December 31, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 PM


Our Boys blitz Taliban bash (JEROME STARKEY with Our Boys in Helmand, 12/31/07, The Sun)

BRITISH commandos launched a devastating blitz on the Taliban – as the evil terrorists held a party to celebrate Benazir Bhutto’s murder.

The dawn raid was staged after messages were intercepted about the sick knees-up in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

Royal Marines crept into position as the fanatics partied the night away just hours after Ms Bhutto was killed in Pakistan. [...]

Ragtag Taliban sentries tried to hit back with machine gun fire – but stood no chance against the heroes of 40 Commando’s Charlie Company.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 PM


In defense of waterboarding: No one should be prosecuted for waterboarding Abu Zubaydah (Mark Bowden, 12/23/07, Philadelphia Inquirer)

At the time of his capture in 2002, just six months after the Sept. 11 attacks, there was strong reason to believe Zubaydah knew virtually the entire organizational structure and agenda of al-Qaeda around the world. He was supervising ongoing plots to kill hundreds if not thousands of people. He was, for obvious reasons, disinclined to share this knowledge. Subjected briefly to waterboarding - less than a minute, according to published reports - he became cooperative and provided information that, according to the government, resulted in preventing planned attacks and capturing other key al-Qaeda leaders.

In the six years that have passed since the Manhattan towers collapsed, we have gained (partly through the interrogation of men like Zubaydah) a much clearer understanding of al-Qaeda and the threat it poses. While the chance of further murderous attacks is always with us, it is fair to say few of us feel the same measure of alarm we did then. The diminishment of this threat is at least in part due to the heroic efforts of the CIA, the military, and allies around the world in targeting terrorist cells.

In the process, the menace of Zubaydah himself has deflated. Today, he is just another little man in a orange jumpsuit at Guantánamo. Our national concern has shifted from stopping him to figuring out what to do with him.

And to second-guessing what was done to him. Waterboarding is a process by which a detainee is strapped down and forced to ingest and inhale water until he experiences the terror of drowning. It is not torture in the traditional sense of inflicting pain; it inflicts fear, intense, visceral fear, without doing physical harm. It is a method calculated to straddle the definitions of coercion and torture, and as such merely proves that both methods inhabit the same slippery continuum. There is a difference between gouging out a man's eyes and keeping him awake, and waterboarding falls somewhere in between.

In the unlikely event that Zubaydah knew nothing of value and that every bit of information he divulged was false, it was still reasonable to assume in 2002 that this was not the case. If his interrogators were able to stop one terror attack by waterboarding him, even if they violated international agreements and our national conscience, it was justified. All nations have laws against killing, but all recognize self-defense as a legitimate excuse. I think the waterboarding in this case is directly analogous, except that Zubaydah himself, although he richly deserves it, was neither killed nor permanently harmed.

Would Harry Truman not have waterboarded everyone in Hiroshima for a half minute in order to win WWII?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 PM


The New Deal Jobs Myth: The candidates keep touting Depression-style public works programs. Why? (AMITY SHLAES, December 31, 2007, Opinion Journal)

[W]hat really stands out when you step back from the picture is not how much the public works achieved. It is how little. Notwithstanding the largest peacetime appropriation in the history of the world, the New Deal recovery remained incomplete. From 1934 on--the period when the spending ramped up--monetary troubles were subsiding, and could no longer be blamed alone for the Depression. The story of the mid-1930s is the story of a heroic economy struggling to recuperate but failing to do so because lawmakers' preoccupation with public works rather got in the way of allowing productive businesses to expand and pull the rest forward.

What was wrong with those public works jobs? Many created enduring edifices--New York's Triborough Bridge, for example, the Mountain Theater of Mount Tamalpais State Park outside San Francisco, the Texas Post Office murals, which were funded by Henry Morgenthau's Treasury. But the public jobs did their work inefficiently. That was because the jobs were scripted to serve political ends, not economic ones.

One of the saddest accounts of the public-works job culture I came across involved a model government farm in Casa Grande, Ariz. The men were poor--close to "Grapes of Wrath" poor--but sophisticated. They knew that the government wanted them to share jobs. But they saw that the only way for the farm to get profits was to increase output and to stop milking by hand. Five dairy crew men approached the manager to propose purchasing milking machines to increase output. They even documented their plea with a shorthand memo:

"Milking machine would save two men's labor at five dollars per day . . . Beginning in September would save three men's wages or $7.50 on account of new heifers coming in."

The men were willing to strike if they didn't get the machines, though they feared they might lose their precious places on the farm if they did strike. Their fears proved justified. "You're fired," the workers later recalled the manager replying when he saw their careful plan. The government man was horrified at the idea of killing the jobs he was supposed to create. "You're jeopardizing a loan of the U.S. government, and it's my job to protect that loan. You're through, everyone of you, get out."

A related problem was that the New Deal's emergency jobs were short term, lasting months, not years, so people could not settle into them. This led to further disruption. In the very best years of Roosevelt's first two terms, unemployment still stood above 9%. Nine percent is better than horrendous, but it hardly is a figure that induces hope.

One could interject that such arguments do not take into account the context--the paucity of other jobs, the dust storms, the deflations, the homelessness, the incomprehensible real privation of the period. But in the later part of the 1930s, the same model infrastructure projects did their part to prolong that privation. The private sector, desperate, was incredibly productive--those who did have a job worked hard, just as our grandparents told us. But the government was taking all the air in the room. Utilities are a prime example. In the 1920s electricity was a miracle industry. There was every expectation that growth in utilities might pull the country through hard times in the future.

And the industry might have indeed done that, if the government had not supplanted it. Roosevelt believed in public utilities, not private companies. He created his own highly ambitious infrastructure project--the Tennessee Valley Authority. The TVA commandeered the utility business in the South, notwithstanding the vehement protests of the private utilities that served that area.

Washington sucked up much of the available capital by selling bonds and collecting taxes to pay for the TVA or municipal power plants in towns. In order to justify their own claim that public utilities were necessary, New Dealers also undermined private utilities directly, through laws--not only the TVA law but also the infamous Public Utilities Holding Company Act, which legislated many companies out of existence. Other industries saw their work curtailed or pre-empted by government as well.

What about that oft-cited rising industrial production figure? The boom in industrial production of the 1930s did signal growth, but not necessarily growth of a higher quality than that, say, of a Soviet factory running three shifts. Another datum that we hear about less than industrial production was actually more important: net private investment, the number that captures how many capital goods companies were buying relative to what they already had. At many points during the New Deal, net private investment was not merely low, but negative. Companies were using more capital goods than they were investing in.

...could have prolonged the depression for so long that it became Great.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:37 PM


Celtics down Lakers, plenty to take from it (Kelly Dwyer, Dec 31, 2007, Yahoo NBA Experts Blog)

With Rajon Rondo out, Doc Rivers started Tony Allen at point guard. I'll repeat: Doc Rivers started Tony Allen at point guard. Love Tony Allen, appreciate his game, enjoyed his breakout season last year - but he also entered the game turning the ball over on 18 percent of the possession he used up. That's not only bad, that's the worst mark of ANY guard in the entire NBA. And Doc Rivers started him, at point guard!

Somehow, it worked. Allen fouled out, did most of his damage against a clueless rookie (sorry for calling you "clueless," JC, happy birthday), and dished as many assists (four) as he had turnovers (four; and there was a backcourt violation he committed that wasn't called), but it worked. Or, let's change the wording on this: the Celtics won. If Rondo doesn't return for Boston's next game (at home, against the Rockets), then we might have a problem.

*When the C's made their moves last summer, one bonus for the team that no media outlet (mainstream or otherwise) mentioned was the idea that Paul Pierce's ability to get to the free throw line would likely put Boston over the top.

Kevin Garnett is brilliant, but his Timberwolves teams (as a result of his style of play, partially, but mostly because of his teammates; and, to a lesser extent, Flip Saunders' offense) always ranked amongst the worst teams in the NBA when it came to getting to the free throw line. Ray Allen can score, but he rarely gets fouled in instances outside of baseline defenders grabbing his jersey to keep up with him curling off screens.

But Pierce gets fouled, a lot, he puts teams in the penalty and he makes it possible for KG and Allen to grab late-period free throws with the work Paul puts in during the early part of the quarter.

In fact, during the first Boston possession of the game, the C's ran a quick post-up (front of the rim, in the paint) for Pierce that was the impetus behind this performance (with Antoine Walker throwing the pass) and Shaquille O'Neal's post-game declaration that Paul Pierce was " The [motherflippin'] Truth." Capital T.

Another sport, another ring.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:56 PM


Thompson Makes His Move (Peter Robinson, 12/30/07, National Review: The Corner)

In the passage I found the most striking, Thompson does something no other Republican contender has attempted: appeal to Democrats.

You know, when I'm asked which of the current group of Democratic candidates I prefer to run against, I always say it really doesn't matter…These days all those candidates, all the Democratic leaders, are one and the same. They’re all Moore Democrats. They’ve allowed these radicals to take control of their party and dictate their course.

So this election is important not just to enact our conservative principles. This election is important to salvage a once-great political party from the grip of extremism and shake it back to its senses. It's time to give not just Republicans but independents, and, yes, good Democrats a chance to call a halt to the leftward lurch of the once-proud party of working people.

So in seeking the nomination of my own party, I want to say something a little unusual. I am asking my fellow Republicans to vote for me not only for what I have to say to them, but for what I have to say to the members of the other party—the millions of Democrats who haven't left the Democratic party so much as their party's national leadership has left them.

This is reminiscent of Reagan’s talk to the people of North Carolina in 1976. Simple, straightforward, modest production values—just the candidate in front of an American flag and an Iowa flag—but (to use the word again) compelling. Reagan’s 1976 talk enabled him to recover after a string of primary defeats, winning in North Carolina, then going on to come within a handful of delegates of wresting the nomination from Ford.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:37 PM


India's Halt to Burma Arms Sales May Pressure Junta (Glenn Kessler, 12/30/07, Washington Post)

India has halted all arms sales and transfers to Burma, a development that could increase international pressure on the military junta that brutally crushed the pro-democracy "Saffron Revolution" led by monks this fall.

The Indian government's decision has not been officially announced, but diplomatic sources said it has been privately confirmed by New Delhi to top U.S. officials in recent weeks. In a little-noticed statement, first lady Laura Bush noted the decision in a video teleconference she held on Dec. 10 in recognition of International Human Rights Day. Ticking off actions taken by countries around the world in response to the crackdown, Bush said, "India, one of Burma's closest trading partners, has stopped selling arms to the junta."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:34 PM


Iran's inner and outer circles of influence and power: The power of Shiite Muslim clergy has eroded in favor of various competing groups within a unique religious, civil, social and bureaucratic framework. (Borzou Daragahi, 12/31/07, Los Angeles Times)

Iran's supreme leader spoke not with the thunder of a man regarded in his country as God's representative on Earth, but with the exasperated tone of a corporate manager chastising his employees.

Ali Khamenei had ordered his deputies to start privatizing state-owned businesses: the telephone company, three banks and dozens of small oil and petrochemical enterprises.

Jealously guarding their own sources of power and patronage, however, his underlings all but ignored him.

Months passed. Then Khamenei gathered the country's elite for an extraordinary meeting. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Cabinet ministers were there, as were important clerics, the leader of parliament and provincial governors, and the heads of state broadcasting and the Iranian chamber of commerce.

With television cameras rolling, Khamenei told them to pass some laws, sell off some businesses -- and be quick about it. "Those who are hostile to these policies are the ones who are going to lose their interests and influence," he declared.

The system shrugged. By November, nine months after his public scolding and almost a year and a half after Khamenei had first issued his order, almost nothing had happened. According to the Middle East Economic Digest, only two out of 240 state-owned businesses Khamenei targeted had been sold off.

For years, Western analysts have struggled to understand the inner workings of Iran's leadership. To many, it is a government tightly controlled by the Shiite Muslim clergy. But the power of the clerics has steadily eroded. Increasingly, power is distributed among combative elites within a delicate system of checks and balances defined by religious as well as civil law, personal relations and the rhythm of bureaucracy.

Iran analysts struggle to discern which officials have authority and how much. And when Iranian officials make public pronouncements, it often is unclear whether they are expressing established policy or fighting among themselves -- speaking for their own faction or just themselves.

Concentric circles of influence and power that emanate from the supreme leader include the clergy, government and military officials -- and at their farthest fringes, militiamen and well-connected bazaar merchants -- altogether perhaps 15% of Iran's 70 million people.

Even the man regarded in Iran as the highest-ranking cleric in Shiite Islam finds himself constrained and challenged.

Those inside Iran's circle of power, says Ali Afshari, an analyst and former student activist now living in Washington, operate according to unique rules.

"It is not a democracy or an absolute totalitarian regime," he said. "Nor is it a communist system or monarchy or dictatorship. It is a mixture."

...Iran's problem is too great a separation of powers. The Ayatollah needs to understand how to elect allies next time around.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:30 PM


Remembering the truth about Benazir (Mohan Guruswamy, 12/31/07, rediff)

While we must feel sorry for her as a mother, a wife, and even as a friend and be shocked at the manner of her dying, we must also bear in mind her record as prime minister and her record of hostility towards India.

A recollection of some of this would set right the balance somewhat. First and foremost is the fact that it was her government, and at her specific instance, that gave Osama bin Laden shelter in the NWFP and then inserted in Afghanistan after the Taliban took over. It was her government that fostered the Taliban, a creation of her interior minister, Maj Gen Nasarullah Babar, and with a little bit of help from Britain's SIS, armed them and launched them on the regime in Kabul. We must not also forget her record in setting up Gulbuddin Hekmatyar as a mujahideen leader, a warlord whose trail of sadism and cruelty has not been matched by anyone else in Afghanistan.

She was also the prime minister who gave the ISI the go-ahead to wage jihad on India. She was the one who exhorted the Pakistan trained and financed terrorists to 'jag-jag mo-mo han-han' Jagmohan the then governor of Jammu and Kashmir, with an explicit chopping motion of the right hand across the open left palm. She was the one who shrieked 'Azadi-azadi' from across the LOC and extended Zia-ul-Haq's doctrine of death by a thousand cuts to Kashmir. Only, she wanted to greatly reduce the number of cuts. And lastly, we must not forget that she was the one who personally delivered the CDs bearing AQ Khan's nuclear bomb design to the North Koreans who in turn gave her country the medium range missiles which they now flaunt as Ghazni and Ghori, both Afghan towns whose sole contributions to history was two particularly rapacious and cruel raiders by the name Muhammad.

If this was the record of her behavior towards India, her record as prime minister vis-�-vis her own country was just as bad. She and her husband stole over $1.5 billion from Pakistan and she was facing prosecution in Switzerland [Images] at the time of her death. Her 320 acre estate in Sussex stands like a Taj Mahal as her tribute to her love for easy money and the good life. Talking about the good life, the bill for Evian water from France during her second term as prime minister totted up to a neat $6 million. It is said that she even bathed in Evian water!

Benazir Bhutto got two chances at leading Pakistan, not because of her English pals from her Oxford days, but because of her American pals at Harvard and later in the South Asia divisions of the US State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:29 AM


Middle East conflict toll 'falls' (BBC, 12/31/07)

Israeli human rights group B'Tselem says that the number of deaths in Israeli-Palestinian violence fell sharply in 2007 as compared to 2006.

But the group's annual report says that Israeli security forces killed 373 Palestinians, and 131 of these were not involved in hostilities. [...]

Palestinians killed 13 Israelis in 2007 - seven of them civilians.

December 30, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:57 PM


Bloomberg Moves Closer to Running for President (SAM ROBERTS, 12/31/07, NY Times)

Buoyed by the still unsettled field, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is growing increasingly enchanted with the idea of an independent presidential bid, and his aides are aggressively laying the groundwork for him to run.

On Sunday, the mayor will join Democratic and Republican elder statesmen at the University of Oklahoma in what the conveners are billing as an effort to pressure the major party candidates to renounce partisan gridlock.

Former Senator David L. Boren of Oklahoma, who organized the session with former Senator Sam Nunn, a Democrat of Georgia, suggested in an interview that if the prospective major party nominees failed within two months to formally embrace bipartisanship and address the fundamental challenges facing the nation, “I would be among those who would urge Mr. Bloomberg to very seriously consider running for president as an independent.”

There's no surer way to prevent the election of the first black or woman than to give the Left a liberal white male alternative and guarantee a GOP victory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:33 PM


David Cameron in strong signal on EU treaty (Andrew Porter, 31/12/2007, Daily Telegraph)

David Cameron has given the strongest signal yet that the Conservatives would consider holding a post-ratification referendum on the controversial EU Reform Treaty.

The Conservative leader said that the treaty - which critics claim is a revamped version of the defunct EU Constitution - is "wrong" and that his party would "address the issue".

Gordon Brown playing footsie with the EU moved the Tories back into the polling lead but they still can't bring themselves to grab the issue and run with it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 PM


Employers prefer migrants to UK graduates (Caroline Gammell, 31/12/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Labour's drive to boost the number of people going to university has produced a generation of poor quality graduates who are being outclassed by migrants, business leaders have warned.

More British students are gaining degrees but they are still struggling with basic English and maths, leaving employers more inclined to recruit people from Poland and central Europe, it was claimed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 PM


Taliban in turmoil after argument over sacking (Tom Coghlan, 31/12/2007, Daily Telegraph)

The Taliban leadership are struggling to contain the fallout from an embarrassing public argument after a senior commander was sacked for disobeying orders but then refused to stand down.

Taliban spokesmen traded accusations in phone calls to news organisations after Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the Islamist organisation, publicly sacked Mansoor Dadullah, the new overall ground commander fighting British forces in southern Afghanistan. [...]

The episode has drawn fresh attention to the potential fault lines within the organisation after reports in The Daily Telegraph that British intelligence had been negotiating with Taliban-aligned local commanders in Helmand province.

MI6 believed divisions were close to producing a tribal revolt in the north of Helmand last month ahead of an operation to retake the key town of Musa Qala.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 PM


Teen with world on his shoulders (SAEED SHAH AND BILL JACOBS, 12/31/07, The Scotsman)

Benazir Bhutto's student son vows to continue fight for democracy after he is named co-chairman of party

"MY MOTHER always said democracy is the best revenge." With those words, spoken in English, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, a shy, 19-year-old student, took centre-stage in Pakistan's tumultuous and bloody politics yesterday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:01 PM


Baghdad Zoo is a draw again: With the help of U.S. troops, a sanctuary that was damaged and depleted by the onset of the war is revived. (Ann M. Simmons, 12/30/07, Los Angeles Times)

But in 15 months, [Capt. Amy ] Cronin and her unit, the 15th Brigade Support Battalion, have gone from providing logistics and supplies to U.S. troops to helping refurbish an animal clinic, building horse stables and constructing new habitats for bears and porcupines at the Baghdad Zoo.

"It's really satisfying," said Cronin, 28, from Boiling Springs, Pa. "Typically support soldiers don't get to interact with Iraqis as much as infantry would. And this gives me the satisfaction of seeing the direct results of my work."

That has included projects to resuscitate the zoo, in a lush 3-square-mile park in the heavily fortified Green Zone, which also includes the headquarters of the U.S.-led coalition forces, the Iraqi parliament and other key administrative buildings. It used be among the largest animal sanctuaries in the Middle East.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:57 PM


Kibaki sworn in as election results roil Kenya: Rioting, violence and claims of voting fraud accompany the declaration of the president as winner. (Nicholas Soi and Robyn Dixon, December 31, 2007, LA Times)

President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner today of last week's presidential elections and was hastily sworn in to a new five-year term, amid ethnic violence over the vote count and widespread allegations of fraud.

The chief of the European Union election observers in the country, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, immediately issued a statement casting doubt on the credibility of the results in an election that is crucial to consolidating this East African nation's young democracy.

Earlier, opposition presidential candidate Raila Odinga called on the 76-year-old president to concede defeat and called for a recount of the votes.

There were reports of renewed violence and rioting as soon as Kibaki's victory was announced on television.

Nice try, but the results will have to be reversed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:32 AM


French president severs ties with Syria until further notice (JPOST.COM STAFF AND AP, 12/30/07)

"I will not have any more contact with the Syrians until... we have received proof of Syria's intention to let Lebanon designate a president of consensus," said Sarkozy at a press conference in Cairo after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. [...]

"France has taken the responsibility of talking with Syria," said Sarkozy. "One must recognize today that we cannot wait any longer, Syria must stop talking and now must act."

Syria has denied meddling with the election and has accused the French of working too closely with the US, which Damascus claims is trying to manipulate the Lebanese political process for its own interests - an accusation Washington denies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:48 AM


A failed state groping for a way back from the brink:
Poor education, political ineptitude and the power of the jihadis are the forces dragging Pakistan down (William Dalrymple, 12/30/07, Sunday Times of London)

Among Pakistani MPs, journalists and lawyers after news of the assassination there was not only real sorrow but also real fear. Pakistanis are used to crises buffeting their country but many of them at the end of last week seemed on the verge of despair.

[P]akistan now finds itself in a major existential crisis, at the heart of which lies the central question: what sort of country do Pakistanis want? A western-style liberal democracy, as envisaged by Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah? An Islamic republic like Mullah Omar’s Afghanistan? A military-ruled junta of the sort created by Generals Ayyub Khan, Zia and Musharraf?

The most pressing crisis now facing Pakistan comes in the shape of the country’s many armed and dangerous jihadi groups. For 25 years the military and Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have been the paymasters of myriad mujaheddin groups intended for deployment first in Afghanistan and then Kashmir. While the military may have once believed that it could use jihadis for its own ends, the Islamists have followed their own agendas and have now brought their struggle onto Pakistani streets and into the heart of the country’s politics.

The assassination of Bhutto and the three recent attacks on Musharraf are just the tip of the iceberg. Every bit as alarming is the degree to which the jihadis now control much of the NorthWest Frontier Province. The Swat Valley – once one of the most popular destinations in South Asia for tourists – is now smouldering as government troops and jihadis battle for control.

...that desperate measures require desperate times.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:43 AM


Romney and the candor gap (GLEN JOHNSON, 12/30/07, Associated Press)

When confronted with questions that might conflict with his message of the day or political record, the Republican candidate has shown a tendency to bob and weave or simply dismiss history. He has done so all year, providing an easy target for his opponents. [...]

This past week, Romney did it again over questions about whether he was planning to air negative ads — in particular on the subject of illegal immigration — against John McCain. The Arizona senator has been surging in New Hampshire, where Romney is angling for back-to-back victories after a hoped-for win in this week's Iowa caucuses.

"I haven't made any decisions on what issue ads might come forward, down the road, but those aren't what we shot today," Romney told reporters on Wednesday. "What we shot today was just me to camera."

On Friday, his campaign went on TV with a new commercial, a so-called contrast ad that did not feature Romney speaking, but a narrator comparing his record to McCain's on immigration and tax matters.

Perhaps the hairspray fumes addle his mind.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 AM


John McCain Busts a Move (Salena Zito, 12/30/07, Real Clear Politics)

"Townhall meeting by townhall meeting, bus ride by bus ride, and endless phone calls to local talk show hosts, are what have put McCain back on the map in New Hampshire," says David Carney, a GOP political strategist not affiliated with any campaign.

One of those local radio talk show hosts, former Democrat candidate for governor Arnie Arnesen, agrees. "(D)espite many voters' disappointment with his dismal campaign ... the charisma, smarts and straight talk of McCain did not evaporate with voters over the last eight years."

The best thing that happened to the McCain campaign was running out of money.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


The Minutemen Circus (Ruben Navarrette, 12/30/07, Real Clear Politics)

Tired of playing cop, some in the Minuteman movement are trying to influence the 2008 presidential election by playing powerbroker. And like just about everything this bunch does, the results are sad -- but funny. [...]

Here's the funny part: Suddenly, other anti-illegal immigration activists are hounding [Jim Gilchrist, one of the co-founders of the Minuteman Project] with the same zeal with which he once hounded illegal immigrants at the border. After Gilchrist appeared with Huckabee at a news conference in Iowa, the vigilante leader was bludgeoned on the Internet by hard-core nativists who believe Huckabee is soft on illegal immigration and that Gilchrist is just out for Gilchrist.

You don't say.

The requirement of ideological purity rationally follows that of racial purity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


Letter from America (Richard Bernstein, December 30, 2007, NY Times)

Fixing the large problem of medical care is a matter of complicated, multi-page, somewhat abstract proposals put out by senators and presidential candidates, but getting cared for is a matter of individual patients and individual doctors, and the experience can be highly satisfactory.

I write this lying at home in the borough of Brooklyn in a rented hospital bed, seven days after an orthopedic surgeon at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan performed these procedures on me:

He sawed off the top of my thigh bone, stripped away one by one the layers of muscle and cartilage around the joint, smoothed the pelvic socket above the leg and installed a precision-machined titanium and plastic prosthesis to replace the discarded joint. Then the surgeon reassembled the whole upper leg, reattaching muscle and cartilage as necessary.

It took roughly two hours to do all that while I lay unaware on the operating table. He did it all through a modest five-inch incision, with so little resulting bleeding that I didn't need a drop of the blood I had donated a week or so earlier, just in case.

And while I am still in recovery mode, walking on crutches and the like, if I am typical of other recipients of total hip replacement, I am soon going to be enjoying the full use of my right leg. And this was a leg damaged enough by osteoarthritis that for the last few months it was hard for me to put my socks on in the morning - much less play soccer with my son or even take a pain-free after-dinner stroll in my neighborhood.

Moreover, except for a private-room supplement at the wonderful St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital, the entire cost - probably in the neighborhood of $25,000 to $30,000 - is going to be covered by my health insurance company. This includes not only the hospital treatment itself and all medications but post-operative physical therapy, and even the little "hip kit" you get with devices to help you put on your socks while still in the laid-up phase.

Since Red Smith died, Mr. Bernstein has been the best thing about the Times.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Recalibrate Pelosi's GPS? (James G. Zumwalt, December 30, 2007 , Washington Times)

There is always danger involved in a democratic leader's decision to go to a foreign state to conduct direct talks with a tyrannical leader whose inability to respect the human rights of his own people is obvious. The danger lies in giving credibility to the tyrant and undermining support for that country's human-rights activists.

The month after Mrs. Pelosi's visit, the Syrian government launched an accelerated crackdown on free speech and peaceful activism, arresting several dissidents within a three-week period. Perhaps emboldened by Mrs. Pelosi's visit and her personal accolades about the Syrian president, Mr. Assad sentenced six of Syria's leading activists to extremely harsh sentences ranging from three to 12 years. The six — Michel Kilo, Mahmud 'Issa, Sulaiman Shummar, Khalil Hussain, Dr. Kamal al-Labwani and Anwar al-Bunni — were all convicted on politically motivated charges, most for simply signing a declaration calling for improved Lebanese-Syrian relations. These sentences made clear Mr. Assad's mandate that Syrian citizens are not to express political opinions, even though this right is guaranteed by an international agreement to which Damascus is a party. While the United States and the European Union criticized the sentences, Speaker Pelosi remained uncharacteristically silent.

Also the month after Mrs. Pelosi's visit came passage of a referendum to confirm a second seven-year term of office for Mr. Assad. In a general election reminiscent of the sham elections that took place in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's reign — with only one candidate on the ballot — Mr. Assad received 97.2 percent of the vote.

Tolerating the existence of the Syrian regime is the biggest black mark on President Bush's record.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


Moral Clarity in Iowa (Kevin McCullough, December 30, 2007, Townhall)

What will be the deciding issue for Iowa GOP voters on January 3rd?

According to KCCI-TV in Des Moines who commissioned a poll to find out, Iowans indicated it will be the future moral direction of the country.

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton reacts while talking to a resident of Clinton, Iowa during a campaign stop December 29, 2007. REUTERS/Andy Clark (UNITED STATES)
Related Media:
VIDEO: And the Winners Are

Northeastern Republicans and radio shows which emanate from the E-fax studios in Orange County California may despise it - but that is the number one issue on the minds of GOP voters in Iowa. The Beltway-Manhattan elite can cluck and curse all they want but the reality is the largest chunk of GOP voters in Iowa (and also much reflective of the rest of the red states) want a candidate with clarity on the moral tests that face our nation directly.

It would behoove the editors of the most prominent conservative online and broadcast outlets to take notice of what these voters have to say.

You can see how estranged they are from the base by their support of John McCain last time, because they loathed W, and their opposition to him this, in favor of Rudy and Mitt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:17 AM


More Mitt Malarkey: Romney repeats misleading claims about McCain's stand on immigration and his own record on taxes. (, Dec 29, 2007)

December 29, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:33 PM


Top Democrats Reticent on Primary Choices (Chris Cillizza And Shailagh Murray, December 30, 2007, Washington Post)

The silence is deafening. So many prominent politicians, particularly Democrats, have refrained from endorsing a presidential candidate. Are they drowning in a sea of good options, or terrified of making the wrong call?

You can pick the woman and alienate blacks and Latinos or the black and alienate women and Latinos. Why choose?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 PM


David Cameron’s policies ‘resonate’ with public, admits Jack Straw (David Cracknell, 12/30/07, Sunday Times of London)

A SENIOR cabinet minister has admitted David Cameron’s campaign is “resonating” with the public and the government must “adapt” if it is to keep power.

After a disastrous autumn for Gordon Brown, in which the Tories took a convincing lead in the opinion polls, Jack Straw accepted in an interview with The Sunday Times that there had been “problems” that must be put right next year and that “clear progress” must be made.

Letting the Tories steal back Thatcherism/Blairism was remarkably inept, like Al Gore handing the Clinton legacy to W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:00 PM


Russian population dropped this year (Calibre, December 29, 2007)

Russia lost more than 200,000 people this year, the statistics service said Saturday.

The population decline of 0.15 percent was slightly smaller than in 2006, RIA Novosti reported. The country's population was estimated at 142 million as of Nov. 1, the Russian news agency said.

While the death rate continued to exceed the birth rate, the number of immigrants was up 87 percent. [...]

United Nations demographers say if current trends continue, Russia's population will be one-third smaller than it is now in 2050.

Fear of Russia is second only to fear of the debt as an indicator of innumeracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 PM


Thompson: 'Not particularly interested in running for president' (CNN, 12/29/07)

Republican Fred Thompson has long faced criticism he lacks motivation to be President of the United States, but the Tennessee Republican's latest comments Saturday are likely to spawn fresh heat.

“I’m not particularly interested in running for president," the former senator said at a campaign event in Burlington when challenged by a voter over his desire to be commander-in-chief.

“But I think I’d make a good president," Thompson continued. "I have the background, capability, and concern to do this and I’m doing it for the right reasons.” [...]

"I am not consumed by personal ambition," Thompson also said Saturday. "I'm offering myself up."

"I'm only consumed by a few things and politics is not one of them."

A too rare sign of mental health from a preside ntial candidate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 PM


Diplomats expelled 'at behest of the US' (Eleanor Mayne, 30/12/2007, Sunday Telegraph)

Two European diplomats accused of holding secret talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan were thrown out of the country following a complaint by the US, intelligence officials in Kabul have told The Sunday Telegraph. [...]

[A]ccording to a senior Afghan intelligence source, American officials had been unhappy about meetings between the men and high-level Taliban commanders in the volatile Helmand province.

The source claimed that the US alerted Afghan authorities after learning that the diplomats were providing direct financial and other support - including mobile phone cards - to the Taliban commanders, in the hope of persuading them to swap sides.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 PM


JK Rowling drops hints of possible eighth Harry Potter book (RHODRI PHILLIPS, 29th December 2007, Daily Mail)

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has strongly hinted for the first time that she could write an eighth book in the series.

Rowling, 42, admits she has 'weak moments' when she feels she will pen another novel about the boy wizard.

One of her biggest fans – her 14-year-old daughter Jessica – has already put pressure on her to revisit the character.

You'd think authors would have stopped pretending they control their characters by now, since Cervantes lost control of the Don in the first novel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 PM


Bush Rejects Defense Bill by Pocket Veto (BEN FELLER, 12/28/07, AP) — President Bush on Friday used a "pocket veto" to reject a sweeping defense bill because he dislikes a provision that would expose the Iraqi government to expensive lawsuits seeking damages from the Saddam Hussein era. [...]

Bush's decision to use a pocket veto, announced while vacationing at his Texas ranch, means the legislation will die at midnight Dec. 31. This tactic for killing a bill can be used only when Congress is not in session.

The House last week adjourned until Jan. 15; the Senate returns a week later but has been holding brief, often seconds-long pro forma sessions every two or three days to prevent Bush from making appointments that otherwise would need Senate approval.
He treated frogs better when he was a kid.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:02 PM


Mitt Romney Down For The Count? (Thomas Edsall, 12/29/07, Real Clear Politics)

From a purely business point of view the past four weeks have marked an extraordinary setback for the Romney campaign.

Since January 1, 2007, the former Massachusetts governor has spent well in excess of $80 million, including at least $17.4 million of his own money, paying media fees in excess of $30 million, salaries of roughly $16 million, and consulting payments of more than $15 million.

...from whoever told him it made good political sense for a Mormon to put so many eggs in Iowa's Evangelical basket. NH should have been his big bet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 PM


Gore Milks Cash Cow (Jorg von Uthmann, Dec. 28, 2007, Bloomberg)

The most conspicuous doubter in France is Claude Allegre, a former education minister and a physicist by profession. His new book, ``Ma Verite Sur la Planete'' (``My Truth About the Planet''), doesn't mince words.

He calls Gore a ``crook'' presiding over an eco-business that pumps out cash. As for Gore's French followers, the author likens them to religious zealots who, far from saving humanity, are endangering it. Driven by a Judeo-Christian guilt complex, he says, French greens paint worst-case scenarios and attribute little-understood cycles to human misbehavior.

Allegre doesn't deny that the climate has changed or that extreme weather has become more common. He instead emphasizes the local character of these phenomena.

While the icecap of the North Pole is shrinking, the one covering Antarctica -- or 92 percent of the Earth's ice -- is not, he says. Nor have Scandinavian glaciers receded, he says. To play down these differences by basing forecasts on a global average makes no sense to Allegre.

To believe in Creation is to doubt we have much effect on it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


Courageous and liberal, yes – but an unreliable partner for the West (Bronwen Maddox, 12/29/07, Times of London)

As a potential saviour of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto was an uncomfortable candidate: dogged by corruption charges that might have resurfaced with new seriousness in Swiss courts in the new year and by a record of calamitous ineffectiveness during her two terms as Prime Minister. [...]

She was the best of an unattractive lineup; Pakistan has never been blessed in its politicians, who represent the worst of its society – feudal and fonder of patronage than principle. Western-educated and female, Ms Bhutto appeared to stand for the liberal values that the West wants to encourage in Pakistan.

But Britain and the US may have been too pragmatic by half in putting such weight on so imperfect a figure, and in hoping that her strengths would outweigh her enormous weaknesses: grandiosity, a sense of destiny that she interpreted as licence to do what she wanted and an indifference to the distinction between the interests of Pakistan and her own. They made light of the unpredictability of her policies; in office, she let public spending and debt rise to unmanageable proportions, and she was ambivalent towards the US and India.

Perhaps it would be helpful to think of America as President Lincoln and Pakistan as the Union command. What is needed is a fighting general who will go into the Tribal areas and take on the Islamicists and it doesn't make much difference who that person is nor their other qualities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


Iraqi sees signs of hope in his war-torn nation (BILL HESS,. 12/29/07, Herald/Review)

What was once known as the Triangle of Death in this war-torn county is now the Triangle of Hope, an Iraqi adviser to an American Army unit said.

“We are building schools, roads and we have repaired a bridge,” Hashim Khidir, said of an area that is part of 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) responsibility south of Baghdad. [...]

Khidir helps provide engineering expertise to the 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry, 3rd Bridge Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division (Assault). But he said many other projects are helping to build a base for democracy in his homeland.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


Iran's elite military force fears security threat from within (Najmeh Bozorgmehr, December 28 2007, Financial Times)

It has been accused of playing a role in arming Shia militia in Iraq and threatened with being labelled a "terrorist organisation" by the US, but Iran's Revolutionary Guard - the country's elite military force - believes that domestic security threats represent a much greater danger to the country than the international crisis surrounding its nuclear programme.

Mohammad-Ali Jafari, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, said shortly after he took his new job in September: "The main mission of the guards is currently fighting domestic threats and in case there is a foreign threat we will join the [conventional] army."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


Growth of a revolutionary boomtown: Timisoara, the cradle of Romania's 1989 revolution, is enjoying an economic revival. Nick Thorpe reports on urban wealth and a city balancing between empires old and new. (Nick Thorpe, 12/29/07, BBC)

The twilight of 2007 finds the city embedded in the European empire.

There are very few Jews left and the number of Hungarians is dwindling but the Italians have arrived in force.

Marco Petriccione, country manager of the Banko Italo Romena, has been here for five years.

His was the first Italian bank to set up here, to absorb the business demands of 6,000 Italians.

Romanians go to Italy to work, usually in menial jobs, but the Italians come here as employers attracted by low Romanian wages - still under an average of £300 (406 euros) a month.

At first they manufactured shoes and textiles.

Look out for the "designed in Italy" on that expensive label but read "made in Romania" between the lines.

But as wages rise here, those companies are going further east, to the Republic of Moldova, for example.

In their place, big Italian electricity companies like Enel and Ansaldo are arriving to fill the growing demand for energy and infrastructure.

In St George's Cathedral, on Piata Unirii, I once watched a nun mopping the floor early in the morning, the splash of her bucket mingling with the prayers of the faithful.

This time, there are no candles but, in the dim electric light, the huge gilded figures of angels seem to soar out of the shadows, chastising the congregation for their latest sin - shopping.

"Whenever I ring my friends, they tell me they're shopping," my colleague Mircea complains.

"It's the national sport now in Romania."

Consider how much such places have changed in just two decades and despair over the Islamic world seems silly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


Harry Dent | b. 1930: The Southern Strategist (RICK PERLSTEIN, 12/30/07, NY Times Magazine)

For most of the post-Civil-War era, the Grand Old Party survived in the Southern popular imagination as the Yankee enemy, eager to conspire with newly enfranchised slaves to overturn the entire “Southern way of life.” In 1957, Republican congressmen were instrumental in passing the first federal civil rights law in almost a century. The idea of a Southern state delivering its electoral votes to “the party of Lincoln” would have seemed outrageous before the 1960s — before, that is, the national Democratic Party made a commitment to the enforcement of civil rights for blacks.

By then, Harry Dent was a top political aide to Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. Thurmond ran for president as a third-party “Dixiecrat” in 1948 after the Democratic convention passed a civil rights plank. Shortly before the 1964 presidential election, a Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson, passed the most sweeping civil rights law in United States history. This time, Thurmond didn’t form a third party. The Republican presidential nominee, the conservative Barry Goldwater, opposed the civil rights law, which was political heresy at the time, as the conventional wisdom was that Republicans could not win the presidency without courting the black vote. Dent, a Southerner through and through — he was a lay preacher and established the Senate’s breakfast prayer group — persuaded his boss to drop out of the Democratic Party for good, join the Republicans and campaign for Goldwater. Goldwater lost in a landslide, winning just six states, five of them in Dixie. The “solid Democratic South” had been breached. American politics would never be the same.

America's natural conservatism enabled us to avoid most of the worst of the socialism epoch. But for the historical oddity of Southern white males joining with Northern liberals to keep blacks down, we might have avoided the rest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Influx fuels rise in U.S. population (Sean Lengell, December 29, 2007, Washington Times)

A new immigrant — legal or illegal — is expected to enter the United States every 30 seconds by January, the U.S. Census Bureau says.

The agency estimates this foreign influx will increase the total U.S. population by one person every 13 seconds.

The U.S. also is expected to register one birth every eight seconds and one death every 11 seconds by next month.

The Census Bureau is projecting the nation's Jan. 1 total population will be 303,146,284 — a 0.9 percent increase from New Year"s Day 2007.

The estimate is similar to recent annual population increases of about 1 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


An American in Iran (Max Rodenbeck, 1/17/08, NY Review of Books)

There is not much to see, really, but as I turn to leave, a young man approaches with a smile, and introduces himself as an engineer working for a European company in Iran. The only reason he is here, the engineer quickly explains, is to please his mother-in-law, who is visiting from the provinces. He himself was born in the year of the revolution, and his father died in the war with Iraq. But he finds all this "martyrdom stuff" overdone. He reckons that the current government won't last long, because people like him who cynically disdained to vote in 2005 will be sure to do so next time around, in parliamentary elections next March, and presidential ones in 2009; at least, so long as George W. Bush does not attack Iran and provoke a backlash. President Ahmadinejad's comments about the Holocaust and Israel were "stupid," says the engineer. He has no doubt that the country will change, no matter how hard such usulgaran, or fundamentalists, try to stop it. But it will do so gradually and peacefully: "We've tried revolution, and nobody wants that again."

Over and again, traveling this Mexico-sized and intensely proud country, one is impressed by a similar weariness with politics, mixed with resentment at state efforts to stir the embers of revolutionary fervor. The eye-rolling is not caused by some overpowering attraction to Western culture. Iranians cherish being different. They clearly prefer their own food and music and poetry, not to mention religion. Nor is the sullen mood necessarily due to anger at repression of women, or dissidents, or minorities. While it is true that the regime's habit of banning books and throwing activists in jail has grown sharply nastier under Ahmadinejad, still, the level of fear remains far lower than in the 1980s. Apart from the tiresome dress code and some lingering discriminatory laws, women in Iran are freer than in neighboring countries. Headscarved women work, drive, jog in public parks, and run for public office. Minorities are mostly better off, too, enjoying freedom of worship, language rights, and quotas in parliament. (With the notable exception of the Bahais, a modern branch of Shiism regarded by mainstream mullahs as heretical.) Unlike their restive brothers across the border in Turkey, Iranian Kurds have rarely felt much need to revolt. Political dissent of other kinds still risks punishment but is less dangerous here than in, say, Saudi Arabia or Syria. At least Iranians can vote, and know that their vote makes a difference.

The weariness cannot be ascribed solely to a shaky economy either. It is true that prices, and especially rents, are rising painfully fast for people on fixed incomes. Corruption is rife, the gap between rich and poor is as great as under the Shah, and businessmen complain bitterly of the incompetence and erratic policies of the Ahmadinejad administration. But living standards and public services have steadily, if slowly, improved in recent years. The effects of sanctions are not widely felt, so far. Life is hard for many, but appears decent by regional standards.

Yet there does appear to be one factor that unifies a very large portion of the Iranian public in a sort of generalized melancholy. This is the desire to escape from a mental ghetto in which they are encouraged to see enemies everywhere, to sustain evidently hypocritical notions of purity, and to put up with the finger-wagging of preachers and police and chador-encased proctors. It is a repressed demand not so much for political change as for personal freedom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


'Al Qaeda has become Pakistani phenomenon' (PTI, December 29, 2007)

"Clearly, Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan does not just comprise Arabs and Uzbeks and Tajiks. It also comprises Pakistanis; and among such Pakistanis it comprises Pathans and Punjabis and possibly Urdu speakers who constitute the Pakistani Taliban," the Daily Times said in an article.

"Certainly, it is known that a number of Pakistani sectarian and jihadi Sunni organisations have joined the Al Qaeda network after the government launched efforts to disband them since the 'peace process' started with India. So Al Qaeda is now as much a Pakistani phenomenon as it is an Arab or foreign element."

The government on Friday held the Al Qaeda responsible for a series of suicide bombings meant to destabilize Pakistan, including the attack in Rawalpindi on Bhutto on Thursday that killed her and nearly 30 others. It said it had intelligence intercepts of Pakistani Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, congratulating another person for the attack.

"Why is it difficult to believe that the same Islamist network that tried to eliminate President (Pervez) Musharraf, (former premier) Shaukat Aziz, (ex-interior minister) Aftab Sherpao and Benazir Bhutto on October 18 may be responsible for her murder on December 27," the newspaper article said.

"The first three have overtly been involved in the 'war against terror' while Bhutto had pledged many times to wipe out the extremists and terrorists if she was returned to power. All were seen as American agents or puppets."

December 28, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:19 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 PM


Obama: 2008 or bust (Lauren Appelbaum, 12/28/07, First Read)

Obama told his supporters if he doesn't win in 2008, he won't be trying again later on.

We can't rule out the possibility that 8 or 12 years from now he might actually have passed a piece of legislation...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:32 PM

Poland's Oscar nominated Kawalerowicz dies aged 85 (AFP, 12/28/07)

Oscar-nominated Polish film director Jerzy Kawalerowicz died aged 85 in the Polish capital Warsaw late Thursday after suffering a hemorrhage, Poland's Association of Cinematographers confirmed Friday.

Among the fathers of the 1950's "Polish school" of cinematography, Kawalerowicz directed 17 feature films during his life-time. [...]

The 2001 screen production of "Quo Vadis", a novel by Poland's 19th century Nobel-prize winning author Henryk Sienkiewicz, was his most recent work.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:28 PM


Home Thoughts From Abroad: Some U.S. soldiers have spent so much time in Iraq, it feels like home. (Lawrence Kaplan, Dec. 26, 2007, Slate)

Whether measured in terms of tactics and techniques improved, operational schemes perfected, or the clan loyalties of every house on every street cataloged and memorized, the accumulation of experience counts for everything in this war. In Iraq, roughly half of all casualties tend to be suffered during the first three months of a unit's 15-month deployment. When I last visited Bravo Company, it was getting hit by IEDs twice a day and mortared routinely. "The whole area was a meat grinder," Sgt. Johnson recalled, pointing to the canals and dikes that order the surrounding "triangle of death" into neat grids. But engagement with local tribes, intelligence tips, and targeted raids had quieted the area to the point where the company hadn't been hit by a single IED strike in four months. Similarly, the brigade as a whole had lost more than 50 soldiers during its first eight months in Iraq, but only one during the last four months.

What is true in microcosm is also true writ large. In a war where it's nearly impossible to detect intellectual coherence, the Army's learning curve tells a clear story.

The arc of the war lacks coherence only if you never understood its end and continue not to. Grasp once that the point was to depose a minority tyranny and create an opportunity for majority self-determination and the rest is not only comprehensible but often takes on a certain inevitability.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 PM


Thompson eyes 'strong showing' in Iowa (Stephen Dinan, December 28, 2007, Associated Press)

Fred Thompson is flooding this state with his best asset — himself — hoping voters are tired of the other Republican presidential candidates and willing to take a second look at his own candidacy before next week's caucuses. [...]

Iowa's first-in-the-nation presidential nominating contest is next Thursday, and the campaigns' bets are now in — and Mr. Thompson, a former Tennessee senator, has the most to gain or lose.

"We had to have a very strong showing in some of the early states so we could go to South Carolina in a competitive mode, and we decided Iowa is the best for that," said William B. Lacy, Mr. Thompson's campaign manager, who said Iowa is "just tailor-made" for the kind of barnstorming tour Mr. Thompson is conducting. He said the hope is with Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Romney "fighting it out at the top, to just slide right up through the middle."

Mr. Thompson can't afford to make no showing in an IA that Mike Huckabee wins and a NH that John McCain wins or else he's eliminated along with Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani before the race even gets to SC. Being the conservative alternative doesn't work with the liberals gone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 AM


Benazir's death won't have long-term impact (A K Verma, December 28, 2007, rediff)

No individual leader in Pakistan has been a match for the accumulated problems of the country. Some of these problems have existed from the day Pakistan came into existence. A national identity, universally acceptable within the country, remains elusive. The polity and the ruling elites have not been able to reach a consensus on what should be the acceptable goals for the nation. Although the State is an Islamic republic, identifiable and articulate groups want it converted into an Islamist entity. The strength of such groups is on the ascendancy as Talibanisation creeps in on an incremental scale.

Benazir's assassination is the result of this phenomenon.

Benazir, as prime minister for the third term or just as the leader of the Pakistan People's Party, the most popular political party in Pakistan, in all likelihood, would have been unable to stem the tide.

The mutually antagonistic relationship between Islamist and non Islamist groups in Pakistan has reached a stage where no liberal and secular leader can be considered safe from risks such as faced by Benazir.

Benazir had created vast followings in the Sind and Punjab provinces but not in Baluchistan or the North West Frontier Province. In fact, no Pakistani leader has had popular support in all the four provinces simultaneously. An underlying cause is the absence of pervasive unity between different cultural and linguistic groups in Pakistan.

Language is often a major marker of identity of a group. In the absence of social justice and developmental equality, this marker acquires a deeper imprint. Even though emergence of Bangladesh from Pakistan as an independent nation highlighted this paradigm, Pakistan's politicians learnt no lessons. Every region of Pakistan places its own regional identity above that of Pakistan as a nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:54 AM


Bhutto death makes McCain man of the moment (Roger Simon, Dec 28, 2007, Politico)

John McCain, older than dirt and with more scars than Frankenstein as he likes to say, suddenly wasn’t looking so bad.

Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated in Pakistan and the political conversation in America had changed.

Which means at least for a little while Republicans here were not thinking about which presidential candidate was tougher on immigration or which had the best Christian conservative credentials.'s a story that will be forgetten by 2008. From the voters' perspective, the takeaway from the Bhutto assassination is that they're killing each other now instead of us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 AM


Obama & the Burden of Liberalism (Kimberley Strassel, 12/28/07, Opinion Journal)

If the Democratic race has been about anything, it's been about promises of "change." Mr. Obama has made it his signature issue, tapping into a national unease with the status quo, and riding it to within striking distance of Hillary Clinton. What the charismatic young Illinois senator has not yet had to do is explain what shape this change will assume, or how he intends to bring it about. And lucky for him, because it's far from clear Mr. Obama is anything but same old, same old. [...]

Washington is gridlocked in part because congressional Democrats have attempted to govern with an agenda that is too liberal even for many in their own party. Mr. Obama is captivating, though probably not captivating enough to convince Republican rivals to sign up for Nancy Pelosi's game plan. His only real tool for changing Washington presumably rests in convincing his own party to move toward a more innovative middle. Yet nothing in Mr. Obama's history, or current campaign, suggests he intends to forge a new Democratic direction.

As a candidate, Bill Clinton recognized Democrats' national image problems, and ran on a message of "opportunity, responsibility, community." President Bill Clinton abandoned most of that within his first 100 days, caving to liberals. But it remains the case that his signature policy achievements--welfare reform and trade--were the result of his ability to shift Democrats toward the center. When Mr. Obama was last heard talking about trade, it was to complain that Americans had lost their jobs for "a cheaper T-shirt" and to promise to "amend" Mr. Clinton's Nafta with stricter labor agreements.

This is no Joe Lieberman, who seeks to keep his party from jumping off a foreign policy cliff. Mr. Obama criticizes any Democrat who supported the Iraq war. This is no Daniel Moynihan, who favored private Social Security accounts as a means of alleviating wealth inequality. In 2005, Mr. Obama suggested private accounts were a form of "social Darwinism." This is no former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux, who wanted to transform Medicare into a system that would help seniors buy insurance on the private market. Mr. Obama has blasted Medicare Advantage, and boasts of his votes to pour more money into today's failing government-run system.

As for Mr. Obama's claim he is no slave to "rigid ideology," consider his voting record. National Journal in March released its 2006 annual rankings of Congress based on key roll call votes, and Mr. Obama was found to be more liberal than 86% of his senatorial colleagues.

...but one of the reasons Democrats have fared so poorly in national elections the past thirty years is their tendency to nominate a pig in a poke, who turns out to be a disaster during the campaign, while the GOP just anoints the next in line, a known quantity, if generally an unexciting one. It's a matter of sizzle vs. steak and the former is fleeting by nature.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 AM


Criticism Aside, 'FairTax' Boosts Huckabee Campaign (Jonathan Weisman, 12/28/07, Washington Post)

To former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, supporting a national retail sales tax is more than a policy proposal. It has provided much-needed muscle for his campaign, filling rallies and events with fervent supporters hoping to replace the entire income and payroll tax system.

There's one problem: A national sales tax won't work, at least not according to tax experts and economists of all political stripes. [...]

"Am I running for president to shut down the federal government? Not exactly," Huckabee says on his Web site. "But I am running to completely eliminate all federal income and payroll taxes. And I do mean all -- personal federal, corporate federal, gift, estate, capital gains, alternative minimum, Social Security, Medicare, self-employment. . . . Instead we will have the FairTax, a simple tax based on wealth."

Critics won't beat him with nothing. They need a better simple tax plan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


Inflation Fuels Anger Toward Ahmadinejad (ALI AKBAR DAREINI, 12/27/07, AP)

A sharp rise in inflation has provoked fierce criticism of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - not only from his reformist opponents, but also from senior conservatives who helped bring him to power but now say he is mismanaging the economy.

Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005 on a populist agenda promising to bring oil revenues to every family, eradicate poverty, improve living standards and tackle unemployment. Now he is being challenged for his failure to meet those promises.

Reformists and even some fellow conservatives say Ahmadinejad has concentrated too much on fiery, anti-U.S. speeches and not enough on the economy - and they have become more aggressive in calling him to account.

Some regime changes are easier than others.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


With Bhutto Gone. . .: Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Steve Schippert, co-founder of the Center for Threat Awareness and managing editor for (Jamie Glazov, 12/28/07,

FP: What does the assassination of Bhutto mean for Pakistan going forward? What perils now lie ahead?

Schippert: Benazir Bhutto's assassination Thursday is a devastating blow for Pakistan and a great loss as such for the West. For all her faults readily pointed out by her critics - rightly or wrongly - she remained the best hope for a representation of reasonable and moderate Pakistanis within their own government.

Now, the only significantly popular alternative is another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. And he has advocated a Pakistani position of unceremonious distancing of Pakistan from the United States and cozying up to the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance of terrorists and insurgents nested in Pakistan's tribal regions. He is also said to have benefited from a significant contribution in his failed first run for prime minister from none other than Usama bin Laden - to the tune of $3 billion rupees. For the West, he is not a trustworthy ally at all against al-Qaeda in his midst.

The elections slated for January 8th will almost certainly be delayed by Musharraf, who can be expected to announce another phase of emergency powers if violent street protests do not abate - effectively enacting a state of emergency with the constitution suspended and martial law in place.

It should be noted that instability and disunity are a requirement of any successful insurgency campaign....

Destabilization and disunity are, likewise, the basis of any successful counterinsurgency campaign, as witness post-911 American intervention in Afghanistan, Libya, Liberia, the Sudan, Iraq, Palestine, etc.. Indeed, the specific steps required in Pakistan involve destabilization and disunion, carving out the Tribal Areas into a separate state or states and imposing on them the sovereign responsibility to quash their own extremists or we will. The notion that what Pakistan needs is moderation is lunacy. What made Ms Bhutto useful was the unlikelihood that she'd be as liberal as her rhetoric once in power.

Al Qaeda is right under Musharraf's nose (B Raman, December 28, 2007, rediff)

Since 9/11, there has been hardly any jihadi terrorist strike anywhere in the world in which there was no Pakistani connection.

Since 2002, there has been hardly any jihadi terrorist strike in Pakistani territory in which there was no connection of the Pakistan army's general headquarters. By GHQ, one does not mean the entire army; one means some elements in the GHQ.

Was Al-Qaida Behind Bhutto's Slaying?: President Pervez Musharraf was quick to blame Islamist terrorists for the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto on Thursday. Now the United States is trying to determine the validity of a purported claim of responsibilty by al-Qaida. (Der Spiegel, 12/28/07)
It is clear that slain Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto did not want for enemies. While her supporters initial reaction to news of her assassination (more...) on Thursday had been to point the finger at President Pervez Musharraf, the president blamed Islamic militants for the attack.

The terrorist network al-Qaida was quick to claim responsibility for killing the veteran politician who had twice been prime minister and was hoping to serve a third term following forthcoming elections on Jan. 8. Pakistani broadcaster ARY TV reported that the terror network had said it had carried out the gun and bomb attack which killed Bhutto and at least 16 others.

Irrespective of who was actually responsible, our intelligence services (such as they are) should be spreading rumors that al Qaeda did it and playing up their imaginary resurgence in order to increase pressure on Pakistan to deal with its West and with infiltration of its military by Islamicists.

Pakistan After Bhutto (SIMON ROBINSON, 12/28/07, TIME)

Even as Pakistan buries assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto today, mourning Pakistanis are beginning to think about what comes next for their beleaguered nation. Bhutto supporters vented their anger late into Thursday night, burning shops, police stations and buses in Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi, the site of yesterday's suicide attack. Rioting continued on Friday. "It has released bottled up national energies," says lieutenant general Hameed Gul, the former director general of Pakistan's intelligence organization, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). "[The assassination] is going to really excite the people, bring them out."

Which is why it represents another massive strategic miscalculation by the Islamicists. Their best interest was served by Pakistani lassitude. Energized populations are an existential threat to them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


New efficient bulb sees the light (BBC, 12/28/07)

A new type of super-efficient household light bulb is being developed which could spell the end of regular bulbs.

Experts have found a way to make Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) brighter and use less power than energy efficient light bulbs currently on the market.

Libertarians will still only read by whale oil lanterns....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Vote Counting Under Way in Kenyan Presidential Elections (VOA News, 28 December 2007)

Vote-counting is under way in Kenya following presidential and parliamentary elections, and the first official results are expected later Friday.

About 14 million Kenyans were eligible to cast ballots Thursday in a close presidential race between the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, and his main challenger, Raila Odinga.

Witnesses say voter turnout appeared to be high, but no official figures have been released. According to unofficial returns announced on Kenyan television, Odinga is holding a commanding lead over Mr. Kibaki.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Steroids and the Culture of Narcissism (Paul Beston, 12/28/2007, American Spectator)

[Christopher] Lasch is best-known for his 1979 book The Culture of Narcissism, which achieved further notoriety when Jimmy Carter called on the author to advise him for his infamous "crisis of confidence" speech that year. Though he tended to look at life in America with the dialectical skepticism of a Marxist, Lasch's insights into how daily life had been degraded and trivialized, so that individuals were only capable of a crippling self-regard, still have value. The book has a chapter on how this diminishment has affected the sports world as well. Though written nearly 30 years ago, it is a penetrating examination of the traits that have gradually eroded sport's once uplifting qualities -- and which eventually may have helped give rise to a full-fledged doping culture.

Lasch differed with critics such as Michael Novak, whose own sports study had appeared a few years earlier, and who felt that sport's decline had to do with its becoming too mixed up in the affairs of the world, indistinguishable from business and politics. That critique is familiar to us today, with stories of athletes and their agents, stadium deals, and "collective bargaining agreements" between management and players' unions that represent a work force earning many multiples of the average American's wages. Alex Rodriguez, in signing a contract extension with the New York Yankees worth hundreds of millions of dollars, spoke of his desire to win a World Series -- and noted that this was an achievement that he had not yet added to his "resume." Try to imagine Lou Gehrig or, closer to our own time, Pete Rose, talking that way.

BUT AS CORRUPTING an influence as money has been, Lasch argued that what was really ailing sports wasn't that they had become wrapped up in the world of commerce but that they had been, on the contrary, sectioned off from the rest of the culture, fetishized into a fantasy world of entertainment and spectacle, thereby severing the ties they once had to our common lives. "It is only when games and sports come to be valued purely as a form of escape," he wrote, "that they lose the capacity to provide this escape." This was a complex and seemingly self-contradictory point: that the more sports focused on entertainment, the less of it they actually provided.

One of baseball's chief advantages over lesser sports is that it is played every day, so the game itself occupies time and space fully and pulses away in the background even when we aren't fully attentive. The actual games of football, by contrast, occur so seldom -- and interesting ones even less often -- that the industry has to gin up other nonsense just to stay in the public consciousness. It's revealing that the NFL Network can't even generate enough programming to get cable networks to buy the channel. They ought to just show old games 24/7, it's not like anyone remembers what happened from one season to the next anyway.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Ethiopia leaves key Somali town (BBC, 12/28/07)

Ethiopian troops have withdrawn from a key town in central Somalia.

Islamist insurgents say they now control Guriel, where Ethiopia had a big military base to secure the road linking the two countries.

Because they can't win.

December 27, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 PM


Mitt fights his own past words in N.H. (Jonathan Martin, Dec 27, 2007, Politico)

That Romney has changed or at least modified his stance on a variety of issues is, of course, not new.

But as the primary campaign ramps up into its frantic final days before the first contests, and as Romney is forced to fend off a challenge from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in Iowa and Arizona Sen. John McCain in New Hampshire, the problem is presenting itself anew.

Lacking a pure conservative record of his own, Romney is unable to get off any clean shots at his rivals without them — or the media — pointing to a past quote or stance that calls into question his own consistency.

Take last weekend in New Hampshire, when Romney took after McCain for opposing President Bush’s tax cuts in 2001 and 2003.

The Associated Press account of the day included Romney’s attack, McCain’s counter and then additional evidence muddying the original charge.

In 2003, the story noted, Romney told the Massachusetts congressional delegation that when it came to the Bush tax cuts, he wouldn’t “be a cheerleader” for proposals he didn’t support.

“But I have to keep a solid relationship with the White House,” Romney noted to his state’s representatives in Washington.

Similarly, when Romney raised McCain’s unpopular immigration views in a campaign appearance Wednesday, the Arizonan’s campaign was ready.

“Last Year, Romney Supported ‘Path Toward Citizenship’ for Illegal Immigrants, Said Republicans Breaking With President Bush on Immigration ‘Made a Big Mistake,'" McCain’s aides reminded in a press release over 2006 stories in the Lowell Sun and Associated Press.

Also included was the November 2005 story from the Boston Globe where Romney deemed McCain’s immigration approach “quite different” from amnesty and “reasonable.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 PM


'Test tube universe' hints at unifying theory (Roger Highfield, 26/12/2007, Daily Telegraph)

A "universe in a test tube" that could be used to assess theories of everything has been created by physicists.

The test tube, the size of a little finger, has been cooled to a fraction of a degree above the lowest possible temperature, absolute zero, which is just over 273 degrees below the freezing point of water.

Inside the tube an isotope of helium (called helium three) forms a "superfluid", an ordered liquid where all the atoms are in the same state according to the theory that rules the subatomic domain, called quantum theory.
...tiny little Dawkins's and Hitchens's stamp their tiny little feet and shriek that it isn't Created.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 PM


Pakistan faces horror of civil war after Benazir Bhutto is assassinated in suicide attack (Isambard Wilkinson, Pakistan Correspondent, Richard Edwards and David Blair, 27/12/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Pakistan was facing the spectre of civil war last night after Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, was assassinated in a suicide attack.

The nuclear-armed state faced its worst political crisis in decades, which could threaten President Pervez Musharraf's grip on power and his role in the US-led war on terrorism.

To the extent that Pakistan imagines the Tribal Areas to be a part of the state, it has been in a state of civil war since its founding, since it has never actually exercised effective sovereignty over them. If Ms Bhutto's assassination sufficiently shames the liberal elements that they acknowledge General Musharraf has been too lenient, rather than too authoritarian, then her death will have served a good end. If they instead persist in the delusion -- as Spanish liberals did about Franco or Chileans about Pinochet -- that it is only those who are preventing the takeover by extremists who make extremism possible then the American/Indian/Afghani/Russian/Iranian alliance will end up having to salt the earth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:55 PM


How McCain Wins (Rick Davis, 12/27/07, Real Clear Politics)

If you've been watching the news or reading the paper in the past couple days, you're sure to have noticed a new tone emerging when reporters and pundits discuss John McCain. "He can win", "McCain Momentum", "McCain Comeback" are all phrases that seem to be standard whenever John McCain is mentioned. We couldn't agree more.

While in our minds we've been doing the same things: going to the townhall meetings, listening to voters and talking about the issues they care about; we're just glad they're talking about it.

We've been hearing something else over the past couple days as well. A shift in terminology from "can McCain make a comeback" to "McCain can win". This is enormously important and has the benefit of being both true and highly plausible. While it has been well-documented that John McCain is the best candidate to defeat Hillary Clinton or any Democrat in the general election, there have been lingering doubts about his ability to defeat his main opponents in the Republican Primary. Those doubts are being erased and his path to victory is becoming more clear.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:49 PM


Revisiting the Stupid Party (Lee Harris, 27 Dec 2007, Tech Central Station)

The nineteenth century English philosopher John Stuart Mill bequeathed to modern conservatism a lasting inferiority complex when he dismissed the conservatives of his day as "the stupid party." No one likes to be called stupid, as we can all agree, though Mill himself may not have understood this, since it is highly unlikely that anyone had ever called him by this disparaging epithet. In his famous Autobiography, Mill tells us that he was reading Plato in the original Greek when he was five, and by the time he was twelve, he was capable of discussing the fine points of economic theory with the leading authorities of his day—facts that may well have seriously skewed Mill's judgment about the intelligence of other people. Stupid, for Mill, may have meant those who only learned how to read Plato in Greek at the ripe old age of eleven, in which case the charge of belonging to the "stupid party" loses much of its sting.

Yet the sting of Mill's insult remains today, and it explains, in part, the conspicuous braininess of contemporary conservatism. Conservative think-tanks abound in PhD's and experts in every field imaginable, whose intelligence, as measured by IQ tests and academic credentials, is certainly a match for those of their ideological opponents. But has the emergence of a conservative intelligentsia proven to be an unmixed blessing? Or is the very phrase conservative intelligentsia an oxymoron?

Let's begin by noting that the eagerness to appear intelligent to others is a fairly recent development among conservatives. By and large, the English Tories whom Mill dubbed as the original stupid party did not share this desire in the least. If you read the delightful novels of Anthony Trollope, you will find them teaming with hilariously dim-witted Lords who feel no need to apologize for their mediocre minds, as long as they have their aristocratic pedigrees. Their stupidity, as many of them no doubt hazily realized, was their best defense against the inroads of clever madmen intent on turning their world upside down—men like John Stuart Mill, for example, to whom tradition meant nothing, and who was willing to throw out the solid heritage of the past in the pursuit of the latest fad, dubbed by him "experiments in living." Against the blueprints for a better world concocted by the brilliant they opposed the redneck wisdom encapsulated in the adage: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Today, no self-respecting conservative wants to be thought stupid, not even by the lunatics on the far left. Yet there are far worse things than looking stupid to others—and one of them is being conned by those who are far cleverer than we are.

Nothing becomes Americans, in general, nor conservatives, in particular (but I repeat myself), nor explains our avoidance of the -isms, than our anti-Intellectualism

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:46 PM


Quinoa: A Sacred, Super Crop (Nicole Spiridakis, October 31, 2007,

What was a sacred crop to the Incas has been classified as a "super crop" by the United Nations because of its high protein content. It is a complete protein, which means it has all nine essential amino acids. It also contains the amino acid lysine, which is essential for tissue growth and repair, and is a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorous.

While many think of quinoa as a grain, the yellowish pods are actually the seed of a plant called chenopodium quinoa, native to Peru and related to beets, chard and spinach. The plant resembles spinach, but with 3- to 9-foot stalks that take on a magenta hue. The large seed heads make up nearly half the plant and vary in color: red, purple, pink and yellow.

In the Andes Mountains, where they have been growing for more than 5,000 years, quinoa plants have overcome the challenges of high altitude, intense heat, freezing temperatures and little annual rainfall. Peru and Bolivia maintain seed banks with 1,800 types of quinoa. It has been grown in the U.S. since the 1980s, when two farmers began cultivating it in Colorado. [...]

When preparing quinoa, rinse the seeds before cooking to remove any lingering soapy saponin. The coating, which protects growing seeds from birds and the intense rays of the high-altitude sun, can make your quinoa taste bitter. (A quick rinse in cold water, after placing in a strainer, should do the trick). Then add one part quinoa to two parts liquid in a saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cover. In a mere 15 minutes, the seeds will be plump, fluffy and ready to eat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:40 PM


Food Network's Sandra Lee offers bio, quick (Margi Shrum, 12/27/07, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

[A] while back, I discovered Sandra Lee on the Food Network. The purveyor of a style of easy cooking that she dubs "semi-homemade," she is at first glance about the closest thing to Barbie in the kitchen that you'll see.

She even wears shirtwaist dresses.

Her sets are color-coordinated. If her outfit has blue in it, the dessert has blue icing and all of the tchotkes in her kitchen are blue, as is the tableware, linens, curtains, etc.

But who knew that behind Ms. Lee's scenery there not only is not a Barbie, there's barely a Ken.

In her autobiography, "Sandra Lee: Made From Scratch" (Meredith, $24.95), Ms. Lee writes about rising from the ashes of an incredibly dysfunctional childhood.

The Wife disliked her until the Food Network telecast a biographical hour that told her story of overcoming adversity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:36 PM


The Speaker's Grand Illusion (David Broder, 12/27/07, Real Clear Politics)

After one year of Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, public approval ratings for Congress have sunk below their level when Republicans were still in control. A Post poll this month put the approval score at 32 percent, the disapproval at 60.

In the last such survey during Republican control, congressional approval was 36 percent. So what are the Democrats to make of that? They could be using this interregnum before the start of their second year to evaluate their strategy and improve their standing. But if Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House and leader of their new majority, is to be believed, they are, instead, going to brag about their achievements.

...folks are still going to know that you're the ones squealin'.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:23 PM


Iowa Republican Campaigns Driven By the Religion Factor? (Randy Sly, 12/28/2007, Catholic Online)

The focus on faith especially is seen in the issues that are driving decisions for heartland voters. Abortion remains high on the list and the surge in Huckabee’s popularity is, in many ways, finding strong support from the 21 percent of evangelical Protestants who indicated they are less likely to vote for a Mormon.

While this number is down from the 30 percent during a summer poll, Iowa still has about 37% of its caucus-goers that describe themselves as Evangelicals who go to church, are Pro-Life, and politically conservative. In fact, analysts are saying that the responses in Iowa are pointing specifically to “Evangelical” as the single-most important factor in candidate support. [...]

Not only have many Iowa Republicans shifted to a strong Huckabee preference, 61 percent indicated they have firmly made up their mind. Only 49 percent of Romney’s supporters made that declaration. By an almost 2 to 1 margin, Republicans also said that the more they hear about Huckabee, the more they like him.

Whereas Mitt and the Mayor have imploded as voters hear about their real records.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:20 PM


63% of Japanese favor allowing immigration of unskilled foreign laborers (Mainichi Daily News, 12/17/07)

More than 60 percent of people in Japan support accepting entry-level workers from overseas, in spite of the government's policy of generally refusing such workers, a survey by the Mainichi has found.

In a nationwide telephone poll conducted by the Mainichi, 63 percent of respondents agreed with accepting foreign entry-level workers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:05 PM


Diet in Decline: Can America's Overnutrition Crisis be Reversed?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:41 PM


Bhutto Assassinated in Attack on Rally (SALMAN MASOOD and GRAHAM BOWLEY, 12/27/07, NY Times)

The Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated near the capital, Islamabad, on Thursday. Witnesses said Ms. Bhutto, who was appearing at a political campaign rally, was fired upon at close range by a gunman, and then struck by shrapnel from a blast that the government said was caused by a suicide bomber.

Ms. Bhutto, who had twice been the country’s prime minister and was a leading contender to be the next prime minister after elections in January, was declared dead by doctors at a hospital in Rawalpindi at 6:16 p.m. local time. At least a dozen more people were killed in the attack, and some reports said there were at least 20 dead.

Her bravery lay in returning home with such and end likely. Her importance may lay in the opportunity given Pakistanis now to consider what kind of country they choose to live in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:33 PM


The undoing of Spain? (Richard W. Rahn, December 26, 2007, Washington Times)

Despite being citizens of one of the oldest nation-states, many Spanish identify more with their regions than the central state. Spain has four official languages — Castilian Spanish, Catalan, Galician and Basque, as well as several unofficial languages. The outside world has been well aware of the actions of the Basque separatists because of the ETA terrorists, who have just killed two Spanish police officials in the Basque area of France (which adjoins the Basque area of Spain).

Spain, unlike most countries, has become increasingly decentralized during the last few decades, with the central government shrinking relative to the regional governments. A small central government, with most government activities conducted at the regional and local level, can work just fine, as it has been the case in Switzerland for the last several hundred years, provided there is a national consensus as to how the power is to be shared. But this consensus has not yet occurred in Spain.

Nor will it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


What Jefferson & Adams Might Tell Mitt (David Ignatius, 12/27/07, Real Clear Politics)

A bracing text for this Christmas week is the famous correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Their letters are a reminder that the Founders were men of the Enlightenment -- supreme rationalists who would have found the religiosity of much of our modern political life quite abhorrent.

It's not that these men didn't have religious beliefs: They were, to their deaths, passionate seekers of truth, metaphysical as well as physical. It's that their beliefs didn't fit into pious cubbyholes. Indeed, the deist Jefferson took a pair of scissors to the New Testament to create his "Jefferson Bible," or "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth," which cut out the parts he regarded as supernatural or misinterpreted by the Gospel writers.

It's useful to examine the musings of these American rationalists in this political season when religion has been a prominent topic. Politicians and commentators have suggested that for the Founders, the very idea of freedom was God-given -- or, as the Declaration of Independence puts it, that human beings are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." Yet this famous passage begins with a distillation of the Enlightenment's celebration of human reason: "We hold these truths to be self-evident. ... "

My Christmastime reading of the Adams-Jefferson letters was prompted by this year's most interesting political speech, but one I also found troubling -- Mitt Romney's Dec. 6 speech on "Faith in America." It was a fine evocation of our twin heritage of religion and religious freedom, until he got to this ritual denunciation of the bogeymen known as secularists.

Of course, their greatest letter is the one Jefferson wrote to Adams completely repudiating Rationalism, in archetypal Anglospheric fashion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


Freshmen Padding Their Independence: Procedural Votes Become Safe Nays (Paul Kane, 12/27/07, Washington Post)

[T]he bloc of freshmen has begun casting votes against such minor procedural motions in an effort, Democratic sources and Republican critics say, to demonstrate their independence from their leadership. The number of votes that the potentially vulnerable newcomers to Capitol Hill cast against House leaders is tallied and watched closely by interest groups and political foes.

Such is the political life of many of the 42 freshman House Democrats, a sizable number of them moderates and conservatives who must straddle the fence between supporting their party's interests and distancing themselves from a mostly liberal leadership as they gear up for their first reelection battle next fall.

Such opposition to your own party establishes the sort of psychic dissonance that costs you the seat when there's a strong top of the ticket for the other party. McCain/Jeb will carry these seats in with them rather easily.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Rough Patch on the Slopes (Alec MacGillis, December 27, 2007, Washington Post)

As Romney noted several times during the visit, he and his family used to drive to Pats Peak from their home in the Boston suburbs to teach his sons to ski.

And mingling with Massachusetts folks is a bit complicated for Romney these days. He left the State House early this year, with many of the state's residents feeling aggrieved by the way he turned his focus to a presidential run for the second half of his term. That feeling has grown only stronger since he hit the campaign trail and began casting Massachusetts as a left-wing bastion that he had to try to bring under control, "the most liberal state in the country" as he put it in one of his television advertisements.

Derek Rhodes, an information technology director from North Andover, Mass., said he had noticed how much Romney's positions had shifted rightward since he started running for president, something Rhodes, a Democrat, chalked up to expedience... fooling eacxh person into seeing only the one you prefer them to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


For McCain, It Could Be State of Resurgence: Wide-Open Caucuses Offer Hope To a Candidate Who Has Lagged (Michael D. Shear, 12/27/07, Washington Post)

McCain had been left for dead politically this summer, and now his decision to return to a state he skipped altogether in his 2000 bid for the White House is one of the many signs that the GOP contest for president is still in search of a front-runner. [...]

McCain still trails in Iowa -- most polls peg his support in the single digits -- in part because of his opposition to ethanol subsidies and his support of immigration reform. But armed with an endorsement from the Des Moines Register and buoyed by his success in New Hampshire, McCain on Wednesday launched a three-day tour of Iowa's rural towns.

"We're getting down to the final days, and we're happy with the way things are going, but we've still got a very tough fight here in Iowa," McCain told reporters in Council Bluffs. "We're working hard, and we have a very good organization, but we have a very long way to go."

McCain plans to return to New Hampshire on Friday, where advisers hope a come-from-behind victory over Romney will catapult him into the lead in succeeding primaries. In an e-mail to supporters Wednesday titled "How we win," campaign manager Rick Davis mapped a path to victory: a "strong finish" in Iowa; the "top spot" in New Hampshire; a "well-positioned" showing in Michigan; carrying South Carolina; and a "unique ability" to compete in Florida.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


G. P. Sippy, Indian Filmmaker Whose ‘Sholay’ Was a Bollywood Hit, Dies at 93 (HARESH PANDYA, 12/27/07, NY Times)

The Indian filmmaker and director G. P. Sippy, whose 1975 blockbuster “Sholay” (“Embers”) remains the most famous Hindi movie and the biggest commercial success for Bollywood, died on Tuesday in Mumbai. [...]

Directed by Mr. Sippy’s son Ramesh, “Sholay” revolutionized Hindi filmmaking and brought true professionalism to Indian script writing. Written by Mr. Sippy’s favorite scriptwriting team, Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar, “Sholay” was loosely styled on “The Seven Samurai” and “The Magnificent Seven,” and has been called India’s first “curry western.” In “Sholay” two close friends who are small-time thieves are recruited by a former police officer to fight a ruthless bandit leader. Its stirring score is by Rahul Dev Burman.

On its release, the film ran for a record 286 straight weeks at the Minerva Theater in Mumbai, then called Bombay. It also broke all previous earning records for commercial cinema in India. In 1999 BBC India declared it “the film of the millennium.” “Sholay” made Mr. Sippy and many of its cast members — including Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar, Hema Malini, Jaya Bhaduri and Amjad Khan — into some of Bollywood’s biggest stars.

Though “Sholay” consolidated Mr. Bachchan’s position as the king of Hindi actors, it was Amjad Khan, playing the ferocious villain Gabbar Singh, who stole the movie.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Iranian in India encourages dialogue (Somini Sengupta, December 27, 2007, IHT)

Ramin Jahanbegloo, an Iranian philosopher, described his Indian sojourn this way, and even as he agreed to an interview this month on the condition that he not be asked to talk about his home country, which imprisoned him last year, it kept creeping into the conversation, quite uninvited, like a gnome.

In Iran, Jahanbegloo, 50, was accused of collaborating with Americans to destabilize the state, kept in solitary confinement for four months and released on bail.

Out of jail, but with the charges still pending, he returned here to finish his latest book, "India Revisited: Conversations on Contemporary India," a collection of 27 interviews with 27 remarkable Indians that the Indian arm of Oxford University Press has just published. The book is ostensibly about Indian subjects - dance, caste, Parsee, democracy - but it inexorably engages many of the issues that vex Jahanbegloo's homeland, including tradition, pluralism, the West and freedom.

India will midwife the reborn American-Iranian relationship.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM



Fifty percent of all voters and 40 percent of Republicans say they don't know enough about Huckabee to say if they like him or not. Forty-one percent of voters and 32 percent of Republicans are clueless about Romney, while 15 percent overall and 8 percent of Republicans don't know enough about Giuliani to venture an opinion.

And what sank the Giuliani campaign is that what folks think they know about the Mayor--which is just arresting squeegee guys and having a good day on 9-11--turns out to be aberrational on further examination.

December 26, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:14 PM


Christianity and Liberty Defined (Steven Gillen, Religion & Liberty)

The key to reconciling Christianity and classical liberalism by means of reconciling their definitions of freedom can be found in the Christian understanding of human nature. Most Christians believe that, as the result of the Fall of Man, the bodies and souls, i.e., the natural and spiritual selves, of human beings were, to a great extent, divorced from and set against one another. From this dualistic perspective, it is logical to speak of two different kinds of freedom corresponding to the two types of human existence—natural freedom and spiritual freedom (akin to Hayek's “individual freedom” and “metaphysical freedom,” respectively).

Had the Fall not happened, there would be a dichotomy between neither spiritual freedom and natural freedom nor positive freedom and negative freedom. In a perfect world, negative freedom would still mean what Hayek maintained and would be the necessary condition for positive freedom. But positive freedom would mean the power of individuals to surrender their self-love for the love of God and the promotion of the welfare of others and would be the material realization of spiritual freedom in the Christian sense. Perfect freedom then would be complete spiritual freedom manifested in the material world in the form of positive freedom and permitted by the complete condition of negative freedom.

However, from a Christian perspective, the Fall did happen and the fully Christian society described by C. S. Lewis cannot exist outside a perfect world. Therefore, we must choose which definition of freedom, positive or negative, will underlie public policy in the City of Man, not the City of God. The issue most pertinent to this choice is not so much which definition of freedom, positive or negative, ought to be accepted as closer to the Christian ideal, but which definition in practice establishes the necessary though insufficient conditions for spiritual freedom that the state can uphold in the material world. Of the two definitions of freedom, only negative freedom establishes such practicable conditions since only freedom understood as the absence of coercion, the absence of fraud or force, can be proven by material standards and deterred or punished by material means.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 PM


Patriots' historic game to be available to all of America (AP, 12/26/07)

The New England Patriots' shot at history Saturday night will be available to every television viewer in the country after months of wrangling.

Their game against the New York Giants, in which the Patriots could become the first NFL team to go 16-0 in the regular season, was originally scheduled to be shown only on the NFL Network. Fewer than 40 percent of the nation's homes with TVs receive the channel.

The league announced Wednesday that the NFL Network feed will be simulcast on NBC and CBS.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 PM


Iran to Get Russian Anti-Missile Defense (ALI AKBAR DAREINI, 12/26/07, Associated Press)

Russia is preparing to equip Iran with a powerful new air defense system that would dramatically increase its ability to repel an attack, Iran's defense minister said Wednesday.

Ah, that fine Russian workmanship....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 PM


For those who use RSS, The Other Brother has set it up so you can get a comment feed:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 PM


Escaped tiger kills man at S.F. Zoo: Animal mauls two more victims before being shot to death by police. (Charles Piller and Tim Reiterman, 12/26/07, Los Angeles Times)

A tiger escaped from its enclosure in the San Francisco Zoo on Christmas Day, mauled one man to death and left two others seriously injured. The tiger was shot and killed by police after it charged officers.

A police spokesperson said the zoo was evacuated after the incident, which occurred late in the afternoon near the Terrace Cafe at the east end of the zoo. The zoo was being searched for other possible victims Tuesday evening, even though there were no missing person reports. Police helicopters circled the area with searchlights as ambulances stood by.

...someone got out of watching the rest of Everybody's All-American.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:18 PM


'Gen X is least prone to adultery' (IST, 25 Dec 2007)

The term Generation X may soon come to be known as "generation with no sex", with a research revealing that people who are currently aged between 20 and 40 are less prone to adultery and multiple sexual partners than generations before and after them.

The new research shows that adultery is less common among people born between 1965 and 1985. They are also likely to have fewer sexual partners than the generation either directly before or after them.

The research was conducted by Edward Laumann, the professor of sociology at the University of Chicago.

According to the scientists, these people are less inclined to believe in "free love", and place more emphasis on commitment due to the emergence of AIDS and a boom in divorces among their parents.

The 60s/70s bred contempt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:51 PM


Can Fred Win?: Huckabee has a headstart, but Thompson’s a strong finisher (Frank Cagle, 12/26/07, Knoxville Metro Pulse)

Favorite son Fred Thompson got into the presidential race running against Rudy Giuliani. Now he’s running against Mike Huckabee. The arc of this campaign keeps changing and now Fred finds himself in Iowa this holiday season fighting to stay in the race. [...]

Should Iowa voters get tired of the Romney-Huckabee slugfest, some of them are likely to turn to Thompson. Thompson’s picked up the endorsement of the most influential conservative congressman in Iowa, and he turned in an outstanding debate performance in Des Moines. Even normally critical pundits had to concede it.

So if the Huckabee momentum is significantly slowed in Iowa and Romney wins as had been expected for the past year, Huckabee lacks the momentum to do a lot of damage in New Hampshire. The Granite State has never been particularly kind to Southerners; that’s one reason Thompson hasn’t spent a lot of time there.

Should McCain turn out the independent vote and do really well in New Hampshire, it further undercuts the Huckabee boomlet. So when they get to South Carolina, Thompson may be back where he began, with South Carolina as his break-out state.

But there are a lot of ifs and buts in all this—and anything can happen. It’s why we let the people vote instead of letting the pollsters and the pundits pick the president.

When Thompson gets his ads on the air and hits his stride he can make up a lot of ground. So don’t give up on Fred. He started way behind and he started slowly in his first Senate race in Tennessee. But he came on in the end for a strong finish.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:46 PM


Beginning of a more beautiful friendship (Greg Sheridan, December 27, 2007, The Australian)

IT was good to see Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Afghanistan and Iraq with the Aussie troops just before Christmas. That is the right place for a leader to be. Rudd bolstered the troops' morale, showing them that we all care about them.

The trip also had geo-strategic purposes. In Iraq, Rudd is withdrawing our combat troops, but he underlined Canberra's continuing commitment to help Iraq, not least through military assets, and indeed help the US project in Iraq.

In Afghanistan, Rudd said Australia was committed "for the long haul" to fighting the Taliban.

These are admirable and important statements. They indicate clearly that, contrary to the wishes of some commentators, Rudd is not withdrawing from Australia's global engagement in security matters, including involvement in the Middle East.

It also means the US-Australia intimacy of recent years, especially the military intimacy and its all-important intelligence aspect, will continue.

What was he going to do, make Australia a vassal of China?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:44 PM


Console yourself and celebrate the genius of capitalism (Leo Lewis, December 27, 2007, The Australian)

AFTER a vile-tempered traipse across Tokyo, I finally laid hands on a Wii Fit Balance Board, and the store assistant slid it over the counter in a thick brown paper bag. It was horrible: the must-have toy of the season bundled discreetly like porn or hard liquor. "It's so people in the street don't see you managed to get the last one," muttered the sales girl, darkly.

Something else was wrong: I wasn't overjoyed, just relieved that the retail ordeal was over and oddly furious that, in this day and age, it had taken so much trouble to get what I wanted. "Why can't those clowns at Nintendo make an extra million more units?" fumed my shopping wing man, as if these machines could fly off a conveyor belt like tins of soup.

A million units? Can we really be spoiled this rotten? Has mass production truly lost its capacity to amaze? It is, after all, easy to overlook the wonders of capitalism at this time of year, when we feel like its servants. The true miracle of Christmas is not that you or I have beaten the crowds and triumphantly snapped up the last unit in the production run, but that a single one of these units exists at all.

Think of it as the globalization of brattiness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:38 PM


Appreciating Maddux, Glavine (Peter Gammons, December 26, 2007, ESPN)

In time, more names will come out, and some, like Roger Clemens, will have time to prove their innocence. But as we look askew at all the numbers and records and glory of "The Steroid Era," two men born three weeks apart in 1966, drafted in the same second round in 1984, and, ironically, paired for the infamous "chicks dig the long ball" commercial seem even greater today than they did when the 2007 season ended.

At this point in sports history, we cannot assume anyone's innocence, but no one has ever tied Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine to any scandal involving steroids, HGH or anything else. We have watched Maddux extend his career creating new pitches to mix with a fastball that on its good days hit 83 mph on the radar gun. And we have watched Glavine stoically speed-walk to 303 wins; only in the last two years has he adjusted to coming inside with his fastball and changeup and using his curveball better.

And here they are, without one question raised about whether or not they belong in Cooperstown. Before they retire in the next year or two, if they remain unquestioned, then their first-ballot elections may produce a higher percentage than one can now imagine. They will be held up as a couple of guys who won with resolution, creativity and guile in an era of power pitching and hitting.

As remarkable has been John Smoltz's ability to reinvent himself several times.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:32 PM


No ordinary candidate (Jeff Jacoby, December 26, 2007, Boston Globe)

WHEN HE ran for president eight years ago, John McCain was asked by an interviewer what he thought of the Confederate flag - a touchy topic in South Carolina, where at the time a debate was raging over whether the banner should continue to fly above the state capitol.

McCain answered from the heart: "As we all know, it's a symbol of racism and slavery." But his reply infuriated many South Carolina voters, and after the interview McCain's aides pushed him to undo the damage. So he let them draft a statement "clarifying" his position, and when reporters asked him about the flag in the days that followed, he made a show of pulling the paper from his pocket and reading his revised remarks. "As to how I view the flag," it began, "I understand both sides." It went on to acknowledge that some people may deem the flag "a symbol of slavery" - McCain's original, authentic opinion - but that "personally, I see the battle flag as a symbol of heritage."

By the fourth or fifth time the question came up, McCain later wrote in his 2002 memoir, "Worth the Fighting For" (coauthored with Mark Salter), he could have delivered the new response from memory.

"But I persisted with the theatrics of unfolding the paper and reading it as if I were making a hostage statement. I wanted to telegraph reporters that I really didn't mean to suggest I supported flying the flag, but political imperatives required a little evasiveness on my part. I wanted them to think me still an honest man, who simply had to cut a corner a little here and there so that I could go on to be an honest president. I think that made the offense worse. Acknowledging my dishonesty with a wink didn't make it less a lie. It compounded the offense. . . .

"I had not just been dishonest. I had been a coward, and I had severed my own interests from my country's. That was what made the lie unforgivable. All my heroes, fictional and real, would have been ashamed of me."

Now try, if you can, to imagine Hillary Clinton writing those words. Or Mitt Romney, or Mike Huckabee. Is it conceivable that John Edwards, who fiercely indicts the moral shortcomings of others, would ever speak so bluntly and harshly about his own? Would Ron Paul? Would Barack Obama? Among America's leading politicians, I cannot think of any who is so forthright about his own failings, or so willing to let the world see him struggle with his conscience.

Now McCain's second presidential campaign is in the midst of a remarkable revival.

Never underestimate the value--especially on the GOP side--of having run before.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


Ad money begins to trickle in for bloggers (Candice Choi, 12/26/07, The Associated Press)

Zach Brooks pocketed $1,000 this month blogging about the cheap lunches he discovers around midtown Manhattan ($10 or less, preferably greasy, and if he is lucky, served from a truck).

The site,, is just 18 months old and gets only about 2,000 readers daily, but it is already earning him enough each month for a weekend trip to the Caribbean - or in his case, more fat-filled culinary escapades in the city.

In the vast and varied world of blogging, Brooks is far from alone.

It is no longer unusual for blogs with just a couple thousand daily readers to earn nearly as many dollars a month. Helping fill the pockets of such bloggers are programs like Google's AdSense and many others that let individuals - not just major publications - tap into the rapidly growing pot of advertising dollars with a click of the mouse.

Found a thing on the web one time that values this blog at close to $150k, but we can't find anyone to buy it....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


Changing courses at the Food Network (Elizabeth Jensen, 12/26/07, The New York Times)

Industry executives are scratching their heads over why the network cancelled Emeril Live – which they speculate became too expensive for its softening ratings – without having a new deal in place, given the role his program played in the network's success.

Food Network executives assert that Lagasse, who declined to comment, remains a valued member of the family. "All good things come to an end, and it was time to do something new," said Brooke Johnson, the network's president. "Right now, we're figuring out what that something new is," she said.

The cancellation of Emeril Live comes at a time when the Food Network is undergoing a transformation. Having taken food and chefs from what was once the domain of low-key public television to new celebrity heights, the network finds itself trying to retain the considerable revenue generated by what has become big business, even as it faces competition from all sides.

The network's total day ratings have dipped to an average of 544,000 people from 580,000 a year ago. More significant, its signature weekend block of instructional programs, known collectively as "In the Kitchen," has lost 15 per cent of its audience in the last year, to 830,000 viewers on average. This has left the network owing refunds to advertisers, Johnson confirmed.

...they aren't spending over much on Giada's wardrobe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


Raise a glass of barley wine (Josh Rubin, 12/26/07, Toronto Star)

Picking up a bottle of Mill Street Barley Wine would be a good idea.

For one thing, it's clearly meant for sharing and sipping slowly, as it comes in a 500-millilitre ceramic bottle, and checks in at a hefty 10 per cent alcohol.

The rich, sweet, golden-coloured brew is made in the tradition of strong English ales first brewed by butlers for wealthy clients who wanted to impress friends. When you flip the top on the bottle, you'll be hit with a whiff of honey and caramelized fruit. The taste follows through on the promise of the beer's aroma. After notes of honey, caramel and even pineapple, there's a decent amount of hoppy bitterness on the finish.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


Busting Medical Myths Even Doctors Believe: No, your hair and nails don't grow after death, report says (Ed Edelson, 12/07, Business Week)

Somewhere in the back of your mind is the idea that you should drink at least eight glasses of water a day to stay healthy.

You may have nodded in agreement when someone mentioned scientific studies showing that, on average, you use just 10 percent of your brain.

And you may have lectured your children about the danger of reading in dim light, which could cause permanent eye damage.

None of this is true. But the ideas continue to circulate (and be believed even by some physicians), say Drs. Rachel Vreeman and Aaron Carroll of the Indiana University School of Medicine. They've taken the time and trouble in a two-page report in the Dec. 22-29 British Medical Journal to puncture seven such medical myths.

...that the end of smoking killed the myth that you have to wait an hour after lunch before going in swimming.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


The Romney backlash: Conservatives are coming home (Manchester Union-Leader, 12/26/07)

THERE IS A reason Mitt Romney has not received a single newspaper endorsement in New Hampshire. It's the same reason his poll numbers are dropping. He has not been able to convince the people of this state that he's the conservative he says he is.

Like a lot of people in New Hampshire, we wanted to believe Romney. We gave him the benefit of the doubt. We listened very carefully to his expertly rehearsed sales pitch. But in the end he didn't close the deal for us. Now, two weeks before the primary, the same is happening with voters.

Republicans and right-leaning independents in New Hampshire gave Romney a chance. His events have not been sparsely attended. Nor have they been scarce. He's made more campaign stops here this year than any other Republican, even John McCain.

And after a year of comparing Romney to McCain, of sizing up the two in person and in the media, Granite Staters are turning back to McCain. The former Navy pilot, once written off by the national media establishment, is now in a statistical dead heat with Romney here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Creative vigilantes: Magicians, chefs, and stand-up comics protect their creations without the law. What they can teach lawyers - and Congress - about the future of intellectual property. (Daniel B. Smith, December 23, 2007, Boston Globe)

LAST FEBRUARY, JOE ROGAN, the beefy host of the gross-out extravaganza "Fear Factor," got on the stage at the Los Angeles club The Comedy Store and unleashed a tirade against the comedian Carlos Mencia, who sat beside him on a stool, angrily protesting. According to Rogan, Mencia had been stealing other comedians' material for years, and the only way to stop him was by making his habits widely known. This Rogan did his best to achieve; shortly thereafter, he posted a video of the exchange - liberally peppered with indecencies and spliced with supporting material - on his website. From there it spread quickly over the Internet.

For most people who caught the Rogan-Mencia incident, it was little more than a minor entertainment - another B-celebrity dust-up. But for the legal scholar Christopher Sprigman, it was clear and hitherto ignored evidence that the country's recent approach to intellectual-property law has been wrongheaded.

Over the past 15 years, the rise of digital technology and the global economy has made it ever easier to copy, distribute, and profit from the fruits of other people's creativity - from the new Fergie album spreading across peer-to-peer networks to pirated "Spider-Man" DVDs showing up on the streets of Shanghai. In response, American lawmakers have instituted increasingly sweeping laws, seeking to stymie intellectual-property theft with lengthier copyright terms and more stringent consequences for violators. Without these measures, they reason, innovators will lose money, and innovation will suffer.

In something as simple as the public outcry of a Hollywood jokester, Sprigman, an associate professor of law at the University of Virginia, sees an approach that he hopes could put the lie to this thinking, and turn the heads of lawmakers. many of the folk who object to intellectual property rights are also the most offended by Kelo?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Calls for population controls selfish (Pamela Bone, December 21, 2007, The Australian)

Three of my grandmother's 11 children died in infancy. None of my mother's did. The reason the world's population suddenly ballooned in the 20th century was not that people started breeding like rabbits but that they stopped dying like flies. Indeed, the number of children born to each woman across the world has halved since the 1970s.

This does not stop the periodical panics about population growth. The latest, in response to debates about climate change, is a call for a carbon tax to be imposed on babies.

Writing in The Medical Journal of Australia, Barry Walters, an associate professor of obstetric medicine at the University of Western Australia, has proposed that families choosing to have more than a defined number of children should be charged a carbon tax, while people buying condoms or having sterilisation operations should receive carbon credits.

I am sure Walters is a very good obstetrician, but I don't think I would want him delivering my babies, especially the ones I had over the defined number. Does he swear "another bloody little consumer" under his breath every time he pulls one out?

There is no doubt more people means more consumption, more waste, more traffic, more congestion and more emissions of carbon dioxide. But there seems to me something selfish about the calls for curbs on population. I can be here on this earth but not you, unborn others.

Gaia demands blood.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


A Web Troll's Toll on the Clinton Campaign (T.W. FARNAM, December 24, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

In Norse mythology, trolls steal babies and leave their own shape-shifting offspring behind. On the Internet, they just steal attention.

As candidates increasingly use the Internet to build political bridges, their message boards have become homes for trolls, users of an online community who leave messages that are ideologically opposed, off-topic or off-color.

Brian O'Neill, a 33-year-old part-time bartender and full-time college student, has been marauding on Sen. Hillary Clinton's Web site for the past few months, even though his posts attacking the candidate are frequently scrubbed from the site within hours. Mr. O'Neill turned to Mrs. Clinton's site after being booted from online forums of former Sen. John Edwards, Sen. Barack Obama and the Democratic National Committee.

Although Mr. O'Neill says he isn't familiar with the term "troll," he has been labeled as one -- and not just once. [...]

Although the number of trolls can't be measured, they regularly haunt online political sites, which have mushroomed in recent years. Technorati, which follows blogging trends, now tracks 40,000 English-language politics blogs. "The ability of trolls to gain attention, to secure an audience, if ever briefly, is much greater than before," says Derek Gordon, a former vice president at the company.

Sites try various weapons to combat trolls. Campaign trolls popped up en masse in 2004 on Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean's Web site. Dean supporters batted them back with a "troll goal," donating money to the campaign's coffers each time they spotted an offending post. The supporters crowed about each sighting, eliminating the trolls' incentive to disrupt.

Most campaigns and individual bloggers invite readers to report offensive comments, and others approve each comment before it appears. At the liberal discussion Web site Daily Kos, "trusted users" can block people whose comments regularly offend members.

Daily Kos has another tactic: the recipe. When a troll attempts to start a conversation at that site, loyalists post recipes instead of engaging them. With so many trolls, the recipes have proliferated -- enough so that Daily Kos compiled a 144-page "Trollhouse Cookbook," including crab bisque inspired by President Bush's second inauguration and "Liberal Elite Cranberry Glazed Brie."

While that approach seems comical, the problem is real. Michael Lazzaro, a Daily Kos contributing editor who goes by "Hunter," says about 10 people are banned each week, but many return by setting up new accounts. One person, easily identified by his writing, has opened more than 100 accounts since 2005, he says. "He basically comments for awhile really nicely and then out of the blue he'll start ranting about women or Jews or something like that," Mr. Lazzaro says.

...they all eventually descend into genuine raving and obsessive behavior.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Never Mind the Mullahs: Iranian exile Marjane Satrapi (Vivienne Walt, November/December 2007, Mother Jones)

Published in 2003, Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical graphic novel Persepolis depicts Iran's recent history through the saucer eyes of a feisty girl whose childhood is upended by the 1979 Islamic revolution. At first, nine-year-old Marji is thrilled by the tumult around her, but as she enters adolescence she chafes under the restrictions of the new regime. Between art classes where chador-clad women pose as models, the teenage Satrapi and her friends secretly flirt, smoke dope, and swig homemade wine. You gotta love this girl: After convincing the fearsome female morality police not to lock her up for wearing a punk-rock jacket and a Michael Jackson button, she sneaks home, rips off her head scarf, and plays air guitar to a clandestine rock cassette. Persepolis' irreverence and acerbic wit made Satrapi a cult heroine among reformist Iranians and readers worldwide. One reviewer described her as "the Persian love child of [Art] Spiegelman and Lynda Barry." [...]

MJ: What led you to create Persepolis?

MS: I'd heard so many stupidities about my country since I left Iran. People had watched this stupid movie Not Without My Daughter [in which Sally Field plays an American who rescues her daughter from her estranged in-laws in Iran]; I heard so many things like that. I did not make Persepolis for Iranians. It was my answer to the rest of the world, to say, "Let me give you another point of view."

MJ: Is there a reason why this had to be a graphic novel?

MS: Writing is not for me. I completely lose my sense of humor when I write. I become extremely pathetic, very sensational. Images give me possibilities that I don't have with words. [...]

MJ: What do you make of the fact that you are so popular among Americans?

MS: I'm very happy about it. The U.S. is threatening Iran, and then here is this Iranian whom they love. There is no problem between people; the problem is on the political side.

MJ: Likewise, I am always amazed how many people in Iran have read the latest books coming out of the States, or have relatives in L.A., and so on.

MS: Absolutely. I think the most pro-Western country in that region is Iran. The government, no. But the people love Westerners.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Same Party, Different Style: Romney, Huckabee Present a Stark Choice For Iowa Republicans (LAURA MECKLER and ELIZABETH HOLMES, December 26, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

In Iowa, the Republican presidential race has come down to two former governors who offer caucus goers a stark choice. It's the pulpit vs. the boardroom, poverty vs. privilege, passion vs. preparedness.

Mike Huckabee loves homespun tales and self-deprecating jokes. Mitt Romney basks in PowerPoint slides and statistics. Mr. Huckabee, a firefighter's son, is a Southerner born and bred. Mr. Romney, son of a CEO-turned-governor, roamed from Michigan to Massachusetts to Utah.

They embody two wings of the Republican Party -- social conservatives and economic conservatives -- that sometimes sit uneasily.

Social conservatives have dominated the nomination process since it was made more democratic in the 60s, after decades of the Eastern establishment picking stiffs like Dewey. The only two exception were Ford in '76 and George H. W. Bush in '92, neither of which worked out very well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Traffic jam mystery solved by mathematicians: Mathematicians from the University of Exeter have solved the mystery of traffic jams by developing a model to show how major delays occur on our roads, with no apparent cause. (Physorg, 12/19/07)

Many traffic jams leave drivers baffled as they finally reach the end of a tail-back to find no visible cause for their delay.

Now, a team of mathematicians from the Universities of Exeter, Bristol and Budapest, have found the answer and published their findings in leading academic journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.

The team developed a mathematical model to show the impact of unexpected events such as a lorry pulling out of its lane on a dual carriageway. Their model revealed that slowing down below a critical speed when reacting to such an event, a driver would force the car behind to slow down further and the next car back to reduce its speed further still.

The result of this is that several miles back, cars would finally grind to a halt, with drivers oblivious to the reason for their delay. The model predicts that this is a very typical scenario on a busy highway (above 15 vehicles per km). The jam moves backwards through the traffic creating a so-called ‘backward travelling wave’, which drivers may encounter many miles upstream, several minutes after it was triggered.

On the bright side, people in cars deserve to be stuck.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Stunningly Silent: Into Great Silence reaches into the depth of monastic life (Thomas Hibbs, 12/21/07, National Review)
Nietzsche once trenchantly quipped that “...our modern noisy, time-consuming industriousness, proud of itself, stupidly proud, educates and prepares people more than anything else does, precisely for unbelief.”The truth in that statement is perhaps never more on display than during the Christmas season. Slogans urging us to “keep Christ in Christmas,” or “recall the reason for the season,” sound about as hollow as the Christmas jingles that reverberate in our ears every time we enter a store. Those in search of an antidote might consider watching the newly released DVD Into Great Silence, Philip Groening’s movingly observed study of the daily lives of Carthusian monks at La Grande Chartreuse, founded in the French Alps in 1084.

A prize winner at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, the film has received universal acclaim for its minimalist style, its cinematography and especially its attentiveness to the spiritual dimension of existence to which the Carthusian life aspires. Given that contemporary entertainment fosters an attention deficit in all of us and that the film makes no effort to provide even the scaffolding of a plot, this is not, initially at least, an easy film to watch. But as it unfolds, the virtue of taking one’s time becomes evident. The virtue is most profoundly captured in one of the texts interspersed through the film: “Behold the silence that allows the Lord to speak a word in us: That He is.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM

BIRDS DO IT (via The Mother Judd):

Birds, Bugs Named as Steroid Users! (NATALIE ANGIER, 12/25/07, NY Times)

I am a baseball fan of the most fitful and narrow-minded sort. I love the Yankees, but really only when they’re winning, I hate the Red Sox, especially when they’re winning, and the other teams, as far as I’m concerned, can all go take a whiff.

Nevertheless, I care enough about the future of America’s beloved pastime to offer players who have been accused of using anabolic steroids, human growth hormone and other disreputable performance-enhancing drugs some exciting new excuses, culled from the behavioral and pharmaceutical annals of the nonhuman community. Among them: (a) this stuff isn’t for me, it’s for my wife, and any minute now I’ll explode out the contents of my stomach to give it to her; (b) this stuff isn’t mine, it belongs to the poor slob I pretended to befriend and then killed and ate; and (c) don’t blame me — my first dope pusher was my mother.

Frown though we may on steroid-style supplementation as cheating, or as competitiveness taken to unsporting and unnatural extremes, in nature such pious niceties do not apply.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


On eve of disaster, joy for retailers: Final shopping days before Christmas bring turnaround (ANNE D'INNOCENZIO, 12/25/07, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Just weeks ago, the holiday shopping season seemed headed for disaster. But in the waning hours before Christmas, the nation's retailers got their wish -- a last-minute surge of shopping that helped meet their modest sales goals, according to data released late Monday by research firm ShopperTrak RCT Corp.

And with post-Christmas shopping to come, some malls and stores were downright optimistic.

While consumers jammed stores at the start of the season in search of discounts and hot items such as Nintendo Co.'s Wii game console, a challenging economy prompted them to hold out until the end for bigger discounts.

Consumers aren't cheap, just smart.

December 25, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


Anarchists in the Aisles? Stores Provide a Stage (IAN URBINA, 12/24/07, NY Times)

This is the season of frenetic shopping, but for a devious few people it’s also the season of spirited shopdropping.

Otherwise known as reverse shoplifting, shopdropping involves surreptitiously putting things in stores, rather than illegally taking them out, and the motivations vary.

Anti-consumerist artists slip replica products packaged with political messages onto shelves while religious proselytizers insert pamphlets between the pages of gay-and-lesbian readings at book stores.

Self-published authors sneak their works into the “new releases” section, while personal trainers put their business cards into weight-loss books, and aspiring professional photographers make homemade cards — their Web site address included, of course — and covertly plant them into stationery-store racks.

“Everyone else is pushing their product, so why shouldn’t we?” said Jeff Eyrich, a producer for several independent bands, who puts stacks of his bands’ CDs — marked “free” — on music racks at Starbucks whenever the cashiers look away.

Though not new, shopdropping has grown in popularity in recent years, especially as artists have gathered to swap tactics at Web sites like, and groups like the Anti-Advertising Agency, a political art collective, do training workshops open to the public.

Consumerism isn't anti-consumerism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:48 AM


Feds won't enforce rule on firing illegal immigrants (MARY LOU PICKEL, 12/25/07, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Employers will get a pass this year on rules that would have required firing illegal immigrants.

The Social Security Administration says it will not mail out "no-match" letters this year to more than 138,000 employers nationwide.

Immigrant Crackdown Falls Short: Despite Tough Rhetoric, Few Employers of Illegal Workers Face Criminal Charges (Spencer S. Hsu, 12/25/07, Washington Post)
In its announced clampdown on companies that hire illegal workers, the federal government has arrested nearly four times as many people in the past year as it did two years ago, but only a tiny fraction of those arrests involved criminal charges against those who hired the workers, according to a year-end tally prepared by the Department of Homeland Security.

Fewer than 100 owners, supervisors or hiring officials were arrested in fiscal 2007, compared with nearly 4,900 arrests that involved illegal workers, providers of fake documents and others, the figures show. Immigration experts say the data illustrate the Bush administration's limited success at delivering on its rhetoric about stopping illegal hiring by corporate employers.

We can hardly wait until this time next year when the President issues a blanket pardon for illegals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


As Cuba's economy withers, its ecology thrives (Cornelia Dean, December 25, 2007, IHT)

Through accidents of geography and history, Cuba is a priceless ecological resource. That is why many scientists are so worried about what will become of it after Fidel Castro and his associates leave power and, as is widely anticipated, the American government relaxes or ends its trade embargo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


'National Treasure' takes in the loot (Tirdad Derakhshani, 12/25/07, Philadelphia Inquirer)

National Treasure: Book of Secrets, with Nicolas Cage back to star in the sequel to Disney's 2004 surprise hit, unlocked the wallets of moviegoers over the weekend and came away with enough loot to lead box-office sweepstakes with a take of $45.5 million.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Questions and Answers About Americans’ Religion (Frank Newport, 12/24/07, Gallup)

This time of year provides an opportunity to answer frequently asked questions about exactly where America stands today in regard to religion, based on Gallup's extensive archives.

Christmas is obviously a Christian holiday. But what percentage of Americans today identify with a Christian religion?

About 82% of Americans in 2007 told Gallup interviewers that they identified with a Christian religion. That includes 51% who said they were Protestant, 5% who were "other Christian," 23% Roman Catholic, and 3% who named another Christian faith, including 2% Mormon.

Because 11% said they had no religious identity at all, and another 2% didn't answer, these results suggest that well more than 9 out of 10 Americans who identify with a religion are Christian in one way or the other.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Is this the fabric of the universe?: Roger Highfield describes a heroic mathematical enterprise that could lay bare the fundamentals of the cosmos (Roger Highfield, 3/19/07, Daily Telegraph)

"The group of symmetries of this strange geometry called E8 is one of the most intriguing structures that Nature has left for the mathematician to play with," commened Prof Marcus du Sautoy of Oxford University, currently in Auckland. "Most of the time mathematical objects fit into nice patterns that we can order and classify. But this one just sits there like a huge Everest."

What makes this group of symmetries so exciting is that Nature also seems to have embedded it at the heart of many bits of physics. One interpretation of why we have such a quirky list of fundamental particles is because they all result from different facets of the strange symmetries of E8. I find it rather extraordinary that of all the symmetries that mathematician’s have discovered, it is this exotic exceptional object that Nature has used to build the fabric of the universe. The symmetries are so intricate and complex that today’s announcement of the complete mapping of E8 is a significant moment in our exploration of symmetry."

For the feat, the team used a mix of theoretical mathematics and intricate computer programming to successfully map E8, (pronounced "E eight") which is an example of a Lie (pronounced "Lee") group. Lie groups were invented by the 19th century Norwegian mathematician Sophus Lie to study symmetry.

Underlying any symmetrical object, such as a sphere, is a Lie group. Balls, cylinders or cones are familiar examples of symmetric three-dimensional objects. Today’s feat rests on the drive by mathematicians to study symmetries in higher dimensions. E8 is the symmetries of a geometric object that is 57-dimensional. E8 itself is 248-dimensional.

"E8 was discovered over a century ago, in 1887, and until now, no one thought the structure could ever be understood," said Prof Jeffrey Adams, Project Leader, at the University of Maryland. "This groundbreaking achievement is significant both as an advance in basic knowledge, as well as a major advance in the use of large scale computing to solve complicated mathematical problems."

"This is an exciting breakthrough," said Prof Peter Sarnak at Princeton University. "Understanding and classifying the representations of E8 and Lie groups has been critical to understanding phenomena in many different areas of mathematics and science including algebra, geometry, number theory, physics and chemistry. This project will be invaluable for future mathematicians and scientists."

The ways that E8 manifests itself as a symmetry group are called representations.

Because we all believe that Creation is a product of the Logos.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


Carving the turkey like a 1791 gentleman (Nick Britten, 24/12/2007, Daily Telegraph)

For anyone who finds the very prospect of carving a turkey tomorrow brings them out in a sweat, help is at hand.

A 200-year-old book has recently been discovered detailing the traumas faced by the head of the table when preparing and carving the bird, and giving crucial advice on how to get it right and impress your guests.

It says manners and etiquette are vital, and the ability to carve with "ease and grace" gains great respect among fellow diners.

Boiled cod's head?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


A Child's Special Gift (Dr. Paul Kengor, December 25, 2007, Townhall)

Among the more egregious communist affronts on religion in Czechoslovakia was the state's notorious anti-religious indoctrination of school children, which was in full swing well into the late 1970s. Karl Marx was hailed as the new messiah. Vaclav Havel, who went to jail in protest of such nonsense, dubbed this unceasing campaign of mendacity "the communist culture of the lie." It was what Mikhail Gorbachev had in mind when he acknowledged that "atheism took rather savage forms" in the communist world.

As for Joseph Pekara, however, he lived to see better times. He watched communism's collapse, and lived long enough to import some of his own ideals to America, including a little something to remember fondly this special time of year.

Like the man who made him that prize possession, Joseph likewise grew to make wooden crafts, wanting to harness the joy of his childhood and share it with other children. Ultimately, among his final signature, masterpiece works is an intricate, animated, wood-carved village, 17-feet x 6-feet x 8-feet, with 82 life-like moving figures, that today rests at the Slovak Folk Crafts ( shop in Grove City, Pennsylvania, owned by Anne and Dave Dayton. The remarkable old-time village-a marvel of old-time engineering-depicts folk life as it existed in Western Slovakia for centuries. It was carefully transplanted to Western Pennsylvania in sections, and is believed to be the largest animated woodcarving in the United States. The final section was completed just six weeks before Joseph died in April 2005.

Joseph today lives on in that model, and does so especially at Christmas. That's because the genesis of the display was Christmas-a crèche. The village was constructed around a rightful centerpiece: a manger scene-an image once verboten in many villages in Joseph's country during the communist occupation.

But there's more to the story.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 AM


Christmas Tree Survives War, A-Bomb (ERIC TALMADGE, 12/21/07, Associated Press)

Warren Nobuaki Iwatake's family has seen more than its share of calamity.

When he was still a child his father was lost at sea off Hawaii. With no breadwinner, his family was forced to move to Japan, where Iwatake was drafted during the war. He lost a brother when the bomb fell on Hiroshima.

But through it all one thing has remained constant.

The tree.

His parents bought it in 1937, and his family has brought it out every Christmas since, without fail, even when that meant risking arrest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Rockin' — and swingin' and swayin' — around the Christmas tree: Best holiday CDs (Patrick MacDonald, 11/23/06, Seattle Times)

"Christmas Is 4 Ever," Bootsy Collins (Shout). Have a funky Christmas with Bootsy, baby! He brings his own brand of fun to the holidays with this seamless, 13-song collection that plays like a seasonal audio spectacular, with plenty of humor, sentimentality, nostalgia and his usual winking sexiness. "I'm coming down your chimney" and "All lit up by the Christmas tree" take on new meaning when delivered with Bootsy's familiar oily charm. Snoop Dogg is as funny as ever as guest star on the new song, "Happy Holidaze." Some other guests phone in their performances — literally. Those phone messages sound out of place, but the rest of the disc is a kick. [...]

"How Cool Is That Christmas," Rachael Ray (Epic). She's everywhere! So it's no surprise that Ms. Ubiquitous has a seasonal product in the stores. This compilation is pretty good and has lots of variety, with cuts from Elvis Presley, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin and Doris Day. There's jazz from Jane Monheit, humor from Buster Poindexter, kitsch via the Bing Crosby/David Bowie oddity, "Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth," and a silly song strictly for kids, Lou Monte's "Dominick the Donkey." [...]

"Elvis Christmas," Elvis Presley (RCA/Sony). What's Christmas without Elvis? And with this new collection, you get it all on one CD — the 1957 "Elvis' Christmas Album" and 1971's "Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas," 23 cuts in all. The songs have been digitally remastered and sound great. Merry Christmas, baby!

[originally posted: 12/24/06]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Christmas brings joy � if you don�t buy into it: Study shows religion not shopping makes you happy as gift-giving declines amongst friends (Jenifer Johnston and Mona McAlinden, 07 December 2003, Sunday Herald)

A new academic study has found that those who celebrate the Christian trappings of Christmas feel far better than those who worship at the altar of crass materialism.

�Religious people seem to have a greater purpose in life, which is why they are happier,� says Dr Stephen Joseph of the University of Warwick, who carried out the survey.

Joseph marked his interviewees on what made them optimistic, unhappy and stressed. �We used a general sample of people � some were rich, some poor, some religious, some not. People who strive for materialistic things at the expense of other intrinsic things such as friends or family were the unhappiest. Christmas straddles both sides of the problem � you are buying a lot of material things and overlooking the Christian message.�

On the streets yesterday there was little sign that shoppers would take that message to their hearts. After a reportedly slow start, the build up to Christmas seems to be gathering steam.

Yes, well, the cost of being happy is far higher than the cost of stuff, isn't it? You have to believe in that purpose higher than yourself.

(Originally posted: 12/07/03)

December 24, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:50 PM


Rudolph and Santa, as Good as New (BRENDA GOODMAN, 12/23/06, NY Times)

Since Dec. 8, visitors have been flocking to see Rudolph and Santa Claus at the Center for Puppetry Arts here, where they will be on display until Jan. 13. [...]

Shortly after “Rudolph” was completed, the tiny Rudolph and Santa puppets were taken home by a Rankin-Bass employee. She gave them to her children, who fed Rudolph crayons and red Play-Doh. Over time, his glowing red nose was lost and his felt fur deteriorated. Santa’s fluffy white eyebrows and half his mustache vanished.

In 2005, the nephew of the original rescuer found the puppets in a family attic and brought them to be appraised on the PBS series “Antiques Roadshow.” Created for about $5,000 each in 1964, they were valued at $8,000 to $10,000 for the pair. The family sold both figures to Kevin A. Kriess, the president of and a lifelong fan of the Rankin-Bass films. Mr. Kriess declined to reveal the purchase price, but said he had promised the family he would restore the puppets and show them publicly.

For restoration, he turned to another stop-motion studio, Screen Novelties, in Los Angeles. There, Robin Walsh, a puppet maker, ordered kid mohair for Santa’s beard, consulted museum restoration experts for the best ways to clean painted wood and grimy wool, and discovered, by freezing frames from “Rudolph,” that Santa’s mouth had once been painted. The broken lead wires in the puppets’ arms and legs also needed to be replaced.

The hardest thing, Ms. Walsh said, was getting over her fear of handling the puppets.

“I was holding my childhood in my hands,” she said.

Here's how much things have changed: believe it or not, I had the only color tv in our freshman dorm (1979) and we ended with around 45 people in there watching Rudolph--a crowd matched only by the US-Finland gold medal game and the telecast of Bob Hope at Colgate.

Found a set of little molded-plastic ornaments for $5 at CVS the other day and they took pride of place on our tree.

[originally posted: 2006-12-23]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 PM


Chávez Faces Challenge From Former Comrade (JOSÉ DE CÓRDOBA, December 24, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

Venezuela's political future is shaping up as a battle between two former comrades-in-arms: President Hugo Chávez and former defense minister Raúl Baduel, one of Mr. Chávez's closest friends going back to their days together in the barracks.

In recent weeks, Mr. Baduel has emerged as perhaps the most significant rival to Mr. Chávez since he became president in 1999. The 52-year-old retired general was instrumental in tilting public opinion against Mr. Chávez's attempts to rewrite the constitution to give himself greater powers, including the right to unlimited re-election. Along with allies in the military, he is widely seen as having pressured Mr. Chávez to concede defeat in a Dec. 2 referendum on the changes.
[Raul Baduel]

Mr. Baduel's rise could constrain Mr. Chávez's well-known twin ambitions to stay in power for good and turn the world's sixth-biggest oil exporter into a Cuban-style socialist state. His opposition to Mr. Chávez also seems to reflect some dissatisfaction with the president within the armed forces. The president has politicized the military, forced tasks upon it such as running soup kitchens instead of preparing for battle and changed its traditional view of the world -- turning its longtime ally, the U.S., into its main foe.

Mr. Baduel's role on the night after the vote is fast becoming the stuff of legend in Venezuela. The country's electoral commission dragged its feet for hours in announcing the results. Shortly after midnight, Venezuelan TV showed soldiers preventing opposition representatives from entering the vote-counting hall, sparking rumors that Mr. Chávez was planning to rig the vote.

Then Mr. Baduel appeared on television, wearing a windbreaker and surrounded by grim-faced aides. "For the good of the country, the [election agency] cannot yield to any pressures which could lead to undesired situations," said Mr. Baduel, whose 36-year military career included stints in elite parachute, jungle and antiguerrilla units. His message was clear: Fraud could lead to civil war. Minutes later, the electoral commission stunned the country by announcing that Mr. Chávez had lost -- the first electoral defeat for the seemingly invincible president. Immediately it made Mr. Baduel a key player in shaping the country's future.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:23 PM


Freethinkers lead lives without religion: The Christmas season has a decidedly non-Christian theme for some people in the Duluth area. The Lake Superior Freethinkers gather each month to talk about society, morality, and life without religion. Most are decidedly atheist, or, at best, agnostic. (Bob Kelleher, December 22, 2002, Minnesota Public Radio)
Three retired gentlemen share fresh coffee and light conversation at Bill Van Druten's kitchen table. A lush houseplant stretches in the kitchen sunshine. It sparkles with a handful of holiday trinkets and small decorations. That's as "Chistmassy" as Van Druten gets, since he's decidedly non-Christian -- and non any other religion as well.

Van Druten is an atheist. To him, Noah's Ark, Jesus and miracles are as much myth as Zeus and Thor.

Van Druten says it's "a little shocking" that some people assume eveyone is religious. Good Christians, Muslims, or Hindus might be inclined to hide their children when Van Druten's around, but he says the Freethinkers aren't much of a danger. They're not trying to convert anyone.

"It isn't a question of converting anybody," Van Druten says. "But we're interested in anybody that recognizes the superstitious nature and problems that religion bring to us now. We're interested in getting that word out, but it isn't a proselytizing sort of thing." [...]

Many Freethinkers hold membership in activist organizations of atheists, humanists, or rationalists. Retired art teacher Dale Hagen belongs to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which fights religious intrusion into government.

So much for not imposing their views. (Originally Posted: 12/26/02)
Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:03 PM


Keeping the faith in China (By James Reynolds, 12/25/07, BBC News)

At an underground church service in China, you pray as quickly as you can - and hope the police do not come running in.

At the end of an alleyway in the north of Beijing, 40 Chinese Christians gather in a small classroom. At the beginning of the service, they bow their heads and pray.

Their priest, Zhang Minxuan, stands in front of them. Twenty years ago he was a barber with no interest in religion. Then he got into trouble with the Communist Party and was jailed. After that he became a Christian.

Since then he has led an underground church and been detained a dozen times.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 PM


‘Nuts' for Christmas (WILL FRIEDWALD, December 18, 2006, NY Sun)

Jazz musicians have never lacked for genius at interpreting the great Christmas songs, from Benny Goodman's swinging "Jingle Bells," to Louis Armstrong's heartfelt reading of "The Night Before Christmas," to Duke Ellington's radical rethinking of "The Nutcracker Suite." Yet surprisingly few jazz composers, even among those who worked mainly in song form, have written a memorable Christmas song. Perhaps the most famous example of Christmas music that has been part of the jazz domain from the ground up is the remarkable score written by the pianist Vince Guaraldi for the 1965 animated television special "A Charlie Brown Christmas," which has now been reissued in a deluxe edition with bonus tracks and alternate takes on Fantasy Records.

Like the Raymond Scott themes heard in vintage Looney Tunes and the Broadway-styled scores of the classic Disney musicals, Guaraldi's distinctive melodies are known to several generations.

[originally posted: 2006-12-18]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 PM


My Falling Trade Deficit with Safeway (John Tamny, 12/19/07, Real Clear Markets)

In his book Labyrinths of Prosperity, Canadian economist Reuven Brenner professed that, "Macroeconomics is a tautology and a myth, a dangerous one at that, sustaining the illusion that prosperity is necessarily linked with territory, national units, and government spending in general."

Perhaps nowhere is the absurdity of macroeconomics more apparent than in the discussion of the trade deficit. To read the vast majority of media accounts concerning the number, a country is better off economically if its trade deficit is falling, while it faces future economic pain if its deficit is rising.

The problem here is that countries do not for the most part engage in trade. Individuals trade with other individuals, and once that reality is considered, the very notion of a deficit when it comes to the beneficial exchange of goods becomes ridiculous.

While the word brainwashing is perhaps too extravagant when applied to the notion of trade deficits, it could be said that readers of the mainstream media have been bombarded so consistently and so long about the major negatives of trade imbalances, that the debate is now settled. Our alleged trade imbalances will eventually destroy our economy.

The above idea makes for good headlines, but if we as individuals stop and think about how we go about our daily lives, we’ll quickly see that what has the media and many economists so hot and bothered is quite irrelevant. It is, because in the end, all trade must balance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:29 PM


Liberals' efforts to purge 'Christmas' have backfired (MARK STEYN, December 26, 2004, Chicago SUN-TIMES)

A few Decembers back, I was in Santa Claus, Ind., and went to the post office -- a popular destination thanks to its seasonal postmark.

''Merry Christmas!'' I said provocatively.

But Postmistress Sandy Colyon was ready for me. ''A week ago,'' she said, ''I'd have had to say 'Happy Holidays,' but we've been given a special dispensation from the postmaster-general allowing us to say 'Merry Christmas.' So Merry Christmas!''

That's ''Christmas'' at the dawn of the third millennium -- a word you have to get a special memo from the head office authorizing the use thereof. There was more hoo-ha than usual this ''holiday season'' about the war to expunge the C-word from American vocabularies, and, now that we can stick the bland nullity of ''Happy Holidays!'' away in the closet until the start of Ramadan 2005, it's worth considering who are the real winners and losers in this struggle. [...]

Flipping the dial on my car radio, I noticed more stations than ever were playing nonstop 24-hour ''holiday music'' for the month before C-day -- not just ''Winter Wonderland'' and ''Jingle Bell Rock,'' but Bing and Frank doing ''Go Tell It On The Mountain'' and Andy Williams singing ''O Holy Night.'' And not just the old guys, but all the current fellows, especially the country singers: Garth Brooks' new album -- "The Magic Of Christmas" -- includes ''Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!'' but also ''Baby Jesus Is Born'' and ''O Little Town Of Bethlehem.''

The seasonally litigious rest their fanatical devotion to the de-Christification of Christmas on the separation of church and state. America's founders were certainly opposed to the ''establishment'' of religion, whose meaning is clear enough to any Englishman: The new republic did not want President George Washington serving simultaneously as supreme governor of the Church of America, as the queen today is simultaneously head of the Church of England, or the bishop of Virginia sitting in the U.S. Senate, as today the archbishop of York sits in the House of Lords. Two centuries on, these possibilities are so remote to Americans that the ''separation'' of church and state has dwindled down to threats of legal action over red and green party napkins.

But every time some sensitive flower pulls off a legal victory over the school board, who really wins? For the answer to that, look no further than last month's election results. Forty years of ACLU efforts to eliminate God from the public square have led to a resurgent, evangelical and politicized Christianity in America. By ''politicized,'' I don't mean that anyone who feels his kid should be allowed to sing ''Silent Night'' if he wants to is perforce a Republican, but only that year in, year out, it becomes harder for such folks to support a secular Democratic Party closely allied with the anti-Christmas militants. American liberals need to rethink their priorities: What's more important? Winning a victory over the New Jersey kindergarten teacher's holiday concert, or winning back Congress and the White House?

In Britain and Europe, by contrast, the formal and informal symbols of religious faith remained in place in national life and there were no local equivalent to America's militant litigants, and the result is the total collapse of Christianity: Across the continent, the churches are empty.

It goes without saying that the Founders were geniuses, but were even they smart enough to just include the Establishment Clause as a trap to entagle the godless?

(Originally posted: 12/26/04)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:07 PM


You can track Santa via Norad again this year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:04 PM


ESR's Twelfth Annual Person of the Year (Enter Stage Right)

It's that time of year again! We want to know who you think made the biggest impact during 2007!

Last year's winners were none other than U.S. President George W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper...Who will it be this year? (See below for a complete list of winners.)

All you have to do is tell us their name and a few good reasons why you think your nominee should be named the ESR Person of the Year for 2007. Only one entry per person, multiple submissions will be deleted. Nominations will be accepted until December 31, 2007 and the results will be posted January 7, 2007.

We Nominated: Seif al-Islam

"The rapid transformation of Libya from within is setting an example for how other pariah states can get right with the West."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:48 PM


Jazz legend Oscar Peterson dies (BBC, 12/24/07)

Jazz pianist and composer Oscar Peterson has died of kidney failure at his home in Toronto, at the age of 82.

Peterson was one of jazz's most recorded musicians, and was famous for his fast-playing virtuoso style.

He made more than 200 albums and won eight Grammy awards, including a lifetime achievement honour in 1997.

He released his first single at the age of 19 and performed with greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and Nat "King" Cole.

-WIKIPEDIA: Oscar Peterson
Canadian jazz great Oscar Peterson dies
(CBC News, 12/24/07)
-100 Jazz Profiles: Oscar Peterson (BBC Radio 3)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:15 PM


The only Iran war is within Iran: UN concern over repression in Iran is a signal that the regime's worst enemy isn't the US but itself (CS Monitor, December 20, 2007)

But the hard evidence is that Iran's 70 million people – two-thirds of whom are younger than 33 years old – are alienated from their government and tired of nearly three decades of "revolution" with little to show for it. They also resent the reckless, wasteful spending of billions of dollars in oil revenues.

Public frustrations could explode in the lead-up to March elections for parliament or the 2009 presidential vote. Riots erupted last June, for instance, when subsidized gasoline prices were raised.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:09 AM


Romney slipping in New Hampshire (Maeve Reston, 12/24/07, Los Angeles Times)

As recently as last week, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney seemed to be holding a secure lead in New Hampshire, even as he was losing ground to rival Mike Huckabee in Iowa.

But a Boston Globe survey released Sunday showed that the former Massachusetts governor's numbers were slipping in the Northeast as well: Romney, the poll said, now holds a three percentage point lead over Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in New Hampshire, down from 15 points in November.

The threat to Romney's early state strategy -- which aimed for a 1-2 victory in Iowa Jan. 3 and and New Hampshire Jan. 8 -- appears serious enough that Romney has started criticizing McCain by name at a time when most campaigns are trying to stay positive.

Maverick is running ads, like one featuring Curt Schilling, that play up his POW status and scrappiness, which meshes perfectly with his battling "comeback." For Mr. Romney to opt for the bitchy sense of entitlement theme seems dubious tactically.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM


Romney Strategy in Peril With Huckabee's Ascent: Bid for Early States Appears in Jeopardy (Michael D. Shear, 12/24/07, Washington Post)

It was then that Romney put in motion his strategy to become president: Win Iowa and New Hampshire by wooing fiscal and social conservatives, and use that momentum to overwhelm the competition in the primaries that followed. But with less than two weeks before Iowans vote, that strategy is in danger of unraveling because former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has seized the conservative mantle and has emerged as the front-runner. His sudden rise in the past month -- sparked by passionate support from the same Christian conservatives Romney has been unable to win over -- has raised questions about Romney's strategy.

"In Iowa, someone was always going to challenge Romney as a conservative alternative," said GOP consultant Scott Reed, who managed Robert J. Dole's presidential campaign in 1996. "Huckabee has caught the eyes of social conservatives in Iowa, and the issue is if they have grown enough in numbers to deliver a win."

Romney's advisers bristle at the notion that he could have run his campaign differently. They are particularly sensitive to charges that the former governor changed his positions on abortion, immigration and gay rights to be more in tune with Republican voters, particularly in Iowa.

There's a reason neophytes don't often win the GOP nomination.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


-BAND SITE: Flight of the Conchords
-SHOW SITE: Flight of the Conchords (HBO)
-MYSPACE: Flight of the Conchords
-INFO: Flight of the Conchords (IMDB)
-REVIEW ARCHIVES: Flight of the Conchords (Metacritic)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Giuliani hits rocky stretch as vote nears (Adam Nagourney, December 24, 2007, NY Times)

Rudolph Giuliani has entered a turbulent period in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, marked by what his aides acknowledge are missteps, sharp shifts in strategy and evidence that reports about his personal life have hurt his national standing.

A $3 million investment in radio and television advertising in New Hampshire, a belated effort to become competitive in this state, is now viewed by the campaign as a largely wasted expenditure.

Reality seldom has much effect on political myth, but the party's repudiation of Mayor Giuliani and Governor Romney and the rise of Governor Huckabee and Senators McCain and Thompson ought to dispel the notions that the preferences of the Establishment and the money factor have much influence on the nomination.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 AM


The Year of Acting Dangerously (Barry Rubin, December 23, 2007, GLORIA)

While 2007 didn't greatly change the Middle East compared to some of its predecessors, here are some of its significant trends which will continue to dominate the year to come.

1. Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. This is the most important single Middle East event of 2007 because it is a clear, probably irreversible, shift in the balance of power. Four decades of a movement dominated by nationalists has come to an end. Given Fatah's continuing weaknesses it is conceivable that Hamas will take over the West Bank within a few years and marginalize its rival. To Islamists, this is a great victory. In fact, it is a disaster for Palestinians and Arabs. It deepens divisions and destroys any real (as opposed to the silly superficial events that take up governments' time and media space) diplomatic option for them. A negotiated resolution of the Arab-Israeli or Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and with it prospects for a Palestinian state, has been set back for decades. Much Western sympathy has been lost. In years to come, struggles between Arab nationalists and Islamists, as well as between Sunnis and Shias, will dwarf the Arab-Israeli conflict. During 2008 we will have to assess whether the Palestinian Authority still ruling the West Bank can meet the Hamas challenge.

Kind of a bizarre notion that the future of Israel and the prosperity of Palestinians would be better secured by a triumph of nationalism/socialism than by Abrahamism, but there's no chance of the PLO defeating Hamas in the long run precisely because it can't satisfy basic human desires. Indeed, Israeli/American attempts to impose such a regime only serve to legitimize the worst sorts of hatreds of the West.

December 23, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 PM


Romney in fight to keep hopes alive in Iowa race (Finlay Lewis, 12/23/07, COPLEY NEWS SERVICE)

Evangelical conservatives are expected to constitute more than 40 percent of the Republican caucus-goers on Jan. 3. They have been a major factor in powering the former Arkansas governor past Romney in many Iowa polls and have helped lift him to the top tier of GOP presidential candidates nationally.

Their movement into the Huckabee camp is a big reason Romney now finds himself fighting to keep his presidential hopes alive in Iowa after months of running a textbook campaign rooted in his own formidable financial and personal assets. [...]

Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University, said in an interview that Romney suffers by comparison with Huckabee, whose years in the pulpit helped hone a folksy style that connects with voters. Goldford suggested what Romney says on the stump often sounds “canned.”

“Romney, at times, comes across as though he's briefing the board on the latest corporate venture even when he's trying to sound personable,” Goldford said. “He just can't get away from corporate-speak.”

Also, Romney's changing positions on social issues such as abortion – he is now opposed – have some questioning his core values.

The stakes in Iowa are huge given that Romney has bet his candidacy on back-to-back victories in the Iowa caucuses and the nation's first primary five days later in New Hampshire. He and his strategists hope that will generate irresistible momentum for subsequent contests in South Carolina and Florida leading up to the Feb. 5 showdown when large states stretching from California to New York hold primaries.

Some analysts say a loss to Huckabee in Iowa, particularly if it's by a substantial margin, could complicate Romney's prospects in New Hampshire despite leading in most polls there.

The consequences could be magnified by the David-and-Goliath nature of the campaign. Huckabee is being outspent on Iowa television ads by a nearly 10-to-1 ratio and counting on the intensity of his evangelical supporters to make up for the advantages of Romney's well-financed statewide organization.

Just anecdotally, we've been doing the Christmas concert and party rounds and it's really striking how little passion any candidate on either side provokes. One of the most frequent comments though is folks criticizing Mr. Romney as too plastic. He's the GOP version of John Edwards.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 PM


Pelosi's first year as House speaker marked by little change on war (Zachary Coile, 12/23/07, SF Chronicle)

[B]y Wednesday afternoon, her party was facing two of its biggest defeats. To keep the alternative minimum tax from hitting 20 million Americans next year, Democrats had to abandon their pledge not to pass any legislation that increased the deficit.

Then Pelosi, whose party took control of Congress pledging to change course in Iraq, watched the House approve $70 billion in war funding, part of a budget deal that avoided a government shutdown. Members of her own party denounced it as a capitulation to the White House.

"The war in Iraq is the biggest disappointment for us, the inability to stop the war," Pelosi told reporters in a group interview in her ceremonial office just hours before the war vote. She quickly pegged the blame on congressional Republicans.

You have to wonder about the strategy of the Islamicists, who put their faith in the American Left to stop W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 PM


A governor under siege: Weakened and isolated, Blagojevich suffers new blow with federal probe (David Mendell and Ray Long, 12/22/07, Chicago Tribune)

Federal prosecutors for the first time have put Blagojevich inside their widespread investigation of pay-to-play in his administration. Blagojevich told one convicted federal informant, "You stick with us and you will do very well for yourself," according to a court document prosecutors filed.

The governor's office denied that he is the "Public Official A" described in the court document as offering state business to convicted political insiders.

In 2008, the spotlight will shine even more brightly on Blagojevich as one of his biggest fundraisers, Antoin "Tony" Rezko, goes to trial in February on charges he tried to trade his access to Blagojevich for kickbacks and contributions to the governor's campaign fund.

These days, the governor conducts much of his public business from his North Side home, reluctant to venture forth into Springfield or other public arenas where he might feel exposed.

And even before Friday's federal bombshell, Blagojevich had few successes in 2007.

While he has tried to put the blame on lawmakers, his credibility in Springfield already was damaged from a record-setting legislative stalemate that has left unresolved key aspects of the people's business. The Chicago Transit Authority is in near meltdown. Education reform remains in limbo. And the state's deteriorating roads and bridges still aren't being repaired for lack of a way to pay for it.

A Tribune poll this month found only one in four Democrats in Illinois approve of their Democratic governor's job performance.

As each month passed this year, new revelations pushed a governor under siege deeper into his bunker.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:40 PM


Paul defends asking for special projects (JENNIFER C. KERR, Associated Press)

Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul on Sunday defended his efforts in Congress to bring home money to his Texas district, despite his long-held aversion to big government and congressional votes to reign in federal spending.

...but a libertarian's only principle is self-interest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 PM


Vox Huckabee: The Republican as class warrior (Terry Eastland, 12/31/2007, Weekly Standard)

As he has throughout the year, Huckabee grounds his pro-life position in the Declaration's recognition of the inalienable right to life. But now, in the heat of the
campaign, with the Iowa caucuses just days away, he also uses the Declaration to argue that, in light of its recognition that all men are created equal, any man (or woman) can become president. Even someone like him, the son of working class parents in Hope, Arkansas, the first in his "entire male lineage" to graduate from high school, much less go to college. He put himself through college in just "two years and three months," since four years would have cost too much.

Now, as it happens, there are some who don't recognize that any American can become president. One "Republican muckety-muck," as Huckabee called the unfortunate former Bush aide Dan Bartlett, "made the comment that nobody would ever elect a guy with the last name 'Huckabee.' It was a name that sounded too much like a hick." Bartlett didn't quite say that--he actually praised Huckabee as "the most visionary" candidate while noting that he had the "negativity of something he can't change like his given last name." Huckabee says he doesn't care about what Bartlett said. But plainly he does.

"To me," he tells the rally in Marshalltown, "'Huckabee' sounds like an old-fashioned, hard-working family that believes that if you work real hard in this country you can get somewhere. If that doesn't mean anything anymore, then the Founding Fathers were wrong. But I don't believe that. I believe they were right. I think you are worth as much as anyone else."

As the case of Bartlett shows, Huckabee is not shy about criticizing members of his own party. He couldn't care less, it seems, whether he wins many votes (at least in Iowa and the early primaries) from the Republican "establishment" (his term) or from the Republican rich (often one and the same). And he makes humorous reference to his name to distinguish himself from those Republicans.

The Establishment hasn't been able to dictate the nomination since Rockefeller lost to Goldwater. You'd think by now they'd be over the fact that the party is led by guys named Newt, not Newton.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 PM


The 'Cheshire Cat' fence (Michelle Malkin, December 23, 2007, Washington Times)

Do you know the story of the Incredible Disappearing Border Fence? It's an object lesson in gesture politics and homeland insecurity. It's a tale of hollow rhetoric, meaningless legislation and bipartisan betrayal.

And in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses, it's a helpful learning tool as you assess the promises of immigration enforcement converts now running for president. [...]

Next time you hear a leading presidential candidate try to woo you with his nine-point immigration enforcement plan or his secure ID plan or his Secure Borders platform, point to the Incredible Disappearing Border Fence. Poof. That is what happens to election-season homeland security promises. Why would theirs be any different?


Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:57 AM


Iran Cited In Iraq's Decline in Violence: Order From Tehran Reined In Militias, U.S. Official Says (Karen DeYoung, 12/23/07, Washington Post)

The Iranian government has decided "at the most senior levels" to rein in the violent Shiite militias it supports in Iraq, a move reflected in a sharp decrease in sophisticated roadside bomb attacks over the past several months, according to the State Department's top official on Iraq.

Tehran's decision does not necessarily mean the flow of those weapons from Iran has stopped, but the decline in their use and in overall attacks "has to be attributed to an Iranian policy decision," David M. Satterfield, Iraq coordinator and senior adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said in an interview.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker said that the decision, "should [Tehran] choose to corroborate it in a direct fashion," would be "a good beginning" for a fourth round of talks between Crocker and his Iranian counterpart in Baghdad.

Whacking Sunni worked.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:49 AM


Savior or Saboteur? (MAUREEN DOWD, 12/23/07, NY Times)

Inside the Bill gang and the Hillary gang, there is panic and perplexity. Is Bill a loyal spouse or a subconscious saboteur?

Should Hillaryland muzzle him? Give him a minder? Is he rusty? Or is he freelancing because he relishes his role as head of the party his wife is trying to take over?

“For the first time since the Marc Rich pardon,” said a friend of the Clintons, “Bill is seriously diminishing his personal standing with the people closest to him.”

Whatever else may be true of Bill Clinton and whatever one may think of him as a president or a person, he is a politician of no little ability. Indeed, he is arguably the most able living Democratic politician (which is, admittedly, to damn with faint praise). The notion that his advice is mere interference or sabotage would seem to flow from the backlash that followed the Left's belated recognition that he will be understood by History to have been his era's Grover Cleveland, nearly indistinguishable from his Republican predecessors and successors. They let his acolyte, Rahm Emanuel, run candidates to the Right of the GOP and managed to win the midterm, but seem insistent on forcing Ms Clinton to the Left in this presidential, thereby guaranteeing defeat, in a replay of the insane decision of Al Gore and John Kerry to repudiate Clintonism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:40 AM



Over the past month, Thompson has walked away from several very strong performances in GOP debates. In the latest one, he held command over the entire field and won the day by refusing to play "hand shows" on stage at the direction of the moderator.

"I said, 'Nope,' and everybody pulled their hand down and looked around," Thompson later recalled.

"I just said to my buddies up there, 'How are you going to stand up to the leaders of Iran and North Korea if you can't stand up to an overbearing moderator?' "

Thompson also has quietly racked up scores of endorsements from anti-abortion chapters around the country. Those groups are some of the most effective vote herders the GOP has.

And earlier this week, he netted a surprise endorsement from Iowa Rep. Steve King, known in some GOP circles as "the Kingmaker."

After enduring months of criticism for sporadic and lackluster campaigning, Thompson is now going full-bore on a bus tour of 50 cities and towns around Iowa that his campaign says will reach some 75 percent of projected Republican caucus-goers before Jan. 3.

More than anything else, long-suffering supporters say their spirits have finally been lifted by Thompson's swagger and enthusiastic demeanor on the trail.

No normal person even started paying attention until November, which is when the liberals--Giuliani & Romney--imploded and the conservatives--McCain, Huckabee, Thompson--started "surging."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:37 AM


Racial Undercurrent Is Seen in Clinton Campaign (Chris Cillizza And Shailagh Murray, December 23, 2007, Washington Post)

It has unfolded mostly under the radar. But an important development in the 2008 Democratic battle may be the building backlash among African Americans over comments from associates of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton that could be construed as jabs at Sen. Barack Obama's race.

These officials, including Clinton aides and prominent surrogates, have raised questions or dropped references about Obama's position on sentencing guidelines for crack vs. powder cocaine offenses; on his handgun control record; and on his admitted use of drugs as a youth. The context was always Obama's "electability." But the Illinois senator's campaign advisers said some African American leaders detect a pattern, and they believe it could erode Clinton's strong base of black support.'re easy pickin's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:27 AM


Huckabing Crosby (Mark Steyn, 12/23/.07, National Review)

This guy Huckabee is some kind of genius. A week ago, you had to be the pope or the queen to do your own big televised Christmas message. But now, since Huck climbed into his red sweater and hired George Lucas to do the notorious “floating cross” effect, every single-digit nickel’n’dime presidential candidate is donning his gay apparel and trolling the ancient Yuletide carol.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 AM


McCain closing gap with Romney: In N.H. poll, Obama inches ahead of Clinton (Scott Helman, December 23, 2007, Boston Globe)

Senator John McCain of Arizona, whose bid for the Republican presidential nomination was all but dead this summer, has made a dramatic recovery in the Granite State 2 1/2 weeks before the 2008 vote, pulling within 3 percentage points of front-runner Mitt Romney, a new Boston Globe poll indicates.

McCain, the darling of New Hampshire voters in the 2000 primary, has the support of 25 percent of likely Republican voters, compared with 28 percent for Romney. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani has slid into third place, with 14 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:20 AM


Margaret Thacher's grandson becoming American Football star (Kate Devlin, 23/12/2007, Daily Telegraph)

His birth famously prompted her to declare "we have become a grandmother".

Eighteen years on Margaret Thatcher's grandson is now prompting devotion in fans of American football as he becomes a rising star of the game.

Michael Thatcher, whose father Mark Thatcher separated from his mother after being accused of planning a coup in Equatorial Ginuea, has helped carry his high school team to the finals of the state championships with a extraordinary catch during the quarter final play offs.

Michael, who has lived with his American born mother, Diane Burgdorf, in Dallas, Texas, since 2004, was praised by seasoned commentators for his sensational catch.

In front of a 10,000 strong crowd he hurtled towards the ball, caught it with his fingertips before rolling over and lifting the ball triumphantly in the air.

Such was the unexpected brilliance of the catch that it caused one commentator to exclaim: "Can the guy run, can he catch, can he do everything? Wow!" [...]

Randy Allen, coach of the Scots, the Highland Park high school team in Dallas, recalled when Michael started at the school he still had a South African accent.

"He was so small and didn't understand [American] football at all," said Allen. "He thought about quitting, but he stuck at it."

Now 6ft 1in and weighing in at just over 12 stone, Michael is still considered thin to be a running back, his position on the team.

But he is working on it. "(Michael's) is a story about hard work, dedication and discipline," Allen said.

...he's even less European than his grandmother.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 AM


Kenya showing democratic muscle: With a reputation for political stability, it is expected to see another peaceful election this week, even though the incumbent is trailing (Edmund Sanders, 12/23/07, Los Angeles Times)

[K]enya is earning a reputation as an oasis of political stability in Africa, thanks to a succession of fair and stable elections, even when results defied the wishes of the government. In 2002 voters rejected then-President Daniel Arap Moi's handpicked successor. Three years later they defeated a government-backed constitutional referendum. In both cases, there was little violence or backlash.

Now Kenyans say they are looking forward to exercising their democratic muscles again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 AM


Ordeal leaves Iranian dissident with doubts: After 40 days in a notorious Tehran prison, a student activist wonders if he should have heeded his father's warnings to avoid politics (Borzou Daragahi, 12/23/07, Los Angeles Times)

The belief that he was part of a groundswell of change that had kept him going in prison was crushed as soon as he got out. Though his student friends honored him as a hero, Iran was in the midst of a massive crackdown on dissent and freedom of speech. More newspapers had been shut down. More activists arrested, including three of his friends at the university.

The same international news agencies that had enthusiastically covered the student protests hadn't bothered to report his imprisonment, some of them fearful of losing their press accreditation in Iran.

One of Zamanian's friends had called an Italian broadcaster who reported on the student demonstrations to tell her the student she'd put on camera was now in jail. The reporter said she wasn't interested, that the story was old news.

Instead of becoming a cause celebre, Zamanian found with dismay he'd been ignored and forgotten by much of the world.

One European diplomat in Tehran described the student movement as "the charge of the light brigade," a hopeless but valiant effort to change Iran from within.

"There really is no national movement," the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "There are no political leaders. They're fighting for their country, but there really is no hope."

Zamanian finds himself baffled by the West's attitude toward Iran, speaking about democracy one day, raising the specter of armed conflict another, then offering to cut deals with the government the next.

He finds himself disgusted by the Iranian exile groups, including those in Los Angeles who beam their messages to the country via satellite. They urge Iranians not to take part in the political process, in effect handing the hard-liners a victory that has resulted in a more domestically repressive and internationally belligerent Iran, he says.

What is the goal here? he wonders. What is the strategy?

"They've worsened conditions," he says. "Today the West promotes negotiations. Tomorrow they brandish the threat of war. The best thing they could do is clarify their position."

All of the President's big mistakes in the WoT have been a function of failing to recognize the opportunities that Shi'a affords us, for instance, encouraging reformists to boycott the last presidential election in Iran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:59 AM


Smiley's model: John Bingham not only wrote fascinating spy novels -- he also inspired one of John Le Carre's singular characters (Sarah Weinman, December 23, 2007, LA Times)

Without Le Carré, current spymasters such as Robert Littell, Charles McCarry, Stella Rimington and Daniel Silva might not have careers. But Le Carré himself owes his career to a colleague of his own. When the author still toiled in intelligence circles under his real name, David Cornwell, his career overlapped for a time with that of John Bingham, Lord Clanmorris (1908-88).

During a 30-year career of undercover agenting and high-ranking bureaucracy, Bingham wrote 17 novels and a work of nonfiction, sometimes using the pen name Michael Ward. He may be best known, though, as an unwitting inspiration for the fictional composite that would become Smiley, the character who eventually made Le Carré a literary star.

As a result, perhaps, the relationship between Le Carré and Bingham soured. "As far as he was concerned, I was a literary defector who had dragged the good name of the Service through the mud," Le Carré wrote in a 2000 essay that accompanied last summer's reissue of three of Bingham's novels.

It may be tempting to view Bingham's first two novels -- "My Name Is Michael Sibley" (Simon & Schuster: 258 pp., $13 paper) and "Five Roundabouts of Heaven" (Simon & Schuster: 208 pp., $13 paper) -- as grotesque foreshadowings of the bitter end of his friendship with Le Carré, since both books mine the dark undercurrents of long-standing male relationships.

Who doesn't recognize that LeCarre defected to the enemy?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 AM


Dubai: Iran's Hong Kong (Arnaud de Borchgrave, December 21, 2007 , Washington Times)

Today, some 500,000 Iranians are residents of the U.A.E. — 400,000 in Dubai alone, out of more than 2 million people. Many immigrated after the Iranian revolution when the shah was overthrown, planning to continue to Europe and North America. But many were taken by the relaxed lifestyle and incentives offered new residents. Iranian investments in Dubai recently topped $350 billion. Some 7,500 Iranian-owned companies operate out of Dubai.

A sleepy contraband port of 25,000 devoted to gold smuggling as recently as 1971, Dubai's tallest building then had three floors. It now is a booming city state that boasts the world's tallest skyscraper (still under construction); its tallest hotel in the shape of a giant sail headed into the Gulf; its most luxurious hotels (where some junior suites start at $5,000 a night and go up to $25,000); an 18-hole downtown golf course; an indoor ski slope with ski lift; and the world's largest theme park, Dubailand.

Man-made islands in the shape of as palm tree, dotted with pricey villas, have quadrupled Dubai's 25-mile-long coastline. A 50-mile subway and a $33 billion Dubai World Central airport with six runways and a capacity of 100 million passengers per year are also under construction. And 55 double-decker Airbus 380 super jumbos are on order. Fifty percent of the world's cranes are now in use in Dubai; 25 percent in Shanghai; 25 percent in the rest of the world.

Some of Dubai's districts are known as "Little Tehran." Iranians have their own clubs, and Iranian restaurants do a thriving business throughout the Emirates.

Little understood among advocates of tighter economic sanctions against Iran is that the U.A.E. is Iran's first trading partner. Iran imports more than $10 billion from the U.A.E. and orders many embargoed items with documents that guarantee Dubai as their final destination. Heavy equipment, machines, mobile phones, auto parts, communication systems are all legal commerce.

Earlier this year, the U.S. government gave the U.A.E. a list of Iranian companies it considers "bogus" that seek to violate the U.S. embargo on Tehran. Ties between the two sides of the Gulf in Dubai are tighter than between the city-state and Washington.

Dubai is to Iran's theocracy what British-ruled Hong Kong was to China's communist overlords — a gigantic entrepot. Dubai's chamber of commerce map of its trading relations runs South-South, from Morocco to Indonesia, thus erasing the traditional North-South divide between rich and poor.

Hong Kong is important to China because it shows what Chinese couldf achieve if governed like Brits. Likewise, Dubai is a standing rebuke to the economic backwardness of Khomeinism

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 AM


Boston Herald endorses McCain (The Associated Press, 12/23/07)

"There are times in this nation's history so perilous that they cry out for a steady, experienced leader, a person so trusted that we would put the fate of this country in his hands. This is one of those times, and Sen. John McCain is that person," the newspaper said.

It did not mention Romney, who led Massachusetts from 2003 to January of this year.

The newspaper also did not endorse anyone in the Democratic presidential race, breaking its tradition of choosing candidates in both parties.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 AM


Fastball, slider, changeup, curveball—an analysis (John Walsh, December 20, 2007, Hardball Times)

These numbers confirm (and quantify) what we already knew: pitchers tend to throw more sliders and curves and fewer changeups, when they have the platoon advantage (pitcher and hitter of the same hand). In any case, pitchers throw a majority of fastballs (59% of pitches thrown) no matter what side of the plate the batter is standing on.

We can also look at how pitch selection varies depending on the count:

| Cnt | FB% | SL% | CB% | CU% |
| 3-0 | 0.84 | 0.05 | 0.03 | 0.08 |
| 3-1 | 0.80 | 0.10 | 0.03 | 0.07 |
| 2-0 | 0.75 | 0.11 | 0.04 | 0.10 |
| 3-2 | 0.66 | 0.17 | 0.08 | 0.09 |
| 1-0 | 0.63 | 0.15 | 0.08 | 0.13 |
| 2-1 | 0.64 | 0.16 | 0.08 | 0.13 |
| 0-0 | 0.63 | 0.15 | 0.12 | 0.09 |
| 1-1 | 0.53 | 0.19 | 0.13 | 0.14 |
| 0-1 | 0.52 | 0.20 | 0.15 | 0.12 |
| 2-2 | 0.51 | 0.21 | 0.16 | 0.12 |
| 1-2 | 0.48 | 0.22 | 0.19 | 0.11 |
| 0-2 | 0.51 | 0.21 | 0.18 | 0.09 |

I've placed the rows in this table in order of how advantageous the count is for the hitter, 3-0 being the best hitter's count and 0-2 being the worst. Now look at the fastball percentage: there is an almost perfect progression from lots of fastballs (84% on 3-0) down to about 50% fastballs on the worst hitter's counts.

What's clearly happening is that when behind in the count pitchers will try to throw a strike to move the count in their favor. Presumably, the fastball is the easiest pitch to control, so that's the pitch they choose. When they are ahead in the count, the cost of throwing a ball is reduced, so they can try the fancy stuff.

A possible exception may be given by the 0-2 count, where the fastball percentage goes back up a tick, instead of continuing downward. I wonder if pitchers are employing a little game theory here: throwing a few more fastballs than expected in order to confound the batter.

Now that we have some idea about pitch selection, let's have a look at what happens to these different pitches. [...]

I don't know about you, but I've learned a lot researching this article. I didn't realize the averge fastball was thrown comfortably above 90 mph. I can remember, not all that long ago, when 90 mph was considered throwing hard; now it's below average.

The changeup, despite was you sometimes read, is not the slowest pitch thrown (the curveball is). I read recently a claim that somebody's changeup was 20 mph slower than his fastball—no way! The average difference between fastball and changeup is 9 mph. I haven't checked, but I'm confident that nobody has a 20 mph difference between the two pitches.

Pitchers throw the changeup three times more often when facing an opposite-hand batter, but throw the fastball equally as often, regardless of the handedness of the batter. This is not a good stategy, as you will see when you read my article on platoon splits for different pitch types in the Hardball Times Basebll Annual 2008 (plug!).

Fastballs appear to have the worst BABIP and sliders the best, although a rigorous link between BABIP and pitch type needs more study.

December 22, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:10 PM


Hamas Reportedly Drafting Terms of a Truce with Israel (Robert Berger, 22 December 2007, VOA News)

Israel Radio says Hamas is drafting terms for a truce and trying to get other Palestinian factions to halt rocket attacks on Israel. [...]

Even if Hamas wants a truce, it may have a hard time bringing other militant factions on board. The Islamic Jihad, which has been hit hard in the recent fighting, said it is not time for a cease-fire, but rather, for revenge.

Like Mookie did with us, they can use the Israelis against the extremists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:07 PM


Bush’s Very Good Year (Lawrence Kudlow, 12/23/07, Real Clear Politics)

Calendar year 2007 looks set to produce 3 percent growth in real GDP, nearly 3 percent growth in consumer spending, and over 3 percent growth in after-tax inflation-adjusted incomes. Meanwhile, headline inflation (including food and energy) will have run at 2.5 percent, with only 2 percent core inflation.

Jobs are rising over 100,000 per month and the stock market is set to turn in a respectable year despite enormous headwinds. Low tax rates, modest inflation, and declining interest rates continue to boost Goldilocks, which is still the greatest story never told.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 PM


Pakistan's Islamic Parties Struggling: 5 Years After Win, Backers Frustrated (Griff Witte, 12/23/07, Washington Post)

In 2002, Ibrar Hussein voted for an Islamic takeover.

Fed up both with Pakistan's military-led government and with the mainstream, secular opposition, Hussein decided that religious leaders should be given a chance to improve living conditions in this sprawling frontier city.

But five years after support from people like Hussein propelled the Islamic parties to power in the provincial government -- and to their strongest-ever showing nationally -- the 36-year-old shopkeeper is rethinking his choice.

"You can see the sanitation system here," Hussein said, pointing with disgust to a ditch in front of his shop where a stream of greenish-brown sludge trickled by. "People were asking for clean water, and they didn't get it. We were very hopeful. But the mullahs did nothing for us."

Hussein's disenchantment is just one reason why, with Pakistan on the eve of fresh parliamentary elections, the religious parties are struggling to appeal to voters.

Crazy can't survive electoral politics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:45 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 AM


40,000 troops may be home by July (Sara A. Carter, December 22, 2007, AP)

The Pentagon expects that more than 40,000 U.S. troops will be home by July if the situation in Iraq remains stable, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 AM


Kenya Tests New Style of Politicking: Campaigns Reflect Effects of Technology, Increased Openness (Stephanie McCrummen, 12/22/07, Washington Post)

While massive rallies remain the staple of electoral politics here, the new style of campaigning is being driven by such factors as the proliferation of cellphones and Internet connections and the flow of information from abroad. Kenyans in the United States are e-mailing in tips derived from the U.S. presidential race. A younger, more media-savvy electorate is also exerting influence, with Odinga's campaign, for instance, hiring a 20-year-old music producer from a recording company called Blue Zebra to work on its events.

But most significantly, many people here see such developments as reflecting a more open political system in Kenya, an East African nation that only recently emerged from two decades of repressive rule under President Daniel arap Moi, whom Kibaki defeated in 2002.

Odinga, the opposition front-runner, was jailed during the Moi years for advocating multiparty democracy. Now he is Kibaki's main opponent.

There is a new diversity in the news media. Moi controlled the only state-run television, whereas now there are three private broadcasters and dozens of radio stations.

And the idea of surveying opinions is no longer unthinkable. "We have expanded the space in terms of freedom of expression," said George Waititu, managing director of the Steadman Group, the largest polling firm in sub-Saharan Africa. "The electorate has a bigger voice to talk back. So I think it is an indicator of the state of democracy here."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 AM


No Joke, Bulb Change Is Challenge for U.S. (CLAUDIA H. DEUTSCH, 12/22/07, NY Times)

The new energy bill signed this week makes it official. When 2012 hits, stores can no longer sell the cheap but inefficient incandescent light bulbs that are fixtures in most homes.

Even so, light bulb manufacturers say that worries about greenhouse gases and the high cost of energy had them moving away from conventional incandescents way before Congress weighed in. For quite some time, they note, they have been trying to soften the light emitted by compact fluorescent lights, bring down the cost of light-emitting diodes — and yes, find ways to increase the efficiency of incandescents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 AM


Schoolhouse Rock: D.C. education chief says school choice shouldn't be reserved for the rich. (COLLIN LEVY, December 22, 2007, Opinion Journal)

"I see it as a social justice issue--I want them all to be in excellent schools. The kids in Tenleytown are getting a wildly different educational experience than the kids in Anacostia, so our schools are not serving their purpose."

So says D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who has brought an unusual sense of urgency to her new job. [...]

So far, in her quest to turn around the public school system, she's taken on the unions, the city council and, most recently, hundreds of angry central-office workers.

This week, the city council gave preliminary approval to Chancellor Rhee's request for authority to fire nonunion employees in the central office. She knew it was going to be a political firestorm, but she's worked hard to convince her skeptics that protecting an ossified bureaucracy isn't in anyone's best interests. "I think it's a critical piece of this equation," she says of the personnel legislation, "and if someone like me can come in, guns blazing, and make all the hard calls . . . we can actually see how much progress we can make for the kids." [...]

The alliance she and the mayor formed that day is now one of the strongest cards in the chancellor's hand. Their agreement was that as long as she acted in the best interests of the kids, he would back her up no matter how loud the screaming of the unions and community groups. "And since then, he has been unwavering," Ms. Rhee says with a note of awe in her voice. "He has never ever said to me, well, we need to think of the political ramifications."

That commitment is facing one of its toughest public tests, with the chancellor's plan to close 23 schools citywide--18 more than any other chancellor in the city's history dared propose. Parents and community groups are screaming bloody murder.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 AM


I’m a Believer: a review of THERE IS A GOD: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind By Antony Flew with Roy Abraham Varghese (ANTHONY GOTTLIEB, 12/23/07, NY Times Book Review)

Oddly, Flew seems to have turned into an American as well as a believer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Mike Huckabee governed against the grain: He shepherded many changes in Arkansas, but left some supporters feeling abandoned (ADAM NOSSITER and DAVID BARSTOW, 12/22/07, New York Times)

In more than a decade of presiding over this state, Mike Huckabee produced a legacy like few other Republican governors in the South, surprising even liberal Democrats with his willingness to upend some of Arkansas' more parochial traditions.

A review of his record as governor shows that beginning in 1996 he drove through a series of changes that transformed education and health insurance in Arkansas, achievements that were never tried by most of his predecessors, including Bill Clinton. [...]

[T]he novice governor found the sea legs in 1997 to help enact, with overwhelming support in the heavily Democratic Legislature, a major expansion of health insurance for children of the working poor whose families did not qualify for Medicaid. It was one of the first such expansions in the nation, coming before the federal government authorized them, and it baffled some Republicans in the Legislature.

"None of us understood what he was trying to do," said Peggy Jeffries, then a Republican state senator and now executive director of the Arkansas affiliate of the Eagle Forum, a national group of conservatives.

Easily elected to a full term in 1998, Huckabee was emerging as something of an unquantifiable presence in the state capital, sometimes exerting leadership, other times not, and often floating above the details and minutia of governing.

But he confounded Republicans again when he pushed for a fuel tax increase to finance an ambitious road-building program, and eventually won support for what historians say was the largest highway bond program in Arkansas history.'s also about asking them to pay for the government programs they demand.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


Hillary Clinton Embraces Her Husband's Legacy (Anne E. Kornblut and Alec MacGillis, 12/22/07, Washington Post)

After months of discussion within her campaign over how heavily she should draw on her husband's legacy, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is closing out her Iowa and New Hampshire campaigns in a tight embrace of Bill Clinton's record, helping fuel a debate about the 1990s with Sen. Barack Obama that she thinks she can win.

As part of the Clinton strategy, the former president is playing an increasingly prominent public role as an advocate for his wife. He appears to have overcome concerns within the campaign over how closely she should associate her candidacy with his time in office and over whether his appearances could draw attention away from her.

It won't help in the primaries, because the Left has become too deranged during the Bush years, but running as the Third Way successor to her husband and the President is her one shot at winning the general.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


Blair converts to Catholicism (THOMAS WAGNER, 12/22/07, Associated Press)

Tony Blair, who often kept his religious views private while serving as Britain's prime minister, has converted to Catholicism , officials said Saturday.

Blair, who had long been a member of the Church of England, converted to the Catholic faith during a Mass held on Friday night at a chapel in London, the Catholic Church said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


UK and US relations 'excellent' (BBC, 12/22/07)

Gordon Brown and George Bush have developed an "excellent relationship", the US ambassador to Britain has said.

Robert Tuttle also said booming cross-Atlantic tourism and educational exchanges showed the "strength and depth of the special relationship".

December 21, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 PM


Mystery Deepens About Giuliani Headache (ABC NEWS, 12/21/07)

His campaign will not release any concrete medical information to the press -- raising questions about the former New York mayor's health and the transparency of his campaign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 PM



Recently, we have been impressed by McCain's attitude toward illegal immigration, expressed at considerable political cost in a bill that was defeated earlier in the year. He now notes that any improvement in the situation will have to begin by better policing of the borders, but he continues to speak with humane concern of the people, and the families of people, who have put down roots here.

We are also intrigued, although not fully persuaded by, McCain's recent venture into health-care reform. Like many other Republicans, he puts a lot of faith in private insurance companies, and he rejects the idea of health-insurance mandates. But he is proposing an end to restrictions on insurance availability from out of state providers, as well as significant tax relief for people who negotiate their own insurance arrangements. He has a quiver of proposals for reducing the cost of health care. And he wants to create a federal insurance fund to insure people who are turned down - or priced out of the market - by private insurers. "And it'll be expensive," he volunteers, with typical candor.

Where McCain most distinguishes himself from the rest of this year's Republican pack is in the areas of life experience and force of character. He is not a single-issue candidate off on a frantic ideological jag. Although his political ideology has evolved through experience over the years, he has not changed his previous political positions en masse to appeal to the presumed prejudices and preferences of voters. Nor has he tried to craft a candidacy around an artificial persona who promises to save us all from terrorists, or from the devil. And, perhaps most important, he campaigns with decency.

What we see in McCain is a grown-up; a known quantity with a 30-year record of public service; a conservative who is confident in his abilities and yet smart enough to seek counsel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 PM


Kenya's presidential race signals democratic growth (Jeffrey Gettleman, December 21, 2007, IHT)

The neck-and-neck race between Odinga and Kibaki, which could result in a run-off, seems to be evidence of how far Kenya's democracy has come from just a decade ago, when it was still under the grip of Moi, who has been widely criticized as a dictator and who is now campaigning for Kibaki.

Today there is a free press, 2,548 candidates running for Parliament and genuine issues separating the leading parties, like strong central government versus federalism. Electoral politics here are not saddled by the deep cynicism that dogs Nigeria, Africa's most populous democracy, or the one-party domination of South African politics.

Odinga, who has been a member of Parliament for the past 15 years, has taken full advantage of Kenya's open system and used his flair for appealing to the masses to reel in millions of Kenyans who feel marginalized by the Kikuyu elite. He has also charmed many Muslims upset at the Kibaki government's various crackdowns in Muslim areas as part of its counterterrorism campaign.

"The best way to explain this is not who is popular but who is so unpopular," said Chweya Ludeki, a political science professor at the University of Nairobi. "Raila's harvesting from Kibaki's unpopularity and the perception that the president has favored his ethnic group."

Though the cabinet includes members of many tribes, the ministries that matter - like defense, justice, finance and internal security - are all run by Kikuyus. The government's response has been that it hires the most qualified people.

Many of Odinga's supporters are worried that these politicians might try to steal the election. Already the government's own human rights commission accused Kibaki's party of using public resources, like government planes and vehicles, for campaign events.

There have also been some pretty nasty cheap shots. Even Odinga's foreskin was thrown into the fray.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:22 AM


Hasta La Vista (DANA MILBANK, 12/21/2007, Washington Post)

Tom Tancredo is an angry man.

We know this because he has proposed dropping bombs on Mecca. We know this because he sang "Dixie" at a South Carolina gathering full of Confederate flags and white supremacists. And we know this because he wants to expel 12 million people now living in the United States.

Now, the Republican congressman from Colorado has a new reason to be angry: The voters of Iowa, inexplicably, do not want him to be their president.

"I know I cannot win," he confessed at a lightly attended news conference in the Marriott hotel here, where a balky sound system -- made in China! -- marred the announcement that he was quitting the presidential race.

He should have hired a day laborer to make the announcement for him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:11 AM


Consumer Spending Surges in November (Martin Crutsinger, 12/21/07, AP)

Consumers put aside worries about slumping home sales and soaring gasoline prices and headed to the malls in November, pushing spending up by the largest amount in 3 1/2 years.

The Commerce Department reported Friday that consumer spending surged by 1.1 percent last month, nearly triple the October gain. The gain reflected various promotional efforts by retailers such as heavy discounting and longer store hours at the start of the holiday shopping season.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:25 AM


Hoosier Eugenics: A Horrible Centennial (Eric Schansberg, 12/17/07, SchansBlog)

Sir Francis Galton was responsible for first describing eugenics (in 1865) and then coining the term (in 1883). Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, suggested the study of eugenics to pursue a better human race by applying the basic principles of agricultural breeding to humans.

In time, eugenics became synonymous with "self-directed human evolution" through the conscious choice of who should (and should not) have children. In particular, eugenicists have often been concerned about "inferior" people (e.g., the poor, those with darker skin) having more children than "superior" people (e.g., middle-upper income classes, those with lighter skin).

Galton built upon Darwin's ideas by asserting that the mechanisms of natural selection had been thwarted by human civilization. For example, charity and welfare allowed the poor to reproduce more often.

So, should one help the poor or was that only "making things worse"? In Galton's view, since many human societies tried to protect the weak, they were acting to limit the natural selection that would result in the extinction of the weakest individuals — and thus the strengthening of the human race.

Galton and other eugenicists recommended policy changes in order to improve society, to save it from mediocrity, reversion or even catastrophe. As such, eugenics differed from its cousin, Social Darwinism. While both emphasized hereditary influences on intelligence, Social Darwinists argued that society itself would naturally deal with the problem. Interestingly, the laissez-faire attitudes of Social Darwinists extended from political economy to natural selection while the statist presumptions of eugenicists inclined them to pursue more aggressive methods.

Galton's ideas picked up steam as scientists and physicians lent their credibility and support to his notions. One particularly amazing example: In a medical journal in 1902, Dr. Harry Sharp described the illegal vasectomies he gave inmates in a Jeffersonville, Indiana, reformatory. He argued that it was good for the inmates as well as achieving a greater social good. (Sharp sterilized as many as 456 men over an eight-year period.) Sharp's efforts were well-received and increasingly supported by doctors, agricultural breeders, sociologists and public health officials.

One of the nation's most prominent eugenicists was David Starr Jordan, a past president of Indiana University. Given the intellectual coherence of eugenics with the ideas of that time, plus powerful proponents like Jordan and the extensive lobbying of Sharp, the Indiana Legislature passed its eugenics law on March 9, 1907. It promised to prevent the “procreation of confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles and rapists.” The law was repealed in 1921 but reinstated in 1928 — after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Virginia's similar law in 1927 (Buck v. Bell).

In that case, Carrie Buck was a 17-year old girl who was forcibly sterilized at the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded in Lynchburg because she had been pregnant and her mother had been mentally ill. Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the decision and penned this now-stunning quote:

“It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind . . . Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

Eventually, 30 states adopted sterilization laws by the early 1930s. The number of involuntary sterilizations peaked in the 1930s and slowed to a trickle by the 1960s, the last being performed in 1981. In all, more than 60,000 people were involuntarily sterilized in the United States (more than half in California).

Such laws were never overturned by the Supreme Court. But forced sterilization became obsolete scientifically, ethically and sometimes legally. For example, the impact of Indiana’s laws ended in 1974, when the second piece of legislation permitting compulsory sterilization was repealed by the Indiana General Assembly.

Beyond the United States, forced sterilization was practiced in many developed countries during the 20th century, including for example 60,000 victims in Sweden between 1935 and 1976. But the most staggering legacy of such legislation is that it served as a model for the law adopted by the Nazi government in 1933. In part of its plan to establish a master race, in the memorable words of Ken Myers, Nazi eugenics promoted “the best, the brightest, and usually, the blondest.”

Looking back, the contemporary excitement about research in genetics is understandable if deplorable. The general bent in the late 19th century toward utopianism and the deification of human progress — in all of its glories and manifestations — is well documented. Placing a higher value on the community than the individual is a familiar debate, and one that often played out in favor of the "greater social good" through socialism and communism in the 20th century. (In these matters, who should decide who is “unfit” to live — parents, society or the government?)

Ironically, eugenics found many avid supporters among proponents of Progressivism and among many liberal Protestants with their Social Gospel. (This is sadly, stunningly and thoroughly documented by Christine Rosen in her 2004 work, “Preaching Eugenics.”) And although there were voices crying out in the Wilderness (G.K. Chesterton in "Eugenics and Other Evils," 1922) their cries were mere whistles into an unsympathetic wind.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 AM



In 2000, just before he was to face Hillary Rodham Clinton in a race for the US Senate, Giuliani announced he had prostate cancer and dropped out. As he underwent cancer treatment, he slowed down his pace - a bit.

Giuliani's latest illness comes amid an ailing week for the campaign.

His status as national front-runner has disappeared in several recent polls following negative stories about the indictment of his protégé, ex-NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik; his use as mayor of public funds for trysts with then-girlfriend Judith; his business dealings; and his spat with rival Mitt Romney over immigration.

...that he were man enough to announce that he's not running because he can't win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:02 AM


Humour 'comes from testosterone' (BBC, 12/21/07)

Men are naturally more comedic than women because of the male hormone testosterone, an expert claims. [...]

Research suggests men are more likely to use humour aggressively by making others the butt of the joke.

And aggression - generally considered to be a more masculine trait - has been linked by some to testosterone exposure in the womb.

Professor Shuster believes humour develops from aggression caused by male hormones.

He documented the reaction of over 400 individuals to his unicycling antics through the streets of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Which is why -- men being conservative, women liberal -- all comedy is conservative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 AM


McCain Rises from the Dead (Peter Brown, 12/21/07, Real Clear Politics)

For those who believe in miracles, there is the legitimate possibility that John McCain could win the Republican presidential nomination. If so, he'll make Bill Clinton's comeback kid of 1992 look like a piker.

It makes for some nice dramatics, but the reality is that he's going to win the first time Republicans actually get to vote for their candidate, just as he was going to all along. All that's changed is the mood of the pundits.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


Divine Evolution (Michael Gerson, December 21, 2007, Washington Post)

Leon Kass, in his masterful work "The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis," observes, "The biblical account is perfectly compatible with the fact of a slowly evolving cosmos, with life arriving late, beginning in the sea and only later emerging on earth, progressively distinguished into a variety of separated kinds."

But this overly hyped debate on biology hides a deeper conflict that could not be more important.

Some scientists claim that a belief in evolution and orderly material laws somehow disproves the existence of immaterial things such as God and the soul -- as if biology or physics could refute concepts they don't even examine. There is no telescope that reveals the absence of the divine; no MRI that yields a negative test for the soul. G.K. Chesterton summarizes this naive theory as follows: "Because science has not found something which obviously it could not find, therefore something entirely different . . . is untrue. . . . To me it is all wild and whirling; as if a man said -- 'The plumber can find nothing wrong with our piano; so I suppose that my wife does love me.' "

There is a large distinction between the scientific theory of evolution and naturalism. Naturalism -- the belief that the material world is all that is or ever will be -- is a philosophy, and a dangerous one. As C.S. Lewis points out, this belief system begins by denying the existence of God, but it cannot end there. "The masters of the method soon announce that we were just as mistaken (and mistaken in much the same way) when we attributed 'souls' or 'selves' or 'minds' to human organisms, as when we attributed Dryads to the trees. . . . Man is indeed akin to the gods: that is, he is no less phantasmal than they."

All modern wisdom begins with this recognition, that, considred only rationally, I am as immaterial as God. Everything after that is aesthetics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


An Interview With Fred Thompson's Wife, Jeri Thompson (John Hawkins, 12/231/07, Right Wing News)

Now, the other candidates obviously planned their runs at the presidency out quite a long ago.

Since high school, probably.

Right. But, Fred entered the race after the grassroots pleaded for him to get in. So, tell us about the first time you and Fred had a serious discussion about him running for the presidency this year. When was it and can you tell us a little bit about it?

Well...I know one of the conversations we had, we were sitting around our kitchen table and we do have these two small children....So, looking at a three and a half year old at the top of the stairs, he said to me..."A lot goes through your mind from the time Hayden is at the top of those steps to the time she's at the bottom. I feel our country is at a crossroads and we need to do something." I agree.

Now, early on the campaign there were allegations that you were at the root of some staff shake-ups with your husband's campaign. Is that true?

No. Early on, back when he first started, when he had a contract with NBC and a contract with ABC, and we had the two small kids...we were doing the best we could to try to juggle the move from sort of a grassroots movement into a presidential campaign and...anything I did was at the request of Fred. Anything I did was certainly something that he wanted to be done. My job isn't any different than (that) of any other wife in any other strong marriage. That's to be a partner and to be supportive and to try to do what I need to do to help him get to where he needs to be.

So, what is your role with the campaign. What do you do on a day to day basis? Do you do anything that the campaign manager would normally do? Anything like that?

No. Well, media as people are interested, like you, in talking to me. I spoke to a radio station out of New Hampshire this morning. I spoke to a radio station in central Florida earlier today. I try to do what I make sure that he gets fed and goes to bed at a reasonable hour. that he needs it least.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


Return of the Skeptical Environmentalist: In his new book Cool It, Bjørn Lomborg shows how ‘the science’ on global warming – covering everything from polar bear extinction to the disappearance of Greenland – has been distorted and politicised. (Tony Gilland, 12/21/07, Spiked Review of Books)

Essentially, Lomborg’s argument is that, on the basis of our current understanding of climate systems and the role played by CO2, we will eventually have to cut CO2 emissions significantly. Right now, however, is a bad time to be worrying about it because the harmful effects of climate change in the medium-term future are manageable, and can be managed far more cheaply than can the massive cuts in CO2 that would be required to avoid those effects.

So according to Lomborg, we could get all the world’s current energy from solar cells taking up space equivalent to 2.6 per cent of the area of the Sahara – the reason we don’t is because ‘it would be horrendously costly’. Based on the fact that solar energy has come down in price by about 50 per cent per decade over the past 30 years, Lomborg estimates: ‘Even at a much slower pace, it will probably become competitive before mid-century for many uses, and before the end of the century for most uses.’ He points out that this is only one such opportunity, and proposes that all nations should commit themselves to spending 0.05 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in R&D on non-carbon emitting energy technologies as a long-term approach to tackling global warming.

In Cool It’s penultimate chapter, ‘The Politics of Global Warming’, Lomborg discusses how the science of climate change is becoming politicised. He argues that when the chairman of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, argues for dramatic CO2 cuts, the IPCC scientists ‘effectively become agenda-driven advocates’, who misuse ‘their standing as scientists to pursue a political agenda’ which will eventually undermine the credibility of the scientific discipline.

To back up this point, he cites the influential statement from the IPCC’s 2001 report that most warming in the past 50 years is due to humans. The wording of the text changed from ‘there has been a discernible human influence on global climate’ to this line finally included in the official summary: ‘Most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.’ Yet when asked by New Scientist about the scientific background for this change, Tim Higham, spokesman for the UN Environment Program, responded: ‘There was no new science, but the scientists wanted to present a clear and strong message to policymakers.’

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


Humanity, thou art sick: With shyness diagnosed as ‘social phobia’, and dissent as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, more and more emotions are being psychologised. Or perhaps I’m just suffering from Book Review Hyperactivity Dementia (Helene Guldberg, 12/21/07, spiked)

‘In my mother’s generation, shy people were seen as introverted and perhaps a bit awkward, but never mentally ill.’

So writes the Chicago-based research professor, Christopher Lane, in his fascinating new book Shyness: How Normal Behaviour Became a Sickness. ‘Adults admired their bashfulness, associated it with bookishness, reserve, and a yen for solitude. But shyness isn’t just shyness any more. It is a disease. It has a variety of over-wrought names, including “social anxiety” and “avoidant personality disorder”, afflictions said to trouble millions’, Lane continues.

Lane has taken shyness as a test case to show how society is being overdiagnosed and overmedicated. He has charted - in intricate detail - the route by which the psychiatric profession came to give credence to the labelling of everyday emotions as ‘disorders’, a situation that has resulted in more and more people being deemed to be mentally ill.

Several years ago we posted a link to a personality test according to which all of the brothers and most of the commentors turned out to have Asperger's. Now we'd be the last to claim that Brothers Judd is a particular bastion of sanity and stability, but it hardly seems a coincidence that what we used to think of as being a perfectly normal male--especially being either reserved, on the one hand, or hyper, on the other--is now considered to be illness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


Hu Jintao

[W]e would miss something important about Hu's leadership if we were to simply assume that his restraint was a sign of weakness. In reality, the way Hu has negotiated a difficult situation says much about him as a person and about his evolving and distinctive political philosophy. Even though China's revolutionaries spent decades trying to expunge "feudal" culture, Hu has ended up as something of a closet traditionalist whose sense of a political true north derives as much from the Chinese classics, to which he has turned in search of models of concord, as it does from Mao and Marx.

In February 2005, for example, Hu quoted Confucius to party officials, declaring that "harmony is something to be cherished." He and Premier Wen Jiabao regularly proclaim an aspiration to hexie shehui, or a harmonious society. And they often use another slogan, heping jueqi, or peaceful rise, a phrase designed to soothe foreigners worried about the double threat of China's fireball economy and rapidly modernizing military.

Such traditional-sounding rhetoric about harmony and peace — the antithesis of Maoist phrases about class contradictions and anti-imperialist struggle — has been spilling from party propaganda organs. Weary of struggle and strife, contemporary Chinese react almost autonomically to such rhetoric, which evokes the datong, the great harmony, a utopian ideal from the ancient Book of Rites. Hu hopes to attain a latter-day datong through what he calls a "scientific outlook on development," or a pragmatic refocusing on the challenges of poverty, social justice and the environment. Much of his political demeanor seems to suggest a yearning for leadership in the style of a Confucian junzi, or gentleman — one who governs by virtuous example and thus radiates benevolence throughout society.

How, in practice, Hu can use such classical nostrums to help him rule China is far from clear. Rebranding the office of the party General Secretary through rhetorical associations with the past is not guaranteed to help deal with Sudan, Burma, Taiwan and the U.S., never mind China's domestic challenges. Hu, says Yale historian Jonathan Spence, "uses a language that preaches caution and the avoidance of extremes, but seems to have little sense of how to implement changes that will boldly address China's formidable problems." Indeed, just beneath Hu's exhortations about harmony, peaceful rise and benevolent leadership, old Maoist structures remain.

In its own odd way, the association with the failed past is a good symbol for the failing present.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


DVD price war breaks out (Gary Cleland, 21/12/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Technology firms trying to corner the market in rival types of new video player have slashed their prices in America, in a move which could soon benefit British shoppers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


McCain Surging In Hew Hampshire (Newsmax, December 20, 2007)

Arizona Sen. John McCain has surged in New Hampshire in the past month and is now tied with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the state race for the Republican presidential nomination, a poll showed on Thursday.

The survey by the American Research Group found McCain, a strong backer of President George W. Bush's Iraq war strategy, had 26 percent support, up from 11 percent in a poll in late November.

He was tied with Romney, who had dropped 10 percentage points since the last survey.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


Bush critical of Syria: The president says Damascus is destabilizing Lebanon and says he has lost patience with Assad. (Paul Richter, 12/21/07, Los Angeles Times)

President Bush accused Syria on Thursday of contributing to the deepening political crisis in Lebanon, declaring that he had lost patience with Syrian President Bashar Assad "a long time ago." [...]

The U.S. allies in Lebanon had been disheartened by Washington's eagerness to have Syria attend last month's Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Md. They took the move as a sign that Washington was moving toward a more conciliatory approach with Damascus.

Bush's tougher language at a news conference Thursday appeared to be an effort to repair Washington's ties with the pro-Western groups, analysts said.

Though Israel would be opposed, the US must topple the Ba'athists in Syria in order to complete the President's Middle East revolution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Nicolas Sarkozy Is in a Hurry: The French President is moving fast, but can he act quickly enough to prevent France's ailing economy from getting any worse? (Carol Matlack, 12/21/07, Business Week)

Nicolas Sarkozy hit the ground running, and he hasn't stopped. In the past week alone, France's new President has met with the Pope at the Vatican, launched negotiations to overhaul labor laws, led an environmental-protection delegation to the endangered Camargue region—and still found time for a stroll through Disneyland Paris with his new girlfriend, ex-supermodel and singer Carla Bruni.

But can Sarkozy, 52, move fast enough to keep France's sick economy from getting even sicker? [...]

[H]e has barely scratched the surface of other problems that are growing more acute by the day. France's economy is set to grow an anemic 1.9% this year, compared with a European Union average of 2.9%. The national debt is rising rapidly, and the EU has warned that by 2009 France's public finances will be the shakiest of any of its 27 member countries.

...just palliative care.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


Bush boxed in his congressional foes
: Democrats took the Hill but were stymied by a steadfast president (Janet Hook, 12/21/07, Los Angeles Times)

Rather than turn tail for his last two years in the White House, Bush has used every remaining weapon in his depleted arsenal -- the veto, executive orders, the loyalty of Republicans in Congress -- to keep Democrats from getting their way.He has struck a combative pose, dashing hopes that he would be more accommodating in the wake of his party's drubbing in the 2006 midterm voting. [...]

[O]n a host of foreign and domestic policy issues, backed by a remarkably disciplined Republican Party in the House and Senate, Bush has been able to confound Democrats. It has been a source of great frustration to the party that came to power with sky-high expectations and the belief it had a mandate for change. And it is a vivid reminder of how much clout even a weakened president can have -- especially one as single-minded as Bush.

"We have custody of Congress, but we don't have control," said Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village). "Bush has shown, time and again, that he's a very stubborn guy. November 2006 didn't change that."

Republican cohesion in Congress blocked Democrats (Carl Hulse and Robert Pear, December 21, 2007, NY Times)
It was a picture-perfect start for Nancy Pelosi as she took the speaker's podium last January in her tailored aubergine suit surrounded by children to emphasize her singular status as the first woman, mother and grandmother to lead the House of Representatives.

What Pelosi did not know, as she beamed at her fellow Democrats cheering their return to power, was that the glum Republicans witnessing the tableau would remain persistently unified against her and her ambitious new majority in the legislative year ahead.

Defying expectations and surprising even themselves, Republicans were able to slow and sometimes halt Democratic momentum by refusing to break with President George W. Bush and his war strategy, no matter how unpopular, and by resisting social initiatives, no matter how appealing.

Democrats with a similar minority -- and no presidential veto -- had been able to stop the GOP on matters like SS reform, yet she was surprised that they turned the tables?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


India still reeling over US deal (Siddharth Srivastava, 12/22/07, Asia Times)

In terms of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, the stalled pact would never have occupied so much political space had Manmohan not treated it like his own baby.

Maybe then the left parties, too, would not have made such a big song and dance about it. The Indo-US nuclear deal does, however, does have an important aspect: the arrival of the US as India's most important business, strategic, defense and diplomatic ally for the years head.

The role and socialist influence of Cold War ally Russia has receded. For the first time, an American warship forms part of India's defense arsenal, with transport planes and more to follow. If the civilian nuclear power deal goes through, America will have significant stakes here too.

American cultural and capitalist icons are part of Indian society: Domino's, McDonald's, Google, Yahoo, Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Harley Davidson will soon motor into the Indian market and one of India's main Bollywood actresses, Aishwaria Rai, has chose Oprah Winfrey to promote a movie.

This is the most important, yet little recognized, dynamic of the 21st century.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Stand By Steyn (Robert Spencer, 12/21/07,

To be sure, the article was pretty strong stuff. Here’s a bit of it: “There are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe -- without swords, without guns, without conquests. The fifty million Muslims of Europe will turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades.” Even worse, it goes on to say: “Just look at the development within Europe, where the number of Muslims is expanding like mosquitoes. Every Western woman in the EU is producing an average of 1.4 children. Every Muslim woman in the same countries is producing 3.5 children.”

“A Muslim continent”! “The number of Muslims is expanding like mosquitoes”! No wonder the CIC was upset. And not just the CIC: writer Jim Henley, whose articles have appeared in The New Republic and The American Spectator Online, quoted the “mosquitoes” line and called Steyn a “racist.” There were just two problems: The “Muslim continent” statement is not only factual, it’s stated in words no one can characterize as inflammatory. (Also, it’s been said by Libya’s strongman Muammar Qaddafi). Second, “The number of Muslims is expanding like mosquitoes” was not Steyn’s phrase. He was quoting Mullah Krekar, a jihadist who currently resides in Norway, although officials have been trying for years to get him out of the country.

And that sums up the problem with the Canadian human rights commissions’ action against Steyn: he was simply reporting on contemporary European reality.

,,,isn't Mr. Steyn pro-Islamic?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


M's keeping mitts on Morrow: Pitcher 'highly, highly unlikely to leave,' Bavasi says (JOHN HICKEY, 12/22/07, Seattle P-I)

[General manager Bill] Bavasi said something Thursday at the news conference introducing Silva that may indicate Bedard is not coming West.

The Orioles have been asking for both outfielder Adam Jones and reliever-turned-starter Brandon Morrow in the deal.

"He (Morrow) is highly, highly unlikely to leave," Bavasi said. "I'm not saying he couldn't be traded, but it's unlikely."

Bavasi said Morrow, who has been starting in Venezuela after working out of the Mariners bullpen in 2007, is thought of so highly that the Mariners have a difficult time envisioning a future without him.

Supposedly they offered Morrow and Jones for Santana. If so, they are a better pair than the Buchholz/Ellsbury or Kennedy/Melky packages and Jones may be enough better than Melky to trump a Hughes/Melky package. Problem is, fans don't hear as much about Mariner prospects as Sox and Yankee.

December 20, 2007

Posted by Matt Murphy at 8:37 PM


Yes, it's that time of year again: The 2007-2008 version of the Annual Brothers Judd Bowl Game Pick'em has finally arrived. To sign up, please go to the following website:

Once you are there, you can either sign up for an ESPN account or log in if you already have one. Then simply search for the Brothers Judd group and join us. It's pretty basic:

Group name: Brothers Judd
Password: ericjulia

Remember to rank your picks if you so choose, and be aware that all picks have to be finalized by the morning of December 20th. The winner (or winners) will receive either a free book or a brand-new 2007 Chevy Camaro. I promise to send one of those two prizes.

Have fun!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 PM


U.S. Congress finds earmarks a hard habit to break (Carl Hulse, December 20, 2007, NY Times)

Despite an intense campaign by critics in and out of Congress against home-state projects, the year-end budget plan sent to President George W. Bush on Wednesday was stuffed with almost 9,000 of them.

When we were kids they were called constituent services and were the mark of effective representation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:07 PM


Risky Sex Returns Syphilis to Europe (MARIA CHENG, 12/20/07, AP)

Syphilis is back: The sexually transmitted disease long associated with 19th Century bohemian life is making an alarming resurgence in Europe.

"Syphilis used to be a very rare disease," said Dr. Marita van de Laar, an expert in sexually transmitted diseases at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. "I'm not sure we can say that anymore."

Most cases of syphilis are in men, and experts point to more risky sex among gay men as the chief cause for the resurgence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 PM


Liberty! Liberty!: Why I’m for Ron Paul (John Derbyshire, 12/20/07, National Review)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM


Vanessa Redgrave helps Guantanamo suspects (Philip Johnston, 20/12/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Two suspected al-Qa’eda operatives released from Guantanamo Bay have walked free from court although they are still wanted in Spain on terrorism-related offences.

One of the men, who is accused of distributing extremist propaganda produced by Osama bin Laden, had half of his £50,000 bail surety met by the actress Vanessa Redgrave.

Well, at least streaking went out of fashion. Being a useful idiot, sadly, never does.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:50 AM


Alive and Kicking: Reports of the demise of social conservatism are greatly exaggerated. (Jeffrey Bell, December 20, 2007, Weekly Standard)

There are several things about social conservatism that have made it easy to underestimate. For one thing, it is still comparatively new. Fifty years ago, the term was seldom used. Then as now there were many millions of Americans with conservative moral and social values, but there was no such thing as a mass political movement or political philosophy built around such values.

This was in part because social institutions like marriage and moral ideas like the sanctity of unborn human life had not yet come under broad-based assault, and therefore had not become a factor in the national political debate. As recently as the 1950s, the divide between liberals and conservatives had nothing to do with whether marriage should be redefined or abortion should be treated as a constitutional right. Beginning in the 1960s, when politics did begin to call moral and social values into question, it generated dismay and protests among holders of traditional values.

Similar challenges and social changes--the legalization of abortion and the enactment of "no fault" (unilateral) divorce, among others--were taking place at the same time in Western Europe, and dismay was expressed there as well. But nowhere else did this dismay lead to anything remotely resembling the social conservative political movement of the United States. Conservative parties in Europe largely capitulated to social liberalism and continued to base their critique of the left on economic and foreign-policy issues.

Japan's social revolution happened a generation earlier--abortion was legalized there in 1948--while the social/moral revolution in newly affluent Ireland is still playing itself out. But the bottom line is the same: The United States is (so far) the only First World democracy to have a social-conservative political movement of any consequence. The loneliness of American social conservatism on the global democratic scene is a second factor that renders it easy to regard lightly, as a kind of parochial oddity, destined soon to succumb to the secularizing, relativistic trend that has pretty much triumphed in every other affluent democracy.

The third major element that often makes social conservatism look anemic is the reluctance of Republican elites, including conservative ones, to talk about social issues. Even George W. Bush, the most influential and effective ally of social conservatives in national politics since Ronald Reagan, looks uncomfortable discussing such issues as abortion and same-sex marriage. In his 2000 campaign, Bush checked all the right boxes of the social conservative agenda, but preferred in campaign appearances to talk about mobilizing faith-based groups to help solve social problems. This appealed to social conservatives and served as a kind of substitute for putting rhetorical meat on the bare bones of Bush's social-conservative issue commitments. Moreover, most other Republican leaders have shown even less willingness to talk about social issues than has President Bush.

But there are several offsetting factors at work that have made and will continue to make social conservatism hard to marginalize. For one thing, social conservatism is the only mass-based political persuasion that fully believes in the core ideas of the American founding. It has taken over that role from parties, professions, and ideologies that used to perform it, and as a result it is touching a deep chord with millions of American voters.

Most social conservatives believe that the central principle asserted in the Declaration of Independence is true: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." While almost all Americans respect these words at least as a sentiment or metaphor, it is a fact that most--not all--social conservatives believe them to be literally true, while most--not all--opponents of social conservatism do not believe them to be literally true.

As long as these key assertions of our nation's founding document continue to be taken literally by many Americans, social conservatism will resonate among Americans in a way that competing philosophies cannot--and in a way that, given the very different founding narratives of most countries in Europe and elsewhere, cannot easily be replicated beyond these shores.

A second factor making social conservatism relevant is a simple fact: The global left today defines itself mainly in terms of social issues rather than economics.

It is well that all of the demographic growth in America occurs among social conservatives, with a corresponding decline among the secular, because it is indeed the Christian Right that bears the full weight of the Founding, providing for the freeloading atheists--in Richard Rorty's wonderfully felicitous phrase--the theoretical underpinnings for the Republic that they can not reason out for themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


Obama's 'present' votes become issue: Clinton camp says they indicate he's not a leader (RAYMOND HERNANDEZ and CHRISTOPHER DREW, 12/19/07, New York Times)

In 1999, Barack Obama was faced with a difficult vote in the Illinois Legislature — to support a bill that would let some juveniles be tried as adults, a position that risked drawing fire from blacks, or to oppose it, possibly undermining his image as a tough-on-crime moderate.

In the end, Obama chose neither to vote for nor against the bill. He voted "present," effectively sidestepping the issue, an option he invoked nearly 130 times as a state senator.

This is entirely appropriate since his candidacy is based on just being there rather than doing anything.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 AM


Party base slams top Democrats for yielding (S.A. Miller, December 20, 2007, Washington Times)

Congress' Democratic leaders are being panned by prominent groups within the party's base for falling short of campaign promises and for repeatedly backing down from battles with President Bush.

"They were too ready to capitulate in anticipation of a fight," said Caroline Fredrickson, Washington legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union. [...]

"On the basis of getting things done, it's pretty hard to suggest that they have been a big success," said Chris Miller, director of Greenpeace's global warming campaign.

He did credit Mrs. Pelosi for "setting a high bar" for environmental legislation, even if she failed to clear it.

...that the unreality of the aspirations tyrumps the reality of the failures.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 AM


With Talk of Edwards Love Child, Mud Fight Begins (NICHOLAS WAPSHOTT, December 20, 2007, NY Sun)

CBS anchor Katie Couric has been asking presidential hopefuls whether voters should trust an adulterer. The way they answered, their directness or lack of it, their body language, and the coy looks on their faces proved a psychologist's dream. [...]

[Y]esterday, despite denials, the National Enquirer suggested a friend of John Edwards was pregnant with his child.

So Ms. Kouric's questions last night came right on cue. Some answered with a laugh, others with a shrug, some with compassion, others with piety. [...]

Mr. Edwards gave little sign that he was in the hot seat. "It's fundamental to how you judge people and human character, whether you keep your word, whether you keep what is your ultimate word, which is that you love your spouse, and you'll stay with them."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


Growing security gives Haitians a sense of hope (ANDRES OPPENHEIMER, 12/20/07,

Few are willing to declare victory over the wave of abductions that almost paralyzed this country in recent years, but a sharp decline in kidnappings coupled with a budding sense of political stability have brought back a measure of hope -- at least in business and political circles.

''We have a window of opportunity,'' says Rudolph Henry Boulos, a member of the Haitian Senate. ``There is political stability and more security. With that, we can focus on building economic stability.''

Much of the credit for the growing sense of normalcy goes to the 9,800-member, Brazil-led United Nations peacekeeping force that arrived after the 2004 revolt that prompted then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's departure.

Iraq's Sunnis celebrate holiday with a renewed vigor: They venture out to mark Eid al-Adha in Baghdad and other cities that are experiencing a relative calm. (Alexandra Zavis and Said Rifai, December 20, 2007, Los Angeles Times)
Thousands of Sunni Muslim faithful bowed their heads at dawn Wednesday in mosques around Baghdad for the first prayers of the Eid al-Adha holiday -- a time of renewed hope after months of reduced bloodshed, yet tinged with sadness for those not there to share it.

It was the largest turnout in years at Abu Hanifa, Baghdad's largest Sunni mosque, where worshipers spilled into the yard and the streets outside. After the service, long lines formed to buy slices of pastry eaten with syrup and cream, a traditional holiday breakfast.

Relatives long separated by the killing that raged in Baghdad's bloodied streets were reunited again.

"I visited family and friends all over Baghdad," marveled Sabah Abdul-Wahab, a young chef, who spent last year's four-day holiday confined with his parents and siblings in the upmarket Karada district. "I also went to Zawra Park, and the place was filled with families having picnics and just relishing the newfound security."

Later, goats, sheep and cows were slaughtered for family feasts commemorating the prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son for God. One proud man was spotted posing for a snapshot with his arm around the neck of a cow before dispensing with the beast.

U.S. commanders say violence across Iraq is at its lowest level since the first year after the 2003 American-led invasion.

For all the nattering about distinctive local cultures and customs, add in Liberia and W's led successful liberalizing crusades on three continents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


Kerrey Apologizes to Obama Over Remark (NEDRA PICKLER, 12/20/067, AP)

Former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey has apologized to Barack Obama for any unintentional insult he committed by raising the Democratic presidential candidate's Muslim heritage while endorsing rival candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.

...when he cites that as his entire qualification for foreign policy?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Giuliani OK After Checkup at Hospital (HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH, Dec. 20, 2007, AP)

Republican Rudy Giuliani planned to head home to New York City on Thursday after spending the night in a St. Louis hospital getting checked out for flu-like symptoms, his campaign said.

He's preparing to bail...again....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM

RWR AND SONS (via Mike Daley):

The “March of Freedom” From Reagan to Bush: Two presidents, one idea (Paul Kengor, December 2007/January 2008, Policy Review)

Ronald Reagan left the presidency the third week of January 1989. By the end of that year, Solidarity candidates had swept 99 of 100 seats in a free and fair election in communist Poland, the Berlin Wall had crashed in a soon-to-be-reunified Germany, Vaclav Havel had left prison for the presidency of Czechoslovakia, and the continent ’s worst living dictator, Romania’s Nicolai Ceausescu, had been lined up against a wall by the masses and shot on Christmas Day — a day he had sought to ban. Two years later, the Soviet Union itself ceased to exist, and the Cold War was over.

Now, as a retired Reagan began what he called “the sunset of my life” in California, a sunrise of freedom set the world aglow.

During the 1970s, Reagan had often bemoaned the lack of freedom in the world, turning in his speeches to data from Freedom House marking the number of free and unfree nations. As president, he dedicated himself to improving those numbers.

By the early 1990s, we could look to the same source to demonstrate the degree of success of the “march of freedom”: In 1980 there were 56 democracies in the world; by 1990, there were 76. The numbers continued upward, hitting 91 in 1991, 99 in 1992, 108 in 1993, and 114 in 1994. Thirteen years after he’d entered the Oval Office, the number of free nations had doubled; by 1994, 60 percent of the world’s nations were democracies.

By the end of the violent twentieth century, which had seen over 50 million perish in two world wars and over 100 million murdered by communist governments, 120 of the world’s 192 nations were free. Outside of Western Europe, 90 percent of Latin American and Caribbean nations were considered democracies, along with 91 percent of Pacific Island states and 93 percent of the nations of East Central Europe and the Baltic area — i.e., the former Soviet region.

Yet there was one part of the world immune to this wave of freedom: the Middle East — the least democratic region on the planet and, perhaps not coincidentally, the most violent. A 1999-2000 survey by Freedom House (done, importantly, before September 11, 2001) found that an astonishing zero of the 16 Arab countries in the Middle East were democratic, the worst rate on the globe.

Freedom’s dungeon

Now, against great odds, another Republican president is attempting to extend Ronald Reagan’s march of freedom to that one area on earth where it has been most resisted.

Agree or not, September 11, 2001 taught George W. Bush something significant: Regardless of whether Iraq was in any way linked to that event, or to al Qaeda, or to terrorism generally — for the record, throughout the 1990s the Clinton State Department rightly listed Iraq as one of the world’s two chief sponsors of terrorism and devoted more attention to Iraq than to any other country in its final annual report — the forty-third president concluded that the pathology of Middle East dictatorship and violence had to be addressed, especially in a world in which wmd technology was coming increasingly within reach of any tyrant.

How to turn the Middle East around? The president concluded that there was only one hope: freedom — political and economic freedom. Indeed, in the academic field of international relations, one of the few practical debates of the 1990s was the “democratic peace” thesis. The argument postulates that democracies, generally speaking — and depending on their level of maturity and stability — do not fight one another and are a safer bet to be peaceful. Thus, to the extent that the hostile Middle East becomes more democratic, it is likely to become more peaceful.

George W. Bush began to sow the seeds for such a transformation, beginning in the Middle East ’s two most repressive states: Afghanistan and Iraq. After removing the Taliban in the fall of 2001, Bush removed Saddam’s regime in the spring of 2003. It is in those countries that Bush hoped to recommence the march.

While everyone would like to imahgine he lives in unique times and partisans and ideologues imagine enormous differences from one presidency to the next, the reality is that historians will look back at the past thirty years, at least, as a fairly undifferentiated period of finishing up the Long War and first slowing the growth of the New Deal and then replacing it with the Third Way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Shift Away From Ad-Free Has a Price (LOUISE STORY, 12/13/07, NY Times)

WHEN children log onto, the popular virtual world for children who buy Webkinz stuffed animals, they can send messages to their friends, decorate their virtual rooms and take trivia quizzes.

Now, they may also see advertisements.

The Webkinz site began running movie ads on its site in October, with ads for “Bee Movie” and later for “Alvin and the Chipmunks.” The ads run on the right side of the home page after users log in. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, an advocacy group based in Boston, is demanding that the site remove the ads.

“One of the reasons why parents buy Webkinz for their children is the expectation that the site will be free from advertising,” said Susan Linn, the campaign’s director.

Parents buy kids stuff because of advertising. Who cares if the ad is on the tv or the pc screen?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Chief scientist in sports cars warning to women (Richard Gray, 17/12/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Women must stop admiring men who drive sports cars if they want to join the fight against global warming, the Government's chief scientist has urged.

Professor Sir David King said governments could only do so much to control greenhouse gas emissions and it was time for a cultural change among the British public.

And he singled out women who find supercar drivers "sexy", adding that they should divert their affections to men who live more environmentally-friendly lives.

Of course, were they any natural survival drive you wouldn't need to tell them that.

December 19, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:31 PM


Look What's Growing in Spanish Harlem (Marc Silver, 12/18/07,

The album called The Harlem Experiment lives up to its name, with a sometimes-unexpected match of artists and songs to evoke the musical hotbed of New York's famously diverse neighborhood. But perhaps its biggest experiment of all was taking a cute pop tune from the '60s called "Spanish Harlem" and asking a white British singer to perform it, with only a 1932 vintage guitar as backup.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 PM


Interest rates could fall to 4pc by end of 2008 (Harry Wallop, 20/12/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Interest rates could drop to as low as four per cent next year after the Bank of England indicated a "substantial loosening" of policy to revive the flagging housing market.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 PM


House drops Democrats' guidelines to pass minimum tax relief (Noam N. Levey and Jonathan Peterson, 12/19/07, Los Angeles Times)

House lawmakers today agreed to spare more than 20 million taxpayers from the alternative minimum tax this year, bowing to Republican demands that the $50 billion in tax relief not be offset with any other tax increases.

On the last day of legislative business this year, the House voted 352-64 to "patch" the so-called AMT, ensuring that millions of middle-class households -- some with incomes as low as $75,000 -- will be sheltered from the bite of the AMT.

The bill, which the Senate has already approved, is expected to be signed by the president.

Like the Patriots, W is really just running up the score as the greatest tax cutter in history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 PM


Mormonism an issue for Romney in South Carolina (DAVID LIGHTMAN, 12/19/07, McClatchy Newspapers)

Something about Mitt Romney just isn't right with Bill Burdette. And something about Mike Huckabee is.

"Romney's from Utah and he's Mormon," said the 41-year-old software engineer from Iva, S.C. "Huckabee's from the South and he's Baptist."

Understand, Burdette said, he's not choosing his candidate based on religion, but Huckabee, a Baptist minister who was the governor of Arkansas for 10 and a half years, is someone he's comfortable with.

That's Romney's problem throughout this crucial early-voting state, where a win Jan. 19 by the former Massachusetts governor would give him a huge boost in his quest for the Republican presidential nomination.

An estimated 63 percent of Republican primary voters in South Carolina are "born again" or evangelical Christians, so a Romney win would be hailed as dramatic proof that his Mormon faith wasn't a big factor in voter judgments.

Except that evidence from polls and visits throughout the state shows that it is.

Here's an entirely plausible scenario for how this plays out:


That would be a body blow for Governor Romney and a surprisingly good showing for the Senator.


Which would end the Romney candidacy.


Would become an elimination race with Senators McCain and Thompson probably having to win to survive, though Governor Huckabee could likely survive a 2nd place finish if he played it like a comeback after NH.

That will leave two conservatives to fight it out for the big pots that follow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 PM


Is Cuba's Castro Cracking?: Fidel Castro announced Monday he might be ready to take a reduced role in leading Cuba, after taking a backseat due to illness for the past year and a half. On Wednesday German commentators mull whether this might be the opportunity Europe has been waiting for. (Der Spiegel, 12/019/07)
In a statement read on Cuban television Monday, Fidel Castro raised the possibility that he might not hold on to the country's top job forever. "My basic duty is not to cling to office, nor even more so, to obstruct the rise of people much younger," the statement read, "but to pass on experiences and ideas whose modest value arises from the exceptional era in which I lived."

Castro-watchers have been confused as ever by the mixed signals from the 81-year-old dictator, who has been sidelined due to illness for the last year and a half. Earlier in December, he was nominated for a seat in the National Assembly, a step towards nomination for another term as president. Castro has held the position for almost half a century.

German opinion on the communist leader's announcement was united on one front: the chance for Germany and Europe to take action on Cuba is now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 PM


Would you give up Clay Buchholz? (Kevin Thomas, 12/19/07, Portland Press-Herald: Clearing the Bases)

Some thoughts as the Hot Stove League has cooled down (for now):

One of the latest rumors about the hunt for Johan Santana is that the Twins want Clay Buchholz in any trade with the Red Sox. Boston's answer should be easy. No. Period.

Buchholz shows the potential to become a right-handed Santana.

That's silly. Johan Santana has been the best pitcher in baseball for four consecutive years, a Koufaxian run. If Clay Buchholz maxes out his potential he's Jack McDowell, a nice enough starter but not a certain Hall of Famer, like Mr. Santana.

Meanwhile, if the various reports are true and putting Buchholz in the deal allows the Sox to pull out both Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury then it ought to be a no-brainer. After all, you wouldn't do that 2 for 1 by itself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


China's new anti-corruption website crashes (Isambard Wilkinson, 19/12/2007, Daily Telegraph)

A Chinese government website set up for the public to complain about corruption crashed within a day of launching under the volume of cases reported.

The website was constructed by the National Bureau of Corruption Prevention to collect information on corrupt activities as part of an ongoing purge by the Beijing authorities.

"The enthusiasm that greeted the launch of the website reflects the growing frustration felt by the general public towards corruption at government level," reported the state news agency, Xinhua.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:40 PM


Ron Paul Keeps Donation from White Supremacist (AP, 12/19/07)

Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul has received a $500 campaign donation from a white supremacist, and the Texas congressman doesn't plan to return it, an aide said Wednesday.

Don Black, of West Palm Beach, recently made the donation, according to campaign filings. He runs a Web site called Stormfront with the motto, ''White Pride World Wide.'' The site welcomes postings to the ''Stormfront White Nationalist Community.''

...where the politics of the recipient are just as crazy as those of the donor. If Mr. Paul were to start returning money he's received from whackos it'd be a full time job.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:35 PM


Reid’s Relationship With Bush Enters Deep Freeze (DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, 12/19/07, NY Times)

Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, has called President Bush a loser and a liar and has referred to him derisively as King George. Mr. Reid has also apologized — but only, he likes to point out, for the “loser” line.

Mostly, Mr. Reid, Democrat of Nevada, calls the president “this guy,” as in an interview last week, when he said, “I am mystified, dumbfounded about how difficult it is to work with this guy.”

In private conversations about Mr. Bush with friends and Senate colleagues, Mr. Reid has even used the word “hate,” though he clarifies that it is political not personal hatred that he feels.

One of the sad things about Mr. Bush's political career is that, with the notable exceptions of Ann Richards and John McCain, his opponents have all been such little men. It makes him Larry Holmes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:01 PM


Election 2008: New Hampshire Republican Primary: New Hampshire: Romney 31% McCain 27% (Rassmussen Reports, December 19, 2007)

In many places around the country, Mitt Romney is facing a challenge from Mike Huckabee. However, in New Hampshire, Huck-a-mania never took hold. But, following endorsements from the Manchester Union Leader, the Boston Globe, and Senator Joe Lieberman, John McCain is now challenging Romney in the state he won eight years ago.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of the state shows Romney with 31% support, McCain at 27% and no one else close. Rudy Giuliani attracts 13% and Huckabee barely reaches double digits at 11%. This is the first time any candidate has been within single digits of Romney in several months.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:34 PM


Has global warming stopped? (David Whitehouse, 19 December 2007, New Statesman)

Global warming stopped? Surely not. What heresy is this? Haven’t we been told that the science of global warming is settled beyond doubt and that all that’s left to the so-called sceptics is the odd errant glacier that refuses to melt?

Aren’t we told that if we don’t act now rising temperatures will render most of the surface of the Earth uninhabitable within our lifetimes? But as we digest these apocalyptic comments, read the recent IPCC’s Synthesis report that says climate change could become irreversible. Witness the drama at Bali as news emerges that something is not quite right in the global warming camp.

With only few days remaining in 2007, the indications are the global temperature for this year is the same as that for 2006 – there has been no warming over the 12 months.

But is this just a blip in the ever upward trend you may ask? No.

The fact is that the global temperature of 2007 is statistically the same as 2006 as well as every year since 2001. Global warming has, temporarily or permanently, ceased. Temperatures across the world are not increasing as they should according to the fundamental theory behind global warming – the greenhouse effect. Something else is happening and it is vital that we find out what or else we may spend hundreds of billions of pounds needlessly.

Hard to believe history will consider George Bush a failed president when he saved the planet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 PM


An Astonishing Turnaround on Iraq (Fred Barnes, 12/19/07, Campaign Standard)

An astonishing turnaround occurred in the Senate on Tuesday: 70 senators voted to fund the Iraq war with a fresh $70 billion and no strings attached. Think about this a moment. Last winter, after Democrats captured the Senate and House, it seemed likely they'd succeed in limiting or ending the Iraq war, probably by setting a firm timetable for withdrawal of American troops. After all, both President Bush and the war itself were highly unpopular. The Democratic triumph in the election made that clear, even to those who doubted opinion polls. And Democrats made the anti-Iraq crusade their top priority in the new Congress. Now, the 70-vote approval of the war by the Senate represents the breathtaking dimension of their failure.

At the end of the day, the '06 midterm is best thought of as an argument over which party controlled the earmark process.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:08 AM


Giuliani-Huckabee contest could split GOP (W. James Antle III, Dec 19, 2007, Politico)

A Giuliani-Huckabee race may be a surprise, but for Republicans it would not be a welcome one. Ideologically and geographically, the two candidates are almost perfectly positioned to tear apart their party.

Giuliani, the Northeastern social liberal, is strongly favored by many fiscal conservatives and national security hawks. He is a tax-cutter who emphasizes supply-side doctrines in his ads, and many on the right hope his law-and-order record in New York will translate into success in the war on terror.

Writing in the Weekly Standard, Noemie Emery acknowledged Giuliani's deficiencies on abortion and other social issues but argued "in a time of national peril" such litmus tests are "a luxury we cannot afford."

By contrast, Huckabee, the Southerner and onetime Baptist preacher, is reliably conservative on abortion, same-sex marriage and the role of religion in the public square.

You'd think the secular Right would have kicked this delusion a long time ago, but maybe thirty years is too long for a lesson to stay learned. All the same sorts of folks were afraid of the evangelical zealot Ronald Reagan, so they kept John Anderson in the race, as a repository of Northeastern establishment hope. But the election demonstrated that, like the Shi'a of Iraq, social conservatives were far more numerous than the elites dreamed.

Handle Huckabee with Care (Lee Harris, 18 Dec 2007, Tech Central Station)

Today in a world in which it is inadmissible to say a word against anyone's religion, there is an open season on Christian fundamentalists. You may call them ignorant boobs and idiots, and there is no one in the public forum to call you down for it.

Much of this attack takes the odious form of snobbery. It is true that the Southern Baptist church has seldom been the home of the elite, social or intellectual. On the contrary, it began as the religion of the poor and the uneducated, those who farmed their own land and made things with their own hands. The Southern Baptist religion was never the opium of the people—it was more like their methamphetamine, revving them up, stirring them to revival, exhorting them to missionary work. In the nineteenth century, there were many rural Baptist congregations where the preacher was not even paid, on the grounds that a paid preacher might start giving himself airs. The preacher man was simply the man who stood up and preached from the heart. If the congregation liked what they heard, he could stick around; if not, he was gone. Nobody told the Southern Baptists what they could and couldn't think—not even each other, which is why they kept dividing off into new congregations so frequently. You still can't tell them what to think, which is perhaps why the intellectual elite distrusts them—they stubbornly refuse to take the word of those who are so clearly their cerebral superiors.

Today there is high drama in the Republican Party. A Baptist preacher, running for the Presidency on a shoe-string budget, has gained a momentum that no one in the Republican establishment anticipated, and that no one knows quite what to do about. If the Republican establishment cannot stop him, it will face a difficult future. It will be forced either into opposition to its own nominee, or worst, its own President; or it will have to follow the lead of a man who simply isn't "one of us." And, indeed, a candidate who appears to have figured out how to win votes without requiring other people's money is an obvious affront to any establishment—a fact that may explain the fury of the Anybody But Huckabee tsunami that may well pose a much greater danger to the Republican establishment than it poses to the intended object of their fury, and here's why.

More and more, the attack on Huckabee has become a not very subtle attack on his Christian fundamentalism. This would pose no problem if the Republicans could dispense with the vote of Christian fundamentalists, but it cannot hope to win the indispensable states in the South without them. This is simple arithmetic. Now all would be well if the Christian fundamentalists were the clueless morons that they are alleged to be by those cultured despisers, but they are not. At the very minimum they have the same intelligence of sheep who, if fleeced once too often, will begin to think that they are merely being used, and not looked after. The Left has long charged the Republican establishment with cynically manipulating Christian social conservatives in order to further the agenda of the vested interests, duping the hicks with promises of cultural conservatism in order to get them to swallow tax breaks to the greedy rich. If the Republican establishment is really interested in self-immolation, they need only give Christian conservatives a good reason to suspect them of such crass manipulation of their deeply held convictions by those who look down on them with contempt and derision.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:56 AM


For Hillary, Electability Now Equals Vulnerability Later (Dick Morris, 12/19/07, Real Clear Politics)

In the New York Times/CBS poll of Dec. 11, Hillary was overwhelmingly rated as the most likely of the Democratic candidates to defeat the Republicans in the 2008 general election.

Asked, regardless of how they were voting, which candidate was most likely to defeat the GOP, 63 percent of Democratic primary voters said Hillary Clinton was the most likely to win in November, while only 14 percent chose Obama and 10 percent selected Edwards.

Good news for Hillary? Yes, for now. But it could indicate a potential for disaster should she stumble in the early primaries and caucuses.

The even greater problem for Ms Clinton is that she's going to have to jag Left to win the primaries, just as George W. Bush had to jag Right to win his, thereby costing himself the '00 election.

Her husband had the huge advantage of facing Paul Tsongas, who was running to his Right, which enabled Mr. Clinton to stay in the center as he dispatched the Senator and kept him viable for the general. Though, even with that, he still required the presence of Ross Perot to win the election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:52 AM


Now we know why Rudy pulled back some dollars from NH (Jonathan Martin, 12/19/07, Politico)

A new Granite State poll out this morning from UNH/CNN has Mitt Romney still enjoying a solid lead, but with John McCain inching up and taking command of second as Rudy Giuliani drops a bit.

The numbers:

Romney: 34
McCain: 22
Giuliani: 16
Huckabee: 10
Paul: 5

The survey is the starkest indication as to why, after an expensive, month-long TV investment, Rudy's campaign decided to cut their ad presence in the state. His buy just didn't move the needle.

...isn't a serious candidate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


McCain Calls for End To Alternative Minimum Tax (SETH GITELL, December 19, 2007, NY Sun)

A relaxed Senator McCain, campaigning Barack Obama-style without a necktie, is offering New Hampshire voters a recipe that combines a morsel of the maverick, a bit of the bipartisan, a hint of the hawk, and a tablespoon of the tax-cutter.

Mr. McCain added to his campaign today a call to eliminate the alternative minimum tax and to make the research and development tax credit permanent along with a ban on taxes on the Internet and cell phones.

John McCain’s Last War: As it counts down the days to New Hampshire, his campaign is humbler. But the angry candidate is not. (Chris Jones, 12/19/2007, Esquire)
John McCain greets this autumn morning from his bed at the Sheraton in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the same hotel in the same town he has gone to sleep in and woken up in so many times before, but today there’s no call for spotlights. It really is sunny outside. He climbs on board the bus -- no longer the luxurious, expensive Straight Talk Express, a shabbier ride, beat-up and worn, adorned only with a McCain banner strung up in the rear window. “Frankly, I don’t relish it,” he says of the loss of his front-runner status. But despite his protestations, this seems to be how he likes it best of all, John McCain and a couple of old buddies -- ”Morning, Orson!” -- and a seat in the back, shrugged free of the demands of the machine, carried on down the road instead by pink chicken and fortunes in cookies: The game isn’t over until it’s over.

“I still believe I can out-campaign anybody,” he says, sounding more motivated than he has sounded in months, motivated by anger, motivated by war. Portsmouth to Rochester, Rochester to Franklin, Franklin to Concord, Concord to Hudson, Hudson to Nashua, and at every stop, before big crowds and small, McCain grips the microphone and makes a few jokes -- ”I tried to enlist in the marines, but my parents were married” -- before he lifts himself out of this small VFW or that smoky Legion Hall and launches into his practiced, impassioned plea.

“I think it’s pretty obvious the American people ran out of patience,” he says, referring to the first of his wars. “And we did pay a price for our failure. We’re friends with the Vietnamese now, but we shouldn’t forget that thousands were executed, hundreds of thousands were put in reeducation camps, I don’t know how many fled on boats, died at sea. And in Cambodia, there was a genocide of incredible consequences. We have a tendency to forget that. But the Vietnamese never said we’re going to follow them home. They had no radical extremist cause that they thought was part of the struggle between them and us. That’s the difference. . . . I want us out, too, but I want us out with honor. And as terrible as the consequences of failure in Vietnam were, I don’t think they are as consequential as failure in Iraq.”

Whenever he talks like this, McCain almost always looks down at his right wrist, not because it’s partially frozen by the wounds that war inflicted on him but because around it is a bracelet, about as thick as a ruler, with a photograph of a young soldier on it. Next to it is written:

SPC Matthew J. Stanley.

Army 12/16/06

Wolfeboro Falls, NH.

The date is the day Stanley, twenty-two and newly married, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. McCain was given the bracelet by Stanley’s shaken mother, Lynn Savage, who took it off her wrist at a New Hampshire campaign stop a few months ago and put it on his. Today, she has joined him on the bus, and it’s her turn to tell a war story, her voice trembling only a little.

“I thought maybe, if I just offered the bracelet, he might take it and remember the reason why we need to finish what we’re doing and not let my son die in vain and not let thousands of others die in vain. . . . I just wanted it to be a gesture, to connect with him, so that he would understand. I’m sure he had friends who were killed during the war and he might know what their

parents went through. And I thought maybe it would just be a connection, and it really was -- he was very emotional when I gave it to him. That wasn’t my intention. But as long as it remains a reminder for him to honor my son and all the other soldiers who have fallen, it’s a wonderful thing. Never let the memories die, that’s so important.”

And then she will stop and smile a thin, sad smile.

This is what’s left for John McCain, the man and the message stripped down to the base coat. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, he’s trying to be one or two things for just a few, and maybe enough of them will hear him and think well of him for it. He’s run out of the time and the money and the love that allows a man to speak of beginnings. He’s finally realized that beginnings are a young man’s game.

Now, like most old men, he’s become obsessed with how the story will end.

After another fifty miles, after another meandering, mirthful conversation in the back of the bus, he shouts up front how long we have until the next stop.

“Twenty minutes? Oh, my God.”

But the truth is, he would like to stay on this beat-up bus forever. He knows too well what will happen when it stops. “I talk to Bob Dole,” he says, his voice quiet as a lake. “I was with him the last two weeks of his campaign, constantly. One of the things that was very moving -- and admittedly, he didn’t give great speeches and I understand that -- but you’d see in the crowd these older men with the crossed skis, the 10th Mountain Division hats on. And after the speech you’d kind of see Bob go over and they’d come over, and it was fascinating to see that. It was very touching to see that. It makes me emotional even now when I think about it.”

Suddenly, McCain smiles his own thin, sad smile, and his eyes brim with tears.

He has rarely attended his own military reunions; when he has, he says, he could pick out the guys who had retired by how much closer they seemed to death. Maybe that’s why he’s always looked ahead, always pushed forward, always tried to sell us on our futures and never on his past. Until now -- until now, he never dwelled much on history, partly because he has so much of it to get lost in, mostly because he wanted to seem strong and vigorous. But now he wants to remember, and he would like for you to remember, too.

Forty years ago, John McCain was filmed in black and white, wrapped in a body cast and smoking what might have been his last cigarette. This footage was little seen until what’s left of his staff -- Rick Davis, Brooke Buchanan, everything cut back to the bone -- convinced him it was finally time to play that card in an ad called Courageous Service. (“I’m slightly embarrassed by it,” McCain says.) There he lies, all of thirty-one, interrogated by an invisible man with an Indo-French accent -- What is your name, what is your rank, where were you educated, what is your official number? . . . “Six-two-four,” McCain says, his smoke burning down, “seven-eight-seven.” And then the screen fades to black.

The clip is powerful, because the John McCain we know today seems so far removed from that John McCain. It speaks of such long journeys. There’s a subtler message hidden behind it as well: It serves to remind us, gently, that after he refused early release, he spent more time in a Vietnamese prison camp than America has spent in Iraq -- that old men, and old soldiers especially, use a different abacus when making sums out of sacrifice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Free Steyn (The Editors, 12/19/07, National Review)

Our readers know Mark Steyn well. His witty and learned commentary appears in every issue of National Review, and in many other English publications across the world. What Steyn’s American readers may not know is that a Muslim advocacy group in his native Canada is doing its best to muzzle him.

On December 4, the Canadian Islamic Congress announced that it had filed a complaint with three of Canada’s “human rights commissions” over an October 2006 article that Steyn had published in Maclean’s, Canada’s leading news weekly. “This article completely misrepresents Canadian Muslims’ values, their community, and their religion,” said Faisal Joseph, an attorney representing the complainants, in a press release. “We feel that it is imperative to challenge Maclean’s biased portrayal of Muslims in order to protect Canadian multiculturalism and tolerance.”

The article in question was adapted from Steyn’s recent book America Alone, which argues that Western society may be irrevocably altered — and not for the better — by unassimilated Muslim immigration. It’s no surprise that this thesis is controversial, probably in part because Steyn makes his points so well. But the real threat to tolerance here is the CIC, which would have the state impose penalties on those whose writings it disagrees with.

While, at first blush, the self-contradictory intolerance of the supposedly tolerant towards simple criticism of ideologies and the effective protection of the most intolerant of those ideologies can't help but seem odd to us it is important to recognize that the advocates are serving a higher cause, which is to so atomize the population as to make civic society an impossibility and render every individual dependent on the state. Thus the confusion about why America, the most notoriously conformist of modern countries, is so good at assimilation, while secular Europe, so tolerant and non-judgmental, is so ineffectual at integrating its immigrants. This latter result is precisely what the statist Left seeks, in order that its subjects, with too little in common to either trust one another or work in concert with one another, will cede ever more power over their own lives to the state in order to protect themselves from their neighbors.

The future belongs to Islam: The Muslim world has youth, numbers and global ambitions. The West is growing old and enfeebled, and lacks the will to rebuff those who would supplant it. It's the end of the world as we've known it. An excerpt from 'America Alone'. (MARK STEYN, Oct 20, 2006, Macleans)

On the Continent and elsewhere in the West, native populations are aging and fading and being supplanted remorselessly by a young Muslim demographic. Time for the obligatory "of courses": of course, not all Muslims are terrorists -- though enough are hot for jihad to provide an impressive support network of mosques from Vienna to Stockholm to Toronto to Seattle. Of course, not all Muslims support terrorists -- though enough of them share their basic objectives (the wish to live under Islamic law in Europe and North America) to function wittingly or otherwise as the "good cop" end of an Islamic good cop/bad cop routine. But, at the very minimum, this fast-moving demographic transformation provides a huge comfort zone for the jihad to move around in. And in a more profound way it rationalizes what would otherwise be the nuttiness of the terrorists' demands. An IRA man blows up a pub in defiance of democratic reality -- because he knows that at the ballot box the Ulster Loyalists win the elections and the Irish Republicans lose. When a European jihadist blows something up, that's not in defiance of democratic reality but merely a portent of democratic reality to come. He's jumping the gun, but in every respect things are moving his way.

You may vaguely remember seeing some flaming cars on the evening news toward the end of 2005. Something going on in France, apparently. Something to do with -- what's the word? -- "youths." When I pointed out the media's strange reluctance to use the M-word vis-à-vis the rioting "youths," I received a ton of emails arguing there's no Islamist component, they're not the madrasa crowd, they may be Muslim but they're secular and Westernized and into drugs and rap and meaningless sex with no emotional commitment, and rioting and looting and torching and trashing, just like any normal healthy Western teenagers. These guys have economic concerns, it's the lack of jobs, it's conditions peculiar to France, etc. As one correspondent wrote, "You right-wing shit-for-brains think everything's about jihad."

Actually, I don't think everything's about jihad. But I do think, as I said, that a good 90 per cent of everything's about demography. Take that media characterization of those French rioters: "youths." What's the salient point about youths? They're youthful. Very few octogenarians want to go torching Renaults every night. It's not easy lobbing a Molotov cocktail into a police station and then hobbling back with your walker across the street before the searing heat of the explosion melts your hip replacement. Civil disobedience is a young man's game.

In June 2006, a 54-year-old Flemish train conductor called Guido Demoor got on the Number 23 bus in Antwerp to go to work. Six -- what's that word again? -- "youths" boarded the bus and commenced intimidating the other riders. There were some 40 passengers aboard. But the "youths" were youthful and the other passengers less so. Nonetheless, Mr. Demoor asked the lads to cut it out and so they turned on him, thumping and kicking him. Of those 40 other passengers, none intervened to help the man under attack. Instead, at the next stop, 30 of the 40 scrammed, leaving Mr. Demoor to be beaten to death. Three "youths" were arrested, and proved to be -- quelle surprise! -- of Moroccan origin. The ringleader escaped and, despite police assurances of complete confidentiality, of those 40 passengers only four came forward to speak to investigators. "You see what happens if you intervene," a fellow rail worker told the Belgian newspaper De Morgen. "If Guido had not opened his mouth he would still be alive."

No, he wouldn't. He would be as dead as those 40 passengers are, as the Belgian state is, keeping his head down, trying not to make eye contact, cowering behind his newspaper in the corner seat and hoping just to be left alone. What future in "their" country do Mr. Demoor's two children have? My mother and grandparents came from Sint-Niklaas, a town I remember well from many childhood visits. When we stayed with great-aunts and other relatives, the upstairs floors of the row houses had no bathrooms, just chamber pots. My sister and I were left to mooch around cobbled streets with our little cousin for hours on end, wandering aimlessly past smoke-wreathed bars and cafes, occasionally buying frites with mayonnaise. With hindsight it seemed as parochially Flemish as could be imagined. Not anymore. The week before Mr. Demoor was murdered in plain sight, bus drivers in Sint-Niklaas walked off the job to protest the thuggery of the -- here it comes again -- "youths." In little more than a generation, a town has been transformed.

Of the ethnic Belgian population, some 17 per cent are under 18 years old. Of the country's Turkish and Moroccan population, 35 per cent are under 18 years old. The "youths" get ever more numerous, the non-youths get older. To avoid the ruthless arithmetic posited by Benjamin Franklin, it is necessary for those "youths" to feel more Belgian. Is that likely? Colonel Gadhafi doesn't think so:

There are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe -- without swords, without guns, without conquests. The fifty million Muslims of Europe will turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the American mainland was attacked for the first time since the War of 1812. The perpetrators were foreign -- Saudis and Egyptians. Since 9/11, Europe has seen the London Tube bombings, the French riots, Dutch murders of nationalist politicians. The perpetrators are their own citizens -- British subjects, citoyens de la République française. In Linz, Austria, Muslims are demanding that all female teachers, believers or infidels, wear head scarves in class. The Muslim Council of Britain wants Holocaust Day abolished because it focuses "only" on the Nazis' (alleged) Holocaust of the Jews and not the Israelis' ongoing Holocaust of the Palestinians.

How does the state react? In Seville, King Ferdinand III is no longer patron saint of the annual fiesta because his splendid record in fighting for Spanish independence from the Moors was felt to be insensitive to Muslims. In London, a judge agreed to the removal of Jews and Hindus from a trial jury because the Muslim defendant's counsel argued he couldn't get a fair verdict from them. The Church of England is considering removing St. George as the country's patron saint on the grounds that, according to various Anglican clergy, he's too "militaristic" and "offensive to Muslims." They wish to replace him with St. Alban, and replace St. George's cross on the revamped Union Flag, which would instead show St. Alban's cross as a thin yellow streak.

In a few years, as millions of Muslim teenagers are entering their voting booths, some European countries will not be living formally under sharia, but -- as much as parts of Nigeria, they will have reached an accommodation with their radicalized Islamic compatriots, who like many intolerant types are expert at exploiting the "tolerance" of pluralist societies. In other Continental countries, things are likely to play out in more traditional fashion, though without a significantly different ending. Wherever one's sympathies lie on Islam's multiple battle fronts the fact is the jihad has held out a long time against very tough enemies. If you're not shy about taking on the Israelis and Russians, why wouldn't you fancy your chances against the Belgians and Spaniards?

"We're the ones who will change you," the Norwegian imam Mullah Krekar told the Oslo newspaper Dagbladet in 2006. "Just look at the development within Europe, where the number of Muslims is expanding like mosquitoes. Every Western woman in the EU is producing an average of 1.4 children. Every Muslim woman in the same countries is producing 3.5 children." As he summed it up: "Our way of thinking will prove more powerful than yours."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


ET too bored by Earth transmissions to respond
(Tom Simonite, 12/18/07, New Scientist)

Messages sent into space directed at extraterrestrials may have been too boring to earn a reply, say two astrophysicists trying to improve on their previous alien chat lines.

Humans have so far sent four messages into space intended for alien listeners.

As John Updike explained, "Gods do not answer letters."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Al Qaeda in North Africa takes new tack amid losses : The group that claimed responsibility for blasts in Algeria has failed to reach broader goals (Sebastian Rotella, 12/19/07, Los Angeles Times)

In fact, the Algerian military has recently inflicted damage on the group, chopping away at its rural strongholds and capturing or slaying leaders, experts say. Moreover, the network has suffered from infighting and struggled to mold a North Africa-wide offshoot of Al Qaeda, according to authorities.

"Al Qaeda in the Maghreb has not been able to show it has achieved its announced goal of regional federation," said a senior British anti-terrorism official. "I am not seeing real operational control by Al Qaeda central."

As United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Algiers on Tuesday to pay homage to 17 employees killed at a U.N. complex there, North African and European security forces were on alert against a network striving to reassert itself. The strikes against the U.N. and the Constitutional Court continued a strategic shift from guerrilla combat against Algerian security forces to an Iraq-style campaign of suicide attacks and roadside bombings against national and foreign targets. [...]

Experts believe the Algiers bombings were a gambit by Abdelmalek Droukdel, the network's leader, to demonstrate viability and overcome battlefield defeats by adopting a new form of warfare. With skillful propaganda, target selection and militants willing to die, even a weakened network can have an international impact and, in some ways, become more dangerous.

Al Qaeda in Iraq prompted first a ruthless response from the Shi'ites and then from fed up Sunni tribesmen. It has been reduced to a sideshow. Let's hope that's the path Droukdel has chosen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


This Girl's Life: The Islamic revolution, and puberty, through the 2D eyes of Marjane Satrapi (Nick Pinkerton, December 18th, 2007, Village Voice)

Satrapi and Paronnaud say they were inspired in part by silent-era German Expressionism, which is evident in the film's dynamic gouges of black; some of their most striking scenes are in silhouette, suggesting Lotte Reiniger's lacework-detailed Orientalist animation of the '20s. Persepolis, hand-penned by a team in Satrapi's adopted home of Paris, is almost entirely black-and-white—the exception is a framing device that finds a grown-up expatriate Marjane reminiscing from Orly airport. The books were largely drawn in pure China-ink simplicity, but the film is ambitious with effects. As fundamentalism lowers its pall over Tehran, Persepolis imparts the cultural sea change with a schoolyard of upturned girl's faces in an inky ocean of newly imposed cloaks and headdresses; when little Marjane, punked-out inasmuch as Islamic law will allow, is accosted on the street by two female zealots, the women appear lamia-like, solid black bodies coiling around their prey.

The guts of the thing, though, are in Satrapi's embroidery of quotidian details: the thrill of scoring contraband Western pop off the streets; the routine absurdity of a university "Life Drawing" class where all that's exposed is the model's face, the rest concealed under a tent of hijab; the smuggling of illegal homemade wine into house parties that could turn fatal with a knock on the door; the horny teenagers recruited into martyrdom with government-issued plastic keys to a Live Nude Girls "Paradise" (that capacity for make- believe gone very awry). The accessibility of her firsthand address—how Satrapi refits epic national tragedy to an identifiably personal scale—has made Persepolis college curriculum and its maker something of a spokeswoman. She's even earned a tribute of sorts from back home. Her movie's Jury Prize–winning stand at Cannes got a response from an Iranian government- affiliated cultural foundation; the film stands accused of presenting "an unrealistic face of the achievements and results of the glorious Islamic Revolution."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


The Big Question: What was the Magna Carta, and are its contents relevant to us today? (Andy McSmith, 19 December 2007 , Independent)

What was special about it?

Until 1215, the King of England was an absolute monarch. In theory at least, the will of the King was the law of the land. In practice, there were always powerful nobles who would challenge his power, if they thought they could get away with it. There were no rules in the contest between King and barons, except one – whoever had the strongest army got what he wanted. Then on 15 June, 1215, King John met a delegation of barons on Runnymede island, and between them they drew up a document, written in Latin, which they called the Big Charter, setting out the limits and terms of the King's powers. It is seen as the symbolic beginning of the rule of law in England. For the first time, the English had something in writing to protect them against arbitrary rule.

In the Meadow That Is Called Runnymede (David W. Hall, Acton Institute)
The Magna Carta was a medieval catalogue of liberties, rights, and safeguards from governmental intrusion. It did not arise, however, apart from convulsion. King John’s heavy taxation led to mounting opposition, and several preliminary charters were drafted by leading clergymen. By Christmas of 1214, the barons and clergymen were united in opposition to John, but the revolution was stalled until Easter of 1215 by a promise from John to grant select concessions. After that time, civil war broke out, only to be calmed by the June 1215 accords.

Reflecting the medieval theology of its time, this document was a benchmark of civic liberties, rooted in the Christianity of the day. Although it is seldom admitted by modern secularists, medieval political theories were robust and fairly well developed. The charter addressed subjects ranging from inheritance laws to the payment of widows’ debts, from fair standards of trade to judicial protocols. This signal event, rather than indicating the crudity of unenlightened people (clause 42 included an early form of open immigration policy, though clause 51 banished foreign knights and mercenaries), was a sign of maturity in political thought. Moreover, it was an example of the impact of Christian teaching on matters of government. It is not difficult to detect the religious fabric of the Magna Carta. Its preamble explicitly refers to the counsel of the clergy, including Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, and other bishops. Some experts believe that if the charter was not actually drafted by Archbishop Langton, he at least was the animating force behind it.

The Magna Carta begins with an overt religious affirmation (“John, by the Grace of God, King of England”) and places the signers in impressive company for an eternal purpose: “We, in the presence of God, and for the salvation of our own soul, and the souls of all our ancestors … to the honor of God, and the exaltation of the Holy Church and amendment of our Kingdom.…” One of the first clauses granted freedom to the English church to elect its own leaders–a controversial idea for its day but one that later stood in the vanguard in other reformation movements. The free church was to have a prominent role in politics, and one clause even guaranteed that the King could summon archbishops, bishops, and abbots for counsel.

Beyond questions of the relationship between the church and the monarchy, the Magna Carta set forth a number of important principles of limited government. For example, trials were to be fair, fines were not to be levied for inconsequential matters, personal property was not to be confiscated without remuneration, taxes were to be raised only by “common counsel,” and imprisonment was not to be allowed without “legal judgment of [one’s] peers or by the laws of the land.” Moreover, previous unjust fines or confiscation of property were to be remitted, and a representative council of twenty-five barons was created “for god and for the amendment of our kingdom.”

This ground-breaking pinnacle of pre-modern thought did not create an international movement at first. What began as a council of twenty-five barons at Runnymede’s meadow later expanded into a global movement supporting responsive and free government.

To underscore the dramatic advance of the Magna Carta, we can say that it was not so much customs that were guaranteed but human freedoms–a seismic shift in political presuppositions. Whereas earlier treaties focused on “dignities” or customs, the charter discussed liberties. To further ensure its longevity, the Magna Carta was re-confirmed and republished in many languages and on different occasions. It was even ordered to be read twice a year in cathedral churches in 1297 and renewed yearly at Easter in other parishes. Into the early seventeenth century, it had been reiterated so often that Puritan parliamentarian John Selden once argued against a 1628 resolution: “Magna Carta has been confirmed thirty-two or thirty-three times, and to have it confirmed thirty-four times I do not know what good it will do.”

Puritans in seventeenth-century England would later appeal to the Magna Carta as part of their justification for the overthrow of the monarchy. Prior to this surge of Puritan political thought in England, medieval advances had set the stage for limited reform. In his History of Political Theories from Luther to Montesquieu, William Dunning argues that the propriety of councils to blunt the power of tyranny had become an acceptable notion by the Reformation. From the Magna Carta on, these political notions would dominate. Earlier, medieval constitutionalists had asserted that, as Dunning writes, “the king, while subject to no man, is always subject to law.” Notwithstanding, Dunning admits that such rights of Englishmen prior to the seventeenth century were neither well defined nor clearly expressed in constitutions. The period from these medieval constitutionalists to the seventeenth century saw halting strides toward popular sovereignty. Principled formulation for limited government, however, was not grounded in lasting theory nor accepted by the masses until after the Reformation.

A century after Calvin’s reformation in Geneva, many of his ideas–ideas that became part of the fabric of America–were further pioneered in London. Not only did the British Puritans introduce new ideas of ecclesiastical government, but they also permitted those views–ground-breaking for the time–to have an impact on their view of what the state could and should do. Toward the end of the Elizabethan period, the Puritans had convinced many people of the following notions: Monarchy, if not in service of the populace, was not immune from reformation attempts; the church was its own lawful governmental sphere, and hence free from civil interference; neither the church nor the state was divinely mandated to possess absolute power–indeed, republican or federal structure was more conformable to God’s plans; the church was free to resist, oppose, or seek the deposition of ungodly rulers in some cases; and freedom of speech, assembly, and dissent was condoned and would soon expand into numerous segments of society.

The WoT is nothing more than the extension of Runnymede to the Islamic world.

THE REST IS GLOSS (Brothers Judd, 6/15/05)
The Secret History of the Magna Carta: Its most far-reaching provisions aren’t the ones we remember. (Peter Linebaugh, Boston Review)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM

King Ranch Casserole adds Texas flavor to holiday meal (ANNE GREER McCANN, 12/17/07, The Dallas Morning News)

4 to 5 cups tortilla chips, coarsely crushed

2 cups sliced white mushrooms

2 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons chicken-flavored soup-base seasoning powder

4 Tyson Oven Roasted Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts (2 breasts per package)

2 (10-ounce) containers Buitoni Alfredo Sauce (see note)

1 cup sour cream

1 ½ cups fresh pico de gallo, drained

12 ounces grated Monterey Jack cheese (plain or pepper Jack)

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Using your hands or a wooden spoon, coarsely crush the tortilla chips. This is easier to do if you leave them in the bag (open it slightly to let the air out).

Place mushrooms and butter in a glass bowl. Toss with soup powder and microwave on High (100 percent power) for 2 minutes. Drain to remove excess moisture.

Cut the chicken into bite-size chunks. Combine the alfredo sauce with sour cream and mix well. Coat a 9x12-inch glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Cover the bottom of the pan with about 2 cups of the crushed chips. Top with half of the chicken, all of the mushrooms, half of the sauce, half of the pico de gallo and half of the cheese. Repeat with 2 cups crushed chips and remaining chicken, sauce, pico de gallo and cheese.

Bake the casserole 35 to 40 minutes, or until hot.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 AM


'India's democracy is something of a miracle' (Matthew Schneeberger, December 19, 2007, Rediff)

One of the world's leading figures on democracy, foreign aid and democratic governance, Dr [Larry] Diamond believes there are many problems that must be engaged and solved. "Frankly, this most recent trip to India has shed light on how serious these problems are," he said in the course of a lecture at the American Centre in Mumbai on Tuesday evening.

Beginning his talk with the question, 'How can India survive as a democracy when surrounded by non-democracies?' Dr Diamond spent the next one hour answering it.

"Today, there are pervasive problems worldwide for democracy. Mainly, there is a lot of bad governance by self-seeking leaders who put family, party and private interests above public ones. This is particularly true in South Asia. If democracy here is survive, it has to perform better. There must be more transparency and accountability of governance," he said. [...]

Asked about the hot-button India versus China debate, Dr Diamond didn't mince his words.

"Only 30 years ago, people said India would go the way of China, to the Maoists. That didn't happen. Instead, 20 years from now, China's political system will look like India's," he said. "Even if China were to sustain growth of 6 or 7 per cent, forget about 8 or 10, there will be a massive upheaval in the next 10 to 15 years."

That's because, he said, polling data show that the Chinese people are increasingly placing value on personal autonomy and are much less likely to defer to authority. "I just hope it doesn't end in a military crackdown or a right-wing, nationalist uprising. But, regardless, it's inconceivable that China will still be an authoritarian State in a few decades."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Giuliani's Kerik Woes Resurface Through Informant: Candidate Distancing Himself From Former Confidant (John Solomon and Matthew Mosk, 12/19/07, Washington Post)

In the heady days of the 1990s when Rudolph W. Giuliani was mayor of New York and Bernard B. Kerik was one of his most trusted lieutenants, Lawrence Ray enjoyed his own wild ride.

Ray was one of Kerik's closest friends and the best man at his 1998 wedding. As Kerik was rising to become New York's police commissioner, Ray was in touch with him regularly -- lending him money, discussing possible business opportunities, and using Ray's contacts in Russia to arrange a meeting for Giuliani with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Much has changed since then. Giuliani is now a leading Republican presidential candidate. Kerik has pleaded guilty to state ethics charges and is under federal indictment. And Ray, a convicted felon now in prison on a parole violation, has turned on his former friend. He has provided to state and federal authorities half a dozen boxes of e-mails, memos, faxes, financial statements, photographs and other materials about Kerik's alleged wrongdoing.

That evidence, reviewed by The Washington Post, shows that Kerik brought Ray into contact with Giuliani on a handful of occasions documented in photos and that he invoked Giuliani's name in connection with a New Jersey construction company with alleged mob ties that is now at the heart of the criminal cases.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Great Perception Gap (ROBERT SAMUELSON, 12/19/07, The Washington Post)

There is a vast gap of perception between the real economy of production and jobs and the financial economy of loans and investments. The real economy, though weakening, is hardly in a state of collapse.

In 2007, it has grown about 2%; payroll jobs are up by 1.3 million. Even economists who expect a recession generally think it will be mild. [...]

What ultimately matters is the connection between the financial economy and the real economy. In housing, that's clear. Subprime losses reduced mortgage lending, housing construction, sales and prices. In some other markets, something similar has occurred. If too many junk bonds were sold at foolishly low interest rates to finance "private equity" deals — buyouts of companies — then the process had to reverse someday through higher rates and fewer bonds being sold. That's not turmoil so much as the distasteful reality of recognizing losses on dubious investments.

Despite all the bluster, evidence of a widespread credit crunch is so far scant. Though credit standards have tightened, bank lending is still increasing. Many U.S.companies have paid down short-term debt, and corporate cash flow is running at a respectable $1.2 trillion annual rate. This insulates many firms from strains in credit markets.

In fact, those economists have been reduced to arguing that, as in '91 and '01, sub-optimal growth is the new "recession."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Senate approves $70 billion for Iraq-Afghanistan (John Bresnahan, 12/18/07, Politico: The Crypt)

The Senate, by a vote of 70-25, approved $70 billion for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, adding another political victory to the recent string of wins by President Bush and GOP congressional leaders.

21 Democrats, including Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (Mich.), and Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) voted for the bill, while Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) was the only Republican to vote against it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Middle East: Europe to blame for authoritarianism in Islamic world, says expert (AKI, 12/11/07)

A leading historian says Europe is to blame for the authoritarianism that exists in Islamic countries.

Speaking at an international Islamic conference in Rome, Bernard Lewis said many Muslim countries have adopted a political model imported from Europe in the 19th century. [...]

Lewis said many Muslim countries imported a model from Europe from the 19th century when Islam felt it was behind the West and advancing by drawing inspiration from it.

In early decades of the last century, France reinforced its presence in the south of the Mediterranean and the German Nazis began to be very active in the region pushing its way as far as Iraq and exporting a kind of "remodelled Nazism".

He said it was that period that gave birth to the radicals of the Baath party that led to the leadership of Saddam Hussein and the current party in power in Syria.

Which is why defeating Islamicism is really just a coda to the Long War.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


High Noon in New Orleans: The Bulldozers Are Ready (NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF, 12/19/07, NY Times)

Ever since it took over the public housing projects of New Orleans more than a decade ago, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has been itching to tear them down.

Now, after years of lawsuits and delays, it looks as if the agency will finally get its Christmas wish. The New Orleans City Council is scheduled to vote on Thursday on whether to sign off on the demolitions of three projects. HUD already has its bulldozers in place, engines warm and ready to roll the next morning.

Arguing that the housing was barely livable before the flooding unleashed by Hurricane Katrina, federal officials have cast their decision as good social policy. They have sought to lump the projects together with the much-vilified inner-city projects of the 1960s.

But such thinking reflects a ruthless indifference to local realities.'d think it was that New Orleans is a city below sea level, in a hurricane zone, on the water -- a bad combo. Housing the poor there reflects a ruthless indifference to life.

December 18, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:53 PM


Consistent rain is a dam relief (Asa Wahlquist, December 19, 2007, The Australian)

FOR three years, Goulburn in southern NSW endured the tightest water restrictions in the country. But as rains continue to bring relief to swathes of eastern Australia, the town's dams are more than half full, kids are playing on the ovals again and the deputy mayor even has his vegetable garden growing again.

Rain has replenished Goulburn's water storages, which were perilously low at less than 13 per cent in June. That has brought an end to the arduous Level 5 restrictions, but Goulburn residents have retained their water conservation mindset.

The Bali agreement caused the rain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 PM


Cornered House leaders throw bone to Blue Dogs (Alexander Bolton, December 19, 2007, The Hill)

Members of the conservative Democratic “Blue Dog” coalition are poised to defeat a Democratic rule for debate on Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) relief and potentially hand their leadership a major embarrassment. [...]

The centrist House Democrats are prepared to oppose the Senate-passed version of AMT relief, which House leaders have planned to consider, because its cost would not be paid for by other tax increases. Blue Dogs argue the bill would violate “pay as you go” or “Paygo” budget rules the party adopted after winning control of Congress.

“To pass a rule to waive Paygo, [House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)] will have to have Republican votes,” said Boyd.

Reps. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) said they would likely oppose the leadership’s rule for AMT debate.

To understand how far back to the Right the country has moved over the last thirty years you need only grasp that the Democrats have to run conservative white Southern males to win enough seats to be competitive but once they're in the tent they can effectively thwart the Democratic agenda.

“I think it’s a pipe dream,” said Cooper of his leaders proposal to add revenue-raising measures to a future package of tax relief extensions in exchange for Blue Dog support on the AMT.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 PM


Congressional Spending Bill preserves Pro-Life protections (Catholic News Agency, 12/18/07)

The bill continues the Hyde Amendment’s prohibition against the use of federal funds for most abortions. Other rules forbid funding for embryo-destroying research and organizations involved in coercive abortion programs.

The new bill also protects the consciences of health care providers or entities that do not want to provide, pay, or refer for abortions. Furthermore, any family planning organizations that receive federal grants must comply with state reporting laws on child abuse, child molestation, sexual abuse, rape, or incest.

In another victory, legal attempts to weaken the Mexico City policy, which forbids U.S. funding for organizations that promote or commit abortions, were removed from the bill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 PM


Bush orders 'significant reduction' in US nuclear weapons stockpile (The Associated Press, December 18, 2007)

President Bush has approved "a significant reduction" in the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, cutting it to less than one-quarter its size at the end of the Cold War, the White House said Tuesday.

At the same time, the Energy Department announced plans to consolidate the nuclear weapons complex that maintains warheads and dismantle those no longer needed, saying the current facilities need to be made more efficient and more easily secured and that the larger complex is no longer needed.

"We are reducing our nuclear weapons stockpile to the lowest level consistent with America's national security and our commitments to friends and allies," White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 PM


John Edwards' Fighting Words: The candidate is running an impassioned, anti-corporate campaign, but will Edwards' pugilistic populism turn off Iowa voters? (Jonathan Stein, 12/18/07, Mother Jones)

And then there's Edwards' palpable dislike for corporations. "There are very powerful forces, well-financed forces, standing between you and the future your children should have," the candidate proclaimed at a campaign event in Des Moines. "That's what this election is about. Unless and until you have a president of the United States who's willing to stand up with some backbone and some guts and fight and stand up to these corporate interests," there will never be real change.

The Des Moines Register, in its recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton, said that it found Edwards' "harsh anti-corporate rhetoric" distasteful. Getting things done would be difficult for such a one-sided crusader, it implied. I asked Edwards about this before a rally in Cedar Rapids. "I just have a fundamental disagreement with the Register," he replied. "I respect their views; they're just very different from mine. I think most Americans see that corporate power and corporate greed are keeping the American dream from getting to their children. We have a fight on our hands."

His campaign, no surprise, dismisses the argument that Edwards' anti-corporate rhetoric makes him less electable in the general. (Corporations, though, will have all the money they need to fund attack ads against him, and millions of Americans happily go to work for corporations every day.) "His message is very optimistic about America and its future," says spokesman Dan Leistikow. "Most Americans want a president who is going to fight for them and who recognizes that for the middle class, their interests have been ignored."

Not all those Iowans looking him over at campaign events are so sure. When I asked James Moriarty, an attorney from Cedar Rapids and Edwards supporter, if the candidate's anti-corporate message would hurt him in the general, he said, "I hope not." He paused and added, "I think the difference between Wal-Mart making $12 billion and making $3 billion is a lot of people who could lead better lives and provide for their families better."

An undecided voter named Scott Schultz, who is torn between Edwards and Barack Obama, noted, "You can't be so anti-corporate that it alienates the corporations, and they go bankrupt or say, 'Okay, I'll go to Mexico.' I think you have to work with these corporations. You have to have a strong hand with them, but by the same token, you kind of do have to work with them. You can't just say, 'They're bad, evil.' To me, that's how the Republicans have been working, but, you know, in reverse."

"We need to be all united together," said Schultz's wife, Kim, an educator. "It reminds me a little of the George Bush 'my way or the highway' attitude." She added, "I understand his passion, though. Sometimes I feel the same way, too."

Then she checks her 401k statement.

The Socialist Bacillus and the Investor Class (Tom Bethell, 12/19/2007, American Spectator)

One-third of poll respondents say they don't have any retirement money saved at all. But many do, and what most people are doing is saving in a tax-deferred instrument called a 401(k).

It circumvents one of the great impediments to saving -- the taxation of interest. Since the value of your money is also eroded by inflation, you cannot possibly get ahead of the game by saving money in a normal interest-bearing account. Twenty or 30 years from now, it won't buy nearly as much. Understandably, then, a lot of young people don't even think about saving. The tax code rewards you if you get into debt (with a mortgage), and punishes you if you save. I know it's cockeyed. But that's the way things have been for many decades.

If the government wants us to save for our retirement, why not end the taxation of interest right away? Because the left would set up their customary howls of envy and resentment. It makes them feel good and some spend their whole lives at it. So, to get around that unpleasantness, lawmakers have inserted this saving inducement into the law, named after subsection 401(k) of the tax code.

How many Americans have such accounts? One Federal Reserve study said that about half of U.S. households-there are 110 million of them-have 401(k)s. And about 70 percent of that money goes into equities. Which is to say, into the stock market. So, more and more of us own stocks. Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform tells me that about 60 percent of American adults now have money either directly invested in the stock market, or indirectly in retirement accounts.

We are reaching the point where a majority of voters have a direct, personal interest in the performance of the stock market. We may already have passed it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:57 PM


Frank Morgan, 73, a Bebop Progenitor (WILL FRIEDWALD, December 18, 2007, NY Sun)

Morgan emulated Parker in more ways than one. In addition to being the exemplar of bebop's purest and most expressively baroque form, he also acquired Parker's infamous drug habit. This stunted what could have been one of the all-time great careers in jazz, as Morgan wound up spending most of what should have been his most productive years in prison. Yet he blossomed in the mid-1980s, and spent the last two decades touring and recording to make up for lost time. [...]

Parker not only inspired the young Morgan to play alto sax, but recommended that he begin his training on clarinet. Parker even picked out Morgan's first horn. "I am a bebopper stone through, I was a be-bop criminal. I'm a bebop actor. I want to do that throughout my life," Morgan told

Morgan remained close with Parker until his death in 1955. He once told critic Gary Giddins, "Bird once said to me that he believed in playing the blues on everything. You could say he was playing the blues all the time, whether it was 'Parker's Mood' or 'April in Paris.'"

When he was 14, Morgan's family moved to Los Angeles, where he was taught by the famous classical reed instructor Merle Johnston and encouraged by jazz great Benny Carter. He also continued to learn from Parker, and saw him play whenever he came to Hollywood. [...]

Though his drug habit landed him in the California penal system for most of the next two decades, Morgan was surprisingly not bitter about it in later interviews. He played in prison bands, occasionally sharing the stage with fellow bebop alto great (and addict) Art Pepper. "The greatest big band I ever played with was in San Quentin," he told Mr. Giddins. "We played every Saturday night for what they called a Warden's Tour … People would take that tour just to hear the band."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:05 PM


Making History Exciting: The sequel to the hugely popular National Treasure, like the original, brings history alive for kids and families—and star actor Nicolas Cage likes being a part of that. (Peter T. Chattaway, 12/18/07, Christianity Today)

National Treasure surprised audiences and industry observers alike when it came out three years ago. Originally produced for Disney's adult-oriented Touchstone label, it was released under the Walt Disney banner after its family-friendly thrills earned a PG rating, and its box-office success—it quickly became Nicolas Cage's top-grossing movie ever, beating the R-rated The Rock—marked the beginning of a movement at Disney back to films that are fit for the whole family, and not just for the kids. [...]

The first film revolved around a series of clues hidden in the documents and artifacts left behind by America's founding fathers in the 18th century. The second film turns to the 19th century and involves the American Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln—and Cage says he agreed to make the sequel partly because, "right off the bat, that's more interesting for me, historically, personally."

Cage says he thinks of each film in the National Treasure series as a self-contained historical mystery, and of his character, Benjamin Gates, as an "archaeological version" of detectives like Sherlock Holmes. Plus, he says, the films are "wonderfully positive" because the hero succeeds without using a gun, and because they can "inspire especially the youngsters to look into their history books."

What's more, he says, the films might also inspire people to have greater respect for their ancestors. "In a lot of so-called primitive cultures, there's a tremendous respect for our ancestors, that we don't see as much, for whatever the reason, in modern American culture," says Cage. "And with Ben, I wanted to make it clear that … he really believes in a chivalrous way that everything he is, is on account of his ancestors, and they're not dead to him. So they're still there with him and he's honoring them—and I think I try to embrace that in my own life."

In the first film, Benjamin Gates stole the Declaration of Independence in order to protect it; in the new one, he must somehow get access to the President of the United States (played by Bruce Greenwood) in order to obtain certain extremely top-secret information. Through it all, he maintains his respect for the man and the office he represents—and he says other people want to believe in the President, too.

There were plenty of problems with, and plot holes in, the first one, but that reverence for the Founders really shone through and, along with the action, made up for any deficiencies. Plus, Mr. Cage is just a likable screen presence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:02 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:30 PM


SURVIVOR, GULF STYLE (Barry Rubin, 12/17/07, GLORIA)

[T]he Gulf Arabs want the United States to make problems go away with no risk or sacrifice on their part. They then blame the West for not doing so, a campaign that often finds lots of people in that region foolish enough to believe this propaganda

What most Gulf Arabs want, though, is neither jihad nor an Islamist empire but simply security for themselves. By cheering on and often subsidizing jihad—at least outside their own countries—they hope to buy themselves immunity from the radicals’ violence and revolutionary instability. They seek Western protection and practice appeasement simultaneously as parts of a single coherent policy. The goal is material well-being for themselves and peace at home.

Gulf Arab regimes applauded and subsidized the radical Nasserists and Baathists for decades convinced that the West they maligned would save them whenever needed. They were proved right. In the 1980s, the United States led a coalition to stave off Iran and convoy their oil tankers; in 1991, an American-organized alliance drove Iraq out of Kuwait. History, they hope, will repeat itself.

The problem with this approach is that their policy denies peace, progress, and stability for others, in fact often makes bloodshed and conflict inevitable in large parts of the Middle East. And, irony of ironies, the same strategy of stone-throwing in which they are engaging may end up blowing up their own glass houses.

Which is why the most terrifying moment in Arab history will be when they recognize the post-Ahmedinejad American/Iranian alliance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:23 PM


They may miss New Orleans, but Katrina refugees won't go back (Adam Nossiter, December 18, 2007, IHT)

With resignation, anger or stoicism, thousands of former New Orleanians forced out by Hurricane Katrina are settling in across the Gulf Coast region, breaking their ties with a damaged city for which they still yearn.

And cabins on the slopes of Mount St. Helens are cheap too. The real story is that some people are dumb enough to move back.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:16 PM


Robert Ferrigno's sequel to Prayers for the Assassin will be out in February and you can read the first chapter here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:36 PM


Dems consider ousting Byrd as appropriations chair (John Bresnahan, Dec 18, 2007, Politico)

A group of Senate Democrats has begun quietly exploring ways to replace the venerable Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, believing he’s no longer physically up to the job, according to Democratic senators and leadership aides familiar with the discussions.

...the Senator reportedly turned as white as a sheet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:30 PM


Interrogation: Anti-Bush Overreaction (Stuart Taylor Jr., National Journal)

Imagine that U.S. forces capture Osama bin Laden or a high-level lieutenant in Pakistan next month and hand him over to the CIA, amid intelligence reports that a massive new Qaeda attack on America may be imminent.

Should it be illegal for CIA interrogators to try to scare the man into talking by yelling at him? By threatening to slap him? By pretending to be from Egypt's brutal intelligence service? What about turning up the air conditioner to make him uncomfortably cold? Or denying him hot food until he talks, while giving him all the cold food he can eat?

These methods would all apparently be illegal under a rider that the House-Senate conference committee added to the annual intelligence authorization bill. It would bar the CIA from using any interrogation practice not authorized in the Army field manual's rules for military interrogators. This would mean prohibiting almost all forms of coercive interrogation, including many potentially effective techniques that come nowhere near torture and are now clearly legal.

...from putting Dan Fogelberg's "Longer" on a continuous loop...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:23 PM


Pelosi: Republicans 'Like' the War in Iraq (Jake Tapper, December 13, 2007, ABC News)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is drawing heat for suggesting her political opponents are fond of the war in Iraq.

"The grassroots are justifiably disappointed and I am too that we could not do something to end this war," Pelosi said at a press conference today. "The assumption that I made that the Republicans would soon see the light and listen to their constituents was not an accurate one....

....but when they saw the light coming at them the GOP had sense enough to get out of the way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:49 PM


Reid rejects notion that GOP is winning Hill battles (Martin Kady II, 12/18/07, Politico: The Crypt)

"We hear a lot of Republicans boasting ... because of their unprecedented obstruction," Reid said.

Indeed, Republicans have gotten their way in the battle over spending, have forced Democrats to jettison rollbacks of tax breaks for oil companies, and have beaten back attempts to pay for expanded children's health care programs with a tobacco tax increase. Even though they're in the minority, the GOP, backed by President Bush, has used the filibuster to block Democratic priorities over and over this fall.

"Who's winning?" Reid asked a group of reporters.

Tom Brady.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:48 PM


Hoyer says Congress may not be able to patch AMT (Mike Soraghan, December 18, 2007, The Hill)

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) hinted Tuesday that Congress may not be able to stop a big tax increase from hitting 23 million Americans. [...]

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) pounced on the news, calling Hoyer’s remarks “another reminder that the Democrat majority’s priorities do not reflect those of the American people.”

“Democrats created the AMT, repeatedly voted against Republican efforts to abolish it entirely, and have failed to stop it’s impending assault on 23 million middle-class American taxpayers,” he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:21 PM


McCain's Surge: Why he's making a primary comeback (Wall Street Journal, December 18, 2007)

Mr. McCain paid a visit to our offices last Friday, and he now says he supports extending the Bush tax rates, even admitting they helped the economy emerge from recession. "Without a doubt. Without the slightest doubt," he told us. "Absolutely."

In a spirited exchange, Mr. McCain justified his previous opposition by arguing that there was no discipline on spending. "To the everlasting shame and embarrassment of the Republican Party and this Administration," he noted, "we went on a spending spree and we didn't pay for it." That's true enough, and in an ideal world tax cuts would be offset dollar-for-dollar by spending cuts.

But in practice Congress will never do so, which means Republicans are left to be tax collectors for the welfare state. The experience of the Reagan and Bush years is that tax cutting has its own economic benefits, and that revenues will rebound far more quickly than the critics claim. We asked Mr. McCain what he'd do when faced with a Democratic Congress that insists he raise taxes in 2009, and he replied that he'd say "No" and cite JFK's successful tax-cutting in the 1960s. This is intellectual progress, and we trust such McCain advisers as Phil Gramm and Tim Muris will conduct further tutorials.

More than economics, Mr. McCain has two main strengths in this GOP race: His record on national security, and the belief that he can reach enough non-Republicans to assemble a viable center-right coalition and defeat Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in what could be a difficult GOP year.

McCain senses momentum is starting to help him (Marc Santora, December 18, 2007, NY Times)

Seeking to capitalize on a series of highly sought newspaper endorsements, Senator John McCain is strongly pushing to attract independent voters who helped drive his victory here eight years ago.

In a sign of a re-energized candidacy, he also plans to return after Christmas Day to campaigning in Iowa, where he has failed, until recently, to gain support and has devoted few resources since the near-collapse of his campaign in the summer.

The campaign says it has not changed its strategy. But, McCain said Monday, "I am obviously going to try to capitalize on it," referring to the momentum.

The crowds following McCain here have been steadily growing in the last month.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:13 PM


Laws of Nature, Source Unknown (DENNIS OVERBYE, 12/18/07, NY Times)

Yes, it’s a lawful universe. But what kind of laws are these, anyway, that might be inscribed on a T-shirt but apparently not on any stone tablet that we have ever been able to find?

Are they merely fancy bookkeeping, a way of organizing facts about the world? Do they govern nature or just describe it? And does it matter that we don’t know and that most scientists don’t seem to know or care where they come from?

Apparently it does matter, judging from the reaction to a recent article by Paul Davies, a cosmologist at Arizona State University and author of popular science books, on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times.

Dr. Davies asserted in the article that science, not unlike religion, rested on faith, not in God but in the idea of an orderly universe. Without that presumption a scientist could not function. His argument provoked an avalanche of blog commentary, articles on and letters to The Times, pointing out that the order we perceive in nature has been explored and tested for more than 2,000 years by observation and experimentation. That order is precisely the hypothesis that the scientific enterprise is engaged in testing.

David J. Gross, director of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, Calif., and co-winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, told me in an e-mail message, “I have more confidence in the methods of science, based on the amazing record of science and its ability over the centuries to answer unanswerable questions, than I do in the methods of faith (what are they?).”

I believed in it, I set out to find it, I found it--thus closeth the loop.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:31 AM


Why Giuliani Needs a Miracle (Rich Lowry, 12/18/07, Real Clear Politics)

Giuliani is finally suffering from the natural gravitational pull of his messy personal life (as mayor, he had a publicly financed security detail for his mistress) and his ideological heterodoxy (especially on social issues). The pull has long been there; only now it has dragged him down to a level where it is no longer an invisible force.

Nationally, his numbers have been on slow downward slide since March. He was at 44-percent in an ABC News/Washington Post poll in February, and at 25-percent in the same poll last week. His lead over Mike Huckabee in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls is a mere two points. Hillary Clinton has a bigger lead over the second-place Barack Obama (30 points) in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll than Giuliani has over the last-place Ron Paul (22 points).

This has trashed the Giuliani theory of the race, which was that his national lead in the polls was a bankable commodity that he could redeem even after losses in the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, and South Carolina. It turns out that his national lead hasn't even survived the media attention that has gone to the hot candidate in Iowa, Mike Huckabee, weeks before anyone votes. What happens when Giuliani's competitors begin actually winning the early contests, with the attendant crush of attention and buzz?

Theories that deny reality generally do poorly in the lab.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:12 AM


Hope blooms in Iraq thanks to the surge (Tim Hames, December 19, 2007, The Australian)

First, the country will have time to establish itself. A year ago it seemed as if US forces would have to be withdrawn in ignominious fashion well before the end of the Bush administration or, at best, days after the next president took over. This will not happen. The self-evident success of the surge has obliged the Democrats to start talking about almost anything else and the calls to cut and run have abated. If the US Army remains in Iraq in strength, continuing on its present path, then deals on a constitution and the division of oil revenues between provinces will be realised.

Second, the aspiration that Iraq could be some sort of beacon in the region is no longer ridiculous. It will never be Sweden with beards, but there has been the development of a vibrant capitalist class and a media of a diversity that is unique in the region. Were Iraq to emerge with a federal political structure, regular local and national elections and an economic dynamism in which the many, not the few, could share, then it would be a model.

Finally, Iraq in 2007 has illustrated that the words "intelligent American policy" are not an oxymoron. The tragedy is that the approach of General David Petraeus could and should have been adopted four years ago in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's enforced departure.

...the guys like Ted Kennedy, Chris Dodd, etc., who've been in Congress long enough to oppose Reagan's liberation of Eastern Europe and Latin America and W's liberation of the Middle East.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:03 AM


America's next top Democrat: With the Iowa vote nearing, Clinton, Obama and Edwards reveal sharp tonal differences, betting the farm not on policy but on political panache (Walter Shapiro, 12/18/07, Salon)

Their stump speeches -- often glossed over by reporters as the elevator music of politics -- highlight the sharp tonal differences separating Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. Between now and the caucuses, each of these tightly bunched candidates will probably speak to more than 30,000 Iowa Democrats in high school gyms (the favored venue this year) and other public settings around the state. Over the weekend, I sampled the campaign-rally rhetoric of the front-running Democratic troika as they crisscrossed each other's paths, with Edwards and Obama even speaking at the same time in Mason City (different locales) on Saturday night.

These speeches offer Iowans their best glimpse into the minds of the candidates, since they allow for a sustained argument (unlike campaign ads) and rise above the ephemera of the daily press flaps. So in traditional "Brazil: Land of Contrasts" school-report fashion, here are impressionistic accounts of what the three leading Democrats were emphasizing over the weekend. [...]

The former first lady began by repeating a refrain that had been crafted for last Thursday's final Iowa debate: "Some people believe that you make change by demanding it. [John Edwards, please pick up the red courtesy telephone.] Some people believe that you make change by hoping for it. [Barack Obama, this Bud's for you.] I believe that you make change by working hard for it."

But then she went further, explaining the virtues of experience in terms eerily reminiscent of Kenny Rogers singing "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." In the new Clinton version, the lyrics are: "Hard work demands that you know when to stand your ground and when to find common ground. If you're too unyielding you won't get anything done ... You have to work with other people. But if you don't stand up and refuse to compromise about what's important, you could lose out the opportunity to make change. You have to know how to balance it."

The campaign slogan "Hillary: The Candidate With Balance" may not appeal to her team of image makers, but it comes close to capturing the essence of her argument. Edwards is too hot, Obama is too cool, and the New York senator is just right. Clinton -- who seemingly aced every exam at Wellesley and Yale Law School -- also increasingly stresses her sadder-but-wiser outlook after the implosion of healthcare reform in 1994. As she put it in another passage grafted onto the stump speech, "I think you can learn more about a person when you see what they do after they don't succeed." [...]

Obama no longer includes in every speech a mocking reference to himself as a "hope monger," but he is -- without question -- the only Democrat who continually offers the vision of "bringing the country together." This idea (which may be arrogant, naive or inspirational, depending on one's perspective) of getting beyond the polarization of a red-state, blue-state America is the central theme of his candidacy. It is also a reminder that in early 1992, as Hillary Clinton was caught up in the campaign furors over Gennifer Flowers and her husband's Vietnam draft records, Obama was a freshly minted graduate of Harvard Law School. If the former first lady's calling card is that she faced down the "vast right-wing conspiracy," Obama is the Democrat who hails from a political generation too young to be mobilized in the debilitating wars of the early 1990s.

Equally integral to Obama's stump speech is the argument that he is the candidate of conviction while Clinton offers Democrats timidity and what was once called "triangulation." Obama's vision of himself transcends policy positions, which is convenient, since it glosses over the awkward reality that both Clinton and Edwards have offered bolder and more comprehensive plans for healthcare, which remains the key domestic issue for Democrats. [...]

Like Obama -- and, to a lesser extent, Clinton -- Edwards contends that the best way to pick a presidential candidate is not to weigh the nuances of their white papers on tax policy or global warming. "We have great candidates running for the Democratic nomination," the former North Carolina senator said, preparing to damn them with exuberant praise. "I like them. I respect them. They have great ideas. They're good people."

"But," Edwards went on, "we have some fundamental differences about what it's going to take to really change this [system] ... Some candidates say ... that you know the system's bad, but you have to be able to maneuver your way through it. You have to accept it. [Sounds as though Edwards got an advance peek at Clinton's revamped stump speech.] Other candidates would say, you got to sit at the table with these people -- drug companies, insurance companies, oil companies, power companies, big banks. You sit at the table with them and you negotiate, and somehow they'll voluntarily give their power away." This line was clearly aimed at Obama, though the volley seemed a bit off target. Still, Edwards got a hardy laugh from the audience with the notion that companies like Pfizer, Exxon Mobil and Halliburton would unilaterally disarm when faced with a smiling, earnest Democratic president.

For Edwards, who is the only top-tier Democrat without an Ivy League pedigree, it all comes down to a simple political equation: "You know how they'll give their power away?" he asked, speaking of the corporations. "They'll give their power away when we take their power away. We have an epic fight in front of us, and anybody who thinks that's not true is living in a fantasy world."

So, given that health care is the only policy matter Ms Clinton has ever tackled, we learn that she's a loser.

From Mr. Obama we learn...well, nothing...because he doesn't actually have any ideas. The mathematics of his candidacy seem to be: it is wrong not to vote for someone because of their race, but vote for me because of my race.

And John Edwards seems to think he's in a Russian coffee house of the late 19th Century, raging against oligarchs and plutocrats on behalf of the proletariat which just needs a vanguard of elite white men to show them the way....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 AM


The Wife and I like to make fun of the Stop Global Warming sign on a neighbor's lawn, but couldn't today because it's buried under the snow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:51 AM


Rudy's Mo' problem? (Mark Murray, 12/18/07, First Read)

Turns out, it's a conservative party after all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:46 AM


Don't rule out surges by Edwards, Thompson (David Yepsen, December 18, 2007, Des Moines Register)

All that tends to overlook two other candidates: Democrat John Edwards and Republican Fred Thompson. They're both showing real potential to come up fast here at the end. [...]

On the GOP side, Romney has slipped, and Huckabee has surged in Iowa and nationally. Other candidates such as Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, who never seemed to figure out just how they want to play Iowa, have effectively bypassed the state in favor of contests elsewhere. That seemed a wise strategy because it would help Huckabee defeat Romney here, thereby derailing his New Hampshire momentum and making that state easier for Giuliani and McCain.

But after a sluggish start, Thompson has sensed an opening in Iowa, and he's moving decisively to exploit it. The opening arises from a combination of Romney's changes of position on social issues and Huckabee's stumbles on foreign-policy questions and immigration.

After his winning performance in the Des Moines Register's debate, Thompson has embarked on a lengthy bus tour of the state. During these final days, his campaign says he'll hold events in 50 communities and will visit 54 of the 99 counties.

On Monday, he picked up the surprise endorsement of Congressman Steve King. Of all the endorsements flying around these days, that one could move the most numbers. It sends a powerful signal from one of Iowa's most conservative leaders to others on the right around the state: We've now got a horse we can ride.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:53 AM


Coltrane's influence wears well on Fortune (David R. Adler, 12/17/07, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

John Coltrane hovered in the air at Chris' Jazz Cafe on Saturday, and not just because Sonny Fortune led off with Coltrane's midtempo "Blues Minor."

"Entire careers have drafted in [Coltrane's] tailwind," writes critic Ben Ratliff. Fortune, the Philly-born, New York-based alto saxophonist, is a fitting example. He knew Coltrane and, in the post-Coltrane era, worked with the signal members of Coltrane's classic quartet, pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones.

When Fortune played "You and the Night and the Music" - the title track from his newest CD - he framed the Dietz/Schwartz standard with a vamp reminiscent of Coltrane's "Liberia." This is Fortune's native tongue: extended, hard-charging modal improvisation in the Coltrane vein, favoring minor keys, with a swing- and Latin-derived rhythmic foundation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


Asteroids Key to Biodiversity Boom? (Larry O'Hanlon, 12/17/07, Discovery News)

A shattered asteroid may have sprayed Earth with high-speed debris 470 million years ago and spurred one of the biggest bursts of biodiversity in Earth's history, rather than wiping life out.

The period of moderate to heavy meteorite bombardment appears to match the time at which many new species of animals evolved, called the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event in the Middle Ordovician period, say geologists.

"Although this event represents the most intense phase of species radiation during the Palaeozoic era...the causes of this event remain elusive," report Birger Schmitz of the University of Lund, Sweden, and his colleagues in the December issue of Nature Geoscience.

Design changes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Separatists in Philippines Agree to Reconcile (CARLOS H. CONDE, December 15, 2007, NY Times)

Two rival Islamic separatist groups in the Philippines have agreed to reconcile by September, a pledge that has raised hopes here that the insurgency in the south of the country where the separatists have been fighting for self-determination since the 1970s might finally come to an end, officials said Friday.

In a meeting Thursday with Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, a son of the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, leaders of the two separatist groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front, said they should be able to resolve their differences, which date to 1976, when the former group broke away from the latter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


When Anti-Immigrant Is Anti-Business: Republican Presidential candidates, facing intense pressure to talk tough on immigration, are losing some support from the business community (Moira Herbst , 12/17/07, Business Week)

A number of business owners in the U.S.—many of them longtime Republicans—say that talk of severe crackdowns on illegal immigration and restrictions on legal immigration are pushing them away from the party. Some are even switching to actively support Democrats, including Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).

"The Republican candidates just don't get it," says Maureen Torrey, owner of Torrey Farms in Elba, N.Y. "They need to understand that immigration helps drive economic growth, and that without it a lot of industries are in trouble." Torrey, a lifelong Republican, is now backing Clinton.

These days, the Republican candidates appear to be competing for who can claim the toughest position on immigration. While Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor, and Rudolph Giuliani, former mayor of New York City, had both long been moderates on the issue, they are now stressing border enforcement and employer verification systems as they trade jabs about "sanctuary" for illegal immigrants. Mike Huckabee, the up-and-coming former governor of Arkansas, held back on the tough talk for months, but changed his stance in recent days and is now calling for the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to register with the federal government and return to their home countries before applying to return legally. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) is the one exception to the trend.

On the positive side, the only Republican candidate who wouldn't actually liberalize immigration instead once elected is Tom Tancredo, who's a non-factor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Nation faces challenges of graying population (Wu Jiao, 12/18/07, China Daily)

The country faces unprecedented challenges in economic and social spheres as a result of a fast expanding aging population, top officials warned Monday.

With two working people for every retiree between 2030 and 2050, the country is expected to see the end of a decades-long advantage it enjoyed with a low-cost labor market.

Currently, the ratio is 6:1, according to figures from the China National Committee on Aging (CNCA).

"We might encounter the heaviest burden especially after 2030, when the demographic dividend is set to end," said Yan Qingchun, deputy director of the office of the CNCA.

And whereas Europe, Japan, etc. are going to decline from pretty high levels of wealth per capita, China will be declining from an astonishingly low one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


McCain outflanks Giuliani in N.H. (Joseph Curl, December 18, 2007, Washington Times)

Sen. John McCain's resurgent strategy to capture independent voters in New Hampshire is forcing a flagging Rudolph W. Giuliani to scale back his efforts in the state and pin his hopes on later primaries.

The Mayor likes the idea that people want him to be president, not the testing of it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


'Osama not in Pak, but Taliban will protect him if he comes' (Rezaul H Laskar, December 18, 2007, Rediff)

Pakistani Taliban have claimed that Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is not hiding in the country's tribal region bordering Afghanistan and said they will welcome and protect the terrorist leader if he came to their area.

A spokesman for the newly-formed United Taliban Movement of Pakistan accused President Pervez Musharraf [Images] of making 'false claims' about Osama's presence in the tribal areas to please 'Americans' in order to make money.

One can't be both alive in Pakistan and dead at Tora Bora.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Viva El Vez, the Mexican Elvis (Florangela Davila, 12/16/07, Seattle Times)

ELVIS might have left the building, but El Vez, the Mexican Elvis/Chicano activist/cult performer extraordinario, has settled down here in Seattle and is living it up. [...]

El Vez unleashes his freak flag like there's no mañana. He's a 150-pound dynamo with seemingly zero body fat (his jumpsuits, despite all the baubles, hide absolutely nothing). Black mariachi boots, proper pompadour, sexy mustache inked with black Sharpie pen.

"It says 'nontoxic' so I'm hoping, after 18, 19 years, it really is, or else my lip would fall off," laughs Robert Lopez, brain and body behind El Vez. El Rey!

Lopez is genteel and soft-spoken, and since it'd be rude to call El Vez middle aged, it's worth pointing out one other envious characteristic: He has inherited that Ralph Macchio/Dick Clark looks-defy-age gene. He may be approaching 50 (he's 47), but he looks closer to 40, which is really the new 30, if magazine headlines are to be believed.

So how did El Vez end up here? And who's the man underneath all the glitz?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Time seems on Sox' side with Santana (Gordon Edes, December 18, 2007, Boston Globe)

The Twins have a new general manager, Bill Smith, who is content to sit back and see whether any of the prospective suitors for the two-time Cy Young Award winner are prepared to blow him away with an offer. If not, he holds onto his ace, not an unhappy prospect for Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.

The Sox are operating from a position of strength, not desperation. Would they love to have Santana? No question. Do they need him? Coming off their second World Series title in four seasons, with a rotation anchored by a prime-of-his-life Josh Beckett and a certain-to-improve Daisuke Matsuzaka, a raft of coming-of-age pitchers like Clay Buchholz, Lester, Justin Masterson, and Michael Bowden, and last-hurrah lions like Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield, that's a matter of interpretation.

Last week's trade, in which Oakland sent its ace, Dan Haren, to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a package of prospects, was a potential call to action for someone to close a deal with the Twins, the thinking that Haren was the natural fallback plan for anyone missing out on Santana. But not all aces are graded equally, and for the Sox, standing pat may be the most attractive contingency to missing out on Santana.

So far, clearly, Epstein has decided Santana isn't worth the price that appears to have been set in Minnesota, one that includes some combination of Jacoby Ellsbury, Buchholz, and Lester. In the meantime, the phone lines remain open, the e-mails get exchanged.

Much the same situation exists for the Yankees and any other team still lurking about, like the Mets. The Yankees feel with Philip Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy, they can solve their aging pitching questions internally. The Mets would seem to be more desperate, but they may not be able to piece together a package sufficiently attractive to entice the Twins.

"My sense of it," said one major league source with direct connections to a Santana suitor, "is that nothing will happen in the near-term."

You'd think the Mets have to be feeling the pressure enough that they'd outbid the Sox and Yankees, so offer a deal where you send them Juan Rincon & Nick Punto as well and get back: Carlos Gomez, Fernando Martinez, Ruben Gotay, Mike Pelfrey, Ambiorix Burgos & Joe Smith.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


McCain's popularity in upturn (JENNIFER LOVEN, 12/18/07, Associated Press)

Republican John McCain is having quite a moment. He's rising in the polls. He's got newspaper endorsements in Iowa and New Hampshire. Now he's getting help with this state's independent voters from Joe Lieberman, the contrarian who was Democrat Al Gore's running mate in 2000.

"The Mac is Back," said a sign on the wall of the packed American Legion post where Lieberman announced his endorsement Monday.

December 17, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:41 PM


Japanese Ship Downs Missile in Pacific Test (Reuters, 12/18/07)

A Japanese Navy destroyer shot down a ballistic missile on Monday in a test about 100 miles over the Pacific, a first for a United States ally, American and Japanese forces said.

The $55 million test was a “major milestone” in growing American and Japanese cooperation, according to a joint statement by Rear Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, chief of the Missile Defense Agency at the Pentagon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:30 PM


The Coming Oil Crash: Crude at $100 a barrel makes good headlines but ignores basic economics. Why oil prices are in for a 50 percent drop. (John Cassidy, January 2008, Portfolio)

[T]he experts who are predicting the worst, based on geology and geopolitics, are missing the crucial role that economic incentives play in determining the price of crude. The tripling of oil prices since the summer of 2003 has unleashed forces that within the next two or three years will bring oil prices tumbling back down to below $50 a barrel. Looking even further ahead, prices could easily fall to $30 a barrel or even lower. So before you trade in your Cadillac Escalade for a Toyota Prius, think twice: $1.50-a-gallon gas might not be gone forever.

The key to understanding where prices are headed is distinguishing between the short run and the long run. In a time frame of anything shorter than five years, the supply of crude is more or less fixed. Drilling for oil is an arduous and unpredictable process. Even after a new hydrocarbon reservoir is discovered, ramping up output takes years. Current production capacities reflect investment decisions made in the late 1990s or earlier.

Today, OPEC has the ability to produce about 35 million barrels of crude a day; the rest of the world can produce perhaps 50 million barrels a day. As recently as 2003, this seemed like plenty. Since then, though, global demand has grown rapidly, and a series of catastrophes—some natural (hurricanes Rita and Katrina), some man-made (war in Iraq and unrest in Nigeria and Venezuela)—have curtailed production, causing supply to dip below demand. In September, the global demand for crude reached 85.9 million barrels a day, whereas global supply was just 85.1 million barrels a day, according to I.E.A. figures.

When shortages emerge in any market, prices spike. If the imbalance is expected to continue, speculators move in and drive prices even higher. Oil is no exception. In the fall, as crude inventories declined and the rhetorical battle between the U.S. and Iran escalated, trading volume shot up.

With prices close to the inflation-adjusted record, energy companies and governments are investing heavily in facilities that generate crude and crude substitutes. Consumers of fuel oil and gasoline are starting to economize, and over time, these changes in behavior will shift the balance of power in their favor. When that happens, an oil glut will emerge, and the price will plummet.

...that if two bits of easily imagined news--a goat herder from Tora Bora turns up with OBL's corpse and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is removed from office--occurred on the same day, even though neither had anything to do with oil supplies, the price per barrel would pancake.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 PM


Romney's tough day on the trail (NBC/NJ's Erin McPike, 12/17/07, First Read)

One day after his first appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, Romney faced an onslaught of questions from reporters about his answers on the show, as well as from a voter who chastised him for not answering all the questions he was asked.

Asked about why he was mistaken on the show about his non-endorsement from the NRA during his gubernatorial race, Romney explained, “We checked with them again and said, ‘OK, what are the signals here?’ And they said, ‘Well, we didn’t give you the official endorsement,’ but they phone-banked members here around Massachusetts, or in Massachusetts... So it was, a if you will, a support phone bank, not an official endorsement.”

He was also asked about getting emotional at yesterday’s Meet taping -- and perhaps a little bit at the event today, too -- and he responded, “I’m a normal person. I have emotions.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 PM


Liberals lose bigtime in budget battle (Martin Kady II and Ryan Grim, Dec 17, 2007, Politico)

This much is clear: Democrats in Congress buckled under pressure from the White House to hold spending near the administration’s specified limit, and they’re poised to give the president more war money with no strings attached.

But the buckling didn’t stop there.

Democratic policy priorities that liberals hoped would be included in the omnibus spending legislation were also left on the cutting-room floor.

Under a veto threat, Democrats removed the reversal of a long-standing anti-abortion provision, abandoned long-sought provisions that would have loosened travel and trade restrictions on Cuba and deleted a line item demanded by unions that would have required federal contractors to pay union wages in disaster areas like New Orleans.

Time to admit this is a war they can't win, because of the indigenous culture, and bring their troops home. How many more liberal bills have to die for a mistake?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:17 PM


Iraq's maverick cleric hits the books (HAMZA HENDAWI and QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, 12/13/07, Associated Press)

The leader of Iraq's biggest Shiite militia movement has quietly resumed seminary studies toward attaining the title of ayatollah — a goal that could make firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army an even more formidable power broker in Iraq. [...]

Becoming an ayatollah — one of the highest Shiite clerical positions — would give the 33-year-old al-Sadr an important new voice and aura.

It also would give him fresh clout to challenge his top rival, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which looks to Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani as its highest religious authority and has its own armed wing, the Badr Brigade, which have been largely absorbed into Iraqi security forces.

Al-Sadr often stresses his Iraqi and Arab roots and rejects suggestions that he is beholden to Persian Iran, the world's Shiite heavyweight and the benefactor of many Shiite politicians.

As an ayatollah, his views and fatwas, or religious edicts, would resonate with even more authority as the battles heat up for sway over Iraq's Shiite heartland.

Comparisons are often drawn between al-Sadr's strategy — a mix of militia strength, well-tuned street politics and social outreach — and the hallmarks of Hezbollah, which has been influenced by Lebanon's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, as well Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of Iran's 1979 Islam Revolution.

"If ... Muqtada becomes a religious authority, the entire movement will grow stronger," said one of the aides who described al-Sadr's seminary studies to the AP.

The al-Sadr associates — three in all — spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to share the information with the media. Their accounts, made in separate interviews, were in broad agreement.

Al-Sadr currently has the relatively low title of hojat al-Islam, which leaves his supporters no choice but to seek religious guidance from top establishment clerics — many of whom al-Sadr sees as out of touch with common Iraqis and accuses of acquiescing to Washington's demands.

The aides said al-Sadr was currently on a path to achieve ayatollah rank possibly by 2010 or earlier. His studies were under the supervision of senior clerics in the Shiite holy city of Najaf — where al-Sadr's Mahdi Army fought grinding urban battles with U.S. forces in 2004.

In 2000, al-Sadr enrolled in "outside research" — roughly the equivalent of a doctoral program. Afghan-born Grand Ayatollah Ahmed Issaq al-Fayadh, one of Najaf's four top clerics, supervised him when he joined, but al-Sadr's attendance has been spotty since 2003.

Successful candidates qualify for ayatollah upon completion of the rigorous Islamic studies. But it's also necessary to have a family pedigree in Islamic scholarship and a following among seminary students and laymen.

Al-Sadr should have no problem. His father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, is the namesake for the teeming Shiite district in Baghdad known as Sadr City — called Saddam City before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Saddam Hussein's agents killed al-Sadr's father and two brothers in 1999.

Significantly, the aides said, the main focus of al-Sadr's studies has been the Shiite doctrine known in Arabic as "wilayet al-faqeeh," which supports the right of clerical rule. The concept was adopted Iran's Khomeini, but carries little support among Iraq's Shiite religious hierarchy.

By the time he's an ayatollah Iran will be moving back towards Sistanism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:44 PM


Partition Lebanon? (Charles Jalkh, December 17, 2007,

Two states, a Hezbollah-Syrian-Iranian state, and Free Lebanon. A fundamentalist terrorist state, and a free, democratic, pluralistic, multi-ethnic, and perhaps one day secular state. At least each side will achieve their national aspirations. The scenario of a federated state will not work since it lacks all minimal and essential requirements of such union ; common global identity, common foreign policy, common economic policy, and common defense. We disagree on identity and foreign policy, and we already maintain separate economic infrastructures and separate defense forces. Our land and spirits are already sharply divided, so why not just acknowledge and formalize such reality without hypocrisy, regrets, or guilt.

A partition will bring us security, political stability, social harmony, and rapid economic progress. Partition will allow us to create a powerful military which will truly and ably defend our state against all dangers, rather than staying neutral for fear of divisions. We will be able to move forward in a clear direction. We will quickly achieve prosperity and enhance the living standards of our people with the recognition and help of the whole world. It is high time for the Lebanese politicians to abandon their hypocrisy, their posturing, and state the obvious honestly and clearly.

We need to partition the country and better do it peacefully than through conflict, since we will end up with the same demarcation lines anyway.

The Lebanon is founded on antodemocratic lines and Hezbollahstan will be able to hold real elections, whereas the rump state to its north will have to divvy up power artificially among interest groups.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:42 PM


Huckabee's Immigration Fumble: There's a reason Republicans are losing Hispanic voters (JASON L. RILEY, December 17, 2007, Opinion Journal)

If illegal immigrants didn't pay taxes, Mr. Romney might have a point. But they do pay taxes, and by doing so they subsidize services that only legal residents can access. For starters, more than half and up to three-quarters of illegal immigrants in the U.S. are working "on the books," which means they're paying federal and state income taxes, just like the rest of us. They are also paying Social Security and Medicare taxes, even though undocumented immigrants are ineligible to receive benefits from either program. In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee last year, the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration noted that between 1937 and 2003, contributions to Social Security from unauthorized workers totaled an estimated $520 billion.

But even illegals working in the cash economy can't avoid paying consumption taxes, which are levied on the purchase of goods and services. Nor can they duck property taxes, even if they're renting. Mr. Romney implies that illegal aliens are a net drain on state coffers, but Mr. Huckabee's native Arkansas is an example of immigrants paying their way, and then some.

Between 2000 and 2005, Arkansas had the fastest-growing Hispanic population in the country. Today, some two-thirds of the state's 100,000 immigrants are Hispanic and half are undocumented. Yet a study released earlier this year by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation found these newcomers to "have a small but positive net fiscal impact on the Arkansas state budget."

Taking into account both education and health care expenditures, the report found that immigrants "cost" the state $237 million in 2004, but made direct and indirect contributions of $257 million. Immigrant Arkansans also generated some $3 billion in business revenues. According to the authors, without this foreign labor, "the output of the state's manufacturing industry would likely be lowered by about $1.4 billion--or about 8 percent of the industry's $16.2 billion total contribution to the gross state product in 2004."

Mr. Huckabee might have used such data to rebut critics and point out that similar studies done in Texas, North Carolina, Oregon and elsewhere found similar results. Instead, his response was the "Secure America Plan," which involves fencing off Mexico by 2010, hiring more guards to patrol the Rio Grande, and giving the estimated 12 million illegal aliens in the U.S. 120 days to go back where they came from. Like Rudy Giuliani and Mr. Romney, Mr. Huckabee is convinced that tough talk on immigration, however irrational, is necessary to win the nomination. And while such rhetoric may indeed earn you support from nativist groups like the Minutemen, who endorsed Mr. Huckabee last week, there's a danger that it also could consign the GOP to minority status in Washington for some time. that you start pandering instead of running on your record.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:34 PM


Rhetorical excess undercuts the case against global warming. (John Vinocur, December 17, 2007, IHT)

People concerned about dealing with global warming have a good case. It has such merit that the props of language now being used in its support - nations mobilized for war, moral courage, Hitler, Churchill - undercut its credibility.

Those words are excluders, Good versus Evil discussion-stoppers, with-us-or-against-us barriers of such magnitude that they tend to turn questions, suggestions and varying interpretations of the issue into heretical dissent.

Bingo! It's a religion and skeptics are, indeed, heretics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:54 AM


Amsterdam to clean up "Red Light" district (Emma Thomasson, 12/17/07, Reuters)

The city of Amsterdam announced plans on Monday to clean up its infamous "red light" district to fight human trafficking, money laundering and drug abuse and replace prostitutes' windows with upmarket boutiques.

Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen told a news conference he wanted to clamp down on the organised criminals whose growing influence has corrupted the historic city centre.

"The romantic picture of the area is outdated if you see the abuses in the sex industry and that is why the council has to act," he said. "We don't want to get rid of prostitution but we do want to cut crime significantly."

Eurabia will be more civilized than secular Europe was.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:47 AM

Fredmentum? (Mark Halperin, 12/17/07, The Page)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:43 AM


Abortion Politics 2008 (Hadley Arkes, December 17, 2007, First Things)

here is in his campaign a sobering truth that cannot be evaded: The nomination and election of Rudy Giuliani would mark the end of the Republican party as the pro-life party in our politics. And that would be the case regardless of whether pro-lifers respond to his nomination by refusing to vote for Giuliani, forming a third party, or folding themselves into a coalition that succeeds in electing Giuliani.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


Lionel Hampton's All-Star Band (WILL FRIEDWALD, December 17, 2007, NY Sun)

During the last 30 years, Hampton's Bluebird LP package has been one of the best reasons for keeping a turntable. Now I'm delighted that Mosaic Records has issued "The Complete Lionel Hampton Victor Sessions 1937–1941" ( on CD.

The late-'30s are known as the Golden Years not just of the jazz big band, but also of the hotswing combo — bands that played primarily in ballrooms, theaters, and radio broadcasts. (The most famous small groups were most often special all-star units that only worked together on record dates.) Hampton's all-star combo series complemented the dates led at the same time by fellow Goodmanite Teddy Wilson and the star pianist-entertainer Fats Waller, though unlike their dates, Hampton's leaned less on pop tunes and more on jazz originals (and flat-out jam sessions with very few themes).

Hampton had already proven himself (with Louis Armstrong on "Memories of You" and in his first few years with Goodman) as jazz's first great master of the vibraphone. In establishing his presence as a bandleader, Hampton not only played the vibes and occasionally the drums, but commanded solo space, as on "Twelfth Street Rag," as a pianist playing in a vibraphone-esque two-note style that is like the musical equivalent of touch-typing.

Although it's entertaining to hear him do this shtick once or twice, Hampton's piano solos are perhaps the only parts of the 107 Victor tracks that become tiresome. He also sings on quite a few tracks, and I have to confess that his spooneristic mangling of lyrics and pronunciations never fails to amuse.

Even more than the leader's brilliant vibraphonics and amateurish singing, the reason we treasure these 21 sessions (on five discs) today is the amazingly high quality of the co-stars whom Hampton was able to attract. He gathered his colleagues in the Goodman band (these are, flat out, trumpeter Ziggy Elman's strongest claims to being a great jazz brassman), as well as great players then working with Duke Ellington (Johnny Hodges plays one of his signature solos on "On the Sunny Side of the Street") and Cab Calloway. Hampton also, from time to time, swallowed almost whole the entire personnel of several working small groups, notably Stuff Smith's Onyx Club band, the Spirits of Rhythm, and, most brilliantly, the King Cole Trio.

The most famous of these sessions is a 1939 date that featured four of the five greatest saxophonists playing at the time: alto Benny Carter and tenors Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and Chu Berry (only Lester Young was absent), with young proto-boppers Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet) and Charlie Christian (guitar) thrown in for good measure. The results are spectacular: Hawkins, Berry, and Carter have many marvelous moments in the series, with the latter also soloing wonderfully on trumpet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM


New York Yankees Top 20 Prospects for 2008 (John Sickels, Dec 17, 2007, Minor League Ball)

1. Joba Chamberlain, RHP, Grade A
2. Jose Tabata, OF, Grade B+
3. Ian Kennedy, RHP, Grade B+
4. Alan Horne, RHP, Grade B
5. Austin Jackson, OF, Grade B-

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


Disappointments on Climate: A week that could have brought important progress on climate change ended in disappointment. (Der Spiegel, 12/17/07)

From the United States the delegates got nothing, except a promise to participate in the forthcoming negotiations. Even prying that out of the Bush administration required enormous effort.

Despite pleas from their European allies, the Americans flatly rejected the idea of setting even provisional targets for reductions in greenhouse gases. And they refused to give what the rest of the world wanted most: an unambiguous commitment to reducing America's own emissions. Without that, there is little hope that other large emitters, including China, will change their ways.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Thoughts on Religion and Politics (Rod Dreher, 12/17/07, Real Clear Politics)

Herewith, my views on religion and the politics of the present moment, with something to offend just about everyone:

1. Mormons aren't Christians. I don't mean that as a criticism, only as a descriptive phrase. When Mormons claim Jesus Christ as their savior, there's no reason to doubt their sincerity and good will, or even to deny that they are in some way followers of Christ. Yet Mormonism rejects foundational doctrines of traditional Christian orthodoxy, such that it is impossible to reconcile with normative Christianity.

2. Anyway, the Latter-day Saints church teaches that all other Christian churches are apostate. A heretic is someone who rejects one or more doctrines of religion, but an apostate is someone who has rejected the religion entirely. How is it, exactly, that you can get mad when people you regard as apostates consider you to be ... apostate? How does that work?

Avoiding explaining isn't an explanation.

Why Mitt Romney Can't 'Solve' His Mormon Problem (Stuart Rothenberg, 12/17/07, Real Clear Politics)

[G]ushing reviews once again demonstrate that many observers still don't fully understand why evangelical Christian voters are having a problem with Romney's Mormon religion. It's not merely that they disagree with his church on matters of theology or, as some may believe, that they are intolerant. The issue is far more fundamental than that.

Many evangelicals won't vote for a Mormon for president of the United States for the same reason that almost all Jews would not vote for a candidate (for any office, I expect) who is a member of Jews for Jesus. For Jews, the Jews for Jesus movement is a deceptive attempt to woo Jews to Christianity under the guise of remaining true to Judaism.

Likewise, for evangelicals, Mormons are not "Christians" in the sense that evangelicals understand the term, and by portraying themselves as "Christians," The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deceptively wooing evangelicals or potential adherents away from Christianity.

Evangelicals see Mormons as trying to blur the line between Christianity and Mormonism, just as Jews see Jews for Jesus as trying to blur the lines between Judaism and Christianity.

In each case, Mormons and Jews would not want to elevate to high office someone who might give legitimacy to a group that passes itself off as something that it is not, and that threatens their own group.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Just wild about Harry (Todd Zolecki, 12/17/07, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Harry Kalas has called countless memorable moments in the Phillies' broadcast booth.

He said two stood out.

"Michael Jack's 500th certainly is one of them," Kalas said Friday, referring to Mike Schmidt's home-run milestone. "I followed his entire Hall of Fame career, which was an honor.

"And that 1980 league championship series against the Houston Astros. It was just perhaps one of the greatest [such series] ever, with four games going into extra innings. We needed to beat Nolan Ryan in Game 5 to get to the promised land, which we did."

Fans have a chance to listen to those and other Kalas calls in a tribute CD that Chicago Cubs broadcaster Pat Hughes produced, wrote and narrated. It is part of his Baseball Voices Hall of Fame Series, which also includes tribute CDs for Harry Caray, Jack Buck, Bob Uecker and Marty Brennaman.

The Kalas CD can be found at

Wasn't too long ago that on the East Coast you could tune in Mr. Kalas on Philly radio, John Miller doing O's games, Bob Murphy on the FAN, and Ernie Harwell from Detroit. And that's as good as life gets.

December 16, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 PM


Pats practice in their playoff weather (Dave Goldberg, December 16, 2007, AP)

For the New England Patriots, Sunday's game with the New York Jets turned out less a grudge match than a rehearsal for the playoffs. [...]

[T]he Patriots' 20-10 victory, their 14th straight, couldn't have been in more perfect conditions. After all, they are likely to face here the same circumstances in the playoffs: rain, wind and some treacherous footing after about 6 inches of snow fell overnight.

Not often you head into the playoffs with your big time running back so well rested.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 PM


Wealth gospel propels poor Guatemalans: 'Prosperity theology' is empowering people to help themselves out of poverty. (Sara Miller Llana, 12/17/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

Doris Cuxun will never forget the words that shook her out of a daze one Sunday morning during a service at Showers of Grace, a Neo-Pentecostal megachurch here. "Who here wants to own your own business? Lift your hand!" the pastor hollered. [...]

"God opened the door for me," she says unequivocally while rolling pastel pink paint on the walls of her new salon located next to one of the most upscale malls in Guatemala City.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 PM


Singer Dan Fogelberg dies of cancer at 56 (Reuters, December 16, 2007)

Singer-songwriter Dan Fogelberg, famed for the soaring vocals and elegant instrumentation of tunes such as "Longer" and "A Love Like This," died Sunday, three years after being diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. He was 56.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 PM


What Bush really won in Bali: For the first time, all nations said they will consider ways to reduce global warming – as Bush sought. (CS Monitor, December 17, 2007)

Is it a date that will live in infamy? On Dec. 14, at the climate-change talks in Bali, poor and rich nations agreed – for the first time – to each consider ways to reduce greenhouse gases. Oddly, though, this historic feat was a win for the Bush White House.

No win, no feat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 PM


Rudy cuts back NH ad buy (Jonathan Martin, 12/16/07, Politico)

The Nashua Telegraph's Kevin Landrigan reports that Rudy is planning to deeply cut back his New Hampshire television presence by reducing his buy on the pricey Boston stations this week.

The Mayor's heartless campaign has been a personal embarrassment, but the way the media bought into it has humiliated an entire profession.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 PM


Glacial awareness: Trekking across Iceland’s frozen landscape warms the heart of Philip Stone (Sunday Herald, 12/16/07)

WE BEGIN our trek early in the morning, eight of us, still a little sleepy and anxious about whether our muscles will endure four arduous days. After spending the night at a guesthouse in the Skaftafell National Park, we are taken by truck and dropped further up the coast, on a fine black-sand beach peppered with melting icebergs.

As soon as we start walking, a fierce wind blows up off the Atlantic and blasts cold air in our faces, forcing us into single file, each trying to find shelter behind the other as we progress slowly. We can barely see as the mist closes in on us, so we just watch our feet, tramping over the spongy green moss that covers the uneven ground. The mist is actually a rainsquall which then hits us head on, and the group stops briefly as we rush to pull on our waterproof layers.

Less than a mile into the trek we are all quietly wondering whether the whole idea of a walking trip in Iceland was really such a good idea. "I'd rather be in Largs," I hear someone mutter.

And then a little miracle happens. The rain eases and the mist lifts away. There is no sudden ray of sunshine, just a soft, golden hue that gently warms. It gradually occurs to me that I can now lift my head and I notice my companions are doing the same, staring in awed silence at the landscape.

Down the slope and to the right is a broad, shimmering lake filled with a marvellous array of icebergs. Those that have been facing the light are matte white, while others are a soft, translucent blue. Eventually I realise that the opposite bank of the lake is not land at all, but the face of a great glacier, stretching up many hundreds of metres towards two towering volcanic peaks. The water is the giant puddle left behind as the ice retreats.

A shout breaks the stunned silence as someone points out the shape of a frolicking seal. Then another, and another: a whole family lounging on the ice like holidaymakers on the beach, staring at us with curiosity. Framing this whole scene is the perfect, sweeping arc of a full rainbow, both ends touching the water.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 PM


Why Iran Didn't Cross the Nuclear Weapon Road: Saddam Hussein's nuclear program, not Western pressure, may have been the deciding factor (Dilip Hiro, 12/11/07, YaleGlobal)

In February 1988, Iraq attacked Tehran and other cities with its boosted Scud missiles, called Al Hussein, with a range of 370 miles. Its poison-gas attack on its own Kurdish citizens of Halabja in March alarmed Tehran’s residents. They feared a similar fate. A third of the capital’s population fled to the countryside.

This seems to have given impetus to Iran’s leaders to pursue its atom-bomb project with added vigor and urgency.

What appears to have given further impetus to the Iranian enterprise was the discovery by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, made in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War between Iraq and the US-led coalition, that Iraq had a fairly advanced, clandestine nuclear-arms program.

When the IAEA and other international inspectors noticed discrepancy between what WMD materials they found and destroyed, and what the official documents showed to be in Iraq’s inventories at the start, Saddam claimed that he had ordered the destruction of some WMD materials himself. The documentation got lost in the mayhem, caused by the uprisings in Iraq in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, he explained.

The purpose of Saddam’s cat-and-mouse game with international inspectors was to make the leaders of the neighboring states feel that he possessed WMDs or could produce them at short notice, and thus gain their respect out of fear. Indeed, he said as much in his interviews with the US intelligence agents during his three-year incarceration. Saddam was particularly keen to foster such an assessment among the ruling mullahs of Iran, whom he detested for being ethnic Persian and Shiite.

The mystique of Saddam having a clandestine WMD was so strong that even his generals believed it. On the eve of the Anglo-American invasion in March 2003, however, he admitted to them that he had nothing of the sort. So, many of his generals failed to turn up for their jobs once the invasion got going. They knew that without chemical weapons and without air cover, they had no chance of resisting the invading forces.

Saddam’s overthrow in April was not enough to reassure Iran’s leaders to abandon their nuclear-arms option. What made the critical difference was the statement by David Kay, leader of the US-led Iraq Survey Group. At the end of an investigation costing $300 million, he said on October 2, 2003, "We have not yet found stocks of [non-conventional] weapons." Earlier, the Pentagon's 75th Exploitation Force too had discovered nothing.

This reassured Iran’s leaders, including Hassan Rouhani, its chief nuclear negotiator with foreign governments and international agencies.

On October 21, 2003, Rouhani held several hours of talks with the visiting foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany. At the end, Iran agreed, “Voluntarily to suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities as defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency” and to resolve satisfactorily all the IAEA’s remaining questions.

The American tilt towards, even if in an understandable fit of pique following the hostage crisis, was disastrous for all concerned. Leaving Saddam in power in '91 was at least as big a mistake. Fortunately, W set things to rights and if he doesn't establish a new, more amicable, relationship with post-Ahmedinejad Iran, his successor will. It really just depends on when the Iranians remove Mahmoud and whether from above or from below.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:28 PM


Lieberman to endorse McCain (Mike Allen, Dec 16, 2007, Politico)

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Conn.), who was on the national Democratic ticket in 2000, will cross the aisle to endorse Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) tomorrow, Republican sources said.

The two will appear together on NBC's "Today" show tomorrow, then at an 8 a.m. town hall in Hillsborough, N.H.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:32 PM


Prospectus Q&A: John Farrell (David Laurila, 12/16/07, Baseball Prospectus)

David Laurila: Warren Spahn famously said that you only need two pitches to get a hitter out: the one he’s looking for and the one he isn’t. Is that a simplification?

John Farrell: In some cases, possibly, but I don’t think it is. From a pitch-execution standpoint, the ability to throw your fastball on both sides of the plate is the single most important key, particularly for a starting pitcher. What I try to ingrain in pitchers’ minds is that even though it’s the same pitch--a fastball--it’s clearly two different pitches when it’s thrown on either side of the plate with consistency. I think that even the best hitters at the major league-level can’t protect, or be looking for, a pitch on both sides; they have to either zone in on a ball on the outside half of the strike zone or a ball in on them. And the ability to throw a secondary pitch--some sort of breaking ball or a variation of a change-up--is important. It’s one of the tools to begin that inner game, that chess match. I think that, ultimately, if a pitcher can avoid being predictable he’s got the ability to effectively retire hitters with two pitches. But to me, the biggest thing is location.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 PM


Day Three: The situation’s looking worse all the time for Roger (Seth Mnookin, 12/16/07, Feeding the Monster)

In the last two days, the situation for Clemens has, remarkably, gotten even worse. There ex-big leaguers like C.J. Nitkowski defending Brian McNamee after he was called “troubled” by Clemens’ lawyer–a remarkable breach of the unspoken code of omerta among current and former ballplayers. There’s Curt Schilling, who looks up to Clemens as an idol, saying “I believe it” when asked about the contents of the Mitchell report. There’s the results of ESPN’s Jerry Krasnick’s informal poll of Hall voters–a full two-thirds of whom say they either wouldn’t vote for Clemens or are undecided.

And now there’s Andy Pettitte’s classy confirmation of McNamee’s revelations about his use of HGH. (Classy so long as his statement that there were only two times he used are, in fact, true.) Not only did Pettitte not say that McNamee was troubled, he confirmed exactly what McNamee had told investigators.

The only remaining question is which butt cheek Roidger preferred for his injections.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 PM


Poll: Americans Have Overwhelming Support for Israel (Gil Ronen, 12/15/07,

Americans' support for Israel in the conflict with the Arabs of Judea, Samaria and Gaza remains extremely high, with 62 percent of Americans considering themselves supporters of Israel and only 9 percent as "supporters of the Palestinians." These are some of the findings of a new bipartisan poll commissioned by The Israel Project (TIP).

By a similar margin (61 to 10), Americans believe the U.S. should support Israel in the conflict with the Arabs of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. TIP says this is in stark contrast to a 2002 poll, when fully 68 percent of Americans thought the U.S. should take neither side in the conflict.

The poll also shows Americans do not believe the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear projects and worry the NIE report will make the U.S. less safe. The survey shows that while 75 percent of likely voters had heard about the NIE report, only 27 percent believed its assessment that Iran’s nuclear program ended in 2003, while 69 percent believe that the nuclear weapons program is still underway.

The folks--Europeans, Leftists, neocons--who claim that the new NIE constrains the President from bombing Iran just don't get the American people. You could nuke Tehran, say it was just payback for the hostages, and a strong majority would support it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 PM


Japanese economy (Financial Times, December 14 2007)

Data from the world’s second biggest economy have turned relentlessly bleak. Last week estimates of growth for the third quarter were revised down to an annualised 1.5 per cent compared with initial estimates of 2.6 per cent. A few days later a government survey revealed that consumer confidence had reached a four-year low in the month of November.

The recently completed reporting season showed a deceleration in earnings growth and that the stock market, down 10 per cent this year in local currency terms, has lagged behind global peers. Add in a likely US slowdown and a bout of yen appreciation, and it is hard to see what Japanese manufacturers have to smile about.

The pressing question is how bad things can get.

When people are a wasting resource things are going to get an awful lot worse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:58 AM


McCain's Last Stand (Fred Barnes, 12/24/2007, Weekly Standard)

[T]he old McCain is back, the flippant, contrarian candidate who came close to defeating George W. Bush for the Republican nomination in 2000. And amazingly enough, after his campaign to be nominee in 2008 all but collapsed this summer, McCain is experiencing a rebirth. He now has a chance--an outside chance, at least--of winning the Republican nomination.

Things large and small in the campaign have been moving McCain's way. The war in Iraq has turned sharply toward victory now that President Bush has adopted the strategy McCain had been recommending for several years. This is McCain's best issue and now a distinct plus for his campaign. And the immigration issue, a poisonous one for McCain, has become less intense since his immigrant-friendly approach lost in the Senate last summer.

Then there's the rise of Mike Huckabee, the ex-Arkansas governor. If he defeats Mitt Romney in Iowa next month--and polls show Huckabee ahead--that will disrupt Romney's early-state strategy and leave him vulnerable in the New Hampshire primary on January 8. To capture the nomination, McCain must win in New Hampshire. McCain, by the way, likes Huckabee and can't stand Romney.

Just as Romney has run into trouble, McCain's other rivals have as well. The campaign of Rudy Giuliani, the ex-New York City mayor, has stalled amid a burst of unfavorable media stories. Former senator Fred Thompson has failed to stir significant support among conservatives, his target group. Still, like Huckabee, Thompson is running hard against Romney in Iowa.

In his up and down campaign, McCain has already disproved two pieces of conventional wisdom. One is that Republicans are a primogeniture party that routinely makes the next major Republican figure in line the near-prohibitive frontrunner. McCain, having paid his dues in 2000, did lead the pack initially, but his campaign cratered in June from overspending and the unpopularity of his position on immigration.

The second is that primary debates don't matter. In McCain's case (and Huckabee's), however, televised debates have been a godsend. McCain's recovery began in a Fox News debate in New Hampshire on September 5, when he pugnaciously challenged Romney on the surge.

...are you aware you're denying the existence of primogeniture in an essay describing an impending proof of primogeniture?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:52 AM


Bill Clinton clashes with Hillary's advisers (Philip Sherwell, 16/12/2007, Sunday Telegraph)

Bill Clinton has finally succumbed to temptation and intervened personally to salvage his wife's faltering bid for the White House, according to leaks from her secretive campaign team. [...]

He went on the offensive on her behalf this weekend with his strongest attack yet on Mr Obama's qualifications for office, and said that voters would be taking a "risk" if they chose him.

He is understood to be particularly frustrated that her chief strategist and polling guru, Mark Penn, chose to portray the former First Lady as the "inevitable" and "invincible" nominee - a strategy that Mr Clinton believes has failed to sell her merits as a candidate.

It's vital for even inevitable nominees to pretend to be underdogs. Campaigns are narratives and the scrappy battler against the odds is simply a more sympathetic character.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:49 AM


Bali deal leaves greens in despair (Jonathan Leake, 12/16/07, Sunday Times of London)

AS more than 180 countries agreed a deal on climate change at the UN summit in Bali, environmentalists punctured the mood of self-congratulation by pointing to the failure to agree firm targets for reducing emissions.

Although the main industrialised countries, including America, agreed to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, they refused to agree to an European Union proposal for a target of 25%-40% cuts by 2020.

Campaigners claimed the world’s biggest carbon emitters, including America, Japan and Canada, will now be free to carry on expanding such emissions for many more years to come.

It isn't just how often W wins "negotiations" that's revealing, but how long it takes for folks to figure out that he did.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:42 AM


In N.H., Iraq War Fading as Key Issue (Jill Zuckman, 12/12/07, Chicago Tribune)

Up on Gunstock Mountain last week, not a single voter in a packed ski lodge asked Sen. Hillary Clinton about the Iraq war.

The closest Sen. John McCain came to Iraq during a town hall meeting in Bedford was a question about U.S. intelligence on Iran.

And at a crowded house party for former Sen. John Edwards, only one person spoke up to ask how he plans to end combat missions and bring the troops home.

Not long ago it was the issue that dominated every campaign event and speech. Now the war in Iraq has dramatically receded as a campaign topic, giving way to preoccupations closer to home -- the price of heating oil, the collapse of the real estate market and the high cost of health care.

Suppose you put all your eggs in one basket and, while you weren't paying attention, they hatched?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:18 AM


In defense of the CIA (Terence P. Jeffrey, 12/16/07, Washington Times)

The foiled plot involving Hijazi and Abu Hoshar, according to the commission, aimed to attack the Radisson Hotel in Amman, the border crossing between Israel and Jordan, two Christian holy places and an airport. The idea was to hit them "at a time when all these locations were likely to be thronged with American and other tourists." Abu Zubaydah approved the plan.

After he was captured, the commission said Hijazi's little brother bragged that the terrorist group's motto was: "The season is coming, and the bodies will pile up in sacks."

Two weeks after these terrorists were detained in Jordan, Customs arrested Ahmed Ressam trying to enter the U.S. from Canada. Ressam had a bomb in his car that he intended to detonate at Los Angeles International Airport. [...]

After September 11, Congress authorized war against al Qaeda. The following March, Abu Zubaydah was severely wounded while being captured. Reports in The Washington Post and New York Times over the last week have revealed that after Zubaydah was nursed out of a coma in Pakistan, officers of the Central Intelligence Agency tried to get him to reveal what he knew about terrorist plans against the United States. He was not forthcoming.

Eventually, he was flown to another country where he was waterboarded for 35 seconds. John Kiriakou, a CIA interrogator who had failed to get valuable information out of Zubaydah by softer means, and who did not participate in the water-boarding, told The Washington Post that the waterboarding "was like flipping a switch."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:12 AM


The Evangelical Ecologist; a review of The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth by E. O. Wilson (S. M. Hutchens, Fall 2007, New Atlantis)

Now comes E.O. Wilson, complaining to Christians about the loss of plant and animal species. In The Creation, Wilson asks the imaginary Baptist pastor to whom the book is addressed to search his faith for reason to make common cause in earth-saving with Wilson’s own secular humanism, the dogmatics of which assert that “heaven and hell are what we create for ourselves on this planet. There is no other home.” To this end, the eminent biologist and teacher writes this charming paean to “creation,” threatened by numerous extinctions, especially those caused by human activity.

Kermit the Frog, to summarize the situation, in a phrase, is sick. And to varying degrees so is much of the rest of the living world. Might Homo sapiens follow? Maybe, maybe not. But with certainty we are the giant meteorite of our time, having begun the sixth mass extinction of Phanerozoic history. We are creating a less stable and interesting place for our descendants to inherit. They will understand and love life more than we, and they will not be inclined to honor our memory.

In the biographical postscript, Wilson, himself raised a Southern Baptist, is described as “lastingly influenced by the lyrical and spiritual power of evangelical Christianity.” In his opening salutation he emphasizes that he began where the minister remains: “As a boy I too answered the altar call; I went under the water. Although I no longer belong to the faith, I am confident that if we met and spoke privately of our deepest beliefs, it would be in a spirit of mutual respect and good will. I know we share many precepts of moral behavior.”

Wilson reveals himself to be, in his own way, what he knows his Baptist minister is—a passionately religious man. If religion is devotion to an Ultimate Concern, an incalculably worthy reality beyond man himself, accompanied by a disciplined piety in service of that reality, then Wilson by the presents of this book is not simply a biologist in the sense of a student of organic life, but exalts bios as logos, believes science of the Darwinian persuasion its proper mode of worship, and regards his responsibility thereto as a ministerial vocation. The Creation is an evangelistic tract seeking to enlist the cooperation of Christians of the sort who are “literalist interpreters of Holy Scripture” in seeking to preserve the life-diversity of the biosphere as an aspect of their own religious duty to which they have heretofore been insufficiently attentive.

From Wilson’s viewpoint the world is not and never has been “for man,” in the sense of subject to a right of human dominion, but rather in some way for itself—and by extension for its component species, among which man takes a place where his responsibility for its use is not principally to God, in accordance with an eschatology assumed in divine directives, or to the human race, in accordance with a philosophical concept of human good, but to the biosphere itself. The summum bonum in view, the ethical end humanity as earth’s most powerful species is bound to seek, is the maximum health, abundance, and diversity of living things.

What makes the Darwinist appeal to maintain biodiversity so amusing is not just its religious tone but how unnatural it is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:04 AM


Don't Stop Believing: Romney's Swan Song?: Mitt Romney travels Iowa with his poll numbers down and seats going empty at his campaign events. What went wrong? (Jonathan Stein, December 15, 2007, Mother Jones)

Multiple polls have showed former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee leading Romney by double digits in Iowa, a state that Romney has devoted inordinate amounts of money and time to and has owned, poll-wise, for months. Polls also show that Huckabee has opened up a sizable lead over Romney in South Carolina and is gaining ground in Nevada, another early state. As Romney fixed himself onstage at the Carroll venue, Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" blared ominously over the speakers. Empty seats littered the back of the room, only filled by stragglers well after the event's official start time.

After speaking for only over fifteen minutes, during which he garnered infrequent and tepid bursts of applause, Romney received three questions before the crowd fell still and he had to prompt further discussion with the line, "Well, this is quiet here."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:00 AM


Nobody Knows the Tribbles He’s Seen (THOMAS VINCIGUERRA, 12/16/07, NY Times)

BY any reasonable definition David Gerrold is a major figure in science fiction. He has published some 50 books and won many of his genre’s highest awards, including the Hugo and the Nebula. John Cusack and Amanda Peet starred in “Martian Child,” which was inspired by his novella “The Martian Child” and opened last month.

But Mr. Gerrold seems destined to be forever remembered as the guy who gave the world the alien race of cute, lovable, rapidly breeding fluff balls known as tribbles.

You know, tribbles — the star characters of “The Trouble With Tribbles,” probably the most famous episode of the original “Star Trek.” Initially broadcast 40 years ago (on Dec. 29, 1967), the segment was Mr. Gerrold’s first professional sale. Most Trekkies love it.

For Mr. Gerrold that’s been a mixed blessing.

“I wouldn’t call it frustration,” he said in a telephone interview from his home in Northridge, Calif. “But I kind of like people to notice that I’ve done other things. You have a billion people who know ‘Tribbles’ and only half a million who know my novel ‘The Man Who Folded Himself,’ which is one of my better-known books.”

Interesting to note that just as the Mudd episodes, which play the Star Trek conventions for comic effect, are the best in the series, so too is Darin Morgan's comic triumvirate of X-Files episodes--Humbug, Jose Chung, and Clyde Bruckman--the pinnacle of that series.

Speaking of which, there's a scene in the final episode of Life on Mars that makes our All-Time Best TV Moments, and here are a few other nominees:

Moulin Rouge (Crime Story, 1988)

Torello: He's with Walter

Did You See the Sun Rise? (Magnum, P.I., 1982)
Thomas Magnum: Ivan?

Ivan: [turning back to Magnum] Yes?

Thomas Magnum: Did you see the sunrise this morning?

Ivan: Yes, why?

Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose (X Files, 1995)
Clyde Bruckman: You know, there are worse ways to go, but I can't think of a more undignified way than autoerotic asphyxiation.

Mulder: Why are you telling me that?

Clyde Bruckman: Look, forget I mentioned it. It's none of my business.

The Big Kiss-Off (Cheers, 1988)
Woody: Hmmm?

Sam: Hmmmm?

Turkeys Away (WKRP in Cincinnati, 1978)
Mr. Carlson: As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:41 AM


Skunk, cockroach is a timeless tale (PAT CAHILL, 12/16/07, The Republican)

Earlier this fall, when the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City held its Blessing of the Beasts, the animal lovers in the procession got a special treat.

It was an exhibition of engravings from a new book by Ethel Pochocki, "The Blessing of the Beasts."

The illustrator: renowned artist Barry Moser of Hatfield.

The 39-page book was originally intended for children, but with Moser's engravings and Pochocki's lyrical prose and timeless tale, it's a work of art for any age.

Not only is Mr. Moser's Pennyroyal Caxton Bible one of the great books in Creation, but you can get the paperback for under $14.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 AM


Is the U.S. economy in recession? (NY Times, December 16, 2007)

And so, inevitably, we arrive at the point where "recession" means, not growing at the pace I'd prefer personally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


America's oil obsession may need a gas tax (Jonathan Last, 12/16/07, Philadelphia Inquirer)

No matter where you are on the political spectrum, there's reason to be worried by our oil dependency: Liberals don't like the environmental effects and conservatives don't like being held over The Pit of Recession by the OPEC cartel. Of course, that much was true eight years ago. But it is now clear to everyone in the middle that oil dependence has national-security implications, too.

On the most general level, oil is the reason America must care about the Middle East. If we didn't need oil, then America could treat the Middle East with the same sort of neglect we do Africa. (Not to say such neglect would be morally justifiable, only that it would be logistically feasible. Our neglect of Darfur and Rwanda, while reprehensible, hasn't caused us any tangible harm.)

Instead, we are invested in a troublesome, hostile region and worse, we are funding "friends" who are enemies in deed. We call Saudi Arabia a friend, but its aims pose at least as much of a long-term threat as those of Saddam's Iraq and the mullahs' (not Ahmadinejad's) Iran. The money we spend on oil flows into Saudi coffers and then off to various Wahhabi radicals. To take just one example, Saudi money feeds the Wahhabi proselytization that has turned Europe into a cultural powder keg.

The most pernicious effect of our Middle Eastern oil addiction is that it retards the region's political development, keeping it mired in despotism and instability. Oil revenues in Gulf states make taxation there largely unnecessary.

Taxes are, historically, the great motivator for democratization. If folks are made to pay taxes, they often militate for representative forms of government. That's one of the reasons most oil-rich countries don't have meaningful elected assemblies. For the Gulf OPEC states, oil has lubricated tyranny at home and radicalism abroad, making for instability, conflict and much unpleasantness.

Policy observers long have recognized our oil problem. Nearly every U.S. president since Richard Nixon has made noise about achieving oil independence; none has gotten far. But we may finally have reached a point where there's enough consensus - and concern - to build toward real action.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


A Realistic and Principled Foreign Policy (Bill Richardson, Foreign Policy)

Sixty years ago, in the pages of this magazine, George Kennan presented a compelling case for U.S. global engagement and leadership to contain Soviet power. His strategic vision laid the foundation for a realistic and principled foreign policy that, despite mistakes and setbacks, united the United States and its allies for the duration of the Cold War.

In the wake of the Bush administration's failed experiment with unilateralism, the United States needs once again to construct a foreign policy that is based on reality and loyal to American values.

There is no American value that is vindicated by the proposal to tolerate fifty years of totalitarian oppression for the people of Syria, as we stood idly by and left the Poles to five decades of communist darkness. American values are pretty explicit...:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

... and any policy that doesn't advance them is, literally, unAmerican, as containment was.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


Another juicy cold case for Iceland's glum sleuth: a review of The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason, translated by Bernard Scudder (
Jack Batten, 12/16/07, Toronto Star)

By his own description, Erlendur, a man in his 50s, is depressive and lonely, living in a gloomy apartment with no company except his shelves of books. He left his wife decades ago, and any contacts he has now with his two grown children slide into inevitable disaster. His daughter, Eva Lind, is a hopeless drug addict, and his son, Sidri, seems at best bemused by his father, at worst contemptuous.

In The Draining Lake, the new and most accomplished Erlendur novel, his private life seems on the brink of an upbeat nudge. Valgerdur, a good-looking biotechnician he met on an earlier case, is interested in pursuing a relationship with Erlendur. Naturally there are obstacles to the romance. Erlendur can't imagine what she sees in him, and besides, Valgerdur is married.

Meanwhile, in the crime-solving side of his life, Erlendur is working two cases that perfectly suit his sleuthing sensibilities. One involves a man who appears to have dissolved into thin air in the early 1960s, leaving behind nothing except a bereft girlfriend and a Ford Falcon with a missing hubcap, parked in a lot next to the train station.

The second of the two puzzles is more complex. When the water in Lake Kleifarvatn drops several metres suddenly, a hydrologist finds the skeleton of a man buried in the lake bed. The skeleton has a hole in its skull, and it has been weighted down with a Russian radio transmitter from – ah a! – the 1960s.

All those years ago, Iceland was the scene of mild Russian-American skirmishing during the Cold War. The U.S. set up an air base in the country, and Russian secret agents kept the base under intense clandestine watch. Today, Russians and Americans no longer spy on one another in Iceland – "We just go on the Internet like everybody else," the man at the Russian embassy tells Erlendur – but in the 1960s, espionage was big business.

While he's nicely drawn, Erlendur is not so unlike other detectives as to be exceptional. What really sets the series apart is the way the author bores into Iceland's history for his stories.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


Government Entitlement For Risk Takers (George Will, 12/16/07, Real Clear Politics)

Although the freeze of adjustable mortgage rates amounts to a revision of perhaps hundreds of thousands of contracts, it will help a relatively small number of people. And it will not help scrupulous borrowers who have scrimped and sacrificed to fulfill the obligations of their contracts. According to Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, 93 percent of American mortgages are paid on time. At most, 15 percent of recent "resets" -- mortgage rate increases -- have resulted in foreclosures. Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute says that only about a third of adjustable-rate mortgages are with subprime borrowers and barely half of subprime mortgages have variable rates.

Clinton perhaps regrets that the plan the president has enabled and endorsed is voluntary. Today's liberalism, combining tolerance and statism, cares less what happens than that it be mandatory.

Whereas today's Right cares less what happens than that it be ideologically pure, as witness the raging against a program that helps so few in practice but encourages continued risk-taking and ownership in general.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Rudy's Incredible Shrinking Campaign (Salena Zito, 12/16/07, Real Clear Politics)

Giuliani went into the campaign season with an unconventional strategy that quickly became all the buzz: Skip Iowa, be respectable in New Hampshire, then head to delegate-rich Florida. The strategy for his campaign was never about momentum; it was always about maximizing his delegate count.

An unconventional Republican primary candidate, Giuliani knew he would be shunned by the ultraconservative activists in early states. His personal Iowa is Super-Duper Tuesday, Feb. 5, which has the motherlode of delegates, who happen to be moderate Republicans. Sounds perfect, right?

Maybe. If he can hold on. But right now, the Giuliani story is that his gamble is quietly becoming the incredible shrinking campaign. "From a historical perspective," says Matt Lebo, a political science professor at State University of New York at Stony Brook, "his strategy is clearly a losing strategy."

A rudimentary application of Occam's Butterfly Ballot tells one that he was only in it for the media adulation and never considered actually contending for the nomination. Once he bows out, citing some bogus pretext, it will be an exact replica of his flirtation with the NY Senate seat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM

Meanwhile, between shoveling and the Pats game, this'll keep you busy, if annoyed...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 AM


Small Lutheran school an unlikely magnet for Jewish students (KATHY BOCCELLA, 12/16/07, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Just before sundown on the first night of Hanukkah, Patti Mittleman rushes around the student union at Muhlenberg College, setting up menorahs, checking on the dreidels and gelt, and keeping hungry students away from dishes of doughnuts and steaming latkes.

"Jonathan, get rid of that plastic wrap behind the menorah. It looks like hell," she barks at a student, who removes the offending box of wrap.

With everything set, Mittleman welcomes several hundred people to the Jewish festival of light by saying "Hi, Daniel," into a microphone, joking that it's such a common name among the crowd that she knew it would get everyone's attention. "I could have used Joshua or Rachel, too," she cracks.

Such a scene surely never occurred to the founders of the small Lutheran college in Allentown, Pa., which is now one of the most popular schools in the country for Jewish students.

According to Hillel International, a Jewish campus organization, Muhlenberg has the 10th-largest percentage of Jews among U.S. colleges, with more than 700 Jewish students this academic year, nearly a third of its enrollment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Smashing the Demographic Demon (Emanuel Shilo, 12/16/07, B'Sheva)

The most basic and most just response to this claim is that when we describe Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state," we do not mean to equate between Jewishness and democracy. Never, even in our most glorious periods, did the Nation of Israel have a democracy - at least not in the sense that it is understood today. Judaism is the soul of our life and the purpose of our existence, while democracy is just a system of governance that happens to be the most suitable for our times; as Churchill said, it is the 'worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time.' We cannot say that we must ensure Israel's Jewish character - while at the same time trampling basic Jewish values. In sum: to the extent that there is a clash between the Jewish value of inheriting the Land and the democratic value of granting political rights to everyone wherever they live - the Jewish value wins out.

You can be racially Jewish and antidemocratic, but not religiously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Smashing the Demographic Demon (Emanuel Shilo, 12/16/07, B'Sheva)

The most basic and most just response to this claim is that when we describe Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state," we do not mean to equate between Jewishness and democracy. Never, even in our most glorious periods, did the Nation of Israel have a democracy - at least not in the sense that it is understood today. Judaism is the soul of our life and the purpose of our existence, while democracy is just a system of governance that happens to be the most suitable for our times; as Churchill said, it is the 'worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time.' We cannot say that we must ensure Israel's Jewish character - while at the same time trampling basic Jewish values. In sum: to the extent that there is a clash between the Jewish value of inheriting the Land and the democratic value of granting political rights to everyone wherever they live - the Jewish value wins out.

You can be racially Jewish and antidemocratic, but not religiously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Smashing the Demographic Demon (Emanuel Shilo, 12/16/07, B'Sheva)

The most basic and most just response to this claim is that when we describe Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state," we do not mean to equate between Jewishness and democracy. Never, even in our most glorious periods, did the Nation of Israel have a democracy - at least not in the sense that it is understood today. Judaism is the soul of our life and the purpose of our existence, while democracy is just a system of governance that happens to be the most suitable for our times; as Churchill said, it is the 'worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time.' We cannot say that we must ensure Israel's Jewish character - while at the same time trampling basic Jewish values. In sum: to the extent that there is a clash between the Jewish value of inheriting the Land and the democratic value of granting political rights to everyone wherever they live - the Jewish value wins out.

You can be racially Jewish and antidemocratic, but not religiously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Smashing the Demographic Demon (Emanuel Shilo, 12/16/07, B'Sheva)

The most basic and most just response to this claim is that when we describe Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state," we do not mean to equate between Jewishness and democracy. Never, even in our most glorious periods, did the Nation of Israel have a democracy - at least not in the sense that it is understood today. Judaism is the soul of our life and the purpose of our existence, while democracy is just a system of governance that happens to be the most suitable for our times; as Churchill said, it is the 'worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time.' We cannot say that we must ensure Israel's Jewish character - while at the same time trampling basic Jewish values. In sum: to the extent that there is a clash between the Jewish value of inheriting the Land and the democratic value of granting political rights to everyone wherever they live - the Jewish value wins out.

You can be racially Jewish and antidemocratic, but not religiously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Smashing the Demographic Demon (Emanuel Shilo, 12/16/07, B'Sheva)

The most basic and most just response to this claim is that when we describe Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state," we do not mean to equate between Jewishness and democracy. Never, even in our most glorious periods, did the Nation of Israel have a democracy - at least not in the sense that it is understood today. Judaism is the soul of our life and the purpose of our existence, while democracy is just a system of governance that happens to be the most suitable for our times; as Churchill said, it is the 'worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time.' We cannot say that we must ensure Israel's Jewish character - while at the same time trampling basic Jewish values. In sum: to the extent that there is a clash between the Jewish value of inheriting the Land and the democratic value of granting political rights to everyone wherever they live - the Jewish value wins out.

You can be racially Jewish and antidemocratic, but not religiously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Smashing the Demographic Demon (Emanuel Shilo, 12/16/07, B'Sheva)

The most basic and most just response to this claim is that when we describe Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state," we do not mean to equate between Jewishness and democracy. Never, even in our most glorious periods, did the Nation of Israel have a democracy - at least not in the sense that it is understood today. Judaism is the soul of our life and the purpose of our existence, while democracy is just a system of governance that happens to be the most suitable for our times; as Churchill said, it is the 'worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time.' We cannot say that we must ensure Israel's Jewish character - while at the same time trampling basic Jewish values. In sum: to the extent that there is a clash between the Jewish value of inheriting the Land and the democratic value of granting political rights to everyone wherever they live - the Jewish value wins out.

You can be racially Jewish and antidemocratic, but not religiously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Smashing the Demographic Demon (Emanuel Shilo, 12/16/07, B'Sheva)

The most basic and most just response to this claim is that when we describe Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state," we do not mean to equate between Jewishness and democracy. Never, even in our most glorious periods, did the Nation of Israel have a democracy - at least not in the sense that it is understood today. Judaism is the soul of our life and the purpose of our existence, while democracy is just a system of governance that happens to be the most suitable for our times; as Churchill said, it is the 'worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time.' We cannot say that we must ensure Israel's Jewish character - while at the same time trampling basic Jewish values. In sum: to the extent that there is a clash between the Jewish value of inheriting the Land and the democratic value of granting political rights to everyone wherever they live - the Jewish value wins out.

You can be racially Jewish and antidemocratic, but not religiously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Smashing the Demographic Demon (Emanuel Shilo, 12/16/07, B'Sheva)

The most basic and most just response to this claim is that when we describe Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state," we do not mean to equate between Jewishness and democracy. Never, even in our most glorious periods, did the Nation of Israel have a democracy - at least not in the sense that it is understood today. Judaism is the soul of our life and the purpose of our existence, while democracy is just a system of governance that happens to be the most suitable for our times; as Churchill said, it is the 'worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time.' We cannot say that we must ensure Israel's Jewish character - while at the same time trampling basic Jewish values. In sum: to the extent that there is a clash between the Jewish value of inheriting the Land and the democratic value of granting political rights to everyone wherever they live - the Jewish value wins out.

You can be racially Jewish and antidemocratic, but not religiously.

December 15, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:56 PM


Chief Rabbi: Britain is losing its identity (Jonathan Wynne-Jones, 16/12/2007, Sunday Telegraph)

Britain is losing its identity because of over-zealous political correctness and a failure to deal with immigration, the Chief Rabbi has warned.

Sir Jonathan Sacks said that the drive for a multi­cultural society had left Britain increasingly intolerant and that too many people were embarrassed about their history.

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, he stressed that the historic Union with Scotland and the concept of Britain must be preserved.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:50 PM


The Register's caucus endorsements: McCain, Clinton (THE DES MOINES REGISTER, December 15, 2007)

The Des Moines Register’s editorial board has endorsed Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton for the 2008 Iowa caucuses.

The Register, Iowa’s statewide newspaper, calls McCain and Clinton the candidates it believes are most competent and ready to lead.

Globe endorses McCain, Obama (, December 15, 2007)
Senators Barack Obama and John McCain have been endorsed by The Boston Globe editorial board ahead of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary on Jan. 8 in New Hampshire.

The board wrote that Obama, the Illinois Democrat, fulfills America's need for "a president with an intuitive sense of the wider world,'' and that McCain, the Arizona Republican, ''has done more than his share to transcend partisanship and promote an honest discussion of the problems facing the United States.''

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 PM


Obama: Soul Food with Sharpton (Sunlen Miller, 11/29/07, ABC News)

Presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama D-Ill., stopped for a little soul food with Al Sharpton in Harlem Thursday evening.

Arriving together in the same car, the two were flanked by people on the street outside the popular soul food restaurant, "Sylvia's" in the heart of Harlem.

Obama yelled, "We gon’ shake up the world," as he entered the restaurant side by side with Sharpton.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 PM

We are all intelligent designists now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 PM


Iraqi city poised to become hub of Shiite power (Alissa J. Rubin, December 15, 2007, IHT)

A millennium after Najaf first became a magnet for Shiite pilgrims, leaders here are reimagining this city, long suppressed by Saddam Hussein, as a new hub of Shiite political and economic power, not only for Iraq but for the entire Middle East.

That shift would further weaken the Iraqi central government and complete Najaf's transformation from a dusty, conservative town known mostly for its golden-domed shrine and soaring minarets into the undisputed center of a potentially semiautonomous Shiite region, with some of the country's richest oil reserves.

And although Najafis will say little about it, Iran is playing a significant role in the plan, helping to improve the city and its holy sites, especially the golden- domed shrine to Imam Ali, the figure most associated with the founding of the Shiite sect, who is said to be buried here. Money from Iran is financing some of the shrine expansion projects as well as contributing to the construction of a major electrical power-generating plant whose output will be shared between Najaf Province and its neighbor, Karbala, which is also the home of two important Shiite shrines.

"What we have tried to do is put in place a plan to allow Najaf to recover its political and strategic position in Iraq and the region, the Asharq al-Awsat, Iran and the Middle East," said Abdul Hussain Abtan, the deputy chairman of Najaf's Provincial Council, referring to the city's role historically as a center of pilgrimage and Shiite learning.

When the lights are low and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad faces his scariest thoughts, surely the most terrifying is that W is the 12th Imam?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 PM


Health Savings Accounts for Poor Tested (KEVIN FREKING, 12/14/07, AP)

The popularity of health savings accounts for the poor will be put to the test in Indiana under a program approved Friday by the Bush administration. Under the plan, someone making $20,000 a year could get health coverage for about $19 a week.

Bush has long pushed health savings accounts as a way to slow the rising cost of medical care and extend basic coverage to the uninsured.

Under the Indiana program, eligible residents can pay up to 5 percent of their incomes into state-subsidized "Personal Wellness and Responsibility Accounts" that cover their initial medical expenses up to $1,100. Once that deductible is reached, private insurance purchased by the state kicks in.

Eligibility is limited to adults with incomes below twice the federal poverty level. The poverty level is now $10,210 for an individual and $20,650 for a family of four.

The waiver is the first of its kind for the Medicaid program, a state-federal partnership that provides health coverage to the poor and disabled.

Jeb Bush was the obvious successor to Bill Clinton/George W. Bush, but, with him not running, Mitch Daniels would have been able to fill the Third Way bill, if only he looked like a president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 PM


Giuliani Blends Hope, Fear in Latest Campaign Speech (Susan Davis, 12/15/07, Wall Street Journal)

While Rudy Giuliani extolled the greatness of America to a crowd of several hundred supporters today in Florida, the undercurrent of the address–in large part meant to reenergize his campaign—was one of fear. “Today American remains that shining city on a hill, but there are those who live to extinguish that light, who plot and prey in darkness and wait and want for weakness,” declared a video that featured images of masked Arab men with guns shown prior to the former New York City mayor’s 30 minute address. “We can ignore their threat, hope it goes away, or meet it with strength and greet it with purpose.”

Such is the sound of desperation, from a candidacy based on a one off.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 PM


Ex-Red Sox GM who oversaw Clemens' departure mum on report (Jerry Crasnick, 12/15/07,

Dan Duquette was vilified by many after suggesting that star pitcher Roger Clemens was entering the "twilight of his career" when he left the Boston Red Sox in 1996.

But in the wake of Thursday's release of the Mitchell report -- -- which includes nine pages of allegations linking Clemens' to use of performance-enhancing drugs -- Duquette is not taking the opportunity to proclaim himself vindicated.

No GM could have been expected to anticipate that a player would become a 'roid whore.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:34 PM


Rudy tries to get back in mix (Jonathan Martin, 12/15/07, Politico)

Rudy hits two major Florida markets today (Tampa and Jax), hoping to draw favorable stories in the Sunday papers for a much-touted speech about where he wants to take the country.

What news, if any, he's making is undetermined, but this is plainly an attempt to recast a campaign that has been slipping in the polls and has been largely crowded out by Huck's rise in recent weeks.

But for 9-11 he's Duncan Hunter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 AM


Greens, Atheists Attack Chanukah: Candles cause global warming, Maccabees compared to Osama (Jonathan Mark, 12/12/07, The Jewish Week)

Jewcy, an online hipster magazine praised by The Guardian in the UK for being “a cultural icon at the forefront of a new wave of Jewish culture and pride,” greeted Chanukah (Dec. 4) with the headline, “A Very Osama Hanukkah.”

Writer Steve Almond describes himself as assimilated and intermarried, but his wife wanted to convert to Judaism so he did some homework: He concludes, “Osama Bin Laden may be the person on the planet most attuned to the joys of Hanukkah.” After all, the Maccabees were an “insurgency,” and Eliezer, one of the Maccabees, who died sacrificing himself in battle, “sounds to me like a Biblical version of the suicide bombers who launch themselves at military convoys in Iraq. He isn’t trying to kill and maim innocent bystanders, so it’s not an exact comparison, but his mindset is essentially the same: He relishes the chance to give his life in exchange for the glory of the cause, and his own name.”

When Judah Maccabee decapitated an enemy general, Almond writes, “isn’t the gesture really just an old school version of the decapitation videos Al Qaeda uses today to horrify its Western foes?” Chanukah is “about a strain of unchecked aggression that infects those who are convinced that God is on their side.”

Slate, a usually excellent online journal, offered this headline (Dec. 3): Chanukah “celebrates the triumph of tribal Jewish backwardness.”
The writer, Christopher Hitchens, author of “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” argues that if Judaism would have been conveniently eliminated by the Greek-Syrians, “we would never have had to hear of Jesus.” And “without the precedents of Orthodox Judaism and Roman Christianity... there would be no Islam, either.... When Judaism repudiated Athens for Jerusalem, the development of the whole of humanity was terribly retarded.”

So far, no condemnations of Slate or Hitchens, no fist shaking across the continent and, to the best of our knowledge, no major media rebuttal except by Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun.

In Israel, environmentalists charged that lighting Chanukah candles contributes to global warming. This is a serious charge. As syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman wrote earlier this year in The Boston Globe (Feb. 9), “Let’s just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers,” and she’s not the only one to make that comparison.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:46 AM


Huckabee's Oprah (Robert D. Novak, December 15, 2007, Townhall)

Republican insiders, puzzled by the sudden rise of Mike Huckabee as a serious presidential candidate, are overlooking the role played for him by actor Chuck Norris.

Called "Huckabee's Oprah" in Hollywood, Norris is helping the former governor of Arkansas in much the same way that Oprah Winfrey boosts Sen. Barack Obama's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Huckabee began his ascent from the depths of the second tier of candidates after his endorsement in late October by Norris, called the "marshal of martial arts."

Actor Chuck Norris sits in the audience at the CNN/YouTube/Republican Party of Florida presidential debate in St. Petersburg, Florida, November 28, 2007. REUTERS/Scott Audette (UNITED STATES)
Related Media:
VIDEO: Watch Chuck Norris Endorse Mike Huckabee
VIDEO: One Republican Has Voice on Terrorism; Another Has Chuck Norris

Norris's endorsement is featured in a Huckabee TV ad, which his money-short campaign has run mainly in Iowa and on the Internet. Norris may be no big deal in New York and Washington, but he is a folk hero with ordinary Iowans and has helped push Huckabee ahead of Mitt Romney in polls forecasting the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.

Much of the comeback that nearly enabled Gerald Ford to hang on and beat Jimmy Carter was traced to a series of late campaign appearances he did with Joe Garagiola, the Tim McCarver of his day, which made him seem like a regular guy rather than just a bumbling idiot.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 AM


Videotape shows Sharpton cutting a deal (John Shiffman, 12/15/07, Philadelphia INQUIRER)

With a hidden FBI camera rolling inside a New York hotel suite in 2003, an unsuspecting Rev. Al Sharpton, Democratic candidate for president, spoke candidly.

Sharpton offered to help Philadelphia fund-raiser Ronald A. White win a multimillion-dollar business deal, if White helped him raise $50,000 for politics.

White offered $25,000. "If you bring my guys up on this hedge fund, and I have the right conversation," White said, "I'll give you what you need."

"Cool," Sharpton said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:40 AM


Taxing Time for Democrats? (Michael Barone, December 15, 2007, Townhall)

The paradox is that the same Democrats who want to increase top-bracket income and capital-gains tax rates are desperately eager to spare relatively high earners from the AMT -- so desperate that Senate Democrats agreed to waive the "paygo" rule they reinstated when they took control.

Paygo requires that a tax cut be offset by a tax increase or a spending cut of corresponding dollar amounts. But when the Senate early this month passed its $50 billion AMT "patch" exempting 230 million taxpayers from the AMT for one year, it waived the paygo rule.

House Democrats are simmering, but they will probably have to go along. There's a process argument for waiving paygo, which is that future AMT revenues are fictitious because no Congress will allow the tax to go into effect. But it's nonetheless embarrassing for Democrats to renounce a rule they adopted as a guarantee of their fiscal responsibility.

The reason Democrats risked this embarrassment is that the AMT tends to fall on voters in places with high state and local government spending and taxes -- Democratic places like Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and California.

Taxpayers hit by the AMT can't deduct state and local taxes from their federal income tax bill. Sooner or later, that puts downward political pressure on state and local spending. And that, in turn, threatens the vested interest of a key Democratic constituency, the public employee unions.

The ideal would be to let it creep until it covers 100% of taxpayers, a kind of back-door flat tax.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


A Moral Core for U.S. Foreign Policy (Derek Chollet and Tod Lindberg, 12/14/07, Real Clear Politics)

The emphasis placed on promoting liberal values internationally has drawn increasing hostility among traditional liberals and within the Democratic Party. Many of those who once embraced the proud liberal tradition of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy find themselves questioning their assumptions. And for those liberals who still embrace the importance of values, their numbers are fewer. According to a June 2006 poll commissioned by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, only 35 percent of Democrats said that the United States should "help establish democracy in other countries" -- whereas 64 percent of Republicans responded favorably.1

This skepticism is driven by several factors. First, and most fundamental, is the fact that this approach is so closely identified with President Bush and his administration 's policies. In the wake of 9/11, Bush tapped into many common (and bipartisan) themes about the enduring importance of American values, but his vision is infused with a religiosity that leaves many liberals nervous. Yet even when he got his rhetoric right -- for example, many liberals admired statements like his November 2003 speech at the National Endowment for Democracy -- the means he chose to implement policies, such as the war in Iraq, have proven very costly. The result now is that for many on the left, efforts to pursue policies largely rooted in values, especially democracy promotion, have become discredited and are increasingly unpopular politically.

For some liberals, the political difficulty of supporting a values-based foreign policy stems from a second factor: the structural incentives of the current political environment. Because an unpopular president has so closely identified his policies with the promotion of values, liberals are driven to oppose him. In fact, the president 's leadership style has offered very little in return, even to those liberals who might agree with him. So for many on the left, if Bush is for it, they must be against it -- even if this means embracing the cognitive dissonance of turning away from long-held beliefs and traditions. For many liberals, it has become politically incorrect to admit it when Bush has actually gotten something right. With Democrats in control of the U.S. Congress, these incentives of opposition are now also institutional. This creates a dynamic similar to that of the aftermath of the 1994 congressional elections, when the new Republican majority turned increasingly inward in opposition to the internationalism of the Clinton administration. Whereas the Bush team came into office in 2001 with an "ABC" policy -- anything but Clinton -- the Democratic Congress today, and a possible Democratic president in 2009, will be tempted to do exactly the same: anything but Bush.

But liberal skepticism is more than structural or institutional -- it is also internal to the debates among different camps within liberal politics. The history of the past seven years -- and the consequences of a policy perceived as driven more by values than interests -- has been sobering for a number of left-leaning members of the foreign policy establishment. Many supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq for the same reasons that they supported confronting Saddam Hussein during the Clinton years. And many applauded President Bush when he talked about the importance of democracy promotion. Yet now that the costs of such policies are apparent -- whether in terms of political capital, U.S. global prestige, or blood and treasure -- many in the foreign policy elite have become more cautious, scaling back ambitions and endorsing more realistic goals. For many mainstream foreign policy liberals, the downfall of Britain 's Tony Blair -- who championed values-based concepts like "humanitarian intervention" during the late 1990s, -- is a stark warning about the costs of embracing such policies too tightly.

The intellectual and political disconnect between the liberal establishment and the liberal grassroots activists is growing, especially over U.S. foreign policy and the purpose and use of American power. The convulsions within the political left that began in the late 1990s -- illustrated by the rise of the antiglobalization movement and division over the Clinton administration 's military interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo, and its 1998 air strikes against Iraq -- have only become more severe and divisive. To be sure, this reflects anger with President Bush. But it is more than that. When it comes to national security issues, the left has become splintered in a way not seen since the 1970s, when Vietnam split the Democratic party and ruined the post-World Warii liberal establishment. A similar dynamic is at work today as a new generation of liberal activists (fueled by the power of the blogosphere) rages not just against Bush, but against a Democratic foreign policy establishment they perceive as aiding and abetting the Bush agenda -- central to which is the promotion of American values. If this divide deepens, it will become very difficult for Democratic leaders to embrace explicitly values-centered policies even if they want to.

The impulse towards reacting against George W. Bush will obviously not long endure, but what interest can a secular individualist party have in the liberty of other peoples?

The New Iraq (Oliver North, 12/14/2007, Human Events)

The slogan “de oppresso liber” is Latin for “free the oppressed.” It's the motto of the U.S. Special Forces, but it has also been adopted by several of the Iraqi military and police units our FOX News War Stories team has been covering here in the land between the rivers. These Special Operations troops -- Americans and their Iraqi counterparts -- have become the tip of the spear in the war against radical Islamic terror.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


The Communist Roots of Palestinian Terror (David Meir-Levi, 12/14/07,

As Ion Mihai Pacepa, onetime director of the Romanian espionage service (DIE), later explained, the PLO was conceived at a time when the KGB was creating “liberation front” organizations throughout the Third world. Others included the National Liberation Army of Bolivia, created in 1964 with help from Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and the National Liberation Army of Colombia, created in 1965 with help from Fidel Castro. But the PLO was the KGB’s most enduring achievement.

In 1964, the first PLO Council, consisting of 422 Palestinian representatives handpicked by the KGB, approved the Soviet blueprint for a Palestinian National Charter—a document drafted in Moscow—and made Ahmad Shukairy, the KGB’s agent of influence, the first PLO chairman. The Romanian intelligence service was given responsibility for providing the PLO with logistical support. Except for the arms, which were supplied by the KGB and the East German Stasi, everything, according to Ion Pacepa, “came from Bucharest. Even the PLO uniforms and the PLO stationery were manufactured in Romania free of charge, as a ‘comradely help.’ During those years, two Romanian cargo planes filled with goodies for the PLO landed in Beirut every week.”

The PLO came on the scene at a critical moment in Middle East history. At the Khartoum conference held shortly after the Six-Day war, the defeated and humiliated Arab states confronted the “new reality” of an Israel that seemed unbeatable in conventional warfare. The participants of the conference decided, among other things, to continue the war against Israel as what today would be called a “low intensity conflict.” The PLO’s Fatah forces were perfect to carry out this mission.

The Soviets not only armed and trained Palestinian terrorists but also used them to arm and train other professional terrorists by the thousands. The International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (CPSU), the Soviet Security Police (KGB), and Soviet Military Intelligence (GRU) all played major roles in this effort. From the late 1960s onwards, moreover, the PLO maintained contact with other terror groups—some of them neo-Nazi and extreme right-wing groups—offering them support and supplies, training and funding.

The Soviets also built Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba People’s Friendship University to serve as a base of indoctrination and training of potential “freedom fighters” from the Third world. More specialized training in terrorism was provided at locations in Baku, Odessa, Simferopol, and

Tashkent. Mahmoud Abbas, later to succeed Yassir Arafat as head of the PLO, was a graduate of Patrice Lumumba U, where he received his Ph.D. in 1982 after completing a thesis partly based on Holocaust denial.

Cuba was also used as a base for terrorist training and Marxist indoctrination, part of a symbiotic relationship between its revolutionary cadre and the PLO. The Cuban intelligence service (DGI) was under the direct command of the KGB after 1968. Palestinian terrorists were identified in Havana as early as 1966; and in the 1970s DGI representatives were dispatched to PLO camps in Lebanon to assist terrorists being nurtured by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). In late April 1979, an agreement was reached for the PFLP to have several hundred of its terrorists trained in Cuba, following a meeting between its chief George Habash and Cuban officials.

The PLO and the Arab States

In the chaotic aftermath of the Six-Day war, Yassir Arafat had seen an opportunity for himself and his still embryonic Fatah terror organization in the rubble of the Arab nations’ war machines and the humiliation of the Arab world. He forged an alliance with President Nasser, whom he won over to his belief that after traditional warfare had failed them yet again, the future of the conflict for the Arabs was in the realm of terrorism, not the confrontation of massed armies. From September to December 1967, Nasser supported Arafat in his attempt to infiltrate the west Bank and to develop a grassroots foundation for a major terror war against Israel. These efforts were unsuccessful because local west Bank Palestinians cooperated with Israel and aided in the pursuit of Arafat and his Fatah operatives.

Despite such setbacks, Arafat later described this era in his authorized biography as the time of his most successful statecraft. When word reached him of Israel’s post-Six- Day-war peace overtures to the recently defeated Arab countries, he and his adjutants understood at once that if there were ever peace between Israel and Jordan, for instance, there would be no hope for a Palestinian state. So he set off on a grueling exercise in shuttle diplomacy throughout the major Arab countries, preaching the need to reject unconditionally any peace agreement with the Jewish state.

Arafat later claimed credit for the results of the Khartoum conference (August–September 1967), in which all the Arab dictators unanimously voted to reject Israel’s offer to return much of the land it had occupied as a result of the war in exchange for peace. Had he not intervened, Israel might conceivably have made peace with Jordan, and the west Bank would have reverted to Jordanian sovereignty, leaving his dream of leading a state there stillborn.

But while Arafat’s proposals to engage in a continuing terror war might be enthusiastically received by Arab leaders, there was no support to speak of among the Arabs of the west Bank, who readily gave him up to Israeli authorities.

Palestinians dumped them for Hamas at the first opportunity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Of Pork and Patriotism: John McCain doesn't mince words when it comes to Iraq, the State Department and spending (BRIAN M. CARNEY, December 15, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

John McCain sits across the table from the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, fielding questions on everything from taxes to torture to terror. He's asked what surprised him the most about the behavior House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid with regard to Iraq. His answer--"their lack of patriotism"--is of the characteristically impolitic kind that often defines his personality. Over the course of a 75-minute conversation, it's on display time and again.

For a candidate who was mostly written off by the media only six months ago, the senior senator from Arizona seems remarkably confident of his primary chances.

Mr. McCain is 71. But the tired, sluggish, former front-runner you may have read about was nowhere in evidence when the senator came to the Journal's offices yesterday. In his place was a combative and--yes--straight-talking candidate with no qualms about rising to a challenge or speaking his mind. In short, he looks once again like the spry 63-year-old who nearly knocked off front-runner George W. Bush eight years ago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


American Exceptionalism: The Declaration of Independence (Dr. Paul Kengor, 12/17/2007,

In this interview, Dr. Paul Kengor speaks with Dr. Charles Kesler, director of the Salvatori Center at Claremont McKenna College, and one of the nation’s most respected and thoughtful observers on the American Founding. [...]

Kengor: In November 2004 there was a case in a public school in the San Francisco Bay area in which a teacher claimed that the school principal prohibited him from using the Declaration (and other Founding documents) because it mentioned God. If accurate, was this merely an isolated case of silly secularists in a public school who lost their minds—and thus of little concern to us—or does it point to a real problem that we should be worried about? Is there a prejudice against the religious component in these documents?

Kesler: There is such a prejudice, and it’s worrying. Alongside that prejudice is another one against moral truth itself. But they don’t see that if reason cannot ascertain any moral truths, then their own claim collapses. How can your rights be violated if you don’t have any rights to begin with?

Kengor: What about the teaching of the Declaration in our schools today, from high schools to colleges? We often hear allegations from conservatives that the Federalist Papers are not being taught, or at least not adequately respected. What’s your sense of how the Declaration is treated and represented? Is it bashed as a narrow, bigoted document written by and for white European males?

Kesler: Yes, it is bashed frequently along those lines—check out Howard Zinn’s book, for example—only to be strangely rehabilitated when the teacher takes up the history of the civil rights movement.

Kengor: Is it true that America needed Abraham Lincoln to realize the full potential of the Declaration for all Americans, especially black Americans?

Kesler: Lincoln helped to save the Declaration from becoming, at the hands of Stephen Douglas and others, an un-revolutionary or even anti-revolutionary document of white power and naked majority rule. Lincoln fought to save the Declaration’s original meaning of human equality and liberty. He did not invent a new, evolving, Progressive meaning for it, as Garry Wills and others have claimed.

Kengor: Lastly, where does the Declaration—and, more so, its ideals—travel from here? Of what consequence is the Declaration of Independence to not merely Americans but to all humanity? Is there a place for Thomas Jefferson in Baghdad, Cairo, or Kabul?

Kesler: The rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are inherent in every human being, but the capacity to vindicate and live by those rights requires cultivation. Republican government does not come easy to every people, as the experiment in Iraq is proving. Freedom has its habits of heart and mind. The Declaration can help point the way for other peoples, however—a point that Adams and Jefferson and the whole founding generation would heartily affirm.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Bolivians Now Hear Ominous Tones in the Calls to Arms (SIMON ROMERO, 12/15/07, NY Times)

Those tensions may reach a crest on Saturday. That is when leaders of Santa Cruz province and three other provinces — Tarija, Beni and Pando — are expected to declare their autonomy before tens of thousands of antigovernment protesters. Santa Cruz’s assembly has already taken a step in that direction, passing a resolution on Thursday giving the province a bigger share of tax and petroleum revenues and allowing it to constitute its own police forces and create its own television network. [...]

Leaders here have long chafed at the influence of the capital, La Paz, but recent moves by Mr. Morales, who has received substantial financial and political support from President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, have added to concerns over power consolidation.

The sudden moves this week to seek greater autonomy came after the president’s supporters rushed last weekend to approve a new Constitution, despite an opposition boycott of their assembly. They had abruptly switched the vote to the city of Oruro, a Morales stronghold, from Sucre, which had been racked by street protests.

Even Mr. Morales’s critics acknowledge that the new charter, which must be approved in a public referendum, has positive aspects — it would, for example, abolish child labor. But they are also alarmed by efforts to increase indigenous power, like items to guarantee representation of Indians in Congress or to allow Indians to mete out justice outside the judicial system. Another measure would allow Mr. Morales to run for re-election to a second five-year term.

The way the constitutional changes were approved did little to burnish the president’s democratic credentials.

“Evo, in trying to empower the indigenous, has made the same mistake Chávez did in trying to empower the poor,” said Jim Shultz, a political analyst in Cochabamba. “Evo also erred in trying to mix that agenda with trying to empower his political movement.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Bali deal 'omits specific cuts' (BBC, 12/15/07)

Negotiators at the climate change conference in Bali have secured provisional agreement on a document on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The document launches talks that will end in 2009, but - as demanded by the United States - it lacks specific mention of targets for emission cuts.

December 14, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 PM


Fred Ain't Dead (Quin Hillyer, 12/14/2007, American Prospect)

Memo to readers: With his superb performance in Wednesday's debate in Iowa, Fred Thompson has made a monkey out of me. By early afternoon on Tuesday, the column that appears below, one which posits that Thompson's presidential campaign might still find a way to win, was ready in exactly the form it appears here. But I thought the column would still remain exactly on target throughout the week, so (for various reasons) I aimed for a Friday release. At the time, I thought that until Thompson began his Iowa bus tour on Monday the 17th, my contention that he "ain't dead" yet would seem noteworthy for its boldness.

Then Thompson ruined it all by so clearly running away with the laurels in Wednesday's debate -- and in particularly Reaganesque fashion. Just as Reagan did at the famous Nashua, N.H. debate in 1980, Thompson used the unfairness of the debate moderator as a foil in a way that justly earned the candidate plaudits as a no-nonsense kind of guy. Now everybody is taking a second look at Thompson's chances. Deservedly so.

But of course a debate performance like that should not have been a surprise. As my column reports, pollster Frank Luntz said even before Wednesday's debates that Thompson was hitting his stride and connecting with audiences at earlier debates.

Because it was his turn, Reagan's loss to GHW Bush in IA was a hammer blow. Had he lost NH as well it would have been over. Fred Thompson, on the other hand, will be a "winner" if he pulls out a top 3 finish in IA after getting in the race so late in a state that rewards organization.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 PM


The Mudslingers: a review of A MAGNIFICENT CATASTROPHE: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America’s First Presidential Campaign By Edward J. Larson (Gil Troy, 12/16/07, NY Times Book Review)

A look at how the framers acted should calm today’s grumbling about the 2008 campaign’s excessive length and bruising partisanship. Examining Jefferson, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr during the critical 1800 election, the historian Edward Larson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his book on the Scopes trial, both deifies and debunks the founders in “A Magnificent Catastrophe.” As he shows, they pummeled one another, inventing many of the dirty tactics that are all too familiar to modern voters. Admiring their talents, if not their morals, Larson declares: “They could write like angels and scheme like demons.” [...]

In 1800, Adams and his Federalist Party supported England, while Jefferson and his Republican Party preferred France. The Federalists embraced Hamilton’s plans for a national finance system fostering industrial development. The Republicans advocated limited, decentralized state governments that would preserve America’s agrarian character.

Such differences spurred vicious clashes. Federalists charged that Jefferson would import the French Revolution, threatening “liberty, religion and the Constitution of the United States.” Equally hysterical Republicans, fearing a British-style aristocracy, challenged voters to choose between “peace or war, happiness or misery, opulence or ruin!” When Republicans won in New York, some Federalists considered overriding the results, preferring civil war to Jefferson as president.

Further complicating the situation — and enhancing the drama — personal rivalries ripped apart both parties. Hamilton clashed with Adams, guaranteeing a Republican victory. Because the Constitution failed initially to distinguish between votes cast for president and for vice president, Jefferson ended up tied with his fellow Republican, Aaron Burr, slated to be vice president. Most Federalists distrusted Burr, but they supported him because they hated Jefferson more.

Yesterday Bill Shaheen quit (was fired from?) Hillary Clinton's campaign here in NH because he (husband of the former governor and likely senate candidate in the state) pointed out that the GOP would use facts about Barrack Obama against him the general election. If you think that's too dirty, you don't deserve to win the presidency of a great country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 PM


Boston Red Sox Top 20 Prospects for 2008 (John Sickels, Dec 14, 2007, Minor League Ball)

1. Clay Buchholz, RHP, Grade A
2. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Grade A-
3. Jed Lowrie, SS, Grade A- (too high? I think he's an A- as a shortstop, but a B+ as a second baseman. Will he stick at short?)
4. Lars Anderson, Grade B+ (a personal favorite, power should blossom)
5. Michael Bowden, RHP, Grade B
6. Justin Masterson, RHP, Grade B
7. Nick Hagadone, LHP, Grade B
8. Ryan Kalish, OF, Grade B

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 PM


A Stranger in Camelot: a review of SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT: A New Verse Translation By Simon Armitage ()

“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is a medieval romance (it inherits a body of Arthurian legends that had circulated in England for a couple of centuries) but also an outlandish ghost story, a gripping morality tale and a weird thriller. It is a sexual teaser that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s easy to imagine huddling around the fire to listen to it. You can tear through it in a night or two — I couldn’t put down Simon Armitage’s compulsively readable new verse translation — and linger over it for years.

“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is one of the founding narratives of English literature. The storyteller nods to the “Aeneid,” thus invoking his epic lineage, and then settles down to tell his tale, which begins in the court of King Arthur, “most regal of rulers in the royal line.” It is Christmastime at Camelot, and the chivalrous Knights of the Round Table are carrying on and carousing when suddenly an enormous stranger appears, a hulking interloper, “a most massive man, the mightiest of mortals.” The astonishing stranger is green from head to foot, a kind of emanation from nature. Even his horse is “a steed of pure green stock.”

The Green Knight, “otherworldly, yet flesh / and bone,” presents a startling challenge: he will endure one blow without offering resistance, but whoever deals it must promise to receive a reciprocal blow in a year and a day. Sir Gawain, nephew of King Arthur, rises to the challenge and beheads the stranger in one stunning strike. Then the Knight stands, picks up his head, and reminds Gawain to meet him at the appointed time. Thereafter Gawain, a bewildered southern innocent (he tells Arthur he is “weakest of your warriors and feeblest of wit”), honors his pledge to seek the Green Knight out and journeys into harsh northern terrain. A year of adventures ensues — an adulterous seduction, a series of graphically violent hunts, a meeting with the Green Knight in a green chapel — that constitutes the moral test and vision of the poem.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 PM


Bush signs free-trade agreement with Peru (The Associated Press, December 14, 2007)

In calling on Congress to pass other free-trade agreements with Colombia and Panama, Bush — without naming names — jabbed leftist leaders in Latin America like Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, an outspoken antagonist of Washington.

"Across this hemisphere, people are watching what Congress will do ... in regards to the free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama," Bush said. "The champions of false populism will use any failure to approve these trade agreements as evidence that America will never treat other democracies in the region as full partners.

"Those who espouse the language of false populism will use the failure of these trade agreements as a way of showing America isn't committed to our friends in the hemisphere. It is vital that Congress send a strong message that the United States is committed to advancing freedom and prosperity in our neighborhood and approve these agreements with strong, bipartisan majorities."

How many Democrats can a Hugo carry?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


The Death of Political Islam? (Jon B. Alterman, 14 Dec 2007, World Politics Review)

The obituaries for political Islam have begun to be written. After years of seemingly unstoppable growth, Islamic parties have begun to stumble. In Morocco, the Justice and Development Party (or PJD) did far worse than expected in last September's elections, and Jordan's Islamic Action Front lost more than half its seats in last month's polling. The eagerly awaited manifesto of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, a draft of which appeared last September, showed neither strength nor boldness. Instead, it suggested the group was beset by intellectual contradictions and consumed by infighting.

It is too early to declare the death of political Islam, as it was premature to proclaim the rebirth of liberalism in the Arab world in 2003-04, but its prospects seem notably dimmer than they did even a year ago.

To some, the fall from grace was inevitable; political Islam has collapsed under its own contradictions, they say. They argue that, in objective terms, political Islam was never more than smoke and mirrors. Religion is about faith and truth, and politics are about compromise and accommodation.

Which is why the messianism of Shi'a Islam gives it an advantage, but political Islam of the Sunni variety is doing rather well in Turkey too, the most advanced Muslim democracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 PM


All light in the night for Shi'ites (AP, December 15, 2007)

STRINGS of light bulbs festooning the Imam Kazim shrine's four majestic minarets light up the sky over Baghdad's Shia Kazimiyah neighbourhood, attracting thousands of night-time worshippers.

Coffee houses and restaurants are packed with customers along nearby streets, where turbaned clerics, chador-clad women and families buy furniture, toys and clothes in teeming shops. The district's gold market, the largest in the city, does brisk business until well after dusk.

But a drive from Kazimiyah over an unlit Tigris River bridge into Azamiyah, a Sunni stronghold, reveals only darkness and no signs of life along the main road. What night-life does exist stays strictly within a walled area of about 5sqkm, heavily patrolled by Americans. One glaring exception: Kasrah, a Shia enclave, with its lively outdoor market and coffee houses. Night is the time when the Shia dominance of the capital becomes most apparent following the sectarian "battle of Baghdad" that displaced tens of thousands of Sunnis and reshaped a city where the two sects had lived in relative peace.

As violence has eased over the past month or so, some neighbourhoods, mostly Shia, have regained much of their old confidence. Residents shop and eat out until as late as 9pm, more than four hours after sunset. Shia neighbourhoods enjoy the protection of Shia militiamen as well as the Shia-dominated Iraqi security forces.

Karradah, a Shia area in central Baghdad, has come closer to normalcy than any other Baghdad neighbourhood. Thousands have been crowding its commercial heart after dark, shopping for the coming Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha in its colourfully lit boutiques, dining on freshly cooked kebabs and falafel or buying fruit and vegetables from street stands.

The Sunni need merely submit to majority rule.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 PM


The Unbelievable Tenacity of George W. Bush (Dinesh D'Souza, 12/14/07, AOL News)

Bush's weaknesses, however, are more than compensated for by his one great strength. This is a man with unbelievable tenacity. No American president in my lifetime, not even Reagan, had Bush's guts. Perhaps one would have to go all the way back to Franklin or Teddy Roosevelt to find comparable determination. On the international stage, Bush's stamina recalls that of Churchill. Consider: when Bush was elected in 2000 with the tiniest conceivable margin--a margin so slender it required Supreme Court intervention to place him in the Oval Office--I was sure that Bush's proposed tax cuts were dead. But no: Bush pushed ahead and got most of what he proposed. And the subsequent health of the economy--low interest rates, low unemployment, steady growth--has undoubtedly been nourished by Bush's tax cuts.

Then in 2006, after the midterm debacle, I thought that Bush's Iraq policy was finished. And you could hear the pundits and the newly-elected Democratic congressmen and the pathological Bush-haters gleefully declaring, "Now he's going to have to start pulling out of Iraq." Instead Bush pressed for an increase of 20,000-25,000 troops. Incredibly, he got it. Congress shrieked and howled but went along. The American people were very doubtful, but Bush serenely told them to "wait and see." Bush has seemingly singe-handedly pursued his vision for Iraq even when his allies both at home and abroad have dwindled or lost their nerve. And once again Bush's policy seems to be working. Iraq is becoming more peaceful, and apparently there are Shia and Sunni leaders cooperating with the Americans. The Bush-haters are still with us, but the wind has gone out of the antiwar movement.

By this point in his presidency RWR had raised taxes as much as any president ever, was seeking to cut a deal with Gorbachev, had put O'Connor and Kennedy on the bench, and, worst of all, had bailed out Social Security.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 PM


Plan B For Pelosi And Reid (E. J. Dionne, 12/14/07, Real Clear Politics)

Congressional Democrats need a Plan B.

Republicans chortle as they block Democratic initiatives -- and accuse the majority of being unable to govern. Rank-and-filers are furious their leaders can't end the Iraq War. President Bush sits back and vetoes at will.

Worse, Democrats are starting to blame each other, with those in the House wondering why their Senate colleagues don't force Republicans to engage in grueling, old-fashioned filibusters.

And the banjo plays on....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 PM


Could Clinton Lose Because of Women? (Reid Wilson, 12/14/07, Real Clear Politics)

From virtually the beginning of her campaign, New York Senator Hillary Clinton has made every effort to maximize her advantages among women voters. It seems a natural constituency for the first woman to climb to the top of a presidential field. Polls throughout the campaign have showed Clinton earning the support of far more women than men, giving Democrats hope that, in a general election, she would enlarge the party's traditional gender gap and cruise to the White House with stronger backing from women than any other candidate in history.

But now, as polls show her once-strong lead in Iowa slipping, the once-inevitable Democratic nominee looks human again, vulnerable to defeat from Illinois Senator Barack Obama. If Obama pulls off the once unthinkable scenario of beating Clinton, a post-mortem analysis will show it is women, once seen as Clinton's key to a guaranteed victory, who caused her defeat.

To lose the nomination you have to lose women. Ms Clinton just needs to stop running for president and start running for her party's votes--as W had to do in 2000. She can do that by shifting to an economic security message and promising all kinds of social programs. Of course, that will get her 40% of the vote in the general.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 PM


The Man Who Cleaned Up the Silver Screen: HOLLYWOOD'S CENSOR : Joseph I. Breen & the Production Code Administration By Thomas Doherty (Dennis Drabelle, December 12, 2007, Washington Post)

The Code flouted by Hughes dated from the Prohibition era, and the two movements shared a basic premise: A high-toned protectorate must enforce moral standards by dictating what the rest of us get to consume. But while the impetus for Prohibition had come from fundamentalist Protestants, for the Code we have Catholics to thank. True, Will Hays, who headed the Production Code Administration, was a Presbyterian. But the Code's co-authors were a Catholic layman and a Jesuit priest, and its chief enforcer was Joseph I. Breen -- not just a Catholic but, as Thomas Doherty puts it, one who "embodied the restraint, repression, and rigidity of a personality type known as the Victorian Irish." The never-in-doubt Breen stands at the center of Doherty's knowledgeable, entertaining history of the Code during its heyday from 1934 to the mid-1950s.

The Code actually dates from 1930, but the first four years of its existence were a washout -- so much so that today film buffs treasure movies from that interregnum for their grit and candor. The studios had agreed to abide by the Code so as to defang state and city censorship boards, which applied harsh and inconsistent standards. But the procedure for ensuring Code compliance was squishy -- studios could appeal adverse decisions to a board composed of movie producers, who naturally were loath to order costly re-shoots of offending scenes. Bawdy vehicles for Mae West, sexually frank films such as "Baby Face," and crime-celebrating films such as "Scarface" were slipping past the naysayers. Scandalized Catholics fought back by founding the Legion of Decency, which asked the faithful to pledge not to attend objectionable films, and Hollywood moguls took hits at the box office. The Code, they agreed, must grow stronger teeth. From now on, appeals boards would consist of hard-nosed New York studio execs, not compliant Hollywood types. Unapproved films wouldn't get a seal of approval and thus would have limited, if any, distribution. And perhaps most important, Breen and his staff would vet scripts and head off problems before they developed.

The revamped Code worked all too well: A climate of timidity descended upon Hollywood and stayed for two decades. At a time when moviegoing was a family affair, films were designed so as not to ruffle the sensibilities of young 'uns. Even so, some of the rules seem moronic. In deference to British taste, married couples had to sleep in twin beds -- even though millions of kids could see double beds anytime they peered into their own parents' bedrooms. And if, for instance, you wanted to glimpse a human navel on-screen during the Code period, good luck. Belly dancers had to work with half their space, and Tarzan hitched up his loincloth because -- well, I really don't know. The Code doesn't mention bellybuttons per se, but somehow they fell under the category of "indecent or undue exposure." The guiding principle for storytelling was that "wrong must always be characterized as wrong, and not something else."

Not only did the Code create Hollywood's Golden Age but one of the true American art forms, the uber-Puritanical film noir.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 PM


Gay unions may shape GOP race (PHILIP ELLIOTT, 12/14/07, The Associated Press)

New Hampshire Democrats have given the Republicans a potent issue that's ready to burst into the open just before the leadoff presidential primary: same-sex civil unions. [...]

"We hear reports of couples planning ceremonies for 12:01 on New Year's Eve. I'm certain this will be something that is in the news," said Fergus Cullen, chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party. "It will remind moderates and independents in New Hampshire that they didn't plan on civil unions and same-sex marriage when they voted for Democrats last year."

Civil unions and same-sex marriage were essentially nonissues in the 2006 campaign for governor and the Legislature, then GOP-controlled. But the issue gained prominence - and unexpected success - when Democrats seized control of the Legislature.

Republican Mitt Romney's campaign is already hinting at a final-week television and direct-mail campaign intended to tap opposition among core GOP voters to same-sex unions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:19 PM


Creationism argument ended in death: A FRUIT picking trip to NSW ended in the death of a Scottish backpacker over a row about creationism and evolution. (The Australian, 12/14/07)

The creationist was just fitter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


The pariah who came in from the cold: Gadafy's visit to Paris marks a dramatic new stage in Libya's international rehabilitation (Ian Black, December 11, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Eventually, Gadafy began cleaning up his act. Sanctions and stalemate did the trick, and two Libyan intelligence agents were handed over for trial in a Scottish court in the Netherlands, one of them being eventually convicted. And late in 2003, in the aftermath of the Iraq war, Gadafy surrendered his weapons of mass destruction - without a shot being fired or a life being lost.

Libya came in from the cold because the cost of its isolation had become intolerable. It was not only a question of needing spare parts for the country's oil industry, embargoed by the UN, but the sense that an entire generation was cut off from the wider world.

As old enemies such as Tony Blair beat a path to the colonel's desert encampment, they cleared the way too for massive western investment, especially in the energy sector. Over the last two years, US consultants led by a professor from the Harvard Business School have drawn up a national economic reform programme.

The French, who already have close links with Maghreb neighbours Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, have been quick to grasp the new opportunities. The agreements being signed this week are worth a whopping €10bn, including a €3bn deal to buy a fleet of Airbus passenger jets, as well as possible defence contracts. And symbolising Libya's new respectability is a plan to sell it a civilian nuclear reactor, which is expected to be used to desalinate seawater. [...]

[T]he point about the Paris trip is that Gadafy's makeover as respectable global citizen has been a resounding success. The pragmatic consensus is that while Libya's "brother leader" may be around for years to come while his modernising son, Seif al-Islam, waits in the wings and the old, rogue "state of the masses" changes. The tent, the entourage, the female bodyguards and the movable desert ambience could be heading your way soon.

...coincides with Iran dropping its nuke program and some other event in the region, eh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


Clemens 1998 (David Pinto, 12/14/07, Baseball Musings)

In reading the Clemens section of the Mitchell Report, McNamee gives a pretty clear time line as to when Roger started using steroids. It was after a series at Miami. Clemens pitched in that series on 6/8/1998. Here are his stats through that series: 6-6, 3.27 ERA, 9.2 K per 9, 4.3 BB per 9, 0.32 HR/9. From that date through the end of the season: 14-0, 2.29 ERA, 11.1 K per 9, 2.8 BB per 9, 0.48 HR per 9.

You only need to look at his numbers to see that he more likely started using in 1997.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 8:17 AM


Muslim helps Jews attacked on New York subway (Nkechi Nneji, 12/12/07, CNN)

A Muslim man jumped to the aid of three Jewish subway riders after they were attacked by a group of young people who objected to one of the Jews saying "Happy Hanukkah," a spokeswoman for the three said Wednesday.

The New York Police Department's Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating Friday's incident on the Q train.

Friday's altercation on the Q train began when somebody yelled out "Merry Christmas," to which rider Walter Adler responded, "Happy Hanukkah," said Toba Hellerstein.

"Almost immediately, you see the look in this guy's face like I've called his mother something," Adler told CNN affiliate WABC.

Two women who were with a group of 10 rowdy people then began to verbally assault Adler's companions with anti-Semitic language, Hellerstein said.

One member of the group allegedly yelled, "Oh, Hanukkah. That's the day that the Jews killed Jesus," she said.

When Adler tried to intercede, a male member of the group punched him, she said.

Another passenger, Hassan Askari -- a Muslim student from Bangladesh -- came to Adler's aid, and the group began physically and verbally assaulting him, Hellerstein said.

"A Muslim-American saved us when our own people were on the train and didn't do anything," Adler said.

The article actually doesn't say whether this Muslim is an American or not, but if he is interested in citizenship he has certainly earned it.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 8:00 AM


Maradona wants tattoo of Venezuela's Chavez (Reuters, 12/12/07)

Argentine soccer great Diego Maradona wants to add an image of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to his well-known collection of tattoos of leftist leaders.

"I'd like to get some sort of Chavez tattoo, really," Maradona told reporters on Wednesday ahead of a celebrity indoor soccer match.

Maradona has a tattoo of Argentine-born revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara on his right shoulder and another of Cuban leader Fidel Castro on his left leg.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 7:46 AM


Campaigns Like These Make It Hard to Find a Reason to Believe (Eduardo Porter, 12/14/07, New York Times)

As I watched Mitt Romney tie himself into a constitutional knot as he argued that religion should provide a guide for public policy but not be used to choose a president, it made me suspect that all the candidates in the race — Republican and Democratic — must believe that I lack some essential virtue.

I’m an atheist. When people trot out the well-worn John Adams quote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people,” I can’t help feeling squeezed out of the polity. [...]

Atheists have solid reasons not to believe. We don’t need a divine being to explain the natural world, and don’t know why we should trust claims about humankind’s divine origins because they are in religious texts. Give “2001: A Space Odyssey” a thousand years and who knows what might happen.

Yet believing for tactical reasons has a long intellectual pedigree.

It is a variation of Pascal’s wager — one of the most famous arguments in the philosophy of religion. Articulated by the 17th-century French philosopher and gambler Blaise Pascal, it posits that rational people should believe in God even if it is impossible to prove whether He exists, simply because it is a better bet. [...]

For the record, Pascal was a Christian. He offered up his wager to persuade nonbelievers to believe. In France, it apparently didn’t work. Only 17 percent of the French agree with John Adams’s assertion that belief in God is necessary to make proper moral choices, according to a recent poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project. Fifty-seven percent of Americans do.

The American press badly needs some adapted version of Godwin's Law in which anybody who rests his argument on the moral authority of the French automatically loses.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Son of a Preacher Man (Lindsey Maddox, December 12, 2007, Jackson Free Press)

Paul Thorn’s musical career began fortuitously in 1997, in his hometown of Tupelo. “I got discovered playing in a pizza restaurant of all places by (Sting’s manager) Miles Copeland,” Thorn says. “I was plucked out of a chair factory, and things just kind of snowballed. … Within a month I was opening for Sting.”

In the 10 years since, Thorn has released four albums and toured with many other legendary musicians like Jeff Beck, Marianne Faithful, Mark Knopfler and John Prine. With a mother who played the accordion and a dad who played rockabilly guitar, Thorn developed a musical interest early in life. Growing up in the Pentecostal church—his father was a preacher—also heavily influenced his music. “It’s where I developed my chops as a singer,” Thorn says. “The Pentecostal church has a great music tradition. It’s kind of like rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s gospel.”

Dean Martin and his eponymous television show also influenced Thorn’s performance style. “What I liked about him ... is that he would sing these really great songs, and in between songs he would tell jokes … and make everyone feel relaxed,” Thorn says. He tries to emulate Martin’s style and create a sense of collective exchange with the audience.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


No Democracy in the Middle East Without Muslim Citizenry (Asef Bayat, 12/05/07, ISIM Review)

In my book, "Making Islam Democratic," I suggest that the question is not whether or not Islam is compatible with democracy, but rather how and under what conditions pious Muslims can embrace a democratic ethos. Nothing intrinsic to Islam—or any other religion—makes it inherently democratic or undemocratic. It depends on the intricate ways in which the living faithful perceive and live their faiths: while some deploy their religions in exclusive and authoritarian terms, others find in them justice, representation, and pluralism.

While much is said about the trends in political Islam, or Islamism, that often draw on exclusivist interpretations of the doctrine, little is known about the social movements that aim to combine Islam and democracy. This phenomenon, "post-Islamism," represents an endeavor to fuse Islam and religiosity with sociopolitical rights and liberties. It emphasizes rights instead of obligations, plurality in place of singular authority, historicity rather than fixed givens, and the future instead of the past.

Whether or not Islam merges with such democratic ideas depends primarily on whether advocates of these perspectives—Islamists and post-Islamists alike—are able to establish their predominance in their societies and on a state level.

Since the 1979 revolution in Iran, Muslim women, youth, students, religious intellectuals, and other social groups have struggled daily to incorporate into their faith notions of individual rights, tolerance, gender equality, and the separation of religion from the state; by their active presence in society, they have compelled religious and political leaders to undertake a paradigmatic post-Islamist shift. The reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2004) represented only one—the political—aspect of this pervasive trend.

In Egypt, on the other hand, there developed a pervasive Islamist movement with a conservative moral vision, populist language, patriarchal disposition, and an adherence to scripture; engulfed by the pervasive Islamist mood, major actors in Egyptian society—the intelligentsia, the nouveaux riches, Muslim women activists, al-Azhar university, the ruling elites, and the state—all converged around nationalist ideologies and conservative moral ethos. The result was a "passive revolution" that left the state—the original target of the movement for change—fully in charge while marginalizing critical voices, innovative religious thought, and democratic demands.

Thus neither did Iran's post-Islamism succeed in democratizing the Islamic Republic, nor Egypt's Islamism in Islamizing the Egyptian state. Both movements encountered stiff opposition from their respective power elites. To what extent then can social movements, without resorting to violent revolutions, alter the political status quo in the Middle East—a region entrapped by authoritarian regimes (both secular and religious), exclusivist Islamist opposition, and blatant foreign domination?

Successful social movements are not single-episode expressions that melt away under an act of repression. Rather, they are prolonged multifaceted processes of agency and change. Through their cultural output—establishing new lifestyles and new modes of thinking, being, and doing things—movements are able to recondition, or socialize, states and political elites to match society's sensibilities, ideals, and expectations.

The reality, though we need not rub their noses in it, is that it is Judeo-Christian/Anglo-American norms (the End of History), conveyed by the now global mass media, that establish the required sensibilities, ideals, and expectations, not internal movements.

December 13, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 PM


Fred Thompson: The Stand-Up Guy Who Stood Up Too Late?: In Iowa, the former senator gives us a highlight of the campaign. (Byron York, 12/13/07, National Review)

[I]n the last month or so Thompson has acted like a man who has been liberated from something. And that is what voters saw on stage Wednesday: a presidential candidate who has declared himself fully free of the stupid stuff one has to do to become president of the United States.

If you’re going to ask Fred Thompson to participate in a grade-school show of hands, or demand that he sign a pledge, or insist that he speak emotionally and at length about how much his religious faith means to him, well, you can just forget it. He’s not gonna do it.

The moment of final liberation came when Des Moines Register editor Carolyn Washburn, the schoolmarmish moderator whom commentator Fred Barnes would later refer to as “Nurse Ratched,” asked the candidates to raise their hands if they believed that “global climate change is a serious threat and caused by human activity.” Before anyone could say anything, Thompson interrupted.

“I’m not doing hand shows today,” he said. “No hand shows.”

“Is that yes or no for you?” Washburn asked. “Do you believe that global climate change is — “

“Well, do you want to give me a minute?” Thompson responded.


“Then I’m not going to answer it.”

“How about thirty seconds?”

“No. You know — you want a show of hands. I’m not giving it to you.”

The audience loved it. Thompson, and Thompson alone, had stood up to the silliness that can characterize even self-styled serious-minded debates like the one conducted by the Register. Thompson scored again when he made effective points about entitlement reform, about the role of the National Education Association in blocking education reform, and about presidential leadership.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 PM


India 'Star Wars' plan risks new arms race (Randeep Ramesh, December 14, 2007, Guardian)

India aims to have a missile defence system able to track and shoot down incoming warheads by 2010, scientists in the capital announced yesterday, in a move that analysts say could spark a new arms race in the region.

The announcement would see India join an elite club of countries that have such military capabilities - with the US, Russia and Israel. It came just days after Pakistan tested a cruise missile capable of carrying nuclear weapons. [...]

Last week the Indian military demonstrated its missile defence systems by shooting down a warhead off its east coast. Saraswat said that within three years, major cities such as Delhi and Mumbai would be under a protective shield.

India is also beefing up its armoury. It has announced a nuclear-capable missile with a range of 3,700 miles - far enough to hit Beijing or Rome.

A dodgy bomb still has some utility, a dirty shield is useless.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 PM


How Iran's president is being undercut: The US report on Iran's nuclear aims may actually hurt Ahmadinejad (Vali Nasr and Ray Tayekh, December 14, 2007, CS Monitor)

The president might celebrate the report's findings as a victory for Iran, but he can not take credit for it. Nor will it in all likelihood favor him in his ongoing tug-of-war with political rivals. It is not Ahmadinejad's hard-line rhetoric and uncompromising posture in negotiations that are to credit for the change in Iran's fortunes. Rather, they come from a decision to halt the nuclear weapons program that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blessed in 2003, when reformists were in charge. [...]

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for March. Much rides on the outcome. It can either give Ahmadinejad momentum going into the presidential elections in 2009 or turn him into a lame duck. His international grandstanding not withstanding, Ahmadinejad's presidency is in trouble. His faction lost in the December 2006 elections for municipal councils and the Council of Experts that will choose the supreme leader's successor. Since then, popular discontent with his administration has continued to grow. This week, former president Mohammad Khatami publicly criticized the president at the prominent Tehran University, whose students protested Ahmadinejad in September. In a recent poll, two-thirds of those who had voted for him in 2005 indicated that they will not vote for him again.

His tough talk and confrontational style have been exposed as bluff--it kills him with hardliners.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 PM


Abbas Government Calls for End to Gaza Blockade (ISABEL KERSHNER, December 14, 2007, NY Times)

The moderate Palestinian Authority government based in the West Bank, in a departure from its policy, on Thursday publicly called on Israel to lift economic restrictions on the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the Islamic group Hamas.

The Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, issued a statement about Gaza at a news conference where he presented the core elements of his Palestinian Reform and Development Plan ahead of an important meeting of international donor nations, set to convene in Paris on Monday. Mr. Fayyad emphasized that the plan was “for Gaza and the West Bank together” and that the Palestinian Authority considers the Gaza Strip “an inseparable part” of the Palestinian homeland.

Aggas is just their stalking horse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 PM


Broad Energy Bill Stalls in Senate (DAVID STOUT, December 13, 2007, NY Times)

Republicans were able to stall a broad energy bill in the Senate on Thursday morning, prompting Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader, to excise controversial parts of the measure in hopes of moving the legislation forward quickly.

At the bottom of this mine lies a small, small party....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


Prime Minister Brown skips EU ceremony, and U.K. rivals pounce (Stephen Castle, December 13, 2007, IHT)

Blaming a scheduling clash, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain missed an elaborate signing ceremony Thursday for a far-reaching treaty on Europe's future, a move seen by critics as symbolic of his country's ambivalence toward the European Union.

Alone among the leaders of the 27 EU nations, Brown was absent from the proceedings in the 16th-century Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon, delegating the role of representing Britain to Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

That's what vice presidents are for.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:21 PM


Clemens, Bonds, Tejada named in Mitchell Report (AP, December 13, 2007)

Roger Clemens, Miguel Tejada and Andy Pettitte were named in the long-awaited Mitchell Report on Thursday, an All-Star roster linked to steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs that put a question mark -- if not an asterisk -- next to some of baseball's biggest moments.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:14 PM


Minority groups wary of one another: African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans often hold stereotypes against others, poll says (Pamela Constable, 12/13/07, WASHINGTON POST)

It also found that immigrants generally have much more optimism about achieving the American dream than African-Americans, and that far fewer African-Americans than either Asian-Americans or Latinos think every American has an "equal opportunity to succeed."

Underscoring what survey officials called "unfair and ugly stereotypes" among American ethnic and minority groups, more than 40 percent of Latinos and Asian-Americans said they were "generally afraid" of African-Americans and associated them with crime. A similarly high proportion of Latinos and African-Americans said that most Asian-American business owners "do not treat us with respect," while one-third of Asian-Americans and half of African-Americans said that Latino immigrants are "taking away jobs" and other benefits from blacks.

On the other hand, the poll found that they had much in common, including strong feelings of patriotism and religious belief.

Even the Stupid Party ought to be able to figure out that religious folk who believe in hard work are their natural constituency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:09 PM


Right-Wing Flop in Switzerland (Der Spiegel, 12/13/07)

On Wednesday, Switzerland was taken by surprise when Christoph Blocher, the controversial Justice Minister of the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP), failed to be elected into the Swiss Federal Council -- Switzerland's seven-member cabinet. The two chambers of the federal parliament opted instead to elect his moderate party colleague Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, who was not even officially running for a seat.

The blow was a major one for Blocher, under whose leadership the SVP earned 29 percent of the popular vote in parliamentary elections in October, making it the strongest of the five parties in the National Assembly. Blocher, a billionaire industrialist, shaped his campaign with strong anti-immigration and nationalist rhetoric.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:04 PM



For the caramelized onions

* 3 tablespoons olive oil
* 2 pounds onions (about 6 medium), thinly sliced crosswise into rounds.
* 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

For the potato smash

* 3 pounds all-purpose potatoes, such as Yukon gold, scrubbed, not peeled, and cut into 2-inch chunks
* 4 garlic cloves, smashed with the flat of a knife, peeled
* 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt plus more to taste
* 1/4 cup (1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into four pieces.

For the lamb filling and to finish pie

* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* 3 medium carrots, scrubbed, trimmed and finely diced (about 1 1/2 cups)

For the filling

* 2 pounds ground lamb
* 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or 3/4 teaspoon dry
* 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
* 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
* 1 tablespoon tomato paste or ketchup
* 2 cups chicken stock, preferably low-sodium
* 1 cup (about 3 to 4 ounces) grated cheddar

Make the caramelized onions (up to a week ahead): In a large heavy-bottomed saute pan or skillet set over medium heat, heat the olive oil until hot. Add the onions to the pan and turn the heat down to medium-low. Sprinkle the onions with the salt and cook, stirring frequently to make sure they brown evenly, for about 30 to 40 minutes or until they are completely golden brown and soft. You should have about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of onions. Set aside.

Make the mashed potatoes (up to 24 hours ahead): Select a large pot that can accommodate a steamer insert or heatproof colander large enough to hold your potatoes. Fill it with water up to the bottom of the steamer insert, add the potatoes and garlic cloves and sprinkle them with the salt. Cover the pot, set it over high heat, and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain an active simmer and steam the potatoes for 25 to 30 minutes until they break apart easily when poked with a fork. Remove the potatoes and garlic from the steamer, pour off the hot water and return the potatoes and garlic to the pot. Cover the potatoes with a clean dish towel and let them dry out for about 5 minutes. Add the butter to the pot and use a potato masher to smash the potatoes and garlic until blended but not completely smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste. Set aside.

Make the meat filling and finish the pie: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large saute pan or skillet set over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil until hot. Add the diced carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes until softened.

Add the lamb, thyme and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes until the meat is no longer pink. Carefully pour off all the fat and discard.

Sprinkle the flour over the lamb and cook for one minute, stirring. Then stir in the tomato paste or ketchup and cook for 2 minutes longer. Pour in the stock, along with 1 cup of the caramelized onions. Increase heat slightly and simmer, 2 to 3 minutes, until the gravy thickens slightly.

Spread the lamb into a shallow round or oval 3-quart casserole or a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Spread the potatoes on top. Distribute the remaining caramelized onions over the mashed potatoes, and then sprinkle the cheddar on top. Bake until the top is golden and crusty, about 20 minutes. If pie has been assembled and refrigerated, start baking it at 375 degrees for 30 minutes to warm the pie through, and increase to 400 for the final 20 minutes to brown the top.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:01 PM


Dems cave on budget; conservatives still wary (Martin Kady II, 12/13/07, Politico)

Democrats last night agreed to cut billions from their spending bills to meet President Bush's demands on the fiscal 2008 budget, but conservatives are already nitpicking the appropriations breakthrough.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday afternoon Democrats would meet Bush's demand for $933 billion in total spending by implementing across the board cuts, a move that showed Democrats have been backed into a corner by a president unwilling to negotiate on appropriations.

Nitpicking? They smell blood.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:46 PM


Exclusive: Eyewitness Account of Huge Taliban Defeat (Stephen Grey, 12/13/07, ABC NEWS: Blotter)

Afghanistan's government flag was raised Wednesday on what had been one of the biggest strongholds of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and a leading world center of heroin production.

The town of about 45,000 people was secured at about 9:30 a.m. as Afghan troops, steered by British soldiers and U.S. Green Berets, drove out remnants of the Taliban resistance from Musa Qala in the opium poppy region of northern Helmand.

As the only journalist to join NATO forces entering the town, I found it a ghost town abandoned by both the Taliban and its residents at the end of an eight-day coalition operation. The offensive was one of NATO's biggest in the country since Operation Anaconda in 2002.

Embedded with a team of British troops and a detachment/"A–team" of U.S. special forces, I watched the Taliban being pounded these last few days with overwhelming force -- vapor trails circled in the clear blue sky over the Helmand desert as B1 and B52 bombers backed by A10 tank busters, F16s, Apache helicopters and Specter gunships were used to kill hundreds of Taliban fighters.

The operation was launched last Tuesday with an attack across the Helmand River by British Royal Marine commandos, a thrust from the west by light armor of the U.K. Household Cavalry Regiment; all this, however, was a feint for the main airborne landing from the north of a battalion of soldiers of Task Force Fury from the 82nd Airborne.

Faced with a full brigade of NATO forces, a brigade of Afghan government fighters and the defection of a key Taliban commander, the Taliban chose not to flee at first but to fight a desperate battle.

Seems unfair to leave all those virgins lonely.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:18 PM


The Wrong Analogy (MARK MOYAR, December 13, 2007, NY Sun)

The book's contributors allege that American and South Vietnamese counterinsurgency initiatives consistently failed to damage the Viet Cong insurgents or deprive them of popular support. Yet overwhelming evidence, much of it from Vietnamese communist sources, shows that the counterinsurgents seriously weakened the Viet Cong in 1962 and 1963 and destroyed them between 1968 and 1971. During the last years of the war, the communists fought a strictly conventional war, using troops imported from North Vietnam.

Of the authors who discuss the efficacy of counterinsurgency in the two wars, only Mr. Elliott pays much attention to Iraq itself. Mr. Elliott disputes the contention of counterinsurgency theorists that America's woes in Iraq resulted from failure to employ proper counterinsurgency techniques and transfer authority quickly to Iraqis. Mr. Elliott rightly points out that this argument disregards the Iraqi leadership problems stemming from de-Baathification, the dissolution of the army, and social fragmentation, which were worse than anything encountered in Vietnam.

Leadership within the Iraqi government remains a disturbing problem. Events in both Iraq and Vietnam, though, show that leadership can improve unexpectedly, and sometimes quickly and dramatically. In Vietnam, the quality of South Vietnam's local leaders soared in 1962 as a new generation of officers came of age. After dipping back down in the mid-1960s because of political turmoil, the caliber of South Vietnamese leaders rebounded in the late 1960s. In Iraq's Anbar province, widely deemed hopeless a year ago, the war has turned around recently because strong Iraqi leaders have joined the American side. The book's authors, and countless others, point to the ultimate defeat of South Vietnam in 1975 as proof of South Vietnamese ineptitude. In actuality, the South Vietnamese lost not because they lacked skill or popular support but because they lacked the supplies to keep fighting a conventional war. During the Easter Offensive of 1972, after all American ground forces had departed from Vietnam, South Vietnamese forces defeated a massive conventional onslaught by 14 North Vietnamese divisions, and they likely would have done the same in 1975 had Congress not slashed American military assistance, leaving the South Vietnamese without fuel for their aircraft or ammunition for their artillery, and without the American air support Richard Nixon had promised in 1973.

The aspects of the Vietnam-Iraq analogy absent from this book, and indeed from most public discourse, are as important as those present. The book does not mention that in both Vietnam and Iraq, America fought murderous fanatics while supporting indigenous people of more humane and moderate character. In both wars, the irresolution of the American government and the anti-war pronouncements of American citizens and congressmen emboldened the enemy. Ho Chi Minh began sending North Vietnamese Army divisions into South Vietnam in November 1964 because Lyndon Johnson's inaction and American public rhetoric convinced him that America would not fight for Vietnam. With Iraq, congressional denunciations of the war and threats to cut off funding have certainly encouraged the insurgents. Presidential vacillation would encourage them exponentially.

In both Vietnam and Iraq, America hurt itself by trying to transplant liberal government to a country that, because of cultural differences and the presence of civil warfare, did not possess the right soil for liberalism. America's reckless imposition of liberalization on South Vietnam in late 1963 and 1964 enabled the Vietnamese communists to infiltrate the cities, spawned popular protests that caused the Saigon government to lose face, and compelled the government's leaders to do the bidding of self-serving factions. In Iraq, precipitate liberalization created a divided and weak government, undermined social cohesion, and permitted the growth of hostile insurgent and vigilante organizations.

Congressional Democrats tried to slash funding for both the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. Both times they did it less out of disgust with the war itself than out of disgust with the president. Both times they paid scant attention to the human misery that would likely result from American withdrawal. We know what happened in Vietnam: Congress succeeded in cutting the funding, the South Vietnamese consequently lost the war, and the North Vietnamese executed tens of thousands of people and caused hundreds of thousands of others to perish in re-education camps or escape boats.

Iraq actually started turning around prior to the surge, when the violence by the Shi'a, directed at the Sunni, convinced the latter they couldn't win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:07 PM


A Flock of Shows, Touched by Faith (GINIA BELLAFANTE, 12/13/07, NY Times)

This year, however, the annual adventures in December hedonism come at the end of a fall television season that has taken a vivid interest in Christian faith, portraying it with a variety and complexity, reverence and irreverence, for which it is hard to find previous parallels. It is one thing for a practitioner of Christian Science to wind up as a patient on NBC’s “ER,” screaming against penicillin, but it is another for a plastic surgeon with a bleak soul to rediscover his faith, go to church and thank God for delivering him to an overdosing woman in time to save her life. This happened on the FX series “Nip/Tuck” a few weeks ago — as unlikely a place to go looking for sympathetic images of religious fealty as a swingers’ club or any volume of Cattulus. [...]

[“Friday Night Lights”] has given us as close an approximation of religious conversion as any on television, without pandering or patronizing, imagining born-again Christianity in all its challenges and consolations.

The sensual ex-cheerleader Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelly) was existentially out of sorts because of her ruined love affairs and her father’s philandering. Then she joins Christ Teen Messengers, is baptized, takes part in cafeteria Bible studies and begins ministering to prisoners — all of which baffles her former favorite fling, Tim Riggins, of the sex and biceps and languid gazes, who asks her if she has joined some kind of cult.

The show never pits the demands of religious fidelity against the power of young lust as a fair or even righteous contest. You see the torment of Lyla’s resistance to Tim in the exasperated looks that mask the anguish she seems to feel whenever he comes around. One kind of ecstasy isn’t easily bartered for another. And yet Lyla has also matured through her faith, taking it seriously in a place where high school football players and the people who love them clasp their hands, close their eyes and pray for third-down conversions.

There is no denominational neutrality here; the show aligns itself with one brand of Christianity over another. The mainstream churches of Dillon, Tex., the show’s setting, have ministers prompting their congregations to pray for Panther victory. But in the places Lyla practices her evangelism, God is called upon for less selfish signs of charity.

Dillon is a long way from the silk slips and smoking jackets of “Dirty Sexy Money,” the Upper East Side soap opera (Wednesdays on ABC) that has accommodated high Episcopal, not merely as a social class but also as the primary occupation, both spiritual and literal, of one of its central characters, the Rev. Brian Darling. Created by Craig Wright, a onetime divinity student, “Dirty Sexy Money” uses Brian to expose the hypocrisies of piety but also to delineate the differences between flawed personality and failed character.

A cynic and a jerk, Brian (Glenn Fitzgerald) is still capable of loving deeply despite his transgressions, recently laid out before him by his clerical superior. “In the same period of time when you were righteously ministering to your flock,” the bishop says, “you initiated a sexual relationship with a parishioner, fathered a child out of wedlock and most recently bribed a judge.” (To which Brian responds, “It was an arbitrator, actually.”)

Brian experiences a crisis of faith around his efforts to win custody of his illegitimate son, a child he is surprised to find he cannot live without. In a show whose absurdities, if stacked up, would tower over the Chrysler Building, his self-reflection produces a surprising poignancy.

One of the better religious characters on recent tv was Inspector Lewis's sidekick, Detective Sergeant Hathaway. He'd trained for the priesthood before being thrown out of seminary and his faith is understated but compelling and Lewis, unlike many of the other governors in British mysteries, is moved rather than annoyed by it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:59 AM


Among the Fallen (George Weigel, December 13, 2007, THE CATHOLIC DIFFERENCE)

The victory of Francisco Franco's Nationalists was frequently portrayed, at the time, as a preview of fascist ascendancy. Yet Anthony Beevor (a British historian not terribly sympathetic to Franco) argued recently that, had the Republicans won with the aid of the USSR, Spain would have become like Romania and Bulgaria after World War II -- a Soviet dependency, freed only by the Revolution of 1989.

As the recent beatification of 498 martyrs of that period suggests, the Catholic Church suffered terribly during the Spanish Civil War; the new beati join hundreds beatified in the 1980s and 1990s and the nine Martyrs of Asturias canonized in 1999. Yet the beatified and canonized are a fraction of the total -- some 7,000 bishops, priests, seminarians, monks, and nuns were killed simply because of who they were; no one knows how many thousands of lay Catholics were dispatched for the same reason. Some of the killings were beyond grotesque, as priests and seminarians were treated like bulls in the ring: stabbed, flayed, their ears cut off, and so forth, before the coup de grace. Entire monasteries, seminaries, and convents were wiped out; the dead bodies of nuns were exhumed and desecrated. There was little (some say no) apostasy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:56 AM


House Democrats pass another doomed tax bill (S.A. Miller, December 13, 2007, Washington Times)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:47 AM


Coming-of-age game for Davis (Marc J. Spears, December 13, 2007, Boston Globe)

When his name was announced in the starting lineup for the first time as an NBA player last night, Glen Davis was more nervous than even one would expect a rookie to be. But by the way "Big Baby" played in a 90-78 victory over the Sacramento Kings at TD Banknorth Garden, it was hard to view him as a rookie.

Davis had a season-high 16 points and added nine rebounds. The 6-foot-9-inch, 289-pounder also made 10 of 10 free throws and shot 3 of 6 from the field in 27 minutes. [...]

"It was a dream come true to start in the NBA. Unbelievable. I was thinking in my head, 'Calm down, big fella. Calm down.' I couldn't breathe. I had to come back and play my game. It was awesome."

Said coach Doc Rivers: "I told him to breathe. And he didn't. He didn't listen. But that's fine. He's young and he was excited to start."

Unusual to see such a big guy fairly vibrate with excitement when he gets in a game.

December 12, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 PM


Hong Kong Leader Presses China for Vote (DONALD GREENLEES, 12/12/07, NY Times)

Facing widespread demands from the public for full democracy to be introduced within five years, the Hong Kong government urged the Chinese government on Wednesday to set a firm timetable for direct elections for the region’s leader and legislature.

Hong Kong’s chief executive, Donald Tsang, said an early agreement on a date for carrying out the promise of universal suffrage would help “ultimately resolve” a deadlock between democrats and the conservatives who are loyal to the government in Beijing over how and when to achieve democracy. [...]

But Mr. Tsang’s failure to recommend dates for direct elections drew immediate criticism from leading democrats.

Anson Chan, an independent legislator who won a resounding victory in an election Dec. 2 after she campaigned for full democracy by 2012, said she was “very disappointed” with the government’s position. She said the government had neglected the clear will of Hong Kong’s people.

“Surely as chief executive he has the responsibility to reflect mainstream attitudes,” Mrs. Chan said in an interview.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 PM


Taleban's elders send go-between for talks with Karzai (JEROME STARKEY, 12/13/07, The Scotsman)

THE Taleban's former chief spin doctor is acting as a go-between in top-level talks between the Afghan government and the old regime's "cabinet-in-exile". [...]

Mullah Mohammad Ishaq Nizami claimed that Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, was trying to isolate Mullah Omar by wooing his lieutenants in the Quetta Shura. The council of elders in neighbouring Pakistan controls insurgents in Kandahar and Helmand.

He said: "Karzai is trying to get the 18 people in the Quetta Shura. If he succeeds it will be a defeat for Mullah Omar. The Taleban and the government are tired of fighting and they want to negotiate."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 PM


Report: U.S. cholesterol falls to ideal range (MIKE STOBBE, 12/12/07, Associated Press)

Americans may be too fat, but at least their cholesterol is low. For the first time in nearly 50 years, the average cholesterol level for U.S. adults is in the ideal range, the government reported Wednesday.

Results from a national survey that included blood tests found the total average cholesterol level dropped to 199 last year. Experts consider 200 and lower to be ideal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 PM


Fred Thompson: a maverick conservative who loves the law: The GOP presidential hopeful has often defied his party and colleagues to chart his own course (Ariel Sabar, 12/13/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

It was an odd time for a dispassionate look at federalist theory. Fifteen people had been killed in one of the worst school shootings in US history. Even the National Rifle Association had scaled back its annual meeting.

But in many ways, it was signature Thompson: a defiant faith in his own judgment, an indifference to political fallout, and a near zealotry about the limits of government. A few days after his hearing, he not only opposed a juvenile-justice overhaul backed by his own party but was one of just three senators to vote against funds for a set of antiviolence programs.

"In all of the years I worked for him and all the vote memos and summaries I wrote for him, he never once wanted to know what the [party] leadership wanted him to do," recalls Bill Outhier, a former Senate aide. "It stemmed from a larger view of his role in the Senate, which was not to do things for political reasons but to do them because he thought they were right."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 PM


Rock pioneer Ike Turner dies at 76 (Paul MacInnes, December 12, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Turner, whose influence on the most popular musical form of the 20th century was as great as his personal life was controversial, is believed to have passed away at his home in San Marcos, California.

Turner first got involved in the music industry at the age of eight, when he found himself operating the turntables at a Mississippi radio station. In 1951 he released, along with his group the Kings of Rhythm, the track believed by many to be the first ever rock'n'roll song, Rocket 88.

He went on to work as an A&R man, helping to earn artists such as Howlin' Wolf, Otis Rush and Sonny Boy Williamson their first record deals.

Tough to find nowadays--I don't think it was ever released as a cd, but his Blues Roots is a fantastic album. He could have turned anyone into Tina, but there was just one Ike.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:49 PM


Pelosi backs down in spending battle (Alexander Bolton, December 12, 2007, The Hill)

In the face of stiff opposition from powerful fellow Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has abandoned a proposal she supported less than 24 hours ago to eliminate lawmakers’ earmarks from the omnibus spending package.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 PM


The Euro-American religious divide (Roger Cohen, December 12, 2007, IHT)

Romney's speech and the rapid emergence of the anti-Darwin Baptist minister Mike Huckabee as a rival Republican candidate suggest how distant the American zeitgeist is from the European.

At a time when growing numbers of Americans identify themselves as "born again" evangelicals, and creationism is no joke, Romney's speech essentially pitted the faithful against the faithless while attempting to merge Mormonism into mainstream Christianity. Where Kennedy said he believed in a "president whose religious views are his own private affair," Romney pledged not to "separate us from our religious heritage."

"Religiosity now seems at least as important for public office as leadership qualities," said Karl Kaiser, a German political scientist. "The entrance condition for the American presidential race is being religious. If you're not, you have no chance, which troubles Europeans."

Of course, the religious heritage of which Romney spoke is profound. The Puritans' vision of "a city upon a hill" in America serving as a beacon to humanity was based on a "covenant" with God. As the Bill of Rights was formulated, George Washington issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation alluding to "that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be."

But if religion informed America's formation, its distancing from the political sphere was decisive to the republic's resilience. Indeed, the devastating European experience of religious war and intolerance played an important role in the founders' thinking. Seen against this backdrop, Romney's speech and the society it reflects is far more troubling than Europe's empty cathedrals.

Romney allows no place in the United States for atheists, who do not merit a mention.

It's not, of course, a matter of there being no room in America for atheists, just no room at the top. After all, why would we elect a leader who rejects the Founding principles of the Republic?:
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

America is just barren ground for the politics of secularism and demoralization, Teen drug use drops from a peak in 1990s (Associated Press, December 12, 2007)
The proportion of 8th graders reporting use of an illicit drug at least once in the 12 months prior to the survey was 24 percent in 1996. It now has fallen to 13 percent — a drop of nearly half.

Among 10th graders, the rates dropped from 39 percent to 28 percent between 1997 and 2007. Twelfth graders saw a decline from a peak of 42 percent in 1997 to 36 percent this year.

"The cumulative declines since recent peak levels of drug involvement in the mid-1990s are quite substantial especially among the youngest students," said Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the study, which was financed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It surveyed 50,000 teens.

The drugs most responsible for this year's decline in illicit drug use are marijuana and various stimulants, including amphetamines, methamphetamine and crystal methamphetamine.

"The most encouraging statistic relates to the use of methamphetamine, which has plummeted by an impressive 64 percent since 2001," President Bush said.

Crime, Drugs, Welfare—and Other Good News
(Peter Wehner and Yuval Levin, December 2007, Commentary)
[A] strange thing happened on the way to Gomorrah. Just when it seemed as if the storm clouds were about to burst, they began to part. As if at once, things began to turn around. And now, a decade-and-a-half after these well-founded and unrelievedly dire warnings, improvements are visible in the vast majority of social indicators; in some areas, like crime and welfare, the progress has the dimensions of a sea-change. That this has happened should be a source of great encouragement; why it happened, and what we can learn from it, is a subject of no less importance.

In a number of key categories, the amount of ground gained or regained since the early 1990’s is truly stunning. Crime, especially, has plummeted. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the rates of both violent crime and property crime fell significantly between 1993 and 2005, reaching their lowest levels since 1973 (the first year for which such data are available). More recent figures from the FBI, which measures crime differently from the NCVS, show an unfortunate uptick in violent crime in the last two years—particularly in cities like Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Even so, however, the overall rate remains far below that of the mid-1990’s.

Teenage drug use, which moved relentlessly upward throughout the 1990’s, declined thereafter by an impressive 23 percent, and for a number of specific drugs it has fallen still lower. Thus, the use of ecstasy and LSD has dropped by over 50 percent, of methamphetamine by almost as much, and of steroids by over 20 percent.

Then there is welfare. Since the high-water mark of 1994, the national welfare caseload has declined by over 60 percent. Virtually every state in the union has reduced its caseload by at least a third, and some have achieved reductions of over 90 percent. Not only have the numbers of people on welfare plunged, but, in the wake of the 1996 welfare-reform bill, overall poverty, child poverty, black child poverty, and child hunger have all decreased, while employment figures for single mothers have risen.

Abortion, too, is down. After reaching a high of over 1.6 million in 1990, the number of abortions performed annually in the U.S. has dropped to fewer than 1.3 million, a level not seen since the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized the practice. The divorce rate, meanwhile, is now at its lowest level since 1970.

Educational scores are up. Earlier this year, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reported that the nation’s fourth- and eighth-graders continue to improve steadily in math, and that fourth-grade reading achievement is similarly on the rise. Other findings show both fourth- and twelfth-graders scoring significantly higher in the field of U.S. history. Black and Hispanic students are also making broad gains, though significant gaps with whites persist. The high-school dropout rate, under 10 percent, is at a 30-year low, and the mean SAT score was 8 points higher in 2005 than in 1993, the year Bennett published his Index.

More generally, we are seeing important progress in critical areas of youth behavior. Since 1991 (a peak year), the birth rate for teenagers aged fifteen to nineteen has decreased by 35 percent. The number of high-school students who have reported ever having sexual intercourse has declined by more than 10 percent. Teen use of alcohol has also fallen sharply since 1996—anywhere from 10 to 35 percent, depending on the grade in school—and binge drinking has dropped to the lowest levels ever recorded. The same is true of teens reporting that they smoke cigarettes daily.

John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, has summarized these across-the-board findings in one succinct sentence: “We have a broad set of behaviors by young people that are going in a healthy direction."

To be sure, we have not reached anything like nirvana. [...]

The progress we have witnessed over the last 15 years is impressive, undeniable, and beyond what most people thought possible. There was, it is fair to say, essentially no one in the early 1990’s who predicted it. How, then, did it happen?

Obviously, no single explanation will suffice. Instead, long-overdue changes in government policy appear to have combined with a more or less simultaneous shift in public attitudes, with each sustaining and feeding the other.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:47 AM


The Heart of Conservatism (Michael Gerson, December 12, 2007, Washington Post)

For many conservatives, the birthday of the movement is Nov. 1, 1790 -- the publication date of Edmund Burke's "Reflections on the Revolution in France." [...]

Both Wilberforce and Shaftesbury considered themselves Burkean conservatives; Wilberforce was a friend of Burke's and a fellow opponent of the French revolution's wild-eyed utopianism. Wilberforce and Shaftesbury were gradualists, not radicals. They hated socialism and rejected the perfectibility of man.

But both were also evangelical Christians who believed that all human beings are created in God's image -- and they were deeply offended when that image was degraded or violated. Long before compassionate conservatism got its name, the ideas of compassion and benevolence were central to their political and moral philosophy.

Other conservatives dismissed these reformers as "saints," prone to "fits of philanthropy." But according to historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, these saints and others like them achieved "something like a 'conservative revolution' -- a reformist revolution, so to speak -- that permitted Britain to adapt to industrialism, liberalism and democracy without the violence and upheavals that convulsed the Continent."

And Burke himself had a foot in this tradition. He was an early opponent of slavery, supported reforms to help debtors and opposed discrimination against Irish Catholics. He accused reactionary conservatives of defending "their errors as if they were defending their inheritance." He was deeply critical of those who refused to act because they thought nothing could be accomplished. Burke has been quoted as saying, "Nobody makes a greater mistake than he who does nothing because he could only do a little." In many ways, Burke was a bridge between conservatives of tradition and conservatives of moral passion.

This history is directly relevant to modern debates. In some conservative quarters we are seeing the return of Burkeanism -- or at least a narrow version of it. These supposed Burkeans dismiss the promotion of democracy and human rights as "ideological," the protection of human life and dignity as "theological," and compassionate conservatism as a modern heresy.

But the compassionate conservatism of Wilberforce and Shaftesbury is just as old as Burke, and more suited to an American setting. American conservatives, after all, are called upon to conserve a liberal ideal -- that all men are created equal. A conservatism that does not accommodate the "ideology" of the Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. will seem foreign to most Americans.

The Value-Centered
Historicism of Edmund Burke
(Joseph Baldacchino, Spring 1983, Modern Age)
Burke believed strongly that political constitutions and the details of government should differ in accordance with the "character and circumstances" of various peoples. But he also affirmed that the "principles of true politics are those of morality enlarged" and that these principles are the same throughout the world. When the defense in the impeachment trial of Warren Hastings, governor-general of Bengal, argued that "the exercise of arbitrary power" was the historical norm in India and that the moral imperative did not hold with the same force there, Burke thundered in reply:

This geographical morality we do protest against. . . . We think it necessary . . . to declare that the laws of morality are the same everywhere, and that there is no action which would pass for an act of extortion, of peculation, of bribery, and of oppression in England, that is not an act of extortion, of peculation, of bribery, and oppression in Europe, Asia, Africa, and all the world over. This I contend for not in the technical form of it, but I contend for it in the substance.

As he opposed the notion of a "geographical" morality, so, too, did Burke denounce the idea that man's moral duty changes with the passage of time. "We know that we have made no discoveries," he writes, "and we think that no discoveries are to be made, in morality; nor many in the great principles of government, nor in the ideas of liberty, which were understood long before we were born, altogether as well as they will be after the grave has heaped its mould upon our presumption, and the silent tomb shall have imposed its law on our pert loquacity."

For Burke, the moral obligation is "eternal"; it provides the basis of all community; and it has its source in the will of God. Hence, all "persons possessing any portion of power ought to be strongly and awefully impressed with an idea that they act in trust; and that they are to account for their conduct in that trust to the one great master, author and founder of society."

Such examples could be multiplied almost endlessly. A deep awareness of a universal moral order having its source in God's will pervades Burke's writings. Whatever the issue at hand, Burke constantly repairs in one way or another to the theme that all "human laws are, properly speaking, only declaratory; they may alter the mode and application, but have no power over the substance of original justice."

...that perhaps Wilberforce is more right about his own Burkean conservatism than Mr. Gerson about an imagined tension between the two?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:29 AM


Between Liberalism and Leftism: a review of Thinking Politically by Michael Walzer (ADAM KIRSCH, December 12, 2007, NY Sun)

"I don't think that I ever managed real philosophy," Michael Walzer says in the interview that forms the last chapter of "Thinking Politically" (Yale University Press, 333 pages, $30), the stimulating new collection of his essays. This may sound like false modesty coming from Mr. Walzer, who is one of America's leading political philosophers. But in fact, by forswearing the name of philosopher, he is merely trying to give a more precise definition of the kind of thinking he does. "I couldn't breathe easily at the high level of abstraction that philosophy seemed to require," he explains. "I quickly got impatient with the playful extension of hypothetical cases, moving farther and farther away from the world we all lived in." Mr. Walzer's essays take exactly the opposite approach: They set up camp in the midst of the world we all live in bringing the rigor of political theory to the messiness of political debate. It makes sense that Mr. Walzer is both a professor at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study and an editor of Dissent, the left-liberal journal: His theories are always also interventions.

This is true of his major works — books such as "Just and Unjust Wars" (1977), which sought to redefine just-war theory for the post-Vietnam age, and "Spheres of Justice" (1983), which argues from liberal principles for a social-democratic politics. It is all the more obviously true of the essays in "Thinking Politically," most of which began life as lectures and journal articles. The book offers an informal survey of the major themes of Mr. Walzer's thought, as applied to some of the major issues of the last 25 years. It is thus a good opportunity to come to grips with the strengths and the limitations of both Mr. Walzer's political principles and his way of practicing political philosophy.

If the essays in "Thinking Politically" share a single theme, or better, a common tension, it is Mr. Walzer's effort to reconcile his liberal instincts with his leftist commitments to socialism and cultural relativism. For the contemporary left, as Mr. Walzer recognizes better than anyone, is in important ways at odds with the liberal tradition.

What makes Mr. Walzer a member of the Decent Left is that very rejection of philosophy, even his own, when confronted by reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:48 AM


The Huckabee Factor (ZEV CHAFETS, 12/12/07, NY Times Magazine)

The governor was especially happy that morning about an impending endorsement he expected (and received the following day) from Tim LaHaye, the author of the apocalyptic ‘‘Left Behind’’ series of novels. ‘‘Left Behind’’ is wildly popular among evangelicals, who have bought more than 65 million copies, making LaHaye a very rich man and one of the few writers who is also a major philanthropist. Recently he donated a hockey rink to Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, although some members of the faculty there deride ‘‘Left Behind’’ as science fiction. Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, has no such reservations. He considers the ‘‘Left Behind’’ books, in which the world comes to a violent end as Jesus triumphs over Satan, a ‘‘compelling story written for nontheologians.’’

Huckabee’s affability and populist economic and social views have sometimes been misinterpreted as a moderate brand of evangelical Christianity. In fact, as he wrote in his book ‘‘Character Makes a Difference,’’ he considers liberalism to be a cancer on Christianity. Huckabee is an admirer of the late Jerry Falwell (whose son, Jerry Jr., recently endorsed his candidacy) and subscribes wholeheartedly to the principles of the Moral Majority. He also affirms the Baptist Faith and Message statement: ‘‘The Holy Bible . . . has truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy.’’ [...]

In this unpredictable primary season, Mike Huckabee’s surge in Iowa — and beyond — is perhaps the greatest surprise. Iowa was supposed to be a pushover for Mitt Romney. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, began working the state more than a year ago. He commands an army of trained professionals and a vast ad budget. Mitt Romney’s message flows like Muzak out of every radio and TV in the state. All this effort has reportedly cost Romney more than $7 million. Huckabee, by contrast, has spent less than $400,000 in Iowa. His paid staff in the state is not much bigger than a softball team. Televised Huckabee ads have been harder to catch than ‘‘I Love Lucy’’ reruns.

Even more amazing, when the Register poll came out Dec. 2, Huckabee hadn’t been in the state for three weeks. In campaign time, that’s approximately three centuries. But absence made hearts grow only fonder. Not only was Huckabee leading in Iowa, he was also five points ahead of Romney, 29 percent to 24 percent, and double digits away from the rest of the field.

The movement was catching hold beyond Iowa too. On Dec. 5, a Rasmussen daily tracking poll showed Huckabee leading the Republican field nationally, ahead of Giuliani by three points, 20 percent to 17 percent. This represented an eight-point jump for Huckabee in only a week. Other polls still had Giuliani in the lead, but the Real Clear Politics Web site, which averages national surveys, showed Huckabee in a virtual tie for second.

Still, in spite of this surge in popularity, Huckabee has almost no money or organization. He has no national finance chairman, no speechwriters and a policy staff of three. His ‘‘national field director’’ is his 25-year-old daughter, Sarah. Huckabee does have a pollster, Dick Dresner, but so far there hasn’t been enough cash to take any polls. ‘‘I think we can go until the beginning of the year,’’ Dresner told me. ‘‘If we start by then to raise some money, we can begin to acquire the trappings of a campaign. Which, at the moment, we don’t really have.’’

Scott Reed, who ran Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign, doubts that Huckabee will come up with the money. ‘‘He spends more time in cable TV studios than he does meeting with his finance committee,’’ he says. ‘‘A big win in Iowa will get him enough to go on for a couple weeks. Then, if he comes in second or third in New Hampshire, he’s in the race. Short of that, he’s a one-night stand.’’

Many Republican strategists remain dubious about Huckabee’s chances. ‘‘He’ll get hammered in New Hampshire,’’ the Republican consultant Mike Murphy told me. ‘‘A primary campaign is like a book. Iowa is just the first chapter. After that come more chapters. Opponents will hit Huckabee for being soft on immigration, Arkansas allegations, that kind of thing. And at some point, Republican elites will begin to ask, Is what we need a smallstate governor who doesn’t believe in Darwin?’’

Who was the last creationist governor to lose a presidential race, Alf Landon?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Holiday Reading Treats (OTTO PENZLER, December 12, 2007, NY Sun)

When you've finished shopping, trimming the tree, planning parties and dinners — and figuring out how to get out of certain invitations without hurting anyone's feelings — is anything more appealing than putting your feet up with a book good enough to draw you in so deeply that the hassle of the day dissolves as quickly as willpower when the dessert tray appears?

Let me recommend a first novel by Caro Ramsay, a Scottish author who is able to write scenes of heartbreaking tenderness nestled amid evocations of such grotesque violence that it is difficult to imagine that they can coexist as such sublime interlocking pieces of the whole.

I've been reading Tom Holland's excellent Rubicon:

Odes to Longing, And to Change (ERIC ORMSBY, December 12, 2007, NY Sun)

When skillfully done, rhyme obliges the translator to strive for conciseness and felicity of phrase; at its best, as here, in Mr. Krisak's version, it can suggest the compressed elegance of the original.

Rhyming translations of Horace are as old as English poetry itself, and as venerable. To transpose his odes into trim quatrains was somehow to domesticate him, to make him fully English. For Horace had the unusual distinction of serving not only as a much-loved author, admired for the exquisite perfection of his verse, but of standing as a model for the welllived life. Mr. Raphael notes that Horace called himself, in slyly self-deprecating mode, "a porker from the herd of Epicurus." By this, he not only flaunted his modesty but signaled his earthiness; even his most magnificent flights are firmly grounded.

As an Epicurean, Horace was keenly aware of death. In one of his most celebrated odes, addressed to a friend with the gloomy moniker "Postumus," he wrote:

O Postumus, my friend, think of the years,
And how, my Postumus, they slip away,
ill old age brings the furrows ploughed by tears—
And death, which piety cannot delay.

But for Horace, awareness of death acts as a spur to life. His ideal may seem quaint — to live modestly, without grandiose expectations, but to live to the full — and yet, it is an ideal with a sweet reasonableness all its own; it is an ideal within everyone's grasp. This makes Horace sound a bit dull, and yet he was quite a party animal too:

Now is the time to drink and dance; feel free
To stamp the earth now; fancy food should be
Laid out on couches of the gods.

Mr. Krisak's versions of the four books of Odes and the magnificent "Centennial Hymn" are easily the finest recent re-creations of Horace. They are accurate and stubbornly faithful to the original but read beautifully as English poems in their own right. Mr. Krisak is especially adept at capturing the wide tonal range of Horace's verse, from the slyly understated to the triumphantly full-throated. This is a remarkable achievement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


A favorite 'U.N.C.L.E.': The mid-'60s super-agent spy show, considered the first of its genre on American TV, is being released in a huge 41-disc DVD set. (Tirdad Derakhshani, 12/11/07, Philadelphia Inquirer)

The suspenseful-yet-ironic series, just released in its entirety in a mondo 41-disc DVD set by Time Life, has been broadcast in more than 60 countries since its first run. (The collection costs $249.95 and is currently available only via mail order. Information: 1-800-950-7887 or [...]

"It was a truly groundbreaking show," says University of Southern California film and media scholar Leo Braudy. He said the show, which debuted Sept. 22, 1964, on NBC, is considered to be the first spy series on America TV. It anticipated countless others, including Mission: Impossible and Get Smart.

Braudy, who grew up in West Philly, points out that U.N.C.L.E. eschewed the rampant jingoism of the time. The villains here do not represent nations, but are what Braudy calls "megalomaniacal criminals and terrorists" who belong to a secret cabal of evil-doers named Thrush. They have no allegiance to a faith or ideology, but are "motivated by [the] greed for money and power."

For all its accomplishments, U.N.C.L.E. abruptly ended in the middle of its fourth season. McCallum has maintained he was floored when he found out - from the Los Angles Times - about the cancellation. "I'm still waiting for somebody to call me up and tell me, 'Hey, we're not doing U.N.C.L.E. anymore,' " he quipped.

In his opinion, U.N.C.L.E. went off the rails in its third season, when, in a desperate attempt to copy the success of the spoof Batman, the show became a farce.

"We went to sillier plots, and that's why it failed," says McCallum, who currently stars as Donald "Ducky" Mallard on CBS's NCIS.

That's one theory. Here's another: U.N.C.L.E. was simply too cool for television.

We're gonna need bigger stockings....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


A Gitmo trial beats judgment at Nuremberg (Audrey Hudson, December 12, 2007, Washington Times)

Nearly 100 foreign enemy combatants to be tried at Guantanamo Bay will have more rights than Nazi war criminals who faced the Nuremberg tribunal, a Senate panel was told yesterday.

Detainees in the war on terror will have the presumption of innocence and an automatic appeal, the latter not even afforded to U.S. citizens, said Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, legal adviser to the Convening Authority for the Office of Military Commissions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


Muscle flexing in U.S. Senate: Republican defends strategy (David M. Herszenhorn, December 12, 2007, NY Times)

[I]t was more than a little telling when McConnell laid down his mark in the current budget fight on Tuesday, informing the Capitol Hill press corps that he was ready to offer Democrats a deal, $70 billion in war financing with no strings attached and a total budget identical to President George W. Bush's proposal.

In other words, the Republicans should get virtually everything they want. And he was not kidding.

With the president warning repeatedly that he will veto any budget package he dislikes and the Democrats short of the 60 votes they need in the Senate, the Republican minority is in an unusually strong bargaining position — and not just in the budget negotiations that are the top priority in Congress these days.

McConnell and his fellow Republicans are playing such tight defense, blocking nearly every bill proposed by the slim Democratic majority that they are increasingly able to dictate what they want, much to the dismay of the majority leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, and frustrated Democrats in the House.

The poor Democrats just wouldn't listen when folks told them their '06 midterm victory was profoundly insignificant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Republicans Keep Two House Seats (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, December 12, 2007)

Republicans retained control of two Congressional seats Tuesday in special elections in Ohio and Virginia, thwarting Democratic efforts to expand their control in the House. The elections were held to complete the terms of members of the House who had died.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


Harry Reid finds real power elusive (Jim VandeHei and John F. Harris, Dec 11, 2007, Politico)

Harry Reid’s title is impressive. But his power is a mirage.

The majority leader doesn’t really run the Senate. With a one-member cushion, he can at best see the possibilities of real power and at worst realize how illusory it really is.

On the biggest issue of the year, the Iraq war, the majority leader does not even have a majority. Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, an independent who normally sides with Democrats, always votes for the war and against Reid. [...]

The problem for Reid is this: He has not always been the most artful climber. He has stumbled a few times on the Senate floor, and on one prominent occasion he landed with his foot in his mouth. did he fit both his foot and W's choke ball?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Easy A's on the Internet: A surprising Cornell experiment in posting grades; plus a look at recent research into ethical behavior, service charges, and volunteer habits (Francesca Di Meglio, 12/13/07, Business Week)

In a striking example of unintended consequences, a move by Cornell University to give context to student grades by publicly posting median grades for courses has resulted in exactly the opposite student behavior than anticipated.

Cornell's College of Arts & Sciences originally set up a Web site in 1997 where median grades were posted, with the intention of also printing median class grades alongside the grade the student actually received in the course on his or her permanent transcript. Administrators thought students would use the information on the Web site to seek out classes with lower median grades—because, they reasoned, an A in a class that has a median grade of B-minus would be more meaningful than say, an A in a course where the median was A-plus.

However, when Cornell researchers studied about 800,000 course grades issued at Cornell from 1990 to 2004, they found that most students visited the site to shop for classes where the median grade was higher. Plus, professors who tended to give out higher grades were more popular. Students with lower SAT scores were the most likely to seek out courses with higher median grades.

This "shopping" in turn led to grade inflation, Vrinda Kadiyali, associate professor of marketing and economics at Cornell's Johnson Graduate School of Management, one of the authors, explained in an interview.

When every kid in America is expected to go to college and aptitude is no longer a consideration, what does "meaningful" have to do with your courses?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


Making Mormon history: An influential religion struggles with how to tell the story of its past (Mark Oppenheimer, December 9, 2007, Boston Globe)

Serious analysis of Mormonism has never been more important, but that doesn't mean it will be easy. In Romney's speech on faith last week, for example, the candidate spoke movingly about religious tolerance, and tried to highlight similarities between Mormonism and mainstream Christianity, but he said nothing substantive about Mormon theology or history. Campaigning politicians can't be expected, of course, to discuss the more uncomfortable aspects of religious history, which for the Mormons include a ban on blacks in the priesthood until 1978, and their often contentious relations with what they call their "Gentile" neighbors. It is historians and journalists who are charged with describing unpleasant realities, and how well they accomplish their task will depend in part on which the LDS church decides is more important: guarding its image or uncovering the truth.

Mormon history should be uniquely accessible. In 1829, Smith finished his "translation" of a new Christian testament, the Book of Mormon, from gold plates he claimed to have found hidden outdoors, and the following year he and his followers published the book. Persecuted for the heretical beliefs they were developing - including baptism of the dead, the nonexistence of original sin, the Book of Mormon's completion of the (insufficient) Bible, and, for a time, the need for "plural marriage," or polygamy - the group traveled from Ohio to Missouri to Illinois. Along the way, the group made converts but even more enemies, and in 1844, in Carthage, Ill., an angry mob murdered Smith, shooting him repeatedly. Numerous newspaper accounts of Smith survive, as do diaries of his followers. As far as historical religious figures go, Smith is not a murky one.

What's more, Mormons have always been obsessive record-keepers and genealogists, so it would be incorrect to say that they had contempt for history. But as in many church traditions, historians of the faith were expected to support the faith. And unlike, say, many Congregationalists or Episcopalians, few Mormons attended leading secular universities, where they might have been drawn to academic history. So for much of Mormon history - from Joseph Smith's "First Vision," when God spoke to him in 1820, through his writing of the Book of Mormon, decades of persecution, the arrival of Smith's followers in Utah in 1846, the end of plural marriage in 1890, to the first decades of the 20th century - Mormons who wrote Mormon history worked in the devotional mode. They gave "the Mormon story as an account of a true church led by a true prophet versus a hostile world," writes Jan Shipps, an esteemed non-Mormon historian of Mormonism, in the September issue of The Journal of American History. Non-Mormon historians, Shipps adds, approached the same story with the opposite bias, calling Smith a con man.

In the 1940s and 50s, some Mormon historians became impatient with the piety enforced on them, and they began to publish accounts greatly at odds with the church's preferred versions. The most famous was Fawn Brodie, who in 1945 wrote "No Man Knows My History," a biography of Joseph Smith notable for its skeptical and irreverent attitude toward the founder and his supernatural claims. Her book scandalized the church, and in 1946 she was excommunicated. Brodie was from an influential Mormon family - her uncle would in 1950 become the Mormon prophet-president - and her banishment was a strong statement from the LDS hierarchy that some unspoken lines could not be crossed.

Soon, however, the church entered a new period of scholarly engagement, with Mormon historians taking greater liberties and non-Mormon historians beginning to take a fresh, less anti-Mormon look at the church, too. Beginning in the 1960s, younger scholars wrote books, rigorous and academic in their approach, that formed the heart of what came to be called the "New Mormon History." As historian Shipps notes, other factors contributed to this opening of the Mormon mind. In 1965, the Mormon History Association was founded, and the next year Dialogue, a new, independent journal of Mormon studies, began publication. The Mormon bureaucracy itself added historical and archival departments, hiring well-trained historians. And new and expanded history departments at church-affiliated schools, like BYU and Iowa's Graceland College, meant new jobs for Mormon historians with secular training.

In 1972, Utah State professor Leonard Arrington was hired to be the official LDS church historian. Arrington was a Mormon, but he had been trained at the University of North Carolina. Under Arrington, the Mormon archives were opened to more historians, and with fewer restrictions than ever before. The result was a flowering of scholarship, as both Mormon and non-Mormon historians offered frank looks at Mormon history and Mormon ancestors, in many ways picking up where Fawn Brodie left off. They wrote about skeletons in Smith's closet, such as his interest in the occult, or the Mormons' massacre of non-Mormons at Mountain Meadows, Utah, in 1857.

The New Mormon History constituted a new field of scholarly inquiry. Historians wrote dozens of well-regarded books, greatly increasing what we reliably know about LDS history. Mormon and non-Mormon historians developed close relationships, and the academic establishment began to treat Mormonism less as a bizarre cult and more as a religion. But these books and articles also worried conservatives within the church. In 1981, Mormon apostle Boyd K. Packer, a leading conservative, famously cautioned: "Some things that are true are not very useful." Mormon historians who do their work "regardless of how they may injure the Church or destroy the faith of those not ready for 'advanced history,' " he said, may find themselves in "great spiritual jeopardy."

It was not empty rhetoric. A decade later, in 1993, the church excommunicated several scholars, including D. Michael Quinn, a tenured historian at Brigham Young University who had written a number of controversial works, including one about the persistence of church-sanctioned polygamy after its official ban in 1890. [...]

Today, bigger and more prominent than ever, the church is in a period of heightened confidence, and with it has come a renewed receptivity to scholarship. Mormon historians aren't as afraid of crossing their church as they would have been 10 years ago. "I do think there's more openness today than in the nineties," says Jed Woodworth, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, who assisted in the research for a recent biography of Smith by Richard Bushman, a former Columbia history professor and a Mormon patriarch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Immigration: Not Really A Third Rail (Reid Wilson, 12/13/07, Real Clear Politics)

A new poll from Zogby International suggests illegal immigration is unlikely to move a significant number of votes in the 2008 presidential race. But, say political strategists, the issue is fraught with danger for both parties.

Faced with a candidate with whom they agree on every other issue but disagree on immigration, 51% of likely voters said they would still support that candidate, while 32% said they would support a candidate with whom they agreed on immigration. That seems like a high percentage who would change their votes based on immigration policy. Instead, though, the rate is comparable to those who would change their votes based on health care policy (52% would still support the candidate while 29% would choose another) and federal tax policy (49% to 32%).

Republicans who have taken a hard line might stand to gain among the 43% of independents who might otherwise lean to Democrats who say they would switch their vote based on immigration policy. But in recent years, as the debate has shifted more toward anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric, those independents have not shown enough of a predilection to the GOP to tip any general election races. In fact, in 2006, many immigration advocates pointed out, not a single Congressional or Senate race can be said to have turned on immigration.

Strategists on both sides recognize immigration's lack of potency. "Immigration is not a vote-moving issue for most people, period," said Americans for Tax Reform chief Grover Norquist. Despite their focus on the issue, Republicans "have no scalps to show" for immigration, said Simon Rosenberg, founder and President of the New Democrat Network.

This year, Republicans look like they are pursuing the same strategy that served them so poorly last year.

...would run against the politics of W and Ronald Reagan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


A Powerful Awakening Shakes Up Iraqi Politics (Trudy Rubin, 12/13/07, Real Clear Politics)

Six months ago Sheikh Ali Hatem Ali Suleiman al-Dulaimi predicted that tribal leaders would defeat al-Qaeda in Anbar province, the Sunni tribal heartland. Now the young prince of the Dulaim, one of Iraq's largest tribes, exults that al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has been driven out of Anbar by tribal fighters aided by American troops.

The sheikh receives guests in a large reception room decorated with historic photographs of his father and grandfather in traditional flowing robes, meeting respectively with King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and King Faisal II of Iraq. A young man with a trim goatee, in a gray suit and open-collared shirt, Ali Hatem's hand is constantly hitting the "off" button on his cell phone.

That's because tribal sheikhs all over Iraq are constantly calling him for information about the movement in Anbar, sometimes called the Awakening (sahwa in Arabic). "People I've never heard of before want relations with the sahwa," says Ali Hatem. "The sahwa is not just an awakening of force but an awakening of heart and spirit, an awakening from sectarian hatred."

Perhaps. But what's certain is that the sahwa movement - which already has about 70,000 Sunni men under arms and may add 35,000 more - is a dramatic new element on the Iraqi scene.

The striking improvement in Iraq security is closely connected to the rise of these forces.

Democrats had an awful lot of eggs piled in the We-Can't-Win-the-War basket.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Mets Failed To Maximize Potential This Offseason (TIM MARCHMAN, December 12, 2007, NY Sun)

It is mid-December, and the Mets have traded for two catchers and signed a third — which doesn't account for Yorvit Torrealba, whom they may or may not have signed last month. Everyone that anyone blamed for their scandalous September collapse is gone: Lastings Milledge, Tom Glavine, Guillermo Mota, Paul Lo Duca, Shawn Green, and Rickey Henderson. Ostentatious offers of everything short of home plate have been made to the Minnesota Twins for ace pitcher Johan Santana.

One might almost discern a hint of panic in all this frenetic motion.

To be fair, Omar Minaya is at the mercy of conditions. The Mets are a contending club, and this explains most of what he's done. The team simply has to have a real second baseman, and so Minaya overpaid in re-signing Luis Castillo, an adequate veteran who played well enough for the Mets. In a market that offered no good catchers, he at least came up with Brian Schneider, who can play every day and has some defensive skills. Minaya, by all accounts, has been aggressive about getting Santana. Assuming Minaya replaces Glavine, the Mets are better on paper now than they were at the end of the season.

Still, no one cares about the windows when there's a hole in the roof, which is what's happening right now. that the Yankees have gone backwards too.

December 11, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:03 PM


Code Pink to take aim at Democrats in 2008 (S.A. Miller, December 11, 2007, Washington Times)

Leaders of the antiwar group Code Pink, frustrated by the ineffectiveness of Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, today said they are mobilizing a campaign for regime change within the party in the 2008 elections.

The mostly female group — famous for disrupting congressional hearings and its demonstrators clad in pink T-shirts and tiaras — has applied for a new tax status that permits political work for its campaigns against Democrats as well as Republicans, Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin said.

Boy, her parents named her well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:58 PM


Former Iranian President Publicly Assails Ahmadinejad (NAZILA FATHI, 12/12/07, NY Times)

Mr. Khatami’s criticism of Mr. Ahmadinejad has long been known. But his public denunciation of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s policies was unusual because of its high visibility at a site of youthful dissent.

Mr. Khatami condemned the political and social crackdown against activists since Mr. Ahmadinejad’s election and criticized the president’s plans for strengthening Iran’s economy, the ISNA news agency reported.

In what appeared to be a comparison with the current suppression of students, Mr. Khatami talked about how the crackdown on student activists before the 1979 Islamic revolution radicalized the students and led to the overthrow of the shah. “There was a time that I remember Islamic and non-Islamic movements turned to behaviors that had high costs for society and the regime,” he said.

The regime's chief vulnerability, even more than its disastrous economic performance, is that it is un-Shi'a. thus the comparison to the Shah is devastating.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 PM


Democrats search for victories (Martin Kady II, Dec 11, 2007, Politico)

Democrats appear to have a new strategy on the budget stalemate — cave in on the big-ticket items, then take credit for whatever breakthroughs Congress achieves before Christmas.

With each passing day, Democrats inch closer to President Bush’s overall number on domestic spending, while making it clear that they’ll provide some $70 billion for Iraq with no serious conditions on the war funding.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 PM


Iran hints at improving relations with the US (The Scotsman, 12/12/07)

The timing of Mr Ahmadinejad's overture to Washington is significant. Important parliamentary elections loom in March and he is facing increasingly outspoken criticism from some Iranians, who argue his foreign policy has been recklessly confrontational.

Iran has been the subject of two UN Security Council resolutions for refusing to halt uranium enrichment. The major powers were last night discussing a draft third resolution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 PM


Exotic cause of 'Pioneer anomaly' in doubt (David Shiga, 6/22/07, New Scientist)

The 'Pioneer anomaly' – the mystifying observation that NASA's two Pioneer spacecraft have drifted far off their expected paths – cannot be explained by tinkering with the law of gravity, a new study concludes.

The study's author suggests an unknown, but conventional, force is instead acting on the spacecraft. But others say even more radical changes to the laws of physics could explain the phenomenon.

Launched in the early 1970s, NASA's Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft are drifting out of the solar system in opposite directions, gradually slowing down as the Sun's gravity pulls back on them.

But they are slowing down slightly more than expected and no one knows why. Some physicists say the law of gravity itself needs revising, so that gravity retains more strength in the outer solar system.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 PM


What Does Hillary Believe?: She is in lockstep with the United Methodist Church on almost all issues, says Paul Kengor, author of God and Hillary Clinton. (Interview by Rob Moll | posted 12/11/2007m, Christianity Today)

What is Hillary doing to court religious conservatives?

In 2004, I think she saw the importance of the conservative religious vote. So you see her do an about-face on abortion. Her speech in January 2004 to NARAL was terrible, demonizing pro-lifers. But the following year she gave her now-famous address to the New York State Family Planning Providers in which she reached out to pro-lifers.

She has hired someone to reach out to pro-life Democrats and pro-life evangelicals. I understand she consults with him very frequently. But that is as far as her strategy towards pro-life evangelicals goes.

On the other hand, in regards to the Religious Left, she is going to continue to campaign in churches as she has done to an unprecedented degree. She campaigned in 27 churches two months before the November 2000 vote when she ran for the New York Senate seat. That's amazing. She was in six churches on election-day morning alone. She is going to keep talking about social justice, because that works for the Religious Left.

I will give you a striking number. The Pew Research Center did a poll a few weeks ago comparing Hillary versus Rudy Giuliani. It found that she would win the race by eight percentage points. But what is most remarkable is that they were dead even with voters who go to church weekly or more.

I would have to say that her strategy toward religious people can work if she has the right Republican opponent, someone like Giuliani who is perceived as less religious than she is. But if she is running against a Republican who is a strong evangelical, I think she loses the churchgoing vote easily.

She'd beat Mitt and the Mayor, lose to Maverick, Fred and the Rev.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 PM


Santana talks moving along (Buster Olney, December 11, 2007, ESPN)

Wrote here last Friday that the folks in position to have insight into the Johan Santana talks strongly believe that the Twins and Red Sox will eventually work out a deal, and as Joe Christensen writes this morning, the two sides continue to talk. The Twins seem to prefer a package built around center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, rather than Jon Lester.

It goes without saying that the Red Sox rotation could be extraordinary this year, with this alignment:

RHP Josh Beckett
LHP Johan Santana
RHP Curt Schilling
RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka
RHP Tim Wakefield/Clay Buchholz

Boston would be an easy pick to repeat as AL East champion (and being an easy pick never guarantees actual success).

Lester would win the #5 job, which is why they should send Buchholz instead of Ellsbury.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:40 PM


5-year-old descendant of Davy Crockett kills bear (Heather Crawford, 12/ KATV/Little Rock)

A 5-year-old Arkansas County boy killed a black bear Sunday weighing more than 400 pounds.

Tre Merritt, a descendant of Davy Crockett, was hunting with his grandfather Mike Merritt when a black bear happened upon their stand. revealed in the two additional years it took before Tre kilt his ba'r.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:35 PM


NBC Reverses Decision on Freedom's Watch Ads: Network Runs Ads Thanking Troops During Meet the Press (John Eggerton, 12/10/07, Broadcasting & Cable)

NBC changed its ad-policy guidelines on issue advertising over the weekend and ran an ad from Freedom's Watch, a conservative group that was thanking the troops for their service.

NBC initially declined to run the ads, citing its policy against running controversial political ads and pointing to a link in the ad to the group's Web site.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:13 PM


Losing a literature: The loss of a brilliant English translator puts our access to Iceland's best writers in jeopardy (Sarah Weinman, 12/11/07, The Guardian)

Translators are the neglected stepchildren of literature, considered lucky if they get their names on a book's title page or receive a small share of an award. This state of affairs was never more apparent than earlier this month, when news slowly trickled out about the recent death of Bernard Scudder, the Iceland-based translator of works by award-winning and best-selling crime writers Arnaldur Indridason and Yrsa Sigudardottir. Had Indridason passed, his obituary would have appeared online and in newspapers within a few days of his death. Scudder was not nearly so fortunate. All we know is that Scudder died suddenly on October 15, that he was married, and that Harvill Secker, Indridason's UK publisher, commented in a statement that they held Scudder's work "in high regard and that he was a pleasure to work with."

This generic statement only hints at what a blow Scudder's death is to the crime community. As part of wry humour, gory details and more than a hint of romance.

With Scudder gone, now comes the difficult task of replacing him. At just over 300,000 people, Iceland's entire population is comparable to Newcastle or Cardiff, and the number of Icelandic-to-English translators is so limited that only two agencies - Markmal and Skjal - offer such services. Just because translators can do the job, however, does not mean the job will be a good one, as some European and Asian authors have discovered. Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell once complained at a panel that after reading the translation for one of his early novels he was so put off by what he described as the translator's stilted prose and emphasis on British dialect that he demanded someone else translate the rest of the Inspector Wallander series for American publication. At this same panel, Boris Akunin concurred, saying he refused to allow publication of his Erast Fandorin novels unless he approved the translator personally. The job went to Andrew Bromfield, who has been Akunin's English translator ever since.

Morse, Frost, Resnick, Tennyson, Rebus and now this?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:59 PM


Ahmadinejad slammed for 'letter-writing' foreign policy (Stuart Williams, Dec 11, 2007, AFP)

A leading Iranian moderate launched a withering attack on the foreign policy of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying his strategy consisted of "letter-writing and slogans," media reported on Tuesday.

Hassan Rowhani, a former top nuclear negotiator who now heads an official think tank, ridiculed government claims that Iran was increasing its power and warned that its international situation was unfavourable.

Iran's ex-president attacks Ahmadinejad in student speech (AFP, 12/11/07)
Iran's reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami on Tuesday accused his successor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of increasing poverty, in a keenly-awaited speech to hundreds of students at Tehran University. [...]

"It is not right to reduce justice to economic justice," said Khatami, who served as president from 1997 to 2005.

"Such a justice spreads poverty and empties the purses of the people who should be used to make the country more powerful and more rich," he said, according to the student ISNA news agency.

His chances of re-election are roughly the same as Larry Craig's. The recent NIE, which reveals him to be all bluster and no bomb, is likely the last straw.

Meet 'The Decider' of Tehran. It's Not the Hothead You Expect. (Vali Nasr, December 9, 2007, Washington Post)

[T]he two men's agendas differ. Ahmadinejad, for example, aspires to be more than a mere administrator. Khamenei, however, already holds all the power he wants and merely needs to keep it away from ambitious presidents, whether hard-line or reformist. Moreover, Ahmadinejad's brand of rabble-rousing may be a useful strategy for a newcomer trying to elbow his way toward greater influence within the tangles of the Iranian political system, but it has deepened Iran's isolation abroad in ways Khamenei resents. For instance, he bristled during Ahmadinejad's December 2005 visit to Mecca, when the president embarrassed his welcoming host, Saudi King Abdullah, with a Holocaust-denying, anti-Israel harangue. Closer to home, when Ahmadinejad recently had the country's former top nuclear negotiator, Hossein Mousavian, arrested on espionage charges, an irked Khamenei made sure that the judiciary dismissed the charges.

So Khamenei is keeping his options open. He has helped boost Ahmadinejad's rivals in the 2005 race, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, by giving the former's Expediency Council (a key clerical panel) more powers and by backing the latter's bid to become Tehran's mayor. Both men remain serious contenders for power and take every opportunity to snipe at Ahmadinejad. So do a growing number of Iran's elite, who abhor Ahmadinejad's mismanagement of the economy and fear that his bluster has increased the chances of war with the United States. The president's foes hope to drub him in the parliamentary elections coming up in March.

Meanwhile, the decider is getting old. As Khamenei pushes 70, rumors abound that his health is deteriorating. One of the usually dull elections to the Council of Experts, the mysterious body that will choose his successor, recently turned into a closely watched race. (Moderates won.) Still, experts can only guess at who will follow Khamenei -- and about whether Iran's next supreme leader will reign supreme.

For now, Khamenei sees enemies all around: dissidents at home eager to reform the Islamic Republic out of existence, Sunni Arab states galvanized by the rise of Iranian influence, a Bush administration still obsessed with regime change despite last week's National Intelligence Estimate painting Tehran as toothless. Khamenei's greatest fear has always been that his enemies at home and abroad would join forces. (Little wonder, then, that he rejected talking to the United States when it looked as though the Clinton administration wanted to engage only Khatami and the reformists whom the supreme leader so fears.) Khamenei has done a nasty, effective job of sidelining the reformists, but he still faces the challenge of the United States.

In the past, Khamenei has not been averse to talking to Washington. He gave tacit support to an ill-fated memo offering direct U.S.-Iranian talks in 2003, and a year later, he publicly endorsed discussions over Iraq. But times changed after Iran dug in its heels over the nuclear issue and found itself looking down the barrels of U.S. guns. The threat of war has abated after this dramatic week, but for the man who rules Iran, two overriding concerns linger: ensuring that his regime survives and ensuring that he remains at the head of it. As the National Intelligence Estimate itself put it, "Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs." But Tehran's decisions are also guided by one man, and anyone serious about understanding the sources of Iranian conduct needs to keep an eye on him.

Ahmadinejobless (Monica Maggioni, July 2007, Foreign Policy)
In Tehran, the mood is quickly shifting. And it’s easy to feel it every time you stop to buy a newspaper, have a coffee, or wait in line at the grocery store. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s star is fading fast.

Since his election in June 2005, Iranians have had conflicted feelings about their president. At first, he evoked interest and curiosity. And there were great expectations from this humble man who was promising economic reform, an anticorruption campaign, and a rigid moral scheme for daily life. Then came fear—when Ahmadinejad began to destroy any chance of good relations with the outside world.

But today in Iran, laughter is supplanting fear. Mocking the president has become a pastime not only for rebellious university students, but also members of the establishment and the government itself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:52 PM


Fed Cuts Interest Rate a Quarter Point (AP, December 11, 2007)

The reduction in the federal funds rate to 4.25 percent marked the third rate cut in the past three months. Fed officials signaled that further cuts were possible if a severe housing downturn and mortgage lending crisis get worse.

But Wall Street was looking for a much stronger sign. The Dow Jones industrial average, which had been up about 40 points in afternoon trading, plunged by more than 200 points as investors deciphered the Fed's comments. [...]

The Fed vote for the rate cut was 9 to 1 with Eric S. Rosengren dissenting, arguing for a bigger, half-point cut in the funds rate.

Consider just the fact of continued productivity gains, that housing prices are falling despite coming shortages and the still rising household net worth and you can see that keeping rates so artificially high is a function of dogma rather than reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:52 AM


A Post-Thatcher Crime Fighter in a Pre-Thatcher England (GINIA BELLAFANTE, 12/11/07, NY Times)

The return of “Life on Mars” for a second season on BBC America tonight seems as good a time as any to ask why time travel has become such a popular theme on television recently. Is it that we cannot get enough of the retro aesthetic these trips backward occasion? The flesh-tone nylons, the lima-bean-green telephones with cords and dials and earpieces like coasters? Or is that writers see in bygone naïveté as dependable an opportunity for comedy as they do in a 6-year-old spouting off about deflated global currencies?

It would seem obvious enough that they're seizing the opportunity to be politically incorrect while pretending to frown on it. Just watch the series to the end if you doubt it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:48 AM


...there's a sign up at the post office telling you that they have two different sized boxes specifically for shipping maple syrup to the flatlanders.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 AM


Path to White House can be humbling (Peter S. Canellos, December 11, 2007, Boston Globe)

Journalist Richard Ben Cramer's landmark tome about presidential campaigns, "What it Takes," expends 1,097 pages showing what it takes for someone to win the presidency, and the answer is: It takes everything, and then some.

Voters will reject every show of vanity or hubris. They don't want to be challenged or confronted with hard truths. They want their candidates to serve them, and they want proof of something like obedience - or at least submission.

There's a lesson in both Cramer's 1992 book and in recent presidential history for Hillary Clinton, who has worked hard to bring herself to the cusp of the Democratic presidential nomination, only to have some of the air start leaking out of her campaign.

The good news for her is that most successful presidential candidates faced such a moment of truth, and were able to push themselves past it. The bad news is that they had to give up some of their pride, something Clinton is probably reluctant to do.

Whahappen? There are plenty of complimentary things you can say about Ms Clinton that are entirely accurate. But the notion that she has any pride left -- never mind the determination not to squander it -- after the dog and pony shows she's had to stage with Bill is pretty ludicrous.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


Mark Harris remembered (Jeffrey Greeberg, December 11, 2007, Hardball Times)

Wiggen first comes to literary life in The Southpaw (1953), Harris’ second novel, a wonderful account of Henry’s signing and first two seasons with the New York Mammoths—a peculiar hybrid of the Yankees and the Giants. Three other Wiggen novels follow, including Bang The Drum Slowly (1956) which most fans know from the Robert De Niro film, the Paul Newman TV movie or a trendy college course on baseball literature.

The books trace Wiggen’s 22 seasons and 247 victories in the bigs as he became the 27th winningest pitcher at the time—“who never threw to the wrong base or invested a bad dollar”—and were capped off by It Looked Like Forever (1979), with its apt epigraph: “I will be the first to know when it’s time to quit. – 189 baseball players quoted from time to time in newspapers and magazines of sport.”

You gotta love a ballplayer whose fame comes not from his 26 game seasons but from his writing. Fans don’t mob him with ‘I saw you in game one of the ’52 series’ or ‘I saw you close the door on Boston’ but rather ‘I read your book’. And he’s not shy with his literary opinions: “And there was Huckleberry Finn that begun ‘You do not know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’, and I told Aaron that was a dirty trick to start a book that you no more opened than the writer was telling you to read still another as well.” And then of course Wiggen, the author, goes on to do just that.

And if you are a real baseball fan, you smile quietly at: “I personally give up football when a kid and do not read about it and never look at it. If it flashes on the screen in the newsreel, I go take a leak.”

But the delight of Henry is not that he’s a southpaw in the Lefty Grove mode, with Spahnie’s guile and the conscience of the Christian Gentleman, Christy Mathewson. No, his DNA goes back further, to an earlier American original who also used an interlocutor to greatly improve his spelling. The aforementioned Huck Finn haunts these pages like the ghosts of Yankee Stadium.

You can watch the Newman version of Bang the Drum here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


‘Caught Between Giant Elephants’: Next week’s South Korean presidential election may lead to an uptick in relations with the United States. Congress can do its part by endorsing a free trade pact. (Michael Auslin, December 11, 2007, The American)

“We think this will be our last winter of discontent,” muses a leading South Korean politician from the opposition Grand National Party (GNP). “When the flowers next bloom, however, we hope we can see American daisies, too.” South Koreans pick a new president next week, and the conservative GNP looks likely to take power, ending a decade of progressive rule by Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. The conservatives are riding a wave of voter anger over government scandals and President Roh’s enthusiastic outreach to North Korea. Should the GNP win the presidency, as is expected, the United States would have a chance to repair relations with one of its most important allies.

Rather, they will have repaired theirs with us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:38 AM


Dems Are Addicted to Backing Down (Arianna Huffington, 12/11/07, Real Clear Politics)

"Mostly quiet acquiescence, if not outright support."

That is how, according to the Washington Post, officials present characterized the reaction of lawmakers, including Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi and Jane Harman, when they were briefed in 2002 about waterboarding and other severe interrogation techniques being employed by the CIA.

But it could just as well be the slogan of the Democrats for much of the last six-plus years -- especially on Iraq.

Doesn't help that even their party name is delusional--it's a republic, not a democracy...thank God.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:16 AM


Waterboarding Recounted: Ex-CIA Officer Says It 'Probably Saved Lives' but Is Torture (Joby Warrick and Dan Eggen, 12/11/07, Washington Post)

A former CIA officer who participated in the capture and questioning of the first al-Qaeda terrorist suspect to be waterboarded said yesterday that the harsh technique provided an intelligence breakthrough that "probably saved lives," but that he now regards the tactic as torture.

Zayn Abidin Muhammed Hussein abu Zubaida, the first high-ranking al-Qaeda member captured after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, broke in less than a minute after he was subjected to the technique and began providing interrogators with information that led to the disruption of several planned attacks, said John Kiriakou, who served as a CIA interrogator in Pakistan. [...]

He described Abu Zubaida as ideologically zealous, defiant and uncooperative -- until the day in mid-summer when his captors strapped him to a board, wrapped his nose and mouth in cellophane and forced water into his throat in a technique that simulates drowning.

The waterboarding lasted about 35 seconds before Abu Zubaida broke down, according to Kiriakou, who said he was given a detailed description of the incident by fellow team members. The next day, Abu Zubaida told his captors he would tell them whatever they wanted, Kiriakou said.

"He said that Allah had come to him in his cell and told him to cooperate, because it would make things easier for his brothers," Kiriakou said.

Maybe I'm missing something here, but that sounds like a good thing.

December 10, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 PM


Who Speaks for Iraqi Shiites? Not Iran's ayatollahs. (Nathaniel Rabkin, 12/17/2007, Weekly Standard)

The independence of the four great Shiite ayatollahs of Najaf--the city 100 miles south of Baghdad that is a holy site for Shia Islam--can be easily ascertained from their public statements. Each of these ayatollahs maintains an extensive website, usually in Arabic and Persian, although some maintain sites in English, Urdu, and other languages as well. (The content appearing in one language does not always appear in another. All quotations in this article come from the Arabic websites, unless otherwise noted.) Each website has an extensive question and answer section, dealing with all kinds of religious questions, including those with political implications. Each ayatollah, responding to his followers' questions in carefully couched and diplomatic language, rejects or casts severe doubts on the religious authority of Ali Khamenei.

The ayatollah most open about his rejection of Khamenei is Ishaq al-Fayadh, who writes at, in response to a question about the relationship between religion and politics, that no true Islamic government "exists today on any part of the earth." He adds that the policies pursued by the existing governments of the world "have no connection to religion." Elsewhere, he recommends elections as the best way of selecting good rulers.

On the website of Ayatollah Said al-Hakim (, readers pose a number of questions about Wilayat al-Faqih (literally, rule of the jurist). This is the doctrine, favored by Khomeini, according to which a Shiite religious scholar should exercise supreme political power, under the title of Wali al-Faqih. Hakim explains that the concept is "subject to disputes among scholars." One reader asks: "If I follow a religious authority who does not believe in Wilayat al-Faqih, must I still obey the Wali al-Faqih?" Hakim responds: "Wilayat al-Faqih is a technical issue, and, as in all technical issues, each individual should follow the fatwas of his own legitimate jurist." On Hakim's English website (, this ruling ends with the additional clause, "whether this jurist believes in the issue of Wilayat al-Faqih or does not." In Iran, denying the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih can result in a jail sentence or worse.

Ayatollah Bashir al-Najafy accepts Wilayat al-Faqih, but has a different version of it than the Iranians. According to Najafy (, Khamenei can claim political authority only over territory he actually controls, and "his hand is extended only over Iran. .  .  . I don't think anyone believes that his dominion covers the entire earth." Asked explicitly whether he considers himself subordinate to Khamenei's religious authority, Ayatollah Najafy writes: "the rulings of one scholar cannot bind another."

The most cautious of Iraq's ayatollahs in dealing with this question is also the greatest: Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. He has good reason to be cautious in his political statements: His agents collect millions of dollars in donations from believers in Iran, and his institutions spend millions on charitable and educational projects in that country. Asked on his website (, "What is your opinion about Wilayat al-Faqih?" Sistani writes that a legal scholar may exercise political power under certain "circumstances," but that he "must meet a number of conditions, including being generally acceptable to the mass of believers." It is left up to the reader to decide whether Ali Khamenei, famous for barring opposition election candidates and imprisoning critics, is "generally acceptable" to Iran's Shiite believers.

Khomeneism violates the Kerbala paradigm, though it is perhaps an understandable temporary aberration after twelve centuries in the wilderness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 PM


Patriots open at 27 points (AP, 12/10/07)

The New England Patriots' record-setting pace includes the betting odds, too.

The undefeated Patriots were made a 27-point favorite over the New York Jets in the opening line for Sunday's game at Foxborough, Mass. The line dropped to 24 on Monday, which would match San Francisco's record point spread over Cincinnati on Dec. 5, 1993, according to Keith Glantz, co-author of the Glantz-Culver Line.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 PM


Mohammed to beat Jack as top UK boys' name (Sarah Womack, 11/12/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Mohammed is set to overtake Jack as the most popular boys' name in Britain as a result of the high birth rate in Muslim families, which is driving the British population to a record high.

So passes a good English name like Jacques....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 PM


Study finds humans still evolving, and quickly (Karen Kaplan, 12/10/07, Los Angeles Times)

By examining more than 3 million variants of DNA in 269 people, researchers identified about 1,800 genes that have been widely adopted in relatively recent times because they offer some evolutionary benefit.

Until recently, anthropologists believed that evolutionary pressures on humans eased after the transition to a more stable agrarian lifestyle. But in the last few years, they realized the opposite was true -- diseases swept through societies in which large groups lived in close quarters for a long period.

Altogether, the recent genetic changes account for 7% of the human genome, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The advantage of all but about 100 of these genes remains a mystery, said University of Wisconsin-Madison anthropologist John Hawks, who led the study.

There just has to be an advantage in here somewhere....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:52 PM


Congressional endgame (Ken Strickland and Mike Viqueira, 12/10/07, NBC First Read)

If you are sympathetic to Democratic causes and you had high hopes that by now the new majority in Congress would have ended or altered American involvement in the war, or that your federal spending priorities would finally get their due, or that the days of deficit spending were over -- you may be in for some disappointment in the coming days.

The double entendre in their title is a stroke of genius.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:36 PM


-EXCERPT: First Chapter of Red Moon Rising by Matthew Brzezinski

Nuclear weapons production in America had been ramped up to an industrial, assembly-line scale under the Eisenhower administration. By 1955 the United States had amassed 2,280 atomic and thermonuclear bombs, a tenfold increase from 1951, representing an arsenal nearly twenty times greater than the Soviet stockpile. (As Dulles's doctrine evolved, the number of warheads would jump to 3,500 by late 1957, double to 7,000 by 1959, hit 12,305 by 1961, and top 23,000 two years later.) Meanwhile, billions of dollars were being poured into an armada of heavy long-range bombers to deliver the nuclear payloads. By 1956 the air force bomber fleet had almost doubled in size, and the Strategic Air Command kept a third of its 1,200 B-47 long-range bombers on the runway at all times, fueled and loaded with their nuclear cargo. Curtis LeMay, the cigar-chomping SAC commander, seemed to be on a personal mission to instill fear in Russian hearts. In January 1956, LeMay scrambled almost all his bombers in a simulated nuclear attack. In another exercise, Operation Powerhouse, his planes flew nearly one thousand simultaneous sorties from more than thirty bases around the world to intimidate Moscow. In a few weeks, he would launch yet another exercise called Operation Home Run--reconnaissance versions of his B-47 Stratojets would fly from Thule, Greenland, over the North Pole, and into Siberia to probe for gaps in Soviet radar defenses. The mission would culminate with a squadron of the metallic silver RB-47s, their undersides painted white to reflect the flash of a nuclear blast, flying in attack formation in broad daylight several hundred miles into Soviet territory. The Soviets would have no way of knowing that the bombers were not armed, or that an attack was not imminent. And that would be the point of the exercise: to expose the USSR's defenselessness against a polar attack and to drive home the message that the United States could strike Russia at will. "With a bit of luck, we could have started World War III," LeMay would later reminisce ruefully.

At times LeMay's antics even scared the CIA. "Soviet leaders may have become convinced that the US actually has intentions of military aggression in the near future," warned an ad hoc committee of CIA, State Department, and military intelligence agency representatives. "Recent events may have somewhat strengthened Soviet conviction in this respect."

From their American bases in Greenland, Norway, Germany, Turkey, Britain, Italy, Morocco, Pakistan, Korea, Japan, and Alaska, B-47s could reach just about any target in the Soviet Union, furthering LeMay's well-publicized goal of obliterating 118 of the 134 largest population and industrial centers in the USSR. (LeMay calculated that 77 million casualties could be expected, including 60 million dead.) And he was about to get an even bigger bomber, the intercontinental B-52 Stratofortress, which was just entering into service. The giant plane could carry 70,000 pounds of thermonuclear ordnance over a distance of 8,800 miles at a speed of more than 500 miles an hour. With the B-52, the Americans no longer even needed their staging bases in Europe and Asia to attack Russia. They could do it from the comfort of home without missing more than a meal.

Most distressing for Khrushchev, he had no way of striking back. The biggest Soviet bomber in service, the Tupolev Tu4, was an aging knockoff of the propeller-driven Boeing B-29 with a 2,900-mile range and no midair refueling capacity. It could not effectively reach U.S. soil. The Tu4 would either run out of gas as it approached the American eastern seaboard or crash in the coastal states of New England. In either scenario, planes and pilots would be lost on one-way suicide missions. Unfortunately for the Kremlin, the early prototypes for a pair of bigger bombers, the Mya-4 Bison and Tu95 Bear, which were designed to hit targets deep in U.S. territory, seemed to display similarly suicidal tendencies. Their test flights had been plagued by crashes, and it would be years before they were operational in significant numbers.

The bottom line was that the United States could stage a multipronged attack on the USSR from dozens of points across the globe, while the Soviet Union was hemmed in from all sides and could not retaliate.

We're always bemused by folks' need to deny that we could have changed the Soviet regime with impunity, but recognize that for them to admit this they'd have to reckon with the fact that because it could only endure on our sufferance we bear moral responsibility for its crimes and the awful wastage of the Cold War. The fact that Jack D. Ripper was sane and Stanley Kubrick crazy is too terrible to be easily borne.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:59 PM


Attempted Theft: Hugo Chávez tried to overturn the results of Venezuela's recent vote but was rebuffed by the military (Jorge Castañeda, 12/07/07, Newsweek)

[B]y midweek enough information had emerged to conclude that Chávez did, in fact, try to overturn the results. As reported in El Nacional, and confirmed to me by an intelligence source, the Venezuelan military high command virtually threatened him with a coup d'état if he insisted on doing so. Finally, after a late-night phone call from Raúl Isaías Baduel, a budding opposition leader and former Chávez comrade in arms, the president conceded—but with one condition: he demanded his margin of defeat be reduced to a bare minimum in official tallies, so he could save face and appear as a magnanimous democrat in the eyes of the world. So after this purportedly narrow loss Chávez did not even request a recount, and nearly every Latin American colleague of Chávez's congratulated him for his "democratic" behavior.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:54 PM


Meteor Pelting May Have Triggered Plate Tectonics (Larry O'Hanlon, 12/10/07, Discovery News)

The continuous overturning, melting and re-casting of Earth's crust over the eons may have started with a massive asteroid impact in Earth's infancy, suggests one geologist.

The unusual and iconoclastic hypothesis, if true, could help point the way to how and why plate tectonics did or did not get started on other worlds in our solar system and beyond. That's important because one of the critical ingredients of life on Earth is a constantly recycling crust.

"Everyone argues about when (plate tectonics) starts, but never asks about outside processes," said geologist Vicki Hansen of the University of Minnesota at Duluth.

If only you had a nickel for every scientific mystery that's explained by external intervention.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:59 PM


Afghan, international forces retake Taliban town (The Associated Press, 12/10/07)

Afghan and international forces have retaken a southern town held by Taliban insurgents since February, the Afghan Defence Ministry said Monday. The Taliban said it retreated from the town to avoid both its own and civilian casualties.

This is an opportunity, which we'll fail to take advantage of, to taunt the Islamicists about choosing dishonor over death.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:53 PM


Life On Mars will time travel from the Seventies into the Eighties (PAUL REVOIR, 5th December 2007, Daily Mail)

A sexist copper who favours an orange Audi Quattro has barged his way into BBC 1's new winter/spring schedule.

Philip Glenister stars as the politically incorrect detective Gene Hunt in the Life On Mars spin-off Ashes To Ashes.

His new sidekick, replacing John Simm, is actress Keeley Hawes. She plays a single mother in 2008 who suddenly finds herself in 1981, surrounded by well-dressed criminals and New Romantics.

Other shows in the line-up include The No 1. Ladies' Detective Agency, based on the bestselling novel by Alexander McCall Smith.

Anthony Minghella and Richard Curtis have adapted the book about the unlikely detective Precious Ramotswe.

The programme, filmed on location in Botswana, stars singer and actress Jill Scott in the title role.

The BBC starts showing Season 2 of Life on Mars on December 11th.

Meanwhile, it's entirely fitting that the follow up series features the Gene Genie, because, as it turned out, the show was really about him rather than Sam Tyler in the first place. It's best not to go into too much detail and spoil the series for those who haven't seen it, but the manner in which they concluded its run was immensely satisfying.

The conceit of the original was that a contemporary detective, the uber-PC and utterly metrosexual Sam (John Simm), gets hit by a car and awakens in 1973. There he has to solve crimes and try to figure out whether he's crazy, comatose (which the scripts tilt towards heavily), or time-traveling, while working with a squad of neanderthal coppers. As his foils to either side ofd the gender spectrum we're given Detective Chief Inspector Gene Hunt (Mr. Glenister) -- the loutish, hard-drinking, two-fisted, crack-the-case-at-any-cost boss -- and Annie Cartwright (Liz White) -- the sweet, zaftig, but determined police woman. Sam is frustrated by Gene's machismo, on the one hand, and Annie's femininity, on the other, but is also attracted by both.

While the cases and the social issues raised by them have a tendency to be wrapped in multi-culti pabulum, the show always always demonstrates an awareness of how cloying Sam's (and our) modern
perspective is. Further, Gene is frequently shown to be more aware of that perspective and willing to use Sam (often unwittingly) where he finds it helpful, in order to change the culture. Likewise, Sam takes advantage of the prevailing social mores when they are useful to the investigations. And, for all the political correctness, the fundamental theme of the show could hardly be more counter-cultural--after all, it's basically an extended argument against euthanasia and for the worth of human life. Sam battles constantly to let doctors, nurses, family and friends -- whose voices he can sometimes hear as if they were at his hospital bed -- know that he is still there and still aware. There's even an episode where he meets the mother of his future girlfriend and tries to talk her out of aborting the baby. The show is a two-year long pro-life sermon.

Even with all the good things going for it though, the series could easily have been ruined had the producers dragged it out -- as has happened with shows like the X-Files, Alias, Lost, Heroes, etc. -- or had they failed to recognize the inevitable conclusion. In embracing it they turn the final episode into truly superior story-telling and give television a profundity it is not always associated with. I'd not want to ruin it for you if you've not seen it, so let's just say that it serves as a sort of rebuttal to Miguel de Cervantes.

This is a show that one of the American networks should just buy and run as is, but instead will buy the rights to, remake themselves, and butcher unforgivably in the process.

Posted by Bryan Francoeur at 11:36 AM


Gore to U.S., China: Fix climate or else

Ice grips nation from Plains to Northeast

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:14 AM


Banking on the economy (Donald Lambro, December 10, 2007, Washington Times)

It will probably come as a shock to most people, even to those who follow the economy, that mortgage applications rose last month as a result of declining interest rates.

In the midst of the hysterical media-fed notion that a tidal wave of subprime-loan foreclosures was going to plunge the country into a recession, the fact is that the economy is still growing and Americans are still buying homes.

The torrid pace of recent years has slackened, but homes are being sold, banks are lending money and most Americans — even those saddled with subprime mortgages — are paying their mortgages on time.

And we're all getting richer, US Household Net Worth Up 1.1% To $58.60 Tln In 3rd Qtr (Jeff Bater , 12/06/07, Dow Jones)
U.S. households' total net worth rose 1.1% to $58.60 trillion in the third quarter, the Federal Reserve said Thursday.

The Fed's quarterly "flow of funds" data also showed U.S. nonfinancial debt rose at a 8.9% annual rate July through September.

The 8.9% rate was above the revised 7.2% rate in the second quarter, initially reported as a 7.1% growth rate. The Fed said the acceleration was in the federal government and business sectors, with the household and state and local government sectors showing modest decreases in the rate of debt growth.

Household net worth in the third quarter decreased to about 5.72 times disposable personal income, from a second-quarter level of about 5.74 times income. Household net worth is a measure of total assets, such as houses and pensions, minus total liabilities, such as mortgages and credit card debt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 AM


Return of the Nativist: Behind the Republicans’ anti-immigration frenzy. (Ryan Lizza, December 17, 2007, The New Yorker)

Once upon a time, John McCain was favored to win the Republican nomination. His straight-talking appeal and his cultivation of the Republican Party’s right wing put him first—at least in the early conventional wisdom. Then, last summer, his campaign seemed to spontaneously combust in a puff of fund-raising troubles and staff intrigue. But McCain has slowly made his way back into contention. The usual line is that he has done it by being “the old McCain,” the one that New Hampshire voters (and many journalists) fell for during his 2000 Presidential run. [...]

McCain’s standard answer to immigration questions is that he “got the message.” But every so often this practical McCain, bending to the mood of the primary electorate, gets shoved aside by the quixotic McCain, the one who never seems happier than when he’s championing a lost cause. At one stop in South Carolina, at Clemson University, a student engaged McCain in an argument about whether his plan rewarded illegal immigrants for breaking the law. McCain was by then in a combative mood. Minutes earlier, a professor had asked about a piece of Internet-crime legislation that he argued would group terrorism researchers with actual terrorists. “Am I a terrorist?” the professor asked, his querulous tone suggesting that McCain hadn’t answered the original question. The questioner was wearing tennis shoes, jeans, a pink polo shirt, and a gray blazer, and McCain looked at him carefully. “With those sneakers, you’re not a snappy dresser,” McCain replied after a pause, as audience members gasped and laughed. “That doesn’t mean you’re a terrorist. Though you terrorize the senses.” To the student with the immigration question, McCain patiently explained that some illegal immigrants had faced unusual circumstances, and he mentioned a woman who has lived in the United States for decades and has a son and a grandson serving in Iraq. When the student said that he wanted to see punishment meted out to anyone who has broken the law, McCain stopped trying to find common ground. “If you’re prepared to send an eighty-year-old grandmother who’s been here seventy years back to some country, then frankly you’re not quite as compassionate as maybe I am,” he said. Next question.

McCain could stop discussing the controversial parts of his immigration plan or he could drop his support for them altogether, admitting that he was simply wrong, as Romney has done with abortion and other issues. I asked McCain about Romney, who had once expressed support for the comprehensive legislation backed by the Bush Administration—it sounded “reasonable,” he’d said—but now rails against it as “amnesty.” McCain said, “Both he and Rudy had the same position I did. In fact, Rudy was even more liberal. But, look, if that—” He paused and shrugged. “I don’t want to be President that bad.”

Now he just needs to mix in some Ownership Society proposals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:49 AM


Cold War Couple: The marriage that did in an Evil Empire: An NRO Q&A (Kathryn Jean Lopez, 12/10/07, National Review)

Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why did you pick “marriage” as the description of the Ronald Reagan — Margaret Thatcher relationship?

Nicholas Wapshott: Because their friendship and working partnership was far closer than any other, even more intimate even than that of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, where Roosevelt never let Churchill forget that he was a supplicant. Not only were Reagan and Thatcher completely in concert with their political beliefs, their unshakeable personal alliance echoed those harmonious arrangements in which men and women combine perfectly at work and take office husbands and wives.

If you read the many recently declassified private letters and telephone conversations between them I reproduce in the book for the first time, it is hard to avoid the fact that they had transcended the barriers which usually divide great political leaders and had come to share their White House and Downing Street decisions as a married couple might. Indeed, most married couples would think themselves lucky to take part in such a stimulating, productive, sympathetic, loyal, and affectionate union as Reagan and Thatcher enjoyed. You would either have to be very stuffy, or inappropriately proprietorial about the two of them, to object to the word marriage.

Just take another look at Reagan’s state funeral three years ago at the National Cathedral in Washington. If you knew nothing about who was being celebrated and who was mourning, it would be easy and understandable to conclude that Margaret Thatcher was the widow. It is not too much of a stretch to say that in the interment that followed at the Reagan Memorial Library in Simi Valley there were three widows, his former wife Jane Wyman, his wife Nancy Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:47 AM


Triumphs for Democracy (MICHAEL BARONE, 12/10/07, Creators Syndicate Inc.)

The world looks safer, friendlier, more hopeful than it did as we approached Christmastime last year.

Then, we were on the defensive, perhaps on the verge of defeat, in Iraq. The Europeans' attempts to persuade Iran to renounce nuclear weapons seemed to have failed. Hugo Chavez was using his near-dictatorial powers and the oil wealth of Venezuela to secure the election of opponents of the American "empire" in Latin America.

Today, things look different. And they suggest, to me at least, that the policies of the Bush administration, pilloried as bankrupt by the Democrats after their victory in congressional elections in November, have served American interests better than most Americans then thought.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:33 AM


Time to rein in 21st century loan sharks: Payday lenders prey on people in need (JONATHAN P. BAIRD, December 10. 2007, Concord Monitor)

While it would be easy to think payday lending is some new phenomenon, nothing could be further from the truth. Payday lending is the modern form of usury. Usury and its regulation have been the subject of civil and religious debate for literally thousands of years.

Usury is not a word you hear used very often now. It has a musty, 19th-century quality. Usury can mean the price paid for the use of money. It can also simply mean excessive interest.

It's a dangerous country in which to engage in unChristian behavior.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 AM


The Good, the Bad, and the Japanese: The brilliant director Akira Kurosawa, of ‘Seven Samurai’ fame, helped bring a new kind of hero to the American movie screen. Not so much film noir as film gris. (James Bowman, December 10, 2007, The American)

It’s no surprise that heroic war movies such as those that continued being made in Hollywood for another quarter century stopped dead in Japan in 1945, when, at age 35, Kurosawa was making his second film as director. Already, the assurance and visual richness of his style prefigured that he would do in film what the European and American modernists were doing in painting—make the artist the hero of his work.

No longer was artistry meant to be kept out of sight and in the service of its subject. Now, the subject was reduced to an excuse for the artistry. Watching a Kurosawa film is a fatiguing process because there is always so much going on, so many ways the artist has of calling attention to his artistry—which always exists on a plane superior to even the most exciting of the stories he has to tell.

In addition, Kurosawa always adapts his stories to suit his method by giving the pride of place in them to the outsider, the observer of the action. His distinctive style is to insert the outsider—this detached figure who is a stand-in for the filmmaker himself and who provides the gray in a black-and-white world—in the middle of the story.

This perspective is apparent in Stray Dog (1949), in which a criminal and the detective pursuing him become, in true noir fashion, something close to moral equivalents—as do the revenge-seeker and his victim in The Bad Sleep Well (1960), Kurosawa’s take on Hamlet.

The Olympian detachment of the filmmaker from the point of view of his characters was the fundamental organizing principle of Rashômon (1950), the movie that first brought Kurosawa to the attention of an international audience. There, the same story (of a rape and murder in 12th-century Japan) is told from multiple points of view as a way of illustrating the importance of the observer’s situation—and of the essential Kurosawan datum that there is no “true” or “real” story independent of one’s point of view. The brilliance of his filmmaking and its endless geometrical variation, like a kaleidoscope, reflect the point he has to make—that the storyteller is the hero of his own story.

Though skeptical of heroes, Kurosawa always aspired to work on the heroic scale, and he got his chance in 1954 with Seven Samurai. He took as his subject an obvious tale of bad guys (bandits preying on peasant villages) and good guys (a ragtag band of selfless warriors)—which it largely remained in The Magnificent Seven (John Sturges, 1960), the American remake—but he drew back from it to create his characteristic Kurosawan perspective.

He achieved the effect partly through extraordinarily subtle camera work, which shifted between telephoto close-ups and deep-focus pans and always managed to pick out of scenes of frenzied action the significant detail. As usual, the prominence Kurosawa gives to the intelligent observer has as its dramatic analogue the outsider in the midst of the action. In this film, the role of outsider goes to the bumptious ex-farmer and would-be samurai Kikuchiyo, played by the greatest of all Kurosawa’s stars and collaborators, Toshirô Mifune.

The most memorable moment in a three-and-a-half-hour film full of memorable moments comes as a mother, one of the bandits’ victims, hands her child to tough-guy Kikuchiyo as she dies, and suddenly he breaks down in tears. “The same thing happened to me,” he says. “I was like this baby.”

The samurai chase the bandits from the village, and the fact that life then continues normally is meant to be seen as being as much a defeat for the samurai as for the bandits whom they so uncomfortably resemble. As they stand watching the villagers’ ceremonial rice-planting at the end, Shichiroji (Daisuke Katô), one of three samurai still alive after the fighting, says: “I can’t believe we survived again.” The wise samurai leader, Kambei (Takashi Shimura), replies that they are also defeated again: “The farmers have won. We have lost.”

Kurosawa refuses to allow the samurai—or the viewers—a moment of satisfaction in their successful defense of the helpless villagers. They were only doing what they were professionally trained to do, which is not significantly different from what the bandits were doing. There’s no nobility among the peasants, either. They are cunning and treacherous, even murderous when given the opportunity. But at least they represent life and hope and possibility.

Even as Seven Samurai was being remade as The Magnificent Seven, Kurosawa was already at work on the film that would be even more influential in shaping the American movie hero that would succeed the still-chivalrous John Waynes and Gary Coopers who reigned supreme in the 1940s and 1950s. That film, Yojimbo (1961), had its biggest influence on Hollywood indirectly, through Sergio Leone’s remake of 1964, A Fistful of Dollars, and its sequels, including The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), starring Eastwood in the role Mifune played in Yojimbo: a warrior for hire, selling his skills to the highest bidder in the midst of a gang war.

Kurosawa’s original was superior to Leone’s imitation, but in Clint Eastwood the latter found the sort of charismatic figure who could stand comparison with Toshirô Mifune. Both heroes were meant to be seen as morally compromised characters who, like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, emerge as heroes only because of a single act of chivalry or idealism that stands out prominently against the background of moral desolation that each inhabits.

Kurosawa’s Mifune and Leone’s Eastwood were among the first cool heroes, self-contained like the ronin (independent samurai) or, in American movies, the private eye. Kurosawa’s cool heroes owe a lot to Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, who also operated against a background of vice, violence, and treachery, but somehow managed to stand just enough apart from it to retain a solitary, quixotic kind of heroism.

A surprising mistake by the estimable Mr. Bowman, but the model is quite specifically The Continental Op, not Spade or Marlowe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 AM


Nation or state? (Lisa Jardine, 12/11/07, BBC)

The French-speaking Walloons, and a smallish cohort of German-speakers, in the economically less prosperous south, are afraid that devolution will lead to Belgium breaking up along its linguistic faultlines, leaving the Walloons isolated and economically vulnerable.

Anyone who visits Belgium is quickly aware of the linguistic fracture that runs through the country. Dutch and French speakers watch different TV stations, read different newspapers, and attend different universities.

Shakespeare Folio edition
Was Shakespeare English or British?

Even the political parties divide into Dutch- and French-speaking. Leterme is a Christian Democrat, but the list of conditions he drew up for a coalition government, were rejected outright by the French-speaking Christian Democrats.

When my graduate students change trains in Brussels on our way to our annual field trip to the Plantin-Moretus printing museum in Antwerp, they are usually relieved to discover that Brussels is French-speaking.

As we board the train for Antwerp - or "Anvers" as it is marked on the Brussels departures board - I have to warn them not to try to communicate in French once we get there. Far better to speak English than to risk a tirade of nationalistic anger by accosting a Flemish-speaker in the tongue he associates with the Walloons. [...]

In the mid-16th Century, the loose confederation of provinces and territories which make up the modern Netherlands and Belgium constituted one "country", under Spanish occupation.

Bingo! It should be: Country or nation?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


Iran: The wrong options on the table (Spengler , 12/11/07, Asia Times)

The administration throughout has brandished the threat of military action against Iran, while offering a regional role for the Shi'ite power if it behaves. The White House has placed an exorbitant bet on Iran's willingness to cooperate. Last week, Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad attended the first summit meeting of the Gulf Coordinating Council including Iran, entering the conference hand-in-hand with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah. Iraq's National Security Advisor Mouaffak al-Rubaie on December 8 called for a regional security pact including Iran, and asked Iran and Saudi Arabia to forbear from supporting Shi'ite and Sunni combatants respectively. For reasons known only to themselves, the Saudis have decided that for the moment it is safer to keep the Persians inside the tent. light of the American/Shi'a alliance besides acquiescence?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


What makes people gay or straight, by Desmond Morris (Daily Mail, 10th December 2007)

Anthropologist Desmond Morris argues that the sexes draw apart from the age of five to their early teens when they go through an "intensive educational period." Boys and girls tend to only have close relationships with those of their own gender.

When they become teenagers they are flooded with hormones and become interested in the opposite sex. But, Morris says, homosexual boys get stuck in the stand-off phase and cannot make the switch.

"They cannot understand why young boys, who were playing sex games with them only a few months before, are now only interested in chasing girls," he said.

In his study, The Naked Man: A study of the Male Body, Morris suggests gay men may have had unpleasant experiences with girls or become fixated with other boys as sexual companions in the stand-off phase.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


The Dragon Still Devours Lebanon (Elias Bejjani, 12/10/07,

The whole world ought to be fully aware that this "Lebanese opposition," which is led by Hezbollah, represent nothing that is Lebanese based on worldwide norms and criteria. Hezbollah is an Iranian-Syrian army stationed in Lebanon: no more no less. The opposition coalition that revolves around Hezbollah has one and only one paramount objective and that is to topple by all means the Lebanese multicultural, parliamentary, democratic, peaceful, and free regime in a bid to erect in its place a religious state that replicates the Iranian mullahs' theocracy.

Which very nearly frames the issue properly: Hezbollah does indeed represent the end of the Lebanon fiction, which imposes an unrepresentative regime on the Shi'ites, offering them instead an opportunity for self-determination.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


‘Masterpiece Theater,’ Now in 3 Flavors: Classic, Mystery, Contemporary (ELIZABETH JENSEN, 12/10/07, NY Times)

“Masterpiece Theater” is one of the higher rated PBS programs. John Boland, the chief content officer for PBS, said the extensive audience research showed that viewers singled it out as one of six programs that defined public television for them. With that in mind, PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting allocated extra money for the overhaul and promotion of the series this season. “Every jewel needs a little polishing now and then,” Mr. Boland said.

While the goal is to attract more viewers, he said “the relaunch certainly can’t hurt” efforts by PBS to find a new corporate sponsor for the program, which has been without underwriting since 2004 when ExxonMobil ended its support of about $9 million annually. Even without a sponsor PBS is “committed to ‘Masterpiece Theater’ for the long term,” Mr. Boland said.

The choice of the 39-year-old Ms. Anderson as host is a significant change from the previous two occupants of the job, both of whom were male journalists: the British-born Alistair Cooke, who introduced the program from 1971 until 1992, and his successor, Russell Baker, the former columnist for The New York Times.

The program has been without a host since Mr. Baker stepped down in 2004. Ms. Anderson is also “considerably younger than either of our previous hosts,” Ms. Eaton said, adding that Ms. Anderson would be alone in a studio, not sitting in the show’s familiar book-lined study. Ms. Anderson, who lives in London and is about to start shooting an “X-Files” film sequel, is already familiar to “Masterpiece” viewers, having starred as Lady Dedlock in Charles Dickens’s “Bleak House,” shown on PBS in January 2006.

In addition to the Austen films, which will begin with a new adaptation of “Persuasion,” starring the British actress Sally Hawkins, the season includes “Miss Austen Regrets,” a biography of the novelist. Other films include “Cranford,” a three-part mini-series starring Judi Dench; “My Boy Jack,” starring Daniel Radcliffe, of the Harry Potter movies, playing the son of the author Rudyard Kipling; and a new adaptation of E. M. Forster’s “Room With a View.”

The damage they've done to their signature franchises is inexcusable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Pssst: Some Hope for Spycraft (TIM WEINER, 12/09/07, NY Times)

In a new National Intelligence Estimate, analysts found that Iran had suspended its covert nuclear weapons program back in 2003. But that was not the biggest surprise. The head-swiveling reversal was based less on surmise than on seemingly sound intelligence — a sign that American spycraft might be working.

After years of struggle, it looked as if American intelligence had learned important lessons from its disastrous mistakes.

If so, the world could be a safer place, for now.

Why would the United States start a war to stop a weapons-of-mass-destruction program that had been placed on hold? Been there, done that. American spies and analysts conjured up phantom Iraqi weapons programs in 2002; the nation went to war largely on the basis of that bad intelligence. And yet, according to the new analysis, American intelligence seems to have erred in much the same way in 2005, assuming Iran’s nuclear bomb was still in the works when it was not.

But last week’s about-face showed that the analysts are unlikely to make the same mistake thrice. Why? Because American intelligence is now asking itself: How do we know what we know?

The nation paid a terrible price for failing to do that about Iraq five years ago.

Not only is liberal angst a small price to pay for liberating 20 million people, but if Mr. Weiner believes the intelligence he's reporting then it would be hard to argue that the good news he's celebrating is unrelated to that small price.

December 9, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:42 PM


Rudy Giuliani grilled on 'Meet the Press' (THOMAS M. DeFRANK, 12/09/07, NY DAILY NEWS)

The only guest on Russert's "Meet the Press," Giuliani endured the most exhaustive and at times withering examination of his personal character and business dealings of his campaign.

To the glee of fellow Presidential contenders who've grudgingly marvelled at his political staying power, the Republican frontrunner spent nearly all of an hour playing defense, attempting to deflect a flurry of questions about his relationship with indicted pal Bernard Kerik and Kerik's mistress Judith Regan, controversial corporate clients and his own tangled personal life.

"He's held up in the polls a lot longer than anyone thought," a neutral GOP consultant predicted, "but the baggage is finally starting to catch up with him."

The point of maximum danger for a candidate is when such scandals threaten the ability to get your message out to voters. Bill Clinton was able to break through because he had a Third Way agenda calibrated to appeal to folks tired of GHW Bush. The Mayor though has no message and has to keep his record hidden from the GOP base. The only messages that may escape the black hole are just as deadly to his candidacy.

Are you there, God? It's me, Rudy: An unholy trinity of issues -- abortion, immigration and his messy personal life -- could hurt Giuliani's chances with his key constituency, Catholic voters. (Thomas F. Schaller, 12/10/07, Salon)

What matters today, instead of denomination, is devotion, and that's where Giuliani's fortunes may parallel Kerry's. To understand the intersection of religion and politics in America, as Akron University's John Green explains in his new book, "The Faith Factor: How Religion Influences American Elections," it is now more important to focus on "behaving" and "believing" than "belonging." Put simply, it's more instructive to know how often people attend church than what type of church they attend.

Frequency of church attendance, regardless of denomination, corresponds with conservatism on social issues like abortion. Sixty-three percent of Catholics who go to Mass weekly are antiabortion. In 2004, John Kerry's pro-choice stance was a clear liability among devout Catholics. White Catholics who attended church weekly were 9 percentage points more likely than less frequent attenders to vote for George Bush.

Rudy Giuliani, like John Kerry, is pro-choice. "As a pro-choice former mayor of New York City, it's hard to see how his Catholicism helps him," asserts Sean Casey, associate professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary. "Among moderate and conservative Catholics, because of his position on abortion, Giuliani does nothing for them. In fact, he looks like a turncoat of a worse variety than Kerry because he's a Republican."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 PM


Bosses pick 'diligent' Poles ahead of British workers (ANDY DOLAN, 9th December 2007, Daily Mail)

The study found that Poles have made such a good impression that immigrants from other countries such as Romania and the Czech Republic are now posing as their former Eastern Bloc neighbours in a bid to win jobs.

The study found Poles are the most desired migrant workers
Bosses are hiring Eastern Europeans ahead of Britons because they work harder.

A study for a Government quango found the newcomers were perceived as more dedicated and diligent.

Polish workers, in particular, are valued so highly that those from countries such as Romania or the Czech Republic are now posing as Poles to win jobs.

Employment for natives is why we have so many do-nothing white collar jobs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 PM


China Shrinks (EDUARDO PORTER, 12/09/07, NY Times)

Few people noticed, but China got smaller the other day. According to new estimates, the colossal Chinese economy that has been making marketers salivate and giving others an inferiority complex may be roughly 40 percent smaller than previously thought: worth $6 trillion rather than $10 trillion. That means it lost a chunk roughly the size of Japan’s output.

What happened was a large statistical glitch. When comparing the size of economies, economists mostly avoid using the standard currency exchange rates seen in bank windows. These fluctuate too much, driven by housing woes, trade deficits or presidential popularity. Economists prefer to use what is known as “purchasing power parity” — or P.P.P. — a rate that adjusts for price differences between countries. [...]

The problem is that the World Bank’s measure of China’s rate, everybody’s benchmark, had been based on a 1980s survey of Chinese prices. This year, the World Bank did its own survey to update the measure. While the bank has not published it yet, Albert Keidel of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace extrapolated the figure from another set of exchange rates published by the Asian Development Bank.

It turns out that things in China are more expensive. It’s as though we discovered that the real price of the noodles in Beijing was 50 yuan, yielding a P.P.P. of 12.5 yuan to the dollar rather than 10. That means the Chinese are relatively poorer and China’s economy is smaller than everybody thought.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 PM


Patriots Roll Over Steelers to Remain Unbeaten (Associated Press, December 9, 2007)

The Patriots are dominant once more. And still unbeaten.

Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes, shattering Steelers safety Anthony Smith's guarantee of a victory, Randy Moss caught two of them and New England crushed Pittsburgh 34-13 on Sunday.

And they're basically at home until the Super Bowl (one short trip to Giants Stadium).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 PM


The Huckabee Contradiction: The populist who has the most radical tax plan imaginable. (Wall Street Journal, December 9, 2007)

The fair tax has been knocking around GOP precincts for years and has been heavily promoted by Texas millionaire Leo Linbeck, among others. We've heard their pitch in our offices and admire their passion. Their concept is to junk the federal tax code--payroll, income, corporate, Social Security, everything--and substitute a 23% national retail sales tax on nearly all goods and services. But while proponents use that 23% figure as an easier political sell, the rate is closer to 30% when it's calculated like any other sales tax, with the levy on top of the price. State sales levies would go on top of that.

There's a lot to be said for taxing consumption over income, and the fair tax would be worth consideration if we were writing a tax code from scratch. Realistically, we're not. The plan would require repealing the Sixteenth Amendment that allowed a federal income tax, and the chances of that happening are approximately zero. The political risk, given the nature of government, is that we'd end up with both an income tax and a national sales tax.

Pass it dependent on the repeal and make Democrats defend the income tax and IRS.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 PM


Iranian students rally against Ahmadinejad (The Associated Press, December 9, 2007)

Hundreds of Iranian students angry about a crackdown on activists protested Sunday at Tehran University, the second such demonstration in less than a week, according to witnesses and state radio.

One witness, Mehdi Arabshahi, said the campus protest lasted more than two hours as dozens of students chanted slogans against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hardline administration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 AM


Hill Briefed on Waterboarding in 2002: In Meetings, Spy Panels' Chiefs Did Not Protest, Officials Say (Joby Warrick and Dan Eggen, 12/09/07, Washington Post)

In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.

Heck, Ms Pelosi defends the "right" of her constituents to do worse to one another for fun.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:19 AM


What values voters value most (Tony Perkins and Tom Minnery, December 9, 2007, Washington Times)

However, another goal of the straw poll was to resolve a key question: Which policy issues matter most to values voters? The dual answer wasn't controversial at all: the sanctity of human life and protection of the institution of marriage. These two issues towered above all others (terrorism and illegal immigration were not included in the poll because they are not the object of active policy development by our family-focused groups). Values voters who participated in our straw poll were strongly focused on life and marriage as the cornerstone of what makes and sustains families across the generations.

Measured against these vital issues, how did the candidates stack up? We heard inspiring words during some of the presentations at the Values Voter Summit. However, we encourage all values voters to examine not only the candidates' rhetoric but their records and to demand even greater clarity and understanding from them.

Indeed, we trust that the millions of Americans our sample represented will drill deeper and ask ever more probing questions of those running for office about the values issues at stake. This will help narrow the field. Consequently, the candidates must be prepared to say what they will do about such issues as abortion, human embryo experimentation, cloning, assisted suicide, civil union laws, same-sex "marriage," divorce, family tax relief, religious liberty, judicial nominations and many other values issues.

You don't hear much these days about how Rudy will make the GOP just as valueless as the Democrats, huh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:10 AM


Campaigns face a quick turnaround in New Hampshire: New Hampshire race could come down to the wire, just days after Iowa (KEN HERMAN, 12/09/07, Cox News Service)

In New Hampshire, political pros know that for all the current criss-cross campaigning, the presidential race here will look much different on Jan. 8 when the primary takes place.

And that's because of a simple truth: What happens in Iowa does not stay in Iowa, where the Jan. 3 caucuses kick off the nominating season.

"A lot of people could change their mind in the last five days depending on what Iowa does," said University of New Hampshire political scientist Dante Scala.

Despite the prized independence of Granite Staters, campaign veterans know the truth.

"The fact is voters pay attention to voters. And once voters start voting, all the predictions go out the window," said Tom Rath, a Concord lawyer who has been at it since 1964.

After Mitt Romney underperforms in IA and they get to NH, where Southerners have fared poorly, John McCain is poised for his "shocking comeback."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:04 AM


Giuliani won't sever ties, release list (Mike Allen, Dec 9, 2007, Politico)

Mayor Giuliani says on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he won’t put out a list of clients (“confidentiality agreements”) and won’t sever his ties to Giuliani Partners...

...long as you don't ask for the latter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:48 AM


Pakistani general touts gains in valley (Associated Press, December 9, 2007)

The Pakistani army has driven Islamic militants from all the towns in a scenic northern valley and killed 290 of the followers of a pro-Taliban cleric who has called for a holy war against the government, a general said Saturday.

The militants, followers of firebrand preacher Maulana Qazi Fazlullah, had taken control of at least eight towns in the Swat valley since July, scattering outgunned police and erecting "Taliban station" signs at former police stations. [...]

During a tour of the area, Maj. Gen. Nasser Janjua said that since launching an offensive last month, his 20,000-strong force had managed to retake all the towns seized by the militants.

"We have bottled them upward and we want to take a good toll of them," Janjua said at an army base in Mingora, the region's main town. has to prefer dead fish to live.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:46 AM


CIA has recruited Iranians to defect: The secret campaign was launched two years ago to undermine Tehran's nuclear program. It has persuaded a 'handful' of key officials to leave (Greg Miller, 12/09/07, Los Angeles Times)

Although the CIA effort on defections has been aimed in part at gaining information about Tehran's nuclear capabilities, its goal has been to undermine Iran's emerging capabilities by plucking key scientists, military officers and other personnel from its nuclear roster.

Encouraging scientists and military officers to defect has been a hallmark of CIA efforts against an array of targets since the height of the Cold War. But officials said those programs did not generally seek to degrade the target's capabilities, suggesting that U.S. officials believe Iran's nuclear know-how is still thin enough that it can be depleted.

What if there are no brains to drain?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 AM


Come On, Grandma, Drive My Car (Rachel Rosmarin 12.08.07, Forbes)

Scarborough Research found that hybrid owners are far more likely than the rest of the population to earn more than $100,000, vote Democrat, earn an advanced degree, send e-mails and own gadgets including videogame systems, MP3-players and digital video recorders.

And the kicker: These tech-savvy hybrid owners are 23% more likely to be older than 50 years old.

They're the modern VW microbus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 AM


Rev. Sirico on the Romney Speech (Rev. Robert Sirico, December 6, 2007, Acton Blog)

[H]e makes this bold claim, which I believe repeats John F. Kennedy’s error: “Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.”

So here we have an odd tension. Religion matters, he says. But religious authority does not and should not matter in the management of our public lives. If this proposition had been believed by the kings of Europe in the Middle Ages, freedom would never have been born, for it was precisely the jealousy of religious authority that led to limits on the state and kept that state at bay. but raise questions about that faith and your faith?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


'The Complete Dream of the Rarebit Fiend' by Winsor McCay
: A tribute to the early 20th century illustrator's longest-running comic strip. (Charles Solomon, 12/09/07, Los Angeles Times)

Although his name is hardly a household word, Winsor McCay ranks as a giant among 20th century cartoonists and illustrators. As an editorial cartoonist, he rivals even Thomas Nast in his drawings, although McCay had the unenviable assignment of illustrating the polemics of William Randolph Hearst's New York American editor Arthur Brisbane. He began making films with "Little Nemo" (1911), and his animation was unequaled until the glory days of the Disney Studio in the 1930s. As a comic strip artist, he is at the pinnacle of the medium, with George Herriman, Milt Caniff, Charles Schulz and Bill Watterson, for his draftsmanship and visual imagination.

McCay was born in Spring Lake, Mich., probably in 1869. He initially dreamed of becoming a humor artist in the tradition of A.B. Frost, the illustrator of "Uncle Remus." As a young man, he found work drawing posters and scenery for traveling carnivals and circuses. In 1898, McCay joined the Cincinnati Enquirer as a reporter and illustrator.

His first comic strip, "Tales of the Jungle Imps by Felix Fiddle," caught the eye of James Gordon Bennett Jr., the publisher of the New York Herald and Evening Telegram. Bennett brought McCay to New York, where he drew his two greatest strips for the Bennett papers. In 1904, McCay began "Dream of the Rarebit Fiend" in the Telegram, followed by "Little Nemo in Slumberland" for the Herald in 1905. Both works showcased his ability to imbue drawings of anything and everything with a sense of weight, solidity and presence.

While nothing can match the original artwork, the film version of Little Nemo is one of the most underappreciated children's movies of all time. Anyone who loves Kiki's Delivery Service will love Nemo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


Many happy returns: Rereading a novel after many years can bring new revelations about its depth and intent. Alas, disappointments also can ensue (David L. Ulin, 12/09/07, Los Angeles Times)

In her 2005 anthology "Rereadings," Anne Fadiman recalls reading C.S. Lewis' "The Horse and His Boy" to her son, Henry, for the first time. Although she'd loved the book as a child, she couldn't help noticing, as an adult, an uncomfortable racist and sexist subtext. But when she gently tried to raise this issue with Henry, he was uninterested in the implications; all he wanted was to know what happened next.

"[T]here," Fadiman writes, "lay the essential difference between reading and rereading. . . . The former had more velocity; the latter had more depth. The former shut out the world in order to focus on the story; the latter dragged in the world in order to assess the story. The former was more fun; the latter was more cynical. But what was remarkable about the latter was that it contained the former: even while, as with the upper half of a set of bifocals, I saw the book through the complicating lens of adulthood, I also saw it through the memory of the first time I'd read it, when it had seemed as swift and pure as the Winding Arrow, the river that divides Calormen from Archenland."

...too politically-correct to enjoy life's pleasures.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


All brains are the same color (Richard E. Nisbett, December 9, 2007, IHT)

Why rely on such misleading and indirect findings when we have much more direct evidence about the basis for the IQ gap? About 25 percent of the genes in the American black population are European, meaning that the genes of any individual can range from 100 percent African to mostly European. If European intelligence genes are superior, then blacks who have relatively more European genes ought to have higher IQs than those who have more African genes. But it turns out that skin color and "negroidness" of features are only weakly associated with IQ.

During World War II, both black and white American soldiers fathered children with German women. Thus some of these children had 100 percent European heritage and some had substantial African heritage. Tested in later childhood, the German children of the white fathers were found to have an average IQ of 97, and those of the black fathers had an average of 96.5, a trivial difference.

If European genes conferred an advantage, we would expect that the smartest blacks would have substantial European heritage. But when a group of investigators sought out the very brightest black children in the Chicago school system and asked them about the race of their parents and grandparents, these children were found to have no greater degree of European ancestry than blacks in the population at large.

Most tellingly, blood-typing tests have been used to assess the degree to which black individuals have European genes. The blood group assays show no association between degree of European heritage and IQ. [...]

A superior adoption study - and one not discussed by the hereditarians - was carried out at Arizona State University by the psychologist Elsie Moore, who looked at black and mixed-race children adopted by middle-class families, either black or white, and found no difference in IQ between the black and mixed-race children. Most telling is Moore's finding that children adopted by white families had IQs 13 points higher than those of children adopted by black families.

The environments that even middle-class black children grow up in are not as favorable for the development of IQ as those of middle-class whites.

Important recent psychological research helps to pinpoint just what factors shape differences in IQ scores. Joseph Fagan of Case Western Reserve University and Cynthia Holland of Cuyahoga Community College tested blacks and whites on their knowledge of, and their ability to learn and reason with, words and concepts. The whites had substantially more knowledge of the various words and concepts, but when participants were tested on their ability to learn new words, the blacks did just as well as the whites.

Whites showed better comprehension of sayings, better ability to recognize similarities and better facility with analogies - when solutions required knowledge of words and concepts that were more likely to be known to whites than to blacks. But when these kinds of reasoning were tested with words and concepts known equally well to blacks and whites, there were no differences. Within each race, prior knowledge predicted reasoning, but between the races it was prior knowledge only that differed.

There's no such thing as species.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


Afghan and NATO Forces Advance on Taliban-Held Town (VOA News, 09 December 2007)

Afghan and NATO forces are moving in on Musa Qala in southern Helmand province as part of an operation to retake control of the town from the Taliban.

Afghanistan's Defense Ministry says the joint force of mostly British and Afghan troops are advancing on the town Sunday, and already have captured two senior Taliban commanders.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


A realistic beginning: IN its opening days, the Rudd Government is revealed as firmly centrist, modestly reformist and seeking a balance between the Howard era and its own quest for a distinctive policy and style. (Paul Kelly, December 08, 2007, The Australian)

The new Government has symbolically strengthened Reserve Bank independence, won the Bush administration's diplomatic approval, toughened at the margins the ministerial code of conduct and moved to ratify Kyoto, while downplaying expectations of dramatic policy shift.

The early impression is of a Government that wants to be busy and focused, avoid shocks and surprises, and honour its election pledges. It is thinking for the long haul.

There is no headlong rush to Whitlamesque reform, no declarations that Australia will change forever.

While energetic, Rudd is careful and takes his time with decisions that demand policy work. He and Treasurer Wayne Swan come across as realists, aware of the inflationary challenge to the economy and keen to develop a sustained response. It is a sign of contemporary Labor that it seeks an even more independent Reserve Bank. Paul Keating's famous declaration that he had the bank in his pocket is yesterday's fashion.

If the Democrats could figure out that the voters want them to be likewise Clintonesque they'd be dangerous in '08.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


Letter from Washington: The faltering Clinton campaign (Albert R. Hunt, 12/09/07, Bloomberg News)

The focus group was moderated by an expert on such forums, the Democratic pollster Peter Hart. The participants were informed and enthusiastic about their party's prospects, had no interest in the Republicans or third-party candidates and were about equally balanced between the front-runners, Clinton and Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. [...]

The concerns about Clinton, 60, a New York senator, are that she is devious, calculating and, fairly or not, a divisive figure in American politics.

Those are a lot tougher to overcome.

It was revealing, too, when Hart pushed them to envision these senators as leaders of the country or, as he put it, their "boss." Obama, they say, would be inspirational, motivating, charismatic and compassionate. After praising Clinton's experience and intelligence, they say she would be demanding, difficult, maybe even a little scary.

Candor and authenticity were repeatedly cited. "I don't feel like I look at her and see someone who's telling me the whole truth," said Allison Lowrey, a 30-year-old human resources consultant from Philadelphia. "I'd like to see her approach a problem without the polls" helping her make a decision," said Andrew Alebergo, a 39-year-old tanning-salon operator.

Even strong Hillary supporters acknowledged the electorate's deep-seated concerns. "She is walking a fine tightrope now because she is such a divisive personality," said Lynda Connelly, a 58-year-old Red Cross manager.

She plans to vote for Clinton while fearing that, if elected, "the right-wing noise machine is going to do everything it can to derail her." [...]

There are political strains with her greatest asset and surrogate, Bill Clinton. The former president was quoted last month as saying he had really opposed the invasion of Iraq from the beginning. He later claimed he was misquoted.

Top Clinton campaign officials were privately furious at the former president, saying he had revived the complaint that the Clintons lack credibility, unfairly tarnishing his wife in the process. For his part, the former president, one close associate says, is bouncing off the walls at the campaign's ineptitude in the past few weeks. (It is not known whether the Clintons shared any of these sentiments with each another.)

Odd how a closed room full of Democrats makes so much rightwing noise.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


Dominant Mayweather stops Hatton (Ben Dirs, 12/09/07, BBC Sport)

Floyd Mayweather put on a vintage display to stop Ricky Hatton in the 10th round and retain his WBC welterweight crown in Las Vegas.

Manchester's Hatton, 29, applied most of the pressure in the early rounds and found some success with some big lefts.

But Mayweather let his hands go in the middle rounds, with his fierce left finding its target as Hatton attacked.

And the champion floored Hatton with two big lefts in the 10th before ending it with a devastating left hook. [...]

The judges' scores at the time of the stoppage were: 88-82, 89-81, 89-81.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Worshipping at the Church of Freedom: I am in favor of a free market in religion and a free market in housing. (Mark Steyn, 12/08/07, National Review)

Last week the Bush administration decided to “freeze” the interest rates of certain types of mortgages for five years. You’ve probably caught the tail end of news stories about “subprime” home loans, lots of foreclosures, etc. Never a happy moment when the bank takes the farm. So now the government has stepped in and said that, if you fall into a particular category of Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARMs, in the biz) and you’re worried that it’s getting way too adjustable, don’t worry: The nanny state is about to re-adjust it well inside inside your comfort zone. By fiat of the Treasury Secretary, your Adjustable Rate Mortgage is henceforth an Unadjustable Adjustable Rate Mortgage. These new UNARMs will spread their healing balm across the land until it’s safe enough for the housing “market” to once again be exposed to market forces.

The government has, in effect, nullified the terms of legal contracts mutually agreed by both parties — borrower and lender, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Schmoe and the First National Bank of Pleasantville. This is a pretty remarkable act by a “conservative” administration. The government’s general absolution for imprudence by both borrower and lender doesn’t seem a smart move — for the U.S. credit markets, for real estate, for responsible borrowers for future homeowners, or for state and municipal taxpayers whose governments are being encouraged by Washington to bail out home “owners” by issuing tax-free debt. Democrats bemoan the lack of “affordable housing” while simultaneously demanding government rescue home “owners” with unsustainable mortgages. But saving the latter obstructs the former: the principal benefit of a property-bubble correction is, after all, much more “affordable housing.” [...]

There don’t seem to be a lot of takers for small government out on the hustings this season. We were told by plenty of experts that this would be the year in which the Christian right would be rendered politically irrelevant: Nominating Rudy Giuliani (a pro-life candidate positively Chiracesque in his sexual habits and the taxpayer funding thereof) would leave the religious right out on the fringe. Instead, the evangelicals found a candidate, destabilized the race, and we’ve spent the last couple of weeks talking about nothing but religion. Mike Huckabee’s declaration in his Iowa advertising that he is a “Christian leader” seems a barely coded dig at Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, and Mitt’s big speech on Thursday was his own attempt to put the Mormon question to bed.

For the same reason that religion plays a central role in selecting a president America ought to be expected to be intolerant of usury.

December 8, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 PM


Al Gore is criticised for lining his own pockets after £3,300-per-minute green speech (NATHAN KAY, 8th December 2007, Daily Mail)

Al Gore has come under fire for making personal gain from his mission to save the planet – after charging £3,300 a minute to deliver a poorly received speech.

The former American Vice-President was also accused of being "precious" at the London event, demanding his own VIP room and ejecting journalists, despite hopes the star-studded gathering would generate publicity for the fight against global warming.

Many of the audience at last month's Fortune Forum summit were restless as Mr Gore, who has won both a Nobel Peace Prize and an Oscar for his campaigning work this year, delivered the half-hour speech that netted him £100,000.

For that kind of cash he ought to finish that scene he started with Tipper at the Convention...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:41 PM


TDR Interview: Diane Purkiss (Emily Ghods, December 8, 2007, The Dartmouth Review)

Professor Diane Purkiss is an Oxford don, and a lecturer and tutor on English literature, classical Greek influences on Renaissance literature, and the Western canon generally. She has been published extensively on Shakespeare, and her book Shakespeare and the Supernatural will be published next year by Routledge; on a related theme, her The Dissolution of the English Monasteries will be published by HarperCollins in 2010. She also publishes children’s literature under the pen-name Tobias Druitt with her twelve-year old son Michael, and has an interest in folklore and myth as a result. She sat down with The Dartmouth Review last month for a chat about literature, both English and American. [...]

TDR: Are you a proponent of a Great Books course of study, then? Of instituting a core curriculum?

DP: Yes. I think that the problem with the British education system of early specialization is that it asks students to make decisions at a very young age, having not equipped them with the resources to make those decisions. If you come from a very ropey state [public] school, or indeed a ropey independent school, and you haven’t been taught the humanities very well, it is very difficult to choose your three A-level subjects, which are the courses you decide upon taking at secondary school.

It’s quite possible to have someone who has randomly done English, History, and Biology, who may know nothing at all about French literature or very much of anything except those three subjects. Then we thrust them into the fast-stream of European culture at Oxford and it’s quite tough.

Your A-level subjects are meant to prepare you for those subjects in college which you still study, though they seldom do that. The kinds of books that are set for English A-level are very close to the kinds of books that people are never going to look at even once in tertiary school [college], mainly middlebrow novels from the Booker shortlist. [...]

TDR: You mentioned Philip Roth and some more controversial figures of the literary canon earlier. In terms of American literature and its reception in England, who is respected, who is not respected, and who deserves respect?

DP: I don’t know really, because I don’t know very many American literature scholars and what they think about American literature. But if you are talking about normal and intelligent readers, then for my own part—not that I’m speaking for an entire class of readers—American poetry is now the best lyric poetry in the English speaking world. The late 20th century has seen a stupendous flowering, from the 1960s on (from the New York School on), of great poetry; I would rather read John Ashbery than any British Isles poet, except Geoffrey Hill. He’s the only poet standing on par with the guys still publishing in America.

Not coincidentally, Professor Hill spent years in America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:40 PM


Democrats abandon plan to tie Bush's hands in Iraq (Carl Hulse, December 8, 2007, NY Times)

Congressional leaders are assembling a $500 billion package to try to resolve an impasse by providing President George W. Bush with unfettered money for the Iraq war in exchange for new spending on popular domestic programs.

If acceptable to lawmakers and the White House, the package to be considered in the House of Representatives as early as Tuesday would avert the threat of a shutdown of federal agencies and end a months-long dispute that has pitted the majority Democrats in Congress against Bush and his Republican allies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:37 PM


TDR Interview: John McCain (Greg Boguslavsky, December 8, 2007, The Dartmouth Review)

Several things emerge about John McCain when listening to him for even a brief period of time. One is how deeply engrained the military is in his life. He goes out of his way to mention and honor our service men and women, whether those of prior generations or those serving the nation today. He wears a bracelet honoring Matthew Stanley, a fallen 22-year-old soldier who was serving in Iraq, given to him on the campaign trail in New Hampshire by the soldier’s mother. With most politicians, this could be written off as a political gimmick. But with McCain, it is clear that his aim is to draw attention to the oft-forgotten sacrifices being made by many young Americans and their families on a daily bias. Talking with Associated Press reporters and editors, McCain said: “It means any political ambitions of mine pale in comparison to the sacrifice that nearly 4,000 family members have made.” His family tradition, interest in military history, and over two decades of service in the Navy reflect his deep understanding of the military and its needs. Anyone discounting McCain with the generalization that Senators lack the hands-on leadership needed to be an effective president should look at his actions and leadership in the United States Navy.

This is strongly connected with Senator McCain’s belief in service to the nation. He has devoted the vast majority of his adult life to public service, whether in the military or in government, and he appears to firmly believe that this is an integral part of a fulfilling and productive life.

TDR: From what you have seen, do you think there is any difference between my generation, the children and grandchildren of the Baby Boomers, and your own generation? Do you have faith in us to carry forward the torch of public service?

JM: I think your generation is more patriotic and more willing to serve a cause greater than yourselves than my generation was. When I’m around young Americans, I am always impressed by their patriotism, their love of country, and their willingness to volunteer to serve it. So I have great confidence in the future of America because I have great confidence in the present young generation.

TDR: If you could give one piece of advice to my generation, what would it be?

JM: Serve a cause greater than yourselves. There is nothing nobler. There is nothing that will enrich your lives more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:33 PM


Love 'Em or Hate 'Em, People Watch the Patriots (Mark Maske, 12/09/07, Washington Post)

The Patriots seem more popular than ever with their own followers. Carter, the sports business expert, said they remain interesting to, even if not beloved by, other fans as well.

"It's the team that you love to hate," he said in a telephone interview. "If you were sitting there watching the Celtics-Lakers or Yankees-Dodgers playing for a championship, you didn't have to like them to know they were a great brand. You were still watching. It's the same with the Patriots. They used to be milk and cookies. They were clean-cut. They were Tom Brady. Now they're disliked.

"But if you dislike them, part of it is because of their success. In many ways, that reinforces the success of their brand. The opposite of love isn't hate. It's indifference." [...]

Until the near misses by the Eagles and Ravens, the NFL season had a feel of inevitability to it. That usually wouldn't be good for interest level and television ratings. But ratings for the Patriots have soared and NBC producer Fred Gaudelli said viewers have a fascination with greatness, as when fans have tuned in to watch golfer Tiger Woods or basketball legend Michael Jordan no matter the score.

"They make it pretty entertaining," Gaudelli said, "and I think Belichick in his own way makes it entertaining because of the way he just refuses to acknowledge any of it."

...ones where the Sox, Pats and Cs are good or boring ones.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:24 PM


NBC rejects TV ad thanking troops in Iraq (JIM KUHNHENN, 12/07/07, Associated Press)

NBC has rejected an advertisement that asks viewers to remember and thank U.S. troops during the holiday season because it refers to the sponsor's Web site, which the network said was too political.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:18 PM


Huckabee Advocated AIDS Isolation (AP, Dec. 08, 2007)

Mike Huckabee once advocated isolating AIDS patients from the general public, opposed increased federal funding in the search for a cure and said homosexuality could "pose a dangerous public health risk."

Randy Shilts's classic book, And the Band Played On, reveals the murderous consequences for tens of thousands of gay men of following the politically-correct line instead of the one advocated by Mr. Huckabee. As the early sections of the book quite honestly reveal, homosexuality is a horrific health risk even in the absence of AIDs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:02 PM


Stereo Sanctuaries (VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN, 12/09/07, NY Times Magazine)

What exactly do men do in their tricked-out electronic hideaways? You know, when they’re “working.”

“What do you do in there?” I asked my husband, a writer, about the office he rents near our apartment. “Write,” he said. “Watch ‘24,’ read Baseball Digest, listen to Stevie Wonder.”

O.K., but that’s him. Illuminated by high-def kaleidoscopes, flanked by exotic speakers and enfolded in what seem like yottabytes of audiovisual data, other tech-sequestered men must use their superempowered alone time for something more momentous. Nuclear fusion, maybe, tundra analysis or tornado prevention.

Men have always had personal retreats — antiseptic or wood-paneled — filled with concert mementos, career trophies and esoteric collectibles. And women have always been mystified by them. After all, they lack the red-currant candles and yoga paraphernalia associated with true Me Time. The classic male hideout is a musty captain’s quarters, all brass and wood polish, featuring billiards, tobacco, brandy, books and maps. Another perplexingly mundane pastime of the unwired study is solitaire — Bill Clinton’s tray-table indulgence and the chief diversion of John Pierpont Morgan, the robber baron who ignored the rare volumes and priceless prints in his exquisite Manhattan private library in favor of hand after hand of solo card games.

If women understood we wouldn't have to hide from them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:50 PM


The Appendix Rationale (CLIVE THOMPSON, 12/09/07, NY Times Magazine)

In a December issue of The Journal of Theoretical Biology, a group of scientists announce they have solved the riddle of the appendix. The organ, they claim, is in reality a “safe house” for healthful bacteria — the stuff that makes our digestive system function. When our gut is ravaged by diseases like diarrhea and dysentery, the appendix quietly goes to work repopulating the gut with beneficial bacteria.

“In essence,” says William Parker, a chemist who co-wrote the paper, “after our system crashes, the appendix reboots it.” The theory may explain the location of the appendix: Positioned at the beginning of the colon, it often escapes being voided when a sick colon violently empties itself out the bottom.

If the appendix is indeed crucial, why don’t people who have their appendixes removed die? Because in the modern world hygiene and medicine can keep our levels of healthy bacteria adequate. The appendix may have evolved its rebooting function back when our ancestors lived a more vulnerable life — and an entire village might suffer catastrophic diarrhea. In that situation, each gut had to rely on its own resources to recover after a collapse, so the appendix was crucial.

Parker admits the argument is “deductive.”

....why not call it Just So Stories?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:47 PM


Protests on the Rise in China as Dongzhou Marks Bloodshed (Radio Free Asia, 2007.12.07)

When Chinese security forces opened fire on local protesters in the southern township of Dongzhou two years ago, the world suddenly took notice as never before of China’s surging rural unrest.

Now, as Dongzhou remembers its dead—the official tally is three—reports of similar rural protests over land acquisition by local government, among other grievances, are surfacing several times a week. Meanwhile, life-threatening pollution problems and unpaid wages are likely to send China's urbanites out onto the streets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:39 PM


Romney peeved over landscaping flap (Seema Mehta, 12/08/07, Los Angeles Times)

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney lashed out Friday when quizzed about the flap over a landscaping crew working at his home whose employees included illegal immigrants.

There goes the temperament argument, leaving him, like John Edwards, with nothing but really thick hair.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:49 AM


In Iowa, Clinton's team targets its core constituency — women (SHAILAGH MURRAY and ANNE E. KORNBLUT, 12/07/07, Washington Post)

Seeking to steady her campaign in Iowa, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will bring a wave of prominent women to blanket the state and target female voters in the final weeks before its first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Except that women aren't her core, they're the core of the Left's security politics--single women in particular, for obvious reasons.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


Border fence holdouts hit with eminent domain threat: 150 landowners in Texas have yet to grant access to build the barrier (MICHELLE MITTELSTADT and JAMES PINKERTON, December 8, 2007, Houston Chronicle)

Taking aim at the Texas holdouts refusing to allow surveyors onto their property, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff made clear Friday that he would use the government's power to seize land needed for the border fence.

You bring the Yoo-Hoo and we'll pop the corn, 'cause it'll be more fun than a bag of cats watching the far Right try to square that circle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 AM


Beyond superpower: The ups and downs of the greatest empires the world has ever known: a review of Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance -- And Why They Fall By Amy Chua (Peter A. Coclanis, December 8, 2007, Chicago Tribune)

Because Chua employs the term "hyperpower" carefully, let us spend a moment on matters of definition. Lest readers take cheap shots, Chua states early on that her argument does not apply to all empires, but only to those that rose at some point to the status of "world-dominant power." The power of such an entity "clearly surpasses that of all its known contemporaneous rivals; it is not clearly inferior in economic or military strength to any other power on the planet; and it projects its power over so immense an area of the globe and over so immense a population that it breaks the bounds of mere local or even regional preeminence."

Such stringent conditions rule out most of the empires that ever existed, including the Aztec Empire and the Habsburg Empire, as well as the U.S. during the Cold War, each of which failed to meet at least one of the above conditions.

Which empires make the cut? How many hyperpowers have there been over the ages? Seven, according to Chua, beginning with the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire (559-330 B.C.), followed at intermittent intervals by the Roman Empire, especially at its apogee from 70 to 192; the Tang Dynasty in China (618-907); the Mongol Empire in the 13th Century; the Dutch Empire in the mid-17th Century; the British Empire from the late 18th Century until the early 20th Century; and the U.S. "empire" since about 1990, when its Cold War rival, the USSR, faded into oblivion.

Although the magnificent seven differ in countless ways, Chua argues that all hyperpowers share one hugely important characteristic: relative tolerance of diversity. Chua emphasizes the word "relative," for she is not claiming that the ancient Persians, much less the ferocious Mongols, were warm and fuzzy egalitarian multiculturalists. After all, Darius the Great "was fond of impaling anyone who defied him," and Genghis Khan was, well, Genghis Khan. Rather, to Chua, tolerance "simply means letting very different kinds of people live, work, and prosper in your society -- even if only for instrumental or strategic reasons."

Despite the huge differences between and among the seven hyperpowers, each, relatively speaking, was "open" vis a vis its competitors, incorporating talented "outsiders" into the mainstream and, in so doing, turning "cultural diversity into a source of synergy and strength." Take the Dutch, for example, who, in their 17th Century golden age, employed toleration strategically to foster growth and development, rendering the Netherlands "a haven for enterprising outcasts from the rest of Europe" and beyond. And the Mongols, bad press notwithstanding, may have taken tolerance even further, incorporating talented (and more civilized) peoples from all over Eurasia into the fold, and borrowing science, culture, administrative systems and technology from them without prejudice or even a second thought. In the same spirit, Chua ponders whether the British Empire ever would have achieved hyperpower status without the early contributions of "outsider" groups -- Jews, Huguenots and Scots in particular.

Such tolerance of diversity contrasts sharply with the ideologies and policies regarding tolerance associated with other potential hyperpowers through the ages -- 16th Century Spain; the Ottoman, Ming and Mongol Empires; imperial Japan; and Nazi Germany -- each of which failed to attain that status. In Chua's view such failures owed much to the opportunities foregone because of intolerance -- intolerance made manifest in rampant ethnocentricity, ethnic chauvinism, racism and, alas, in the extreme case of Nazi Germany an effort at genocide.

Chua focuses much of her attention on the present day and the current hyperpower, the U.S. She believes relative tolerance has been important to this country since its inception in the late 18th Century, and instrumental in our will to (hyper)power over time.

It is not apparent on what objective basis one would divide the British Empire from the American. After all, we still consider it the Roman Empire when the capitol moved to Constantinople.

The key to the success of the Anglosphere seems obvious enough, given Ms Chua's definitions: because of protestant and Protestant foundational elements it is universalist. It is tolerant of ethnic diversity but intolerant of ideological/religious diversity because of the inviolable human dignity and inalienable rights that are part and parcel of having been Created.

December 7, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 PM


Lone Democrat drops out of race for LaHood’s seat (Aaron Blake, December 07, 2007, The Hill)

Former National Basketball Association coach Dick Versace has decided to drop out of the race to replace retiring Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), leaving Democrats without a candidate in a race they had hoped to make competitive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 PM


Well, these are some unfortunate choices....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 PM


Villagers lose Battle of Fjuckby (The Local, 6 Dec 07, 2007)

On Thursday, the National Land Survey of Sweden - the government agency responsible for the handling of place names - announced that it was following the recommendation of the Institute of Language and Folklore to preserve the name Fjuckby.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 PM


Homosexual hate crime bill starved of votes in the House (ASSOCIATED PRESS, 12/07/07)

The Senate has dropped its insistence that Congress pass legislation expanding hate crime laws to include attacks on homosexuals because it became clear the measure wouldn't pass the House, according to congressional aides.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 PM


The Vikings–Huge, Hairy, and Here Again (Michael Feldman, December 7th, 2007, Britannica Blog)

On July 1st of this year, the Viking war ship The Havhingsten fra Glendalough (The Sea Stallion from Glendalough) set sail from Roskilde, Denmark, and made the 1,000-mile trip to Dublin, returning to its home port after a thousand-year absence. The hundred-foot longship was sunk in Roskilde fjord in the late 11th century attempting to save the homeland from an invasion of, you guessed it, Vikings, these from Norway. In those days things were hopping on both sides of the North Sea thanks to the Norsemen. Were there ever a people so underappreciated as the Vikings? Consider G.K. Chesterton’s appraisal:

Misshapen ships stood on the deep
Full of strange gold and fire,
And hairy men, as huge as sin
With horned heads, came wading in
Through the long, low sea-mire.

These hairy men as huge as sin came wading into most of the known world from the ninth to the eleventh centuries: pillaging, yes, there was a good deal of this, since the word “Viking” does mean “pirate,” but also creating a highly unlikely Scandinavian-Irish clan, putting the “Rus” in Russia, and discovering the New World when it was really New. The English (not just Chesterton) seemed to have had the biggest problem with them (in Russia there were quickly assimilated into Slavic culture) particularly after Helfdene, Inwaer and Hubba, the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok, conquered East Anglia, Northumbria and most of Mercia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:44 PM


The folks at sent along this excellent lecture by Noah Feldman on, Persecution and the Art of Secrecy: An Interpretation of the Mormon Encounter with American Politics:

Note how the first questioner reveals the difference between political knowledge, on which Mr. Feldman is weak, and political philosophy, at which he's strong.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:34 PM

BLAME W (via Fundmastery Blog):

Homeowners’ Real-Estate Equity Tumbles (Real Time Economics, 12/07/07, Wall Street Journal)

[Household n]et worth rose 1.1% in the third quarter to $58.6 trillion, slower than the 1.9% gain in the second quarter, the Fed said.

That's net, mind you. A number to keep in mind next time some nit wit is droning on about our being a debtor nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:36 PM


The gaggle grows (Jonathan Martin, 12/07/07, Politico)

Mitt is about to give a speech on defense at the old Fort Des Moines, a military training center on the south side of the city.

There are a handful of soldiers in uniform, but they and all the other Iowans are overwhelmed by the press pack. A quick count shows 13 still and video cameras and a handful of reporters who don't typically cover the Romney beat (Washington Post's David Broder and Dana Milbank, St. Pete Times' Adam Smith, Newsweek's Richard Wolffe).

And precisely zero of them came here in the snow to hear Romney talk about national security issues.

Romney Dodges Doctrine: But questions about candidate's Mormon beliefs may continue. (Collin Hansen, 12/07/2007, Christianity Today)

David Neff, editor-in-chief of the Christianity Today Media Group, says evangelicals can affirm much of what Romney said about religion in the public square. But Neff also observed what Romney did not say—namely, what does the candidate believe about the controversial aspects of Mormon history? And what does he think about the worrisome particulars of Mormon theology? These particulars include the Book of Mormon, belief that God is both male and female, and baptism for the dead, according to Randall Balmer. The Columbia University professor doesn't miss the chance to rip President Bush as he observes that Mormons believe God divinely inspired the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

"There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines," Romney said. "To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes President he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths."

But didn't Romney himself raise matters of theology in the speech? It is a theological statement to say, "I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God." He raised the question, "What do I believe about Jesus Christ?" And he answered, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind." David Frum sees problems for the Romney campaign. "Once Romney answered any question about the content of his religious faith, he opened the door to every question about the content of his religious faith," Frum said on the National Review website. "This speech for all its eloquence will not stanch the flow of such questions."

Activists, pastors in Iowa question impact of Romney speech (SHIRLEY RAGSDALE, December 7, 2007, Des Moines Register)
Romney, a third-generation Mormon, did not talk about the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in his speech. Instead, he promised to "serve only the common cause of the people of the United States."

That wasn't enough for the Rev. Frank Cook, pastor of Union Park Baptist Church in Des Moines, who remains unconvinced that Romney would make a good president.

"He was doing the Potomac two-step around the issues that concern many evangelicals," Cook said. "Most evangelicals, including myself and my church, agree with Governor Romney's stand on most moral issues in our country. Our objection with his candidacy is not so much with his public stance as it is with how the Mormon faith has tried to disguise the tenets of their faith."

Cook doesn't believe Mormons should describe themselves as Christian while "directly denying the basic tenets of biblical Christianity, including the inherent inspiration of the Bible, the trinity, and the means of salvation from God's eternal judgment of our sins."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:52 AM


US job gains eases pressure on Fed (Daniel Pimlott, 12/07/07, MSNBC)

Non-farm payroll data from the Labour Department showed that the numbers of employed people rose by 94,000 in November, following a 170,000 surge in October. The unemployment rate remained at 4.7 per cent. Economists had expected only 80,000 jobs to be created and unemployment to rise to 4.8 per cent, after most other data this month had suggested a worsening jobs environment.

Since the economy grew during the last two periods people refer to as recessions, maybe we should just consider growth under 3% to be a recession?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:42 AM


A Bright Shining Lie: It’s the most critically acclaimed novel of the fall. And it’s astonishingly bad (B. R. Myers. November 2007, The Atlantic)

When a novel’s first words are “Last night at 3:00 a.m. President Kennedy had been killed,” and the rest of it evinces no more feel for the English language and often a good deal less, and America’s most revered living writer touts “prose of amazing power and stylishness” on the back cover, and reviewers agree that whatever may be wrong with the book, there’s no faulting its finely crafted sentences—when I see all this, I begin to smell a rat. Nothing sinister, mind you. It’s just that once we Americans have ushered a writer into the contemporary pantheon, we will lie to ourselves to keep him there.

Having read nothing by Denis Johnson except Tree of Smoke, his latest novel, I see no reason to consider him a great or even a good writer, but he is apparently very well thought of by everyone else. According to The New York Times, which in 2006 sent a questionnaire to writers, editors, and critics, a collection of Johnson’s short stories titled Jesus’ Son is regarded by some as the best American book of the past 25 years. He is often called “a writer’s writer,” with the customary implication that this is far better than being a reader’s writer. [...]

Not even Robert De Niro’s combination of Special Forces uniform and goatee in The Deer Hunter—which elicited howls of laughter in the theater near Fort Ord, California, where I first saw it—is as preposterous as Tree of Smoke’s Black Man, whom the U.S. Army and the tropical jungle allow to keep his name patch covered with tape. He prefers to be called Black Man, you see. He also likes gruffly telling other soldiers how small his penis is. Black Man is one of many indications that the author is unfamiliar not only with military life but with male company in general.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:36 AM


Poor, Not Dumb: A New Model for Sensible Reform of Healthcare (Linda Halderman, M.D., FACS, 12/06/07, Victor Davis Hanson: Private Papers)

There is a better way to help vulnerable Americans receive high quality medical care while protecting the taxpayer, without expanding an already bloated bureaucracy.

I propose that the $580 plus per month now paid for every man, woman and child covered by Medicaid would be more effectively, responsibly spent as follows:

1. Low cost private insurance plans are now available throughout the U.S. Instead of funneling $580 to Medicaid, a private health insurance policy with a $2,400 deductible could be purchased for less than $200 per month for most enrollees. Private plans for healthy, younger recipients often cost less than $100 per month.

2. To cover this deductible for those without resources, a Health Savings Account (HSA) would be funded according to poverty level guidelines now used to determine Medicaid benefits.

For example, Medicaid recipients at 200% of the federal poverty level would have their HSA fully funded at $200 per month to cover the entire deductible, with a sliding scale for those with somewhat higher incomes.

3. For high-risk patients with chronic medical conditions, a risk pool like California’s “Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board” would be used to obtain more affordable policies than would otherwise be available. This protects taxpayers from the expense associated with covering sicker patients while ensuring that coverage remains available for those who need it most.

Under this model of Medicaid reform, the worst-case scenario would bring the $7,000 yearly federal and state expenditure down to $5,000 for every person covered. For younger, healthier patients covered by the program, costs would be considerably lower.

Fully funding the HSA for the impoverished, especially the young, is not only the sort of wealth transfer liberals ought to support, but as the wealth in those accounts builds would empower the poor (or previously poor) for the first time in human history--which is likely why the Left disapproves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:26 AM


McCain's New Hampshire Glimmer: Winner of 2000 Primary
Regains Strength Amid Opponents' Troubles (JUNE KRONHOLZ, December 7, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

Now, Mr. McCain's chief rivals are running into turbulence. Mitt Romney has been overtaken in the polls in Iowa by Mike Huckabee, raising broader concerns about Mr. Romney's viability among the evangelical base. (Please see related article on Page A6.) Rudy Giuliani faces new questions about his ethics as mayor. Fred Thompson continues to be dogged by doubts about his energy for the fight.

All of that may be prompting Republicans to give Mr. McCain a second look -- particularly in New Hampshire. He recently won the endorsement of the state's largest newspaper. And on a weeklong campaign swing this week, he is drawing capacity crowds at the diners and townhall meetings where much of state's campaigning takes place.

"Welcome home," Vietnam veteran Chris Lussier shouted to big applause at the Union Street Grill in Milford. The reference, he said, was to the senator's years as a war prisoner. But it could also have been about Mr. McCain's return to the state where his victory in the 2000 primary briefly stalled George W. Bush's drive to the nomination and positioned Mr. McCain as the national front-runner at the outset of the 2008 campaign.

The Arizona senator's message isn't much different than it was eight years ago -- strong national defense and fiscal conservatism, which have earned him a reliable core following. But coupled with his dramatic personal story, that message seems to be getting some new attention as voter disenchantment with Washington grows.

Perhaps only a race this predictable could have confused the punditocracy so thoroughly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:19 AM


Sliding Poll Numbers Force Giuliani To Retool His Campaign (NICHOLAS WAPSHOTT, December 7, 2007, NY Sun)

Once the undoubted Republican front-runner, the former New York mayor has lost momentum recently thanks to the rapid rise in the fortunes of a former Arkansas governor, Michael Huckabee. But Mr. Giuliani's personal issues have also worked to smother his appeal as the candidate with a solid record in government most likely to be able to beat Senator Clinton in a general election.

At the Republican YouTube debate on November 28, many Republicans were surprised at the venom with which Mr. Giuliani turned on his rival Mitt Romney, who until recently was the frontrunner in Iowa and New Hampshire, with the renewed accusation that the former Massachusetts governor had employed illegal immigrants to cut his lawn.

And the lingering suggestion that emerged earlier that day — that the cost of Mr. Giuliani's security detail while he was wooing his third wife, Judith Nathan, in the Hamptons was hidden in the accounts of obscure city agencies, coupled with the impending trial of his former police chief, Bernard Kerik, for fraud — has left some wondering how many more skeletons will emerge from his City Hall years. [...]

As a result of the flurry of bad news stories surrounding him, Mr. Giuliani has been taking a pounding in the polls. According to a national Republican poll average compiled by, he has fallen to 25% today from nearly 40% in September, with a 5% slide in the last week.

Although Mr. Giuliani has discounted the importance of early states Iowa and New Hampshire, his popularity there, too, is waning.

The Mayor's campaign, like some kind of psychological milk bath, was always based on just being the most popuar in the national polls, not winning anything.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:14 AM


Sadr militia moves to clean house: Since halting attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces, the Shiite cleric's Mahdi Army has been weeding out alleged rogue elements. (Ned Parker, 12/07/07, Los Angeles Times)

Sadr, whose Mahdi Army has as many as 60,000 members, has been trying to make his movement a viable political factor, and more appealing to his hundreds of thousands of followers. In late August, he declared a six-month freeze in hostilities to rein in lawless elements after deadly clashes with a rival Shiite militia.

If Sadr succeeds, it could lead to a much more stable Iraq -- at least in the short term. U.S. commanders say they are optimistic so far. But it is not yet clear whether Sadr can control even the men such as Abu Maha on whom he is depending to establish order.

"What we want to do during this period is to establish a new order, to collect the people who are professional, educated and have good information, who are good, faithful in our social works and are helping the people," said Sadr's chief spokesman Sheik Salah Ubaidi.

Some local military leaders are following Sadr's orders, but several Mahdi Army members acknowledge that others are striking out on their own, continuing to commit acts of sectarian violence and sometimes attacking U.S. forces.

Sadr's movement emerged in 2003 as a counterweight to exiled politicians arriving in Baghdad with the Americans. His Mahdi Army began to provide an array of social services to the urban poor and courted the Sunni Arab minority with a nationalist message of resistance to U.S. forces.

Then as sectarian violence erupted into civil war by early 2006, his fighters reportedly began torturing and killing Sunni civilians in the name of fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq, the movement blamed for the car bombs used to devastating effect against Shiites.

The cleric has at various times reined in his militia leaders, including a cease-fire announced in January that unraveled. Many members continued their attacks, and Sadr's loyal followers hesitated to confront them.

But late this summer, faced with a major public relations problem, Sadr changed strategy again. His forces were widely blamed for a clash with the rival Badr Organization during a festival in the Shiite holy city of Karbala that left at least 50 people dead. He blamed the violence on rogue elements and vowed to eliminate them.

Now, all across Baghdad, militiamen loyal to Sadr's main office in the shrine city of Najaf are on the hunt for the purported renegades -- men such as the Master.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:01 AM


Energy Bill Vote Falls Short in Senate (Steven Mufson and Jonathan Weisman, December 7, 2007, Washington Post)

Senate Democrats failed to muster enough votes this morning to close debate on the energy bill passed by the House yesterday, setting the scene for a new round of negotiations over whether to strip out portions of the tax package and requirements for electric utilities to use renewable energy for 15 percent of their generation.

The Senate voted 53-42 to close debate, falling short of the 60 votes needed to permit a vote on passage even though the leading presidential candidates returned from the campaign trail to bolster the measure's chances.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:57 AM


An Interview With Fred Thompson's Campaign Manager, Bill Lacy: On Tuesday of this week, I got together with Fred Thompson's campaign manager, Bill Lacy, for a phone interview. What follows is the transcript of our conversation, which has been edited for grammar, clarity, and brevity. (John Hawkins, 12/07/07, Right Wing News)

Let's say a fan of Fred comes up to you and says, "If Fred wins the nomination, tell me how he could beat Hillary?" Give us an idea of what you would tell him about how Fred could beat Hillary Clinton.

The first thing I will tell you, John, is that I have been quoted 2 or 3 times during the campaign as saying, since I arrived on the scene in August and since there was so much work to be done to win the nomination, I have been repeatedly quoted as saying that I spent about 3 seconds trying to figure out how to win the general election. Let me say that as a very honest caveat.

But, what I think Fred Thompson has going for him in the general election, and this is true whether it's Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, or Senator Edwards that he's running against is,

#1) He's a good, solid conservative.

#2) His image is...thoughtful and non-threatening. What I think makes Fred an absolutely superior general election candidate is that his rhetoric is not going to scare people. His policies are going to be thoughtful. It will be a little bit Reaganesque because people will disagree with his policies, but they will respect him as an individual. That offers our party a wonderful opportunity to bust out of this total "us vs. them" mentality and to reach out to the other side of the aisle, to some of the more conservative Democrats, to get them supporting the Republican nominee for President.

I think Fred has improved as a candidate dramatically in the last four months. He has done well in the debates he has been in and has steadily improved. He is a very, very capable candidate and I think he is someone that the Republican Party can very easily rally around. He is really acceptable to everyone. He is not acceptable to very few in the party. I think he can ignite the faithful of the party, he can reach out to others, and...his policies are the most conservative, in a reasonable way, of any of the Republican candidates. (Also), I think he would be viewed as less threatening and more genuine. That is (something) that would work very well for him in the general election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:28 AM


Romney, Eye on Evangelicals, Defends His Faith (MICHAEL LUO, 12/07/07, NY Times)

The passing mention of his Mormonism in his 20-minute speech here at the George Bush Presidential Library underscored just how touchy the issue of Mr. Romney’s faith has been since he began running for the Republican nomination. He and his aides agonized for months over whether to even give the speech, with those who argued against it saying there was no need to do it because he was doing so well in early voting states, advisers said. [...]

Afterward, Mr. Romney’s advisers said privately that they hoped the speech would help him with his other, arguably larger, obstacle: lingering questions about the firmness of his convictions given his shifting positions and tone on issues like abortion, gay rights and gun control over the years.

How and Why Romney Bombed (Lee Harris, 07 Dec 2007, Tech Central Station)

The Mormon church is not Romney's problem; it is Romney's own personal religiosity. On the one hand, Romney is too religious for those who don't like religion in public life—a fact that alienates him from those who could care less about a candidate's religion, so long as the candidate doesn't much care about it himself. On the other hand, Romney offends precisely those Christian evangelicals who agree with him most on the importance of religion in our civic life, many of whom would be his natural supporters if only he was a "real" Christian like them, and not a Mormon instead.

To say that someone is not a real Christian sounds rather insulting, like saying that he is not a good person. But when conservative Christians make this point about Romney, they are talking theology, not morality. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the Mormon creed will understand at once why Romney felt little desire to debate its theological niceties with his target audience of Christian evangelicals, many of whom are inclined to see Mormonism not as a bona fide religion, but as a cult. In my state of Georgia, for example, there are Southern Baptist congregations that raise thousands of dollars to send missionaries to convert the Mormons to Christianity.

Yet if Romney was playing it safe by avoiding theology, he was treading on dangerous ground when he appealed to the American tradition of religious tolerance to make his case. Instead of trying to persuade the evangelicals that he was basically on their side, he did the worst thing he could do: he put them on the defensive. In his speech Romney came perilously close to suggesting: If you don't support me, you are violating the cherished principle of religious tolerance. But such a claim is simply untenable and, worse, highly offensive.

The Christian evangelicals who are troubled by Romney's candidacy do not pose a threat to the American principle of religious tolerance. On the contrary, they are prepared to tolerate Mormons in their society, just as they are prepared to tolerate atheists and Jews, Muslims and Hindus. No evangelical has said, "Romney should not be permitted to run for the Presidency because he is a Mormon." None has moved to have a constitutional amendment forbidding the election of a Mormon to the Presidency. That obviously would constitute religious intolerance, and Romney would have every right to wax indignant about it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 AM


CIA 'illegally destroyed' interrogation tapes (Tom Chivers, 07/12/2007, Daily Telegraph)

The US intelligence agency the CIA has been accused of criminally disposing of evidence of the "extreme" interrogation of terror suspects.

Michael Hayden, the organisation's director, has admitted that videotapes showing two leading suspects being interrogated were destroyed, claiming they "posed a serious security risk".

The risk lies in terrorists seeing those questioned left unharmed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Circumcision diary (Kennedy Gondwe, 11/30/07, BBC)

Around one million Zambians - which includes 17% of the adult population - are believed to have HIV/Aids, a fact marked by World Aids Day on Saturday.

After experts from the United Nations backed male circumcision as a way of reducing the chances of getting HIV, the BBC's reporter in Zambia's capital Lusaka, Kennedy Gondwe, decided to undergo the procedure himself.

It should be noted that this was Mr Gondwe's personal decision, not the BBC's, and that circumcision does not give immunity to HIV/Aids.

Today is a very special day for me. I've just woken up and am going for an HIV test prior to my circumcision.

Trials show circumcision halves HIV infection in heterosexual men
I have been thinking about being circumcised from the time that I was young, but unfortunately I have not had time to do it.

I have always wanted to be circumcised as a way of fighting the HIV/Aids scourge.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


Hanukkah 'greens' want to light one less candle (Sally Kalson, 12/05/07, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Last night, Jewish families marked the start of Hanukkah by lighting the first candle. By the end of the eight-day holiday, each Jewish household will have lit at least 44 candles -- more if they use more than one menorah (or Hanukkia).

Now a group of Israeli environmentalists has launched an Internet campaign encouraging Jews the world over to light at least one candle fewer.

Yahweh burned an entire bush to get their attention and tell them to stop worshiping the environment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Mice With Sickle Cell Cured by New Stem Cell Method (Rob Waters, 12/06/07, Bloomberg)

A new method of turning ordinary skin cells into powerful multipurpose cells without destroying embryos has cured its first patients -- a group of mice with sickle cell anemia.

Researchers took cells from tails of the mice and injected four genes into them, reprogramming the cells to an embryonic state able to turn into virtually any cell in the body. The genetic defect that causes sickle cell was corrected and the stem cells were turned into healthy blood cells, then inserted into sick mice. The mice became healthy.

It was the first demonstration that the process may be used as a therapy.

...the fact it doesn't destroy embryos is a disappointment to them.

December 6, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 PM


This I Believe: Romney's incomplete speech on religion in America. (John Dickerson, Dec. 6, 2007, Slate)

Romney mounted a defense of religion in the public square—on his terms, which became clear when he started talking about Jesus. "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind," he said, but then he quickly closed the door to further questioning about any of his specific beliefs. He argued that Mormonism was merely a different brand of Christianity and that to pick at the differences between Mormons and other faiths was incompatible with America's history of religious tolerance.

Some evangelicals won't like this. Why does Romney get to show them some of his doctrinal beliefs while shutting off discussion of the others? He wants credit for saying Jesus was the Son of God but doesn't want to answer for the other ways many Mormons see Jesus. This is not just a quibble, as Romney seemed to suggest. This is evangelicals' fundamental question about Mormonism. Christians see Jesus as the literal incarnation of God. (The doctrine of the Trinity states that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are all God.) Mormons see Jesus as literally the son of a God, but also as a separate God, just as the Holy Spirit is separate. For those who focus on these differences, Romney's argument that Mormonism belongs within the Christian fold is a shocking theological claim that can't go unanswered.

When talking about America's religious heritage, Romney invoked the founders to build a wall around his own religious privacy. He talked about their noble aspirations for tolerance—John Adams made an appearance—and also about the shame that now accrues to those who once applied religious tests and banished American icons like Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams. The point was that a decision not to vote for Romney because he is Mormon is unconstitutional. And yet Romney seemed to misapply the whole idea. He claimed that for voters to ask questions about his faith runs afoul of the founders' prohibition against religious tests for office. But the legal prohibition refers to government barring people from becoming a candidate or holding office. It does not bar voters from considering religion as they make their choices.

The fundamental political point of such a high-stakes speech is to be able to move off of the issue and start talking about what you want to talk about. That is the measure by which the speech was a failure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 PM


Can Gordon Brown chart way out of mutiny? (Philip Johnson, 07/12/2007, Daily Telegraph)

When Jacqui Smith produced a flow chart yesterday to explain how her proposed new counter-terrorism law would work you sensed that the Government was in deep trouble.

It was intended to be helpful; but it graphically illustrated the Home Secretary's predicament.

So many safeguards, locks and caveats had been applied that it looked like a wiring diagram for a jet engine.

It had been clear for weeks that the Government was failing to persuade MPs to support a longer period of detention of terrorist suspects without charge.

Gordon Brown came to office in the summer pledged to going beyond the existing

28-day upper limit. He said terrorism plots were becoming more complex and the police might need longer to interrogate suspects.

He also scented the opportunity to wrong-foot the Tories and impose his authority on his own party while burnishing his anti-terrorism credentials. But it began to go wrong when few supporters could be found, apart from some police chiefs who, arguably, are always seeking more powers.

Thus the issue is handed back to the Tories, though it's doubtful they're savvy enough to accept it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 PM


Iran builds a new road to aid Lebanese allies (Tim Butcher, 07/12/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Under the cover of an aid project, Iran is consolidating Shia control over southern Lebanon by building a large mountain road that critics believe is a supply route for Hizbollah.

While Iran claims the road is nothing but a reconstruction project after the 2006 war with Israel, some observers believe it is a key component of the militant group's rearmament programme.

Iranian money is also creating two new Shia villages to protect the road at the expense of the country's non-Shia communities, including the Druze and Sunni Muslims.

Together, the road and the villages now threaten to destroy the delicate balance between the various ethnic groups in the aftermath of Lebanon's 15-year civil war.

Lebanon's imbalance is openly aimed at suppressing the Shi'a in favor of the minority Christians and Sunni.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 PM


"Faith In America": Remarks As Prepared For Delivery (Mitt Romney, The George Bush Presidential Library, College Station, Texas, December 6, 2007)

"Thank you, Mr. President, for your kind introduction.

"It is an honor to be here today. This is an inspiring place because of you and the First Lady and because of the film exhibited across the way in the Presidential library. For those who have not seen it, it shows the President as a young pilot, shot down during the Second World War, being rescued from his life-raft by the crew of an American submarine. It is a moving reminder that when America has faced challenge and peril, Americans rise to the occasion, willing to risk their very lives to defend freedom and preserve our nation. We are in your debt. Thank you, Mr. President.

"Mr. President, your generation rose to the occasion, first to defeat Fascism and then to vanquish the Soviet Union. You left us, your children, a free and strong America. It is why we call yours the greatest generation. It is now my generation's turn. How we respond to today's challenges will define our generation. And it will determine what kind of America we will leave our children, and theirs.

"America faces a new generation of challenges. Radical violent Islam seeks to destroy us. An emerging China endeavors to surpass our economic leadership. And we are troubled at home by government overspending, overuse of foreign oil, and the breakdown of the family.

"Over the last year, we have embarked on a national debate on how best to preserve American leadership. Today, I wish to address a topic which I believe is fundamental to America's greatness: our religious liberty. I will also offer perspectives on how my own faith would inform my Presidency, if I were elected.

"There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator. And further, they discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adams' words: 'We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion... Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people.'

"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.

"Given our grand tradition of religious tolerance and liberty, some wonder whether there are any questions regarding an aspiring candidate's religion that are appropriate. I believe there are. And I will answer them today.

"Almost 50 years ago another candidate from Massachusetts explained that he was an American running for President, not a Catholic running for President. Like him, I am an American running for President. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith.

"Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.

"As Governor, I tried to do the right as best I knew it, serving the law and answering to the Constitution. I did not confuse the particular teachings of my church with the obligations of the office and of the Constitution – and of course, I would not do so as President. I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law.

"As a young man, Lincoln described what he called America's 'political religion' – the commitment to defend the rule of law and the Constitution. When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I am fortunate to become your President, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.

"There are some for whom these commitments are not enough. They would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts. That I will not do. I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers – I will be true to them and to my beliefs.

"Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it. But I think they underestimate the American people. Americans do not respect believers of convenience. Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world.

"There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. My church's beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.

"There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes President he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths.

"I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God. And in every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims. As I travel across the country and see our towns and cities, I am always moved by the many houses of worship with their steeples, all pointing to heaven, reminding us of the source of life's blessings.

"It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it's usually a sound rule to focus on the latter – on the great moral principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people.

"We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

"The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust.

"We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'

"Nor would I separate us from our religious heritage. Perhaps the most important question to ask a person of faith who seeks a political office, is this: does he share these American values: the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty?

"They are not unique to any one denomination. They belong to the great moral inheritance we hold in common. They are the firm ground on which Americans of different faiths meet and stand as a nation, united.

"We believe that every single human being is a child of God – we are all part of the human family. The conviction of the inherent and inalienable worth of every life is still the most revolutionary political proposition ever advanced. John Adams put it that we are 'thrown into the world all equal and alike.'

"The consequence of our common humanity is our responsibility to one another, to our fellow Americans foremost, but also to every child of God. It is an obligation which is fulfilled by Americans every day, here and across the globe, without regard to creed or race or nationality.

"Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government. No people in the history of the world have sacrificed as much for liberty. The lives of hundreds of thousands of America's sons and daughters were laid down during the last century to preserve freedom, for us and for freedom loving people throughout the world. America took nothing from that Century's terrible wars – no land from Germany or Japan or Korea; no treasure; no oath of fealty. America's resolve in the defense of liberty has been tested time and again. It has not been found wanting, nor must it ever be. America must never falter in holding high the banner of freedom.

"These American values, this great moral heritage, is shared and lived in my religion as it is in yours. I was taught in my home to honor God and love my neighbor. I saw my father march with Martin Luther King. I saw my parents provide compassionate care to others, in personal ways to people nearby, and in just as consequential ways in leading national volunteer movements. I am moved by the Lord's words: 'For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me...'

"My faith is grounded on these truths. You can witness them in Ann and my marriage and in our family. We are a long way from perfect and we have surely stumbled along the way, but our aspirations, our values, are the self-same as those from the other faiths that stand upon this common foundation. And these convictions will indeed inform my presidency.

"Today's generations of Americans have always known religious liberty. Perhaps we forget the long and arduous path our nation's forbearers took to achieve it. They came here from England to seek freedom of religion. But upon finding it for themselves, they at first denied it to others. Because of their diverse beliefs, Ann Hutchinson was exiled from Massachusetts Bay, a banished Roger Williams founded Rhode Island, and two centuries later, Brigham Young set out for the West. Americans were unable to accommodate their commitment to their own faith with an appreciation for the convictions of others to different faiths. In this, they were very much like those of the European nations they had left.

"It was in Philadelphia that our founding fathers defined a revolutionary vision of liberty, grounded on self evident truths about the equality of all, and the inalienable rights with which each is endowed by his Creator.

"We cherish these sacred rights, and secure them in our Constitutional order. Foremost do we protect religious liberty, not as a matter of policy but as a matter of right. There will be no established church, and we are guaranteed the free exercise of our religion.

"I'm not sure that we fully appreciate the profound implications of our tradition of religious liberty. I have visited many of the magnificent cathedrals in Europe. They are so inspired ... so grand ... so empty. Raised up over generations, long ago, so many of the cathedrals now stand as the postcard backdrop to societies just too busy or too 'enlightened' to venture inside and kneel in prayer. The establishment of state religions in Europe did no favor to Europe's churches. And though you will find many people of strong faith there, the churches themselves seem to be withering away.

"Infinitely worse is the other extreme, the creed of conversion by conquest: violent Jihad, murder as martyrdom... killing Christians, Jews, and Muslims with equal indifference. These radical Islamists do their preaching not by reason or example, but in the coercion of minds and the shedding of blood. We face no greater danger today than theocratic tyranny, and the boundless suffering these states and groups could inflict if given the chance.

"The diversity of our cultural expression, and the vibrancy of our religious dialogue, has kept America in the forefront of civilized nations even as others regard religious freedom as something to be destroyed.

"In such a world, we can be deeply thankful that we live in a land where reason and religion are friends and allies in the cause of liberty, joined against the evils and dangers of the day. And you can be certain of this: Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me. And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: we do not insist on a single strain of religion – rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith.

"Recall the early days of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, during the fall of 1774. With Boston occupied by British troops, there were rumors of imminent hostilities and fears of an impending war. In this time of peril, someone suggested that they pray. But there were objections. 'They were too divided in religious sentiments', what with Episcopalians and Quakers, Anabaptists and Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Catholics.

"Then Sam Adams rose, and said he would hear a prayer from anyone of piety and good character, as long as they were a patriot.

"And so together they prayed, and together they fought, and together, by the grace of God ... they founded this great nation.

"In that spirit, let us give thanks to the divine 'author of liberty.' And together, let us pray that this land may always be blessed, 'with freedom's holy light.'

"God bless the United States of America."

Mr. Romney seems confused about the nature of the religious test that is banned. He is not barred from being elected president by the Constitution, but will diminish his chance of being elected if he does not allay concerns about his beliefs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:38 AM


Hispanics' Tilt Left Could Hurt GOP, Study Suggests (SARAH GARLAND, December 6, 2007, NY Sun)

After their votes helped vault President Bush into the White House four years ago, a study by the Pew Hispan