quarter-century, an extraordinary influx of human capital. Americans are remarkably fertile. Birthrates are relatively high, meaning that in 2050, the average American will be under 40, while the average European, Chinese and Japanese will be more than a decade older.

The American economy benefits from low levels of corruption. American culture still transmits some ineffable spirit of adventure. American students can’t compete with, say, Singaporean students on standardized tests, but they are innovative and creative throughout their lives. The U.S. standard of living first surpassed the rest of the world’s in about 1740, and despite dozens of cycles of declinist foreboding, the country has resolutely refused to decay.

Third, not every economic dislocation has been caused by trade and the Chinese. Between 1991 and 2007, the U.S. trade deficit exploded to $818 billion from $31 billion. Yet as Robert Samuelson has pointed out, during that time the U.S. created 28 million jobs and the unemployment rate dipped to 4.6 percent from 6.8 percent.

That’s because, as Robert Lawrence of Harvard and Martin Baily of McKinsey have calculated, 90 percent of manufacturing job losses are due to domestic forces. As companies become more technologically advanced, they shed workers (the Chinese shed 25 million manufacturing jobs between 1994 and 2004).

Meanwhile, the number of jobs actually lost to outsourcing is small, and recent reports suggest the outsourcing trend is slowing down. They are swamped by the general churn of creative destruction. Every quarter the U.S. loses somewhere around seven million jobs, and creates a bit more than seven million more. That double-edged process is the essence of a dynamic economy.

These are happy teams for those of us who believe men fundamentally ineducable. 2007 is virtually indistinguishable, rhetorically, from 1987.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


Syria a nation of contradictions: Although allied with Iran, its people admire the West. Damascus has its own agenda for peace talks (Borzou Daragahi, 11/27/07, Los Angeles Times)

Syrian officials and analysts speak bitterly of what they call an abandonment of their country by the West they admire. Iran, most admit, is an uncomfortable fit for their nation, which once used to enjoy cozy relations with the West, especially Europe, and with other Arab countries.

The Syrian government has for decades been fighting Islamic militants, some of them linked to Al Qaeda. But relations between Syria and much of the rest of the world soured over Damascus' ties to other militant groups in the region, including those opposed to Israel and the pro-Western government in Lebanon.

Syria has long had close ties with Tehran, strengthened when the government here backed the Islamic Republic during the bitter Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. But Syria's international isolation now has highlighted its connection to Iran.

"The alliance between Syria and Iran is not something new," said a European diplomat in Damascus, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The real thing which has changed is that it's no longer a relationship between two partners with equal weight, but it has shifted to an unequal relationship. It doesn't mean Syria wants what Iran wants."

In fact, though Damascus and Tehran share some of the same general strategic goals, such as confronting Israel, they diverge starkly over the details.

They find themselves on opposite sides in the simmering Shiite-Sunni conflict in Iraq. Tehran backs Shiite allies who dominate the government in Baghdad. Damascus provides a haven for former followers of Saddam Hussein's secular regime -- including, U.S. military officials say, insurgents fighting the Iraqi government.

"Syria and Iran have very few things they agree on for Iraq; they have very different agendas for the post-Saddam regime," said Sami Moubayed, a Damascus political analyst and journalist. "But Syria can't oppose Iran because Iran is Syria's No. 1 friend nowadays."

There's no room in the Shi'a Crescent for the Ba'athists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Zogby: Hillary Defeatable by 5 GOP Frontrunners (Newsmax Staff, 11/26/07)

All five of the leading Republican presidential candidates — including John McCain — would beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in a head-to-head match-up, according to a surprising new poll from Zogby International.

But Barack Obama outpolled all five GOP hopefuls — Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, Mike Huckabee, and McCain.

And that's just the Wilder Effect.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


Russia's New Old Dissidents (Anne Applebaum, November 27, 2007, Washington Post)

Kasparov himself, still better known for his titanic battles against the world's smartest chess computer than for his political acumen, is sui generis. His allies in the Other Russia movement are an odd mix. Among them are formerly mainstream economic liberals, including Boris Nemtsov, once deputy prime minister; the would-be fascists of the National Bolshevik Party, led by Eduard Limonov, an ex-dissident, ex-punk, ex-writer; and the remnants of the human rights movement, most notably the Moscow Helsinki Group. Just as the old dissident movement was united only by its hatred of Soviet communism, Other Russia is an umbrella organization, united only by its hatred of Putinism, an ideology that has solidified in recent months into something resembling an old-fashioned personality cult.

Odder still is that we hear anything about them at all. Until recently, this ragtag group of elderly ex-dissidents and 20-somethings surely would have been tolerated by the authorities, whose attitude toward political opposition used to be a good deal subtler. During most of his presidency, Putin's "managed democracy" permitted many forms of political dissent, so long as they remained extremely small. Although most television stations are controlled one way or another by the Kremlin, a few low-circulation newspapers were allowed to keep up some criticism. Although anyone with real potential to oppose Putin was dissuaded or destroyed, a few unpopular critics, Kasparov among them, were allowed to keep talking. A bit of pressure was released, and the regime was never really challenged.

In the past year things have changed. The still-unsolved murder of journalist and Putin critic Anna Politkovskaya was followed by regular physical and verbal attacks on the president's opponents. Typical of the latter was, which last spring called the anti-Putin opposition a "motley army of deviants, criminals, wannabe politicians, fraudsters and gangsters on the fringes of Russian society." Putin himself calls them scavenging " jackals" who live on foreign handouts.

But if they really are deviants and jackals, why arrest them? If Putin really is wildly popular, why bother calling them names at all? Kasparov answers this question -- one of many political mysteries in Russia at the moment -- by arguing that Putin is far less secure than he appears to be.

Actually, the tragedy here is that Putin is far more secure than his authoritarian actions make him appear, even if it has little to do with him, In a Russian City, Clues to Putin's Abiding Appeal (Peter Finn, 11/23/07, Washington Post)
For the first time in post-Soviet history, a majority of Russians feel optimistic about their own and their country's future, according to the Levada Center, an independent polling agency. The sense of personal and national resurgence, clearly visible in long-depressed Nizhny Novgorod, with its now-plentiful factory jobs, foreign stores and construction cranes, is a key factor in the consistently high approval ratings enjoyed by President Vladimir Putin. [...]

[W]hile Putin -- who has never debated a rival during two presidential election cycles -- benefits from the country's closed political process and fawning institutions, his ratings cannot be dismissed as simply the fruit of propaganda, according to Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center.

"He combines the renewed hopes of the people and the restoration of authority," Gudkov said. "He spoke the language that many people could understand."

Putin's predecessor of the 1990s, Boris Yeltsin, had to contend with low oil prices, bankrupt state finances and an economic restructuring, including the world's largest sell-off of government property, that bred widespread resentment. Millions of Russians fell into poverty as well-connected tycoons became fabulously rich. An enfeebled Kremlin was seen by many Russians as the handmaiden of a triumphant West.

Now Putin is trading on an enduring nostalgia for the Soviet past, when Russia stood tall in the world. As the country grew to become the world's second-largest exporter of oil, he adopted a prickly and increasingly assertive foreign policy that is widely cheered by Russians.

At home, Putin has used careful stage management to position himself as a figure above politics -- the people's czar who reins in ministers, bureaucrats, tycoons and even the politicians of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party that he will head in next month's parliamentary elections.

"As a rule, all sorts of carpetbaggers try to leech onto" United Russia, he said this week, both echoing and playing down a popular suspicion that the party he has chosen to lead is a coalition of opportunists. "Their goal is not the good of the people, but their own enrichment. They compromise a party."

Putin has been extraordinarily lucky with timing, his tenure coinciding with the rising oil prices that have driven economic growth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Celtics' Strides on Defense Key to Their Dominance (JOHN HOLLINGER, November 27, 2007, NY Sun)

[T]he biggest surprise of all is the no. 1 ranked defensive team: the Boston Celtics. The key to their scorching-hot 11–1 start has been a shockingly good defensive effort. Boston allows only 92.9 points per 100 possessions, more than three points better than the second-place Nuggets. That would make them a fantastic team even with an average offense, but of course Boston's offense is well above average thanks to the star trio of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen, ranking fifth in Offensive Efficiency.

Needless to say, Boston is crushing opponents on a nightly basis — with such dominance at both ends, why wouldn't they? Nobody doubted they could put together a potent offensive squad, but the defensive results are downright shocking. And they bear closer examination, because if the Celtics keep defending this way, it's hard to imagine them not winning the championship.

One way the Celtics excel is by limiting their opponents' shots. Boston is the fourth-best defensive rebounding team in the league, grabbing 76.5% of opponent misses. With a board beast like Garnett joining another strong rebounder in center Kendrick Perkins, this is perhaps not a huge surprise. A bigger surprise is the turnovers they're forcing — Boston opponents cough it up on 17.9% of opponent possessions — again, the fourth-best number in basketball.

As a result, Boston gives up fewer "shots" (defined as field-goal attempts or trips to the foul line) per opponent possession than any team in basketball. This alone saves them more than two points a game compared to the average team, a huge total over the course of the season. By the way, the Nets are a close second in this category, thanks to their league-best Defensive Rebound Rate.

So what's the difference between the Celtics and the Nets? Basically, Boston's opponents miss a lot more shots than New Jersey's. The Celtics are no. 1 with a bullet in field-goal percentage defense, with opponents converting only 40.9% from the floor. This is miles ahead of the next-best team (Los Angeles Lakers, 43.5%), accounting for the other big reason Boston is so far ahead of the pack in Defensive Efficiency.

It's also shocking, much more so than the rebound and turnover numbers. Boston doesn't strike anybody as a shutdown defensive club. While Garnett is a good defender, the Celtics don't have much other quality size inside, especially with Perkins in frequent foul trouble. On the wings, reserve James Posey is the closest thing they have to a defensive stopper, and his minutes are limited because Allen and Pierce are on the court so much. Allen is a notoriously poor defender, and Boston's bench brigade is generally lightly regarded at the defensive end too, especially reserve guard Eddie House.

But somehow, the whole vastly exceeds the sum of its parts so far. Some ascribe it to the teachings of new defensive assistant Tom Thibodeau — who was in Houston helping the Rockets rank no.2 in Defensive Efficiency last season. Some say it's the esprit de corps resulting from the excitement surrounding the rebuilt Celtics, or the impact of the ultra-intense Garnett on his teammates.

Here's a possibility we need to at least consider — that some of it might be luck. Field-goal percentage is a notoriously fluky statistic, especially when looking at small samples.

November 26, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 PM


Cheney Has Irregular Heartbeat (AP, 11/26/07)

Vice President Dick Cheney, who has a history of heart problems, experienced an irregular heartbeat Monday and was taken to George Washington University Hospital for evaluation.

It would have been more useful to get rid of him for the '06 midterms, but there's no bad time for the President to appoint the first black woman VP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 PM


John Noble, 84, gulag survivor (Douglas Martin, November 26, 2007, NY Times)

John Noble, an American who never knew why the Soviets imprisoned him in their notorious gulag, but not only lived to write books on the grim, decade-long experience but also recovered his family's company and castle in the former East Germany, died on Nov. 10 in Dresden, Germany. He was 84.

His family announced the death.

Noble's story surfaced in the early years of the cold war, as the United States repeatedly asked the Soviet Union about him, only to be told that the Russians knew nothing. President Dwight Eisenhower personally intervened and won his release in January 1955 after nine and a half years of captivity.

His incarceration included backbreaking labor; minimal water and food; temperatures that regularly plunged 50 degrees below zero; and solitary confinement — first in Russian prisons in Germany, including Buchenwald, the former Nazi concentration camp. Then Noble was sent to Russia's slave labor camps, the notorious gulag. He was Slave No. 1-E-241. [...]

Soon after Noble's release, The New York Times reported on his reunion with his family in New York on Jan. 17, 1955. Contrary to his later accounts, he said he had been treated well, and the article said he appeared to be in excellent health.

But he soon spoke more darkly of his experiences in many interviews, speeches and writings, which included a series of articles in The New York Times and books that included "I Was a Slave in Russia" (1958) and "I Found God in Soviet Russia" (1959), written with Glenn D. Everett, with an introduction by the Rev. Billy Graham.

He long charged that the Soviet Union continued to hold many American prisoners. In 1968, he said at a mock trial of international Communism organized by anti-Communist groups that the Soviets had held 3,000 Americans in 1955 and still had many. The State Department replied that it knew of no such captives.

He fueled his message with religious conviction annealed in Soviet jails, and an anti-Communism so fierce that he went on a speaking tour for the ultra-right-wing John Birch Society in the mid-1960s. He was founder and director of the Faith and Freedom Forum, which sold recordings of his books, among other things.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:34 PM


Where the dollar’s decline is taking the world (David Hale, November 22 2007, Financial Times)

[T]he risks in the economy are forcing the Federal Reserve to ease monetary policy at a time when most central banks are reluctant to act.

The Fed has eased twice since September and the odds are high that it will have to ease further in the new year. The housing recession threatens to spread to the hitherto booming non-residential construction sector. Rising petrol prices could depress Christmas retail sales. Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, does not want to preside over an election-year recession when the core inflation rate is barely 2 per cent. That could jeopardise his chances of winning a second term in 2010.

Indeed, it's not possible to justify rates this high when inflation is so low.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:18 PM


The Future of the GOP (Ross Douthat, Nov. 26, 2007, Slate)

The alliance between evangelical Christians and the Republican Party has been one of the most fruitful political partnerships in recent American history. It has also been one of the more unusual. From 19th-century abolitionists through William Jennings Bryan's Social Gospel to the civil rights movement, evangelicals have tended to associate themselves with idealistic crusades and messianic ambitions—and thus, as often as not, with the aspirations of the political left. "As a faith that revolves around the experience of individual transformation," conservative scholar Wilfred McClay remarked early in 2005—at the height of liberal panic over the influence of religious "values voters"—evangelical Christianity "inevitably exists in tension" with the established order. To call someone "both an evangelical and a conservative, then," McClay concluded, "is to call him something slightly more problematic than one may think."

This tension has been in evidence throughout the presidency of George W. Bush, and it's nowhere more apparent than in the divided soul of his former chief speechwriter and policy adviser Michael Gerson, now a columnist for the Washington Post and the author of Heroic Conservatism: Why Conservatives Should Embrace America's Ideals—and Why They Deserve To Fail If They Don't. A graduate of Wheaton College, the flagship school of American evangelicalism, Gerson began his political life as a passionate Jimmy Carter supporter, only to drift rightward as a pro-choice orthodoxy took hold in the Democratic Party. Like many of his co-believers, he found the GOP an imperfect home and gravitated toward Republicans who deviated from the party's small-government line, among them Charles Colson, who exchanged his role as Nixon's hatchet man for a life in prison ministry; Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, who spent the 1990s pushing proposals for federal grants to faith-based charities on a skeptical GOP leadership; Jack Kemp, the self-described "bleeding-heart conservative"; and finally George W. Bush himself, whose 2000 presidential campaign was organized in conscious opposition to the strident anti-government ethos of the Gingrich-era party.

The Bush-Gerson partnership was a match made, dare one say, in heaven: a religious speechwriter who wanted to graft "a message of social justice" onto the rugged individualism of Goldwater-Reagan conservatism, and a governor who, in Gerson's words, "not only wanted to run the Republican Party, but to remake it." For every left-winger who dismissed Bush's talk of "compassionate conservatism" as a cynical attempt to retitle the same old right-wing song without changing any of the notes—and for every conservative who hoped it didn't go any further than that—Gerson's book, part memoir and part polemic, offers passionate testimony to the contrary. In the pages of Heroic Conservatism (because merely compassionate conservatism doesn't go quite far enough), liberals will find a Bush administration dedicated to providing health care to seniors, improving failing schools, boosting foreign aid, and championing human rights abroad. Small-government conservatives, meanwhile, will find many of their darkest fears about the Bush administration's crypto-liberalism confirmed.

Gerson's intention is to justify the ways of Bush to both sides—to persuade liberals that the current president's faith-infused idealism fits squarely in a political tradition that runs back to Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman, and JFK, and to convince conservatives that their only hope for political relevance is to associate themselves with a distinctly un-Norquistian view of government's capacity to make the world a better place.

...but the GOP displayed it in 2000 when it chose George W. Bush's revolutionary, but politically risky, vision over the conservative orthodoxy and certain electability of John McCain. It's not often a party is willing to risk an election for the good of the country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:53 PM

(via The Other Brother):

Doesn't this need to be a streaming simulcast?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:47 PM


The End of the Stem-Cell Wars (Ryan T. Anderson, 11/27/07, The Weekly Standard)

Even now, nine years later, embryonic stem cells are thought by many scientists to have greater potential than other types. This reputation persists even though adult stem cells are already used in therapies to treat several diseases and are being tested in hundreds of clinical trials, while not a single embryonic stem cell therapy exists, even in trials.

As anyone familiar with reparative medicine knows, immune rejection is one of the tallest hurdles to clear. The promise of cloning was that therapies could be produced using human embryos cloned directly from the patient--thus resulting in a genetic match. Cloning, it was said, would also provide an unlimited supply of human embryos. But many people thought human cloning with the sole intention to kill crossed an ethical line. In addition, human cloning would require an enormous number of human eggs--which could be obtained only by subjecting donors to painful and potentially dangerous hormonal-stimulation procedures. The fear was that likely "donors" would be poor women undergoing a distasteful procedure solely for the fee.

On August 9, 2001, President Bush waded into this morass. He issued an executive order that opened human embryonic stem cell research to federal funding for the first time ever. The order also restricted that funding, however, to research using existing embryonic stem cell lines: No more embryos would be created and destroyed for taxpayer-funded research. (Contrary to popular belief, Bush's order did not ban anything.) Opposition was fierce, but Bush stood firm.

Amid this controversy, a number of scientists discussed possible alternative sources of embryonic stem cells. William Hurlbut, a professor at Stanford and a member of the President's Council on Bioethics, proposed Altered Nuclear Transfer, a process that produced nonembryonic tumor-like entities that could then be harvested for the equivalent of embryonic stem cells. Some ethicists weren't fully sold, fearing that the tumor-like entities might be deformed embryos. Hurlbut's proposal was then modified, using oocyte cytoplasm to directly reprogram a cell's nucleus to make it pluripotent. Still, some critics were unconvinced. Finally, using mice, a Japanese scientist, Shinya Yamanaka, showed that he could create embryonic stem cells directly from adult cells, and within less than a year his study was replicated and significantly expanded by two separate research groups. Yamanaka went to work to make it happen with human cells.

But outside the scientific community, conventional wisdom held that these alternative sources, while interesting, were being proposed only to provide Bush with political cover during the waning years of his presidency. As soon as a new president was inaugurated, federal funds would flow into human cloning and embryo-destructive research. Or so the story went.

That expectation has now been shattered. Whether or not the next president shares Bush's pro-life convictions, it is highly unlikely that taxpayer funds will go to support embryo destruction, which has become not only unnecessary but also less efficient than the alternatives. That's the story coming out of Cell and Science.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:57 AM


Troops start ground offensive in Swat (Daily Times, 11/27/06)

Security forces backed by gunship helicopters and artillery have begun a ground offensive against pro-Taliban militants, killing at least 35 of them and losing two soldiers, the military said on Sunday.

It was the first time ground troops had been used in the Swat region, said army spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad. He said the troops had gained control of mountaintops overlooking three militant-held villages near Mingora in an operation that was launched late on Saturday, reported AP. The troops controlled all entry and exit points to these villages, he added. He said 15 soldiers were also wounded.

“The strongholds of militants are being hit. Troops have demolished their bunkers and destroyed a checkpost,” Arshad said.

Nearly 80 Taliban killed in Afghanistan airstrikes (Daily Times, 11/27/07)
Nearly 80 Taliban rebels were killed in a series of air raids by international military forces near Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan, a provincial government spokesman said on Sunday.

Around 65 were killed in a single airstrike on a “large group of Taliban” late on Saturday in eastern Paktia province’s Patan district, according to Din Muhammad Darvish, a spokesman for the local administration.

Elmer Fudd could bag his limit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Even more good news for Maliki (Sami Moubayed, 11/27/07, Asia Times)

The tug-of-war between Ba'athists and leaders of post-2003 Iraq has dominated political life in Baghdad. What's new is the apparent willingness of Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Sadrist bloc, to coordinate with Kurdish politicians. Muqtada also sent a very strong message to Kurdish politicians through one of his top loyalists, member of Parliament Bahaa al-Araji. Speaking to the Iraqi newspaper Ilaf, Araji defended article 140 of the constitution, pertaining to Kirkuk. That is certainly a new line for the Sadrists. The article, which has caused a storm in Iraqi political circles, calls for a census and referendum in the oil-rich city to see whether it can be incorporated into Iraqi Kurdistan.

In 1986, as part of his Arabization process, Saddam called for the relocation of Arab families to Kirkuk, the center of Iraq's petroleum industry, to outnumber the Kurds living there. He also uprooted thousands of Kurds from Kirkuk. Since the downfall of Saddam's regime, the Kurds have been demanding Kirkuk, something that both Sunnis and mainstream Shi'ites curtly refuse.

Recently, however, after Maliki's main allies in the Sadrist bloc and Iraqi Accordance Front walked out on him, he was left with no other option but to cuddle up to the Kurds and support them on Kirkuk. He backed article 140, calling it "mandatory" and called on 12,000 Arab families brought to Kirkuk by Saddam to return to their Arab districts. When that is complete, and the census and referendum are held, then Kirkuk would become 100% Kurdish.

Saddam's deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz once told Kurdish politicians, "You [the Kurds] have one right: to weep as you pass through Kirkuk [since it will never become a Kurdish city]." But if Maliki and Muqtada support article 140, then Kirkuk very much might become "Kurdish".

Muqtada's about-turn was expressed by Araji, who said: "The article is constitutional and it should be handled accordingly." When asked if this means giving Kirkuk to the Kurds, Araji did not say, "No, Kirkuk is an Arab city and will remain an Arab city." He surprised observers by saying: "The Iraqis are the ones who decide on this." Clearly, Araji could not have made such a bold statement without getting prior approval from Muqtada.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Rudy: It's time to unmask Romney (Jonathan Martin, Nov 26, 2007, Politico)

In a big strategic shift, Rudy Giuliani hammered Mitt Romney’s record on three fronts, saying it was time to “take the mask off and take a look at what kind of governor was he.”

Using some of the toughest language of his campaign, Giuliani, in an interview with Politico, slammed Romney on health care, crime and taxes. At the same time he portrayed the one-time moderate as a hypocrite on a host of social issues who lives “in a glass house.” It was easily the most sweeping attack Giuliani has delivered against Romney in this campaign.

“He throws stones at people,” Giuliani said in an interview on his campaign bus. “And then on that issue he usually has a worse record than whoever he’s throwing stones at.”

Indeed, the Mayor's the only candidate with a worse record on social issues.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


‘CSI: Vancouver’? Well, Not Exactly (MIKE HALE, 11/25/07, NY Times)

The Canadian series “Da Vinci’s Inquest,” whose second season has just been released on DVD (Acorn Media), passed largely unnoticed in the United States but had an eerily “Sopranos”-like track record at home. The shows, which made their debuts just three months apart, were both nominated as their countries’ best dramatic series in all seven years they were eligible. “The Sopranos” won the Emmy twice; “Da Vinci’s Inquest” won the Gemini five times.

Because it’s a police procedural centered on a coroner’s office, “Da Vinci” has been called a cross between “Law & Order” and “CSI.” (It’s right there on the DVD box: “The realism of ‘Law & Order.’ The science of ‘CSI.’”) But it’s not at all like either of those shows. While its crimes can be sensational — several multiple-episode story arcs in the first two seasons involve a serial killer preying on prostitutes near the Vancouver docks — its approach is resolutely low-key, avoiding both ripped-from-the-headlines formulas and glossy melodrama.

With its elliptical, literate storytelling and the believable relationships among its large ensemble cast of pathologists, police officers and bureaucrats, it resembles much more closely the good, early days of “N.Y.P.D. Blue” or “ER.”

It's an enjoyable enough ensemble piece, with two not uncommon drawbacks of the genre: it sometimes borders on "torture porn" and the cases tend to involve the staff's personal lives to too unbelievable a degree, though not to quite the absurd extent of the not dissimilar McCallum.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


He didn't suffer all that much (Dinesh D'Souza, 11/25/07, Philadelphia Inquirer)

The data right up to Galileo's day favored Ptolemy. Historian Thomas Kuhn notes that throughout the Middle Ages, people proposed the heliocentric alternative. "They were ridiculed and ignored," Kuhn writes, adding, "The reasons for the rejection were excellent." The Earth does not appear to move, and we can all witness the sun rise in the morning and set in the evening.

Galileo was a Florentine astronomer highly respected by the Catholic Church. Once a supporter of Ptolemy's geocentric theory, Galileo became convinced that Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus was right that the Earth really did revolve around the sun. Copernicus had advanced his theory in 1543 in a book dedicated to the pope. He admitted he had no physical proof, but the power of the heliocentric hypothesis was that it produced vastly better predictions of planetary orbits. Copernicus' new ideas unleashed a major debate within the religious and scientific communities, which at that time overlapped greatly. The prevailing view half a century later, when Galileo took up the issue, was that Copernicus had advanced an interesting but unproven hypothesis, useful for calculating the motions of heavenly bodies but not persuasive enough to jettison the geocentric theory altogether.

Galileo's contribution to the Copernican theory was significant, but not decisive.

Having developed a more powerful telescope than others of his day, Galileo made important new observations about the moons of Jupiter, the phases of Venus, and spots on the sun that undermined Ptolemy and were consistent with Copernican theory.

It may surprise some readers to find out that the pope was an admirer of Galileo and a supporter of scientific research being conducted at the time, mostly in church-sponsored observatories and universities. So was the head of the Inquisition, the learned theologian Cardinal Robert Bellarmine. When Galileo's lectures supporting the heliocentric theory were reported to the Inquisition, most likely by one of Galileo's academic rivals in Florence, Cardinal Bellarmine met with Galileo. This was not normal Inquisition procedure, but Galileo was a celebrity. In 1616, he went to Rome with great fanfare, where he stayed at the grand Medici villa, met with the pope more than once, and attended receptions given by various bishops and cardinals.

Bellarmine proposed that, given the inconclusive evidence for the theory and the sensitivity of the religious issues involved, Galileo should not teach or promote heliocentrism. Galileo, a practicing Catholic who wanted to maintain his good standing with the church, agreed. Bellarmine issued an injunction, and a record of the proceeding went into the church files.

For several years, Galileo kept his word and continued his experiments and discussions without publicly advocating heliocentrism. Then he received the welcome news that Cardinal Maffeo Barberini had been named Pope Urban VIII. Barberini was a scientific "progressive," having fought to prevent Copernicus' work from being placed on the index of prohibited books. Barberini was a fan of Galileo and had even written a poem eulogizing him. Galileo was confident that now he could openly preach heliocentrism.

But the new pope's position on the subject was complicated. Urban VIII held that while science can make useful measurements and predictions about the universe, it cannot claim to have actual knowledge of reality known only to God - which comes actually quite close to what some physicists now believe regarding quantum mechanics and is entirely in line with modern philosophical demonstrations of the limits of human reason.

So when Galileo in 1632 published his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, the church found itself in a quandary. Galileo claimed to have demonstrated the truth of heliocentrism. Oddly enough, his proof turned out to be wrong. But the book amounted to a return to open heliocentrism, which he had agreed to avoid.

Galileo Revisited, Part II (Andrew Schuman and Robert Cousins , Fall 2007, Dartmouth Apologia)

However, when the sentence was presented to Pope Urban VIII, he balked at letting Galileo off with a slap on the wrist. Faced with increasing pressure from Spain to contribute more to the war effort, and amidst growing accusations of weakness as a leader, Urban was determined to make an example of Galileo.28 Furthermore, there was the matter of Galileo’s handling of the Pope’s request that he include in his book a disclaimer on the tides, a request that Galileo managed to meet in a way that embarrassed the Pope, a serious scientist and theologian in his own right.

The Pope ignored the plea bargain and decided to use Galileo’s confession against him as evidence of vehement suspicion of heresy, a sentence only one degree below formal heresy.29 On June 16, the Pope issued a public decree that “Galileo is to be interrogated with regard to his intention, even with the threat of torture, and, if he sustains [answers in a satisfactory manner], he is to abjure de vehementi [i.e., vehement suspicion of heresy].”30 With this the case was effectively settled. Galileo would be arrested, interrogated and convicted of vehement suspicion of heresy.31

Although we do not know when Galileo first heard of the decree, he must have been stunned. The plea bargain had been disregarded, and now he was being called to trial again. On June 21, Galileo was rearrested and brought to court. When asked if he held Copernicanism in the absolute sense, Galileo responded that he had adhered to that view when he was young, but ever since the Decree of 1616, “assured by the prudence of the authorities, all my uncertainty stopped.”32 Having answered satisfactorily, Galileo was deemed guilty of “vehement suspicion of heresy,” but innocent of formal heresy.33

On June 22, 1633, Galileo listened as the Congregation of the Holy Office read its verdict:

We say, pronounce, sentence, and declare that you, the abovementioned Galileo...vehemently suspected of heresy, namely of having held and believed a doctrine which is false and contrary to Holy Scripture: that the sun is the center of the world and does not move from east to west, and the earth moves and is not the center of the world.34

Galileo’s sentence was also read: he was confined to house arrest for the rest of his life, the Dialogue was officially banned and he had to recite the seven penitential psalms weekly for the next three years. He was given the opportunity to receive forgiveness from the Holy Office if he read with a sincere heart the abjuration statement that had been prepared for him in advance.35 Thus, kneeling before his judges, Galileo declared:

With a sincere heart and unfeigned faith I abjure, curse and detest the above mentioned errors and heresies...and I swear that in the future I will never again say or assert, orally or in writing, anything which might cause a similar suspicion about me.36

With this image, we are transported to the modern day. Despite the popular understanding of Galileo’s trial as the epitome of the struggle between science and religion, the two disciplines actually were not in conflict with each other. Instead we find that the case pivoted on an internal technicality: had Galileo violated the injunction of 1616? Given the contradiction between Maculano’s document and Galileo’s certificate, it was impossible to know the specifics of the 1616 injunction. Galileo could not, therefore, be proved to have violated the decree.

External matters of the day were equally germane to the outcome of the case. The nascent Protestant Reformation brought to the fore the issue of reinterpretation of Scripture. There was much disagreement among Christians in Europe over who could legitimately interpret Scripture and when it was appropriate to do so.

It was not yet determined what level of empirical evidence constituted a scientific “fact.”37 As a result, natural discoveries like Galileo’s telescopic observations further complicated the issue of reinterpreting Scripture. As we saw in the 1616 controversy, Galileo thought he had enough evidence to merit such a reinterpretation, but Cardinal Bellarmine disagreed.

Additionally, mounting political pressure from Catholic rulers in Europe forced Pope Urban VIII to make exaggerated demonstrations of orthodoxy. As a result, he was in no position to authorize the lenient sentence proposed by Fr. Maculano, and so deemed Galileo guilty of vehement suspicion of heresy.

Looking back, it becomes clear that the whole Galileo affair has been blown out of proportion. It was never a conflict between science and religion. Rather, it was a simple trial that was turned into a vehicle for settling political differences completely unrelated to Copernicanism, Galileo and the legal matter at hand.

As for Galileo, he remained a faithful Christian all his life. He lived and died an ardent proponent of the unity of truth, and he believed in the fundamental compatibility of truth observed in nature and in Scripture.

The tragedy is that the Kuhnian paradigm shift he effected led science off into error for four wasted centuries, though Heisenberg and Schroedinger tried getting it back on track.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


The allure of Frito Pie: Santa Fe folks say they invented the beloved Frito pie. To Texans, them's fightin' words. (JOYCE SÁENZ HARRIS, November 23, 2007, The Dallas Morning News

Back in 1932, a year generally regarded as the nadir of the Depression, a San Antonian named C.E. "Elmer" Doolin tasted a home-fried corn chip in a Mexican cafe. He was so intrigued by its taste that he paid $100 for the chip's recipe and the right to market it.

Not that Mr. Doolin actually had $100 cash. He borrowed the money from his mama, Daisy Dean Doolin. Mrs. Doolin must have had an unshakable faith in her son, because she gave C.E. her diamond wedding ring to pawn for that $100 loan.

What's more, she let him set up shop in her kitchen and mix batch after batch of corn dough, which was shaped into strips by extruding the dough through a converted potato ricer. And she fried innumerable strips of ground corn in hot vegetable oil while C.E. and his brother, Earl, experimented with perfecting the chips. One can only imagine how many hours she must have spent scrubbing oil splatters from the walls and floor.

Mrs. Doolin's forbearance paid off. Thus was born the Frito (after the Spanish word for fried), an enormously successful snack product that celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.

But Mrs. Doolin took her sons' product one crucial step further.

According to corporate lore, Daisy Doolin invented the immortal Frito pie not long after her boys created Fritos.

Early on, says her granddaughter, Kaleta Doolin of Dallas, Daisy helped market Fritos by developing recipes that used the corn chips as an ingredient. In a burst of genius, she was inspired to pour chili over Fritos corn chips, and the rest is history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Should Barber's 'Vanessa' be a classic? Maybe not (David Patrick Stearns, 11/25/07, Philadelphia Inquirer)

The world can't consciously will something into classic status, but in the case of the opera Vanessa, it's not for lack of trying.

The increasingly popular piece by West Chester-born, Curtis Institute-trained Samuel Barber promised to forge a permanent place in the opera house for the esteemed composer of Adagio for Strings following its hugely successful 1958 New York premiere.

In an age of rampant experimentalism, Barber was one of the few living composers the public could love. And though his brand of conservatism was thought to be increasingly irrelevant during his later years in the 1970s, Vanessa approaches its 40th anniversary Jan. 15 as the godfather of recent neo-tonal operas by Jake Heggie and Tobias Picker. It has many articulate, well-placed champions, among them opera star Susan Graham and conductor Leonard Slatkin, who dominate the latest and best of the opera's four recordings.

The New York City Opera's production closed last Saturday to a full, loudly cheering house - and rightly so. The handsome production starred Lauren Flanigan at her vocal and theatrical best, while conductor Anne Manson made every moment arrive with unmistakably clear intentions. The final scene reestablished itself as some of the most beautiful music ever contained by an American opera. So the checklist adds up to "classic." Yet Vanessa, time and again, hits a glass ceiling that, to me, will forever keep it from the operatic Parnassus.

Neglected Samuel Barber Opera Sees the Light Again (ANTHONY TOMMASINI, 11/06/07, NY Times)
Once in a while an opera company presents a new production that prompts a re-evaluation of a misunderstood work. That’s what happened on Sunday when New York City Opera unveiled its staging of Samuel Barber’s “Vanessa.”

Introduced in 1958 by the Metropolitan Opera, “Vanessa” received a generally favorable reaction in New York and won Barber the Pulitzer Prize for music. But when it was presented at the Salzburg Festival that summer, a backlash started from contemporary-

music hard-liners, who dismissed Barber as a hopeless conservative, shameless neo-Romantic and lushly tonal panderer, unlike the tough-guy modernists who claimed the intellectual high ground during that polemical period.

"Conservative" is an epithet to the intellectuals, a recommendation to Americans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Blair kept quiet about his faith for fear of 'nutter' jibes (Will Woodward, November 26, 2007, The Guardian)

Tony Blair was reluctant to speak out about the depth of his faith while he was prime minister for fear that voters would regard him as a "nutter", he reveals in an interview.

Slapdowns by Alastair Campbell, Blair's communications chief at the time, to questions on his Christianity - "We don't do God" - have commonly been interpreted as an effort to prevent the former prime minister from waxing lyrical.

But Blair's comments in a BBC1 documentary suggest he himself acknowledged there was danger in such exposure.

Christianity is common in US politics but "you talk about it in our system and, frankly, people do think you're a nutter", he says in an episode of The Blair Years, to be broadcast next Sunday.

It seems possible he'd lead the primary field for both parties.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


We fret over Europe, but the real threat to sovereignty has long been the US: Britain's biggest foreign influence is the one politicians don't dare debate: not immigration, not Brussels, but America (Linda Colley, November 23, 2007, The Guardian)

[B]ritain's politicians - and its Foreign Office - have found it hard to adjust to the loss, not so much of onetime colonies, as of the global clout the colonies once afforded. "Poor loves", the novelist John Le Carré has one of his characters declare from Oxford (alma mater of both Tony Blair and David Cameron): "Trained to empire, trained to rule the waves. All gone. All taken away. Bye-bye world."

Shadowing Washington allows official Britons who still hunger for the big stage some continued admission, even if it is only as supporting players. And there is a further consideration that underlines how closely foreign policy has been bound up with postwar British anxieties. Conservative and Labour governments have arguably championed British rights in Brussels so ostentatiously in order to deflect public attention away from their deference to Washington. But British official suspicion of Europe also stems from the challenge it undoubtedly represents to the union. Scottish and Welsh nationalists, like the Irish Republic before them, favour much closer involvement in the EU precisely because they believe this will lessen their countries' dependence on Westminster.

Indeed one of the problems with current debates about "Britishness" is that they focus too exclusively on domestic identities and values. Addressing the question of what Britain is, and of how far it can plausibly function as an independent and united polity, requires a far more informed and even-handed public discussion than exists at present about our relations with both America and the rest of Europe.

Such a discussion might be uncomfortable for more than just the politicians. Since 1945, Britain - like much of Europe - has been tacitly involved in a massive bargain. The US has bankrolled large sectors of our defences, and thus allowed our governments to plough money into various social programmes instead.

As Brother Cohen is fond of noting, that deal was great for us--as it neutered the bothersome Euros--but disastrously enervating for them.

November 25, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:43 PM


Next stop: 1954: Private rail cars hitch a ride with Amtrak and whisk passengers back in time (Jim Mueller, November 25, 2007, Chicago Tribune)

Think stewards and housekeepers and wait staff. Don't forget the executive chef to create and supervise preparation of fine meals. Think four courses with a typical dinner consisting of lobster bisque, black-Angus beef tenderloin, twice-baked potatoes, fresh veggies and Chocolate Choo Choo Molten Cake with strawberries. The Creative Charters cars go out on charters every 60 days or so. Hiring the cars costs $8,000 a day, including the meals, and bookings are recommended 30 to 45 days in advance. "Some folks make reservations a year early," Henry said. They also are available for catered parties and corporate events when they're parked in Houston.

And, of course, they'll travel anywhere served by Amtrak. It's a simple hook-up, according to Henry. Latching onto the rear of a westbound Zephyr, the Evelyn and Warren R. have visited the Rose Bowl, Kentucky Derby and several Super Bowls. They've been leased by Barry Manilow and taken over -- temporarily -- by Fortune 500 companies.

Honeymoons, family vacations, bar mitzvahs -- their uses are only limited by one's imagination.

Ask Mac Percival, the Chicago Bears field-goal guy of the1960s. He said he grabs any chance to hop on the Evelyn and Warren R. for a cross-country jaunt. Percival's favorite routes are the Los Angeles-to-Seattle Coast Starlight and Oakland-to-Denver California Zephyr. "You experience the California coast and two sets of mountains," said Percival. As a perk of being Henry's brother-in-law, Percival has taken "20 or 25" such trips over the years. "If there's any room, Patrick's good about taking us along," he confided.

"People who've been on cruises get the Evelyn and Warren R.," Percival said. "You unpack one time. You move around between cars. It's all about the dining and scenery. There's nothing like viewing the U.S. from the top of the Warren R. dome car. Seeing the desert between Houston and Los Angeles [Sunset Limited route] is spectacular."

Kim and Hutch Hutcherson second that. They took the Warren R. and Evelyn between Chicago and San Francisco in August 2006. With 11 family members, the Hutchersons sat "spellbound" leaving Denver, as the train climbed into the Rockies and later followed the Colorado River at 30 miles per hour. "You see parts of the country that are inaccessible by car or any other type of transportation," said Hutch.

Fun, he said, even with 11 relatives of varying ages in close quarters for nearly three days.

"The cars are so spacious, nobody gets under foot," he said. "We saw the trip as a great opportunity. Kim and I thought it was just nice to be with family. To catch up with each other and enjoy the food and scenery. Taking a train is so much more relaxed than driving. You're pulled through the center of America at 80 and 90 miles per hour on some of the straightaways, while standing on that rear platform. Then the train slows down -- and going up through the Rockies is thrilling. Taking the switchbacks through the mountains, being in the middle of such spectacular country."

"Having the two cars gave everyone plenty of room," added Kim. "You spend time up in the dome car. There's a TV area. You walk out to the rear platform. And the food is unbelievable. Dinner is served in the formal dining room [of the Warren R.] on fine China with the best crystal. We'll do it again. We told Patrick we'd like to go the Northern Route [Empire Builder] next time. Through the Dakotas and Montana to Seattle. We have family and friends ready to go."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:41 PM


The 5-minute Interview: Eric Roberts, Film and television actor (The Independent, 26 November 2007)

If I weren't talking to you right now I'd be ...


A phrase I use far too often ...

"Hey, brother, how ya doin"?

That should obviously be: "Hey, sis..."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 PM


What Price Utopia?: BLACK MASS: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia By John Gray (SCOTT McLEMEE, 11/26/07, NY Times Book Review)

[W]hatever its twists and turns, Gray’s thought has in fact been remarkably consistent, with his journalistic writings simply framing, in the most provocative possible way, theses that have accumulated in more sedate works like “Enlightenment’s Wake” (1995) and “Two Faces of Liberalism” (2000). His latest book, “Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia,” treats fundamentalist Islam and Western triumphalism as similar and related phenomena. This argument revisits themes Gray developed in “Straw Dogs,” a volume of pensées originally published in 2002 and now reissued in paperback by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

“‘Humanity’ does not exist,” he announced in “Straw Dogs.” “There are only humans, driven by conflicting needs and illusions, and subject to every kind of infirmity of will and judgment.” This may be the key to all of Gray’s thought, and it is no accident that he echoes Margaret Thatcher’s famous statement that there is no such thing as society. (As she put it, “there are individual men and women, and there are families” — but nothing else.) The irreducible plurality of human “needs and illusions,” Gray argues, means it is utopian to imagine that any single kind of political or social order could ever be good for everyone. “If there is such a thing as spontaneous social evolution,” he writes in “Black Mass,” “it produces institutions of many kinds.”

Alas, conservatives have completely lost track of this crucial point, at least by Gray’s lights, which is why “traditional conservatism ceased to exist” at some point over the last few decades. What has emerged instead is a faith that the marketplace and the values of liberal society are universal in principle, if not yet in geographical distribution. Resistance is futile. And if people in benighted lands resist anyway, the use of military power can force the pace of progress.

The likely (indeed almost inevitable) consequence of doing so would be a cruel parody of the norms being exported. “Illiberal democracy,” Gray writes, “rests on the belief that the common good is self-evident. Everyone who is not deluded or corrupt will support the same policies so there will be no need to protect personal freedom or the rights of minorities."

For instance, republican liberty fails to protect the right of pedophiles to rape children and of Salafists to murder unbelievers, oppressions that multiculturalism is incapable of defending, which is why it's evil and even secular Europe is rejecting it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 PM


QED - Latin lessons improve literacy, says MSP (EDDIE BARNES, 11/26/07,

THE traditionalists have been going on about it ad nauseam. Now the campaign to bring back Latin into classrooms is finally gaining strength.

Tens of thousands of Scottish school pupils are failing to master basic English literacy skills, leading one MSP to suggest compulsory Latin lessons are the way forward.

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald, who was taught Latin at school herself, is to spearhead a campaign to highlight the benefits the classical language can have in improving basic English.

Studies in the US appear to show that, after just five months study of Latin, pupils who took the course were a full year ahead of fellow children who had not. teaches them where their culture came from.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 PM


Club for Growth Praises Thompson’s Tax Reform Plan (Club for Growth, 11/26/07)

Most commendable is Thompson’s plan to expand taxpayer choice by adopting the Republican Study Committee’s recent plan, called the Taxpayer Choice Act. This plan will give American taxpayers the choice of opting into a simplified tax code that contains only two rates rather than deal with the current monstrosity known as the U.S. tax code.

“While other candidates have adopted pieces of this plan, Thompson goes a step further by offering a specific corporate tax reduction and offering taxpayers the option of a simple tax plan,” said Club for Growth President Pat Toomey. “His plan is based on the fundamental fact that lower rates and simpler rules across the board promote economic freedom and enhance economic growth. This is the kind of plan economic conservatives can rally around.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 PM


Thompson Proposes Tax Choice (The Associated Press, November 25, 2007)

Key aspects of Thompson's tax proposal:

_The choice of filing under the current system or a flat tax rate of 10 percent for joint filers with an income of up to $100,000 _ $50,000 for single taxpayers; and 25 percent on income above these amounts.

The standard deduction would be more than doubled to $25,000 for joint filers and $12,500 for singles. The personal exemption would be increased to $3,500. A family of four would be exempt from income tax on the first $39,000. The simplified code would contain no other tax credits or deductions, and retain the 15 percent tax rate on capital gains and dividends.

_Preserving the $1000 child tax credit, which was doubled from $500 per child.

_Protecting marriage penalty relief.

_Retaining education tax incentives, including Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, 529 college savings plans, and deductions for higher education expenses.

_Permanently repealing the estate tax.

_Eventually repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax, a separate system created 30 years ago to ensure that a few high income Americans could not use deductions and credits to eliminate their tax liability.

Thompson also would index the exemptions annually so that millions of middle-class families would not be subject to the tax.

All exemptions and deductions--except for dependents--should be done away with, but it's easily the most substantial proposal on any topic of any candidate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 PM


Giuliani's Critics Point to Cronyism: Appointments While Mayor Are Said to Tarnish His Leadership Credentials (Alec MacGillis, 11/25/07, Washington Post)

Giuliani's close association with Kerik, especially his lobbying of the Bush administration three years ago to make his former associate the secretary of homeland security, threatens to undermine one of the central arguments of his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination: that he is a superior leader who would bring to the White House high standards and a level of managerial acumen that many, including Republicans, say is missing under President Bush.

Giuliani's critics say that while he is justifiably praised for his leadership in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, his advancement of Kerik, his former chauffeur, was part of a pattern of rewarding loyalty over competence in personnel decisions. "It's pretty clear that his judgment on political appointments was weighted more heavily to cronies and friends than to quality," said Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which has endorsed Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) for president and has turned sharply against Giuliani after supporting him early in his mayoralty. "Are we going to have a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who's a private first class but who happens to be a friend? Are we going to have a law clerk who becomes attorney general?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:15 PM


Kasparov arrested in Moscow: The former chess champion is among dozens of dissidents detained at a preelection demonstration (Megan K. Stack, November 25, 2007, Los Angeles Times)

Former chess champion and opposition figurehead Gary Kasparov and dozens of other anti-Kremlin demonstrators were arrested Saturday as they marched along a slushy downtown street hollering, "Russia without Putin!"

Riot police pounced on the activists and stuffed them into police vans after they pushed ahead with a banned preelection march through the bustling streets of the capital.

Also detained was Eduard Limonov, another prominent dissident and head of the group formerly known as the National Bolshevik Party, which itself is banned by the Kremlin.

"If the regime is preserved, the country will die," Kasparov told at least 1,000 cheering protesters shortly before his arrest. "That's why we're here. We'll protect the country."

It's not the first time a regime has had to intervene to save itself from him. He won last time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:10 PM


Pivotal test of Pakistan's will against extremists: Growing violence in the northwest, where insurgents have set up an Islamist ministate, could presage a push by militants in tribal borderlands, experts say (Laura King, 11/25/07, Los Angeles Times)

President Pervez Musharraf said his Nov. 3 emergency decree would bolster the government in its fight against militants. But in the three weeks of emergency rule, the insurgency in Swat has gained momentum, with militants in control of at least nine of 12 subdivisions in the valley, local and military officials said.

Fighting has spilled into the adjacent district of Shangla, where the insurgents loyal to Maulana Qazi Fazlullah are also gaining ground. From their base at his seminary camp in the village of Imam Dheri, they have seized the district's administrative center and are threatening the famed Karakoram Highway, the crucial link to China.

The Pakistani military says it has sent in 15,000 army troops to confront Fazlullah, 32, who is thought to have as many as 5,000 armed followers. But in Swat's towns and villages, there is little sign of the army presence. [...]

There are ambivalent feelings here about the militants. Fazlullah has an enormous and devout following, drawing on conservative religious traditions that predate Swat's absorption into Pakistan. When he presides over Friday prayers, the most important of the week, he draws tens of thousands of worshipers.

But some residents draw a distinction between Fazlullah, a native son, and the foreign fighters -- Uzbeks, Tajiks and Chechens -- who they say have joined his ranks. These foreigners, they say, are more fanatical, and far more ready to mete out cruel punishment to villagers whose behavior is deemed insufficiently Islamic.

In recent months, the militants have bombed girls' schools, ordered women to wear head-to-toe burkas, burned video and music stores to the ground, and threatened barbers who trim beards. In another echo of the Taliban's former rule in Afghanistan, the insurgents have twice tried to blow up first-century Buddhist monuments that are considered cultural treasures.

Fazlullah has an rigidly austere vision of Islam, laid out via fiery sermons on his pirate FM radio station. They have earned him the nicknames "Mullah Radio" or "the FM Mullah."

He has railed against girls' education and ordered followers not to allow polio vaccinations for their children, calling them a Zionist plot to sterilize Muslims. When he preached against the evils of television, thousands of villagers burned their sets.

"That was striking to me, that these very, very poor people, instead of just getting rid of their TVs, selling them, would drag them out and burn them," said Aurangzeb's son Adnan, a former lawmaker.

He said he became aware of the power of Fazlullah's message several years ago when he was making constituency calls in the countryside. "Out in these small villages, where there was nothing, there wasn't a household that didn't listen to him on the radio," he said.

That Fazlullah is still broadcasting is a signal to some that the government is not serious about moving against him -- particularly since officials, in the initial weeks of emergency rule, knocked private television channels off the air.

"So he's out here with a cheap Chinese transmitter, and they can't deal with that?" a Western military official said. "That strains credulity."

Although poor, remote and populated by ethnic Pashtuns, Swat, with a population of about 1.2 million, is culturally and socially distinct from the nearby tribal areas. Until recently, the valley was home to a thriving tourist industry that drew foreigners as well as Pakistanis. Visitors flocked to its mountain scenery, its trout streams and a resort featuring the country's only ski lift.

To residents who had hoped the area would continue to develop economically, the militant takeover has been a devastating blow.

For all the hand-wringing over whether the General is a democrat or not, the real question is whether he's brutal enough. Ms Bhutto is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:04 PM


In Mideast, the first hurdle is cleared: Olmert and Abbas have built understanding and trust, but each faces hardened opposition to concessions for peace. (Richard Boudreaux, 11/25/07, Los Angeles Times)

Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas have spent more time alone together than any pair of Israeli and Palestinian leaders. They have sat for hours, in 12 meetings over the last 11 months, sharing pictures of their grandchildren and talking about a world in which those kids can grow up in peace.

Smoke fills Omert's study as Abbas, puffing on a Marlboro Red, describes the crushing burden of Israeli occupation in the West Bank. The Israeli prime minister lights up a cigar, lecturing the Palestinian Authority president on the need to stop Palestinian militias from plotting against his people. [...]

If making peace were up to Olmert and Abbas alone, their compatriots might not be so skeptical that this quality time will pay off. The two leaders have a rough understanding of how to reach the goal of an independent Palestinian state, their aides say, but have been reluctant to write it down or say it publicly, given the political risks of the trade-offs required.

There hasn't been anything to negotiate since Oslo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:56 PM


Felled by the young and the religious (David Barnett, November 26, 2007, The Australian)

He made Australia a staunch ally of the US in the war against terrorism, sending forces to Iraq and Afghanistan made up of servicemen who want to fight, are proud to serve their country, and who have covered themselves with distinction.

He put Australia at the head of a world league table of economic performers, always as one the top three or four best run economies, for most of his near 12 years as prime minister.

Australia baled out three neighbours during the Asian financial meltdown. Yet 20 years earlier we were being mocked as the poor white trash of Asia.

He kept interest rates low. The Reserve Bank's successive increases were each of 25 basis points. His undertaking to keep interest rates lower than an ALP government could manage stands up.

He took Australia to a new level of prosperity. Real wages went up 20 per cent. Inflation stayed low and unemployment just kept on falling until it was down to 4 per cent. When full employment was last discussed as an issue of national policy before Gough Whitlam was elected in 1972, two per cent was regarded as constituting full employment, given that there would always be people in transition between jobs.

With the great social dislocations of today, 4 per cent must be close to being as low as can be achieved.

So Howard's legacy to Kevin Rudd is a prosperous country where people who want work can find it, a country that is respected for its contributions when international recessions or terrorism threatens, and a country that moves with outstanding speed when natural disasters overwhelm neighbours.

But every year he grew older, and more voters came on to the rolls who had never lived under federal Labor governments. Today there are 3.4 million of them, one quarter of the electorate.

By last Saturday there were two electorates. Older voters who could not contemplate putting the gains of the past decade at risk, and the young who were bored with a leader from the generation of their parents, and were in the mood for change not for any good reason, it was change for change's sake.

Consider the parallel danger here, where we haven't had a government of the Left in nearly three decades.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:51 PM


The Next Clintonomics (David Ignatius, 11/25/07, Real Clear Politics)

Where does Hillary Clinton stand on economic issues? More to the point, is she a "Clintonian," the heir to the pro-globalization views of her husband? Or is she part of the growing movement among Democrats that stresses equality and job protection over free trade?

Being Hillary, she's a little of both. She wants to position herself as a supporter of globalization and also as a pragmatic critic. The nub of that position is her statement that she will reevaluate NAFTA, the free-trade agreement with Mexico and Canada that her husband signed, and address its "serious shortcomings." Free-trade enthusiasts look at that position and cringe, fearing that she will break the globalization engine.

But after reading Clinton's economic speeches and talking with her chief economic adviser, Gene Sperling, I don't think anyone need worry that Clinton has become a hostage to the AFL-CIO. She's groping for a new balance between globalization and protection of workers, to be sure. She's a "post-Clintonian" on economics, you might say.

Whether there's a difference between being pre-Clintonian and post-Clintonian is essentially a Smoot point.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:41 PM


Archbishop of Canterbury: U.S 'is worse than the British Empire at its peak' (Daily Mail, 25th November 2007)

The Archbishop of Canterbury has launched a stinging attack on America, comparing it unfavourably with the British Empire at its peak.

Imagine how devoutly the Iraqis pray that we're even worse than Britain was:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:11 AM


Rethinking the reach of AIDS (Donald G. McNeil Jr., November 25, 2007, IHT)

There it is, starkly: AIDS has peaked.

New infections reached a high point in the late 1990s - by the best estimate, in 1998.

There must have been such moments in the past - perhaps A.D. 543, when Constantinople realized it would survive the Plague of Justinian, or 1351 in medieval Europe, when hope dawned that the Black Death would not claw down everyone.

A milestone moment in AIDS history came 11 years ago when Andrew Sullivan wrote an article in The New York Times Magazine titled "When Plagues End." It argued that a new treatment, the triple therapy cocktail, meant it was finally possible to envision AIDS as a chronic illness, not an inevitable death sentence.

One of the saddest discussions in Randy Shilts's tragic classic, And the Band Played On, concerns how much difficulty the gay and medical establishments had identifying AIDs as a new disease because of the whole host of other conditions that go along with having anal sex. Makes it possible to understand that homosexuals would adopt the attitude that AIDs is just par for the course, though, obviously, anyone even mildly well-adjusted can only shake their head at the notion of choosing such a diseased one in the first place.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


Taking Science on Faith (PAUL DAVIES, 11/24/07, NY Times)

When I was a student, the laws of physics were regarded as completely off limits. The job of the scientist, we were told, is to discover the laws and apply them, not inquire into their provenance. The laws were treated as “given” — imprinted on the universe like a maker’s mark at the moment of cosmic birth — and fixed forevermore. Therefore, to be a scientist, you had to have faith that the universe is governed by dependable, immutable, absolute, universal, mathematical laws of an unspecified origin. You’ve got to believe that these laws won’t fail, that we won’t wake up tomorrow to find heat flowing from cold to hot, or the speed of light changing by the hour.

Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from “that’s not a scientific question” to “nobody knows.” The favorite reply is, “There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.” The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational. After all, the very essence of a scientific explanation of some phenomenon is that the world is ordered logically and that there are reasons things are as they are. If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality — the laws of physics — only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science.

Can the mighty edifice of physical order we perceive in the world about us ultimately be rooted in reasonless absurdity? If so, then nature is a fiendishly clever bit of trickery: meaninglessness and absurdity somehow masquerading as ingenious order and rationality.

Although scientists have long had an inclination to shrug aside such questions concerning the source of the laws of physics, the mood has now shifted considerably. Part of the reason is the growing acceptance that the emergence of life in the universe, and hence the existence of observers like ourselves, depends rather sensitively on the form of the laws. If the laws of physics were just any old ragbag of rules, life would almost certainly not exist.

A second reason that the laws of physics have now been brought within the scope of scientific inquiry is the realization that what we long regarded as absolute and universal laws might not be truly fundamental at all, but more like local bylaws. They could vary from place to place on a mega-cosmic scale. A God’s-eye view might reveal a vast patchwork quilt of universes, each with its own distinctive set of bylaws. In this “multiverse,” life will arise only in those patches with bio-friendly bylaws, so it is no surprise that we find ourselves in a Goldilocks universe — one that is just right for life. We have selected it by our very existence.

The multiverse theory is increasingly popular, but it doesn’t so much explain the laws of physics as dodge the whole issue. There has to be a physical mechanism to make all those universes and bestow bylaws on them. This process will require its own laws, or meta-laws. Where do they come from? The problem has simply been shifted up a level from the laws of the universe to the meta-laws of the multiverse.

Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.

This shared failing is no surprise, because the very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm. Isaac Newton first got the idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it in a rational way. Christians envisage God as upholding the natural order from beyond the universe, while physicists think of their laws as inhabiting an abstract transcendent realm of perfect mathematical relationships.

And just as Christians claim that the world depends utterly on God for its existence, while the converse is not the case, so physicists declare a similar asymmetry: the universe is governed by eternal laws (or meta-laws), but the laws are completely impervious to what happens in the universe.

We listened to Bill Bryson's Brief History of Everything on our Thanksgiving trip and, while a blessedly accessible and consistently informative assessment of the state of scientific play, the narrative can't help but be hilarious.

For one thing, you lose track of how many times he has to note that were this or that cosmic or global condition not precisely tuned there'd be no us or even no anything. For another, every discipline starts with a series of assumptions--the changes in which are essentially what we now refer to as paradigm shifts--because physicists, chemists, biologists, climatologists, geologists, etc., have so little understanding of the initial (and often the intermediate) phases of the histories they study. And, finally, because he just drops topics whenever they butt up against the massive contradictions in prevailing theories. So, for instance, after a huge sonmg and dance about the Mason Crater in Iowa and how it marks the site of the most catastrophic environmental impact in the history of North America, he rather sheepishly trails off with a parenthetical about how there was not a single species extinction associated with it. Likewise, he has to end his consideration of Heisenberg long before he gets to the full implications, else he'd render the rest of the text nugatory.

Of course, Mr. Davies lets his cohorts off pretty easily. Dig a bit deeper and you run smack into the philosophical insight that prevented the Anglosphere from succumbing to the Age of Reason altogether: Reason is itself irrational.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


Hezbollah recruits thousands in Lebanon crisis (Hugh Macleod, 25/11/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Hezbollah is exploiting the tense political deadlock in Beirut to recruit thousands of new fighters, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

The Iranian-backed Shia militant group has begun drawing fighters from across the sectarian divide, including Sunnis, Christians and Druze, in an effort to create a united opposition to the government.

The group is taking advantage of the political vacuum that has endured for a year, as the Lebanese parliament no longer has enough MPs to function fully.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


America hates Hillary Clinton and Co (Toby Harnden, 25/11/2007, Daily Telegraph)

With a year to go before the country votes for its 44th president, The Daily Telegraph embarked on its "Crossing America" project to find out. The answers that Julian Simmonds, photographer and videographer, and I got were often surprising. They provide little comfort for Mrs Clinton but not much more for any other politician. Although few people have no opinion about the 2008 candidates, the election has yet to grip the American imagination. And for most, their final decision remains a long way away.

Travelling principally by road in between hops by air, we reported as we went along, posting video, text and photographs on the Telegraph website each night. Our odyssey was enhanced by the emails and blog comments we received from Americans suggesting routes, berating us for skipping over their town or promising to show us a slice of true American life if we stopped down their way. [...]

We set out from Portland, Maine, on the north-east coast of New England on a diagonal route to the California port of San Diego in the south-west. The return leg started in the Seattle suburbs of the Pacific north-west and ended at the Atlantic on a beach in Florida, America's most south-eastern state.

In between, we stopped at places such as Wooster, an Ohio town hit by the wave of house foreclosures, Hannibal on the Missouri banks of the Mississippi and El Dorado (pronounced with a "ray" rather than a "rah" in the middle), an oil-boom town in the Kansas flatlands of Middle America.

We spoke to a megachurch minister in Washington state, new citizens in California, a cowboy doctor in Wyoming, a Kentucky country singer in Nashville and believers in UFOs in a dusty New Mexico town. Some interviews were arranged, but most discussions flowed from impromptu encounters in diners, parking lots, bars and shopping malls.

Mrs Clinton might be the frontrunner in the polls, but almost everywhere we went people questioned her candidacy. Many stated bluntly that they did not want a woman in charge. "It's a man's world," said Hugh Laflin, 62, a Kansas truck driver. "Would a Middle East sheikh talk to a lady president?"

A Vietnam veteran in Arizona and a Florida gun-shop owner were among those who made crude jokes about America "going to war every 30 days" under a female president. We never brought up Bill Clinton's sexual dalliances, but many ordinary Americans did. "She couldn't keep her own home together, so how can we trust her to manage America?" asked Micki Martinson, a housewife in Somerset, Pennsylvania.

While we found many people who hated Mrs Clinton, those who loved her were few and far between. Certainly, many said they would vote for her, but the reasons cited tended to be her status as the top Democrat, the fact that she was battle-tested against Republicans and - for some women - the fact that she would be the first female president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Syria wants Golan Heights on talks agenda (Carolynne Wheeler, 25/11/2007, Daily Telegraph)

America has given tacit approval to separate peace talks between Israel and Syria immediately after Tuesday's landmark Middle East summit in Annapolis, Maryland.

Diplomats believe that Syria's expected participation in the meeting to be chaired by Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, signals a likely resumption of direct talks between the country's Ba'athist regime and the Israeli government, for the first time in more than a decade.

Syria had insisted that the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, seized from its control in the 1967 war, be on the table for discussion as a precondition for taking part in the summit.

The Golan for "peace" has been cooked in the books since Israeli intelligence declared the Heights weren't necessary to national security several years ago. The problem, for us, is that Israel's fundamental interest is in stability while ours is in liberty for the Syrian people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Thompson Woos Gun Rights Contingent (MARC SANTORA, 11/25/07, NY Times)

Joe McCormick, a burly man over six feet tall, a World War II-era Mauser rifle at his side, said he was frightened.

“Giuliani scares me,” Mr. McCormick said of Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination. “What does a mayor of New York know about guns?”

Fred D. Thompson, who was about 30 yards away — just past the “Confederate Cutlery” collection of knives, fingering an M-1 rifle at the Land of Sky Gun Show here Saturday — was more his kind of candidate. [...]

While many of those interviewed here had not made up their minds, and could say little about where Mr. Thompson stood on issues beyond gun rights, there was a reservoir of good will for the fellow Southerner.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Freud Is Widely Taught at Universities, Except in the Psychology Department (PATRICIA COHEN, 11/25/07, NY Times)

PSYCHOANALYSIS and its ideas about the unconscious mind have spread to every nook and cranny of the culture from Salinger to “South Park,” from Fellini to foreign policy. Yet if you want to learn about psychoanalysis at the nation’s top universities, one of the last places to look may be the psychology department.

A new report by the American Psychoanalytic Association has found that while psychoanalysis — or what purports to be psychoanalysis — is alive and well in literature, film, history and just about every other subject in the humanities, psychology departments and textbooks treat it as “desiccated and dead,” a historical artifact instead of “an ongoing movement and a living, evolving process.”

The study, which is to appear in the June 2008 issue of psychiatry’s flagship journal, The American Journal of Psychiatry, is the latest evidence of the field’s existential crisis.

Just because the three great reactionary isms of the 19th/20th Century -- Freudianism, Marxism, Darwinism -- are pretty nearly worthless as medicine, economics, and biology, doesn't mean they aren't significant ideologies worthy of study, particularly as historical artifacts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


As Democrats See Security Gains in Iraq, Tone Shifts (PATRICK HEALY, 11/25/07, NY Times))

As violence declines in Baghdad, the leading Democratic presidential candidates are undertaking a new and challenging balancing act on Iraq: acknowledging that success, trying to shift the focus to the lack of political progress there, and highlighting more domestic concerns like health care and the economy. [...]

[T]he changing situation suggests for the first time that the politics of the war could shift in the general election next year, particularly if the gains continue. While the Democratic candidates are continuing to assail the war — a popular position with many of the party’s primary voters — they run the risk that Republicans will use those critiques to attack the party’s nominee in the election as defeatist and lacking faith in the American military.

If security continues to improve, President Bush could become less of a drag on his party, too, and Republicans may have an easier time zeroing in on other issues, such as how the Democrats have proposed raising taxes in difficult economic times.

...when it can't even convince the Left it's winning.

November 24, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:41 PM


U.S. to Withdraw 5,000 Troops from Iraq (VOA News, 25 November 2007)

U.S. officials have said they could withdraw about 20,000 U.S. troops by July, if the security situation in Iraq permits.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


BP may have to rein in its zero-tolerance plan: Get-tough policy on border would flood courts, jails (Brady McCombs, 11/23/07, Arizona Daily Star)

The U.S. Border Patrol's zero-tolerance program — which dictates jail time for all illegal border crossers — may end up being a partial-tolerance operation in Arizona due to a lack of prison space, attorneys, law enforcement officers and judges. that they have no intention of staffing or paying for closing the borders. It's just without-chest-beating.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Why We Trade: We’re used to shrugging off all sorts of rhetorical gobbledygook from our politicians. But when you hear U.S. presidential candidates start to mouth off about free trade, watch your wallet: A discredited 14th-century theory of economics is enjoying a dangerous renaissance in the 2008 campaign (Russell Roberts, 19 November 2007, Foreign Policy)

As a thought experiment, take what would seem to be the ideal situation for a mercantilist. Suppose we only export and import nothing. The ultimate trade surplus. So we work and use raw materials and effort and creativity to produce stuff for others without getting anything in return. There’s another name for that. It’s called slavery. How can a country get rich working for others?

Then there’s the mercantilist nightmare: We import from abroad, but foreigners buy nothing from us. What would the world be like if every morning you woke up and found a Japanese car in your driveway, Chinese clothing in your closet, and French wine in your cellar? All at no cost. Does that sound like heaven or hell? The only analogy I can think of is Santa Claus. How can a country get poor from free stuff? Or cheap stuff? How do imports hurt us?

We don’t export to create jobs. We export so we can have money to buy the stuff that’s hard for us to make—or at least hard for us to make as cheaply. We export because that’s the only way to get imports. If people would just give us stuff, then we wouldn’t have to export. But the world doesn’t work that way.

They come awfully close though to just giving it to us and then take the tiny bit they do charge us and buy our debt with it, which we repay at a fraction of what our 401k's are paying. It's dang close to the long sought free lunch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


New York murders 'at 40-year low' (BBC, 11/23/07)

New York City is on track to have fewer than 500 murders in 2007, the lowest annual rate in four decades, according to police department figures. [...]

According to the New York Times, of the 212 murders in 2007 analysed so far, only 35 were committed by a stranger.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


The event that inspired Al Qaeda (Nikhil Lakshman, November 22, 2007, Rediff)

In a startling new book, The Siege of Mecca, The Wall Street Journal reporter Yaroslav Trofimov has penetrated the veil of secrecy the Saudi authorities has cast over the horrifying episode all these years and revealed how that militant operation came to inspire Al Qaeda and bin Laden, who founded his International Islamic Front, as a reaction to the Saudi monarchy's decision to invite the American military into the kingdom before the first Gulf War.

Trofimov, who now covers Asia for the Journal and most recently wrote about India's Dalit Christians and Wipro Chairman Azim Premji for the newspaper, has also written the award-winning Faith at War: A Journey on the Frontlines of Islam, from Baghdad to Timbuktu. In this e-mail interview with Nikhil Lakshman, he discussed The Siege of Mecca and its impact on contemporary, militant Islam. [...]

Why do you believe there is a co-relation between the events of 1979 and the genesis of Al Qaeda?

The Mecca uprising of 1979 was the very first operation of global jihad in modern times, uniting radicals from all over the world -- Saudis, Egyptians, Pakistanis, even American converts to Islam. This organisation served as a model to Al Qaeda in the future, and some of the surviving rebels actually went to Afghanistan and later joined Al Qaeda.

But this is not the only connection. In order to storm the Grand Mosque in 1979, the Saudi government needed a fatwa from the leading Islamic clerics, the Wahhabi ulema. The clerics obliged -- on the condition that the kingdom become much more rigid in enforcing the Wahhabi brand of Islam.

As part of this grand bargain, millions of dollars in Saudi petrodollars started to flow all over the world to fund the clerics' effort to spread Wahhabi Islam -- creating the Islamic madrassas, charities and welfare groups that would breed the new generation of Al Qaeda recruits.

Was Osama bin Laden in Saudi Arabia when the siege occurred? Have you located any information about what his role was during that period? Was he a bystander? Was he a participant? Would you know if the siege provoked anger in him that led him to travel to Afghanistan a few months later?

The Bin Laden family was deeply involved in this affair. Much of the Grand Mosque itself has been built by the Bin Laden construction company -- and the rebels smuggled their weapons into the mosque's underground via an access drive used by the Bin Laden company, with the connivance of Bin Laden employees.

Young Osama was shocked by the government's use of massive military force against the rebels, and by the subsequent damage to the shrine -- he later complained that Prince Fahd, then Saudi Arabia's day-to-day ruler, had "defiled" Islam's holy of holies.

In a way, the Mecca events marked the moment when Osama Bin Laden's allegiance to the House of Saud started to fracture.


Do the soldiers of Al Qaeda take inspiration from the siege of Mecca? Have you come across any material related to the siege in any Al Qaeda manuals? If so, what do those accounts say?

The Mecca events feature prominently in Al Qaeda's literature, especially in a book called The Infidel Nature of the Saudi State, a piece of required reading for many jihadis. The book was written by a Palestinian radical named Abu Mohammed al Maqdisi -- who was personally acquainted with many of Mecca's rebels. Maqdisi, of course, is better known as the former cellmate and tutor of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the founder of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Did the Saudi monarchy learn any lessons from the siege of Mecca? Or did life go on as usual for the royals after the siege ended? Does it still give the monarchy nightmares?

The main lesson the Saudi royal family drew from this crisis was that it had to appease the radical Islamist clergy. It seemed like a wise policy for years -- except that it ended up boomeranging with the September 11 attacks and the subsequent rise of Islamist terrorism within the kingdom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


On Black Friday, Shoppers Display Pragmatic Restraint (MICHAEL BARBARO, 11/23/07, NY Times)

With an uncertain economy, a slowdown in the housing market and high gas prices hanging over their heads, consumers flocked to discount chains like Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy, brandishing bargain-filled fliers. [...]

This year, stores managed to draw huge crowds again, but the mood was more desperation than celebration.

Stores left nothing to chance, opening their doors before dawn and cutting prices deeply enough to guarantee throngs of bargain hunters.

Two major chains, J. C. Penney and Kohl’s, pushed their openings up an hour, to 4 a.m., and dangled half-off sales and $10 coupons. Toys “R” Us nearly quadrupled the number of door-buster discounts it offers, to 101.

And Wal-Mart extended its Black Friday specials into Saturday, calling it a “48-hour sale.” (In a publicity stunt, the company bragged that it had even petitioned the Royal Observatory in London to create a 48-hour Friday.)

Rather than buying on impulse, consumers drew elaborate shopping plans to track down steep discounts — and stuck to them. [...]

A final tally from yesterday’s sales will not be available until tomorrow, at the very earliest. MasterCard Spending Pulse, a division of the credit card company, predicted sales this Black Friday would rise up to 5 percent, to about $20 billion, from $19.1 billion in 2006.

That growth, however, comes with caveats. Shoppers might have spent more this year than last, but they bought deeply discounted items that generate little profit.

So we'll spend more and get more for our dollar? Damn that George Bush....

November 23, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 PM


Don’t Be Scared: Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee (Jonah Goldberg, 11/21/07, National Review)

What’s so scary about Huckabee? Personally, nothing. He seems a charming, decent, friendly, pious man.

What’s troubling about The Man From Hope 2.0 is what he represents. Huckabee represents compassionate conservatism on steroids. A devout social conservative on issues such as abortion, school prayer, homosexuality and evolution, Huckabee’s a populist on economics, a fad-follower on the environment and an all-around do-gooder who believes that the biblical obligation to do “good works” extends to using government — and your tax dollars — to bring us closer to the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

For example, Huckabee would support a nationwide ban on public smoking. Why? Because he’s on a health kick, thinks smoking is bad and believes the government should do the right thing.

And therein lies the chief difference between Paul and Huckabee. One is a culturally conservative libertarian. The other is a right-wing progressive.

Whatever shortcomings Paul and his friends might have, Paul’s dogma generally renders those shortcomings irrelevant. He is a true ideologue in that his personal preferences are secondary to his philosophical principles. When asked what his position is, he generally responds that his position can be deduced from the text of the Constitution. Of course, that’s not as dispositive as he thinks it is. But you get the point.

As for Huckabee — as with most politicians, alas — his personal preferences matter enormously because, ultimately, they’re the only things that can be relied on to constrain him.

To the contrary, the restraint is his Christianity, as it is with W, which is why Mr. Goldberg, like the rest of the neocons, opposed the President in 2000.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:16 PM


Harvard Physicist Plays Magician With the Speed of Light (Erin Biba, 10.23.07 , Wired)

Lene Vestergaard Hau can stop a pulse of light in midflight, start it up again at 0.13 miles per hour, and then make it appear in a completely different location. "It's like a little magic trick," says Hau, a Harvard physicist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:01 PM


Argentina’s Jewish ‘Desaparecidos’ (Marcela Valente, 11/23/07, IPS)

The leaders of Argentina’s Jewish community -- the largest in Latin America -- published in book form a report on Jewish victims of forced disappearance in the 1976-1983 dictatorship, who faced especial brutality because of their ethnic origin.

The "Report on the situation of the Jewish detainees-disappeared during the genocide perpetrated in Argentina" was for the first time published in print in Argentina to make it widely available to the public, by the Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations’ (DAIA) Social Studies Centre (CES), with the backing of the government Human Rights Secretariat. [...]

Two aspects stand out in the report. One is that Jewish people formed a disproportionately large part of the dictatorship’s victims of forced disappearance. The other is that although "they did not suffer specifically anti-Semitic persecution, Jewish victims suffered especially brutal treatment, and Nazi symbols were used" by the torturers, said Duhalde. [...]

The two most serious attacks suffered by the Jewish community in Argentina actually occurred after the return to democracy: a 1992 bomb blast that killed 29 people in and around the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, and the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre in the capital, in which 86 people were killed. But the report does not dwell on either incident.

DAIA notes that the military regime’s persecution of leftists, trade unionists and others deemed "subversive" included abductions, torture, forced disappearance and the theft of the babies and young children of political prisoners, while it remarks that the Jewish victims received treatment that was even more cruel and brutal than other prisoners. [...]

The book includes a provisional list of Jewish victims of forced disappearance, which was first presented in court in Spain in the late 1990s. It also provides a list of names drawn up by the Barcelona-based Commission of Solidarity with the Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Argentina.

The book says that in the 1970s there were between 230,000 and 290,000 Jewish people in Argentina, representing between 0.8 and 1.2 percent of the population at the time, while they made up an estimated five to 12 percent of the "disappeared".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:56 PM


Brown bounce wiped out, poll shows (Will Woodward, November 23, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Gordon Brown's electoral advantage for Labour has been wiped out as the party's support drops to the same lows it endured during Tony Blair's final months in government, a Guardian/ICM poll reveals tonight.

The survey, taken as the prime minister faces serious questions about the competence of his administration in the wake of Northern Rock and the lost child benefit records fiasco, shows that the "Brown bounce" of early summer has fallen away entirely. [...]

The poll results mirror almost exactly the situation in April, when Tony Blair was drifting towards the exit from No 10, trailing on 30%, seven points behind the Tories. Brown has yet to drop to Labour's 29% poll rating in Tony Blair's worst month, October 2006, shortly after the attempted coup by supporters of the then chancellor. But today's new low for him is the same rating Labour achieved in three consecutive months, January to March this year, when Tony Blair was being condemned as an electoral liability.

He imploded when he started playing footsie with the EU, but the Tories are too Euro-oriented at the top to take much advantage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:13 AM


Clinton Hits Rough Patch: As Iowa Showdown Nears Rivals Strike From Left As She Courts Center; 'Responsibility Gene' (JACKIE CALMES, November 23, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

Sen. Clinton views her campaign as a template for her possible presidency. Having witnessed Bill Clinton's early struggles reconciling campaign promises with governing -- and guided by his private advice now -- she knows first hand that what candidates say now for political points can haunt them as president. Close advisers call this caution her "responsibility gene."

The result: As the front-runner, Sen. Clinton has drawn attacks from Democratic rivals at a crucial moment on topics ranging from Iran to taxes, even while holding positions that could serve her well in a general-election campaign, or as president. She will be tested further with four more Democratic debates in December, before the ultimate test -- in the opening nominating contest Jan. 3 in Iowa.

In two recent polls of likely Iowa caucus-goers, Sen. Clinton was slightly ahead in one, but her chief rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, had retaken the edge in the other. A decisive Clinton victory in Iowa potentially could clinch the nomination; a loss, or even a close call, makes her vulnerable in the states that follow.

No first-time candidate before has juggled these conflicting considerations in quite this way, because none has ever run from Sen. Clinton's unique position. She is far ahead in national polls for the nomination, her party is favored in polls to win the 2008 presidential election, and she has personal experience moving from campaign trail to White House. Typically, presidential candidates go a step at a time, focusing like lasers on the nomination, pivoting to the center only when it's in hand, and worrying about promises made once inside the West Wing.

Sen. Clinton's aides said she was unavailable for an interview. But interviews with numerous advisers, associates and even Republicans attested to her success this year in methodically building her lead over rival Democrats with tireless stumping and discipline. She gained ground by taking rough edges off her imperious image, and promoting her experience and competence, in the process persuading many doubting Democrats that she is "electable."

Now, her party foes are nervous and even desperate as the days dwindle to the first, potentially make-or-break vote in Iowa, the only state where polls show a tight race. They are all firing at her, aiming where she is most vulnerable -- her reputation as too cautious and calculating. Stoking the conflict are Republicans, who report their first uptick in donations to party headquarters in many months, thanks to a recent stream of "stop-Hillary" fund-raising emails. And Sen. Clinton, by her own hedging on several issues, has provided ammunition.

The jeopardy for her is that one Democrat could emerge from the pack to be the "un-Hillary," consolidating support from voters to try to deny her the nomination. Her challenge is to prevent that, but without undoing what real progress she has made, according to polls, in appealing to a broader swath of the electorate.

To the contrary, W ran exactly the same campaign, which forced him Right in SC, costing him Catholic and independent support and the 2000 election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:05 AM


Colombia Comeback: A “no-brainer” of a trade agreement. (Rich Lowry, 11/23/07, National Review)

Medellin is a microcosm of Colombia. President Alvaro Uribe has forged extraordinary security gains by taking the fight to the country’s hellish brew of left-wing guerrillas, their paramilitary opponents and narco-traffickers. The strength of the main guerrilla group, FARC, is down an estimated 40 percent from its peak, and more than 30,000 paramilitary fighters have been demobilized. Murders have dropped 40 percent from 2002 to 2006, and kidnappings almost 80 percent from 2000 to 2006.

But security is not enough. Colombia is awash in displaced people, chased from their homes by dueling guerrilla armies, and young men who have to be resocialized after lives of violence. They need jobs. That’s why the Colombia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement is so important. It is pending in Congress, where Democratic leaders might let it die in the gravest act of strategic short-sightedness since their attempted rebuke of Turkey.

Uribe is an ally of the United States and a wildly popular democratic leader who saved his country when it tottered on the brink of collapse. That Congress would kick him in the teeth strikes Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, the Bush administration’s chief evangelist for the deal, as scandalously senseless. He escorts as many members of Congress as he can to Colombia, on the theory that when it comes to the greatest comeback story in the Americas, seeing is believing.

What the congressmen see is a Uribe resolved to confront his country’s problems. He takes this congressional delegation to a slum on the outskirts of Cartagena where shacks line dirt roads flooded with fetid water. He holds a town-hall meeting with residents who greet him rapturously but make plain their desperation for more housing and services. It’s as if President Bush showed up in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, willing to field all complaints.

The congressmen can’t help but be impressed. What holds Democrats back from supporting the trade agreement is union opposition back home.

One ought not underestimate the degree ton which the Democrats are also just acting out of spite at their side having lost the Cold War in Latin America to Ronald Reagan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:01 AM


The Democrats' quagmire (Kenneth R. Timmerman, 11/23/07, Washington Times)

Last week, Democrats in the House of Representatives voted yet again to fix a firm deadline to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. It was their 40th such vote. Luckily, their motion died in the Senate, where the Party of Surrender failed to muster enough votes to survive a presidential veto.

Also last week, House Democrats passed a measure, inappropriately titled the RESTORE Act of 2007, that would stick consumers with billions of dollars in legal fees and enrich trial lawyers, as part of an across-the-board assault on the administration"s effort to wage the war on terror.

The RESTORE Act eliminates a key provision from a bill to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs how the U.S. government can intercept suspected terrorist communications, to allow private lawsuits against telecommunications providers who answered the government"s call to turn over phone records of suspected terrorists.

As former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton noted in a recent Baltimore Sun opinion column, eliminating immunity for the telecom providers “would deter companies and private citizens from helping in future emergencies when there is uncertainty and legal risk.”

A t the point where you support the Islamicists just because W opposes them, you may want to see a shrink.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:57 AM


Plumber’s Progress (SETH SCHIESEL, 11/23/07, NY Times)

Mario, the goofy, fat Italian plumber, is by far the most famous character in video games and perhaps one of the world’s most-recognized fictional characters in any medium. Think back, if you can, to 1981 and Donkey Kong. Mario was there.

After selling almost 200 million games over more than two decades and generating untold billions in revenue for Nintendo of Japan, Mario is back. Super Mario Galaxy, released this month for Nintendo’s Wii console, is the first major new Mario game in five years and is certain to end up one of the best-selling games of 2007. [...]

[T]o test whether Mario could still appeal to an overeducated, media-saturated audience, I assembled a panel of nongaming yuppies in their 30s at my house last weekend, put the Wii controls in their hands and sat back to check the reaction.

Judging by the hours of giggles, chortles and downright guffaws, especially from two women who hadn’t played a video game in many years, Mario still has the goods: the madcap visual humor, the cheesy yet oddly compelling musical score and that incessant tug to play just five more minutes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:55 AM


Saudis to attend Middle East peace conference (Peter Walker, November 23, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister is to attend next week's Middle East peace conference, he announced today, in a significant boost to the US-sponsored talks.

"I'm not hiding any secret about the Saudi position. We were reluctant until today," Saud al-Faisal told a press conference at the ongoing Arab League meeting in Cairo.

"If not for the Arab consensus we felt today, we would not have decided to go," he said. "But the kingdom would never stand against an Arab consensus, as long as the Arab position has agreed on attending, the kingdom will walk along with its brothers in one line."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:35 AM


The real Rudy (David Brooks, November 23, 2007, NY Times)

"I'm pleased to be with you this evening to talk about the anti-immigrant movement in America," [Rudy Giuliani said, on Oct. 10, 1996, at the Kennedy School of Government], "and why I believe this movement endangers the single most important reason for American greatness, namely, the renewal, reformation and reawakening that's provided by the continuous flow of immigrants."

Giuliani continued: "I believe the anti-immigrant movement in America is one of our most serious public problems." It can "be seen in legislation passed by Congress and the president." (Republicans had just passed a welfare reform law that restricted benefits to legal immigrants.) "It can be seen in the negative attitudes being expressed by many of the politicians." [...]

Just last year, I saw him passionately deliver remarks at the Manhattan Institute Hamilton Award Dinner in which he condemned the "punitive approach" to immigration, "which is reflected in the House legislation that was passed, which is to make it a crime to be an illegal or undocumented immigrant."

To "deal with it in a punitive way," he said then, "is actually going to make us considerably less secure than we already are." The better approach, he continued, is to embrace the Senate's comprehensive reform and to separate the criminal illegals from the hard-working ones.

These speeches are the real Rudy. These speeches represent the Rudy who once went overboard and declared, "If you come here and you work hard and you happen to be in an undocumented status, you're one of the people who we want in this city."

This is why Fred Siegel, a Giuliani biographer, accurately called him an "immoderate centrist." This is why Giuliani won 43 percent of the Hispanic vote in the mayoral race of 1997. This is why his candidacy once had the potential to renovate the Republican Party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


The China Model: How long can economic freedom and political repression coexist? (Rowan Callick, November/December 2007, The American)

From Vietnam to Syria, from Burma to Venezuela, and all across Africa, leaders of developing countries are admiring and emulating what might be called the China Model. It has two components. The first is to copy successful elements of liberal economic policy by opening up much of the economy to foreign and domestic investment, allowing labor flexibility, keeping the tax and regulatory burden low, and creating a first-class infrastructure through a combination of private sector and state spending. The second part is to permit the ruling party to retain a firm grip on government, the courts, the army, the internal security apparatus, and the free flow of information. A shorthand way to describe the model is: economic freedom plus political repression.

The system’s advantage over the standard authoritarian or totalitarian approach is obvious: it produces economic growth, which keeps people happy. Under communism and its variations on the right and left, highly centralized state-run economies have performed poorly. The China Model introduces, at least in significant part, the proven success of free-market economics. As citizens get richer, the expectation is that a nondemocratic regime can retain and even enhance its power and authority. There is no doubt that the model has worked in China and may work as well elsewhere, but can it be sustained over the long run? [...]

In the 1990s, a presumption grew that the crowds of well-connected young Chinese returning with their Ivy League MBAs would not acquiesce to the continued unaccountable rule of the cadres. But many of them instead joined the party with alacrity. A striking example is that of Li Qun, who studied in the U.S. and then served as assistant to the mayor of New Haven, writing a book in Chinese on his experiences. After his return to China, he became a mayor himself, of Linyi in Shandong Province in the Northeast. There, he swiftly became the nemesis of one of China’s most famous human rights lawyers, the blind Chen Guangcheng. First, Chen was placed under house arrest and his lawyers and friends were beaten because of his campaign against forced sterilizations of village women. Then, Chen was charged, bizarrely, with conspiring to disrupt traffic when a trail of further arrests led to public protests. He was jailed for four years.

Thus, best of all, in the view of many of the international admirers of the China Model, is that the leaders, while opening the economy to foster consumption, retain full political control to silence “troublemakers” like Chen. Indeed, the big attractions of China to capital from overseas has been that the political setting is stable, that there will be no populist campaign to nationalize foreign assets, that the labor force is both flexible and disciplined, and that policy changes are rational and are signaled well ahead. Economic management is pragmatic, in line with Deng Xiaoping’s encomium to “cross the river by feeling for stones,” while political management is stern but increasingly collegiate, the personality cult having been jettisoned after Mao and factions having faded together with ideology.

The CPC is replacing old-style communist values with nationalism and a form of Confucianism, in a manner that echoes the “Asian values” espoused by the leaders who brought Southeast Asian countries through their rapid modernization process in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and elsewhere.

Nothing gets us capitalists to compromise our morality more surely than the appeal of "stability."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


France in no mood to say vive la revolution: As strikes appear to be losing public support, President Sarkozy's reforms gain favor (Geraldine Baum, November 23, 2007, LA Times)

Although Sarkozy has expressed willingness to meet, negotiate with and even have long, informal dinners with trade union leaders, he has made it clear that he will insist on workers paying into the pension system for at least 40 years.

In a speech this week, he emphasized that he intended to remain firm, but said he was not out for a showdown: "I do not want a winner or a loser."

And Thursday, although commuters were still too grumpy to start celebrating, it looked like the worst of the rail strike was behind them. (Air France pilots, however, were threatening to stay off the job starting Saturday.)

Most unions at the state-owned national railroad and many metro and bus drivers announced they would wind down protests over the weekend even as they continued to press their agenda at the negotiating tables. But a leftist union warned that the strike was merely suspended and that if talks didn't go their way, they would walk again around the December holidays.

The appearance, at least, of being open to dialogue has helped Sarkozy win public support, according to recent polls. And to the extent that he received a mandate for reform during the election, it has been strengthened by the strikes.

Since October, when the periodic strikes began, support for the president's reform efforts has gone up while support for strikes has gone down, says Pierre Giacometti, an analyst with the polling firm Ipsos.

As of last weekend, 66% of the French, a significant increase from the previous weekend, were behind Sarkozy's pension changes, an Ipsos poll showed. Only a third expressed general support for the strikes.

Giacometti depicts recent union actions as a continuation of the election struggle. Sarkozy defeated Socialist Segolene Royal, who had vowed not to touch the special pensions, in a runoff election.

"We are convinced that these strikes are run by a very political movement of student extremists and trade unionists out for a third round of the election," Giacometti says.

"Sarkozy already won, but some political vehicles want to fight him again in the streets. But the public doesn't want another battle."

In fact, appearances this time around don't capture a profound change beneath the surface.

At an anti-strike march last weekend of about 10,000 people, many seemed as much pro-Sarkozy as against a tradition of governing in France that allows presidents and Parliaments to be trumped by unionists inflicting distress on the public.

Guy Lacombe says he doesn't usually join public marches but, well, he needs to march to end the relentless marching.

"If France is known for its many strikes, we want that to change," says Lacombe, who boasts that he is still working at 64.

"We want the French mentality to change, because it's always the same people who go on strike while everybody else has to work."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


The trouble with migrants: Europe is fretting about too much immigration when it needs even more (The Economist, 11/22/07)

In the short run the rate of migration within the EU is likely to slow. Demand for foreign labour in western Europe may drop as housing markets slow and construction falls off. Years of strong growth in the east, combined with a steady outflow of workers, have led to serious labour shortages that are driving up wages. That reduces the incentive to leave, and increases the incentive to return.

In truth the bad demographic outlook of much of western and eastern Europe will make the continent increasingly reliant on foreign labour. And one irony is that, for all the current fretting about too many foreigners, a chronic shortage of suitable workers may be felt most acutely in the countries that seem most hostile to outsiders. Germany has kept its labour markets closed to new EU members until 2011, but it now admits to a skills shortage. This month it eased the restrictions on migrant workers in the mechanical and electrical-engineering industries.

Immigration already accounts for most of the limited population growth in Europe. Ageing populations, combined with the natives' lack of ability, or inclination, to do many jobs, mean that more foreign workers are likely to be needed. By one estimate Europe's native-born workforce will shrink by 44m by the middle of the century. Skilled workers will be in especially short supply. Those calling most fiercely for foreigners to go home may come to regret what they wished for.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Cannon to the north of them (The Economist, 11/22/07)

Because it is physically much smaller than Iowa, and its population is concentrated around the old mill-towns of the south, like Manchester and Nashua, “retail politics” there is even more up-close and personal than in Iowa. Its well-educated and well-off citizens have plenty of opportunities to crowd into school gymnasiums, diners and church halls to hear and to interrogate.

And, above all, the state likes to vote: it chooses its governor every two years, and turnout for the presidential primaries will be of the order of 65%, compared with around 10% for Iowa's caucuses. Well over half the electorate consists of voters of undeclared allegiance, though the state has been trending Democrat for years, thanks to an influx of liberal east-coast retirees drawn to its lakes and mountains and yuppies working in its booming tech sector. New Hampshire gives a good indication of how a candidate appeals to independent voters, the largest group in the country.

New Hampshire looks likely to matter most to the Republican race, where it will probably either make or break Mr Giuliani. Until recently, the former mayor of New York had been engaged in a breathtakingly bold strategy: to ignore the early states (which also include Michigan, due to vote on January 15th, and Nevada and South Carolina, both due on January 19th), in favour of concentrating on Florida (January 29th) and the February 5th states.

But there is a snag. Mitt Romney, a successful businessman and former governor of Massachusetts, has been spending vast amounts of his fortune in Iowa and New Hampshire, and leads the polls in both of them. Throw in the fact that conservative South Carolina might not take to a man currently on his third wife and that Mr Romney's father was a popular governor of Michigan, and there is a real chance that Mr Giuliani might end up heading to Florida having lost four races to his main rival. why The Mayor won't run.

November 22, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 PM


Legal action threatened over 'sham' Heathrow consultation (Colin Brown, 23 November 2007, Independent)

Councils opposed to a third London runway threatened legal action yesterday after Ruth Kelly, the Transport Secretary, provoked fury by signalling a massive expansion of Heathrow.

Environment groups accused Gordon Brown of hypocrisy for claiming to be leading the world in combating climate change four days before consulting on an expansion of aviation in his own backyard.

The Government's plans were backed in a move that appeared to be co-ordinated by all sides of the pro-expansion lobby, including unions, the CBI, chambers of commerce and the airlines. But ministers may find the threats of legal action against "sham" consultation more worrying.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 PM


New boss turns the tables on Al Qaeda: Ex-Sunni insurgent becomes U.S. ally (Liz Sly, November 22, 2007, Chicago Tribune)

The once-dreaded Al Qaeda in Iraq stronghold of Amariyah has a new boss, and he's not shy about telling the story of the shootout that turned him into a local legend and helped change the tenor of the Iraq war.

Earlier this year, Abul Abed, a disgruntled Sunni insurgent leader, began secret talks with the Americans about ending Al Qaeda's reign of terror in this run-down, formerly middle-class Baghdad neighborhood, renowned as one of the city's most dangerous. He had been gathering intelligence on the group for months.

One day in late May, he said, he decided it was time to act.

He hailed the car carrying the feared leader of Al Qaeda in the neighborhood, a man known as the White Lion, on one of Amariyah's main streets. "We want you to stop destroying our neighborhood," he told the man.

"Do you know who you are talking to?" said the White Lion, getting out of his car. "I am Al Qaeda. I will destroy even your own houses!"

He pulled out his pistol and shot at Abul Abed. The gun jammed. He reloaded and fired again. Again, the gun jammed.

By this time, Abul Abed said, he had pulled his own gun. He fired once, killing the White Lion.

"I walked over to him, stepped on his hand and took his gun," Abul Abed, which is a nom de guerre, said at his new, pink-painted headquarters in a renovated school in Amariyah, as an American Army captain seated in the corner nodded his head in affirmation of the account. "And then the fight started."

It was the beginning of the end for Al Qaeda in Amariyah.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:51 PM


End to French Transit Strike Seems Near (DOREEN CARVAJAL, 11/22/07, NY Times)

A crippling national transportation strike that has lasted nine days appeared to be sputtering to an end in France today as rail workers fighting to retain early retirement rights appeared to grow willing to accept negotiations and voted throughout the country to return to work. [...]

It has been a symbolic clash that has tested the resolve of the transport unions — fighting an unpopular battle to allow their workers to retire in their 50s — against that of President Nicholas Sarkozy.

...but they fold even to a lone Hungarian.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:12 PM


Christopher Kimball Saves the Thanksgiving Feast (Morning Edition, November 24, 2005)

It could happen to you. Friends and relatives are traveling over the river and through woods to your house for Thanksgiving. You started cooking well before dawn, and just as your culinary masterpiece is taking shape: disaster.

The biscuits are burned, the gravy is gritty and the turkey is in trouble.

That's where Christopher Kimball can help. He is the creator of Cook's Illustrated Magazine and hosts the PBS television show America's Test Kitchen.

And see:
Turkey Help (From the Editors of Cook's Illustrated)

(originally posted: 11/24/05)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 PM


It is, amazingly enough, already that time of year when we all give formal thanks for the blessings we too often take for granted the rest of the year. As we never tire of telling you, it is the readers, commenters, and correspondents of the Brothers Judd who make it worthwhile to us and we can not adequately express how thankful we are to and for you.

Personally, this has been one of my most enjoyable years of blogging. The conversation has been especially civil of late and at this point we only very rarely have to delete comments and those almost exclusively of the most virulent nativists. As a general matter folks are thoughtful, informed and good natured and that allows for a lively exchange with minimal bruised feelings. We do read every comment and email and try to respond to most, if not always at the length they deserve.

We are humbled and gratified that you choose to spend some of your time with us and share your thoughts when moved to do so. We value hearing from you and are honored whenever you opt to hear from us.

We hope everyone has a happy and healthful Thanksgiving in the bosom of their own home--which would obviate the need to drive--or in the company of friends and family--whose homes are more than likely accessible by train. We include even Sox-haters, Darwinists, reflexive nativists, witch-coddlers, anti-McCainiacs, Airbusphiles, gold bugs, soccer fans and those who remain in Eric/Julia denial in these well wishes. You may be as wrong as dark socks with shorts, but you do give the joint atmosphere.

As an entirely inadequate expression of our regard, perhaps a Thanksgiving Day Football contest would be in order? Pick the three NFL games that day (with the total points scored in each) and we'll give out some more books.

Green Bay at Detroit
N.Y. Jets at Dallas
Indianapolis at Atlanta

God bless you and yours and the Land of the Pilgrim's pride.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:55 AM


Influential Iranian daily issues a rare rebuke to Ahmadinejad (Nazila Fathi, November 22, 2007, IHT)

The newspaper, Jomhouri Eslami, criticized Ahmadinejad for calling a former nuclear negotiator, Hossein Mousavian, a spy and saying that influential politicians were using their power to have him cleared of those charges. Mousavian was a close aide to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanajni when he was president.

"Lately, defaming political rivals has become common in the country and has replaced lawful behavior," the daily wrote in a front-page editorial in its Wednesday editions. "We want to reject this kind of behavior as immoral, illegal, illogical and un-Islamic and remind wise figures that such a trend is dangerous for the country."

Ahmadinejad has proved a divisive leader, with both hard-line conservative and reformist opponents finding fault with his economic programs and his strident anti-Western rhetoric. But the criticism is often indirect, to avoid political repercussions. Jomhouri Eslami, however, is so established - the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was once the managing editor - that it is unlikely to be closed down or censured.

Imagine Mahmoud's surprise that he'll be voted out before the Return from Occulation?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:46 AM


Is Atomic Radiation as Dangerous as We Thought?: A mounting number of studies are coming to some surprising conclusions about the dangers of nuclear radiation. It might not be as deadly as is widely believed. (Matthias Schulz, 11/22/07, Der Spiegel)

There, in a long brick building, workers, including many women, sat in a dimly lit environment and placed the encrusted rods into nitric acid, triggering a process that allowed them to remove the weapons-grade plutonium. While the same work was performed with remote-controlled robotic arms in the West, the Soviet workers were not even given masks to wear. There was nothing to stop plutonium gases from entering their lungs.

And yet the amount of health damage sustained by these workers was astonishingly low. The GSF study has examined 6,293 men who worked at the chemical plant between 1948 and 1972. "So far 301 have died of lung cancer," says Jacob. "But only 100 cases were caused by radiation. The others were attributed to cigarettes."

The second large, but as yet unpublished study by the GSF scientists also offers surprisingly low mortality figures. The subjects in this study were farmers who lived downstream from the nuclear reactors, in 41 small towns and villages along the Techa River. From 1949 to 1951, waste material from the plutonium production -- a bubbling toxic soup -- was simply poured into the river untreated. As a result, highly radioactive elements such as cesium 137 and strontium 90 were deposited in the river's sediments. The riverbanks became radioactive.

A report warning of the dangers was sent to Moscow in 1951. A series of X-ray tests was conducted, and police officers were assigned to guard the river. "We could only see the river through barbed wire or from a small wooden bridge," says a former resident. By 1960, 22 villages had been evacuated.

From the standpoint of Russian citizens' groups, which are currently suing for compensation in the courts, these official steps were half-hearted. In their view, the plant management committed "atomic genocide" against the ethnic Tatars living in the area.

But as the analyses show, even this accusation is exaggerated. The US National Cancer Institute (NCI) studied 29,873 people who lived along the Techa between 1950 and 1960. According to the NCI scientists, only 46 deaths came about due to radiation exposure.

The German researchers now know why the death rate was relatively low. Although the Techa was abused as a nuclear waste dump, the abuse was not as severe as the rumor-mongers would have us believe. "The Techa farmer most heavily exposed to the radiation received a dose of only 0.45 Gray," explains Jacob. By comparison, a lethal dose of radiation, which causes fever, changes in the composition of the blood, irreparable damage to the body and death within two weeks, is 6 Gray.

The findings hardly jive with the popular image of the atom as evil incarnate. Nightmarish scenarios of lingering illness and birth defects on an apocalyptic scale populate nightmares. In West Germany, the moral and political self-image of an entire generation arose from its battle against radiation, from "no nukes" protest marches to facing off against police water cannons at the Brokdorf nuclear power plant to sit-ins in front of Castor rail containers of reprocessed nuclear waste.

This hard-line stance was partly rooted in history. On Aug. 6, 1945, a US bomber dropped an atomic bomb code-named Little Boy over Hiroshima. The bomb detonated at an altitude of 600 meters (about 2,000 feet), directly above the center of the city and the resulting fireball, generating temperatures in excess of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, swept away all of downtown Hiroshima, killing 140,000 people. Three days later, a second atom bomb was dropped over Nagasaki, killing 70,000.

The more recent meltdown at the reactor in Chernobyl in 1986 reminded the world of the dangers of the atom. The incident was referred to as "nuclear genocide," and the press wrote of "forests stained red" and of deformed insects. The public was bombarded with images of Soviet cleanup crews wearing protective suits, bald-headed children with cancer and the members of cement crews who lost their lives in an attempt to seal off the cracked reactor with a concrete plug. Fifteen years after the reactor accident, the German newsmagazine Focus concluded that Chernobyl was responsible for "500,000" deaths.

Was all this just doomsday folklore? There is no doubt that large sections of the countryside were contaminated by the accident in the Ukraine. In the ensuing decades, up to 4,000 cleanup workers and residents of the more highly contaminated areas died of the long-term consequences of radiation exposure. But the six-figure death counts that opponents of nuclear power once cited are simply nonsense. In most cases, they were derived from vague "extrapolations" based on the hearsay reported by Russian dissidents. But such horror stories have remained part of the nuclear narrative to this day.

In fact, contemporaries who reported on the Chernobyl incident should have known better. Even in the 1980s, radiobiologists and radiation physicists considered the media's doomsday reports to be exaggerated.

And their suspicions have become a virtual certainty today. Groups of researchers have set up shop at all of the sites of nuclear accidents or major nuclear contamination. They work at Hanford (where the United States began producing plutonium in 1944), they conduct studies in the English town of Sellafield (where a contaminated cloud escaped from the chimney in 1957), and they study the fates of former East German uranium mineworkers in the states of Saxony and Thuringia. New mortality rates have now been compiled for all of these groups of individuals at risk. Surprisingly, the highest mortality rates were found among the East German mineworkers.

In Hiroshima, on the other hand, radioactivity claimed surprisingly few human lives. Experts now know exactly what happened in the first hours, days and weeks after the devastating atomic explosion. Almost all of Hiroshima's 140,000 victims died quickly. Either they were crushed immediately by the shock wave, or they died within the next few days of acute burns.

But the notorious radiation sickness -- a gradual ailment that leads to certain death for anyone exposed to radiation levels of 6 Gray or higher -- was rare. The reason is that Little Boy simply did not produce enough radioactivity. But what about the long-term consequences? Didn't the radiation work like a time bomb in the body?

To answer these questions, the Japanese and the Americans launched a giant epidemiological study after the war. The study included all residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who had survived the atomic explosion within a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) radius. Investigators questioned the residents to obtain their precise locations when the bomb exploded, and used this information to calculate a personal radiation dose for each resident. Data was collected for 86,572 people.

Today, 60 years later, the study's results are clear. More than 700 people eventually died as a result of radiation received from the atomic attack:

* 87 died of leukemia;

* 440 died of tumors;

* and 250 died of radiation-induced heart attacks.

* In addition, 30 fetuses developed mental disabilities after they were born.

Such statistics have attracted little notice so far. The numbers cited in schoolbooks are much higher. According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, 105,000 people died of the "long-term consequences of radiation."

"For commendable reasons, many critics have greatly exaggerated the health risks of radioactivity," says Albrecht Kellerer, a Munich radiation biologist. "But contrary to widespread opinion, the number of victims is by no means in the tens of thousands."

Especially surprising, though, is that the stories of birth defects in newborns are also pure fantasy. The press has repeatedly embellished photos of a destroyed Hiroshima with those of deformed children, children without eyes or with three arms. In reality, there hasn't been a single study that provides evidence of an elevated rate of birth defects.

It's worth noting that the folks who succumb to hysterias about the supposed threat humans represent to the planet are those who have a warped view of the Chain of Being.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:54 AM


Clashes between Sunnis and Al Qaeda break out near Baghdad (The Associated Press, November 21, 2007)

Suspected al-Qaida fighters killed two Iraqi soldiers early Thursday, then used their Humvees to kill at least 18 rival Sunnis south of Baghdad, police said, a brazen example of the challenges still facing Iraqis despite a lull in violence.

Several Iraqi refugees, meanwhile, returned home to the capital from Syria, saying they felt confident about the dramatic drop in the level of sectarian attacks.

"Thanks to be for God that we arrived here today. We have learned that the security situation improved and we hope all Iraqis will get back to Iraq," Muhanad Ibrahim said as he arrived in the western neighborhood of Mansour.

...if the Sunni and al Qaeda weren't at each others throats. Because they are there isn't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


Cue Burl Ives: Holiday TV specials are here (Mike Duffy, 11/21/07, Detroit Free Press)

We also have such beloved animated classics as "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" (ABC, 8 p.m. Tuesday), Dr. Seuss' "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (ABC, 8:30 p.m. Nov. 28 plus numerous cable airings) and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (CBS, 8 p.m. Dec. 4), shows that have long been a yearly family viewing tradition.

Plus, there's always the very merry movie marathon of "A Christmas Story" (TBS, 8 p.m. Dec. 24), humorist and narrator Jean Shepherd's screwball family holiday memoir of growing up in the 1940s. The broadcast spreads nutty yuletide cheer from Christmas Eve through Christmas Day.

So here's a happy blizzard of viewing choices. Enjoy!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


President Bush Offers Thanksgiving Greetings (President George W. Bush, Berkeley Plantation, Charles City, Virginia, 11/19/07)

Thank you all. Thanks very much. Thanks for the warm welcome. I am proud to be back in the great state of Virginia. I particularly appreciate the chance to visit Berkeley Plantation. I thank the good people who care for this historic treasure. Over the years, Presidents have visited Berkeley. President William Henry Harrison called it home. As a matter of fact, it was here where he composed the longest inauguration speech in history. (Laughter.) He went on for nearly two hours. You don't need to worry; I'm not going to try to one-up him today. (Laughter.)

The good folks here say that the founders of Berkeley held their celebration before the Pilgrims had even left port. (Applause.) As you can imagine, this version of events is not very popular up north. (Laughter.) But even the administration of President Kennedy -- a son of Massachusetts -- recognized Berkeley's role in this important holiday. And so this afternoon, I've come to honor Berkeley's history -- and to continue the great American tradition of giving thanks. (Applause.)

Laura sends her best. Most people say, I wish she'd have come and not you. (Laughter.) She's doing just fine and I know she is going to be envious when I describe how beautiful this part of the country is. And I thank you for giving me a chance to come.

I want to thank my friend, Tom Saunders, who is the founder of the Saunders Trust for American History at the New York Historical Society -- that means he and his and wife, Jordan, are raising money to make sure this site is as beautiful as it is and stays an important part of our history and legacy. (Applause.)

I thank Judy and Jamie Jamieson, who happen to be the owners of this beautiful site. And I appreciate your hospitality. (Applause.) I can't help but recognize my daughter's future father-in-law -- (laughter) -- I appreciate you coming. (Applause.) A lot of people think she's showed some pretty good common sense to marry somebody from Virginia. (Applause.) He's doing all right, himself.

I appreciate the fact that the Congressman from this district, Congressman Bobby Scott is with us. Thanks for coming, Bobby. (Applause.) Congressman Eric Cantor from Richmond is with us. (Applause.) And Congressman Randy Forbes; appreciate you coming, Randy. (Applause.) I want to thank the Lieutenant Governor, Bill Bolling, for joining us. Thank you for coming, Governor. (Applause.) Bob McDonnell, the Attorney General; General, I appreciate you being here. (Applause.) I had the honor of meeting the High Sheriff. Sheriff, thank you and your law enforcement officials. I'm proud to be with you. I want to thank all the local officeholders and state officeholders. And most of all, thank you for letting me come by and I appreciate you coming. (Applause.)

Every November, we celebrate the traditions of Thanksgiving; we're fixing to do so again. We remember that the Pilgrims gave thanks after their first harvest in New England. We remember that George Washington led his men in thanksgiving during the American Revolution. And we remember that Abraham Lincoln revived the Thanksgiving tradition in the midst of a bloody civil war.

Yet few Americans remember much about Berkeley. They don't know the story of the Berkeley Thanksgiving. This story has its beginnings in the founding of the colony of Virginia four centuries ago. As the colony grew, settlers ventured beyond the walls of Jamestown, and into the surrounding countryside. The Berkeley Company of England acquired 8,000 acres of nearby land, and commissioned an expedition to settle it.

In 1619, a band of 38 settlers departed Bristol, England for Berkeley aboard a ship like the one behind me. At the end of their long voyage, the men reviewed their orders from home. And here's what the orders said: "The day of our ship's arrival h shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God." (Applause.) Upon hearing those orders, the men fell to their knees in prayer. And with this humble act of faith, the settlers celebrated their first Thanksgiving in the New World.

In the years that followed, the settlers at Berkeley faced many hardships. And in 1622, the settlement was destroyed. Berkeley became a successful plantation after it was rebuilt, when people returned to this site. And it is an important part of our history. And as we look back on the story of Berkeley, we remember that we live in a land of many blessings.

The story of Berkeley reminds us that we live in a land of opportunity. We remember that the settlers at Berkeley came to America with the hope of building a better life. And we remember that immigrants in every generation have followed in their footsteps. Their dreams have helped transform 13 small colonies into a large and growing nation of more than 300 million people.

Today, America we're blessed with great prosperity. We're blessed with farmers and ranchers who provide us with abundant food. We're blessed with the world's finest workers; with entrepreneurs who create new jobs. We're blessed with devoted teachers who prepare our children for the opportunities of tomorrow. We're blessed with a system of free enterprise that makes it possible for people of all backgrounds to rise in society and realize their dreams. These blessings have helped us build a strong and growing economy -- and these blessings have filled our lives with hope.

The story of Berkeley reminds us that we live in a nation dedicated to liberty. In 1776, Berkeley's owner, Benjamin Harrison, became one of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. In the Declaration, we see the founders' great hope for our country, their conviction that we're all created equal, with the God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

At times, America has fallen short of these ideals. We remember that the expansion of our country came at a terrible cost to Native American tribes. We remember that many people came to the New World in chains rather than by choice. For many years, slaves were held against their will here at Berkeley and other plantations -- and their bondage is a shameful chapter in our nation's history.

Today, we're grateful to live in a more perfect union. Yet our society still faces divisions that hold us back. These divisions have roots in the bitter experiences of our past -- and have no place in America's future. (Applause.) The work of realizing the ideals of our founding continues. And we must not rest until the promise of America is real for all our citizens.

We're also grateful to live in a time when freedom is taking hold in places where liberty was once unimaginable. Since the beginning of the 1980s, the number of democracies in the world has more than doubled. From our own history, we know these young democracies will face challenges and setbacks in the journey ahead. Yet as they travel the road to freedom, they must know that they will have a constant and reliable friend in the United States of America. (Applause.)

The story of Berkeley reminds us to honor those who have sacrificed in the cause of freedom. During the Civil War, Union forces at Berkeley adopted a nightly bugle call that has echoed throughout the ages. The bugle call has become known as "Taps." And when we hear it play, we remember that the freedoms we enjoyed have come at a heavy price.

Today, the men and women of the United States Armed Forces are taking risks for our freedom. They're fighting on the front lines of the war on terror, the war against extremists and radicals who would do us more harm. Many of them will spend Thanksgiving far from the comforts of home. And so we thank them for their service and sacrifice. We keep their families and loved ones in our prayers. We pray for the families who lost a loved one in this fight against the extremists and radicals, and we vow that their sacrifice will not be in vain. (Applause.)

This Thanksgiving, we pay tribute to all Americans who serve a cause larger than themselves. We are thankful for the police officers who patrol our streets. We're thankful for the firefighters who protect our homes and property. We're thankful for the leaders of our churches and synagogues and all faith-based organizations that call us to live lives of charity. We're thankful of the ordinary citizens who become good Samaritans in times of distress.

This Thanksgiving, we remember the many examples of the good heart of the American people that we have seen this past year: We remember the Virginia Tech professor who died blocking a gunman from entering his classroom. (Applause.) As a survivor of the Holocaust, Professor Liviu Librescu had seen the worst of humanity -- yet through his sacrifice, he showed us the best. (Applause.)

We remember the Minneapolis man who was escorting a busload of children when the bridge underneath them collapsed. Jeremy Hernandez responded to this emergency with courage. He broke open the backdoor of the bus and he helped lead every child on board to safety.

We remember the people in New Orleans who are rebuilding a great American city. One of them is Principal Doris Hicks. After Katrina, many said that her school could never return to its building in the Lower Ninth Ward. But Principal Hicks had a different point of view; she had a different attitude. As a matter of fact, she had a uniquely American attitude. She had a vision for a resurgent community with a vibrant school at its heart. This summer the Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior Charter School for Science and Technology became the first public school to reopen in the Lower Ninth Ward. (Applause.)

These stories remind us that our nation's greatest strength is the decency and compassion of our people. As we count our many blessings, I encourage all Americans to show their thanks by giving back. You know, I just visited the Central Virginia Foodbank. If you're living in Richmond and you want to give back, help the Central Virginia Foodbank. The volunteers there help prepare thousands of meals for the poor each day. And in so doing, they make the Richmond community and our nation a more hopeful place. And there are many ways to spread hope this holiday -- volunteer in a shelter, mentor a child, help an elderly neighbor, say thanks to one who wears our nation's uniform. (Applause.)

In the four centuries since the founders of Berkeley first knelt on these grounds, our nation has changed in many ways. Our people have prospered, our nation has grown, our Thanksgiving traditions have evolved -- after all, they didn't have football back then. (Laughter.) Yet the source of all our blessings remains the same: We give thanks to the Author of Life who granted our forefathers safe passage to this land, who gives every man, woman, and child on the face of the Earth the gift of freedom, and who watches over our nation every day. (Applause.)

I wish you all a safe and happy Thanksgiving. I offer Thanksgiving greetings to every American citizen. May God bless you, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM


Lebanon's Fateful Showdown (Amir Taheri, 11/26/07, New York Post )

Within the next week or so, we'll know whether Iran (acting through proxies in Beirut) will trigger a new civil war in Lebanon.

The issue is the choice of a replacement for President Emil Lahoud, imposed by Syria during its occupation of Lebanon. His term of office expires Nov. 23.

Tehran's favorite for the job is ex-Gen. Michel Aoun, a maverick Maronite Christian politician. He is allied with the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah - whose leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has publicly threatened violence if the Iranian candidate does not win.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Islamic Republic president, sees the Lebanese election as a showdown with the United States and a potential blow at the Bush Doctrine of spreading democracy in the Middle East. self-determination. Forcing the Shi'a majority in the South to accept domination by sectarian minorities in the North is the anti-democratic line.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Thank God For Thanksgiving (Adam Sparks, November 25, 2002, SF Gate)
[I]t wasn't until just after the signing of the Constitution that Congress immediately moved to pass a resolution asking for a National Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer (yes, liberals, that's right -- prayer) at which time George Washington intoned this famous proclamation in 1789:

"Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor -- and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

"That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks -- for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country � "

The proclamation was not about turkey, feasts or families. It was about devotion and solemnity to God and country. Our nation's first president, and perhaps its greatest leader, captured the spirit of the holiday a bit more eloquently than Governor Bradford.

But it wasn't until nearly 80 years later, in 1863, in the midst of one of our nation's bloodiest conflicts, the Civil War, that Abraham Lincoln had found
the equanimity to proclaim the Day of Thanksgiving an annual national holiday.

Here's his solemn proclamation:

"No human has devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out, these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy .� I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens .� [It is] announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord .� It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people."

It's damned annoying of the Founders, who supposedly erected a "wall of separation" between Church and State, to have been so willing to mix religion and government. (originally posted: November 28, 2002)
Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


World Wide Web: Land of Free Stuff: You want it? It's yours. From a college education to your favorite shampoo, it's all happening gratis on the Internet (Douglas MacMillan, 11/19/07, Business Week)

This year, e-commerce is projected to be a $259 billion business, up 18% from 2006, according to market researcher Forrester Research (FORR). That's a mind-numbing figure, but it doesn't mean everything online has a price tag. The list of free things you can get is as nearly extensive as the Internet itself, and includes everything from circus tickets to booze, including golf lessons, gift cards, pets, even a college education.

What have I found? I've collected 101 of the very best freebies—including enough free software to run your own business or become a YouTube video mogul—all without putting my hand in my pocket. Of course, I did have to give something, even if it wasn't money. In some cases, I had to click on an ad or watch a video. In others, information about me—such as how I spend my time online, or how I spend my money—was so valuable it entitled me to free products.

There are plenty of freebies to go around. I still watch TV, but I stopped paying for cable and get a lot more of my entertainment needs filled from the Internet. Radio sites like Pandora and TV sites like Joost serve more content that's customized to my tastes, with some ads on the side. If I'm feeling more adventurous I head over to WWITV, where TV channels from all over the world are streamed in real time. I don't know how much it would cost to get news broadcasts from Fiji on my home TV set, but my hunch is that it would take a very large satellite dish.

Handing out free product samples is not a novel form of advertising, but on the Web it's super easy to find companies willing to give you enough products to stock every room of your house.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


How a Breakthrough in Trade Broke Down in Congress (Juliet Eilperin, 11/22/07, Washington Post)

Early on, Sweeney made it clear that he and other union leaders wanted any trade pact to include the International Labor Organization's 1998 Declaration on the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which calls for freedom of association, the right to bargain collectively, a ban on forced labor and child labor, and no employment discrimination.

Rangel and other senior Democrats adopted labor's demand, and made it clear to the administration that no trade agreement would make it to the floor unless it included the ILO standards, which is a more stringent requirement than had ever been achieved during the Clinton administration.

For six years, labor -- along with the Democrats -- had been largely sidelined when it came to trade negotiations, but now one of its top leaders has gained access to the lawmakers making the deals. Rangel and Sweeney, according to the chairman, regularly have "friendly meetings about his concept of international trade policy."

"It just shows you what can be accomplished when the right people get elected to office," Sweeney said of the Democratic majority and his newfound position on Capitol Hill. "I've been thanking God every day for this."

After nearly four months of negotiations, the administration and congressional leaders reached an accord that met all of the Democrats' initial requirements. Just as Sweeney saw the new leadership as the answer to his prayers, those leaders saw the trade pact as a sort of miracle.

"We were able, thank God, to take yes for an answer," said Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), a member of the Ways and Means Committee.

Sweeney was meeting with foreign labor leaders in Berlin when the deal was struck on May 10, but both Rangel and Pelosi called to inform him of the news. At about midnight Berlin time, Sweeney spoke to the speaker on the phone. "This is a historic agreement," he told her.

But moments later, as Pelosi walked into the Speaker's Dining Room to hold a news conference with Schwab and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., she found herself facing hostile Democrats. A handful of lawmakers opposed to the trade pact with Peru -- including several Democratic freshmen who had campaigned on the issue -- had squeezed themselves into the tiny room on the Capitol's first floor and stared stony-faced at the speaker.

"We're not against trade. We just want a trade system that works," said Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio), a former labor lawyer who listened skeptically as the bipartisan group outlined its achievement.

Many of Sweeney's fellow union leaders delivered even harsher assessments of the new trade accord. Change to Win, the six-million member federation that now ranks as the AFL-CIO's main rival, issued a news release on May 25 saying that the agreement "does not represent the basis for the type of new U.S. trade policy that this nation desperately needs."

Even some leaders of the AFL-CIO's own affiliates rejected the agreement, saying they do not trust President Bush with the enforcement of its labor provisions.

As they shouldn't. Such provisions are just there to get the wahoos to vote yes, like enforcement provisions in immigration bills.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


How about squirrel for Thanksgiving: Some prefer non-traditional holiday dishes (RAE WILSON, 11/23/06, The News Democrat)

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, supermarket aisles are filled with traditional "Turkey Day" favorites. Cranberries, pumpkin pies, homemade noodles, mashed potatoes and gravy and of course, everyone's favorite fowl, the Thanksgiving turkey. But what if for a change, instead of making our way to the local supermarket, we decided to take a less traveled path.

How do you think your family would like it if say instead of the classic bird, your centerpiece this year was fried squirrel or a steaming pot of venison chili? What would the guest of honor think of Pheasant chow mein?

Cooking wild game is not as difficult as one may think, and can even bring about variety that one could never find elsewhere. According to Larry Wise, of Wise Taxidermy in Bainbridge, if you prepare just one turtle, you will find meat that tastes like a variety of foods.

"The neck tastes like shrimp, the front legs are just like lamb, the hind legs are beefy, and the best part is the loin, because you think you are eating a chicken," said Wise.

(Originally posted: 11/23/06)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


A green idea for saving lives in Iraq: An Army trial program is insulating structures to reduce dependence on fuel, and the dangerous convoys that supply it (Doug Smith and Saif Rasheed, November 22, 2007, LA Times)

When a little-known agency of the U.S. Army asked Joe Amadee III to come up with an idea for saving lives in Iraq, it was probing for some kind of a contraption.

After all, the Rapid Equipping Force, a 5-year-old think tank for military innovation, had come up with some pretty high-tech stuff: robots to search caves in Afghanistan, an acoustic sniper finder and a hand-held laser pointer that soldiers use to flag down cars at night.

But, instead of a gadget, Amadee proposed a green solution.

And so, before long, he and a crew led by an Oklahoma roofing contractor were at this desert base east of Baghdad spraying foam onto tents.

Their plan is to turn all of the Army's hulking, heat-absorbing tent barracks into rigid shells of 2-inch insulation.

The way that would improve soldiers' lives may be self-evident. What is less obvious is how it also could save their lives.

The key is fuel: The more of it a base uses, the more soldiers are exposed to deadly roadside bombs on fuel convoys.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Angels get Torii Hunter: Gold Glover agrees to a five-year, $90-million deal, giving the team a surplus of outfielders. (Mike DiGiovanna, November 22, 2007, LA Times)

The Angels pulled off their second stunning -- and somewhat perplexing -- move of the week late Wednesday night, signing free-agent center fielder Torii Hunter to a five-year, $90-million contract, the richest deal in franchise history.

Three teams -- the Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals -- extended five-year offers to the former Minnesota Twins star, and the Angels seemed set in center field with Gary Matthews Jr., a superb defender who is entering the second year of a five-year, $50-million contract. [...]

That deal created a surplus of starting pitchers -- the Angels' rotation is six-deep. Wednesday night's acquisition of Hunter gives the Angels a glut of outfielders.

Amazing the damage you can do to your team when you buy the hype about your own prospects instead of dealing them for major leaguers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


Man who helped start stem cell war may end it (Gina Kolata, November 22, 2007, NY Times)

If the stem cell wars are indeed nearly over in the United States, no one will savor the peace more than James Thomson.

Thomson's laboratory at the University of Wisconsin was one of two that in 1998 plucked stem cells from human embryos for the first time, destroying the embryos in the process and touching off a divisive national debate.

And on Tuesday, his laboratory was one of two that reported a new way to turn ordinary human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without ever using a human embryo.

The fact is, Thomson said in an interview, he had ethical concerns about embryonic research from the outset, even though he knew that such research offered insights into human development and the potential for powerful new treatments for disease.

"If human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough," he said. "I thought long and hard about whether I would do it."

He decided in the end to go ahead, reasoning that the work was important and that he was using embryos from fertility clinics that would have been destroyed otherwise.'s that moral qualms ought to be beaten down and life destroyed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:21 AM


Keeping Jazz Musicians Alive: Many world-renowned jazz musicians have no pensions, no medical plans, no hope (Nat Hentoff, November 19th, 2006, Village Voice)

Jazz musicians do not have pensions, and very few have medical plans or other resources. Pianist Wynton Kelly, for example -- a vital sideman for Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie -- died penniless. I was at the first recording session of pianist Phineas Newborn, whose mastery of the instrument was astonishing. As jazz musicians say, he told a story. His ended in a pauper's grave in Memphis.

At last, 17 years ago, in New York, a group of musicians and jazz enthusiasts for whom the music had become essential to their lives formed the Jazz Foundation of America. Its mission is to regenerate the lives of abandoned players -- paying the rents before they're evicted, taking care of their medical needs, and providing emergency living expenses.

Because of Dizzy Gillespie -- who had such a strong will to live and more generosity of spirit than anyone I've ever known -- the Jazz Foundation has been able to send musicians to New Jersey's Englewood Hospital and Medical Center and its Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund.

In 1993, Dizzy, dying of cancer at Englewood Hospital, said to his oncologist and hematologist, Dr. Frank Forte, a jazz guitarist by night, "Can you find a way to get the medical care I'm getting for musicians who can't afford it?" Since then, at no cost, jazz makers have received a wide range of treatment there -- from cancer care to hip replacements.

A very active Jazz Foundation board -- including musicians and extraordinarily generous donors -- has continuously expanded the foundation's reach to musicians in this area and elsewhere. (I'm an inactive member of the board. All I do is write about what it does.)

The indispensable driving force at the Jazz Foundation is its executive director, Wendy Oxenhorn. I've known a number of people who gave their all to keep others alive -- death penalty lawyers and human rights workers, for example -- but I've never come across anyone who is so continually on call as Wendy, at all hours, even when she herself is not well. [...]

If you want to be part of this essential branch of the jazz family, you can donate to the Jazz Foundation of America, 322 West 48th Street, 6th floor, New York, NY 10036; 212-245-3999, ext. 21; or The life from this music encircles the globe.

A donation seems especially appropriate as a way of giving Thanks for all these guys have given us.

(originally posted: 11/24/006)

A Displaced Jazz Musician Rebuilds in New York (VINCENT M. MALLOZZI, 11/22/07, NY Times)

The musical Prince of New Orleans has been touring New York in vagabond shoes.

“I’ve been walking around at night looking at all the clubs and the restaurants, just trying to figure out a new beginning for myself,” said Davell Crawford, 32, sitting on a piano bench recently at Roth’s Westside Steakhouse on the Upper West Side, where he practices. “I’m just thankful to be given another chance in a great city like this, a chance to fit in somewhere and entertain the people.”

Mr. Crawford, a jazz artist who is as well known in New Orleans as Mardi Gras, lost everything but his melodious soul in 2005 to Hurricane Katrina, which caused many musicians to leave and try to find work in other cities.

His career ruined by the storm, the man who once opened for Etta James, jammed with Lionel Hampton and thrilled audiences on four continents lives in a tiny Manhattan apartment provided by the Jazz Foundation of America, which has aided in more than 3,000 emergency cases involving musicians and their families affected by Katrina.

“Davell is a cross between Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, a male Billie Holiday,” said Wendy Oxenhorn, the executive director of the Jazz Foundation. “He is way too talented to be going through hard times.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 AM


Talking turkey about Butterball's origins (SCOTT FORNEK, November 21, 2004, Chicago Sun-Times)

More than half a century ago, Evanston inventor Leo Peters bought the rights to the name Butterball for $10.

Nearly 20 years later, he sold the trademark to Swift & Co. for $1 million.

Peters enjoyed telling his family and newspaper reporters of the role he played in developing the Butterball turkey -- everything from helping to breed broader-breasted poultry with more white meat to trying to sell skeptical 1950s butchers on the idea of switching from fresh to frozen birds.

"He was really the originator of the Butterball turkey," Peters' widow, Nancy, said.

Right up until he died in 1995 at age 86, Peters still dreamed of reclaiming the rights to what had become a household name.

" 'I'd really like to buy that back,' he'd say -- practically on his deathbed," Nancy Peters, 72, said.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Butterball turkey, a Chicago creation that has become nearly as synonymous with Thanksgiving dinner as cranberries, stuffing and sweet potatoes.

(originally posted: November 25, 2004)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Ease Turkey Day turmoil with a few handy tips (Mercury News Wire Services, 11/23/06)

Magazine tips

• Instead of brining, salt the turkey for 24 to 48 hours before cooking. Massage salt into the turkey meat under the skin and inside the cavity. Be sure to rinse and dry the bird thoroughly before roasting (Cook's Illustrated, December).

• When baking stuffing separately, use an ovenproof glass baking dish instead of a ceramic one. The bottom of the stuffing will brown better (Fine Cooking, November).

• Two ways to handle problem gravy: Too thick? Add a splash of fortified wine such as Madeira or sherry. Too pale? Add a few shakes of soy sauce (Real Simple, November).

• Four steps to light and buttery mashed potatoes: Boil the potatoes whole, with the skin on. Dry them out in a large saucepan over medium heat for two minutes before you rice or mash. Add butter before you add any liquids. Add milk/liquid that has been warmed (Bon Appetit, November).

• To peel and cut butternut squash: First, trim an inch from the bottom and top for stability; use a serrated peeler on the thick skin; slice in half lengthwise and scoop out the membrane and seeds with a spoon (Cooking Light, November).

• Three ways to handle Thanksgiving leftovers: Refresh undressed salad and crudités the next day by soaking them in water for 10 minutes. Make savory bread pudding with leftover stuffing; add meat from turkey legs to make it a strata. Freeze pecan pie by wrapping it tightly in foil and placing it inside two resealable plastic food storage freezer bags (Gourmet, November).

• If you're not making your own pie crust, try Pillsbury's already-rolled or Pet-Ritz pie crust in a pan. They were rated best among ready-to-bake brands (Food & Wine, November).

• When refrigerating pumpkin pie, lay a piece of paper towel lightly across the top, then cover the pie with plastic wrap. The towel will absorb any moisture and keep the pie surface free of droplets (Everyday Food, November).

(originally posted: 11/23/06)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Nice Rack: Which roasting pan is best for your Thanksgiving turkey? (Jonathan Kauffman, Nov. 17, 2006, Slate)

A flimsy disposable pan is a danger to you, your oven, and your main course. You need something sturdy enough to go from oven to stovetop, so you can make gravies and sauces, but there's no reason, beyond conspicuous consumption, to invest $450 on French copper. In the interest of offering you one sure piece of advice for your Thanksgiving meal, I tested six roasting pans, priced from $9.99 to $274.95. [...]

Calphalon One Infused Anodized Nonstick

Price: $149.99

The dark-gray Calphalon One line is appealing in its sleek functionality. Though sturdy, the pan isn't too heavy to work with, and the bolted-on handles are the best designed of the lot, flaring out perfectly so that I never butted my knuckles up against the pan's contents. The inside surface, which feels like sandpaper, is apparently "four-layer interlocking nonstick coating" involving "advanced release polymers." Food washes away from the surface with a few wipes, yet it's tacky enough to keep the pan's U-shaped, nonstick roasting rack from slipping around. Circulon, take note!

Both pork and turkey juices crystallized on the bottom of the pan without blackening, becoming darker and more flavorful, in fact, than in the ultra-thick Viking model. When I brought the Calphalon to the stovetop, it took but a few seconds of pushing the browned bits around to incorporate them. My only complaint: the rack. Though the skin of the turkey remained intact when it roasted breast-side down, when I turned the beast breast-side up, thick lines were embedded in it. That said, the marks weren't much worse than those produced by others; the problem seems endemic to the roast-flip-roast method of cooking heavy chunks of flesh. Overall, the turkey emerged from the oven a gorgeous, even brown, with juicy white meat.

Pick or Pan: My vote goes to the Calphalon One for good design, great results, and ease of cleanup. Though I'm now turkeyed out this year (my family has agreed to try guinea fowl on the big day), I've already found myself plotting meals around the pan. Isn't that what good cookware is for?

(originally posted: 11/23/06)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Leftovers: Turkey in other guises still gets top billing (HSIAO-CHING CHOU, 11/22/06, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER)

The postprandial turkey sandwich is a veteran of the meat lover's Thanksgiving tradition. But what else can you do with leftovers from the big meal?

Basically, any dish that could contain chicken is a good bet for turkey. Some obvious candidates include turkey noodle soup, turkey Caesar salad, turkey salad sandwich, turkey tacos or enchiladas, turkey fried rice, turkey and pasta. [...]



# 2 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
# 2 tablespoons olive oil
# 2 cups chopped cooked turkey
# Salt and pepper to taste
# 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
# 2 teaspoons chopped thyme
# 2 medium carrots, cut into 1/3-inch thick slices and parboiled
# 1 cup chicken broth
# Mashed potatoes

Soak leek slices to clean. Drain well. Heat oil over medium heat in a pot or deep skillet. Add leeks and saute 2-3 minutes. Add turkey, salt and pepper, garlic, thyme, carrots and broth. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Turn on the broiler.

Put the filling in a baking dish. Cover with mashed potatoes. Broil about 3 inches from the heat until top is golden, about 3 minutes.

From Seattle P-I

(originally posted: 11/22/06)

November 21, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:14 PM


Turkey is antidote for the loneliness of Chinese students (Katherine Kersten, 11/23/06, Minneapolis Star Tribune)

What's the loneliest day of the year? Thanksgiving, if you're a foreign student at the University of Minnesota. While everyone else celebrates with family members, turkey and pumpkin pie, you're stuck in an empty apartment.

But for Yang Lin, Jing Jing Zheng and his wife, Yi Hui Lei, things are different. They are spending Thanksgiving by the warm hearth of Ross and Karin Olson in Minneapolis.

China Outreach Ministries (COM) has been connecting Chinese students at the U with people like the Olsons since 1994. The organization works with volunteers, many from churches, to help visiting students meet the challenges of daily life. It also sponsors monthly dinners and outings to places such as Taylors Falls and Orchestra Hall.

Each November the group hosts a "Chinese-American Afternoon" to introduce Chinese to the Thanksgiving holiday.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:17 PM


Petraeus's Iraq (ROBERT H. SCALES, November 21, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

I've just returned from a week in Iraq with Gen. David Petraeus and his operational commanders. My intent was to look at events from an operational perspective and assess the surge. What I got was a soldier's sense of what's happening on the ground and, although the jury is still out on the surge, I came to the conclusion that we may now be reaching the "culminating point" in this war.

The culminating point marks the shift in advantage from one side to the other, when the outcome becomes irreversible: The potential loser can inflict casualties, but has lost all chance of victory. The only issue is how much longer the war will last, and what the butcher's bill will be. [...]

Culminating points are psychological, not physical, happenings. The commanders I spoke to in Iraq all said that there had been a remarkable change of mood in February when Gen. Petraeus announced that they were taking the fight to the enemy by taking Baghdad from al Qaeda. He pushed soldiers out of the big (and relatively safe) forward operating bases and scattered them among really bad neighborhoods. These joint security stations and combat outposts attracted locals and encouraged them to pass on intelligence about the enemy.

To bolster local security within Baghdad, Gen. Petraeus pushed the security perimeter beyond the city's limits. In May, he began arraying combat units in four successive "belts" around Baghdad. These units painfully ejected al Qaeda influence from the suburbs and satellite cities, effectively choking off reinforcements.

In early June, the enemy miscalculated. Sensing that they were losing inside Baghdad, al Qaeda's leaders pulled out and relocated to Baquba, long an insurgent haven on the outskirts of the city. Al Qaeda propaganda refers to Baquba as the capital of "The Islamic State of Iraq." It's central to our story, because it was the last contested urban battle ground al Qaeda had within greater Baghdad. Once ejected from Baquba, al Qaeda's connection to Baghdad -- the center of gravity of the coalition's campaign -- would be broken.

...there was just never a chance that America, the Iraqi Shi'a and Iran were going to tolerate a Sunni Baghdad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:31 AM


Huckabee Gaining Ground in Iowa (Dan Balz and Jon Cohen, 11/21/07, Washington Post)

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, buoyed by strong support from Christian conservatives, has surged past three of his better-known presidential rivals and is now challenging former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for the lead in the Iowa Republican caucuses, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News Poll.

Huckabee has tripled his support in Iowa since late July, eclipsing former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). Huckabee now runs nearly evenly with Romney, the longtime Iowa front-runner.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:06 AM


Top conservative slams Rudy on abortion (Tony Perkins, Nov 21, 2007, Politico)

As the Republican presidential primaries approach early next year, a chorus of voices for former Mayor Rudy Giuliani is consistently telling the public that he would appoint “strict constructionist” judges to the federal bench.

Media pundits like Sean Hannity brandish the phrase as if it were a conclusive argument for the acceptability of Giuliani’s campaign to "pro-life" Americans.

The Rev. Pat Robertson apparently agrees.

But the most important man in the room — Giuliani himself — doesn’t.

I know this because I asked him in person on Oct. 20, when he affirmed his view that a strict constructionist judge could uphold Roe v. Wade because of legal precedent.

To his credit (he is more consistent than some of his proponents are), he stood by the remarks he made last May at the GOP presidential debate at the Reagan library.

Those remarks were very clear.

Giuliani said that it would be “OK” with him if a Supreme Court judge upheld Roe on strict constructionist grounds.

“It would be OK to repeal it,” he said, adding: “It would be OK also if a strict constructionist viewed it as precedent.”

This quotation has been cited, with good reason, by many Giuliani critics who are rightly concerned that, as president, it licenses him to appoint any number of judicial candidates who will leave Roe v. Wade exactly as it is.

In other contexts since the May debate, he has stood by the view that strict constructionism can coexist with Roe.

...but that he's squirrelly a character that yopu can easily envision him ripping out fetuses and eating them if he thought it would improve his own health.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:12 AM


So, what will everyone be listening to on their travels this week?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:04 AM


A Salmagundi of Slaughter (OTTO PENZLER, November 21, 2007, NY Sun)

Arthur Conan Doyle, another splendid Scottish mystery writer, tried to kill his detective by having him struggle with his nemesis, Professor Moriarty, at the edge of Switzerland's Reichenbach Falls, both plunging to their death. Public outrage eventually forced Doyle to bring him back in "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and many other works.

While Mr. Rankin hasn't done anything quite so drastic as eliminating his much-loved protagonist, readers will still mourn his disappearance from the shelves. There is hope, however, though not in the immediate future. The possibility exists that Siobhan Clarke, Rebus's sidekick, will star in her own book, as well as the notion that Rebus might return to work in Edinburgh's cold case unit, which is staffed by retired criminal investigation department detectives.

Readers may not publicly mourn the retirement of Rebus, nor send death threats to the author (as they did to Doyle), but we must accept the fact that the literature of crime has a little hole that wasn't there before.

...after basically turning Siobhan into his distaff doppleganger.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:34 AM


Zarqawi Map Aided Successes Against Iraqi Insurgency (Fox News, November 21, 2007)

A key turning point in the U.S.-led war against the Iraqi insurgency came even before last winter's troop surge, FOX News has learned.

A map drawn by Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — who was killed last year by U.S. forces — turned up last December in an Al Qaeda safe house and essentially gave U.S. war planners insight into the terrorist group's methods for moving explosives, fighters and money into Baghdad.

"The map essentially laid out how Al Qaeda controlled Baghdad. And they did it through four belts that surrounded the city, and these belts controlled access to the city for reinforcements and weapons and money," said Maj. Gen. Bob Scales, a FOX News contributor who recently visited Iraq.

"And [U.S.-led forces] simply made the decision to reduce these belts one at a time, and essentially what that did was it choked off Al Qaeda's access to the city. And once that was done, Al Qaeda had no alternative but to leave the city, to leave the belts and to retreat into the city of Baquba," Scales said.

At least the Jets made Belichick film them secretly instead of handing him their playbook.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


Deadly landslide near China dam (BBC, 11/21/07)

A landslide has killed one worker and left two missing near China's Three Gorges dam, state media has reported.

The accident happened in Badong County, a hilly area next to the dam's 660km (410 mile) reservoir, where the group were working on a railway tunnel.

The cause of the accident was not known, Xinhua said, but it comes amid growing warnings the dam is threatening its surrounding environment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 AM


Growing Indo-US military ties positive: Pentagon (Rediff, November 21, 2007)

Describing the increasing Indo-US military cooperation as "positive", a top Pentagon official said the growing defence links reflects the continuing and emerging relationship between the two nations.

"I think there's a very positive and growing relationship between the two countries. And I think that's a very good thing," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs Admiral Mike Mullen said.

"India is providing not just for its own people a growing economic engine which, again, I think is good not just locally, but also globally," he said at the Washington Foreign Press Centre. can stop Anglicization by holding up the nuclear agreement?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Thanksgiving a bargain in Concord (KATE DAVIDSON, November 21. 2007, Concord Monitor)

Feasting on a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is easier on the pockets of Concord residents than the rest of the country, according to a national survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation. [...]

Nationally, a frozen 16-pound turkey cost $17.63, compared with $7.84 at a Concord supermarket. A gallon of whole milk in Concord cost $2.99; the national average was $3.88. [...]

With the survey results adjusted for inflation, the average cost of a traditional Thanksgiving meal has actually gone down about 9 percent over the past 20 years, according to Jim Sartwelle, an economist for the farm bureau. More than 150 volunteer shoppers from across the country helped compile the survey results.

When you sit down to give thanks, don't leave out Paul Volcker and Ronald Reagan, who gave us this deflationary epoch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


Pumpkin Hurling (Stephen Scaer, November 21, 2007, First Things)

Every Columbus Day
the locals bring their chairs
and watch a trebuchet
launch pumpkins past a fort
of tin, as engineers
at play attempt to crush
the record for the sport
of hurling giant squash.

It must have been a shock
when such a monster threw
silent rounds of rock
into the market square
hundreds of years ago.
But the Big Moons they hurl
today could only scare
the unsuspecting squirrel.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


Retire at 62? Well... (Rediff, November 21, 2007)

The move to increase the retirement age of government employees from 60 to 62 years, as reported in this newspaper yesterday, can be endorsed on many counts. The average Indian's life expectancy at birth has gone up to over 66 years for men and 71 years for women.

The last decision to increase the retirement age of government employees, to 60 years, was taken in 1998, when life expectancy for the average Indian was 63 years. Another increase in the retirement age now, on grounds of improved life expectancy, is therefore quite logical.

There is also a social reason for postponing the age of retirement: as youngsters study for more years, they are dependent on their parents for far longer than used to be the case. Many family budgets get strained today because the main breadwinner retires before the next generation is settled in life.

The global practice also argues in favour of an upward revision in the retirement age. Several developed and developing countries have raised the retirement age to between 62 and 65 years. While the reasons vary from country to country, one common theme is the experience factor, which needs no elaboration. There are financial advantages as well. An increase in the retirement age will reduce the impact of the annual pension pay-out liability for the government for at least the period by which the retirement age is raised.

Democrats conveniently ignore the fact that the Social Security retirement age was set at very nearly the age of life expectancy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


Cin-Full Pumpkin Pie (Contra Costa Times, 11/21/2007)

For sweetened pecans, toast pecans in a dry skillet over medium heat 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; add 2 tablespoons brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Toss to coat.


8-9 whole cinnamon graham crackers, crushed to yield 1 cup crumbs

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, melted


2 eggs

1 can (15 ounces) pureed pumpkin

1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk

1 teaspoon brandy

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

11/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon each: ginger, nutmeg

1/2 cup sweetened toasted pecans, optional


2 teaspoons confectioners' sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon or to taste

1 container (1/2 pint) whipping cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. For crust, combine the graham-cracker crumbs and brown sugar in a large bowl; stir in the melted butter until thoroughly combined. Press crust into bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan; bake until set, about 6 minutes. Remove pan from oven; cool on wire rack.

2. Raise heat to 425 degrees. For filling, combine the eggs, pumpkin, evaporated milk and brandy in a small saucepan over medium-low heat; cook, stirring occasionally, until warm, about 7 minutes. Set aside.

3. Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg in a large bowl; stir in the pumpkin-egg mixture. Pour into the crust; bake 10 minutes. Lower heat to 350 degrees; bake until set, 35-45 minutes. Remove pie from oven; arrange pecans around rim. Let stand until cooled, about 1 hour. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

4. For the whipped cream, combine the confectioners' sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl; set aside. Combine the whipping cream and vanilla in a large bowl; beat with a mixer on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar mixture to the whipped cream; beat until medium peaks form, about 2 minutes; set aside. Serve pie with whipped cream.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


Stem-Cell Success Story (The Editors, 11/21/07, National Review)

[It is] a powerful vindication of the premise behind much of the opposition to the destruction of embryos for research this past decade: the conviction that scientific advance need not require, and should not compel, the abandonment of ethical principles, and especially the principle of human equality that should cause us to cherish and guard every human life, from beginning to end.

In an effort to cause the country to abandon this conviction, some advocates of the research, including nearly every prominent Democrat in Congress, have made reckless and irresponsible promises, offered false hope to the suffering, depicted their opponents as heartless enemies of science, and exploited sick people for crass political gain.

Meanwhile, in an effort to defend that conviction, President Bush and most congressional Republicans have stood up to all that pressure, and have pursued an approach that seeks to advance science while also insisting on ethics. [...]

This leaves the nation with a crucial lesson for what will certainly be many ethical quandaries to come as biotechnology advances: The answer to unethical science is not to give up on ethics, but rather to pursue ethical science.

The Gulag Testimonial (ADAM KIRSCH, November 21, 2007, NY Sun)

The Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, like millions of his countrymen, was doomed to come face to face with both of the great evils of the 20th century. During World War II, he survived the Nazi occupation of Poland; afterward, he served for several years as a diplomat for Communist Poland. After defecting to France in 1951, Milosz devoted the rest of his long life to exploring the spiritual and intellectual damage that totalitarianism inflicts on what he called "the captive mind."

The first casualty, he made clear, was our innate sense of the holiness of every human life. Milosz, who died in 2004, once recalled a conversation with a Communist friend in which he expressed "reservations" about Stalin's terror, only to receive the reply: "A million people more, a million people less, what's the difference?" That Communist was a perfect pupil of Stalin, who was once heard to murmur, while looking over a list of people to be executed: "Who's going to remember all this riffraff in 10 or 20 years' time? No one."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


Chirac under formal investigation for 'embezzlement' (James Sturcke, November 21, 2007, The Guardian)

A judge today placed the former French president Jacques Chirac under formal investigation for the suspected embezzlement of public funds - an unprecedented move for a former head of state in France.

Chirac, who stepped down as president in May, was questioned for a second time today in connection with an investigation into a fake jobs scam dating from his time as the mayor of Paris.

The ex-president's lawyer, Jean Veil, said he was then placed under formal investigation.

In July, Chirac was interviewed by Judge Alain Philibeaux as a material witness which, under French law, put his status between that of a witness and a suspect.

The change of his status to being under formal investigation brings him a step closer to being charged.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM

ONE WAY TRAFFIC (via Brandon Heathcotte):

Politics makes toxic mix with MLB's investment in Venezuela (Maria Burns Ortiz, 11/20/07,

The list of Venezuelans making an impact in the major leagues is impressive -- from veterans such as Johan Santana and Magglio Ordoñez to players still on the rise such as Cabrera and Felix Hernandez.

With that kind of talent emerging from Venezuela in recent seasons, one would assume that big league clubs would be flocking to the South American nation in search of the next superstar. However, the cultural and political scene in Venezuela is undergoing rapid and radical transformation, and instead of flocking to the country, teams are fleeing over concerns about safety and political uncertainty. They aren't leaving in droves just yet, but the stream has been steady enough to raise a red flag about the future. And that's what has Escobar and others worried.

The number of clubs pulling their player development operations out of Venezuela has been a concern for Major League Baseball. Nineteen teams have participated in the Venezuelan Summer League in the past, but only 11 did so this year.

The Padres, for example, had planned on leaving Venezuela following this season after they built a multimillion-dollar facility in the Dominican, but the current situation accelerated the move. The team moved all its player development operations out of Venezuela following the 2005 campaign, two years earlier than originally anticipated.

"We just figured we might as well do it [then] to avoid some of the hassle of having to deal with some of the legislation that [President Hugo] Chávez passes down there in hiring coaches, worrying about severance pay and just getting in and out of the country," says Juan Lara, San Diego's Latin American operations coordinator.

San Diego is not alone. Baltimore ceased operating its academy following the 2006 season. The Red Sox -- one of the teams the Padres shared an academy with -- left when San Diego did in 2005. Cleveland pulled out in 2004.

There has been speculation, more internal than public so far, that Chávez, a socialist and self-proclaimed revolutionary who took office in 1999, will turn Venezuela into the next Cuba.

You can find folks on the Left who claim, with apparently straight faces, that Chavez is developing a new model for the Third World. Venezuelans want to come here. No one wants to go there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Who Is Sarkozy? (William Pfaff, 12/06/07, NY Review of Books)

Sarkozy dazzled the press and the public following his election last May by forming a government including Socialists, centrists, and an unprecedented number of women and persons of immigrant origin. Naming several prominent Socialists to important posts, including Bernard Kouchner as foreign minister, he greatly damaged a party already weakened by rivalry over its presidential nomination and the refusal of Ségolène Royal, the eventual candidate, to run on the orthodox party platform. Royal continues to be attacked by other Socialist figures for having lost the election, thereby preventing them from doing so.

A quarter-century ago François Mitterrand created the modern French left, rescuing the Socialist Party from minority irrelevance by forming a common electoral program with the Communists. The alliance succeeded in taking power in 1981. This robbed the Communists of what the advertising industry would have called their unique selling proposition, revolution, beginning a Communist decline that by now is near terminal. In the 1980s, the Socialist Jacques Delors, made finance minister, rescued Mitterrand's government, which had been foundering in economic difficulties, by in-troducing "market socialist" reforms designed to liberalize the French economy. However, Delors has retired, Mitterrand is gone, and his legitimate successor, ex–prime minister Lionel Jospin, has been reduced to writing a spiteful and distressingly ungentlemanly book about how Ségolène Royal stole his party and robbed him of the presidential nomination.

No one can be confident that the Socialists will be in any condition to mount a serious national challenge when the opportunity comes in five years. Several of the Socialist "elephants" beaten by Ségolène Royal for last year's nomination are on the way to the political graveyard. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, once a favorite, now has global horizons, thanks to Sarkozy's nomination of him to head the International Monetary Fund in Washington. The unfortunate François Hollande, the dignified estranged father of Royal's children, will leave the party secretary post but still hopes to become the Socialist presidential candidate in 2012. The remaining failed candidate for the party's presidential nomination, Laurent Fabius, who claims to lead the Socialist left, is likely to be overrun by a younger group of militants, some from the Trotskyist "left of the left," others followers of Ségolène Royal. Jack Lang, Mitterrand's flamboyant minister of culture, considered a Sarkozy appointment or ambassadorship before announcing that he would not serve a government of whose immigration and fiscal policy he disapproved.

Royal retains the presidency of the region of Poitou-Charentes and is the only major Socialist to indicate a new party direction, toward a centrist alliance, as the Italian left has just done, breaking with the post-Marxist shibboleths of revolutionary change. She is described by admirers as possessing "the most powerful charisma of any Socialist in fifty years," and polls now make her France's favorite to challenge Sarkozy in 2012.

Confidence in Sarkozy remains high (56 percent in the regular end-of-October poll). In a poll published in late September, belief in his "sincerity" had gone up by thirty-five points among those who voted for Ségolène Royal. A majority of respondents approved nine out of the ten social reform proposals Sarkozy has identified as most important. He lost points in overall approval, but among what pollsters identify as the less-well-off (moins privilégié) categories of the population he enjoyed more support than among the more well-to-do, his presumed natural constituency.

On the reforms the Socialist opposition characterizes as "anti-social," meaning harmful to the less well-off, the polls indicate that the less-well-off classes actually support Sarkozy. These reforms include sanctions for the unemployed who refuse two job offers, modification of the thirty-five-hour work week to allow unlimited paid overtime, and "reemphasis on the value of work."

Are we supposed to be sorry that he lacks confidence in a Socialist resurgence?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


Clinton Mocks Obama on Foreign Policy (AP, 11/20/07)

Hillary Rodham Clinton ridiculed Democratic rival Barack Obama on Tuesday for his contention that living in a foreign country as a child helped give him a better understanding of the foreign policy challenges facing the U.S.

"Voters will have to judge if living in a foreign country at the age of 10 prepares one to face the big, complex international challenges the next president will face," Clinton said. "I think we need a president with more experience than that, someone the rest of the world knows, looks up to and has confidence in."

Clinton's statement was prompted by a comment Obama made a day earlier when asked about his foreign policy credentials. He said his life experience gave him a better feel for international issues than most candidates gain from official trips to other nations.

He noted his father was from Kenya and that he himself spent part of his childhood in Indonesia. "Probably the strongest experience I have in foreign relations is the fact I spent four years overseas when I was a child in Southeast Asia," he said Monday.

...were she not reduced to arguing that: The strongest experience I have in foreign relations is the fact I was married to a president. Either would be the least accomplished person to achieve the office in our history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


There was a bookmaker on ESPN Radio last night who mentioned that, as things stand today, the point spreads in the Patriots' upcoming games against the Jets and Dolphins project to be 26 and 28 points respectively, which will be the two highest in NFL history. The Dolphin game is at Foxboro and if the Pats are still lossless and Miami winless and there's snow in the forecast, how does the spread not go up over 30?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Palestinians spell out their vision of the future in peace blueprint (Donald Macintyre, 21 November 2007, Independent)

Sweeping security, fiscal and political reforms are promised in the most detailed blueprint for the creation of a Palestinian state yet drawn up by the emergency government headed by Prime Minister Salam Fayad.

The reform programme to help reverse the "tragic history" of the seven years since the collapse of the Camp David talks and the beginning of the intifada is contained in the 33-page draft of a document which will be presented to the international donors' conference in Paris next month. The confidential draft is the most concerted effort yet by the Western-backed administration loyal to the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, to demonstrate that it can develop the capacity to run the independent state in the West Bank and Gaza envisaged in the negotiations due to be kick-started by the international summit in Annapolis, Maryland, next week. The US started issuing formal invitations to the summit last night.

The plan, intended for endorsement by the subsequent French-hosted donors conference to be co-hosted by the international Middle East envoy Tony Blair, is intended to go hand in hand with a peace process and a progressive easing of Israeli checkpoints and closures to allow an urgently required revival of the Palestinian private sector. It pledges this part of the economy will be "thriving" and "open to markets around the world".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Better security sees Iraqi refugees flood home
Iraqi refugees
(Oliver August in Damascus and James Hider in Baghdad, 11/22/07, Times of London)

Iraqi refugees are returning home in dramatic numbers, concluding that security in Baghdad has been transformed. Thousands have left their refuge in Syria in recent months, according to some estimates.

The Iraqi Embassy is organising a secure mass convoy from Damascus to Baghdad on Monday for refugees who want to drive back. Embassy notices went up around the Syrian capital yesterday, offering free bus and train rides home.

Saida Zaynab, the Damascus neighbourhoods once dominated by many of the 1.5 million Iraqi refugees, is almost deserted. Apartment prices are plummeting and once-crowded shops and buses are half empty.

The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) was scrambling to assess the transformation last night. An interim report is expected today. “There is a large movement of people going back to Iraq. We are doing rapid research on this,” a spokesman said.

The downside is that it relaxes pressure on Syria.

Iraqi refugees 'returning home' (Al Jazeera, 11/22/07)

About 1,600 Iraqis who fled the violence in their country are returning home every day, according to Abdul Samad Sultan, the country's displacement and migration minister.

Brigadier-General Abdul-Karim Khalaf, interior minister spokesman, said most refugees were returning from Syria.

Syria has the highest number of Iraqi refugees in the region and says their influx has strained its education, health and housing systems, pushing the government to tighten visa requirements and to call for international assistance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Maliki thrown a political lifeline (Sami Moubayed, 11/22/07, Asia Times)

The Iraqi Accordance Front, the Sunni heavyweight in Iraqi politics, has decided to rejoin the cabinet of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which it abandoned on August 1.

It is unclear whether the same five ministers, along with deputy prime minister Salam Zoubai, who all stepped down, will return to work with the premier or whether the Front will nominate new ministers for the vacant posts. They resigned because Maliki had not responded to any of the 11 demands they had made. These included a greater decision-making role for Sunnis and an amnesty for Sunni prisoners - mainly former Ba'athists who had joined - or been accused of taking part in - the Sunni insurgency.

This comes amid increased speculation that Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr will also soon reconcile with Maliki, having also walked out on him in recent months due to Maliki's "friendship" with US President George W Bush.

...when even the most anti-American outlets have to note we won.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


The New Nostradamus: Can a fringe branch of mathematics forecast the future? A special adviser to the CIA, Fortune 500 companies, and the U.S. Department of Defense certainly thinks so. (Michael A.M. Lerner, GOOD)

If you listen to Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, and a lot of people don’t, he’ll claim that mathematics can tell you the future. In fact, the professor says that a computer model he built and has perfected over the last 25 years can predict the outcome of virtually any international conflict, provided the basic input is accurate. What’s more, his predictions are alarmingly specific. His fans include at least one current presidential hopeful, a gaggle of Fortune 500 companies, the CIA, and the Department of Defense. Naturally, there is also no shortage of people less fond of his work. “Some people think Bruce is the most brilliant foreign policy analyst there is,” says one colleague. “Others think he’s a quack.”

Today, on a rare sunny summer day in San Francisco, Bueno de Mesquita appears to be neither. He’s relaxing in his stately home, answering my questions with exceeding politesse. Sunlight streams through the tall windows, the melodic sound of a French horn echoing from somewhere upstairs; his daughter, a musician in a symphony orchestra, is practicing for an upcoming recital. It’s all so complacent and genteel, which is exactly what Bueno de Mesquita isn’t. As if on cue, a question sets him off. “I found it to be offensive,” he says about a colleague’s critique of his work. “This is absolutely, totally, and utterly false,” he says about the attack of another.

The criticism rankles him, because, to his mind, the proof is right there on the page. “I’ve published a lot of forecasting papers over the years,” he says. “Papers that are about things that had not yet happened when the paper was published but would happen within some reasonable amount of time. There’s a track record that I can point to.” And indeed there is. Bueno de Mesquita has made a slew of uncannily accurate predictions—more than 2,000, on subjects ranging from the terrorist threat to America to the peace process in Northern Ireland—that would seem to prove him right. [...]

How does Bueno de Mesquita do this? With mathematics. “You start with a set of assumptions, as you do with anything, but you do it in a formal, mathematical way,” he says. “You break them down as equations and work from there to see what follows logically from those assumptions.” The assumptions he’s talking about concern each actor’s motives. You configure those motives into equations that are, essentially, statements of logic based on a predictive theory of how people with those motives will behave. From there, you start building your mathematical model. You determine whether the predictive theory holds true by plugging in data, which are numbers derived from scales of preferences that you ascribe to each actor based on the various choices they face.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma, a basic in game theory, explains it well: Two burglars are apprehended near the scene of a crime and are interrogated separately by the police. The police know these two goons did it, but they don’t know how, so they offer each one a deal. If they both confess and cooperate, they’ll both get a minor sentence of five years. If neither man confesses, they’ll both only get one year (for having been caught with some of the stolen loot on them). But, and here’s where it gets interesting, if one confesses and the other doesn’t, the one who confesses walks out scot-free while the other will do 10 years. What will they do? Will they trust each other and do what’s obviously in their best interest, which is not confess? Based on game theory’s assumptions about human nature, the math derived from this dilemma tells you squarely that the two goons will turn each other in.

Which illustrates the next incontrovertible fact about game theory: In the foreboding world view of rational choice, everyone is a raging dirtbag. Bueno de Mesquita points to dictatorships to prove his point: “If you liberate people from the constraint of having to satisfy other people in order to advance themselves, people don’t do good things.” When analyzing a problem in international relations, Bueno de Mesquita doesn’t give a whit about the local culture, history, economy, or any of the other considerations that more traditional political scientists weigh. In fact, rational choicers like Bueno de Mesquita tend to view such traditional approaches with a condescension bordering on disdain. “One is the study of politics as an expression of personal opinion as opposed to political science,” he says dryly. His only concern is with what the political actors want, what they say they want (often two very different things), and how each of their various options will affect their career advancement. He feeds this data into his computer model and out pop the answers. [...]

Recently, he’s applied his science to come up with some novel ideas on how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “In my view, it is a mistake to look for strategies that build mutual trust because it ain’t going to happen. Neither side has any reason to trust the other, for good reason,” he says. “Land for peace is an inherently flawed concept because it has a fundamental commitment problem. If I give you land on your promise of peace in the future, after you have the land, as the Israelis well know, it is very costly to take it back if you renege. You have an incentive to say, ‘You made a good step, it’s a gesture in the right direction, but I thought you were giving me more than this. I can’t give you peace just for this, it’s not enough.’ Conversely, if we have peace for land—you disarm, put down your weapons, and get rid of the threats to me and I will then give you the land—the reverse is true: I have no commitment to follow through. Once you’ve laid down your weapons, you have no threat.”

Bueno de Mesquita’s answer to this dilemma, which he discussed with the former Israeli prime minister and recently elected Labor leader Ehud Barak, is a formula that guarantees mutual incentives to cooperate. “In a peaceful world, what do the Palestinians anticipate will be their main source of economic viability? Tourism. This is what their own documents say. And, of course, the Israelis make a lot of money from tourism, and that revenue is very easy to track. As a starting point requiring no trust, no mutual cooperation, I would suggest that all tourist revenue be [divided by] a fixed formula based on the current population of the region, which is roughly 40 percent Palestinian, 60 percent Israeli. The money would go automatically to each side. Now, when there is violence, tourists don’t come. So the tourist revenue is automatically responsive to the level of violence on either side for both sides. You have an accounting firm that both sides agree to, you let the U.N. do it, whatever. It’s completely self-enforcing, it requires no cooperation except the initial agreement by the Israelis that they are going to turn this part of the revenue over, on a fixed formula based on population, to some international agency, and that’s that.”

Not only is there no rational man, but the more closely power is held the less likely a state will behave rationally. If Kim Jong-il just kept quiet few would care what he did to his own people.

November 20, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:42 PM


Egypt’s Leader Endorses Peace Meeting (ISABEL KERSHNER, 11/20/07, NY Times)

With the prime minister of Israel standing beside him, Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, gave his full endorsement today to the American-sponsored Middle East peace gathering in Annapolis, Md., next week, and raised hopes among Israeli officials of wider Arab participation in it.

“Obviously we would hope that Egypt’s position will be representative of a larger Arab position,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

At a joint news conference in this Egyptian Red Sea resort, both leaders billed the Annapolis meeting as a springboard for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations toward a final settlement of the conflict.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:26 PM


Al Qaeda Faction Alters Course (Emad Mekay, Nov 20, 2007, IPS)

The ideology al Qaeda rests on to justify its activities suffered a major blow this week.

The Al-Jihad Group, partly responsible for killing former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981, and the nest for some of most aggressive smaller violent groups, has begun publishing a "review of its positions" in two Arabic language newspapers.

The leading al Qaeda faction -- once led by al Qaeda's number two man, Ayman al-Zawahri -- has altered its traditional course by publishing this series of critiques of the religious justifications long relied on in calling for followers to take up arms against ruling regimes and foreign powers.

In the new "document", al-Jihad Group's founder and leading ideologue, Sayed Imam, renounces violent activities and calls for ceasing all armed operations in Egypt and in other Arab or Muslim countries.

Imam -- al-Zawahri's teacher and long time friend -- is currently in custody at a high-security Egyptian prison.

Analysts here say that the Imam's initiative -- not directed at Egyptians, Arabs or even Muslims alone, but directed specifically at al Qaeda -- derives its strength from the weight of its author.

"This al-Jihad initiative is very important, it is directed mostly to the outside world and more explicitly to the leaders of al-Jihad Group and al Qaeda because the author of those reviews is Sayed Imamal-Sharief, the very same person whose former writings are the point of reference for the al-Jihad members," said Diaa Rashwan, an expert on Islamic groups at al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies in Cairo. [...]

For decades, Imam's writings have also formed the backbone for the philosophical arguments touted by several other armed groups to validate their attacks.

But in the new review he now says his group "erred enormously from an Islamic point of view" by allowing "killing based on nationality, color of skin and hair or based on religious doctrine".

"Those are actually the methods of secular revolutionaries and not the methods of Islam. There's no such a thing as the goal justifies the means in Islam, even when the goals are noble are legitimate. Muslims worship God by using legitimate methods too," he wrote.

Imam contends that those who target innocent people are working outside the parameters of the Islamic Sharia, or law.

"They place their own desires and will before that of Allah's," he argues in this new milestone study.

Imam says the Islamic rules for war stipulate that if Muslims are not certain about the true nature and make-up of the enemy "then it's compulsory under the rules of Islam not to take up arms against them" for fear that innocent people might be included and harmed.

The review calls for an end to targeting of "all civilians", and "tourists of all races".

How much money is it that Democrats are claiming was too much to pay for this victory over evil?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:14 PM


Rome founders' sanctuary discovered (Peter Walker and agencies, November 20, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Italian archaeologists said today they believe they have found one of the ancient city's holiest sites, the cave venerated as the place where, according to myth, a female wolf nursed the city's founders, twin brothers Romulus and Remus.

Decorated with seashells and marble, the vaulted space lies buried 16 metres inside the Palatine hill, the centre of power in imperial Rome.

Archaeologists said they were convinced the site was the long lost site of worship known as Lupercale, a name taken from lupa, the Latin for a female wolf.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:28 PM


Scientists create first embryonic stem cells from adult cells (Ian Sample, 11/20/07, Guardian Unlimited)

The race to turn ordinary skin cells into embryonic stem cells – which can be used to make any tissue in the body - has ended in a dead heat, with two groups of scientists simultaneously announcing they have achieved the feat.

The breakthrough marks the beginning of a new era for stem cell biology and may spell the end for cloning as a way to produce stem cells. [...]

Previously, scientists believed the only way to convert adult cells into embryonic stem cells was to clone them, a procedure that is extremely inefficient and involves the creation of an embryo that is destroyed when the cells are removed. The technique has attracted vehement criticism from pro-life groups, which oppose the use of embryos in research.

The new work may have its greatest impact in America where the Bush Administration has set stringent controls on stem cell research. Government-funded scientists are forbidden from working on stem cells created after August 2001, although privately funded researchers face no restrictions.

Which means it will have the least effect here, spiritually.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


"Beowulf" vs. "The Lord of the Rings": One is a living universe, the other a 3-D voyage to schlockville. A great essay by Tolkien helps us understand why. (Gary Kamiya, 11/20/07, Salon)

J.R.R. Tolkien, the author who created the most powerful mythical universe of our time, was also a renowned "Beowulf" scholar. "The Lord of the Rings" was heavily influenced by the poem, and Tolkien wrote what is still one of the seminal essays about it. Tolkien's analysis of "Beowulf," and more generally of fantasy and myth, illuminate both why he was able to create a modern mythopoeic masterpiece, and why "Beowulf" falls flat.

"Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics," published in 1936, marked a turning point in critical studies of the poem. Before Tolkien's essay, most scholars regarded the unknown poet's use of supernatural elements -- the monster Grendel, his equally monstrous mother, and the dragon -- as primitive or childish. Arguing that these "trivial" themes failed to do justice to the poem's exquisite language, they saw "Beowulf" as being primarily of historical, not artistic, interest. As the scholar W.P. Ker wrote in 1904, "The thing itself is cheap; the moral and the spirit of it can only be matched among the noblest authors." Tolkien overturned these assumptions. He argued that the poem should be read as a poem, and recognized as a great one. The fantastic elements in "Beowulf," far from being faintly embarrassing, were inseparable from its majestic artistry.

In a famous allegory, Tolkien compared the author of "Beowulf" to a man who, inheriting a field full of ancient stones, used them to build a tower. His friends, recognizing that the stones had belonged to a more ancient building, tore down the tower "in order to look for hidden carvings and inscriptions." What they did not realize, Tolkien ends, was that "from the top of that tower the man had been able to look out upon the sea."

Tolkien's point is that the fantastic elements in "Beowulf" are ancient archetypes that have deep roots in human beliefs, fears and wishes -- myths, in other words. And in "Beowulf," he argues, these myths are an essential part of a tragic tale whose theme is "man at war with the hostile world, and his inevitable overthrow in Time." The greatness of Beowulf derives from the fact that it is a poem created in "a pregnant moment of poise": It is balanced between a Christian worldview, in which death and defeat are ultimately themselves defeated by Christ, and a Germanic, pagan one, in which fate rules all and man's courage alone confers nobility. It is, Tolkien writes, not a primitive poem, but a late one. The pagan world is already past, but the poet still celebrates its vanished power. The fact that a poem written more than a thousand years ago was itself looking back at a lost world gives the poem an uncanny double resonance to the modern reader: "If the funeral of Beowulf moved once like the echo of an ancient dirge, far-off and hopeless, it is to us as a memory brought over the hills, an echo of an echo."

Tolkien's brilliant essay can be seen as a ringing defense not just of "Beowulf," but of the work he was soon to embark on, another great tower composed of ancient stones. And the themes of lateness, of heroic loss, being caught between one age and another (his world is not called "Middle-earth" for nothing), are the deepest and most sublime parts of his own epic: They are the haunted metaphysical atmosphere through which his characters -- men, elves and hobbits alike -- must make their way. The coming disappearance of the elves, the hard dawning of the age of men, represent a disenchantment of the world identical to the disenchantment Tolkien found so unbearably moving in "Beowulf." By introducing this dark note, Tolkien gave artistic expression to the doubts that he himself may have felt about the myth he had created -- and so transcended them.

Tolkien was able to use the ancient stones in "Beowulf" to build a modern masterpiece because he recognized that the enduring power of myths derives from their deeper truth. This does not mean he believed that orcs and goblins and elves really existed; rather it derives from his belief that the world was enchanted, illuminated by a sacred light, and that the human sub-creations we call myths -- "living shapes that move from mind to mind," he called them in a poem he wrote for C.S. Lewis -- were splinters of that primordial light. For Tolkien, the ultimate source of enchantment was the Christian God, but it is not necessary to share that faith to feel the power of his creation.

The creators of the movie "Beowulf," however, failed to even recognize that the epic is composed of ancient stones, or that those stones might have something to say to us today.

Which seems like a good excuse to recall Tolkien's great letter to Milton Waldman:
[After Allen & Unwin, under pressure from Tolkien to make up their minds, had reluctantly declined to publish The Lord of the Rings together with The Silmarillion, Tolkien was confident that Milton Waldman of Collins would shortly issue both books under his firm's imprint. In the spring of 1950, Waldman told Tolkien that he hoped to begin typesetting the following autumn. But there were delays, largely caused by Waldman's frequent absences in Italy and his ill-health. By the latter part of 1951 no definite arrangements for publication had yet been made, and Collins were becoming anxious about the combined length of both books. It was apparently at Waldman's suggestion that Tolkien wrote the following letter - of which the full text is some ten thousand words long - with the intention of demonstrating that The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion were interdependent and indivisible. The letter, which interested Waldman so much that he had a typed copy made (see the end of no. 137), is not dated, but was probably written late in 1951.]

My dear Milton,

You asked for a brief sketch of my stuff that is connected with my imaginary world. It is difficult to say anything without saying too much: the attempt to say a few words opens a floodgate of excitement, the egoist and artist at once desires to say how the stuff has grown, what it is like, and what (he thinks) he means or is trying to represent by it all. I shall inflict some of this on you; but I will append a mere resume of its contents: which is (may be) all that you want or will have use or time for.

In order of time, growth and composition, this stuff began with me - though I do not suppose that that is of much interest to anyone but myself. I mean, I do not remember a time when I was not building it. Many children make up, or begin to make up, imaginary languages. I have been at it since I could write. But I have never stopped, and of course, as a professional philologist (especially interested in linguistic aesthetics), I have changed in taste, improved in theory, and probably in craft. Behind my stories is now a nexus of languages (mostly only structurally sketched). But to those creatures which in English I call misleadingly Elves* are assigned two related languages more nearly completed, whose history is written, and whose forms (representing two different sides of my own linguistic taste) are deduced scientifically from a common origin. Out of these languages are made nearly all the names that appear in my legends. This gives a certain character (a cohesion, a consistency of linguistic style, and an illusion of historicity) to the nomenclature, or so I believe, that is markedly lacking in other

*Intending the word to be understood in its ancient meanings, which continued as late as Spenser - a murrain on Will Shakespeare and his damned cobwebs.

comparable things. Not all will feel this as important as I do, since I am cursed by acute sensibility in such matters. But an equally basic passion of mine ab initio was for myth (not allegory!) and for fairy-story, and above all for heroic legend on the brink of fairy-tale and history, of which there is far too little in the world (accessible to me) for my appetite. I was an undergraduate before thought and experience revealed to me that these were not divergent interests - opposite poles of science and romance - but integrally related. I am not 'learned'* in the matters of myth and fairy-story, however, for in such things (as far as known to me) I have always been seeking material, things of a certain tone and air, and not simple know- ledge. Also - and here I hope I shall not sound absurd - I was from early days grieved by the poverty of my own beloved country: it had no stories of its own (bound up with its tongue and soil), not of the quality that I sought, and found (as an ingredient) in legends of other lands. There was Greek, and Celtic, and Romance, Germanic, Scandinavian, and Finnish (which greatly affected me); but nothing English, save impoverished chap-book stuff. Of course there was and is all the Arthurian world, but powerful as it is, it is imperfectly naturalized, associated with the soil of Britain but not with English; and does not replace what I felt to be missing. For one thing its 'faerie' is too lavish, and fantastical, incoherent and repetitive. For another and more important thing: it is involved in, and explicitly contains the Christian religion.

For reasons which I will not elaborate, that seems to me fatal. Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error), but not explicit, not in the known form of the primary 'real' world. (I am speaking, of course, of our present situation, not of ancient pagan, pre-Christian days. And I will not repeat what I tried to say in my essay, which you read.)

Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story - the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendour from the vast backcloths - which I could dedicate simply to: to England; to my country. It should possess the tone and quality that I desired, somewhat cool and clear, be redolent of our 'air' (the clime and soil of the North West, meaning Britain and the hither parts of Europe: not Italy or the Aegean, still less the East), and, while possessing (if I could achieve it) the fair elusive beauty that some call Celtic (though it is rarely found in genuine ancient Celtic things), it should be 'high', purged of the gross, and fit for the more adult mind of a land long now

*Though I have thought about them a good deal.

steeped in poetry. I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd.

Of course, such an overweening purpose did not develop all at once. The mere stories were the thing. They arose in my mind as 'given' things, and as they came, separately, so too the links grew. An absorb- ing, though continually interrupted labour (especially since, even apart from the necessities of life, the mind would wing to the other pole and spend itself on the linguistics): yet always I had the sense of recording what was already 'there', somewhere: not of 'inventing'.

Of course, I made up and even wrote lots of other things (especially for my children). Some escaped from the grasp of this branching acquisitive theme, being ultimately and radically unrelated: Leafhy Niggle and Farmer Giles, for instance, the only two that have been printed. The Hobbit, which has much more essential life in it, was quite indepen- dently conceived: I did not know as I began it that it belonged. But it proved to be the discovery of the completion of the whole, its mode of descent to earth, and merging into ‘history’. As the high Legends of the beginning are supposed to look at things through Elvish minds, so the middle tale of the Hobbit takes a virtually human point of view-and the last tale blends them.

I dislike Allegory - the conscious and intentional allegory - yet any attempt to explain the purport of myth or fairytale must use allegorical language. (And, of course, the more 'life' a

story has the more readily will it be susceptible of allegorical interpretations: while the better a deliberate allegory is made the more nearly will it be acceptable just as a story.) Anyway all this stuff* is mainly concerned with Fall, Mortality, and the Machine. With Fall inevitably, and that motive occurs in several modes. With Mortality, especially as it affects art and the creative (or as I should say, sub-creative) desire which seems to have no biological function, and to be apart from the satisfactions of plain ordinary bio- logical life, with which, in our world, it is indeed usually at strife. This desire is at once wedded to a passionate love of the real primary world, and hence filled with the sense of mortality, and yet unsatisfied by it. It has various opportunities of 'Fall'. It may become possessive, clinging to the things made as 'its own', the sub-creator wishes to be the Lord and God of his private creation. He will rebel against the laws of the Creator - especially against mortality. Both of these (alone or together) will lead to the desire for Power, for making the will more quickly effective, - and so to the Machine (or Magic). By the last I intend all use

*It is, I suppose, fundamentally concerned with the problem of the relation of Art (and Sub-creation) and Primary Reality.

of external plans or devices (apparatus) instead of development of the inherent inner powers or talents - or even the use of these talents with the corrupted motive of dominating: bulldozing the real world, or coercing other wills. The Machine is our more obvious modern form though more closely related to Magic than is usually recognised.

I have not used 'magic' consistently, and indeed the Elven-queen Galadriel is obliged to remonstrate with the Hobbits on their confused use of the word both for the devices and operations of the Enemy, and for those of the Elves. I have not, because there is not a word for the latter (since all human stories have suffered the same confusion). But the Elves are there (in my tales) to demonstrate the difference. Their 'magic' is Art, delivered from many of its human limitations: more effortless, more quick, more complete (product, and vision in unflawed correspondence). And its object is Art not Power, sub-creation not domination and tyrannous re-forming of Creation. The 'Elves' are 'immortal', at least as far as this world goes: and hence are concerned rather with the griefs and burdens of deathlessness in time and change, than with death. The Enemy in successive forms is always 'naturally' concerned with sheer Domination, and so the Lord of magic and machines; but the problem: that this frightful evil can and does arise from an apparently good root, the desire to benefit the world and others* - speedily and according to the benefactor's own plans - is a recurrent motive.

The cycles begin with a cosmogonical myth: the Music of the Ainur. God and the Valar (or powers: Englished as gods) are revealed. These latter are as we should say angelic powers, whose function is to exercise delegated authority in their spheres (of rule and government, not creation, making or re-making). They are 'divine', that is, were originally ‘outside’ and existed 'before' the making of the world. Their power and wisdom is derived from their Knowledge of the cosmogonical drama, which they perceived first as a drama (that is as in a fashion we perceive a story composed by some-one else), and later as a 'reality'. On the side of mere narrative device, this is, of course, meant to provide beings of the same order of beauty, power, and majesty as the 'gods' of higher mythology, which can yet be accepted - well, shall we say baldly, by a mind that believes in the Blessed Trinity.

It moves then swiftly to the History of the Elves, or the Silmarillion proper; to the world as we perceive it, but of course transfigured in a still half-mythical mode: that is it deals with rational incarnate creatures of

*Not in the Beginner of Evil: his was a sub-creative Fall, and hence the Elves (the representatives of sub-creation par excellence) were peculiarly his enemies, and the special object of his desire and hate - and open to his deceits. Their Fall is into possessiveness and (to a less degree) into perversion of their art to power.

more or less comparable stature with our own. The Knowledge of the Creation Drama was incomplete: incomplete in each individual ‘god’, and incomplete if all the knowledge of the pantheon were pooled. For (partly to redress the evil of the rebel Melkor, partly for the completion of all in an ultimate finesse of detail) the Creator had not revealed all. The making, and nature, of the Children of God, were the two chief secrets. All that the gods knew was that they would come, at appointed times. The Children of God are thus primevally related and akin, and primevally different. Since also they are something wholly ‘other’ to the gods, in the making of which the gods played no part, they are the object of the special desire and love of the gods. These are the First-born, the Elves; and the Followers Men. The doom of the Elves is to be immortal, to love the beauty of the world, to bring it to full flower with their gifts of delicacy and perfection, to last while it lasts, never leaving it even when ‘slain’, but returning - and yet, when the Followers come, to teach them, and make way for them, to ‘fade’ as the Followers grow and absorb the life from which both proceed. ‘Me Doom (or the Gift) of Men is mortality, freedom from the circles of the world. Since the point of view of the whole cycle is the Elvish, mortality is not explained mythically: it is a mystery of God of which no more is known than that ‘what God has purposed for Men is hidden’: a grief and an envy to the immortal Elves.

As I say, the legendary Silmarillion is peculiar, and differs from all similar things that I know in not being anthropocentric. Its centre of view and interest is not Men but 'Elves'. Men came in inevitably: after all the author is a man, and if he has an audience they will be Men and Men must come in to our tales, as such, and not merely transfigured or partially represented as Elves, Dwarfs, Hobbits, etc. But they remain peripheral - late comers, and however growingly important, not principals.

In the cosmogony there is a fall: a fall of Angels we should say. Though quite different in form, of course, to that of Christian myth. These tales are ‘new’, they are not directly derived from other myths and legends, but they must inevitably contain a large measure of ancient wide-spread motives or elements. After all, I believe that legends and myths are largely made of ‘truth’, and indeed present aspects of it that can only be received in this mode; and long ago certain truths and modes of this kind were discovered and must always reappear. There cannot be any ‘story’ without a fall - all stories are ultimately about the fall - at least not for human minds as we know them and have them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


The Glorious Toothpick: The humble mass-produced toothpick is a paradigm for American manufacturing: inspiration, invention, marketing, trade, success, and failure (Henry Petroski From the November/December 2007, The American)

Toothpicks made in the Portuguese tra­dition were common in Brazil in the mid-19th century when Charles Forster, an American work­ing in the import-export trade, found them being crafted and used by natives there. It was a time when the manufacture of just about everything was becoming mechanized in America, and Forster believed that toothpicks could be mass-produced in New England at a cost that would allow them even to be exported to Brazil and compete with the handmade kind.

Since Forster had poor mechanical skills, he had to look to others for help when he retuned to Boston to take up toothpick manufacture. He found assis­tance first in Benjamin Franklin Sturtevant, a brilliant inventor who was concentrating on mech­anizing shoe manufacturing. At the time, most shoes were held together with wooden pegs, which were pointed at one end so they could be driven like nails. Sturtevant’s genius was to devise a method for peeling logs into long, narrow, and beveled strips of thin veneer, from which the pegs could be cut and driven by machine. Forster’s genius was to see that, with only minor modifications, double-pointed toothpicks could be produced in much the same way.

Forster was soon making toothpicks in Boston, but people there did not see much point in buying quantities of what they could whittle themselves. To sell his product, Forster devised clever schemes. He hired employees to visit stores and ask for wooden toothpicks, which retailers were not accustomed to carrying. Soon after these disappointed customers left, Forster himself would come in peddling his wares wholesale. As soon as the storekeepers had toothpicks in stock, Forster’s shills would return and buy them. These were then returned to Forster, who recycled them to the trade.

In another scheme, he engaged Harvard students to eat at local restaurants and ask loudly for wooden toothpicks, which the restaurant managers soon felt obligated to provide. Having established a mar­ket in the Boston area, Forster moved his fledgling manufacturing operation to Maine, where white birch grew in abundance. With the help of Charles Freeman—a Sturtevant employee who had been assigned to develop the toothpick machinery—Forster’s mill was soon turning out toothpicks by the millions daily.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Return of the nut of the living dead: Nearly extinct and all but forgotten, the local American chestnut is finally seeing a revival (PAMELA CUTHBERT, November 15, 2007, Macleans)

It was at the Bronx Zoo in 1904 that the first signs of the blight in America were discovered. The disease had snuck in with cargo from Asia, where trees are immune. Forests were devastated and the nut's legacy nearly lost, surviving only in sentimental songs and pioneer-era poetry. Other varieties of the tree remain, but none produces an edible nut.

In Ontario, Niagara-on-the-Lake nut farmer Ernie Grimo, a local legend for his work in propagating native trees, recalls that it was an article about the endangered tree that inspired him to plant the species. It was the late '60s; he has since planted over 1,000 trees — each new one an improved hybrid — and over time lost most to the blight. "I've had some trees last 30 years, grow to 2½ feet across," he says. "Then suddenly they were dead." Efforts to contain the disease include, controversially, a project at Syracuse University to develop a genetically modified tree. "There's one GM tree in the ground," says Grimo. "I see that as the future."

The image of a lone, experimental tree is a long way from stories of the wild chestnut as a source of pennies from heaven. But it's just the latest step taken by the Canadian Chestnut Council and its U.S. counterpart to find a blight-resistant stock through cross-breeding with the Asian variety, known as an orchard chestnut. The plants are different — the Asian is more like a bush — and scientists are hoping to produce a lofty tree close to the original American. The fruit, fortunately, is comparable, says Grimo. "I wouldn't even know how to tell the difference between a hybrid and a North American chestnut."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Why the Pope is right to purge modern music (Damian Thompson, 20/11/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Since he arrived in Rome nearly 30 years ago, the music-loving Joseph Ratzinger has had to endure the sub-operatic warbling of bad 20th-century music. Now he has had enough.

The Pope, who last year appointed a new choir director of St Peter's, wants Gregorian chant, polyphony and baroque masterpieces to dominate the repertoire in the basilica and the Sistine chapel. And, by making his preferences clear, he is sending out a message to the whole Catholic Church.

We are moving into an era of liturgical revolution. Benedict detests the feeble "folk Masses" that have remained the staple fare of Catholic worship long after they went out of musical fashion.

He wants the Church to rediscover the treasure of its heritage - and that includes Gregorian chant as well as the pre-1970 Latin Mass that can now be celebrated without the permission of bishops.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


A trail blazed by Thatcher and Reagan (James Macintyre, 20 November 2007, Independent)

In 1979-90 Mrs Thatcher passed a series of measures that profoundly changed labour relations. The 1982 Employment Act curbed the so-called "closed shop", making it impossible for an employee to be sacked for not being a union member. Secret ballots – eventually made compulsory – dented the power of union leaders to decide on strikes. Secondary picketing and unions' legal immunity were banned. Once the miners' strike, led by Arthur Scargill, collapsed in the mid-1980s, the unions were effectively silenced.

Meanwhile, Mrs Thatcher unleashed a privatisation "revolution" on industries including coal, iron and steel, utilities, airlines and telecommunications.

Across the Atlantic, Ronald Reagan mirrored her monetarist, neo-liberal approach. Indeed, she was described by Hugo Young in his biography of her as "a kind of Baptist to Reagan's Messiah."

And thereby ushered in a, thus far, quarter century run of uninterrupted economic growth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


What's worse than watching your teams lose? Watching them win: Boston fans are experiencing one of the greatest runs in modern sports history -- and it's killing them. (Steve Almond, Nov. 20, 2007, Salon)

[T]hese days, Boston fans are suffering a profound crisis of identity. They are winning, in a manner that is historically unprecedented. Last month, the Sox swept the Colorado Rockies to claim their second World Series in four years. The Patriots have become the NFL's 900-pound gorilla. They are 10-0 this season and being lauded as one of the greatest teams ever. Tom Brady, the team's dashing All-Pro quarterback, appears poised to shatter every gridiron record known to man. The Celtics -- after acquiring two all-stars in the off-season -- opened the season with eight straight wins, most of them routs, before losing Sunday night. Even the hapless Bruins have a winning record.

The effect on the local fanotariat has been paradoxical. They're not so much overjoyed as disoriented. [...]

It amounts to this: The psychic mechanisms of fandom are being laid bare here in Beantown. It's becoming clear that the unspoken allure of rooting for a team resides not in the conscious wish for success, but the unconscious wish for failure.

Most fans, after all, pursue their obsession not because their lives are so happy and well-adjusted, but because they lack a sense of vitality and connectedness. The willed helplessness of fandom -- our superstitions aside, there's really nothing we can do to control the fate of our teams -- implies a spiritual surrender. Frederick Exley described this condition precisely in his wrenching account of sports addiction, "A Fan's Notes": "Whatever it was, I gave myself up to the [New York] Giants utterly. The recompense I gained was the feeling of being alive."

My friend Rich, who is both a mental health professional and a Pats season-ticket holder, takes it a step further: "Most people get used to living within dysfunction. That's how sports fans are. They secretly need their teams to screw up."

This compulsion is simply more extreme in Boston. The fans here are more passionate and knowledgeable than fans in most other cities. By their own reckoning, this intense devotion grants them the right to whine.

There are specific reasons for this. The inherent fatalism of New Englanders, to begin with. The fact that they spend six months a year battling seasonal affective disorder. And, perhaps most painfully, the historic sense that they have been cast in the role of New York's bitch. (It's no coincidence that interest in the Pats skyrocketed after Bill Parcells left the team to coach the New York Jets.)

That said, New Englanders hardly have the franchise on deluded fanaticism. We all believe we're escaping our burdens by watching sports. But the act of rooting inevitably returns us to the disappointment and rage of our internal lives. Fandom isn't an emotional escape; it's a pressure valve. When our teams eventually lose (as they almost always do) we are granted a safe place to channel our primal negative emotions.

But when your teams win -- when all of them are suddenly, terrifyingly unbeatable -- you are left with a confusing dividend: the unwelcome realization that your life is no better than it was before. You are simply one more jock wannabe who sneaks off to a bar to worship physically gifted millionaires for a few hours, then returns home to the same dull and intractable problems.

Does all this really have anything to do with the fact it's happening to New England in particular, or isn't it more a function of the unusual level of sports awareness here and the sheer magnitude of the dominance?

The appropriate analogy might be to the sense of national restiveness that has followed the WoT. After 9-11 everyone was braced for a monumental struggle, along the lines of other great crises like the Civil War or WWII, and instead we got walkovers in Afghanistan and Iraq, with remnants of the enemy hiding in caves and the rest of the region stunned into acquiescent though slowish reform. No matter how tragic that one day in September 2001 was, it was so pegged the emotional meter that nothing that followed was likely to match it on the upside. But few were ready for just how easy the victory over Islamicism would be and the degree to which that would deny us the emotional payoff we in some sense feel entitled to. As Americans wonder why we can't have an Yorktown, Appomattox Courthouse, or V-E Day to glory in, so Sox fans wonder why they can't have a Game 6 1986 moment to bask in.

November 19, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 PM


...that there's a young man you need to buy a Christmas gift and you've not yet settled on one. Perhaps the following will force your hand:

The Wife and the Youngest (5 years old) were wrapping gifts and he decided he wanted to do his Nana's birthday gift himself. He also wanted to tie a ribbon on it. The Wife asked if he needed help with the knot. "No, my 'Dangerous Book for Boys' will show me how to tie one." With which he whipped it open, studied the section on "5 knots every boy should know" and did it himself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 PM


Surprise Pressure From Myanmar’s Neighbors (WAYNE ARNOLD, 11/19/07, NY Times)

At an informal dinner between heads of state Monday night at the five-star Shangri-La Hotel here, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines directly addressed the problem.

“The belief of the Filipino people and the Philippine Congress, as well as my own, that those who will sign the Charter agree to the objective, spirit and intent of establishing a human rights body — the full protection of human rights within Asean,” she said, reading out a prepared statement, a copy of which was forwarded to reporters. “With this in mind, the expectation of the Philippines is that if Myanmar signs the Charter, it is committed to returning to the path of democracy and release Aung San Suu Kyi. Until the Philippine Congress sees that happen, it would have extreme difficulty in ratifying the Asean Charter.” [...]

[W]hile Asean members like Laos and Vietnam have defended Myanmar and condemned Western sanctions, others have been gradually losing their tolerance.

The clearest sign of a shift under way was Asean’s public reaction to the crackdown in Myanmar — it demanded a stop to the violence, expressed its revulsion and called for the release of political detainees.

“It was very un-Asean-like language,” said Dave Mathieson at Human Rights Watch in Thailand.

Even Singapore, which has perhaps the most extensive trade and investments with Myanmar of Asean’s members, has begun debating its relationship with the junta. Singapore’s foreign minister was even obliged recently to explain the country’s trade ties with Myanmar to the country’s Parliament, where he dismissed Singapore’s arms exports to Myanmar as “insignificant.”

It was Singpaore that invited Mr. Gambari, the United Nations envoy, to give a briefing on the situation in Myanmar on Wednesday afternoon. After Myanmar expressed its objections, The A.P. reported, other Asean members — including Malaysia and Indonesia — rejected the briefing as inappropriate.

Earlier in the day, Mrs. Arroyo met one-on-one with Myanmar’s prime minister and read him her statement.

The new Asean charter commits members to strengthening democracy and protecting human rights, and calls for the establishment of an Asean human rights body.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:38 PM


Documented proof of Darwin's natural selection (Terry Glavin, November 15, 2007,

Although Darwin could show that evolution by natural selection must be the answer, he couldn't present evidence for that answer in even a single case of evolution by natural selection, observed and documented in the "natural" world. No one, least of all Darwin, had ever seen it actually happen.

As a consequence, long after Darwin's theory had come to form the theoretical basis for the biological sciences, there was still an embarrassing dearth of experimental research into evolution. It was still, outside of science, just an "opinion". While Darwin explained how the "natural" world worked in theory, no one, even into the 1970s, had been able to fully and methodically document and describe having actually seen it work that way in practice.

This is where Peter and Rosemary Grant come in.

Peter and Rosemary, both from England, met at the University of British Columbia in 1960. They soon married, and both went on to work as professors of evolutionary biology at Princeton University. Now both 71, the Grants are among the most successful and important collaborations in the history of science. In 2005 they won the coveted Balzan Prize, which is equal in prestige to the Nobel Prize and brings almost three times the cash: the equivalent of about $3 million in Swiss francs.

The Grants have produced a body of research that is so exhaustive, so exacting and thorough, that many ornithologists fear it will never be replicated. The object of the Grants' obsessions is Galápagos finches. These are the birds so closely associated with Darwin that they're commonly called Darwin's finches.

It was Darwin's encounter with the archipelago's 13 finch species in 1835, during his five-week Galápagos sojourn as the naturalist aboard the Beagle, that caused his epiphany and produced evolution's great eureka moment. That's the legend, anyway.

The truth is it was long after his return to England, and after the specimens he'd collected had been properly classified by British taxonomists, that the significance of the birds, and of all those other peculiar endemic species he'd found on the Galápagos Islands, began to dawn on Darwin.

It wasn't until Peter and Rosemary Grant began making their annual pilgrimages to the Galápagos island of Daphne Major, a forbidding place of black lava and hellish summers, that the finches began to fully reveal themselves to science.

The Grants began their fieldwork on Daphne Major in 1973. They've put in 35 field seasons, and they're still at it. (The Grants will be presenting an overview of their most recent findings in a free lecture at the University of British Columbia on November 20.)

The Grants have documented the phenomenon that Darwin could only surmise by deduction and conjecture. It turns out that the mechanism of evolution can be observed moving through nature, not just in a laboratory or in a human-altered environment, and it doesn't always move at a glacial pace. The Grants have watched it happen, up close.

Biologists Rosemary and Peter Grant have spent 35 field seasons observing how natural selection has resulted in the evolution of Galápagos finches.

Specifically, what Peter and Rosemary have done is present the world with a rare and dramatic glimpse of variation caused by natural selection from one generation of animals to the next. And down through several generations of Galápagos finches, from different species, they've shown how heritable traits are "selected" so as to result in evolution.

As evolution occurs, even when it occurs quickly, it's usually barely detectable. The tiniest change can mean survival or extinction. In the case of the Galápagos finches, what matters is often barely measurable changes in the size and shape of the finches' beaks.

"That's the really difficult thing to do," Peter told me the other day. "You don't want to try it with earthworms."

It isn't that Darwin's theory had not been shown to work in practice before the Grants. It's just that no one had documented it in nature so completely and methodically.

Before the Grants, the case of the English peppered moth was one of the best-known studies of natural selection driving evolution. But the story of the peppered moth unfolds in a completely human-altered environment. Its observed evolution was in response to the rise and decline of the Industrial Revolution.

Prior to the advent of the "dark satanic mills" and the clouds of coal smoke and ash that settled over the English countryside, peppered moths were light-coloured, with specks and streaks of black, a colour scheme suited perfectly to camouflage because of the moths' habit of alighting and resting on tree trunks, on similarly coloured lichens.

In the poisoned air of the Industrial Revolution, the lichens diminished in abundance and trees were commonly blackened with soot. This trend favoured a black-coloured mutation in peppered moths and caused the light-coloured moths to nearly disappear. In recent years, however, with the decline of both factories and coal power, the light-coloured moths have become dominant again.

Nowadays, evolution by natural selection is being observed in "the wild" among sticklebacks in British Columbia coastal lakes, among fruit flies in South America, and also in laboratories, on an hourly basis, around the world.

In his Pulitzer Prize–winning The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time, a 1994 book about the Grants and the significance of their work, author Jonathan Weiner sets out the paradox of the persistent hostility to Darwin's "theory". Evolution denial is a common habit of some of Darwin's most privileged beneficiaries in the United States, almost always evangelical Protestants, whose wealth often depends solely upon Darwin being right.

Setting aside, for the moment, Mr. Glavin's deeply disturbing assertion that WASP's are actually a superior species to other human groups, let us note both that the best line in Mr. Weiner's book is about how fellow scientists joke that only God and Peter Grant can tell apart the finches that he claims are separate "species" and that, just as the moths failed to speciate in even the hoax version of the peppered moth experiment, so too do the various finches crossbreed rather freely, irrespective of their beak designs. In fact, what the immutability of species in these cases provides evidence for is the argument that no amount of natural selection will ever lead to Darwinism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:23 PM


Pious Populist: Understanding the rise of Iran's president (Abbas Milani, NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2007, Boston Review)

Ahmadinejad’s 2005 election, one of his chief lieutenants observed after the victory, was no “accident.” It was the result of “two years of complicated, multifaceted planning” by a coalition that included Revolutionary Guards commanders, a handful of clergy, some leaders of the Basiji (unhappy that the government had not yet given them jobs in the coveted civil service), and friends and allies of Ahmadinejad from his days as mayor of Tehran. This coalition was helped to victory by Ayatollah Khamenei. Easily the most powerful man in the country today, Khamenei has legal control of the army, the police, the intelligence agencies, the Revolutionary Guards and Basijis, the judiciary, and the country’s radio and television station. He also controls more than half of the Iranian economy through his control of the foundations (Bonyads) created from wealth confiscated during the revolution.

In the weeks before the election, Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was running against Ahmadinejad, promised to work to curtail Khamenei’s power. Rafsanjani, the presumed winner, talked more like a chief of state than a candidate. His message pleased Europeans who had long seen Rafsanjani as a leader with whom they could do business, but it angered Khamenei, who helped secure Ahmadinejad’s surprise victory. While Rafsanjani and the other losing candidates claimed that millions of dollars from public coffers had been illegally poured into the Ahmadinejad campaign, Khamenei “suggested” to all Revolutionary Guard commanders and Basiji leaders that they should vote for Ahmadinejad, each taking as many family members along as they could. Moreover, Ahmadinejad benefited from his rival’s complicity in creating the political situation voters had come to despise. When Rafsanjani—the “moderate” inside the Iranian regime who had arranged the secret Iran-contra negotiations between Iran and the Reagan administration—tried to reinvent himself as a candidate of reform, voters did not take him seriously.

Although Khamenei helped Ahmadinejad to power—it was rumored that after an eight-year troubled relationship with Khatami, the leader wanted an inexperienced and malleable president—he got more than he bargained for. After taking office Ahmadinejad began a massive purge of the Iranian bureaucracy, installing allies in key positions. Ahmadinejad’s administration has rightly been called a “barracks regime,” with a majority of his cabinet officials and top managers coming from the ranks of the Revolutionary Guards and intelligence agencies. The size of this network of allies and supporters surprised nearly all observers and apparently even Khamenei himself. More importantly, Ahmadinejad not only made new appointments but tried to change the criteria for them, recalling the early days of the revolution when publicly demonstrated piety was the sole basis for appointment to key positions in government and the economy. The most recent example of this shift is the appointment of an ex-Basiji leader, with no experience in nuclear matters, as Iran’s chief negotiator in the crucial and tense negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. Moreover, in the February 2006 elections this same group of Revolutionary Guards and Basiji commanders captured a majority of seats in the parliament and ministerial positions.

The U.S. war in Iraq has strengthened Ahmadinejad’s hand by turning his bid for a nuclear weapons program into an Iranian nationalist cause. In the early 1970s Iran, with encouragement from the United States and Israel, launched an ambitious nuclear program. No fewer than twenty reactors were envisioned for the country. Some sources even claim that Israel had begun planning a joint program to help Iran develop missiles that could carry nuclear warheads. When the revolution came, Ayatollah Khomeini brought these programs to a grinding halt. Iran, he claimed, did not need a nuclear program, and he accused the Shah’s involvement in it as another sign that he was the imperialists’ lackey. Of course ending the nuclear program in 1979 was also something of a necessity. With much of its foreign currency reserves frozen by the United States as punishment for the hostage crisis, Iran was facing a serious financial crisis.

But in 1984, Saddam Hussein began to use chemical weapons against both restive Iraqi Kurds and Iranian forces. While the United States and the rest of the international community remained virtually silent, the regime in Tehran decided that it needed to revive the nuclear program and develop “an Islamic bomb” for its own security. In 1988, according to a recently declassified document, leaders of the Revolutionary Guards told Ayatollah Khomeini that the only way Iran could win the war with Iraq was with the acquisition of nuclear bombs. By then Iran’s nuclear program had already been fully launched.

Instead of following the protocols of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which Iran had been one of the first signatories, the Islamic Republic, worried about reactions from the United States and Israel, embarked on a covert program. Their hope, according to Ayatollah Rouhani, Iran’s nuclear negotiator before Ahmadinejad’s presidency, was “to do a North Korea on the world” and force the West to accept Iran’s nuclear program as a fait accompli. Since the program based in the city of Natanz was discovered five years ago, it has dominated Iran’s relations with the United States, the European Union, and even Russia. Ahmadinejad has been able to use the nuclear program to ride a wave of nationalism at home, and Muslim anger and frustration globally.

Ahmadinejad has used his defiance of the United States and Israel, and his infamous comments about the Holocaust and the destruction of Israel, to similar political advantage. And through coverage in the Iranian media, he has parlayed this popularity and his rock star treatment in the American media into more power at home. He even used to great advantage Columbia University’s President Lee Bollinger’s grandstanding when Ahmadinejad spoke on that campus this fall. Instead of setting up a confrontation between Bollinger’s denunciation and Ahmadinejad’s wounded innocence, the university might have conditioned Ahmadinejad’s appearance on his willingness to participate on a panel of scholars, activists, and representatives of religious and ethnic minorities. It would have shown the Iranian president requisite respect yet denied him another chance to assume the role of insulted victim.

* * *

Ahmadinejad has turned many things to his advantage, but neither Israel, nor the Holocaust, nor Iran’s nuclear program figured in his presidential campaign. Ahmadinejad was brought to power by his ability to understand and connect with the poor. He had mastered—in his words and deeds, his gestures and dress—a kind of populism that plays on fears and anxieties, especially among Iran’s poor. Not only did he do well in the poorer sections of the cities, he also easily carried the countryside. Even some from the middle class, unwilling to vote for Rafsanjani, voted for Ahmadinejad. To appeal to their technocratic impulses he uses the title of doctor, received when he finished his graduate studies in traffic engineering. Moreover, after Khamenei’s “suggestion,” the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij, along with their families, voted in the millions for him.

In interviews and speeches in Iran, he uses vernacular expressions and street idioms. He nearly always wears his uniform—an oversize jacket (or tunic), baggy pants, and a baggy shirt (Islam forbids any clothing, on men or women, that might betray bodily curves), all invariably light in color. He never wears a tie—the unmistakable sign of modernity. And since Islam forbids the frivolous sensation of a razor blade on a man’s face, Ahmadinejad’s beard is also part of his persona. All aspects of his appearance are intended to signal the sharp tension between moderns and traditionalists.

In the international media his traditional appearance is intended to be a challenge to the West, but at home it is equally provocative. Iran is a divided society, with a dedicated minority of about fifteen to twenty percent committed to the regime and its clerical leadership, and a disgruntled majority—some angry for economic reasons, others (especially women) alienated by the regime’s cultural policies and the sheer social and legal constraints on their lives.

Pulsating beneath the restrictions of Islamic Iran, however, is a world of vibrant youthful cosmopolitanism. Three out of every five Iranians are under the age of thirty. Their dress and values are drawn less from traditional Islam than from the norms of a global avant-garde. They are Internet savvy: indeed Iran ranks number one in the world in number of bloggers per capita.

The decidedly modern aesthetic accomplishments of Iranian cinema—embodied in the work of masters like Abbas Kiarostami—are now a matter of global acclaim, and a less well-known but no less vibrant renaissance is taking place in Iranian music. A generation of new composers, lyricists, musicians, and vocalists, equally at home with Western musical forms and the complexities of Persian classical music, have created a new genre that combines subtle social criticism with an ironic bite. Mohsen Namjoo—an internationally acclaimed artist from a traditional family—uses traditional “tar” to render jazz melodies and the guitar to play classical Persian music; Kiosk, easily Iran’s most popular rock band, melds the gruff timbre of Bob Dylan’s voice with the bitter lyricism of Leonard Cohen, and hints of Persian classical music.

The society ruled by the mullahs is also undergoing something of a sexual revolution. For men and women, bodies have become vessels of protest, sometimes defiant and dangerously promiscuous. A recent study by Pomona College anthropologist Pardis Mahdavi reported that at least half the married women interviewed in the more affluent parts of Tehran admit to having extra-marital affairs. The number is startling when we remember that adultery is a capital crime in Iran. The law is no less draconian with regard to homosexuality. After Ahmadinejad’s recent New York visit many commentators questioned his strange claim that there are no homosexuals in Iran, not simply because it is obviously false, but because the regime has executed a number of people accused of homosexuality in the last few years. The regime is so averse to homosexuality—which they consider a sin, and its discussion a form of cultural imperialism—that it has, for many years now, offered to pay for sex change operations for anyone with a “problematic” sexual identity. Nonetheless, in Tehran there are parks and restaurants openly identified as homosexual meeting places. Those who are part of the Iranian Diaspora publish online magazines dedicated to serious discussion of the social condition of Iran’s gay men and lesbians.

Ahmadinejad’s conservatism quickly put him at odds with university students. In the early days of his presidency he planned to re-bury martyrs on university campuses, repeating his symbolic gesture as mayor of Tehran. Students rejected the idea and resisted vigorously, insisting on keeping university campuses free of religious iconography. Objecting to the idea afforded students an opportunity to show their dissatisfaction with the new president and his insistence on etching symbols of piety and martyrdom on the city landscape. The episode was one in a long series of confrontations between Ahmadinejad and university students who have been in the vanguard of the fight for justice and democracy.

Iran’s social divisions were sharply captured in the 2005 presidential campaign. In a now famous film made by his campaign, Ahmadinejad is shown walking into a simple room in a humble house in a lower-middle-class city neighborhood. It is his family home. He sits cross-legged in front of a tablecloth on the floor. His wife appears, clad from head to toe in a black chador. His children, too, are shown exhibiting their father’s simplicity of style. The family is eating lunch; their manners are those of most Iranian working class or peasant families. The contrast with Rafsanjani’s campaign was glaring. In one ad, the candidate sits around a big oval table with young men and women, all dressed in fashionable, affluent, urban attire. One of the girls, a scarf barely covering her hair, complains about the lack of entertainment for youth; the camera then focuses on Rafsanjani, with tears of sympathy for her plight. While Rafsanjani was clearly appealing to society’s upper crust and its youth, Ahmadinejad, in all he said and did during the campaign, was appealing to the society’s poor and playing upon their anxieties and resentment about the revolution’s unfulfilled economic promises. He campaigned on a message of ending corruption and giving the poor an equitable share of the country’s oil wealth.

Ahmadinejad’s provincialism is another aspect of his populist appeal. Save for a brief trip to Austria many years ago, Ahmadinejad had not traveled outside of Iran before becoming president. (In this respect, as well as others, he bears striking resemblance to President George W. Bush. According to a popular joke in Iran, there are three things Bush and Ahmadinejad share: both came to power in contested elections, both talk to God, and neither speaks English.) His provincialism has begotten an arrogant swagger and a disdain not just for the West but also for Iranians who know the West or advocate closer ties with it. Compounding his willful insolence is his belief that God has chosen him to perform His will and that a divine force protects him. After returning from his second U.N. trip last year, he told a cleric that during his speech in the General Assembly he was protected by a sacred halo of light. He also recounted how God, to spite America, had fixed the unblinking eyes of all the world’s leaders on Ahmadinejad. While his critics posted a secret tape of this conversation on the Internet (where for months it was a favorite), supporters speak of his “genius,” his “divine wisdom,” and his role as “the miracle of the third millennium.” When he wrote his infamously puzzling, wide-ranging letter to President Bush in May 2006—about history and international affairs, the failure of “liberalism and Western-style democracy” and the centrality of God in global aspirations, and the teachings of the great prophets, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed—his admirers spoke of it as a divinely inspired text, something to be studied in every high school in Iran.

By the time Ahmadinejad made his third trip to the U.N., in September 2007, another key component of his political vision had become the subject of considerable inquiry and criticism, particularly inside Iran. One of Ahmadinejad’s first acts as president was to have the cabinet sign a covenant with the Mahdi, the twelfth Imam in Iranian Shi’ism, its missing messiah. Iranian Shias are referred to as twelvers; unlike other Shias they believe that there have been twelve Imams, all male descendants of the first Imam, Ali, and his wife, Fateme, daughter of the prophet Mohammad. They also believe that the twelfth Imam, the Mahdi, has gone into hiding, or occultation. This occultation of the twelfth Imam will end with the return of the Mahdi, who will establish a perfectly just Islamic society in a world plunged in chaos and war, laying the basis for the Day of the Resurrection.

Some Hadith—words or deeds attributed to the prophet and his progeny, and next to the Qur’an considered the most important source of Islamic jurisprudence—indicate that the missing messiah will one day emerge from the well at Chamkaran. For centuries Chamkaran (sometimes called Jamkaran) was a dry well and a derelict mosque some hundred miles outside Tehran. When Ahmadinejad came to power, he spent millions from the public coffers to build roads and tourist facilities to facilitate visits to Chamkaran, and successfully turned it into a popular pilgrimage site. He also substantially increased funding for an institute, in the city of Qom, whose mission is to search the sacred texts of Shi’ism for hints about signs of the twelfth Imam’s return. Ahmadinejad has often said that the purpose of his presidency is to help expedite the return of the messiah. Many leading Iranian clergy have recently criticized this aspect of Ahmadinejad’s politics, as well as the corresponding surge of claims by people (including public figures) to have “seen” or “contacted” the twelfth Imam.

* * *

It is a measure of Ahmadinejad’s Machiavellian guile, the paradoxical charisma of his anti-hero persona, and the effectiveness of his populist anti-corruption campaign that in his first months in office he claimed a mandate and amassed more power than even Khatami, who had won two landslide victories. After all, the Iranian Constitution contains serious obstacles to presidential accumulation of power. Moreover, Ahmadinejad won the 2005 election only after a hotly contested election mired in allegations of foul play.

But Ahmadinejad’s meteoric rise was soon followed by a no less spectacular fall from grace. One problem was that Ayatollah Khamenei and other leaders of the Islamic Republic came quickly to see that Ahmadinejad and his verbal outbursts were becoming a serious liability. Nothing was more emblematic of this problem than his vocal anti-Semitism, which, like much else in his vision, was not acquired casually but has roots in his experiences during the early days of the revolution.

Soon after the creation of the Islamic Republic, a series of lectures and discussions were held in Tehran led by a stridently conservative cleric, Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, and a philosophy professor named Ahmad Fardid. A student of German philosophy and a disciple of Heidegger, Fardid believed that Freemasons and Jews have for the past century conspired together to dominate the world. When Ayatollah Khomeini won power Fardid abandoned his sycophantic royalism and became not just a devout Moslem, but a passionate advocate of the rule of mullahs as the necessary and anointed prelude to the return of the Hidden Messiah. Together with Mesbah-Yazdi—Ahmadinejad’s religious mentor—Fardid forged key elements of an Islamic pseudo-fascist ideology founded on a sour brew of anti-Semitism, Heideggerian philosophy, and Khomeini’s theory of the guardianship of the jurist.

Whatever their sources, Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic comments were—according to a widely held view in Iran—a key reason for the two U.N. resolutions against Iran.

His domestic policies have been comparably disastrous. For much of the past quarter of a century, the Islamic Republic of Iran—having emerged from the authoritarianism of the Pahlavi dynasty—faced a number of fundamental choices about basic social and economic organization: state planning vs. market coordination; private property vs. public ownership; technocracy vs. piety as a measure of public service; women as subordinate vs. women as equal citizens; export of revolution vs. consolidation of power at home; nuclear power and a full fuel cycle vs. accommodating the international community; fundamentalism vs. acceptance of eclectic new ideas and changing interpretations of the canon; and finally, East vs. West.

In navigating these positions, Ahmadinejad has often embraced ideas and practices that are now widely rejected elsewhere. He has shown little affection for the private sector, advocates statism and a more highly planned economy, and has all but destroyed private banking in Iran. He initially defended some rights for women, such as their ability to watch soccer games at public stadiums, but backed off in the face of stiff opposition from the traditional clergy. And although he has been consistent in his advocacy for the poor—he increased the minimum wage by sixty percent and ordered the establishment of a “Love Fund” to help poor young men defray the cost of marriage—his policies often seem ill-conceived. His casual comment that the stock market is a form of gambling and should be banned led to a massive sell off and a steep fall in stock prices. He has a penchant for throwing money at any problem. One policy, for example, gave low-interest loans to small businesses willing to hire new employees, in an attempt to create jobs and stem inflationary pressures. But because his administration failed to exercise oversight, the loans were used by employers for purposes other than job creation. According to some members of parliament, similar failures of oversight explain the disappearance of hundreds of millions of dollars of governmental funds. Ahmadinejad’s government has not only spent the entire windfall revenue from oil price increases, but he nearly depleted the currency fund set up to protect the government when the price of oil falls. As always the poor—now a quarter of the country’s population—bear the brunt of these disastrous inflationary policies.

In international relations, Ahmadinejad’s faltering program has had three key components. The first is the idea of exporting the Islamic Revolution and creating a “Shia revolutionary arc” in the Muslim world. Like Trotsky, who rejected the idea of socialism in one country, Ahmadinejad believes that Iran’s Islamic Revolution will survive only if it helps lead other Muslims in the fight against a weak and declining West. In recent months, he has talked more ambitiously about Muslims generally, and not only about Shias.

The second component of his program is the idea that the Islamic regime can maintain its dignity and achieve its goals only if it stands firm on plans for a nuclear weapons program. For Ahmadinejad, Khatami and his chief negotiator on the nuclear issue, Rouhani, committed treason when they agreed to suspend the nuclear program. A few days after Iran announced that it had enriched uranium successfully, Ahmadinejad and his allies declared that “the West can do nothing,” adding that Iran must push forward aggressively with all aspects of the program. Shortly after Putin’s recent and historic visit to Iran, Ahmadinejad made two incredible claims in a televised interview: first, that Iran has won the public-opinion battle around the world over the legitimacy of its nuclear program, and that the West might soon give up its opposition to Iran’s nuclear program; and second, still more incredibly, that “Iran is now one of the nine nuclear powers in the world” and that the other eight must begin to share their global power with Iran.

The third component of Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy is intimately linked with the second, and is referred to by the Iranian policy establishment as the “Asia Look.” According to this notion, Iran’s future no longer rests with the declining West but with the ascendant East—particularly China and India. Multi-billion-dollar oil and gas agreements with both countries, and negotiations for the construction of a new pipeline connecting Iran to India through Pakistan and eventually to China, would allow Iran to have a rapidly growing market for the country’s oil and gas. Moreover, both China and India have nuclear technologies they could share with Iran and, based on their past behavior, neither is likely to “meddle” in Iranian domestic affairs, particularly on issues of human rights and democracy. Ahmadinejad is further convinced that Russia (with its new, more muscular foreign policy and its desire to embarrass the United States) and China (with its insatiable appetite for energy) would never allow the passage of a U.N. resolution against Iran.

* * *

The failure of nearly every aspect of Ahmadinejad’s program—including his failure to fight corruption or improve the economic plight of the poor—has caused his domestic popularity to decline sharply. In a poll conducted in late September, 56 percent of those who had voted for him in the last election declared they would not vote for him again. When we remember that only sixty percent of eligible voters participated in the last presidential election and that Ahmadinejad won barely more than fifty percent of the votes, his precarious political situation at home becomes clear. On the international front, the U.N. passed two resolutions against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, with Chinese and Russian support. Ahmadinejad’s cavalier response to the U.N. resolutions, dismissing them as “nothing more than a worthless piece of paper,” brought him an avalanche of criticism—even from the regime’s strongest supporters. Furthermore, Russia decided to delay completion of the Bushehr nuclear reactor, and the Sunni states are beginning to unite against Shia Iran.

But the most important cause of Ahmadinejad’s decline has been the near breakdown of the Iranian economy. In spite of record earnings from oil, there has been massive capital flight, a shrinking private sector, a banking crisis, and an increase in oil dependency and subsidies paid by the regime. The oil sector itself is facing serious structural problems due to decaying infrastructure. If trends persist, and Iran cannot attract an estimated six hundred billion dollars of investment in the oil industry, Iranian oil exports may collapse completely within a decade. With unemployment in double digits, the regime is now facing stagflation—high inflation rates and rapidly rising prices—as well as a depression-like “recession.”

Ahmadinejad recently has been facing hostile crowds at college campuses and mounting parliamentary criticism. In the past year Ahmadinejad tried to insure himself against this rising opposition by consolidating his relationship with the Revolutionary Guards with multi-billion-dollar no-bid contracts—in one case, an eleven-billion-dollar contract—to the Guards and their companies. The Guards are an economic juggernaut, active in nearly every aspect of the economy. But even these bribes have not silenced all of the Revolutionary Guard commanders. A few have publicly criticized Ahmadinejad and his policies, believing that he is jeopardizing the future of the regime. The website Baztab, close to Mohsen Rezai, who was for eighteen years the chief commander of the Revolutionary Guards, has become increasingly and openly critical of Ahmadinejad. In late September, Ahmadinejad closed the website down.

Ironically, Ahmadinejad and his rhetoric of confrontation—his tendency to taunt the United States and Israel with boastful threats about terrorists (“martyrdom seekers,” in his parlance)—no less than his dismissals of any possibility of U.S. invasion, does nothing but enable those in Washington who have for years tried to push the United States into a war with Iran. With about a third of the U.S. Navy patrolling the waters off the Iranian coast, and with more than 150,000 U.S. soldiers standing nose to nose with Iran and its Revolutionary Guards, chances increase that a “mistake” will spark a full-fledged war. In recent months Ahmadinejad and his cabal of radical Revolutionary Guards commanders have engaged, in their own words, in a “show of force” by sending Iranian drones over U.S. ships and, in one case, sending a diver to place a sticker with the logo of the Revolutionary Guards on the hull of an American destroyer.

Even more dangerous is the fact that Bush’s hyperbole, including talk of a third world war, only makes a military confrontation with Iran more likely. And a military confrontation with the United States or Israel would be a god-sent gift for Ahmadinejad. With his popularity plummeting and the economy in decline, only an American or Israeli attack on Iran can help Ahmadinejad and his radical allies consolidate power and save his presidency.

In truth the only solution to the “Iran Problem”—from the nuclear question to Iran’s regional support for Islamist groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah—is for the century-old dream of democracy to become a reality. Ahmadinejad is fully aware of this danger and has done everything to forestall democratic change. [...]

[T]he case for democracy in Iran is now economic and not only political. The only solution to Iran’s dire economic problems is a large infusion of foreign resources, and only democracy can ensure the stability required for such large investments and for a return of the massive intellectual and financial capital in the hands of the Iranian Diaspora. This capital is now estimated to be worth almost a trillion dollars. If democracy is an economic and political exigency, and if the existing models have not yet produced encouraging results, what form can a democratic transition take?

The regime in Iran today is deeply divided, and tensions between different factions have recently intensified. Moreover, of the two-dozen clerics who have dominated Iranian politics since the 1979 revolution, the youngest are septuagenarians. The “spiritual leader,” Ayatollah Khamenei, is known to suffer from cancer, and there is no clear heir apparent to his mantle. Many of the younger clerics in Iran, particularly among the advocates of Ayatollah Sistani’s quietist version of Shi’ism, have been more openly critical of the regime’s interpretation of Shi’ism. According to the quietist school, an Islamic government is a government of god on earth; obeying its words and commands is incumbent on all citizens and leaves no room for error. Until the “return” of the twelfth Imam, then, no such government can be created. In the meantime, according to Ayatollah Sistani and others in this school, the duty of the clergy is simply to supervise the moral life of the flock. This view is in direct conflict with Ayatollah Khomeini’s activist version of Shi’ism, which holds that the clergy can and must seize power any time the opportunity avails itself.

An even larger number of those working with the regime, particularly among the thousands of often-Western-educated mid-level managers, are increasingly aware that the status quo is untenable. As the economy continues to falter, and as radicals like Ahmadinejad seek more stringent enforcement of Islamic laws—by, for example, charging more than 160,000 women in the past two months of being insufficiently veiled—it is easy to imagine the emergence of a grand coalition, consisting of technocrats within and outside the regime, disgruntled reformists, quietist clerics, members of the Iranian private sector, women demanding equality, students, democratic parties, and labor unions, all willing to compromise in favor of a better society. That coalition, joined by Iran’s civil society organizations and even members of the Diaspora, could come together on a program of building a more democratic republic, free of the despotic power of the guardian-jurist. Prudent U.S. policy—principled, unconditional negotiations with the regime in Tehran on all outstanding issues, and continuing insistence on the democratic and human rights of the Iranian people—can help expedite the formation of such a coalition. An offer of unconditional negotiations would, if accepted, bring about a thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations and improve the political capital of those within the regime who have been advocating such rapprochement.

The speed with which Ayatollah Khamenei acted to place Rafsanjani in a position to thwart Ahmedinejad suggests that he genuinely preferred that the former be elected president in the first place and understood the radicalism of the latter from the get-go. Indeed, the Ayatollah had apparently tried to set up the election so that Rafsanjani's main challenger would be the genuinely reformist Mustafa Moin, who was second in opinion polls going into election day, but was as surprised as everyone else by the degree of disillusionment of the Reformists and the showing of the Twelvers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:02 PM


Paquito D'Rivera: Everything you always wanted to know about sax (Susan Kepecs, 11/16/2007, Isthmus)

D'Rivera leaves plenty of room for everybody to stretch out, but he's the star of the show. He wails. He blows Benny Goodman, Miles modals, mambos. You'd call it Latin jazz, but D'Rivera calls it music.

"I grew up with a father who played classical sax and loved Lester Young. I didn't know the difference between Mozart and Machito till I was 11. I'm as at home with Brahams as Ellington. But when I first heard Benny Goodman's Live at Carnegie Hall, recorded in 1938 — my father played it for me in '55, when I was seven — I was so impressed, right then I wanted to come to New York and play jazz."

D'Rivera's wish took 25 years to come true. "My first inspirations were my father and Benny Goodman, and then [ace Cuban pianist] Chucho Valdés," he says. "I met him when I was very young, just 14 and starting to play Havana's Teatro Musical. Chucho was there, and [guitarist] Carlos Emilio Morales."

Valdés cut his first album in '64, featuring D'Rivera, Morales and a set of radical tracks mixing Cuban son y rumba, post-bop, funk and classical influences. In '67 the revolutionary government organized the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna, giving the island's best musicians a sanctioned chance to play jazz – but also charging them with interpreting the Beatles and other foreign pop. Valdés, D'Rivera, Morales and Arturo Sandoval (who's bringing his Mambo Mania Big Band to Overture Hall next month) were in the lineup.

But the Orquesta's size, along with its government-dictated agenda, led Valdés to start Cuba's iconic Irakere in '73, taking D'Rivera, Morales, Sandoval and others with him. "We wanted to travel, see the world," D'Rivera says.

Much of Irakere's music was dance-worthy jazz fusion, groundbreaking in Cuba and accessible in the States. During the partial thaw in U.S./Cuba relations under Jimmy Carter, Irakere became the first Cuban group to record on a U.S. label, Columbia. In Madison, in the late '70s and early '80s, Ricardo Gonzalez regularly featured Irakere's hits on the Cardinal Bar turntable and his WORT radio show, "La Junta." (In fact, after multiple incarnations, Irakere's still around, both in Cuba and on "La Junta.")

One of the great contradictions of the Cuban revolution is Irakere's long-lived success, and the fact that Valdés today is one of the island's greatest musicians, despite the government crackdown on jazz.

"There was a little window for jazz in Cuba at that time," D'Rivera says, "but Fidel has no idea about music. He prefers sports. There was always jazz in Cuba, but after the revolution the government called it the enemy's music. When I was in the army, to hear jazz we'd go up on the roof and play the radio quietly. We tuned in to Willis Conover's 'Voice of America Jazz Hour' coming out of Washington, D.C. From that we learned about Joe Henderson, the new Miles Davis quintet, Woody Shaw, Ron Carter, Freddie Hubbard. Someone was always on guard, ready to whisper 'the captain's coming, turn it off!'

"In my free-jazz days, in the '70s, I was very influenced by Eric Dolphy," D'Rivera continues. "I was in a trio with the fantastic Cuban pianist/drummer Emiliano Salvador, and Carlitos del Puerto, who was also in Irakere, on bass. It was our illegal period — it's an unknown episode in my career. That music was never recorded, but I keep it as a treasure in my mind."

D'Rivera left Cuba in 1980. He'd considered getting on the infamous Mariel boatlift, but ended up making his run while on tour with Irakere.

"The band flew from Cuba to Spain, on its way to Sweden. I escaped in the airport — it was just me — and asked for asylum in Madrid. I tell it as a funny story now, there's humor with distance. But it wasn't funny then, it was a mess."

He's never been back to Cuba. "Jazz is a four-letter word there now. Chucho has the Havana Jazz Festival, which used to be directed by Arturo Sandoval, who defected 10 years after me. But the government just allows it 'cause it brings in tourist bucks. They prefer you to play something else."

Valdés probably wouldn't agree. D'Rivera, in his recent memoir, Mi Vida Saxual (My Sax Life), talks about the emotional distress he suffers when the press casts him politically against the great pianist, so I feel a little guilty writing this. Playing with Valdés again in Havana, "with our photos in the arts section, not the political section," is one of D'Rivera's fondest dreams.

But besides the doses of bitterness D'Rivera shares with so many Cubans in the States, My Sax Life leaps between the booming, macho sense of humor the title implies – hijinks in the army and outrageous stories collected over a lifetime of touring with fellow musicians ("there's a picture of me and Dizzy [Gillespie] naked in a sauna in Finland," he says) — with surprising tenderness for his son, Franco, and second wife, soprano Brenda Feliciano, whom he married in New York.

Chucho Valdes presents a painful dilemma but we learned to live with a similar one where Herbert von Karajan was concerned.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:34 PM


Bond Market to Bernanke: You're Blowing It! (James Pethokoukis, 11/19/07, US News)

Economist James Glassman of JPMorgan notes tha[t]:

Market forecasts, those embedded in asset prices, however, have proven to earn their keep. Three numbers in particular are highly informative: 4.5% (the Fed's interest rate target); 3.31% (2-year Treasury note yield); 4.14% (10-year Treasury yield). Market prices imply that policy rates are still 100 basis points above equilibrium levels.

...someone could give Mr. Bernanke a copy of his own pre-Fed writings on his predecessors setting rates too high?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:19 PM


Lowell stays (Nick Cafardo, November 19, 07, Boston Globe)

Free-agent third baseman Mike Lowell has agreed in principle to the framework of a three-year deal to return to the Red Sox, major league baseball sources close to the negotiations have confirmed.

Lowell, 33, tested the free-agent waters, and may have received at least one four-year offer from another undisclosed team, but in the end the Sox third baseman elected to stay where he was most comfortable. Sources indicate that the three year deal is worth in the $36-$38 million range.

Even the off-season looks to be dramaless.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:33 PM


Crunchy Onion Chicken (Cox News Service, November 19, 2007)

6-ounce can French's French Fried Onions

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon mustard

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Preheat the oven to 400. Crush onions in plastic bag or with rolling pin. Mix egg and mustard until well-combined.

In 3 shallow bowls, separately place flour, egg mixture and onions. Dredge chicken first in flour, then egg and then onions, pressing firmly to get onions to adhere. Place on cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through.

Crappy country--great casserole topping.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM


Christian, Muslim, Jew: Franz Rosenzweig and the Abrahamic Religions (Spengler, October 2007, First Things)

Franz Rosenzweig is widely regarded as one of the greatest Jewish theologians of the past century. Best known for The Star of Redemption, published eight years before his death in 1929 at the age of forty-three, he began a new kind of dialogue between Judaism and Christianity when he argued that the two faiths complement each other: Christianity to propagate revelation to the world, and Judaism to “convert the inner pagan” inside each Christian.

Less often mentioned, however, is Rosenzweig’s analysis of Islam, a religion he regarded as a throwback to paganism. Indeed, Rosenzweig predicted a prolonged conflict of civilizations between Islam and the West. “The coming millennium will go down in world history as a struggle between Orient and Occident, between the church and Islam, between the Germanic peoples and the Arabs,” he forecast in 1920—in part because Islam is “a parody of revealed religion,” while Allah is an apotheosized despot, “the colorfully contending gods of the pagan pantheon rolled up into one.”

Rather than three Abrahamic religions, Rosenzweig saw only two religions arising from the self-­revelation of divine love, with Islam as a crypto-pagan pretender. He was no Islamophobe, observing that Islam during certain eras evinced greater tolerance and humaneness than Christian Europe. But he was emphatic that truly foundational differences distinguish Judeo-Christian religion from Islam.

Contemporary academic thinkers almost universally eschew Rosenzweig’s view of Islam. But it makes no sense to affirm Rosenzweig’s depiction of the unique bond between Jews and Christians—their response to God’s self-revelation through love—while ignoring what makes this bond so different from other human responses to the transcendent. In Rosenzweig’s theology, the soul’s awareness of God begins with his love, and from this arise both faith and authentic human individuality. The existential condition of being loved is what uniquely characterizes Christian and Jew, as opposed to the pagan, for whom God must remain hidden. [...]

Although most of Rosenzweig’s comments about Islam are found in book two of The Star of Redemption, it is book three, his portrayal of the encounter of the peoples with mortality, that establishes the context—for it is there that he explains the “pagan world of fate and chance,” which applies to paganism’s manifestation in Islam. Although Palmer and Schwartz have collected every passage that mentions the word Islam in Rosenzweig’s work, they exclude his striking portrayal of pagan society. In short, they excise the context in which to understand his assertion that Islam is a mode of paganism.

Early in The Star of Redemption, Rosenzweig argues that pagan society cannot foster authentic human individuality but dissolves the individual into an extension of race or state. “For the isolated individual, his society is the society,” he writes.

In the thoroughly organized State, the State and the individual do not stand in the relation of a whole to a part. Instead, the state is the All, from which the power flows through the limbs of the individual. Everyone has his determined place, and, to the extent that he fulfills it, belongs to the All of the State. . . . The individual of antiquity does not lose himself in society in order to find himself, but rather in order to construct it; he himself disappears. The well-known difference between the ancient and all modern concepts of democracy rightly arise from this. It is clear from this why antiquity never developed the concept of representative democracy. Only a body can have organs; a building has only parts.

Written before the consolidation of communist power in Russia or the creation of the European fascist state, this passage was prescient, for it characterizes the modern neopagan state as well as the heathen societies of antiquity. It is also the starting point for Rosenzweig’s characterization of Islam as pagan and Allah as an apotheosized despot. He begins, in other words, with a general characterization of pagan society as a “thoroughly organized” society in the absence of God’s self-revelation through love, and then he considers Islam as a specific case of a paganism that parodies the outward form of revealed religion.

“In an authentic confession of faith,” he argues, “there always is this testimony, namely that one’s personal experience of love must be more than the experience of just one individual; that He whom the soul experiences in its love cannot be simply an illusion or a self-deception of the beloved soul, but that He actually lives.” And so God “achieves through the witness of the believing soul a tangible and visible reality beyond Hiddenness, beyond his Hiddenness, which he possessed in a different way in heathendom.”

By the same logic, Islam’s confession of faith cannot be a confession of faith at all: “Islam’s confession, ‘God is God,’ is no confession of faith, but a confession of non-faith [ein Unglaubensbekenntnis]. It confesses in this tautology not a revealed God, but a hidden one. Nicholas of Cusa says rightly that a heathen, indeed an atheist, could profess the same.”

Revelation, according to Rosenzweig, occurs through the soul’s awareness of God’s love, and human individuality arises from the soul’s response to being loved. In pagan society, where God remains unrevealed, the individual exists only as an organ of the collective of state or race. The pagan’s sense of immortality therefore depends solely on the perpetuation of his race, and his most sacred act is to sacrifice himself in war to postpone the inevitable day when his race will go down in defeat.

Rosenzweig’s spiritual characterization of pagan society is the starting point for his sociology of religion: an understanding of the response of whole peoples to mortality and transcendence. Uniquely among the peoples of the world, the Jews believe that a covenant with the Creator of Heaven and Earth makes them an eternal people. Not so the Gentiles, Rosenzweig writes:

Just as every individual must reckon with his eventual death, the peoples of the world foresee their eventual extinction, be it however distant in time. Indeed, the love of the peoples for their own nationhood is sweet and pregnant with the presentiment of death. Love is only surpassing sweet when it is directed toward a mortal object, and the secret of this ultimate sweetness only is defined by the bitterness of death.

Rosenzweig's analysis comes perilously close, if not all the way, to rendering Judaism a mere paganism too, and Christianity the only religion(*). After all, the point of a covenant, like any contract, is to bind parties who don't trust each other in the absence of that formal obligation. For the Christian, on the other hand, God's love was demonstrated by His willingness to die too, just to try and understand His Creation better. Which is why we preach Christ crucified--any old god can live, only God died.

(*) Though here we ought note that Shi'ism is rather similar to Christianity and Judaism in important ways.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:24 PM


Elephant-a-side: Hundreds of elephants and their handlers attend the annual elephant festival in Thailand, the highlights of which include a football match (Reuters, November 19 2007)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:23 PM


Emanuel Tires of Budget-Battle Comparisons (Peter Baker, November 19, 2007, Washington Post)

But Emanuel, then a Clinton aide and now head of the House Democratic Caucus, has grown so exercised by the comparisons that he ordered his staff to work up a one-page chart, complete with color pictures, to show why the two battles are different. Clinton was more popular than Bush is now, the chart notes; he invited Republicans to meet at the White House and defended Medicare. Bush, the chart says, refuses to negotiate, undercuts health care and does not have public trust.

"I've been there," Emanuel told us. "It's not even close to '95."

Dick Armey was there too, of course. He was House majority leader on the other side of the fight. And he agrees -- it's not the same as '95. "For one thing, in 1995, we got our appropriations bills to the White House," he told us. "At least we were competent enough to get something on the table over which we could have a fight."

In lieu of American flags, Democrats these days are wearing "Kick Me" pins.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:31 PM


Intelligent Design, and Other Dumb Ideas (Mac Johnson, 11/15/2007, Human Events)

A few short years ago, nobody had ever heard of “Intelligent Design” (ID). Today it is alleged to be one of the hot button issues of our times, the latest front in the culture wars. The sudden prominence of ID is traceable, in my opinion, to two factors.

One is that, even ten years ago, ID had enough confidence and honesty to go by its birth name, “Creationism.” Whereas today, it has been dressed up in a lab coat and a mail order Ph.D. and is trying to pass itself off as a scientific theory, thus the sudden re-branding as “Intelligent Design.”

The other reason is that the mainstream media (and other spokesmen for the liberal establishment) love the idea of associating the conservative movement with ID, so ID has gotten much more than its fair share of press time.

The Left believes, correctly, that Intelligent Design is a political loser, and so they gleefully attempt to hang it around the neck of every right-of-center movement from libertarian neo-conservatism to isolationist populism -- shouting all the while “See, the American Taliban has come for your children! Elect a Democrat before it’s too late!” a democracy, the 13% side is the political loser. Republicans win every time a Bright lectures Americans on how stupid they are to believe that Creation is a product of intelligent design. And, at the point where the Darwinists try to explain that evolution is like the entirely natural and random development of languages, which shows that no intelligent design is involved, they become such laughingstocks that the contest turns into a rout.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:39 AM


Did Mitt Romney Push Poll Himself? (Mark Hemingway, 11/19/07, National Review)

Shortly after reports of Romney being targeted in a push poll emerged, the firm making the calls was identified as Western Wats, which is based in Utah and has a number of Romney campaign contributors on the payroll. Western Wats was founded by Ron Lindorf who has ties to the business school at the Mormon-owned Brigham Young University, Romney’s alma mater (Lindorf has since divested himself from the company). Lindorf’s brother Paul and his wife Teena are avid supporters of Romney (Paul is a former employee of Western Wats who retired five years ago; Paul and Teena claim not to know Romney or have a vested interest in his campaign).

Evidence collected from Internet bulletin boards dedicated to tracking telemarketers and nuisance phone calls suggests that Western Wats may be tied directly to the Romney campaign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:36 AM


Pakistan clashes 'leave 80 dead' (BBC, 11/19/07)

At least 80 people have been killed in sectarian clashes in a tribal area of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan over the past three days, officials said.

They said 11 soldiers were among those killed in the clashes between Shia and Sunni Muslims in Kurram agency.

The military's intervention in the tribal region has brought a lull in the fighting, officials said.

The area has a history of sectarian violence. In April, similar clashes left some 55 people dead.

No one yet cares to look at the central question in the region: can the modern world tolerate a territory with no sovereign to answer for its people?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 AM



[T]he idea that underdevelopment or instability is caused by imperialism is so highly developed among the Western intelligentsia that it ignores the fundamental internal shortcomings that are the real problem, thus understating the problems caused by traditional culture, the need for reform, or the value of the virtues that led to Western successes.

Most revealing in this respect is a recent exchange between Syrian author Nidhal Na'ísa and Egyptian cleric Sheikh Ibrahim al-Khouli on al-Jazira television, October 30, 2007. Khouli said: "Western civilization is not really a civilization...."

Na'ísa responded by asking, "How did you come here [Qatar] from Egypt in two hours? On camels, it used to take you over six months to make a pilgrimage." [MEMRI translation] He might have added: Who developed the technology making it possible for you to speak to millions of people through airwaves to a box with pictures and sounds?

Other Arab liberals have pointed out that the ability to build airplanes is superior to the ability to crash them into buildings (the September 11 attacks).

Of course, Khoulib doesn't so much deny Western technological progress as to consider this endeavor worthless. He explains:

"Your concept of progress and backwardness are mistaken. This materialistic, technological progress, which gave rise to homosexuality even among the Church's clergyman and monks, who even perform same-sex marriages, is not a civilization. It is decay, in the true human sense and in the true moral sense. This runs counter to everything humanity has accepted in its long history." [MEMRI translation]

How likely is it that in a society as segregated by gender as the Bedouin was that homosexuality was uncommon? Monks, sailors, prisoners, etc., are awfully similar to desert-dwelling nomads in that regard.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 AM


For Bush, Advances But Not Approval (Peter Baker, November 19, 2007, Washington Post)

The war in Iraq seems to have taken a turn for the better and the opposition at home has failed in all efforts to impose its own strategy. North Korea is dismantling its nuclear program. The budget deficit is falling. A new attorney general has been confirmed despite objections from the left.

After more than two years of being buffeted by one political disaster after another, President Bush and his strategists think they may finally be getting back at least a bit of their footing.

The President (the country) is basically just reaping the benefits of decisions taken in his first two years in office--which is generally the extent of any administration's window of opportunity--and of the way letting the Left have the illusion of power in the midterm win has drained off much of the Bush Derangement Syndrome. Democrats are back to doing what they do best, hating each other.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:15 AM


Patriots rout Bills, keep heading for records (John Wawrow, November 19, 2007, AP)

No matter the lopsided score or how many victories the Patriots have strung together during their magical history tour, Randy Moss knows what'll be on the menu at the team headquarters this week.
more stories like this

"Humble pie," the receiver said. "We're going to have humble pie every day we see Coach."

For Moss, it was his way of referring to coach Bill Belichick's ever-demanding approach that keeps his players guessing and grounded in a season that appears destined for perfection.

As preposterous as it sounds, Moss insists New England has yet to play its best game even after a 56-10 win over the outmatched Buffalo Bills on Sunday night.

Wins and championships are nothing to sneeze at, but after a baseball season where the Red Sox were so clinically efficient in dominating baseball that there was no drama after April, the Pats are somehow managing to be even more cold-blooded. Thankfully, the Celts finally lost one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


In Silicon Valley, Indians are the most affluent (Rediff, November 19, 2007)

Indians in Santa Clara County, home of the Silicon Valley, have the highest median household income, own the most valuable homes, and are the best educated, according to a latest Census report.

The report which provides a snapshot of Santa Clara County, one of the only two counties in the country, shows that Indians have median income of $116,240 (about Rs 45 lakh), which is about 44 per cent above the county's median of about $81,000 (about 32 lakh), said the San Jose Mercury News.

The report profiled the four largest immigrant communities -- Indians, Mexicans, Chinese and Vietnamese. It found that although three-quarters of the Indian population was born abroad, they own the most valuable home of about median home price of $860,000 (about Rs 3.4 crore), compared with the county's price of $743,000 (about Rs 2.9 crore).

More than four in five Indian adults have at least a bachelors' degree and Indians are most likely to be white-collar professionals, with about 80 per cent engaged in management, professional and related occupations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Sects unite to battle Al Qaeda in Iraq: Sunnis and Shiites work together at the local level to protect their neighborhoods from insurgents and militias (Doug Smith and Saif Rasheed, 11/19/07, Los Angeles Times)

In the last two months, a U.S.-backed policing movement called Concerned Citizens, launched last year in Sunni-dominated Anbar province under the banner of the Awakening movement, has spread rapidly into the mixed Iraqi heartland.

Of the nearly 70,000 Iraqi men in the Awakening movement, started by Sunni Muslim sheiks who turned their followers against Al Qaeda in Iraq, there are now more in Baghdad and its environs than anywhere else, and a growing number of those are Shiite Muslims.

Commanders in the field think they have tapped into a genuine public expression of reconciliation that has outpaced the elected government's progress on mending the sectarian rift.

"What you find is these people have lived together for decades with no problem until the terrorists arrived and tried to instigate the problem," said Lt. Col. Valery Keaveny, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 509th Airborne unit in the Iskandariya area south of Baghdad. "So they are perfectly willing to work together to keep the terrorists out."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


Watching the Warheads: The risks to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. (Seymour M. Hersh November 5, 2001 , The New Yorker)

The crisis may bring into play the élite unit, operating under Pentagon control with C.I.A. assistance, whose mission it is to destroy nuclear facilities, past and present government officials told me. "They're good," one American said. "If they screw up, they die. They've had good success in proving the negative"—that is, in determining that suspected facilities were not nuclear-related.

The American team is apparently getting help from Israel's most successful special-operations unit, the storied Sayeret Matkal, also known as Unit 262, a deep-penetration unit that has been involved in assassinations, the theft of foreign signals-intelligence materials, and the theft and destruction of foreign nuclear weaponry. Sayeret Matkal's most memorable operation took place in June, 1976, when Lieutenant Colonel Jonathon Netanyahu, brother of the future Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, led a team that stormed a hijacked Air France airliner that was forced down by Palestinian terrorists at Entebbe International Airport, in Uganda, after taking off from Tel Aviv with two hundred and fifty-seven passengers. Jonathon Netanyahu was killed in the raid, along with two of the hostages, but the operation is still considered one of the most successful and audacious in modern history. Members of the Israeli unit arrived in the United States a few days after September 11th, an informed source said, and as of last week were training with American special-forces units at undisclosed locations.

In recent weeks, the Administration has been reviewing and "refreshing" its contingency plans. Such operations depend on intelligence, however, and there is disagreement within the Administration about the quality of the C.I.A.'s data. The American intelligence community cannot be sure, for example, that it knows the precise whereabouts of every Pakistani warhead—or whether all the warheads that it has found are real. "They've got some dummy locations," an official told me. "You only get one chance, and then you've tried and failed. The cat is out of the bag."

Some senior officials say they remain confident that the intelligence community can do its job, despite the efforts of the Pakistani Army to mask its nuclear arsenal. "We'd be challenged to manage the problem, but there is contingency planning for that possibility," one Bush military adviser told me last week. "We can't exclude the possibility that the Pakistanis could make it harder for us to act on what we know, but that's an operational detail. We're going to have to work harder to get to it quickly. We still have some good access."

A senior military officer, after confirming that intense planning for the possible "exfiltration" of Pakistani warheads was under way, said that he had been concerned not about a military coup but about a localized insurrection by a clique of I.S.I. officers in the field who had access to a nuclear storage facility. "The Pakistanis have just as much of a vested interest as we do in making sure that that stuff is looked after, because if they"—I.S.I. dissidents—"throw one at India, they're all cooked meat." He was referring to the certainty of Indian nuclear retaliation: India's nuclear warheads are more numerous, more sophisticated, and more powerful than Pakistan's; its Army is twice as large; and its population is more than seven times as large.

The skeptics among intelligence and military officials, however, worry that there may not be enough reliable information about the location of all elements of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. The C.I.A., they note, provided effective information on the warheads in the late nineteen-eighties and early nineties, when it worked closely with the Pakistani military in Afghanistan. At that time, the United States was a major supplier of arms and military technology to Pakistan. The agency recruited informants inside the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, and the National Security Agency found a way to intercept the back-channel communications of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the German-educated metallurgist who had run Pakistan's nuclear laboratories since the nineteen-seventies and is known as the father of the Pakistani bomb. But those assets no longer exist.

"We lost our interest in that area, and we do not have the same level of contact or knowledge that we once did," a former high-level C.I.A. officer said. "Today, there is a whole set of information that, when it comes down to it, we don't have. We can't count warheads. We never had the capacity to count. What we did have was a capacity to produce unusual material"—on the general state of the Pakistani arsenal. "The idea that you know where the warheads are at any given moment is not right," he said. "As the operation approaches and the question 'How certain are you?' is asked, it becomes more difficult. The fact is, we usually know hours later. We never could do it in real time."

Now we can.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


How Hank Impacts The Yanks (TIM MARCHMAN, November 19, 2007, NY Sun)

The rise and fall of the Yankees' fortunes over the years has had a direct relationship to how involved the owner was. The less anyone heard from George Steinbrenner, the more games the team won. The most consequential development of the Yankees' absurdly overwrought offseason, then, may not be the resigning of Alex Rodriguez, but the newfound grandiloquence of Hank Steinbrenner, heir to his father's throne and apparent inheritor of his mouth.

When George Steinbrenner was essentially acting as his own general manager, signing and trading players at whim, it made for great headlines, but the Yankees could never quite win no matter how much talent they had. They failed to win a single World Series in the 1980s, the first decade in which that had happened since the 1910s. When Steinbrenner was temporarily banished from baseball for hiring a shady gambler to trail around after star outfielder Dave Winfield, a group led by Gene Michael made the key signings, draft picks, and trades that led directly to the dynastic Joe Torre teams. When Steinbrenner began monkeying with the roster again, making brilliant moves such as signing Gary Sheffield rather than Vladimir Guerrero in 2003, little good came of it.

Most people have probably worked for a business owned by someone who knew about one tenth as much as he thought he did, and so know why an overbearing owner is inherently a problem. The difficulty is usually less that the boss makes actively terrible decisions than that he unknowingly makes decisions that conflict with those made by people who actually know what they're doing, and wants everyone to listen to his harebrained ideas. Only a very stupid and very determined boss can wreck an otherwise soundly run concern, but it's very easy for even a well-meaning owner to waste plenty of his employees' time.

It's too early to know whether Hank Steinbrenner will be an active impediment to the success of the Yankees, or whether he'll just insist on making a public spectacle of himself.

The money he's spending to keep his Dad's Yankees together is insignificant, but the length of the contracts they've just handed to A-Rod, Posada and Rivera are insane. Consider that none of them is likely to be capable of staying at his current position as long as half way through the deal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


So Long, Joe (Roger Angell, November 5, 2007, The New Yorker)

Baseball will stick it to you; it means to break your heart, and though old fans do understand that it’s losing, in all its variety, that makes winning so sweet, the departure of Joe Torre is something else altogether. Gone after twelve years at the helm of the Yankees, the longest uninterrupted run since Casey Stengel’s 1949-60 tenure, Torre was victim of a corporate midfield takedown: the decision by the owner, George Steinbrenner, and his nepotic front office not to renew—or not acceptably renew—his contract, after the team’s failure to progress beyond the first round of post-season play in the past three Octobers. Torre’s first Yankee team captured a thrilling World Championship in 1996, and three more between 1998 and 2000, at one stretch winning fourteen consecutive Series games. His teams also attained the post-season in each of his dozen years in the Bronx: a far greater achievement, all in all, in an era when the distribution of player talent and the intensity of team competition have been upgraded by a luxury tax imposed on the richest teams, starting, of course, with the Yanks. The Colorado Rockies are the ninth team to represent the National League in the World Series in the past decade, and seven teams have emerged as World Champions in the same period; so far (unless the Red Sox prevail), the Yankees have been the only multiple winner. Quite a performance, but not nearly good enough for those on the Steinbrenner side of the room, where, as has long been understood, only another World Championship is acceptable in the end.

What has set apart the Torre era is not just winning but a sense of attachment and identification that he effortlessly inspired among the fans and the players and the millions of sports bystanders. Already known by the fans as a strong-swinging Brooklyn-born catcher (and, later, a third baseman) with an eighteen-year career with the Braves, the Cardinals, and the Mets, and then for his long tenure as a semi-distinguished manager of the same three teams, he became a sudden celebrity, a Page Six sweetheart, in his first season with the Yankees, when his brother Frank Torre, another former major leaguer, underwent successful heart-replacement surgery the day before the last game of the World Series. The fourth game, in which the Yankees, trailing the Braves by 2–1 in the Series and 6–0 on the scoreboard, came back to win in extra innings, beginning their rush to the championship, changed New York to a Yankee town overnight. Torre’s composure and steadiness in hard times became as familiar as his odd, tilting trudge from the dugout to the mound to call in a fresh pitcher. A habitual modesty interwoven with an awareness of the difficult daily grind powerfully secured him to his players. Whenever someone brought up the batting title and National League M.V.P. award he had captured in 1971 with a .363 average, he threw in a reminder about his .289 mark the following year. Mid-July often brought on a retelling of a game of his as a Mets third baseman in 1975, when he batted into four double plays and also committed an error. This ease with himself and his profession set the tone in his pre-game and post-game press conferences, delivered every day to thirty or forty writers, plus TV and radio and Japan.

Again and again in his long run, Torre would be asked by the writers about some slumping or hurting Yankee player, and he gave back just about the same magical reply. Pressed in late August this year about the veteran Yankee starter Mike Mussina, whose lost mastery had just cost him his place in the starting rotation, Joe said, “Yes, he’s not maybe as proud of his stuff as he’d like to be.” A silence followed, while the reporters saw the crisis afresh from the mind of the player. A month later, Mussina said, “I’d play for the guy anytime.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM

TVA X 20:

Chinese Dam Projects Criticized for Their Human Costs (JIM YARDLEY, 11/19/07, NY Times)

Last year, Chinese officials celebrated the completion of the Three Gorges Dam by releasing a list of 10 world records. As in: The Three Gorges is the world’s biggest dam, biggest power plant and biggest consumer of dirt, stone, concrete and steel. Ever. Even the project’s official tally of 1.13 million displaced people made the list as record No. 10.

Today, the Communist Party is hoping the dam does not become China’s biggest folly. In recent weeks, Chinese officials have admitted that the dam was spawning environmental problems like water pollution and landslides that could become severe. Equally startling, officials want to begin a new relocation program that would be bigger than the first. [...]

The Communist Party leaders who broke ground on the Three Gorges project in 1994 had promised that China could build the world’s biggest dam, manage the world’s biggest human resettlement and also protect the environment. Critics warned of potential dangers, but saw those objections pushed aside. Now, critics say, the problems at the Three Gorges underscore the risks of the new phase of dam building, which could displace more than 300,000 people.

“In western China, the one-sided pursuit of economic benefits from hydropower has come at the expense of relocated people, the environment and the land and its cultural heritage,” Fan Xiao, a Sichuan Province geologist and a critic of the Three Gorges project, said via e-mail. “Hydropower development is disorderly and uncontrolled, and it has reached a crazy scale.”

Give "progressives" bulldozers and they can't wait to destroy folkways and displace folk.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


UK PAPER ACCUSES GERMANS OF FLEEING THE BATTLEFIELD: A British newspaper on Sunday claimed that a German medical team in Afghanistan left the battlefield in order to get back to the base by sundown. German helicopters, the article claims, can't fly at night. But the Bundeswehr is denying the report. (DEr Spiegel, 11/19/07)

Germany has long been a favorite foil in discussions about what more the West can do to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Bundeswehr, it has often been said, studiously avoids hot spots in the southern part of the country -- preferring instead to concentrate on popular reconstruction projects in the relatively peaceful north. A year ago, German troops were accused of having indirectly contributed to the deaths of 12 Canadians by not reacting to their plea for help.

On Sunday, the Germans received a new accusation to add to the growing collection. The British paper Sunday Times has charged the Germans with leaving the battlefield in the late afternoon in order to return to base by nightfall. The article, under the snarky headline "For us ze war is over by tea time, ja," indicates that German helicopters can't fly at night.

"It's hopeless. We were attacking the bad guys, then (at) three or four o'clock, the helicopters are leaving," the paper quotes an unidentified Norwegian cavalry officer as saying. "We had to go back to base. We should have had Norwegian helicopters. At least they can fly at night."

The Western allies, the story claims, were forced to retreat as were 600 fighters from the Afghan army because of the withdrawal of a German medical evacuation team. German troops, the article makes clear "spend much of their time in an enormous base, complete with beer halls and nightclubs."

...when the French start acting like Brits and the Germans like the French.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


A dilapidated taxi as metaphor: Lebanon appears to be coming apart at the seams as a standoff over naming a new president threatens political chaos (Borzou Daragahi, 11/19/07, Los Angeles Times)

Never a very solid proposition to begin with, the government is caught in a seemingly intractable deadlock, with two opposing camps so far unable to come up with a president and name a government as a Friday deadline looms.

On one side is the coalition of U.S.-backed parties and factions led by Saad Hariri, the son and political heir of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in a massive bomb explosion in February 2005. On the other side is the Syrian- and Iranian-backed alliance led by Hezbollah, a Shiite militia and political party.

France and Saudi Arabia, long major players here, have waded into Lebanon's political swamp in an attempt to mediate.

No one is quite sure what will happen if the deadline passes without a president being named. The pro-U.S. forces might form a government without the consent of their rivals, who might decide to name their own government.

Presumably, two vying governments would then be in charge of Lebanon, collecting taxes and maybe even enforcing traffic rules.

If it were a real country it wouldn't have seams.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:33 AM


The tale overwhelms the teller (Chris Knight, 11/19/07, National Post)

When Iris Chang decided to write a history of the 1937 Nanking Massacre, her goal was to examine how the Chinese people remembered the event, how the Japanese viewed it and what third-party accounts existed from the time.

As the title of this documentary suggests, Iris Chang: The Rape of Nanking also seeks to present Chang's own story.

It's not a happy one. Chang was not yet 30 when The Rape of Nanking was published in 1997, and although the book was on The New York Times? best-seller list for 10 weeks, its author gradually fell into depression and committed suicide in 2004 while working on a book about the Bataan Death March.

Unfortunately for the makers of this film, however, Nanking in 1937 has enough misery to fill hours of screen time. In trying to simultaneously present a history of the massacre and a telling of Chang's telling of that history in under two hours, the film does both stories a disservice.

I had an English prof at Colgate, Terrence Des Pres, who was a renowned Holocaust scholar, though he was young non-Jew from the American Midwest. He died in 1987, under circumstances that suggested he took his own life, though perhaps accidentally. He was a nice enough man, but his studies seemed to have left him almost too emotionally fragile to function. One day he came into class crying, because that morning he'd seen several military planes returning to their nearby base in Rome, NY. He explained that, when they passed between him and the Sun, it appeared that they cut through the orb and trailed blood and he could only imagine the damage we'd do in our impending war with the Soviets.

To the extent suicide is ever explicable, it somehow seems easier to understand that a survivor of these atrocities would take the option than a historian assembling the details later and experiencing the suffering only vicariously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:20 AM


It's a war on boars, but pork's winning: Wild, wily pigs are wreaking havoc throughout Texas. Joe Paddock and other lonely soldiers test their mettle against the often surly creatures. (Miguel Bustillo, 11/19/07, Los Angeles Times)

It was a cool Saturday night in East Texas, and many men were surely someplace warm, swilling beer and watching football. That was not Joe Paddock's idea of good times.

Covered in camouflage and carrying an AR-10 assault rifle, night-vision goggles and enough ammo to outfit a small battalion, Paddock was wading through weedy bottomlands, eager to "get up on some hogs," as he excitedly put it.

Two packs of wild boars on a retired fire marshal's ranch had eluded his scope for weeks. This time, he promised, the clever pigs would pay.

"It's become like a vendetta to me," Paddock whispered. "These hogs have got my number. It's like they're tracking me."

Paddock, who looks like long-haired rocker Ted Nugent, is a pig-killing hit man who calls himself "The Dehoganator" and advertises his services.

If a band of feral swine is laying waste to your land -- an increasingly pervasive problem in the Lone Star State -- The Dehoganator and his fellow riflemen will happily shoot 'em up to hog heaven, as long as you help cover the cost of the bullets.

California and other states struggle to rein in feral swine, but nowhere are the pigs more populous than in Texas. It's home to about 2 million wild hogs -- and they're multiplying.

It's somehow scarier to stumble upon a javelina skull with those savage tusks than upon a live rattlesnake.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:07 AM


How Sweet the Sound: A Baylor professor sets out to preserve black gospel's golden age (Michael Hoinski, November 16, 2007, Texas Observer)

This year marks the 75th anniversary of gospel’s bedrock song, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” Recorded by Chicago piano man Thomas Dorsey following the death of his wife and infant son in childbirth, it typifies the genre in its calling on a higher power in time of need. While Dorsey went on to become “the father of gospel music,” Robert Darden, a former Billboard gospel music editor turned professor of journalism at Baylor University, may become its savior.

In March, Darden started work on the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. Its mission is to identify and acquire black gospel recordings, primarily from the music’s mid-20th-century golden age, and digitize them to create a virtual encyclopedia of a musical style unparalleled in its religious zeal.

Black gospel accounts for only a small fraction of Christian-gospel album sales. Old-school black gospel—the genesis of soul and the launchpad for Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, Otis Redding, and Ray Charles—accounts for an even smaller fraction. There are several reasons why this music hasn’t experienced a renaissance, as vintage jazz has over the past two decades with the conversion of time-worn vinyl into CD and MP3 formats.

For one, many black gospel labels from the genre’s heyday have had their catalogs gobbled up by major labels and other corporations, in whose warehouses they languish. Meanwhile, a dozen or so worldwide collectors are hoarding much of the rest, or breaking it up by selling it off piecemeal on eBay. Also, countless undocumented, one-off records—the kind made to, say, help a church pay off a note—are bequeathed from grandparents to grandchildren, who neglect, trash, or donate them because they either don’t know their cultural significance or are embarrassed by the bygone music.

Anyone who cares about black history or who has been redeemed by black gospel—by an individual’s repentant outpouring, a family act’s fevered calls-and-responses, or a quartet’s amens between choreographed dance moves—can recognize the tragedy of losing these recordings forever.

As the only white kid in the East Orange Gospel Ensemble in the early 70s, my two favorites were Jesus Walked That Lonesome Valley and a version of Gospel Plow that I've never been able to locate on-line:

Well, my mama, she was a soldier
She put her hand on the gospel plow
When one day she got old, she couldn't fight anymore
She said, I'm gonna make it to Heaven, anyhow

We are soldiers, in the army
We got to fight, although we got to die...

November 18, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:38 PM

BUT WHO ROOTED FOR THE BALLOON (via Jim Yates) Funny Videos | Funny Cartoons | Comedy Central

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 PM


U.S. considers enlisting tribes in Pakistan to fight Al Qaeda (Eric Schmitt, Mark Mazzetti and Carlotta Gall, November 18, 2007, NY Times)

A new and classified American military proposal outlines an intensified effort to enlist tribal leaders in the frontier areas of Pakistan in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, as part of a broader effort to bolster Pakistani forces against an expanding militancy, American military officials said.

That which makes it ungovernable for Pakistan makes it ungovernable for al Qaeda.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 PM


Israel's Electric Revolution? (HILLEL HALKIN, November 13, 2007, NY Sun)

A small country running almost entirely on electric cars 10 or 15 years from now and serving as a model for the world? Or the pipedream of an overambitious businessman dragging his government into an expensive boondoggle that may make it the world's laughingstock?

This is a question that Israeli economists are asking this week after a government decision to support, at least on an initial basis, the revolutionary plan of hi-tech entrepreneur Shai Agassi to turn Israel into a pilot project for phasing out the gasoline-powered automobile. It's a question that involves not only the project's feasibility, but also the economic risks that a country like Israel, with its limited resources and pressing needs, can afford to run in the hope of pioneering new technologies or ways of doing things.

Israel certainly has a lot of needs, but driving around in your own car isn't one of them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 PM


Key antiabortion group backs Thompson: But some activists fault the National Right to Life Committee's support of the former senator. (Stephanie Simon, November 13, 2007, Los Angeles Times)

Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson has won the support of a major antiabortion group, but the endorsement is drawing ridicule and anger from others in the movement, underscoring deep divisions on the religious right.

The political arm of the National Right to Life Committee is scheduled to endorse Thompson this morning. Executive Director David O'Steen predicted Monday that the announcement would prompt "pro-life people across the nation to coalesce" behind the former senator from Tennessee, who is lagging in the polls in early primary states.

We remain dubious that these guys can be non-factors in IA and NH--and, in the Mayor's case, in SC too--and still win later primaries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 PM


Iran weighs Arab plan to end nuclear impasse (Anne Penketh, 19 November 2007, Independent)

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has for the first time signalled that Iran may be interested in a facesaving way out of the international crisis triggered by its suspected nuclear weapons programme.

The President said in Riyadh yesterday that he would discuss Saudi proposals for a consortium for uranium enrichment in a neutral third country such as Switzerland, which represents US interests in Tehran. The Iranian leadership had rejected similar Russian proposals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 PM


Democrats remain stalled on Iraq debate (Jim VandeHei and John F. Harris, Nov 13, 2007, Politico)

As the congressional session lurches toward a close, Democrats are confronting some demoralizing arithmetic on Iraq.

The numbers tell a story of political and substantive paralysis more starkly than most members are willing to acknowledge, perhaps even to themselves.

Since taking the majority, they have forced 40 votes on bills limiting President Bush’s war policy.

Only one of those has passed both chambers, even though both are run by Democrats. That one was vetoed by Bush.

Indeed, the only war legislation enacted during this Congress has been to give the president exactly what he wants, and exactly what he has had for the past five years: more money, with no limitations.

Which is made worse by the arithmetic on the ground in Iraq. It would be one thing to be rhetorically anti-war and substantively pro-war if we were losing, but they're failing to get any credit for a victory they're accidentally aiding.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 PM


Brown Declares 'Lifelong Admiration' for US: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown may have gone too far in distancing himself from his predecessor Tony Blair and his close relationship with US President George W. Bush. In a major speech on Monday he emphasized his admiration for all things American. (Der Spiegel, 11/13/07)

While Berlin and Paris have both been working hard at improving relations with Washington, Brown has gone the other way, apparently seeking to cool the formerly warm relationship Blair had with both former President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Blair's decision to join the US-led coalition in the Iraq war made him highly unpopular in the United Kingdom and contributed to his departure from office this summer.

But with France's President Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel returning from stateside visits where they basked in the warm glow of American affection, Brown seems to have realized that he may have gone a bit too far in distancing himself from the US.

And Monday was his opportunity to start building fences -- fast. In his first major foreign policy speech since taking office, Brown chose to emphasize the United Kingdom's close ties with the US and pledged to press for tough sanctions against Iran.

Speaking at the annual lord mayor of London's banquet, Brown said, "It is no secret that I am a lifelong admirer of America. I have no truck with anti-Americanism in Britain or elsewhere in Europe." He stressed: "I believe that our ties with America -- founded on the values we share -- constitute our most important bilateral relationship."

Good boy. Give him a Scooby Snack.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM


Dolly creator Prof Ian Wilmut shuns cloning (Roger Highfield, 16/11/2007, Daily Telegraph)

The scientist who created Dolly the sheep, a breakthrough that provoked headlines around the world a decade ago, is to abandon the cloning technique he pioneered to create her. [...]

Prof Wilmut, who works at Edinburgh University, believes a rival method pioneered in Japan has better potential for making human embryonic cells which can be used to grow a patient's own cells and tissues for a vast range of treatments, from treating strokes to heart attacks and Parkinson's, and will be less controversial than the Dolly method, known as "nuclear transfer."

His announcement could mark the beginning of the end for therapeutic cloning, on which tens of millions of pounds have been spent worldwide over the past decade.

Thanks, W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 PM


The Character Factor (DAVID BROOKS, 11/13/07, NY Times)

The first thing that still strikes one about McCain is his energy. In his book, “The Nightingale’s Song,” Robert Timberg runs through primal force metaphors to describe the young McCain. “Being on liberty with John McCain was like being in a train wreck,” Timberg wrote.

Prison in Vietnam gave him self-respect and a cause greater than himself, but it didn’t diminish his dynamism. His office in the Senate isn’t tucked away in a tranquil corner of his suite; it’s right in the vortex, and it’s always empty because he’s walking around. Campaigning last weekend in New Hampshire, he was his old restless self, never alone, craving contact, conversation and fun.

Timberg wrote that McCain fought against the system at the Naval Academy as if it were some hostile organism, “as if any compromise meant surrendering a part of himself that he might never retrieve.”

The years and the Senate have smoothed some of his rebelliousness, but he still fights a daily battle against the soul-destroying forms of modern politics.

If you cover him for a day, you’d better bring 2,500 questions because in the hours he spends with journalists, you will run through all of them. Last Saturday, we talked about Pervez Musharraf’s asceticism and Ted Williams’s hitting philosophy, the Korean War and Hispanic voting patterns.

He analyzed the debates he won and the times he was wooden. He talked about his failures as a fund-raiser and said he’d like to pick a running mate with formal economics training because he’s weak in that area. He won’t tell you everything, but there will never be a moment as the hours stretch by when you feel that he is spinning you, lying to himself or insulting your intelligence.

Telling the truth is a skill. Those who don’t do it habitually lose the ability, but McCain is well-practiced and has the capacity to face unpleasant truths. While other conservatives failed to see how corporations were insinuating themselves into their movement, McCain went after Boeing contracts. While others failed to see the rising tide of corruption around them, McCain led the charge against Jack Abramoff. While others ignored the spending binge, McCain was among the fiscal hawks.

There have been occasions when McCain compromised his principles for political gain, but he was so bad at it that it always backfired. More often, he is driven by an ancient sense of honor, which is different from fame and consists of the desire to be worthy of the esteem of posterity.

Other Republicans used to accuse him of kissing up to the news media. But when the Iraq war was at its worst, and other candidates were hiding in the grass waiting to see how things would turn out, McCain championed the surge, which the major Republican candidates now celebrate.

He did it knowing that it would cost him his media-darling status and probably the presidency. But for years he had hated the way the war was being fought. And when the opportunity to change it came, the only honorable course was to try.

The Senator is at his best when he guides himself by what priority would esteem and at his worst when he truckles to posterity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:04 PM


Experts see decline in Russia's military (The Associated Press, November 13, 2007)

Putin owes his broad popularity to an oil-fueled economic boom that has helped increase wages and pensions, as well as efforts to revive Russia's clout. But critics say that the Russian military is only a shadow of the Soviet Army and that bellicose statements from the Kremlin mask a steady decline of its potential.

"The revival of Russia's military might under Putin is merely a myth," Stanislav Belkovsky, who head the Institute for National Strategy, said at a presentation of the report. "The Russian armed forces have degraded completely under Putin."

If the current trends continue, the report warns, Russia's nuclear arsenals would shrink from about 680 intercontinental ballistic missiles now to between 100 and 200 missiles over the next 10 years.

"It's impossible to reverse these trends under the current policy," it added, pointing at a steady decline of the Russian military-industrial complex that would make it impossible to increase weapons production without huge investments.

Considering the low levels it's fallen from this is even more embarrassing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:01 PM


EU polls would be lost, says Nicolas Sarkozy (Bruno Waterfield, 15/11/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Referendums on the new European Union Treaty were "dangerous" and would be lost in France, Britain and other countries, Nicolas Sarkozy has admitted.

The French president's confession that governments could not win popular votes on a "simplified treaty" - drawn up to replace the EU constitution rejected by his countrymen two years ago - was made in a closed meeting of senior Euro-MPs.

"France was just ahead of all the other countries in voting no. It would happen in all member states if they have a referendum. There is a cleavage between people and governments," he said.

An amusing admission.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:59 PM


Neo-Nazis Lose a Clubhouse: After a Voice article describes a white-power picnic, heads roll (Maria Luisa Tucker, November 13th, 2007, Village Voice)

An Elmwood Park, New Jersey, meeting hall, run by a patriotic men's association called the Junior Order of American Mechanics, had been a regular venue for white-supremacist groups like the National Alliance and National Vanguard for more than 15 years. Former Klan leader and Louisiana Congressman David Duke has held court there, along with the white-supremacist teenage-sister act Prussian Blue. Most recently, it was the site of a Memorial Day barbecue for members of Stormfront, the nation's leading white-supremacist message board. Throughout the event, Rich Lindstrom, a Junior Order member and a well-known white supremacist, played host—and apparently kept the racist content of the meetings from his higher-ups in the Order.

"We didn't have a clue until we read the Voice article," says Harry Thompson, the secretary treasurer for the New Jersey Junior Order. Soon after, the Junior Order head honchos did some housecleaning: They expelled Lindstrom and five fellow white supremacists for insubordination after the men ignored a request to submit a list of people who had been using the meeting hall. In July, the Junior Order heard Lindstrom's appeal, but refused to allow him and the others back into the group. "I can't say anything bad about Brother Lindstrom—he's a great guy," Thompson says. "His belief is his belief, but not in our building and not under our charter. . . . They were muddying our name."

Thompson and other Junior Order members cleaned out the hall, turning over all the financial records, VHS tapes, and books they found there—including The Triumph of Reason: The Thinking Man's Guide to Adolf Hitler—to the police.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:28 PM


The Red Balloon (Ella Taylor, November 13th, 2007, Village Voice)

If you're of a certain age, chances are one of your seminal childhood moviegoing experiences was Albert Lamorisse's lovely 34-minute The Red Balloon (1956), about a Parisian boy's friendship with a red balloon so iridescent that I incorrectly remembered the rest of the film as black-and-white.

...The Other Brother and I suspect our first coherent inkling that they are a people to be despised came at forced viewings of this monstrous film

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:28 PM


The Red Balloon (Ella Taylor, November 13th, 2007, Village Voice)

If you're of a certain age, chances are one of your seminal childhood moviegoing experiences was Albert Lamorisse's lovely 34-minute The Red Balloon (1956), about a Parisian boy's friendship with a red balloon so iridescent that I incorrectly remembered the rest of the film as black-and-white.

...The Other Brother and I suspect our first coherent inkling that they are a people to be despised came at forced viewings of this monstrous film

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:13 PM


Obama stands by his pre-emptive strike (Carrie Budoff Brown, Nov 18, 2007, Politico)

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) stood by his pre-emptive strike on Sen. Hillary Clinton over an online column that said she was sitting on “scandalous” information about him, saying today that “our campaign will not tolerate this type of slime politics.”

“I really value my reputation and my character and my family,” Obama told reporters before a campaign appearance here. “In the era of the blogosphere, we have seen what happened with John McCain in 2000, what happened with John Kerry in 2004. If you don’t get on this stuff quickly, then it starts drifting around, and that is not something I am going to accept.”

The contretemps began Saturday when syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak reported that “agents” of Clinton’s campaign uncovered dirt on Obama but had decided not to use it.

Obama then took the unusual step of releasing a six-paragraph statement that accused Clinton of dirty tricks, and called on her to “renounce these tactics.”

One of the worst-kept secrets in Washington is that Newsweek has a bombshell sex scandal story on a 2008 candidate that they are--for whatever reason--not publishing. It would explain a lot if it's about Senator Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:07 PM


How I was zapped by a heat wave gun (Philip Sherwell, 18/11/2007, Daily Telegraph)

On a cold and rain-swept morning on a US marine base, I stood and braced myself to be zapped by the latest prototype weapon in the American armoury - an invisible heat beam from a high-powered ray gun.

The non-lethal device is designed for crowd control and the scientists responsible for monitoring this Star Trek technology had just assured me that I would suffer no harm and only temporary discomfort.
The Active Denial System (ADS)

But my mind was still conjuring up the impact of a scalding shower or a burning iron as I stared, 500 yards down the firing range, at the unnerving sight of an armoured vehicle with the large antenna dish of its Active Denial System (ADS) pointing directly at me.

Then the officer standing next to me used his radio to call in the strike.

A moment later, jolted by a blast of directed energy delivered at the speed of light, I was squirming, grimacing and heading rapidly for cover - just as intended.

It felt as if I had opened a furnace with my face too close and been hit by a wall of scorching heat. Or, that I had been exposed to a searing draft of air from a huge hair-dryer, turned to extra hot - around 130F, to be precise.

Either way, it was intolerable after just a couple of seconds and I scurried out of the way - fast. But as soon as I escaped the fire zone, the temporary burning sensation subsided, although my skin continued tingling for several minutes.

The Hyper-Power is become so dominant that we need not even harm our foes to vanquish them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:01 PM


After the Caudillo (DAVID RIEFF, 11/18/07, NY Times Magazine)

As many pointed out to me during a recent visit, Chile is not South Africa, and Bachelet’s ruling Concertación alliance — bringing together a number of center and center-left parties — is not the African National Congress. The transition to democratic rule in Chile was not, as in the case of South Africa, a case of a losing side and a winning side. After the democratic government of President Patricio Aylwin assumed power, Pinochet remained commander of the armed forces and senator for life. (He was stripped of senatorial immunity after his indictment for crimes against humanity by the Spanish magistrate, Baltasar Garzón.) A result is that to this day, 17 years after the return of democracy, Chileans of all political persuasions still live in something of a state of contradiction. [...]

Today, however, no Chilean speaks or writes as if the military poses any threat to the country’s democracy. Instead, the army is transforming itself. Gen. Eduardo Aldunate, who oversees Chile’s military schools, started his career as an infantry officer but also studied international humanitarian law at the Washington College of Law at American University in Washington, where the dean is Claudio Grossman — a longstanding opponent of Pinochet’s who fled Chile for the Netherlands after Allende’s fall. They speak warmly of each other. Aldunate was acting force commander of Minustah, the United Nations peacekeeping operation in Haiti, in 2005-6; in his office, he displays prominently his U.N. blue helmet and other memorabilia of international service. And he is adamant that the Chilean Army is now emphasizing international and humanitarian missions. When I met him, he spoke in great detail about the emphasis put on the laws of war — above all, the four Geneva conventions — in the teaching of new officer cadets, and the course syllabuses of the military academy very much reflect these concerns.

Obviously, there are limits, which may be what disappoints some left-wing critics of the Concertación and of Michelle Bachelet’s tenure as president. When I asked Aldunate whether there were discussions in seminars about what happened during the Pinochet years — which he, like other officers I spoke with, referred to as a “unique” or “anomalous” period — he replied: “Not really. What we emphasize is understanding of the law and the need to adhere to both its letter and its spirit.” He echoed Bachelet’s insistence that human rights were sacrosanct and that flouting them was incompatible with the duty of a Chilean officer.

Understandably, the families of the disappeared continue to hope for more. They remain largely unreconciled to the reigning spirit of compromise. A measure of their bitterness was evident during last year’s funeral ceremonies for Pinochet, when Francisco Cuadrado Prats, the grandson of Allende’s army chief, Carlos Prats, who was assassinated in Buenos Aires in 1974 on orders from Pinochet, waited in line among the dictator’s mourners for hours and then, when he approached the coffin, spat on it.

One has fundamentally misapprehended the Cold War if he doesn't grasp that it is because Pinochet won the Chilean Civil War that the Allendes can spit on a leader's grave. No such freedom would be permitted a Pinochet under the sort of regime Allende and company sought to impose.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:52 PM


Migrant Money Flow: A $300 Billion Current (JASON DePARLE, 11/18/07, NY Times)

THE money flows in dribs and drabs, crossing borders $200 or $300 at a time. It buys cornmeal and rice and plaid private school skirts and keeps the landlord at bay. Globally, the tally is huge: migrants from poor countries send home about $300 billion a year. That is more than three times the global total in foreign aid, making “remittances” the main source of outside money flowing to the developing world.

Surveys show that 80 percent of the money or more is immediately spent, on food, clothing, housing, education or the occasional beer party or television set. Still, there are tens of billions available for savings or investment, in places where capital is scarce. While remittances have been shown to reduce household poverty, policymakers are looking to increase the effect on economic growth.

Some migrants, for instance, send home money to savings accounts at small bank-like microfinance institutions, which use the resulting capital pool to lend to local entrepreneurs.

...we might even end up with too many immigrants, since it's the good ones who keep their homelands' economies afloat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:46 PM


Sarkozy turns France against rail strikers (David Harrison, 18/11/2007, Daily Telegraph)

The proportion of strikers is down from more than 60 per cent a few days ago to 32 per cent. One union, the CFDT, has recommended calling off the action and many more employees are expected to return to work tomorrow. Train drivers earn up to €3,200 (£2,500) a month after tax.

Opinion polls show that around 60 per cent oppose the strike; sympathy, once all but guaranteed for public sector workers, is ebbing away.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, sensing that the tide is turning, has issued a firm warning that there will be no negotiations until the action is halted, although an adviser said last night that a "gradual" return to work could be enough. [...]

With magistrates, civil servants and Air France workers planning industrial action, President Sarkozy's battle with the powerful Left-wing unions is far from over.

The ambitions of previous French leaders have foundered on the rock of trade union power. In 1995, a similar move to end special pension rights for public sector workers forced President Jacques Chirac into a humiliating climbdown. The rights allow some employees, including rail workers, to retire at 50.

President Sarkozy's clash with the unions has been described as his "Thatcher moment" - a reference to the former British prime minister's curbing of union power in the 1980s.

Michel Dreyfus, of the National Centre for Scientific Research, believes that he may be on the verge of succeeding, as Mrs Thatcher did. Mr Dreyfus says Mr Sarkozy has been "clever to adopt the tactics of his adversaries, launching the reform process and then fixing a deadline for negotiations".

The point of any successful negotiation is that when the other side comes to the table it has lost already.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 AM


American Treasure: Giving thanks (Mark Steyn, 11/18/07, National Review)

“The New World” is one of the oldest settled constitutional democracies on earth, to a degree “the Old World” can barely comprehend. Where it counts, Americans are traditionalists. We know Eastern Europe was a totalitarian prison until the Nineties, but we forget that Mediterranean Europe (Greece, Spain, Portugal) has democratic roots going all the way back until, oh, the mid-Seventies; France and Germany’s constitutions date back barely half a century, Italy’s only to the 1940s, and Belgium’s goes back about 20 minutes, and currently it’s not clear whether even that latest rewrite remains operative. The US Constitution is not only older than France’s, Germany’s, Italy’s or Spain’s constitution, it’s older than all of them put together. Americans think of Europe as Goethe and Mozart and 12th century castles and 6th century churches, but the Continent’s governing mechanisms are no more ancient than the Partridge Family. Aside from the Anglophone democracies, most of “the west’”s nation states have been conspicuous failures at sustaining peaceful political evolution from one generation to the next, which is why they’re so susceptible to the siren song of Big Ideas — Communism, Fascism, European Union. If you’re going to be novelty-crazed, better the zebra-mussel cappuccino than the Third Reich.

Even in a supposedly 50/50 nation, you’re struck by the assumed stability underpinning even fundamental disputes. If you go into a bookstore, the display shelves offer a smorgasbord of leftist anti-Bush tracts claiming that he and Cheney have trashed, mangled, gutted, raped and tortured, sliced’n’diced the Constitution, put it in a cement overcoat and lowered it into the East River. Yet even this argument presupposes a shared veneration for tradition unknown to most Western political cultures: When Tony Blair wanted to abolish in effect the upper house of the national legislature, he just got on and did it. I don’t believe the U.S. Constitution includes a right to abortion or gay marriage or a zillion other things the Left claims to detect emanating from the penumbra, but I find it sweetly touching that in America even political radicalism has to be framed as an appeal to constitutional tradition from the powdered-wig era. In Europe, by contrast, one reason why there’s no politically significant pro-life movement is because, in a world where constitutions have the life expectancy of an Oldsmobile, great questions are just seen as part of the general tide, the way things are going, no sense trying to fight it. And, by the time you realize you have to, the tide’s usually up to your neck.

So Americans should be thankful they have one of the last functioning nation states. Because they’ve been so inept at exercising it, Europeans no longer believe in national sovereignty, whereas it would never occur to Americans not to. This profoundly different attitude to the nation state underpins in turn Euro-American attitudes to transnational institutions such as the U.N. But on this Thanksgiving the rest of the world ought to give thanks to American national sovereignty, too. When something terrible and destructive happens — a tsunami hits Indonesia, an earthquake devastates Pakistan — the U.S. can project itself anywhere on the planet within hours and start saving lives, setting up hospitals and restoring the water supply. Aside from Britain and France, the Europeans cannot project power in any meaningful way anywhere. When they sign on to an enterprise they claim to believe in — shoring up Afghanistan’s fledgling post-Taliban democracy — most of them send token forces under constrained rules of engagement that prevent them doing anything more than manning the photocopier back at the base. If America were to follow the Europeans and maintain only shriveled attenuated residual military capacity, the world would very quickly be nastier and bloodier, and far more unstable. It’s not just Americans and Iraqis and Afghans who owe a debt of thanks to the U.S. soldier but all the Europeans grown plump and prosperous in a globalized economy guaranteed by the most benign hegemon in history.

Of course, the key to this turn of events is that the European version of sovereignty was premised on nationalism, the cancer of the continent, while we've redefined sovereignty in our own liberal democratic image.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:07 AM


The Economics Equation (Salena Zito, 11/18/07, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

It's the economy, stupid -- again.

Americans are more worried about their pocketbooks than the war in Iraq or Iran's nuclear program, suggests a recent poll by the New Democratic Network.

"The economy is the sleeper issue in the American electorate," says network head Simon Rosenberg.

N.H. Unemployment rate dips in October (The Associated Press, November 18. 2007)
New Hampshire's jobless rate went down from 3.5 percent in September to 3.2 percent last month.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:48 AM


Bound to be given: Why not make shopping a little easier this year? Check out our holiday roundup of books for just about everyone on your list (Abe Aamidor, 11/17/07,

"Photo by Sammy Davis, Jr.," by Burt Boyar

"This book is a photographic journey of Sammy's life from a unique point of view -- through his own camera lens. Known as the 'World's Greatest Entertainer,' he captured decades of entertainment history, frozen in time, and the results are fascinating."

Even were he not a friend, we'd heartily recommend Mr. Boyar's beautiful book

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 AM


U.S. secretly aids Pakistan in guarding nuclear arms (David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, November 17, 2007, NY Times)

Over the past six years, the Bush administration has spent almost $100 million so far on a highly classified program to help General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, secure his country's nuclear weapons, according to current and former senior administration officials.

But with the future of that country's leadership in doubt, debate is intensifying about whether Washington has done enough to help protect the warheads and laboratories, and whether Pakistan's reluctance to reveal critical details about its arsenal has undercut the effectiveness of the continuing security effort.

It takes a colossal amount of foreign policy expertise to not grasp that one of the keys to our relationship with India is their focus on seizing and destroying Pakistani nukes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 AM


Indonesia's peace role: INDONESIA will become a substantial player in Middle East politics by being invited to the Annapolis conference to be convened by the US this month. (Greg Sheridan, November 17, 2007, The Australian)

In an exclusive interview with The Weekend Australian, Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had requested Indonesia participate at the conference when he visited Jakarta recently.

"I told him that I would always be willing to be helpful to the peace process," Dr Yudhoyono said.

This is nearly as important a new alliance as that W has forged with India.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM


Tancredo wants one tongue (SARAH LIEBOWITZ, November 18. 2007, Concord Monitor)

Describing the United States as "the last best hope" for carrying on the ideals of western civilization, Republican presidential candidate Tom Tancredo called last night for an end to the nation's "bilingualization" and "Balkanization."

We'll take him seriously when he drops the "o" and calls himself Tom Tancred, like a decent Anglo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 AM


New book on China raises a storm (Richard Bernstein, November 18, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

[A] recent book, which argues that on human rights grounds, American policy toward China has been both a failure and a fraud, is making a considerable stir among China policy makers and scholars in the United States.

The book is "The China Fantasy" by James Mann, a former correspondent in Beijing for The Los Angeles Times and now author in residence at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies.

Mann's thesis, adamantly rejected by many, though not all, experts on China, is that the American policy of what is called "engagement," pursued with some fits and starts by every administration since Richard Nixon's in the 1970s, has not delivered on its main promise, which was Chinese democratization.

When, for example, the Clinton administration ended linkage between trade benefits for China and progress in human rights, the argument to skeptical members of Congress held that delinkage would lead to more economic growth, more economic growth to the emergence of a middle class and the emergence of a middle class to real political reform.

Andrew Nathan, a China expert at Columbia University who supports the Mann thesis, put it this way in an interview: "The strategy of engagement has been incredibly successful in supporting the stability and prosperity of China and allowing the regime to survive as an authoritarian, repressive regime, but the American people are not being told that that is the strategy."

According to Nathan, everybody involved in the debate would be perfectly delighted if China were to turn into a stable democracy, but in the meantime policy makers are actually pretty happy with the regime in China that they have.

"That's because they know who to call in Beijing and who to talk to about problems like currency, trade, North Korea and Taiwan," he said. "There's somebody in charge and they're basically pretty cooperative with us."

The chattering class is going to be stunned by the political capital to be made--especially among Evangelicals--in being the first presidential candidate to insist that we boycott the PRC Olympics. Bill Clinton intuitively understood how to exploit the China menace and bludgeoned GHW Bush with it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


Do Western intelligence agencies exist? (Lev Navrozov, November 12, 2007, World Tribune)

Lev Navrozov emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1972 He settled in New York City where he quickly learned that there was no market for his eloquent and powerful English language attacks on the Soviet Union. To this day, he writes without fear or favor or the conventions of polite society. He chaired the "Alternative to the New York Times Committee" in 1980, challenged the editors of the New York Times to a debate (which they declined) and became a columnist for the New York City Tribune. His columns are today read in both English and Russian. [...]

The CIA did not call Reagan insane, but spoke mockingly about his “evil-empirism.”

Still, my day came. In the mid-1970s the CIA began to testify regularly in Congress about Soviet Russia and Maoist China. That is, the CIA presented its papers on the subject and answered the questions of members of Congress. The resulting texts were made accessible to the public, and on the basis of them I wrote an article for “Commentary” magazine (September 1978), whence it was reprinted or retold by about 500 periodicals all over the West.

I made it clear to the readers that the CIA presented as intelligence/espionage data what the CIA collected from open Soviet and Chinese texts, i.e., the propaganda data from the totalitarian press of the two countries.

But without Western intelligence/espionage in dictatorships like those of Soviet Russia and post-1949 China, the West is doomed. Surely a dictatorship will not issue true military information about itself, which will weaken its first strike (“by the assassin’s mace”) that is to ensure their victory. Only the Western intelligence/espionage could obtain such data, but here it turns out that the Western intelligence/espionage does not exist. Instead, there are a number of well-paid officials who sit in comfortable offices and are paid good salaries for passing the propaganda of a closed militarized dictatorship for the data, obtained by intelligence/espionage.

Just as all it took to win the Cold War was for Ronald Reagan to dismiss official Intelligence as so much nonsense, so too would fture administrations benefit from shutting down the agencies and going to open source intelligence instead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


Which Way to the Damascus Road?: The modern conversion narrative seems less convincing. (CHRISTINE ROSEN, November 16, 2007, Opinion Journal)

In the 1970s, just before he began serving a prison sentence for his Watergate crimes, former Nixon aide Charles Colson read Mr. Lewis's "Mere Christianity," and he says that it persuaded him to come to Christ. More recently, scientist Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, has discussed how, when he was a young doctor and an atheist, Mr. Lewis's writings led to his own embrace of faith.

Perhaps now more than ever, converts must combat a pervasive cultural cynicism that views conversions--particularly those made during moments of crisis--with suspicion. It was only his decades-long devotion to his Prison Fellowship ministry that eventually silenced those who doubted Mr. Colson's sincerity. Mr. Flew's claims have prompted many to wonder if his rejection of atheism and embrace of a deity is driven less by genuine faith than by the normal fears of old age.

This is where therapeutic Christianity, however popular, has failed to extend the legacy of converts like Mr. Lewis. The secular public can be forgiven for failing to find in a woman's marital problems, for example, a life-changing reckoning with belief.

The most persuasive conversion narratives recount not merely emotional surrenders to faith but also intellectual grapplings with it. Although devout atheists would vehemently disagree, the conversions of men like Mr. Lewis, Dr. Collins and even, perhaps, Mr. Flew reveal that intelligent people--trained in rigorous fields such as philosophy and the hard sciences--can embrace faith and tell persuasive stories without extremes of emotional flagellation. The Road to Damascus is paved with theology not therapy.

While Dr. Collins book is a lovely personal narrative of one man's journey of faith, his attempts to square that faith with Darwinism can't help but be comical. Let's put it this way, at the point where you settle on the notion of "Theistic Evolution" you've departed the realm of Science no matter how hard you try to deny it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Literary Finds: These works record extraordinary journeys of discovery (DAVA SOBEL, November 17, 2007, Opinion Journal)

5. "The Book Nobody Read" by Owen Gingerich (Walker, 2004).

When Nicolaus Copernicus's "On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres" was published in 1543, most people believed that the Earth sat motionless at the center of the universe. Even after Copernicus declared that our planet circled the sun, the world was slow to agree--so slow that it seemed as if he and his seminal book had been largely ignored. But historian Owen Gingerich proves otherwise in a quirky, enlightening account of the 30 years he spent traversing the world in search of "On the Revolutions." He eventually uncovers more than 600 16th-century copies, many of them crammed with comments penned in the margins by Copernicus's contemporaries. It turns out that everybody read "On the Revolutions"; they just couldn't accept what it said. Today the book is still popular, and more expensive than ever, with copies selling at astronomical prices (around $1 million apiece). Copernicus appeals to thieves, too, and Gingerich describes his courtroom appearances to help identify some of the stolen books.

Of course, even scientists now realize that Copernicus was totally wrong

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


The Sleep-Industrial Complex (JON MOOALLEM, 11/17/07, NY Times Magazine)

For years, doctors have been discouraged by Americans’ disregard for and mismanagement of their sleep. (“I might as well have been running a chain of beauty parlors for the last four decades” is how one described his advocacy.) But bragging about how little you sleep, a hallmark of the ’80s power broker, is starting in certain circles to come off as masochistic buffoonery. The sleep docs we once ignored appear on morning shows to offer tips. Health professionals and marketers are hopeful that a new seriousness about sleep will continue moving out of a luxury-minded vanguard and into the mainstream. Sleep may finally be claiming its place beside diet and exercise as both a critical health issue and a niche for profitable consumer products.

A sleep boom, or as Forbes put it last year, “a sleep racket,” is under way. Business 2.0 estimates American “sleeponomics” to be worth $20 billion a year, which includes everything from the more than 1,000 accredited sleep clinics (some of them at spas) conducting overnight tests for disorders like apnea, to countless over-the-counter and herbal sleep aids, to how-to books and sleep-encouraging gadgets and talismans. Zia Sleep Sanctuary, a first of its kind luxury sleep store that I visited in Eden Prairie, Minn., carries “light-therapy” visors, the Zen Alarm Clock, the Mombasa Majesty mosquito net and a $600 pair of noise-canceling earplugs as well as 16 varieties of mattresses and 30 different pillows.

Prescription sleeping pills have been the most obvious beneficiary. Forty-nine million prescriptions were written last year, up 53 percent from five years ago, according to IMS Health, a health-care information company. It is now a $3.7 billion business, more than doubling since 2003. At $3 or $4 per pill, their success indicates not only that we have an increasingly urgent craving for sleep but also that many of us have apparently forgotten how to do it altogether — quite a feat for any mammal.

To hear the mattress industry tell it, we’re skipping them over. A few companies have tried to cash in with ultra-high-end novelties. A video promoting Hastens’s $60,000 Vividus bed shows the horsehair it’s stuffed with being sensuously detangled and fluffed by shapely Nordic women. But more down-to-earth mattresses have not conjured any of that allure. Despite long and influential success in the industry, for instance, Select Comfort’s stock was struggling around the time of my visit. And so America’s mattress men, traditionally a band of fast-talking, price-busting commodities brokers, are now trying to figure out how to transform their anonymous white rectangles into holistic health and wellness machines.

More than once, I heard mattress executives invoke the spectral characters of sleeping-pill commercials — the Day-Glo green moth; Abe Lincoln and the talking beaver — as chastening mascots of everything they’re missing out on. Some point to the quick-fix mentality sleeping pills represent as a sign of how thoroughly confused about sleep society has become. “The good news is, there’s more and more awareness about the power of a good night’s sleep,” says David Perry, bedding editor of the trade magazine Furniture Today. The bad news: “What we’re doing in America is, we’re drugging people to make it through the night on, in many cases, a lousy bed.”

Our misunderstandings about sleep have been centuries in the making. As has already happened in the food and nutrition businesses, some sectors of our new sleep-industrial complex will surely find it profitable to clear up our confusion, while others will simply exploit it. But as mattress companies and sleeping-pill makers both barrel into the marketplace to sell us a good night’s sleep, it’s tough to know where in the jumble of science and storytelling the truth about sleep lies.

All good nights of sleep are alike. Each miserable night of sleep is miserable in its own way. You either close your eyes and, many hours later, open them, or you endure an idiosyncratic epic of waiting, trying, failing, irritation, self-sabotage and despair, then stand up at sunrise racked with war stories you don’t have the energy to tell.

Sleep research is a young field and still doesn’t have a definitive picture of what “normal” sleep is, making discussions of abnormal sleep imprecise. The National Institutes of Health can define insomnia only very broadly, as “complaints of disturbed sleep in the presence of adequate opportunity and circumstance for sleep.” Insomnia can be transient — a few off nights — or horrifically chronic. Complaints may be about difficulty falling asleep or about waking up during the night. But it’s hard to know exactly what those complaints should be judged against. Nor has research determined which objective measures — total time slept, percentage of time spent in the various stages of sleep, etc. — correlate to a person’s subjective feeling of having slept well or poorly. Some people whose sleep looks normal in the lab complain bitterly; some whose sleep looks terrible never do.

Even something as empirical-seeming as how long we sleep becomes problematic. In studies, insomniacs almost invariably overestimate how long it took them to fall asleep and underestimate how long they slept; in one, more than a third of the participants consistently thought they’d slept at least an hour less than their brain-wave activity indicated. Yet in a way, this hardly matters. Wallace Mendelson, past president of the Sleep Research Society, explained to me, “When a patient comes to a doctor, he doesn’t say, ‘I’m here to see you because my EEG shows an insufficient number of minutes of sleep.’ He comes to you saying: ‘I don’t feel like I’m getting enough. I’m tired.’ ” Thus, while insomnia is frequently linked to another, distinct physiological disease or disorder, its diagnosis and treatment often remain, much like pain, locked in the realm of our own inscrutable reports.

Fewer than half of Americans say they get a good night’s sleep every night or almost every night, according to a 2005 poll by the National Sleep Foundation. The N.S.F. is a nonprofit largely financed by the pharmaceutical industry and one of many groups — including the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Better Sleep Council, a nonprofit supported by the mattress industry — that have pushed the value of sleep, and the perils of sleep deprivation and disorders, into public view. (You can mark the change in seasons with their press releases. End of summer: “From Zzzs to A’s: Healthy Sleep Is Key for Back-to-School Success.” Daylight Savings Time: “Fall Back Into Bed and Catch Up on Your Sleep.”)

Some of America’s dissatisfaction likely boils down to poor “sleep hygiene” — basic bad habits like not keeping a regular bedtime; overconsumption of alcohol or coffee; or winding ourselves up with work or television before bed. There is a sometimes-stunning failure to see sleep’s cause-and-effect relationship to what we do while awake. One therapist told me he cured a man’s insomnia by suggesting he stop eating spicy Indian curry late at night. Bils says, “Most sleep problems are self-inflicted by sleepers not knowing how to sleep.” Moreover, doctors have long warned that Americans are suffering from self-caused sleep deprivation without even realizing it. The most damaging and persistent delusion we’ve acquired about sleep is that the vital human function is optional. As one psychologist puts it, “You don’t have people walking around figuring out how to get by on less air.”

Electricity has been the main culprit.

Zzzz-meisters came. They sawed. They tested pillows' snore-busting abilities
Pillow designs force sleeper to roll over -- and it's not always comfy ... or quiet (Phil Vettel, 11/18/07, Chicago Tribune)

"Spousal Arousal Syndrome" isn't nearly as much fun as it sounds. It's one doctor's catchy phrase to describe what happens when one person's snoring disturbs a partner's sleep. Forget about morning crankiness, reduced work productivity and the like; bad sleep can lead to marital problems and severe financial consequences, such as divorce or remodeling (to add a second bedroom). I can sympathize. I have it on good authority that I am a fairly loud snorer. Snoring doesn't seem to affect my sleep much; the only after-effect I notice is a persistent pain in the rib area. That's where my wife jabs me. And so an opportunity to test a few "anti-snoring" pillows was irresistible. Mandatory, you could say. I rounded up a couple of colleagues with admitted "Spousal Arousal" issues, issued them three anti-snoring pillows and had them test each pillow for at least five consecutive nights. It wasn't the most scientific study in the world, but our snorers -- and their spouses -- were eager to try anything that might help.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Shooting The Resistance: Only five years after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Aleksander Ford was the first to depict the struggle in film. (George Robinson, 11/14/07, The Jewish Week)

Aleksander Ford was a Jewish-Polish filmmaker whose career summed up the bloody 20th century. He enjoyed one of the rare happy endings, thanks to a mixture of luck and foresight, but it is clear from his best film, “Border Street” (1949), that he knew all too well how rare his good fortune was. “Border Street,” which will have a rare U.S. showing on Nov. 18, was the first fiction feature to attempt to portray the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and Ford undoubtedly knew many of the men and women who had perished in the flames that engulfed the ghetto. [...]

“Border Street” has a straightforward structure, opening with the ruins of what was once Warsaw but now is, as a voiceover narrator says, “streets turned into cemeteries.” Before the war, we are told, it was an ordinary street like hundreds of others in the city, and we dissolve to 1939 and a seemingly typical day for the teens and children of this unexceptional courtyard overlooked by a large apartment building.

Using a series of gliding lateral camera movements, Ford gracefully unifies the space of the courtyard and the rows of windows that overlook it. Like Jean Renoir, he creates this small community as a microcosm of the larger city, an intricate and intimate network of interlocking relationships from friendship to enmity, necessity to obligation. The chief protagonists of this deliberately collective melodrama are David (Jurek Zlotnicki), a small Orthodox Jewish boy; Fredek (Eugeniusz Kruk), an obnoxious ethnic German whose father is quick to embrace the Nazis; Jadzia (Maria Broniewska), the local doctor’s kindly daughter, who discovers that her father has hidden his Jewish identity; Bronek (Tadeusz Fijewski), the supposed delinquent who turns out to have a heart of gold and the temperament of a born resistance fighter; and Wladek (Dionizy Ilczenko), along with Jadzia and Bronek a sort of third musketeer who slowly comes to realize that the Jews don’t deserve the torments being heaped on them.
If that makes the film’s drama seem rather pat, well frankly it is. But what sets “Border Street “ apart from almost any other film about the Second World War is that it presents a moral universe in which you judge someone’s character by how they treat Jews, and the Jews themselves are presented as heroic, from fighters like David and his uncle Natan, who is a Polish army veteran as well as organizer of the Ghetto’s ragtag armed resistance, to David’s grandfather, a pacifistic old man who lies to the Gestapo and dies reciting prayers as the Ghetto burns. Although Ford treats Natan’s heroism as a part of his dual nature as Jew and Pole — as the Ghetto burns he stands defiantly between Jewish and Polish flags — and hence an avatar of the socialist struggle to come, Grandfather’s death with its insistence on faith is every bit as noble.

Of course, this was a position that would be unsafe to have in Stalinist Poland for very long. Ford would continue to work steadily in his native film industry but “Border Street,” with its affirmative portrayal of Jews is unique in his filmography. More typical, perhaps, is his 1960 film “Knights of the Teutonic Order,” which became available on DVD earlier this year. This is a big-budget film, adapted from a novel by fabled Polish patriot Henryk Sienkiewicz, so clearly Ford was considered a good soldier in Polish film circles. And it is certainly a lively piece of work, a spirited paean to Polish nationalism in the face of German perfidy as represented by the eponymous medieval order. But it has none of the power or feeling of “Border Street.”

In order to achieve those qualities again, Ford would finally have to leave Poland after one more anti-Jewish campaign by its government. He lived in Israel and the U.S., dying in Naples, Fla., in 1980. But his last two films, an adaptation of Solzhenitsyn’s “The First Circle” and a biopic about the famous Jewish martyr Janusz Korczak, are a final fierce statement of his hatred of both the Nazis and the Stalinists and his own brand of Jewish pride.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Louis Armstrong: Live At The 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival (ALISON KERR, 11/17/07, The Scotsman)

The first ever Monterey Jazz Festival featured the greatest jazz musician of them all, Louis Armstrong, who was by then touring the world with his All Stars.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


McCain Stakes His Campaign on New Hampshire (Michael D. Shear and Juliet Eilperin, 11/18/07, Washington Post)

McCain hasn't strayed far from the message he presented to voters in his 2000 campaign, offering himself up as a principled politician who will speak his mind without always testing the prevailing winds first.

This time around, however, McCain is explicitly selling himself as a man whose life and career were shaped by military experience -- culminating in 5 1/2 years in a Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp -- that makes him uniquely qualified to lead the nation in a time of war. That emphasis is a direct attempt to build on what advisers see as his starkest contrast with former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and ex-Tennessee senator Fred Thompson.

"I think it's wonderful to have been mayor of a big city. I think it's great to have been a governor. I think it's great to have served eight years in the Senate," McCain told about 50 people who gathered at the Balsams hotel to hear him speak. "But I'll match my qualifications, my background, my experience, my knowledge and my vision. [That] is what I think qualifies me for their consideration.

"I have a background of all my life in the military, the last 24 years in national security issues," McCain emphasized in response to a question from Dave Spalding, 48, who owns a small business in Milford that recycles asphalt and concrete.

Spalding, who goes by the nickname "Skippy" and was deer hunting in the North Country when he saw McCain's bus pass by Friday afternoon, said later he may support McCain. But he added that he is concerned that the senator is too far behind in the national polls to be considered a serious contender for the nomination.

"I am a McCain believer. I'm trying really hard to be a believer," Spalding said. "John McCain, he's been there. He's done that. He's a true patriot. But is he electable? I really hope that he is."

McCain's aides insist the calculus exists for victory. The candidate has brought the bulk of his limited resources to bear here. Even during the campaign's darkest days this summer, not one of his public supporters switched sides here, and his visits to the state far outnumber those to others hosting early contests.

If McCain won here, they say, money would pour in. (His 2000 campaign raised $1 million online in one night after defeating George W. Bush, even though Internet fundraising was almost literally unexplored territory at that time.) McCain would be on the covers of the most-read newspapers and magazines, and the cable networks would provide him around-the-clock coverage. And less than a week later, they say, he would translate that momentum into a win in Michigan.

After Mike Huckabee pricks the liberal Republican bubbles in IA, the Granite State will be Maverick's for the taking.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


Historic Gettysburg Photo May Contain Lincoln's Image (, November 16, 2007)

Abraham Lincoln photos are rare -- especially those from the day of the Gettysburg Address. For years, only one such photo was thought to exist, but now that may not be the case.

"I think it's absolutely staggering to see something like this that was in a sense hidden in plain sight," said Lincoln author Harold Holzer.

Holzer thinks the image of a person in one of only two known photographs taken at Gettysburg on the day of Lincoln's address looks like Lincoln possibly arriving to the stage on horseback.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Iran helps stem flow of weapons, Iraq says (Alissa J. Rubin, November 18, 2007, IHT)

Speaking about Iran, [tIraqi government's spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh] said that Tehran had helped to persuade the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr to ask his Mahdi militia to halt attacks. Sadr ordered his militia to stop using weapons in early September, and officials say that the stand-down by Mahdi members has helped improve stability. They say it also seems to have helped decrease the frequency of attacks with explosively formed penetrators, a powerful type of bomb that can pierce heavy armor.

Dabbagh's comments on Iran echoed those of the U.S. military here, who in recent days have gone out of their way to publicly acknowledge Iran's role in helping to slow the flow of weapons into the country.

The commonality of our interests must eventually overwhelm the lingering Anglo-American/Iranian tensions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Ex-rebel leader claims victory in Kosovo election (The Associated Press, November 18, 2007)

A former rebel leader who has promised to declare Kosovo's independence if mediation efforts fail has claimed victory for his party in a parliamentary election, although official results had not yet been released Sunday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Report: Buffett advised A. Rodriguez to bypass Boras: After opting out, star reportedly contacted financial guru, who told him to approach Yankees without his agent (The Associated Press, November 17, 2007)

Warren Buffett advised Alex Rodriguez to approach the New York Yankees and go around agent Scott Boras, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

The newspaper cited a person familiar with the matter, whom it did not identify.

"A-Rod really loves being a Yankee," Buffett was quoted as saying. He wouldn't comment on the substance of any discussions with the player.

But The Wizard would not have advised the Yankees to go ten years.

November 17, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 PM


Are “Ultraconserved” Genetic Elements Really Indispensable? (Liza Gross, 9/04/07, PLoS Biol)

With over 180 genomes sequenced to date and counting, researchers must rely on certain assumptions to help them sift through mountains of data and identify the most promising candidates for functional analysis. One of the guiding principles of comparative genome analysis assumes that highly conserved DNA sequences—which show little variation across species—have been preserved throughout evolution because they encompass important biological functions.

In 2004, researchers identified a unique category of long sequences (spanning at least 200 DNA base pairs) in the human genome that are exactly the same in the mouse and rat. Though over half of these “ultraconserved” genetic elements don't code for gene products, their concentration near coding regions (for transcription factors and molecules involved in developmental processes), along with some experimental evidence, suggests that they may play a role in gene regulation. The discovery of ultraconserved sequences stimulated vigorous debate about the mechanisms that may have led to such mutational restraint. It also provided an unprecedented opportunity to test the conventional wisdom that these sequences encode fundamental functions—how else to explain their perfect preservation over the 80 million or so years since the rodent and primate lineages diverged?

In a new study, researchers at the Joint Genome Institute and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory used standard transgenic techniques to test these long-held assumptions, with unexpected results. Nadav Ahituv, Len Pennacchio, Edward Rubin, and colleagues reasoned that if ultraconserved elements are as vital as predicted by theory, then deleting them from an animal should cause severe abnormalities that result in infertility or death. To their surprise, the researchers found that all of the mice tested not only survived these expected lethal deletions but did so with no apparent observable effect (or phenotype).

What would be really newsworthy is if any of their guiding principles ever turned out to be right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:52 PM


Rebus retires: Author Ian Rankin's popular detective finally reaches his golden years (Mark Medley, 10/17/07, National Post)

Rebus' final case involves a dead dissident poet, Russian mobsters, shady businessmen and long-time nemesis "Big Ger" Cafferty, the Moriarty to Rebus' Sherlock Holmes. Does the novel end with Rebus going quietly into retirement or with a Reichenbach Falls-like exit? There will be no spoilers here.

"I thought hard before I started writing it about what kind of book I wanted it to be," says Rankin. "Did I want to tie up all the loose ends? Did I want complete closure? Was he going to be alive or dead at the end?"

Truthfully, Rankin himself wasn't sure how the series would conclude. He consulted with crime writer Colin Dexter, who faced a similar problem when his popular Inspector Morse books ended in 1999. Rankin only finished the final scene in June, a surprisingly quick turnaround in the publishing world.

"It took a long time to finish," he admits. "Usually by the time I get to the end of a book I know where it's going. But with this one I was uncertain how I wanted to finish the book. I kept going back to it and changing it, and adding bits, and taking stuff away."

Fans will still be able to get their Rebus fix in other forms; Rankin says he may revisit some of the characters in the Rebus universe in books featuring his partner, Siobhan Clarke. Then there's the TV version starring Ken Stott, not to mention radio plays and the popular Rebus tours of Edinburgh.

Still can't make myself read or watch the last Morse--watching Inspector Lewis was hard enough.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:21 AM


Holiday Recipe: Roast turkey (Chef Len Spampinato, November 08, 2007, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

For the turkey

* 1 12- to 15-pound turkey
* 1 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
* 1 tablespoon minced garlic
* 2 large sprigs fresh thyme leaves, coarsely chopped
* 3 large sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
* Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
* 1 bay leaf
* Stems from 12 bunch fresh flat leaf parsley

For the pan sauce

* 4 to 5 tablespoons cornstarch
* 5 cups turkey or chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Rinse the turkey and pat dry. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Allow butter to cool to room temperature.

While the butter is cooling, season the turkey. Rub the minced garlic over the entire turkey, including the underside. Brush butter over the entire bird. Then season with thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. Place the bay leaf and parsley stems inside the cavity. Put the turkey in a roasting pan and place in the preheated oven to roast for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees. Roast the bird for 3 hours and 30 minutes to 5 hours, or until a thermometer registers 165 degrees. Be sure to place the thermometer into a thigh and avoid touching the bone.

Transfer the turkey to a platter and let it rest for 30 minutes before carving. While the turkey is resting, prepare the sauce.

Preparing the pan sauce: Dissolve the cornstarch in one cup of cold chicken stock. Pour the fat and juices from the roasting pan into a container. Let the juices settle to the bottom and skim the fat from the top. Place the roasting pan on top of the stove over medium heat.

Add the juices back to the pan along with the remaining 4 cups of chicken stock (about 14 cup for every pound of turkey).

Bring the liquid to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan to release the browned drippings on the bottom. Thicken the sauce by whisking in the cornstarch-stock mixture. When the sauce returns to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for about 5 minutes.

Adjust the seasonings and strain through a sieve. The sauce is now ready to serve. Carve the turkey and pass the sauce.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


A Tex-Mex Thanksgiving tweak (KIM PIERCE, October 11, 2007, The Dallas Morning News)

Worlds collide when two longstanding culinary forces come together for a Tex-Mex Thanksgiving. This menu has all the requisite holiday components - dressing, relish, turkey, gravy - but they've been revved up with a regional twist.

Instead of mashed potatoes, we've introduced Matt Martinez's Smoked Baked Potatoes With Chile con Queso.

Tired of marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes? Try Robb Walsh's Ancho Chiles Stuffed With Sweet Potato. Instead of pan gravy, imagine Chili Gravy over sliced turkey and Mexican Corn Stuffing Casserole.

"Tex-Mex is so popular," says Mr. Martinez, owner of Matt's Rancho Martinez and heir to one of the state's great Tex-Mex legacies. "And that enchilada sauce works great on turkey."

"What a perfect idea to put chile con queso on a smoked baked potato," says Mr. Walsh, author of The Tex-Mex Cookbook and co-author of Nuevo Tex-Mex with David Garrido, chef at Jeffrey's in Austin.

Mr. Walsh allows as how he came up with the recipe for sweet-potato-stuffed anchos in the Garrido book.

"And even if people don't eat the ancho chile, it's an incredible presentation," he says.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


When Democrats Become Instruments of God (David Klinghoffer, Oct 17, 2007, The Forward)

Can you imagine a Republican presidential candidate inviting the members of an evangelical church to elect him and help build the Lord’s Kingdom on Earth, in which the office seeker himself will function as a self-proclaimed instrument of God? Yet earlier this month, Barack Obama told the congregation of a church in Greenville, S.C.: “We’re going to keep on praising together. I am confident that we can create a Kingdom right here on Earth.” He also said, “I want all of you to pray that I can be an instrument of God.”

These remarks occasioned no protest from the Jewish community.

If Obama were a Republican, you can be sure the top Jewish organizations would be the first to leap furiously upon him, warning that the next step will be pogroms in the streets of the Upper West Side and the sacking of Zabar’s by Cossack horsemen. [...]

I would say there are two reasons for the oddly muted reactions from Jews and other liberals.

First and most obviously, whatever declarations of non-partisanship Jewish groups may make, they are resolutely wed to the Democrats. In tightly tying our community’s fortunes to the goodwill of one party, they put us in a dangerous position.

In this circumstance that we have allowed them to create, the other party has little incentive to court or serve Jewish interests. Thank God, Republicans do so anyway, mainly because the Evangelical Christian constituency insists on it. that Jews hate Evangelicals because they are Evangelicals, while Evangelicals love Jews because they are Jews.

November 16, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 PM


The Cycle of Wishful Thinking: a review of The Truth About Syria by Barry Rubin (Lee Harris, October/November 2007, Policy Review)

Rubin’s fascinating and often mordant book aims to overcome the cognitive asymmetry between West and anti-West by presenting an objective analysis of the very different rules by which our geopolitical opponents are operating, and to make it clear to the Western reader why they have different rules from us. It is not because they are ignorant of our rules, and need only to be enlightened about them. They are perfectly aware how our rules work, as Rubin insists. Indeed, it is through their intimate familiarity with our rules that they have been able repeatedly to predict how we will react to their moves — an ability that has allowed them to outwit and outfox us over and over again.

Such a situation might be dubbed cognitively asymmetrical, on the analogy of asymmetrical warfare. A grandmaster in chess playing against a patzer is an example of cognitive asymmetry; so too is a poker sharp playing against an amateur whose face reveals his hand. In both cases, the master player can see what his amateurish opponent will do next, but the amateurish opponent cannot see what the master player has up his sleeves. Hence the master player always holds the advantage. The amateur may begin with a much bigger bank, and hold better cards than the master player, but he is always bound to lose in the long run.

This advantage will be especially great if the master player has the virtue that the Arabs call sumud — steadfastness: the patience to wait as long as it takes to wear down his opponent until he is ready to abandon the game. Sumud yields policymaking in terms of generations and even centuries, whereas Western foreign policy, like Western culture in general, is always looking for a quick fix. We want to make a deal now, and we will settle for less; they want exactly what they want, and they are willing to wait the time it takes to get it, which turns out to be exactly the amount of time it takes for their opponents to throw up their hands in despair.

Taken together, sumud and the cognitive asymmetry between Syria and the West explain one of the central paradoxes of Rubin’s book: How can an economically stagnant and militarily weak nation like Syria get away with murder, both figuratively and literally?

In February 2005, Syria masterminded the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, former Prime Minister of neighboring Lebanon — not just the murder of a single individual, but, in effect, an attack on a sovereign nation. In 2006, Syria provided rockets and other arms to Hezbollah to aid it in its war with Israel. After the American and allied invasion of Iraq in 2003, Rubin writes that “from the U.S. standpoint, Syria took the enemy side by smuggling military equipment into Iraq (including night-vision goggles) and letting wanted Iraqi officials, millions of dollars of Saddam’s money, and possibly some equipment for the production of weapons of mass destruction cross the border into safe haven in Syria. In addition, after the defeat of the Saddam regime, an insurgency began that depended largely on Syria as a rear area. Pro-Saddam officials there used smuggled money to finance and direct a war against coalition forces as well as the Shia-Kurdish majority. Terrorists from abroad or Syrians themselves were trained, armed, and dispatched into Iraq.”

How did America respond to Syria’s sponsorship of terrorists who killed hundreds of American soldiers and thousand of Iraqis? In 2003, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell was sent to confront Syrian President Bashar Assad. Assad had already lied to Powell once, in 2001, telling him that Syria had cut off the Iraqi oil pipeline. Powell later saw that he had been hoodwinked. On the airplane taking him to his 2003 visit, the secretary of state “insisted . . . that he . . . would not be fooled again. Shortly after he landed, however, Bashar again sold him the same old swampland by falsely telling Powell that the terrorist offices in Damascus had already been closed down, good news that the secretary of state announced to the American reporters accompanying him. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent, in the most humiliating way for Powell, that he had been taken in once more. Reporters simply telephoned the offices of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and found that they were still open for business as usual.” In short, as Rubin trenchantly puts it, “Syria was making a fool out of the U.S. government and the Bush administration was helping it to do so.”

Rubin offers another striking example of this cognitive asymmetry. In September 1990, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker made a trip to Syria to visit its president (and Bashar’s father), Hafiz al-Assad. Baker had prepared his case well. He presented detailed evidence that Syria had been sponsoring quite an impressive list of terrorist activities by means of surrogate agencies. Syria had denied all involvement with terrorism, and Baker was, in effect, calling Hafiz’ bluff. By Baker’s own standards it was a tough act, like that of a criminal investigator who spreads out on a table the hard and irrefutable evidence he has gathered against a suspect, and says: Deny that! Yet his confrontation with Assad had no effect. Or, rather, it had an effect, but one that Baker did not see coming. After the meeting, Rubin writes, “Hafiz did take action: He had the three Jordanian agents who supplied the information tracked down and killed.” The upshot was that “Syria kept on fomenting terrorism; and the United States did very little in retaliation.” Baker had thought he and Hafiz Assad were playing by the same rule book. They weren’t. But Hafiz had the immense advantage of knowing this, which Baker did not.

“But it gets even better,” Rubin says. “Precisely sixteen years later, after his betrayal by Hafiz, the White House asked Baker to recommend what policy the United States should take on Iraq and the Middle East in general. In explaining why he favored dialogue with Syria, Baker recalled the ‘success’ of his 1990 talks with Hafiz in supposedly getting Syria to stop sponsoring terrorism, ignoring the fact that it had continued to do so during that entire period.” In short, the recommendations to engage Syria offered by the Iraq Study Group were not made by men who lacked experience with Syria; they were made by men who simply had not learned from the experience they had. Their inability to acknowledge the rules by which Syria plays has led them repeatedly to believe that Syria is playing by their rules. Unable to put themselves into the position of the Syrian regime, they fail to see the logic and cogency of its behavior — behavior that in Western eyes so often seems infantile, counterproductive, or just plain irrational.

What makes The Truth about Syria invaluable is Rubin’s insider’s perspective on the Syrian regime: He is able to grasp Syria from the Syrian point of view, and to see our side from their side. This is not to say he is an admirer of the regime; on the contrary — he looks upon Syria as one of a “new breed of dictatorships” that “jeopardize the hope for a better future not only for the West but also for those unfortunate enough to live under their rule.” But Rubin is able to put himself inside the minds of those who have led the Syrian regime for the past three decades. Like a novelist, he knows how to bring his characters to life, to see the world as they see it, and feel it as they feel it. There are no cardboard villains in his book; cardboard villains can teach us nothing about the true nature of evil — only living characters can. Rubin brings Syria to life for us, and in so doing makes it absolutely clear why there can be no hope for reform of the Syrian regime and why no trust can be placed in it by the West.

...even if Israel opposes prefers "stability."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


Why Poetry Still Matters (David Shribman, 10/06/07, Real Clear Politics)

[T]he death of the tree on the farm Frost so loved in Derry signifies more than nothing, even if it is not exactly the right tree. It tells us something profound, speaking to the power of Robert Frost and the power of nature, which is so important to Frost and ultimately to us all.

Frost himself once spoke of the importance of the Derry farm, purchased in 1900 for $1,700, to his work and to his identity. "I might say the core of all my writing was probably the five free years I had there on the farm down the road a mile or two from Derry Village toward Lawrence," he wrote. "The only thing we had was time and seclusion. I couldn't have figured on it in advance. I hadn't that kind of foresight. But it turned out right as a doctor's prescription."

Frost moved to Derry with 300 chickens. Eleven years later he sold the place and its 30 acres at a loss of $600. The state of New Hampshire bought the farmhouse and 12.6 acres surrounding it in 1965, adding another 35 acres four years later, then setting out to clean the property and, using photographic and architectural records, restore the farmhouse. Just last month the Senate passed an appropriations bill, pushed by GOP Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, that includes $300,000 for the Frost farm.

Though Derry may have been important to Frost, we can wonder whether any one tree there was important to him, or even to his poem. The tree at his window is rooted in the poem far more than it is at Derry.

"Getting involved in debates about a real tree takes our eye off the main thing -- the poem," Mark S. Richardson, a leading Frost scholar, said in an e-mail exchange. He argues that the poem is not really about a tree at all, "but about how one might better manage distress -- being 'all but lost.'"

So in the end, one tree cut down in New Hampshire and 16 lines of poetry that might even have been written more than a decade after Robert Frost moved from Derry raise a lot of small questions and answer a bigger one, about the vitality of Frost -- as concerned, as the poem says, with the inner weather of man as with the outer weather that affects the trees -- in the modern American imagination. The tree is gone, the poem remains, and Frost endures.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


Turkey cutlets stand in for chicken breasts: Try this recipe for Parmesan crusted turkey (The Associated Press, 10/23/07)

Turkey-breast cutlets are thin slices of skinless meat that cook quickly and require almost no prep work. They have only half a gram of fat per 4-ounce serving. [...]

Turkey breast cutlets can be used in almost any recipe that calls for boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but you'll need to reduce the cooking time. They cook in as little as 2 to 3 minutes per side and can toughen and dry out quickly. [...]

Parmesan Turkey Cutlets

Olive oil cooking spray

1 pound turkey breast cutlets

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2/3 cup unseasoned bread crumbs

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 large egg whites

Place a rack in the top third of oven. Preheat oven to 425 F. Set a wire rack on a baking sheet and coat the rack lightly with cooking spray.

Brush both sides of the turkey breast cutlets with mustard. In a pie plate or other shallow dish, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, parsley and pepper.

In another bowl, whisk egg whites until frothy and opaque. Dip each cutlet into the beaten egg whites, then in the bread crumb mixture. Place the cutlets on the prepared rack over the baking sheet. Discard remaining bread crumb mixture.

Coat the top of each cutlet with cooking spray, turn the cutlets over and spray again. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crumb coating is golden-brown and crisp and the turkey is no longer pink at the center. Makes 4 servings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Coalition of the Incapable (Stuart Koehl, 11/09/07, The Weekly Standard)

For many critics of U.S. "unilateralism," there is an implicit assumption that the lack of allied participation in ongoing military efforts is due mainly to U.S. policies and the unfavorable European response to them. This begs the question of whether our European allies would be able to do much more than they are doing now, let alone respond to any unforeseen contingencies in the future, even if they were inclined to do so. The answer, to those who have examined the present state of the European defense establishment, increasingly seems to be "no": European armed forces are neither structured, nor equipped, nor trained to play a meaningful role in the scenarios most likely to challenge the security of the civilized world in the coming decades.

How can this be, when Western Europe has an economy as large as that of the United States, and a combined military establishment of more than 1.7 million troops? Well, as shown in British defense analyst Julian Lindley-French's highly perceptive study for the Bertelsmann Foundation, this impressive force is largely hollow: "There are 1.7 million Europeans in uniform, but only 170,000 soldiers, of which 40-50,000 could be used for robust combat operations at any one time." Lindley-French notes that a large proportion of those 40-50,000 combat-ready troops are either incapable of overseas deployment or already committed to various missions (and thus unavailable for deployment elsewhere). The net deployable combat-effective force generated by Europe may be as low as 25-30,000 men, the majority of which are resident in the British and French military.

How and why did this situation develop? The answer is complex, but a major factor is money: Western Europe simply has not been spending adequate amounts on defense. This was true during the Cold War, when NATO countries seldom if ever met their "burden sharing" objective (a modest 3 percent of GDP on defense). Since the collapse of the USSR, Europe, like the United States, sought to reap a "peace dividend," and spending declined dramatically during the 1990s.

Furthermore, European defense spending did not increase after 9/11 (in most countries) but either remained flat or declined. Today, all of Europe (excluding Russia) has a GDP of $16.17 trillion and spends only about $314 billion on defense--1.93 percent of combined GDP. In contrast, the United States has a GDP of $13.16 trillion, and spends $534 billon--4.06 percent--on defense. The global average for defense spending is 2.0 percent of GDP. Clearly, Europe has not been spending as much as it should on defense, being in effect a "free rider" benefiting from the security provided by the U.S. forces whose activities it regularly criticizes.

Bad as this is, the situation is worse than it appears, because of the fragmentation and duplication of European defense spending. While in the United States it is considered scandalous that the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines have duplicative research and development (R&D), procurement, and logistic systems, in Europe every country has its own national defense policy supporting redundant R&D, procurement, command, administrative, and logistic establishments. Thus, for example, though Europe spends only about half of what the U.S. does on procurement, and only about a quarter as much on R&D, each European dollar spent buys a lot less capability, as a result of which, the pace of force modernization is much slower than it should be.

This is not helped by Europe maintaining a large and aging force structure intended to fight the Warsaw Pact on the North German Plain. Germany, France, Italy--all have hundreds of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and artillery pieces of very limited utility in an age of low-intensity expeditionary warfare. The problem, from a budgetary standpoint, is all those aging tanks and APCs have to be fueled and maintained, as a result of which operations and maintenance (O&M) budgets continue to rise each year, squeezing out money for force modernization.

The troops to man those tanks have to be paid, which also diverts money from modernization. Until the last decade, most European countries relied on low-paid conscript forces, so military pay was not a major problem. However, because conscription was so unpopular, it proved difficult to maintain absent the Soviet threat. Terms of service were reduced from two years, to eighteen months, to just one year--hardly enough time to master the intricacies of modern military hardware, let alone become tactically proficient with it. To improve professionalism, France, Germany and other countries are now shifting to volunteer forces, but volunteers need to be paid real wages with associated benefits, so even at reduced numbers, the cost of personnel will continue to rise.

The combination of rising personnel and O&M costs and flat military budgets means that modernization is continually delayed or stretched out, which in turn requires aging equipment to be maintained in service, which drives up O&M, which requires more delays in modernization. The term for this situation is "death spiral."

They're just dependents of the largesse of the American government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


One dam thing after another: Sceptics about the world's biggest hydroelectric dam are being vindicated (The Economist, 11/01/07)

PEASANTS in the village of Miaohe on the north bank of the Yangzi River say nothing like it had occurred in their lifetimes, nor those of their parents and grandparents. One afternoon in April, for a few grim seconds, the ground shook beneath them. The Wild Cat landslide, long at rest beneath the terraced maize fields, orange-tree groves and earth-brick houses perched on the steep slope, was stirring.

Experts had long worried about the Wild Cat, 17km (10 miles) upstream from the Three Gorges dam in a narrow stretch of reservoir, in the first of the soaring gorges. Last year a coffer-dam built to protect the main dam during construction was blown up. Monitoring of the landslide zone intensified, for fear that the blast might destabilise it. If the Wild Cat's earth and boulders tumbled down the slope, they could wipe out Miaohe and slam tour boats and barges with giant waves.

Officials have long stressed the dam's benefits: a reduction (some say exaggerated) in flooding downstream; the generation of (very expensive) carbon-free power; and the creation of a 660km-long, navigation-friendly reservoir. The official press has largely ignored the many criticisms of the dam. The authorities have rapidly and sometimes brutally crushed protests by some of the more than 1.2m people moved from the reservoir area, and have often poorly compensated them. Allegations abound of resettlement funds lining officials' pockets.

But in the past few months signs have emerged that, in parts of the government at least, the resolute optimism is wavering.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 AM


The Entertaining Evolution of Mitt & Rudy (Steve Chapman, 10/18/07, Real Clear Politics)

Contrary to Romney's recollection, it was not Giuliani who took away the line-item veto but the Supreme Court. Among the justices who voted to strike it down were two justices revered on the right: William Rehnquist and Clarence Thomas.

They voted that way because the line-item veto defied the clear intent of the framers -- who stipulated that the president may sign a bill or veto a bill, but may not sign the whole and then veto a part, as this measure allowed. Anytime a Republican presidential candidate floats the proposition that Clarence Thomas is not conservative enough on matters of constitutional interpretation, he's not doing himself any favors.

But that's not the least believable notion advanced by Romney. His implication is that when an unconstitutional law serves worthy purposes, conservatives should forget the Constitution and keep the law. In Romney's eyes, Giuliani's sin was not being wrong about the statute, but being right. Had he just stayed out of court, the nation could have enjoyed indefinitely the benefits of an illegal expansion of President Clinton's authority.

Almost as outlandish as Romney's attack is Giuliani's defense, which is to cast himself as a lonely guardian of the Constitution. In fact, Giuliani used the Constitution mainly for target practice. Notes famed lawyer Floyd Abrams, "Over 35 separate successful lawsuits were brought against the city under Giuliani's stewardship arising out of his insistence on doing the one thing that the First Amendment most clearly forbids: using the power of government to restrict or punish speech critical of government itself."

When he challenged the line-item veto, in a case involving Medicaid funds, the mayor's chief concern was not legal principle but cash. "In an interview today," reported The New York Times in 1997, "Mr. Giuliani said he was filing the suit because the president's veto had jeopardized the state's system for financing care for the needy, most of whom live in New York City." Giuliani said, "What I'm concerned about is that New York is being treated unfairly and that we get the money we are entitled to."

There was his line in the sand: He would not tolerate any infringement on the separation of powers that cost his constituents money. Under him, the city's position was exactly what it would have been if Democrat David Dinkins, who lost to Giuliani in 1993, had still been mayor.

So there are the adversaries on the line-item veto: Mitt Romney dismissing a violation of the clear language of the Constitution, and Rudy Giuliani making a rare defense of the Constitution in an effort to keep a place at the federal trough. But their disagreement at least provides a definitive answer on which candidate is the authentic conservative: Neither.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:31 AM


Fearing Crime, Japanese Wear the Hiding Place (MARTIN FACKLER, 10/19/07, NY Times)

On a narrow Tokyo street, near a beef bowl restaurant and a pachinko parlor, Aya Tsukioka demonstrated new clothing designs that she hopes will ease Japan’s growing fears of crime.

Deftly, Ms. Tsukioka, a 29-year-old experimental fashion designer, lifted a flap on her skirt to reveal a large sheet of cloth printed in bright red with a soft drink logo partly visible. By holding the sheet open and stepping to the side of the road, she showed how a woman walking alone could elude pursuers — by disguising herself as a vending machine.

The wearer hides behind the sheet, printed with an actual-size photo of a vending machine.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Strange Death Of Liberal England (GARY FLOCKHART, 6/29/07,

EVERYONE'S talking up The Strange Death Of Liberal England right now, but that's only to be expected of a band with so much talent and such a sneering disregard for doing anything other than whatever they choose. [...]

The last 12 months have been good for the band. After they were voted internet music site Drowned In Sound's readers' choice for 2006, influential radio jock Steve Lamacq caught them playing live at London's tiny Dublin Castle in Camden last year and has played them on Radio 1 and featured them on his BBC 6 Music show ever since. And last December they signed to Fantastic Plastic Records.

It's rare you'll read a review of TSDOLE that doesn't cite their penchant for Canadian bands such as Arcade Fire and, indeed, the group first came together through a mutual love of bands on the famous Montreal Constellation label, home to Godspeed You!, Black Emperor and many more irritatingly-named bands like A Silver Mount Zion and Do Make Say Think.

"It's true, we love Arcade Fire and many of the Constellation label variety," confirms Summerly. "But bands we all have a shared love for, and show through in our music, are bands like Flaming Lips, The Smiths, Pixies, Joy Division - the list just goes on."

REVIEW: of The Strange Death of Liberal England: Forward March (Drowned in Sound, 09/07/2007)
Albion might have long since been revealed as the sentimental ravings of a burned-out junkie, but England’s dreaming doesn’t end with gin in teacups and violence at bus stops. Much like eccentric forebears British Sea Power, The Strange Death Of Liberal England aim at a peculiarly English sensibility that bypasses all the usual attendant clichés; a kind of ‘Old, Weird England’, if you will. That sounds odd, because their most readily apparent influences are American as apple pie and high school massacres – a hefty dose of Win Butler's epic posturing, a hint of Pixies’ biblical surrealism, even a dash of Arturo Bandini’s youthful vigour for the more literarily-inclined among us. But they also infuse Arcade Fire's puritanical streak with a subtle twist of English pastoralism, as well as sharing a moniker pilfered from British non-fiction texts with those aforementioned Kendal émigrés. It's not quantifiable in kebab wrappers or trite mockneyisms, but it's English all the same.

-BAND SITE: Th eStrangeD eath of Liberal England
-MY SPACE: Strange Death of Liberal England
-Hype Machine: "strange death of liberal england"
-BAND OF THE MONTH: The Strange Death of Liberal England (Control Yourself, July 2007)

November 15, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 PM


Here's a corny, meaty chili recipe (Bonnie Mortimer, Mount Pleasant, November 8, 2007, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)


* 3 pounds loose hot sausage
* 2 cups fresh sweet corn (cooked and cut off the cob, or use frozen)
* 1 cup chopped onions
* 1 cup chopped green peppers
* 2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce
* 2 6-ounce cans tomato paste
* 3 10 1/2-ounce cans beef broth
* 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
* 3 tablespoons chili powder
* 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
* 2 30-ounce cans kidney beans, drained

Fry sausage until no longer pink. Add corn, onions and green peppers. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, beef broth, cumin, chili powder and black pepper. Stir until well combined. Add kidney beans. Cook over medium low for 45 minutes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:13 PM


From a Good German, a Different Kind of Story (JOHN VINOCUR, 10/22/07, International Herald Tribune)

A year later, going over Fest again, and thinking vast English-speaking audiences have no access to "Ich Nicht," it's clear his book should be read in tandem with, or in opposition to, Grass's "Peeling the Onion."

On one hand, Grass the great novelist has composed a personal recollection almost absent of history, but suffused with willful imprecision about his days in infamy's uniform.

On the other, Fest has written with remarkable detail about being a teenager in that awful time, describing his father's unfailing resistance to the Nazis, how a family could work to learn of Germany's atrocities and mass exterminations, avoid having its middle son get pulled into the SS and keep its honor to the end.

The juxtaposition of the books is remarkable, and it goes against reflex thinking about what or who is automatically prone to good or evil.

Nazi horror has not much place in the account by Grass, the leftist icon. A knock on the door, a letter, the phone ringing are the daily terrors, confronted and often overcome by the Fest family in the memoir by a man who didn't argue with those who called him a conservative.

In effect, and in political terms (and surely inadvertently), Grass called attention to the importance of Fest's book last week when, preparing to be honored on his 80th birthday, he complained about the "despicableness" of the critics of his delays in coming (incompletely) clean. He said they wanted to sentence him to "a death of silence."

Other current happenings struck home, too, at the absurdity of "Ich Nicht" not finding a publisher in English:

A German opinion poll, appearing last week, showed 25 percent thought there were "good sides" to the Nazis; and a 1,238-page book by Jean-Luc Leleu, published in France with the title "La Waffen SS, Soldats Politiques en Guerre" (or, the Waffen SS, Political Soldiers at War), came out detailing the training, indoctrination and political function of this component of the SS world that Grass has so much trouble remembering.

That's not all.

Fest's book, in its description of his family's difficult life in Berlin, also testifies to the absolute trivialization of the Nazi era (and demonization of America) present in blogs seeking to create a category of Good Americans, comparable in their submissiveness on Iraq to the so-called Good Germans who went along with Hitler.

Superimpose this episode from "Ich Nicht," for example, against all those crushing terrors and pressures for political conformity in American suburban life in 2007:

Fest's father, Johannes, is out of a job as a school principal because he will not sign a statement of allegiance to the Nazis. His little girls are celebrating a birthday in the backyard. Herr Henschel, their vicious neighbor, is standing on his balcony in his black SS uniform, "fists balled on his fat hips, screaming that he forbids the Fest girls" to bring disorder to a garden that is not his own.

As Fest makes clear, nobody in Berlin in 1940 was listening to radio call-in shows debating whether the invasions of France and Poland were morally acceptable.

Rather: One night, Fest overheard his mother asking his father, the Roman Catholic, Prussian nationalist, and friend of Jews, can't you join the Nazi Party? We won't really be changing, she said, and lying is how little people have always dealt with the powerful.

"We are not little people," Fest's father shot back. "Not on this subject!"

...fittingly, a dwarf.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:09 PM


If you only have room for 20 cookbooks ... (, November 08, 2007)

The James Beard Book Awards Committee recently named these the "20 Essential Books to Build Your Culinary Library" (from books still in print): [...]

"The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 PM


If it ain't broke: A More Perfect Constitution: 23 Proposals to Revitalize our Constitution and Make America a Fairer Country By Larry J. Sabato (The Economist, 11/08/07)

This book contains many sound ideas, such as the bar on gerrymandering, and some less sound, such as national service. But Mr Sabato does not want us to pick one or two of his suggestions. He wants to call a second constitutional convention to rethink the entire document bar the Bill of Rights. The current approach of piecemeal amendments is not working, he says. Very few pass, and many that are proposed are foolish: think of the amendment to ban flag-burning. No, what America needs is a grand meeting of clever and high-minded people to draw up a new, improved constitution better suited to the 21st century.

The arguments against this are old, but worth repeating. Despite its age, the American constitution has worked better than any other constitution in any country, as Mr Sabato admits. The men who wrote it were giants. Granted, their work could be improved on. And tinkering with it, one amendment at a time, is slow. But that is the point. Changing a constitution should be difficult. And the risks of a major re-write are huge. What is the chance that a fresh crew of framers will be as wise as the original ones? Sometimes radicalism is best kept in the classroom.

One of the more ludicrous aspects of a book that's supposedly about making the country fairer is that Mr. Sabato would ban discussion of abortion at the Convention. Of course, the Founders likewise tried getting around slavery, to their discredit and the country's bloody misfortune.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:40 AM


John Burdett: Detective writer at work in a seedy Bangkok district (Thomas Fuller, October 24, 2007, IHT)

As John Burdett ambles down a street packed with girly bars he passes two women in skimpy outfits waving their hands excitedly and calling out, "John! John!"

There are plenty of johns around - this is Soi Cowboy after all, one of the better-attended red-light districts in Bangkok - but the bar girls are waving to John with a capital "J," their author-friend and confidant. Burdett waves back.

Burdett, a 56-year-old former lawyer, has spent the past seven years chatting up hundreds of bar girls - research! - as inspiration for his critically acclaimed trilogy, soon to be quartet, of gripping detective thrillers set in Bangkok's netherworld.

"Bangkok 8," published in 2003, has sold more than 100,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen BookScan, and foreign rights to the novel have been bought by publishers in 19 other countries. The sequel, "Bangkok Tattoo," was released in 2005 and "Bangkok Haunts" was published in the United States this year and made it onto best-seller lists on the West Coast.

The detective and the glimpse of the broader Thai culture are quite worthwhile, but at some point these stories make the reader feel like he's a participant in the exploitation of the sex trade.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:26 AM


Of Witches and Witch Hunts: RON CAPSHAW, November 8, 2007, NY Sun)

Against the vivid backdrop of the conventional account, though, M. Stanton Evans, a writer for Human Events magazine, will convince few liberals across the aisle that McCarthy was correct in his attempts to prove security breaches on the watch of presidents Roosevelt and Truman with his thorough new study, "Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America's Enemies".

With a painstaking reliance on documentation (decrypted Soviet cables, secret Congressional testimony, declassified FBI files), Mr. Evans presents the case for McCarthy that Whittaker Chambers once said the senator was "unwilling or unable to make for himself." Many of those investigated by McCarthy were grouped in an earlier list of subversives by the Roosevelt administration in the early 1940s, and some have since been confirmed as spies by the Venona telegrams, a series of intercepted transmissions from and to Moscow by their American agents during World War II, which were released for public consumption in 1996.

With his determination to source everything, Mr. Evans's presentation is not particularly page-turning. But the reality that Mr. Evans presents is disturbing. In the 1930s and '40s, despite warnings from the FBI, presidents laughed away charges that their employees were Soviet spies. Confronted with evidence about a State Department official, Alger Hiss, FDR merely waved his hand and said, "Drop it. There's nothing there." Government employees carting away papers to Soviet couriers in the dead of night were advanced up the career ladder: Hiss was placed in charge of security at wartime conferences; Gustav Duran, a part of the Loyalist secret police that was hunting George Orwell in Spain, was moved into the Office of Strategic Services; Cedric Belfrage, a Soviet agent, was promoted to security coordinator between wartime British intelligence and America. Despite warnings from the FBI that J. Robert Oppenheimer was still a secret party member, General Leslie Groves put him in charge of the secret Manhattan Project.

The only entities even attempting to halt these penetrations and leaks were the House Un-American Activities Committee, that rogue's gallery of anti-Semites and future perjurers, and McCarthy, already boozy by the late '40s, unorganized, and hungry for publicity. Only they seemed to be blind to the threat. Prosecutors are fond of countering character attacks on their witnesses by asking rhetorically, "Why can't a criminal have good eyesight?" Whatever McCarthy's peccadilloes — and they are more numerous than Mr. Evans acknowledges — his vision was at least clearer on this question than that of the liberal establishment.

Denying there are witches doesn't make them go away.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 AM


Picture This (Iceland Review, 11/09/07)

I watched Mýrin (Jar City) the other night, a suspense thriller by Baltasar Kormákur, one of our most celebrated directors, which is based on a book by Arnaldur Indridason, who has enjoyed considerable popularity both in Iceland and abroad. It was the winner of the 2006 Eddas and is Iceland’s contribution to the race for the 2007 Best Foreign-Language Film nomination at the Oscars.

I enjoyed the film, though I’m not sure it’s exactly Oscar material. It’s a decent investigative story with an interesting plot and it stays true to the book, which I really liked. But I’m no expert. My brother, who is studying multimedia, mentioned that the color correction had focused too much on creating a bleak and somber effect, adding to the generally depressing mood of the film. It is typical for Icelandic movies, he said.

And that got me thinking. Mýrin is very Icelandic. It is set in an Icelandic reality, modern Iceland clashing with old Iceland. Weathered seaside village vs. modern Reykjavík, old fashioned lopapeysa-clad detective eating sheep heads and lamb stews vs. modern detective educated in the US, who drinks lattés and curses at his partner for smoking in his car. Being Icelandic means being depressing, featuring rape, death of children, drug addicts, corruption, suicide, child pornography, divorce, cheating and murder.

Every other Icelandic film will leave you insanely depressed because it is dark and gloomy throughout (apart from a few satiric jokes) and has no happy ending. It may be good, like Nói Albínói (2003), which is one of the best Icelandic films I have ever seen, but it still leaves you feeling sad.

One of the best things about the books is the way they draw upon Iceland's recent history, providing an education as they entertain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


Anti- and Anti-Anti-Islamists
: The West and the challenge of Islamic fanaticism
(Fred Siegel, 19 October 2007, City Journal)

[H]aving written a book that decries the Protestant Reformation’s plunging Europe into a century of religious war, Lilla does a 180-degree turn in the Times Magazine, inexplicably praising the Reformation as a model for Muslims. “The complacent liberalism and revolutionary messianism we’ve encountered,” he writes, “are not the only theological options. There is another kind of transformation possible in biblical faiths, and that is the renewal of traditional political theology from within. If liberalizers are apologists for religion at the court of modern life, renovators stand firmly within their faith and reinterpret political theology so believers can adapt without feeling themselves to be apostates. Luther and Calvin were renovators in this sense, not liberalizers. They called Christians back to the fundamentals of their faith, but in a way that made it easier, not harder, to enjoy the fruits of temporal existence.”

Lilla ignores the fact that Sunni Islam has already experienced something akin to a Reformation, in the form of eighteenth-century Wahhabism, which called Muslims back to the unadorned faith first preached by Mohammed. But while the Western liberal tradition stands on the two legs of Athens and Jerusalem, the singular focus on submission to God’s word in Islam—preached nowhere more intensely than in Wahhabi Islam—leaves no room for a second leavening tradition. What Islam has missed is not a Reformation, but an Enlightenment.

And whom does Lilla nominate to lead a renovated Islam? None other than Tariq Ramadan, the grandson and intellectual heir of Hasan al-Banna (about whom more later), the founder of the fascist-influenced Muslim Brotherhood, from which both the PLO and al-Qaida descend. Lilla explains: “If we cannot expect mass conversion to the principles of the Great Separation—and we cannot—we had better learn to welcome transformations in Muslim political theology that ease coexistence.” But he does not explain how the Salafist Ramadan, who has close ties with Islamic extremists, is to be the bearer of good news.

My puzzlement grew as I stumbled upon another recent article of Lilla’s for the New York Times, this one about his experiences as a Roman Catholic who became an evangelical Christian and now rejects both faiths. Lilla is still on a mission, albeit a very different one. He writes of a slight acquaintance who is hoping to be born again: “I wanted to warn him against the anti-intellectualism of American religion today and the political abuses to which it is subject. I wanted to cast doubt on the step he was about to take, to help him see there are other ways to live, other ways to seek knowledge, love, perhaps even self-transformation. I wanted to convince him that his dignity depended on maintaining a free, skeptical attitude toward doctrine. I wanted . . . to save him.”

Lilla the Hobbesian has not explained, as far as I’m aware, how he squares secularism with his embrace of Tariq Ramadan’s Islamism as the hope for the future. Perhaps it’s the other Lilla—the one who wishes that Christianity had openly recognized its nature as a political religion—who has moved in Ramadan’s direction. But either way, his sentiments reveal the underlying logic of his book. In effect, he thinks it better to encourage Islam than to allow the malign fruits of Christianity to continue blooming. Given the choice between Hobbes and Christianity, he prefers Hobbes. Given the choice between Hobbes and Ramadan’s Islam, he’ll reluctantly take Islam. What he can never countenance is Christianity, which he seems to view as our most urgent threat.

To the chagrin of the Brights, American anti-Intellectualism has been a key to our success.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


Hail to the chiefs: An entertaining book on why the much-loathed Anglo-Saxons have kept on winning—and messing up : a review of God and Gold: Britain, America and the Making of the Modern World By Walter Russell Mead (The Economist, Nov 1st 2007

Mr Mead, a polymath scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, has never been shy of big-picture subjects. This time it is “the biggest geopolitical story of modern times: the birth, rise, triumph, defence and continuing growth of Anglo-American power despite continuing and always renewed opposition and conflict.” Ever since the Glorious Revolution in 1688, Britain and America have been on the winning side, from the war of the Spanish succession to the cold war.

The anglosphere's long streak of luck has preoccupied the losers more than the winners. Winston Churchill excepted, most Britons don't like being tied to modern America; Americans can't see what ancient Britain has to do with them. Yet for outsiders the link between the English-speaking peoples was horribly clear from the start: only a few years after the American revolution the French were sending back horrified reports that New England really was new England in spirit.

Outsiders also have plenty of explanations for the anglosphere's success. Some of them are unworthy (with anti-Semitism a constant theme) but most centre on the idea that the winners relied on perfidy and violence abroad and cruelty and inequality at home. In the old East Germany, officials had a list of terms to describe Britons: “paralytic sycophants, effete betrayers of humanity, carrion-eating servile imitators, arch-cowards and collaborators.” A Muslim journalist observes: “We worship God by loathing America.”

Mr Mead's own explanation focuses on God and gold. Britain was lucky: economically, it came good at just the right time. It had a Goldilocks location (close enough to Europe to imbibe its heat, distant enough to avoid many of its wars) and a Goldilocks state (strong enough to work, weak enough to keep out of the way). But its tolerance and brashness were also part of its economic strength: Donald Trump would have fitted into London.

More controversially, Mr Mead also claims that God was part of the anglosphere's competitive advantage. Both Britain and America kept a balance between reason, faith and tradition that their rivals did not. Religion helped to keep the state in check and supplied some of the verve to keep on trying to change the world.

How can the self-evident be controversial?

MORE (via Mike Daley):
God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World (Walter Russell Mead, Joanne J. Myers, October 31, 2007, Carnegie Council)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


At last, some adult conversation about the country's founders: AMERICAN CREATION: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic By Joseph J. Ellis (Jonathan Yardley, November 4, 2007, Washington Post)

Joseph J. Ellis is going to score no points with many of his colleagues within the academy when he says, as he does early in American Creation, that "the currently hegemonic narrative within the groves of academe . . . customarily labels (and libels) the founders as racists, classists, and sexists, a kind of rogues' gallery rather than a gallery of greats." The conversations within the academy on these subjects "are in-house affairs, the books and articles written in language that the uninitiated find inaccessible and often incomprehensible." By default it has been left to other writers, "many not professional historians," among them David McCullough, Walter Isaacson and Ellis himself, to publish books about the Revolutionary period, "mostly biographies, that became a publishing sensation because of their unforeseen popularity." He continues:

"The source of this founders surge need not concern us here, though clearly there is an audience for serious history about our origins that the academy has largely ignored. The major point is that the founders and the founding are back, in a big way, as serious topics of public conversation. The long latent interest in our origins -- the old 'How did it happen?' question -- has become relevant again. And, most importantly . . . one of the hallmarks of the recent founders surge is the emphasis on flawed greatness, the coexistence of intellectual depth and personal shallowness, the role of contingency and sheer accident instead of divine providence. The founding has at last begun to become the topic in an adult conversation rather than a juvenile melodrama populated only by heroes or villains."

The rehabilitation of the Founders in recent years is one of the unsung victories of the Culture War.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


A Norwegian Dostoyevsky, Gone to Seed (BENJAMIN IVRY, October 25, 2007, NY Sun)

Who says that great writers have to be great human beings? Norway's Knut Hamsun (1859–1952) won the 1920 Nobel Prize for Literature, and during the Nazi occupation of his country during World War II, Hamsun was an ardent supporter of the fascist politician Vidkun Quisling (1887–1945), an army officer who ran the country from 1942 until the end of the war. Quisling was known as "Norway's Hitler." Hamsun also loved the real Hitler, describing him in 1945 as a "warrior for mankind … a prophet of the gospel of justice for all nations." In 1943, Hamsun even sent his Nobel Prize medal as a gift to Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.

Who says he was a great writer?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


The inside story of the Western mind: a review of
Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians by Fergus Kerr (Spengler, 11/06/07, Asia Times)

It may seem eccentric to hail a theological text by a Scots Dominican, ranked 133,692nd in recent Amazon sales, as the year's most important work on global strategy. Now that I have your attention, humor me for a paragraph or two.

To win a gunfight, first you have to bring a gun, and to win a religious war, you had better know something about religion. America's "war on terror" proceeds from a political philosophy that treats radical Islam as if it were a political movement - "Islamo-fascism" - rather than a truly religious response to the West. If we are in a fourth world war, as Norman Podhoretz proclaims, it is a religious war. The West is not fighting individual criminals, as the left insists; it is not fighting a Soviet-style state, as the Iraqi disaster makes clear; nor is it fighting a political movement. It is fighting a religion, specifically a religion that arose in enraged reaction to the West.

None of the political leaders of the West, and few of the West's opinion leaders, comprehend this. We are left with the anomaly that the only effective leader of the West is a man wholly averse to war, a pope who took his name from the Benedict who interceded for peace during World War I. Benedict XVI, alone among the leaders of the Christian world, challenges Islam as a religion, as he did in his September 2006 Regensburg address. Who is Joseph Ratzinger, this decisive figure of our times, and what led the Catholic Church to elect him? Fr Kerr has opened the coulisses of Catholic debate such that outsiders can understand the changes in Church thinking that made possible Benedict's papacy. Because Benedict is the leader not only of the Catholics but - by default - of the West, all concerned with the West's future should read his book.

I do not view religion as an instrument for strategic ends. On the contrary: we are in a strategic crisis precisely because religion is not an instrument, but rather the expression of the existential requirements of humankind. Nonetheless, we are in a war, and war concentrates the mind wonderfully. Radical Islam threatens the West only because secular Europe, including the sad remnants of the former Soviet Union, is so desiccated by secular anomie that it no longer cares enough about its future to produce children.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Bread pudding slips into something savory: When the dish tries on a new flavor wardrobe for fall, rich and earthy things begin to happen. (Amy Scattergood, 10/25/07, Los Angeles Times)

Built from bread, accomplished easily -- a union of earthy ingredients, a single pan, the heat of the oven -- a bread pudding is a disarmingly simple dish. Yet this unassuming nature hides a wealth of soulful flavors, of satisfying textures, of delicious possibilities. Dip your fork past the burnished crust, into the glorious bready interior, and taste the complex flavors such simplicity can occasion.

And if you need further proof of this pudding, try taking it savory instead of sweet. Because although it's fantastic as a dessert, the rustic dish really comes into its own when laced with fresh herbs and excellent cheese, or shot through with shallots and bitter greens, even sausage or bacon.

A savory bread pudding may begin with kitchen conservation, but it can end up transforming your whole meal along with those surplus baguettes, leftover ends of sourdough boule and pain rustique.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:25 AM


-INTERVIEW: John Heath & Lisa Adams: "Why We Read What We Read" (Source Books) (Guest host: Steve Roberts, 9/06/07, Diane Rehm Show; WAMU)

A look at what the books we read have in common and what they say about America our culture, our beliefs, and how we relate to one another.

John Heath, award-winning teacher, scholar, lecturer, and co-author of "Who Killed Homer?"

Lisa Adams, a recipient of the Woodall Essay Prize and the McCann Short Fiction Award.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The brains behind the bombs: a review of Architect of Global Jihad: The Life of Al Qaeda Strategist Abu Mus'ab al-Suri By Brynjar Lia (The Economist, 11/01/07)

His life is emblematic of a breed of itinerant jihadist. He started out fighting the “near enemy”, in his case Syria's Baathist regime (he got support from Egypt and then Iraq). After that proved a failure, he joined the fight to liberate Afghanistan from Soviet occupation. He then drifted in the dispersed international jihadi milieu until he arrived in “Londonistan”.

Gradually, he turned his attention to confronting the “far enemy”, the United States. He helped to propagate al-Qaeda's message through a “media bureau” in London, arranging interviews for Western journalists with Osama bin Laden. He returned to Afghanistan in 1997 to work as a media adviser to the Taliban regime, which he regarded as “the best example of an Islamic state on earth today”.

The most important contribution of Mr Lia's book is the insight he offers into the personal and ideological rivalries in the jihadi world (though these may make hard going for a non-expert). It is plain that Mr al-Suri was not enamoured by his fellow militants. He disliked the “erratic actions” being taken by al-Qaeda, which he feared would undermine the Taliban experiment (he was right). He once accused Mr bin Laden of acting like a “pharaoh” and he had little regard for Saudi jihadists in general. Many, in his view, treated the jihadi training camps as an adventure playground or as a means of cleansing themselves after having “spent time with a whore in Bangkok”.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Catholic Novel Is Alive and Well in England (Marian Crowe, November 6, 2007, First Things)

The challenge facing a Christian novelist today is daunting. Walker Percy, in The Message in the Bottle, has said, “The Christian novelist nowadays is like a man who has found a treasure hidden in the attic of an old house, but he is writing for people who have moved out to the suburbs and who are bloody sick of the old house and everything in it” There is more indifference than hostility to religion, with many people just not seeing the need for anything else in their lives, which are quite satisfying. Even many Christians now have little concern with salvation or damnation, which formed the centerpiece of the classic Catholic novels. As David Lodge said in his novel How Far Can You Go?: “At some point in the nineteen-sixties, Hell disappeared. No one could say for certain when this happened. First it was there, then it wasn’t.”

Four Catholic novelists writing in England at the beginning of the twenty-first century have taken up this challenge: Sara Maitland, Alice Thomas Ellis, David Lodge, and Piers Paul Read. They do not hesitate to include the “craggy” and “paradoxical” parts of Catholicism. Yet they have produced fiction in which religious meaning does emerge from human experience, and grace is a “quality of human existence.” Incorporating recent developments in the Church and society, they integrate Catholicism into their work in ways that are substantial, imaginative, and serious, demonstrating exciting new possibilities for Catholic fiction.

Alice Thomas Ellis, who died in 2005, wrote witty satiric novels in a tight, elegant prose reminiscent of the early work of Evelyn Waugh. Although her use of Catholic material is oblique, she does satirize what she sees as a betrayal of the pre–Vatican II Church, to which she converted as a young adult. Here is what one of her characters says about the post–Vatican II Church: “It is as though . . . one’s revered, dignified and darling old mother had slapped on a mini-skirt and fishnet tights and started ogling strangers. A kind of menopausal madness, a sudden yearning to be attractive to all. It is tragic and hilarious and awfully embarrassing.”

In The 27th Kingdom, Ellis conveys the holiness of a young postulant as she arranges some tiles showing scenes from the gospel. Because the gospel story is as familiar to her as her own family history, she recognizes that some important scenes are missing but still puts them in correct order.

She looked like a girl assembling a family album, Aunt Irene realized suddenly. That loving care belonged to someone trying to remember whether that was the year George had measles, or whether the snapshot of Aunt Ethel in the bathing suit should come before or after the picnic on Beachy Head. She looked like a lover smiling at reminders of the beloved, dreaming of his babyhood, his first words, his last words.

This young novice, who occasionally levitates on the streets of London, is temporarily staying with the Mother Superior’s sister because one of the apples she harvested has failed to whither or decay after several months. Mother Superior fears the chaos that would ensue if it were known that something miraculous were going on in the convent. Ellis’ playful style and sardonic wit render these hints of the miraculous palatable to a secular audience while still leaving a margin of possibility that the supernatural can actually break in to the natural world.

David Lodge writes comic novels about middle-class English Catholics that are striking because his Catholic characters are so ordinary. They are not aristocrats or tortured souls undergoing spiritual crises in exotic or seedy places. Lodge’s ebullient comic spirit catches all the ridiculous aspects of Catholic life, often focusing on the vast discrepancies between the descriptions of the human situation in the carefully formulated pronouncements of Catholic theology and the unpredictable, sometimes absurd circumstances in which human beings often find themselves. He critiques what he sees as a rigid, puritanical sexual morality taught before Vatican II. His novels are also sympathetic and nuanced treatments of the problem of religious belief in our day. For example, a priest looks through the telescope of a friend’s adolescent son and wonders how to reconcile the immensity of space and the enormous age of the universe with the Christian story:

Had other Christs died on other Calvaries in other galaxies at different times in the last twenty billion years? Under the night sky, the questions that preoccupied philosophers and theologians seemed to reduce down to two very simple ones: how did it all start, and where is it all going? The idea that God, sitting on his throne in a timeless heaven, decided one day to create the Universe, and started the human race going on one little bit of it, and watched with interest to see how each human being behaved himself; that when the last day came and God closed down the Universe, gathering in the stars and galaxies like a croupier raking in chips, He would reward the righteous by letting them live with Him for ever in Heaven—that obviously wouldn’t do. (Souls and Bodies)

Sara Maitland is an eloquent spokesperson for women’s perspective in the life of faith. She draws on the Bible and myth to explore the struggles of religious women for empowerment and to dramatize the way that their bodily experience is an important part of their faith. One of her experiments has been to juxtapose the story of a contemporary young English woman with short biblical narratives told from the perspective of women. Maitland brings these biblical women to life, giving them flesh and personality. Here, in Daughter of Jerusalem, is her description of Elizabeth at the Visitation: “And menopause has not treated her kindly; her complexion has collapsed quickly and her breasts are withering, while round the hips she is putting on weight.” Maitland makes the Visitation emblematic of the fact that women linked by kinship or common experience can provide for each other what no one else can. “But there in one another’s arms, and only there, they are affirmed, encouraged, borne up, freed.” Maitland sees an essential link between Mary’s assent at the Annunciation with her virginal conception: “That purely conscious, unalienated woman who can so assent with the entirety of her person, needs no biological intrusion between her desire and its fulfillment.” In the same novel, the contemporary woman is awed by the intricacy and beauty within her own body when she sees her cervical mucus under a microscope: “the most beautiful pattern: elegant like ice on a window-pane; irregular fernish fronds crystallised on the glass plate.”

Piers Paul Read has been referred to as “one of Britain’s most intelligent and disturbing writers.” Perhaps he is disturbing because he focuses so intensely on the battle between good and evil in the human soul. Read has revived some of the forms used by earlier Catholic writers, such as the theological thriller and the novel of ideas. He also uses some traditional motifs of earlier Catholic fiction, such as vicarious redemptive suffering and God’s pursuit of the sinner. His fiction is deeply engaged with political movements and theological and philosophical ideas in twentieth century Europe. Several of his novels are set against the upheavals of the rise of fascism and World War II. He does not hesitate to depict human evil in grisly detail.

In Read’s novel On the Third Day, the alleged discovery of the skeleton of Jesus in Jerusalem, explores just what kind of crisis such a discovery would mean for Christianity, providing an opportunity for laying out various theological perspectives on the Resurrection. The plot of this novel, which was published in 1990, may have seemed far-fetched at the time, but it proved to be oddly prescient when early in 2007 a construction crew uncovered an ossuary, and some researchers claimed there was strong evidence that it contained the bones of Jesus. Read’s work is reminiscent of earlier Catholic fiction because of its strongly dualistic sense of the secular and the sacred. Like Ellis, he is critical of some aspects of the Vatican II Church, especially the failure to offer stronger moral guidance, and he believes that in some respects the contemporary Church has “lost the plot.”

What does the future hold for the Catholic novel? The work of Ellis, Lodge, Maitland, and Read suggests some possibilities for future Catholic fiction. Their novels are primarily written in the realistic mode, and I think future Catholic fiction will continue to show a preference for realism and closure, thus aligning it more with traditional fiction and away from postmodern and experimental writing.

Not at all atypically, one of the best recent British Catholic novels is by an author who doesn't yet realize he's Catholic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Deadly Embrace: How much of the war on terror is blowback from U.S. policies?: a review of SUICIDE BOMBERS IN IRAQ: The Strategy and Ideology Of Martyrdom By Mohammed M. Hafez (Fawaz A. Gerges, Washington Post)

The old Iraq, though a place of stunning brutality and repression, never saw suicide terrorism and shunned al-Qaeda's ideology and tactics. But in the last 15 months, I have interviewed scores of Arab and Muslim teens all over the Middle East and Europe who say they want to join the fight against the American "occupiers." They say their local clerics tell them stories about atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers and instruct them that jihad is an individual obligation. These teenagers -- whom I met in the Gulf states, Lebanon, Palestinian refugee camps, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Spain, France and Italy -- are trying to raise several hundred dollars each to make their way to Iraq through Syria. Most have no previous connection to Islamist militancy or al-Qaeda, but many talk about sacrificing themselves in "martyrdom operations."

In Suicide Bombers in Iraq, Mohammed Hafez seeks to understand what drives such men and, in rare cases, women. He believes they are mainly non-Iraqis, though he warns that it is impossible to reach firm conclusions about where, precisely, they come from, what motivates them and how recruiters have mobilized so many in a short time. "It is not clear who is carrying out most of the suicide attacks in Iraq," he admits.

The uncertainty is widely shared. Analysts worldwide have been unable to arrive at a useful socioeconomic or psychological profile of suicide bombers in Iraq. Some are from poor families in developing countries such as Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Morocco and Pakistan, while others come from affluent homes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, England and Italy. They are educated and uneducated. The bulk seem to be in their teens and 20s, but more than a few are in their 30s to 50s. And while some bombers have had previous links to violent activism, for others the suicide attack is their first (and last) offense. The only consensus among analysts, Hafez says, is that suicide bombers are not simply crazy or born violent.

A small bit of good news is that al-Qaeda in Iraq and its ideological allies face growing indignation from fellow Sunnis fed up with the toll on Muslim civilians. Last month, one of bin Laden's most prominent Saudi mentors, the preacher and scholar Salman al-Odah, wrote an open letter reproaching him for "fostering a culture of suicide bombings that has caused bloodshed and suffering and brought ruin to entire Muslim communities and families." Similarly, in early October Abdulaziz Al-Ashaikh, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, issued a fatwa prohibiting Saudis from engaging in jihad abroad and accused Arab regimes of "transforming our youth into walking bombs to accomplish their own political and military aims."

Additional factors are, of course, involved, but the simplest explanation seems the most likely: they commit suicide because they don't think their own lives have much value or are worth living and they seek to take others with them because they have such low regard for the value of their victims' lives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The lawfare of warfare: a review of Just War: The Just War Tradition – Ethics In Modern Warfare by Charles Guthrie and Michael Quinlan (Alasdair Palmer, 01/11/2007, Daily Telegraph)

The most reliable guarantee of some kind of 'justice' in war – where that means commanders and troops abstaining from such excesses as the wholesale slaughter of civilians – has always been the realisation that your opponent could employ the same tactic against you.

Fear of retaliation was why even the Nazis did not use chemical weapons against the Allies: they used them only against the Jews, then a subject people who could not retaliate. It is also why the only time a nuclear bomb has been used, it was against an enemy that did not possess one.

The dropping of the atom bomb is an indication of what happens when the restraining effect of deterrence is absent. America is now so much more powerful militarily than almost any of its rivals that it can expect to be able to destroy its enemies in a war. The issue of what America should be 'permitted' to do when it goes to war with small states becomes very pressing, because military self-interest does not require the US to limit the violence it can employ.

Guthrie and Quinlan hope the Christian tradition of the 'just war' can be of help in defining what those limits should be. After reading their short and very clearly written book, I am not so sure. That's not because any of the principles they enunciate are wrong, for who could disagree that a state needs to have a 'just' and 'proportionate' cause before going to war? Or that it needs a reasonable prospect of success, and that war itself should be a last resort? Or that the destruction caused should be 'proportionate' to the goal that is to be achieved?

The problem is rather with the application of the principles, which are so general and abstract that a state could say that they were satisfied in almost any situation of conflict.

As BH Lidell Hart said, "The object in war is a better of state of peace." We can at least say that those wars that achieve that end are, de facto, just and, as the reviewer notes, there is no de jure in reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


REVIEW: of War and Peace by LeoTolstoy, Leo Tolstoy (Michael Dirda, Washington Post)

[A] fine new translation, especially one by the widely acclaimed team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, offers an opportunity to see this great classic afresh, to approach it not as a monument (or mausoleum) but rather as a deeply touching story about our contradictory human hearts.

Stressing that their War and Peace sticks more closely to the Russian text than any other, including Louise and Aylmer Maude's semi-canonical 1923 version, Pevear and Volokhonsky retain the considerable amount of French used by Tolstoy's counts and princesses, preserve the author's penchant for word repetition and aim to match his tidy syntactic conciseness. The result certainly reads smoothly, its English being neither egregiously contemporary nor inappropriately old-fashioned. In this respect, the Pevear-Volokhonsky War and Peace joins company with recent translations of The Tale of Genji, Don Quixote and In Search of Lost Time, these being among the few works of classic fiction equal to Tolstoy's in scope and richness. Given so capacious and generous a masterpiece, it's simply impossible to do more than offer -- with due humility at how much is being overlooked -- a few introductory propositions for the would-be reader.

Nearly every man and woman in War and Peace is deeply flawed, and will make at least one truly terrible mistake in his or her life. This may be an epic, but there are no larger-than-life heroes in it. The main character, Pierre Bezukhov, is illegitimate, clumsy, naive, absent-minded and fat. He has red hands and wears glasses. The exuberant, impulsive Natasha Rostov, the principal heroine, eventually settles down as Tolstoy's ideal woman, but not before her unnaturally repressed libido wrecks her own happiness and that of her fiance, the noble-minded Andrei Bolkonsky.

Minor characters tend to be unconsciously corrupt or simply depraved. Boris Drubetskoy starts off as a charming young man and turns into an ambitious, calculating trimmer, always looking out for his advancement. Though the Countess Helene Bezukhov is promiscuous and stupid, her beauty ensures that the world finds her profoundly witty. The gorgeous Helene knows that her smile can reduce all male arguments to nonsense. Salons and drawing rooms reveal the French-speaking Russian aristocracy as venal, unctuous and self-important.

Though Stendhal's Charterhouse of Parma helped teach Tolstoy how to describe battle, most of War and Peace might be likened to a compact version of Balzac's multi-volume Comedie humaine. In these pages an old man's heirs connive over his fortune. Parents strive to marry off their worthless children for money and status. Couples form and break up, young girls attend balls, their admirers quarrel and duel, fortunes are lost at cards, babies are born, families face social or financial ruin, and the most cherished dreams are dashed. The book never flinches from showing us deliberate cruelty, repeated heartbreak and survivor guilt.

While his villains never change, only worsen, Tolstoy's heroes evolve, deepen, see more clearly into the nature of things. Society, the novelist believes, corrupts us because it is built on falsity and pretense, on role-playing and the acceptance of the unreal. It's all opera. Only the very young and the very holy can ignore the pervasive artificiality. "As with all people, the moment she looked in the mirror, her face assumed a strained, unnatural, bad expression." However, those chastened by suffering or allowed ecstatic moments of insight may sometimes escape the world's meretricious allure.

As its title suggests, the novel examines two opposing realms, alternative paths through life. Tolstoy repeatedly contrasts war and peace, the artificial and the natural, erotic torment and family happiness, the city and the country, Moscow and St. Petersburg, Germanic military tactics and Slavic submission to the force of history, intellectual complexities and Christian simplicities, this world and the next. But note that copulative "and" rather than "or" -- we are both apes and angels. Still, our movement through life should be spiritually upward.

Some of these same polarities recur in another classic juxtaposition: Tolstoy or Dostoevsky? Young people nearly always prefer the latter -- Dostoevsky's alienated heroes are anguished intellectuals, often murderous and dangerously attractive. But then Dostoevsky is fundamentally romantic. By contrast, Tolstoy possesses an almost Homeric indifference to his characters' fate. His only interest is truth. This is Natasha, this is Pierre, he seems to say, I am not creating them so much as simply recording what they felt and did. As Isaac Babel once observed, "If the world could write by itself, it would write like Tolstoy."

For the author of War and Peace-- and Anna Karenina, The Death of Ivan Illich and Hadji Murad -- excels in just this unblinking focus, coupled with the artistry to illuminate a scene or a character by employing the exactly right but sometimes startling detail. When Napoleon surveys the field of battle, "on his cold face there was that particular tinge of self-confident, well-deserved happiness that can be seen on the face of a boy who has happily fallen in love." In one of the most endearing scenes in world literature, Tolstoy describes the happy hubbub as Sonya and Natasha ready their young selves for a ball, while the maid crawls on her knees to pin up a dress and Natasha's blushing mother retreats from her husband's embrace "so as not to have her dress rumpled."

War and Peace constantly overturns expectations. The great questions of the book, with a surprising set of answers, are the most fundamental ones: Who will die? Who will marry whom? Just when we think that Andrei and Natasha are established as the perfect couple, we realize there are 600 pages to go. One can't even be sure that the admirable Sonya, unwavering in her adoration of the soldier Nikolai Rostov, will be rewarded with the storybook ending she deserves. Much turns on sheer coincidence: When Prince Andrei lies wounded in a field hospital, who should be on the next operating table but the man he has sworn to kill?

But, then, God's ways are mysterious, and Tolstoy's main characters are all spiritual pilgrims. Prince Andrei, convinced he is dying, peers at the eternal sky and finds a strange joy. The abused Princess Marya invites holy wanderers into her home and dreams of joining these primitive Christians. Pierre becomes a Freemason as he searches for how best to conduct his life, but learns the answer he seeks only from a saintly peasant. Is love that answer? Not really. To gain peace of soul we must surrender our wills to the will of God. Similarly, Tolstoy insists that Field Marshal Kutuzov is able to defeat Napoleon not through cleverness but by submitting to the historical moment and becoming its instrument.

Though Tolstoy believes in spiritual meekness, he still knows the flesh is frail.

-REVIEW ESSAY: Tolstoy's Real Hero (Orlando Figes, NY Review of Books)
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have begun a quiet revolution in the translation of Russian literature. Since the publication of their acclaimed version of The Brothers Karamazov in 1990,[12] they have translated fifteen volumes of classic Russian works by Dostoevsky, Gogol, Bulgakov, Chekhov, and Tolstoy, restoring all the characteristic idioms, the bumpy syntax, the angularities, and the repetitions that had largely been removed in the interests of "good writing" by Garnett and her followers, and paying more attention (in a way that their predecessors never really did) to the interplay or dialogue between the different voices (including the narrator's) in these works—to the verbal "polyphony" which has been identified by the literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin as the organizing principle of the novel since Gogol.

War and Peace is their latest translation. It is an extraordinary achievement, particularly because Pevear does not speak or read Russian but relies on a literal translation (with notes on syntax, nuances of meaning, and literary references) by his wife Larissa to write a more finished English draft. What really makes this wonderfully fresh and readable translation stand out from its predecessors is its absolute fidelity to the language of Tolstoy. Words for particular types of clothing and fashions have been carefully researched: the "aunt" in the opening scene is dressed "in high ribbons"; Prince Ippolit wears a "redingote"; and when she dresses for the ball Natasha pins on a headdress called a "toque" (mistranslated as a "ribbon" by Garnett).

The same is true of military and hunting terms. There are occasional misjudgments: the "uncle" in the hunting scene is awkwardly described as refusing "social service" instead of "public appointments" (as in Garnett and Edmonds) or even "public service" —the usual understanding of the Russian term obshchestvennaia sluzhba. There are also one or two errors, such as making Prince Andrei and his sister Maria bid farewell at the end of Part One by kissing "each other's hands." The correct custom, as described by Tolstoy, was for Andrei to take his sister by the hand and kiss her.

One of the virtues of this translation is its sensitivity to different linguistic idioms. It captures the archaic phrasing used by the old Prince Bolkonsky, for example:

"Well, tell me," he went on, getting back on his hobbyhorse, "how have the Germans taught you to fight Bonaparte by this new science of yours known as strategy?"

The new War and Peace is more inventive in its rendering of plain speech than previous translations, which are too cockney-coy, too grammatically correct, to communicate the drunken street-talk of the workmen in this scene, for example, just before the capture of Moscow by the French. Compare Pevear and Volokhonsky's

"He ought to square it properly with people!" a skinny artisan with a sparse beard and frowning eyes was saying. "Or else, what, he's sucked our blood—and he's quits."

with Rosemary Edmonds (who follows Garnett closely):

"Why don't he give us our wages we're entitled to?" a lean boot hand with a scanty beard and knitted brows was saying. "He sucks our life-blood out of us, and then he thinks he's quit of us!"

Another merit of the Pevear-Volokhonsky translation is its fidelity to Tolstoy's syntax, its countless repetitions and endless sentences, so that for the first time the English reader gets a real sense of how his writing sounds and feels to read in the original. In the scene before Prince Andrei's coffin, quoted above, where Tolstoy uses the past tense of the verb "to weep" (plakat') no less than seven times, Pevear and Volokhonsky are the only translators not to flinch from using "wept" throughout: Garnett says "cried" four times and "wept" three; Louise and Aylmer Maude say both words three times each, omitting one verb altogether; Edmonds has "wept" four times and "cried" thrice; while Anthony Briggs says "wept" five times, omits one verb, and then breaks the repetition with "gave way to tears." There is another passage where Tolstoy uses the word "anteroom" (priemnaya) five times in as many lines. It is a specific word with specific meanings which he goes on to discuss:

During his service, mostly as an adjutant, Prince Andrei had seen many anterooms of significant persons, and the differing characters of these anterooms were very clear to him. Count Arakcheev's anteroom had a completely special character.

The Maude translation uses three different words for "anteroom" and omits it once. Edmonds omits the word twice; Garnett once; while Briggs removes the repetition altogether by omitting the noun twice and using two rather different words ("reception-room" and "waiting-room") on the other occasions. Pevear and Volokhonsky are the only ones to translate all five repeats of the noun.

They also make the most of those large rhetorical structures that are such a hallmark of the Tolstoyan style.

-FILM REVIEW: Filming the Great War of Words (GRADY HENDRIX, October 19, 2007, NY Sun)
With newspapers and magazines heralding Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky's new translation of "War and Peace" with all the ballyhoo normally reserved for a Lindsay Lohan arrest, and the Metropolitan Opera staging a gargantuan version of Sergei Prokofiev's "War and Peace" in December, Leo Tolstoy's 1,312-page ox stunner of a novel is suddenly, 138 years after its initial publication, hot. This poses a dilemma for New Yorkers who want to be in the know: It's too late to start reading the thing if you didn't begin plowing through it long before the hype began, and buying Cliffs Notes would be downright tacky, so how do you pretend you've read it at this point? Film Forum comes to the rescue with its screening of Sergei Bondarchuk's 1968 film version of "War and Peace." Unfortunately, it's almost seven hours long. Fortunately, it's amazing.

Like Kevin Costner, Mr. Bondarchuk was an actor who decided to direct an epic motion picture starring himself, although unlike "Waterworld" or "The Postman," "War and Peace" turns out to be worth the effort. Shot over five years, it cost around $100 million ($500 million in today's dollars) and mobilized the entire Russian film industry, won an Academy Award, employed 120,000 actors, and is pretty much forgotten these days.

Just as an excellent translation vastly enhances our enjoyment of a great novel, so too can an insightful essay.

November 14, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:48 PM


Britain, France Argue Which Is Closest U.S. Ally (NICHOLAS WAPSHOTT, November 13, 2007, NY Sun)

Not to be outdone by President Sarkozy's amorous overture to President Bush in Washington, Prime Minister Brown of Britain has used the first major foreign policy speech of his premiership to insist that Britain is America's closest ally.

After decades of Anglo-French rivalry, in which France has vehemently deplored the global influence America and Britain have attained and what every president of France since Charles de Gaulle has described as "Anglo-Saxon culture," Mr. Sarkozy claimed during his visit to Washington last week that France, not Britain, is now America's best friend and partner.

Mr. Brown, who has been portrayed on both sides of the Atlantic as having distanced himself from America to avoid the charge against his predecessor, Tony Blair, that he was Mr. Bush's "poodle," fought back last night, claiming in a speech at a banquet thrown by the lord mayor of the city of London that the French president's bid to usurp Britain's traditional place alongside America would not succeed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:16 PM


We Happy Two: a review of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher: A Political Marriage by Nicholas Wapshott (ANDREW STUTTAFORD, November 5, 2007, NY Sun)

One of the more poignant features of the current competition among Republican presidential hopefuls, fiercely fighting for a chance to lose to Senator Clinton in 2008, has been a series of missions to Maggie. Mitt Romney saw Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister, late last year in Washington, D.C., while Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani were at pains to include meetings with the Iron Lady in the course of their recent trips to London. The political consequences of such encounters will, I'd guess, be minimal, but the briskly written, perceptive, and, ultimately, moving "Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher: A Political Marriage" (Sentinel, 336 pages, $25.95), by The New York Sun's Nicholas Wapshott, helps explain why, nearly two decades after she was driven from office, a frail, elderly Englishwoman still merits visits from American politicians looking to win the most powerful job in the world.

As its title would suggest, the focus of this volume is the personal alliance of Reagan and Mrs. Thatcher, a combination that represented the most productive and historically significant incarnation of the Special Relationship between England and America since that astonishingly effective blend of Anglo-American genes better known as Sir Winston Churchill (whose mother was, of course, from Brooklyn). Well-buttressed by skillfully chosen quotations from letters and telephone records (some previously unpublished), the central story of "Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher" is of a relationship between two politicians of conviction whose friendship, shared goals, and remarkable ability to reinforce and support each other through some very difficult times were key features of international politics in the 1980s — and, so it was to turn out, critical factors in the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.

Given his subject matter, it's to be expected that Mr. Wapshott has somewhat less to say about the domestic scene on either side of the Atlantic. Yet, American readers may also find that this book makes an excellent, if brief, introduction to Mrs. Thatcher's career as a whole.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:28 PM


'Persepolis' aims to capture punk rock yearnings in a changing Iran: Marjane Satrapi has turned her graphic novel into an animated film (Rachel Abramowitz, 11/04/07, Los Angeles Times)

"It's based on real life, but from the second you make a script, it becomes fictional," says 37-year-old writer-director-comic artist Marjane Satrapi of the animated film "Persepolis," which is based on her graphic novels inspired by growing up in Tehran after the Iranian revolution. "I ended up looking at the main character as the main character, not myself." She also had to "cheat" and make changes so her story would come alive.

Satrapi's film, which she co-directed with Vincent Paronnaud and which opens Dec. 25, has already scooped up the Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and it's easy to see why. It's a delightful -- yet poignant -- child's-eye view on the the winnowing of personal freedoms under the harsh regime of the ayatollahs. The film evokes young Satrapi's quest for contraband punk rock, the perennial irritation of keeping one's headscarf correct and how to conduct romance in a country where unmarried men and women should not be seen in public together.

For whatever reason, the simple black and white art of the graphic novel works here as well as it did for Art Spiegelman.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 PM


Age of Reason: In his hundred years, Jacques Barzun has learned a thing or two. (Arthur Krystal, October 22, 2007, The New Yorker)

Next month, Barzun, the eminent historian and cultural critic, will turn one hundred. His idea of celebrating his centenary is to put the finishing touches on his thirty-eighth book (not counting translations). Among his areas of expertise are French and German literature, music, education, ghost stories, detective fiction, language, and etymology. Barzun has examined Poe as proofreader, Abraham Lincoln as stylist, Diderot as satirist, and Liszt as reader; he has burnished the reputations of Thomas Beddoes, James Agate, and John Jay Chapman; and he has written so many reviews and essays that his official biographer is loath to put a number on them. There’s nothing hasty or haphazard about these evaluations. Barzun’s breadth of erudition has been a byword among friends and colleagues for six decades. Yet, in spite of his degrees and awards (he was made a Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom), Barzun regards himself in many respects as an “amateur” (the Latin root, amator, means “lover”), someone who takes genuine pleasure in what he learns about. More than any other historian of the past four generations, Barzun has stood for the seemingly contradictory ideas of scholarly rigor and unaffected enthusiasm.

One of those enthusiasms produced what may be his most frequently quoted sentence: “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.” The line, extracted from his book “God’s Country and Mine,” is inscribed on a plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame and routinely trotted out by news anchors and NPR commentators. Sometimes, Barzun worries that after his books go out of print only those fourteen words will be remembered. Or so he said one evening not long ago, when I was visiting him in San Antonio. We had finished dinner and were sitting in the living room. When he saw me looking at a portrait of his mother by Albert Gleizes, Barzun remarked that it was the third Cubist portrait ever done. “Not the third Cubist picture,” he cautioned, “the third Cubist portrait.” He thinks the first may have been Picasso’s “Woman Seated in an Armchair,” and the second Gleizes’s “Portrait of Jacques Nayral.” Barzun’s taste and attitudes were formed at the beginning of the modernist movement—he played in Duchamp’s studio and attended the orchestral opening of Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps”—and he has yet to come around to the cultural aftermath.

Barzun’s declinist views about Western civilization are no secret. One reason that “From Dawn to Decadence,” an eight-hundred-page history of Western civilization from 1500 to the present, which he published at the age of ninety-two, was such an improbable best-seller (“the damnedest story you’ll ever read,” David Gates called it in Newsweek) was its contention that Western civilization is winding down, that “the forms of art as of life seem exhausted.” But, when Barzun insists that he sees “the end of the high creative energies at work since the Renaissance,” his tone is less that of someone appalled by what’s happening than of someone simply recording the ocean currents.

Barzun began to appreciate the transience of civilization almost as soon as he learned what the word meant. Born outside Paris in 1907, he was six years old when the First World War broke out. Early on, he had a sense that, in Paul Valéry’s harsh aperçu, “a civilization has the same fragility as a life.” The war shattered the world that he knew and, as he later wrote, “visibly destroyed that nursery of living culture.” This isn’t entirely a figure of speech. On Saturdays before the war, his parents’ living room had been a raucous salon where many of Europe’s leading avant-garde artists and writers gathered: Varèse played the piano, Ozenfant and Delaunay debated, Cocteau told lies, and Apollinaire declaimed. Brancusi often stopped by, as did Léger, Kandinsky, Jules Romains, Duchamp, and Pound.

In 1914, when the shells began to fall, the visits gradually ceased; soon came the names of the dead. His parents tried to conceal the losses, but the boy became depressed and, as he learned later, began hinting at suicide. At the age of ten, his parents bundled him off to the seashore at Dinard, where he immersed himself in Shakespeare and James Fenimore Cooper.

It’s tempting to relate Barzun’s skepticism about recent cultural developments (he’s inclined to regard the provocations of later artists, from John Cage to Damien Hirst, as leaves from a tree that was planted before the First World War) to the intensity of his childhood milieu and its abrupt disappearance. Barzun readily acknowledges that the accident of birth is “bound to have irreversible consequences,” but he rejects the idea that his character or sense of the world derives from any loss that he might have suffered as a child. In fact, when I broached the possibility that his precise way of formulating ideas and strict attention to empirical evidence are distinctive qualities of the civilization that he saw disintegrate before his eyes, his response was gently quizzical. “Why must you find trauma where there is none?” he asked. “I grew up a child of a bourgeois family, with emancipated parents who surrounded themselves with people who talked about ideas. My views were formed by my parents, by the lycée, and by my reading. How else should I be?”

At least Mr. Barzun is a social critic, so that line is a fitting one to endure. Imagine being John Updike, who probably thinks himself a novelist, but whose only writing that will be read a hundred years from now is, Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu:
Understand that we were a crowd of rational people. We knew that a home run cannot be produced at will; the right pitch must be perfectly met and luck must ride with the ball. Three innings before, we had seen a brave effort fail. The air was soggy, the season was exhausted. Nevertheless, there will always lurk, around the corner in a pocket of our knowledge of the odds, an indefensible hope, and this was one of the times, which you now and then find in sports, when a density of expectation hangs in the air and plucks an event out of the future.

Fisher, after his unsettling wait, was low with the first pitch. He put the second one over, and Williams swung mightily and missed. The crowd grunted, seeing that classic swing, so long and smooth and quick, exposed. Fisher threw the third time, Williams swung again, and there it was. The ball climbed on a diagonal line into the vast volume of air over center field. From my angle, behind third base, the ball seemed less an object in flight than the tip of a towering, motionless construct, like the Eiffel Tower or the Tappan Zee Bridge. It was in the books while it was still in the sky. Brandt ran back to the deepest corner of the outfield grass, the ball descended beyond his reach and struck in the crotch where the bullpen met the wall, bounced chunkily, and vanished.

Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs - hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn't tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted ''We want Ted'' for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he refused. Gods do not answer letters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:45 PM


Rock’s Balkanized Route to the Indies (WILL HERMES, 10/21/07, NY Times)

[T]he most striking thing about DeVotchKa’s circuslike show at the Spiegeltent at the South Street Seaport in Manhattan in August was the music, a quilt of sounds from the international section of the iTunes store. One could hear mariachi ballads, polkas, horas and Gypsy tunes played on accordion, bouzouki, violins. But those sounds informed songs that also echoed the rhythmic bluster and vocal drama of 1980s alternative-rock acts like the Smiths and Talking Heads. The band’s cross-cultural recipe was made explicit when the young crowd began sloshing its beers to a bouncy, Balkanized version of the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs.”

On any given night in an American rock club you can hear bands like Gogol Bordello, Man Man, Beirut and Balkan Beat Box playing odd-metered songs drawing on the rhythms of Eastern European Gypsy music. You might encounter Antibalas or Vampire Weekend riffing on African sounds, Dengue Fever making psychedelic Cambodian pop or a D.J. like Diplo spinning Brazilian funk. On the recent “Kala,” a contender for the year’s most exciting pop album, the British-Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A., who works from Brooklyn, draws on Indian, African and West Indian sounds. The folk-rocker Devendra Banhart creates fusions with Mexican and Brazilian musicians on his recent CD, “Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon.” And the veteran musical adventurer Bjork toured this year with a West African percussion troupe and Chinese pipa virtuoso.

Increasingly the back-to-basics movement that has characterized cutting-edge rock this century, from the blues-based hard rock of the White Stripes to the new wave-postpunk revivalism of Interpol, is giving way to music that looks further afield for its influences. And one result is a clutch of acts, many of them from New York, that are internationalizing rock’s Anglo-American vernacular.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:13 PM


Destroying the Nation-State (Alan W. Dowd, November 06, 2007,

Buried deep in a recent Washington Post piece deriding former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s penchant for firing off memos, we find this morsel:

“In one of his longer ruminations, in May 2004, Rumsfeld considered whether to redefine the terrorism fight as a ‘worldwide insurgency.’ The goal of the enemy, he wrote, is to ‘end the state system, using terrorism, to drive the non-radicals from the world.’”

Love him or hate him, Rumsfeld was right about this. He was also consistent, recognizing that the jihadists’ worldwide insurgency—or global guerilla war, if you prefer—is not the only challenge to the nation-state system. In fact, Rumsfeld also spoke at length about international institutions that undermine the nation-state system.

“We see respect for states’ sovereignty eroding,” he said during a 2003 conference in Germany. “We see it, in my view, in the International Criminal Court’s claim of authority to try the citizens of countries that have not consented to ICC jurisdiction…We see it in the new Belgian law purporting to give Belgian courts ‘universal jurisdiction’ over alleged war crimes anywhere in the world.” [...]

In short, Rumsfeld understood that the nation-state system is under assault from two unrelated sources—international, supra-state organizations and transnational, terrorist organizations. Both seek a stateless world, although their visions for what such a world would look like are dramatically different. After all, one is utopian, the other dystopian.

The solution, in Rumsfeld’s clear-eyed view, is first “to strengthen states, including their ability to effectively govern their territory.” The United States has been hard at work on this since the end of the Cold War. Consider the U.S. military missions in Somalia, Haiti, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan, to name just a few.

The second part of Rumsfeld’s solution is “to strengthen and reform the institutions that facilitate multilateral action by, and cooperation between, sovereign states”—institutions like NATO and the UN. This challenge is not new. As Winston Churchill said of the UN, “We must make sure that its work is fruitful…that it is a reality and not a sham, that it is a force for action and not merely a frothing of words.” And, we might add, that its actions serve to strengthen rather than weaken the very system it was enshrined to protect.

Though it is obviously necessary not to be truthful about this, an effective transnational organization is one that does Anglo-American bidding.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Feist: Torch Songs and Bulletproof Buzz: Hear an Interview and In-Studio Performance (David Dye, 10/22/07, World Cafe)

Leslie Feist has long attracted serious buzz: For the last several years, she's appeared on the verge of jumping from underground success to mainstream stardom. In recent weeks, she's started to fulfill that promise, with her song "1234" surfacing in ubiquitous commercials and her face appearing on top late-night talk shows.

The tremendous response would have been hard to predict a few years ago — with roots in punk bands, Feist was known primarily as a participant in the Canadian indie-rock collective Broken Social Scene — but she possesses a naturally smoky voice that makes her instantly accessible. A remarkably gifted torch singer, Feist has the power and skill to connect with a diverse audience.

November 13, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 PM


Maple-garlic almonds make tasty, healthy gift (JIM ROMANOFF / Associated Press)

Here's something different — a delicious homemade gift that helps, rather than hinders, good health.

These delicately flavored roasted, spiced almonds are loaded with antioxidants and are rich in monounsaturated fats, making them a wonderful heart-healthy treat. [...]

1/4 cup granulated maple sugar or light brown sugar

2 teaspoons granulated garlic

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 large egg white

1 tablespoon water

1 pound raw whole almonds (3 cups)

Preheat oven to 250 F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the maple sugar, granulated garlic, pepper and salt.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg white and water until foamy. Add the almonds and stir to coat, then pour through a strainer to drain off excess egg white.

Transfer the almonds to the large bowl of sugar and spices; stir to coat well. Spread the almonds evenly over the prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 30 minutes. Stir, and continue baking until the almonds are dry and golden, about 30 minutes more. Let cool before serving or packaging.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 4:43 PM


To Understand the Left, Read this Issue of Rolling Stone (Dennis Prager, 11/13/07, Creators Syndicate)

The current issue of Rolling Stone magazine, its special 40th anniversary issue, reveals almost all one needs to know about the current state of the cultural left. The issue features interviews with people Rolling Stone considers to be America's leading cultural and political figures -- such as Al Gore, Jon Stewart, Bruce Springsteen, Cornel West, Paul Krugman, Kanye West, Bill Maher and George Clooney, among many others.

It brings me no pleasure to say that, with few exceptions, the interviews reveal a superficiality and contempt for cultural norms (as evidenced by the ubiquity of curse words) that should scare anyone who believes that these people have influence on American life. [...]

Typical examples:

Chris Rock " . . . Bush f--ked up." "That's a major f--kup." "I say some harsh s--t."

Novelist William Gibson: "The s--t you've been doing for the past 400 years . . . ."

George Clooney: " . . . my sister and I were quizzed on s--t." "Now you're going to hear about all this s--t." "What the f--k's wrong with you?" China "doesn't give a s--t . . ." "I don't give a s--t." "This war is bulls--t."

Billie Joe Armstrong: "What the f--k are you doing?" " . . . when you say 'F--k George Bush' in a packed arena in Texas, that's an accomplishment." "I don't have a f--king clue what they're talking about." " . . . all the f--ked up problems we have." " . . . this girl was f--ked up." "Why did I worry so much about this s--t?"

As a general rule, the amount of bad language a person uses in conversation with complete strangers is an impressive indicator of how shallow and self-absorbed they are. While most of us have occasional transgressions, the relative absence of this phenomenon among conservatives tells us something about which side is the party of the grown-ups.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 4:32 PM


Drug Deal Results in Cookie Torture (11/6/07, AP)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:10 PM


Ask the pilot: Oversized and overhyped, the world's biggest plane is here. Is the Airbus 380 the "most hideous airliner ever conceived"? (Patrick Smith, 11/08/07, Slate)

The jet is shamelessly, needlessly ugly.

Most of that ugliness is the fault of the plane's bulging forehead, a trait that resulted from an engineering decision to place the cockpit below the upper deck. It is useful to think of a jetliner as a sort of horizontal skyscraper. To recall the words of architecture critic Paul Goldberger, writing in a 2005 issue of the New Yorker: "Most architects who design skyscrapers focus on two aesthetic problems. How to meet the ground and how to meet the sky -- the top and the bottom, in other words." With airplanes, as with office towers, the observer's gaze is drawn instinctively to their extremities, and their attractiveness, or lack thereof, is personified through the sculpting of the nose and tail sections. Not that the A380's tail is anything special either, but it's hard to get past that forehead.

"Perhaps in ten to fifteen years," offered Geoffrey Thomas in last month's issue of Air Transport World, "the A380 will be described with the same passion and affection as the Sydney Opera House or the Eiffel Tower, two of many global icons that were bedeviled by controversy during their early years." Not this time.

Did it need to be this way? Is it true, to cite a quote attributed to an Airbus engineer some years ago, that "Air does not yield to style"? Jet age romantics recall the provocative curves of machines like the Caravelle; the urbane, needle-nosed superiority of Concorde; the Gothic surety of the 727. You're telling us that planes need to be boring, or worse, in the name of efficiency and economy. No, they don't. The state-of-the-art Boeing 787 is evidence enough of that. Americans might remember when, in the 1960s, most of the famous old baseball parks were torn down and replaced by sterile, cookie-cutter facilities in the name of "functionality." In time, people came to hate those places, until eventually they too were knocked down and replaced by retro-chic parks like the ones in Baltimore, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and elsewhere. These stadiums offer the best of both worlds: They're functional and pretty to look at. Today's airplanes can, and should, embody a similar postmodern spirit. For what it's worth, early renderings of a proposed double-decked Airbus, known at the time as the A2000, show a more handsome plane, without the abruptly pitched forehead.

Compare the A380's resultant profile with that of its chief rival, the Boeing 747. The 747 is often derided as "bubble-topped" or "humpbacked." In truth, the upper-deck annex, fronted by the flight deck, provides the plane with its most recognizable feature and is smoothly integral to the fuselage, tapering forward -- the pilots' windscreens anthropomorphizing as eyebrows -- to a stately and confident prow. Front to back, the 747 looks less like an airliner than it does an ocean liner. (For the record, the tail is pretty sexy too -- svelte like the foresail of a schooner.) The airplane is giant, but it doesn't necessarily seem that way. There's an organic flow to its silhouette. For all its square footage and power, it maintains a graceful, understated elegance.

Which is why they'll only be bought by state airways and landed where people have no voice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


The Human Beast (Tom Wolfe, 2006 Jefferson Lecture)

Ladies and Gentlemen, this evening it is my modest intention to tell you in the short time we have together . . . everything you will ever need to know about the human beast.

I take that term, the human beast, from my idol, Emile Zola, who published a novel entitled The Human Beast in 1888, just 29 years after Darwin's The Origin of Species broke the stunning news that Homo sapiens--or Homo loquax, as I call him--was not created by God in his own image but was precisely that, a beast, not different in any essential way from snakes with fangs or orangutangs . . . or kangaroos. . . or the fang-proof mongoose. Darwin's doctrine, Evolution, leapt from the pages of a scientific monograph into every level of society in Europe and America with sensational suddenness. It created a sheerly dividing line between the God-fearing bourgeoisie who were appalled, and those people of sweetness and light whose business it was to look down at the bourgeosie from a great height. Today, of course, we call these superior people intellectuals, but intellectual didn't exist as a noun until Clemenceau applied it to Zola and Anatole France in 1896 during the Dreyfus Case. Zola's intellect was as sweetly enlightened as they made them. He was in with the in-crowd. Evenings he spent where the in-crowd went, namely, the Café Guerbois, along with Manet, Cezanne, Whistler, Nadar, and le tout Paris boheme. He took his cues from the in-crowd's views, namely, Academic art was bad, Impressionism was good, and Homo sapiens had descended from the monkeys in the trees. Human beasts? I'll give you human beasts! Zola's aforementioned novel of that name, La Bete Humaine in French, is a story of four murderers, a woman and three men, who work down at track level on the Paris-Le Havre railroad line, each closing in on a different victim, each with a different motive, including the case of a handsome young passenger train engineer with a compulsion . . . to make love to women and then kill them. With that, Zola crowned himself as the first scientific novelist, a "naturalist," to use his term, studying the human fauna.

I love my man Zola. He's my idol. But the whole business exudes irony so rich, you can taste it. It tastes like marzipan. Here we have Darwin and his doctrine that in 1859 rocks Western man's very conception of himself . . . We have the most popular writer in the world in 1888, Zola, who can't wait to bring the doctrine alive on the page . . . We have the next five generations of educated people who have believed and believe to this day that, at bottom, evolution's primal animal urges rule our lives . . . to the point where the fourth greatest pop music hit of 2001, "You and Me, Baby" by the Bloodhound Gang, proclaims, "You and me, baby, we ain't nothing but mammals. / So let's do it like they do on the Dis-cov-ery Channel"--it's rich! rich! rich beyond belief!

O. I love you, Emile, but by the time you and Darwin got hold of it, evolution had been irrelevant for 11,000 years. Why couldn't you two see it? Evolution came to an end when the human beast developed speech! As soon as he became not Homo sapiens, "man reasoning," but Homo loquax, "man talking"! Speech gave the human beast far more than an ingenious tool. Speech was a veritable nuclear weapon! It gave the human beast the powers of reason, complex memory, and long-term planning, eventually in the form of print and engineering plans. Speech gave him the power to enlarge his food supply at will through an artifice called farming. Speech ended not only the evolution of man, by making it no longer necessary, but also the evolution of animals! Our animal friends--we're very sentimental about predators these days, aren't we--the lions, the tigers, the wolves, the rhinoceroses, the great apes, kangaroos, leopards, cheetahs, grizzly bears, polar bears, cougars--they're "endangered," meaning hanging on for dear life. Today the so-called animal kingdom exists only at the human beast's sufferance. The beast has dealt crippling blows even to the unseen empire of the microbes. Stunted adults from Third World countries with abysmal sanitation come to the United States and their offspring grow six or more inches taller, thanks to the wonders of hygiene. Cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, turkeys would be extinct by now had not the human beasts hit upon the idea of animal husbandry. So far the human beast enjoys the luxury of crying sentimental tears over the deer because she's so pretty. But the day the human beast discovers deer in his cellar, fawns in his bedroom closet, bucks tangling horns in the attic at night above his very bedroom . . . those filthy oversized vermin, the deer, will be added to that big long list above. We're sentimental about the dolphins, because they're so smart. What about the tuna? It's okay to kill tunas by the ton because they're dimwits? It would take an evolutionary mystic (and there are such) to believe these animals will ever evolve their way out of the hole they're in thanks to man's power of speech.

If you're looking for some good Pod fodder, the lecture is also available as an Mp3

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


Rah! Rah! Block That Rook!: Small, no-name colleges have suddenly become powerhouses in intercollegiate chess. By whipping Harvard and Yale in the thinking-person’s sport, they are cleverly trying to build reputations to attract top-quality applicants and alumni money (Luke Mullins, November 9, 2007, The American)

Were it not for chess, Ray Robson might be just another boy genius. After completing sixth grade last year, the spindly 12-year-old began pursuing higher learning at his home in Largo, Florida, studying Mandarin with his mother and discussing literature with his father, a professor at St. Petersburg College. But by upsetting a slew of middle-aged chess opponents, Ray has distinguished himself from even the most exceptional American prodigies. “He directs his own chess studies; I can’t help him there,” says Gary Robson, Ray’s father.

Ray began playing chess at age three, after his father brought home a plastic chess-and-checkers set from the local Wal-Mart. Expecting his son to take to checkers, Gary was surprised when Ray easily grasped the complicated maneuverings of chess, and downright shocked when, a year later, Ray beat his old man for the first time. “I never let Ray win at anything,” Gary Robson says. “You should see our ping-pong battles. They’re ferocious.”

Since that time, Ray has worked tirelessly to improve: mastering state-of-the-art computer chess programs, amassing a library of 500 chess books, and studying under three different professional instructors. The hard work has paid off. With seven scholastic titles under his belt, Ray has finished in the top ten of the World Youth Chess Championships for the past three years, and tied for first place at the Pan American Youth Chess Championships for the past two. And just last year, Ray became the youngest player in history to qualify for the United States Chess Championships.

“He’s coming along well,” says James Stallings. Few people are more interested in Ray’s development than Stallings, who is director and head recruiter for the chess team at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD). In April 2005, when Ray was ten years old, UTD awarded him a four-year scholarship. Ray had just won the scholastic Super National chess tournament in Nashville. “Ray Robson will cut you up and destroy you,” Stallings says today. “He’s probably the top talent in the U.S. right now.”

For his part, Ray—who sleeps under a blanket emblazoned with robots, space stations, dump trucks, tractors, and choo-choo trains—says he hasn’t spent much time reflecting on UTD’s offer. “I don’t ever think much about where I’m going to college,” Ray says. Still, when Stallings caught up with Ray and his father at the U.S. Chess Championship

in Stillwater, Oklahoma, this past May, he took the opportunity to tick off the reasons why Ray should matriculate at UTD—whenever he is ready for college. He’d have the chance to play with other world-class chess players, Stallings told him, live in on-campus apartments available exclusively to the chess team, and enjoy UTD’s excellent academic programs. Full tuition and fees, of course, are already taken care of.

"He's a real salesman," says Gary Robson.

Just like private businesses, American colleges and universities need familiar, reputable brand names to bring in revenue. But with elite academia already crammed with well-known institutions like Harvard and Stanford, smaller, regional universities must work hard to establish identities of their own. Over the years, in an effort to achieve national exposure and boost reputations, American universities have tried everything from hiring Nobel laureates to building championship basketball teams. Today, however, a small but growing number of colleges have come up with an unconventional brand-enhancer: building a winning chess team. Yes, chess.

There was a funny bit on a recent Chuck, where one of his old Stanford profs turns out to have been a CIA recruiter and when the bad guys attack on campus Chuck calls on what turns out to be half the student body for help.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


Why Pigs Don’t Have Wings (Jerry Fodor, 10/18/07, London Review of Books)

Two kinds of consideration now threaten to displace natural selection from its position at the centre of evolutionary theory; one is more or less conceptual, the other is more or less empirical.

The conceptual issue. There is, arguably, an equivocation at the heart of selection theory; and slippage along the consequent faultline threatens to bring down the whole structure. Here’s the problem: you can read adaptationism as saying that environments select creatures for their fitness; or you can read it as saying that environments select traits for their fitness. It looks like the theory must be read both ways if it’s to do the work that it’s intended to: on the one hand, forces of selection must act on individual creatures since it is individual creatures that live, struggle, reproduce and die. On the other hand, forces of selection must act on traits since it is phenotypes – bundles of heritable traits – whose evolution selection theory purports to explain. It isn’t obvious, however, that the theory of selection can sustain both readings at once. Perhaps the consensus view among Darwinists is that phenotypes evolve because fit individuals are selected for the traits that make them fit. This way of putting it avoids the ambiguity, but whether it’s viable depends on whether adaptationism is able to provide the required notion of ‘selection for’; and it seems, on reflection, that maybe it can’t. Hence the current perplexity.

History might reasonably credit Stephen J. Gould and Richard Lewontin as the first to notice that something may be seriously wrong in this part of the wood. Their 1979 paper, ‘The Spandrels of S. Marco and The Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme’, ignited an argument about the foundations of selection theory that still shows no signs of quieting. A spandrel is one of those more-or-less triangular spaces that you find at the junctures of the arches that hold up a dome. They are often highly decorated; painters competed in devising designs to fit them. Indeed (and this is Gould and Lewontin’s main point), casual inspection might suggest that the spandrels are there because they provide the opportunity for decoration; that, an adaptationist might say, is what spandrels were selected for. But actually, according to Gould and Lewontin, that gets things backwards. In fact, spandrels are a by-product of an arch-and-dome architecture; decide on the latter and you get the former for better or worse. Arches were selected for holding up domes; spandrels just came along for the ride.

I assume that Gould and Lewontin got their architectural history right, but it doesn’t really matter for the purposes at hand. What matters is that though spandrels survived and flourished, nothing at all follows about what, if anything, they were selected for. To a first approximation, you have spandrels if and only if you have a dome that’s supported by arches; the two are, as logicians say, coextensive. Is it, then, that selection for arches explains why there are spandrels? Or is it that selection for spandrels explains why there are arches? It looks, so far, as though the story could go either way; so what tips the balance? Surely it’s that domes and arches are designed objects. Somebody actually thought about, and decided on, the architecture of San Marco; and what he had in mind when he did so was that the arches should support the dome, not that they should form spandrels at their junctures. So that settles it: the spandrels weren’t selected for anything at all; they’re just part of the package. The question, however, is whether the same sort of reasoning can apply to the natural selection of the phenotypic traits of organisms, where there is, by assumption, no architect to do the deciding. If cathedrals weren’t designed but grew in the wild, would the right evolutionary story be that they have arches because they were selected for having spandrels? Or would it be that they have spandrels because they were selected for having arches? Or neither? Or both?

It’s a commonplace that Darwin constructed the theory of natural selection with an eye to what breeders do when they choose which creatures to encourage to reproduce. This reading of Darwin is by no means idiosyncratic. Darwin ‘argues by example, not analogy,’ Adam Gopnik wrote in the New Yorker in October last year. ‘The point of the opening of “The Origin” isn’t that something similar happens with domesticated breeds and natural species; the point is that the very same thing happens, albeit unplanned and over a much longer period.’ It’s true, of course, that breeding, like evolution, can alter phenotypes over time, with consequent effects on phylogenetic relations. But, on the face of it, the mechanisms by which breeding and evolution operate could hardly be more different. How could a studied decision to breed for one trait or another be ‘the very same thing’ as the adventitious culling of a population? Gopnik doesn’t say.

The present worry is that the explication of natural selection by appeal to selective breeding is seriously misleading, and that it thoroughly misled Darwin. Because breeders have minds, there’s a fact of the matter about what traits they breed for; if you want to know, just ask them. Natural selection, by contrast, is mindless; it acts without malice aforethought. That strains the analogy between natural selection and breeding, perhaps to the breaking point. What, then, is the intended interpretation when one speaks of natural selection? The question is wide open as of this writing.

The answers that have been suggested so far have not been convincing. In particular, though there is no end of it in popular accounts of adaptationism, it is a Very Bad Idea to try and save the bacon by indulging in metaphorical anthropomorphisms. It couldn’t, for example, be literally true that the traits selected for are the ones Mother Nature has in mind when she does the selecting; nor can it be literally true that they are the traits one’s selfish genes have in mind when they undertake to reproduce themselves. There is, after all, no Mother Nature, and genes don’t have, or lack, personality defects. Metaphors are fine things; science probably couldn’t be done without them. But they are supposed to be the sort of things that can, in a pinch, be cashed. Lacking a serious and literal construal of ‘selection for’, adaptationism founders on this methodological truism.

There are delicious ironies here. Getting minds in general, and God’s mind in particular, out of biological explanations is a main goal of the adaptationist programme. I am, myself, all in favour of that; since I’m pretty sure that neither exists, I see nothing much to choose between God and Mother Nature. Maybe one can, after all, make sense of mindless environmental variables selecting for phenotypic traits. That is, maybe one can get away with claiming that phenotypes are like arches in that both are designed objects. The crucial test is whether one’s pet theory can distinguish between selection for trait A and selection for trait B when A and B are coextensive: were polar bears selected for being white or for matching their environment? Search me; and search any kind of adaptationism I’ve heard of. Nor am I holding my breath till one comes along.

The empirical issue. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for a biologist of the Darwinist persuasion to argue like this: ‘Bother conceptual issues and bother those who raise them. We can’t do without biology and biology can’t do without Darwinism. So Darwinism must be true.’ Darwinists do often argue this way; and the fear of hyperbole seems not to inhibit them. The biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky said that nothing in biology makes sense without Darwinism, and he is widely paraphrased. The philosopher Daniel Dennett says that ‘in a single stroke, the idea of evolution by natural selection unifies the realm of life, meaning and purpose with the realm of space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and physical law.’ (Phew!) Richard Dawkins says, ‘If superior creatures from space ever visit earth, the first question they will ask, in order to assess the level of our civilisation, is: “Have they discovered evolution yet?”’ Shake a stick at a Darwinist treatise and you’re sure to find, usually in the first chapter, claims for the indispensability of adaptationism. Well, if adaptationism really is the only game in town, if the rest of biology really does presuppose it, we had better cleave to it warts and all. What is indispensable therefore cannot be dispensed with, as Wittgenstein might have said. The breaking news, however, is that serious alternatives to adaptationism have begun to emerge; ones that preserve the essential claim that phenotypes evolve, but depart to one degree or other from Darwin’s theory that natural selection is the mechanism by which they do. There is now far more of this sort of thing around than I am able to survey. But an example or two may give the feel of it.

Adaptationism is a species of what one might call ‘environmentalism’ in biology. (It’s not, by any means, the only species; Skinnerian learning theory is another prime example.) The basic idea is that where you find phenotypic structure, you can generally find corresponding structure in the environment that caused it. Phylogeny tells us that phenotypes don’t occur at random; they form a more or less orderly taxonomic tree. Very well then, there must be nonrandomness in the environmental variables by which the taxonomic tree is shaped. Dennett has put this idea very nicely: ‘Functioning structure carries implicit information about the environment in which its function “works”. The wings of a seagull . . . imply that the creature whose wings they are is excellently adapted for flight in a medium having the specific density and viscosity of the atmosphere within a thousand metres or so of the surface of the Earth.’ So, phenotypes carry information about the environment in which they evolved in something like the way that the size, shape, whatever, of a crater carries information about the size, shape, whatever, of the meteor that made it. Phenotypes aren’t, in short, random collections of traits, and nonrandomness doesn’t occur at random; the more nonrandomness there is, the less likely it is to have been brought about by chance. That’s a tautology. So, if the nonrandomness of phenotypes isn’t a reflection of the orderliness of God’s mind, perhaps it is a reflection of the orderliness of the environments in which the phenotypes evolved. That’s the theory of natural selection in a nutshell.

But as soon as it’s put that way, it’s seen not to be the only possibility. External environments are structured in all sorts of ways, but so, too, are the insides of the creatures that inhabit them. So, in principle at least, there’s an alternative to Darwin’s idea that phenotypes ‘carry implicit information about’ the environments in which they evolve: namely, that they carry implicit information about the endogenous structure of the creatures whose phenotypes they are. This idea currently goes by the unfortunate soubriquet ‘Evo-Devo’ (short for ‘evolutionary-developmental theory’). Everybody thinks evo-devo must be at least part of the truth, since nobody thinks that phenotypes are shaped directly by environmental variables. Even the hardest core Darwinists agree that environmental effects on a creature’s phenotype are mediated by their effects on the creature’s genes: its ‘genome’. Indeed, in the typical case, the environment selects a phenotype by selecting a genome that the phenotype expresses. Once in place, this sort of reasoning spreads to other endogenous factors. Phenotypic structure carries information about genetic structure. And genotypic structure carries information about the biochemistry of genes. And the biochemical structure of genes carries information about their physical structure. And so on down to quantum mechanics for all I know. It is, in short, an entirely empirical question to what extent exogenous variables are what shape phenotypes; and it’s entirely possible that adaptationism is the wrong answer.

One can think of the Darwinian account of evolution as prompted by the question: why are some phenotypes more similar than others? Darwin’s answer was that phenotypic similarity is, pretty generally, explained by common ancestry; and the more similar two creature’s phenotypes, the less remote is the nearest ancestor that they share. There are isolated examples to the contrary, but there’s no serious doubt that this account is basically correct. And, if it’s not the best idea anybody ever had, it’s pretty good by any of the local standards. When you ask Darwin’s question – why are phenotypes often similar? – you do indeed get Darwin’s answer. But if you ask instead why it is that some phenotypes don’t occur, an adaptationist explanation often sounds somewhere between implausible and preposterous. For example, nobody, not even the most ravening of adaptationists, would seek to explain the absence of winged pigs by claiming that, though there used to be some, the wings proved to be a liability so nature selected against them. Nobody expects to find fossils of a species of winged pig that has now gone extinct. Rather, pigs lack wings because there’s no place on pigs to put them. To add wings to a pig, you’d also have to tinker with lots of other things. In fact, you’d have to rebuild the pig whole hog: less weight, appropriate musculature, an appropriate metabolism, an apparatus for navigating in three dimensions, a streamlined silhouette and god only knows what else; not to mention feathers. The moral is that if you want them to have wings, you will have to redesign pigs radically. But natural selection, since it is incremental and cumulative, can’t do that sort of thing. Evolution by natural selection is inherently a conservative process, and once you’re well along the evolutionary route to being a pig, your further options are considerably constrained; you can’t, for example, go back and retrofit feathers.

That all seems reasonable on the face of it; but notice that this sort of ‘channelling’ imposes kinds of constraint on what phenotypes can evolve that aren’t explained by natural selection. Winged pigs were never on the cards, so nature never had to select against them. How many such cases are there? How often does a phenotype carry information not about a creature’s environment but about aspects of its endogenous structure? Nobody knows.

But it bears emphasis that, on this way of thinking about evolution, the mechanisms by which phenotypes are constructed may very well be numerous and heterogeneous. This is one of the important ways in which evo-devo differs from adaptationism. Darwinists generally hold that natural selection, even if it isn’t all there is to evolution, is vastly the most important part. By contrast, channelling couldn’t conceivably explain the structure of phenotypes all by itself. But that leaves it open that channelling might be one among many mechanisms by which phenotypes express endogenous structure, and which, taken together, account for (some? many? all of?) the facts of evolution. If, as I suggested, the notion of natural selection is conceptually flawed, such alternatives would be distinctly welcome.

The Faith endures, all it lacks is alternative justifications.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


The Queen of Soul Takes Control (JON PARELES, 11/04/07, NY Times)

Ms. Franklin may forever be associated with the 1960s, when she sang at civil rights rallies and gave the women’s liberation movement an early theme song with “Respect.” But now, at 65, she is more in control of her career than she has ever been. Like an increasing number of brand-name superstars, she has left the major-label recording companies. She is determined to tell her own story on screen. She’s considering choices as unexpected as piano study at that classical citadel, the Juilliard School. She has let the end of a long romance inspire some new, autobiographical songs. And after years of traveling on land she is determined to fly again.

Ms. Franklin was casually dressed. She wore a dark blue leather jacket over a gray sleeveless T-shirt and dark gray pants. She also wore a diamond-edged watch, a diamond-encrusted ring and a pearl necklace. (A visitor wasn’t about to ask if the pearls were real.) The dress she was having fitted would be worn for an event with Fergie: not the Black Eyed Peas’ singer, but Sarah, the Duchess of York.

When Ms. Franklin was a little girl, her father, the Rev. C. L. Franklin, predicted she “would sing for kings and queens,” she said. “Fortunately I’ve had the good fortune to do so. And presidents.”

She has been a star for four decades, in a celebrated path that led from her childhood performances at her father’s church to those indelible ’60s soul hits to ’80s pop hits like “Freeway of Love” and, in 1998, an R&B resurgence with the gold album “A Rose Is Still a Rose.”

Within a few moments of conversation it was clear that she is also still a product of her upbringing: a Detroit preacher’s daughter. She has fastidious manners — apologizing for the cough she picked up, she thought, by driving back to the city with the bus window open — and she spoke carefully but forthrightly, determined to leave no mistaken impressions. Her sentences were punctuated with the syncopated responses — “mm-hmm” — of someone who has attended a lifetime of gospel services.

Ms. Franklin, widely hailed as one of the greatest singers (and sometimes simply the greatest singer) of her time, is confident about her music but determinedly modest. When pressed, she admitted, “I’m pretty good,” then immediately knocked on wood.

“Jewels in the Crown: All-Star Duets With the Queen” is due for release on Nov. 13. It assembles collaborations she has recorded through the years, including new ones with John Legend and Fantasia. It’s a shrewd anthology that brings together live performances and studio tracks culled from her own albums and from guest appearances with Frank Sinatra, George Michael and Eurythmics. Few of her partners even come close to keeping up with her.

A significant problem when legitimate superstars do the trendy duet thing. However, one of the odder pairings you'd ever hope to see actually worked pretty well: Bing Crosby & David Bowie doing Little Drummer Boy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


'I just missed': Donald Hall remembers listening to reports of the war on this console radio at his grandfather's farm in Wilmot. (Donald Hall, 11/04/07, Concord Monitor)

As a teenager, Donald Hall lived in Connecticut, where his father ran a dairy, and spent his summers with his maternal grandparents, Wesley and Kate Wells, on their farm at Eagle Pond in Wilmot. Since 1975, he has lived on the farm. His study now was his room then, and the farm was already his poetry place. He was 13 when the war began.

It was a Sunday afternoon, and my parents were upstairs napping. Red Barber was broadcasting a professional football game between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Barber interrupted to say the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and we were at war. They spoke about this for a minute and went back to the ballgame. I went to the foot of the stairs and called up - because I knew they often had the radio on when they took naps - "Did you hear that?" "Yes."

I don't remember when I started reading newspapers, but it was young - certainly by this time. Not long after, I remember thinking, what do newspapers write about when there's not a war? Every newspaper headline, every front page was the war. It was the Pacific and Europe. It seemed to me there was nothing else for four years. All journalism - radio and print - was consumed with this.

When I came up here in the summer, we got the Boston Post two days after publication. It came up by mail to the post office in West Andover, seven-tenths of a mile from here. We would read that and find out about baseball games two days ago. There was baseball still, but the war, the war.

Newspapers were full of maps, and we became aware of the Marshall Islands, or the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, Australia. We learned about North Africa, Sicily, Finland and Norway. This began in '39.

Airplanes were the most exciting thing - incredibly romantic. It was like space travel a few decades ago. I read aviation magazines even before the war. I could look up and identify a single-engine monoplane or a Waco, which was a biplane. Any flight over an ocean - Wrong-Way Corrigan, Amelia Earhart's disappearance - was incredibly big news. My poems, especially early ones, were full of airplanes - that's where it comes from.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Engineering Gap? Fact and Fiction: It's no time to panic about the numbers of engineers India and China are graduating compared with the U.S. Here's the real story in this big debate (Vivek Wadhwa, 7/10/06, Business Week)

There are many opinions about what is happening in the engineering field, but here are some of the facts that routinely get lost in the debate:

1. Shortages usually lead to price increases. If there were a shortage of engineers, salaries should have risen. Yet in real terms, engineering salaries have actually dropped (see, 9/15/05, "Good Time to Learn Accounting").

2. Twenty-five to 40% of engineering graduates don't become engineers. At Duke, I noted that 40% of our Masters of Engineering Management students were accepting jobs in fields such as investment banking and management consulting. Our researchers called other engineering schools and found this was common. Don Giddens, dean of engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, says that this is by design—U.S. schools provide a broad education that prepares students for careers other than "strictly" engineering.

3. Quantity usually comes at the cost of quality. China has increased the number of engineers it graduates by a staggering 126% over the last five years with a factory-like approach to education. Degree quality can't be maintained unless academic staff and facilities grow with student populations. According to the Chinese Ministry of Education, from 1999 to 2004 the number of technical schools in China actually fell from 4,098 to 2,884. During that same period, the number of teachers and staff at these institutions fell 24%.

4. Graduate too many and you'll create unemployment. China's National Development and Reform Commission recently reported that job openings in China have dropped 22% over the last year and that 60% of China's upcoming university graduates will be unable to find work. Media reports say that in an effort to "fight" unemployment, some universities in China's Anhui Province are refusing to grant diplomas until potential graduates show proof of employment. And Premier Wen Jiabao announced that China would be cutting university enrollment levels.

5. We've got enough qualified computer programmers. The Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft received résumés from about 100,000 graduating students in 2004, screened 15,000 of them, interviewed 3,500, and hired 1,000. It said that Microsoft receives about 60,000 résumés a month for its 2,000 open positions.

6. The vast majority of engineering undergraduates aren't foreign nationals. According to the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE), the percentage of undergraduate engineering degrees awarded to students with U.S. citizenship or permanent residency has remained close to 92% for the past seven years.

7. U.S. students don't gain enough financial benefit from postgraduate engineering education. The proportion of domestic to foreign students completing graduate degrees in engineering dropped from 60.3% in 1999 to 57.4% in 2005, and doctoral degrees from 54.4% to 40.4% in the same period, according to the ASEE. In a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, Harvard economist Richard Freeman says this is because salaries for scientists and engineers are lower than for other professions, and the investment that students have to make in higher degrees isn't cost-justified.

Doctoral graduate students typically spend seven to eight years earning a PhD, during which time they are paid stipends. These stipends are usually less than what a bachelor's degree-holder makes. Some students never make up for this financial loss. Foreign students typically have fewer opportunities and see a U.S. education as their ticket to the U.S. job market and citizenship.

8. The majority of foreign engineering students come here to stay. A report prepared for the National Science Foundation showed that the number of foreign-born doctorates who chose to stay in the U.S increased from 49% to 71% from 1989 to 2003. While these numbers are likely to decline, I'd bet Friedman that they don't decline to 1989 levels.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Foods of love? Not so fast, Casanova: Truths about these five edible aphrodisiacs aren't as sexy as myths (Kim Carney /

The list of alleged aphrodisiacs is ridiculously long. Possibly excepting rutabagas, almost every food has been claimed to help spark the flames of passion. Some suggestions are obvious, others a bit suspect. When last we checked, garlic wasn't on our checklist of date essentials.

Confusion reigns when it comes to the foods of love, in part because the very concept of the aphrodisiac is fuzzy. [...]

Let's consider five popular foods you might expect to find in Cupid's cupboard — and whether they deserve to be there.

5) Licorice and other aromatics

THE MYTH: Many spices and scents get a reputation for turning on the love hose, but licorice seems to trace back farther than most — to ancient China and to India, where it can be found in Kama Sutra preparations.

Recently, studies have claimed men were aroused by the smell of licorice and women by a combination of cucumber and Good & Plenty, a licorice-like candy.

THE REALITY: Those reports stem from research by Alan Hirsch, M.D., director of the Chicago-based Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation. Hirsch exposed Chicago-area men and women to various scents, and measured penile and vaginal blood flow as a signal of sexual arousal.

Among men, black licorice increased blood flow 13 percent; when combined with the smell of doughnuts, it jumped to 32 percent. A mix of lavender and pumpkin pie scored 40 percent, compared to just 3 percent for perfume.

While women were apparently aroused by the candy-cucumber mix, cherries actually decreased blood flow, as did the smells of barbecued meat and mens' cologne. (Sorry, guys.)

In related news, Lever announced it was diverting 80% of its 2008 R&D budget to coming up with a licorice/cucumber bodywash for men.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Favorite Things: COLTRANE: The Story of a Sound By Ben Ratliff (PANKAJ MISHRA, 10/28/07, NY Times)

I regret Coltrane’s death,” the English poet Philip Larkin wrote in 1967, “as I regret the death of any man, but I can’t conceal the fact that it leaves in jazz a vast, blessed silence.” In his last years, John Coltrane, who began his career with a Navy band, had moved through modal improvising to what the New York Times music critic Ben Ratliff, in this engaging study of the jazz saxophonist’s artistic influence, calls the “music of meditation and chant.” Coltrane would often discard the principle of harmony in order to produce a trancelike effect on his audience; his later compositions recall the scalar complexity of North Indian classical music more than anything in the Western tradition. But they didn’t impress Larkin, who reviewed jazz records from 1961 to 1971 for The Daily Telegraph and could barely tolerate even Coltrane’s most accessible late music, like the devotional suite “A Love Supreme.”

Entranced in his youth by Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and Fats Waller, Larkin believed jazz had lost its ability to give pleasure by going “modern” — a word that, for him, usually signaled extreme pretentiousness and boredom. Jazz performers, he asserted, had no business embracing (as Coltrane did) Indian, African and Latin music. Grumpily counter-countercultural as the 1960s progressed — he didn’t have much time for Bob Dylan either — Larkin became convinced that everything that had gone wrong with jazz reached its grim apotheosis with Coltrane, who offered “squeals, squeaks, Bronx cheers and throttled slate-pencil noises for serious consideration.” Collecting his jazz reviews in 1970, Larkin asserted that “it was with Coltrane that jazz started to be ugly on purpose.”

One can only wonder what Larkin would have made of the African Orthodox Church of St. John Coltrane, established the next year in San Francisco. Coltrane’s last years (during which he pursued new musical styles with the intensity and purity of an ascetic) and his early death (in 1967, when he was only 40) ensured his canonization. Still, it’s surprising to learn that Coltrane, as Ratliff claims, “has been more widely imitated in jazz over the last 50 years than any other figure” and that his recordings, “particularly from 1961 to 1964,” sound “like the thing we know as modern jazz, just the way that Stravinsky sounds like the thing we know as modern classical music.”

How did this happen?

It would, in fact, have been better had Love Supreme been his final musical statement, because, as for many artists, after the one flash of originality the rest is caricature.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Darwinism; Too Old-Fashioned To Be True (Marvin Olasky, October 25, 2007, Townhall)

We also have data now from a half-century of careful malaria-watching, which -- because malaria reproduce so quickly -- lets us see what happens to thousands of generations of parasites that are under constant attack from man-made drugs. Darwin predicted that random mutation and natural selection would lead to the development of new species, but no new kinds of malaria have emerged, just tiny changes in existing strains.

The mass killer HIV also has provided evidence to disprove Darwin. Behe points out that HIV, like malaria, "is a microbe that occurs in astronomical numbers. What's more, its mutation rate is 10,000 times greater than that of most other organisms. So in just the past few decades, HIV has actually undergone more of certain kinds of mutations than all cells have endured since the beginning of the world. Yet all those mutations, while medically important, have changed the functioning virus very little."

Behe's summary of HIV: "It still has the same number of genes that work in the same way. There is no new molecular machinery. If we see that Darwin's mechanism can only do so little even when given its best opportunities, we can decisively conclude that random mutation did not build the machinery of life."

It's important to remember that Behe and other "intelligent design" believers are talking about macroevolution, a change from one kind of creature to another, and not the microevolution of longer beaks, different-colored wings and so forth; no one doubts that microevolution happens.

It just doesn't produce speciation either.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


From a Trash Bin, Singing Cossacks and a Bitter Dispute (KAREEM FAHIM, 11/03/07, NY Times)

Like many strange tales, the story of the antiques dealer, the scholars from Scotland and the contested archive of a Russian conductor begins in the suburbs of New Jersey.

The papers belonged to Serge Jaroff, conductor of the Don Cossack Chorus, a singing group founded by members of the Russian Imperial Army that rose to popularity in the 1930s.

Mr. Jaroff, who died in 1985, lived in a tiny green house in this town near the Jersey Shore. Lisa Myer, a 49-year-old antiques dealer, says that two years ago she found the conductor’s belongings — photographs, letters, paintings, sheet music and other memorabilia — in a trash bin outside the house. She packed what she could into her car, she says, and took it back to the log cabin in Farmingdale, a 15-minute drive away, that she shares with five dogs.

The story might have ended there, with Ms. Myer content to sell off hundreds of papers from the collection on eBay, as she had been doing.

Instead, it has mushroomed into an acrimonious international dispute over the archive, which collectors say may be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. [...]

Born in 1896, Serge Jaroff was a Don Cossack, a group that settled along the Don River in Western Russia; its members were as famous for their singing as for their military abilities.

In the course of his life, Mr. Jaroff fought the Bolsheviks, formed the chorus in an Ottoman internment camp and later made a professional debut with the group in Vienna.

His choir of male singers, who sometimes wore their Cossack uniforms on stage, performed music that included haunting Russian Orthodox church hymns in concert halls around the globe. The chorus was featured in Hollywood films, and, in 1955, appeared on Ed Sullivan’s show.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Artist of the Day: Those Dancing Days (JOSEPH COSCARELLI, October 23, 2007, Spin)

Who? Those who think the Pipettes should pipe down might try Sweden's subtler rebuttal, Those Dancing Days. Without the dress code and Phil Spector-ification but with plenty of pep, Those Dancing Days "just wanna disco" over springy bass courtesy of their own Mimmi Evrell and Lisa Pyk's shimmering Hammond organ sounds used with the accuracy of Elvis Costello's truest Aim. Linnea Jonsson (vocals), Rebecka Roifart (guitar) and Cissi Edraimsson (drums) complete the quintet, conjuring the boogying Northern Soul of U.K. mod culture.

November 12, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:20 PM


Young Talent Inventory: Ranking baseball's top 50 up-and-coming stars (Bill James, 11/02/07,

We are sitting in a historic bubble of young talent. About a year ago a reporter (John Tomase) asked me an extremely interesting question: Why do you think that there are so many great young players around right now? I replied in my usual annoyingly cautious fashion that I didn't know whether there was or was not an unusual amount of young talent around at the moment, but then later I decided to study the issue.

Conclusion: There is no doubt that there is an unusual amount of great young talent around right now. Arguably, there is more outstanding young talent around right now than at any other moment in baseball history -- not more per team, but there are more teams. The moment at which there had been the most young talent in baseball, before 2007, was 1964. Among the players in 1964 who were 25 years old or younger and already doing some good work in The Show: Dick Allen, Ken Berry, Jim Bouton, Lou Brock, Gates Brown, Wally Bunker, Johnny Callison, Rico Carty, Dean Chance, Tony Conigliaro, Willie Davis, Larry Dierker, Al Downing, Sammy Ellis, Dick Ellsworth, Ron Fairly, Bill Freehan, Jim Fregosi, Dave Giusti, Dick Green, Jim Ray Hart, Alex Johnson, Deron Johnson, Jim Kaat, Mickey Lolich, Jim Maloney, Dick McAuliffe, Tim McCarver, Sam McDowell, Dave McNally, Tony Oliva, Claude Osteen, Milt Pappas, Gaylord Perry, Vada Pinson, Boog Powell, Pete Rose, Ray Sadecki, Ron Santo, Willie Stargell, Mel Stottlemyre, Luis Tiant, Joe Torre, Pete Ward, Don Wert, Zoilo Versalles and Carl Yastrzemski. That was greatest explosion of young talent in baseball history -- until now.

Who is the best young player in baseball? A deceptively tricky question, in that it requires us to combine two unlike factors -- youth and talent -- into one measurement. C. C. Sabathia is certainly a better pitcher right now than Felix Hernandez, but Sabathia was 26 in 2007; Hernandez was 21. Does Hernandez' youth outweigh Sabathia's production? Alex Rios is probably a better player right now than Jeff Francoeur, but Francoeur is three years younger. Both players are 1) clearly still young, and 2) clearly very good. How do you balance Francoeur's additional youth against Rios' additional accomplishments?

You just have to pick a method and roll with it. We're not talking here about prospects or minor league players. We're discussing proven major league players who are still young. This was my method, in short. First, I eliminated from my study all players who were 29 years old in 2007 or older, since 29-year-olds in 2007 are now 30, and 30-year-old baseball players are not young. A 28- year-old player can be considered to have a little bit of youth left; a 30-year-old, no way. Second, I figured the runs created by each player -- for Rios, 105. Third, I made a "speed adjustment", since speed correlates strongly with defensive value, and defensive value is more difficult to measure. Fourth, I divided that total by the runs scored/runs allowed per game by the player's team, thus building in context adjustments. Fifth, I multiplied that by the number of years the player had left before he was 33 years old. For Alex Rios, this creates an output of 216, which ranks ... well, I'll get to that in a moment. For the pitchers, I developed a similar method based on runs allowed. [...]

Combining youth and performance, Felix Hernandez ranks well ahead of Sabathia, Francoeur a little ahead of Rios, which is just my ranking ... feel free to second guess, bitch and moan, or do your own ranking. Without further ado, here is my post-2007 Young Talent Inventory, starting with the 25 best young players in baseball today:

Some of these seem crazy, including Matt Capps making the list and how low Carl Crawford ranks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:44 PM


Reanimator: “Pushing Daisies” lives to tell the tale. (Nancy Franklin, November 12, 2007 , The New Yorker)

“Pushing Daisies” is as peculiar a creation as you’re going to see this year. It’s not like anything else, though as you watch it you can’t help making a checklist of influences and progenitors: the Tim Burton of “Edward Scissorhands” and “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks,” “Amelie,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Fractured Fairy Tales,” real fairy tales, Roald Dahl, and Greek mythology. Every pixel in your TV screen has been accounted for in the show’s obsessively imaginative production design, and the sound has the nutty specificity of the old Warner Bros. cartoons, where each stealthy footstep and shifty glance was denoted musically. It’s a fast-moving tale, about a boy named Ned (Lee Pace), who discovers when he’s nine that he can bring the dead back to life with his touch. But, as the narrator (Jim Dale) tells us portentously, that gift “came with a caveat or two.” If Ned touches the newly alive person a second time, that person will die again, this time for good. And if he doesn’t touch the person again within a minute, someone nearby will die. One of Ned’s secrets is that as a child he—unwittingly—caused the father of the little girl next door to die; he loved the little girl, whose name was Chuck (Anna Friel), and twenty years later she resurfaces—he has brought her back to life—making his secret even more agonizing. Worse, he cannot touch her. He loves her, she loves him, and never the twain shall meet, except for the occasional kiss through a sheet of plastic wrap or an embrace while wearing beekeepers’ suits. “Pushing Daisies,” like “Dead Like Me” (and its rough coeval “Six Feet Under”), is poker-faced about the arbitrariness of life and death. In the first three minutes of the series, Ned’s golden retriever gets killed by a truck and his mother keels over from a burst blood vessel in her brain while baking pies; both events are handled coolly, with no tears. You’re more likely to be taking note of the art direction—the mother’s pale-green apron against the pale-green-and-beige checked linoleum, and the boy in his pale-green striped shirt—than you are to be feeling anything about the fact that a nine-year-old boy’s mother just died in front of him.

I think that Fuller wants to be more than clever in this show—it’s a serious comedy about life and romance. And there are payoffs, though few of them materialize as quickly as you want them to. It wasn’t until the fifth episode that I believed that the characters’ feelings came from them instead of being imposed on them. Luckily, the structure of the show keeps it moving. Ned works with a private investigator, Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), on the side, solving murders. Cod is all about getting the job done. Chuck and Ned have eyes only for each other; Cod has his eye on the prize—the payday when they solve a case. McBride provides some much needed normal humor amid all the mannered wackiness of the show. A travel agency, for example, is called the Boutique Travel Travel Boutique—that kind of thing wears a viewer out.

“Pushing Daisies” probably shouldn’t last longer than a season; fairy tales aren’t supposed to go on forever. It will then take its place proudly beside other worthy efforts that lived fast, died young, and left behind a beautiful DVD.

Cod gets all the good lines.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 AM


French Canadian Maple Sugar Walnut Pie (Richard Sax, November 08, 2007, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

* Single crust for a 9-inch pie
* 3 large eggs
* 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
* 3/4 cup pure maple syrup (dark amber)
* 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
* 1/4 cup brewed tea (such as English breakfast tea)
* 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
* Pinch of salt
* 3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Line a 9-inch glass pie plate with the pastry and refrigerate. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Whisk together the eggs and sugar in a large bowl. Add the maple syrup, butter, tea, vinegar and salt, whisking until smooth. Stir in the walnuts.

Place the pie shell on a heavy baking sheet and pour in the filling.

Place on the center rack of the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Then reduce oven to 350 degrees and continue to bake until the center is set, about 25 minutes longer. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. This is good cold, too. Makes about 8 servings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


The Storm Over Pakistan (Fouad Ajami, November 10, 2007, US News)

Musharraf may not be a devoted democrat, but in all fairness, he has hitherto ruled with a light touch. There is in him a soldier's earnestness, a preference for order. His hero is not Lincoln but rather Turkey's soldier-founder, Kemal Ataturk. Musharraf had picked that romance for Ataturk early in life, when his father was assigned to Pakistan's embassy in Ankara. The Musharrafs spent seven years in Turkey, and the creed of Kemalism—for the people, despite the people, the Army as a guardian of the nation's order, and "progress" in the face of religious reactionaries—is basic to Musharraf's worldview.

Back from the brink. Things had not been pretty in Pakistan when Musharraf seized power in 1999. The country was virtually ungovernable, corruption was rampant, and the Pakistani state was a pariah, sanctioned for crossing the nuclear threshold with its detonation of six nuclear devices in 1998. Musharraf pulled it back from the brink of disaster. He joined America's campaign against terrorism. He understood the meaning and the magnitude of 9/11 for American strategy and opinion. True, he has not given America all the cooperation it wanted, and there have been persistent reports that his intelligence services have been duplicitous on the Pakistani-Afghan frontier, but we take the world as it is, and Musharraf has been the best that could be hoped for in a country with Pakistan's temperament.

In the scheme of things, U.S. policy has been careful and measured. We can't cast Musharraf adrift, for Paki-stan's potential disorder is great. Nor can we give a green light for emergency rule. His promise to hold parliamentary elections in February is a sign of his sensitivity to American opinion.

...the point of bringing Ms Bhutto back is that she'd be more repressive than the General has been.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


China's Future and Its One-Child Policy (Nicholas Eberstadt, September 2007, AEI)

This essay is excerpted from an address by Mr. Eberstadt at the inaugural World Economic Forum in Dalian, China, on September 7, 2007.

On current trajectories, China's total population is set to commence a prolonged decline around 2030. Between now and 2030, however, China will undergo a population explosion of sorts: a huge increase in its number of senior citizens. Between 2005 and 2030, China's sixty-five-plus age cohort will likely more than double in size, from about 100 million to 235 million or more. Because of the falloff in young people, China's age profile will be "graying" in the decades ahead at a pace almost never before witnessed in human history. China is still a fairly youthful society today--but by 2030, by such metrics as median population age, the country will be "grayer" than the United States in 2030.

By 2030, China's median age may be over forty-one--which is to say, half or more of the nation's population would be above forty-one years of age by that date. Japan--the world's most elderly society now--reached a median age of forty-one just a few years ago, around 2000. But in the year 2000, Japan was far more affluent than even the most sanguine of optimists imagine China might be by 2030--and unlike China, Japan has a national pension system. How will the elderly in China get by in the world they will so soon be facing?

Until now, China's de facto national pension system has been the family--but that social safety net is now unraveling rapidly. Until very recently, thanks to relatively large Chinese families, almost every Chinese woman had given birth to at least one son--and according to the Confucian tradition, it was sons upon whom older parents would rely for their first line of support. Things will be very different in the immediate future. Just two decades from now, thanks to the "success" of the One-Child Policy, roughly a third of China's women entering their sixties will have no living son.

One can see the making of a slow-motion humanitarian tragedy in these numbers, but the withering away of the Chinese family under population control has even more far-reaching implications. To exaggerate only slightly, over the coming generation, we may see 2,500 years of Chinese family tradition come to an end.

Recall that in Beijing, Shanghai, and other parts of China, extreme sub-replacement fertility has already been in effect for over a generation. If this continues for another generation, we will see the emergence of a new norm: a "4-2-1 family" composed of four grandparents, only two children, and just one grandchild. The children in these brave new families will have no brothers or sisters, no uncles or aunts, and no cousins. Their only blood relatives will be their ancestors.

There will be many ramifications from this societal sea change. Here, let me dwell only on what this may portend for economic growth. It is no secret that China is a "low trust society": personal and business transactions still rely heavily upon guanxi, the network of personal relations largely demarcated by family ties. What will provide the "social capital" to undergird commercial and economic development in a future China where "families" are, increasingly, little more than atomized households and isolated individuals?

There is one other handmaiden of the population control program that requires comment: this is the eerie, unnatural, and increasingly extreme imbalance between baby boys and baby girls in China. Ordinarily, the human species observes the birth of about 103 to 105 baby boys for every 100 baby girls--this is a natural and biological regularity. Shortly after the advent of the One-Child Policy, however, China began reporting biologically impossible disparities between boys and girls--and the imbalance has only continued to rise. Today China is reporting 123 baby boys for every 100 girls.

Over the coming generation, those same little boys and girls will grow up to be prospective brides and grooms. One need not be a demographer to see from these numbers the massive imbalance in the "marriage market" facing China in a generation or less. How will China cope with the sudden and very rapid emergence of tens of millions of essentially unmarriageable young men?

All of the problems described here are directly associated with China's population-control program. Even so, some may still wonder: wouldn't ending the one-child norm bring us back to the days of the four- or five-child norms (with a whole new set of attendant problems)? It is unlikely. More importantly, some of China's best demographers also doubt this and have indicated as much in print, albeit cautiously.

Remember, in the absence of coercion, the best predictor of family size is the number of children that parents actually wish to have: that is to say, their desired fertility. Those desires are affected not just by income and education, but by a subtle and complex array of outlooks, attitudes, and expectations. All of these quantities look to have changed dramatically in China since the days of Mao. A scrapping of the restrictive birth control policy would surely ease China's incipient aging crisis, its looming family structure problems, and its worrisome gender imbalances, but it would be most unlikely to bring us back to pre-industrial norms of fertility.

In the final analysis, the wealth of nations in the modern world is not to be found in mines, or forests, or deposits of natural resources. The true wealth of modern countries resides in their people--in human resources. And human beings are rational, calculating actors who seek to improve their own circumstances--not heedless beasts who procreate without thought of the future.

China's people are not a curse--they are a blessing. Trusting them to act in their own self-interest--not least of all, trusting their choices and preferences with respect to their own family size--may very well prove to be the key to whether China succeeds in abolishing poverty and attaining mass affluence in the decades and generations ahead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


The Case for DDT: Activist groups should join together in support of an anti-malaria insecticide that could save millions of lives (Roger Bate, November 5, 2007, The American)

Malaria is as old as mankind and still going strong, infecting hundreds of millions (and killing between one and three million) each year. A cure was known in 17th-century Europe. But because it was brought to the continent by Catholic missionaries (who actually learned of it from South American natives), many malaria sufferers, included Oliver Cromwell, thought the medicine was part of a “Popish plot” and refused to take it. Cromwell died of the disease in 1658. It took his death, and the subsequent curing of King Charles II, to shift public opinion in favor of “quinine,” as the anti-malaria agent is now called.

A similar situation confronts us today. Mankind now has all the scientific and economic tools to virtually eradicate malaria. But some influential groups are refusing to sanction one of the most effective prevention measures. Here’s the twist: in 17th-century Europe, those who rejected quinine sacrificed their own lives. Today, those who block the proven anti-malaria insecticide DDT are mainly condemning poor children in Africa.

It is unfortunate that DDT has become so politicized. Indeed, it is now associated with “right-wing” politics, largely because it has been demonized by environmental activists on the left. Over the past few years, malaria bureaucracies and aid agencies have been harried by American conservatives to account for their reluctance to use DDT. At more than one Senate hearing, Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn has asked why DDT was not being purchased with U.S. tax dollars, given its demonstrated efficacy. Conservative talk-radio hosts, notably Rush Limbaugh, have helped create a groundswell of support for DDT across the country, which has prodded the Bush administration to change its policies.

...Hollywood stars would be loading up their Gulfstreams with DDT....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


The Del McCoury Band Performs in Studio 4A (Talk of the Nation, October 18, 2007)

Several years ago, influential bluegrass musician Del McCoury decided to do away with modern concert amplification and go back to the basics: With his musical sons at his side, he returned to a two-microphone setup — a throwback to his days playing with Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys in the early 1960s.

Over the years, The Del McCoury Band has established itself as one of the premiere bluegrass groups, playing a mix of traditional music, gospel and their own compositions. The Del McCoury Band — with Del (guitar), Ronnie (mandolin), Rob McCoury (banjo), Jason Carter (fiddle), and Alan Bartram (acoustic bass) — performs live in Studio 4A.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


An unconventional idea for Fred's unconventional campaign (Bruce Walker, November 5, 2007, Enter Stage Right)

Thompson, by contrast, is the real deal. He has taken genuinely courageous stands, like telling President Bush that he should pardon Scooter Libby and raising money for his legal defense or like tackling Social Security – the program that seems to make all Republicans into sheep – and actually calling for a limitation on benefits. Moreover, Thompson is perceived as conservative more than any of the top tier Republicans.

Things actually are working out pretty well for Fred now. Led by state senator McClintock, a leading conservative, many California Republican state legislators have endorsed Fred and while that might not help Thompson carry California in the general election, it could prove very important in the California primary, which Rudy must win. Nationally, Fred continues to run just about even with Rudy in the Rasmussen Poll, and it is logical that the support which went to men like Tancredo and Brownback will probably end up with Thompson.

Fred has run an unconventional campaign, which has driven the inside the beltway crowd nuts. But it has worked. And Fred is a "finisher." In his race for the Senate in Tennessee, he came from nowhere against a very popular Democrat to win easily. Underestimating Fred Thompson is one of the easiest – and most dangerous – mistakes to make.

For his unconventional campaign, I have an unconventional suggestion: normally the presidential nominee, after winning the nomination, picks his running mate and announces it to the world. No one has voted to this guy (or gal) and so the running mate is up to whomever happens to win the nomination. Fred, why not announce right now who your nominee will be? That would immediately focus attention back on the Thompson campaign and catch all the pundits and journalists off balance.

I would pick John Kasich as my running mate, if I were Thompson. He is well known, well liked, rightly considered decent and down to earth. The name of his Fox News program, "Heartland," conveys exactly the sort of values and persona that those of us in Flyover Country, who will election Thompson as president a year from now, want.

...and the only reason he isn't the #1 is because of the campaign. Try and get him onboard immediately after the nomination is wrapped up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Tories and Radicals: a review of THOMAS PAINE’S ‘RIGHTS OF MAN’: A Biography By Christopher Hitchens (RICHARD BROOKHISER, 11/11/07, NY Times Book Review)

The French Revolution alarmed European conservatives, who soon got a powerful champion. Edmund Burke, a Whig member of Parliament, had spoken out for underdogs, including Americans, Irish Catholics and slaves. But in 1790 he published “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” a blistering analysis of French events and a defense of traditional institutions as humanizing forces. Paine answered with “Rights of Man,” published in two parts in 1791 and 1792. Apparently warned by William Blake that the English government was about to arrest him for sedition, Paine fled to France, where he was elected to the revolutionary legislature.

Hitchens’s discussion of Paine’s book is really a discussion of two books, Paine’s and Burke’s. “This classic exchange between two masters of polemic,” he says, “is rightly considered to be the ancestor of all modern arguments between Tories and radicals.” Hitchens is in Paine’s corner, but like a good trainer, he knows the other fighter’s strengths.

Even the French now concede that Burke was right, but for Mr. Hitchens to renounce the French Revolution will require renouncing the Soviet Union, which he long defended against Reagan, Thatcher and company. He's not ready yet for that psychic break.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Publish and Perish: The mysterious death of Lyndon LaRouche's printer (Avi Klein, November 2007, Washington Monthly)

For forty years, the Lyndon LaRouche movement has been a ubiquitous, if diminishing, presence in the political landscape of America, and of Washington. LaRouche has made eight runs for the presidency, including one campaign from prison. At D.C. press conferences and think tank events, a reporter for a LaRouche publication called Executive Intelligence Review can often be heard asking strange questions about the grain cartel. Young, malnourished LaRouche acolytes frequently stop Hill staffers on their way home from work and hand them pamphlets with titillating titles like "Children of Satan" or "The Gore of Babylon." A peek inside offers details on LaRouche's many enemies, such as the "Conrad Black–backed McCain–Lieberman–Donna Brazile cabal."

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One of the LaRouche movement's longest-serving loyalists was Ken Kronberg. A handsome classics scholar and drama teacher, Kronberg owned and managed PMR Printing, the outfit that has generated the idiosyncratic propaganda that sustains LaRouche's entire enterprise. Last year, the LaRouche organization spent more than $2.5 million—at least 60 percent of its publicly reported expenditures—on printing and distributing pamphlets. Most of this money went to PMR. LaRouche's output was so prolific, in fact, that PMR ranked among the country's top 400 printers by sales. Despite this, the company's finances were in perilous shape. Various LaRouche organizations owed Kronberg hundreds of thousands of dollars. When the IRS and Virginia tax authorities came calling over withholding payments, Kronberg knew he was in serious trouble.

On April 11, 2007, Kronberg sat in PMR's offices in Sterling, Virginia, forty-five miles northwest of Washington, to read the "morning briefing," a daily compendium of political statements that reflect the outcome of the executive committee meetings held at LaRouche's house in the nearby town of Round Hill. This particular briefing struck unnervingly close to home. Written by a close associate of LaRouche's and addressed to the movement's younger followers, the brief bitterly attacked what it called the "baby boomers" in the organization—members like Kronberg who had joined LaRouche in the late 1960s and early '70s. The brief named "the print shop"—Kronberg's operation—as a special target. "The Boomers will be scared into becoming human, because you're in the real world, and they're not," the brief read. "Unless," the writer added, the boomers "want to commit suicide."

This note may have had an effect. At 10:17 a.m., Kronberg sent an e-mail to his accountant instructing him to transfer $235,000 held in an escrow account to the IRS. He got in his blue-green Toyota Corolla and drove east. He mailed some family bills at the post office, then turned around onto the Waxpool Road overpass. Just before 10:30 a.m., Kronberg parked his car on the side of the overpass, turned on his emergency lights, and flung himself over the railing to his death. (Although LaRouche's home is only fifteen miles from the St. James Episcopal Church in Leesburg, Virginia, where Kronberg's funeral was held, LaRouche didn't show up for the service.)

True to form, LaRouche's current and former followers immediately burst forth with conspiracy theories. Had Kronberg been deliberately goaded to commit suicide by the movement's leaders? Had this private and modest man killed himself in a public fashion in order to draw attention to LaRouche's murky finances? Much of this speculation took place on FactNet, an Internet discussion board for former cult members. Users soon posted leaked internal memoranda from the LaRouche leadership showing that it, too, was blindsided and uncertain.

Whatever the answers to these questions, Kronberg's life and death perhaps tell an even more interesting tale. From the very beginning, the LaRouche movement has been a thoroughly paper-based cult. Its strange propaganda, disposable to most people who encounter it, has been central to both the movement's proselytizing activities and its finances. Although most of PMR's problems stemmed from LaRouche's own impecuniousness and his insatiable demand for printed materials, Kronberg's financial and legal troubles infuriated LaRouche. LaRouche was furious because he was frightened. Ink is the lifeblood of the LaRouche organization, and in PMR's impending demise, he could see the likely death of the organization itself.

The LaRouche movement has been called many things: Marxist, fascist, a political cult, a personality cult, a criminal enterprise, and, in the words of the Heritage Foundation, "one of the strangest political groups in American history." More than anything else, however, what it resembles is a vast and bizarre vanity press.

In the NJ Democratic gubernatorial primaries in 1985 there was a LaRouche candidate. The candidate I was working for and the president of the State Senate kept laughing at his answers and it looked ungovernorlike, so they were under strict orders from their respective campaigns to knock it off. They took to just passing notes to each other and smirking.

Finally, in the last debate before the primary, closing statements, last chance to reach the voters, the guy takes out a poem by Schiller and reads it aloud for two minutes. The moderator, dumbfounded, had to interrupt and apologetically tell him he'd run out of time. He folded up the poem and said: "That's okay....I think everyone got the message."

Well, they did if the message was that LaRouchies are lunatics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Caramel Apple Pie (Susan Sampson, 10/31/07, Toronto Star)


Unbaked 9-inch, deep-dish pie crust

10 caramels (about 3 oz [...]), each quartered


5 Golden Delicious apples (about 2-1/4 lb [...]), each peeled, cored, sliced in 30 wedges (about 7 cups)

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 tbsp granulated sugar

1 tbsp cornstarch

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon


1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup pecan halves

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut in 1/4-inch pieces


30 caramels (about 1/2 lb [...])

3 tbsp unsalted butter

1 tbsp water

1/4 cup finely chopped pecans

1/3 cup pecan halves

For shell, sprinkle caramel pieces in pie crust. Refrigerate.

For filling, put apples, brown sugar and lemon juice in large bowl. Mix gently. Set aside 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in vanilla.

In small bowl, stir together granulated sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon. Stir into apple mixture.

Mound into pie shell. Use hands to distribute and smooth filling. Place pie on large baking sheet. Bake in preheated 400F oven 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make crumb topping. Put flour, pecans, granulated sugar and salt in bowl of food processor. Pulse to chop nuts coarsely. Scatter in butter pieces. Pulse until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Transfer to medium bowl. Squeeze and rub mixture between fingers to create crumbs that look like gravel. Cover and refrigerate.

Remove baking sheet with pie from oven. Reduce temperature to 375F.

Dump crumbs in centre of filling. Using hands, but being careful not to touch hot pie plate, spread crumbs evenly over surface and tamp down lightly.

Return pie to oven, rotating part that was in front to the back. Bake until juices bubble thickly around edge, 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer to wire rack. Cool 45 minutes.

For coating, put caramels, butter and water in top of double boiler over pan of water simmering on low heat. Melt caramels, whisking occasionally, about 10 minutes. Whisk until smooth.

With pie still on rack, pour caramel evenly over surface to coat. (Pie should be warm but not hot. Some caramel will drip.) Use small spatula to assist spreading. Quickly sprinkle chopped pecans over top. Stud top with pecan halves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


A comeback for the 'Great Man' theory? (Lynda Hurst, Nov 03, 2007, Toronto Star)

It emerged this week that Karl Marx, the father of communism, suffered from a chronic and excruciating skin disease with known psychological effects that might have had an impact on his political theories.

The 19th-century revolutionary thinker had a condition called hidradenitis suppurativa, in which the sweat glands in his armpits and groin become blocked and inflamed and his skin covered in boils and carbuncles.

Or so argues Sam Shuster, a professor of dermatology at Britain's University of East Anglia.

"In addition to reducing his ability to work, which contributed to his depressing poverty, hidradenitis greatly reduced his self-esteem," writes Shuster in the current British Journal of Dermatology.

"This explains his self-loathing and alienation, a response reflected by the alienation Marx developed in his writing."

It's hardly news that Marx was a miserable bastard who tried to explain that away by blaming the Universe. The question is: why was the rest of the modern Left so attracted to him and his ravings?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Creation Museum surpasses expectations (Chris Kenning, 11/02/07, The (Louisville) Courier-Journal)

Each day near Petersburg, Ky., 1,500 to 4,000 visitors, including busloads from Christian schools and churches, stand in line for as long as an hour to wander 60,000 square feet of animatronic exhibits presenting the Bible's creation story as fact.

It's been six months since the Creation Museum opened to crowds and protests, and the controversial attraction has proven more popular than even organizers had predicted.

Halfway into its first year, it is on the verge of surpassing its projected year-long attendance goal of 250,000. Officials now expect nearly 400,000 people to pass through the doors by year's end.

November 11, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:40 PM


Know your Joe: In a sea of takeout coffee, which ones are best? (Monica Eng, November 8, 2007, Chicago Tribune)

I plunk down big bucks for specialty coffee. But with an ever-expanding lineup of premium coffees, how can a savvy drinker spend her java dollars wisely? To find out, we put 32 coffees to a taste test. All were 12-ounce house blend drip coffee (unless noted; there were a few specialty drinks that readers nominated). After four days of sipping, here's the best and the rest.

So why do these people waste their money?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:05 PM


Cornbread-and-Beef Skillet Pie (Seattle PI, 11/07/07)

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)

1 teaspoon baking soda

Coarse salt and ground pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 red bell peppers (ribs and seeds removed), thinly sliced

1 medium red onion, chopped

1 package (10 ounces) white mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 1/2 pounds ground sirloin

1/4 cup tomato paste

3/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together cornmeal, 1/2 cup flour, baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt; set aside.

In a large ovenproof skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Add peppers, onion and mushrooms; season with salt and pepper. Cook until tender, 6 to 8 minutes, tossing occasionally.

Raise heat to high; add beef and tomato paste. Cook, stirring, until meat is no longer pink, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons flour and 2/3 cup water; season with salt and pepper.

Make cornmeal batter: Add sour cream and egg to reserved cornmeal mixture; stir just until moistened.

Drop tablespoons of batter over beef mixture in skillet, 1 inch apart. Bake until biscuits are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes.

-- Recipe from the November issue of Everyday Food

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:29 PM


Huston's Novel Approach to Film (GARY GIDDINS, November 6, 2007, NY Sun)

It is an axiom of cinema that second- and third-rate books often make for good movies, while great books rarely do. Ethel Lina White ("The Lady Vanishes"), Alan Le May ("The Searchers"), and Mario Puzo ("The Godfather") all are immortalized in auteurist filmographies, whereas Willa Cather, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty have not fared too well at the movie theater. Still, personal and even visionary films adapted from slavishly admired literary works do exist, and John Huston made an impressive number of them.

Nearly half of Huston's 39 feature films, not counting his wartime documentaries (good as they are) and his acknowledged or unacknowledged collaborations (bad as they are), are based on literary landmarks — novels, plays, and stories. Only four ("The Bible," "Moby Dick," "The Red Badge of Courage," and "The Man Who Would Be King") predate the 20th century, which is copiously examined in the others. Some of his films have supplanted source material that was once highly regarded ("The African Queen," "Key Largo"); others helped to establish or raise the stature of their sources ("Treasure of the Sierra Madre," "Fat City"). Huston's best films, beginning with his first, 1941's "The Maltese Falcon," survive on a parallel plain to that of the originals. They reflect, above all else, Huston's craggy sensibility.

That sensibility, essentially agnostic and existential, is predicated on a conviction that heaven and hell exist not in the clouds or along the Styx, but in what we make of the world. It prizes moral courage over physical derring-do and sneers at moral certainty.

Setting aside for now the truths that LeMay's novel is far superior to anything written by Cather, Faulkner or Welty and that Huston made his reputation in the Puritanical field of film noir, it seems pertinent to ask whether there has ever been a cinematic moment of more profound moral certitude than when Sam Spade tells Brigid O'Shaughnessy that no matter how much he loves her and disliked Miles Archer she has to go down for shooting his partner? This moment is only made more delicious by the fact that it serves retrospectively as an indictment of Dashiell Hammett's appalling decision to cover-up for his fellow Stalinists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


Porter revival is picking up steam (Josh Rubin, Beer reporter, 11/07/07, Toronto Star)

On a fall day in 1814 London, a gigantic new tank at the Meaux Horse Shoe Brewery burst, sending more than 10 million pints of beer pouring through the streets.

Nine people died in the ensuing chaos, some because they drowned, some because they got hit by falling debris, and one ambitious fellow because he apparently single-handedly tried to drink the flooding away and got alcohol poisoning as his reward.

In addition to demonstrating the folly of believing bigger is always better, the flood was testament to the popularity of porter, the style of beer that spilled into the streets.

The dark brown ale got its name because it was the drink of choice of the legions of the city's hard-working porters who were 19th-century London's equivalent of bike couriers, FedEx and Purolator trucks and delivery vans, rolled into one.

Porter's popularity waned in England, victim of pale ales and the style that became known as stout (which started out as a stronger, fuller-bodied version of porter).

Over the last decade or two, porter has made a comeback, partly driven by the North American craft brewing movement, which has helped revive several once-moribund kinds of beer.

Why didn't guidance counselors tell us there were jobs out there like Beer Reporter?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


Hillary Hits a Pothole (Mortimer Zuckerman, November 10, 2007, US News)

Hillary Clinton was so close to the top of the greasy pole until that Democratic debate. True, even in the original English version of the country fair contest, no climbers are allowed to grab the prize on their first attempt. American political primaries seem to impose a similar restriction, requiring a fall or two by the front-runners. But it was not the rules that denied the prize to Hillary. It was her debate performance, best described by the Washington Post as a "night of fumbles." She fudged replies on Social Security, the release of documents from her husband's administration, and most strikingly on issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. At first, she seemed to defend the proposal, then she suggested she was against it, and finally, when pressed for a direct answer, she accused the moderator of playing "gotcha." Politically, it seemed that she was trying to have it both ways, looking to placate the Hispanic vote without offending the majority in the country who oppose licenses for illegals.
Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


What Makes a Terrorist: It’s not poverty and lack of education, according to economic research by Princeton’s (Alan Krueger, November/December 2007, The American)

The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre’s yield of cotton. He calculated the correla­tion coefficient between the two series at –0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower. A pair of psy­chologists at Yale, Carl Hovland and Robert Sears, cited Raper’s work in 1940 to argue that deprivation leads to aggres­sion. People take out their frustrations on others, the researchers hypothesized, when economic con­ditions are poor.

While this view seems intuitively plausible, the problem is that it lacks a strong empirical basis. In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic condi­tions and lynchings in Raper’s data.

Raper had the misfortune of stopping his anal­ysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic condi­tions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added.

In 1997, Pischke and I, writing in the Journal of Human Resources, studied the incidence of crimes against foreigners across the 543 coun­ties in Germany in 1992 and 1993. We found that the unemployment rate, the level of wages, wage growth, and average education were all unrelated to the incidence of crimes against foreigners.

With evidence from hate crimes as a background, next turn to terrorism. Terrorism does not occur in a vacuum. So to start, I considered evidence from public opin­ion polls, which can help identify the values and views of those in communities from which terror­ism arises.

The Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project conducted public opinion surveys in February 2004 in Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, and Turkey, involving about 1,000 respondents in each country. One of the questions asked was, “What about suicide bombing carried out against Americans and other Westerners in Iraq? Do you personally believe that this is justifiable or not justifiable?” Pew kindly provided me with tab­ulations of these data by respondents’ personal characteristics.

The clear finding was that people with a higher level of education are in general more likely to say that suicide attacks against Westerners in Iraq are justified. I have also broken this pattern down by income level. There is no indication that people with higher incomes are less likely to say that sui­cide-bombing attacks are justified.

Another source of opinion data is the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, headquar­tered in Ramallah. The center collects data in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. One question, asked in December 2001 of 1,300 adults, addressed attitudes toward armed attacks on Israeli tar­gets. Options were “strongly support,” “support,” “oppose,” “strongly oppose,” or “no opinion.”

Support turned out to be stronger among those with a higher level of education. For exam­ple, while 26 percent of illiterates and 18 per­cent of those with only an elementary education opposed or strongly opposed armed attacks, the figure for those with a high school education was just 12 percent. The least supportive group turned out to be the unemployed, 74 percent of whom said they support or strongly back armed attacks. By comparison, the support level for merchants and professionals was 87 percent.

Related findings have been around for a long time. Daniel Lerner, a professor at MIT at the time, published a book in 1958 called The Passing of Traditional Society in which he collected and analyzed data on extremism in six Middle Eastern countries. He concluded that “the data obviate the conventional assumption that the extremists are simply the have-nots. Poverty prevails only among the apolitical masses.”

Finally, the Palestinian survey included ques­tions about whether people were optimistic for the future. Responses suggested that, just before the outbreak of the second intifada, the Palestinian people believed that the economic situation was improving—a judgment consistent with the fall­ing unemployment rate at the time. The intifada, then, did not appear to be following dashed expec­tations for future economic conditions.

Public opinion is one thing; actual participation in terrorism is another. There is striking anecdotal evidence from Nasra Hassan, a United Nations relief worker in the West Bank and Gaza Strip who described interviews with 250 militants and their associates who were involved in the Palestinian cause in the late 1990s. Hassan concluded that “none of them were uneducated, desperately poor, simple-minded, or depressed. Many were middle class and, unless they were fugitives, held paying jobs. Two were the sons of millionaires.”

This hardly seems surprising given that the motivation for terrorism is not to improve economic conditions but, generally, to establish independent nationhood, which the economically marginal are unlikely to be be overly concerned about.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Behemoth rocket lifts off from Cape (PATRICK PETERSON, 11/11/07, FLORIDA TODAY)

A triple-bodied behemoth rocket roared to life at 8:50 p.m. Saturday, ending a long wait to loft the 23rd and last in a line of missile-warning spacecraft.

A last-minute problem with instrumentation delayed the launch of the Delta 4 Heavy by 11 minutes. Then the slow-rising rocket took about 16 seconds to clear the launch structure before it rose toward orbit carrying a
10,000-pound Defense Support Program satellite.

The rocket cut a bright orange arc over the Atlantic Ocean, delighting spectators assembled all along the Space Coast.

"So far, the mission is on track and proceding as planned," launch commentator Doug Shores said after cutoff of the second stage engine, about 13 minutes into the flight. It was the first of three firings of the launch vehicle's engines.

United Launch Alliance engineers will know whether the mission is a success shortly after 3 a.m. today, when the spacecraft separates from the second stage of the rocket more than 22,000 miles above Earth.

Saturday's launch was only the second flight of the 235-foot heavy-lift version of the Delta 4. Three, 16-foot booster cores make it 53 feet wide. The three boosters generate nearly 2 million pounds of thrust to push the 1.6 million-pound rocket off the Earth. The two side-mounted boosters were jettisoned about four minutes into the flight, and the first stage separated nearly six minutes into the flight.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Suffering, Evil and the Existence of God (Stanley Fish, 11/04/07, NY Times: Think Again)

In Book 10 of Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” Adam asks the question so many of his descendants have asked: why should the lives of billions be blighted because of a sin he, not they, committed? (“Ah, why should all mankind / For one man’s fault… be condemned?”) He answers himself immediately: “But from me what can proceed, / But all corrupt, both Mind and Will depraved?” Adam’s Original Sin is like an inherited virus. Although those who are born with it are technically innocent of the crime – they did not eat of the forbidden tree – its effects rage in their blood and disorder their actions.

God, of course, could have restored them to spiritual health, but instead, Paul tells us in Romans, he “gave them over” to their “reprobate minds” and to the urging of their depraved wills. Because they are naturally “filled with all unrighteousness,” unrighteous deeds are what they will perform: “fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness . . . envy, murder . . . deceit, malignity.” “There is none righteous,” Paul declares, “no, not one.”

It follows, then (at least from these assumptions), that the presence of evil in the world cannot be traced back to God, who opened up the possibility of its emergence by granting his creatures free will but is not responsible for what they, in the person of their progenitor Adam, freely chose to do.

What Milton and Paul offer (not as collaborators of course, but as participants in the same tradition) is a solution to the central problem of theodicy – the existence of suffering and evil in a world presided over by an all powerful and benevolent deity. The occurrence of catastrophes natural (hurricanes, droughts, disease) and unnatural (the Holocaust ) always revives the problem and provokes anguished discussion of it. The conviction, held by some, that the problem is intractable leads to the conclusion that there is no God, a conclusion reached gleefully by the authors of books like “The God Delusion,” “God Is Not Great” and “The End of Faith.”

...than the theatricality with which these folks whip out questions that have been asked and answered centuries and even millenia before. Their belief seems to be that because the question stumped them it is, therefore, unanswerable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Counter 'revolution' brewing in Quebec (TED BYFIELD, 11/11/07, Calgary Sun)

A whole generation of young people seems to be discovering the "Quiet Revolution," conducted in the late 20th century by their elders, was in fact a fraud.

Its pretended aim was to preserve the language and culture of Quebec against the assimilating influence of the Anglo-American colossus that threatens it. What it was actually doing was instituting a secular socialist culture that had far more in common with, say, Sweden than anything in the history of Quebec, and would have been utterly abhorrent to the real Quebecois who founded and developed French Canada.

What would those strictly Catholic mothers and fathers of families with 12 or more children think if they could see their descendants wallowing in the highest abortion, divorce, single-parent and "shack-up" rate in the whole country?

Making it worse, this has been done under the guise of preserving French Canada's cultural past.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Another Question Planted by Team Hillary? (Cameron's Corner, 11/10/07, Fox News)

From Major Garrett, a Fox News Exclusive:

In a telephone interview with Fox, Geoffrey Mitchell, 32, says he was approached by an operative for the Clinton campaign to ask a planted question about standing up to President Bush on Iraq war funding. The encounter happened before an event on a farm outside Fort Madison, Iowa. The Clinton event was hosted by Iowa State Sen. Gene Fraise.

Mitchell tells Fox that Clinton campaign worker Chris Hayler approached him and asked him to ask Sen. Clinton a question about how she was standing up to President Bush on the question of funding the Iraq war and a troop withdrawal timeline.

Mitchell told Fox the Clinton campaign wanted to contrast Clinton to Sen Barack Obama, who had recently said the president would probably prevail in the Iraq funding battle with Congress.

Mitchell said he refused to ask the question.

“I told Chris I had other issues I wanted to raise with Sen. CLinton,” Mitchell said. Asked what those were, Mitchell said: “I wanted to ask her why she voted for the Iraq war and why she didn’t consider that a mistake.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Optimism grows in Iraq (Jim Muir, 11/11/07, BBC News)

Is Iraq getting better? The statistics say so, across the board.

Over the past three months, there has been a sharp and sustained drop in all forms of violence. The figures for dead and wounded, military and civilian, have also greatly improved.

All across Baghdad, which has seen the worst of the violence, streets are springing back to life. Shops and restaurants which closed down are back in business.

People walk in crowded streets in the evening, when just a few months ago they would have been huddled behind locked doors in their homes.

Everybody agrees that things are much better.

Everyone agrees but congressional Democrats, who are eager to surrender.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Spanish King Tells Chavez to "Shut Up" (EDUARDO GALLARDO, 11/10/07, Associated Press)

The king of Spain told Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to "shut up" Saturday during a heated exchange at a summit of leaders from Latin America, Spain and Portugal.

Chavez, who called President Bush the "devil" on the floor of the United Nations last year, triggered the exchange by repeatedly referring to former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar as a "fascist."

Aznar, a conservative who was an ally of Bush as prime minister, "is a fascist," Chavez said in a speech at the Ibero-American summit in Santiago, Chile. "Fascists are not human. A snake is more human."

Spain's current socialist prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, responded during his own allotted time by urging Chavez to be more diplomatic in his words and respect other leaders despite political differences.

"Former President Aznar was democratically elected by the Spanish people and was a legitimate representative of the Spanish people," he said, eliciting applause from the gathered heads of state.

Chavez repeatedly tried to interrupt, but his microphone was off.

Spanish King Juan Carlos, seated next to Zapatero, angrily turned to Chavez and said, "Why don't you shut up?"

Sadly, Venezuela has no Franco.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Jaw-Dropping HDTV Bargains (Michael Patrick Brady, 11.07.07, Forbes)

Trading in that old tube for a sleek, stylish flat-panel TV has never seemed like a better idea, but how can someone find an amazing HDTV without emptying their bank account?

Good preparation is the key to finding a stellar television that's still reasonably affordable. Shoppers who try to buy without first doing some research are in for a real challenge as they try to differentiate between dozens of seemingly identical HDTVs and their wildly disparate price tags.

There are a few simple things a consumer can keep in mind to make it easier to find a excellent yet affordable HDTV.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Al Qaeda fighters, ex-insurgents clash: 18 killed in battle north of Baghdad (Lauren Frayer, 11/11/07, Associated Press)

Former Sunni insurgents asked the United States to stay away, and then ambushed members of Al Qaeda in Iraq, killing 18 in a battle that raged for hours north of Baghdad, an ex-insurgent leader and Iraqi police said yesterday.

The Islamic Army in Iraq sent advance word to Iraqi police requesting that US helicopters keep out of the area because its fighters had no uniforms and were indistinguishable from Al Qaeda, according to the police and a top Islamic Army leader known as Abu Ibrahim.

Abu Ibrahim said his fighters killed 18 Al Qaeda militants and captured 16 in the fight southeast of Samarra, a mostly Sunni city about 60 miles north of Baghdad.

"We found out that Al Qaeda intended to attack us, so we ambushed them at 3 p.m. on Friday," Abu Ibrahim said. He would not say whether any Islamic Army members were killed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Best Family Haulers–That Aren't Minivans (Rick Newman, 3/9/07, US News)

It's the era of sexy moms and alternadads, and now the automakers want to do their part to make sure parents don't feel frumpy. For nearly two decades, the ungainly minivan, with its cavernous seating and multiple cupholders, was the only real option for families with kids, pets, gear, and places to go. But don't look now–there's been a minivan-ishing act going on. Since peaking in 1995 at 8.5 percent, minivans' share of the U.S. car market has dipped below 6 percent, according to Power Information Network. And it's likely to keep falling.

One big reason: a flotilla of new models that have many minivan features–including a standard or optional third-row seat that raises capacity to six, seven, or more–but a lot more curb appeal.

Sorry, but the family hauling argument begins and ends with the Chevy Suburban. It fits 9 without any trouble and actually has room for luggage if you go on a trip.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


A Worthy Definition of Freedom (Jordan J. Ballor, October 31. 2007, Acton Institute: PowerBlog)

-REVIEW: of Republicanism (1999) - Maurizio Viroli (
-REVIEW: of The Person and the Common Good (1946) - Jacques Maritain (
-REVIEW: of Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World (2001) - Robert Kraynak (

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Brewers hoping hard cider can make a commercial comeback (Omar Sacirbey, November 7, 2007, Boston Globe)

Hard cider was once a very common drink in America. In colonial times, along with beer, cider was consumed in place of water, which was often disease-ridden, and sweet cider, which didn't keep. The alcohol in hard cider killed bacteria and made it a safe thirst quencher. Even kids drank it. With pasteurization and a 19th-century influx of German immigrants who popularized beer, hard cider became a forgotten drink.

"The function of fermentation was preservation," says Christie Higginbottom, chief horticulturalist at Old Sturbridge Village. The most popular apples used by settlers and still used today include Harrison, Roxbury Russet, and Virginia Crab. Cider apples generally have about half the sugar of grapes, are bitter and high in tannins, which Higginbottom says give the apples the taste of oak bark. Most ciders are blends, although some apples have the right balance of components to produce what are called single-apple ciders. One bushel of apples yields 2 1/2 to 3 gallons of hard cider, Benjamin says.

Benjamin, who also produces several apple and other fruit wines, says he is somewhat of a "renegade," using the same blend of apples that he uses for his sweet cider. Five apple varieties - Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, McIntosh, Cortland, and Macoun - constitute most of his mix, the rest comes from 10 to 15 other "interchangeable" varieties with similar flavors.

At West County Cider in Colrain, Judith and Terry Maloney favor English cider apples such as Cox's Orange Pippin, Chisel Jersey, and Bramley, which are "bitter sharp," as well as "bitter sweet" French cider apples such as Clavelle Blanc, Reine De Pomme, and Dabinett. The Maloneys blend these European varieties with American apples for a selection of seven to 10 ciders every year.

After they are picked, the apples sit for several days, allowing their skins to loosen before they go into a hammer-mill, which pulverizes the fruit into a pulp called pomace. The pomace then goes directly into a cider press that squeezes the juice out. Bigger cider makers tend to use hydraulic presses; Benjamin uses a bladder press, which is slower. "The pomace that comes out is dry to the touch," says Benjamin, who presses about 300 gallons per week.

The juice then goes into fermentation tanks, where the sugar becomes alcohol. Most hard cider makers add commercial yeast, although some just use the wild yeast on the apples. To increase the alcohol content, brewers can add sugar or honey, or let the juice ferment longer. Benjamin lets his juice ferment six to eight weeks, resulting in a cider with about 6 percent alcohol content, while Sebastian Lousada of Flag Hill Farm Cyder in Vershire, Vt., ferments his juice for two years, resulting in a 9.5 percent alcohol content. Neither adds sugar.

Benjamin began making hard cider commercially in 2002, but used bitter apples in pursuit of an English style flavor. "I was making it traditional. It was dry. It was a little bit sharp," Benjamin says. "Most people didn't like it." Redemption came two years later in the form of a visiting Englishman, who told Benjamin his fellow Americans like things sweet. "He said I was another Yank trying to make Brit cider," says Benjamin. He listened, and the semi-sweet result, Nate's Hard Cider, earned him Best of Class at Indiana's Indy International Wine Competition in 2005. Benjamin's other cider, Razzy Apple, includes a 5 to 10 percent blend of raspberry juice.

Benjamin is worried that unless supermarkets and pubs start viewing hard cider more like beer and recognize the different styles, its popularity could wane as it did almost 200 years ago. "Cider is just approaching the top of the bell curve, and I hope that it can be sustained," he says.

The Wife had a Magners, at a local Irish pub, that was quite good.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


'Head and Heart: American Christianities,' by Garry Wills: How the tension between reason and emotion has shaped Christianity in America (Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times)

Wills' argument is that American history has been marked by an oscillation between Enlightenment and Evangelism -- between head and heart. He contends that the fruitful tension between these two poles contributed directly to the U.S. Constitution's single wholly original contribution to the political tradition: "disestablishment of the official creed and separation of church and state." It is precisely this innovative separation, Wills contends, that has allowed religion to flourish in America as it does nowhere else in the developed world. It's also why he finds the hostility toward separation evinced by George W. Bush and the religious right so alarming.

Beginning with the Puritans, whose views and turbulence he outlines with great clarity -- and at great length -- Wills moves through the Great Awakening of the early 18th century and the Enlightenment backlash that followed it. Speaking indirectly to the assertion of McCain and others about the Constitution's purportedly Christian origins, Wills points out that at the time of the founding, historians estimate that only about 17% of Americans professed formal religious adherence, a historic low point. The framers were deists, who believed in a divine providence knowable only through reason and experience and not prone to intervene in the affairs of men.

The reaction of the Great Awakening provided an American Unitarian boost that made Deism the religion of the educated class by the middle of the 18th century. Legal scholar William Lee Miller writes that the chief founders of the nation were all Deists -- he lists Washington, Franklin, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and Paine, though many more leaders of the founding era could be added (Benjamin Rush, John Witherspoon, David Rittenhouse, Philip Freneau, Joel Barlow, Aaron Burr, James Wilson, Gouverneur Morris, Tench Coxe, to name some). Their agreement on the question of God crossed political and geographic lines. Federalist and Republican, North and South, an Adams and a Jefferson, a Hamilton and a Madison -- all were professed Deists.

One of the strangest aspects of the Christophobic Left is its belief that Deism is basically atheism. Consider, The Deist Minimum (Avery Cardinal Dulles, January 2005, First Things)
In his public pronouncements as a statesman and legislator, Jefferson expressed what he considered to belong to the common and public core of religion. He kept his more personal opinions to himself, refraining from putting them in any writing that might find its way into print, but he occasionally penned confidential memoranda for himself and a few friends.

Jefferson’s public religion appears in the Declaration of Independence, which refers to “the laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” to “inalienable” rights conferred upon all human beings by their Creator, and to “the protection of divine Providence.” In his first inaugural address, in 1801, Jefferson spoke of how the American people were “enlightened by a benign religion, professed indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and love of man, acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence.” In his second inaugural, four years later, he emphasized the nation’s need for the favor and enlightenment of Providence and asked his hearers to unite with him in supplication to “that Being in whose hands we are.”

One of Jefferson’s firmest principles, as we know, was that of religious freedom. In 1777, as a legislator, he composed what later became the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, which embodies his personal conviction that the government should exercise no coercion in religious matters. In his famous letter of 1802 to the Danbury Baptist Association he referred to the “wall of separation between Church and State”—a term that had previously been used by the Baptist Roger Williams. But as we have seen, he did not hesitate to bring religion into his public pronouncements. As President he frequently attended religious services in Congress. While opposing a federal religious establishment, “he personally encouraged and symbolically supported religion by attending public church services in the Capitol,” as Daniel Driesbach has written.

Like his contemporaries Franklin, Washington, Adams, Hamilton, and Madison, Jefferson was convinced that the republic could not stand without a high level of public morality, and that moral behavior could not survive in the absence of divine authority as its sanction. Obedience to the teachings of Jesus and reflection on the purity of Jesus’ life could enable people to overcome their selfishness and parochialism.

Jefferson’s friend Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) maintained that the authentic teachings of Jesus were vastly superior to those of Socrates or any other pagan but that they had been overlaid by a thick cover of legend and mythology, which must be stripped away for the truth to shine forth in its pristine brilliance. Priestley’s work made a deep impression on Jefferson and enabled him to regard himself as a Christian. Following in Priestley’s footsteps, Jefferson undertook to retrieve the true teachings of Jesus, especially in matters of morals. To this end he made two compilations of texts concerning Jesus from the New Testament. The first, entitled The Philosophy of Jesus, was completed in 1804 but has been lost. The second, which he called The Life and Morals of Jesus, is usually known as the Jefferson Bible. It was composed in his later years and published only after his death. Omitting all references to the miraculous and the supernatural, Jefferson selected what he took to be authentic sayings of Jesus as a moral teacher. The precepts of the Nazarene, he asserted, were “the most pure, benevolent, and sublime which have ever been preached to man.” The religion of Jesus, he believed, was so simple that it could be understood by a child, but the writers of the New Testament, especially Paul, overlaid it with mythology derived from Platonist sources. The sage of Monticello forthrightly dismissed dogmas such as the Trinity and the Incarnation, which he found unintelligible.

Jefferson’s religion, however, was not purely philosophical. For a living religion, he knew, scope must be given to the inclinations of the heart. He was enraptured by the beauty of the Psalms, which in his opinion surpassed all the hymnists of every language and of every time, including the hymn of Cleanthes to Jupiter so much admired by his friend John Adams. When he attended church services as an old man, the sounds of familiar hymns would bring tears to his eyes.

In his plan of studies for the University of Virginia Jefferson wanted natural religion to be taught to the exclusion of all doctrine attributed to revelation. But he knew that religion could not be purely academic and therefore recognized the importance of worship in the churches. He took pride in the fact that students at his university had opportunities to worship in Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist services in the sanctuary at Charlottesville. Interdenominational competition, he believed, was the best protection against fanaticism. In matters of religion the aphorism “united we stand, divided we fall” had to be reversed. Divided we stand, he said, but united we fall.

In summary, then, Jefferson was a deist because he believed in one God, in divine providence, in the divine moral law, and in rewards and punishments after death, but did not believe in supernatural revelation. He was a Christian deist because he saw Christianity as the highest expression of natural religion and Jesus as an incomparably great moral teacher. He was not an orthodox Christian because he rejected, among other things, the doctrines that Jesus was the promised Messiah and the incarnate Son of God.

Jefferson’s religion is fairly typical of the American form of deism in his day. [...]

In the closing decades of the eighteenth century, deism in the United States, as elsewhere, seemed to be sweeping everything before it. But early in the nineteenth century, the deist tide began to recede. The first half of the nineteenth century witnessed a significant revival of Christianity, both Protestant and Catholic. The preachers of the second Great Awakening were especially successful in rural America, where they aroused a highly emotional biblically based religion. While Unitarianism survived and even experienced some growth in New England, it lost its specifically deist features: the sharp dichotomy between faith and reason, the deductivist natural theology, the separation between God and the world, and the idea of Jesus as teacher of the natural law. Deism therefore may be said to have perished, not only in the United States but also in England, France, and Germany.

We can discern several reasons why deism, which once looked so promising, proved unable to sustain itself. Deism drew its vitality from the oppressive policies of the religious establishments against which it was reacting. In the minds of the Enlightenment thinkers, confessional religion, unless checked by law or by free competition, led inevitably to tyranny and persecution. But this assumption was based on a time-conditioned union or alliance between throne and altar, not on the gospel of Christ, which gave Caesar no authority over the things of God.

Jefferson himself came gradually to this realization. As a young adult he seems to have held that Christian faith was favorable to despotism and hostile to free society. But his friend Benjamin Rush convinced him that Christianity and republicanism were, so to speak, made for each other. As Eugene Sheridan has written, Rush regarded Christianity as “part of a divine plan to bring about the kingdom of God on earth by freeing mankind from the burden of royal and ecclesiastical oppression through the spread of the principles of human equality and Christian charity.” With Rush’s help Jefferson found a way of accepting Christianity without diminishing his commitment to the freedom of conscience. Deism, therefore, was not necessary to offset religious oppression.

By the middle of the twentieth century the major branches of Christianity accepted the principle of religious freedom not as a reluctant concession but as a requirement of the gospel itself. The Catholic Church in its “Declaration on Religious Freedom” (Dignitatis Humanae) teaches that the gospel itself demands that “in matters religious every manner of coercion on the part of men should be excluded.” A major factor in the rise of deism has therefore ceased to exist.

Although deism portrayed itself as a pure product of unaided reason, it was not what it claimed to be. Its basic tenets concerning God, the virtuous life, and rewards beyond the grave were in fact derived from Christianity, the faith in which the deists themselves had been reared. It is doubtful whether anyone who had not been brought up in a biblical religion could embrace the tenets of deism. The children of deists rarely persevered in the faith of their parents.

If we grant the argument that the Founders established a Deist Republic we have then essentially won the argument that America is a Judeo-Christian nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Skillet meals: Out of the frying pan, onto the table (Amy McConnell Schaarsmith, 11/04/07, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Instead of combing through cookbooks, searching the Internet or rifling through that tangle of torn-out recipes when you need to grocery shop and make a meal, put together a list of 30 favorite family recipes -- one for every night of the month. And then make them again and again and again.

It worked for Ma. It worked for Grandma. It will work for you.

Your repertoire should vary among beef, chicken, pork, fish and veggie dishes. It helps if you mix several types of time-saving dishes.

One night you might stick a casserole in the oven while you finish folding laundry or helping the kids with homework or reading some research for a project at work. Another night you might whip up something quick in the skillet. And another you might simply reheat a slow-cooker dish you simmered up over the weekend or put together before heading out to the office that morning.

And don't be afraid of shortcuts such as soup mixes, gravy packets, canned or frozen produce and simple, inexpensive combinations of meat, vegetables and pasta or rice. They're time-honored tools for getting dinner together in a hurry. If using them means your family can sit down together for a home-cooked meal, there's no shame in that. [...]



* 2 teaspoons olive oil
* 4 pork loin chops, about 4 ounces each
* Salt to taste
* Freshly ground black pepper
* 1 medium yellow onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
* 1 sprig fresh sage, minced, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
* 3 tart apples, peeled (optional), cored and sliced
* 2 cups apple cider
* 1 1/2 cups couscous

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat.

Season pork chops with salt and pepper and sear on both sides. In same pan, add onion, sage and apples, turn heat to medium-high, and cook until onions are golden brown, apples have softened and chops have cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring apple cider to a boil in a small saucepan, stir in couscous, cover and remove from heat. Let sit about 5 minutes until couscous has absorbed all the cider.

Divide couscous among four plates, then top each with a pork chop and the apple-onion mixture.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Full of fall, super nuts boost body and flavor (Jolene Thym, 10/31/2007, Contra Costa Times)

Research shows that walnuts are a true superfood, capable of helping people manage weight, hold off aging, improve digestion, promote good sleep patterns and even fight cholesterol. "Add walnuts to your diet. It's a simple way to change your diet and to add years to your life," says Michael Roizen, a medical doctor who is also an author and regular guest on Oprah. "If you will eat six walnut halves 25 to 30 minutes before lunch, you will eat less and feel better. It's really not that hard to eat better."

Roizen, who insists that people should "know as much about their bodies as they do about their cell phone plans," maintains that anyone who is willing to start a healthful habit such as eating walnuts every day can turn his or her entire health profile around in three years. "Within three years of starting a healthy habit, it's as if you had the healthy habit all your life."

Cynthia Sass, the nutrition director for Prevention magazine who is also a registered dietitian, is a bit skeptical about some of Roizen's claims, but she confirms that eating walnuts daily is a great idea for various reasons. "In a nutshell, walnuts are one of the most delicious superfoods on the planet," Sass says. "They're rich in a number of key nutrients, including heart-healthy unsaturated fats which help raise HDL (the good cholesterol) while lowering the bad LDL."

They are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, "which are known to reduce inflammation, a trigger for disease and aging. Eating walnuts with whole grains or fruit will also help control blood sugar and insulin levels because their protein, fat and fiber slow down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates." Sass adds that walnuts are also rich in anti-aging, disease-fighting antioxidants -- second only to blueberries. Eating walnuts every day, she adds, is as simple as sprinkling them on your oatmeal, granola or yogurt at breakfast, or using them instead of bread crumbs to crust fish or chicken at dinner. "I personally love them on top of green beans." [...]

Walnut and Prosciutto Stuffing

Serves 2-4

Chef Mark Berkner of Taste in Plymouth serves this stuffing with roasted duck breast.

11/2 cups diced savory rustic bread

3/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

3 teaspoons soft butter (divided use)

1 ounce (about 2 thin slices) prosciutto, cut in strips

1 stalk celery, diced small

1 yellow onion, diced small

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup chicken stock

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly toast diced bread cubes for about 7 minutes. Set aside to cool. In same oven, lightly toast walnuts on a sheet pan for 5-6 minutes, turning once. Set aside to cool. Leave oven on.

2. In large saute pan over medium heat, add 1 teaspoon butter. When it begins to melt, add prosciutto, stir and saute until crispy. Add celery and onion and saute for 6 minutes until translucent. Add garlic and saute 1 minute. Add stock, stir and reduce by half.

3. Pour stock mixture into a large bowl and add toasted bread, gently folding to slightly soften (the bread should not be soggy). Add remaining butter and herbs, cooled walnuts, and salt and pepper. Transfer stuffing to an ovenproof baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until top layer begins to brown. Serve warm with roasted meats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Killer arguments against euthanasia: In exposing the euthanasia lobby’s disregard for equality before the law, and for free will itself, Neil M Gorsuch has written the most important book yet on the ‘right to die’. (Kevin Yuill, 10/26/07, Spiked)

[W]ith his book The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, Neil M Gorsuch is clearly filling a gap in the debate about assisted suicide.

Gorsuch comes at the question from a legal perspective and is well qualified in legal philosophy. A former clerk to US Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy, he was nominated by President George W Bush and confirmed by Congress last year as a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The remit of this book is, as Gorsuch tells us, ‘to introduce and critically examine the primary legal and ethical arguments deployed by those who favour legalisation, and to set forth an argument for retaining existing law that few have stopped to consider’. Readers (like myself) who might not warm to the task of following the circuitous logic of American law courts would do well to persevere, for Gorsuch lucidly lays out key ethical and philosophical arguments on both sides.

Gorsuch begins by showing how the debate remains unfinished within the context of American law. He then provides an excellent chapter on the history of assisted suicide and suicide. Punching holes in the classical pretensions of some advocates, he notes Plato’s condemnation of suicide as akin to a soldier leaving his post. In Laws, Plato condemned suicide on the grounds that it ‘imposes [an] unjust judgment [of death] on [oneself] in a spirit of slothful and abject cowardice’.

An outstanding historical point – again, a useful counterpoint to the claim by supporters of assisted suicide that they are carrying on an Enlightenment tradition – is that the more lenient attitude towards suicide, away from the medieval tradition of burying the suicide at a crossroads with a stake through them, reflected the view that suicides were often the result of madness, rather than malfeasance. As Gorsuch rightly declares, ‘it is a large leap from that merciful fact to the conclusion that suicide had become normalised in law, let alone a matter of legal right’.

Most of the other chapters deal with the ethical and logical problems with arguments in favour of assisted suicide. Gorsuch reconstructs the arguments of advocates before effectively knocking them down. Willing participation of the victim does not render the act harmless or victimless. As Gorsuch shows, repeating arguments by John Stuart Mill, it takes nothing away from our ‘freedom’ to be prevented from duelling, selling one’s organs, or selling oneself into slavery. There are some activities prevented by a liberal or even libertarian society for the good of all. It would be perverse to say that the prevention of any of theses activities – or suicide – destroys the basis to our freedom.

Gorsuch spends altogether too much time on the canard of autonomy. It needs to be said that all are free to commit suicide, a reflection upon the impracticality of making suicide illegal. What is being requested today, however, is the right to kill those we judge (and who agree with our judgement) to be living worthless lives.

As Gorsuch notes, few argue that all must have the right to be killed if they cannot kill themselves. This leads pro-assisted suicide commentators to draw lines between those with terminal illnesses and others. One of Gorsuch’s stronger and more original arguments shows that delineation between the terminally-ill and everyone else (the basis for Oregon’s definition between those who qualify for assisted suicide and those who do not) erodes equality. To be treated as equals before the law can bear no demarcations between subjects; we cannot set down simple criteria for which lives are worth living and which are not. The arbitrariness of a line based on physical health matches the arbitrariness of lines between, say, Jews and Gentiles. How can one judge the worth of an individual’s life in such random and simple terms?

Once you've determined that lives are of unequal value, what's left but arbitrary line drawing?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Red Sox Top 11 Prospects (Kevin Goldstein, 11/02/07, Baseball Prospectus)

3. Justin Masterson, RHP

DOB: 3/22/85
Height/Weight: 6-6/250
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 2nd round, 2006, San Diego State
2007 Stats: 4.33 ERA at High-A (95.2-103-22-56); 4.34 ERA at Double-A (58-49-18-59)

Year In Review: The big right-hander held his own in Lancaster, then took off once he arrived in the most realistic baseball environs of the Eastern League, allowing five earned runs over 33 2/3 IP in his first five starts for Portland.

The Good: Masterson’s sinker is not only the best in the system, it’s arguably the best in all of the minor leagues. The pitch comes out of his hand at 88-92 mph, touches 94, and features tremendous downward break. Making the pitch even more effective is his ability to locate it in any four quadrants of the zone. He has an intimidating presence on the mound, and his drop-and-drive style gives him some deception.

The Bad: Masterson’s three-quarters delivery is a bit of a concern, as his causes him to often get around on his slider, taking away any depth from the pitch. He made some progress this year with a circle grip on his changeup, but it remains a below-average pitch. Because of these concerns with his arsenal, some project him to be a reliever down the road.

Fun Fact: Masterson was born in Jamaica while his father was serving as the Dean of Students at Jamaica Theological Seminary.

Perfect World Projection: Pitchers like Chien-Ming Wang, Fausto Carmona and Derek Lowe have proven that sinkerballers can have great success in starting roles. While Masterson is in that mold, he’s a notch below them.

Timetable: Masterson’s development has come along a bit more quickly than expected, and he’ll likely begin 2008 at Triple-A Pawtucket. His long-term role with the Red Sox is still undefined, but he could get a big league look by the end of the season.

4. Jed Lowrie, SS

DOB: 4/17/84
Height/Weight: 6-0/180
Bats/Throws: S/R
Draft: 1st round, 2005, Stanford
2007 Stats: .297/.410/.501 at Double-A (93 G); .300/.356/.506 at Triple-A (40 G)

Year In Review: After a disappointing full-season debut, Lowrie had what can only be defined as a breakout campaign, putting up great numbers at both Double- and Triple-A.

The Good: Lowrie is an on-base machine. His approach is highly advanced, as he works the count well, and recognizes which pitches he can drive into the gap. His makeup is off the charts--he’s a baseball grinder who plays and practices with an infectious all-out style. Defensively, he’s fundamentally sound and features a solid, accurate arm.

The Bad: Scouts’ opinions of Lowrie vary wildly, with some seeing him as an everyday big league shortstop, and others seeing him as no more than a very good utility player. There is little doubt that with Lowrie’s average speed and slow first step that his range is a little short to play on the left side of an infield in the big leagues.

Fun Fact: Lowrie is just one of 21 first-round picks to come out of the Stanford baseball program.

Perfect World Projection: A starting shortstop, though second base is more likely.

Timetable: With Julio Lugo still under contract and Dustin Pedroia establishing himself as one of the better second basemen around, Lowrie has no obvious job with the Red Sox. He’ll return to Triple-A in 2008, and probably won’t achieve a full-time role in the majors until he or Lugo gets moved elsewhere.

5. Ryan Kalish, OF

DOB: 3/28/88
Height/Weight: 6-1/205
Bats/Throws: L/L
Draft: 9th round, 2006, Red Bank Catholic HS (NJ)
2007 Stats: .368/.471/.540 at Short-season (23 G)

Year In Review: After earning a $600,000 bonus that bought him away from a college commitment to Virginia, the Red Sox spent extended spring training smoothing out Kalish’s swing mechanics and refining his approach before unleashing him on the New York-Penn League, where he dominated for a month before his season was ended by a wrist injury.

The Good: Kalish is a premier athlete, and none of his tools grade out below average. He’s an excellent hitter with at least average power, and profiles as a leadoff man with some pop, walking more than he struck out during his brief season. He has above-average speed and is an excellent baserunner.

The Bad: Kalish is still raw, especially in the field. He needs to improve his reads and routes to stay in center field, and his offensive profile creates a mismatch if he moves to a corner. He struggles against good lefties, who showed an ability to fool him with breaking stuff. His biggest issue right now might just be a lack of experience.

Fun Fact: In his final 13 games before the wrist injury, Kalish went 23-for-49 (.469) with eight walks and nine stolen bases.

Perfect World Projection: A dynamic outfielder capable of 20 home run/40 stolen base campaigns.

Timetable: Initially thought to require surgery, a second diagnosis prescribed a rest and rehabilitation program for Kalish, who is expected to be 100% by spring training. To call his full-season debut highly anticipated would understate the case.

November 10, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 PM


Toughest little man: Pedroia reveals he played final two months with cracked bone (Alex McPhillips, 11/11/07,

He looked the part of a Boston favorite, throwing his body around the right side of the infield and exhibiting a tough-guy charm that belied his 5-foot-9 frame. So it's not surprising, perhaps, that Dustin Pedroia played that part -- quietly -- through pain.

Pedroia played the final two months of the 2007 season with a cracked hamate bone in his left hand, The Boston Herald reported on Saturday. Pedroia told the newspaper that he didn't know when the injury occurred, only that an MRI and bone scan on Sept. 10 revealed the break.

The recent phenomena of youngsters having elective Tommy John surgery because they think they'll throw harder is pretty dubious, but why not just have your hamates removed in the offseason if you have a shot at a big league career?

Pedroia isn't small-town news (Gordon Edes, June 5, 2007, Boston Globe)

It was at Arizona State that Pedroia came into his own as a player. Three years in a row he was All-Pac 10 and as a sophomore was Pac-10 Co-Player of the Year. As a junior, he was one of five finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, given to the nation's best college player. He didn't miss one of ASU's 185 games while in college, batting .384 overall.

But here's what else they remember about Pedroia at ASU. After his freshman year, he gave his scholarship back.

Say what?

"There was a pitcher transferring from Winthrop named Ben Thurmond," Pedroia said. "I knew him from Team USA. We didn't have any scholarships left to offer him. I told the coaches, 'If we can get this guy, he can have my scholarship. I wanted to win the [College] World Series."

Pedroia said he called and talked it over with his parents before surrendering his scholarship. "Here's what happened," said Debbie Pedroia, who was at McAfee Coliseum with the family and a dozen or so friends last night, with half of Woodland coming later in the week. "Dustin called and said, 'Mom, I really want to get to the World Series. I gave my scholarship back, but I knew you wouldn't mind.' "

Debbie Pedroia, who was a highly competitive college tennis player ("When I lost, I couldn't sleep for four days"), laughed at her son's spur-of-the-moment judgment. "He wanted to win," she said, to which Guy Pedroia added, "What's a few extra tires?"

The Sun Devils didn't make it to the World Series. They lost to Chad Cordero and Cal-State Fullerton in the regionals. "But it was the right thing to do," Pedroia said. "Ben was a great teammate and a great friend."

No, he laughed, Thurmond didn't ask for a piece of his signing bonus after he was drafted by the Red Sox.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 PM


Hillary Clinton's planted question gaffe (Philip Sherwell, 11/11/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Hillary Clinton has been caught answering a planted question on global warming from a member of the audience during a supposedly spontaneous session with voters in the key first caucus state of Iowa. [...]

It came last week as Sen Clinton called on a student for a question. Muriel Gallo-Chasanoff asked how she planned to combat climate change.

The former First Lady replied: "You know, I find as I travel around Iowa that it's usually young people that ask me about global warming."

The student later said that one of Sen Clinton's staff asked her to put the question to Sen Clinton and then signalled to the candidate to choose her.

It's to their credit that the Clintons realize that if they let down their hair and showed us what they're like the voters would run screaming in terror. The phonier they keep it the better.

Posted by Stephen Judd at 3:54 PM


Norman Mailer dead at age 84 (Dan Cryer and Aileen Jacobson, 11/10/2007, Newsday)

Norman Mailer, the author whose name was synonymous with literary celebrity in the second half of the 20th Century, died Saturday at the age of 84.

While the Brothers Judd are not fans, may he rest in peace.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:40 AM


Things Are Tough All Over: But Mrs. Clinton is no Iron Lady (Peggy Noonan, November 9, 2007, Opinion Journal)

The story as I was told it is that in the early years of her prime ministership, Margaret Thatcher held a meeting with her aides and staff, all of whom were dominated by her, even awed. When it was over she invited her cabinet chiefs to join her at dinner in a nearby restaurant. They went, arrayed themselves around the table, jockeyed for her attention. A young waiter came and asked if they'd like to hear the specials. Mrs. Thatcher said, "I will have beef."

Yes, said the waiter. "And the vegetables?"

"They will have beef too."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:37 AM


Lieberman Delivers Major Address on "The Politics of National Security" (Senator Joe Lieberman, 11/08/07)

Senator Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) today addressed a Center for Politics and Foreign Relations/Financial Times breakfast at The Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. The subject of Senator Lieberman’s talk was “The Politics of National Security,” in which he spoke about the future of the Democratic Party and its response to the threat of Iran.

“Thank you so much, Bob, for that kind introduction. It is a pleasure to be here this morning at the Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

SAIS bears the name of a great American statesman and strategist. Paul Nitze served in six presidential administrations, from the outbreak of World War II through the twilight of the Cold War. As the principal author of NSC-68, he quite literally wrote the road map that guided America to victory in our long struggle against the Soviet Union.

Nitze is a figure of particular resonance for me, and his career provides an ideal starting place for the subject of my talk today—the politics of national security.

As many of you know, Paul Nitze was a Democrat, but he worked for Republican presidents as well as Democratic ones. He did so because he understood that, whatever domestic political differences divide us, they must never blind us to the far more profound national security challenges we face together from abroad.

Throughout his long career, Nitze put country before party, policy before politics. Although he was a Democrat, he did not look to the Democratic Party to tell him how or what to think about foreign policy.

The foreign policy convictions that animated Nitze, it so happened, were also the convictions that animated the Democratic Party from the 1940s through the early 1960s. Confronted by the totalitarian threats first of fascism and then of communism, Democrats under Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy forged a foreign policy that was simultaneously principled, internationalist, and tough-minded.

This was the Democratic Party I grew up in—a party that was unafraid to make moral judgments about the world beyond our borders, to draw a clear line between what Nitze in NSC-68 called “the free world” of the West and the “slave society” behind the Iron Curtain. It was a party that grasped the inextricable link between the survival of freedom abroad and the survival of freedom at home—that recognized, as Nitze wrote, that “the idea of freedom is the most contagious idea in the world.” And it was also a party that understood that a progressive society must be ready and willing to use its military power in defense of its progressive ideals, in order to ensure that those progressive ideals survived.

This was the worldview captured by President Kennedy, when he pledged in his inaugural address that the United States would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

That Democratic foreign policy tradition—the tradition of Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy—collapsed just a few years later, in the trauma of Vietnam. And in its place, a very different worldview took root in the Democratic Party.

Reflexively skeptical about America’s authority to make moral judgments about the rest of the world, inclined to see the planet’s leading problems as more often the result of American involvement than American disengagement, and viscerally opposed to the use of military force, this rival worldview was in many respects the polar opposite of the self-confident and idealistic internationalism that had, just a few years earlier, animated the Democratic Party under President Kennedy.

Nitze was among those who courageously fought against this turn in the Democratic Party. He was a critic of the anti-war, isolationist candidacy of George McGovern in 1972 and later broke with Jimmy Carter over his arms control policy, which Nitze felt was weak and misguided. With Eugene Rostow, Nitze reestablished the Committee on the Present Danger, to keep alive the principled, internationalist, and muscular foreign policy tradition that had once lay at the heart of the Democratic Party.

Throughout this period, although Nitze remained a Democrat, he did not hesitate to challenge Democrats with whom he disagreed, or to work with Republicans with whom he agreed. One of the Republicans that Nitze came to support, in fact, was Ronald Reagan, himself a former Democrat, who welcomed Nitze to his foreign policy team after winning the presidency in 1980.

Reagan was the last president Nitze would serve, but in the proud legacy he has left, Nitze offers us important lessons for our own time about the politics of national security.

I arrived in Washington, D.C., as a first-term Senator in January 1989, just as Paul Nitze was departing government to return to his office here at SAIS. As I began to make foreign policy decisions in the Senate, I found myself drawn to the Democratic tradition of my youth—the morally self-confident, internationalist, and muscular tradition of Truman and Kennedy, whose inaugural address had inspired me to be a Democrat in the first place.

By the late 1980s, that tradition had been out of fashion in Democratic circles for twenty years. But then, Democrats had also been out of power for most of those twenty years—something that struck me and many others as more than coincidental. Simply put, the American people didn’t trust Democrats to keep them safe, and the McGovernite legacy was a big reason why.

By 1989, historic changes were taking place in the world that made the strong, self-confident foreign policy that linked Democrats like Truman and Kennedy to Republicans like Reagan look increasingly justified. Although too many Democrats had grown accustomed to criticizing Reagan’s approach to the Cold War as simplistic and dangerous, now the Soviet Union was imploding—economically and ideologically.

The collapse of communism emboldened those of us who felt that the McGovernite legacy had been a disastrous detour for the Democratic Party, and that it was time to reclaim our own lost tradition of strength abroad.

Then in 1991, America’s stunning victory in the first Gulf War presented anti-war Democrats with graphic proof of why their reflexive opposition to the use of military force was substantively wrong and probably politically wrong too.

It was not until the Clinton-Gore administration, however, that a tectonic shift really began inside the Democratic Party about foreign policy. In particular in the Balkans, as President Clinton and his advisers slowly came to recognize that American intervention, and only American intervention, could stop Slobodan Milosevic—Democratic attitudes about the use of military power began to change.

Ironically, just as Democrats in the White House were growing more comfortable with the idea of an interventionist foreign policy, Republicans in Congress were moving in the opposite direction. In the absence of the Soviet Union, Republicans in the 1990s too often defined their own foreign policy vision as instinctive opposition to whatever President Clinton was doing in the world.

It is worth remembering, however, that some Republicans rose above this partisan reflex. Senator John McCain and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole courageously championed our intervention in the Balkans, without regard to domestic politics. But many others didn’t—and by the time of the 2000 presidential contest, it was the Democratic Party that was the more hawkish and internationalist, not the Republicans.

And in the 2000 campaign, it was Vice President Gore, who championed a values-based foreign policy, confident of America’s moral responsibilities in the world, and unafraid to use our military power. He promised $50 billion more in new defense spending than his Republican opponent—and, to the dismay of the party’s left, made sure that the Democratic Party’s platform that year endorsed a national missile defense.

Incidentally, he also chose a hawkish Democratic senator from Connecticut as his running mate.

Governor Bush, by contrast, campaigned for the presidency promising a “humble foreign policy,” criticizing the peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo. He signaled his intention to appoint as his secretary of state a retired general, who had counseled against military intervention both in Iraq and in Bosnia. One of his top foreign policy advisers warned that “America’s armed forces are not a global police force”—a line that another prominent Republican noted was “closer to the spirit of George McGovern than Ronald Reagan.”

In the politics of national security, it seemed, Democrats and Republicans had traded places.

Certainly no one listening to George W. Bush in the fall of 2000 could have imagined that, scarcely four years later, this same man would stand on the west front of the Capitol building and pledge, in his second inaugural address, that “it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in the world.”

Indeed, as Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis has written, it is easy to imagine these words being spoken by Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman or John F. Kennedy or Bill Clinton. But it was George W. Bush, who—in the aftermath of September 11—responded to the attacks with a national security strategy not of isolationism or realpolitik—but by drawing on the same morally self-confident, internationalist, and muscular foreign policy tradition he had once scorned.

In particular, President Bush defined the nature of this new conflict in quintessentially liberal terms—as a struggle for freedom against tyranny. Like the Cold War, he described the war on terror as ultimately “between two fundamentally different visions of humanity.” On the one side of this struggle are the Islamist extremists who “promise paradise, but deliver a life of public beheadings and repression of women and suicide bombings.” And on the other side, “are huge numbers of moderate men and women…” in the Muslim world, who believe that “every life has dignity and value that no power on Earth can take away.”

That is why, to defeat radical Islam, President Bush has repeatedly argued that we must simultaneously fight—and fight hard—to uproot their networks, while offering our own, more powerful vision of the future, based on the universal values of freedom and justice and opportunity.

In this regard, the Bush administration’s post-9/11 ideological conversion confronted Democrats with an awkward choice. Should we welcome the President’s foreign policy flip-flop? Or should Democrats match it with a flip-flop of our own?

Between 2002 and 2006, there was a battle within the Democratic Party over just how to answer this question—a battle I was part of.

I felt strongly that Democrats should embrace the basic framework that the President articulated for the war on terror as our own—because it was our own. It was our legacy from Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, and Clinton.

We could rightly criticize the Bush administration when it failed to live up to its own rhetoric, or when it bungled the execution of its policies. But I felt that we should not minimize the seriousness of the threat from Islamist extremism, or the fundamental rightness of the muscular, internationalist, and morally self-confident response that President Bush had chosen in response to it.

But that was not the choice most Democrats made. Instead, they flip-flopped.

It did not happen all at once. In the weeks and months after September 11, Democrats and Republicans put aside our partisan divisions and stood united as Americans. As late as October 2002, a Democratic-controlled Senate voted by a wide bipartisan margin to authorize President Bush to use military force against Saddam Hussein.

As the Iraq war became bogged down in a long and costly insurgency, however, and as President Bush’s approval ratings slipped, Democrats moved in a very different direction—first in the presidential campaign of 2004, where antiwar forces played a decisive role in the Democratic primaries. As you may recall, they also prevailed in Connecticut’s Democratic U.S. Senate primary last year.

Since retaking Congress in November 2006, the top foreign policy priority of the Democratic Party has not been to expand the size of our military for the war on terror or to strengthen our democracy promotion efforts in the Middle East or to prevail in Afghanistan. It has been to pull our troops out of Iraq, to abandon the democratically-elected government there, and to hand a defeat to President Bush.

Iraq has become the singular litmus test for Democratic candidates. No Democratic presidential primary candidate today speaks of America’s moral or strategic responsibility to stand with the Iraqi people against the totalitarian forces of radical Islam, or of the consequences of handing a victory in Iraq to al Qaeda and Iran. And if they did, their campaign would be as unsuccessful as mine was in 2006. Even as evidence has mounted that General Petraeus’ new counterinsurgency strategy is succeeding, Democrats have remained emotionally invested in a narrative of defeat and retreat in Iraq, reluctant to acknowledge the progress we are now achieving, or even that that progress has enabled us to begin drawing down our troops there.

Part of the explanation for this, I think, comes back to ideology. For all of our efforts in the 1990s to rehabilitate a strong Democratic foreign policy tradition, anti-war sentiment remains the dominant galvanizing force among a significant segment of the Democratic base.

But another reason for the Democratic flip-flop on foreign policy over the past few years is less substantive. For many Democrats, the guiding conviction in foreign policy isn’t pacifism or isolationism—it is distrust and disdain of Republicans in general, and President Bush in particular.

In this regard, the Democratic foreign policy worldview has become defined by the same reflexive, blind opposition to the President that defined Republicans in the 1990s – even when it means repudiating the very principles and policies that Democrats as a party have stood for, at our best and strongest.

To illustrate my point, I want to talk about a controversy in the current Democratic presidential primaries, in which I have played an unintended part.

I offered an amendment earlier this fall, together with Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, urging the Bush administration to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization and impose economic sanctions on them.

The reason for our amendment was clear. In September, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker testified before Congress about the proxy war that Iran—and in particular, the IRGC and its Quds Force subsidiary—has been waging against our troops in Iraq. Specifically, General Petraeus told us that the IRGC Quds Force has been training, funding, equipping, arming, and in some cases directing Shiite extremists who are responsible for the murder of hundreds of American soldiers.

This charge had been corroborated by other sources, including the most recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, the independent assessment of the Iraqi Security Forces led by General Jim Jones, as well as the on-the-ground reports of our division commanders in Iraq.

It was also consistent with nearly three decades of experience with the IRGC, which has been implicated in a range of terrorist attacks against the United States and our allies—long before the invasion of Iraq.

In light of this evidence, Senator Kyl and I thought that calling for the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization was a no brainer. Rather than punishing Iranians indiscriminately, it would apply a set of targeted economic sanctions against the part of the Iranian regime that was responsible for the murder of our troops in Iraq.

One big reason Kyl and I thought that calling for the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization would be politically uncontroversial was because a bipartisan group of 68 senators, including several of the Democratic presidential candidates, had already signed onto a piece of legislation introduced earlier in the year that asked for the IRGC’s designation along exactly the same lines as our amendment. Whatever the differences or disagreements on foreign policy or even on Iran, I assumed that tougher, targeted economic sanctions against the IRGC were something that we could all agree on.

I was wrong.

What happened instead is a case study in the distrust and partisan polarization that now poisons our body politic on even the most sensitive issues of national security.

First, several left-wing blogs seized upon the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, offering wild conspiracy theories about how it could be used to authorize the use of military force against Iran.

These were absurd arguments. The text of our amendment contained nothing—nothing—that could be construed as a green light for an attack on Iran. To claim that it did was an act of delusion or deception.

On the contrary, by calling for tougher sanctions on Iran, the intention of our amendment was to offer an alternative to war.

Nonetheless, the conspiracy theories started to spread. Although the Senate passed our amendment, 76-22, several Democrats, including some of the Democratic presidential candidates, soon began attacking it—and Senator Clinton, who voted for the amendment. In fact, some of the very same Democrats who had cosponsored the legislation in the spring, urging the designation of the IRGC, began denouncing our amendment for doing the exact same thing.

The problem with the Kyl-Lieberman amendment of course had little to do with its substance, and a lot to do with politics.

I asked some of my Senate colleagues who voted against our amendment: “Do you believe the evidence the military has given us about the IRGC sponsoring these attacks on our troops?” Yes, they invariably said.

“Don’t you support tougher economic sanctions against Iran?” I asked. Again, yes—no question.

So what’s the problem, I asked.

“It’s simple,” they said. “We don’t trust Bush. He’ll use this resolution as an excuse for war against Iran.”

I understand that President Bush is a divisive figure. I recognize the distrust that many Americans feel toward his administration. I recognize the anger and outrage that exists out there about the war in Iraq.

But there is something profoundly wrong—something that should trouble all of us—when we have elected Democratic officials who seem more worried about how the Bush administration might respond to Iran’s murder of our troops, than about the fact that Iran is murdering our troops.

There is likewise something profoundly wrong when we see candidates who are willing to pander to this politically paranoid, hyper-partisan sentiment in the Democratic base—even if it sends a message of weakness and division to the Iranian regime.

For me, this episode reinforces how far the Democratic Party of 2007 has strayed from the Democratic Party of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and the Clinton-Gore administration.

That is why I call myself an Independent Democrat today. It is because my foreign policy convictions are the convictions that have traditionally animated the Democratic Party—but they exist in me today independent of the current Democratic Party, which has largely repudiated them.

I hope that Democrats will one day again rediscover and re-embrace these principles, which were at the heart of our party as recently as 2000. But regardless of when or if that happens, those convictions will continue to be mine. And I will continue to fight to advance them along with like-minded Democrats and like-minded Republicans.

Some of you in this room are students at the beginning of what will be long and distinguished careers in public policy and public service. Chances are, you already have formed some strong convictions about American foreign policy, and for that reason, identify more with one party than the other.

But as you consider your future, I ask you to reflect for a moment on the past, and the dramatic shifts that I have described in the foreign policy orthodoxy of Democrats and Republicans alike over the past sixty years.

These shifts are almost certain to continue to occur. Just as the foreign policy convictions of the Democratic Party of 2008 are very different from those of the Democratic Party of 2000, so too will the Democratic Party of 2016 and 2028 look very different from the Democratic Party of today.

I ask that as future practitioners of foreign policy, you do not become so wedded to a party that you are unwilling to diverge from it, when your convictions diverge from it. Let your views about national security determine your politics, rather than the other way around.

If you choose to identify as a Democrat or a Republican, in other words, I encourage each of you to be independent Democrats and independent Republicans.

It may mean that you belong to a smaller and, at times, lonelier caucus. You may even find yourself on the losing end of an election or two. But far more important, you will not lose your convictions about what you believe is best for the security of our great country—and that, as Paul Nitze understood, is what matters most.

Thank you so much.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


This fall, Japan became a Red Sox nation (Gaku Tashiro, 11/06/07, Sankei Sports)

The Japan Series, which is Japanese baseball's equivalent to the World Series, had already begun, with the Chunichi Dragons, champions of the Central League, playing the Nippon Ham Fighters, champions of the Pacific League. No matter. Like Boston, Japan was going crazy with "Red Sox fever." Because many people were at work - the games started at 9:30 a.m. in Japan - they checked their cellphones or the Internet to obtain information about the World Series.

The front pages of five Japanese sports dailies were all Daisuke Matsuzaka, the MVP of the World Baseball Classic in March 2006, and now champion of the 2007 World Series. The cover story of Sankei Sports told Matsuzaka's saga, from the time he held a replica of the 2004 championship trophy last December at the home of Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, until he held the real trophy. While the story ended in triumph for the $100 million man, there was agony and distress along the way - and a happy postscript, which caused some last-minute scrambling by our staff: Matsuzaka and his wife, Tomoyo, announced they were expecting their second child in March.

Japanese fans were excited that Hideki Okajima became the first Japanese-born pitcher to appear in a World Series game, and struck out Rockies second baseman Kazuo Matsui in the eighth inning of Game 2.

But the big story was Matsuzaka. He became the first Japanese pitcher to start and win a World Series game, something not even the great Hideo Nomo was able to do. A sidelight was that Matsuzaka and Matsui had been teammates for the Seibu Lions, and this was the first time they'd faced each other in a game.

But the Japanese media did not ignore the other Sox players. Sankei Sports, my newspaper, ran a picture of a tearful Okajima and a champagne-splashed Matsuzaka, but also had articles about Terry Francona (unbeaten in eight World Series games), Mike Lowell (Series MVP), and Jonathan Papelbon (three straight saves in Series).

For that day, Sankei Sports looked like something straight out of "Red Sox Nation." Because Matsuzaka and Okajima emerged as key ingredients in their success, the number of fans in Japan walking around with Sox caps has increased to unprecedented levels.

By the end of the season, it wasn't unusual to see fans wearing David Ortiz and Manny Ramírez jerseys, not just those of Matsuzaka and Okajima.

That Dice-K contract everyone was all worked up about is seeming downright cheap these days.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Rich lava cakes can be made ahead (Susan Sampson, 11/02/07, Toronto Star)

9 tbsp unsalted butter

1 tbsp cocoa powder

1/2 lb [...] semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

4 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp salt

2 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour

In small, heatproof bowl, melt 1 tablespoon butter in microwave. Add cocoa. Stir into paste. Brush inside 8 ramekins (6-ounce size).

In medium, heatproof bowl set over pan of simmering water on low heat, melt together remaining 8 tablespoons butter and chocolate. Remove from heat. Cool.

Put eggs, yolk, sugar, vanilla and salt in large bowl. Beat with electric mixer until volume nearly triples, colour is light, and mixture is texture of pancake batter and drops in smooth, thick stream (5 to 10 minutes, depending on strength of mixer).

Scrape egg mixture over chocolate mixture. Sprinkle flour over top. Gently fold in until no streaks remain. Ladle into prepared ramekins.

If desired, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 8 hours or freeze up to a month.

To bake, place cakes on baking sheet in preheated 400F oven. (Do not thaw if frozen.) Bake until cakes have puffed to top of dish, thin crust has formed on top, edges are slightly browned and centre jiggles slightly when shaken gently. For batter baked right away, bake 10 to 12 minutes. For refrigerated batter, bake 11 to 13 minutes. For frozen batter, bake about 15 minutes. (Do not overcook or centre will not be molten.)

Serve in ramekins. Or unmould by running small knife around inside edges, inverting onto individual plates, then cooling 1 minute before removing ramekins.

Or, you could just buy the terrific King Arthur Flour mix, their top seller.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


The great experiment: Bringing accountability and competition to New York City's struggling schools (The Economist, 11/08/07)

On November 5th, the mayor and his schools chancellor, Joel Klein, announced what is in effect the final piece in their grand plan to charterise the entire city school system. As charter schools remain politically contentious, though, they have been careful not to use that phrase in public. [...]

Even New York's previous reforming mayor, Rudy Giuliani, failed to improve the city's disastrous schools, despite several attempts. When he ran for election in 2001, Mr Bloomberg said the school system was “in a state of emergency”. The graduation rate in 2002 was alarmingly low, 51% of students compared to a national average of 70%. Most New Yorkers thought the system impossible to fix.

To do something about this, Mr Bloomberg demanded, and got, the thing that Mr Giuliani had with the police but not with the schools: mayoral control. As soon as he had it, the new mayor promptly moved the schools headquarters from its sprawling building in Brooklyn to be next to the heart of his government in City Hall. He hired Mr Klein, and they set about changing things—initially by taking decision-making away from the patronage-heavy local school boards, and then by decentralising it to accountable principals, and by actively piloting experimental charter schools that could be models for others. A new “leadership academy” was created to train principals. Big schools with poor graduation rates were closed, and replaced with smaller ones, often several sharing the same building once occupied by a single big school.

Many of these innovations were paid for by wealthy philanthropists, including Bill Gates of Microsoft, Eli Broad from Los Angeles and sundry hedge-fund managers who have been cajoled into handing over millions of dollars at the annual Robin Hood Foundation auctions. Mr Klein says that this private source of funds was crucial in paying for experiments that might have involved huge political battles had they been paid for out of public funds. The hope is that in future, such reforms might be more widely supported.

Even before this week's reforms, progress has been sufficiently impressive that the Broad Foundation declared New York the most improved urban school district in the nation. Some $500,000 in Broad scholarships will be distributed to graduates. In 2002 less than 40% of students in grades three to eight (aged eight to 14) were reading and doing maths at their grade level. Today, 65% are at their grade levels in maths and over 50% in reading. Graduation rates are at their highest in decades. Last year the city outperformed other New York state school districts with similar income levels in reading and maths at all grades. The gap between white and minority students has been narrowed.

Where was Rudy?

November 9, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:25 PM


Terrorist Attacks in Iraq Eroding Local Support: U.S. military officers and local sheiks say an area north and west of Baghdad is turning away from the al-Qaida terror group and offering more support to the Iraqi government. The change follows a series of brutal acts by insurgents that angered many local people. As VOA's Jim Randle reports, the change follows a pattern seen in Anbar province, where people who once supported, or at least tolerated, al-Qaida became enraged by the group's deadly excesses. (Jim Randle, 11/09/07, VOA News)
In the Taji area, al-Qaida blew up schools, and a hospital,. A bridge that carries traffic across a large canal got blown up twice.

Tribal leader Sheik Nadeem Hatem Al-Sultan Al-Temimi decided al-Qaida and its foreign fighters had gone too far when they set off a car bomb with horrifying results.

"They sent it to the supermarket or the Iraqi street, and when [local people] saw the kids who got killed or the women who got killed or the old men who got killed, a lot of people, they wake up and they see what al-Qaida do in Iraq," he said.

The sheik and other local leaders say tribes in the Taji area, both Sunni and Shi'ite, are cooperating with the Iraqi government and U.S. forces, offering information and support.

Hundreds of men from various Iraqi tribes have volunteered to join neighborhood watch groups, man checkpoints and look out for strangers.

Iraqi Police Colonel Sabah Wahid says the new attitude and the wave of volunteers have cut violence in the area significantly. "A year ago, we were in a bad situation. We had a lot of militias and sectarian friction between Sunni and Shi'ite," he said.

U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Pete Andrysiak says winning support from tribes has cut violence and made it possible to make progress toward restarting the economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:44 PM


Losses Put GOP In Tough Situation: Illegal Immigration Efforts in Doubt (Anita Kumar, 11/09/07, Washington Post)

House Republican leaders, who made immigration a centerpiece of the fall campaign, said Thursday that efforts in the Virginia General Assembly to crack down on illegal immigrants probably are doomed because of losses their party suffered in the election this week.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:38 PM


Aung San Suu Kyi voices optimism on reform in Myanmar (Thomas Fuller, November 9, 2007, IHT)

The pro-democracy leader in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, said Friday that she was "optimistic" about political reform in the military-ruled country, amid tentative signs that a two-decade-long political deadlock might be easing.

Aung San Suu Kyi met Friday with members of her party, the National League for Democracy, for the first time in three years and held talks with Aung Kyi, the general appointed as a liaison by Myanmar's military government, news agencies reported from Yangon.

Nyan Win, a spokesman for the National League for Democracy, said Aung San Suu Kyi believed that the military government was "serious and really willing to work for national reconciliation," Reuters reported.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


Mukasey confirmed as U.S. attorney general (Carl Hulse, November 9, 2007, NY Times)

The Senate confirmed Michael Mukasey as attorney general Thursday night, approving him despite Democratic criticism that he had failed to take an unequivocal stance against the torture of terrorism detainees. the "despite Democratic" Party?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


Can Congress Stop Bush on Iran? Does It Want To?: A few weeks ago, lawmakers in effect gave the administration carte blanche to attack Iran. Now a few members are trying to take it back—or at least add a P.S. (Brian Beutler, 11/09/07, The Media Consortium)

In the past month, President Bush and his allies in the Congress have set Washington once again buzzing with speculation about the administration's end game for Iran. But as everyone from antiwar activists to military insiders wring their hands over the White House's intentions, a lonely handful of Democratic legislators are working to wedge Congress between the administration and Tehran.

Massachusetts Rep. John Tierney and Virginia Sen. Jim Web have emerged as early leaders. Their efforts have drawn mostly tepid support from their colleagues, in both parties. [...]

In 1998, during a politically fraught moment in United States history, Congress passed, and President Bill Clinton signed into law, the Iraq Liberation Act, which made ending Saddam Hussein's regime an official U.S. policy goal. The legislation said: "It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq."

Nine years later, Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), and Joe Lieberman, (I-Conn.), attached an eerily similar amendment to the 2008 defense spending bill, which passed with overwhelming support. "It should be the policy of the United States," the Kyl-Lieberman amendment reads, "to combat, contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies." This should be accomplished, according to the language, with the "use of all instruments of United States national power in Iraq, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military instruments."

Even the Left hates the regime in Iran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Bush greets Indians on the occasion of Diwali (Rediff, November 09, 2007)

President George W Bush [Images] has greeted the people of India on the occasion of Diwali, stating that it is an opportunity to celebrate the bonds of friendship between India and the United States.

"I send greetings to those celebrating Deepavali, the festival of lights," Bush said in a message.

He added that light is an enduring symbol of hope and holds a deep, spiritual significance for people everywhere.

Bush said that during Diwali, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and many others in India and around the world would light lamps in celebration, symbolising the victory of good over evil.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Merkel meeting Dalai Lama was mistake says Schroeder: report (AFP, 11/08/07)

Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has said his successor Angela Merkel committed a mistake in meeting Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, China's state media said Friday.

"My predecessors and I refused to meet with the Dalai Lama... and I hope the incumbent government will adhere to it, too," Schroeder told a seminar in China, according to the China Daily newspaper.

"Some recent situations have hurt Chinese people's feelings, and I regret it," the paper quoted him as saying.

All you have to know about the craven Mr. Schroeder is that he's sorry Saddam Hussein isn't still feeding Shi'a into shredders.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Barbara Dainton (Daily Telegraph, 09/11/2007)

Barbara Dainton, who has died aged 96, was the last but one British survivor of the Titanic disaster; as Barbara West, and at just 10 months old, she was one of the youngest individuals to come through the sinking alive, but almost invariably refused to discuss it.

A mere babe in arms, Barbara, her pregnant 33-year-old mother and her elder sister were rescued and returned safely to England, but her father, Arthur West, aged 36, drowned along with some 1,520 other passengers and crew when the "unsinkable" White Star liner RMS Titanic, bound for New York on her maiden voyage, struck an iceberg shortly before midnight on April 14 1912.

Barbara Joyce West was born on May 24 1911 at Bournemouth, the daughter of Edwy Arthur and Ada West. She was 10 months and 18 days old on the day the following April on which the family left Britain for America, en route for Gainesville, Florida.

The family boarded Titanic at Southampton on the morning of Wednesday April 10 1912. The group comprised the infant Barbara, her parents and elder sister Constance.

Embarking aft of C deck through the main second class entrance with its red-carpeted stairway and light oak railings, the Wests joined 274 other second class passengers at Southampton, on a family ticket - number 34651 - that had cost Barbara's father £27 15s.

Our ten year old just prepared for a cruise by reading Walter Lord's great account, A Night to Remember, then regaled his sister with comparisons of the Titanic to the Disney boats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


State initiatives: New Jersey rejects stem-cell research, Utah axes vouchers: Of 34 ballot measures in six states, voters on Tuesday approved 27 of them (Daniel B. Wood, 11/09/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

New Jersey voters...voted to reject a measure that earmarked $450 million in bonds for stem cell research projects. The rejection was seen as a big defeat for Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, who reportedly spent $200,000 of his own money backing it. The rather ambitious plan was to borrow $450 million over 10 years to fund stem-cell research.

"The stem-cell research initiative failed in New Jersey because the state is facing a $3 billion budget deficit," says Max Pizarro, a political analyst for "The overriding argument … is that New Jersey is simply not in a state of financial health to start branching off into stem-cell research.

November 8, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:18 PM


Packing Heat in Helsinki: Why do Finns own so many guns? (Michelle Tsai, Nov. 8, 2007, Slate)

Although gun violence is very rare in Finland, the country has the highest rate of firearm ownership in Europe and the third highest in the world, behind only the United States and Yemen. Why do so many Finns own firearms?

They're hunters. The Finns have hunted and fished for food for thousands of years, with agriculture only catching up as a major food source in the 20th century. Today, hunting (PDF) remains a popular weekend, or even after-work, activity. Finland is one of the largest European countries, and there are ample grounds for hunters. (Forests cover more than half of the country.)

According to the Finnish government, the country has 1.6 million registered weapons and 650,000 people with firearm permits. That means about 12 percent of the population owns a weapon of some kind. More than half the permits are for hunting, which is usually done with rifles and shotguns.

Stalin who?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:44 PM


Chiropractors 'are waste of money' (Rebecca Smith, 09/11/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Visiting a chiropractor for a bad back is a waste of time and money as spinal manipulation will not cure aches and pains, says a study.

Researchers looked at the difference in recovery from lower back pain after a variety of treatments, including painkillers and manipulation.

They took 240 volunteers who had visited their GP with lower back pain and gave them anti-inflammatory drugs and spinal manipulation or a fake treatment.

The results showed no difference in recovery times and in all cases symptoms lasted for about nine days. The study, in The Lancet, concluded that spinal manipulation had no beneficial effects.

On the other hand, as with most health care, if you think it worked then it did.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:55 PM


O Captain! My Captain! Rise up and Hear the Bells (Phil Allard, 11/08/07,

Over the past few years, there have been a number of defensive metrics churned out by various sabermetricians. Although they may differ in methodology in regards to how the arrive at their conclusions, the conclusions are always the same when it comes to Derek Jeter.

Derek Jeter is a very bad defensive shortstop.

This is not new information. At least it should not be to anyone who has a passing interest in baseball. To be honest, I feel the need to point this out at least twice a year. What I find so curious is that many of Jeter’s defensive supporters actually think he is a good shortstop.

For a truly balanced study of Derek Jeter’s defensive work, see Bill James’ article in John Dewan’s The Fielding Bible, (February 2006). James measures things a myriad of different ways in an attempt to find any objective evidence that Jeter may be better then reports indicate. James’ conclusion is “Giving him every possible break on the unknowns, he is still going to emerge as a below-average defensive shortstop.”

James actually was going out of his way to be nice in that article, but the plain fact is Jeter has never been very good defensively, and he is actually getting worse.

You don't have to like the Yankees to be saddened by the way his selfishness has destroyed the team.