April 30, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 PM


Beijing Games Compared to 'Hitler's Olympics': Jewish Leaders Call for Boycott, Citing China's Record on Rights, Hamas 'Friendship' (Eric Gorski, April 30, 2008, ABC News)

A wide-ranging group of U.S. Jewish leaders plans to release a statement Wednesday urging Jews worldwide to boycott the Summer Olympics in Beijing, citing China's troubling record on human rights and Tibet.

The statement also notes China's close relationships with Iran, Syria and the militant group Hamas.

So far, 175 rabbis, seminary officials and other prominent Jews have signed the declaration, which comes shortly before Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday, organizers said.

...W should take up the cudgel on behalf of the boycott.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 PM


Hate the U.S., And Head For It (Mona Alami, Apr 30, 2008, IPS)

The growing rift between the U.S. and Iran has spread also to Lebanese soil, with Shia youngsters frequently seen burning U.S. flags. But ironically, for many of Hezbollah's Shia constituency, the U.S. is home.

Lebanese have been flocking to the U.S. since the first emigrant left for Ellis Island in 1849. Looking for better work opportunities and an escape from war, it has been a journey thousands and thousands of Lebanese have made over the past 150 years.

Ahmad, a dual Lebanese-U.S. citizen and a Shia from the southern region of Nabatieh, on vacation in Lebanon, has been living in the U.S. for the past ten years. A security specialist, he was sponsored by his elder brother, an engineer who studied in Texas. "My three brothers and I currently live in the USA. We are happy to live in a country ruled by law and order," he says.

His aunt Hiba, a hairdresser, dreams of following in the footsteps of her other family members and moving to the U.S. "My sister lives comfortably in America, where everyone enjoys equal rights. Lebanon is a country where only the rich can buy their way out of problems and live happily," she says.

Supporting the oppression of the Shi'a majority in The Lebanon is, after all, unAmerican.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 PM


CIA boss sees more ethnic conflict in Russia (Bill Gertz, April 30, 2008, Washington Times)

Russia's declining population will require Moscow to import foreign workers in the future, increasing racial and religious tensions in the former superpower, according to Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the CIA director. [...]

On Russia, Gen. Hayden warned that Russia is facing "demographic stress" with a population that will decline by 32 million in the next 40 years, almost one-fourth its current population of 141 million.

"To sustain its economy, Russia increasingly will have to look elsewhere for workers," he said. "Some immigrants will be Russians from the former Soviet states. But others will be Chinese and non-Russians from the Caucasus, Central Asia and elsewhere, potentially aggravating Russia's already uneasy racial and religious tensions," the general said.

..it can almost make you doubt the obviously true.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 PM


The Political Limits of Idealism (NICHOLAS WAPSHOTT, April 30, 2008, NY Sun)

Yet Mr. Obama has one thing in his favor: the predilection of ideologically driven supporters to fall in love with a losing candidate. The Democratic party's virgin foot soldiers put more value on intention than achievement and prefer purity to pragmatism. They consider idealistic perfection more important than tainted electability. They are often natural oppositionists who prefer to complain from a position of self-righteous impotence than make the grubby compromises needed to win and to govern.

In 1952, they favored the eloquent intellectual Adlai Stevenson, whose lofty tone, soaring rhetoric, and disinclination to be seen scrapping for the nomination are echoed in Mr. Obama's languid style. Even though Stevenson lost to Dwight Eisenhower by 442 to 89 electoral college votes, winning just nine states, the purists chose him again in 1956, when he went down to an even more inglorious defeat, with just 73 electoral college votes.

After rejecting the party of Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey, in 1972 the purists picked the weak, well-meaning peacenik George McGovern and watched him lose catastrophically to Richard Nixon by 520 electoral votes to 17.

And their increasingly angry self-righteousness will just kill them with voters, especially because it contrasts so badly with Maverick's openness about his flaws.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 PM


Bush Builds Ties to Brazil's Left-Leaning Leader: U.S. aides cite a good personal relationship and a shared agenda (Thomas Omestad, April 30, 2008, US News)

The State Department's top official on relations with the Western Hemisphere portrays U.S. relations with Latin America's most populous country—Brazil—as strong, and he credits the ties between President Bush and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as one reason for it.

"It's for real," says Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon, speaking of "respect and comfortableness" between the two leaders. Shannon says the two "communicate in as clear and direct fashion as possible." Adds Shannon, "Both leaders have a very clear understanding of [what is] at stake in the relationship."

Numerous foreign policy commentators have expressed surprise that Bush would take such a liking to a left-leaning, career labor leader in the person of Lula. But their friendship has "reduced suspicions that might have existed...[and] overcome that wariness and replaced it with a certain confidence that we can actually get things done," says Shannon.

Nothing becomes foreign affairs experts more than being surprised by this entirely predictable development, nor taking this long to notice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 PM


Praying and Preying (Maureen Dowd, 4/30/08, NY Times)

On Tuesday, the Sort Of Angry Black Man appeared, reluctantly spurred into action by The Really Angry Black Man.

Speaking to reporters in the heart of tobacco country in Winston-Salem, N.C., the poor guy looked as if he were dying for a smoke. “When I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it,” Obama said. “It contradicts everything I am about and who I am.” He said that the riffs of the man he prayed with before his announcement speech give “comfort to those who prey on hate.”

Obama, of course, will only ratchet up the skepticism of those who don’t understand why he stayed in the church for 20 years if his belief system is so diametrically opposed to Wright’s.

He’s back on the tricky path he faced as a child, navigating between two racial cultures. At Trinity, he may have ignored what he should have heard because he was trying to assimilate to black culture. Now, he may be outraged by what he belatedly heard because he’s trying to relate to the white lunch-pail set.

...where the Liz Lemons's don't have to pretend they support him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 PM


Democratic Congressional Candidate: Obama? Obama Who? (Jake Tapper, April 30, 2008, ABC News: Political Punch)

In North Mississippi, Democratic congressional candidate Travis Childers has been hammered by Republicans for ties to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, in THIS AD from the National Republican Congressional Committee and THIS AD from Childers' opponent -- "When Obama's pastor cursed America blaming us for 9/11 Childers said nothing," the ad says.

Now Childers is pushing back -- by acting as if he's never even heard of Obama.

Democrats are likely to at least give back all the House seats they won in '06.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:41 AM


Eisenhower Advisers Discussed Using Nuclear Weapons in China (Walter Pincus, 4/30/08, Washington Post)

Senior Air Force officers proposed using 10-to-15-kiloton nuclear bombs against targets in Communist China in 1958, in the event that Beijing blockaded the Taiwan Strait, but President Dwight D. Eisenhower ruled out that option, according to a newly declassified Pentagon document.

At a Cabinet meeting in mid-August 1958, as the threat of a Chinese blockade of Taiwan was developing, Air Force Gen. Nathan F. Twining, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained "that at the outset American planes would drop 10- to 15-kiloton bombs on selected fields in the vicinity of Amoy," a coastal city on the Taiwan Strait now called Xiamen, according to the documents.

But "the President simply did not accept the contention that nuclear weapons were as conventional as high explosives," according to the now-declassified Air Force history of the Taiwan crisis.

Nukes are just explosives and the best way to wage a war is to end it quickly with minimal casualties to your side at the lowest cost possible. Nuking Moscow and Beijing would have served the purpose admirably in the Cold War. Failure to regime change China led to what? 100 million dead?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:09 AM


GI bill sparks Senate war (DAVID ROGERS, 4/30/08, Politico)

From Annapolis to Vietnam and back to the Pentagon, John McCain and Jim Webb trod the same paths before coming to the Senate. Iraq divides them today, but there’s also the new kinship of being anxious fathers watching their sons come and go with Marine units in the war.

So what does it say about Washington that two such men, with so much in common, are locked in an increasingly intense debate over a shared value: education benefits for veterans? [...]

“There are fundamental differences,” McCain told Politico. “He creates a new bureaucracy and new rules. His bill offers the same benefits whether you stay three years or longer. We want to have a sliding scale to increase retention. I haven’t been in Washington, but my staff there said that his has not been eager to negotiate.”

Doesn't it say that ideas matter more than biography?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


McCain Offers Market-Based Health Plan (Michael D. Shear, 4/30/08, Washington Post)

Sen. John McCain on Tuesday rejected calls by his Democratic opponents for universal health coverage, instead offering a market-based solution with an approach similar to a proposal put forth by President Bush last year.

While the respective decisions of Senators Obama and Clinton to run on race and gender were obviously foolish, it is their failure to run as New Democrats that rendered them unelectable. Maverick has sense enough to run as a compassionate conservative, distancing himself from W on trivia--like Katrina and troop numbers in '03--but embracing all the ideas that matter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


U.S. First-Quarter Growth Stronger Than Forecast (Reuters, 4/30/08)

The U.S. economy grew at a slightly stronger pace than forecast as 2008 began, helped by inventory-building that tempered a steadily deteriorating housing sector and less vigorous consumer spending.

The Commerce Department said on Wednesday that gross domestic product or GDP expanded at a 0.6 percent annual rate in the first quarter, matching the fourth quarter's advance and handily topping a forecast for 0.2 percent growth in an advance poll of economists by Reuters.

In the America that Paul Volcker and Ronald Reagan bequeathed us, slower growth than one would prefer is the new "recession."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


'Karzai attackers' die in siege (BBC, 4/30/08)

Afghan intelligence services say they have killed three insurgents and arrested six more in connection with Sunday's attack on President Karzai.

Three operations were launched simultaneously across the capital, Kabul, one of which resulted in a gun battle and an eight-hour siege.

Five Militants Blow Themselves Up in Kabul Siege (Reuters, 4/30/08)
Five suspected Taliban militants blew themselves up in a house close to Kabul's old city on Wednesday, avoiding capture by besieging Afghan security forces, an Interior Ministry official told Reuters.

...as killing yourselves before we do, your long term outlook is rather bleak.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Sharpton on Obama on Wright (Jake Tapper, April 29, 2008, ABC News: Political Punch)

ABC News' Brinda Adhikari reports: Reacting to Sen. Barack Obama's comments today about his former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright's inflammatory remarks at the National Press Club on Monday, the Rev. Al Sharpton told ABCNEWS that it took "a lot of courage for [Sen. Obama] to say some unequivocal statements against someone that has been dear to him, his pastor."

Were politics geometry there would be no proof to show that the Left does not exist solely for our amusement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Oil drops as demand falls amid supply growth expectations (JOHN WILEN, 4/29/08, AP)

Oil prices fell more than $3 a barrel Tuesday as the market absorbed data showing demand is falling even as supplies are rising.

If politicians were serious about gouging they'd crank gas taxes and, thereby, force companies to lower their profit margins.

April 29, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 PM


Obama's Risky Denunciation Of Rev. Wright (Vaughn Ververs, April 29, 2008, CBS News)

In taking such an aggressive stand Obama may succeed in publicly distancing himself from the spectacle that the Rev. Wright has become, but his newfound outrage raises some further questions. In his Philadelphia address, Obama stood by his friend. “As imperfect as he may be,” he said of Wright a month ago, “he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. … I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.”

In today’s press conference, Obama said he sought in his earlier speech to “provide a context and to lift up some of the contradictions and complexities of race in America,” but that he found Wright’s comments Monday to be a “bunch of rants that that aren’t grounded in truth.” But many of Wright’s “rants” were simply a confirmation of many of the statements which had stirred up controversy in the first place.

Despite his appropriate outrage over Wright’s performances of late, Obama’s claim that his longtime pastor is exhibiting new behavior is certain to come under scrutiny. “The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago,” Obama insisted today. That comment, and any suggestion that the relationship between the two men was never as close as portrayed, are questionable.

Some of Wright’s remarks that sparked this mess were made over five years ago, specifically his oft-played comment that the nation’s “chickens” were “coming home to roost,” which he made shortly after 9/11. Obama has indicated Wright was instrumental in attracting him to the church he joined and has said he titled his book, “The Audacity of Hope,” after one of Wright’s sermons. That 20-year relationship will not be easily broken as a result of one afternoon press conference.

“What I think particularly angered me,” Obama said of Wright on Monday, “was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks were somehow political posturing."

In a New York Times profile of the Obama-Wright relationship in April 2007, Wright himself predicted such a split based on the controversial remarks that were already under some scrutiny. “If Barack gets past the primary, he might have to publicly distance himself from me,” Wright told the paper over a year ago. “I said it to Barack personally, and he said yeah, that might have to happen.”

One more distancing before the cock crows....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:48 PM


America's Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor's Degree (MARTY NEMKO, 5/02/08, The Chronicle Review)

Among my saddest moments as a career counselor is when I hear a story like this: "I wasn't a good student in high school, but I wanted to prove that I can get a college diploma. I'd be the first one in my family to do it. But it's been five years and $80,000, and I still have 45 credits to go."

I have a hard time telling such people the killer statistic: Among high-school students who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their classes, and whose first institutions were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later. That figure is from a study cited by Clifford Adelman, a former research analyst at the U.S. Department of Education and now a senior research associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Yet four-year colleges admit and take money from hundreds of thousands of such students each year!

Even worse, most of those college dropouts leave the campus having learned little of value, and with a mountain of debt and devastated self-esteem from their unsuccessful struggles. Perhaps worst of all, even those who do manage to graduate too rarely end up in careers that require a college education. So it's not surprising that when you hop into a cab or walk into a restaurant, you're likely to meet workers who spent years and their family's life savings on college, only to end up with a job they could have done as a high-school dropout. [...]

[E]ven those high-school students who are fully qualified to attend college are increasingly unlikely to derive enough benefit to justify the often six-figure cost and four to six years (or more) it takes to graduate. Research suggests that more than 40 percent of freshmen at four-year institutions do not graduate in six years. Colleges trumpet the statistic that, over their lifetimes, college graduates earn more than nongraduates, but that's terribly misleading. You could lock the collegebound in a closet for four years, and they'd still go on to earn more than the pool of non-collegebound — they're brighter, more motivated, and have better family connections.

And, other than those in the hard sciences, they don't use anything they learned in college either.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:43 PM


Hillary Gets No Respect (WILLIAM KRISTOL, 4/28/08, NY Times)

The fact is Hillary Clinton has turned out to be an impressive candidate. She has consistently defeated Barack Obama when her back was to the wall — first in New Hampshire, then in several big primaries on Super Tuesday, on March 4 in Ohio and Texas, and then last week in Pennsylvania, where she was outspent by almost 3 to 1, yet won handily.

She is, of course, still behind in the race, and Obama will most likely be the nominee. His team has run the better campaign. In particular, it realized how important the caucus states could be: Obama’s delegate lead depends on his caucus victories.

But Hillary may well be the better candidate. After all, for all the talk of Obama’s extraordinary ability to draw voters to the polls, Clinton has defeated him in the big states, including California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Obama won his home state of Illinois, but she won Florida, where both were on the ballot but didn’t campaign.

Furthermore, if you add up the votes in all the primaries and caucuses — excluding Michigan (where only Hillary was on the ballot), and imputing the likely actual totals in the four caucus states, where only percentages were reported — Clinton now trails in overall votes by only about 300,000, or about 1 percent of the total. By the end of the nominating contest, she may well be ahead on this benchmark — one not entirely to be scorned in a democracy.

Ms Clinton's loss is directly attributable to the fact that she's not the ruthless [*****] the Right thought she was. Had she gone after Senator Obama immediately after IA she could have won, but she was too ladylike.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:39 PM


Getting married for health insurance: Seven percent of Americans say they or someone in their household decided to tie the knot in the last year so they could receive healthcare benefits, a poll finds (Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, 4/29/08, Los Angeles Times)

Some people marry for love, some for companionship, and others for status or money. Now comes another reason to get hitched: health insurance.

In a poll released today, 7% of Americans said they or someone in their household decided to marry in the last year so they could get healthcare benefits via their spouse.

"It's a small number but a powerful result, because it shows how paying for healthcare is reflected not only in family budgets but in life decisions," said Drew E. Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which commissioned the survey as part of its regular polling on healthcare.

Just as government welfare programs are designed to break down such social structures and make individuals dependent on the state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:29 PM


Obama denounces Rev. Wright's latest comments (Johanna Neuman, 4/29/08, Los Angeles Times)

Democrat Barack Obama today denounced his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, saying that the fiery minister's "ridiculous propositions" that the United States spread AIDS in the black community and invited the 9/11 terrorist attacks contradicted "everything that I'm about and who I am."

Gee, just last month these were the sorts of things someone in each of our families supposedly said and now they're suddenly beyond the Pale? Could Captain Hope be any more cynical than to pull this 180 just because he's losing now?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:48 PM


Obama: The know-too-much candidate? (ROGER SIMON, 4/28/08, Politico)

Comparisons are already being made between Obama and Adlai Stevenson, who was an intellectual (read: loser). Obama used to teach law at the University of Chicago, one of the brainiest universities in the country.

And Americans don’t want presidents who are too brainy. (Obviously.) We would rather plunge into foreign wars or fall off economic cliffs than have presidents who know too much. That is because braininess is elitist, and being an elitist is the worst thing you can be if you want to be president.

In fact, the most accurate predictor of who will lose the race for an open presidency since at least the turn of the 20th century is which candidate is seen (though often inaccurately) as more intelligent. Herbert Hoover is the only exception and how'd that work out for ya?

Demography is king (David Brooks, April 29, 2008, NY Times)

In state after state (Wisconsin being the outlier), Barack Obama has won densely populated, well-educated areas. Hillary Clinton has won less-populated, less-educated areas. For example, Obama has won roughly 70 percent of the most-educated counties in the primary states. Clinton has won 90 percent of the least-educated counties. In state after state, Obama has won a few urban and inner-ring suburban counties. Clinton has won nearly everywhere else.

This social divide has overshadowed regional differences. Sixty-year-old, working-class Catholics vote the same, whether they live in Fresno, Scranton, Nashua or Orlando.

The divide has even overshadowed campaigning. Surely the most interesting feature of the Democratic race is how unimportant political events are. The candidates can spend tens of millions of dollars on advertising, but they are not able to sway their opponent's voters to their side. They can win a stunning victory, but the momentum doesn't carry over from state to state. They can make horrific gaffes, deliver brilliant speeches, turn in good or bad debate performances, but these things do not alter the race.

In Pennsylvania, Obama did everything conceivable to win over Clinton's working-class voters. The effort was a failure. The great uniter failed to unite. In this election, persuasion isn't important. Social identity is everything. Demography is king.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:42 PM


The Wright Comeback Tour (Howard Kurtz, 4/29/08, Washington Post)

Jeremiah Wright's complaint -- and Barack Obama's as well -- has been that the media have been distorting the reverend's message through sound-bite snippets and missing the full context.

The more I hear the full context, the more I think the Illinois senator has a growing problem.

...the problem has already grown a fair bit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:38 PM


The Pastor Casts a Shadow (BOB HERBERT, 4/29/08, NY Times)

The question that cries out for an answer from Mr. Wright is why — if he is so passionately committed to liberating and empowering blacks — does he seem so insistent on wrecking the campaign of the only African-American ever to have had a legitimate shot at the presidency.

On Sunday night, in an appearance before the Detroit N.A.A.C.P., Mr. Wright mocked the regional dialects of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. I’m not sure how he felt that was helpful in his supposed quest to bring about a constructive discussion about race and reconciliation in the U.S.

What he is succeeding in doing is diminishing the stature of Senator Obama. A candidate who stands haplessly by as his former spiritual guide roams the country dropping one divisive bomb after another is in very little danger of being seen by most voters as the next J.F.K. or L.B.J.

The thing to keep in mind about Rev. Wright is that he is a smart fellow. He’s been a very savvy operator, politically and otherwise, for decades. He has built a thriving, politically connected congregation on the South Side of Chicago that has done some very good work over the years. Powerful people have turned to him for guidance and advice.

So it’s not like he’s naïve politically. He knows exactly what he’s doing.

...did Christ tell His disciples to go out and hide the Word? All he wants is for Senator Obama to run on what they believe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:02 AM


Soldier Sues Army, Saying His Atheism Led to Threats (NEELA BANERJEE, 4/26/08, NY Times)

When Specialist Jeremy Hall held a meeting last July for atheists and freethinkers at Camp Speicher in Iraq, he was excited, he said, to see an officer attending.

But minutes into the talk, the officer, Maj. Freddy J. Welborn, began to berate Specialist Hall and another soldier about atheism, Specialist Hall wrote in a sworn statement. “People like you are not holding up the Constitution and are going against what the founding fathers, who were Christians, wanted for America!” Major Welborn said, according to the statement.

Major Welborn told the soldiers he might bar them from re-enlistment and bring charges against them, according to the statement.

...it's too late to ask them to be nice to the Godless.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:30 AM


Mindy McCready weeps as she confirms affair with Roger Clemens (TERI THOMPSON, MICHAEL O'KEEFFE and NATHANIEL VINTON in New York and CHRISTIAN RED in Nashville, 4/29/08, NY DAILY NEWS)

Barricaded behind tightly drawn blinds at her Nashville home Monday, country singer Mindy McCready confirmed a long-term affair with embattled pitcher Roger Clemens.

"I cannot refute anything in the story," a tearful but resolute McCready told the Daily News, which broke the story at midnight Sunday.

The News reported that the two met in a Florida karaoke bar when McCready was a 15-year-old aspiring singer and Clemens was a 28-year-old ace for the Red Sox and a married father of two. [...]

The Rocket filed a defamation suit against McNamee on Jan. 6. McNamee's lawyer Richard Emery said revelations of the affair would have a big impact on that case because they influence Clemens' claim that his reputation was damaged.

"If the case heads to trial and is not dismissed, as we feel it should be, we will be calling [McCready] as a witness," Emery said.

"The point is whether he was damaged by the allegations that he used steroids - he claims he was hurt. But if there are other women - and there's not just one case, but many - and he holds himself out as a family man and an American paradigm, it's relevant.

"None of this would have been revealed but for his lawsuit and sanctimonious testimony before Congress."

All he had to do was accept responsibility for cheating, apologize to baseball, and retire and he could have avoided all this. Why do they never learn?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


As Clinton seeks gas tax break for summer, Obama says no (John M. Broder, April 29, 2008, NY Times)

As angry truckers encircled the Capitol in a horn-blaring caravan and consumers across the country agonized over $60 fill-ups, the issue of high fuel prices flared on the campaign trail on Monday, sharply dividing the two Democratic candidates.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton lined up with Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, in endorsing a plan to suspend the U.S. government excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for the summer travel season. But Senator Barack Obama, Clinton's Democratic rival, spoke out firmly against the proposal, saying it would save consumers little and do nothing to curtail oil consumption and imports.

While it's admirable of Senator Obama to be willing to be right on policy but wrong as to politics, this unfortunately plays right into the fear that he's just another tax and spend liberal. If you're going to defend a consumption tax on gasoline -- an excellent policy -- you need to be proposing offsets in other areas, like taxing investments, savings and income less -- all moronic policies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


Obama dismisses Clinton debate challenge (Brian Knowlton, April 27, 2008, NY Times)

Clinton, following her clear victory in Pennsylvania, has been goading Obama to debate yet again. She said Saturday that she wanted a 90-minute confrontation without moderators or questioners. That approach, rather like the series of debates in 1858 between Abraham Lincoln and his rival for an Illinois Senate seat, Stephen Douglas, might have seemed to appeal to Obama after a debate in which the ABC moderators were widely viewed as unfairly tough on him.

While it's obviously vital to keep his past and his politics as carefully hidden from the electorate as possible, and he has nothing to gain by debating someone who can't catch him in the delegate count, such fear bodes ill for the Fall.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


For McCain, There's Only One Perfect Candidate for Veep (Stuart Rothenberg, 4/29/08, Real Clear Politics)

We all hear the same names mentioned as prospective running mates for John McCain: former Office of Management and Budget Director and one-time U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and even former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.

Each one would bring something to the ticket. Some come from crucial swing states that could help McCain reach 270 electoral votes. A number are governors, adding a non- Washington, D.C., piece to the ticket. By most standards, all are good-looking and articulate.

And yet, none of them would change the partisan political equation in the fall election, and I'm not at all sure any of them would increase McCain's chances of winning in the fall. Certainly none of them would constitute a statement by McCain about his presidency, the kind of statement that would send a message to voters.

There is, however, somebody who would fill that bill and therefore be a near-perfect pick for McCain: Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.

We are arrived at an exquisite moment in America where the problem with Joe Lieberman is that he doesn't take his Judaism seriously enough for him to be acceptable to the party of Judeo-Christianity. He'd have to have a major come to Jesus moment and repent his years as a death lobbyist before he could be considered for the GOP ticket, or any domestic cabinet post. On the other hand, he'd be an ideal Defense Secretary, National Security advisor or Secretary of State.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Ronaldo 'threatened transvestites in Rio motel room' (Sally Peck, 29/04/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Brazilian police are investigating allegations by three transvestites that Ronaldo, the Brazilian football star and AC Milan forward, threatened to harm them after he took them to a Rio de Janeiro motel.

...Roger Clemens could be in worse trouble. (Luckily, he can throw overhand.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


A Race of Personalities: Ken Livingstone vs. Boris Johnson (ANNE APPLEBAUM, April 29, 2008, The Washington Post)

[I] first met Ken Livingstone, the current mayor of London, now up for re-election, some 15-odd years ago too, when he was a member of parliament.

I don't know his mistresses — though I gather there are several — or his colleagues. But I do recall one memorable dinner, organized by a London newspaper, during which we argued at some length about whether Stalin was evil. I said yes. He disagreed. No one laughed. [...]

Any long, drawn-out contest between two people who don't — let's face it — differ that much on fundamental issues will invariable turn into farce; Whether it's an amusing one, as in London, or a "bitter" one, as in Pennsylvania, depends on the characters of the candidates involved.

So three cheers then, for ideological politics, or at least for real clashes of ideas, and let's hope our presidential elections, when we get to them, include some: At least they make everyone talk about things that matter. And yes, I do hope Boris wins.

As William F. Buckley Jr's campaign for Mayor of New York demonstrated, the opposite is also true. What began as mere farce became an important campaign because he differed so much from his opponents on the issues.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


China intensifies war against splittism (Willy Lam, 4/30/08, Asia Times)

As police in various cities were issuing warnings to protesters outside Carrefour supermarkets last Saturday and Sunday, the Hu Jintao administration has intensified efforts to suppress and contain "splittists" in Tibet and Xinjiang and is using nationalistic sentiments to help achieve its goal.

As the nation is being swept by a tidal wave of "patriotism" if not xenophobia, liberal intellectuals who had earlier implored Beijing to consider conciliatory policies toward the two autonomous regions no longer dare raise their voice for fear of being labeled traitors. The CCP leadership is also hopeful that CNN, BBC and other Western media - having been put on the defensive by tens of thousands of angry Chinese netizens and demonstrators in the United States and Europe - might think twice when reporting on the CCP's iron-fisted tactics in China's far west regions.

It's not patriotism, but nationalism and flows from the same source as splittism. The Tibetans, Uighurs, etc. aren't Chinese.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Jeremiah Wright, former pastor to Barack Obama, strides back on stage: With timing unwelcome to Democratic candidate's campaign, Wright defends his racially charged comments. (Peter Nicholas, 4/28/08, Los Angeles Times)

Taking questions Monday, Wright stood by some of the most divisive assertions he had made in church sermons -- statements that Obama has denounced.

He declined to retract a statement from a post-Sept. 11 sermon that "America's chickens are coming home to roost."

"You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you," Wright said after his speech. "Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic divisive principles."

Asked about his earlier suggestion that the government had created AIDS to harm black people, Wright said that "based on the Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything." He was referring to an infamous experiment conducted over decades in which the government studied syphilis by allowing blacks to go untreated for the disease.

Wright spoke admiringly of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, long criticized for making anti-Semitic comments. Wright described Farrakhan as a hugely influential figure -- "one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century."

"Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy," Wright said. "He did not put me in chains, he did not put me in slavery and he didn't make me this color."

Wright had kept a low public profile since portions of his sermons were widely played on television in March, including snippets in which the pastor said "God damn America." Obama, a longtime member of Wright's church in Chicago, partially quelled the controversy with a speech on race in Philadelphia that month. But Republicans are already using Wright's comments in advertisements against Obama.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama's rival for the Democratic nomination, has said that she would not have chosen Wright as her pastor.

A Pastor at Center Stage (George Will, 4/29/08, Real Clear Politics)
[W]right's paranoias tell us something -- exactly what remains to be explored -- about his 20-year parishioner.

In Monday's speech at the National Press Club, Wright repeated -- decorously, by his standards, but clearly -- his accusation, made the Sunday after 9/11, that America got what it deserved. His Monday answer to a question about that accusation was: "Whatsoever you sow, that you also shall reap" and "you cannot do terrorism on other people and expect them never to come back on you."

As evidence that "our government is capable of doing anything," he strongly hinted that he has intellectually respectable corroboration -- he mentioned several publications -- for his original charge that the U.S. government is guilty of "inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color." But on Monday he insisted that he is not anti-American: It is, he said, Americans' government, not the American public, that is a genocidal perpetrator of terrorism. So, he now denies that America has a representative government -- that it represents the public. He believes that elections constantly and mysteriously -- and against the public's will -- produce a genocidal, terroristic government.

On Monday, Wright also espoused the racialist doctrine that blacks have "different" learning styles than do others. This doctrine of racially different brains, or of an unalterably different black culture, is a doctrine today used to justify various soft bigotries of low expectations regarding blacks, and especially black children. It has a long pedigree as a rationalization for injustices. Slaveholders and, later, segregationists loved it.

The Real Rev. Wright (Rich Lowry, 4/29/08, Real Clear Politics)
The Rev. Jeremiah Wright has taken Barack Obama’s critically acclaimed race speech in Philadelphia, ripped it into bits, and tossed it in the air to serve as confetti for his parade through the media.

In that speech, Obama said Wright had been taken out of context, a defense the pastor has made himself. If only we knew the true Wright, Obama complained, instead of just “the snippets of those sermons that have run on an endless loop on the television and YouTube.” In his interview with Bill Moyers on PBS, Wright said the playing of his sound bites was “unfair,” “unjust” and “untrue.”

Then cometh the good reverend to step all over the out-of-context defense in a speech at the National Press Club.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Cuba walks tightrope of reforms: By lifting bans on cellphones and personal computers, Raul Castro is paving the way for open communications, but the regime is intent on avoiding the fate of the Soviet Union (Carol J. Williams, 4/29/08, Los Angeles Times)

The top-down decisions granting citizens the ability to communicate with one another and to brainstorm solutions have been a hallmark of Castro's leadership since he took the reins of a nation in crisis 21 months ago from his older brother Fidel.

Cuban intellectuals and common folk are embracing the straight-talk notion, as did Russians 20 years ago. But here, as in the Soviet Union, the leadership is walking a tightrope, risking the collapse of a struggling, authoritarian system by granting long-denied freedoms.

"Raul Castro's government will eventually need to confront the million-dollar question: Once it releases the genie of public opinion from the bottle, does it risk permanently reducing its control over Cuban society?" says Daniel P. Erikson, Caribbean analyst for the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington.

Mindful of the Soviet collapse, Cuban officials are loath to allow any kind of political opening that would be perceived as diminishing the legitimacy of the Communist Party, Erikson said.

When Gorbachev introduced glasnost, it was with the idea that people would finally get to cleanse themselves of their justifiable anger at Stalin and company and then the Politburo could get on with the rest of the Revolution. The Party was stunned when the dissidents instead (or, in addition) went after Lenin with hammer and tongs and described how the Revolution had been evil from its inception and the regime illegitimate from Jump Street. What was supposed to be some pruning around the edges instead turned into clear-cutting.

A peculiarity of Cuba's decades of one man rule is that there's no one to blame but Fidel. What exists in Cuba is Castroism, so every criticism undermines Castro and the Revolution entire.

April 28, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 PM

(via Mike Daley):

Frontera's Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars (Chef Rick Bayless)

2 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans, toasted, divided

2 (3.1-oz.) disks Ibarra Chocolate, finely chopped, divided

6 oz. (about 4 to 5 slices) firm white sandwich bread, such as Sara Lee Honey White

1 cup butter, melted, divided

3/4 tsp. salt, divided

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 cup dark corn syrup

3 tbsp. flour

2 tsp. vanilla extract

4 eggs

3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, slightly heaping

Preheat oven to 325°F and spray a 13 X 9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Place 1 cup pecans and 1/2 of the Ibarra chocolate in a food processor; pulse several times to mix.

Break bread into pieces and add to food processor; pulse until fine crumbs form.

Add 1/3 cup melted butter and 1/4 tsp. salt; pulse to blend.

Press mixture firmly into bottom of prepared pan.

In same work bowl (no need to wash), pulse together brown sugar, corn syrup, flour, vanilla and eggs until well mixed.

Transfer to a large bowl and stir in remaining pecans, Ibarra chocolate, butter and salt.

Add chocolate chips; pour over crust and bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate before cutting.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 PM


Supreme Court Upholds Voter Identification Law in Indiana (DAVID STOUT, 4/28/08, NY Times)

Justice John Paul Stevens, who announced the judgment of the court and wrote an opinion in which Chief John G. Roberts Jr. and Anthony M. Kennedy joined, alluded to — and brushed aside — complaints that the law benefits Republicans and works against Democrats, whose ranks are more likely to include poor people or those in minority groups.

The justifications for the law “should not be disregarded simply because partisan interests may have provided one motivation for the votes of individual legislators,” Justice Stevens wrote.

Justice Stevens and the two court members who joined him found that the Democrats and civil rights groups who attacked the law, seeking a declaration that it was unconstitutional on its face, had failed to meet the heavy burden required for such a “facial challenge” to prevail. [...]

Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. concurred in the judgment of the court, but went further in rejecting the plaintiffs’ challenge. In an opinion by Justice Scalia, the three justices said, “The law should be upheld because its overall burden is minimal and justified.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 PM


Center-right solidifies gains in Italy (Elisabetta Povoledo, April 28, 2008, IHT)

Promising to crack down on crime, the center-right candidate Gianni Alemanno, who ran with the conservative People of Freedom party, defeated Francesco Rutelli, who had served as mayor of the capital from 1993 to 2001. Alemanno won a comfortable majority with nearly 54 percent of the vote. He will be the first rightist leader to govern Rome since the end of World War II.

Losing the vote dealt a double blow to the departing mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni, who left city politics to become the leader of the newly formed Democratic Party, which lost the April 13-14 national elections to the conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 PM


Obama's former pastor says he has been 'crucified' by the media (Johanna Neuman, 4/28/08, Los Angeles Times)

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose fiery sermons as Democrat Barack Obama's former pastor set off a political firestorm last month, told reporters today that he has been "crucified" by the media and that attacks on him are really slams on the black church.

Recall that Clarence Thomas, with due humility, felt he was being lynched, whereas the Reverend Wright confuses himself with Christ.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 AM


Rise in Doctors Refusing to Perform Abortions (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, 4/24/08)

Nearly 70 percent of Italian gynecologists now refuse to perform abortions on moral grounds, according to the Health Ministry. Italy legalized abortion in 1978 but pressure from the Vatican enabled doctors to claim a “conscientious objection” and refuse to carry out the procedure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:10 AM


Smarty-pants summit short on substance (David Burchell, April 28, 2008, The Australian)

CASTING about for something to explain the spooky unease that crept over me during the 2020 Summit, I happened upon British Labour thinker Michael Young's old futuristic satire The Rise of the Meritocracy.

The premise of Young's book - published 50 years ago - is that all previous societies distributed talent more or less randomly among the classes. But in the 20th century the professional middle classes wrested the education system out of the hands of the old elites, and reorganised the ladder of social success according to their own preferred criteria: those of academic cleverness.

The outcome in 2036 was the most oppressive social system of all: an aristocracy of self-defined merit, made unbearably smug and patronising by its distinctive combination of smarty-pantsness and success.

Young had a lot of difficulty getting his book published: few high-brow publishers seemed to enjoy the joke. And when it did go into print, the book suffered a predictable fate. People forgot it was a satire, and took meritocracy to be a virtue. In the 1990s, Tony Blair went so far as to declare his goal to be the creation of a meritocratic Britain. Young (who was no political neophyte; he had been the author of the 1945 Labour manifesto) wrote to the newspapers, trying to point out the error. But in vain. Meritocracy had become a new Labour core value.

On the evidence of the last fortnight, Australian Labor is in some danger of falling into the same trap. After all, what was the 2020 Summit if not a celebration of the triumph of the meritocracy, a ritual homage to the best and brightest, in all their ceremonial glory? A celebration fuelled, moreover, by the meritocrats' new-found sense of liberation from the banal horror of the Howard years, a time when, so we're told, the best and brightest were ignored, or even silenced, and mediocrity ruled in the halls of power.

At times the summit had the savour of one of those official festivals dreamed up by the French revolutionaries to persuade themselves that theirs really was a revolution by the people, not just in their name.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Friends with Iran or kiss of death? (P R Kumaraswamy, April 28, 2008, Rediff)

The visit marks an interesting phase in India's foreign policy. This is the first formal meeting between the mercurial Iranian leader and Prime Minister Singh. Ever since he was elected President in July 2005, Ahmadinejad has been trying to consolidate his stature and international acceptance. With Western criticisms and disapprovals getting louder, he needed to be seen in different parts of the world and courted by prominent world leaders. He visited all major non-Western powers such as China, Russia and of course Venezuela, which has emerged as the torchbearer of growing anti-Americanism in the Third World.

Partly to further Indo-Iranian ties, but primarily to enhance his international profile and acceptance, Ahmadinejad has been keen to meet Indian leaders. Such an opportunity came in June 2006 during the summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Council where both India and Iran are 'observers'. Timing, however, was bad. Photo opportunity with Ahmadinejad, the Indian leader feared, would have hardened the critics of the nuclear deal then on Capitol Hill. Hence, Dr Singh skipped that meeting and instead sent Petroleum Minister Murli Deora.

Indeed when Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee went to Teheran in February last year, the Iranian officials ambushed him by suggesting a summit meeting among leaders of India, Iran and Pakistan to sort out their differences over the gas pipeline.
Thus, by hosting the Iranian leader, what does India convey to the outside world? Going by the working of the UPA government, one can infer a few possible explanations.

The visit is most likely to be used by the government to exhibit its 'independent' foreign policy vis-�-vis the US. This would partially assuage the Left and its supporters within the establishment. Spin doctors might stretch it further and hope that by hosting the Iranian leader the government could make the Left 'flexible' on the nuclear deal.

The sudden silence adopted by the US following its initial displeasure over the Indian decision should also be seen within this context. Washington might see the visit as a small price for larger cooperation with India.

Let us pretend for just a moment that there is such a thing as geostrategic thinking and that folks are ever able to engage in it, without details of the moment and personal feelings intervening. Now let us ask ourselves what genuinely troubling political phenomena remain extant in the world. The first, obviously the most important, is the nuclear-armed totalitarian regime in China. As it implodes--due to political repression, ethnic tensions, demographic imbalances, etc.--it could lash out at neighbors and create difficult situations for America to deal with. The other is Salafist Islam, which, while it does not control any regimes, creates some level of instability in numerous states and is especially virulent in the Tribal Areas between Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. Of particular note here is that Iran is a Shi'a state and, thus, an entirely heretical nation in Salafist ideology. Meanwhile, to Pakistan's East lies India, a historic enemy with a Hindu regime.

Given this context, it takes not one lick of foreign policy expertise to perceive that India is the single most important American ally in the world today, situated, as it is, between the two sources of trouble. And, given the threat that resides in Pakistan, between India and Iran, it is ridiculously easy to see why they are natural allies.

It's a short step from there to grasp that because we share a common enemy, America, India and Iran are in all likelihood destined to make common cause, irrespective of the bumptious current president of the Islamic Republic. While domestic political concerns mitigate against a rapproachment between the US and Iran in the short term, electoral processes and historic inevitabilities will take care of the obstacles in the medium term. This reality would explain why we would not make a big humturum about India/Iran relations, were we thinking in such longer terms....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


As Democrats battle on, McCain running strong: He supports an unpopular war and president. So why is he so popular? (Susan Page, 4/27/08, USA TODAY)

[I]n what seems to be the most promising election for Democrats since 1976 — when the aftermath of the Watergate scandal opened the door for Democrat Jimmy Carter to win the presidency — the USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows the presumptive Republican presidential nominee within striking distance of either Illinois Sen. Barack Obama or New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"Sen. McCain will not be a pushover in Ohio," cautions Ted Strickland, the Democratic governor of one of the nation's most important battleground states. "It will be a hotly contested race."

At least at the moment, McCain's personal qualities — his stature as a Vietnam war hero, reputation as an independent-minded Republican and persona as a strong leader — are trumping the significant policy disadvantages he faces in pursuing a third consecutive term for the GOP in the White House.

The protracted and increasingly bitter rivalry between Obama and Clinton for the Democratic nomination is a boost for McCain, too.

He has stayed competitive by drawing support from unlikely quarters.

It would have been helpful to pause and consider her own starting point. In 1976, quite possibly the worst candidate ever nominated by a major party -- a sitting president who could barely fend off a primary challenge -- nearly defeated an Evangelical Southern governor anyway. With the exception of the Great Depression and it's immediate aftermath it's a conservative country and the GOP nominee will always have a big advantage in the general. Once you add in the Southwestern Christian's independence and likability and put him up against stock Northern liberals the rest of the scenario writes itself. Indeed, the only way the GOP could have lost this Fall was if it had nominated Mitt or Rudy and the Democrats had nominated Bill Richardson.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Uighurs struggle in a world reshaped by Chinese influx: In China's far west, the Muslim ethnic group finds itself relegated to menial jobs. Chinese officials also restrict religious practice and use of their language in schools. (Peter Ford, 4/28/08, The Christian Science Monitor)

"We feel like foreigners in our own land," complains one Uighur teacher in the provincial capital of Urumqi, who offers only a nickname, Batur, for fear of angering the authorities. "We are like the Indians in America." Or Tibetans in Tibet. "Most Uighurs sympathize with the Tibetans," says Batur. "We feel we are all under the same sort of rule." [...]

That concern, many Uighurs charge, translates into harsh government control of their lives, restrictions on the use of their language in schools and on their Muslim religious practice, and a colonial-style economy that keeps most local people in menial jobs while Han Chinese immigrants run businesses and the local administration.

How dare John McCain treat the Chicoms like enemies....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM

Seventh edition
Edited by Walter Laqueur and Barry Rubin
Israel Arab Reader

Now available from Penguin publishers is this new edition of one of the most highly respected, widely used reference books on the Middle East, documenting the Arab-Israel conflict and peace process from its inception to the present day.

The book provides almost 300 primary texts covering more than a century of history. It documents the British mandate and early attempts to handle the conflict; Israel's independence and the outbreak of wars; international diplomatic efforts to make peace including the 1990s’ peace process and its breakdown. Materials are presented reflecting the positions of Arab leaders and states, Europeans, Israel, Palestinians, the USSR, and the United States. The texts of international resolutions and agreements, as well as accords made during the peace process, are also provided.

The result is a comprehensive work suitable for reading, reference, and teaching.

To order click here: Buy Now!

For detailed information on this book, follow this link: GLORIA Publication Catalog

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


In push for drones, Gates labors to change Pentagon: The services aren't delivering enough unmanned planes to war zones, the Defense secretary charges. (Gordon Lubold, 4/28/08, The Christian Science Monitor )

The flap over the unmanned planes is the latest example of Secretary Gates's effort to shake up the Pentagon. Much like his push to speed up delivery of armored troop-transport vehicles to Iraq last year – a request that originally came from the field – the new initiative is part of Gates's strategy to force the services to think differently and more creatively to solve problems quickly, experts say.

But overcoming the Pentagon's institutional inertia will not come easily.

You get promoted for commanding infantry, no matter how useless, not drones, no matter how effective.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


Obama's Foreign Non-Policy (David Bedein, 4/28/08, FrontPageMagazine.com)

The following are the questions posed to Mr. Obama's Middle East advisers and the responses they provided:

Bedein: How would a President Obama relate to the security threat posed by Saudi Arabia? Declassified security reports confirm that Saudi Arabia continues to fund groups defined by the U.S. government as terrorist organizations, while Saudi Arabia maintains an active state of war against the state of Israel since 1948.

Answer: None of Mr. Obama's advisers could answer this question.

Bedein: Does Mr. Obama support President Bush's policy of arming the Saudis? (The Bush administration offers major arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite its pro-terror posture.)

Answer: Neither Guttman nor Levine could tell me whether or not Mr. Obama supports the Bush arms sales to Saudi Arabia. They checked with Mr. Obama and could not get an answer.

Bedein: Would a President Obama support the idea that Palestinian refugees should reside in UNRWA refugee camps, under the premise and promise of the "right of return," instead of being provided with decent living conditions?

Answer: While each of Mr. Obama's advisers emphasized that the candidate opposed the Palestinian "right of return," none of them could find out what Mr. Obama's position is concerning continuing American government funding for the UNRWA agency, which fuels the right of return.

Bedein: Would a President Obama continue Mr. Bush's policy to arm the Fatah organization, since the armed forces of the Fatah are defined by American law as an illegal terrorist organization?

Answer: The Obama advisor who spoke on condition of anonymity answered that Mr. Obama wants to continue the policy of developing Fatah as a moderate entity.

Bedein: Would a President Obama ask for a change in the proposed constitution of the Palestinian Fatah state, which is based on the Islamic Sharia law, and not allow for juridical status for any religion other than Islam?

Answer: All three Obama advisers promised to check this out with the senator. None of them could provide an answer.

...you probably oughtn't be running for office in a democracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Understanding American Exceptionalism (Karlyn Bowman Monday, April 28, 2008, The American)

[James Q.] Wilson noted that one of the best ways to understand American exceptionalism is to look at polls. Three-quarters of Americans say they are proud to be Americans; only one-third of the people in France, Italy, Germany, and Japan give that response about their own countries. Two-thirds of Americans believe that success in life depends on one’s own efforts; only one-third of Europeans say that. Half of Americans, compared to one-third of Europeans, say belief in God is essential to living a moral life.

Negative views of America in polls today have been shaped by the Iraq war and by the response to President Bush, Wilson noted, but criticism of America has a long history, particularly among elites. He quoted Sigmund Freud as saying, “America is a great mistake.” “Anti-Americanism was an elite view,” Wilson continued, “but it has spread deeper to publics here and abroad.”

Which is why Senator Obama is so popular abroad and with our elites, while Maverick is the candidate of the plebs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


U.S., Allies See Progress in Selling Al-Qaeda As an Enemy to the Muslim World (Walter Pincus, April 28, 2008, Washington Post)

One approach, [Michael E. Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, ] said, is "to show that it is al-Qaeda, not the West, that is truly at war with Islam."

Last week, Zarate echoed that theme. He said al-Qaeda "should be revealed as themselves being at war with Muslims, especially those who do not believe as they do or subscribe to the al-Qaeda agenda."

Zarate cited an Egyptian Islamic group, which includes former jihadist leaders, that recently published a series of books "highly critical of jihadists and al-Qaeda." He did not say who promoted or paid for the books, but in undertaking this program, Zarate said, "credible voices, outside of the U.S. government," had to carry the messages.

Another example is a widely circulated letter to bin Laden from a leading Saudi cleric, Sheik Salman al-Ouda, released last September, in which the religious leader asked: "How much blood has been spent" by al-Qaeda attacks?

In October 2007, Zarate said, the Saudi grand mufti, Abdulaziz Al-Sheik, warned Saudis against unauthorized jihadist activities and lectured wealthy Saudis against "funding causes that 'harm Muslims.' "

To illustrate the impact of these actions, Zarate noted a recent question-and-answer session on the Web with al-Qaeda's second in command, Ayman al- Zawahiri, who responded to some of the issues raised by the campaign against al-Qaeda. Asked about the book written by a former leading Egyptian jihadist, Said Imam al-Sharif, Zawahiri tried to minimize the author's credentials, according to an analysis by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

Zarate said Zawahiri "sidestepped" the issue of killing innocents "by claiming al-Qaeda does not target civilians and arguing the loss of innocent Muslim life was either accidental or the Muslims mixing with non-Muslims were fair game."

April 27, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 PM


Glad Bush Is Still Around (Paul Johnson, 05.05.08, Forbes)

There is no doubt that attacking the American homeland remains the prime objective of Muslim fundamentalist leaders. Yet they have not done so. One reason for this is the success of Mr. Bush's team in learning the lessons of Sept. 11 and building a security system of impressive strength and sensitivity. It has yet to be breached. Also, the suicide bombers fear being sent to Guantánamo more than they fear death itself. It is right that the prime defender of democracy and freedom should strike terror into the hearts of terrorists.

Equally, if not more important, is the way in which Mr. Bush--partly by accident but mainly by design--has switched the war's theater of operations to the death-dealers' territory. At the time of Sept. 11 the battlefield was the undefended West, with its great, peaceful cities. The civilian population was exposed to mass murder at the hands of carefully trained and well-equipped fanatics. Now, thanks to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan-- which were achieved at relatively minor cost--the battlefield has been decisively switched to the Muslim heartlands. And in the Middle East the war is being waged against the fundamentalists by the highly trained and superbly equipped professional armed forces of the U.S., Britain and other nations. The results of this are reflected in the casualty figures.

It's true that more than 4,000 U.S. servicemen and -women have been killed in this five-year conflict. But considering the extent of the operations, the importance of the war and the threat to the U.S. populace posed by these terrorists, this total is small. In World War I up to 60,000 casualties were inflicted in a single day. And there were many occasions during World War II when the U.S. and Britain lost more than 4,000 men in a one-day operation.

Not to denigrate their service to their country at all, but there are 140 panels in the Vietnam Memorial for some 58,000 guys. A corresponding structure for the Iraq War would have just 10. It's been a nearly casualty free war but liberated 20+ million people and deposed one of the world's most murderous tyrants.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 PM


The Top Ten List of Undisputed Facts Showing Barack Obama's Weakness in the General Election Against John McCain (Lanny Davis, 4/27/08, Real Clear Politics)

6. Barack Obama hasn't won a single major industrial state that historically constitute the key "battleground" states for both parties, i.e., the states in the last three or four presidential elections have switched back and forth between the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.

7. The reason that he lost can be found in the demographic data: He lost -- and Senator Clinton won -- by substantial margins blue collar and middle class white voters earning under $50,000 a year, senior citizens, rural voters, Hispanic voters, and women voters -- all core constituencies in the Democratic base that must be won if a Democrat is to win the White House. For example, yesterday in Pennsylvania she won Roman Catholics by 32 percent (66034), union households by 18 percent (59-41), and those most concerned about the economy by 16 points (58-42). Only 60 percent of Democratic Catholic voters said they would vote for Mr. Obama in a general election.

8. Barack Obama has lost these same demographic groups in Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas, California and New Jersey and other major states that Senator Clinton won. There is a factual pattern of his weakness among these demographic groups in virtually every primary state that cannot be disputed.

As God is my witness, as recently as three months ago, Republicans we know were depressed and not looking forward to this election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:11 PM


Obama's senior difficulty (DAVID PAUL KUHN | 4/27/08, Politico)

Barack Obama’s difficulty attracting older voters now far exceeds Hillary Rodham Clinton’s own weaknesses with youth.

Repeatedly during the tight race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Obama, who’s been defined in part by his popularity among young voters, has seen that strength undercut by his failings with seniors.

In the Pennsylvania and Ohio primaries, Obama lost older whites by 30 percentage points, while Clinton split white voters under age 30 in both critical contests. Obama’s senior problem is even greater among Hispanics. The Illinois senator lost older Latinos by 40 to 60 percentage points in Texas, New Mexico and California.

...that Seniors would love those YouTube videos with hip-hoppers worshiping him?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:53 AM


Dances to the music of time: a review of Cold Cream: My Early Life and Other Mistakes, by Ferdinand Mount (Dominic Sandbrook, 4/26/08, Daily Telegraph)

He is, he tells us at various points, gawky, reticent, cripplingly self-doubting, lazy, snooty and incompetent. He gleefully cites school reports on his "superciliousness" and "mental laziness", and after quoting his last letter to his dying mother, written when he was a teenager visiting Munich, he condemns "the intellectual snobbery, the preening hypochondria, the callous self-absorption".

If there is something unmistakeably English about this thread of comic self-deprecation, it is because Mount conceives himself to be a quintessentially English character, brought up on the Wiltshire Downs, educated at Eton and Oxford, and moving effortlessly - more by patronage than merit, he would say, although that is obviously not true - through the circles of the great and the good.

At times he casts himself as a kind of toned-down Bertie Wooster, a charming blithering idiot forever letting down one cut-glass girlfriend after another, comically tumbling through roofs and into rivers, and dashing out of dinner at the 1963 Tory party conference to be violently sick after too much champagne.

But he is irresistibly reminiscent above all of Nicholas Jenkins, the narrator of Anthony Powell's great post-war sequence A Dance to the Music of Time, and that is, of course, no accident. Powell was Mount's uncle, and the two have much in common: a fascination with lineage and tradition, a deeply humane interest in the lives and predilections of others, a sense of detachment from the whirl of events, and, above all, a kind of mingled amusement and melancholy at the vicissitudes of time and age.

On toffs and Tories: a review of Cold Cream: My Early Life and Other Mistakes by Ferdinand Mount (Lewis Jones, 24 April 2008, New Statesman)
As he rambles silkily hither and yon, Mount takes in seemingly random swaths of history, social, literary and political. The political bits are the funniest, particularly those about Margaret Thatcher, whom he first met when she was 39, looking "like one of the overage milkmaids in the chorus of the Bath panto".

Years later, he finds himself accidentally working for her at Downing Street, making up her policies, writing her speeches and helping to trip up her cabinet enemies - "The target had to be lured off his own ground, denied the support of his consiglieri, disoriented and confronted by superior forces." The Mafia reference is apt, as at one stage Mount is assisted by his old fag from Eton, and there are other echoes of criminality. Getting Thatcher to utter the sentence "The National Health Service is safe with us", for example, was like pulling teeth. It "came out in the listless drone of a hostage reading a statement prepared by her captors - which is what it was".

There are some wonderfully Yes, Prime Minister moments, such as her mad dismissal of some suggestion of Geoffrey Howe's. "I can't let the mill girls of Bolton down," she tells him. "It was too late to point out that by now there weren't any mill girls in Bolton because there weren't any mills," Mount writes.

Working for her was "a holiday from irony". It sounds pretty hellish, but he grew quite fond of "this strange, tense, ruthless, but deeply honourable and usually honest woman", with her "eager, waddling walk". Returning to his panto theme, he humanises her in the spectacle of her standing "by the huge grate at Chequers, exhausted by the day's work like Cinders after a hard time with the Ugly Sisters".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:41 AM


Timetable Energizes What Once Was ‘Lost’ (EDWARD WYATT, 4/24/08, NY Times)

A little over a year ago the creators of “Lost,” ABC’s ambitious serial drama about the castaway survivors of an airplane crash in the Pacific, seemed to be quite lost themselves.

Their show, a huge hit in its first season, had become, in its third, weighed down with the expectations created by its early success. Viewers were steadily draining away as doubts grew that the series was headed in any definite direction, while the complicated and often convoluted story line seemed to provide few entry points for new fans.

Yet as “Lost” embarks on Thursday night on the second half of its strike-shortened fourth season, the series is moving at a breakneck pace that has excited the fan base and energized the show’s writers, actors and staff. What happened?

“We were sort of stalling” last season, said Carlton Cuse, an executive producer of “Lost” who, with Damon Lindelof, forms the core of the creative team behind the island mystery. “We didn’t know whether the mythology we constructed had to last two more seasons or seven more seasons. And that was driving us crazy because we didn’t know how fast it was going to play out.”

What the producers asked for and the network and ABC’s television studio granted was something almost unheard of in network television: an end date, when the series would conclude and the mysteries of the island would be revealed.

Early last May, ABC and the producers announced that the series would run for three more seasons, through spring 2010.

...that these network execs figure out that three seasons ought to be the maximum for these narrative series? Life on Mars, at two, was nearly perfect.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:37 AM


Pirates Get $1.2 Million Ransom to Release Crew of Spanish Fishing Boat (VOA News, 27 April 2008)

Somali and Kenyan officials say a ransom of $1.2 million was paid to pirates to release a Spanish fishing boat and its crew of 26 hijacked off the coast of Somalia last week.

Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega told a news conference in Madrid Saturday that the release had been the result of a joint effort from Spain and the ship's owners.

"We're from Spain, we're here to surrender."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:27 AM


Chinese Clash With Protesters at Seoul Torch Rally (SANG-HUN CHOE, April 27, 2008, IHT)

Thousands of young Chinese assembled to defend their country’s troubled Olympic torch relay pushed through police lines on Sunday, some of them hurling rocks, bottled water and plastic and steel pipes at protesters demanding better treatment for North Korean refugees in China.

Two North Korean defectors living in South Korea poured paint thinner on themselves and tried to set themselves on fire in an attempt to protest what they condemned as Beijing’s inhumane crackdown of North Korean refugees, but the police stopped them, according to witnesses and the police.

The South Korean police and Chinese students also overpowered at least two other protesters who tried to impede the run along a 15-mile route through Seoul. The route was kept secret until the last minute and guarded by more than 8,300 police officers.

Doesn't South Korea have any pride?

Inflamed passions (Rowan Callick, April 26, 2008, The Australian)

THE Olympic torch relay's Journey of Harmony has become a tortuous road of angst pointing to a chasm between China's ruling Communist Party and the democratic world.

The torch has also shone a light on the rift between Beijing and its "minorities", still frustratingly fractious despite their growing material opportunities.

The intensity and passion aroused by the events in Tibet this year and the resulting furore over the relay threaten to sour the Olympic Games, which will begin in 15 weeks.

More than that, though, they throw a great question mark over the previously assumed inevitability of China's peaceful rise to superpower.

Olympic flames, then and now (Serge Schmemann, April 27, 2008, IHT)
In the end, the 1980 Games revealed a lot more about the paranoia and ruthlessness of an authoritarian state than about its skill at organizing sports competition - at least to the West.

Now, in the same way, we're learning a lot about China. And just as a lot of Russians then couldn't see a connection between their state's policies and the Games, so many Chinese today seem genuinely angry and convinced that "foreign enemies" are deliberately trying to ruin their coming-out party.

I suspect the International Olympic Committee also has not quite understood that a connection might be made between a country's human-rights record and hosting the Games.

There are limits, of course, to the parallels between the sealed military camp that was the Soviet Union 28 years ago and the wealthy, exploding China of today. But that only makes the similarities in the reactions of the two Communist parties all the more striking.

The West may see China as the economic and military powerhouse of the 21st century, where presidents and magnates seek to find a piece of the action. Yet the ruling party has remained remarkably ignorant of the rules of the open societies with which they deal, and remarkably insecure before every Tibetan or Uighur dissident, every human-rights activist and every Western critic.

A state that sentences a dissident like Hu Jia to prison for "inciting subversion of state power" by linking the Games with human rights is not a self-confident one.

Reared in a secretive, suspicious, paternalistic and highly bureaucratized culture, the Chinese Communist elite can only presume that Western elites are like them, that protests over Darfur, Tibet or the persecution of dissidents are all cynical political maneuvers.

The attacks on the torch, thus, can only be the work of "enemies." And these are everywhere.

They are -- as John McCain understands and elites like Fareed Zakaria don't -- the enemy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:25 AM


New battle cry of U.S. consumers: 'Get the cheap stuff!' (Michael Barbaro and Eric Dash, April 27, 2008, IHT)

Stung by rising gasoline and food prices, Americans are finding creative ways to cut costs on routine items like groceries and clothing, forcing retailers, restaurants and manufacturers to decode the tastes of a suddenly thrifty public.

Spending data and interviews around the country show that middle- and working-class consumers are starting to switch from name brands to cheaper alternatives, to eat in instead of dining out and to fly at unusual hours to shave dollars off airfares.

New? Why do they think we've had a quarter century of deflation?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 AM


New Town Thriller: DOUGRAY Scott has come a long way since his Glenrothes boyhood, but, says the actor, growing up in Fife is what laid the foundations of his career and international success. (Chitra Ramaswamy, 4/27/08, Scotland on Sunday)

IT IS the day after meeting Dougray Scott that it suddenly hits me: he doesn't smile. Actually, that's not quite true. It's more that on the rare occasions when the 42-year-old Scot does curve his lips in a skywards direction, it doesn't suit him; a bit like when Gordon Brown breaks into one of his grimaces. It's as though Scott's face – rugged, bronzed, James Bond-like – wasn't made to grin, chortle or look especially animated. It was made to look brooding. Renowned as a man of few words, perhaps it is not surprising that he is also a man of few expressions.

Scott has said that he is a product of where he comes from: Glenrothes, in Fife, where his mother still lives in the same house he grew up in opposite a whisky bottling plant.

Perhaps not quite handsome enough to make it big -- saw him, serendipitously, in an episode of Taggart Friday night and it took me two hours to remember who he was-- he has nice star turns in two underrated films, Enigma and Ever After.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


Bush tweaks candidates at correspondents' dinner: President Bush pokes fun at his potential successors at White House correspondents' dinner (CHRISTINE SIMMONS, 4/26/08, Associated Press)

"Senator McCain's not here," Bush said of GOP nominee-in-waiting John McCain. "He probably wanted to distance himself from me a little bit. You know, he's not alone. Jenna's moving out too."

Bush then referred to scandals that have dogged the campaigns of the two remaining Democratic candidates, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, in explaining their absence: "Hillary Clinton couldn't get in because of sniper fire and Senator Obama's at church."

Mr. Bush is the first president since TR--including, especially, FDR--who seems ready for a third term.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


The fate of nations: The subtle historian excels on 20th century European intellectuals but trips in polemics on Israel. (Tim Rutten, 4/23/08, Los Angeles Times)

As a student in England, [Tony] Judt was an ardent supporter of Labor Zionism, spent time on a kibbutz and volunteered as a translator and driver for the Israel Defense Forces during the 1967 war. One of the two essays on Israel that Judt includes in this collection is a review of Michael Oren's history of that conflict, which the author argues was a disaster for Israel, fundamentally altering the Jewish state's culture, politics and even its demography for the worse.

The other piece -- "The Country That Wouldn't Grow Up" -- was commissioned by the editors of the Israeli daily Haaretz. In it, Judt argues that "Israel's future is bleak," the country "an object of universal mistrust and resentment" through its own doing and because of its infantilizing relationship with the United States.

Missing from this collection -- though Judt refers to it in a boldfaced after-note to the essay on Oren's book -- is the most controversial of his anti-Israeli polemics, a 2003 piece for the New York Review of Books in which he advocated abolition of the Jewish state in favor of a new, binational country of unspecific constitution. The heart of Judt's argument for that radical "alternative," as he styled it, can be found in this paragraph: "Today, non-Israeli Jews feel themselves once again exposed to criticism and vulnerable to attack for things they didn't do. But this time it is a Jewish state, not a Christian one, which is holding them hostage for its own actions. Diaspora Jews cannot influence Israeli policies, but they are implicitly identified with them, not least by Israel's own insistent claims upon their allegiance. The behavior of a self-described Jewish state affects the way everyone else looks at Jews. The increased incidence of attacks on Jews in Europe and elsewhere is primarily attributable to misdirected efforts, often by young Muslims, to get back at Israel. . . . The depressing truth is that Israel today is bad for the Jews."

The best rejoinder to Judt's superficially "realist" argument came quickly from the New Republic's Leon Wieseltier: "Why must Israel pay for his uneasiness with its life? The reason, I fear, is that Judt has misinterpreted the nature of the hostility that vexes him. . . . For the notion that all Jews are responsible for whatever any Jews do, that every deed that a Jew does is a Jewish deed, is not a Zionist notion. It is an anti-Semitic notion. But Judt prefers to regard it as an onerous corollary of Zionism ('not least by Israel's own insistent claims upon their allegiance'). He refuses to place the blame for this unwarranted judgment of himself upon those who make it. Instead he accepts the premise of the prejudice, and turns on Israel. He makes a similar mistake in his evaluation of 'the increased incidence of attacks on Jews in Europe.' He knows that they are 'misdirected,' but still he describes them as 'efforts, often by young Muslims, to get back at Israel.' In what way, exactly, is the burning of a synagogue a method for getting back at Israel? In the anti-Semitic way, plainly. It is the essence of anti-Semitism, as it is the essence of all prejudice, to call its object its cause. But if you explain anti-Semitism as a response to Jews, and racism as a response to blacks, and misogyny as a response to women, then you have not understood it. You have reproduced it."

...but despise it as a Jewish enterprise.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Deepening Democratic Dilemma (Robert Novak, 4/24/08, Real Clear Politics)

Prominent Democrats only whisper when they compare Obama, the first African-American with a serious chance to be president, with what happened to Los Angeles' black Mayor Tom Bradley a quarter of a century ago. Exit polls in 1982 showed Bradley ahead for governor of California, but he actually lost to Republican George Deukmejian. Pollster John Zogby (who correctly predicted Clinton's double-digit win Tuesday) said what practicing Democrats would not. "I think voters face-to-face are not willing to say they would oppose an African-American candidate," Zogby told me.

If there really is a Bradley Effect in 2008, Zogby sees November peril ahead for Obama in blue states. John McCain is a potential winner not only in Pennsylvania but also Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and can retain Ohio.

And, most importantly, California.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


MLB now a young man's game (Peter Gammons, April 26, 2008, ESPN)

We'll see when we reach August, when the 35-year-olds and 40-year-olds find out if their minds are making promises that their bodies can't keep. "It's a different game today with the drug testing and without amphetamines and steroids," says one very wise baseball executive. "Wait and see come the dog days. Those organizations that can bring up young players -- guys they know because they've been tested time after time in the minor leagues -- are going to have a huge advantage on the older teams."

If that is the reality, where once teams sought veterans who have been through the wars, now teams like the Angels, Athletics, Red Sox, Indians, Braves, Diamondbacks and Dodgers may have their stretch drive solutions in house. Tampa, as well.

"We saw it last year when the Red Sox made their run through the World Series by bringing in [Jacoby] Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz and guys like that," another executive said. "I think it's going to be a younger man's game."

With David Ortiz out, the Sox may have fielded the quickest team in their history last night: Buchholz, Ellsbury, Crisp, Lugo, Drew, Lowrie, Pedroia & Youkilis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Mccain Vs. Mccain: He seems to think he can magically unite the two main strands in the foreign-policy establishment. He can't. (Fareed Zakaria, 4/26/08, NEWSWEEK)

On March 26, McCain gave a speech on foreign policy in Los Angeles that was billed as his most comprehensive statement on the subject. It contained within it the most radical idea put forward by a major candidate for the presidency in 25 years. Yet almost no one noticed.

In his speech McCain proposed that the United States expel Russia from the G8, the group of advanced industrial countries. Moscow was included in this body in the 1990s to recognize and reward it for peacefully ending the cold war on Western terms, dismantling the Soviet empire and withdrawing from large chunks of the old Russian Empire as well. McCain also proposed that the United States should expand the G8 by taking in India and Brazil—but pointedly excluded China from the councils of power.

We have spent months debating Barack Obama's suggestion that he might, under some circumstances, meet with Iranians and Venezuelans. It is a sign of what is wrong with the foreign-policy debate that this idea is treated as a revolution in U.S. policy while McCain's proposal has barely registered. What McCain has announced is momentous—that the United States should adopt a policy of active exclusion and hostility toward two major global powers. It would reverse a decades-old bipartisan American policy of integrating these two countries into the global order, a policy that began under Richard Nixon (with Beijing) and continued under Ronald Reagan (with Moscow). It is a policy that would alienate many countries in Europe and Asia who would see it as an attempt by Washington to begin a new cold war.

I write this with sadness because I greatly admire John McCain, a man of intelligence, honor and enormous personal and political courage. I also agree with much of what else he said in that speech in Los Angeles. But in recent years, McCain has turned into a foreign-policy schizophrenic, alternating between neoconservative posturing and realist common sense. His speech reads like it was written by two very different people, each one given an allotment of a few paragraphs on every topic.

The neoconservative vision within the speech is essentially an affirmation of ideology. Not only does it declare war on Russia and China, it places the United States in active opposition to all nondemocracies.

It may well seem radical to the striped-pants set, but ask the American people which is the radical idea: to consolidate the world's democracies in opposition to totalitarian/authoritarian thugs or to kiss up to the latter.

How Neo are the Neocons?: What is needed is a good dose of the neoconservatism of old. (Jonah Goldberg, 4/23/08, National Review)

From our earliest days, Americans have supported the promotion of democracy around the world, often by force and without undue heed to international institutions. William Henry Seward, a founder of the Republican Party and Lincoln’s secretary of state, argued that it was America’s mission to lead the way “to the universal restoration of power to the governed.” A generation earlier, statesman Henry Clay championed the idea that America had the “duty to share with the rest of mankind this most precious gift” of liberty. Both world wars, Korea and Vietnam would be inconceivable without accounting for America’s dedication to the promotion and defense of democracy.

Kagan traces such sentiments to the dawn of the republic. The Founders, he writes, saw the U.S. as a “‘Hercules in a cradle’ ... because its beliefs, which liberated human potential and made possible a transcendent greatness, would capture the imagination and the following of all humanity.”

Even amid the 15-month riot of Bush-bashing that has been the Democratic party’s fratricidal primary, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama conceded the core neoconservative principle of the Bush doctrine. “There’s absolutely a connection between a democratic regime and heightened security for the United States,” Clinton said, responding to events in Pakistan. Obama would not only unilaterally attack al-Qaida in Pakistan without Pakistan’s permission if necessary, but he also argues that anti-Americanism in the Middle East is a direct consequence of the lack of democracy.

Obviously, supporting the spread of democracy hardly requires you to support the Iraq war. But it works the other way around as well. Support for the Iraq war doesn’t automatically make you a neoconservative. Douglas J. Feith, a former undersecretary of defense after 9/11, argues in his new memoir, War and Decision, that democratization didn’t rank very high among the Bush administration’s early priorities. Moreover, the administration’s mistakes in Iraq — perhaps including the war itself — have less relationship to ideology than many think. “It is possible,” as Kagan notes, “to be prudent or imprudent, capable or clumsy, wise or foolish, hurried or cautious in pursuit of any doctrine.” (Just ask newly hired Hamas spokesman Jimmy Carter.)

America’s forcible promotion of democracy has been both successful (Germany, Japan) and unsuccessful (Vietnam). Where Iraq will fall in the win-loss columns is unknowable right now. But the idea that the “Iraq project” is some bizarre and otherworldly enterprise will seem laughable to historians a century from now, even if it is viewed as a disaster.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Iran conservatives bolster power (Associated Press, April 26, 2008)

The conservative majority in the 290-seat parliament is divided between supporters of Ahmadinejad and opponents who say he has mishandled a nuclear standoff with the West and concentrated too much on fiery, anti-U.S. rhetoric while neglecting the economy.

Within the conservative bloc, Ahmadinejad's supporters added 27 seats to the 90 they won previously. His moderate opponents gained 11 on top of 42 from the first round in March, according to the Interior Ministry.

Reformists, who favor greater democracy, closer ties with the West and reducing the clergy's powers, made a respectable showing even after most of their candidates were barred from running.

They added at least 15 seats to the 31 they won in the first round, a gain of six from the outgoing parliament.

Independents picked up 32 seats on top of 39 they won in the first round.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Now, This Is Campaign Fatigue (Jonathan Weisman, 4/27/08, Washington Post)

If the American people are growing weary of the protracted Democratic nomination fight, they've got nothing on the candidates, their staffs or their staffs' families. A campaign that has stretched more than a year has now reached virtually every state, has seen babies born and staffers married, and has now begun to heat up again.

Fabiola Rodriguez-Ciampoli, Clinton's director of Hispanic communications, arrived in San Antonio on Feb. 15 to ramp up outreach to Latinos in Texas. Two days later, her long-awaited adoption papers came through and she became a mother, working out of an adviser's home with an infant in her lap.

Between the two, the campaigns have logged more than 2,000 meal stops, from Yum Yum Donuts in Baldwin Park, Calif., to the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach -- with pit stops at 15 7-Elevens from North Las Vegas to Raymond, N.H.

The Clinton campaign has sent out 1,572 news releases since the beginning of the campaign in 2007, the Obama campaign 454.

"Sometimes, yes, of course," Obama acknowledged Tuesday, when asked whether he was exhausted.

It's starting to show. "Why can't I just eat my waffle?" Obama snapped at a reporter who sought to interrupt his breakfast with a policy question last week in Pennsylvania. [...]

Presumptive Republican nominee John McCain has pared back his schedule, taken the time to grill ribs for reporters at his Sedona, Ariz., ranch and carefully picked the venues for his public appearances. His would-be Democratic opponents have no such luxuries.

...Karl Rove and George W. Bush had a genuine insight that would be useful to Maverick. Sensing that Americans were exhausted by Bill Clinton's omnipresence and convinced that his talking about everything made it so that nothing he ever said seemed important, they determined to have the President be seen and heard less, in order to restore some cache to his less frequent appearances. They even planned to return to the tradition of having the president actually deliver a written state of the union message to Congress, rather than traipse up there and give a speech that's little more than a laundry list of constituent demands.

This served Mr. Bush and the country well immediately after 9-11, as his speeches had an added drama and weight precisely because he'd not been droning on about things like his underwear preferences for the prior year. But, perhaps understandably, they didn't follow through in the ensuing years because the war had raised the stakes on such events, such that silence might have seemed reluctance.

Mr. McCain probably ought to return to their original plan. Let Americans grow wary of the other two and he'll be the oldest fresh face in political history when he resumes real campaigning this Summer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


CIA given leeway on barred interrogation methods (Mark Mazzetti, April 27, 2008, NY Times)

The Justice Department has told Congress that U.S. intelligence operatives attempting to thwart terrorist attacks can legally use interrogation methods that might otherwise be prohibited under international law.

The legal interpretation, outlined in recent letters, sheds new light on the still-secret rules for interrogations by the CIA. It shows that the administration is arguing that the boundaries for interrogations should be subject to some latitude, even under an executive order issued last summer that President George W. Bush said meant that the CIA would comply with international strictures against harsh treatment of detainees.

While the Geneva Conventions prohibit "outrages upon personal dignity," a letter sent by the Justice Department to Congress on March 5 makes clear that the administration has not drawn a precise line in deciding which interrogation methods would violate that standard and is reserving the right to make case-by-case judgments.

"The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act," said Brian Benczkowski, a deputy assistant attorney general, in the letter, which had not previously been made public.

Even before you get to the question of whether using a method like waterboarding solely to acquire actionable intelligence ought to be considered torture, you run up against the fact that international law is silent on the treatment of sch non-state actors. Just as we may voluntarily opt to treat al Qaedists better than law requires, so may we opt not to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Mugabe fails in bid to switch poll result: The Electoral Commission has not awarded any more seats won by the opposition to Zanu-PF (Tracy McVeigh, 4/27/08, The Observer)

Robert Mugabe has been unable to win back control of Zimbabwe's parliament after a partial recount of the 29 March election results failed to overturn any of the original results that gave the opposition the majority of seats.

It means the first defeat in 28 years for Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party after Zimbabwe's electoral commission (ZEC) yesterday released seven more results from the recount, changing none. It brings to 13 the number of seats recounted, with 10 remaining to be declared - all in strong opposition-held areas. Zanu-PF would need to win nine to regain control.

The Realists keep trying to read the funeral rites over the era of liberalization even as democracy makes strides from Zimbabwe to Tonga.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


No matter what, Patriots get what they want (MARK CRAIG, April 26, 2008, Star Tribune)

The New England Patriots might lose a Super Bowl once in a while, but no one beats this dynasty on draft day.

No one. Not even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Sheriff Goodell stripped the Patriots of their own No. 1 pick as punishment for filming the Jets' defensive signals in violation of league rules in Week 1 last season. Yet the Patriots still managed to fill their biggest need -- linebacker -- with a top-10 pick while trading down to acquire another third-round selection and give themselves five picks in the top three rounds.

In a league that demands parity and frowns on cheating, that's an impressively resourceful day for a team that went 18-1 and cheated last season. But it's hardly a surprise. After all, being a step ahead of everybody else is what Patriots coach Bill Belichick and vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli do best.

Especially on draft day.

Setting aside the bit of hilarity about the NFL being anti-cheating, the Pats have been run the same way for a number of years now--almost like Billy Beane's Athletics. They recognized that high priced players are nearly never worth it in a sport where everyone is interchangeable. The draft, therefore, provides them opportunity because they're always ready to trade down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


When we abuse animals we debase ourselves: What qualities associated with the best in mankind aren't expressed by animals? (Barbara Cook Spencer, April 11, 2008, CS Monitor)

We may not be linked by trunks and tusks, wings and beaks, but I have yet to think of a single quality associated with the best in mankind that is not expressed by animals and often – as with loyalty, sincerity, wisdom, and forgiveness – more perfectly.

Our differences appear to lie more in the complexity with which we express our commonly held qualities. In fact, the caring, thoughtful observation of animals has taught, and can continue to teach, vital lessons about what we ourselves are and what we can accomplish.

Until an animal chooses to follow the morality laid down by God, the reason to treat them well is because of the responsibilities that dominion imposes on us.

April 26, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:33 PM


So, we not only have MoDo and Paul Krugman going into the tank for the GOP and Howard Fineman offering advice that would leave Senator Obama with only Illinois on Election Night, here's what Ed Driscoll found another Newsweek columnist saying.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:10 PM


Only in America: America's particularities will survive George Bush (Lexington, 4/24/08, The Economist)

[L]ook at the 2008 election—the one that is supposed to be changing the direction of the country—and American exceptionalism seems to be as strong as ever. Where else do primary elections go on for well over a year? Where else do candidates raise tens of millions of dollars a month from their supporters? And where else do the party rank-and-file (as well as some non-party people) get a chance to choose the candidate for the top job? Gordon Brown became Britain's prime minister without a single ordinary Briton casting a vote. John McCain won his party's nomination despite the opposition of a large chunk of his party. Mr Obama is leading an uprising against his party's old establishment.

The various campaigns have often invoked American exceptionalism, especially the strength of its religious feeling. Mrs Clinton has stressed her credentials as a cradle Methodist who once thought of becoming a minister. Even before the Jeremiah Wright affair, Mr Obama spoke at length about how he found purpose in life when he discovered God. The only odd thing about this election is the fact that the Democratic candidates both seem more comfortable with God-talk than Mr McCain.

All three candidates preach a peculiarly American style of patriotism. Mr McCain invokes his military service in Vietnam, when he learnt to depend on something greater than himself. Mr Obama argues that there is not a red America or a blue America but one America united by common values. All three candidates wax lyrical about the American dream. And by European standards all three candidates are strikingly willing to sanction the use of force. Mr McCain sings “Bomb, bomb Iran” to the tune of “Barbara Ann”. Mr Obama talks about sanctioning a search-and-destroy mission in Pakistan without the permission of that country's government. Mrs Clinton said this week that, as president, she would have no qualms about “totally obliterating” Iran if it used nuclear weapons against Israel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:59 PM


Gap opens between Al Qaeda and allies: A backlash builds over the network's tactics, including suicide attacks. Its leaders try to defuse the anger. (Josh Meyer, 4/24/08, Los Angeles Times)

Al Qaeda increasingly faces sharp criticism from once-loyal sympathizers who openly question its ideology and tactics, including attacks that kill innocent Muslims, according to U.S. intelligence officials, counter-terrorism experts and the group's own communications.

A litany of complaints target Osama bin Laden's network and its affiliates for their actions in Iraq and North Africa, emphasis on suicide bombings instead of political action and tepid support for, or outright antagonism toward, militant groups pressing the Palestinian cause. [...]

Sayyed Imam Sharif, an Egyptian physician who once was a senior theologian for Al Qaeda, was one of Zawahiri's oldest associates. The author of violent manifestoes over the last two decades, Sharif did an about-face while incarcerated in Egypt. Several other prominent Muslim clerics and former militants have similarly condemned Al Qaeda.

Such rifts have been emerging for several years, but they have become increasingly contentious lately, in cyberspace and on the streets of some Arab countries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:49 PM


Obama doesn't recall '04 Rezko party (John McCormick, April 26, 2008, Chicago Tribune)

The question has lingered since it arose last week during the federal corruption trial of Antoin "Tony" Rezko: Why, just weeks after winning the Democratic U.S. Senate primary in 2004, would Barack Obama attend a party for a controversial Iraqi-born billionaire whom Rezko was trying to lure into an investment?

In an interview Friday, Obama didn't deny the assertion by Stuart Levine, the government's star witness in the Rezko trial, about the party honoring Nadhmi Auchi, a British citizen who is appealing a fraud conviction in France. Obama said he didn't recall the event.

Newsweek pays Howard Fineman to suggest that the Senator remind us all that this is his natural milieu?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 PM


Oil bubble will burst soon, says Lehman report news (Domain-B, 25 April 2008)

The oil boom is on its last leg and may last a few months before a clutch of new refineries start operations amid slackening economic growth across the world, consultancy firm and investment bank Lehman Brothers has predicted in a report.

The report said supply is in fact outpacing demand growth even as inventories have been building up for quite some time now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:44 PM


Fibromyalgia Affects Women More Often Than Men (ScienceDaily, Apr. 26, 2008)

There is no laboratory test available to diagnose fibromyalgia. Doctors must rely on patient histories, self-reported symptoms, a physical examination and an accurate manual tender point examination.

To receive a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, a patient must experience widespread pain in all four quadrants of the body for a minimum duration of three months and experience tenderness or pain in at least 11 of the 18 specified tender points when pressure is applied.

Fibromyalgia may affect as much as 3-6 percent of the U.S. population. It is more common in women than in men, but the reasons for this difference are unclear.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:22 PM


Contrarian McCain: Far from pandering, John McCain tells financially hard-pressed voters things they don't want to hear (LA Times, April 26, 2008)

John McCain's "Time for Action" tour of small and hard-hit towns played a bit like an extended campaign commercial, but with an important difference. Yes, there were the photo ops of the candidate in locales usually bypassed by Republicans seeking the White House, including an African American quilting hotbed in rural Alabama, a shuttered factory in a struggling Ohio town and an impoverished Appalachian community in eastern Kentucky. But instead of promising truckloads of aid if he's elected, McCain talked up his vision of a government that helps more by doing less.

It's not a new message from the Arizona senator, who follows an unpredictable political muse but typically favors smaller government and less regulation. Yet the context was important. Standing outside the Ohio factory Tuesday, in a state where Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton pandered to protectionists, McCain actually stood up for the North American Free Trade Agreement and free trade. The lost factory jobs aren't coming back, McCain said, and rather than waging a futile fight against globalization, Washington should do a better job training workers for careers in the new economy.

The next day he visited Inez, Ky., where nearly a third of the population lives below the poverty line and almost half of the adults never made it through high school. President Lyndon Johnson announced his War on Poverty in Inez, but McCain was there to withdraw the troops. "Government can't create good and lasting jobs outside of government," he said, adding that it should focus on encouraging businesses to create opportunities for the poor and reduce regulatory barriers to improving education.

Meanwhile, the Democrats go there and pretend to oppose free trade while their minions assure the Canadians not to worry, it's just pandering.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 PM


G.O.P. Now Sees Obama as Liability for Ticket (CARL HULSE, 4/26/08, NY Times)

“The public, week by week, is becoming more familiar with his big-government, far-left vision for America,” said Ed Patru, a spokesman for Freedom’s Watch, an advocacy organization that is portraying Mr. Obama as ultraliberal in an advertisement running in Louisiana before a special election for a House seat.

Republicans say the new focus on Mr. Obama reflects their view that he remains the more likely Democratic presidential nominee since he continues to lead Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in convention delegates. It also shows that Republicans, who have for months characterized Mrs. Clinton as the contender who would most energize Republican voters, now see vulnerabilities in Mr. Obama that could be liabilities for other Democrats on the ballot.

“There were times when Republicans reacted with just horror that he would lead the ticket,” said Stuart Rothenberg, a nonpartisan political analyst. “Now there is not the sense of him being invulnerable, the magic bullet. I think there has been a major change.”

The Beltway Right opposed Maverick and feared Senator Obama and they can't figure out why the base doesn't pay any attention to them?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:58 AM


Suddenly, It's Cool to Take the Bus: Sky-high gas prices have more commuters switching to employer-subsidized transportation—and loving it (Michelle Conlin, 4/26/08, BW Magazine)

Companies are big on breaking the car addiction because doing so raises productivity, amps morale, and delivers much lusted-after green cred.

The surge in oil prices has accelerated the trend. So have new corporate tax deductions for employer-subsidized transportation. Consider what's happening at insurer Safeco (SAF). When the company moved to Seattle last year, it installed commuting concierges to help employees figure out how best to use the company's vouchers for mass transit, shuttles, car pools, and ferries. Free rentals from Zipcar await those who need to run errands during the day. Safeco also encourages its staff to skip the commute altogether by offering free phone and broadband service for their home offices, as well as a furniture stipend with which to decorate. Today, 90% of employees are out of their cars, up from 50% in 2006. The company is aiming for zero-car status. Says Safeco transportation analyst Brady Clark: "We're still working on that 10%."

Some companies can't meet the demand fast enough. After Microsoft (MSFT) rolled out a new shuttle-bus service last fall, employees immediately howled for more routes. The plush, Wi-Fi-equipped coaches have become so wildly popular—strategy chief Craig Mundie is a big fan—that when word leaked recently that Microsoft was adding to the service, a group of Microserfs hacked into the reservation system and filled up the new routes before they were even announced. Employee Bryan Keller used to commute alone in his 20-mpg Honda Pilot. "I've regained two hours of my day," he says. Using Microsoft's online "carbon calculator," Keller estimates he's saved $150 on gas and dropped 1,000 pounds of CO2 from his carbon footprint since he began using the service in October.

Other than saving time and money and fostering civil society, mass transit makes no sense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:38 AM


Memo to Obama: Seven things he should do to fix his image problem. (Howard Fineman, 4/26/08, Newsweek)

TELL US IN CONCRETE TERMS WHERE YOU ARE FROM. Kids under 30 don't care about geography. Born and bred in the Mapquest and GPS era, they can't even read a map. They live in and on the Internet, which is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. They are from brands, not places; lifestyle choices, not home-town roots. But that is not true of older people. For them, "where you are from" still matters, and you have to do a better, simpler job of explaining it in terms they understand. And where is that? It's not Indonesia, and it's probably not Hawaii (hard to translate in any case). It's not the Ivy League. You are from where you chose to be from, which is the South Side of Chicago.

You bet. If only people knew he was a Cook County hack everything would be a-okay....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:22 AM


McCain Goes Where Few Republicans Dare, Deep in Democrats’ Territory (ELISABETH BUMILLER, 4/26/08, NY Times)

Mr. McCain was at the end of a weeklong tour to America’s “forgotten places,” otherwise known as swaths of the country where Republicans dare not go — the Black Belt of Alabama, the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, the coal-mining hollow in Appalachia where President Lyndon B. Johnson declared his war on poverty.

Derided by Democrats as an exploitive publicity stunt, promoted by Mr. McCain’s advisers as evidence that he is determined to tackle poverty, the trip was aimed far beyond the people of Selma, Ala., or Inez, Ky. Its target was suburban swing voters who might see Mr. McCain in such unfamiliar surroundings as a different face of the Republican Party. As the candidate put it Thursday, “I don’t know how many votes I’m going to get in Selma, and I don’t know how many votes I’m going to get here in the city of New Orleans.”

Mr. McCain has seemed alternately moved and awkward this week, and at times defensive about his background. At each stop he offered mostly himself. Substantively, he had little to offer other than general outlines of programs for job training, better Internet access for isolated areas and government partnerships with private enterprise for a faster response to natural disasters. In rural towns, people were excited to see a presidential candidate, no matter his party; in cities like New Orleans they were more skeptical.

But Mr. McCain’s campaign camera crew savored the pictures — scenes of Mr. McCain with the quilters of Gee’s Bend, Ala., were on his campaign Web site within 24 hours — and he himself clearly savored his journey to the Democratic base when the base seems so fractured.

The interesting thing is that any GOP nominee would win all three of those states without any effort, but the atmospherics help him in Bluer states where he's going to be uniquely competitive. The dynamic of this election is that he starts out with W's Electoral College majority and forces Senator Obama to defend numerous states just to avoid a blowout.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:10 AM


Party Fears Racial Divide: Attacks Could Do Lasting Harm, Democrats Say (Jonathan Weisman and Matthew Mosk, 4/26/08, Washington Post)

The protracted and increasingly acrimonious fight for the Democratic presidential nomination is unnerving core constituencies -- African Americans and wealthy liberals -- who are becoming convinced that the party could suffer irreversible harm if Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton maintains her sharp line of attack against Sen. Barack Obama.

When your core is the country's margins you can't help but be in electoral trouble.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


Russia's region of 'lawlessness': Since the wars in Chechnya in the mid and late 1990's, Russia's North Caucasus has remained largely off-limits to foreign journalists. But James Rodgers, who covered the separatists' conflict with Kremlin troops has just returned from a rare trip. (James Rodgers, 4/26/08, BBC)

I also visited Ingushetia, the region to the west of Chechnya. This used to be a safe place. No longer. Militants are killing local officials and ethnic Russians.

The groups who are trying to reignite conflict in the Caucasus have plenty to work with. Stories that the Russians and their Chechen allies do not trust each other are easy to believe.

There was a hitch in our travel arrangements. Russians and Chechens were quick to blame each other.

"The locals are idiots," fumed one Muscovite as the spring sun became comfortably warm and the delay continued. He did not know that the Chechen next to him had just said the same to me about Russians.

I did not feel that the north Caucasus was about to explode again. People are exhausted and the rebels are now thought to number only a few hundred.

But the missing and the dead have relatives and Chechnya has a long tradition of blood feuds.

There are countless unemployed young men.

First we deny them the self-determination we insist on for ourselves and then we wonder how their populations become radicalized. We owe George III an apology.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Odysseus Unplugged: a review of THE ODYSSEY: A Dramatic Retelling of Homer’s Epic By Simon Armitage (JAMES PARKER, NY Times Book Review)

Originally commissioned by the BBC and broadcast in 2004, Armitage’s version is a radio play — a play for voices, now published in book form. At times, the reader may feel something is missing: The descriptive sentences that punctuate the dialogue are fairly terse (“Delirious and breathless, Odysseus collapses on the floor”), and one can only guess at the fun some BBC basement wizard must have had with the sound effects (thunderbolts, shades lapping at a puddle of freshly spilled blood and so on). For these moments of wistfulness, however, we are more than compensated by Armitage’s pincer-move on Homer’s epic, his combination of deep attentiveness and refreshing imaginative license.

There are things in Armitage that you won’t find in Homer: the image of Odysseus outside Calypso’s cave, for example, alone on a rock “bleached white, and not by the dung of birds / or the throw of the sea, but by a man’s tears.” And when the Phaeacian ship sets Odysseus down at last on the shore of his longed-for Ithaca, there is a low-voiced conversation over his sleeping body that Homer never wrote. But the tear-blanched rock sits in the tale with a magical solidity, and the two Phaeacians’ gentleness with the unconscious king (“Sailor: Sure we shouldn’t wake him? Skipper: No. This seems right”), while perhaps more a Shakespearean touch than a Homeric one, is a lovely improvisation.

Our elementary school does a unit on Homer, including having the kids perform Odyssey Rock, so we have all kinds of books, videos, etc. scattered around the house. This radio adaptation is especially good and can be found at the BBC website or downloaded here in bit torrent form.

-INTERVIEW: Homer is where the art is: In adapting 'The Odyssey' for radio, Simon Armitage took a great epic poem back to its roots. (Tom Payne , 8/26/04, Daily Telegraph)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM

NOTE THOUGH... (via Lisa Huang Fleischman):

Seven New Deadly Sins: Suitably updated (P.J. O'Rourke, 04/14/2008, Weekly Standard)

Busy times for us sinners--there are now an additional Seven Deadly Sins. The fresh abominations in the eyes of the Lord were announced by Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, head of the Vatican body that oversees confessions and plenary indulgences. This organization goes by the contrition-inducing name of the Apostolic Penitentiary. In an article in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Bishop Girotti detailed the seven new ways we can go to hell or, at the minimum, be sentenced to afterlife in purgatory at the Apostle Pen. The bishop's supersizing of the mortal transgression catalog is thoroughly up-to-date (as translated by the Times of London):

1. Drug abuse

2. Morally debatable experimentation

3. Environmental pollution

4. Causing poverty

5. Social inequality and injustice

6. Genetic manipulation

7. Accumulating excessive wealth

Not to argue theology with the Vatican, but environmental pollution is hardly among Satan's strongest temptations. Pollution is not a passion we resist with an agony of will for the sake of our immortal souls. I've been to parties where all seven of the original deadlies were on offer in carload lots. Never once have I heard a reveler shout with evil glee, "Let's dump PCBs in the Hudson River!"

...that "getting polluted" is slang for drunkenness.

April 25, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 PM


Italy must be broken up, says Berlusconi's wife (Malcolm Moore, 26/04/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Silvio Berlusconi's wife added her voice yesterday to the growing calls for Italy to be partitioned.

In an interview with La Stampa, Veronica Lario, 51, said: "Italy has never been well-suited to being a single country, and has never matured enough to become one. There is no longer any value in a unified Italy."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:33 PM


Is Obama Ready for Prime Time? (KARL ROVE, April 24, 2008, Wall Street Journal)

[D]emocrats run the risk of a split decision in June. Mr. Obama could have more delegates, but she could have more popular votes. In fact, on Tuesday night she actually grabbed the popular vote lead: If you include the Michigan and Florida primary results, Mrs. Clinton now leads the popular vote by a slim 113,000 votes out of 29,914,356 cast.

Mr. Obama will argue he wasn't on the ballot in Michigan and didn't campaign in Florida. But don't Democrats want to count all the votes in all the contests? After all, Mr. Obama took his name off the Michigan ballot; it isn't something he was forced to do. And while he didn't campaign in Florida, neither did she.

And what about the Michigan and Florida delegates? By my calculations, she should pick up about 54 delegates on Mr. Obama if they are seated (this assumes the Michigan "uncommitted" delegates go for Mr. Obama). If he is ahead in June by a number similar to his lead today of 125, does he let the two delegations in and make the convention vote even closer? Or does he continue to act as if two states with 41 of the 270 electoral votes needed for the White House don't exist?

The Democratic Party has two weakened candidates. Mrs. Clinton started as a deeply flawed candidate: the palpable and unpleasant sense of entitlement, the absence of a clear and optimistic message, the grating personality impatient to be done with the little people and overly eager for a return to power, real power, the phoniness and the exaggerations. These problems have not diminished over the long months of the contest. They have grown. She started out with the highest negatives of any major candidate in an open race for the presidency and things have only gotten worse.

And what of the reborn Adlai Stevenson? Mr. Obama is befuddled and angry about the national reaction to what are clearly accepted, even commonplace truths in San Francisco and Hyde Park. How could anyone take offense at the observation that people in small-town and rural American are "bitter" and therefore "cling" to their guns and their faith, as well as their xenophobia? Why would anyone raise questions about a public figure who, for only 20 years, attended a church and developed a close personal relationship with its preacher who says AIDS was created by our government as a genocidal tool to be used against people of color, who declared America's chickens came home to roost on 9/11, and wants God to damn America? Mr. Obama has a weakness among blue-collar working class voters for a reason.

His inspiring rhetoric is a potent tool for energizing college students and previously uninvolved African-American voters. But his appeals are based on two aspirational pledges he is increasingly less credible in making.

Mr. Obama's call for postpartisanship looks unconvincing, when he is unable to point to a single important instance in his Senate career when he demonstrated bipartisanship. And his repeated calls to remember Dr. Martin Luther King's "fierce urgency of now" in tackling big issues falls flat as voters discover that he has not provided leadership on any major legislative battle.

Mr. Obama has not been a leader on big causes in Congress. He has been manifestly unwilling to expend his political capital on urgent issues. He has been only an observer, watching the action from a distance, thinking wry and sardonic and cynical thoughts to himself about his colleagues, mildly amused at their to-ing and fro-ing. He has held his energy and talent in reserve for the more important task of advancing his own political career, which means running for president.

But something happened along the way. Voters saw in the Philadelphia debate the responses of a vitamin-deficient Stevenson act-a-like.

Adlai Stevenson was at least running in an America that still gave Democrats credit for ending the Depression and winning WWII--not to mention the Southerners who appreciated it upholding Jim Crow--whereas Mr. Obama is stuck running in an America that has returned to its conservative default settings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:26 PM


The Future of American Power (Fareed Zakaria, 4/25/08, Foreign Affairs)

The United States has been and can continue to be the world's most important source of new ideas, big and small, technical and creative, economic and political. (If it were truly innovative, it could generate new ideas to produce new kinds of energy.) But to do that, it has to make some significant changes. The United States has a history of worrying that it is losing its edge. Today's is at least the fourth wave of such concern since World War II. The first was in the late 1950s, a result of the Soviet Union's launching of the Sputnik satellite. The second was in the early 1970s, when high oil prices and slow growth convinced Americans that Western Europe and Saudi Arabia were the powers of the future. The third one arrived in the mid-1980s, when most experts believed that Japan would be the technologically and economically dominant superpower of the future. The concern in each of these cases was well founded, the projections intelligent. But none of the feared scenarios came to pass. The reason is that the U.S. system proved to be flexible, resourceful, and resilient, able to correct its mistakes and shift its attention. A focus on U.S. economic decline ended up preventing it.

The problem today is that the U.S. political system seems to have lost its ability to fix its ailments.

You bet, but for our amazing flexibility Communism would have worked, secular Europe and the kingdom of the Sa'uds, and Japan would all be fabulous success stories. The reality is that we did nothing much, they all just had such fundamental structural flaws they were doomed. But at least Japan and Europe rose to affluence before they collapsed. India and China will implode while still rather poor.

MORE (via Bryan Francoeur):
India to crack down on doctors aborting girls (Randeep Ramesh, 4/25/08, The Guardian)

The Indian government yesterday signalled that it would be imposing tougher sentences on doctors who illegally abort female foetuses - a tacit admission that the law was not working.

Experts estimate India has lost 10 million girls in the past 20 years. Yet in the 14 years since selective abortion was outlawed only two doctors has been convicted of the crime - and officials admit one of those is back in business.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:20 PM


A Bush Success (not that he gets credit): The Medicare drug benefit is working better than predicted (James C. Capretta, Peter Wehner, Friday, April 25, 2008, Weekly Standard)

The governmentalists were right about one thing: The new drug benefit is unquestionably designed to encourage market competition. But on everything else, they were mistaken.

The drug benefit's market-based tilt is not complicated. Medicare beneficiaries choose every year from among competing, privately run drug-coverage plans. The government's contribution toward this coverage is set at a fixed percentage of the average premium, and no more. If beneficiaries want to enroll in a plan that costs more than the average, they can do so--but they, not the government, must pay the additional premium.

This structure provides strong incentives for the drug coverage plans to secure discounts from manufacturers and encourage use of lower cost products over more expensive alternatives. Drug plans that fail to cut costs risk losing enrollment to cheaper competitors.

Still, the governmentalists found this design wanting and predicted failure. Their argument was that private insurers wouldn't offer coverage, so the price competition would be weak. Costs would soar without government-set price controls. Beneficiaries wouldn't sign up because the premiums would be too high. The program would collapse under the weight of a public yearning for government-run simplicity.

On all these points, the governmentalists were wrong.

Now in its third year, the drug benefit is working better than predicted. More than 1,800 private plans are competing for enrollment. More important, Medicare beneficiaries like the program. Recent independent surveys show 85 percent are satisfied with their coverage. And little wonder: In 2008, the average beneficiary premium is just $25 per month, well below the original estimate of $41.

The program's competitive design is holding down costs for the government as well. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced earlier this year the new drug benefit's costs will be 40 percent--or $244 billion--less over ten years than originally projected. This is an unprecedented achievement in health care policy.

There are important lessons to draw from this experience. For liberals it is that the greatest threat to public support for their ideology is reality. It's been said that you can prove the possible by the actual--and in this case, the "actual" is that sensible public policy can liberate markets to work in health care just as they work in every other area. Governmentalists have a deep interest in grounding policy debates on issues like health care in abstractions and appeals to fear of the unknown. Pro-market reformers, on the other hand, need only to test their propositions against reality.

For conservatives, there is a need to accept the reality of measured steps in health and entitlement reform. The public will always be uneasy with abrupt changes to arrangements upon which many are dependent. The best approach is to gradually introduce markets and individual choice and ownership without threatening the security of the known. To his credit, President Bush recognized early on that adding a new drug benefit to Medicare presented a rare opportunity to introduce competition into the program, and he seized it.

...is the whining from the Right that he lost.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:32 PM


Esteem for US rises in Asia, thanks to Iraq war (Greg Sheridan, April 26, 2008, The Australian)

Mike Green holds the Japan chair at Washington's Centre for Strategic and International Studies and was for several years the Asia director at the National Security Council. He is also one of America's foremost experts on Japan and northeast Asia generally. [...]

[G]reen's positive thesis is fascinating. The US's three most important Asian alliances - with Australia, Japan and South Korea - have in his view been strengthened by the Iraq campaign. Each of these nations sent substantial numbers of troops to help the US in Iraq. They did this because they believed in what the US was doing in Iraq, and also because they wanted to use the Iraq campaign as an opportunity to strengthen their alliances with the US.

More generally, in a world supposedly awash in anti-US sentiment, pro-American leaders keep winning elections. Germany's Angela Merkel is certainly more pro-American than Gerhard Schroeder, whom she replaced. The same is true of France's Nicolas Sarkozy.

More importantly in terms of Green's analysis, the same is also true of South Korea's new President. Lee Myung-bak, elected in a landslide in December, is vastly more pro-American than his predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun.

Even in majority Islamic societies, their populations allegedly radicalised and polarised by Bush's campaign in Iraq and the global war on terror more generally, election results don't show any evidence of these trends. In the most recent local elections in Indonesia, and in national elections in Pakistan, the Islamist parties with anti-American rhetoric fared very poorly. Similarly Kevin Rudd was elected as a very pro-American Labor leader, unlike Mark Latham, with his traces of anti-Americanism, who was heavily defeated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:51 AM


Taliban bitten by a snake in the grass (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 4/25/08, Asia Times)

At this point, the council hit on the idea of taking the initiative and turning Taliban and al-Qaeda attention on Khyber Agency with the aim of bleeding the Western coalition without having to launch major battles.

This was fine in theory, but there were practical difficulties: the agency is the most unlikely place for "Talibanization". The majority of the population is Brelvi-Sufi Muslim, traditionally opposed to the Taliban's Deobandi and al-Qaeda's Salafi ideology. Being an historic route for armies and traders, the population is politically liberal and pragmatist, not easily swayed by idealist and Utopian ideology such as the Taliban's and al-Qaeda's.

So the Taliban sent in its own fighting corps gathered from other tribal areas, and drafted in Ustad Yasir, a heavyweight Afghan commander, from Afghanistan. These predominantly Pashtun fighters consider the Afridi and Shinwari tribes, the natives of Khyber Agency, as materialist and non-ideological, but all the same a local host was essential for their operation.

The Taliban hit on one of the few Salafis in the area, Haji Namdar, as their point man. Namdar is not a traditional tribal, he's a trader who has worked in Saudi Arabia. His Salafi ideology and the fact that he is a practicing Muslim lent him credibility - and trustworthiness - in the eyes of the Taliban.

Namdar came on board, offering to provide the Taliban with sanctuary for their men, arms and supplies along the main road leading to the border area. He gave these assurances to Taliban leaders in his own home.

The Americans were fully aware of the Taliban's designs on Khyber Agency and invested a lot in the tribes to protect the route. In response, the Taliban threatened tribal chieftains, and launched a suicide attack on a jirga (meeting) convened to discuss eradicating the Taliban from the area. Over 40 tribals were killed.

US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte also visited Khyber Agency to meet with chiefs, but out of fear for the Taliban only six tribal elders showed up. It appeared the Americans had been outwitted, but their game was not over.

Anyway, with the Taliban's arrangement with Namdar, the stage was set and they steadily stepped up their attacks on convoys heading for Afghanistan, leading to the capture of the two WFP members and their vehicle on Monday.

Unlike in previous Taliban attacks in the area, local paramilitary forces chased the Taliban after this incident. The Taliban retaliated and five soldiers were killed, but then their ammunition ran out and they surrendered the two workers and tried to flee, but they were blocked.

The Taliban called in reinforcements, but so did the paramilitary troops, and a stalemate was reached. Eventually, the Taliban managed to capture a local political agent (representing the central government) and they used him as a hostage to allow their escape.

They retreated to their various safe houses, but to their horror, paramilitary troops were waiting for them and scores were arrested, and their arms caches seized. A number of Taliban did, however, manage to escape once word got out of what was happening.

The only person aware of the safe houses was Namdar, their supposed protector: they had been sold out.

Their worst suspicions were confirmed when Namdar broke his cover and announced on a local radio station that Taliban commanders, including Ustad Yasir, should surrender or face a "massacre", as happened when local tribes turned against Uzbek fighters in South Waziristan in January 2007.

Namdar said that he had the full weight of the security forces behind him, and he did not fear any suicide attack.

Al-Qaeda and the Taliban immediately called an emergency shura in North Waziristan to review the situation. Al-Qaeda's investigations revealed that the CIA and Pakistani intelligence had got to Namdar and paid him $150,000 in local currency.

Ah, the loyalty of tribesmen.... There's a cheap currency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:48 AM


The Pastor Returns (Howard Kurtz, 4/25/08, Washington Post)

Barack Obama needed this like he needed a root canal.

Just when the Jeremiah Wright furor seemed to be dying down, the ex-pastor is back and suddenly inescapable. On the tube with Bill Moyers. Speaking to the NAACP. Showing up Monday at the National Press Club.

There it was yesterday, that endless loop of Wright shouting "God damn America" over and over. Yet another opportunity to talk about how he thinks the US of KKK-A created the AIDS virus to kill blacks.

...that they explained how a presidential candidate could keep his mentor and religion hidden from the voters?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:39 AM


Dems' Falling Idol (Rich Lowry, 4/25/08, Real Clear Politics)

The self-appointed 19th-century prophet William Miller attracted an intense following when he predicted the end of the world and the arrival of the Second Coming sometime between March 1843 and April 1844. When the appointed time embarrassingly came and went, one of his followers pluckily predicted a new date of Oct. 22, 1844. The Millerites gathered that night to await the blessed event, and instead experienced what became known as "The Great Disappointment."

Barack Obama's supporters and the media (excuse the redundancy) have expected his ascension to presumed Democratic nominee (accompanied, no doubt, by blazing lights of Unity and trumpet calls of Change - in New Hampshire, Texas and now Pennsylvania - and experienced a "Great Disappointment" each time.

For all the complaints about the length of the American presidential election process, perhaps we can agree on this: it does mitigate against selling people on sizzle--sooner or later they want to taste the steak.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:37 AM


Obama=Dukakis? (David Frum, April 25, 2008, AEI.org)

Two months ago, there seemed no way the Republicans could win the 2008 presidential election.

The polls were awful. Fundraising was hopeless. Twice as many people were voting in Democratic as in Republican primaries.

Today, these objective conditions remain as bad as ever--maybe worse. In March, the Republicans' presumptive nominee, John McCain, raised barely one-third as much as Democratic front-runner Barack Obama. Small donors in particular favor Senator Obama: the Democrat has raised $76 million in small donations over the campaign cycle; McCain, only $7.4 million.

George H. W. Bush defeated the Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis by convincing America that Dukakis was radically unacceptable: too left-wing, too weak, too out of touch with the values of ordinary voters.

The energy, turnout, and volunteering on the Democratic side all dwarf anything we see among Republicans.

And yet this month for the first time this year, Republicans are feeling twinges of optimism.

...just because the Brights finally figure out what Republicans always knew.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


Trees in Your Tank? The Future of Green Gasoline: Earth Day Extra (Chris Ladd, April 22, 2008, Popular Mechanics)

Hydrogen, ethanol and even compressed air all have the shrink-wrapped sheen of the bright, green future. But gasoline? At $1 per gallon?

Researchers at UMass Amherst recently published a new method of refining hydrocarbons from cellulose, paving the way to turn wood scraps into gasoline, diesel fuel, Tupperware—anything, essentially, that’s normally refined from petroleum. Many scientists have been working on ways to turn everything from corn stalks to tires into ethanol, sidestepping some of the problems inherent to making fuel from corn and other food products. But ethanol has a number of liabilities, regardless of the source. For instance, it requires automotive engines to be modified and contains less energy than gasoline, driving down fuel economy. [...]

Huber and his colleagues aren’t the first to derive hydrocarbons from renewable sources. Virent Energy Systems, for example, just signed a deal with Shell to produce gasoline from plant sugars and expects to open a pilot facility in the next two years. UOP is working on a project to produce jet fuel for U.S. and NATO fighters from algal and vegetable oils. But Huber’s work stands out as likely the first direct conversion from cellulose, opening up as potential fuel sources virtually anything that grows. Commercialization of the technology may take another five to 10 years, the researchers predict.

Developments in so-called “green hydrocarbons” arrive as ethanol continues to come under attack as expensive, inefficient and a contributor to rising food prices around the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


Media Jump Ship From Obama To Clinton (Thomas Edsall, 4/25/08, Real Clear Politics)

In a blink of an eye, the media has jumped ship from the Obama campaign and become a crucial Clinton ally, pressing just the message -- that Obama is a likely loser in the general election -- that Hillary and her allies have been promoting for the past six weeks.

The new tenor of media coverage is visible almost everywhere, from Politico, Time and The New Republic to The Washington Post and The New York Times.

There are two dynamics at work here: first, contrary to rightwing paranoids, the media was always going to go after Senator Obama eventually--he's a target-rich environment and their job is blowing such up; second, while everyone gets that the Senator isn't like (and doesn't like) middle America, he isn't like these journalists either, but Ms Clinton is. There's a great bit from 30 Rock, after Tina Fey has pretended to be a drunk so she can listen in on a boyfriend's confessions at AA, where she reveals the deeper truths about herself, one of which is "I'm going to spend months pretending to support Barack Obama and then go into the booth and vote for Hillary." They like the idea that they're the kind of folks who would vote for a black guy in the abstract. They have little interest in the reality of this particular candidate, who none of them knew anything about until roughly six weeks go.

-Political Wisdom: Obama Confronts His Weaknesses: Here’s a summary of the smartest new political analysis on the Web (Sara Murray and Gerald F. Seib, 4/25/08, WSJ: Political Perceptions)
-The Next McGovern?: Obama may still get the nomination, but his loss tonight deals a harsh blow to his electibility arguments (John B. Judis, April 23, 2008, New Republic)

f you look at Obama's vote in Pennsylvania, you begin to see the outlines of the old George McGovern coalition that haunted the Democrats during the '70s and '80s, led by college students and minorities. In Pennsylvania, Obama did best in college towns (60 to 40 percent in Penn State's Centre County) and in heavily black areas like Philadelphia.

Its ideology is very liberal. Whereas in the first primaries and caucuses, Obama benefited from being seen as middle-of-the-road or even conservative, he is now receiving his strongest support from voters who see themselves as "very liberal." In Pennsylvania, he defeated Clinton among "very liberal" voters by 55 to 45 percent, but lost "somewhat conservative" voters by 53 to 47 percent and moderates by 60 to 40 percent. In Wisconsin and Virginia, by contrast, he had done best against Clinton among voters who saw themselves as moderate or somewhat conservative.

Obama even seems to be acquiring the religious profile of the old McGovern coalition. In the early primaries and caucuses, Obama did very well among the observant. In Maryland, he defeated Clinton among those who attended religious services weekly by 61 to 31 percent. By contrast, in Pennsylvania, he lost to Clinton among these voters by 58 to 42 percent and did best among voters who never attend religious services, winning them by 56 to 44 percent. There is nothing wrong with winning over voters who are very liberal and who never attend religious services; but if they begin to become Obama's most fervent base of support, he will have trouble (to say the least) in November.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


Terror talk: No more jihad or Islamists (Allegra Stratton, 4/25/08, guardian.co.uk)

Documents obtained by the Associated Press news agency show officials in federal agencies have been asked not to use the terms jihadists and mujahideen, describe al-Qaida as a movement or refer to Islamo-fascism.

Staff of the state department, homeland security department and national counterterrorism centre, as well as diplomats and other officials, have been told that various words in common use may actually boost support for extremists among Arab and Muslim audiences by giving them a veneer of religious credibility or causing offence to moderates.

The new guidance explains that while Americans may understand jihad to mean holy war, it is in fact a broader Islamic concept of the struggle to do good. Similarly, mujahideen, which means those engaged in jihad, must be seen in its broader context.

...which thinks Crusaders is a pejorative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


Obama has a punctuation problem (John F. Harris and David Paul Kuhn, April 25, 2008, Politico)

Barack Obama’s real opponent now is not Hillary Rodham Clinton. It is a pair of punctuation marks.

The first is a question. The second is an asterisk. [...]

A loss [in Indiana]—on top of a succession of losses in Pennsylvania, Ohio and other big states—would mean the nominee would enter the general election defined to an unusual degree by his vulnerabilities.

Could he run strongly in these states in a general election even after running weakly during the nomination phase? That is the question.

It is strange for a party nominee to confront such a question. Obama faces it only because of the peculiar set of circumstances by which elected delegates and appointed superdelegates will likely give him the nomination. That is the asterisk.

Of course, the decline of Senator Obama traces directly to the point where he stopped being able to run as a question mark whose policies were an asterisk (TBA). Hillary began the process of filling in the blanks, the media has picked up the task, and the GOP is salivating at the opportunity to administer the coup de grace.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


Obama's Self-Inflicted Confusion: Maybe Barack Obama’s transformational campaign isn’t winning over working-class voters because transformation isn’t what they’re looking for. (Paul Krugman, 4/25/08, Der Spiegel)

But how negative has the Clinton campaign been, really? Yes, it ran an ad that included Osama bin Laden in a montage of crisis images that also included the Great Depression and Hurricane Katrina. To listen to some pundits, you’d think that ad was practically the same as the famous G.O.P. ad accusing Max Cleland of being weak on national security.

It wasn’t. The attacks from the Clinton campaign have been badminton compared with the hardball Republicans will play this fall. If the relatively mild rough and tumble of the Democratic fight has been enough to knock Mr. Obama off his pedestal, what hope did he ever have of staying on it through the general election?

Let me offer an alternative suggestion: maybe his transformational campaign isn’t winning over working-class voters because transformation isn’t what they’re looking for.

From the beginning, I wondered what Mr. Obama’s soaring rhetoric, his talk of a new politics and declarations that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” (waiting for to do what, exactly?) would mean to families troubled by lagging wages, insecure jobs and fear of losing health coverage. The answer, from Ohio and Pennsylvania, seems pretty clear: not much. Mrs. Clinton has been able to stay in the race, against heavy odds, largely because her no-nonsense style, her obvious interest in the wonkish details of policy, resonate with many voters in a way that Mr. Obama’s eloquence does not.

...his ability to get Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman to talk sense certainly smacks of the supernatural.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Syria accuses U.S. of aiding Israel in raid (Reuters, 4/25/08)

Syria accused the United States on Friday of involvement in last year's Israeli attack on Syria that Washington said struck a suspected nuclear reactor built with North Korea's help.

A Syrian statement said: "The U.S. administration was apparently party to the execution" of the September raid by Israeli warplanes on eastern Syria. The statement did not give details. A U.S. official said on Thursday that Washington did not give Israel any "green light" to strike the area.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Poll: Online Degrees Earn Wider Acceptance in the Business World (Zogby, 4/17/08)

In the Excelsior College/Zogby International survey, 61 percent of chief executive officers (CEOs) and small business owners nationwide said they were familiar with online or distance learning programs. When assessing whether or not they would view an online degree as credible they cited consideration of factors such as the accreditation of the college or university, the quality of its graduates and the name of the institution awarding the degree. Only 5 percent of those surveyed cited as a consideration whether or not the college or university was fully online or was part of a traditional campus-based program.

When asked whether they tended to give more weight to an applicant's work experience or educational background in making a hiring decision, 50 percent of the CEOs and small business owners said they gave more weight to a candidate's work experience. Almost as many (46%) said they equally consider both work experience and education in their decisions. Only one percent said they gave more weight to educational background.

Fitting, since only about 1% of jobs utilize anything you might learn in secondary school.

April 24, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 PM


Farewell, Foyle (Simon Hoggart, 23rd April 2008, The Spectator)

Foyle's War (ITV); Age of Terror (BBC2)

So it’s goodbye to Foyle’s War (Sunday, ITV), for the time being at least. The series seems to have been cancelled not because it was no good; it was, for a TV ’tec drama, superb. Nor because it had poor ratings — they were huge for today’s crowded television schedules. The reason seems to be that it had the wrong kind of viewers, people who remembered the war or, increasingly these days, people who were born to people who remembered the war. It is a given of marketing that the young are the only target advertisers should bother to attract, since they are deemed to flit from brand to brand like binge-drinking butterflies. Older people are presumed to be set in their ways. No doubt some are. But many are prepared to use their larger incomes to switch from one brand of car to another, to try new drinks, new toilet cleansers and new places to go on holiday. However, marketing is a ju-ju science, much like astrology, and its practitioners need to insist they are never wrong because if you examined their work carefully you would discover that they were rarely right.

There is talk that Foyle may be back in, no doubt, something called Foyle’s Austerity with episodes about stolen ration books and doctors who don’t want to join the NHS. I have a suggestion which might solve ITV’s conundrum. Have him take part in a reverse Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes. Injured in a crash, hit amidships by an ancient Humber, he wakes up several decades in the future. Here he is shocked to discover the rules of modern policing, as well as coping with drug dealers and people traffickers in a world full of WKD cocktails and hedge-fund managers. I’d love to see him walk into an All Bar One wearing that Homburg and that overcoat.

...is that for us American viewers there is another season of Foyle's War to look forward to and, even better, there are more Inspector Lewis's than just the one Mystery! has shown. Lewis's sidekick may be the best since himself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 PM


Better Roses Than Cocaine (NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, 4/24/08, NY Times)

In Latin America, it is Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton who are seen as the go-it-alone cowboys, by opposing the United States’ free-trade agreement with Colombia.

Some Democrats claim that they are against the pact because Colombia has abused human rights. Those concerns are legitimate — but they shouldn’t be used to punish people like Norma Reynosa, a 35-year-old woman who just may snip the flowers that go into the Mother’s Day bouquet that you buy.

Human rights aren’t abstract to Ms. Reynosa. Two of her relatives were killed in the brutal warfare and insecurity that plague her home region in Colombia’s South. A third was killed by a land mine, and a fourth was kidnapped at age 12 to work for guerrillas in the National Liberation Army, or the ELN. Ms. Reynosa ran a small restaurant but had to flee when the guerrillas demanded that she pay more extortion money than she could afford.

“They said they would kill us,” she recalled. “They didn’t say how. Mostly they just shot people and threw their bodies in the river.”

So in June 2005, Ms. Reynosa and her husband abandoned their home and fled to the outskirts of the capital to see if they could get jobs in the booming flower industry. Colombian cities like Medellín were the most dangerous cities in the world in the 1980s and ’90s, but now they are thriving and homicide rates are well below those of some American cities.

One reason is those bouquets you buy, entering duty-free from Colombia. These days Colombia is the world’s second-largest exporter of flowers after the Netherlands, and almost 200,000 people work in the flower industry. Up to 28 cargo planes a day carry flowers from Colombia to the U.S.

Better carnations than cocaine, no?

...is based on emotion, rather than thought, so we ought not expect them to reconsider their conventional wisdom, but here's an exercise it would be interesting to see Mr. Kristof engage in: sit down with a folded piece of paper and on one side write down the world leaders/countries who would be glad to see Obama elected and on the other those who would prefer Bush/McCain.

Baby Assad
Kim Jong-il



Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 PM


The Incredibly Shrinking Democrats (Joe Klein, Apr. 24, 2008, TIME)

But that was nothing compared with the damage done to Obama, who entered the primary as a fresh breeze and left it stale, battered and embittered — still the mathematical favorite for the nomination but no longer the darling of his party. In the course of six weeks, the American people learned that he was a member of a church whose pastor gave angry, anti-American sermons, that he was "friendly" with an American terrorist who had bombed buildings during the Vietnam era, and that he seemed to look on the ceremonies of working-class life — bowling, hunting, churchgoing and the fervent consumption of greasy food — as his anthropologist mother might have, with a mixture of cool detachment and utter bemusement. [...]

In his 1991 book, The Reasoning Voter, political scientist Samuel Popkin argued that most people make their choice on the basis of "low-information signaling" — that is, stupid things like whether you know how to roll a bowling ball or wear an American-flag pin. In the era of Republican dominance, the low-information signals were really low — how Michael Dukakis looked in a tanker's helmet, whether John Kerry's favorite sports were too precious (like wind-surfing), whether Al Gore's debate sighs over his opponent's simple obfuscations were patronizing. Bill Clinton was the lone Democratic master of low-information signaling — a love of McDonald's and other assorted big-gulp appetites gave him credibility that even trumped his evasion of military service.

The audacity of the Obama campaign was the belief that in a time of trouble — as opposed to the peace and prosperity of the late 20th century — the low-information politics of the past could be tossed aside in favor of a high-minded, if deliberately vague, appeal to the nation's need to finally address some huge problems. But that assumption hit a wall in Pennsylvania.

No one makes less sense than Joe Klein when he's trying to be PC, but even by his standards the attempt to oppose "low-information" to "vague" is just hilarious. The fundamental flaw of the Obama candidacy was always that he was running, by necessity, a campaign based on not exposing voters to information about him. You can get away with that briefly, especially if your opponent is afraid of being mau-maued, but not for an entire election cycle. Now folks are getting access to information about him, his background and his politics and are rejecting him as the always do Northern liberals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


Hot Caramel Dip (Shelley Campbell, April 24, 2008, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

* 2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
* 1 1/3 cup brown sugar
* 2/3 cup white sugar
* 1 tablespoon vanilla

Mix together all ingredients and microwave until hot. Place dip in small crockpot or fondue pot to keep warm.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


A passion for Persia, Disneyland and dolphins (Nazila Fathi, April 24, 2008, IHT)

The indoor dolphin show was in full swing as Hossein Sabet walked in to a burst of applause from the 1,200 people in attendance. Clad in tight beige equestrian pants and long black boots, he waved at the crowd and went straight to his office behind the pool.

Sabet, 58, an Iranian expatriate who spends most of his time in Germany, is no performer, however. He is a businessman and something of a local legend, having invested more than $300 million here in hotels and attractions like the dolphin show, the only one in the Middle East.

He has built this island's fanciest establishment, the Dariush Grand Hotel, modeled after the Persian capital of Persepolis, which dates from 500 B.C. He also owns 11 hotels in Europe and the Canary Islands.

One of the Iranian islands in the Gulf, Kish is accessible to foreigners without a visa and to Iranians looking to vacation in a relatively relaxed atmosphere, though things are not as relaxed now as they were before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power.

In addition to the Dariush Grand - named for Darius the Great, the empire builder of the sixth century B.C. who was eventually defeated by the Greeks at Marathon - Sabet owns five other hotels here and a huge park with exotic birds, an aquarium, a butterfly enclave and the dolphin show.

He says he is also negotiating to build the first Disneyland in the Middle East, but his passion is Iran and its Persian identity. "I have reached a point in life that money does not matter anymore," he said in an interview at the Dariush Grand. "I want to make people happy. I want to revive the 7,000-year-old identity of this nation."

There's a great bit in Tony Horwitz's trerrific book, Baghdad Without a Map, when he attends Ayatollah Khomeini's funeral, along with millions of Iranians:
One of the demonstrators peeled off to rest by the curb, and I edged over to ask him what the mourners were shouting.

'Death to America,' he said.

'Oh.' I reached for my notebook as self-protection and scribbled the Farsi transliteration : Margbar Omrika.

'You are American?' he asked.

'Yes. A journalist.' I braced myself for a diatribe against the West and its arrogant trumpets.

'I must ask you something,' the man said. 'Have you ever been to Disneyland?'

'As a kid, yes.'

The man nodded, thoughtfully stroking his beard. 'My brother lives in California and has written me about Disneyland,' he
continued. 'It has always been my dream to go there and take my children on the tea-cup ride.'

With that, he rejoined the marchers, raised his fist and yelled 'Death to America!' again.

Soon, we'll go to Kish while he comes here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


After Pennsylvania: demography is destiny: With neither Clinton nor Obama offering a compelling political vision, the primaries are becoming a deeply entrenched war of identities. (Sean Collins, 4/24/08, spiked)

It’s almost as if demography is destiny. Pennsylvania has similar demographics as Ohio, and, sure enough, the Pennsylvania results were similar to Ohio’s back in March. In particular, Pennsylvania has a large proportion of senior citizens (the second-highest after Florida in fact – and, unlike Florida, very few are retiring to Pennsylvania), which was to Clinton’s advantage. And so, despite all of the noise about Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Bittergate and Clinton dodging sniper-fire in Bosnia, these events in the end did not upset what’s become the predictable demographic dividing line between the two candidates.

In electoral terms, this divide means that when the race moves on to states that have more favorable demographics for Obama – such as in about two weeks’ time in North Carolina and, to a lesser extent, Indiana – it is possible that he will come out on top, but that would not necessarily signal a swing in momentum towards his campaign. And what’s even more important than these electoral considerations are the political implications of this demographic divide.

Essentially these ongoing allegiances reflect the fact that neither candidate has a compelling vision that is able to win over voters across the spectrum of the party. For all of the excitement around the race, it has noticeably lacked a discussion of big ideas. Having to choose among personalities rather than programmes, many voters have seemingly fallen back on preferences that align with certain demographic profiles. As the race has continued, the candidates have moved even further away from any connection to ideas, turning inwards towards so-called negative ‘gotcha’ attacks. And, at the same time, the voters’ attachments, which began as mostly arbitrary and based on personal experiences, have showed signs of hardening into battles between competing identities.

The Left had a universalist vision that its tribes cohered around for the better part of a century: the socialistic Second Way. But the very fact that tribalism remained suggested all along that the vision was unsustainable ideologically and, of course, when it was tested it was treated unmercifully by reality (see under 1960's-70's America and modern Europe).

Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Kevin Rudd and other liberal leaders were able to come to terms with that failure and conform to the Third Way of New Zealand, Pinochet, and Thatcher. Lesser lights in their parties have proved unable to make the adjustment. It is the Democrats' misfortune to be well on their way towards nominating their third consecutive Second Way candidate in a Third Way epoch. It doesn't just cost them elections but, as Mr. Collins recognizes, sets loose the tribes against each other because the nominees are, wisely, terrified of running on the outdated and rejected ideas of yore.

April 23, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 PM


James Woolsey, Green Neocon: The former CIA director turned clean-energy enthusiast is part geek, part zealot—and all iconoclast (Laura Rozen, May/June 2008, Mother Jones)

Like many clean-energy enthusiasts, Woolsey is part geek, part zealot. He's happy to spend a Saturday morning showing off the three rows of photovoltaic panels on his roof, the meter in his basement that displays when his house is feeding electricity back to the grid, and his white hybrid with a "Bin Laden Hates This Car" bumper sticker. "In two weeks," he boasts of his next oil-saving upgrade, "my Prius is going to become a plug-in." He wrote the foreword to 50 Simple Steps to Save the Earth From Global Warming, appeared in Who Killed the Electric Car? and Leonardo DiCaprio's The 11th Hour, and cofounded a group to wean Americans from foreign oil.

As Woolsey explains it, there is a seamless connection between his strategic worldview and energy-independence convictions. In an op-ed he coauthored for National Review last September, he wrote of ending our reliance "on the whims of opec's despots, the substantial instabilities of the Middle East, and the indignity of paying for both sides in the War on Terror." He still thinks the United States should continue its global military role even as it untangles itself from the Middle East, standing by the decision to depose Saddam Hussein. "I'd support his ouster again if there weren't a drop of oil in Iraq," he explains. "If all that had been at issue was the oil, the simple thing to do would have been to just buy it."

Woolsey recalls the moment he started thinking seriously about energy as both an environmental and strategic issue. "I was sitting in my car in a gas line in Washington in '73, after the Saudis had declared an oil embargo on us and Israel was attacked," he says. "And I got mad." Energy issues have captivated him ever since. In the early '80s, he joined the Jefferson Group, an alternative-fuel salon founded on the Jeffersonian ideal "that the future of America is determined by the independent yeoman farmer."

An independent streak has run throughout Woolsey's 40-plus years in Washington. He has served in four administrations, both Republican and Democratic. In the twilight of the Cold War, he found himself increasingly identifying with Republicans on national security. He spent three years as a member of then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board. When I met with him, he was expecting another career change, leaving the federal contractor Booz Allen Hamilton to join a California firm that invests in alternative-energy technology. He'd also just appeared in an anti-oil print ad for the American Clean Skies Foundation, a PR group started by a natural gas company.

Being a green neoconservative is becoming less lonely, Woolsey says, especially as more hawks come to see energy as a security issue. He tells a story about an argument with a friend who is a global warming skeptic. When Woolsey explained how improvements to the electrical infrastructure could make it safer from terrorists, his friend replied, "Oh, well, that's fine, then—we can do all that as long as it's not because of this fictional global warming."

One of the ways in which the Right resembles the Left -- which is to say behaves in reactionary fashion -- is in the determination to stay dependent on gasoline just to teach environmentalists a lesson.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 PM


Ahmadinejad under fire on economy (BBC, 4/23/08)

Iran's outgoing finance minister has added his voice to mounting criticism of his president's economic policies amid a period of economic difficulty.

Davoud Danesh-Jafari said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government lacked experience and had no solid plans.

He accused Mr Ahmadinejad of giving priority to "peripheral issues" while allowing inflation to reach 18%.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 PM


McCain's Hollywood advantage (Lindsey Meyers, 4/17/08, Brown Daily Herald)

If Americans vote at the ballot box, they also express their political preferences at the box office. And recent cinematic trends suggest that conservatism is not as moribund as some hope and others fear.

An intriguing case in point is the inability of Hollywood to translate the unpopularity of the war into domestic box office success. Major studios have produced movies highly critical of Bush's war on terror with some of Hollywood's most bankable stars.

However, every one of these movies bombed at the box office. Consider "Rendition" with Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal, "In the Valley of Elah" with Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Thereon or "Lions for Lambs" with Tom Cruise, Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. These box office flops led Jon Stewart to quip at the Oscars that "Withdrawing the Iraq movies would only embolden the audience. We cannot let the audience win."

By contrast, recent movies with distinctly conservative messages have been huge hits. Judd Apatow's recent films are a case in point. "Knocked Up," and "Superbad," earned a combined domestic gross in excess of $270,000,000.

With their drug use, drinking and gross humor, these movies might seem like unlikely platforms for traditional values. However, no less an authoritative source than Seth Rogen, star of "Knocked Up" and co-writer of "Superbad," said, "We make extremely right-wing movies with extremely filthy dialogue."

The thematic content of these movies supports Rogen's point. Each movie is a traditional morality tale, a poignantly humorous work where characters come of age by overcoming modern temptations and embracing conservative principles. [...]

Apatow's ability to translate social conservatism into box office success should be an object lesson for Democrats and Republicans alike. If voter dissatisfaction with the Republican handling of the war and the economy is an irresistible force, social conservatism may be an immovable object. As a result, no presidential candidate will be able to decisively win or effectively govern without operating within the framework of traditional social values.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 PM


Flunking the tenure test (Doug Schneider, April 23, 2008, Washington Times)

Earlier this month, the Collegiate Network awarded Iowa State University (ISU) a 2008 Campus Outrage Award for classroom bias. ISU received the fifth place for denying Professor Guillermo Gonzalez, Assistant Professor of Physics & Astronomy, tenure after he co-authored in 2004 the book, "The Privileged Planet," which suggests Intelligent Design might be responsible for life on Earth. Although he never taught Intelligent Design in class, when Dr. Gonzalez applied for tenure in 2007, he was denied.

It is inexplicable that Mr. Gonzalez was denied tenure. He has had nearly 70 peer-reviewed articles published and has co-authored a major college-level astronomy textbook, which was well beyond the standard and tenure requirements of the Physics & Astronomy department at ISU. Interestingly enough, while his colleagues questioned Mr. Gonzalez's view on Intelligent Design — a bias clearly revealed through faculty e-mail exchanges released to the public — they heartily approved of another ISU professor, Hector Alvalos, who drew parallels between "Mein Kampf" and the Bible.

If tenure is based on academic success through researching and teaching at ISU, which Mr. Gonzalez clearly accomplished, then what more would ISU liked to have seen of Mr. Gonzalez? In 2007, the year Gonzalez was denied tenure, 91 percent of tenure applications were approved, Professor Alvalos being one of them.

Unfortunately, seems a close adherence to the narrow ideology of the university, as opposed to actual academic accomplishments, are a better route for tenure at ISU.

No faith, especially not a dying one, ought be expected to tolerate heretics. If Darwinism loses its academic monopoly it won't even be able to muster its current 13% in the polls.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 PM


North American leaders rebuke critics of NAFTA (Jon Ward, April 23, 2008, Washington Times)

President Bush and his Mexican and Canadian counterparts yesterday directly challenged talk by Democratic presidential candidates of pulling out of a trade agreement among the three countries.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon released the strongest criticism. He said a withdrawal from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would "condemn North America as a region to complete backwardness."

"If you were to take a step backwards with regard to NAFTA or free trade, you would be condemning Americans to have one of the least competitive economies in the developed world, while other parts of the world are accelerating their growth," Mr. Calderon said, mentioning the consolidated trade bloc of China, India, Japan and the European Union.

Given that pretty much the entire Anglosphere, much of the West and several other neighbors have elected leaders out of the Bill Clinton/Tony Blair/George W. Bush mold (even Raul Castro seems a wannabe), it would be an odd time for us to elect a Second Way sort and alienate all our allies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 PM


Hints of Progress Toward a Deal on the Golan Heights (ISABEL KERSHNER, 4/23/08, NY Times)

Peace overtures between Israel and Syria moved up a gear on Wednesday when a Syrian cabinet minister said that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel had sent a message to President Bashar al-Assad to the effect that Israel would be willing to withdraw from all the Golan Heights in return for peace with Syria.

The Syrian expatriate affairs minister, Buthaina Shaaban, told Al Jazeera television that “Olmert is ready for peace with Syria on the grounds of international conditions; on the grounds of the return of the Golan Heights in full to Syria.” She said that the message had been conveyed by Turkey.

...tends to undercut their case for refusing to deal with Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 PM


Record-breaking Mentos and coke explosions (Natalie Paris, 23/04/2008, Daily Telegraph)

...they think they're testing a weapons system.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 PM


Next Stop for the Dems: Indiana (STEVEN GRAY, 4/23/08, TIME)

One of the few polls surveying this state's electorate puts Obama slightly ahead of Clinton, 40% to 35%. He is expected to win Indianapolis, given its significant black population, and he may do well in the city's so-called collar counties, like Hamilton. After working hard to boost voter rolls at colleges and even high schools (17-year-olds can participate in Indiana's primaries, so long as they're 18 by the general election), Obama is also expected to win the state's college towns, as well as Indiana's Northwestern corner, partly because it falls within the media market of his hometown of Chicago. However, Obama faces significant hurdles in the rest of Indiana, whose blue-collar demographics and sensibilities closely resemble those of Ohio, which he lost by 10.5 percentage points.

Despite Clinton's derision of Obama as an elitist in recent days, her Indiana strategy has been hinged on winning the support of the state's political establishment. That began in earnest with last fall's endorsement by Sen. Evan Bayh, the popular former governor. She also won the backing of Indiana's Democratic party chair, Dan Parker, who, like Bayh, is among the state's 12 superdelegates. Still, the race is considered so tight that Stephen J. Luecke, South Bend's mayor, began a recent interview with TIME by saying, "Whoever our nominee is, I'm going to fully support him. Or her." Earlier this month, he revealed his allegiance by introducing Obama to a crowd of 3,500 screaming fans at a late-night rally at a high school here.

But if Clinton has an advantage amongst the state's power brokers, Obama appears to have a lead at the grassroots level, and his continued fund-raising advantage reflects that; in March, Indianans gave some $218,800 to Obama's campaign, and $79,600 to Clinton's.

...that IN really has so many more blacks and activists than OH and PA that Senator Obama will win there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 PM


Supreme Court rules that the police can seize evidence after an arrest (The Associated Press, April 23, 2008)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that police can conduct searches and seize evidence after arrests that may turn out to have violated state law.

The unanimous decision came in a case from Portsmouth, Virginia, where city detectives seized crack cocaine from a motorist after arresting him for a traffic ticket offense. David Lee Moore was pulled over for driving on a suspended license. The violation is a minor crime in Virginia and calls for the police to issue a court summons and to let the driver go.

Instead, the detectives arrested Moore and prosecutors in the case said that drugs taken from him in a subsequent search could be used against him as evidence.

"We reaffirm against a novel challenge what we have signaled for half a century," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the court. Scalia said that when officers have probable cause to believe a person had committed a crime in their presence, the Fourth Amendment permits them to make an arrest and to search the suspect to safeguard evidence and to ensure their own safety.

In historical terms we might consider this Court to be 7 conservatives and 2 moderates.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


Robot soccer players learning the 'beautiful game' (Juergen Voges, 4/24/08, Associated Press)

They're not quite the automatons and androids of popular culture, but the small sporting robots on the field in Germany this week are no less entertaining.

Some move about on three wheels; others plod slowly and deliberately on two or four legs. These robots come in a multitude of designs — ranging from thumb-sized midgets to over 2½-foot giants.

Their common aim? To win the annual RoboCup German Open at the Hannover Trade Fair by getting the ball into their opponents' goal.

The smart money is on Brazil in the Gay Robotic World Cup.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 AM


Nancy Hearts Hugo (Matthew Continetti, 4/23/2008, The Weekly Standard)

A war-torn country with a democratically elected government, plagued by militias, terrorists, and drugs--but one that is steadily making progress against all these evils--wants to strengthen its ties to the United States. The Bush administration acts to help this ally. What does the Democratic Congress do? It changes the rules so that the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CFTA), negotiated in good faith between the two governments and inked in 2006, can't come to a vote.

Memo to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez: Send flowers to the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

It is Chávez who profits most from the CFTA's demise. For years now, he's been locked in a struggle with Colombian president lvaro Uribe over the future of South America. Chávez wants that future to be socialist, authoritarian, friendly to other dictators, and belligerent toward the United States. Uribe wants it to be market-oriented, democratic, and integrated into an international system friendly to freedom and organized and led by the United States. The two visions could not be more different.

...that when Nancy Pelosi, Chris Dodd, Tom Harkin, and the rest of them wake up in a sweat at night they find themselves shrieking "Hassenfuss!"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 AM

I WANT MY ED TV (profanity alert):

Friend Ed Driscoll has up a very funny video that captures the degree to which Obamania is nothing more than the desire of those on the Left to have their own bull[squat] to believe in. And what does it say about them that they know their past idols were hoaxes but they're bitter that they haven't had one of their own?

[By the way, I can't be the only one who thinks Ed ought to to do these reports while mounted on his Segway.]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


Right-Sizing the College Market: Let students find an investment market for their talents. (Thomas Sowell, 4/23/08, National Review)

Some education is not only a good thing but a great thing. But, like most good things, there are limits to how much of it is good — and how good compared to other uses of the resources required.

In other words, education is not a Good Thing categorically in unlimited amounts, for people of all levels of ability, interest, and willingness to work.

Nor is there any obvious way to set an arbitrary limit. These are questions that no given individual can answer for a whole society.

The most we can do is confront individuals with the costs that their choices are imposing on others who want the same resources for other purposes, and are willing to pay for those resources.

We have universal public education because a republic requires that its citizens be reasonably well-informed in order for their votes to be worthwhile, but beyond that public subsidies do naught but drive the costs of education up and deprive us of skilled workers even though most men are ineducable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


Denial Is a Senator from California: Life in the Senate. (Paul Kengor, 4/23/08, National Review)

Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Penn.), at the time the leading defender of the unborn in the Senate, paused to ask Senator Boxer a “what if.” What if, asked Santorum almost facetiously, in the course of the partial-birth abortion, the baby’s foot was inside the mother but the rest of the baby was outside. “Could that baby be killed?”

Santorum was trying to illustrate the absurdity of the point. He was taken aback, however, as Boxer struggled for an answer. Santorum pressed on, reiterating the question with different body parts, prompting Boxer — caught in the ridiculousness of her position — to snap, “I am not answering these questions.” Boxer informed Santorum that he (not she) was “losing his temper.”

Santorum did, however, get an answer from Boxer on this one: “Do you agree, once the child is born, separated from the mother, that that child is protected by the Constitution and cannot be killed?” Boxer replied: “I think when you bring your baby home, when your baby is born . . . the baby belongs to your family and has rights.” The gentle-lady from California had developed her own definition of a baby.

This surreal scenario was repeated during another debate over partial-birth abortion in October 2003, this time with Sen. Sam Brownback (R., Kan.). Brownback presented the now-famous photograph of tiny, pre-born Samuel Alexander Armas squeezing his doctor’s finger from his mother’s womb during a delicate emergency surgery. Brownback posed to Boxer the same kind of ludicrously simple and (one would think) unnecessary questions Santorum had tried. He asked the senator if the picture represented a piece of property or “the hand of a child.” Boxer fired back: “I am not a doctor, and I am not God.” [...]

[S]enator Brownback, a devout Catholic who has replaced the departed Santorum as the Senate’s most stalwart defender of the unborn, sponsored a resolution welcoming the pontiff.

It turns out, though, that Brownback was guilty of an egregious affront in his draft resolution: He had dared to thank the pope for valuing “each and every human life.” This was an apt acknowledgment for the man in Rome, given his remarkable consistency on life issues across the board, from abortion to AIDS to embryos to war. Nonetheless, Brownback’s statement of the obvious raised the ire of pro-choice Democrats in the Senate, particularly Barbara Boxer, who feared “human life” might extend to the unborn — a group that, by her definition, not only has no human rights but is not even human life.

This, of course, could not stand. Boxer immediately demanded that the “objectionable language” (the words of one senior Democratic Senate aide) be dropped from the resolution.

And they wonder that they're losing Catholics?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


Taking Stock of the Catholic Vote(s) (Steven Waldman, 4/23/08, Wall Street Journal: Political Perceptions)

Sen. Clinton trounced Sen. Obama 69% to 31% among Catholic voters, according to exit polls. Ominously, this pattern appears in polls pitting Sen. Obama against Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain. Last month’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll had Sen. Obama beating Sen. McCain 47% to 44% but losing among Catholics 48% to 44%.

Remember, President Bush’s victory in 2004 had as much to do with his winning the Catholic vote as the much-discussed evangelical Christian vote. Mr. Bush beat Sen. John Kerry among Catholics 52% to 46%, even though Al Gore had beaten Bush 50% to 46% in 2000. If the Catholic Mr. Kerry had merely done as well among Catholics as the Baptist Mr. Gore, he probably would have won the presidency.

But the modern Democratic Party has ever less appeal to Christians, a not inconsiderable portion of the American people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


Clinton Wins Lackawanna With Only 74 Percent (Jake Tapper, April 23, 2008, ABC News: Political Punch)

ABC News Political Director David Chalian reports that Obama only won seven of the state's 67 counties -- Philly, Delaware, Dauphin, Chester, Lancaster, Centre and Union.

He lost two key suburban Philadelphia counties he needed to win. Clinton won Montgomery County 51% to 49%; she won Bucks County 63% to 37%.

Clinton won Lackawanna County, the home of Obama-backing Sen. Bob Casey, with 74% to Obama's 26%.

Gosh, maybe Mr. Casey's constituents aren't down with infanticide after all....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Leader calls for strong Iran economy (Press TV, 23 Apr 2008)

The Leader of the Islamic Revolution says Iran must strengthen its economic foundation to protect the sovereignty of its nation.

Addressing workers on Wednesday, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said because of the Islamic Revolution the Iranian nation has ensured its political independence.

The Leader, however, added that in order to protect its sovereignty and political privacy, Iran must strengthen its economy.

Iran's agreement to talks on nuclear programs raises hopes (The Associated Press, 4/23/08)
The U.N. nuclear monitoring agency on Wednesday announced a "milestone" agreement with Iran that aims to provide answers about allegations Tehran tried to develop nuclear weapons under cover of a peaceful atomic program.

International Atomic Energy Agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming divulged no details in a brief statement about the deal. But IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei called the agreement "a milestone" that — if successful — should signal the end of his organization's years of attempts to probe Tehran's secretive nuclear program.

Israel changes tune on Iran (Peter Hirschberg , 4/24/08, Asia Times)
In the clearest indication yet that Israel now believes Iran's nuclear aspirations will be curbed, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that efforts being undertaken by the international community will ensure that Tehran does not acquire nuclear capability. [...]

Talks in China last week looked not just at sanctions against Iran, but also "incentives" aimed at persuading Tehran to curb its nuclear pursuit. US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that officials from the US, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, China and the European Union were looking "at the incentive side of the equation".

If Olmert now believes that the efforts of the international community will bear fruit, then his comments seem to reflect an Israeli conviction that diplomatic means will be central in stopping Iran from going nuclear.

Ayatollah Khamenei recognizes that Ahmedinejad and his nuclear posturing just serve as impediments to the economic reform that preserving the Republic requires.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Signs Indicate That Duels May Be Hurting Party (Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta, 4/23/08, Washington Post)

Nearly seven in 10 voters said Clinton has attacked Obama unfairly, and half said the same of Obama's campaign against Clinton. Those are the highest numbers saying the candidates have unjustly characterized each other since before Super Tuesday contests on Feb. 5, according to network exit polls conducted with voters as they left polling places.

Barely more than a third of Clinton voters in Pennsylvania said they would be happy with Obama atop the Democratic ticket; less than half of those backing Obama said they would be satisfied with Clinton as the one leading the challenge of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumed GOP nominee.

Clinton voters also appear especially likely to say they will abandon the party if their candidate is not the nominee. Fifty-three percent of those voting for her yesterday said they would cast a ballot for Obama in a hypothetical November matchup against McCain. More than a quarter said they would vote for the Republican, and about two in 10 said they would not vote at all.

...so can someone show me how you can run the numbers and end up with a President Obama when he can't win any state that W won and is going to have trouble defending places like PA, WI, MN, and maybe even CA?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Wilting Over Waffles: Now that Hillary has won Pennsylvania, it will take a village to help Obama escape from the suffocating embrace of his rival. (Maureen Dowd, 4/23/08, Der Spiegel)

The Democrats are eager to move on to an Obama-McCain race. But they can’t because no one seems to be able to show Hillary the door. Despite all his incandescent gifts, Obama has missed several opportunities to smash the ball over the net and end the game. Again and again, he has seemed stuck at deuce. He complains about the politics of scoring points, but to win, you’ve got to score points.

He knew he tanked in the Philadelphia debate, but he was so irritated by the moderators -- and by having to stand next to Hillary again -- that he couldn’t summon a single merry dart.

Is he skittish around her because he knows that she detests him and he’s used to charming everyone? Or does he feel guilty that he cut in line ahead of her? As the husband of Michelle, does he know better than to defy the will of a strong woman? Or is he simply scared of Hillary because she’s scary?

He is frantic to get away from her because he can’t keep carbo-loading to relate to the common people.

In the final days in Pennsylvania, he dutifully logged time at diners and force-fed himself waffles, pancakes, sausage and a Philly cheese steak. He split the pancakes with Michelle, left some of the waffle and sausage behind, and gave away the French fries that came with the cheese steak.

But this is clearly a man who can’t wait to get back to his organic scrambled egg whites. That was made plain with his cri de coeur at the Glider Diner in Scranton when a reporter asked him about Jimmy Carter and Hamas.

“Why” he pleaded, sounding a bit, dare we say, bitter, “can’t I just eat my waffle?”

His subtext was obvious: Why can’t I just be president? Why do I have to keep eating these gooey waffles and answering these gotcha questions and debating this gonzo woman?

...just wait until he meets up with Maverick, who loathes him just as much but doesn't have to kowtow to his base.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Obama's Gloves Are Off -- And May Need to Stay Off (Jonathan Weisman, 4/23/08, Washington Post)

[T]he candidate who rocketed to stardom as the embodiment of a new kind of politics -- hopeful, positive and inspiring -- saw his image tarnished in the bruising fight for Pennsylvania. Provoked by Clinton's repeated references to his remarks about the state's voters and her charges that he is an "elitist," Obama struck back in the closing days of the campaign.

"It's a real danger for Obama, and if you look at these recent ads, the messages they're delivering in all these conference calls, it's a far cry from last fall," when the theme of hope emerged amid calls for a more negative tone, said Democratic consultant Steve Elmendorf, a Clinton supporter.

Republican strategist John Feehery put it less charitably: "That's the danger of running as holier-than-thou. You have a lot farther to fall." [...]

In early exit polls, Clinton was carrying white voters by 24 percentage points, union households by 18 points, and voters without college degrees by 16 points -- all that, according to the Clinton campaign, "after the Obama campaign's 'go-for-broke' Pennsylvania strategy, after their avalanche of negative ads, negative mailers and negative attacks against Sen. Clinton, after their record-breaking spending in the state."

If Obama's image was coarsened in Pennsylvania, the next round of primaries may do it even more damage. But Obama advisers say the campaign is in a far different place than it was last fall. The senator from Illinois is much better known nationally, with an image that will not be easily recast -- either by his opponents or his own tactics.

"Are there some people who might see him as less than the idealistic candidate that he was at the beginning of this process? Certainly," said an Obama adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity last night.

It's a given that we're the Stupid Party, but can you imagine the GOP nominating a candidate whose sole selling point is that he's above mortal politics?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Gordon Brown backs down over 10p tax (James Kirkup, 23/04/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Gordon Brown will today concede to Labour rebels with a public climb-down over help for low low-paid workers and pensioners hit by the scrapping of the 10 pence rate of tax.

Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, will set out plans for immediate compensatation later today, Treasury sources said.

Meeting a cruicial rebel demand, financial help for those affected will be back-dated to apply from the start of the current financial year.

If you can't beat down the Labour Left you're no good to anybody.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


A Primary with No End (AMY SULLIVAN, 4/23/08, TIME)

If an Obama collapse of the sort Clinton needs to gain the nomination was ever going to happen, it was in that month and a half between Ohio and Pennsylvania. Yet despite increased criticism and scrutiny, Obama has expanded his lead over Clinton in national polls. He cut her margin in Pennsylvania down to 10 points, and he actually improved his performance from Ohio in the demographic groups he needed to demonstrate he could win: voters with no college education or those over 65, white men, those making less than $50,000, and self-described conservatives.

Even so, the real winner of the Democratic race in Pennsylvania is John McCain. The most significant number coming out of Tuesday night wasn't Clinton's 10 point margin of victory, but 43. That's the percentage of Clinton voters who say they would stay home or vote for McCain if Obama is the party's nominee in November. It is no longer just the Chicken Littles within the party who openly worry about an outcome that leaves large blocks of women or African-Americans frustrated and alienated.

The extended race is also clearly getting to Obama, who is noticeably fatigued on the stump and lacks the energy that drew in so many new voters earlier in the primary season. The largely positive media coverage he previously enjoyed has been replaced by a tenser relationship. The candidate now limits his availability to the political press corps, and recently snapped at a reporter who tried to ask a question while he was eating breakfast at a Pennsylvania diner.

At the same time, Tuesday night's results may require Clinton to alter her case against Obama in ways that could do real damage if he becomes the nominee. His ability to improve his standing among key constituencies while withstanding intense scrutiny makes it more difficult for her to argue that he could not win in November. (Clinton admitted as much in their 21st debate, answering "yes, yes, yes" when asked if Obama could beat McCain.) That means she'll have to instead argue that he should not be president. And that's music to Republican ears.

Pa. win reaffirms Clinton campaign (S.A. Miller, April 23, 2008, Washington Times)

Mrs. Clinton built her nearly 10-point victory on the strength of blue-collar workers, gun owners, women, seniors and a surprisingly large number of voters who said race played a role in their choice, exit polls showed.

Her campaign immediately sought to seize new momentum going into the last nine contests before Democrats choose their nominee in Denver this summer with neither candidate able to win the required number of delegates. Despite the convincing win, Mrs. Clinton did not score significant gains in delegates, leaving Mr. Obama with more than a 100-delegate lead.

But Mr. Obama's loss in the last big-state primary of the season gave Clinton supporters a rallying point for the final stretch of primaries.

Mrs. Clinton, who led 55 percent to 45 percent with most precincts reporting, said the "tide is turning" in the race.
While the natural temptation for the press is to write the Obama Can't Seal Deal story, few are mentioning either the thoroughly historical nature of this phenomenon or the possibility that buyers remorse is likely to be particularly strong because Senator Obama is such a cipher. Both the general and the particular conspire against him.

Why Obama can't close deal (RON FOURNIER, Associated Press)

Here are five reasons why Clinton is still alive. Five ways he'd be vulnerable in November. [...]

WORKING-CLASS VOTERS: Obama can't win the presidency unless he starts connecting better with blue-collar voters.

The New York senator easily won among Pennsylvania voters without college degrees and those from families earning less than $50,000 a year. Gun owners, rural voters and churchgoing Democrats also backed Clinton.

These are the folks who Obama said "cling to" guns and God, an inelegant attempt to explain to San Francisco liberals how GOP operatives exploit Democratic voters in anxious economic times. He bowled (poorly) and drank beer in a feeble attempt to show a blue-collar touch.

If Obama wins the nomination, he risks losing those voters to Republican John McCain. While 68 percent of Obama voters in Pennsylvania said they would vote for Clinton should she run against McCain, just 53 percent of Clinton voters said they would vote for Obama.

The Upshot of Pennsylvania (Noam Scheiber, 4/23/08, TNR: The Stump)
Hillary unquestionably met or exceeded expectations tonight, and she'll get a deserved boost in the media and fundraising as a result. (According to the Clinton campaign, they'd already raised $2.5 million between the time the networks called the state and 11:30 pm.) This probably makes her a favorite to win Indiana (I thought she was a slight favorite even before tonight)--and, therefore, makes it pretty likely that she'll be in the race until the voting ends in early June.

Obama can't shake off Clinton (ROGER SIMON, 4/22/08, Politico)
While Clinton did not actually call Obama a wimp in Pennsylvania, she did say he was “elitist and out of touch” and “demeaning.” She can also drink him under the table. (And he stinks at bowling.)

Clinton continues to do well in big states, having previously won primaries in California, Massachusetts and Ohio.

The good news for Obama, however, is that in the contest that actually counts — who wins the most pledged delegates to the Democratic Convention -— his lead appears to be unassailable.

In other words, he probably “closed the deal” when, after Super Tuesday, he won 10 contests in a row, running up his pledged delegate lead while Clinton’s chief strategist, Mark Penn, was still trying to figure out what was happening. (Clinton, who fired Penn, still owes him $4.5 million. I could have come up with a losing strategy for half that.)

True, Obama missed an opportunity Tuesday night, one of his two “silver bullets.” Had he actually beaten Clinton in Pennsylvania, she almost certainly would have had to withdraw from the race.

But Obama has another opportunity in two weeks: If he beats her in North Carolina and Indiana on May 6, some members of her own campaign say she might have to withdraw.

Indiana appears to be a toss-up, which is why Obama and Clinton both headed there from Pennsylvania. North Carolina looks like a safe state for Obama, though some think Clinton could make up some ground if she snagged the endorsement of former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. But enough ground to change things? I doubt it. (The John Edwards wing of the Democratic Party is pretty much limited to John Edwards these days.)

Failing a double win on May 6, Obama might have to slog on all the way to June and the last primaries and even, conceivably, to the Democratic National Convention in August.

Clinton Win in Pa. Keeps Her Quest Alive (RUSSELL BERMAN, April 23, 2008, NY Sun)
The win for Mrs. Clinton, which was widely expected after several polls showed her leading, may quiet calls for her immediate exit from the Democratic race, but it will not likely make her path to the nomination much easier.

The result is unlikely to significantly erode Mr. Obama's delegate lead, and Mrs. Clinton's attempts to raise doubts about the Illinois senator's electability have thus far drawn few undecided superdelegates to her corner.

The New York senator is hoping that her Pennsylvania win will boost her debt-ridden campaign and give her more time to make her case to the roughly 300 undecided superdelegates who will, in large measure, decide the Democratic nomination. Amid reports that Mr. Obama might announce several superdelegate endorsements after yesterday's vote to blunt any momentum for Mrs. Clinton, a senior Democrat in the Clinton camp told The New York Sun yesterday she would soon roll out her own group of new superdelegates, including several from Pennsylvania.

The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean, has urged superdelegates to publicly announce their decisions soon to prevent the primary fight from carrying into the party's nominating convention late this summer.

With Mr. Obama expected to retain his advantage in pledged delegates through the final nine contests, Mrs. Clinton will have to persuade superdelegates to overturn that edge and risk alienating a substantial portion of the Democratic electorate, and particularly African-Americans, who may question the legitimacy of her nomination.

April 22, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 PM


Mark Blumenthal at Pollster.com is live blogging the election returns and exit polls.

Just switched over from the Sox game and Fox has already called it for Ms Clinton.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:42 PM


Tax Policy Haunts British Leader as Vote on Budget Approaches (ALAN COWELL, 4/22/08, NY Times)

At the time, it seemed like a political masterstroke, the kind of move that inspired Tony Blair to label his successor, Gordon Brown, a “great clunking fist” in the bruising jousts of the British Parliament.

But now Mr. Brown’s surprise announcement in March 2007 that he was lowering an income tax rate has struck back vengefully, prompting a political crisis that threatens to unravel the Labor Party less than two weeks before a set of critical local elections. Some analysts are even questioning Mr. Brown’s political future.

Initially his announcement seemed to undercut the opposition Conservatives, appropriating their historic reputation for lower taxes. Labor lawmakers applauded deliriously. But the problem lay in the detail of Mr. Brown’s last budget as chancellor of the Exchequer before he took over from Mr. Blair last June.

To finance a 2-percentage-point cut in one rate of income tax, from 22 to 20 percent, the chancellor abolished a lower rate of 10 percent that benefited particularly low-paid young workers without children — part of Labor’s most cherished blue-collar constituency.

...it's only fitting they go out the same way, tripping over the EU and taxes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:24 PM


Is John McCain Bob Dole?: Or is he Dwight Eisenhower? (Actually, that may depend on whether Barack Obama is Mike Dukakis or John Kennedy.) A handicapping. (John Heilemann, Apr 13, 2008, New York)

So if McCain is no longer the bracing iconoclast he was in 2000, who the hell is he?

“I’ll tell you,” this person says. “He’s morphed into Bob Dole.”

This was not my first encounter with the McCain-is-Dole meme. I had first run across it back in January, on the night of the final Republican debate, in Simi Valley, California, when McCain’s crabbiness and sarcasm onstage had prompted a former GOP player now tilling the corporate field to make the comparison over dinner. As it turned out, the idea was also being promulgated sub rosa by a number of Mitt Romney’s senior strategists. A few days later, on the morning of Super Duper Tuesday, it popped out of Mitt’s own mouth. “There are a lot of folks that tend to think maybe John McCain’s race is a bit like Bob Dole’s race,” Romney snarked on Fox News. “That it’s the guy who’s the next in line; he’s the inevitable choice and we’ll give it to him, and then it won’t work.”

Not surprisingly, McCain’s people push back hard on the suggestion that their guy might be Dole Redux. “I think that in many ways he’s very un-Dole-like,” retorts McKinnon. “He actually has really good strategic sense. He’s a very disciplined candidate in terms of delivering a message. And Dole restrained those things that people liked best about him. There’s a great side of Dole that we never saw. We’ll always see that with McCain.”

Certainly it’s true that Dole kept his sense of humor—dark, ironic, acutely subversive—largely under wraps when he was the Republican nominee in 1996. It’s also true that McCain makes no effort to suppress his comic sensibilities, which are not only similar to Dole’s but also to those of David Letterman, with whom he shares an affinity. Like Letterman and Dole, McCain is constantly offering a running sidelong commentary about himself and what he is doing, in the process winking, letting everyone know that, deep down, he considers it a bit of a sham. In New Hampshire, McCain routinely ended appearances on the stump by invoking Richard Daley’s timeless dictum “Vote early and vote often.” What other presidential candidate in history has ever left his audiences not with an applause line or a rousing crescendo but a cynical joke about politics?

As Neal Gabler argued recently in the Times, this is no small part of why McCain is popular with the press: He is the meta-candidate—and journalists have never met a meta they didn’t like. The question, however, is whether it’s the ideal approach to claiming the hearts of voters. Though Letterman is popular, Leno always thumps him in the ratings, after all. On the other hand, McCain’s propensities in this regard may be the best counterweight against his increasingly geriatric bearing. “It’s one of the few future-oriented things about him,” says Alex Castellanos. “He’s got that postmodern detachment and intolerance of bullshit that will keep you young forever.”

But few of the other likenesses between McCain and Dole can be spun so benignly. There’s the septuagenarian-ness (McCain is 71; Dole was 72 when he ran). There’s the physical frailty, courageously earned in war, that nevertheless serves as a constant reminder of his advanced years. There’s the legendary shortness of his fuse. (McCain has yet to have a full-on “Stop lying about my record” moment on the trail, but his testiness was on display the other day in a widely YouTubed confrontation on his campaign jet with the Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller.) There’s the firm conviction, as Time journalist Mark Halperin has noted, that “being on Meet the Press is more important than going to church—actually, that being on Meet the Press is going to church.”

These are all superficial things, you might say, and you’d be correct. But Republicans cite deeper, more worrying commonalities between McCain and Dole. “You’d fly around with Dole in 1996 and try to talk message, and all he wanted to know was who was going to be up onstage with him at the next event,” recalls an operative who worked for Dole in his pre-Viagra days. “Same deal now with McCain. He has no message outside of Iraq. What’s John McCain’s health plan? What’s his tax plan? What’s his high-tech plan? No one in a million years can tell you.”

Scott Reed, Dole’s campaign manager, doesn’t disagree with many of these parallels. “Can’t lift their arms above their heads, can’t comb their own hair—yeah,” he says. “Teleprompter-challenged—right.” But Reed points out a salient difference between 1996 and today. “What happened with Dole was that the Democrats were able to aim both bazookas at us,” he explains. “They took all their primary money and used it to create the Dole-Gingrich two-headed monster, and we were never able to get up off the mat. But the Democrats aren’t able to do that now. They may never be able to do it.”

Reed is right. For all the wailing and gnashing of molars among Democrats about the damage being done to Obama and Clinton by their prolonged primary tussle, the greater cost to the party may be the missed opportunity to unload on McCain this spring. To no small extent, presidential campaigns are battles that boil down to a pair of competing efforts to define the opposition. Were BHO and HRC not still endeavoring to hack each other to pieces with metaphorical meat cleavers, Democrats could be using their huge financial advantage to cast McCain in whatever mold they consider most damaging: Dubya II, Dole II, Attila the Hun II, whatever. But instead it’s the GOP that’s getting a head start in the definition derby—especially concerning Obama.

Bob Dole was just unfortunate with regard to when it was his turn--he'd have beaten Carter in '76 or '80, Mondale in '84, Dukakis in '88, and Clinton in '92. But no one was likely to beat a Bill Clinton who was reaping Ronald Reagan's Peace Dividend in '96, though had Ross Perot followed through on his idea of bowing out and endsoring the Senator he might just have pulled off the upset.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:18 PM


Clinton says U.S. could "totally obliterate" Iran (David Morgan, 4/22/08, Reuters)

On the day of a crucial vote in her nomination battle against fellow Democrat Barack Obama, the New York senator said she wanted to make clear to Tehran what she was prepared to do as president in hopes that this warning would deter any Iranian nuclear attack against the Jewish state.

"I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran (if it attacks Israel)," Clinton said in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America."

"In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them," she said.

Indeed, a Democrat is more likely to launch a war in such circumstances just to try and counter the conventional wisdom that they're weaklings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:34 PM


Is Obama JFK or Adlai Stevenson? (E. J. Dionne, 4/22/08, Real Clear Politics)

The result of the 2008 election may come down to how voters decide to define Barack Obama. Is he Adlai Stevenson or John F. Kennedy? Is he a detached former law review editor or a passionate agent of change? Is he an upscale reformer focused on process or a populist who will turn Washington and the country around?

The one big difference between Obama and Stevenson is that back in the day the Democrats used to think a candidate might learn something useful in defeat and so weren't averse to giving him a second shot. Nowadays they just truck out the next test flavor and then are shocked when he makes all the same neophyte mistakes the last guy did.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:55 PM


The Great Terror at 40: As his classic work is republished, Robert Conquest reflects on how it threw open the doors of the Gulag’s secrets. (Robert Conquest, Spring 2008, Hoover Digest)

What was the condition of our previous knowledge of Stalinist actuality before, let us say, 1956? We had for decades had a large amount of real information about the purges, all often rejected or ignored, while little truth and much falsehood had emerged from Moscow. However, since 1956, starting with the revelations of Nikita Khrushchev’s Secret Speech it was (or seemed) indisputable that a regime of lies and terror had indeed been in existence. Over the years that followed came the publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which, as Galina Vishnevskaya put it, “let the genie out of the bottle, and however hard they tried later, they couldn’t put it back in.”

So by 1964 or 1965 it had gradually become plain that a huge gap in history needed to be filled, and that the facts released over the past few years, plus the often denied testimony of some of the regime’s hostile but increasingly justified witnesses, could be put together, if carefully done, to produce a veridical story, a real history.

When my book came out in 1968, the publishers were surprised to have to reprint it time and time again to meet demand. Reviews, from left and right, were almost all very favorable. And it was soon published in most Western languages—and also Hindi, Arabic, Japanese, and Turkish.

Over the decades that followed, “the period of stagnation” as it became known in Russia, there was little further public addition to our knowledge—or to that of the Soviet citizen. But in those years came many breaches of the official silence. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn “illegally” gave us The Gulag Archipelago. From Andrei Sakharov came striking interviews and interventions. There was a flowering of samizdat and, to counter it, many arrests (and confinement in penal “psychiatric” wards— as reported by my friend Vladimir Bukovsky and others—as well as the Gulag). And there was Roy Medvedev’s Let History Judge—from, what is more, a devoted Leninist: a deeply detailed blow at the Stalin terror. There was a liberalism of the catacombs. Above all, the old falsifications lost credibility among anything describable as an educated class in Russia. The public acceptance of what they knew to be not merely falsehoods, but stupid and long-exposed falsehoods—the mere disgrace of it ate into the morale of even the official intelligentsia, as I remember noting in conversations with Soviet diplomats. Meanwhile, the original 1968 edition of The Great Terror had been published in a Russian version (in Florence, in 1972) and was soon being smuggled into the USSR, where it was welcomed by many outside—and, as we now know, inside—official circles.

In the early 1980s came the realization by some in Moscow that the whole regime had become nonviable economically, ecologically, intellectually— and even militarily—largely because of its rejection of reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 PM


Been Up, Been Down. Now? Super (DAVID CARR, 4/20/08, NY Times Magazine)

Later this summer he will show up as Kirk Lazarus in “Tropic Thunder,” a comedy that throws multiple grenades at war movie clichés. Mr. Downey’s character is an extremely mannered Australian Method actor who undergoes a pigment change to play a soulful black soldier. There is rich historical resonance in the turn. In his writer-director father’s signature film, “Putney Swope,” the senior Mr. Downey substituted his own voice for that of Arnold Johnson, his black lead. (In “Tropic Thunder,” however, the racial co-option is mocked mightily by the character played by Brandon T. Jackson, a member of the platoon who is black.) And he has just finished filming “The Soloist,” about a homeless schizophrenic who nurses hopes of performing at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

So, superhero, arch comic in blackface and sympathetic nutball. Not inconsistent with a career that has included “Chaplin,” “Natural Born Killers,” “Less Than Zero” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” among some 50 other films.

Then again, he was extraordinary in other ways, once showing up to meet the director Mike Figgis two hours late, barefoot, with a loaded shotgun he could not quite explain. It was a while in coming, but in 1996 police officers who stopped Mr. Downey noticed he was packing an unloaded .357 Magnum, along with small amounts of heroin and cocaine. Just a month after that he was cited for trespassing and being under the influence of a controlled substance after passing out in a neighbor’s (empty at the time) home.

There were rehabs that did not work, followed by jails that did not impress, ending in hard time, twice, including a one-year stint in a state lockup where he had to fight to find a place to stand.

A winking nod to that tumultuous history is baked into the banter in “Iron Man.” The movie opens with Mr. Downey’s mitt wrapped around a tumbler of whiskey, rumbling along in a Humvee, AC/DC’s “Back in Black” blasting on the soundtrack and Mr. Downey acting all lusty and incorrigible. And when Gwyneth Paltrow’s character, the dewy-eyed, ever-loyal assistant he sees with new eyes by the end of the film, learns about his alter ego, Mr. Downey’s Tony Stark goes deadpan.

“Let’s face it,” he says. “This is not the worst thing you’ve caught me doing.”

That running dialogue — between audience and actor, between Mr. Downey’s past and present — gives the film a symbolic power not usually found in comic book movies. In the interview he preferred to leave that history between the lines.

“It has struck me lately that I don’t have to talk about last century at all,” he said with a dismissive wave. But he does so, obliquely.

“I have a really interesting political point of view, and it’s not always something I say too loud at dinner tables here, but you can’t go from a $2,000-a-night suite at La Mirage to a penitentiary and really understand it and come out a liberal. You can’t. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone else, but it was very, very, very educational for me and has informed my proclivities and politics every since.”

(Suffice it to say he is not one of the Hollywood types who weeps over innocents trapped behind bars.)

His romance with mood-altering chemicals didn’t end after he got out of prison. By 2003 he was an uninsurable serial relapser famous for being pulled out of hotels or other people’s homes in an addled, disheveled state. As a movie star with a lot of pals, he lived a life beyond consequence until he finally wore out the endless mercies of the entertainment business. After he was fired from his spot on “Ally McBeal,” the bottom finally came, at a Burger King of all places.

On or around Independence Day in 2003, he stopped at a Burger King on the Pacific Coast Highway and threw all his drugs in the ocean. And while he was sitting there chewing on a burger, he decided he was done. This being America, five years later you can walk into that Burger King, and if you order a Kids Meal you can get your own Robert Downey Jr. action figure, wrapped up in gadget ware. (And what does Tony Stark want when he escapes his kidnappers? A good old American cheeseburger — from Burger King, natch.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:40 PM


Al-Qaeda accuses Iran of 9/11 lie (BBC, 4/22/08)

Al-Qaeda's deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has blamed Iran for spreading the theory that Israel was behind the 11 September 2001 attacks.

In an audio tape posted on the internet, Zawahiri insisted al-Qaeda had carried out the attacks on the US.

He accused Iran, and its Hezbollah allies, of trying to discredit Osama Bin Laden's network.

It just cries out to be a Saturday Night Live skit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:36 PM


Gamekeepers accused of 'wiping out' birds of prey? (Alexi Mostrous, 4/22/08, Times of London)

The RSPB has accused gamekeepers in the UK of “systematically wiping out” iconic species of birds of prey.

Useful on Earth Day to be reminded that Silent Spring was a lie.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 AM


On eve of crucial primary, Clinton TV ad uses images of Pearl Harbor and Bin Laden (Jeff Zeleny and John M. Broder, April 22, 2008, NY Times)

The six-week Pennsylvania presidential primary drew to a contentious finish with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton invoking images of Pearl Harbor and Osama bin Laden in a television ad that questioned Senator Barack Obama's ability to lead in a time of crisis. [...]

While Obama spent nearly twice as much money as Clinton on television ads in the final days of the race here, her new commercial used historic images and threatening moments to ask voters whom they could trust in the White House. It did not mention Obama by name, but closed with a question: "Who do you think has what it takes?"

...is always John McCain?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:12 AM


Right Turn (Howard Kurtz, 4/22/08, Washington Post)

In the aftermath of Iowa, a striking number of conservative commentators were saying nice things about Barack Obama.

David Brooks: "You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by this . . . This is a huge moment."

The Weekly Standard: "The classiest candidate on the Democratic side."

Townhall's Amanda Carpenter: "Who's not proud of this kid? He has a story people feel good about."

Peggy Noonan said Obama won the caucuses "with a classy campaign, an unruffled manner, and an appeal on the stump that said every day, through the lines: Look at who I am and see me, the change that you desire is right here, move on with me and we will bring it forward together."

Now, on the eve of today's Pennsylvania showdown, not so much.

Perhaps Obama has said and done things that have caused said commentators to reconsider their initial enthusiasm. Perhaps they were enamored of Obama only because he could sideline their longtime bete noire Hillary Clinton. Or perhaps, with Obama close to wrapping up the Democratic nomination, some are falling into line.

...it would hardly be surprising if they were so ignorant that they bought Senator Obama's post-political shuck-n-jive, but the Beltway Right was also in full Anybody-but-McCain mode at that point.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:07 AM


Olympic Torch Relay Held Behind Closed Doors in Indonesia: The Beijing Olympic torch relay was held in the Indonesian capital amid tight security and at an invitation only ceremony in a Jakarta stadium attended by a handpicked crowd of several thousand. (Nancy-Amelia Collins, 4/22/08, VOA News)

The Olympic flame fluttered out after only a few seconds and had to be re-lit as Jakarta's Governor Fauzi Bowo led the torch parade before a carefully selected crowd at Jakarta's Bung Karno Stadium. [...]

Officials from the Chinese embassy helped man the stadium gates, refusing entry to many, including accredited journalists.

The event was closed to the public after the Chinese embassy insisted the torch relay be shortened and limited to 5,000 invited guests, mostly Chinese school children, Indonesian officials, and journalists.

It'd be nice if governments had enough pride not to cave to the Chicoms and would just tell them what to do with their torch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Rules changing for Obama (Michael Barone, April 22, 2008, Washington Times)

Barack Obama seemed puzzled. Angrily puzzled. The apostle of hope seemed flummoxed by the audacity of the question. At the April 16 Philadelphia debate, George Stephanopoulos, longtime aide to Democratic politicians, was asking about his longtime association with Weather Underground bomber William Ayers.

The Weather Underground attacked the Pentagon, the Capitol and other public buildings; Mr. Ayers was quoted in the New York Times on Sept. 11, 2001, as saying, "I don't regret setting bombs; I feel we didn't do enough."

It was at Mr. Ayers' house that Mr. Obama's state Senate candidacy was launched in 1995; Mr. Obama continued to serve on a nonprofit board with Mr. Ayers after the Times article appeared.

Obamaites live-blogging the debate were outraged. The press is not supposed to ask such questions.

If Senator Obama were a Yankee pitcher, the manager would only be allowed to bring him in to face one batter at a time--a lefty--and it would have to be before the 5th inning, because you can't trust him with a late lead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


Troops Are at the Border: The major indexes have rallied back to near or slightly above their recent ranges and look poised to break out (Mark Arbeter, 4/21/08, Standard & Poor's Equity Research Investing)

The major indices rallied sharply on Wednesday and Friday, proving that there are other good days in the stock market besides Tuesday. The S&P 500, DJIA, Nasdaq, S&P MidCap 400, and S&P SmallCap 600 all ran up near or slightly above the tops of their respective trading ranges that have been in place since the middle of January. In other words, they are knocking at the breakout door once again, and prices appear like they want to see some different territory for a change.

The potential reversal formations that the indices are working on has gone from looking very sloppy to fairly constructive and symmetrical, a bullish sign, in our view.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


In Democrats' fight, the numbers count (John Harwood, April 21, 2008, NY Times)

The 2008 Democratic contest has been fought on the terrain of change. Yet the contest itself, after taking shape in early February, has changed remarkably little.

Obama has won more states: 28, compared with 14 for Clinton.

He has accumulated more votes: 13.3 million, roughly 700,000 more than she has.

He has raised more money: $237 million, to her $193 million.

Most critically, Obama possesses more delegates to the party's national convention this summer in Denver. He has 1,635.5, while Clinton has 1,474.5, according to a tally by The New York Times. And the lead keeps slowly growing as uncommitted superdelegates — elected officials and party leaders — move his way.

Behind those figures, however, are the patterns that give Clinton hope in Pennsylvania and beyond.

Obama thrives among fellow blacks and younger, higher-income, better-educated Democrats, but Clinton has held the upper hand among women, Hispanics and white, working-class Democrats.

Consider the numbers. As Clinton and Obama split the overall vote in the 22 states that voted on Feb. 5, exit polls showed that she led by 9 percentage points among whites, 6 points among those earning less than $50,000, 9 points among those without a college degree and 20 points among those over 65. In Ohio, the site of her comfortable primary victory on March 4, all of those margins were at least twice as big.

Those demographic patterns explain why Clinton entered the Pennsylvania campaign as the favorite. Pennsylvania's electorate is similar to Ohio's, except even older and less affluent. The same is true in Indiana, which has fewer black people and more blue-collar voters than Ohio. By contrast, North Carolina's black population is nearly double that in Ohio and helps to give Obama the edge there.

Not only are the polls all over the place on PA--with Ms Clinton's lead ranging from 5 to 10 points--but you can find ones that show him closing hard or her opening a big lead late. Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that she needs to win by 8% for it to be a sufficient blow that even the rest of the Party would want her to stay in, because they're afraid of getting stuck with him at the top of the ticket: can she do that well or better? Even though she's mathematically eliminated already?

Mind you, in previous cycles, buyers' remorse has been enough to hand even guys like Jerry Brown victories once the party faithful have had a chance to grow disillusioned with their nominee.

N.B.: We'll officially go with 10%, just a bit bigger than she needs to stay in the race. If it's more than that the panic among Democrats will be more fun than a bag of cats.

Our friends at FSB just offered a couple copies of Andrew Yarrow's Forgive us Our Debts for a PA Primary Contest and we've got two copies of Robert Ferrigno's Sins of the Assassin left, so give a % guess and we'll give away some books (multiple winners is fine by us):

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


I am Labeled a "Creationist Apologist" (Chris C. Mooney, 4/21/08, Science Blogs: The Intersection)

...is that you can always count on them to make the skeptics case, even if accidentally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


What to look for in the Pennsylvania primary: The primary may be just another day of voting for Democrats. Or it could be the beginning of the end for one of the candidates (Peter Wallsten, 4/22/08, Los Angeles Times)

"The margin of the vote is equally as important" as who posts the highest vote total, said former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, one of the nearly 800 party activists and leaders whose votes as superdelegates will put the winning nominee over the top at this summer's party convention.

About 300 of the superdelegates are still uncommitted, including Romer, and many of them will pore over the finer details of today's results to gauge how each candidate might fare in the fall and, as a result, which one deserves the nomination.

"I keep absorbing information," Romer said.

Here are some factors that, in addition to who wins the vote, will help decide whether the Pennsylvania primary is one more way station on the road to the final primaries in June, or whether the nomination fight might come to a quicker conclusion:

The spread: Clinton needs to win by at least 10 percentage points -- the margin she posted over Obama in Ohio's March 4 primary -- to show that she has not lost her touch in the industrial Rust Belt, several uncommitted superdelegates said.

If she is successful, she will be able to point superdelegates to the fact that she trounced Obama despite being severely outspent on television and radio advertisements in Pennsylvania by a more than 2-to-1 margin.

If Obama can keep the race to within 10 percentage points, or even win, he would claim that he has shown surprising strength in a state that is Clinton's demographic home turf, with many of the lower-income Democrats who have supported her in earlier primaries.

If she's headed towards a 10 point win and doesn't take the stage (and the tv cameras) before Senator Obama and do the Icky Shuffle all over him, she's learned even less from Bill than we fear. She gets to frame the victory, if she has sense enough to do so.

April 21, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:43 PM


New Zealand's 'Living Dinosaur' -- The Tuatara -- Is Surprisingly The Fastest Evolving Animal (ScienceDaily, Mar. 23, 2008)

In a study of New Zealand's "living dinosaur" the tuatara, evolutionary biologist, and ancient DNA expert, Professor David Lambert and his team from the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution recovered DNA sequences from the bones of ancient tuatara, which are up to 8000 years old. They found that, although tuatara have remained largely physically unchanged over very long periods of evolution, they are evolving - at a DNA level - faster than any other animal yet examined.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 PM


There Is No Gas Shortage: But Washington, Wall Street, and ethanol and oil and gas companies want you to think there is, says automotive expert Ed Wallace (Ed Wallace , 4/01/08, Business Week)

Gasoline reserves on hand are at the highest levels since the early 1990s, which is remarkable considering the nation's refineries have been cutting back on the production of gasoline because their margins have declined. In fact, average gasoline reserves on hand have risen since this past October, while oil reserves in this country have gone up virtually every week this year—and only fog in the Houston Ship Channel that kept oil tankers from unloading their crude one week kept it from being every week. [...]

In January of this year, the U.S. used 4% less petroleum than we did a year ago. (Oil demand was down 3.2% in February.) Furthermore, demand has been falling slowly since July of last year. Ronald Bailey of Reason Online has pointed out that worldwide production of oil has risen 2.5% in the first quarter, while worldwide demand has grown by only 2%.

Production is expected to increase by 3.3% in the second quarter, and by as much as 4.1% by the third quarter. The net result is that the U.S. daily buffer for oil production against demand, which was a paltry 1.5 million barrels as recently as 2005, is now up to 3 million barrels in excess capacity today.

We'll only break the oil addiction via taxes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 PM


Hamas accepts two-state idea, says Carter (Rory McCarthy, 4/22/08, The Guardian)

Carter acknowledged that Hamas still refused to renounce violence, to recognise explicitly Israel's right to exist, or to recognise previous peace accords. The movement refused to speed up the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli corporal captured two years ago, though it did tell Carter it would let the soldier write a new letter to his parents to prove he was still alive.

While Carter condemned attacks by Hamas as "despicable" and "acts of terrorism" in his speech yesterday, he sounded encouraged by his talks, which included meetings with the most powerful Hamas leader in Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar, and its exiled head, Khaled Meshal.

"They said they would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders if approved by Palestinians and they would accept the right of Israel to live as a neighbour next door in peace, provided the agreements negotiated by prime minister Olmert and President Abbas were submitted to the Palestinians for their overall approval, even though Hamas might disagree with some terms of the agreement," he said.

In Damascus, Meshal appeared to confirm Carter's version. He said: "We agree to a state on pre-67 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital with genuine sovereignty without settlements but without recognising Israel." Hamas would "respect Palestinian national will even if it was against our convictions".

...is to create a state of Palestine. The rest takes care of itself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:27 PM


Bob Kerrey defends McCain on temper (Jonathan Martin, 4/21/08, Politico)

McCain and Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley got into such a furious argument in a closed-door meeting in 1992, Post reporter Michael Leahy wrote, that Kerrey had to step in and prevent fisticuffs.

Not so says Kerrey, the former Nebraska senator and president of New York's New School.

"First, I did nothing to intervene; the two Senators worked it out on their own," Kerrey wrote in a comment posted this morning under his name at 7:45. "Second, the subject of the debate - the status of Americans held as prisoner in Vietnam - was one that always provoked violent, ugly debates."

The two senators were both "extremely angry," Kerrey adds, but McCain was "at no time threatening."

Kerrey, a Democrat and Hillary Clinton backer, concludes: "My experience is that [McCain's] anger always has a purpose and in this case the purpose was to defeat Senator Grassley's argument which he did decisively."

...to think that wanting to punch politicians in the nose is going to be a problem for Maverick?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:14 PM


The McCain Doctrine: Presumptive Republican nominee John McCain may protest that he hates war, but no American leader has promoted it more avidly. McCain is not only the most hawkish neocon on the horizon but genuinely sees war as America's most ennobling enterprise. (Matthew Yglesias, April 21, 2008, American Prospect)

The collapse of the George W. Bush-era Republican Party is a multifaceted story, but no chapter stands out as clearly as the war in Iraq. As the occupation has dragged on and the U.S. casualties have mounted, Bush has watched his public approval ratings spiral downward. By the time the contested GOP primaries came around, even a healthy proportion of Republican voters were saying that they strongly or somewhat disapproved of the war in Iraq.

Under the circumstances, it's not surprising that the GOP is poised to nominate a presidential candidate who will appeal to its anti-war base. What is surprising is that the candidate is Sen. John McCain.

The nomination of a candidate who is indistinguishable from George W. Bush does indeed tell us something about the Bush legacy and the Republican Party, but you can't figure it out if you start from where Mr. Yglesias does.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:12 PM


But the melody lingers on (Joe Klein , 4/20/08, TIME: Swampland)

Obama seems either bummed or pissed or exhausted. He could be near death and still be a pretty good speaker, but he's very much off his game right now. Clinton, by contrast, is on fire--as energetic and passionate as I've seen her.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:37 PM


Poland wants U.S. to be 3rd leg of its security plan (Judy Dempsey, April 21, 2008, NY Times)

Neither NATO nor the European Union can provide sufficient security to calm Poland's fears, particularly with Russia now resurgent to its east, and so the government in Warsaw wants the United States to base part of its planned antimissile system here to provide an American guarantee of safety, according to Poland's defense minister.

Wedged between Germany and Russia and wiped off the map by those countries in centuries past, Poland has long had fears for its security. After the collapse of communism, it joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1999 and the EU in 2004. Now, with Russia richer and more confident than in a decade, Poland seeks extra protection, said the defense minister, Bogdan Klich.

Even Tom Tankredo won't mind, since they're "white" Catholics....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:12 PM


New Boss Wants to See Chamberlain Start (Now) (MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, 4/21/08, NY Times)

With the Yankees off to a 10-10 start, and with two of their young starters struggling, the Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner said there was one thing in particular he would like to change: He wants Joba Chamberlain, the Yankees’ hard-throwing setup man, to move into the rotation. [...]

He also said he thought Mike Mussina, who is 39, “just needs to learn how to pitch like Jamie Moyer,” the Phillies’ 45-year-old starter, suggesting that Mussina shouldn’t try to rely on his diminished fastball to get hitters out.

...where Boss Steinbrenner makes more sense than the guys he has running the team.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:01 PM


Carter says Hamas will accept Abbas-brokered deal (Reuters, The Associated Press, April 21, 2008)

Former President Jimmy Carter of the United States said on Monday that Hamas leaders had told him they would accept a peace agreement negotiated by their rival, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, if Palestinians approved the deal in a vote.

"They said they would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders if approved by Palestinians," even though "Hamas might disagree with some terms of the agreement," Carter said in a speech, after talks in Syria and Egypt with Hamas leaders.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:29 PM


ET Likely Doesn't Exist, Finds Math Model (Irene Klotz, 4/21/08, Discovery News)

Earth-like planets have relatively short windows of opportunity for life to evolve, making it highly doubtful intelligent beings exist elsewhere in the universe, according to newly published research based on a mathematical probability model.

Given the amount of time it has taken for human beings to evolve on Earth and the fact that the planet will no longer be habitable in a billion years or so when the sun brightens, Andrew Watson, with the United Kingdom's University of East Anglia in Norwich, says we are probably alone.

Earthlings overcame horrendous odds -- Watson pegs it at less than 0.01 percent over 4 billion years -- to achieve life.

Not burning Galileo was the Inquisition's one unforgivable sin.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


The Elephant in the Room: Why conservatives should support McCain (Rick Santorum, 4/21/08, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Anyone who knows me knows that I don't shy away from offering my two-cents on the issues of the day, particularly in presidential races. And anyone who has heard me talk about the presidential race over the last few months knows that I've had, shall we say, some serious reservations about John McCain's candidacy.

I've disagreed with him on immigration, global warming and federal protection of marriage. I've taken strong exception to his view that the federal government should fund embryonic stem-cell research. But disagreement on such issues is one of the reasons we have presidential primaries - so each party's voters can sort out the issues and personalities and choose the candidate who best reflects their collective view. Republicans have done that. Now the question for conservatives is whether McCain fits the Reagan Axiom that someone you agree with on 80 percent of the issues is your friend, not your enemy.

Of all the issues confronting the United States today, none is more important than our nation's security. Although these issues don't dominate our news as they once did, we cannot forget that without a safe and secure country, all other issues don't matter.

McCain is clearly the candidate with the capacity, judgment, experience and will to confront America's enemies.

And so, like clockwork, the deranged Right comes crawling back as it realizes that they need him, not he them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Trailing in Pennsylvania, Obama Sharpens Tone (JEFF ZELENY and KATHARINE Q. SEELYE, 4/21/08, NY Times)

Senator Barack Obama sharpened his tone against Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sunday as the six-week Pennsylvania primary contest raced to a close, with the rivals marshaling extensive resources in a battle for undecided voters and delegates that could determine whether the Democratic nominating fight carries on. [...]

Mr. Obama, seeking to lock up the nomination, was outspending Mrs. Clinton two-to-one on television advertising in the state, with a barrage of commercials assailing her health care plan and suggesting that she was captive to special interests. [...]

The intensity of Mr. Obama’s campaign and his willingness to air negative attacks in recent days suggest he harbored hope of ending the Clinton campaign here or avoiding a major loss that would keep the race alive.

I haven't been this disappointed since it turned out the Pope wasn't here to beatify him...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Tap a toe to banjo as the Paul Revere museum celebrates 100 years
(Kate Augusto, 4/18/08 , Boston Globe)

It will cost 25 cents today to hear third-graders recite poetry by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, tap a toe to a vaudeville-style banjo player named Uncle Shoe, and eat a cake decorated to look like the olive-colored clapboard house once home to Paul Revere.

That's because the museum where Boston's most famous silversmith lived is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The Paul Revere House has rolled back the admission price to when it first opened on April 18, 1908.

Built in 1680, the home had been slated for demolition at the beginning of the last century when it was bought by one of Revere's descendants and restored.

You can hear our grandfather--Garner Corson, who was a custodian there for three decades--give a tour of the House here.


-AUDIO: Paul Revere's Ride (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


A Switch on the Tracks: Railroads Roar Ahead: Global Trade, Fuel Costs Add Up To Expansion for Once-Dying Industry (Frank Ahrens, 4/21/08, Washington Post)

The freight railway industry is enjoying its biggest building boom in nearly a century, a turnaround as abrupt as it is ambitious. It is largely fueled by growing global trade and rising fuel costs for 18-wheelers. In 2002, the major railroads laid off 4,700 workers; in 2006, they hired more than 5,000. Profit has doubled industry-wide since 2003, and stock prices have soared. The value of the largest railroad, the Union Pacific, has tripled since 2001.

This year alone, the railroads will spend nearly $10 billion to add track, build switchyards and terminals, and open tunnels to handle the coming flood of traffic. Freight rail tonnage will rise nearly 90 percent by 2035, according to the Transportation Department.

In the 1970s, tight federal regulation, cheap truck fuel and a wide-open interstate highway system conspired to cripple the railroad industry, driving many lines into bankruptcy.

Statists aren't know for making good decisions, but trying to kill the rails was an especially appalling one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Deport Such Talk: Tom Tancredo rushes to unnecessary outrage. (Kathryn Jean Lopez, 4/21/08, National Review)

On Thursday he released a statement:

Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Littleton) today criticized the Pope’s comments regarding U.S. immigration policy. According to reports, Pope Benedict XVI said the United States must do “everything possible to fight . . . all forms of violence so that immigrants may lead dignified lives.”

“I would like to know what part of our lax immigration policy is considered violent,” Tancredo said. “I fail to see how accepting more refugees than any other nation—and providing free health care, education, housing and social service benefits to millions of illegal aliens is in any way ‘violent’ or ‘degrading.’”

Pope Benedict XVI has made amnesty a key issue in his papacy. He met with President Bush, reportedly adding his voice to the open-border lobby by encouraging Bush to provide blanket amnesty to all illegal immigrants in the United States.

Be chill, congressman. No one said anything about amnesty and no one said our immigration policy is violent. The pope knows this nation was founded by immigrants and that immigration today is a significant subject of political debate and struggle. The Church needs to continue to serve. And the government, while making and enforcing law, needs to be humane. Isn’t that pretty much what a pope would say?

There's a choice to be made: nativism (particularism) or Christianity (universalism).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


The Audacity of the Real “Audacity”: What Wright said. (Stanley Kurtz, 4/21/08, National Review)

Although the version of “The Audacity to Hope” reprinted in the So Strong collection may not be precisely the same as the 1988 sermon heard by Barack Obama, it appears to contain many passages closer to that original than the supposedly complete text posted at PreachingToday.com. Although the most political passages in the 1991 sermon may have been either reworked, added, or both, to reflect the theme of honoring King, it’s clear from a broader reading of this sermon collection that the themes of the 1991 “Audacity to Hope” sermon are echoed throughout Wright’s broader corpus. If the 1988 sermon’s attacks on “the callousness of policy makers in the White House and in the State House” have not yet been recovered with certainty, the general drift of Wright’s views on these subjects seems clear. It also seems most unlikely that Obama could have failed to pick up on these themes, which are echoed throughout Wright’s sermons.

It also appears highly likely that the version of the “Audacity” sermon posted at PreachingToday.com gives an unrepresentative and sanitized view of Wright’s sermons. Obama’s own account of the original “Audacity” sermon indicates significantly greater political content than what we see in the PreachingToday text. And again, even if it may not take us back to 1988 with complete precision, the So Strong collection makes the overall political character of Wright’s sermons of that era fairly obvious.

More discoveries remain to be made, no doubt. Yet the texts already uncovered raise serious questions about what Barack Obama heard, what he thought of it, and why he remained so close to Reverend Wright.

...there don't seem to many who have who also believe that Senator Obama never happened to be in church on the Sundays he was preaching hate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


It's all coming back to red-hot Red Sox (Gordon Edes, April 21, 2008, Boston Globe)

This is what happens when Manny Ramírez is ejected: Career minor leaguer Joe Thurston makes three plate appearances, Dustin Pedroia's day off is interrupted by a summons to pinch hit in the cleanup spot, and Julio Lugo, who began the game at shortstop, winds up playing in front of the Monster for the first time in his career.

Oh, and the Red Sox come from five runs down to beat the Texas Rangers, 6-5, before a gleeful crowd of 37,480 that witnessed the Sox score four times after there were two outs and nobody on in the eighth. Not quite in the class of last season's Mother's Day Miracle - Seder Surprise? The Pre-Marathon Sprint? - but an immensely satisfying win for a team that now has won four straight and eight of nine and is undefeated (5-0) in games decided in the last at-bat.

"It's just how we drew it up," said manager Terry Francona, whose afternoon looked spoiled when Milton Bradley took Tim Wakefield deep for a three-run home run that gave the Rangers a 5-0 lead in the sixth, but ended with Pedroia delivering a game-tying, pinch-hit double and Sean Casey drawing a bases-loaded walk to go ahead, seven straight Sox hitters reaching safely in the eighth. "There's something to be said for plugging away."

The Sox were obviously going to be good--and the depth they have in the high minors is astonishing (Craig Hansen, Justin Masterson, Daniel Bard, Jed Lowrie, Brandon Moss, George Kottaras, etc.)--but what makes establishing their supremacy this early somewhat surprising is that they've done it despite a grueling three country road trip to open the season and despite David Ortiz contributing almost nothing.

April 20, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:51 PM


There's real danger to Obama in a cry of 'snob' : The battle between Barack and Hillary has given the Republicans time to polish their favourite dark art (Michael Crowley, 4/20/08, The Observer)

Obama's candidacy may have reached a turning point when the Illinois senator - speaking at a San Francisco fundraiser under the assumption he was off the record - made the comment that small-town Americans are 'bitter' about their economic circumstances and 'cling' to religion, guns, xenophobia and protectionism as a result. While Clinton gleefully pounced on the comments, hoping to stigmatise Obama in rural Pennsylvania, McCain and the Republican party apparatus also rushed joyfully into the fray. 'I think those comments are elitist,' McCain said, charging that Obama had 'disparage[d] people, who are hard-working, honest, dedicated people ... I think that's a fundamental contradiction of what I believe America is all about.' 'That sentence will cost Obama the election,' chimed conservative activist Grover Norquist.

Obama's line was not fatal, but Norquist still has grounds for glee. For a fundamental battle has been joined here - that battle to define the Democratic nominee's character.

One recurring feature of recent presidential campaigns has been the disgraceful effort of the Republican party to compensate for its unpopular positions on major issues, from health care to Iraq, by impugning the character of the Democratic presidential nominee. Liberals have made this complaint for some time, but I lent it new credence after listening to a senior figure in the Bush political machine. 'You guys never get it,' he said to a group of journalists who'd been debating the politics of some newsworthy issue. 'People don't vote on issues. They vote on character.'

The man knew whereof he spoke, for character largely explains how Bush won two presidential elections.

...imagine Mr. Crowley trying to explain to George Washington or Martin Luther King, Jr. that character shouldn't matter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:42 PM


Rail line links London with Bangladesh (Dean Nelson, 4/20/08, Times of London)

RAIL enthusiasts with a sense of adventure and 23 days to spare will be able to travel by train from London to Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, when a new link opens later this year.

The 7,000-mile Trans-Asia railway will follow one of the old Silk Roads through Istanbul, Tehran, Lahore and Delhi.

It is already being described by train buffs as “the world’s greatest railway journey” and will be longer than the Trans-Siberian railway, which spans 5,772 miles.

That's very nearly worth violating the State Border Rule for.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:36 PM


Brush It Off (MAUREEN DOWD, 4/20/08, NY Times)

The thorny questions Obama got in the debate were absolutely predictable, yet he seemed utterly unprepared and annoyed by them. He did not do well for the same reason he failed to outmaneuver Hillary in a year’s worth of debates: he disdains the convention, the need for sound bites and witty flick-offs and game-changing jabs.

He needs to be less philosophical and abstract, and more visceral and personal. Some of the topics he acted dismissive about are real things on the minds of many Americans.

Obama does not need to wear a flag pin. By the time NBC colored its peacock logo with the Stars and Stripes after 9/11, it was clear that patriotism had been co-opted by commercialism. And he’s right that W. and Cheney used patriotism in a corrosive way to goad Americans into going along with their trumped-up war.

But when a voter from Latrobe asked in the debate why he doesn’t wear a flag pin, he high-hatted it as a “manufactured issue,” then, backing in tepidly, added, “I could not help but love this country for all that it’s given me.”

Asked about his friendly relationship with the former Weather Underground anarchist William Ayers — an association that The Wall Street Journal suggests could turn into the Swift Boat of 2008 given Ayers’s statement that “I don’t regret setting bombs; I feel we didn’t do enough” — Obama defended him with a line that only the eggheads orbiting his campaign could appreciate. Ayers, he said, is “a professor of English in Chicago.”

Obama has to prove to Americans that, despite his exotic background and multicultural looks, he shares or at least respects their values and understands why they would be upset about his associations with the Rev. Wright and an ex-Weatherman.

...they'd be doing America a favor by allowing it to be governed by them. As bad as what that does to his cause with voters is what it does to him, leaving him unprepared for any of the heavy-lifting that actual politics requires.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:18 PM


BioShock lets users take on fanaticism through fantasy (Hiawatha Bray, August 27, 2007, Boston Globe)

I don't usually warm up for a video game review by reading a book review. But to appreciate the new game BioShock, it helps to read "Big Sister Is Watching You," Whittaker Chambers's coolly contemptuous take on Ayn Rand's 1957 novel, "Atlas Shrugged."

Rand's book has sold millions of copies this past half-century. To several generations of libertarians, it's pretty much sacred scripture. But to Chambers, a recovered communist with an eye for the dictatorial, "Atlas Shrugged" was bunk, and dangerous bunk to boot.

The book envisions a commercial utopia founded on free enterprise at its most absolute -- so absolute that in Chambers's view, this new freedom must ultimately be enforced at gunpoint. "From almost any page of 'Atlas Shrugged,' " said Chambers, "a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: 'To a gas chamber -- go!' "

Fifty years on, an erstwhile "Atlas Shrugged" fan named Ken Levine came to much the same conclusion. Rather than pound out a scathing critical essay, he created a beautiful, brutal, and disquieting computer game instead. It's called BioShock, and it's one of the best in years. [...]

Rapture was designed as a man-made paradise, but Heaven is only for the dead.

That's the insight that inspired Levine, creative director of Bio- Shock. In an interview, he told me that Rapture is his version of "Galt's Gulch," the capitalist utopia created by the hero of Rand's novel. As a young man, Levine was much taken by the idea. But in time he came to perceive the bitter, world-hating fanaticism at the core of "Atlas Shrugged." He realized, like Chambers, that such fanaticism, even in the service of total freedom, must come to a bad end. BioShock is his vision of how it would all go wrong; it's also a wonderful example of dystopian fantasy done right.

No Gods or Kings: Objectivism in BioShock (Brian Crecente, Kotaku)
Levine wondered what sorts of people might live in an underwater city, what would drive someone from the rest of the world.

"I started thinking about utopian civilizations," he said. "You have these traditional utopian notions. I've always been a fan of utopian and dystopian literature.

"The more I started thinking about making a compelling place and compelling villain, someone who had a real concrete set of beliefs made sense."

Enter Objectivism. Levine said he had been reading Ayn Rand's books over the past few years and was fascinated with her "intensity and purity of belief."

"The surety she has in her beliefs was fascinating," he said. "She almost spoke like a super villain, like Dr Doom."

And her characters, Levine believed, projected that same intensity.

"I started to wonder, what happens when you stop questioning yourself? It becomes a set of accepted truths, instead of something you're constantly using in the lab of reality." [...]

Rand's characters aren't flawed because not everyone is, [Ayn Rand Institute's president, Yaron Brook] says.

"I think its flawed logic in the sense that he thinks that people have to be flawed," he said. "I think in many respects (Rand's) books do put her characters in real life.

"I think there are great people and perfect people and I think we all should strive to be great and perfect."

From the Department of Self-Parody.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:15 PM


In Pennsylvania's Democrat primary for president: Vote for Clinton (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, April 20, 2008)

In policy terms, relatively little may separate these two. Obama ranks as one of the most liberal U.S. senators, but Clinton is no conservative. Determining how they differ is difficult, though, because Obama is long on soaring rhetoric yet painfully short on record.

He has spent just three years in the U.S. Senate. Before that, he spent just eight years as one of 177 state legislators in Illinois. Before that, he was a university lecturer, a community organizer, a civil-rights lawyer.

Quite simply, this is no portfolio for a president, the world's most powerful leader. The presidency is no place for on-the-job training in the best of times -- and certainly not when the nation is at war, the economy is struggling, and federal governance in general is adrift.

More disturbing is what seems to be Obama's private view of America.

Start with the "God damn America" diatribes of his one-time pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. (Obama claims he didn't know of these, even though he sat in Wright's church for 20 years.) Add his wife Michelle's remark about being proud of America for the first time in her life only because of her husband's campaign.

Now we hear Obama himself disdaining small-town, Middle-America attitudes and values -- a "clinging" to God, guns and bigotry -- as a legacy of bitterness.

Everyone utters stupidities now and then. Yet taken together and uttered repeatedly, they sound like a pattern of thought in the Obama household. It's a pattern the nation can't afford in the White House.

In sharp contrast, Clinton is far more experienced in government -- as an engaged first lady to a governor and a president, as a second-term senator in her own right.

She has a real voting record on key issues. Agree with her or not, you at least know where she stands instead of being forced to wonder.

Many of her views on domestic issues are too liberal for us, but on others she seems to have moderated. She told the Trib she opposes raising the cap on Social Security taxes, and she is less eager to raise income taxes than Obama.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:13 PM


Drop your car, get on the bus – warm your heart: Cars isolate us. The bus brings out our gentler side. (Jampa Williams, April 21, 2008, CS Monitor)

Passengers queue up at buses. We don't push, yell, curse, or complain, even if – perhaps especially if – it is particularly cold, or wet, or miserable outside. We chat with one another, tell jokes, respect one another's silence. We commiserate, compare notes, smile at one another's children. Even when we annoy one another, we rise above our own irritation.

But something happens when people drive; a sense of entitlement takes over as the driver talks on her cellphone and drives through the red light in a school zone. A sense of self-importance takes hold of the driver as his BMW rushes to pass in the wrong lane, indifferent to the harm his actions may cause.

The immediate honking and cursing when a car doesn't instantly surge forward at the changing of a light is unnecessary. So, too, the bizarre rage from drivers if a car slows to let a passenger cross in a crosswalk.

Destroying society and atomizing people is central to the statist project.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:11 PM


U.S. military urges widening of Pakistan attacks (Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, April 20, 2008, NY Times)

U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have in recent months urged a widening of the war that could include U.S. attacks on indigenous Pakistani militants in the tribal areas inside Pakistan, according to U.S. officials.

The requests have been rebuffed for now, the officials said, after deliberations in Washington among senior Bush administration officials who fear that attacking Pakistani radicals may anger Pakistan's new government, which is negotiating with the militants, and destabilize an already fragile security situation there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:45 PM


Pope's U.S. trip stirred immigration debate (Daniel J. Wakin and Julia Preston, April 20, 2008, IHT)

Even as he was flying to the United States last week, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of protecting immigrant families, not dividing them.

He raised the issue again in a meeting on Wednesday with President George W. Bush, and later that day spoke in Spanish to the church's "many immigrant children." And at his departure from New York on Sunday, he was to be sent off by a throng of the faithful, demonstrating the ethnic diversity of American Catholicism.

The choreography underscores the importance to the church here of its growing diversity, especially its increasingly Latino membership.

Of the nation's 65 million Roman Catholics, 18 million are Latino, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and they account for more than two-thirds of the new Catholics in the country since 1960.

Millions of other recent arrivals come from Asia and Africa, and more and more parishes depend on priests brought from abroad to serve the flock.

Democrats Blocked Resolution Welcoming Pope because of "Pro-life" Language (John Jalsevac, April 18, 2008, LifeSiteNews.com)

A resolution welcoming the Pope to the United States was stalled in the U.S. Senate after Democrats said they would not vote on the resolution unless offending "pro-life language" was removed from it. [...]

Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, however, disapproved of the wording of that part of the resolution, and demanded that the last ten words, "witnessing to the value of each and every human life", be removed. Boxer and a number of colleagues delayed the vote for three days. In order to pass using the process of "hotlining," which allows for a resolution or a bill to pass in a matter of minutes instead of weeks, the resolution welcoming Benedict required a unanimous vote.

One senior Republican leadership aide told FOX News, "What's the problem with this? Does Sen. Boxer not value life? It speaks directly to the message the Pope delivered when he arrived here."

Senator Boxer also disapproved of a part of the resolution that mentioned that the Pontiff, " has spoken approvingly of the vibrance of religious faith in the United States, a faith nourished by a constitutional commitment to religious liberty that neither attempts to strip our public spaces of religious expression nor denies the ultimate source of our rights and liberties."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:34 AM


The new Tories: out of the blue: The Tories have succeeded in recruiting candidates from what would once have been thought of as enemy territory. But while the black security man, the woman boxer and the gay TV presenter may be closer to the people, are they still at arm's length from Team Cameron (Damian Thompson., 4/18/08, Daily Telegraph)

I have spent the past few weeks interviewing Conservative candidates, on and off the record. One thing is clear: even though open primaries are still fairly rare, the leadership has succeeded in its aim of enticing a different kind of activist into the election. The credit belongs not just to Cameron but to the 'quartet' - the leader and his praetorian guard of Steve Hilton, the director of strategy, George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, and Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor, now director of communications. This is the core of 'Team Cameron'. Other key members are Michael Gove, the shadow education secretary, James O'Shaughnessy, head of policy, and Ed Llewellyn, the chief of staff.

Refreshing the candidates' list was always a priority of Team Cameron. In theory, at least, it has got what it wanted: a collection of people who bear at least a passing resemblance to the general public. Roughly 40 per cent of new candidates are women or from ethnic minorities. On the whole, they are impressive. They may rather obviously tick boxes - gay, Asian, black, female - but they are united by something the Conservative Party has not witnessed for years: the glint of the street fighter in their eyes. For the first time since working-class Tories raided West Midlands council estates in the Thatcher heyday, candidates seem to be winning stretches of enemy territory.

The candidates I spoke to emphasised how grateful they were to Cameron. 'He's made us electable again,' they said. Yet these new-look Tories sounded nothing like the original Thatcher­ites or Blairites, who were desperate to associate themselves with their idol. They never used the label 'Cameronian' or 'Cameroon' except to describe the gang surrounding the leader. Why? As I listened to candidates and party supporters talking on and off the record, the answer became clearer.

Shaun Bailey is a black Tory. In itself, that is not such a big deal. There have been quite a few of those in the past, even if they have not made it into Parliament. Many were pinstriped professionals who sent the old Spectator crowd into ecstasies by calling them 'old chap'. But Bailey, 35, is not the sort of black guy that Conservatives would expect to meet socially. He was once a security guard in a shopping centre. You would not want to mess with him. Hammersmith is a new seat. Before the boun­dary changes it was Hammersmith and Fulham, with a Tory majority of 5,000; now that it has lost Fulham to Chelsea, there is a notional Labour majority of 5,600. Bailey will need a swing of 6.75 per cent to beat Andrew Slaughter, currently Labour MP for Ealing Acton and Shepherd's Bush. To do that, he will have to win votes in the crack-infested housing estates where he spent his childhood.

We meet in a pub in Golborne Road, north Kensington. The bric-a-brac stalls and Portuguese pastry shops create a villagey atmosphere much commented on by estate agents who show clients around in daylight, before the drug dealers come out to play.

I had seen pictures of Bailey, so I knew to expect the huge smile and the gladiator's chest ('unspeakably gorgeous,' said one Tory volunteer). The surprise is the accent, which cannot have changed much since he was sorting out troublemakers at the Trocadero centre in the West End. 'If I were talking to my boys at the youth club, you might understand 30 per cent of what I was saying,' he tells me. There is a touch of pride in his voice - but then he goes into a riff about how black parents must not allow their children to speak to them in slang. 'It's not the street talk I mind, it's the idea that because you're black you have to speak that way. Employers can't understand you and then you're surprised when you don't get the job.'

Bailey and his wife Ellie have a one-year-old daughter. 'I'm not ashamed of my working-class roots, but I'm not going to bring her up in the same depressing environment,' he says.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 AM


The Pope's Meaning Of Freedom (William A. Donohue 04.18.08, Forbes)

The pope also wasted no time speaking to an issue that is dear to him--the meaning of freedom. In his remarks at the White House, he said something that is profoundly counter-cultural from an American point of view: He stressed that "freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility toward the less fortunate." Not exactly music to the ears of those who mistake freedom for license.

In his joint presentation with President Bush, the Holy Father also made plain his ongoing concern that all religions must act responsibly when confronted with adversity. According to news reports, the pope and the president rejected "the manipulation of religion to justify immoral and violent acts against innocents." It should be obvious that this remark was aimed mostly at fanatics who kill in the name of Islam. Indeed, it is reminiscent of the pope's Regensburg address in 2006, which so many Muslims found offensive.

In that speech, the pope emphasized the need to conjoin faith to reason, and vice versa. When faith is disconnected from reason, it breeds religious fanaticism. When reason is disconnected from faith, it breeds radical secularism. Regarding the latter, the pope had in mind the professoriate, too many of whom have made a god out of reason. But reason alone does not liberate--it invites us to make moral decisions absent a larger good. And when that happens, people walk around willy-nilly, executing their own moral code. Historically, this has had monstrous consequences.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


John Huss: Pre-Reformation Reformer (Christian History, 4/19/08)

Huss was born to peasant parents in "Goosetown," that is, Husinec, in the south of today's Czech Republic. (In his twenties, he shortened his name to Huss—"goose," and he and his friends delighted in making puns on his name; it was a tradition that continued, especially with Luther, who reminded his followers of the "goose" who had been "cooked" for defying the pope).

To escape poverty, Huss trained for the priesthood: "I had thought to become a priest quickly in order to secure a good livelihood and dress and to be held in esteem by men." He earned a bachelor's, master's, and then finally a doctorate. Along the way he was ordained (in 1401) and became the preacher at Prague's Bethlehem Chapel (which held 3,000), the most popular church in one of the largest of Europe's cities, a center of reform in Bohemia (for example, sermons were preached in Czech, not Latin).

During these years, Huss underwent a change. Though he spent some time with what he called a "foolish sect," he finally discovered the Bible: "When the Lord gave me knowledge of Scriptures, I discharged that kind of stupidity from my foolish mind."

The writings of John Wycliffe had stirred his interest in the Bible, and these same writings were causing a stir in Bohemia (technically the northeastern portion of today's Czech Republic, but a general term for the area where the Czech language and culture prevailed). The University of Prague was already split between Czechs and Germans, and Wycliffe's teachings only divided them more. Early debates hinged on fine points of philosophy (the Czechs, with Wycliffe, were realists; the Germans nominalists). But the Czechs, with Huss, also warmed up to Wycliffe's reforming ideas; though they had no intention of altering traditional doctrines, they wanted to place more emphasis on the Bible, expand the authority of church councils (and lessen that of the pope), and promote the moral reform of clergy. Thus Huss began increasingly to trust the Scriptures, "desiring to hold, believe, and assert whatever is contained in them as long as I have breath in me."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


Ben Stein Exposes Richard Dawkins (Dinesh D'Souza, Apr 18th 2008, AOL News)

And this is precisely the suggestion that Richard Dawkins makes in his response to Ben Stein. Perhaps, he notes, life was delivered to our planet by highly-evolved aliens. Let's call this the "ET" explanation.

Stein brilliantly responds that he had no idea Richard Dawkins belives in intelligent design! And indeed Dawkins does seem to be saying that alien intelligence is responsible for life arriving on earth. What are we to make of this? Basically Dawkins is surrendering on the claim that evolution can account for the origins of life. It can't. The issue now is simply whether a natural intelligence (ET) or a supernatural intelligence (God) created life. Dawkins can't bear the supernatural explanation and so he opts for ET.

Intelligent Critique : Expelled adroitly addresses the dogmaticism of Darwinian theory in the scientific world (Dave Berg, 4/18/08, National Review)
The highlight of the film features Ben Stein interviewing Dawkins, who concedes that an intelligent being may have created life on earth. But that being cannot be “God.” Instead, he suggests it may be an alien, itself a product of “Darwinian evolution.” Oh, the scientific imagination — there’s nothing like it on God’s green earth.

Dawkins has since complained that the interview was set up under false pretenses, and that he didn’t even know who Stein was. It is rather astonishing that it did not occur to the world’s smartest atheist to look up Ben Stein on the Internet, where he might have readily discovered numerous examples of his writings that are critical of Darwinism.

Dawkins dismisses the Emmy-winning actor as having “no talent for comedy.” He believes during the interview Stein is an “honestly stupid man, sincerely seeking enlightenment from a scientist.” A lawyer, a law professor, an economist, and a speechwriter for both Nixon and Ford, Stein hardly seems to fit the description “honestly stupid.”

In the end, the film isn’t really about intelligent design as much as about a relentless attack on an authentically free inquiry. As Ben Stein points out, “Freedom of inquiry has been greatly compromised, and this is not only anti-American, it’s anti-science. It’s anti-the whole concept of learning.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Ferdinand Mount, man of many parts: a review of Cold Cream: My Early Life and Other Mistakes by Ferdinand Mount (Richard Davenport-Hines, 4/20/08, Daily Telegraph)

Ferdinand Mount is a baronet who prefers not to use his title, a former nanny to the children of American millionaires who later headed Margaret Thatcher's Downing Street Policy Unit, the most scrupulously intelligent man ever to be appointed as an editor by Rupert Murdoch, the nephew of Anthony Powell, and himself the author of a sequence of novels, 'A Chronicle of Modern Twilight', cherished by all those who like their fiction to be amusing, elegant and expletive-free.

The title of his memoirs comes from a passage of lyrical beauty early in the book. Mount recalls, with tender intensity, his pride at the age of nine in taking his mother breakfast in bed, and afterwards watching her slowly working Pond's cold cream into her face.

He attributed magical powers to the chunky white jars with their sea-green lids. A few years later, his mother died of breast cancer at the age of 42. Her illness, like so much else in this matchless memoir, is described with a restraint that pierces to the heart of experience.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Anonymity abroad and animosity at home for Gordon Brown (Matthew d'Ancona, 20/04/2008, Daily Telegraph)

It is still baffling that Gordon Brown's team thought it would be okay for the him to visit Washington at the same time as Benedict XVI. But, truth to tell, Mr Brown's greater problem in getting America's attention was not the USA's 60 million practising Catholics. It was the USA's 60 million practising Blairites.

Short of asking the Prime Minister for his predecessor's autograph, the American media treated Mr Brown with a perplexed air of barely-concealed disappointment. On National Public Radio on Thursday, the PM was asked: "You were Tony Blair's Number Two for a decade - now taken over the top spot. Have you had moments when you've worried if you might have been a better second person than the man on top who has to sell the policies?"


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


Bob Thompson: Actors say Wachowski Bros. Speed Racer a mind-blowing experience (Ronald Nurwisah, April 18, 2008, National Post)

The Wachowski Brothers’ Speed Racer zooms into theatres starting on May 9.

But to gear up for the brothers trippy movie version of Tatsuo Yoshida’s 1960s Japanese cartoon, there were previews in L. A. on Thursday and Friday. And yes Speed Racer is a marvel of movie engineering. And yes the Mach 5 car contains lots of gadgets easily deployed by pressing buttons marked A through G on the steering wheel and another all important one marked H.

While generally loyal to the various cartoons, this movie creature is nothing like anything we’ve seen before as the Wachowskis of The Matrix trilogy fame immerse themselves in high-definition video layering which allows foreground and background to stay in focus. The result is a backdrop as bizarre as it is vivid. [...]

"It was a whole different style of acting," Hirsch reported. "And sometimes you weren‚t sure what was going on but it was so easy to trust the directors. They really made the races engaging and I was impressed because they were so detail oriented."

Ricci felt right at home with all the Speed Racer action as the helicopter girl Trixie. "I never felt out of place or like the only girl in a guy's movie," she said. "And I got to kung-fu fight and fly a helicopter."

And what more could you ask?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Obama Could Get 'Swift Boated': Clinton Supporter Says Anti-Obama Campaign in the Works (KATE SNOW, April 19, 2008, ABC News)

Rick Sloan says he doesn't want to see the Democrats get "Swift Boated" again this time. So the communications director for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers has sent a couple of dozen friends  union leaders and Democratic activists, mainly  an urgent plea to pay attention to Sen. Barack Obama's connections with the 1960s anti-war group, the Weather Underground, and other leftist thinkers. [...]

In the memo, Sloan lays out the case he believes Republicans are making and would make against Obama if he were the Democratic nominee, linking the senator to Weather Underground founders Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn.

"According to Weatherman communiqués and papers compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation into a 403 page summary, Ayers and Dohrn toed the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist line. They were hardcore Communists bent on world revolution," Sloan writes.

"Ayers and Dohrn were responsible for bombings of the US State Department, US Capitol, the Pentagon, the National Guard Headquarters and nineteen other sites. Two other Weathermen, the parents of Ayers and Dohrn's adopted son, Chelsa, were convicted of murdering two policemen and a security guard during a Brinks truck robbery," he says.

Sloan says Rove and Republicans would "eviscerate" Obama if he were the Democratic presidential candidate. He recalls links that have been reported in the press between Obama and Ayers and brings up other leftist leaders and ideologues.

"Rove's frame for the fall campaign will be filled with revolutionary figures -- Marx, Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara. His audio tapes of Ayers, Dohrn and other Weathermen will provide the screams of revolution. The bombing of the US Capitol, the Pentagon and the US State Department will serve as b-roll for his television ads that will have one final visual as the announcer gravely intones 'Their Change -- Not What You Had In Mind?'" he predicts.

She should have run it in Iowa.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Barack Obama's campaign finds a culture clash in Philadelphia -
The city's entrenched, quirky political system isn't a natural fit for a campaign staff that talks grass-roots. And what's this about no cash payouts? (Peter Nichols, Los Angeles Times, April 20, 2008)

PHILADELPHIA — Hal Sawyer figures he knows just what is needed to deliver his precinct for Barack Obama in the gritty world of Philadelphia politics.

He has rigged up his Dodge Caravan with a loudspeaker so he can drive through his neighborhood in northwest Philadelphia urging people to come out to Obama events. He has reams of contacts as a local committeeman, part of the city's entrenched Democratic Party machine.

So when Sawyer walked into an Obama campaign office and asked for a yard sign, the response took him aback. They said they didn't have any.

"Then I tried to play the 'I'm a Democratic committeeman' card and 'I need materials for my voters and stuff for election day.' And their response was nothing, zero. 'You're a what?' "

The mutual puzzlement underscores the culture clash within the coalition working to elect Obama here. In the run-up to the Pennsylvania primary Tuesday, there is a deep divide over the best tactics to use in this city's quirky political culture.

On one side is the city's aging Democratic apparatus, a collection of pro-Obama ward leaders and committee people whose tools of persuasion are yard signs, campaign hats, buttons, stickers and "street money" -- cash handed out before the election to juice turnout.

On the other is the Obama campaign team, a network of young aides from out of state who eschew the traditional trappings of a campaign and think that elections turn on intangibles: grass-roots organization and an ever-expanding web of volunteers motivated by a deep belief in the candidate.

All you really need to know about Barack Obama--and why he felt he needed the racial cred that Reverend Wright could lend him--is that Ronald Reagan's lilly-white campaign manager understands urban politics better than the Senator.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


About Obama's Terrorist Acquaintance (Steve Chapman, 4/20/08, Real Clear Politics)

When William F. Buckley Jr. died in February, one of the things widely praised, by liberals and others, was his stalwart insistence on moral hygiene. Even when his conservative movement was small and embattled, he rejected the temptation to join forces with anti-Semites, the John Birch Society and other extremists. Later, he disavowed longtime confederates Pat Buchanan and Joseph Sobran for the sin of bigotry.

Buckley knew the importance of choosing allies carefully. But some people who expect such care from conservatives don't practice it themselves.

Among many liberals, extremism in the defense of "social justice" is no vice. When the folk singer Pete Seeger got a medal by President Clinton, no one cared that he was a veteran apologist for Stalin who still regarded himself as a communist. That indifference betrayed a double standard that conscientious liberals should reject.

By that standard, Barack Obama is a liberal, but not a conscientious one. I don't much care if he declines to wear a flag pin; I can overlook his wife's limited capacity for patriotic pride; and I defended his relationship with his former pastor. But his comfortable association with an unrepentant former terrorist should induce queasiness in anyone who shares the humane values that Obama extols.

In what sense can someone who advocates infanticide, attends a racist anti-American church, and would have left the Shi'a and Kurds under the genocidal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein be considered to have humane values ?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


McCain overcomes rank-and-file concerns (DAVID PAUL KUHN, 4/20/08, Politico)

Although John McCain's candidacy is still viewed with suspicion by many conservative leaders, polling suggests he has overcome the concerns of rank-and-file conservatives: McCain isn't viewed more unfavorably by conservative voters today than George W. Bush was at this point in the 2000 election cycle.

In the latest CBS News/New York Times poll, 18 percent of conservatives said they have an unfavorable view of McCain. The same percentage expressed an unfavorable view of Bush in CBS News polls conducted in March and April of 2000; higher percentages of conservatives held unfavorable views of Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush at similar points in 1996 and 1988, respectively.

There's no better test of one's elitism and disconnection from Kansas than one's objections to Maverick.

April 19, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 PM


Battle to retake Basra was 'complete disaster' (Sean Rayment, 20/04/2008, Daily Telegraph)

The British-trained Iraqi Army's attempt to retake Basra from militiamen was an "unmitigated disaster at every level", British commanders have disclosed.

Senior sources have said that the mission was undermined by incompetent officers and untrained troops who were sent into battle with inadequate supplies of food, water and ammunition.

They said the failure had delayed the British withdrawal by "many months".

Disclosed? Ideologues are the only ones who haven't accepted it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:46 PM


BENEDICT & BUSH: MUCH IN COMMON (Rich Lowry, 4/19/08, NY Post)

In fact, Benedict blessed an interventionism farther reaching than anything Bush has ever defended. If nation states don't protect their citizens from "grave and sustained violations of human rights," he said, "the international community must intervene." This view might seriously endanger national sovereignty - if the United Nations weren't so comically ineffectual.

Borrowing from Stalin's infamous jibe, one might ask Benedict how many divisions Ban Ki-moon has? The UN is a collection of squabbling nation states, many of which cynically use it to block the principled international action that Benedict envisions. If a dictator is toppled or a humanitarian crisis averted anywhere in the world, it is almost always the United States that took the lead.

Benedict devoted the balance of his address to a dense explanation of the philosophical basis of human rights. They are founded, he said, "on the natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in different cultures and civilizations." In defending the universality of human rights, Benedict sounded similar to Bush. There's a reason that yesterday Bush declared with gusto at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington: "His Holiness believes that freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man, woman and child on Earth."

This was the neglected storyline of Benedict's visit: the consonance of vision of the president and the pontiff. When they stood together on the White House lawn in a majestic welcoming ceremony on Wednesday, it symbolized the growing rapprochement of American evangelical Protestantism and the Catholic Church.

...have as many divisions as the US can field.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:10 PM


Clinton Impugns Obama’s Toughness (JULIE BOSMAN and JEFF ZELENY, 4/19/08, NY Times)

Heading into the final weekend before the crucial Pennsylvania primary, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton questioned Senator Barack Obama’s toughness, a tactic her campaign called an 11th-hour message to uncommitted superdelegates who may have lingering concerns over his electability.

At a rally at Radnor Senior High School, one of two high schools at which she spoke on Friday, Mrs. Clinton seized upon Mr. Obama’s remarks made the day after Wednesday’s Democratic debate, when he expressed his irritation at the moderator’s questions and the debate format. Mrs. Clinton said dryly that Mr. Obama had been “complaining about the hard questions.”

“Well, having been in the White House for eight years, and seeing what happens in terms of the pressures and the stresses of the president, that was nothing,” she said of the debate.

Debates debate takes a turn for the weird (PATRICK GUINANE, 4/19/08, nwitimes.com)
Hillary Clinton's campaign on Friday accepted Gary Mayor Rudy Clay's invitation to debate Barack Obama on urban issues in the struggling Steel City -- only to have the mayor promptly rescind the offer he had extended a day earlier. [...]

The reversal came just hours after the Clinton campaign told reporters the New York senator had accepted Clay's invitation, as well as an earlier debate offer made by the Indiana Debate Commission.

Howard Wolfson, Clinton's communications director, challenged Obama to shake off his "bad debate" in Philadelphia and give Hoosiers a chance to hear the Democrats parse the issues.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:47 PM


Awaiting China's implosion (SALIM MANSUR, 4/19/08, Toronto Sun)

In the list of tyrants, mass-murderers and psychopaths Mao stands apart. Others in comparison -- Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mussolini, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, Idi Amin, Ayatollah Khomeini and the rest -- are merely horrid and detestable characters.

They lacked the aura of philosopher-statesman that brought so many in the West, including president Richard Nixon and the suave Henry Kissinger during their 1972 trip to China, to praise Mao as the "great helmsman" for his history-making role.

But it is Mao's China and not the United States that is a paper tiger held together by undisguised force of communist police and informers.

Though Tibet was devoured brutally and other ethnic minorities repressed cruelly, such as the Uighur Turks in the Xinjiang province who are mostly Muslims -- I have personally witnessed the situation while travelling through the region -- Mao's successors tremble in fear at the possibility the prison he constructed might dissolve, as did the former Soviet Union.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:44 PM


Macs Run Windows Vista Better Than PCs, Popular Mechanics Says So (Antone Gonsalves, April 17, 2008, InformationWeek)

Surprisingly to the magazine, Apple's user interface for its OS X Leopard didn't outshine Vista among the testers, who liked the look and feel of both operating systems, but showed a slight preference toward OS X. The real differences were in the speed trials, where Leopard "trounced" Vista in important tasks such as boot-up, shutdown and program-launch times.

"We even tested Vista on the Macs using Apple's platform-switching Boot Camp software -- and found that both Apple computers ran Vista faster than our PCs did," the magazine said. "Simply put, Vista proved to be a more sluggish operating system than Leopard."

Another surprise was the price of the systems. While the Apple Mac is often seen as more expensive than the PC, Popular Mechanics found that the Asus M51sr cost the same as the MacBook, and the Gateway One cost $300 more than an iMac.

"That means for the price of the Gateway you could buy an iMac, boost its hard drive to match the Gateway's, purchase a copy of Vista to boot -- and still save $100," the magazine said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:28 PM


The Wildest Fastball Ever: Steve Dalkowski's pitches didn't rip through the air, they appeared under mystified Ted Williams' chin as if by magic (Pat Jordan, 10/12/70, Sports Illustrated)

On May 7, 1966, shortly after his release from baseball, The Sporting News carried a blurred, seven-year-old photograph of one Stephen Louis Dalkowski, along with a brief story that was headlined: LIVING LEGEND RELEASED. It began, "Steve Dalkowski, a baseball legend in his own time, apparently has thrown his last professional pitch." The description was not hyperbolic. Despite the fact that he never pitched an inning in the major leagues, few people in organized baseball at that time had not heard of Steve Dalkowski.

The legend began 10 years before, on a hot spring day in Miami, Fla., when Dalkowski was pitching batting practice for the Baltimore Orioles before an exhibition game with the Red Sox. According to several guys who were there, Ted Williams was watching curiously from behind the batting cage. After a few minutes Williams picked up a bat and stepped into the cage. Reporters and players moved quickly closer to see this classic confrontation. Williams took three level, disciplined practice swings, cocked his bat, and motioned with his head for Dalkowski to deliver the ball. Dalkowski went into his spare pump, his right leg rising a few inches off the ground, his left arm pulling back and then flicking out from the side of his body like an attacking cobra. The ball did not rip through the air like most fastballs, but seemed to appear suddenly and silently in the catcher's glove.

The catcher held the ball for a few seconds a few inches under Williams' chin. Williams looked back at it, then at Dalkowski, squinting at him from the mound, and then he dropped his bat and stepped out of the cage. The writers immediately asked Williams how fast Steve Dalkowski really was. Williams, whose eyes were said to be so sharp that he could count the stitches on a baseball as it rotated toward the plate, told them he had not seen the pitch, that Steve Dalkowski was the fastest pitcher he ever faced and that he would be damned if he would ever face him again if he could help it.

Ted Williams was not the only baseball authority awed by Dalkowski's speed. Paul Richards, Harry Brecheen, Earl Weaver and just about anyone who had ever seen him throw claimed he was faster than Johnson or Feller or any of the fabled oldtimers. The Orioles, who owned Dalkowski from 1957 to 1965, once sent him to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, where they used Army equipment to test the speed of his fastball. The machine clocked it at 93.5 mph, about 5 mph slower than Bob Feller's, which was clocked on similar equipment. But Feller had thrown his fastball from a high mound, which added 5 to 8 mph to its speed, and Dalkowski had thrown his from level ground. Also, Dalkowski had pitched a game the day before, which it was estimated knocked off another 5 to 10 mph. Finally, Dalkowski was literally exhausted by the time the machine clocked his pitch because he had thrown for 40 minutes beforehand, just trying to get a fastball within range of the device. All things considered, it was assumed conservatively that Dalkowski, when right, could throw a baseball at well over 105 mph.

There's an old newsreel clip--that I can't find on-line--of Bob Feller throwing vs a speeding motorcycle. What's amazing isn't just the speed of his pitch--release of which he had to time with the arrival of the bike--but that he basically throws it dead center of the target.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:24 PM


Intelligent Design doc 'Expelled' surprises w/Top 10 finish! (Steve Mason, 4/19/08, Fantasy Moguls)

One surprise success this weekend is Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a new doc from Nathan Frankowski featuring conservative commentator Ben Stein. Clearly Rocky Mountain Pictures has engineered a successful faith-based marketing campaign for this anti-evolution treatise. On 1,052 screens, the film finished #8 on Friday with $1.12M, and it'll wrap the weekend with at least $3.1M. Expelled has dramatically out-performed a documentary from the other end of the political spectrum.

The tongue-in-cheek Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden (Weinstein) from Morgan Spurlock, the Oscar nominated filmmaker behind the hit doc Super Size Me. The poorly-reviewed pseudo-doc generated a dismal $363 Per Theatre Average on Friday in its 102 engagements, and it will likely deliver only $140,000 over the 3-day. Expelled will deliver a weekend Per Theatre Average of $3,000 or so compared to Spurlock's $1,300 despite the fact that Where in the World is in very limited release.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Afghan Commandos Emerge: U.S.-Trained Force Plays Growing Role in Fighting Insurgents (Ann Scott Tyson, 4/19/08, Washington Post)

Night after night, commandos in U.S. Chinook helicopters descend into remote Afghan villages, wielding M-4 rifles as they swarm Taliban compounds. Such raids began in December in the Sabari District here, long considered too dangerous for U.S. patrols, and have already resulted in the death or capture of 30 insurgent leaders in eastern Afghanistan, according to U.S. commanders.

"The Americans are doing this," the Taliban fighters concluded, according to U.S. intelligence.

But though the commandos carry the best U.S. rifles, wear night-vision goggles and ride in armored Humvees, they are not Americans but Afghans -- trained and advised by U.S. Special Forces teams that are seeking to create a sustainable combat force that will ultimately replace them in Afghanistan.

"This is our ticket out of here," a Special Forces company commander said last month at a U.S. base in Khost, where his teams eat, sleep, train and fight alongside the commandos.

The creation of a 4,000-strong Afghan commando force marks a major evolution for U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


The Democrats’ Wimp Factor: As Obama's patriotism is questioned, he's starting to look more and more like John Kerry in '04. (Michael Hirsh, Apr 17, 2008, Newsweek)

The specter of John Kerry in 2004 is beginning to haunt the Democrats in 2008. It is the specter of wimpy campaigns past. It showed up, like Banquo's ghost, at the debate Wednesday night in Philadelphia, particularly when Hillary Clinton joined with ABC's George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson to nip away at the edges of Barack Obama's patriotism. Between the questions about Obama's meager association with William Ayers, a former Weatherman, and the suspicions raised by his lack of a flag lapel pin, the likely nominee is slowly being turned into John Kerry. He is becoming, in other words, a candidate who may be mostly right about national security but who will lack the Red State street cred to carry his point—and the election.

Once again timorous Democratic advisers behind the scenes are hoping they can run mainly on the ailing economy. While their candidates are urging an end to George W. Bush's war in Iraq, they are terrified of questioning the larger premises of his "war on terror" or John McCain's redefinition of it as the "transcendent challenge of the 21st century." Today's Dems are, in other words, proving unequal to the task of reclaiming the party's mostly honorable heritage on national security. This view is sadly out of touch, today more than ever.

...who both served honorably in Vietnam, whatever they may have done to discredit themselves later. What has Senator Obama ever done?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Not-So-Free Ride (STEPHEN J. DUBNER and STEVEN D. LEVITT, 4/19/08, NY Times Magazine)

Americans drive too much. This isn’t a political or moral argument; it’s an economic one. How so?

Because there are all sorts of costs associated with driving that the actual driver doesn’t pay. Such a condition is known to economists as a negative externality: the behavior of Person A (we’ll call him Arthur) damages the welfare of Person Z (Zelda), but Zelda has no control over Arthur’s actions. If Arthur feels like driving an extra 50 miles today, he doesn’t need to ask Zelda; he just hops in the car and goes. And because Arthur doesn’t pay the true costs of his driving, he drives too much.

What are the negative externalities of driving? To name just three: congestion, carbon emissions and traffic accidents. Every time Arthur gets in a car, it becomes more likely that Zelda — and millions of others — will suffer in each of those areas.

Which of these externalities is the most costly to U.S. society? According to current estimates, carbon emissions from driving impose a societal cost of about $20 billion a year. That sounds like an awful lot until you consider congestion: a Texas Transportation Institute study found that wasted fuel and lost productivity due to congestion cost us $78 billion a year. The damage to people and property from auto accidents, meanwhile, is by far the worst. In a 2006 paper, the economists Aaron Edlin and Pinar Karaca-Mandic argued that accidents impose a true unpaid cost of about $220 billion a year. (And that’s even though the accident rate has fallen significantly over the past 10 years, from 2.72 accidents per million miles driven to 1.98 per million; overall miles driven, however, keep rising.) So, with roughly three trillion miles driven each year producing more than $300 billion in externality costs, drivers should probably be taxed at least an extra 10 cents per mile if we want them to pay the full societal cost of their driving.

How can this be achieved? Higher tolls, especially variable tolls like congestion pricing, are one option. This seems to have worked well in London but was recently quashed in New York City, where the political hurdles proved too high.

A higher gas tax might also work. If a typical car gets 20 miles to the gallon, then the proper tax would be about $2 per gallon. But with the current high market price for gas and the political hysterics attached to it — well, good luck with that one.

This brings us to automobile insurance.

It's one thing to Reform welfare, but go after the middle class entitlements and you really set the pigs squealing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Why Not Blame Obama? (Lawrence Kudlow, 4/19/08, Real Clear Politics)

[D]oubling the capital-gains tax rate will affect Americans up and down the income ladder, not just rich hedge-fund managers. In addition, capital-gains tax cuts are self-financing, and they stimulate jobs and the economy. You want to raise budget revenues and spark economic growth? Cut the cap-gains tax rate. That's what history shows.

The Wall Street Journal's Steve Moore points out that in 2005, almost half of all tax returns reporting capital gains came from households with incomes under $50,000, while more than three-quarters came from households earning less than $100,000.

Obama also proposed uncapping the payroll tax, another blunder that will hit people up and down the income ladder. While Obama pledges tax hikes only for folks earning more that $200,000 a year, his tax hike on payrolls would actually slam middle-income earners. The cap on wages subject to the payroll tax is presently $102,000. By eliminating that cap Obama will be soaking veteran firemen, cops, teachers, and health-service workers, along with a variety of other occupations.

In fact, in America's largest cities, a firefighter married to a school teacher can earn close to $200,000 filing jointly. So not only will each spouse separately pay more for Social Security and health care under Obama's plan, together they'll also be slammed by Obama's cap-gains tax increase.

This is more than just a failure to understand the Laffer curve. It's another cultural misstep by Obama. I can't help but wonder if the senator knows any cops or firemen.

Rather than taxing folks while they're middle class, Senator Obama should propose denying them government benefits (means testing) upon their retirement, when they'll be wealthy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


The Rules Change for Obama (Michael Barone, 4/19/08, Real Clear Politics)

The presidency is a uniquely personal office, and each incumbent puts his individual stamp on it. Obama's choice to join Rev. Jeremiah Wright's church and his choice to befriend William Ayers were not those most Americans would make, and Hillary Clinton was quick to declare, perhaps opportunistically, they were not choices she would have made.

This doesn't mean that Obama is responsible for Wright's outrageous statements or for Ayers' criminal acts (the charges against him were dropped because of government misconduct). But Obama's choices to associate with Wright and Ayers tend to undercut his appealing message -- very appealing after 15 years of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush -- that we must strive to overcome the racial and cultural and ideological divisions which have dominated our politics They are something that voters are entitled to weigh as they make their decisions.

Obama fans are upset that ABC News' Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson broke the unwritten rule that you are not supposed to ask Democratic candidates about these things. Associations with unrepentant radicals and comments made to contributors at a San Francisco fund-raiser in a billionaire's mansion are supposed to be kept indoors. Only the face that the candidate wants to place before the public should be seen.

Beliefs that most activist liberals share should be kept under wraps if they are unpopular with most of the voting public. That is how mainstream media have operated for the last generation or more. But not at Philadelphia's Constitution Center on April 16. The rules had changed. And Barack Obama was not well prepared.

And the GOP will get to fill in the face, since the Senator left it blank.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Our Climate Numbers Are a Big Old Mess (PATRICK MICHAELS, April 18, 2008, Wall Street Journal)

President George W. Bush has just announced his goal to stabilize greenhouse-gas emissions by 2025. To get there, he proposes new fuel-economy standards for autos, and lower emissions from power plants built in the next 10 to 15 years.

Pending legislation in the Senate from Joe Lieberman and John Warner would cut emissions even further – by 66% by 2050. No one has a clue how to do this. Because there is no substitute technology to achieve these massive reductions, we'll just have to get by with less energy.

Funny how much the Right sounds like the Left when it's their ox being gored. The notion that because we haven't innovated with carbon fuels plentiful and cheap we won't when they're punitively expensive is inane.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


God and Guns: The only healthy way to fly (Mark Steyn, 4/19/08, National Review)

In my book America Alone, I note a global survey on optimism: 61 per cent of Americans were optimistic about the future, 29 per cent of the French, 15 per cent of Germans. Take it from a foreigner: In my experience, Americans are the least “bitter” people in the developed world. Secular gun-free big-government Europe doesn’t seem to have done anything for people’s happiness. Consider by way of example the words of Keith Reade. He’s not an Obama speechwriter, he’s a writer for the London Daily Mirror. And the day after the 2004 presidential election he expressed his frustration in an alarmingly Obamaesque way:

Were I a Kerry voter, though, I’d feel deep anger, not only at them returning Bush to power, but for allowing the outside world to lump us all into the same category of moronic muppets. The self-righteous, gun-totin’, military-lovin’, sister-marryin’, abortion-hatin’, gay-loathin’, foreigner-despisin’, non-passport ownin’ red-necks, who believe God gave America the biggest d*** in the world so it could urinate on the rest of us and make their land “free and strong.”

Well, that’s certainly why I supported Bush, but I’m not sure it entirely accounts for the other 62,039,073 incontinent rednecks. Mr Reade, though, does usefully enumerate some of the distinctive features that separate America from the rest of the west. “Self-righteous”? If you want a public culture that reeks of indestructible faith in its own righteousness, try Europe — especially when they’re talking about America: If you disagree with Eutopian wisdom, you must be an idiot. Obama and far too many Democrats have bought into this delusion, most thoroughly distilled in Thomas Frank’s book What’s The Matter With Kansas?, whose argument is that heartland voters are too dumb (i.e., “moronic muppets”) to vote for their own best interests.

Europeans did “vote for their own best interests” — i.e., cradle-to-grave welfare, 35 hour work-weeks, six weeks of paid vacation, etc — and as a result they now face a perfect storm of unsustainable entitlements, economic stagnation, and declining human capital that’s left them so demographically beholden to unassimilable levels of immigration that they’re being remorselessly Islamized with every passing day. We should thank God (if you’ll forgive the expression) that America’s loser gun-nuts don’t share the same sophisticated rational calculation of “their best interests” as Thomas Frank, Obama, too many Democrats and the European political establishment.

...if the only entertainment available was soccer.

April 18, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 PM


Hillary Clinton falls for Gordon Brown's tax appeal (Andrew Gimson, 18/04/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Hillary Clinton has moved to consolidate her position as the Gordon Brown of American politics. There are some superficial differences between the two. Mrs Clinton is a woman, and better than Mr Brown at pretending to be delighted to see whichever audience she happens to be addressing.

...but winning elections in the Anglosphere requires being like the oaks they fell from: Maggie by way of Bill & Tony.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 PM


Don’t Doubt It: An important historic sidebar. (David Klinghoffer, 4/18/08, National Review)

The Darwin-Hitler connection is no recent discovery. In her classic 1951 work The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt wrote: “Underlying the Nazis’ belief in race laws as the expression of the law of nature in man, is Darwin’s idea of man as the product of a natural development which does not necessarily stop with the present species of human being.”

The standard biographies of Hitler almost all point to the influence of Darwinism on their subject. In Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, Alan Bullock writes: “The basis of Hitler’s political beliefs was a crude Darwinism.” What Hitler found objectionable about Christianity was its rejection of Darwin’s theory: “Its teaching, he declared, was a rebellion against the natural law of selection by struggle and the survival of the fittest.”

John Toland’s Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography says this of Hitler’s Second Book published in 1928: “An essential of Hitler’s conclusions in this book was the conviction drawn from Darwin that might makes right.”

In his biography, Hitler: 1889-1936: Hubris, Ian Kershaw explains that “crude social-Darwinism” gave Hitler “his entire political ‘world-view.’ ” Hitler, like lots of other Europeans and Americans of his day, saw Darwinism as offering a total picture of social reality. This view called “social Darwinism” is a logical extension of Darwinian evolutionary theory and was articulated by Darwin himself.

The key elements in the ideology that produced Auschwitz are moral relativism aligned with a rejection of the sacredness of human life, a belief that violent competition in nature creates greater and lesser races, that the greater will inevitably exterminate the lesser, and finally that the lesser race most in need of extermination is the Jews. All but the last of these ideas may be found in Darwin’s writing.

Like Hitler, Charles Darwin saw natural processes as setting moral standards. It’s all in The Descent of Man, where he explains that, had we evolved differently, we would have different moral ideas. On a particularly delicate moral topic, for example, he wrote: “We may, therefore, reject the belief, lately insisted on by some writers, that the abhorrence of incest is due to our possessing a special God-implanted conscience.”

In the same book, he compared the evolution of people to the breeding of animals and drew a chilling conclusion regarding what he saw as the undesirable consequences of allowing the unfit to breed:

“Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.” In this desacralized picture of existence, to speak of life as possessing any kind of holiness is to introduce an alien note.

Most disturbing of all, in The Descent of Man, Darwin prophesied: “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races.”

It can certainly be argued that Darwin did not personally favor applying his ideas to exterminate other races, but it's undeniable that one key aspect of his ideas is that if they were true such extermination would be a good thing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 PM


Obama's secret weapon: the media (JOHN F. HARRIS & JIM VANDEHEI, 4/18/08, Politico)

My, oh my, but weren’t those fellows from ABC News rude to Barack Obama at this week’s presidential debate.

Nothing but petty, process-oriented questions, asked in a prosecutorial tone, about the Democratic front-runner’s personal associations and his electablity. Where was the substance? Where was the balance? [...]

The shower of indignation on Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos over the last few days is the clearest evidence yet that the Clintonites are fundamentally correct in their complaint that she has been flying throughout this campaign into a headwind of media favoritism for Obama.

It's fine to moan about the talking heads, but she ran way too gentle a campaign against a guy she could have bloodied easily.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 PM


China's last Maoists submit to capitalism (Richard Spencer, 19/04/2008, Daily Telegraph)

While the rest of the country abandoned the commune, pursued personal fortunes and dismantled state industries, the village of Nanjie in central China renationalised its land, set up factories and paid all residents £20 a month.

Advertising was banned and instead, propaganda banners hung in streets which led to a 30ft statue of Mao built in 1993. Annual "profits" from the 26 village businesses paid for a mass wedding ceremony and honeymoons in Beijing.

Nanjie also provided free housing, schooling and health care, supporting a standard of living so much better than surrounding towns that many who visited were awestruck by its egalitarianism.

Ten years ago, The New York Times noted its well-kept apartments and spacious schools - although it added that the state of its finances could not be verified.

More recently, one of the nostalgic Chinese tourists attracted to the village as its fame spread enthused to the BBC: "Mao's slogan 'Serve the people' is really put into practice here. It's not just empty rhetoric."

Unfortunately, few of the visitors were accountants. In the past two months, newspapers in Hong Kong and Guangzhou have unravelled a tale of Enron-style woe.

Oops, they were going to be the subject of Michael Moore's next movie about how Communism trumps capitalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 PM


This Time It’s Clinton Caught on Tape (T.W. Farnam, 4/18/08, Wall Street Journal: Washington Wire)

Now it’s Sen. Hillary Clinton’s turn to explain remarks at a private fund-raiser.

On a tape released by the Huffington Post, Clinton bashes MoveOn.org and the Democratic Party’s “activist base” for “intimidating” her supporters.

“We have been less successful in caucusing because it brings out the activist base of the party,” Clinton says on the muffled audio recording. “You know, MoveOn.org didn’t want us to go into Afghanistan. I mean, that’s what we’re dealing with, and they turnout in great numbers and, um, they are very driven in their view of our positions. And it’s primarily national security and foreign policy that drives them. I don’t agree with them. They know I don’t agree with them. Though they flood into these caucuses and dominate them and really intimidate people who actually show up to support me.”

Attacking the Left is how you win states like PA and IN.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 PM


Brown Urges Global Push To Solve Global Problems (KATIE ZEZIMA, 4/18/08, NY Times)

Making numerous references to the post-World War II era and to Kennedy’s push for internationalism, Mr. Brown said that the world needed “a new deal” much like the Marshall Plan, and that countries like the United States and Britain must work to stabilize volatile nations and prevent crimes against humanity and terrorism.

He praised President Bush for “leading the world” in the fight against terrorism, and reaffirmed his support for a unified response that includes freezing assets, tightening international law and imposing travel bans, which he said he and Mr. Bush discussed Thursday at the White House.

“He and I agree terrorism will ultimately be defeated only when it is isolated and abandoned,” the prime minister said. More must be done, however, to intervene in countries shaken by conflict and to stamp out atrocities, he said.

“Instability in one country will affect stability in all countries; an injustice anywhere is now a threat to justice everywhere,” Mr. Brown said. “And that is how we must respond: not walking away as we did in Rwanda at the cost of thousands of lives, but by engaging as hard-headed internationalists.”

...wants to isolate America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:52 AM


Baseball's worldwide appeal: After a few months in the BBC Washington bureau Kevin Connolly says while he may not have grasped all the finer points of baseball, he feels remarkably at home at the ballpark. (Kevin Connolly, 4/12/08, BBC News)

We have lived once again through the triumphs and disasters of opening week, that brief uplifting period in the baseball season when grass is short and hopes are high.

It is a time when even fans who know they will end the summer with the comforting familiarity of defeat and despair allow themselves to feel the uncertain agony of hope.

Not that I have actually lived through a baseball season before, of course.

It is just that a lifetime of watching American films and television programmes has given me a kind of eerie familiarity with things I have never seen before, almost as though I have experienced them in a previous life. Which I suppose I have.

It struck me first when I drove through southern Texas, where telegraph poles, strung out along the desert highways, chop the horizon into identically sized blocks, creating the illusion you are looking at a series of frames on a never-ending roll of film.

I felt as though I knew it and of course I did.

It is the landscape across which that great towering giant of stubborn optimism, Wile E Coyote, eternally chased the charmless Road Runner in Looney Tunes cartoons.

But nowhere is the shock of the familiar sharper than in the ballpark.

The very word alone reminds you that we speak the language of baseball even if we live in countries where we do not play it or watch it.

Whereas soccer gave us just two terms: Own Goal, for when one damages oneself; and, Hooliganism, for damaging others.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


The martyr's son behind Iraq's militiamen: a review of Muqtada al-Sadr and the Fall of Iraq by Patrick Cockburn (Sameer Rahim, 4/18/08, Daily Telegraph)

In an article in the Wall Street Journal on March 20, two former advisors to L Paul Bremer - the American proconsul in Iraq from 2003-4 - made confident predictions about the fate of Muqtada al-Sadr.

The "surge" in troops begun last year had reduced sectarian attacks on the Shia; and support was ebbing away from the 34-year-old cleric and his Mahdi Army, he said. Earlier in the month, Muqtada had admitted his "failure to liberate Iraq".

The Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was thinking on similar lines. On March 25, he ordered an attack on the Mahdi Army in Basra. But after five days and 500 killed, the Iraqi Army controlled less than a quarter of the city, and its soldiers were handing their weapons to Muqtada's men.

Patrick Cockburn's valuable biography makes clear that many have underestimated Muqtada over the years.

Yeesh, the Bremerites still haven't figured out how badly they biffed when they went after Mookie?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


MASH OF THE TITANS: Jet Li and Jackie Chan partner as heroes in a Hollywood film that respects Hong Kong action cinema : a review of The Forbidden Kingdom Directed by Rob Minkoff (Armond White, 4/17/08, NY Press)

Rather than infantilizing HK action cinema or subordinating it to the needs of Western audiences (as if providing life-lessons to Jason made HK culture significant), the artists behind The Forbidden Kingdom respect Chan and Li’s artistry. In the neighborhood store where Jason buys rare kung-fu DVDs, the old Chinese proprietor teases him, “You watch too much Hong Kong Phooey. Crouching Tiger, Spanking Monkey”—a joke on how an authentic pop culture has been trivialized and misunderstood in the West. This won’t be a dull-witted genre parody like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1993 The Last Action Hero: It’s a tribute. [...]

The many worthy images include the group of misfits walking along the snaking crests of sand dunes—vistas that pan from mountains to a valley of blossoming trees. In one fight, Jade War Lord’s (Collin Chou) soldiers ride through tree blooms, which is an epiphany worthy of Shakespeare’s Birnam Wood. The climactic Five Elements temple battle becomes a mini epic. Li Bingbing as the White-Haired Witch shows sensational aggression; her clawing poses give extravagant definition to cat-fighting. Yet it’s Chan and Li, older and slightly less quicksilver, who fulfill the special purpose of HK cinema. They fight heroically—with hope of faith, fairness, goodness and triumphant justice.

The Forbidden Kingdom isn’t one of the greatest HK epics, but it’s a fan’s delight.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


The Uribe temptation: America stiffs its best friend in Latin America. How much will he really care? (The Economist, 4/17/08)

Mr Uribe is that rarest of beasts: a democratic, pro-American president winning an anti-terrorist war. [...]

In Mr Uribe...the Americans have an ally who has worked hard, through the American-financed Plan Colombia, to eradicate coca and disrupt the traffickers. More than this, he has made Colombia the odd-man-out in the Andes. Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia are run by anti-American leftists. Mr Uribe believes in free markets and has hitched Colombia's star to the United States. He even backed the war in Iraq.

Such an ally should be nurtured. Or so says George Bush, who appealed to Congress this week to ratify a long-promised Free-Trade Agreement (FTA) with Colombia so as not to “stiff” an ally. Stiffed, however, Colombia will probably be. The Democrats on Capitol Hill refuse to be bounced. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House, responded to Mr Bush by accusing him of “stiffing” the American people via seven years of lousy economic policies.

Ms Pelosi's view of Mr Bush is no surprise. But what do the Democrats have against Colombia?

His being pro-American, capitalist and defeating a Leftist insurgency doesn't explain it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Christ Our Hope (George Neumayr, 4/17/2008, American Spectator)

[P]ope Benedict enters Washington, D.C., at an ironic moment, in which many of his critics are Catholics and his allies Protestants.

The Pelosis, Kennedys, and Kerrys press for an irrelevant and secularized Catholicism, an empty faith without works, as it were. Meanwhile, a Protestant President applauds the Holy Father for his faith and works, for defending God and objective truth in a time of relativism.

Their speeches on Wednesday at the White House harmonized, causing some disappointment to the press corps. Scrambling for a storyline, the press had hoped for tension and conflict between them over "immigration" and "Iraq." How the Holy Father could get to the left of a (basically) pro-amnesty president on the issue of immigration isn't clear to me.

On his trip to America Pope Benedict is addressing two crises at once, which are connected more deeply than the press can compute. One crisis afflicts the world, the other the Church. Both result from the same cause: the post-Enlightenment rupture in the relationship between faith and reason, God and man, that marginalized Jesus Christ.

At the very moment society was plunging into de-Christianized chaos, the American Catholic Church decided to join it.

...is to make Europe more Catholic, but Catholicism more American.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Darwin and the Nazis (Richard Weikart, 4/16/2008, American Spectator)

Where did the Nazis get the idea that some human beings were "lives unworthy of life"?

As I show in meticulous detail in my book, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany, the Nazis' devaluing of human life derived from Darwinian ideology (this does not mean that all Nazi ideology came from Darwinism). There were six features of Darwinian theory that have contributed to the devaluing of human life (then and now):

1. Darwin argued that humans were not qualitatively different from animals. The leading Darwinist in Germany, Ernst Haeckel, attacked the "anthropocentric" view that humans are unique and special.

2. Darwin denied that humans had an immaterial soul. He and other Darwinists believed that all aspects of the human psyche, including reason, morality, aesthetics, and even religion, originated through completely natural processes.

3. Darwin and other Darwinists recognized that if morality was the product of mindless evolution, then there is no objective, fixed morality and thus no objective human rights. Darwin stated in his Autobiography that one "can have for his rule of life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best ones."

4. Since evolution requires variation, Darwin and other early Darwinists believed in human inequality. Haeckel emphasized inequality to such as extent that he even classified human races as twelve distinct species and claimed that the lowest humans were closer to primates than to the highest humans.

5. Darwin and most Darwinists believe that humans are locked in an ineluctable struggle for existence. Darwin claimed in The Descent of Man that because of this struggle, "[a]t some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races."

6. Darwinism overturned the Judeo-Christian view of death as an enemy, construing it instead as a beneficial engine of progress. Darwin remarked in The Origin of Species, "Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows."

These six ideas were promoted by many prominent Darwinian biologists and Darwinian-inspired social thinkers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. All six were enthusiastically embraced by Hitler and many other leading Nazis. Hitler thought that killing "inferior" humans would bring about evolutionary progress. Most historians who specialize in the Nazi era recognize the Darwinian underpinnings of many aspects of Hitler's ideology.

All Hitler did was apply Darwinism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


McCain Winning Back Republicans (ALAN FRAM AND TREVOR TOMPSON, 4/17/08, AP)

Republicans are no longer underdogs in the race for the White House. To pull that off, John McCain has attracted disgruntled GOP voters, independents and even some moderate Democrats who shunned his party last fall.

Partly thanks to an increasingly likable image, the Republican presidential candidate has pulled even with the two Democrats still brawling for their party's nomination, according to an Associated Press-Yahoo news poll released Thursday. Just five months ago — before either party had winnowed its field — the survey showed people preferred sending an unnamed Democrat over a Republican to the White House by 13 percentage points. [...]

Among people who have moved toward McCain, about two-thirds are discontented Bush voters, with many calling themselves independents but leaning Republican.

Most impressive has been his determination to run as John McCain rather than suck up to the Beltway Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Pope Benedict's Message for America (Maggie Gallagher, 4/17/08, Real Clear Politics)

The first thing I learned from Vatican officials during a recent trip to Rome was this: Pope Benedict XVI is not really worried about us Americans.

For a universal church, the relative contentment with American Catholicism is perfectly understandable. In Rome, they worry about China, where the clandestine Bishop Han Dingxiang died after an 8-year imprisonment by the Chinese authorities. They worry about the Islamic world in the Middle East, including Iraq, where the Chaldean Catholic Bishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was killed by jihadist kidnappers. In Africa they worry not only about poverty and disease but an encroaching jihadist fever in places such as Nigeria. They worry a lot about whether Ireland and Poland are going to follow the European model of rapid secularization -- the end of historic national faith communities.

America? The view from Rome is that, on a relative basis, we Catholics here are doing just fine.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Margaret Thatcher, inspiration to New Labour: John Kampfner examines the curious relationship between Margaret Thatcher and the party she so nearly destroyed (John Kampfner, 17/04/2008, Daily Telegraph)

[B]ehind the simplistic attacks lies a more intriguing political reality. The Left, or at least the mainstream Left, has - for all the fury - accepted much of the Thatcher legacy.

Part of that is the inevitable passing of time, and the passage of events that are brought about only in part by politicians.

Would, for example, the greater onus on entrepreneurship and individualism that started in the Eighties not have happened anyway, albeit at a slower pace? And the technological revolution and onset of globalisation occurred long after Maggie departed.

Still, the Britain that Tony Blair inherited had the Thatcher imprint all over it. It was an axiom of New Labour not to shake the foundations she had laid. Part of this was calculation. Like all successful electoral machines, New Labour was a construct, a coalition of different forces.

Integral to Blair's strategy was to win back the skilled manual labourers, the aspirational class that had flocked to Mrs Thatcher, with her promise to enable people to buy their council homes, and to take part in a "share-owning democracy".

Some of this was also a conversion to a value system. Indeed, Blair's programme for the 1997 election confirmed all Mrs Thatcher's free-market reforms of a deregulated, non-planned, largely privatised economy with a flexible labour market, marginalising the trade unions and local authorities, while publicly disowning Left-wing shibboleths such as redistribution.

From the "prawn cocktail" offensive under John Smith to the more sophisticated wooing of the mid-Nineties, Blair and Brown let it be known that Labour had become "the party of business". They had dumped "tax and spend" policies forever.

They were seemingly all Thatcherites now.

To get a sense of her historical importance, consider than not just every current government of the Anglosphere but most of the opposition parties--with the curious exception of the post-Clinton Democrats--and the governments of France and Germany are now Thatcherite as well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


Cleric Sadr key player in helping poor Iraqis-report (Dean Yates, April 15, 2008, Reuters)

In the report published on Tuesday, Refugees International said Sadr's Mehdi Army militia as well as other Shi'ite and Sunni Arab militias were expanding their influence by providing food, shelter and other essentials to Iraqis left destitute by war.

The findings underscore Sadr's mass appeal ahead of provincial elections in October and will cause concern for U.S. officials who see reducing the influence of the militias as one of the Iraqi government's key challenges.

Sadr's political movement will compete for the first time in the local polls and is expected to make gains at the expense of other Shi'ite parties supporting Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. [...]

The Washington-based Refugees International said the Sadrist movement was operating on a similar model to Lebanon's Hezbollah, a group sponsored by Shi'ite Iran that provides a range of humanitarian services in Lebanon.

"Through a Hezbollah-like scheme, the Shi'ite Sadrist movement has established itself as the main service provider in the country," said the report.

"This sustainable programme provides shelter, food and non-food items to hundreds of thousands of Shi'ites in Iraq."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Ronald Reagan's America, and Obama's (Dr. Paul Kengor, 4/18/08, FrontPageMagazine.com)

Reagan was heavily influenced by his pastor in Dixon, Illinois, a man named Ben Cleaver, who was a father figure to the young Reagan. Cleaver had attended the University of Chicago, near Obama and Wright's church, and learned to read Hebrew and classical Greek. He was well read and curious, intellectual, and patriotic, harboring a faith in the American founders, given to invoking the likes of Washington and Lincoln. On one such speech to the local American Legion in February 1927, Cleaver spoke of the decidedly different upbringings of the two presidents, emphasizing that neither man's background, whether rich or poor, stopped him from making his mark on history.

Cleaver, a member of the Disciples of Christ denomination, was influenced by church leaders like Alexander Campbell. For Campbell and other 19th century Disciples, America's destiny was often prophetically interpreted, and the nation had a democratic mission to save the world from autocrats. Campbell believed the world's fate rested on America. In July 1830, Campbell declared the world "must look" to America "for its emancipation from the most heartless spiritual despotism ever." "This is our special mission in the world as a nation and a people," said Campbell, "and for this purpose the Ruler of nations has raised us up and made us the wonder and the admiration of the world." Campbell confidently predicted the "speedy overthrow" of "false religion [and] oppressive governments." He spoke of America as a "beacon," a "light unto the nations."

This was the kind of instruction that Ronald Reagan got from his church and the pulpit of Rev. Ben Cleaver, not to mention similarly uplifting messages from additional pastors, like the Rev. Cleveland Kleihauer, who pastored Reagan's church in Hollywood when Reagan was at an age comparable to Barack Obama during his time with Rev. Wright.

From his religious instruction and own reading, Ronald Reagan came to view America as "A Shining City Upon a Hill," which he anchored in his understanding of the Old and New Testament and from his knowledge of what John Winthrop had proclaimed aboard the Arabella off the Massachusetts coast in 1630, the latter of which Reagan recited by heart.

The message Reagan took from Matthew 5:14-16 (New Testament) is especially telling. The passage reads:

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men....

A nation that reflects God is not a nation to be hidden under a bowl, Reagan held, just as one would not light a lamp and then cover it with a bowl, not shining its light and extinguishing itself in the process. There's no point to lighting a lamp merely to cover it. Likewise, there's no point to a nation that's a beacon hiding itself. The faithful are not to harness the light only for themselves and their own warmth, but to share and spread it. One must bring that light to where it is needed -- to cast it upon the darkness. For Reagan, that would mean (especially) upon the Soviet Union - an empire he called "evil," and a land he dubbed "the heart of darkness."

Reagan both privatized and nationalized -- and even internationalized -- Matthew 5:14-16. He spoke of the "city on a hill" in this passage as a "Shining City Upon a Hill," as a "beacon." This is what Reagan wanted America to be: a model for all others, a guiding light . He saw America as divinely blessed and chosen to lead the world to freedom.

"I've always believed that this blessed land was set apart in a special way," Reagan said literally innumerable times, "that some divine plan placed this great continent here between the two oceans." It was a divine edict to bring freedom to the world-one that Reagan sought to fulfill. As he summed up in his Farewell Address from the Oval Office on January 11, 1989: "We stood, again, for freedom.... We meant to change a nation, and instead, we changed a world."

In short, Reagan's optimistic view of America would compel him to lead a positive America to create a better world. Reagan looked at America and saw freedom, not slavery.

As bad as his dislike for the America that exists is Senator Obama's insistence that while we should change America we oughtn't change the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


Democrats seek to avoid Iraq funding vote this fall (ANDREW TAYLOR, 4/17/08, AP)

Democrats in Congress, seeking to avoid a vote on funding the Iraq war during the fall campaign season, are likely to combine President Bush's two pending requests into a single bill to be voted on this spring.

House Democratic aides said Thursday that Bush's $108 billion request to finance military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through the Oct. 1 end of the 2008 budget year is likely to be combined with his $70 billion request to continue the war into the next president's term.

"You vote one time and get the money out of the way," said Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the House panel responsible for the Pentagon budget. He cautioned that House leaders have not officially endorsed the idea.

They're bidding fair for the title of least significant Congress in US history. All they do is serve as a rubber stamp for W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Brown and Bush promote international alliance at White House (Nicholas Watt and Ewen MacAskill, 4/17/08, guardian.co.uk)

At a joint press conference in the Rose Garden, Brown, asked about the special relationship between the US and Britain, said that, like Tony Blair, he stood "shoulder to shoulder" with the president in the battle against terrorism. [...]

Brown said the world owed Bush "a great deal of gratitude" for helping to root out terrorism. Although Bush has only nine months left in office, Brown said the two had "an ambitious agenda" to get through over the next few months, mainly on facing the economic crisis.

In July last year, a month after becoming prime minister, Brown sought to distance himself from Bush after the years in which Tony Blair was portrayed as the president's poodle and was deliberately cool towards the president.

The two joined in condemning the behaviour of the Zimbabwe president, Robert Mugabe, over the election results.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Demonstrators Gather in India to Protest Truncated Olympic Torch Relay (Emily Wax and Rama Lakshmi, 4/17/08, Washington Post)

Tens of thousands of pro-Tibetan demonstrators gathered across India Thursday to protest the Olympic torch relay, facing off with a massive show of security mobilized to ensure the flame's "harmonious journey" to Beijing could proceed.

A 70-person relay team of Indian athletes and celebrities carried the torch on a truncated, two-mile run through the city's colonial-era government center -- a part of town that had been closed to traffic and emptied of people to protect the flame's symbolic journey toward the start of the Olympic Games in August.

Hundreds, including at least 150 Tibetans, were arrested or detained in at least four different cities, including a group held by police in New Delhi after storming the hotel where the torch was housed. Another 30 were hustled away by police from in front of the Chinese consulate in Mumbai. Along with demonstrations in New Delhi and Mumbai, an estimated 30,000 had gathered in Bangalore and thousands more in the Hindu spiritual capital of Varanasi to protest China's human rights record and its treatment of Tibet.

April 17, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:44 PM


The US's secret plan to nuke Vietnam, Laos (Richard Ehrlich, 4/16/08, Asia Times)

The US Air Force wanted to use nuclear weapons against Vietnam in 1959 and 1968, and Laos in 1961, to obliterate communist guerrillas, according to newly declassified secret US Air Force documents.

In 1959, US Air Force chief of staff General Thomas D White chose several targets in northern Vietnam, but other military officials blocked his demand to nuke the Southeast Asian nation.

"White wanted to cripple the insurgents and their supply lines by attacking selected targets in North Vietnam, either with conventional or nuclear weapons," one declassified air force document said.

If we'd just nuked Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang and Hanoi in '58 the Cold War would have been over and about a hundred million lives and trillions of dollars saved, plus the 70s avoided. Not giving Curtis LeMay his chance was the most costly decision in human history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 PM


Differences emerge in US and Iraqi strategies for al-Sadr (ROBERT H. REID, 4/15/08, AP)

Differences have emerged between the U.S. and Iraq on how to deal with Shiite militant Muqtada al-Sadr, with the Americans appearing more willing than the Shiite-led government to concede a legitimate political role to the anti-U.S. cleric.

The gap appeared after fighting broke out last month between Iraqi forces and al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia in Basra. Clashes quickly spread to Baghdad, where U.S. and Iraqi troops are still confronting Shiite militiamen in the Mahdi Army stronghold of Sadr City.

Throughout the fighting, U.S. commanders have avoided publicly identifying al-Sadr or his Mahdi Army as their adversary, instead referring to the Shiite militants as "special groups" or simply "criminals."

Moreover, top American officials have left the door open for al-Sadr, who is believed to be in Iran, to maintain a significant role in Iraqi politics.

Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates described al-Sadr as "a significant political figure," adding that the Americans wanted to see him "work within the political process."

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, went even further, telling reporters that al-Sadr's political movement was a major force that should be "to varying degrees, accommodated."

Don't they read the neocons?

Al-Sadr Tightens the Screws (MARK KUKIS, 4/15/08, TIME)

Sadr's Mahdi Army has effectively stopped an advance by U.S. and Iraqi forces into its strongholds in Baghdad and Basra after weeks of fighting. On Monday Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, the commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, said American troops operating at the edge of Sadr City in support of Iraqi troops would not press deeper into the area. That means any decisive push into the heart of the Mahdi Army stronghold in east Baghdad would be left to Iraqi security forces, which so far have been unable to deal any meaningful blows against the militia.

The conflict in Sadr City remained stalemated Tuesday. There were no reports of serious fighting, but Iraqi government forces clung to their foothold in the area by manning checkpoints. "The city still under siege," said Sadr City resident Ghofran al-Saidi, a member of parliament loyal to the cleric. "The Iraqi troops stopped me twice from going out although I told them who I am."

Sadr's political power appears to be growing even as the crisis wears on. A new report by Refugees International says the Mahdi Army ranks are swelling with new recruits drawn from internally displaced people who've gotten aid from the militia. "Displaced men have joined armed groups," said the report, which put the number of internally displaced people in Iraq at 2.7 million. "As a result of the vacuum created by the failure of both the Iraqi government and the international community to act in a timely and adequate manner, non-state actors play a major role in providing assistance to vulnerable Iraqis. Militias of all denominations are improving their local base of support by providing social services in the neighborhoods and towns they control. Through a 'Hizballah-like' scheme, the Shi'ite Sadrist movement has established itself as the main service provider in the country."

The conspiracy has grown so vast that no news source can be trusted!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 AM


Eurovision song sparks French row (BBC, 4/17/08)

A French MP has said he is outraged that the song chosen to represent the nation in the Eurovision song contest has English lyrics.

Jacques Myard, of the UMP party, has urged the company that runs most of France's TV networks to reconsider.

Sebastien Tellier's entry, entitled Divine, combines both English and French lyrics with electro music. [...]

Mr Myard told the BBC that allowing an English song to represent France was a fiasco: "The French language is the tool of a huge industry in terms of cultural influence and if we French give up our language, what do you think the others will say?"

Mr Myard, himself a fluent English speaker, said it was not appropriate that, in a European contest, France should "monkey another's culture".

Others will say there's hope for France yet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


Elephants, Once Thought Extinct, Likely Survived (Vijay Joshi, 4/17/08, Associated Press)

Borneo's pygmy elephants may be descendants of an extinct Javan elephant race, saved by chance by an 18th century ruler, according to a new study released Thursday.

Just try to unpack the incoherencies in that one sentence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:06 AM


Missing Rush Limbaugh: A look ahead (Robert Ferrigno, 4/16/08, National Review)

Rush Limbaugh wasn’t sorry either. After he got bounced off the U.S. airwaves, Rush had set up a pirate station in the Bahamas, a real blowtorch, powerful enough to reach across the country. It had been a problem for a while, then Barry had stationed the coast guard up and down the whole east coast to jam the broadcasts. Cost a lot of money, but there was plenty now since Barry cut the defense budget by 2/3 after the Iranians promised to play nice. Must be nice to be able to get that through congress. He had slashed the military too, but the republicans squealed like feeder pigs before a luau. Barry … President Obama just blathered something about hope and everybody on both sides of the aisle swooned. Hope we can be friends. Hope we can trust you to keep your word. Hope we don’t get attacked. Hope this.

He checked his reflection in the smudged mirror. Ran a hand through his hair. Didn’t look right … all flattened down on one side. He used to travel with his own hair stylist, woman who used to work on Leo DiCaprio, for gracious sake. Now he got a quick comb-through from a high-school drama teacher and they sent him out with his cowlicks stuck down with a gob of spit. Heck of a world.

He blamed Hillary. Bad enough she had lost the election, but what was worse, she had won the divorce. So much for community property, she got just about everything, all thanks to that friend of the court brief filed on Hillary’s behalf by Associate Justice Gloria Allred. Hillary got the cash, the stock, the house in D.C. and the one in that town upstate New York which he could never spell right. He got his presidential pension and a free pass to his own library in Little Rock. Big Whoop. Especially since the tax rates had been bumped up to sixty percent.

Immediately after the divorce, the foreign speaking gigs dried up, and the hedge fund boys booted him off their corporate boards. Oh, he missed the money, but even more than that, he missed the attention, the five-star hotels, the sense of . . . specialness. No more Air Force One, no more parades, no more weeks at Gstaad with George Soros and the fellahs. It had been months since Anderson Cooper called to chat, and Spielberg didn’t bother sending a birthday card this year. Even his Secret Service detail has been narrowed to one old timer with an arthritic hip and a couple of trainees.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 AM


Why Duane Kuiper is my hero (Joe Posnanski, April 16th, 2008)

Fortunately, growing up in Cleveland, I was never really given the Tom Seaver dilemma. There were no stars (unless you consider the manager, Frank Robinson, or the aging Boog Powell). The Cleveland Indians pitcher with the most victories during my five formative years (1975-79) was, in fact, the aforementioned Rick Waits. With 51. The team was dreadful those five years — not the 100 loss dreadful, which steals your hope, but a team splashed with mediocrity (three of those five years, they finished within three games of .500) which gives you false hope.

Still, no matter how bad the team, you need a hero. Everyone who would care knows that my favorite player of that time and all time was Racine’s own Duane Kuiper, Cleveland Indians second baseman from 1974 (22 at-bats, 11 hits, a spectacular debut!) through 1982 (traded for, ugh, Ed Whitson, who lasted only a year in Cleveland but did at least in his future life did break Billy Martin’s arm in a hotel fight). Duane Kuiper. Number 18. A .271 lifetime average with one home run, windblown, to right field, off Steve Stone in 1977, when I was 10 years old. I can keep going a while, if you like. Gemini. Five hit game off Catfish Hunter and Sparky Lyle in ‘76. Was drafted five times before finally signing with Cleveland out of Southern Illinois. Walked almost as many times (248) as he struck out (255) and he really hardly ever walked. And so on.

People always seem to think that I love Kuiper ironically, or that I’m somehow being a wise guy about this whole thing, but in the words of that noted philosopher Mike Gundy, that ain’t true. I loved Duane Kuiper when I was 10. And I love him now. He has always represented something important to me, something I did not really understand when I was young. Duane Kuiper was the player who brought the game closer. He was the one who said that you don’t have to be supremely gifted and impossibly strong and touched by God in order to get where you want to go.

Back in the 70s, a buddy and I were at Yankee Stadium during batting practice--you could still get down to the field level then--and happened to be standing next to a young lady who was sort of a cross between Selma Hayek and Cameron Diaz, so Reggie Jackson came over to chat her up. My friend waited for a pause in the line of patter and asked the World Series MVP and highest paid player in baseball if he could please go get Fred Stanley.

While I pretended not to know the obvious escapee from a lunatic asylum, Reggie sputtered in disbelief and roared: you've got Reggie "F****in'" Jackson standing in front of you and you want Fred "M*****F****in'" Stanley instead!?! What are you, some kind of f*****in' weirdo!?!

Said friend proceeded to reach into his wallet and remove a Fred Stanley baseball card that looked like he'd run it through the dishwasher after his dog chewed on it and protested: "No, I just want him to sign my card! I carry it everywhere, all the time!"

Reggie snatched the card away and raced to the dugout, hooting and hollering. He brought back a befuddled Fred Stanley, holding the card much the way you might a dead mouse: "What's with you kid, you some kind of homo or somethin'?"

[By the way, there were 72 peanut shells under the second row of seats, as I can tell you because I was desperately trying not to look up throughout this whole awkward scene.]

At any rate, the utility infielder with the lifetime .214 average and 10 homeruns did eventually sign the card, so my buddy was happy, and Reggie more than likely dined out on the tale for at least a couple of nights. Me? I'll never figure out how you get that close to a Hall of Famer like Reggie and don't have him at least get you Cliff Johnson.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


Pigs in a blanket ... of chocolate (Margi Shrum, 4/17/08, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Chocolate-covered bacon. No kidding. Courtesy of a colleague, I was exposed to this. Purchased at Taste of Chocolate's store in the Eastside development, East Liberty (there is also a store on Washington Pike, Collier), this confection got mixed reactions from brave colleagues who inquired about it, and the even braver who ate it.

"It's different," said one. "I don't dislike it but given the choice between this and a chocolate-covered pretzel," guess what wins?

"That is disgusting," said another.

"Savory," said yet another.

Needs a shmear of peanut butter.

In fact, they'd be perfect between two of these, Double-Delight Peanut Butter Cookies (Carolyn Gurtz, April 17, 2008, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The winning creation: Double-Delight Peanut Butter Cookies

Here are the $1 million Pillsbury Bake-Off cookies.

* 1/4 cup Fisher Dry Roasted Peanuts, finely chopped
* 1/4 cup Domino or C&H Granulated Sugar
* 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 1/2 cup JIF Creamy Peanut Butter
* 1/2 cup Domino or C&H Confectioners Sugar
* 1 roll (16.5 ounce) Pillsbury Create 'n Bake refrigerated peanut butter cookies, well chilled

Heat oven to 375 degrees. In small bowl, mix chopped peanuts, granulated sugar and cinnamon; set aside.

In another small bowl, stir peanut butter and powdered sugar until completely blended. Shape mixture into 24 1-inch balls.

Cut roll of cookie dough into 12 slices. Cut each slice in half crosswise to make 24 pieces; flatten slightly. Shape 1 cookie dough piece around 1 peanut butter ball, covering completely. Repeat with remaining dough and balls.

Roll each covered ball in peanut mixture; gently pat mixture completely onto balls. On ungreased large cookie sheets, place balls 2 inches apart. Spray bottom of drinking glass with CRISCO spray; press into remaining peanut mixture. Flatten each ball to 1/4-inch thickness with bottom of glass. Sprinkle any remaining peanut mixture evenly on tops of cookies; gently press into dough.

Bake 7 to 12 minutes or until edges are golden brown.blockquote>

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


What ‘Bittergate’ reveals about the 2008 race: Barack Obama’s views about rednecks clinging to guns and God are certainly offensive. But he isn’t the only Democrat who holds them. (Sean Collins, 4/17/08, Spiked)

All in all, Obama’s comments make him appear aloof and uninformed about the people he claims he wants to represent. Obama comes across as more Anthropologist-in-Chief than presidential candidate. At his fundraising event, he seemed to be explaining the strange ways of some unusual tribe to friendly San Francisco liberals who just cannot fathom why white working-class people would not simply automatically vote for Obama.

Given these problems with Obama’s remarks, it may seem obvious why they have caused a hail of protest that has yet to subside. But it isn’t obvious at all.

Why are his comments viewed as outrageous, when they have been commonplace within the Democratic Party for many years? That workers have been misled by ‘values’ issues like religion is, as Democratic pundit Arianna Huffington puts it, a party ‘article of faith’. In San Francisco, Obama was speaking in Democratic Party shorthand.

The contempt for the working classes among sections of the Democratic Party is quite amazing. During the 2004 presidential election, Huffington herself referred to voters ‘reacting not with their linear and logical left brain but with their lizard brain and their more emotional right brain’. After John Kerry’s defeat, many turned to Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas? for an explanation. Frank’s condescending thesis was that workers are so thick that they don’t know their own interests. They are duped by the conservative PR machine into voting for Republicans; so it’s nothing to do with the lack of big ideas and inspiring politics in the Democratic Party, then. Obama’s latest comments seem to be built on Frank’s arguments.

Since the defeat of 2004, Democrats have been searching around for their own ‘values’ that could, opportunistically, connect with the lizard brains in the working class. And it keeps finding more of these types in new places. Indeed, it was (Bill) Clinton operative James Carville who, in 2006, discovered that Pennsylvania was full of rednecks. Carville observed that Pennsylvania, although in the Northeast, is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in-between.

These anti-working class views have continued up to today. For instance, some, such as former Clinton labour secretary Robert Reich, claim that everything Obama said was true. Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show (one of the most-watched ‘political’ TV programmes), believes Obama was being too forgiving: ‘These people don’t turn to God and guns and mistrust of foreigners because of a downturn in the economy. Those are the very foundations those towns are built on.’

...it's the comic who gets it right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


A Moroccan model for change: Rory MacLean visits a hotel in the High Atlas mountains to see how responsible tourism is bringing benefits to the local community (Rory Maclean, 4/17/08, guardian.co.uk)

As an eager young British climber, Mike McHugo fell in love with the High Atlas. In 1989, he bought the abandoned summer home of a feudal chief and - in a unique partnership with the local community - transformed it into a secluded getaway. From the outset, his priorities have been collaboration and sustainability. All workmen and materials come from the local Berber community, as do its kind and attentive staff. Water is spring-fed, not trucked in bottled. Towels and sheets are changed only when necessary, not every day. Fruit, vegetables and meat are locally-sourced. A five per cent levy added to all guests' accommodation bills has financed the valley's first ambulance and community hammam, as well as supporting the school and enabling local girls to continue their education in Asni.

Guests are truly welcomed with splashes of rose water, then ushered on to the lofty, many-carpeted roof terrace and guided to simple yet stylish bedrooms. Accommodation ranges from traditional Berber salons, which sleep groups of trekkers and extended families, to the beautiful Garden House, a self-contained, double-level sanctuary with two balconies. All the rooms have been decorated with the utmost care, in rich colours and with hand-carved wooden beams (no power tools were used during construction as electricity only reached the valley in 1997). At night, hot water bottles are secreted into beds, open fires lit and the lamps of the surrounding villages glisten like stars fallen to earth.

As well as the sincere hospitality, it is, of course, the mountains that make the Kasbah so special. Walks range from easy ambles to the two-day ascent of Jebel Toubkal - at 4,165 metres the highest peak in north Africa - and are led by personable local guides. Its remote trekking lodge, with solar-powered under-floor heating and en suite bedrooms, allows guests to stay in comfort even higher in the Toubkal Massif.

"I imagine a project like the Kasbah would not be possible without close and deep local ties", said McHugo recently. "I also believe that by our correct behaviour and respect for the local population, hopefully they have come to respect us and also accept some of our differences."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Top U.S. court upholds lethal injection for executions (Linda Greenhouse, April 17, 2008, NY Times)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld Kentucky's method of execution by lethal injection, rejecting the claim that officials there administered a common sequence of three drugs in a manner that posed an unconstitutional risk that a condemned inmate would suffer acute yet undetectable pain.

While the 7-to-2 ruling did not shut the door on challenges to the lethal injection protocols in other states, it set a standard that will not be easy to meet. [...]

While most states use a method similar to Kentucky's, a number of them have adopted additional safeguards to ensure that an inmate is properly anesthetized by the initial drug in the sequence, a barbiturate, before administration of the second two, which paralyze the muscles and stop the heart.

In fact, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a dissenting opinion, listed several of these states and described the extra steps they have taken, to show that Kentucky could and should be required to do a better job. The states she named were Alabama, California, Florida, Indiana and Missouri. The other dissenter, Justice David Souter, signed her opinion.

Which shows how far Right the Court has been moved.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Democratic debate dwells on Barack Obama's past: Clinton and the moderators put him on the defensive for the first half of the tense Democratic face-off. (Cathleen Decker and Noam N. Levey, 4/17/08, Los Angeles Times)

The Democratic candidates for president debated forcefully Wednesday over who would prove more electable in November, with Hillary Rodham Clinton repeatedly raising questions about Barack Obama's past associations and Obama contending that her approach typified the blowtorch political style that Americans decry.

Obama, the Illinois senator, was thrown on the defensive for the first half of the nearly two-hour debate. The moderators, ABC News anchors Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, pressed him on his recent comments about "bitter" small-town Pennsylvanians; his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.; his acquaintance with a long-ago member of the Weather Underground group; and the absence of an American flag in his lapel -- though no one else on stage wore one. [...]

The New York senator repeatedly zeroed in on Wright and -- after Stephanopoulos opened the issue -- Obama's relationship with fellow Chicagoan William Ayers, the 1960s radical who is now an education professor at the University of Illinois. She noted that Obama and Ayers were at one point on the same philanthropic board.

"I think it is, again, an issue that people will be asking about," said Clinton, who repeatedly characterized herself as thoroughly vetted during her husband's administration.

Adopting a more-in-sorrow-than-anger mien, she added: "I know Sen. Obama's a good man, and I respect him greatly, but I think that this is an issue that certainly the Republicans will be raising. And it goes to this larger set of concerns about, you know, how we are going to run against John McCain," the unofficial GOP nominee.

Obama Pressed in Pa. Debate: Gaffes Are a Focus as He Spars With Clinton (Anne E. Kornblut and Dan Balz, 4/17/08, Washington Post)
Sen. Barack Obama repeatedly found himself on the defensive here Wednesday night as he sought to bat away criticism of his remarks about small-town values, questions about his patriotism and the incendiary sermons of his former pastor in a potentially pivotal debate six days before Pennsylvania's presidential primary.

In their first head-to-head encounter in nearly two months, Obama (Ill.) and his opponent for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), sparred over gaffes, missteps and past statements that could leave them vulnerable in the general election against Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee.

But it was Obama, now his party's front-runner, who was pressed most persistently by moderators Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos of ABC News to answer questions that have dominated the Democratic race in the weeks since the last major contests, held March 4 in Texas and Ohio.

The encounter, particularly in the early stages, seemed more like a grilling of Obama on a Sunday-morning talk show than a debate between the two candidates.

Nothing to Lose (Fred Barnes, 4/17/08, The Weekly Standard)
YOU ONLY HAD TO watch last night's Democratic presidential debate to understand why Hillary Clinton stays in the race. She's losing the nomination fight to Barack Obama in both the delegate count and the popular vote. But if bad things happen to her in a debate or while campaigning, she'll be no worse off. She'll still be losing. Her prospects of winning may be slightly more remote, but they aren't exactly bright now.

But if bad things happen to Obama, that's another story. In a debate, he's bound to be asked questions about matters he'd rather not be front and center in this campaign. And indeed those matters were dwelled on last night: his pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright, his week-old putdown of small town voters, the American flag pin he no longer wears. No good can come to Obama when these issues dominate a nationally televised debate, as they did last night.

Debate Scorecard: Obama's Surly Night (Mark Halperin, 4/17/08, TIME)
Substance: B+

Style: B

Offense: B

Defense: B+

Overall grade: B+

Subdued and secure, but often peevish and cross, seemingly fed up with Clinton's fight and impatient to claim the nomination (the less attractive part of his personality shining through). [...] Despite his aloof, frontrunner's air, sometimes seemed angry, distracted and worn.

Former friends weigh into debate, and the former amity drains out (Alessandra Stanley, April 17, 2008, NY Times)
The debate between Clinton and Obama, in Philadelphia, was fierce and hostile, and Clinton managed to keep her opponent on the defensive for much of it, bludgeoning Obama for his gaffe about bitter voters and his less savory personal connections. When she talked about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., he shifted from foot to foot, looking down and squirming, if not seething, struggling to hang on to his soft diction, flat affect and refusal to project anger.

But viewers were also treated to another, less common spectacle: the veiled ties and tensions between news media stars and political figures that sometimes make voters bitter, leading them to cling to political satire by the likes of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as a way to explain their frustration.

It was weird to see hints of the disgruntled employee/imperious boss dynamic between Stephanopoulos and Clinton. But it was also strange to observe the intramural promos tucked into some of the moderators' questions. Charles Gibson, another moderator, opened by citing a notion proposed by former Governor Mario Cuomo of New York, whom Gibson described as an "elder statesman" of the Democratic Party. Cuomo's son Chris is an anchor on ABC's "Good Morning America," where Gibson also worked for years.

Ms Clinton begins to seem like Ronald Reagan against Gerald Ford or Ted Kennedy against Jimmy Carter, certain the other can't win, but not quite able to wrest the nomination away.

April 16, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 PM


What's the Matter With Bitterness?: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are battling not just over the working-class voters of Pennsylvania but over the legacy of the Democratic Party. (Mark Schmitt, April 16, 2008, American Prospect)

Obama, meanwhile is telling another story about the recent Democratic past. His remarks in San Francisco have been taken as a version of Tom Frank's argument in What's the Matter with Kansas, that working-class whites are drawn to Republicans or conservative social causes because they are distracted from their true economic interests. There are several good responses to Frank. One is to question why people's economic interests should be seen as more legitimate than their spiritual or social commitments; this is the essence of the Clinton/McCain counterattack. The other is to ask why working-class whites, especially those in once-prosperous, now dying towns should see Democrats as supportive of their economic interests. What has the Democratic Party offered that would really address the economic crisis of, say, Hazleton, Pennsylvania? (A town I pick because it was the locus of an immigration controversy a couple years ago, and as it happens, the birthplace of both my father and the third Mrs. Rudy Giuliani.)

While Tom Frank's claim was that Republicans had, in effect, tricked voters, Obama was suggesting something different -- that the Democratic Party had tricked them as well.

Note that, as even Mr. Schmitt frames it, the core assumption of Senator Obama is that Middle American voters are so stupid that they didn't realize that when Bill Clinton ran as a moderate Republican he planned to govern like one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 PM


Too Late for Pelosi? (JAIME DAREMBLUM, April 16, 2008, NY Sun)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may not grasp the importance of the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, but the prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, does.

"Colombia needs its democratic friends to lean forward and give them a chance at partnership and trade with North America," Mr. Harper said in a speech last fall. "I am very concerned that some in the United States seem unwilling to do that. What message does that send to those who want to share in freedom and prosperity?"

Then he delivered a stern warning: "If the U.S. turns its back on its friends in Colombia, this will set back our cause far more than any Latin American dictator could hope to achieve." [...]

We should note that support for the U.S.-Colombia FTA is strong all around Latin America. FTA backers include both right of center leaders, such as Felipe Calderón of Mexico, and left of center leaders, such as Michelle Bachelet of Chile. It is especially encouraging to see so many left of center regimes embracing free trade and foreign investment. This is a sign of Latin America's political and economic maturation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 PM


The honesty of trains (William Davies, April 16, 2008, The Prospect: First Drafts)

We are falling in love with trains all over the place at the moment. As this piece by Stephen Bayley in sunday’s Observer correctly observed, “What a horrible, inhuman, artless culture air travel has become… Trains have never been more popular and as the allure of air travel turns into ordure, they will likely become more popular still.” The new St Pancras station is the most commonly cited cause for this new exuberance, but I have a hunch that the East London Line extension is going to attain a faintly iconic status within a few years. New and stylish bridges are cropping up amongst the flats and warehouses of Hackney and Shoreditch, and the route will be enjoyably tortuous, especially as it does a U-Turn over Hoxton. A railway at this height above street level is reminiscent of the Chicago ‘L’, offering that same perspective on the urban landscape that is neither birds-eye nor pedestrian-eye.

(I used to be a trainspotter. If you don’t believe me, I can tell you that in 1987 there was only one Class 40 operating in Britain, and I, err, spotted it. Just thought I’d get that out of my system.)

Technology always involves recreating the relationship between freedom and constraint. New freedoms involve new types of constraints. We don’t expect to be able to do anything with technology, but it helps if the technology speaks honestly to us. This honesty is central to modernism: modernists offer transparency, and with it, humanity. Like a maths student, modernist technology shows its workings, so that even if the final answer is wrong, we can sympathise. Postmodern architecture later abandoned this commitment to the facts.

We love trains because they display this honesty, while so much technology elsewhere has become deceitful and mysterious.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 PM


What’s for Dinner? The Pollster Wants to Know (KIM SEVERSON, 4/16/08, NY Times)

IF there’s butter and white wine in your refrigerator and Fig Newtons in the cookie jar, you’re likely to vote for Hillary Clinton. Prefer olive oil, Bear Naked granola and a latte to go? You probably like Barack Obama, too.

And if you’re leaning toward John McCain, it’s all about kicking back with a bourbon and a stuffed crust pizza while you watch the Democrats fight it out next week in Pennsylvania. [...]

So, for example, [Christopher Mann of MSHC Partners, a political communications firm, which has used microtargeting to help dozens of successful candidates,] knows that someone who subscribes to lots of gourmet cooking magazines is more likely to be a Democrat or at least more open to progressive causes. [...]

For example, Dr Pepper is a Republican soda. Pepsi-Cola and Sprite are Democratic. So are most clear liquors, like gin and vodka, along with white wine and Evian water. Republicans skew toward brown liquors like bourbon or scotch, red wine and Fiji water.

When it comes to fried chicken, he said, Democrats prefer Popeyes and Republicans Chick-fil-A.

“Anything organic or more Whole Foods-y skews more Democratic,” Mr. Dowd said. [...]

Although [Mark Penn, a microtargeting expert who was dismissed as chief strategist for the Clinton campaign last week], who claims credit for coining the term “soccer mom,” didn’t specifically seek out research on the dining habits of voters, he does use food as a way to define the candidates.

Specifically, he points to Mr. Obama’s comments about the rising price of arugula at Whole Foods during a campaign stop in Iowa.

“He has more of the arugula vote,” he said in an e-mail message last week. “Senator Clinton’s voters are more likely to be making ends meet and so they do a lot more cooking at home and a lot less eating out at expensive restaurants.”

He has the arugula vote and folks are surprised he's out of touch with Middle America?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:59 PM


Brown in U.S. Pledging Closer Ties (ALAN COWELL and JOHN F. BURNS, 4/16/08, NY Times)

Lambasted at home by foes across the political spectrum, Prime Minister Gordon Brown began a formal visit to the United States on Wednesday, and even there he seemed to some Britons to face eclipse by a simultaneous sojourn in America by Pope Benedict XVI. [..

Mr. Brown began his tenure as prime minister with a conscious effort to distance himself from the war in Iraq and to draw back from a relationship with President Bush that had British columnists mocking Tony Blair, the previous prime minister, as Mr. Bush’s “poodle.”

But Downing Street officials have been playing down the differences over Iraq, and Mr. Brown now appears to be looking to the United States for a way to redress his sinking political fortunes at home over a variety of perceived missteps.

Mr. Brown is unpopular to exactly the degree to which he's distanced himself from the Thatcherism of Tony Blair and America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:56 PM


'I Come As A Friend' (Pope Benedict XVI, 04.16.08)

I come as a friend, a preacher of the Gospel, and one with great respect for this vast pluralistic society. America's Catholics have made, and continue to make, an excellent contribution to the life of their country. As I begin my visit, I trust that my presence will be a source of renewal and hope for the Church in the United States, and strengthen the resolve of Catholics to contribute ever more responsibly to the life of this nation, of which they are proud to be citizens.

From the dawn of the Republic, America's quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator. The framers of this nation's founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the self-evident truth that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature's God.

The course of American history demonstrates the difficulties, the struggles and the great intellectual and moral resolve which were demanded to shape a society which faithfully embodied these noble principles. In that process, which forged the soul of the nation, religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as for example in the struggle against slavery and in the civil rights movement. In our time, too, particularly in moments of crisis, Americans continue to find their strength in a commitment to this patrimony of shared ideas and aspirations.

In the next few days, I look forward to meeting not only with America's Catholic community, but with other Christian communities and representatives of the many religious traditions present in this country. Historically, not only Catholics, but all believers have found here the freedom to worship God in accordance with the dictates of their conscience, while at the same time being accepted as part of a commonwealth in which each individual group can make its voice heard.

As the nation faces the increasingly complex political and ethical issues of our time, I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible and respectful dialog in the effort to build a more human and free society.

Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience--almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad. The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility toward the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one's deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate.

In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good. Few have understood this as clearly as the late Pope John Paul II. In reflecting on the spiritual victory of freedom over totalitarianism in his native Poland and in Eastern Europe, he reminded us that history shows time and again that, "in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation," and a democracy without values can lose its very soul. Those prophetic words, in some sense, echo the conviction of President Washington, expressed in his farewell address, that religion and morality represent "indispensable supports" of political prosperity.

The Church, for her part, wishes to contribute to building a world ever more worthy of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God. She is convinced that faith sheds new light on all things, and that the Gospel reveals the noble vocation and sublime destiny of every man and woman. Faith also gives us the strength to respond to our high calling and to hope that inspires us to work for an ever more just and fraternal society. Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom born of firm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:51 PM


For Obama, bipartisan aims, party-line votes: A desire to build cross-party consensus in Senate rubs up against political perils of compromise. (Ariel Sabar, 4/17/08, The Christian Science Monitor )

As Obama moved from Chicago to the Illinois statehouse and then Capitol Hill, his early idealism became more pragmatic and calculating. While his message of unity has changed little – if anything, he has refined and enlarged it – his voting record in recent years has been decidedly partisan. [...]

"To judge from his voting, he's still pretty partisan," says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey. In a polarized Senate, he says, "it's hard to be bipartisan. That said, that's the challenge he's going to face as president. If his record doesn't match what his promise is, can he achieve the promise, even if it's genuine?"

Is there a shred of evidence that it's genuine, or is pretending that it is just a sort of soft bigotry of low expectations?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


Iraqi commanders recalled after failed Basra mission (Mark Tran, 4/16/08, guardian.co.uk)

The Baghdad government today recalled the top military and police commanders in the southern city of Basra, after a botched offensive against Shia militias. [...]

[T]he statement did little to disguise the fact that the two men, who had won praise from US and British military leaders, had been kicked upstairs for an operation that not only failed to weaken militia fighters loyal to the radical cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, but triggered fighting that spread to other southern cities and Baghdad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:25 PM


Obama's claim of independence questioned (Ken Dilanian, 4/16/08, USA TODAY)

"I don't take money from oil companies or Washington lobbyists, and I won't let them block change anymore."

Obama's ad, which has been airing in Pennsylvania as the April 22 primary approaches, is technically true but misleading, as non-partisan FactCheck.org and Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign have been quick to point out.

It's accurate that Obama doesn't take money from oil companies; neither do his opponents, because corporate contributions are illegal. But Obama, like Clinton and John McCain, has accepted donations from oil and gas company employees — $222,309 in Obama's case from donors from Exxon, Shell, Chevron and others, according to campaign-finance data. Two oil company CEOs have pledged to raise at least $50,000 each as part of Obama's fundraising team.

Funny they brag about how much cash he raises and then pretend it just falls from Heaven.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:20 PM


On the Road: The Champion's Travels (John Perrotto, 4/16/08, Baseball Prospectus)

The Red Sox are at the tail end of a rather murderous stretch that started when they went to Japan to open the regular season with a two-game series against the Athletics in the Tokyo Dome on March 25-26. That was followed by three exhibition games in Los Angeles against the Dodgers, two more regular-season games against the Athletics in Oakland, and then three games in Toronto against the Blue Jays. The final totals for the trip: 19 days, 16,000 miles, and three countries. [...]

The road hasn’t gotten easier for the Red Sox since they returned from their around-the-world adventure. After spending last week at home with three-game series against first the Tigers and then the Yankees, the defending world champions are now in the midst of a four-game trip that included the two games against the Indians in Cleveland on Monday and Tuesday, and then a two-game series starting Wednesday night in New York against the Yankees. That itinerary, containing games against some of the best teams in the league, is enough to make even the most seasoned traveler’s head spin.

"It’s been a pretty grueling stretch," Francona admitted. "Everybody felt the effects at some time. Some guys felt it when we first got to Japan, others when we got back to the United States and others not until the very end of the trip in Toronto."

Even on the current four-game trip, it hasn’t been easy. The trip started in Cleveland after a Sunday night game in Boston against the Yankees. That meant the Red Sox didn’t get into their hotel until 4 a.m. They did not figure to get into New York on Wednesday morning until around 4 a.m. It will likely be another early morning arrival Friday in Boston following the two-game series with the Yankees. In all, the Red Sox will play on 20 consecutive days before their next open date on April 28.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:15 PM


Woe Is He: Barack Obama's going to be the bitter one at the end of this. (John B. Judis, April 15, 2008, New Republic)

To win in November, a Democratic presidential candidate has to carry most of the industrial heartland states that stretch from Pennsylvania to Missouri. That becomes even more imperative if a Democrat can't carry Florida--and because of his relative weakness in South Florida, Obama is unlikely to do so against McCain. Ruy Teixeira and I have calculated that in the heartland states, a Democratic presidential candidate has to win from 45 to 48 percent of the white working class vote. In some states, like West Virginia and Kentucky, the percentage is well over a majority.

Some Democrats insist that Obama need not worry about these states because he will be able to make up for a defeat in Ohio or even Pennsylvania with a victory in Virginia or Colorado. But in Virginia, McCain will be able to draw upon coastal suburbanites closely tied to the military. These voters backed Democrats like Chuck Robb and Jim Webb, who are both veterans, but they may not go for Obama. And in the Southwest, McCain will be able to challenge Obama among Hispanics. So to win in November, Obama will have to win almost all of these heartland states. Which is a problem, because even before he uttered his infamous words about these voters "clinging" to guns, religion, abortion, and fears about free trade, Obama looked vulnerable in the region. A look at the white working class's relationship with earlier Democratic candidates underscores the various reasons why. [...]

In the speech, Obama appeared to say that Pennsylvania voters' opposition to gun control or abortion or immigration or free trade was pathological--a product of what Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse once called "false consciousness." On the other hand, he implied that when he voiced opposition to an issue like free trade--Obama has consistently hammered Clinton on her support for the North American Free Trade Agreement--he was simply pandering to these voters' displaced anxieties. He was saying to these upscale San Francisco Democrats, "I am really one of you, and I am not one of them."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:14 AM


A Sage for Our Time (ADAM BRYANT, 3/23/08, NY Times)

In an episode from the third season, he and his on-screen wife, played by Cheryl Hines, are dining out with another couple. Just as the check arrives, Mr. David’s friend bolts to the restroom, putting none-too-subtle pressure on Mr. David to pick up the tab. “You don’t think I know about that bathroom trick?” he yells later. “I invented that bathroom trick!”

In most episodes, Mr. David can be counted on to utter something that nobody else would ever dare say. Lloyd Braun, a former ABC executive and a friend of Mr. David’s, has described him as having “honesty Tourette’s.”

Mr. David plays this to the hilt on his show, particularly during frank talks with his wife about their relationship (the kind of scenes that the Patersons and their predecessors in Albany, the Spitzers, might have found particularly compelling).

In the same episode as the “Bathroom Trick,” for example, he discusses with Ms. Hines what they should do in light of a tip they get that Los Angeles might be the target of a terrorist attack in the next few days. His wife feels they should stay in town to attend a long-planned fund-raiser by their friends. Mr. David is not so sure, and suggests he could instead go golfing in Pebble Beach until the threat passes. But Ms. Hines has more romantic notions of their final moments on earth.

“It just seems like if we’re going to go, we should go together,” she says.

“Not necessarily,” Mr. David counters. “Almost seems a little selfish that you would want both of us to perish.”

Political incorrectness can have its place.

...comedy or conservative thought, but I repeat myself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


The Cowboy and the Shepherd: The one relies on prayer, the other on military force, but US President George W. Bush and Pope Benedict XVI are bosom buddies. On many issues, they are on the same page -- and together they battle the relativists. (Alexander Schwabe, 4/16/08, Der Spiegel)

The two leaders like each other. Bush has never been reticent about voicing his admiration for Benedict, almost to the point of fawning over him. After a June, 2007 visit, the president referred to the pope as a "very smart, loving man" and went on to say, "after six-and-a-half years of being president … I've been to some unusual places and met some interesting people, and I was in awe."

And Benedict, for his part, has the highest respect for Bush -- as the highest representative of a thoroughly religious country who is against abortion, gay marriage and the use of embryos in stem cell research.

Bush -- who has identified himself as a born-again Christian since he gave up alcohol at the age of 40 and who reads the Bible and prays regularly -- has himself profited from Benedict's praise of the US. The pope is fond of saying that the "dictatorship of relevatism" hasn't yet taken hold in the US to the extent it has in nihilistic Europe. In God's own country, values are still worth something.

Indeed, Benedict is visiting a country where religion belongs to the basic pillars of society. [...]

In America he sees an ally he believes shares his set of values that will support him in what he perceives as the real battle for the future. In his view, this battle will not result in the much-feared clash of cultures. The real front is not between world religions. Rather, it is a standoff between the real believers, whatever faith they adhere to, on the one side, and the worldly relativists -- or even the violent fanatics -- on the other. [...]

During his six-day US visit -- his eighth trip abroad since being named pope in April 2005 -- Benedict will also be pursuing a political agenda, even if it the Vatican is trying to sell the trip as a purely pastoral visit. With this visit, the Holy See is breaking with a tradition of steering clear of the US during election years. Admittedly the pope is not directly intervening in the election campaign: no meetings are planned with the presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain. However Benedict will, just through his mere presence in Washington and New York, be subtly promoting the Republican McCain, who has a record of opposing abortion. Both Clinton and Obama have taken pro-choice positions in the abortion debate -- a position Benedict finds unacceptable.

...with a candidate who's pro-infanticide?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 AM


For Democrats, Eggheads and Cheese Balls (Maureen Dowd, 4/16/08, Der Spiegel)

I’m not writing this just because I grew up in a house with a gun, a strong Catholic faith, an immigrant father, brothers with anti-illegal immigrant sentiments and a passion for bowling. (My bowling trophy was one of my most cherished possessions.)

My family morphed from Kennedy Democrats into Reagan Republicans not because they were angry, but because they felt more comfortable with conservative values. Members of my clan sometimes were overly cloistered. But they weren’t bitter; they were bonding.

They went to church every Sunday because it was part of their identity, not because they needed a security blanket.

Behind closed doors in San Francisco, elitism’s epicenter, Barack Obama showed his elitism, attributing the emotional, spiritual and cultural values of working-class, “lunch pail” Pennsylvanians to economic woes.

The last few weeks have not been kind to Hillary, but the endless endgame has not been kind to the Wonder Boy either. Obama comes across less like a candidate in Pennsylvania than an anthropologist in Borneo.

...after all, even setting aside his Kenyan/Indonesian background, he wouldn't be running as the candidate of Change if he liked the America that the rest of us have built.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 AM


Barack Obama, The Yuppie Candidate: The candidate of the future is really stuck in the past. (Jonah Goldberg, 4/16/08, National Review)

As countless commentators have chronicled, Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory stemmed from the fact that he was a “different kind of Democrat” — that is, one who understood the lessons of Reaganism, or at least claimed to, and rejected the “brain-dead policies” of the old Democratic Party. He was a pro-death-penalty free-trader who oversaw the triumph of the Reaganite welfare reform.

But it’s as if Obama spent the 1990s in some kind of Democratic Brigadoon and didn’t keep up with his party, let alone the nation. Obama, the man of the future, in fact stands athwart that history, yelling “Stop!”

This is the best way to understand his recent comments at a San Francisco fundraiser as he explained his challenge of connecting with rural and small-town voters.

“You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania,” he said, “and ... the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. ... It’s not surprising, then, that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

When his comments sparked a controversy, he dismissed it as a “little typical sort of political flare-up because I said something that everybody knows is true.”

But everybody doesn’t know anything of the sort. Not in this decade anyway. Obama’s merely recycling the liberal cliches of the ’80s, namely that Pennsylvania’s “bitter” voters have been duped by “wedge issues” like guns, religion, and racial resentment. New Democrats recognized that wedge issues are legitimate concerns. Old Democrats remain in denial.

“My rival in this race,” he said in 2007, “is not other candidates, it’s cynicism.” And, of course, Obama is against “division.” This treacle was once dismissed as naive idealism, a.k.a. “the politics of hope.” But the code has been broken. His real opponent is the “division” that made Reagan, the Bushes and the Clintons possible and brought politics to the center, where the country was all along.

...over the past twenty years than a comparison of which candidate can be most closely identified with the Third Way and which with the Second. Just as Al Gore inexplicably ceded Clintonism to W, so Senator Obama seems intent on running as Gordon Brown rather than Tony Blair.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


Jets on Track To Score Big Prize at NFL Draft (MICHAEL DAVID SMITH, April 16, 2008, NY Sun)

The Jets fans who will pack Radio City Music Hall for the NFL draft on April 26 can be assured of one thing: They'll see something interesting.

After a dull, disappointing season on the field in 2007, the 2008 draft is full of intrigue and excitement for the Jets. The NFL has invited six prospects to attend the draft in person, and the Jets, picking sixth, will almost certainly choose one of them. The six players — a Louisiana State University defensive tackle, Glenn Dorsey; an Ohio State defensive end, Vernon Gholston; a University of Virginia defensive end, Chris Long; a University of Michigan offensive tackle, Jake Long; a University of Arkansas running back, Darren McFadden, and a Boston College quarterback, Matt Ryan — are all well-regarded enough as prospects that none are likely to be passed over by a dozen or more teams, as Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn was last year. With 10 days to go before the draft, it appears that the only way the Jets would decline to select one of those top six players is if Ryan were the only one available when the Jets' pick came. Having a quarterback as the best player available would be the worst-case scenario for the Jets, because they're ready to head into the 2008 season with Kellen Clemens and Chad Pennington as their quarterbacks.

For coach Eric Mangini and general manager Mike Tannenbaum, all of the other five players could make an immediate contribution to the Jets as rookies. But the best-case scenario would be drafting McFadden, the one player on the board who has the potential to instantly transform their team.

...the Pats won't waste cap room by using a pick at #7 when they can trade out and get the same player in Round 7.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Steelers, AFC North face tremendous challenges (John Clayton, 4/16/08, ESPN.com)

The Patriots, for example, play one of the 10 easiest schedules in NFL history, a .387 magic-carpet ride that should allow them to win at least 14 games in 2008. Only five times do they face a team that finished 2007 with a .500-or-better record. The Patriots and teams in the AFC East play the NFC West and the AFC West, divisions that produced only two winning teams and six other teams with combined records of 31-65.

The difference in schedule difficulty between the Patriots and the Steelers would make it almost impossible for the Steelers to keep up with the Patriots in a battle for home-field advantage. If the best the Steelers could hope for is a .600 record against winning teams, which is no easy feat, the Steelers would have three more losses than the Patriots just because of the schedule.

Imagine spotting Bill Belichick and the Patriots three games in a 16-game race.

The schedule for the Patriots is incredibly easy. They start the season with four games against losing teams and have a bye week. They should go into an Oct. 12 Sunday night game against the Chargers with a 4-0 record. Their next game against a winning team is Nov. 2 on Sunday night against the Colts.

...the Patriots have a better chance of going undefeated this season than they did last.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


My Morning Download 4/16/08 - I Love Math (All About the Music, 4/16/08)

I Love Math are an indie supergroup of sorts that includes members of The Old 97's, The Deathray Davies, Apples In Stereo and The Paper Chase. [...]

Caution: Simple, honest, straightforward songwriting and playing at work here! Deathray Davies frontman and songwriter John Dufilho and his Dallas pals have delivered one cool little record.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Speedminton - on its way to Sweden (The Local, 16 Apr 08)

High speed badminton played in the dark may not seem the most conventional of sports, but its popularity is spreading fast across Sweden.

On Saturday Gothenburg plays host to the first Swedish Speedminton Open, as well as a Blackminton event during the evening.

Speedminton is a variant of badminton played without a net and was invented by German Bill Brandes in the late 1990s. Blackminton is the same sport played in the dark with a fluorescent ‘speeder.’

The speeder, a heavier version of a badminton shuttlecock, allows the sport to be played outside – whether it be on a beach, a mountain top or simply a garden. Instead of a net each player stands in a square and must hit the speeder into their opponent’s area.

Hans Granberg, who is both helping organize as well as play in the Gothenburg event, believes that Speedminton is growing because it is so easy to play.

...makes it infinitely harder than soccer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


A chilling masterpiece (Matthew d'Ancona, 4/16/08, The Spectator)

Sometimes music speaks not only to your mind and heart, but grabs at your very viscera in the most primal way imaginable. Such was the experience of last night's world premiere of Harrison Birtwistle's The Minotaur at the Royal Opera. [...]

As the cast enjoyed their rapturous ovation, I noticed that Antonio Pappano's conductor's hands had been besmirched with stage-blood from clasping Tomlinson's hands for the bow. It was an apt metaphor for the seepage of mythic horror, red in tooth and claw, into the auditorium itself. Do not miss this chilling masterpiece.

-The Harrison Birtwistle Site
-Harrison Birtwistle (Sir Harrison Birtwistle home page at www.boosey.com)
-Harrison Birtwistle (CompositionToday.com)
-INTERVIEW: The beast within: Hairy chords, blood smoothies, and 'a bit of Boris' - Sir Harrison Birtwistle talks to Tom Service about his new opera, The Minotaur (Tom Service, April 11, 2008, The Guardian)
-INTERVIEW: Sir Harrison Birtwistle: interview (Jonathan Lennie, Wed Apr 9 2008, Time Out London)
-INTERVIEW: BBC - Radio 3 - Harry Birtwistle Interview
-INTERVIEW: interview with Harrison Birtwistle (Paris Transatlantic)
-ESSAY: In praise of ... Harrison Birtwistle (The Guardian, 4/14/08)
-PROFILE: Sir John Tomlinson in Harrison Birtwistle’s The Minotaur: opera’s raging bull: John Tomlinson is ready to give it all for Harrison Birtwistle’s new work. (Emma Pomfret, 4/11/08, Times of London)
-ARCHIVES: Harrison Birtwistle (NY Times)
-We are all Cretans: Birtwistle's new work is austere and challenges human nature head-on (Rick Jones, 24 April 2008, New Statesman)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Penalty for crossing an Al Qaeda boss? A nasty memo: Recently declassified documents reveal a little-known side of the network: an internal culture that has been surprisingly bureaucratic and persistently fractious. (Sebastian Rotella, 4/16/08, Los Angeles Times)

The memo by Atef, who later died in the U.S.-led assault on Osama bin Laden's Afghan refuge in 2001, is among recently declassified documents that reveal a little-known side of the network. Although Al Qaeda has endured thanks to a loose and flexible structure, its internal culture has nonetheless been surprisingly bureaucratic and persistently fractious, investigators and experts say.

The documents were captured in Afghanistan and Iraq and date from the early 1990s to the present. They depict an organization obsessed with paperwork and penny-pinching and afflicted with a damaging propensity for feuds.

"The picture of internal strife that emerges from the documents highlights not only Al Qaeda's past failures but also -- and more importantly -- it offers insight into its present weaknesses," concludes a study of the documents issued in September by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. "Al Qaeda today is beset by challenges that surfaced in leadership disputes at the beginning of the organization's history."

In the years after 2001, anti-terrorism officials worked to understand a foe that defied a Western mind-set. In contrast to state-sponsored extremist groups, Al Qaeda was a decentralized alliance of networks. Recruits in Afghanistan had access to Bin Laden and other bosses. Operatives were often given great autonomy.

But the egalitarian veneer coexisted with the bureaucratic mentality of the chiefs, mostly Egyptians with experience in the military and highly structured extremist groups.

"They may have imposed the blindingly obdurate nature of Egyptian bureaucracy," said a senior British anti-terrorism official who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons. "You see that in the retirement packages they offered, the lists of members in Iraq, the insecure attitude about their membership, the rifts among leaders and factions."

One of the ways God's special Providence is demonstrated is in the ineptitude of our enemies, from Hitler to the Bolsheviks to the Islamicists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Fight over Obama's comments leaves Democrats questioning prospects (Jeff Zeleny, 4/16/08, NY Times)

It is a diverse state, but the voters that seemed the toughest for Obama to win over were the same ones that had helped Clinton defeat him in Ohio: working-class whites, especially those in regions that have suffered through decades of economic decline.

These Reagan Democrats — people who might lean Republican on national security and social issues but who look to Democrats on the economy — could determine whether Clinton performs strongly enough against Obama in Pennsylvania for her campaign to continue.

They are also helping to test the limits of Obama's appeal, a skeptical focus group that to varying degrees has become a proxy for his ability to calm concerns about his race, his values and whether he can connect with voters beyond the Democratic Party's base.

"It seems he's kind of ripping on small towns, and I'm a small town girl," said Becki Farmer, 32, who lives in Rochester, Pennsylvania, another Ohio River town hit hard by the closed steel mills. "That's where your good morals and good judgment come from, growing up in small towns."

Indeed, advisers to Obama concede, his job has been made that much more complicated by his remarks about bitterness among small-town voters. Though it remains unclear what effect the episode will have in the long run, it has suddenly prompted a series of questions — and worry — from Democrats about whether Obama could weather a Republican onslaught in the fall, should he win the presidential nomination.

In Pennsylvania, as well as coming primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, did Obama provide another excuse for white voters to voice qualms about his candidacy without acknowledging that it is his race that troubles them? If he defeats Clinton, will accusations of elitism dog him as they have previous Democratic nominees? Does Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, suddenly have an issue that will resonate for the next six months?

It is the criticism from Republicans, though, that worries many Democrats. A senior adviser to McCain, Steve Schmidt, told reporters on Tuesday that Obama's comments were "condescending and elitist" and that they would keep up the criticism "for the duration of Senator Obama's candidacy."

...they'd be nominating a Southern Baptist, not a Northern liberal.

April 15, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 PM


Toll Road Offers New Jersey a Fiscal Test Drive (KEN BELSON, 4/15/08, NY Times)

The 157-mile-long toll road that slices through northern Indiana and connects Ohio to Illinois is as unremarkable as they come. On the western end, commuters speed past idled steel mills to get to and from Chicago, while in the east a stream of tractor-trailers plows past an equally undistinguished rural landscape.

But when a private Australian-Spanish consortium took control of the Indiana East-West Toll Road in 2006 after leasing the adjoining Chicago Skyway the previous year, the move touched off a fierce debate in Indianapolis that is reverberating in Trenton, Harrisburg and other statehouses across the country, where the struggle to finance soaring transportation costs goes on.

“I go to these governors’ meetings and 49 of them are wringing their hands,” Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana said in an interview. “It’s not very complicated. Most of them can see it and are astonished at how great a deal Indiana got.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 PM


The rubes and the elites: By calling small-town Americans "bitter," Obama has deepened a long-standing rift in the Democratic base. The party's success in November depends on healing it. (Michael Lind, Apr. 15, 2008, Salon)

The events of the past few days are additional evidence of a profound rift in the Democratic Party, one revealed in the differing constituencies of the two remaining candidates. One story, told by Obama backers and the mainstream media, holds that there is a white racist problem: The Democratic Party is deeply divided between anti-racists (that is, supporters of Barack Obama) and racists (Democratic primary voters who preferred Hillary Clinton or any candidate other than Barack Obama, particularly the working-class white men who are often described, in zoological terms, as "white males"). The other story, which has yet to be told, holds that the difference between the constituencies of Obama and Clinton has little to do with race and reflects instead long-familiar regional and cultural splits among whites in the Democratic electorate. The prospects of the Democratic Party in the fall depend in part on whether these rifts can be healed.

In the act of rushing to Obama's defense, some prominent liberal bloggers reinforced the stereotype of elite liberal snobbery. On Friday, regular DailyKos diarist RKA argued, "This quote and the resulting feeding frenzy are a huge opportunity for Obama to get the attention of low-information small-town voters who are skeptical of him and convince some of them to vote their pocketbooks instead of their culture." On TPM Cafe, Todd Gitlin wrote that "Obama spoke artlessly, forgetting that the first law of American politics is: Flatter the rubes."

Now there's a campaign slogan. Hey, rubes -- I mean low-information voters -- Vote Your Pocketbook, Not Your Culture!

Should anyone doubt that dissing rather than flattering the "rubes" is an aberration, examples of liberal snobbery are not hard to find in progressive publications. Sometimes it's genteel, sometimes it's raw. In an essay titled "The Urban Archipelago" a few years ago, the editors of Seattle's alt-weekly the Stranger wrote: "It's time to state something that we've felt for a long time but have been too polite to say out loud: Liberals, progressives, and Democrats do not live in a country that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to Mexico. We live on a chain of islands. We are citizens of the Urban Archipelago, the United Cities of America. We live on islands of sanity, liberalism, and compassion -- New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and on and on ... And we are the real Americans. They -- rural, red-state voters, the denizens of the exurbs -- are not real Americans. They are rubes, fools, and hate-mongers ... We can secede emotionally ... by turning our backs on the heartland ... We're everywhere any sane person wants to be. Let them have the shitholes, the Oklahomas, Wyomings, and Alabamas. We'll take Manhattan."

A similarly grotesque and repellent caricature of America is found in the 80-something billionaire John Sperling's self-published book "The Great Divide," in which he argues that "Metro America" should turn its back on "Retro America." As Sperling's coauthor Samuel George explained, "Think of it this way. They have Wal-Mart, we have Neiman Marcus." And a few years back, many liberal bloggers were delighted with a chart, soon exposed as a hoax, that purported to show that IQs were higher in blue states than in red states.

Now consider the disturbing way that mainstream progressive thinkers and strategists discuss working-class white voters in terms of demeaning stereotypes. Working-class Catholic voters in the industrial states used to be "hardhats." Now they are "Archie Bunker voters," or "Joe Lunchbucket," or "the beer track voters." Even worse are the terms used for the Southern white working class. It's composed of "rednecks" or "Bubbas" or -- more recently -- "NASCAR man" or even "white trash."

They are apparently aliens whose behavior is irrational, dangerous and unnerving. Peter Beinart, the former editor of the New Republic and now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote that liberals must "confront" a "scourge": "Let's call him Nascar Man ... Nascar Man is the guy liberals need to win, but usually don't. He loves guns, pickup trucks, chewing tobacco, and church on Sunday. He thinks liberals are high-taxing, culturally libertine, quasi-pacifist wimps. And, once liberals have conjured him up, they no longer say what they really believe -- even to one another ... Nascar Man inhibits intellectual inquiry. He's the bully everyone wants to appease."

Since when do the effete elites have a problem with appeasement?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 PM


Polly Lauder Tunney, 100, Fighter’s Widow, Dies (JACK CAVANAUGH, 4/15/08, NY Times)

Polly Lauder Tunney, a Connecticut socialite and Carnegie heiress whose secret romance and subsequent marriage to the former heavyweight champion Gene Tunney was one of the most sensational love stories of the 1920s, died Saturday at her home in Stamford, Conn. She was 100. [...]

Though he had grown up relatively poor in Greenwich Village as the son of Irish immigrants — his father was a longshoreman — Tunney, a high school dropout, had developed an insatiable appetite for classical literature, especially the works of Shakespeare. Handsome and articulate, he lectured on Shakespeare at Yale and befriended George Bernard Shaw, Thornton Wilder and other writers, earning the scorn of the boxing establishment and many boxing fans.

Polly Lauder, a striking beauty, met Tunney shortly before he won the heavyweight title from Jack Dempsey in one of the most stunning upsets in boxing history on Sept. 23, 1926. Tunney had originally been introduced to Miss Lauder’s older sister, Katherine Dewing, by a longtime friend, Samuel Pryor Jr., who also lived in Greenwich.

Katherine Dewing in turn arranged for Tunney and her sister to meet at a dinner party that Mrs. Dewing and her husband gave at their Manhattan apartment. Over the next two years, a romance blossomed, though only a few close friends and relatives knew about it.

In August 1928 — less than a month after the last fight of Tunney’s career, a technical knockout of the New Zealander Tom Heeney — Polly’s mother, Katherine Lauder, announced from the family’s summer home on Johns Island, off the coast of Maine, that Polly and Tunney had become engaged. (Tunney had promised Miss Lauder that he would quit boxing after fulfilling his contractual obligations, which included the Heeney fight and, earlier, a rematch with Dempsey, a fight that became memorable as Tunney’s “long-count” victory.)

The engagement was front-page news across the country and touched off a frenzy by reporters and photographers eager to interview the couple. “Wedding Gong Calls Gene,” declared a headline in The Los Angeles Times. But the couple remained out of public view.

In September they went to Europe, separately, and were married in a small ceremony in a hotel in Rome on Oct. 3, 1928. She was 21 when they wed. The New York Times said the scene after the wedding “looked mighty like a riot” as clothes were torn and cameras smashed in a melee of photographers jostling to capture images of the couple.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 PM


When John McCain turned to politics, he went all-out:
His naval career relaunched, he became a popular liaison to the Senate and soon was fascinated with how levers of power worked. (Faye Fiore, 4/15/08, Los Angeles Times)

John McCain's ascension to Republican presidential nominee began 30 years ago in a cluttered office on Capitol Hill. There, Washington's most privileged senators would drop by to hear the Navy pilot hold forth in a space so cramped his chair was jammed against the wall.

It was an odd scene for status-conscious Washington: the political cognoscenti hanging out with McCain, a 41-year-old war hero who was the Navy's liaison to the Senate.

He was a glorified valet, really, assigned to arrange travel junkets and escort lawmakers overseas. But in a remarkable midlife reinvention, McCain went from senators' factotum to senator himself. He turned his final military assignment into an apprenticeship and launched an unlikely political rise that could put him in the White House.

He did more than arrange their security and make sure they got to the proper hotel. He attached himself to men of power and studied how they worked. He enthralled them with tales of his captivity in Hanoi. He delighted them with his rough humor and supplied them with bottles of airline liquor smuggled into Middle East countries where drinking was outlawed.

Soon the old bulls were maneuvering to sit next to the young captain on long flights: Republicans John G. Tower of Texas and John W. Warner of Virginia; Democrats Morris K. Udall of Arizona and Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson of Washington. The younger up-and-comers became his friends: Republican William S. Cohen of Maine stood as best man at McCain's wedding; Democrat Gary Hart of Colorado was an usher.

And when McCain decided to make his audacious bid for Congress -- with no political experience and not so much as a home state from which to run -- his mentors handed him the ingredients for a campaign that succeeded on the first try.

That five-year chapter of the future Arizona senator's life was an early example of the determination and dash that helped him survive 5 1/2 years in a prison camp, then win the nomination of a party that never much liked him. While his fiery temper and famous maverick streak made plenty of enemies, they were offset by a rakish charm that made as many friends, some who would play influential roles in his career.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 PM


Scientology's First Celebrity Defector Reveals Church Secrets: 'I was Miscavige's favorite boy,' says veteran TV actor Jason Beghe (Tony Ortega, April 8th, 2008, Village Voice)

“There seems to be a level of hypnosis or brainwashing or whatever you want to call it, and this training is a way of getting people hypnotized. And there’s a lot of patter that you’re constantly hearing that helps you get in that state,” he says.

But at the time, he was hooked. He remembers thinking, “Let me do this clear thing,” figuring that it might cost as much as $10,000. Instead, he was asked for $50,000 to start his progress on the Bridge. “I probably had $60,000 to my name. But I plunked it down.”

Over the next year, Beghe says he rocketed through Scientology’s expensive levels like no one else. Along the way, he got plenty of special treatment. “Celebrity Centre. My own private sauna. Everybody kissing my ass, which I was uncomfortable with. But nice people. Couldn’t be nicer,” he says.

His move to clear was so rapid, Beghe was told that diminutive Scientology leader David Miscavige considered him a “poster boy” for the religion.

“I was Miscavige’s favorite boy, so they were doing all kinds of things to keep me happy,” he says. “I moved up the Bridge faster than anyone in history. I went at it 24/7 for about a year. I went clear. Got to OT V. I was a trained auditor.” (OT stands for “operating thetan,” and the highest level in the church is said to be OT VIII.)

“I’m farther up the Bridge than Travolta, and he’s been in there a thousand years. He’s not a trained auditor.” To Beghe, some of the celebrities “seemed like dilettantes,” enjoying the perks but not really working hard at being Scientologists.

“I was on a spiritual journey. I wasn’t trying to make money, or influence people. I just wanted to try it.”

His wife also trained as a Scientologist and, like Beghe, reached OT V. Over his twelve years in the church, Beghe estimates that he gave Scientology about a million dollars.

Only about three years after joining, however, he says he started to have major problems. He had reached OT IV and was doing some special auditing, something referred to as “L Rundowns” or “L’s.” Beghe says the rundowns cost $150,000 to $160,000, but the payoff was immense: successfully completing the series would give someone serious juju. “You’re supposed to have the power to like take over a country,” he says.

Beghe says that others also getting the training would be asked what they wanted from the experience, and some would say “ten times my income.”

“I didn’t like that question. I was just experimenting.” Beghe went through daylong sessions in which he was peppered with questions about his ethics and behavior while holding onto an “e-meter,” a device that tests have shown simply measures skin galvanism, but that Scientologists believe reveal deep secrets in the mind. Beghe had used the e-meter many times before. But these sessions were a disaster for him. For six hours at a time, he’d be hit with questions (Is there an upset? Did you commit a crime? Did someone almost find out something you did?). “But I had nothing to say. I wasn’t hiding anything.” His auditors weren’t satisfied. They were waiting for a “floating needle” on the e-meter to show he was in the right state of mind, but it kept spiking.

“I was sitting there for hours, at $1,000 an hour. It went for weeks,” he says. And it cost that much, he says, because L’s required a “class 12 auditor.”

“A class 12 auditor has more training than a brain surgeon. They’re the cream of the crop. They’re the only ones who can deliver the L’s. And they were making the biggest fucking mistakes,” he says.

Beghe says the proof that Scientology was no longer working for him came when he was almost killed in a car accident. After the L’s, he points out, that shouldn’t happen. “A clear isn’t supposed to have a car accident. You’re supposed to be practically immortal.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 PM


A top obstetrician on why men should NEVER be at the birth of their child (MICHEL ODENT, 15th April 2008, Daily Mail)

[B]y 1970, a handful of women started to ask for their husbands to be present at the birth, a shift that began to occur in many Western countries at about the same time.

There are a variety of reasons for this, including the fact that birth was being increasingly concentrated in hospitals rather than at home, and the rise of the smaller nuclear family meant women increasingly turned to their husbands for support in all areas of their life, rather than relying on their mothers or aunts.

What we didn't anticipate at the time was that this occasional demand from a handful of women would, in a matter of years, become doctrine.

By the late Seventies, all pregnant women were saying they could not imagine giving birth without their husband at their side.

And not only was the husband now nearly always present at birth, but with his wife clasping his hand during labour and screaming out for reassurance, he became an active participant.

At the time, it was widely believed there were many benefits to be had from the father's presence.

It was said sharing such an experience would strengthen ties between the couple and help the father bond with his baby.

It was said his reassurance would make birth easier, and that the rate of intervention in pregnancy would decrease as a result.

This shift to having the father in the delivery room was one which was shrouded by optimism.

However, little scientific study was conducted to find out if there was any truth to these claims.

And even at the time, I had my reservations. I didn't want to judge, but I knew from experience that the presence of a man is not always a positive thing.

Fast-forward to today, and there is still a lack of scientific study on this subject.

But having been in charge of thousands of births, at homes, in hospitals, in the UK, in France, with the father present, with him absent, I have reached my own conclusions.

I am more and more convinced that the participation of the father is one of the main reasons for long and difficult labours.

And there are a number of basic physiological reasons for this.

First, a labouring woman needs to be protected against any stimulation of the thinking part of her brain - the neocortex - for labour to proceed with any degree of ease.

This part of the brain needs to take a back seat and allow the primal "unthinking" part of the brain connected to basic vital functions to take over.

A woman in labour needs to be in a private world where she doesn't have to think or talk.

Yet, motivated by a desire to "share the experience", the man asks questions and offers words of reassurance and advice.

In doing so, he denies his partner the quiet mind that she needs.

The second reason is that the father's release of the stress hormone adrenaline as he watches his partner labour causes her anxiety, and prevents her from relaxing.

No matter how much he tries to smile and appear relaxed, he cannot help but feel anxious. And the release of adrenaline is contagious.

It has been proven that it is physically impossible to be in a complete state of relaxation if there is an individual standing next to you who is tense and full of adrenaline.

The effect of this is that, with a man present, a woman cannot be as relaxed as she needs to be during labour, and hence the process becomes longer and more difficult.

We must keep in mind that mammals cannot release oxytocin - the key hormone in childbirth - when they are also being influenced by the stressful effects of hormones of the adrenaline family.

I have been with many women as they struggle to give birth with their partner at their side.

Yet the moment he leaves the room, the baby arrives.

...but you're three kids too late.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:49 PM


Marketing McCain(TM): Campaign Plays Up a Political Brand That Stands for Independence From GOP (Michael D. Shear and Juliet Eilperin, 4/12/08, Washington Post)

McCain's advisers attribute this seeming contradiction to what they believe is McCain™, a political brand that for over a decade has stood for strength, experience, straight talk and independence, qualities they believe help buffer him from many of the ills of his party. The attacks from conservatives that McCain withstood during the Republican primaries served to enhance his brand and bolster his position among moderates and independents, who are critical to winning in November, they contend.

"John McCain has an identity that's well established with the American people," said Steve Schmidt, one of his top political strategists. "He's a person who stands up and fights for what he believes in. It's appealing to independents. It's appealing to conservative Democrats. It's appealing to Republicans."

The campaign's general-election strategy is to sell the McCain brand to show voters that he is distinct from President Bush and other Republicans: His patented town hall meetings will showcase his "straight talk" with voters. His frequent conversations with reporters will highlight his openness and risk-taking. His ads and speeches will tout experience and strength of character.

McCain plans to visit Appalachia and the barrios of Los Angeles in an attempt to burnish his moderate credentials and reinforce the perception that he is willing to reach out broadly. A trip to Europe and the Middle East last month was seen as an effort to remind voters of his reputation for foreign policy expertise, and a biographical tour this month was designed to showcase his patriotism.

Democrats do not dispute that McCain has built a brand; however, they think it's a false one -- the "McCain myth," they call it.

...is that Democrats and the press have helped sell it for a decade now. It's a tad late in the day to argue with themselves about it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:18 PM


Mr. Conservative
: McCain hasn’t betrayed conservatism; his party has (Jonathan Rauch, May 2008, The Atlantic)

[Edmund] Burke is the father of modern conservatism, and still its wisest oracle. Tradition-minded but (contrary to stereotype) far from reactionary, he believed in balancing individual rights with social order. The best way to do that, for Burke, was by respecting long-standing customs and institutions while advancing toward liberty and equality. Society’s traditions, after all, embody an evolved collective wisdom that even (or especially) the smartest of individuals cannot hope to understand comprehensively, much less reinvent successfully.

The Burkean outlook takes individual rights seriously, and understands that civic order serves no purpose if its result is oppression or misery. It also understands that social stability, far from being endangered by institutional change, positively depends upon it. Burkeans no more believe in a golden past than they do in a perfect future. For them, the question is not whether society should change, but how.

Burke himself was an advocate of change; he sympathized with the American revolution (while famously denouncing the much more radical French one), proposed curtailing the slave trade, and fought tirelessly to reform the corrupt and monopolistic British East India Company. But he believed change should take a measured pace and should try to follow well-worn social grooves rather than cutting across them. Above all, he abhorred utopian reformers, who, by disdaining real-world constraints and overestimating their own intelligence, invariably worsen what they seek to improve.

Burke speaks as much to the conservative temperament as to conservative ideas. He would be suspicious of a conservatism that wanted to “explosively replace the failed bureaucracies of the past.” He would caution against forcibly uprooting the authority structures of a long-tyrannized society like Iraq and expecting a mini-America to spring forth. He would be all for “the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world” (as per President Bush’s second inaugural address), but he would put more emphasis on ultimate.

If Burke were around today, he might paraphrase Reagan’s famous witticism about the Democratic Party: Burke didn’t leave the conservative movement; it left him. Starting with Barry Goldwater’s campaign of 1964, American conservatism repositioned itself as a revolutionary movement, intent on uprooting illegiti­mate and ineffective liberal structures. Partly this grew from a canny assessment that Eisenhower-style Republicanism had played into liberals’ hands, consolidating instead of confronting the welfare state. Partly, however, it grew from narcissism: no less than their left-wing peers, right-wing Baby Boomers liked to suppose it was their destiny to reshape the world.

And so conservatives came to associate themselves with a romantic narrative of radical change—a narrative of counterrevolution, but revolutionary all the same. They trumpeted the Reagan Revolution, then Gingrich’s Republican Revolution. In 2001, George W. Bush came to office disdainful of “small ball,” determined to be a “transformative” figure. In the 2008 presidential race, Mike Huckabee railed against corporate greed, promised to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, and pledged (fancifully) to bring about “energy independence” (whatever that is) by the end of his second term; yet his conservative credentials met with less skepticism among the rank and file than did McCain’s. Nowadays, the harder core of the movement barely gives politicians the time of day unless they renounce incremental reform in favor of the root-and- branch variety, and denounce government with a stridency that owes less to Burke than to the New Left.

Burke would have wondered at this.

...that assumes Burke should have supported the French Revolution once it was effected, rather than disrupt society again by being a counter-revolutionary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:21 PM


The Genocide Loophole (Jonah Goldberg, April 9, 2008, Townhall)

Last week, Russia's lower house of parliament passed a resolution insisting that Josef Stalin's man-made 1932-33 famine - called the Holodomor in Ukrainian - wasn't genocide.

Not even the Russians dispute that the Soviet government deliberately starved millions. But the Russian resolution indignantly states: "There is no historical proof that the famine was organized along ethnic lines." It notes that victims included "different peoples and nationalities living largely in agricultural areas of the country."

Translation: We didn't kill millions of farmers because they were Ukrainians; we killed millions of Ukrainians because they were farmers. [...]

Political scientist Gerard Alexander decries that type of absurdity as "Enlightenment bias." Reviewing Samantha Power's moving 2003 book, "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide," Alexander observed that this bias leaves the greatest mass murderers of the 20th century - self-described Marxist-Leninists - somewhat off the hook.

In Power's book, the most influential writing on genocide in a generation, she scolds - often justly - the U.S. for not doing more to stop systematized slaughter. But by focusing so narrowly on the U.N.-style definition of genocide, she implicitly upholds a moral hierarchy of evil, which in effect renders mass murder a second-tier crime if it's done in the name of social progress, modernization or other Enlightenment ideals.

This is dangerous thinking; people perceived to be blocking progress - farmers, aristocrats, reactionaries - can be more forgivably slaughtered than ethnic groups because they're allegedly part of the problem, not the solution. After all, you've got to break some eggs to make an omelet.

For many, the Soviets and the Red Chinese elude the genocide charge because Communists were omelet-makers. Ukrainian kulaks, or independent farmers, opposed Stalin's plan for collectivization, so they were murdered for that "greater good."

Today, Mao and Stalin aren't in Hitler's class of evil because Hitler wasn't a "modernizer," he was a racist. Note how the Russians have no problem copping to the charge of mass murder but recoil at suggestions it was racially motivated.

It's a wrongheaded distinction. Murder is murder, whether the motive is bigotry or the pursuit of allegedly enlightened social planning.

In fairness to Hitler, his genocide was perfectly consistent with the Age of Enlightenment as well. It was just Applied Darwinism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 PM


McCain's Speech Shows He's a Pro-growth Populist, Like Reagan (James Pethokoukis, April 15, 2008, US News)

John McCain's big economic speech today was sort of one part Ronald Reagan (cut taxes, cut spending), one part Mike Huckabee (help for workers; Main Street is as important as Wall Street), and one part Teddy Roosevelt (criticism of "reckless CEOs and speculators").

The big policy-wonk news was that he called for some new initiatives, including doubling the personal exemption for dependents from $3,500 to $7,000, an alternative and supposedly simpler two-rate tax code, a one-year spending freeze for all government programs other than defense and entitlements, some sort of wage insurance for displaced workers, a summer suspension of the 18.4-cent gas tax, and making wealthier seniors pay more for prescription drugs under Medicare Part D. He also reiterated the need to do away with the alternative minimum tax, cut corporate taxes, and allow immediate expensing of business purchases. Here are my key takeaways...

Remarks By John McCain On The Economy (John McCain, April 15, 2008)

U.S. Senator John McCain will deliver the following remarks as prepared for delivery at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, today at 9:45 a.m. EDT:

Thank you. I appreciate the hospitality of the Allegheny Business Conference... the Pittsburgh Tech Council... and the students and faculty of Carnegie Mellon University. We have a strong showing this morning from the Carnegie Mellon Naval ROTC unit as well. And I'm happy to be with all of you.

This university has a fine reputation for its programs in business, finance, and other disciplines in the field of economics. And it's always worth recalling that economics is not a subject that can be wrenched apart from all the rest of life, or from the values that give life direction. When we debate economic policy, we are talking, after all, about the deepest hopes that carry us each along in the work we do... about all the things we wish for ourselves and for each other. And these cannot be measured by simply running the numbers.

In our free society, it is left to each one of us to make our own way in the world -- and our jobs, businesses, savings, pensions, farms, and homes are the work of years. Take these away and you are diminishing a lot more than the GDP, or the final tally on the Big Board on Wall Street. Take these away, and a million dreams are undone. The gains of hard work and sacrifice are lost. And something can be lost that is very crucial in our economy, and very slow to return -- confidence.

Every so often in our nation's capital, we relearn this lesson when the excesses of traders and speculators, and the poor planning of politicians, catches up with them, and the troubles spread far beyond Wall Street and Washington. This has happened in recent months, at great cost to workers, small businesses, families, and homeowners across our nation. And calling these serious problems a "correction" in the market, or a "cycle" of the economy, doesn't make their situation any better, their jobs and homes any safer, their lives any easier.

Economic policy is not just some academic exercise, and we in Washington are not just passive spectators. We have a responsibility to act -- and if I am elected president I intend to act quickly and decisively. We need reforms that promote growth and opportunity. We need rules that assure fairness and punish wrongdoing in the market. We need tax policies that respect the wage-earners and job creators who make this economy run, and help them to succeed in a global economy. In all of this, it will not be enough to simply dust off the economic policies of four, eight, or twenty-eight years ago. We have our own work to do. We have our own challenges to meet.

Millions of working men and women in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and beyond can tell you how urgent is the work before us. One man put it this way to a reporter not long ago, in reply to a question about the job he had just lost. He said, "I told my wife that I'll always keep a roof over her head. Now, I worry about keeping that promise." In the monthly reports of our Labor Department, nearly 250,000 Americans like this man were let go recently and suddenly from jobs they thought were safe.

A woman in the town of Trainer, in Delaware County, also captured the feeling of many when she described what it's like to work and save for years, and, at the age of 47, still struggle for the basics of life. The family has had medical problems, and as she puts it: "Trust me, no one wants to be in our shoes. And lots of people are just a sick husband away from where we are." For citizens like these -- doing their best to keep promises and meet obligations, there is no comfort knowing their problems are common and their worries are shared.

Meanwhile, the people we expect to be most sober and level-headed in their economic decisions -- bankers and other home lenders -- forgot some of the basic standards of their own profession. Hard-working homeowners are learning for the first time about the endlessly complicated borrowing, bundling, and betting that has been going on in our capital markets. Americans worry about a system that allows 4 million bad loans to affect 51 million good ones. They wonder how assets can so quickly become liabilities, and why the high-risk schemes of a few were permitted to inflict such grievous harm on our entire financial system.

Americans are also right to be offended when the extravagant salaries and severance deals of CEO's -- in some cases, the very same CEO's who helped to bring on these market troubles -- bear no relation to the success of the company or the wishes of shareholders. Something is seriously wrong when the American people are left to bear the consequences of reckless corporate conduct, while Mr. Cayne of Bear Stearns, Mr. Mozilo of Countrywide, and others are packed off with another forty- or fifty million for the road.

I leave it for others to speculate on the technical definition of a recession. It's all a little beside the point, if it's your plant that's closing and your job that's gone... when you are facing foreclosure, or back in debt after years of hard effort, or hardly able to buy food, gas, or heating for your home. In the end, the truest measure of prosperity in America is the success and financial security of those who earn wages and meet payrolls in this country. Many are waiting for their first homes... their first big break... their first shot at financial security. And helping them will be my first priority in setting the economic policies of this nation.

In so many ways, even now, the workers and entrepreneurs of America are taken for granted by their government, while the lobbyists and special pleaders are seldom turned away. By the tens of billions of dollars, our tax money is routinely squandered by the Congress on less than useless pork-barrel projects -- projects having nothing to do with the purposes of government, and everything to do with the preservation of power.

In the same way, many in Congress think Americans are under-taxed. They speak as if letting you keep your own earnings were an act of charity, and now they have decided you've had enough. By allowing many of the current low tax rates to expire, they would impose -- overnight -- the single largest tax increase since the Second World War. Among supporters of a tax increase are Senators Obama and Clinton. Both promise big "change." And a trillion dollars in new taxes over the next decade would certainly fit that description.

Of course, they would like you to think that only the very wealthy will pay more in taxes, but the reality is quite different. Under my opponents' various tax plans, Americans of every background would see their taxes rise -- seniors, parents, small business owners, and just about everyone who has even a modest investment in the market. All these tax increases are the fine print under the slogan of "hope": They're going to raise your taxes by thousands of dollars per year -- and they have the audacity to hope you don't mind.

They and others argue that the tax increase is necessary in part to finance Social Security and Medicare. Unfortunately, this claim only serves to remind us of Congress' consistent failure to repair both of these programs even under the best of circumstances. For years, Congress has been buying time, and leaving the great challenge of entitlement reform for others to deal with. And now the two contenders in the other party have even proposed enormous new federal commitments before the old commitments have been kept -- trusting that others, somewhere down the road, will handle the financing and make all the numbers come out right.

But there will come a day when the road dead-ends, and the old excuses seem even more hollow. And it won't be the politicians who bear the consequences. It will be American workers and their children who are left with worthless promises and trillion-dollar debts. We cannot let that happen. And you have my pledge: as president I will work with every member of Congress -- Republican, Democrat, and Independent -- who shares my commitment to reforming and protecting Medicare and Social Security.

In so many ways, we need to make a clean break from the worst excesses of both political parties. For Republicans, it starts with reclaiming our good name as the party of spending restraint. Somewhere along the way, too many Republicans in Congress became indistinguishable from the big-spending Democrats they used to oppose. The only power of government that could stop them was the power of veto, and it was rarely used.

If that authority is entrusted to me, I will use the veto as needed, and as the Founders intended. I will veto every bill with earmarks, until the Congress stops sending bills with earmarks. I will seek a constitutionally valid line-item veto to end the practice once and for all. I will lead across-the-board reforms in the federal tax code, removing myriad corporate tax loopholes that are costly, unfair, and inconsistent with a free-market economy.

As president, I will also order a prompt and thorough review of the budgets of every federal program, department, and agency. While that top to bottom review is underway, we will institute a one-year pause in discretionary spending increases with the necessary exemption of military spending and veterans benefits. "Discretionary spending" is a term people throw around a lot in Washington, while actual discretion is seldom exercised. Instead, every program comes with a built-in assumption that it should go on forever, and its budget increase forever. My administration will change that way of thinking.

I'll hold the agencies of the federal government accountable for the money they spend. I'll make sure the public helps me, and I'll provide federal agencies with the best executive leadership that can be found in America. We're going to make every aspect of government purchases and performance transparent. Information on every step of contracts and grants will be posted on the Internet in plain and simple English. We're going to post an agency's performance evaluation as well. We're going to demand accountability. We will make sure that federal spending serves the common interests... that failed programs are not rewarded... and that discretionary spending is going where it belongs -- to essential priorities like job training, the security of our citizens, and the care of our veterans.

In my administration there will be no more subsidies for special pleaders -- no more corporate welfare -- no more throwing around billions of dollars of the people's money on pet projects, while the people themselves are struggling to afford their homes, groceries, and gas. We are going to get our priorities straight in Washington -- a clean break from years of squandered wealth and wasted chances.

I have a clear record of not asking for earmarks for my state. For their part, Senators Obama and Clinton have championed a long list of pork-barrel projects for their states -- like that all-important Woodstock museum that Senator Clinton expected Americans to pay for at the cost of a million dollars. That kind of careless spending of tax dollars is not change, my friends: It is business as usual in Washington, and it's all a part of the same wasteful and corrupting system that we need to end.

The goal of reform, however, is not merely to check waste and keep a tidy budget process -- although these are important enough in themselves. The great goal is to get the American economy running at full strength again, creating the opportunities Americans expect and the jobs Americans need. And one very direct way to achieve that is by taking the savings from earmark, program review, and other budget reforms -- on the order of 100 billion dollars annually -- and use those savings to lower the business income tax for every employer that pays it.

So I will send to Congress a proposal to cut the taxes these employers pay, from a rate of 35 to 25 percent. As it is, we have the second-highest tax on business in the industrialized world. High tax rates are driving many businesses and jobs overseas -- and, of course, our foreign competitors wouldn't mind if we kept it that way. But if I am elected president, we're going to get rid of that drag on growth and job creation, and help American workers compete with any company in the world.

I will also send to the Congress a middle-class tax cut -- a complete phase-out of the Alternative Minimum Tax to save more than 25 million middle-class families more than 2,000 dollars every year.

Our tax laws and those who enforce them should treat all citizens with respect, whether they are married or single. But mothers and fathers bear special responsibilities, and the tax code must recognize this. Inflation has eroded the value of the exemption for dependents. I will send to Congress a reform to increase the exemption -- with the goal of doubling it from 3,500 dollars to 7,000 dollars for every dependent, in every family in America.

The tax laws of America should also promote and reward innovation, because innovation creates jobs. Tax laws should not smother the ingenuity of our people with needless regulations and disincentives. So I will propose and sign into law a reform agenda to permit the first-year expensing of new equipment and technology... to ban Internet taxes, permanently... to ban new cell phone taxes... and to make the tax credit for R&D permanent, so that we never lose our competitive edge.

It is not enough, however, to make little fixes here and there in the tax code. What we need is a simpler, a flatter, and a fair tax code. As president, I will propose an alternative tax system. When this reform is enacted, all who wish to file under the current system could still do so. And everyone else could choose a vastly less complicated system with two tax rates and a generous standard deduction. Americans do not resent paying their rightful share of taxes -- what they do resent is being subjected to thousands of pages of needless and often irrational rules and demands from the IRS. We know from experience that no serious reform of the current tax code will come out of Congress, so now it is time to turn the decision over to the people. We are going to create a new and simpler tax system -- and give the American people a choice.

Better tax policy is just one part of a pro-growth agenda that includes smarter regulation and a leaner, more focused government. Among the many benefits to America, these reforms will help to create jobs, improve the investment climate, attract global investors, and strengthen the dollar.

Americans also worry about stagnant wages, which are caused in part by the rising cost of health care. Each year employers pay more and more for insurance, leaving less and less to pay their employees. As president, I will propose and relentlessly advocate changes that will bring down health care costs, make health care more affordable and accessible, help individuals and families buy their health insurance with generous tax credits, and enable you to keep your insurance when you change jobs.

Many retired Americans face the terrible reality of deciding whether to buy food, pay rent or buy their prescriptions. And their government should help them. But when we added the prescription drug benefit to Medicare, a new and costly entitlement, we included many people who are more than capable of purchasing their own medicine without assistance from taxpayers who struggle to purchase their own. People like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet don't need their prescriptions underwritten by taxpayers. Those who can afford to buy their own prescription drugs should be expected to do so. This reform alone will save billions of dollars that could be returned to taxpayers or put to better use.

There's never been a problem Americans couldn't solve. We are the world's leaders, and leaders don't fear change, pine for the past and dread the future. We make the future better than the past. That is why I object when Senators Obama and Clinton and others preach the false virtues of economic isolationism. Senator Obama recently suggested that Americans are protectionist because they are bitter about being left behind in the global economy. Well, what's his excuse for embracing the false promises of protectionism? Opening new markets for American goods and services is indispensable to our future prosperity. We can compete with anyone. Senators Obama and Clinton think we should hide behind walls, bury our heads and industries in the sand, and hope we have enough left to live on while the world passes us by. But that is not good policy and it is not good leadershi p. And the short-sightedness of these policies can be seen today in Congress' refusal to vote on the Colombian Free Trade Agreement.

When new trading partners can sell in our market, and American companies can sell in theirs, the gains are great and they are lasting. The strength of the American economy offers a better life to every society we trade with, and the good comes back to us in many ways -- in better jobs, higher wages, and lower prices. Free trade can also give once troubled and impoverished nations a stake in the world economy, and in their relations with America. In the case of Colombia, a friend and crucial democratic ally, its stability and economic vitality are more critical now, as others in the region seek to turn Latin America away from democracy and away from our country. Trade serves all of these national interests, and the interests of the American economy as well -- and I call on the Congress once again to put this vital agreement to an up or down vote.

I know that open markets don't automatically translate into a higher quality of life for every single American. Change is hard, and while most of us gain, some industries, companies and workers are left to struggle with very difficult choices. And government should help workers get the education and training they need -- for the new jobs that will be created by new businesses in this new century.

Right now we have more than a half-dozen different programs that are supposed to help displaced workers, and for those who are not working at all. We have an unemployment insurance program straight out of the 1950s. It was designed to assist workers through a few tough months during an economic downturn until their old jobs came back. That program has no relevance to the world we live in today.

If I'm elected president, I'll work with Congress and the states to make job training and unemployment insurance what they should be -- a swift path from a job that's not coming back to a job that won't go away. We will build a new system, using the unemployment-insurance taxes to build for each worker a buffer account against a sudden loss of income -- so that in times of need they're not just told to fill out forms and take a number. And we will draw on the great strengths of America's community colleges, applying the funds from federal training accounts to give displaced workers of every age a fresh start with new skills and new opportunities.

These reforms must wait on the next election, but to help our workers and our economy we must also act in the here and now. And we must start with the subprime mortgage crisis, with the hundreds of thousands of citizens who played by the rules, yet now fear losing their houses. Under the HOME plan I have proposed, our government will offer these Americans direct and immediate help that can make all the difference: If you can't make your payments, and you're in danger of foreclosure, you will be able to go to any Post Office and pick up a form for a new HOME loan. In place of your flawed mortgage loan, you'll be eligible for a new, 30-year fixed-rate loan backed by the United States government. Citizens will keep their homes, lenders will cut their losses, and everyone will move on -- following the sounder practices that should have been observed in the first place.

It's important as well to remember that the foolish risk-taking of lenders, investment banks, and others that led to these troubles don't reflect our free market as it should be working. In a free market, there must be transparency, accountability, and personal and corporate responsibility. The housing crisis came about because these standards collapsed -- and, as president, I intend to restore them.

The grave problems in the housing market have been viral, spreading out to affect the credit and buying power of Americans even as the price of oil and gas is rising as never before. There are larger problems underlying the price of oil, all of which I will address in my energy plan, but in the short term there are crucial measures we can take.

I propose that the federal government suspend all taxes on gasoline now paid by the American people -- from Memorial Day to Labor Day of this year. The effect will be an immediate economic stimulus -- taking a few dollars off the price of a tank of gas every time a family, a farmer, or trucker stops to fill up. Over the same period, our government should suspend the purchase of oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which has also contributed to the rising price of oil. This measure, combined with the summer-long "gas-tax holiday," will bring a timely reduction in the price of gasoline. And because the cost of gas affects the price of food, packaging, and just about everything else, these immediate steps will help to spread relief across the American economy.

By summer's end, moreover, millions of college students will be counting on their student loans to come through -- and we need to make sure that happens. These young Americans, including perhaps some of you at CMU, are among the many citizens whose ability to obtain a loan might be seriously hurt by faraway problems not of their own making. So, today, I propose that the Department of Education work with the governors to make sure that each state's guarantee agency has the means and manpower to meet its obligation as a lender-of-last-resort for student loans. In the years ahead, these young Americans will be needed to sustain America's primacy in the global marketplace. And they should not be denied an education because the recklessness of others has made credit too hard to obtain.

These are just some of the reforms I intend to fight for and differences I will debate with whoever my Democratic opponent is. In the weeks and months ahead, I will detail my plans to reform health care in America... to make our schools more accountable to parents and taxpayers... to keep America's edge in technology... to use the power of free markets to grow our economy... to escape our dependence on foreign oil... and to guard against climate change and to be better stewards of the earth. All of these challenges, and more, will face the next president, and I will not leave them for some unluckier generation of leaders to deal with. We are going to restore the confidence of the American people in the future of this great and blessed country.

I do not seek the presidency on the presumption that I am blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save my country in its hour of need. I seek the presidency with the humility of a man who cannot forget that my country saved me. I am running to serve America, and to champion the ideas I believe will help us do what every American generation has done: to make in our time, and from our challenges, a safer, stronger, more prosperous country and a better world.

As I have always done, I will make my case to every American who will listen. I will not confine myself to the comfort of speaking only to those who agree with me. I will make my case to all the people. I will listen to those who disagree. I will try to persuade them. I will debate. And I will learn from them. But I will fight every moment of every day for what I believe is right for this country, and I will not yield.

Thank you.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 PM

MAGICIANS DON' TELL (via Glenn Dryfoos):

HOW IN THE WORLD DID THIS GUY WIN 347 GAMES?: Greg Maddux is always in control, even when it doesn't look that way. He'll take his secrets with him when he retires, so catch him while you can. (Tim Keown, ESPN the Magazine)

How many times had he heard someone say it? How many times over the past 22 years had some catcher or coach or broadcaster said, "Greg Maddux? I bet you could catch him with your eyes closed"? Sounded plausible enough, maybe coaxed a chuckle or two from the pitcher, but mostly it was just something to say. Nobody realized it was just a matter of time before somebody decided to prove it.

This was in mid-September, in the home bullpen at Petco Park. Maddux, the human metronome, kept going into his windup with the same hands-over-the-head motion he's used since he was a kid in Las Vegas. Pitch after pitch hit the mitt, wherever it was placed, like always. Padres bullpen catcher Ben Risinger, perhaps bored with the persistent perfection of it all, turned to bullpen coach Darrel Akerfelds and said, "I bet I could catch him with my eyes closed."

That was all fine and rhetorical until Akerfelds said, "Okay, let's go for it."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:57 AM

THE REAL SHOCKER... (via Brian Boys):

Shock: First Animal on Earth Was Surprisingly Complex (LiveScience, 10 April 2008)

The new study surprisingly found that the comb jelly was the first animal to diverge from the base of the tree, not the less complex sponge, which had previously been given the honor.

"This was a complete shocker," said study team member Casey Dunn of Brown University in Rhode Island. "So shocking that we initially thought something had gone very wrong."

Dunn's team checked and re-checked their results and came up with the same result every time: the comb jelly came first. The results are detailed in the April 10 issue of the journal Nature, a journal that, like most respected journals, requires other scientists review a paper prior to publication.

Unlike sponges, comb jellies have connective tissues and a nervous system, and so are more complex. Though squishy and tentacled, they are not, however, true jellyfish as they lack the classic bell-shaped body and characteristic stinging cells.

The finding was unexpected because evolutionary biologists had thought that less complex animals split off and evolved separately first. Dunn says that two evolutionary scenarios can explain why the comb jellies would actually have been first among animals. The first is that the comb jelly evolved its complexity independent of other animals after branching off to forge its own path.

The second is that the sponge evolved its simpler form from the more complex form. This second possibility underscores the fact that "evolution is not necessarily just a march towards increased complexity," Dunn said.

...would be if anything Darwinists believe in turned out to be accurate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:40 AM


IT AIN'T EASY BEING #1: With the likes of Darren McFadden on the board, what fan wouldn't be psyched about this year's draft? But inside NFL war rooms, top picks are nothing short of a curse. (David Fleming, ESPN the Magazine)

In 2006, two professors, Yale's Cade Massey and the University of Chicago's Richard Thaler, published a study of the 1991 to 2002 drafts. They found that a first-rounder is nearly as likely to be out of the NFL after five years (8%) as he is to make the Pro Bowl during those five seasons (9%). And it gets worse. While top picks do perform better than lower ones, Massey and Thaler also discovered that performance falls off much faster than compensation, making No. 1 and No. 32 nearly indistinguishable from a value standpoint. In other words, at this year's draft, the Giants, selecting at No. 31, will likely grab as valuable a player as the Dolphins will at No. 1. If the Dolphins truly understood what they were up against, they'd let the clock expire on their choice 20 times and ultimately risk only $10 million instead of $60 million. "There is no science to the draft," admits Giants GM Jerry Reese. "If you guess right, you look smart. If you make a couple of wrong guesses, you look dumb. You just try to get more right than wrong."

Of course, evaluating skills is a cinch compared with putting a finger on intangibles. Despite the battery of physical and psychological tests administered to every prospect, there's simply no way of knowing how a 21-year-old will respond to the challenge of being the Chosen One. Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell describes his experience of being the 2007 No. 1 overall pick as living 24/7 with the feeling that every eye is on you. In contrast, Tom Brady credits part of his success to the fact that he was allowed to develop slowly and anonymously as a sixth-rounder in 2000. "When you're a first-round pick, everybody's counting on you to save the franchise," Brady says. "That's an incredible amount of pressure to place on one player."

Teams know that too. After all, picking at the top is often a struggling franchise's only chance to be in the spotlight for something that brings fans hope—even if it's false. But if the team did the wise thing and traded down, it might face a fan revolt.

But in the end, the biggest obstacle to overhauling the draft might be NFL culture. This is a league that sticks by a Vince Lombardi, white-socks-and-black-shoes approach to talent evaluation, where front office humility is tantamount to bed-wetting. Teams think of quantitative analysis the same way your grandpa looks at the Internet. Only a few franchises have evolved enough to accept their inevitable draft failings and do something about it. It's no coincidence that two of the teams that have been more active in trading down over the past 20 years—the Pats and Cowboys—have also been the two most successful franchises during that time. As Massey, who has advised several NFL teams, points out, "You have a league full of people, grizzled old scouts, whose entire identity and worth are wrapped up in being able to use tape, instinct and lore to predict who's going to be a good player, when the actual data say they're wrong 50% of the time."

In Miami, Parcells has the power to evoke change. If he's truly the freethinking lone wolf he wants us to believe he is, he'll tear up his draft-value chart, take the best trade-down offer he can find and resist the lure of the fan-pleasing fix. "It's like AA: The first step is admitting there's a problem," says Massey. "Why is that so hard? There's no crime in admitting the instability of the draft."

Somehow the Pats are about the only team to have processed this insight and the owners--in the only pro sports league to beat its players in a strike--failed to grasp the lesson the replacement games taught: only the helmets and uniforms matter in the NFL, not the players, who are completely interchangeable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:27 AM


THE AGE OF AMERICAN ­UNREASON By Susan Jacoby (Wendy Kaminer, Spring 2008, Wilson Quarterly)

For some aging intellectuals, the apocalypse is now. Like Nathan Zuckerman railing at cell phones, they long for what was lost in the transition to a ­post­print culture and can’t imagine what might be gained. Illiteracy, innumeracy, attention deficits, ­close-­mindedness, civic ignorance, junk science, celebrity worship, anti-rationalism, and outright disdain for intellectualism are some of the plagues Susan Jac­oby laments. In The Age of American Unreason, she mourns the end of civilization as she knew ­it.

Jacoby is a perceptive and prolific critic, a former journalist with a talent for social and intellectual history. Her most recent previous book was Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, and her critique of unreason immediately identifies religious fundamentalism as a “major spur to ­anti-­intellectualism,” evidenced by the popular embrace of creationism and intelli­gent design. Not surprisingly, Jacoby also assails the mass media and what she considers the devolution from reading to viewing, and from writing to messaging. She has little patience for the contention that technology and new media are spawning new forms of intelligence, and she sees slim literary promise in the disjointed reading and writing encouraged by computers or in their facilitation of “packaging-plagiarism,” by book publishers as well as students.

Many of Jacoby’s criticisms and com­plaints are familiar, but she doesn’t aim to surprise us with her critique of unreason so much as she wants to alert us to its clear and present dangers. Jacoby envisions her book as a sort of sequel to Richard Hof­stadter’s relatively sanguine 1963 classic, ­Anti-­Intellectualism in American Life. His judi­cious, cautiously optimistic analysis was written when intellectuals were either enjoying or anticipating a renaissance, Jacoby observes, but in the half-century since, our descent into unreason has been steep. Indeed, while Hofstadter regarded ­anti-­intellectualism as a fluctuating force in American life, Jacoby suggests that it’s now the fabric of our ­culture.

She looks back on the 1950s and early ­’60s—­coincidentally, the years of her youth and television’s ­infancy—­as, if not quite a golden age for intellectuals, then a period of promise.

Sadly for intellectuals, the delivery on that promise was the late 60s and 70s and Americans, who were always hostile to their ideas, rejected them permanently in November 1980. Europe, of course, remained in their thrall, which is why it's dying.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:53 AM


For Obama and McCain, the Bitter and the Sweet (Dana Milbank, April 15, 2008, Washington Post)

To shed the elitist label and regain his common-man credentials, Obama picked an inauspicious venue -- the annual gathering of the media elite, the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The result is likely to make the Democrat even more bitter. On the same day, the two media darlings of the presidential election cycle came to address their base -- and McCain easily bested his likely opponent.

McCain's moderators, the AP's Ron Fournier and Liz Sidoti, greeted McCain with a box of Dunkin' Donuts. "We spend quite a bit of time with you on the back of the Straight Talk Express asking you questions, and what we've decided to do today was invite everyone else along on the ride," Sidoti explained. "We even brought you your favorite treat."

McCain opened the offering. "Oh, yes, with sprinkles!" he said.

Sidoti passed him a cup. "A little coffee with a little cream and a little sugar," she said.

The dueling appearances by McCain and Obama nicely captured the current dynamic in the presidential cycle. McCain, his nomination secure, had the luxury to joke and pander. Obama, wounded by the Democrats' internecine fighting, was defensive and somber.

Singleton, Obama's moderator, pointed out that a new poll showed the Democrat had lost the 10-point lead over McCain that he had in February. "The fact that our contest is still going on means that John McCain comes in here, and he's feeling pretty good," Obama answered. "He can be a little more deliberate and pace himself. And that probably explains the close in the polls."

McCain was indeed in high spirits as he entered the ballroom and invited the editors' "questions, comments or insults." Reading from a teleprompter, McCain said he was among friends. "I made a decision to be as accessible to the press as the press would prefer me to be, and perhaps even more than they would prefer." Accepting the doughnuts, McCain had a gift for the editors, too -- his support for a law shielding reporters from identifying their sources.

This left everybody in a good mood for the criticism of Obama that McCain tacked on the end of his speech. Americans don't "turn to their religious faith and cultural traditions out of resentment," he said. The candidate then took a seat with the two AP reporters and crossed his legs casually for the questions. Asked about his advanced age, he pretended to nod off in his chair. "Watch me campaign," he challenged. "Come on the bus again, my friends, all of you."

McCain got a standing ovation -- an honor Obama did not receive when his turn came two hours later.

The room and crowd were larger for Obama. The atmosphere was colder (this time, editors had to pass through metal detectors) and more formal (wine on each table and flowers on the dais). And the candidate was uncharacteristically flat.

"I know that I've kept a lot of you guys busy this weekend with the comments I made last week. Some of you might even be a little bitter about that," he joked, before plodding his way through an earnest apology ("I regret some of the words I chose"), an angry countercharge ("If I had to carry the banner for eight years of George Bush's failures, I'd be looking for something else to talk about, too") and a recitation of his commoner bona fides ("My mother had to use food stamps at one point").

But the combination failed to change the subject. The first question: "Can a Democrat talk about guns, God and immigration without getting in trouble?"

"I actually think it's possible," said the candidate.

Recent experience, however, argues otherwise. And Obama couldn't hide his pique -- particularly when the moderator asked if Clinton should "step aside."

It would be easier to feel sorry for the Democrats if they ever learned anything from their mistake--singular, because it's the same one almost every time. While the Republicans nominate the guy whose turn it is next, a well-known and battle-tested veteran, the Democrats repeatedly serve up a neophyte Northern liberal and then act stunned when he's not ready for primetime and voters dislike him once they get to know his political views.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


Buddhism Is Changing, Too – from Quietism to Active Politics: The Dalai Lama is issuing repeated appeals for nonviolence to his faithful. But not all of them are obeying. Like Christianity and Islam, this religion is also breaking onto the public stage in new forms (Sandro Magister, 4/15/08, Chiesa)

The passage to militant politics – and even to armed action – of a religion like Buddhism, traditionally defined as contemplative and identified with pacifism, is one of the new phenomena of this era.

It is a passage that is situated within today's general evolution of all the religions toward a stronger impact on the public stage.

For Christianity and Islam, this evolution is before the eyes of all. The events of recent months show that Buddhism is no exception.

First Burma, and then Tibet, have been the most evident theatres of the passage of Buddhism from quietist positions and support for the status quo to an action of critique and transformation of society, even confronting heavy repression.

But if in Burma the methods selected were nonviolent, in Tibet something different is happening. The rebellion is being expressed sometimes with a devastating force that takes aim not only at the hated Chinese, but also at those Tibetans who seem to be favored by the modernization promoted by the government of Beijing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


A Revolution for Italy's Parliament (Michael Braun, 4/15/08, Der Spiegel)

You couldn't call what happened in Italy on Monday merely a win -- it was a triumph. With an almost 7-percent advantage in the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, almost 8 percent in the Senate and a clear majority in both houses, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has returned to the country's political helm.

Berlusconi's bloc succeeded in winning over 45 percent of the vote. The center-right People of Freedom party (PdL), founded by Berlusconi especially for this election, alone garnered about 40 percent of the vote, while future coalition partner the Northern League attracted about 6 percent in the Senate and 6 percent in the lower house -- a clear improvement over its 2006 result. [...]

He knows the right side of Italy's political spectrum better than anyone, and he knew that, even as the voters were disappointed with his five years in office from 2001 to 2006, they feared the left -- even a moderate Catholic leftist politician like Prodi -- even more. [...]

Two years ago, the two communist parties and the Greens managed to get a good 10 percent of the vote between them. This time, they ran as part of the left-wing federation The Left -- the Rainbow.

But the new unity project failed to convince the electorate. Some preferred to vote for Veltroni's center-left party in a bid to stop Berlusconi. Others simply stayed at home, because they had not forgiven the radical left for taking part in Prodi's coalition. In the end, the federation not only failed to reach the 8-percent hurdle for the Senate, but -- against all predictions -- also missed the 4-percent hurdle in the Chamber of Deputies. For the first time since 1945, the communists will no longer be represented in Italy's parliament.

And also for the first time -- and in Italy this counts as a real revolution -- there are only four parliamentary groups in the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, meaning that the era of having 23 to 30 parties fighting it out between themselves is over. On the left, there is Veltroni's Democratic Party, in the middle the UDC, and on the right Berlusconi's People of Freedom and the Northern League. The new constellation will bring an unusual clarity and simplicity to Italian politics.

That seems an impossibility.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


The Right Returns (Sabina Zaccaro, Apr 15, 2008, IPS)

The Northern League won an unexpectedly high 8 percent of the vote. It was set up with the ambition of financially and administratively splitting the industrial north of the country from the rest, particularly the poorer regions of the south.

The group has a conservative, protectionist and anti-immigration policy.

The departure of moderate forces, and the growing weight of the nationalist Northern League, suggest that the new government will be shaped as a strong force to the right, with only a feeble counterbalance over issues like immigration.

"Concerns about security and immigration have certainly determined support for the League," Alfredo Mantica of the Alleanza Nazionale party allied to Berlusconi told IPS. Mantica is expected to take a leading position in the new government.

"Living in Milan, I know how much the northern population is worried about illegal migrants and the growing rate of criminality; they have repaid the League which based its electoral campaign on these issues," he said.

"Their (the Northern League's) message is strong...you probably haven't seen that in Rome, but their campaign posters here feature a Lakota Native American with his head-dress and with the text 'They were also subjected to immigration and now they live on reserves! Think about it'."

A recent poll conducted by the League in three northern provinces indicates that 40 percent of residents see immigrants as a threat to law and order. Forced removals are frequent in the north-east.

Mantica says proliferation of Roma illegal camps on the city periphery has exacerbated residents' concerns about crime and other problems blamed on illegal immigration, and the vote was an expression of these concerns.

Berlusconi now has to depend on Northern League support. "Yes, Northern League is not an easy ally, because of its radical views and the sometimes excessive tone they use," Mantica said. "But we have been governing together in the Lombardia region the last 12 years, and I know by experience that effective collaboration is possible."

Berlusconi has already indicated some League representatives who will take some key institutional and government positions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


A Tale of Two Justices (Linda Greenhouse, Autumn ­2007, Green Bag)

[Harry] Blackmun traversed the ideological spectrum to become the Court’s most liberal member by the time he retired in 1994. Is a similar ideological journey in store for Chief Justice ­Roberts?

Substantial recent scholarship suggests that the answer is a resounding no, writes Linda Greenhouse, the Supreme Court corres­pondent for The New York Times. ­Modern-era Republican-­appointed justices who came from outside Washington have drifted to the left on the bench, while those who were already Washington insiders with service in the executive branch when they were ap­pointed to the Court stayed put on the ­liberal-­conservative spectrum. Chief Justice Earl Warren, considered a conservative when he moved from California after his appointment by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953, issued some of the landmark liberal rulings of the 20th century, including Brown v. Board of Education (1954). By contrast, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, elevated to the Court from service at high levels in the Justice Department, never veered from his conservative ­views.

Why? A move in ­mid­life to such a prominent position in Washington, an unfamiliar place and culture, is a profound personal disruption that fosters receptivity to new ideas and influences, Green­house thinks. Working in the executive branch in Washing­ton, by con­trast, is the “prod­uct of a process of self­selection and political ­dues ­paying that both reinforces and demonstrates loyalty to a set of principles.”

April 14, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 PM


Rash or Rational?: Dueling economists take to the pen to debate an age-old question: Are we dumb or smart? (Roger Lowenstein May 2008, Forbes)

For Thaler and Sunstein, authors of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, it is obvious that people, if they’re not dumb, are at least poorly wired for making some of life’s most important decisions.

Most folks do a good job of picking out an ice cream flavor because, after all, everyone knows what chocolate tastes like—and if you don’t want chocolate, you can always order a different flavor. Plus, feedback is prompt; you’ll know immediately whether you like your choice or not. But choosing how (or whether) to treat prostate cancer is different, because the consequences of what you decide are both unfamiliar and uncertain, and the feedback is long delayed. When possible, people will simply avoid weighing the choices and do whatever the doctor tells them.

This is why default options govern our fates. How much money do you set aside for your 401(k) plan, and what do you invest it in? Most likely, you apportion funds at whatever rate and asset blend your company started you with. Call it a quirk, but people are hardwired to favor the status quo. Here is another quirk: Most folks are predisposed to favor immediate gains, such as eating ice cream, over deferred ones.

Thaler and Sunstein argue for little “nudges” to provoke people into overcoming their faulty human wiring. The little beep you hear when you fail to buckle a seat belt is a good example. Similarly, when A.T.M.'s remind us to take our cards, they are giving us a nudge without which we are maddeningly likely to leave our cards behind. Humans, the authors observe, are susceptible to “postcompletion” errors. Once we finish a primary task, we are apt to forget the subsidiary one, a fact that’s self-evident to anyone who has driven away from a gas station without replacing the gas cap.

The authors recommend improving the “choice architecture” for a wide variety of everyday situations so that we are nudged in the right direction: smaller plates in cafeterias; plain-English descriptions of mortgage options; stoves with the knobs in two rows of two rather than a single row of four, so that the human eye can automatically infer which knob corresponds to which burner. Sunstein and Thaler don’t want to force us—only to nudge us. But the premise of their so-called libertarian paternalism is that left to our own rather hapless devices, we would often make the wrong choice.

It's a particularly important idea as we move forward with the Third Way--HSAs, 401k's, Privatized SS, etc.--since you need to default people into maximal savings options, secure in the knowledge they'll stay there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 PM


The Great Cover-Up (Christopher Orlet, 4/10/2008, American Spectator)

Katyn is easily the equal of Wajda's great war films Canal and Ashes and Diamonds, and is doubtless the 81-year-old director's most personal work. Katyn, as every Pole knows, was the village near Smolensk, where in 1940, more than 21,000 Polish officers were massacred in the surrounding forest by the Soviet NKVD (for Poles NKVD stood for "Nie wiadomo kiedy wroce do domu," or "Impossible to tell when I will return home"). Partly this an act of revenge for the Bolsheviks' embarrassing defeat in the 1920 war, and partly to eliminate the Polish intellectual elite or any one else that might resist the implementation of Communism and Soviet occupation.

The rest of the story is not as well known as it should be, save to Poles and the better historians: The Germans invade Russia, find and unearth mass graves near Katyn, and use this discovery as a propaganda tool to turn the Poles and the West against the Soviets. At length the Red Army gains the upper hand and drives the Wehrmacht back to the River Oder, while they unearth the graves yet again, this time blaming the atrocity on the Nazis. While most Poles knew better, the British government parroted the Soviet line during the Nuremberg Trials. And there it stood. Until Gorbachev in 1990 acknowledged the atrocity, Poles who attempted to blame the Soviets quickly disappeared. Today, under V. Putin, the Russian government seems to be backtracking. As Anne Appelbaum reported in the New York Review of Books, following the film's release last year a government-owned Russian newspaper declared that Soviet culpability for Katyn was "not obvious," and questioned the sincerity of Gorbachev's admission and the reliability of archival publications.

I say this is Wajda's most personal film because the director's own father Jakub, a Polish Army captain, was one of those murdered in the forest at Katyn. Wajda knew the story "had to be told" on film, completely and honestly, but the director also knew this would have to wait until there was enough emotional distance between himself and what Poles call "the Katyn lie." And obviously there could be no such film as long as Poland remained under the Soviet Union's boot. Finally, he was waiting for a script he felt did justice to the memory of the Katyn dead. He found it finally in the book "Postmortem: The Katyn Story" by Andrzej Mularczyk. Mularczyk's book (and the screenplay he helped write) is the story of the aftermath of the massacre, and the Soviets' lies and cover-ups that those who survived the war were forced to live -- and in some instances die -- with. [...]

The reason for this want of anti-Soviet films has been well documented in Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley's Hollywood Party: How Communism Seduced the American Film Industry in the 1930s and 1940s. The 1930s and '40s, writes Billingsley, saw thick veins of Communist influence running through the Hollywood studio system. Studio Stalinism, the underground movement to smuggle Communist ideology into American cinema, found a surplus of useful idiots in Hollywood, many of them disillusioned with capitalism and enamored with the so-called Russian Experiment. Hollywood was then the equivalent of a one-party state, or, as screenwriter Budd Schulberg put it, the Communist Party "was the only game in town." The party's stratagem was surreptitiously to include five minutes of the Party line in every script, and such was the influence of the Communist Party USA that they were able to hire pro-Soviet story analysts to read incoming scripts, weeding out the anti-Communist material. Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo openly bragged that among the works kept from reaching the screen were Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon and The Yogi and the Commissar; Victor Kravchenko's I Chose Freedom; and James T. Farrell's Bernard Clare by James T. Farrell. (This couldn't have been easy, considering Sidney Kingsley's adaptation of Darkness at Noon had won the 1951 New York Drama Critics' Circle Award and the Tony Award for Best Play.) As Billingsley notes, it wasn't what the Party put into Hollywood films that mattered, but the anti-Communist, anti-Soviet material it kept out.

Robert Harris makes especially effective use of the Katyn cover-up in his novel, Enigma.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 PM


Walter Starkie and the Greatest Novel of All (David Gordon, 04/10/08, First Principles)

[Walter Starkie (1894–1976)] offered a perspective on the 1930s that has much to teach us today. To some extent, his view of that decade resembled Eric Voegelin’s, though the two were not acquainted. Popular accounts of the Spanish Civil War often portray it as a struggle between democracy and fascism, but for Starkie this ideological view radically distorted the facts. The Nationalist leaders, he maintained, were not pawns of Hitler and Mussolini but defenders of Spanish Spain who wished to avert a Communist takeover of their country. The Communist leader Dolores Ibárruri said in response to a fiery talk in the Spanish Parliament by the conservative Calvo Sotelo, “You have given your last speech.” A group of Republican Assault Guards assassinated Sotelo a few days later, and Starkie believed that had the conservatives not risen against the weak Republican regime, they would have been destroyed in a Communist revolution.

For intellectuals who supported the Republic, Starkie had no mercy. He had harsh words for Jacques Maritain, the great Catholic philosopher and onetime ally of the rightist Action Française, who, perhaps under the influence of his wife, opposed the Nationalist rising. Even Georges Bernanos did not escape censure, for what Starkie thought his biased account of Nationalist atrocities in Mallorca. “A nasty bit of stuff,” Starkie remarked. [...]

For him, Don Quixote was the greatest of all novels, and he stressed its influence on later writers. Laurence Sterne is an obvious case in point, and writers as different as Dickens and Dostoyevsky drew heavily from Cervantes. In part 2 of the novel, Cervantes has Don Quixote comment on false continuations of part 1; the device in which a novel refers to itself is a key theme in subsequent literature.

Fundamentally, Starkie maintained, Cervantes was a comic novelist. He was not an enemy of chivalry and the Middle Ages: rather, he poked gentle fun at them. Neither was it correct, as Américo Castro claimed, to view Cervantes as an apostle of the Enlightenment and an enemy of the Church. Castro appealed in support of his view to the famous episode in which Cervantes satirizes book burning; but Starkie noted that the Arabs also engaged in this practice, and the satire might be with equal justice directed against them.

More generally, Starkie preferred to Castro as a historian the more conservative Ramón Menendéz Pidal. He and Menendéz Pidal were friends, and Starkie prepared an English translation of his book debunking Bishop Las Casas. In this book, Menendéz argued that Las Casas’s claims of vast Indian massacres by the Spaniards were the product of mental pathology. Such a politically incorrect view could not be published in English, and Starkie blamed in particular the influential historian Lewis Hanke for blocking the book’s publication. Menendéz Pidal, who had written the book in his nineties, was quite upset by this.

The dominant theme of Don Quixote, in Starkie’s opinion, is that the initially idealistic Quixote becomes more realistic as the novel unfolds, while the realistic Sancho Panza moves in the direction of idealism. Eventually, the two figures converge and indeed can be considered as aspects of a single character. In this interpretation, he was influenced by his friend Miguel de Unamuno, whose book on the novel appeared in English translation as Our Lord Don Quixote. Starkie wrote an introduction to this edition. He also recommended to us the work of Joaquín Casalduero on symbolism in Cervantes, though this, he said, was suitable only for danced work. It is available only in Spanish.

Whether Starkie was right that Don Quixote was the greatest of all novels is a question that each reader must determine for himself. There is no better way for English speakers to do so that to read Starkie’s excellent translation.

Indeed, the greatness of Don Quijote lies in its rejection of the Enlightenment, the tragedy of the Don being not his "madness" but his descent into "sanity." It's also just enormously amusing that the first modern novel was post-modern.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 PM


How Benedict XVI Will Make History (George Weigel, April 14, 2008, Newsweek)

Modern popes deploy a distinctive form of power: the power of moral persuasion. Its effects are sometimes difficult to recognize.

Take John Paul II's epic pilgrimage to Poland in June 1979. Cold-war historians now recognize June 2–10, 1979, as a moment on which the history of our times pivoted. By igniting a revolution of conscience that gave birth to the Solidarity movement, John Paul II accelerated the pace of events that eventually led to the demise of European communism and a radically redrawn map in Eastern Europe. There were other actors and forces at work, to be sure; but that John Paul played a central role in the communist crackup, no serious student of the period doubts today.

In 1979, however, the effects of the moral and spiritual revolution John Paul triggered were hard for some to discern. On June 5, 1979, The New York Times concluded an editorial in these terms: "As much as the visit of John Paul II must reinvigorate and reinspire the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, it does not threaten the political order of the [Polish] nation or of Eastern Europe."

What accounts for this myopia? Granted, the Polish pope had not used the vocabulary normally associated with affairs of state: over nine days and 40-some addresses, John Paul II said not a word about politics, economics, the Polish communist regime or its masters in Moscow. Rather, he spoke of Poland's authentic history and deeply religious culture while summoning his people to a noble project: the restoration of their true identity. The message was received by those with ears to hear, and history changed as a result. (Including John Paul II's personal history, for the pope's success hardened the conviction in Moscow that something drastic had to be done about this meddlesome priest. The assassination attempt of May 13, 1981, followed in due course.)

Perhaps the deeper reason for missing the impact of John Paul II's "June 1979 moment" lies in the filters through which many people read history today. According to one such filter, religious and moral conviction is irrelevant to shaping the flow of contemporary history. They may give meaning to individual lives; but change history? Please. The world has outgrown that.

Or has it? The different personalities of John Paul II and Benedict XVI sometimes mask their shared (and unshakable) conviction that religious and moral ideas can redirect the course of human affairs. And that, in turn, suggests the possibility that Benedict XVI may have had his own "June 1979 moment"--a moment that was missed, or misunderstood, at the time.

That moment was the most controversial episode in Benedict XVI's pontificate: his Regensburg Lecture on faith and reason, delivered at his old German university on Sept. 12, 2006. By quoting a Byzantine emperor's sharp critique of Islam, Benedict XVI drew worldwide criticism. Others, however, including significant personalities in the complex worlds of Islam, took the pope's point about the dangers of faith detached from reason quite seriously. And over the ensuing 19 months, there have been potentially historic tectonic shifts going on, both within Islam and in the world of interreligious dialogue.

Benedict has received two open letters from Muslim leaders; the October 2007 letter, "An Open Word Between Us and You," proposed a new dialogue between Islam and the Vatican. That dialogue will now be conducted through a Catholic-Muslim Forum that will meet twice yearly, in Rome and in Amman, Jordan. The forum will address two issues that Benedict XVI has insisted be the focus of conversation: religious freedom, understood as a human right that everyone can grasp by reason, and the separation of religious and political authority in the modern state.

Perhaps even more important, given his influence in Sunni Islam, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia visited Benedict XVI in November 2007. Subsequently, the king announced his own interfaith initiative, aimed at drawing representatives of the three monotheistic faiths into a new conversation, and negotiations between the Holy See and Saudi Arabia opened on building the first Catholic church in the kingdom. (A new Catholic church, also the first of its kind, recently opened in Doha, Qatar.) Abdullah's voice was noticeably absent from the chorus of critics who charged Benedict XVI with "aggression" for baptizing Magdi Allam, a prominent Italian journalist and convert from Islam, in St. Peter's Basilica on March 22. That all of this has happened after Regensburg is, at the very least, suggestive.

In addition to reshaping the dialogue between Catholicism and Islam, Benedict XVI has made significant changes in the Vatican's intellectual approach to these volatile issues. Catholic veterans of the interreligious dialogue who did not press issues like religious freedom and reciprocity between the faiths have been replaced by scholars who believe that facing the hard questions helps support those Muslim reformers who are trying to find an authentic Islamic path to civility, tolerance and pluralism. Thus Benedict XVI has quietly put his pontificate behind the forces of Islamic reform--and may have found a crucial ally with a Saudi king who is wrestling with Wahhabi extremism in his own domain.

The pope is thinking in centuries here: a reformed Islam capable of living with religious and political pluralism could be an ally in the struggle against what Benedict once called the "dictatorship of relativism."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:50 PM


The Mask Slips (WILLIAM KRISTOL, 4/14/08, NY Times)

Look at the other claims he makes about those small-town voters.

Obama ascribes their anti-trade sentiment to economic frustration — as if there are no respectable arguments against more free-trade agreements. This is particularly cynical, since he himself has been making those arguments, exploiting and fanning this sentiment that he decries. Aren’t we then entitled to assume Obama’s opposition to Nafta and the Colombian trade pact is merely cynical pandering to frustrated Americans?

Then there’s what Obama calls “anti-immigrant sentiment.” Has Obama done anything to address it? It was John McCain, not Obama, who took political risks to try to resolve the issue of illegal immigration by putting his weight behind an attempt at immigration reform.

Furthermore, some concerns about unchecked and unmonitored illegal immigration are surely legitimate. Obama voted in 2006 (to take just one example) for the Secure Fence Act, which was intended to control the Mexican border through various means, including hundreds of miles of border fence. Was Obama then just accommodating bigotry?

As for small-town Americans’ alleged “antipathy to people who aren’t like them”: During what Obama considers the terrible Clinton-Bush years of economic frustration, by any measurement of public opinion polling or observed behavior, Americans have become far more tolerant and respectful of minorities who are not “like them.” Surely Obama knows this. Was he simply flattering his wealthy San Francisco donors by casting aspersions on the idiocy of small-town life?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:22 PM


Berlusconi heads to 3rd stint as Italy's prime minister (Reuters, The Associated Press, April 14, 2008)

The conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi was headed Monday evening for a return to power as prime minister of Italy, after the center-left leader conceded defeat in national elections.

Walter Veltroni, the center-left leader, said he had called Berlusconi to congratulate him because the result was clear, even though the final results were not in yet.

Pollsters' projections based on early results from the two-day election showed that the 71-year-old Berlusconi, a media magnate who was prime minister twice before, had a solid parliamentary lead in both the lower house and the Senate.

Then the Canadians, Germans, French, etc, go out and elect ever more pro-American governments.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:08 AM


110 best books: The perfect library: From classics and sci-fi to poetry, biographies and books that changed the world… we present the ultimate reading list. (Daily Telegraph, 06/04/2008


The Portrait of a Lady
Henry James

James's mastery of psychology has never been more elegantly expressed nor more gripping than in his tale of Isabel Archer, a young American in search of her destiny, and Gilbert Osmond, the ultimate cold fish and one of literature's most repellent villains.

A la recherche du temps perdu

A novel whose every sentence can be a struggle to finish may sound forbidding, but this masterpiece of modernity, taking us into every nook and cranny of the narrator's fascinating mind, is worth all the effort.

James Joyce

Banned in Britain and America for its depiction of female masturbation, Joyce's Ulysses takes its scatological stand at the pinnacle of modernist literature. Lyrical and witty, its stream-of-consciousness narration deters many, but makes enraptured enthusiasts of others.

For Whom the Bell Tolls
Ernest Hemingway

A sparse, masculine, world-weary meditation on death, ideology and the savagery of war in general, and the Spanish civil war in particular.

Sword of Honour trilogy
Evelyn Waugh

A poignant, ironic study of the disintegration of aristocratic values in the face of blank bureaucracy and Second World War butchery, Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen and Unconditional Surrender are Waugh's crowning achievements.

The Ballad of Peckham Rye
Muriel Spark

Comic, satirical and ineffably odd, Spark's fifth novel introduces Dougal Douglas, ghost-writer, researcher, mysterious figure of Satanic magnetism and mayhem, to the upper working-class/ lower middle-class milieu of Peckham.

Rabbit series
John Updike

We first meet Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom in Rabbit, Run, as a boorish, unhappy former basketball jock who runs from (and to) his pregnant wife. The novels that follow cover 30 years and make up the great study of American manhood.

One Hundred Years of Solitude
Gabriel García Márquez

The greatest moment in magical realist fiction, García Márquez's passionate, humorous history of Macondo and its founding family, the Buendías, has the seductive power of myth.

Toni Morrison

Morrison brought to life a version of the slave narrative that has become a classic. Her tour de force of guilt, abandonment and revenge plays out against the background of pre-emancipation American life.

The Human Stain
Philip Roth

Roth's brilliant, angry dissection of race, disgrace and hypocrisy in Clinton-Lewinsky era America brings to a close his grand and meticulous American trilogy (American Pastoral, I Married a Communist).

And then you just poke out your eyes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:16 AM



Ironically, the party most vocal in supporting the Vatican's concerns for the sanctity of life is led by a former Communist and self-described "theist" who does not belong to any church.

Giuliano Ferrara, editor of the small-circulation but influential newspaper Il Foglio, started his explicitly antiabortion electoral list as an off-shoot of his campaign for a world-wide abortion "moratorium." Though he is not expected to win many votes, months of continuous coverage in his paper have raised awareness of the issue to perhaps the highest levels since the 1981 referendum that confirmed the legalization of abortion.

Church leaders have kept their distance from Mr. Ferrara's campaign, perhaps because they fear that a forthright push for prohibition could backfire, helping mobilize pro-abortion votes as it did in 1981.

Yet Mr. Ferrara's initiative is an example of the kind of alliance between Christians and sympathetic nonbelievers that Benedict argues is necessary for the spiritual revival of Europe and the West.

The Church can't have both.

The Atheist Urging Italy to Get Religion (RACHEL DONADIO, 4/06/08, NY Times)

He is Giuliano Ferrara, a Communist turned conservative who is Italy’s most operatic and most mercurial intellectual provocateur. A newspaper editor and former government minister, Mr. Ferrara is best known here as a television talk-show host. He combines the political theatrics of an Abbie Hoffman with the rhetorical flair of a William F. Buckley.

Italy’s political life has always been absurd, but Mr. Ferrara’s recent theatrics touch on something deeper. He is a cultural barometer, highly attuned to the desperation of the national mood. More than the real-politiking of the mainstream candidates, Mr. Ferrara, with his insistence on ideas, taps into Italian anxieties about the future of Europe, the loosening of national identities, the rise of immigration, the decline of Christian belief.

In his latest incarnation, Mr. Ferrara is running for Parliament on a small slate devoted to a single issue: “pro-life,” which he defines loosely. An avowed atheist and nonbeliever, he has called for a “moratorium,” but not a ban, on abortion, to call attention to the value of life.

“I’d like to win, it would be extraordinary,” he said in a recent interview here in Rome. “But it’s not the central thing. I’m a man in search of ideas, not votes. That’s only a means.”

Mr. Ferrara’s campaign is almost certain to fail in the polls, but his rallies have elicited an outpouring of support — and some protests. In Bologna last week, young protesters pelted him with tomatoes as the riot police held back crowds. Still, Mr. Ferrara has helped put social issues on the table — much to the annoyance of the front-runners, who fear they’ll polarize the electorate. Mr. Berlusconi, for one, has declined to include Mr. Ferrara’s list in his center-right coalition.

Mr. Ferrara, a longtime player in Italy’s political tragicomedy, was most recently the host of a popular prime-time talk show called “8 ½.” He gave up the show to campaign, but remains editor in chief of Il Foglio, the gadfly newspaper he founded in 1996 with seed money from Mr. Berlusconi.

The paper takes an eclectic line rare in Italy, at once neo-con, theo-con and civil libertarian; it is pro-America, pro-Israel, pro-Iraq war, intent on limiting the power of prosecutors and friendly to the Vatican.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:49 AM

MAKE YOURSELF RIGHT AT HOME (via Bryan Francoeur):

Bush greeting pope in big way (AP, 4/14/08)

[P]resident Bush is pulling out all the stops: driving out to a suburban military base to meet Pope Benedict XVI's plane, bringing a giant audience to the South Lawn and hosting a fancy East Room dinner.

These are all firsts.

Bush has never before given a visiting leader the honor of picking him up at the airport. In fact, no president has done so at Andrews Air Force Base, the typical landing spot for modern leaders.

A crowd of up to 12,000 is due at the White House on Wednesday morning for the pope's official, pomp-filled arrival ceremony. It will feature the U.S. and Holy See anthems, a 21-gun salute, and the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps. Both men will make remarks before their Oval Office meeting and a send-off for his popemobile down Pennsylvania Avenue.

The White House crowd will be the largest of Bush's presidency. It even beats the audience last spring for Queen Elizabeth II, which numbered about 7,000.

The evening festivities will mark the first time the Bushes have put on a high-profile meal in honor of someone who isn't even a guest. Wednesday is the pontiff's 81st birthday, and the menu celebrates his German heritage with Bavarian-style food.

But Benedict's prayer service that evening with U.S. bishops at a famed Washington basilica preclude him from coming to the dinner, according to the White House. Catholic leaders will be there instead.

The president explained the special treatment -- particularly the airport greeting.

"One, he speaks for millions. Two, he doesn't come as a politician; he comes as a man of faith," Bush told the EWTN Global Catholic Network in an interview aired Friday. He added that he wanted to honor Benedict's conviction that "there's right and wrong in life, that moral relativism has a danger of undermining the capacity to have more hopeful and free societies."

The Pope is going to feel like he's bathing in mustard.

MORE (via Daniel Merriman):
A Catholic Wind in the White House (Daniel Burke, April 13, 2008, Washington Post)

Shortly after Pope Benedict XVI's election in 2005, President Bush met with a small circle of advisers in the Oval Office. As some mentioned their own religious backgrounds, the president remarked that he had read one of the new pontiff's books about faith and culture in Western Europe.

Save for one other soul, Bush was the only non-Catholic in the room. But his interest in the pope's writings was no surprise to those around him. As the White House prepares to welcome Benedict on Tuesday, many in Bush's inner circle expect the pontiff to find a kindred spirit in the president. Because if Bill Clinton can be called America's first black president, some say, then George W. Bush could well be the nation's first Catholic president.

This isn't as strange a notion as it sounds. Yes, there was John F. Kennedy. But where Kennedy sought to divorce his religion from his office, Bush has welcomed Roman Catholic doctrine and teachings into the White House and based many important domestic policy decisions on them.

"I don't think there's any question about it," says Rick Santorum, former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and a devout Catholic, who was the first to give Bush the "Catholic president" label. "He's certainly much more Catholic than Kennedy."

Bush attends an Episcopal church in Washington and belongs to a Methodist church in Texas, and his political base is solidly evangelical. Yet this Protestant president has surrounded himself with Roman Catholic intellectuals, speechwriters, professors, priests, bishops and politicians. These Catholics -- and thus Catholic social teaching -- have for the past eight years been shaping Bush's speeches, policies and legacy to a degree perhaps unprecedented in U.S. history.

"I used to say that there are more Catholics on President Bush's speechwriting team than on any Notre Dame starting lineup in the past half-century," said former Bush scribe -- and Catholic -- William McGurn.

Bush has also placed Catholics in prominent roles in the federal government and relied on Catholic tradition to make a public case for everything from his faith-based initiative to antiabortion legislation. He has wedded Catholic intellectualism with evangelical political savvy to forge a powerful electoral coalition.

"There is an awareness in the White House that the rich Catholic intellectual tradition is a resource for making the links between Christian faith, religiously grounded moral judgments and public policy," says Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic priest and editor of the journal First Things who has tutored Bush in the church's social doctrines for nearly a decade.

He's also more Jewish than Joe Lieberman.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 AM


US, Iran in Secret Discussions on Nuclear Program: Report (AFP, 4/14/08)

The United States and Iran have been conducting secret back-channel discussions on Tehran's nuclear program and frozen relations between the two countries, The Independent reported Monday.

The British newspaper quotes former US under secretary of state Thomas Pickering as saying that a group of former US diplomats and foreign policy experts had been meeting with Iranian academics and policy advisers "in a lot of different places, although not in the US or Iran" for the past five years.

"Some of the Iranians were connected to official institutions inside Iran," Pickering told the paper.

US and Iran holding 'secret' talks on nuclear programme (Anne Penketh, 14 April 2008, Independent)
The Luers-Pickering-Walsh initiative gives Iran the opportunity to prove that its nuclear intentions are peaceful by yielding to the Iranians' key demand for a uranium enrichment programme on Iranian soil. The enrichment activities would take place under the supervision of a jointly managed international consortium. The plan is the most detailed of its kind since 2005. Conditions to be negotiated with Iran would include:

*a UN Security Council resolution authorising the arrangement and specifying that if Iran breaks the agreement, member states would be authorised to take punitive action;

*Iran would be barred from producing highly enriched uranium, which is weapons grade fuel, or reprocessed plutonium, which can be an alternative route to producing a bomb;

*Iran would implement the stringent inspection measures in the Additional Protocol to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty;

*Iran would commit itself to building only "safe" light-water reactors.

Iran would get to fold but not directly to the Great Satan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 AM


McCain's Electoral College Math (Richard Baehr, 4/14/08, Real Clear Politics)

The Republicans have landed on the one candidate in their party ideally suited for the race this year, with broad appeal among Democrats and independents, a veteran and war hero during a time of war, a candidate with a reputation for being a straight talker (and not talking down to voters, or outright lying to them), and with real strength in larger swing states. McCain is also benefiting from the fact that the Democrats continue to snipe at each other rather than at him, and each candidate has exposed weaknesses in the other, which become ammunition for McCain in the fall campaign.

McCain opens up the map to a broader Electoral College victory than George Bush achieved in 2000 and 2004, particularly against Barack Obama. Though Bush won 30 states in 2000 and 31 states 4 years later, the loss of any state Bush won in 2000 would have given the election to Al Gore, and the shift of 60,000 votes in Ohio in 2004 would have resulted in a John Kerry victory. [...]

At the start of this seemingly interminable Presidential campaign, Democrats saw a very favorable Electoral College map. With Hillary Clinton as the likely nominee, Democrats believed they could turn many states from red to blue, including Ohio (20), Florida (27), Iowa (7), New Mexico (5), Nevada (5), Colorado (9), and possibly Arizona (11), Virginia (13), West Virginia (5), and Missouri (11). But Clinton is unlikely to get the nomination.

Barack Obama is a far weaker candidate in many of these targeted states, but in particular in Ohio, Florida., Missouri, Arkansas, and West Virginia. McCain takes Arizona off the table against either nominee. Obama is polling better than Clinton in the competitive southwestern states and Iowa, as well as in Oregon, but trails badly in Virginia, which has elected a string of Democrats in recent years to statewide office. Some Democratic Party officials have written off Florida if Obama is the nominee (in some surveys he trails in the state by 10% or more, though he only trails by 4% in the Rasmussen survey). The Rasmussen survey shows McCain with a 7% lead over Obama in Ohio. Obama lost badly in that state's Democratic primary (by 10% to Clinton) winning only 5 of 88 counties. Now having insulted rural voters for their attachment to guns and God, the state has become even less friendly turf for him.

The Electoral math looks this way: if Florida and Ohio are safe for McCain, and Virginia and Missouri are too, as they now all appear to be, then McCain has a base of 260 Electoral College votes of the 270 he needs to win. He would need to only win10 from among the states Bush won last time that are in play this year: Colorado (currently tied), New Mexico (3 point Obama lead), Iowa (4 point Obama lead) and Nevada (4 point Obama lead), and several tempting blue states in which McCain is currently competitive: Michigan (18), Pennsylvania (21), New Jersey (15) Wisconsin (10), Minnesota (10), Oregon (7), and New Hampshire (4), among them.

Gingrich compares Obama to Dukakis in '88 (Ralph Z. Hallow, April 14, 2008, Washington Times)
Both the Illinois senator and the Massachusetts governor were widely seen early in the campaign to be different kinds of Democrats and held big poll leads on that basis, Mr. Gingrich noted. But last week's San Francisco fundraiser, in which Mr. Obama blamed voting for religion and gun rights on bitterness over economics, shows that the Democratic front-runner in 2008 to be as out-of-touch as the Democratic nominee in 1988, the former speaker said.

"The real Obama shows up in San Francisco," Mr. Gingrich told The Washington Times. "There is a Dukakis-scale second Obama who keeps creeping out from behind the disciplined performer" who has wowed audiences on the campaign stump.

In May 1988, Mr. Dukakis led George H.W. Bush, the Republican nominee, by 19 percentage points,but lost by almost eight points that November after giving repeated examples — bragging about his ACLU membership and a disastrous photo-op in a tank — that made Mr. Bush's case that Mr. Dukakis was a card-carrying liberal elitist far removed from the beliefs, desires and principles of working Americans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Misreading "The Deer Hunter" (G. Tracy Mehan, III, 4/14/2008, American Spectator)

SENATOR OBAMA'S DISPARAGING remarks about religious people in small towns is really a puzzler, given his own testimony to his journey of faith. His own experience is counter-factual to his view of religious belief as a mere psychological response to bitterness in small towns.

In some cases it may be that embittering experience leads a person to faith, but that experience usually helps a person lance the boil of bitterness through faith, hope and charity. If religion is an important part of a person's life, it hopefully remains so in good times and bad, transforming one's being through his or her relationship with God.

Pennsylvania and other manufacturing states suffering hard times are regions that have always had large communities of religious people and very diverse ethnic populations. Again, this was the case long before the current economic downturn of the last two decades.

What has failed Senator Obama is his social and moral imagination with respect to people in other walks of life, far removed from his own. We all have this failing to some degree. But given the Senator's self-evident social skills and his self-professed goal of unity or changing our politics, his comments in San Francisco were truly stunning -- and disappointing.

Talking about unity and change is one thing, but the contradiction in Senator Obama's program is that he fails to grasp the importance traditional modes of living for folks outside the hot house of far-left Democratic politics. He cannot even sound sympathetic when abortion or the right to life comes up on the campaign trail, which even Hillary Clinton tries to do from time to time.

Senator Obama very much needs to discover his moral intuition on social and cultural issues to rival his keen sense of racial matters.

Given his own stated view of faith as a function of bitterness and the fact that his pastor preaches little but bitterness, what reason do we have to believe that he misspoke or failed to reflect his own experience?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


The Obama States of America (Philip Klein, 4/14/2008, American Spectator)

The use of the verb "cling to," which negatively connotes a desperate emotional attachment to something, was a particularly galling way of belittling people's commitment to the Second Amendment and the importance of religion in their lives.

In his book The Audacity of Hope, Obama wrote that his fellow progressives "need to take faith seriously not simply to block the religious right but to engage all persons of faith in the larger project of American renewal."

But last Sunday, in a moment of candor, he put religion in the same negative context as xenophobia and hatred of immigrants. Furthermore, his dismissal of "anti-trade sentiment" exposes the phoniness of his protectionist promises to voters in Ohio.

Mea culpa--I was having so much fun with the rest of it I skipped over the part where he dismissed his own anti-trade rhetoric as exploitative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


How Margaret Thatcher went from 'Madam Prime Minister' to 'Dear Margaret': Mrs Thatcher's unique bond with Ronald Reagan defined her premiership (John O'Sullivan, 4/14/08, Daily Telegraph)

It was Reagan who first set out to cultivate Thatcher, rather than the other way round. They met in London shortly after she became Tory leader in 1975 and found they agreed on most political topics. But it was Reagan who thereafter kept the friendship going by sending her regular reports of his political activities.

Whether out of genuine affection or long-range political calculation - probably a mixture of both - Reagan wanted a best friend in European politics.

Once both were in power, of course, the balance of friendship changed considerably. It was now in Thatcher's (and Britain's) interest to have such a close friend in the White House. And Reagan delivered handsomely on his promise of partnership from the first.

When Thatcher arrived in Washington in early 1981 on a state visit, she was in the depths both of unpopularity and of economic recession. Reagan's senior economic advisers wanted the president to distance himself and his economic programme from Thatcherism - and said so publicly. Instead the president gave a ringing speech of support for his British partner and declared that both they and their economic programmes would be "home safe and soon enough".

That looks far-sighted today. But it was a risky and brave commitment in the dark days of 1981 - and therefore a telling proof of the reliability of Reagan's friendship.

Soon after this trip "Mr President" and "Madam Prime Minister" were replaced by "Dear Ron" and "Dear Margaret". Thatcher and Reagan had forged a partnership over the whole range of policy that lasted, with occasional disagreements but no fundamental breach, until January 11, 1989.

What enabled it to work so well? First, Reagan sincerely liked Thatcher. He admired her Boadicea act when she was working with him, and he was amused by it when she was opposing him. On one latter such occasion he took a phone call from her during a Cabinet meeting. As she complained loudly down the line, he held up the phone so that his colleagues could hear her.

"Isn't she marvellous," he said.

Thatcher, for her part, was careful always to be respectful to the president even when she was bitterly disagreeing with him. In his indispensable study of the Reagan-Thatcher partnership, Geoffrey Smith describes her technique: "She would employ the device of turning to the Secretary of State or the National Security Adviser and saying 'Al' or 'Bill' or 'Bud' - I just don't understand your logic on this matter." Reagan saw that she was avoiding a confrontation with him personally. This allowed him to reconsider his policy without looking as if he was retreating under fire. As well as being amused by this, he appreciated it.

It's sort of futile examining the personal differences and trying to make a mystery of their friendship given that the same exact thing happened with Churchill and FDR and Blair and Bush. The Anglospherics make the relationship, not the men.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


When it comes to Tiger, everyone is throwing in the towel: Players on the PGA Tour are conceding to the sport's top star even before tournaments begin. (Bill Plaschke, April 10, 2008, LA Times)

Welcome to the Masters, where the world's best golfers have gathered this week to carry on a tradition like none other.

Kissing up to Tiger.

Have you ever heard anything like it? In a sports world whose very pulse is pumped by the heartbeat of competition, would this happen anywhere else?

Tiger Woods showed up here this week reiterating his understandable belief that he can win this summer's golf Grand Slam.

Then his opponents -- exasperated gasp -- agreed with him.

"He has already won four majors in a row, so it's not an impossible feat," Phil Mickelson said this week. "I think it's doable."

Doable? Lefty, are you that dork-able?

You're Woods' biggest rival, yet you're going to concede him the entire World Series even before the season's first pitch?

The sponsors of our NCAA contest were so generous we'll have books left over for a Masters contest. Pick three golfers and we'll total their scores.

-The Masters (Britannica)

April 13, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:13 PM


Obama's Great Mistake, The "San Francisco Democrat" (David Paul Kuhn, 4/13/08, Real Clear Politics)

It's difficult to underestimate the enduring impact of Barack Obama's "bitter" remark. The day after John Kerry blurted that he "actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it" Vice President Dick Cheney ripped into the Democratic nominee and GOP strategists were already envisioning a new ad featuring the gaffe, intent on undercutting Kerry's character as a flip-flopper.

That week, four years ago, there were no banner headlines in major American newspapers declaring a turning point in the presidential race. Soon after the remark Kerry took a break from the campaign and skied at a resort in Idaho, a trip that added the air of elitism to Kerry's already sundered grit.

The Bush campaign had effectively won the campaign. It was only mid March. [...]

Obama has stood by the remark. He has said that he could have been more rhetorically tactful -- a defense reminiscent of Kerry's explanation.

Political attacks work when they reinforce real perceptions. They become narratives when built on enough anecdotes. And those attacks can become critical when they seem to confirm long-held partisan stereotypes. Obama has just provided what may prove to be the keystone in the arc of Republican attacks.

Of course, you'd have to actually be in touch with America to realize how much damage you're doing yourself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:10 PM


Separatists (Richard Halloran, 4/13/08, Real Clear Politics)

The editor of a Chinese trade magazine sipped her tea one afternoon several years ago in a Shanghai tea shop and said: "I think Taiwan should be part of China but I don't think it's worth fighting over." She went on: "But if we give up Taiwan, then Tibet will try to break away and we will have separatists among the Uyghur's in western China and among the Mongols in Inner Mongolia and the Koreans in Manchuria."

She lamented: "If we let them all go, what will happen to my country?"

It will devolve into a more natural nation. But that's inevitable anyway.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:08 PM


Gaza's Unemployed Have Handouts or Hamas: Factory Closings Under Israeli Siege Have Strengthened Islamist Group, Critics Say (Griff Witte, 4/13/08, Washington Post)

Ten months into an Israeli siege that followed the Hamas takeover of Gaza last June, 90 percent of the factories that once existed in this narrow coastal strip have closed, driving tens of thousands of people out of work. Those who lose their jobs face a stark choice: stay at home and survive on international aid, or try to work for the only employer around that's still hiring -- Hamas.

Although Israel intended for the siege to weaken Hamas, factory owners, workers and international aid officials in Gaza say the rise in unemployment and the dwindling influence of the private sector have had the opposite effect, allowing the group to consolidate its control over the lives of Gaza's 1.5 million people.

"There's no one else to give jobs but Hamas. It's crazy," said Ammar Yazegi, 25, whose family has owned a soda factory in Gaza since 1954. "Hamas is going through a golden period -- total control of Gaza without any restrictions. The siege has saved them."

A strong Hamas in a unified Palestine serves Israel's interests, even if they're achieving it by accident.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:06 PM


'Progress signs' in Afghanistan (BBC, 4/14/08)

Brigadier Andrew MacKay, commander of 52 Infantry Brigade, returned to the UK after six months heading operations in the Helmand province.

His troops were responsible for recapturing the strategic town of Musa Q'alah from the Taleban.

He said: "There's a greater level of security, people are returning to their towns."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:04 PM


Tales from Margaret Thatcher's foreign travels (Charles Powell, 14/04/2008, Daily Telegraph)

The strong and unyielding stand against communism, in partnership with Ronald Reagan, which led to the West's triumph in the Cold War; victory in the Falklands; getting "our money" back from Europe; extricating Rhodesia from illegality to independence; standing by our American allies over Libya when others turned their backs; ensuring a resolute response to Saddam's invasion of Kuwait.

All these turned her into a heroic figure, the Iron Lady of legend. She did not win all her battles, with German reunification the prime example.

And she fought some unnecessary ones, mainly with her colleagues in Government. But she indisputably raised Britain's international profile: and whatever the pained expressions and snooty comments of old-style diplomats, she advanced Britain's interests. In the simplest terms, we were taken a lot more seriously in 1990 than in 1980.

She was never a diplomat and proud not to be one. She had no time for courtly phrases and carefully drafted compromises.

She was ready to go toe to toe with any world leader from Gorbachev to Deng Xiaoping. She had the huge advantage of being unembarrassable - a quality not always shared by her Private Secretary.

I recall a meeting with President Mitterand in Paris during which the President took her for a stroll in the Élysée garden.

I sat down in the sun for a blissful moment of peace with my French opposite number, only to be shaken from my reverie by the sight of Mitterand hurrying back, clutching a blood-stained handkerchief to himself. For a moment of panic I thought: She's gone too far this time, she's bitten him!

It turned out to have been an over-enthusiastic puppy which did the damage, but it was a nasty moment.

She was deeply suspicious of the Foreign Office, believing that its tribal culture led it to give too much weight to the foreigners' and too little to Britain's interests, as well as having its own agenda on European integration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 PM


Hey, Obama boys: Back off already!: Young women are growing increasingly frustrated with the fanatical support of Barack and gleeful bashing of Hillary. (Rebecca Traister, 4/14/08, Salon)

Young people are voting for Obama; Clinton is a troubling candidate for many women and men; and there is a sense that younger women feel more distant from second-wave feminist leaders than ever before.

Yet some female voters have begun to express nearly as much disenchantment with the Obama-mania of their peers as with their Clinton-promoting mothers. And even while they voice dismay over the retro tone of the pro-Clinton feminist whine, a growing number of young women are struggling to describe a gut conviction that there is something dark and funky, and probably not so female-friendly, running below the frantic fanaticism of their Obama-loving compatriots.

I began reporting this story in part because, as a 32-year-old woman who is more liberal than either candidate, and who was quite torn until Super Tuesday, I had found myself increasingly defensive of Clinton in the face of the Obama worship that rules the mostly white, liberal, well-educated circles in which I work and travel. I was confused by the saucer-eyed, unquestioning devotion shown by my formerly cynical cohorts, especially when it was accompanied, as it often was, by a sharp renunciation of Hillary Clinton, whose policies are so similar to her opponent's. I was horrified by the frequent proclamations that if Obama did not win the nomination, his supporters would abstain from voting in the general election, or even vote for John McCain. I was suspicious of the cultlike commitment to an undeniably brilliant and inspiring man –- but one whom even his wife calls "just a man."

I am a loud feminist and a longtime Clinton skeptic who was suddenly feeling that I needed to rationalize, apologize for, or even just stay quiet about my increasing unease with the way Clinton was being discussed. Meanwhile, I was getting e-mails from men I didn't know well who approached me as a go-to feminist to whom they could express their hatred of Hillary and their anger at her staying in the race -- an anger that seemed to build with every one of her victories. One of my closest girlfriends, an Obama voter, told me of a drink she'd had with a politically progressive man who made a series of legitimate complaints about Clinton's policies before adding that when he hears the senator's voice, he's overcome by an urge to punch her in the face.

A few weeks ago, my friend Becca O'Brien, a lawyer and policy advisor in New Orleans, visited me. She told me about her experience on the morning of the Louisiana primary. O'Brien had been openly torn between Obama and Clinton, and perhaps as a result, she received five phone calls from male friends around the country, urging her to vote for Obama. They were, she understood, just campaigning for their candidate; they didn't realize how many calls she was receiving, or that taken together, they were making her furious. As O'Brien saw it, "The presumption was that I was undecided because I was a young woman, and they could talk some sense into me if they were the last ones I spoke to before I went into the voting booth."

O'Brien told me she'd heard similar reports of irritation from female friends around the country. I asked her to send them my way, and I put out feelers on my own. Not since I wrote a story about the book "He's Just Not That Into You" have I received such a tremendous response.

The women who contacted me were almost exclusively well-educated and professional, a culturally and politically elite demographic, to be sure.

The rules of political correctness are so complicated it's no wonder even good little liberal elites fall afoul of them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:49 PM


Kenyan Rivals Reach Accord on Makeup of Cabinet (Stephanie McCrummen, 4/14/08, Washington Post)

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and his political rival Raila Odinga agreed on the details of a 40-member cabinet Sunday, implementing a power-sharing deal they reached in February. [...]

With international pressure mounting, Kibaki on Sunday announced the new cabinet and named Odinga as prime minister. Odinga will oversee and manage the cabinet.

"It's not a bad deal," said Odinga spokesman Salim Lone. "It's an enormous relief."

The arrangement evenly divides the cabinet, with Kibaki's Party of National Unity getting the three heftiest ministries, security, finance and constitutional affairs. Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement gets planning, public service, local government and roads, among others.

Former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan, who mediated the power-sharing deal, is expected to attend the swearing-in ceremony Thursday.

Congo's 'Change of Mentality': Provincial Officials Seek to End Graft, Mismanagement (Stephanie McCrummen, 4/14/08, Washington Post)
[Mid-level government administrator named Vincent-Francois] Yangala's new sense of propriety reflects a monumental challenge facing this central African country the size of Western Europe, which has only 3,000 miles of paved roads, no mail system, no public school system and where some villagers report that they have not even seen a government official in 15 years.

Following the adoption of a new constitution in 2005 and the first multi-party elections in decades, Congo is aiming to decentralize government from the capital of Kinshasa to newly elected legislatures in 11 provinces. More fundamentally, Congolese people are hoping to replace an entrenched culture of corruption with something novel: Good government.

The stakes are high. Graft and mismanagement have left the Congolese among the poorest people in the world. But with a years-long civil war for the most part over and a democratically elected government in place, investors are beginning to return to the resource-rich country.

...but it does End.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:45 PM


Hurricane Expert Reassesses Link to Warming (Andrew C. Revkin, 4/12/08, NY Times: Dot Earth)

A fresh study by a leading hurricane researcher has raised new questions about how hurricane strength and frequency might, or might not, be influenced by global warming. Eric Berger of the Houston Chronicle nicely summarized the research on Friday.

The research is important because the lead author is Kerry Emanuel, the M.I.T. climate scientist who in the 1980’s foresaw a rise in hurricane intensity in a human-warmed world and in 2005, just a few weeks before Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans, asserted in a Nature paper that he had found statistical evidence linking rising hurricane energy and warming.

That work was supported by some subsequent studies, but refuted by others. Despite the uncertainty in the science, hurricanes quickly became a potent icon in environmental campaigns, as well as in “An Inconvenient Truth,” the popular climate documentary featuring former Vice President Al Gore. The message was that global warming was no longer a looming issue and was exacting a deadly toll now.

The new study, in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is hardly definitive in its own right, essentially raising more questions than it resolves. But it definitely rolls back Dr. Emanuel’s sense of confidence about a recent role for global warming.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:40 PM


Iraq Fires Policemen, Soldiers: 1,300 Refused to Fight During Clashes (Sholnn Freeman, 4/14/08, Washington Post)

Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said more than 900 soldiers and policemen, including 37 senior police officers, were fired in Basra, where Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched a security crackdown March 25. [...]

Almost from the start, the Basra crackdown ran into trouble from the Mahdi Army militia, which is loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Mahdi Army fighters ignored an order by Maliki to turn over their weapons and began challenging Iraqi forces in militia-controlled neighborhoods. [...]

"The situation in our neighborhood is bad," said Raad Abbas, a Basra policeman who lives in the district. "The Iraqi army has tried to get in, but the Mahdi Army fighters are banning them."

The problems in Basra have raised questions about the preparedness of Iraq's military and police, which the United States has spent more than $22 billion to build up.

They can't be prepared to fight fellow Shi'a.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 PM


What Clinton wishes she could say JOHN F. HARRIS & JIM VANDEHEI, 4/13/08, Politico)

In fact, the Democratic race has not been especially rough by historical standards. What’s more, our conversations with Democrats who speak to the Clintons make plain that their public comments are only the palest version of what they really believe: that if Obama is the nominee, a likely Democratic victory would turn to a near-certain defeat.

Far from a no-holds-barred affair, the Democratic contest has been an exercise in self-censorship.

Rip off the duct tape and here is what they would say: Obama has serious problems with Jewish voters (goodbye Florida), working-class whites (goodbye Ohio) and Hispanics (goodbye, New Mexico).

Republicans will also ruthlessly exploit openings that Clinton — in the genteel confines of an intraparty contest — never could. Top targets: Obama’s radioactive personal associations, his liberal ideology, his exotic life story, his coolly academic and elitist style.

This view has been an article of faith among Clinton advisers for months, but it got powerful new affirmation last week with Obama’s clumsy ruminations about why “bitter” small-town voters turn to guns and God.

There’s nothing to say that the Clintonites are right about Obama’s presumed vulnerabilities. But one argument seems indisputably true: Obama is on the brink of the Democratic nomination without having had to confront head-on the evidence about his general election challenges.

That is why some friends describe Clinton as seeing herself on a mission to save Democrats from themselves.

Ms Clinton has done neither her party nor her country a service by basically giving Senator Obama a pass. Presidential nomination contests need not last as long as they do, but the one purpose served is that they generally expose candidates weaknesses in the long run. It's a catastrophe for the Democrats that his are coming to the fore only after the nomination is settled.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 PM


Obama gaffe undermines Dem outreach (DAVID PAUL KUHN, 4/13/08, Politico)

[T]he Illinois senator’s controversial remarks about “bitter” small-town Pennsylvanians who “cling” to religion and other cultural stances out of economic despair—comments immediately characterized by New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and McCain as condescending—have suddenly reintroduced an unwelcome issue, undermining the progress made by a concerted Democratic party outreach to religious voters and reinvigorating criticism that the effort to woo religious voters is more rhetoric than substance.

“The danger, frankly, is that Democrats will be perceived as disingenuous,” said Laura Olson, a Clemson University professor who focuses on politics and religion. “What I really would be concerned about there is that Republicans could really spin this and they could say Obama is a Marxist. That’s what Marx said, it’s the opiate of the masses.”

Democrats’ newfound openness on faith began as an attempt to close the party’s disadvantage with regular church attendees. Democratic nominees have lost these voters by double digits, with the exception of 1992, since Ronald Reagan won the presidency.

This so-called “God gap” consumed Democrats following the 2004 presidential election, as George W. Bush won eight in ten of those who voted on “moral values” and the GOP advantage with weekly churchgoers soared to more than 20 percentage points.

That stark divide is at the root of Sunday’s “Compassion Forum,” which comes just nine days before the April 22 Pennsylvania primary, the second event of the Democratic primary season to feature a prominent discussion of the role of religion in politics.

...that they think this is the dealbreaker, not his support for infanticide, aborting his own grandchildren, and his black nationalist church.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Iraq needs an ownership surge (Clare Lockhart and Joseph Konzelmann, April 13, 2008, Washington Times)

Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. ... Also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is.

— T.E. Lawrence to British soldiers, 1917

The military surge in Iraq has created conditions favorable for long-term stability. Now a new approach to economic reconstruction is needed to sustain the hard-fought military gains.

The top-down model of the Iraq government and international donors isn't working: Last year Iraq spent only 4 percent of its $10 billion capital projects budget, according to the U.S. General Accountability Office. The problem is that Iraq lacks the national-level capacity to spend its money effectively. We propose a new approach — one predicated on local partnerships.

A starting point could be an Iraq Local Ownership Program backed by initial funding of $200 million — just 2 percent of the capital budget.

It could be based on local leadership of micro-level reconstruction projects, modeled after Afghanistan's successful National Solidarity Programme (NSP) and similar to the U.S. Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) in Iraq that has delivered impressive results on the street. NSP has developed the ability of local Afghan communities to identify, plan, execute and monitor their own development projects.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


The GOP and race (Thomas Sowell, April 13, 2008, Washington Times)

Mr. McCain was booed at a recent memorial on the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. In typical Republican fashion, he tried to apologize but the audience was not buying it and let him know it.

Why would he choose a venue where his rejection was virtually guaranteed? Not only did he not get his message out, the message that came out through the media is that this black audience rejected him, which is readily portrayed as if blacks in general rejected him.

The Republican strategy for making inroads into the black vote has failed consistently for more than a quarter-century. Yet it never seems to occur to them to change their approach.

Considered in cold blood, Maverick has no shot at the black vote in a race against Senator Obama, but can increase even the high percentage of the Latino vote that W received. As a purely political matter there's just no down-side to having his opponent self-identify as the candidate of black America. For the candidate of the tribal party to be identified as representing just one tribe is an electoral boon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Good news about the US labor market: Despite recent job cuts, employment trends suggest a mild recession. (John A. Challenger, April 10, 2008, CS Monitor)

If we are following the pattern of the 2001 recession, the recent job losses are an ominous sign. At the onset of the last recession in March 2001, job losses began mounting immediately, eventually reaching 2.7 million before payrolls began growing with consistency in September 2003.

However, if we are following that pattern, then there is reason to believe that this will be a mild recession. After three months of negative job growth, the economy has seen a net loss of 232,000 jobs, far fewer than the 355,000 lost between March 2001 and May 2001, the first three months of the last recession, which was considered mild by historical standards. Even at its worst point, that recession saw unemployment peak at 6.3 percent, still relatively low compared with previous recessions.

There is zero chance that when the data is all finally in the 2001 slowdown will be classed a recession, even 1991 is unlikely to remain one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


A paradigm shift in genetics (Amanda Gefter, 4/13/08, Philadelphia Inquirer)

The more scientists learn about the complex relationships among genes, environment, disease and phenotype, the more they are realizing how restrictive the old biological paradigm is.

"Our understanding of genetics is currently undergoing a paradigm shift," says Melanie Ehrlich, a molecular biologist at the Tulane Cancer Center. "It is now commonly acknowledged among scientists that it is not enough to look to DNA as the sole determinant of heredity."

Ehrlich is referring to the emerging field known as epigenetics. The epigenome is the elaborate chemical switchboard that can turn genes on and off like flipping a light switch. Our genes encode instructions for the building of proteins. On its own, DNA is nothing but an inert biological handbook, but chemicals in each cell actively read and transcribe the instructions, then use them to build our bodies cell by cell. Every cell in your body contains an identical genome, and yet a brain cell is quite different from a skin cell.

How do the differences arise? Because different genes are expressed from one cell to the next. How does a cell know which genes to implement and which to ignore? That set of instructions is contained in the cell's epigenome. Whereas the genome is static - its sequence of base pairs unchanging except in the rare and often detrimental case of a mutation - the epigenome is dynamic, busily deciding which genetic instructions should be put into action and which should be chemically strangled into silence.

Scientists are now learning that the epigenome is highly sensitive to its environment. The food you eat, the air you breathe, and the stress or happiness you feel can actually alter your genetic makeup - not by changing the sequence of your DNA, but by deciding which genes are expressed.

Biologists have long known that our bodies and behaviors are shaped in part by nature and in part by nurture, but the exact link between gene and environment had always been fuzzy. Now, it is coming into focus: The link is the epigenome.

Epigenetics is opening up a whole new window on the nature of disease. Many cancers, for instance, are not genetic in origin - caused by one or more mutations to our DNA - but epigenetic. "We finally understand that abnormal epigenetic changes are just as important for cancer formation and development as are genetic mutations," Ehrlich says. "Without epigenetic changes, human cancers would probably be rare." The same is believed to be true for autoimmune diseases, diabetes and depression.

Even more surprising has been the discovery that, like genes themselves, epigenetic effects can be passed down from generation to generation. That was first demonstrated in mammals by Randy Jirtle and colleagues in a groundbreaking experiment in 2000. Jirtle took mice that carried a gene called the agouti gene, which made their fur yellow and rendered them susceptible to particular diseases, and fed them a diet containing so-called methyl groups - molecules that can attach to a gene and block it from being used. The methyl molecules, commonly found in foods such as soy and leafy vegetables, attached to the agouti gene and switched it off.

The real surprise came when the mice became parents. Their offspring were born with the agouti gene still in their DNA but silenced. They had brown fur and were no longer susceptible to the same diseases. The parent mice had passed on not only their DNA, but also the epigenetic switches attached to it.

The moral of the story? What you eat today could affect your children's genes . . . even your grandchildren's.

"What you do now won't affect only you," Jirtle says. "That's not trivial."

We are all designists now.

April 12, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 PM


Under fire, Obama clarifies small-town remarks (John Whitesides, 4/12/08, Reuters)

Obama said he did not use the right language to describe the anger and frustration small-town residents feel about the struggling economy and the failure of government to help them.

"I said something that everybody knows is true, which is that there are a whole bunch of folks in small towns in Pennsylvania, in towns right here in Indiana, in my hometown in Illinois, who are bitter," Obama said in Muncie, Indiana. [...]

In an interview with the Winston-Salem Journal, Obama said, "If I worded things in a way that made people offended, I deeply regret that."

Obama, on Defensive, Says His Remarks on Voters Weren’t Artful (KATHARINE Q. SEELYE and JEFF ZELENY, 4/13/08, NY Times)
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton activated her entire campaign apparatus to portray Mr. Obama’s remarks as reflective of an elitist view of faith and community. Mrs. Clinton suggested that Mr. Obama saw religious commitment, hunting and concern about immigration as emotional responses to economic strain rather than as deeply embedded values that transcend the moment.

“I grew up in a church-going family, a family that believed in the importance of living out and expressing our faith,” she said at a rally in Indianapolis. “The people of faith I know don’t ‘cling to’ religion because they’re bitter. People embrace faith not because they are materially poor, but because they are spiritually rich.”

Later in the day, in Valparaiso, Ind., she recalled how her father taught her how to shoot when she was a young girl. She also said that her faith “is the faith of my parents and my grandparents.”

Mrs. Clinton said Mr. Obama’s comments were “not reflective of the values and beliefs of Americans,” adding that “Americans who believe in the Second Amendment believe it’s a constitutional right; Americans who believe in God believe it’s a matter of personal faith.”

God, guns and Obama (Salena Zito April 12, 2008, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato says that Obama does not quite grasp that he is "tabula rasa" -- a blank slate, and unknown to most people beyond his name and candidacy. "This is a contest to see who gets to write on the slate first. Obama is handing some chalk to Clinton and McCain, and it's foolish."

Is not just that folks know you so little that such statements frame their view of you, but that you don't have the experience to realize that when you say something that stupid you can't pretend you were right. He's just digging himself deeper.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 PM


Respected European Oncologist Opposes Euthanasia After Cancer Battle (Steven Ertelt, April 12, 2008, LifeNews.com)

A respected European oncologist has changed her mind about euthanasia after battling cancer. Sylvie Menard's change of heart has one leading anti-euthanasia activist to urge people not to abandoned the elderly and disabled patients who need love and support the most as they battle medical problems.

Menard, one of the most renowned oncologists in Europe, has been battling bone cancer and she shared her transformation on end-of-life issues with the Spanish magazine Huellas.

"Those who promote euthanasia do so for two reasons: they don’t want to suffer and they don’t want to lose self-sufficiency, thus becoming a burden for others," Menard explained.

“Even if you do not have complete use of your faculties and you cannot get up because you are confined to bed, but you still have the affection of your family members, in my opinion, even in those conditions, it’s worth it to keep living," she told the magazine.

Unfortunately, at that point--when patients are depressed, vulnerable, and feel themselves a burden--family and hospital have a vested interest in killing them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


The Masters shows off rich web coverage (Webware.com, 4/11/08, Harrison Hoffman)

For those of you who have tuned out the golf world, the most prestigious tournament in golf, The Masters, is this weekend and to mark their 72nd year, Augusta is turning up the heat on their online presence. With partner, IBM by their side, Augusta National is offering a rich online experience for golf lovers. While the online coverage still does not rival what is offered currently on broadcast TV, it's great for the times where national TV is not covering the event, or for sneaking a peek at work.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM

Beer, with Benefits: The best brews pack more than a heady buzz—they improve your health, too (Matt Allyn & Matt Bean, Men's Health)

Beer makes you feel good. You knew that. But you don't realize just how good. Recent research has revealed bioactive compounds in beer that battle cancer, boost your metabolism, and more. And these benefits come on top of the oft-touted upsides of moderate alcohol intake: clot prevention, cleaner arteries, and reduced stress. We set out with a stack of studies, a panel of parched testers, and a full fridge to find the best-tasting, healthiest brews available. Enjoy. [...]

Beamish Irish Stout

The typical low-cal beer is run through a deflavorizing machine on its way to the bottle. "Most of the calories come from the alcohol content and whatever residual sugars may be left after fermentation," says Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery.

We sought a brew that would go easy on the waistline without disappointing the palate. Darker beers have a major advantage here: They're relatively low in alcohol and have thick, creamy, smoky finishes. When the cans were emptied, Beamish stood tall. It contains about 130 calories per 12-ounce can, but with a full flavor and sturdy dark-chocolate notes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


Clinton's record shows trade support: On the trail, the candidate has made a point of critiquing free trade agreements, saying they cost U.S. jobs (Noam N. Levey, 4/12/08, Los Angeles Times)

[C]linton's voting record in the Senate only hints at the skepticism about international trade deals that she recently has made a cornerstone of her presidential campaign.

Since 2001, Clinton has backed pacts with Jordan, Chile, Singapore, Australia, Morocco and Oman that were opposed by numerous labor, farming and environmental groups concerned that the deals contained insufficient safeguards for American workers and consumers.

As recently as November, Clinton supported a free trade agreement negotiated by the Bush administration with Peru.

...unlike seeking the Democratic nomination, is serious business.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


McCain, Clinton Bash Obama's "Small Town" Comments (Jake Tapper, April 11, 2008, ABC News: Political Punch)

"Barack Obama apparently believes that for Americans less privileged than him, religion is an economic-based and not faith-based condition," Mark Salter, a senior campaign adviser for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., tells ABC News.

"It is hardly news that Senator Obama's 'new' approach to politics is based on the presumption that voters are easily fooled," Salter continues, "but the arrogance and elitism he shows here is truly astonishing, and very revealing about how he would govern this country."

Salter was reacting to Obama's comments about the "bitter"ness of small town Pennsylvanians who then cling to their guns, or religion.

In Philly, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, implies that Obama "looks down on" these small town Pennsylvanians.

Senator Obama may be the most ingenious Rovebot.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Border crossers use torches, bungees on fence (AP, 4/11/08)

Illegal immigrants armed with torches, hacksaws, ladders and even bungee cords are making it around a section of the U.S.-Mexico border fence hailed as the most efficient way to stop them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Lynch restates his support for the Pledge (AP, 4/11/08)

To some, a comment Governor John Lynch made this week sounded like he was wavering on his pledge to veto any general sales or income tax for New Hampshire.

But Lynch says, make no mistake, he's sticking to his pledge.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


A Eulogy for My Father (Christopher Buckley, This eulogy was delivered on the occasion of the Memorial Mass for the Repose of the Soul of William F. Buckley Jr. on April 4, 2008, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral)

On the day he retired from Firing Line after a 33-year long run, Nightline (no relation) did a show to mark the occasion. At the end, Ted Koppel said, “Bill, we have one minute left. Would you care to sum up your 33 years in television?” To which my father replied, “No.”

Taking his cue, I won’t attempt to sum him up in my few minutes here. A great deal has been written and said about him in the month since he died, at his desk, in his study in Stamford. After I’d absorbed the news, I sat down to compose an e-mail. My inner English major ineluctably asserted itself and I found myself quoting (misquoting, slightly) a line from Hamlet,

He was a man, Horatio, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.

One of my first memories of him was of driving up to Sharon, Connecticut for Thanksgiving. It would have been about 1957. He had on the seat between us an enormous reel-to-reel tape recorder. For a conservative, my old man was always on the cutting edge of the latest gadgetry — despite the fact that at his death, he was almost certainly the only human being left on the planet who still used Word Star.

It was a recording of MacBeth. My five-year old brain couldn’t make much sense of it. I asked him finally, “What’s eating the queen?” He explained about the out-out-damned spot business. I replied, “Why doesn’t she try Palmolive?” So began my tutelage with the world’s coolest mentor.

It was on those drives to Sharon that we had some of our best talks. This afternoon, I’ll make one last drive up there to bury him, alongside with his sisters in the little cemetery by the brook. When we held the wake for him some days after he died, I placed inside his casket a few items to see him across the River Styx: his favorite rosary, the TV remote control — private joke — a jar of peanut butter, and my mother’s ashes. I can hear her saying, “Bill — what is that disgusting substance leaking all over me?” No pharaoh went off to the afterlife better equipped than he does.

The last time I was with him in Sharon was last October. It was a fundraiser for the local library, billed as “A Bevy of Buckleys” — my dad, Uncle Jim, Aunt Pitts, Aunt Carol, me — reading from the aggregate Buckley oeuvre — a word I first heard from his lips many years ago, along with other exotic, multi-lingual bon mots: mutatis mutandis; pari passu; quod licet Jove, non licet bovi.

An article had appeared in the local paper a few days before, alerting the community to this gala event. As I perused the clipping, my eyes alighted on the sentence: “The Buckleys are a well-known American family, William F. Buckley being arguably the best known.”

I kept my amusement to myself, and handed Pup the clipping and waited silently for the reaction I knew would come. Sure enough, within seconds, he looked up with what I would describe as only faintly bemused indignation and said, “Ar-guably?”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


How did we get here?: After ten years of new Labour in power, the academics and commentators have been taking stock. David Marquand argues that it is the unintended and still unpredictable consequences of its constitutional changes that will be seen as its most damaging legacy (David Marquand, 10 April 2008, New Statesman)

[T]he new Labour regime has been quintessentially conservative with a small 'c'. As Beech puts it, new Labour's overriding aim has been to practise the "politics of dominance" as successfully as Thatcher did. But Blairite dominance differed fundamentally from its Thatcherite predecessor. Thatcher sought to extirpate the legacy bequeathed to her by Callaghan, Wilson, Heath and Macmillan. Blair sought to make Thatcher's legacy a permanent part of the landscape. Both were populists, but Thatcher's populism was the servant of her crystalline vision of reborn market disciplines at home and reborn greatness abroad. Blair's populism was an end in itself. He wanted to dominate in order to go on dominating; he craved popularity in order to be popular.

Of course, the Blair government did not leave Thatcher's legacy entirely untouched. But, except to the eye of love, the economic and social changes it carried through were distinctly small beer. All the great hallmarks of the Thatcher counter-revolution - privatisation, marketisation, centralisation, consumerism, a shrunken public domain and a growing gap between the super-rich and the rest - are still in place. There is nothing surprising, or even particularly shocking, about their survival. They are the hallmarks of renascent capitalism everywhere, from Mos cow to Manhattan. The notion that Blair and Brown could have embraced a vastly different socio-economic model if only they had been braver or more far-sighted belongs to Neverland. (So, of course, does the notion that David Cameron will be able to do so.)

...we arrive at the possibility that Margaret Thatcher, who popularized the Third Way after its test drives in New Zealand and Chile, was more important historically than Ronald Reagan, who died a New Dealer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Ditch the tatty flag of nationalism: When it took on the games, China promised heroic efforts for change. But the torch debacle has left it snarling in a corner (Isabel Hilton, 4/12/08, The Guardian)

On the day that the Olympic torch - or, as Beijing calls it, "the sacred flame" - went into hiding in a San Francisco warehouse, Beijing's second in command in Tibet, Qiangba Puncog, held a press conference. He was talking against the background of another news management failure: the appearance of a group of monks at the lovely and historic Labrang monastery in Gansu, bearing a Tibetan flag to remind a visiting press party that this was another propaganda exercise.

Puncog joined the Communist party in the cultural revolution, and his political attitudes do not seem to have progressed much. He epitomises the policies that have helped to generate this perfect storm of bad publicity for China. Of his fellow Tibetans he observed, in a phrase that would not have shamed a recalcitrant 19th-century imperialist, "I believe Tibetans are a good, simple people who know how to be grateful". And in the event of any of these humble, grateful people disrupting the torch relay through Tibet, he promised: "They will be dealt with severely." As western political leaders glumly contemplated their August diaries, conscious that there were no good options, Beijing's putative public relations consultants must have been reaching for the hemlock.

Since the unrest in Tibet began, everything Beijing has done and said has reinforced its critics' case.

If you didn't know better, you'd swear the critics were right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM

ASPARAGUS & HERB SPOONBREAD WITH FETA CHEESE (The San Francisco Chronicle, 4/09/08)

3/4 pound asparagus, ends trimmed

1 1/2 cups milk

1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 1/2 cups cornmeal

4 tablespoons softened butter

4 eggs separated, plus 2 extra egg whites

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons minced assorted fresh herbs

3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Preheat oven to 375. Generously butter a large souffle dish or 13-by-9-inch baking dish and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Blanch asparagus until crisp-tender, about 2-3 minutes, then shock in ice water to stop the cooking. Cut the asparagus into 1/2-inch lengths, reserving three whole tips for garnish. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine milk and broth. Heat the mixture until it is just about to boil. Whisk in the cornmeal in a steady stream, and continue to whisk constantly until the mixture is smooth and thickened, about 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl. Mix in softened butter while the cornmeal mixture is still hot. Set aside and let cool to room temperature.

Beat egg yolks lightly and whisk into the cornmeal mixture along with baking powder, salt and pepper. Fold in asparagus, mixed herbs and feta cheese.

In a clean bowl of a stand mixer, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold in a quarter of the egg whites to lighten the batter, then fold in the remainder.

Spoon into the prepared dish, and place the three asparagus tips in the center for garnish. Bake until golden and puffy, about 45 minutes.

April 11, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 PM


Raul's Cuba Tweaks Housing, Wage Rules (WILL WEISSERT, April 11, 2008, The Associated Press)

Thousands of Cubans will be able to get title to state-owned homes under regulations published Friday _ a step that might lay the groundwork for broader housing reform.

The measure was the first legal decree formally published since Raul Castro succeeded his brother Fidel as president in February. It comes a day after state television said the government also will do away with wage limits, allowing state employees to earn as much they can as an incentive to productivity.

Together, housing and wage restrictions have been among the things that bother Cubans the most about their socialist system.

Perhaps we might pause to consider the possibility that Raul Castro couldn't win a Democratic primary because too conservative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:40 PM


Obama: No Surprise That Hard-Pressed Pennsylvanians Turn Bitter (Mayhill Fowler, April 11, 2008, Huffington Post)

[P]ennsylvania unfolds in an interlocking chain of Turkeyfoots and Allentowns, held separately and together by a sense of shared community, of humor, of history, and of abiding faith.

These qualities of hospitality, patriotism and endurance are exactly what Californians need to hear about Pennsylvanians. And when he spoke to a group of his wealthier Golden State backers at a San Francisco fund-raiser last Sunday, Barack Obama took a shot at explaining the yawning cultural gap that separates a Turkeyfoot from a Marin County. "You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them," Obama said. "And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Obama made a problematic judgment call in trying to explain working class culture to a much wealthier audience. He described blue collar Pennsylvanians with a series of what in the eyes of creamy Californians might be considered pure negatives: guns, clinging to religion, antipathy, xenophobia.

I'm not sure this is what at least this lot of Californians needed to hear about Pennsylvanians.

For a candidate who's tried to hide so much of himself, portraying religious faith as a negative is rather revealing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:27 PM


All Aboard the McCain Express (RICK PERLSTEIN, April 21, 2008, The Nation)

George Stephanopoulos once asked Tom DeLay what it was conservatives demanded of McCain, and DeLay admitted as much: "I don't think they're demanding that he change in his position," he said. "It is attitude."

In other words: it's the ring-kissing, stupid. Consider George H.W. Bush's attitude: he all but groveled before conservatives--first calling supply-side doctrine "voodoo economics," then swallowing hard and accepting a spot as voodoo priest Reagan's running mate. Bob Dole, formerly a proud budget balancer, lay prostrate before them in accepting a 15 percent across-the-board tax cut as the cornerstone of his 1996 presidential platform, then took on movement hero Jack Kemp as his running mate.

For conservative leaders, making candidates pay them court, publicly and ostentatiously, is a colossal source of their symbolic power before their followers. It's kabuki theater, mostly. Ronald Reagan never did much to make abortion illegal. He did, however, deliver videotaped greetings, fulsome in praise for his hosts, to antiabortion rallies on the Mall. Pentecostal leaders were horrified to see George W. Bush violate what they considered biblical prophesy by giving over the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians in 2004. After they made their dismay known, Bush did not change his mind. He did, however, send top White House and National Security Council staffers to flatter them in a private meeting that concluded, according to an account one of the pastors sent to his followers, "with a heart-moving send-off of the President in his Presidential helicopter." Rings kissed, egos assuaged--and these particular Pentecostals stopped complaining about the sacrilege. The issue wasn't the issue.

For decades, the operative theory in Republican politics has been that there exists a seething mass of lockstep conservative voters controlled by leaders like these, without whose support no Republican can win a presidential election. Michael Reagan puts it this way: "If [McCain] gets the nomination the only way he could win against Hillary or Barack Obama would be to be part of a McCain-Limbaugh ticket." But that's certainly never been reflected in any actual electoral data. Indeed, this year it appears that conservative opinion leaders are more out of touch with the masses they purport to lead than ever. According to a recent CBS poll, only 17 percent of Republicans want an uncompromising conservative as their nominee. Eighty percent of Republicans are satisfied with McCain. Sixty percent of conservative primary voters say they "want a candidate who would compromise with Democrats in order to get things done."

McCain has called their bluff. He didn't suck up to Rush Limbaugh but won the nomination anyway; he's also faring well in general election matchups. He has shown that the kingmakers have no clothes. The humiliation is hard to forgive. It has made it harder for conservative leaders to do business and turned politicians like McCain (and Arnold Schwarzenegger), in their eyes, into monsters. On Glenn Beck's CNN show, for instance, Democratic consultant Peter Fenn pointed out that the reason McCain does well with voters is that "they think he is independent."

"Yes," Beck replied, "well, so is Dr. Frankenstein."

Kind of gives the game away: in their mind, these conservative leaders create Republican Presidents. But what's the point if GOP candidates are just going to go crashing around the countryside doing whatever the hell they want?

And so the professional conservatives did their best to set loose the torch-bearing mob. Late in January, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum made call after call after call spreading the word that, yes, even a President Hillary Clinton or a President Barack Obama would be better than a President McCain. At one point, according to Democratic activist Mike Lux, who overheard an indiscreet Santorum making such calls on the New York-DC Metroliner, Santorum attempted to talk an interlocutor into "coming out with a terrible story about McCain from five or six years ago." Clearly the crusade to sabotage McCain didn't work. Professional conservative Monica Crowley finally admitted the obvious: "A lot of people have actually voted for McCain, and they weren't just moderates and independents. Enough Republicans have voted for him to give him the nomination--and yes, a decent number of conservatives have too."

...is that the party faithful gave Maverick the ring, so they have to kiss up to him, not vice versa.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:57 PM


Did the New Deal Work? (Matthew Bandyk, April 11, 2008, US News)

Just how divided are experts? In 1995, economist Robert Whaples of Wake Forest University published a survey of academic economists that asked them if they agreed with the statement, "Taken as a whole, government policies of the New Deal served to lengthen and deepen the Great Depression." Fifty-one percent disagreed, and 49 percent agreed. Whaples today says that the New Deal remains a thorny issue for economists because it's so difficult to measure the effects it had on the country. "You need a credible model of the economy, and not everyone is going to agree on what that model should be," he says.

Yet most economists, including defenders of the New Deal, do agree that Roosevelt's policies were far from perfect. The National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, in particular, gets a lot of blame. It created the National Recovery Administration, a federal bureaucracy that limited competition in various industries by setting prices and wages above market levels. The ensuing upward pressure on the price of goods and unemployment may have turned a bad situation worse. While it benefited some producers, the NRA's policies meant basic goods were more expensive for consumers and jobs harder to come by for people who were already in dire straits.

But the law was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1935, so some argue it did not last long enough to create severe damage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:29 PM


Stein Goes to Bat for Intelligent Design (BRUCE BENNETT, April 11, 2008, NY Sun)

In the time- and box-office-tested stylistic tradition of Mr. Moore, "Expelled" is a globe-trotting journey during which Mr. Stein interviews and confronts various victims of what the film portrays as an intellectual embargo against intelligent design, and those who dismiss it or question its place in the scientific and academic communities. The first stop, the Capitol Mall in Washington, sets the tone for the rest of the film. In the shadow of the institute that fired him, the biologist Richard Sternberg describes his dismissal from his research fellowship at the Smithsonian for publishing a paper that defended intelligent design. "You're a bad boy," Mr. Stein says as the two men stroll among the cherry trees. "You questioned the powers that be."

The fact that Mr. Stein's drolleries are intercut with a montage that includes clips of Soviet Bloc delegates to the United Nations pounding tables, Communist thugs slapping prisoners, and close-ups of a guillotine should give you some idea of the intensity of the agitprop on display. It's a tribute to Mr. Stein's mischievous gravitas (he possesses an uncanny on-screen knack for getting his interview subjects to speculate themselves into a corner) that the whole thing doesn't go completely off the rails.

Like its narrative, "Expelled" is tonally and emotionally all over the map. Visits to Nazi concentration camps and a gruesome tour of a Third Reich psychiatric hospital in which the handicapped were euthanized as much, the movie contends, in Darwin's name as in Hitler's, vie for space with cartoons and 3-D animation. There's even a token scene of Mr. Stein and his crew being awkwardly refused unscheduled entrance to the Smithsonian by the museum's security staff. As is the case when suffering through similar moments in Mr. Moore's films, my heart went out to the guys provoked into having to do the arm grabbing. Someday, a filmmaker will turn the tables and shoot footage of harried spokespeople and rent-a-cops trying to gain entrance to Michael Moore's offices or those of Premise Media Corporation, the makers of "Expelled."

"Expelled" will likely appeal to those whose minds are made up in favor of intelligent design and infuriate those who, like Mr. Dawkins, oppose mixing God with biology. For those with little stake in either side of the controversy, there is the amusing spectacle of Mr. Stein skewering brilliant scientific minds as they are caught off guard by the lights, camera, and action. Mr. Dawkins becomes so flustered at one point that he even posits a creation theory of his own that fits the parameters of the film's working definition of intelligent design. After all the speculation on display in "Expelled," I couldn't help but envision the possibility that if the pro-intelligent design forces had their way, the current, inflexible Darwinian dogma would just swap positions with an equally inflexible intelligent design party line. Mr. Stein put me at ease. "I have no suggestions whatsoever what to replace [Darwinism] with. None at all. Period," he said. "I just would like the floodgates of discussion to be opened."

Darwinists never display their disregard for the scientific method more clearly than when they insist that it isn't enough to demonstrate that their theory is untenable and that unbelievers have to propound an alternative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:22 PM


Gay press frustrated by Obama approach (CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 4/9/08, Politico)

The Philadelphia Gay News rebuke highlighted Obama’s complex relationship with the gay community, and touched off a blogosphere debate about the role of the gay media in presidential campaign coverage and the ethics of gay journalists.

Obama has been criticized for embracing some black religious leaders who are resistant to gay rights, but also praised for speaking out against homophobia in the black community while at an historic black church. He has folded equal rights into his highest profile speeches in front of mainstream audiences, and has gone further than Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton by calling for the full repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.

With a decent story for Obama to tell, gay editors from Dallas to San Francisco to Boston have been left wondering why Obama doesn’t take it directly to their publications, as Clinton has done with increasing frequency since Super Tuesday.

“It doesn’t seem to match what he says at these other events,” said Cynthia Laird, news editor at the Bay Area Reporter in San Francisco. “It is very disappointing to me.”

The reason for Obama’s distance is unclear.

Obama Triangulates and Won't Go Where Other Great Americans Will on Hamas (Steve Clemons, April 10, 2008, Huffington Post)
Ben Smith of Politico points out that Barack Obama has "drawn a line" regarding which of the world's problematic bad guys should be met by Presidents like himself -- and Jimmy Carter. He thinks Carter should not meet any Hamas leaders.

I guess isolation works for some and not others -- but ah, just when does one know in Obama's play book?

Apparently, he's OK meeting Israeli leaders because they disavow terrorism -- but still they protect and establish illegal settlements and have installed more roadblocks and inhibitions to Palestinian mobility than was the case since the November 2007 Annapolis Summit. And while knocking Carter's efforts, Obama fails to articulate how any negotiation that does not include in some way a wrestling match and attempt at a negotiation with Hamas will be stable enough to believe in.

A leading Knesset Member in Israel who strongly favors Senator Obama if he had the chance to vote in the U.S. elections told me recently that his one fear about Obama is that in his quest for the White House, he will ultimately have to shed his pragmatic approach to problem solving and demonstrate to critics "that he will be more Israeli than the Israelis."

Can't cotton to the queers without upsetting the blacks and Latinos or to Hamas without alienating Jews. It ain't easy being Barack.

Liberals and Their Invisible Homophobia: It's not just homophobia from conservatives we have to worry about. Liberals can be just as baldly antigay -- often without reproach. (James Kirchick, 4/08/08, Advocate.com)

If John McCain had confessed to being “not comfortable” around “those people,” handed a microphone over to the likes of Donnie McClurkin, cast aspersions about the sexuality of political opponents, or just openly called someone a “fruitcake,” the denunciations from liberals would be swift and unforgiving. Yet Democrats in particular and liberals more broadly always get a pass. Indeed, at the time of Stark’s outburst, the Human Rights Campaign defended the congressman by emphasizing that he "is one of the gay community's staunchest allies." Log Cabin Republicans president Patrick Sammon points to the example of the Democratic mayor of Fort Lauderdale, Jim Naugle, who has made a series of homophobic remarks about the many gay tourists who visit his Florida city. Rarely, however, do news stories ever mention that Naugle is a Democrat. “If he was a Republican, every single story about him would have ‘Republican’ before his name,” Sammon says.

The liberal journalist Eric Alterman, a columnist for The Nation and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress think tank, is a particularly nasty example of the liberal homophobe. Two years ago he challenged gay, HIV-positive journalist Andrew Sullivan to prove a claim Sullivan had made about Alterman regarding military action in Afghanistan, offering to pay “$10,000 to the AIDS charity of Sullivan’s choice.” He mocked Sullivan, “who is HIV positive and likes to discuss this fact with reporters,” for his “remodeled bathroom in P-town.” Alterman regularly refers to Sullivan as “little Roy,” after Roy Cohn, the gay aide to Sen. Joe McCarthy who died of AIDS complications. Following Ann Coulter’s labeling Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards a “faggot” in 2007, Alterman said, “Look, the word 'faggot' ... is a word one hears in private conversation quite frequently; she just said it in public.” Makes one wonder what sort of company Alterman keeps.

As odious as this rhetoric may be, it is indicative of an attitude among straight liberals for whom gay rights is not a signature issue. They may be happy to support the notion of gay civic equality in the abstract, but it's certainly not something they're going to go out of their way to do and risk political capital. And if in the course of political debate they have the opportunity to denigrate gays for political advantage (or are forced to contend with a gay person who does not share their views), they won't think twice about saying things that, were they to come out of the mouth of a conservative, would immediately be labeled “homophobic.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:13 PM


A Japanese craftsman's one-man Olympic boycott: The maker of iron shots favored by elite shot-putters refuses to produce any for the Beijing Games to protest China's Tibet policy. (Bruce Wallace, 4/11/08, Los Angeles Times)

Masahisa Tsujitani is getting a lot of attention these days for a man who has spent much of the last 40 years bent over a lathe in a garage workshop, where amid the sharp smell of burnt oil and iron he grinds out some of the finest 16-pound shots ever tossed by Olympic athletes.

But Tsujitani's cheerful face is showing up on Japanese television and in newspapers not because of what he does, but because of what he is refusing to do. After four Olympics in which his finely grooved iron balls were the shots of choice for most medalists, this Tokyo craftsman has told Chinese Olympic officials they will not be receiving any of his products at this summer's Beijing Games.

"This is a personal statement about my pride as a craftsman and how my work is used," said the fit 74-year-old, standing in his home's low-ceilinged garage surrounded by drill bits, the detritus of shorn metal and cardboard boxes filled with polished shots.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


Can McCain Win Massachusetts? (Anil Adyanthaya, 4/11/08, Real Clear Politics)

Most of the time Obama is a stalwart Democrat. According to Congressional Quarterly, he has voted with his party on approximately 97% of the party-line votes that have taken place during his time in the Senate. This result should be no surprise, of course, given his National Journal ranking as the most liberal U.S. senator.

Now contrast this with McCain, who has been excoriated by other Republicans for his consistent collaboration with Democrats on highly politicized issues such as campaign finance, immigration and judicial nominees. What has led McCain to be so criticized by other Republicans - his genuine independence - is precisely what makes him so appealing to independents and preferable to Obama's facade of bipartisanship. [...]

[Mitt] Romney was a competent and respected governor and his presence on the ticket would remind Massachusetts voters of everything they do not have in their current governor Deval Patrick, whose governorship to this point has been heavy on public relations gaffes and legislative failures and light on any real accomplishment. Even better for McCain, Patrick is a key Obama adviser and Obama's political and rhetorical doppelganger. Like Obama, Patrick was a liberal unknown who used lofty words - on occasion, the exact same words Obama uses today - and the promise of change to talk his way to electoral success.

Patrick's dismal gubernatorial performance likely was another factor in Obama's poor showing in this state, as Bay Staters were justifiably skeptical of a candidate who offered hope and change with little specifics or experience to support his promises. Obama's close connection to Patrick can also explain his disappointing showings in New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Both states are part of the Boston media market and thus very familiar with Patrick's struggles as governor.

So can a Republican presidential candidate win in Massachusetts? The answer seems to be yes, as John McCain appeals more strongly to the state's independent "majority" than his likely Democratic opponent Barack Obama. At the very least, the contest will be tight and Massachusetts voters will get to experience up close a competitive presidential campaign for the first time in 24 years.

...was an early warning sign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


Inspiration Vs. Experience (DAVID SHRIBMAN, April 11, 2008, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Here's a news flash from the front lines of political Pennsylvania: It is becoming increasingly clear that the central elements of both Hillary Clinton's and Barack Obama's campaign pitches are deeply flawed.

One is arguing that experience will lead to excellence in the presidency. The other is arguing that hope and eloquence are the elixir of democracy. [...]

I have argued before that well-prepared candidates such as William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, and Nixon — with remarkable pre-White House experience — are prone to perform unremarkably, or worse, in the White House. [...]

Now to the inspiration side of this spring's tarnished coin. Barack Obama can give a good speech, but so could William Jennings Bryan, who had only two terms in the House before he ran for president in 1896. Bryan was a mesmerizing orator, with the wind of the prairie and the waters of the Platte in his voice. He was also the last major American politician to be home-schooled, though a new generation may be on its way. But he would have been a lousy president.

Mr. Obama has arrived on the national scene much the way Wendell Willkie did in 1940. Here's how Time characterized the Willkie phenomenon in the magazine's political obituary for the Wall Street lawyer in 1944: "Nothing in their lives, nothing in American political history could have prepared (the nation) … for the almost religious passion that forced the Willkie candidacy over every barrier that political tricks could devise, overwhelming all precedents under the mighty chant … 'We Want Willkie!'"

Sound like someone who's been wandering Pennsylvania over the past few weeks?

...Hoover and Nixon are the only two men elected in open elections president in the 20th century who were considered brighter than their opponents and the American people never entrusted Bryan nor Willkie with the presidency. The stupider candidate usually wins and the stupidest --Taft, Coolidge, Ike, Reagan, W--make the best presidents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


Cuba reforms bring shrugs and expectations: Despite an official go-ahead, people are no more able to buy cellphones and other gadgets than before. But hope for change is in the air. (Carol J. Williams, 4/11/08, Los Angeles Times)

Outside Havana, another free-market reform effort by Castro is stirring broader interest.

Beyond the five-story blocks of dreary apartments, where urban sprawl gives way to tidy rows of crops and roadside farm stands, those tilling the rich soil of this tropical island see hope for boosting output and income as socialism's micromanagers bow out.

That Cuba produces so little of the food it needs despite a year-round growing climate is one of the nagging forces driving Castro to shake up the status quo in the countryside. Cuba imports more than 80% of the commodities distributed in the monthly ration basket, notes Paolo Spadoni, an expert on the Cuban economy who teaches at Rollins College in central Florida. He estimates that food imports cost Havana more than $1.6 billion a year.

In an effort to dramatically expand crop output, the leadership has begun making more land available to farmers and allowing them to sell fruit, vegetables, meat and milk at prices set according to demand, instead of government edict.

At prosperous farms such as a 25-acre plot in Barbosa, half an hour from the capital, the expectation of doubling cultivated acreage and profit has the private collective planting from sunup to sundown.

The eight laborers who work the land earn 35 pesos for an eight-hour day, only about $1.40, but a kingly sum in a country where a month's work, whether by a manual laborer or a doctor, brings home less than $20.

"We are getting more land because we've shown what we can do with it," Victor, the farm's agronomist, said proudly of the state loan of another 25 acres for their collective.

The work is grueling, with only two oxen and not a mechanized vehicle in sight among the orderly rows of lettuce, corn, carrots, peppers, spinach and tomatoes.

Private farmers remain uncertain how far Castro, who took over from his brother Fidel less than two months ago, will go in removing the ideological obstacles to initiative and independence. But they believe their fortunes can change quickly.

The easing of rules against selling produce at market prices -- previously considered exploitation -- is expected to boost income and buying power among farmers. Urban Cubans hope the step is a sign that more opportunity for self-employment also will emerge in the cities.

Entrepreneurial by nature and exposed to the dollar-bearing tourists who flood Cuba each year, city dwellers saddled with low-wage jobs often moonlight to make ends meet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


A Glimpse into China's Closet (Dan Rabkin, 4/14/08, FrontPageMagazine.com)

In light of China’s achievements, it is not surprising that they want to show their progress off to the rest of the world. However, does China really need the world’s spotlight shining into its closet -- a closet that has the skeletons of Tibet, “re-education camps,” Darfur, and Burma lurking inside? [...]

Domestically: Ever since 1949, when Mao Zedong proclaimed the People's Republic of China with the words, "the Chinese people have stood up,” tens of millions of Chinese people have lost their lives in the name of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the largest peacetime death toll in history.

In today’s “new China” things are not a whole lot better for those without CPC connections.

A judicial decision is still not required to send members of “banned organizations,” like the Falun Gong, and petty criminals to “re-education camps.” Your run-of-the-mill police force has the authority to detain citizens without charge for three months (a limit that is rarely enforced) or, more than that, to send them to re-education/labor camps for up to four years. Currently, hundreds of thousands of these “criminals” are being held in camps across China.

People are being detained across the PRC for exercising their basic rights to freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and freedom of association.

Only organizations that are approved by the CPC can exist; all others are considered “illegal” and membership in them is considered criminal. Participating in public worship without government authorization, for example, is against the law; as is exposing children under the age of 18 to religion.

Censorship of the Internet, books, and television is rampant, and according to the bureaucracy, all news coverage is required to be “80% positive.” Text messaging that is interpreted to “endanger public safety” is also a crime in the “new China.”

By the PRC’s own admission, millions of political dissidents, Christians, human rights activists, environmental activists, and others are languishing away in China’s prisons and detention centers (places where torture, beatings, and execution are commonplace) for simply speaking their minds.

Don’t Go (The Editors, 4/10/08, National Review)
Sometimes we are fortunate in our mistakes.

It was a mistake to allow a cruel dictatorship to host the Olympics. China’s rulers wanted the Olympics because they thought this would be a p.r. triumph. Instead the Olympics are turning into a p.r. disaster for the Communist autocrats. As the torch wends its way to Beijing, shouts of protest meet it at every turn. It’s almost comical to listen to thugs in bureaucrats’ clothing as they denounce the machinations of the “Dalai clique.” That’s the way Mao Zedong talked. That isn’t what the “New China” is supposed to sound like at all — that land of skyscrapers and 10 percent growth and a happy populace with no need for elections, so wise and benevolent are its “leaders.” [...]

Let us consider ourselves lucky, then, that the IOC’s mistake provided an opening to show China how it is seen, rather than an opportunity for Beijing to ratify its self-image. President Bush: Don’t go.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


UN chief to miss Olympic opening ceremony (Haroon Siddique, 4/11/08, guardian.co.uk)

The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, will not be attending August's opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

Although the reason for his absence was cited as "scheduling issues", it will only add to China's concerns that it is being unfairly vilified by the international community.

Haven't they ever read the UN Charter?:

Article 1

The Purposes of the United Nations are:

2. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace; [...]

Article 2

The Organization and its Members, in pursuit of the Purposes stated in Article 1, shall act in accordance with the following Principles.

4. All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

The PRC regime is illegitimate by definition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


China's multiple victims include its own public (Howard W. French, April 10, 2008, NY Times)

Unfortunately for conventional Chinese opinion, the first instance of hypocrisy that needs to be dealt with involves the plight of the Uighurs, whose situation very nearly mirrors that of the Tibetans, the distinction being that Tibetans have become lovable because of popular notions about Buddhism and because of the way Hollywood has romanticized Tibet and its saffron-robed monks and supported the Dalai Lama.

Natives of Xinjiang, by contrast, are Muslim, and geopolitics and popular culture have combined in ways that have been deeply prejudicial to the Uighurs, who have no celebrity sponsors or young Western sympathizers eager to identify with their culture or support their cause.

The biggest and least obvious victims in this crisis, however, are the Chinese themselves. This has nothing to do with the ritualized self-pity combined with zealous nationalism and occasionally vicious hate speech that one encounters from Chinese all over the Internet these days. Here, we speak of people who insist that any criticism of China is really motivated by deep-seated Western contempt for the Chinese people themselves, or of the strident Chinese voices that say that people in the West have no standing to criticize them because Westerners have plenty of awful things to answer for themselves. [...]

The reason the people of China are the biggest victims in the ugly spectacle of the last few weeks is that the Chinese government sold them on the Olympics as a measure of their standing and stature in the world. It did so, moreover, as if hypnotized by its own peculiar and stilted rhetoric, which demands that the world applaud its achievements with no pause for questions or thought.

That, after all, is the meaning of Beijing's insistence that politics have no place in the Olympics, even as the country uses the Games to bolster its domestic standing and to make an unsubtle statement to the world: We are successful and grand. Behold and admire us. We have arrived.

One hopes that the Chinese public, smart, increasingly sophisticated and more and more exposed to the kind of reality checks that come from contact with others, can figure out the trick that is being played on them. A criticism of an action of their government is in no way a criticism of them.

Why not? Their continued acquiescence to totalitarianism can't help but be an indictment, especially twenty years after most of the rest of the Communist bloc shucked off such regimes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Jobs May Take a Smaller Hit This Time: Companies went into this recession with exceptionally lean payrolls. The economic stimulus and other policy efforts will also help avert big losses (James Cooper , 4/10/08, Business Week)

[S]everal factors unique to this business cycle will help to ease the pain, and the massive fiscal and monetary stimulus in the pipeline is only part of the story.
Conservative Hiring and Firing

Start with unusually conservative hiring over the six years since the last recession. Private-sector firms added only 80,000 workers per month, on average, by far the slowest pace of job growth in any of the 11 post-recession periods since World War II. That means businesses entered the current slump with very lean payrolls and, as a result, fewer need to lay workers off.

Recently, companies have been slow to hire—but slow to lay workers off as well. Since the market turmoil began last summer, Labor Dept. data (through February) show job openings have fallen almost exclusively because of a slower hiring rate. The rate of separations has been unchanged. Layoffs are part of any recession, but so far companies are making a strong effort to retain workers.

Demographics may have a lot to do with it. Over the past decade, the proportion of much coveted workers aged 55 and over has soared from 12% to 18%, based on the Labor Dept.'s household survey. Since January, 2007, jobs held by these workers have increased by 1.5 million, while jobs held by all other age groups have fallen by 1.5 million. In the past, jobs for workers under 55 started to drop close to the start of a recession, never a full year before.

That means businesses already have been making significant adjustments to their payrolls. [...]

The atypical, housing-led nature of the current slump is also a factor. Payroll adjustments in housing-related jobs in construction and certain manufacturing and service industries have been going on for two years and are well advanced.

If they could have done away with your job they would have ten years ago.

April 10, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 PM


The impressionists: Why strife in the Labour Party may be disastrous for Gordon Brown (Bagehot, 4/10/08, The Economist)

Mr Cameron's predicament, when he became Tory leader in 2005, was eerily similar to Mr Blair's when he took control of Labour in 1994. Both had to revive parties demoralised by successive election defeats and recently threatened with oblivion. In both instances the parties were divided and introspective, determined not to compromise with the voters and cripplingly distrusted on their economic and fiscal policies.

Studiously emulating his mentor, Mr Cameron has reiterated and reiterated a message of reform and reassurance, long after the political class has tired of hearing it. He, too, has tried to build a winning coalition by running against his base: just as Mr Blair accepted the Thatcherite economic settlement, so Mr Cameron has swallowed the Blairite social one, despite the reactionary instincts of many in his party. Mr Blair's own departure from office has helped: whereas lots of top Tories only pretended to hate him, they are genuinely allergic to his successor, Gordon Brown. That has given them some of the steely discipline of the original New Labour cabal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 PM


On the trail of a missing aviator, Saint-Exupéry (John Tagliabue, April 10, 2008, NY Times)

After the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the demise of the French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry on a reconnaissance mission in World War II has ranked as one of flying's great mysteries.

Now, thanks to some sleuthing by a French diver and marine archaeologist, the final pieces of the puzzle seem to have been filled in.

The story that emerged about the disappearance of Saint-Exupéry, in self-exile from Vichy France, proved to contain several narratives, a complexity that would probably have pleased the author of several adventure books on flying and the famous tale "The Little Prince," about a little interstellar traveler, which was also a profound statement of faith. [...]

Consulting archives and with the help of the staff of the Jägerblatt, a magazine for Luftwaffe veterans, he tracked down veterans who had flown in von Bentheim's unit, the Jagdgruppe 200. He contacted hundreds of former pilots, most now in their 80s; hundreds more had already died.

Then in July 2006, he telephoned a former pilot in Wiesbaden, Germany, Horst Rippert, explaining that he sought information about Saint-Exupéry.

Without hesitating, Rippert replied: "You can stop searching. I shot down Saint-Exupéry."

Rippert, who will be 86 in May, worked as a television sports reporter after the war. It was only days after he had shot down a P-38 with French colors near Marseille that he learned of Saint-Exupéry's disappearance.

He was convinced he had shot him down, though he confided his conviction only to a diary. In 2003, when he learned that Saint-Exupéry's plane had been found, his suspicion was confirmed. But still he said nothing publicly.

Over the years, the thought that he may have killed Saint-Exupéry had troubled Rippert. As a youth in the 1930s, he had idolized the aviator-turned-author and had devoured his books, beginning with "Southern Mail," in 1929, an adventure tale written while Saint-Exupéry was flying the Casablanca-to-Dakar route.

When Rippert's identity was finally made public in March, the storm of interview requests and efforts to contact him was such that he withdrew from sight.

...is why the great aviators were such good writers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 PM


Study: Downeaster train an economic engine for Maine (AP, 4/10/08)

The Amtrak Downeaster passenger train will generate billions of dollars in economic benefits in Maine and New Hampshire over the coming decades, according to a new study.

The study, "Amtrak Downeaster: Overview of Projected Economic Impacts," was commissioned by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority to identify long-term economic benefits in Maine and New Hampshire associated with development along the train's Portland-to-Boston corridor. It also examined potential economic impacts of expanded service to Brunswick and Rockland.

The 32-page report concludes that the Downeaster is a catalyst for new "transit-oriented development" projects, which are compact developments of homes, businesses, parks and other amenities that are built in areas surrounding public transit stations.

"It's pretty compelling in terms of justifying the investment in rail in Maine," said Patricia Quinn, executive director for the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which manages the train service.

The aesthetics are even more compelling than the economics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 PM


Nobel winner Maathai pulls out of Olympic torch relay: The Kenyan activist says the recent demonstrations against China made her realize she must add her voice to the protests. (Richard C. Paddock, 4/10/08, Los Angeles Times)

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai of Kenya said Thursday that she would not run as planned in the Olympic torch relay in Tanzania this weekend, to protest abuses of human rights and destruction of the environment in China.

Maathai, who was awarded the Nobel in 2004 for her environmental and political activism, said she had notified organizers of the torch run that she would give up her spot in the relay Sunday, joining in the growing international protest against China.

She also echoed Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu's call for heads of state to boycott the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in August.

"As the torch is going around the world, it is producing greater division than unity," Maathai said by telephone from Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian capital. "For the heads of state not to attend is the best way to demonstrate they support the global public opinion that is emerging and join in sending this very strong message to China."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 PM


Arnie, Jack and Hank S. … with Ian O’Connor (Joe Posnanski, April 10th, 2008)

Today, to kick off the best golf tournament in the world, here’s another our patented long, rambling interviews — this one with my friend Ian O’Connor, terrific columnist at the Bergen Record and Fox Sports, lifelong Yankees fan, creator of the nickname “Davis Love the Nerd,” guy who predicted that the New York Knicks would make the playoffs this year and lover of Chicken Parmigiana no matter where we happen to be. Ian is also the author of the fabulous book “Arnie & Jack: Palmer, Nicklaus and Golf’s Greatest Rivarly,” which is selling like mad and will soon make Ian famous enough that he will never have to talk to me again. He might be there already.

The book is terrific for a lot of reasons, but the thing I might like best about it is that Ian gets inside the raw feelings between two proud men and two great athletes. This is an extremely hard thing to do. Nicklaus and Palmer are both nice guys, media friendly, unwilling to publicly say anything bad about each other or much of anything else. But there is a real depth of feeling between the two; it’s not hate, and it’s not love, and it’s not anger, and it’s not jealousy, and it’s not competitive rage. It’s ALL those things. Nicklaus has never been able to quite let go of the way Palmer fans taunted and tormented him; Palmer has never been able to quite let go of the simple truth that NIcklaus was better. I think it’s the most fascinating rivalry in American sports history. Lots of people have written about it on the surface. Ian gets inside. [...]

All right, we begin with the question where everyone starts: How did you come up with this idea? And I think in this case, you’re such a good reporter, the question here is not so much about how you came up with writing a book about Arnie and Jack but more what made you think there was something new to say about those two guys?

Seven years ago, fourteenth green, second round, I witnessed an Arnie-and-Jack scene that really stayed with me. I was walking with the Golden Oldie threesome, Gary Player included, and I knew Jack was hot that Masters officials had grouped him with Arnie and Player for a second straight year, especially after he nearly won the damn thing in ‘98, at age 58, on one good hip. I mean, Jack had outscored Tiger in ‘98, the year after Tiger blew away the field for the first time, and he was thrown out there as a ceremonial player.

Anyway, at 14, Arnie putts out and walks toward a group of fans I happened to be standing with. He plops down in one of their chairs, and says something to make them laugh. Nicklaus hears the commotion and has to back away from his putt. He’s still grinding, still trying to make the cut, and so he shoots an incredulous look at Arnie, then looks at his son and caddie, Jackie, then looks back at Arnie, who tips his cap. The gallery laughed. Jack didn’t tip his cap. Jack didn’t laugh. He just kind of shook his head in disgust and went back to his putt. I thought that small moment spoke to some big picture things between them, and Jack later admitted that he was indeed ticked off at Arnie. That scene really illustrated their differences in style and approach, and probably was the first seed planted for this book.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 PM


Petraeus Says Breakaway Shi'ite Militias Must Be Dealt With, But Sensitively (Al Pessin, 10 April 2008, VOA News)

[G]eneral Petraeus urged the Iraqi government to be careful how it deals with the militant Shiites, in order not to make the problem worse.

"I think there has to be a very, very sensitive approach, if you will, as this goes forward, to make that sure folks don't feel like they're backed into a corner from which there's no alternative," he said.

At the news conference, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, said the Iraqi government is doing that by providing development funds for Shiite areas, at the same time it fights the Shiite militants in Basra.

General Petraeus said the Iraqi government must ensure that its military operation in Basra does not bring an end to the ceasefire declared by the leader of Iraq's largest Shiite militia, Moqtada al-Sadr.

"Clearly, we are concerned that the ceasefire could fray," he said. "That's in no one's interest."

General Petraeus said the ceasefire has been one of the three key elements of the security improvements in Iraq during the past year, along with the U.S. and Iraqi troop increases and the shift of allegiance by Sunni tribes in western Iraq. The general said it is important to differentiate between Sadr, his political party and his militia, on the one hand; and other groups, including some former militia members, who use his name to try to legitimize continuing their attacks.

"I think the way, the best way to characterize Moqtada al-Sadr is that he is the face and the leadership of a very important and legitimate political movement in Iraq," he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:40 PM


Parliament urges EU leaders to boycott Olympic opening ceremony (Reuters, April 10, 2008)

The European Parliament urged European Union leaders Thursday to boycott the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics unless China started talks with the Dalai Lama over the situation in Tibet.

...but the Dalai Lama is too much China's pawn to be the one accepting it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM


Ahmadinejad to dismiss 2 cabinet ministers in Iran (Nazila Fathi, April 10, 2008, NY Times)

The government spokesman, Gholamhossein Elham, said Wednesday that the president had decided this week to replace the two ministers, according to the reports.

Elham had dismissed rumors of a cabinet shuffle last week and called them an April Fool's joke. [...]

The new cabinet appointments require the approval of Parliament, and Ahmadinejad could face resistance from lawmakers. He came under attack by his opponents Thursday for the dismissals.

The newspaper Etemad Melli called the decision a "management catastrophe," in an editorial Thursday and wrote that the ministers could not make long-term plans because they feared they could be fired at any time.

A commentary in the daily Kargozaran said that the president should explain the reason for replacing his ministers. "People should know that Danesh Jaffari is being fired because of the skyrocketing inflation or because of his opposition to the president's economic policies," wrote Hossein Marashi, a reformist politician.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:25 PM


Protests are only thing compelling about Olympics (Jason Whitlock, April 10, 2008, FOX Sports)

History might one day view these Games as extremely important, perhaps as significant as the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I came to this realization the other night after a long conversation and e-mail exchange with a friend much smarter than me.

We theorized — OK, she theorized and I agreed — that history might be repeating itself.

"There might be a parallel between China 2008 and Germany 1936. Germany at the time was in the process of this massive renovation of its infrastructure, national pride and military after the depression and defeat of World War I. Hitler was eager to have his newly refurbished country and Aryan splendor on display for the world. The human-rights violations were already under way. There is a fear that China, with its massive consumption and development and increasing national pride, is perhaps building its military in anticipation of world dominance. The Olympics for China is a chance to put all its shiny new toys on display. But now there are shouts that suggest the human-rights violations there expose a dangerous and opportunistic government."

But we also agreed that these suspicions are the exact reason the American media, athletes and president need to be in China for the Olympics.

If only Dietrich Bonhoeffer were here so we could ask him if we should be repeating the German '30s and '40's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:06 PM


Private RNC polling shows McCain lead (JONATHAN MARTIN, 4/9/08, Politico)

Internal polling data, presented privately last week at the Republican National Committee’s state chair meeting and provided to Politico, shows John McCain with a solid lead over both his potential general election rivals. Powered by the same appeal to Democrats and independents that fueled his primary election success, McCain is leading Barack Obama 48 percent to 42 percent and Hillary Clinton 51 percent to 40 percent according to RNC polling done late last month.

He’s moved ahead of the two Democrats by consolidating support among Republicans, but also by retaining his backing among a wide swath of independents and picking up a small chunk of cross-party support.

Poll: McCain Makes Up Ground (Domenico Montanaro, 4/09/08, NBC First Read)
McCain has made up ground on both Democratic candidates, according to a new AP-Ipsos poll out today. Obama saw a big drop, as he had been leading McCain by 10 points in February but now is tied, 45%-45%. Clinton leads McCain 48%-45% -- within the 3.1% margin of error. Clinton had led McCain, 48%-43% a month ago.

Stop us if you've heard this one before: country exhausted by eight years of governance by a scandal-plagued, budget busting, global crusading, conservative Christian, partisan ideologue; GOP nominates older party functionary, eschewing younger, more charismatic, more liberal options; Democrats nominate post-partisan technocrat; GOP exposes the pig in a poke as just another Northeastern liberal; blowout follows....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:03 PM


McCain urges Bush to consider boycotting Olympic opening ceremony: The Arizona senator joins Clinton, Obama in favoring action to press China on Tibetan rights, violence in Darfur. (Johanna Neuman, 4/10/08, Los Angeles Times)

Republican John McCain today called on President Bush to reconsider his decision to attend opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics, making it unanimous among the three candidates for president.

"If Chinese policies and practices do not change, I would not attend the opening ceremonies," said the Arizona senator, who has clinched the GOP nomination for president. "It does no service to the Chinese government, and certainly no service to the people of China, for the United States and other democracies to pretend that the suppression of rights in China does not concern us. It does, will and must concern us."

...is invite all three and Nancy Pelosi to the Rose Garden to announce the boycott.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 AM


Hamas: A Silent Partner for Peace?: Faced with internal political pressures and the hard fact of Israel's strength, Hamas has moderated its political positions significantly. The moment may be ripe for pushing Hamas further toward the center. (Gershom Gorenberg, April 10, 2008, American Prospect)

[Khaled] Meshaal is the Damascus-based head of Hamas's political bureau, its main leadership body. While his precise relationship with the head of Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, is unclear, Meshaal is normally described as Hamas' leader. Last week he gave an interview to Al-Ayyam, a pro-Fatah Palestinian daily. In it, he stressed that he's still committed to the Palestinian unity agreements of 2006, the basis for last year's short-lived Hamas-Fatah power-sharing deal in the Palestinian Authority. He reiterated that he would accept a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 boundaries -- that is, alongside Israel, not in place of it -- though without any commitment to recognize Israel formally.

Put differently, Meshaal was saying that his organization is willing to accept the reality of Israel, even if it is not happy about doing so. He's ready for Hamas to rejoin a unity government with Fatah -- reuniting Gaza and the West Bank -- and to be a silent partner while Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas of Fatah negotiates peace. He has not become a dove, but he is sidling his way toward being a pragmatic hawk. At the least, Meshaal's stance is reason for his adversaries to weigh a renewal of Palestinian unity as an alternative to siege of Gaza.

Better to whack Meshaal and the rest of the radicals in Damascus and recognize Haniyeh as the popular representative of the state of Palestine.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:51 AM


Ben Stein: Win His Career (Roger Friedman, 4/09/08, FOX News)

Stein is that whiny little guy with the monotone voice that makes him seem funny and an unlikely "character" for TV appearances. But that career may be over come April 18, when a movie he co-wrote, narrates and appears in, called "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," is released. [...]

The whole idea of Stein, a Jew, jumping on the intelligent design bandwagon of the theory of evolution begetting the Nazis is so distasteful you wonder what in — sorry — God’s name — he was thinking when he got into this. [...]

PS: Following "The Passion" release pattern, "Expelled" will open wide on the 18th, but mostly in rural and poor neighborhoods. It’s got just one theater in all of New York City, in Times Square, none in places like Beverly Hills or wealthier, better-educated urban neighborhoods where more "evolved" people might live.

That's sublime, decrying the connection of Darwinism to Nazism in a column where you claim to be more evolved than others.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:30 AM


McCain not yet golden in California (ROGER SIMON, 4/9/08, Politico)

As the late Lee Atwater, a major architect of George H.W. Bush’s victory in 1988, said, “I can win without California; they can’t, so I want it.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:56 AM


CBS News, Katie Couric Are Likely to Part Ways (REBECCA DANA, April 10, 2008, Wall Street Journal)

After two years of record-low ratings, both CBS News executives and people close to Katie Couric say that the "CBS Evening News" anchor is likely to leave the network well before her contract expires in 2011 -- possibly soon after the presidential inauguration early next year.

Ms. Couric isn't even halfway through her five-year contract with CBS, which began in June 2006 and pays an annual salary of around $15 million. But CBS executives are under pressure to cut costs and improve ratings for the broadcast, which trails rival newscasts on ABC and NBC by wide margins.

Her departure would cap a difficult episode for CBS, which brought Ms. Couric to the network with considerable fanfare in a bid to catapult "Evening News" back into first place. Excluding several weeks of her tenure, Ms. Couric never bested the ratings of interim anchor Bob Schieffer, who was named to host the broadcast temporarily after "Evening News" anchor Dan Rather left the newscast in the wake of a discredited report on George W. Bush's National Guard service.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:52 AM

W III, WJC V, or RWR 7?

McCain: No preemptive war pledge (Mark Silva, 4/09/08, Chicago Tribune: The Swamp)

Sen. John McCain, facing criticism from Democratic opponents that his election as president represents a third term for President Bush, said today that he could not rule out a pre-emptive military strike against enemies such as the one that Bush launched against Iraq.

The presumptive Republican nominee was asked at one of his signature "town-hall'' styled campaign appearances in Westport, Conn., if he, as president, would reject "the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war.''

"I don't think you could make a blanket statement about pre-emptive war, because obviously, it depends on the threat that the United States of America faces," the senator from Arizona told his audience at Bridgewater Associates, a global investment firm.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


Leftists See U.S. Plot To Undermine Beijing (NY Sun, April 10, 2008)

A band of American leftists is denouncing the Olympics-related protests against China as a plot to undermine Beijing's Communist government and divert attention from the American-led war in Iraq.

"We're here because we're opposed to the United States's attempts to colonize China," a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Paul Greenberg of San Francisco, said. "They're trying to break off Tibet from China in order to allow the U.S. to occupy it. ... Tibet has been part of China since before any Western countries even existed.

Torchbearer Signals Solidarity With Tibet (JOSH GERSTEIN, April 10, 2008, NY Sun)
A New York environmental activist selected to carry the Olympic torch, Majora Carter of the Bronx, signaled her solidarity with Tibetan protesters by unfurling a Tibetan flag soon after she was handed the torch here yesterday afternoon.

Ms. Carter said that after she pulled the flag from her sleeve the torch was quickly taken from her and she was pushed out of the Olympic entourage. "The Chinese security and cops were on me like white on rice, it was no joke," she told the Associated Press.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


Foreign policy: 2 camps seek McCain's ear (Elisabeth Bumiller and Larry Rohter, April 10, 2008, NY Times)

Senator John McCain has long made his decades of experience in foreign policy and national security the centerpiece of his political identity, and suggests he would bring to the White House a fully formed view of the world.

But now one component of the fractious Republican Party foreign policy establishment — the so-called pragmatists, some of whom have come to view the Iraq war or its execution as a mistake — is expressing concern that McCain might be coming under increased influence from a competing camp, the neoconservatives, whose thinking dominated President George W. Bush's first term and played a pivotal role in building the case for war.

The concerns have emerged in the weeks since McCain became his party's presumptive nominee and began more formally assembling a list of foreign policy advisers. Among those on the list are several prominent neoconservatives, including Robert Kagan, an author who helped write much of the foreign policy speech that McCain delivered in Los Angeles on March 26, in which he described himself as "a realistic idealist." Others include the security analyst Max Boot and a former United Nations ambassador, John Bolton.

Prominent members of the pragmatist group, often called realists, say they are also wary of the McCain campaign's chief foreign policy aide, Randy Scheunemann, who was a foreign policy adviser to former Senators Trent Lott and Bob Dole and who has longtime ties to neoconservatives. In 2002, Scheunemann was a founder of the hawkish Committee for the Liberation of Iraq and was an enthusiastic supporter of the Iraqi exile and Pentagon favorite, Ahmad Chalabi.

Given that the Iraq war is a function of their failure to remove Saddam in '91, the pragmatists ought to have the decency to shut up. Maintaining dictatorships so that we won't be bothered by messy new situations is a policy that is beneath the contempt of any decent party and should be left to the Democrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


The Taliban talk the talk (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 4/11/08, Asia Times)

Brigadier General Carlos Branco, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, is skeptical of the Taliban's claims, calling them unrealistic and no more than propaganda.

"Every year they claim a spring offensive. What offensive are they talking about? Blowing up cell phone towers in Helmand and Kandahar [provinces] or blowing up power stations in Ghazni? This is not an offensive," Branco told Asia Times Online in a telephone interview from Kabul.

"You know much better than me this [cutting supply lines] is not true. We rely on various means of transportation; besides, we do have a lot of supplementary stocks with us. Therefore, a few attacks will never have any effect. We do have sea problems [Afghanistan is landlocked] but this claim of completely chopping off our supply lines has no base in reality. I completely deny their claim," Branco said.

Commenting on the Taliban's new strategy, Branco dismissed it as old wine in new bottles.

"The Taliban haven't had a new strategy in the past, neither will they have one in the future. They will do what they did in 2007. They avoided any confrontation with NATO or the Afghan National Army and instead they attacked district headquarters and claimed they had captured the whole district. But before the arrival of our troops, they left.

"They did indeed attack some of our forward operation bases, but their attacks were ineffective as they lack the military capability ... it makes me laugh when they try to compare their guerrilla strategy with that of General Giap's," said Branco.

"This is really nonsense. General Giap used coordinated guerrilla attacks and employing conventional tactics with a range of weaponry. The Taliban's tactics are useless. The tried to use those tactics in 2006 and suffered heavy losses. I don't think they will be able to repeat those tactics. They are not able to confront us on open ground, not even at the platoon level," Branco said.

...also known as, serving their own heads up on a plate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


The 50 Greatest Comedy Sketches of All Time (Nerve.com)

There's no more sure-fire way to kill something's intrinsic comedic value than to try to examine what makes it funny. The minute you start thinking, you stop laughing. So why, then, have Nerve and IFC.com devoted an enormous amount of time, manpower, monetary resources, server space and posh catered lunches to the pursuit of ranking the boob tube's finest sketch comedy offerings?

In part, we're here because magical new technology (*coughYouTubecough*) allows us to do more than just pontificate for paragraphs on end — now we can pontificate for paragraphs on end and provide audiovisual evidence to back up those pontifications. We provide the context, share our thoughts and feelings, and let you commence with the guffawing and, naturally, the disagreeing. After all, the comedy sketch — short, sweet, completely silly or shot through with social commentary — worms its way into the public mind like nothing else, and has easily made the leap to the web when other forms have faltered.

Any list is bound by the limitations set on it — consciously and unconsciously — by its creators: we kept our 50 selections to stuff that's appeared on television by choice, and to what's appeared in English out of necessity. One must also bear in mind the availability of material; who knows what comedic treasures are lost to us because they simply don't exist anymore?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Brown of Britain says he won't go to Beijing for opening ceremony (Sarah Lyall, April 10, 2008, IHT)

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Wednesday that he would not attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics this summer.

April 9, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 PM


Bashing China is not the answer (L. Ling-chi Wang, 4/09/08, CNN)

The media, as usual, have seized the opportunity to pour fuel onto the fire. Politicians are tripping over each other in their eagerness to condemn China, to call for boycotts, and to claim the high moral ground, even though the United States has been treated as a rogue state worldwide because of our invasion of Iraq, and our unlawful detention, torture, rendition, etc.

Sadly, most Americans know little about international issues and for that matter, China, as demonstrated by the conspicuous absence of information regarding historical context and complexity. [...]

What they also don't know is how Chinese in China are viewing and preparing for the Olympics in August. Not since the 10-year nightmare of the Cultural Revolution have the Chinese been more dedicated to and collectively mobilized for a national project: to host the first Olympics in China.

Americans know this: Tibet isn't part of China and the Chinese people have no say in how they're governed. The rest is water-carrying for a dictatorship.


Olympic torch journey descends into farce
(Dan Glaister, 4/10/08, The Guardian)

The San Francisco leg of the Olympic torch relay descended into farce last night after the authorities cut the route in half and hustled the torch away from waiting protesters and supporters of the Beijing games by driving it a mile inland.

At the opening ceremony preceding the afternoon's relay, the first torchbearer took the flame from a lantern brought to the stage and held it aloft before quickly departing again, running behind the scenes and into a warehouse. It was unclear exactly what had happened to the torch, with even the news channel helicopters unable to find it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 PM


Ecuador's military chiefs resign (BBC, 4/09/08)

Ecuador's top four military commanders have resigned after the president accused the military of aiding the US in operations against Farc rebels.

General Guillermo Vasconez, the head of the army, said all four had resigned because President Rafael Correa had questioned the military's behaviour.

The resignations came hours after Defence Minister Wellington Sandoval stepped down without explanation.

Mr Correa claimed last week the CIA had been manipulating his spy agencies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 PM


Can Obama change U.S. political map? (JOHN FORTIER, 4/8/08 , Politico)

In a recent study of presidential elections since 1944, my colleague Tim Ryan and I found that states’ partisan leanings tend to move with the national popular vote rather than change wildly based on the candidates. Imagine a state that leans 10 percentage points toward a Republican when the national popular vote is 50-50. If a Democrat wins the national vote by 15 points, he or she will likely win that state by 5 points. If a Republican wins the national vote by 10 points, he or she will win the state by 20 points.

There are some exceptions to this rule. The South was particularly volatile before the 1980s, shifting its votes to Republicans, Democrats and Dixiecrats. Presidential candidates can affect the voting patterns of their home states. And states can change their political allegiances over time, but it’s usually through a slow process of political evolution, not a dramatic shift.

There is really only one recent example of a significant map shift that had major consequences: West Virginia in 2000. Prior to the Bush-Gore election, West Virginia had been a very safe Democratic state, voting 3.5 percent to 8 percent over the Democratic national average. In 2000, George W. Bush won West Virginia 53 percent to 47 percent.

In 2004, West Virginia was even more solidly in the Bush camp. If Gore had won West Virginia in 2000, he would have been our 43rd president. In a nutshell, Bush and Karl Rove saw that West Virginia was a heavily white state with socially conservative values and worries that environmentalism might do further damage to the coal industry. In hindsight, this makes perfect sense, but in election after election, both parties assumed this was a safe Democratic state.

So can Obama change the partisan leaning of states in 2008 like Bush did in West Virginia? Probably not.

...is that all the Blue states are in play and none of the Red.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 PM


Stalin and Putin (Thomas C. Reeves, 4/09/08, HNN)

Michael Weiss, in The New Criterion, has called historian Robert Conquest “the premier truth-teller of the most sustained totalitarianism of the twentieth century.” Conquest published some twenty books on Russia and the Soviet Union, but Weiss was referring principally to The Great Terror. This landmark volume appeared first in 1968 and has recently been republished with the subtitle “A Reassessment.” It is the definitive work on Stalin’s purges of the 1930s. The new edition, based on the latest evidence (more than two million secret documents have been declassified in recent years, and the quantity continues to escalate), further documents one of history’s most insane and deadly crimes against humanity. To enter Stalin’s world is to confirm the Judeo-Christian concept of original sin, experience the relative weakness of human reason, and view the undeniable difference between good and evil. The fashionable temptation to be “non-judgmental” plays no role here. The politically correct version of the Cold War, seeing both sides as equally to blame, carries no weight.

Conquest makes clear that terror as an instrument of Communist policy, while not inherently part of Marxism, was begun under Lenin. The first show trials of enemies of the state began in 1922, a desperate attempt to retain power at all cost. Stalin rose in the party as a moderate, few realizing his mad capacity for thievery, torture, and murder.

How deadly was Stalin’s purge? Between 1937 and 1938, about seven million Russians were arrested, a million were executed, and some two million more perished in the Gulag. A conservative estimate is that from 1934 to 1939, Stalin’s victims numbered some 15 million. On a single day in late 1937, Stalin and V. M. Molotov sanctioned 3,167 death sentences and then went to the movies. This slaughter was preceded between 1930 and 1933 by an orchestrated famine that killed some 10 million peasants. And it was followed, during the war, by Stalin’s near annihilation of the Soviet Union’s top military. For example, 25 out of 28 Corps Commissars and 58 out of 64 Divisional Commissars were purged. A record number of Soviet troops fled to the Allies to escape the killing.

All through the famine, terror, the Second World War, and beyond, leftist dupes in Great Britain and the United States, such as Walter Duranty of the New York Times, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and American ambassador Joseph Davies, portrayed the Soviet tyrant in glowing terms.

Solzhenitsyn and the Truth of History: a review of August 1914, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Edward E. Ericson, Jr., Spring 1973, First Principles)
August 1914 recounts the events of one month during World War I, in which Russia hastily and unpreparedly invaded Germany. The crucial event of the unsuccessful invasion is the surrounding and demolition of the Second Army led by General Samsonov, one of many characters taken directly from the historical record. Solzhenitsyn sees great import in this Russian defeat at the Battle of Tannenberg; thus the novel. Specifically, it is that turning–point in history when old Russia is shown to be incapable of fending for itself and is therefore vulnerable to all manner of destructive forces tearing at the national fabric. (The trilogy will, of course, take us through the Revolution of October, 1917.) Apart from this guiding generalization, a superhuman effort will be demanded of the reader to keep from becoming bogged down in the density of historical detail. While the minutiae of military maneuverings may still be annoying to most readers, it is justifiable by the need to show that chaos reigns. The reader may perhaps take some small consolation from the fact that most of the Russian generals have no idea of what they are doing and share his bafflement!

Several major themes thread their ways through the novel. Of these, the primary one is Solzhenitsyn’s concern for truth. The novel concludes with the epigram, “Untruth did not begin with us; nor will it end with us.” The truth which he is after in particular in this novel is the truth of history and its meaning. But one cannot speculate on the meaning without first having the facts at his disposal; thus the importance of the details of his historical reconstruction, even if at the expense of boring some of his readers. The Russian authorities have too long, for their own ideological purposes, kept accurate factual accounts of events from the people which would allow them to draw their own meanings from the facts. Solzhenitsyn is concerned to recover for the Russian people truthful facts. We may call this a concern for truth at its lowest, or most fundamental, level. A minor figure expresses it thus: “The stuff of history is not opinions but sources. And your conclusions are determined by the source materials, even if they contradict your preconceived views” (548). It is easy enough to extrapolate the radical implications which such a procedure will have for a totalitarian state, and it is no wonder that the commissars consider Solzhenitsyn an enemy.

The concern for truth appears over and over again in the novel. For instance, it appears in the doctored newspaper accounts of the events on the front line; at the moment of defeat, the public reads of heroic Russian fighting which will bring victory with God’s help. Worse, the military dispatches send back the same false but self-serving versions of the events. The theme culminates in the final chapter, when the archduke gathers his defeated generals for a post-mortem. In unison, they heap the blame on the head of the dead General Samsonov, who was undeserving of such obloquy. Fortunately, an honest man, Colonel Vorotyntsev, is present, and he is determined “to speak out once and for all” (601). He calls this truth-telling “a sacred duty,” reminiscent of his author’s own words in other contexts. That Vorotyntsev is ultimately not heeded is part of the tragedy of Russian history, but Solzhenitsyn places great importance on the responsibility of a man to speak the truth as he knows it, whether or not others listen to him. The pragmatism of careerists will not do; one’s first loyalty must be to the truth.

Another theme of the novel, which is congruent with the author’s other writings, is the nobility of the individual. This theme is enunciated by one of his minor figures, Varsonofiev—and Solzhenitsyn includes a series of minor figures to speak his mind and to place his interpretation upon events. Countering the expressions of two students, Varsonofiev asserts, “ . . . we should develop our soul. There is nothing more precious than the development of a man’s soul; it is more important than the well-being of countless future generations” (409). Another minor figure, Professor Andozerskaya, in a rebuttal of economic and environmental determinism, tells her students, “But apart from the environment there is also a spiritual tradition, hundreds of spiritual traditions! There is, too, the spiritual life of the individual, and therefore each individual has, perhaps in spite of his environment, a personal responsibility—for what he does and for what other people around him do” (p.549). Sozhenitsyn’s Christianity is becoming more and more widely acknowledged (see Philip Rahv’s review in New York Review of Books, Oct. 5, 1972. 14), and it is no accident that the above-cited spokeswoman is a professor of medieval history who praises that period for its “intense spiritual life” which was “predominant over material existence” (548).

The traditional Christian humanist view of man keeps in tension his grandeur and his misery. The part of that equation which is in need of resuscitation today is the grandeur, and Sozhenitsyn displays many images of this in his novel. But what is most striking and doubtless disconcerting to many readers, is that his images of human grandeur and valor are to be found among military men, and here Sozhenitsyn seems deliberately to flaunt his soldiers in the face of the militant anti-militarists. He explains why: those soldiers, who are “ridiculed by liberal writers,” nevertheless “represented, in purified and concentrated form. The vitality and courage of the whole nation” (357). He speaks in praise of ideas far out of fashion: patriotism, nationalism, the dignity of soldiering, the just war.

Another major theme of August 1914 is ones responsibility toward his fellows. The great example of this is Colonel Vorotyntsev, one of the two sympathetic major characters and the closest thing to an authorial alter ego in this novel. Vorotyntsev is a very capable and energetic man who does much more than could reasonably have been expected of a man of his rank to bring about a Russian victory. His character is almost non-Russian, perhaps Western and even German in its combination of intelligence and energy. In his devotion to duty he could easily have come out of a Puritan or Calvinist tradition. And he is able to inspire in others a sense of responsibility for their fellows. In an outstanding scene Vorotsyntsev tries to rally a fleeing regiment to the probably suicidal task of covering the retreat of the larger army. Standing before them, he considers alternate possibilities. He could invoke the concept of honor or their obligation to Russian allies, but such abstractions ill suit their desperate straits. He could ask them to die for the Tsar, but he despises the Tsar and the corrupt system over which he presides. He could appeal to the name of God. But why should God prefer a Russian victory to a German? He could appeal to the fatherland, but he knows the concept means less to them than it does to him. Finally, he says, simply, “Brothers! Isn’t it selfish to save ourselves at the expense of others? We haven’t far to go from here to reach Russian territory, we could easily make it—but if we did, other regiments would simply be cut to pieces” (360). And, although without enthusiasm, they do respond to the call to help their brothers in need. If there is one watershed issue, one separator of sheep from goats, in this novel, it is just this. Who will help his brothers? Those who do not are the villains. Those who do are the heroes.

It is precisely at this point that Solzhenitsyn chiefly takes issue with Tolstoy (who appears briefly as a character in the book). Running throughout the novel is a love–hate relationship with the author of War and Peace, and in important ways August 1914 can be seen as his version of the subject and even his rebuttal of his master. On this crucial issue Tolstoy avers that men do not control their own destinies, do not make history, but rather that impersonal forces of history rule the fates of men. For all his love of Tolstoy the writer, Solzhenitsyn feels compelled to draw a sharp line of distinction from him here, and Vorotyntsev is his answer.

The final theme which we will consider is the one embodied in Solzhenitsyn’s other hero, General Samsonov: the theme of Tragedy. And here we come to a theme which transcends anything which has appeared in the earlier fiction of Solzhenitsyn. In the novels rooted in his autobiography, he presented a vivid picture of suffering, but it was always undeserved suffering inflicted upon innocents by totalitarian oppressors. The books were protests against that oppression. Now we come to something different and more elemental. In Samsonov we have a character who approximates the tragic heroes of the Western literary tradition, a man who suffersand dies and whose tragic end grows in large measure out of his own failures, yet a man who retains his dignity and integrity to the end. The meaning of the tragic events escapes him, but he dies affirming the will of God.

Kissinger, Metternich, and Realism (Robert D. Kaplan, June 1999, The Atlantic)
(In perceiving the Soviet Union as permanent, orderly, and legitimate, Kissinger shared a failure of analysis with the rest of the foreign-policy elite -- notably excepting the scholar and former head of the State Department's policy-planning staff George Kennan, the Harvard historian Richard Pipes, the British scholar and journalist Bernard Levin, and the Eureka College graduate Ronald Reagan.)

And Robert Conquest and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 PM


Deathbed Confession Reveals WWI Cannon Location (CBS 5, April 09, 2008)

A deathbed confession may have solved a missing cannon mystery in Bennington, Vermont.

A World War I cannon has been missing from the Vermont Veterans Home for 40 years.

According to police, a man on his deathbed confessed to taking it and burying it beneath the Dartmouth College football stadium in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Police later found an ammunition carriage underneath the stadium bleachers, and now a geophysics class will scan the area to locate the actual cannon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:38 PM


Closing torch ceremony at S.F. canceled (Juliana Barbassa and Marcus Wohlsen, April 9, 2008, AP)

Officials say the planned closing ceremony for the Olympic torch at the San Francisco Bay waterfront is canceled and another one will take place at an undisclosed location.

Dawn Fraser to boycott Olympics (The Australian, April 09, 2008)
AUSTRALIAN Olympic legend Dawn Fraser will make her own protest over China's treatment of Tibet, refusing to attend the Beijing Games in August.

It will be only the second Olympic Games the four-times gold medallist has not attended since making her Olympic debut in Melbourne, in 1956.

“As a spectator, I am making my own statement by not going,” Fraser said. [...]

China should also never have been awarded the right to host the Games on account of their human rights record, she said.

I don't want to run with the torch as a caged woman: Kiran Bedi (Sheela Bhatt, April 09, 2008, Rediff)
Former Delhi top cop Kiran Bedi has lashed out at the tight security arrangements ahead of the Olympic torch relay to be held in the Capital on April 17.

"I am a sportswoman. I do not want to run with the torch as a caged woman. Why turn India Gate into a zoo? What is the point of running with the torch? I do not want to participate in a caged environment. If you make the environment so suffocating, then it is better to let the torch travel on wheels or with the Army." Bedi said, speaking exclusively with rediff.com.

Bedi, a former national-level tennis champion, is having second thoughts on participating in the controversial torch relay ceremony to be held in New Delhi.

Bedi's possible turnaround may displease the Chinese. "I am not running to please anybody. I am running out of my love of sports. I am into it purely as a sportswoman," she asserted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:12 PM


New York Public Library Now Live on iTunes (Open Culture)

The New York Public Library doesn’t need any introduction. But it’s new page on iTunes perhaps does. It went live yesterday (access it here), and it gives you access (all of it free, of course) to many great cultural productions staged by NYC’s foremost library. You’ll find an extensive collection of “conversations” with some of today’s leading authors — John Updike (transcript), Umberto Eco (video), Paul Auster (video), to name a few. (You can get the full author list here.) You’ll also get to rummage around in the library’s large Jazz Oral History Project, which features interviews with an impressive number of important jazz figures.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:12 PM


McCain Manager Looks Ahead To November (Reid Wilson, 4/09/08, Real Clear Politics)

McCain's team is pleased, they maintain, that the map appears to be more open than in any other recent years. "Bush-Kerry, Bush-Gore, I mean they had like ten states that were in play, maybe twelve, that the entire campaign was waged in. I mean we're talking more than twenty," he said, pointing to Democratic-leaning states from Wisconsin and Minnesota, which hasn't voted Republican since 1952, to "everything west of the Mississippi Valley" as a targeted state.

"The big question marks are the West Coast. I mean, is California going to be in play? And obviously, Washington and Oregon have been swing states," he added. Democrats would disagree that any of the three states would be in serious jeopardy, especially as John Kerry had virtually no trouble keeping each in the Democratic fold in 2004.

While in New Mexico, Davis and his staff held one-hour meetings with about twenty of those targeted states, listening to state officials' pitches for help and assessments of local conditions and the campaign's chances. Davis' staff has also worked in recent weeks to integrate campaign operations with the RNC itself, as well as its fundraising arm, the Victory Committee, run by McCain ally and former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina.

Beyond planning for states to target in November, Davis is beginning to consider how to frame the contrast with Barack Obama, and how to beat back attacks from national Democrats. McCain can make the claim that he is the more experienced candidate, Davis said, because his is an experience of bringing change, offering the best of both worlds. "We're not going to concede change to a guy who's not changed anything in his career. John McCain's been the change agent in the United States Senate for 20 years. Nobody's fought for more change in the place, nobody's spent more political blood than he has to get things to happen differently," Davis said. "Barack wants to talk about the future, let's prove it by looking at who's actually made change in the present."

Ronald Reagan may be the only other candidate of the modern era to combine the gravitas of experience and leadership with the street cred of being a political maverick and agent of change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:56 AM


Obama's Minister Problem (LANNY J. DAVIS, April 9, 2008, Wall Street Journal)

I have tried to get over my unease surrounding Barack Obama's response to the sermons and writings of his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. But the unanswered questions remain. [...]

My concerns were retriggered when I read for the first time three excerpts from Rev. Wright's sermons published several weeks ago in a national news magazine [...]

As I read and reread these words, I keep thinking: If my rabbi ever uttered such hateful words from the pulpit about America and declared all Palestinians to be terrorists, I have no doubt I would have withdrawn immediately from his congregation.

In his eloquent Philadelphia speech, Mr. Obama likened Rev. Wright to a beloved, but politically extremist, family member with whom one profoundly disagrees but whose rage one understands.

But this comparison just doesn't work for me. I don't get a chance to choose my family members. I do get a chance to choose my spiritual or religious leader and my congregation. And I do not have to remain silent or, more importantly, expose my children to the spiritual leader of my congregation who spews hate that offends my conscience.

Mr. Obama made a choice to join the church and to ask Rev. Wright to marry him and his bride. He said for the first time a few weeks ago that had Rev. Wright not recently resigned as pastor of the church, he would have withdrawn. But that only reraised the same questions: Why didn't he act before the resignation?

One telling demonstration of the soft bigotry of low expectations is the obligatory description of the Senator's speech as "eloquent" by folks proceed to note how two-faced and unpersuasive it was.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:41 AM


Keystone Culture of Death: Casey’s killer Obama embrace (Paul Kengor, 4/09/08, National Review)

At the 1992 Democratic National Convention, the Democratic governor of the state of Pennsylvania, Robert Casey, was prohibited from speaking. The Clintons and their associates had blacklisted Casey because he wanted to speak against legalized abortion — as a pro-lifer, Casey was an increasing oddity in the modern Democratic party. The governor, engaged in a simultaneous fight to preserve his own life from a rare and fatal disease, never stopped lamenting how his party, which claimed to champion the little guy, utterly refused to defend the most innocent and defenseless.

After the incident, Governor Casey sensed things would only get worse in his party, which was now totally beholden to a radical feminism. His worst nightmares materialized in 1993, when the new first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, sought to revolutionize the American health-care and abortion industries. In a televised forum discussing her national health-care plan that October, Mrs. Clinton said that abortion services “would be widely available.” [...]

The anti-abortion movement hoped Casey Jr. might pick up the torch from Santorum, and might even shake up his own party on the issue.

Thus far Casey has been a disappointment. And now, alas, Senator Casey has stepped up to endorse the most radical supporter of abortion to ever come close to a major-party presidential nomination: Barack Obama.

Sen. Barack Obama is so extreme on abortion that he has managed to achieve what I once thought impossible: He is to the left of Hillary Clinton on abortion. I say that as someone who has written a book on Hillary Clinton, with a special focus on her abortion fanaticism.

How extreme is Obama? His short U.S. Senate record is as Planned Parenthood-perfect as Senator Clinton’s and other abortion extremists’. Yet there is one area where he surpasses even the zealots: In the Illinois senate, Obama led the charge against legislation that would have ensured medical care to babies who survived abortions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:33 AM


Meet Woody, the bird with a massive pecker that's triple the normal size (DailyMail, 9th April 2008)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:22 AM


Tibet may seek total independence from China (rediff, April 09, 2008)

Total independence could soon be the slogan of Tibet's present movement for 'genuine autonomy' under China, with the Tibetan parliament in-exile, itself a divided house on the issue, mooting a people's vote to decide the matter.

Interacting with reporters in Guwahati on Wednesday, Tibetan parliament in-exile member Karma Yeshi said that there were differences of opinion on whether Tibet should go for independence or settle for autonomy under China. He added that the matter could be decided conclusively only by the people in Tibet.

''The Tibetan government in-exile won't decide this issue without taking the verdict of those who actually live in Tibet in a free and fair manner. If the majority Tibetans want independence, we will strive for it," he said.

Yeshi indicated that there was a considerable population that wanted complete independence and the various Tibetan communities in other parts of the world were also not totally against it.

White House does not rule out Bush missing Olympics opening (AFP, 4/08/08)

The White House did not rule out Tuesday President George W. Bush missing the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, noting that it had never said he would attend the event.

Asked by reporters if Bush would be attending the opening ceremony, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said: "We haven't provided any schedule on the president's trip."

The White House has insisted that Bush would attend the Olympics, but pressed on whether his decision to go to Beijing was irreversible, Perino said: "The president can always make a change."

"But the president has been clear that this is a sporting event for the athletes and that pressuring China before, during and after the Olympics is the best way for us to try to help people across the board in China, not just the Tibetans," she said.

Monks Disrupt Media Tour in China (JIM YARDLEY and JAKE HOOKER, 4/09/08, NY Times)
China suffered another unexpected public relations setback on Wednesday when Buddhist monks interrupted a government-managed media tour in western China by waving a Tibetan flag and protesting that the authorities were depriving them of their human rights.

The disruption, in the city of Xiahe in Gansu Province, marked the second time that monks have upstaged government efforts to control foreign media tours of Tibetan areas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:16 AM


Iraq's Real Gains (Barham Salih, April 9, 2008, Washington Post)

[A]gainst all odds, Iraq has closed its fifth year of freedom with tangible improvements -- thanks to interlocking steps on security, the economy and national reconciliation.

The transition to freedom has been exceptionally painful for Iraqis and Americans alike. The euphoria of liberation was soon tempered by the chaos of looting and then the tornado of terrorism and sectarianism. While Iraqis have been frustrated, the threats pale in comparison with the horrors that they, and the region, endured under Hussein's tyranny.

When we assumed sovereignty in June 2004, the Iraqi security forces were almost nonexistent. Today our security forces are nearly 600,000 strong, and Iraqis are primarily responsible for half of Iraq's 18 provinces. Through improved Iraqi security capabilities, through the coalition's "surge" of troops and, above all, with support from local communities, the violence that obstructed economic, social and political progress has receded significantly. Anbar, a province once all but lost to terrorists, is now largely denied to them. Similarly, Baghdad is no longer a maelstrom of sectarian bloodshed.

Al-Qaeda, the great spoiler in Iraq and the region, is on the run. Al-Qaeda remains a major threat but is now fighting to survive, not to win. The setback that Iraqis, with coalition assistance, have inflicted could well become the genesis of al-Qaeda's defeat across the Muslim world.

Putting the terrorists and militias on the defensive has enabled some economic progress, and the government's competence is growing. We have managed to reduce annual core inflation from 36 percent at the end of 2006 to 14 percent this month. Iraq now funds almost all of its reconstruction and the lion's share of the costs for its security forces. Budget execution is improving: In 2006 the government spent just 24 percent of its investment budget; in 2007, that spending rose to 63 percent and is on track to be even higher this year. Per capita incomes, which were the equivalent of $465 in 2003, passed $2,100 in 2007. Yesterday, our cabinet endorsed plans for a $5 billion supplementary budget to finance an expedited program of major public works. If approved by Parliament, this will be added to the $14 billion already allocated for investment this year. Further, our economic growth rate is expected to top 7 percent this year.

...it would still be forty years before half of Germany was even liberated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:12 AM


Robert Mugabe accuses opposition of 'destabilising' Zimbabwe (Sebastien Berger, 09/04/2008, Daily Telegraph)

President Robert Mugabe's government has accused the opposition of trying to destabilise the country by claiming victory in the presidential election before the results were announced.

Duh? Since stability is dictatorship that's not an accusation but an accolade.

Posted by Stephen Judd at 9:25 AM


Blu-ray won the format war in short order. Now, Amazon is offering a buy 2, get 1 free deal on selected Blu-ray titles.

I don't have a Blu-ray player or HiDef TV, but if I did, I'd probably select the following titles. Which ones would you choose or recommend?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Congratulations to Timothy Lane (1st), John Sterling (2nd) and The Sister Judd (3rd) for winning the Brothers Judd NCAA pool. Please e-mail your address and book preference. Thanks to everyone who participated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


The Age of American Unreason (PAUL GOTTFRIED, April 9, 2008, NY Sun)

A measure of the glowing success of American historian and Columbia University professor Richard Hofstadter (1916–1970), beyond the numerous editions of his books, is the veneration that came from the New York Times, the New Republic, and the Chronicle of Higher Education when my colleague David Brown published a biography of Hofstadter two years ago. Although the biography was far from uncritical, readers and reviewers mostly took the opportunity to celebrate Hofstadter's "liberal" achievement. Only two reviews known to me — one my own in the American Conservative and the other by Wilfred McClay in the Wall Street Journal — acknowledged that the biography offered harsh judgments as well as kind ones about its "renowned" subject. The consensus among his admirers was that Hofstadter had been more than simply a productive writer who had trained a future generation of well-placed establishment historians: He had, they suggested, pointed out the past failings of American society, a society whose politics had been polluted by rural populists and other alleged yahoos.

Hofstadter had gone after those yahoos, albeit not for the first time, when he wrote "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life" (1963). Like "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" published one year later, "Anti-Intellectualism" played up the demagogic political streak in American history, which Hofstadter illustrated with references to Joe McCarthy and the American Right. This work recycled some of Hofstadter's earlier work on the populists and the later Progressives: "Anti-Intellectualism" and "The Age of Reform" (1955), which both earned Pulitzer Prizes, claimed to uncover the right-wing, anti-Semitic, and racist strains of the American political tradition, even in that tradition's supposed reform movements. In "The Age of Reform," Hofstadter observes that American populism was as much about bigotry as the quest for economic justice; the author asserts, although his arguments are far from conclusive, that "a full history of modern anti-Semitism in the United States would reveal its substantial Populist lineage." Hofstadter also draws a highly impressionistic, controversial parallel between the murals of the American artist of the frontier Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975) and Italian fascist iconography; this comparison was apparently drawn from an equally impressionistic essay by the Marxist art historian Meyer Shapiro, published in Partisan Review in 1937.

In "Anti-Intellectualism," the leitmotif becomes "nativism," and although Hofstadter takes to task some cultural and educational practices that may deserve to be criticized, such as vocational training as the basis for American education, the nativist charge here is heavily overworked. A more scrupulous study might have explored a genuinely nativist strain in American social history, but in Hofstadter's work the concept is not so much an instrument of analysis as a term of abuse. It is simply applied to a wide variety of things that Hofstadter objected to, including such sources of offense as blue-collar values, what Hofstadter considered the neo-populism of democratic reformers in the 1950s, and Progressive education. In his idiosyncratic view, the educational nostrums of John Dewey became "nativist" by virtue of supposedly reflecting an old-fashioned American repugnance for real learning.

The one thing that makes Anti-Intellectualism worth reading is that it is the very traits of American society that he whines about throughout the book that preserved us from the disastrous course that Europe followed into rationalism/secularism/Darwinism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


The Colombian Imperative (DIANA FURCHTGOTT-ROTH, April 9, 2008, NY Sun)

Mrs. Clinton wanted Mr. Penn gone because the union vote is crucial in Pennsylvania's upcoming primary. The executive director of the union coalition Change to Win, Greg Tarpinian, requested that Mr. Penn be fired according to the letter he sent on behalf of Change to Win on April 5. In that letter, he wrote, "Mr. Penn was not simply meeting with the government of Colombia, he was advising them on how to pass an anti-worker trade agreement."

The popular perception is that a trade agreement with Colombia would result in Colombian goods coming into the country, displacing American products and workers. Wrong. Most Colombian products, $9.2 billion in 2007, already pay no tariffs to enter America under the Andean Trade Preferences Act, enacted in 1991 and renewed again this year with Mrs. Clinton's support. Yet American products, valued at $8.6 billion in 2007, pay substantial tariffs to enter Colombia. That's not fair trade. American exporters and workers would be the main beneficiaries of the trade agreement, which would put U.S. and Colombian exports on a level playing field.

The agreement, signed in November 2006 and amended in June 2007, would open up duty-free markets between America and Colombia. Colombia wants the treaty to give more stability to its trade with the U.S. and gain more investment from American firms.

...but the imagery of free trade with an anti-Communist regime.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


Torch Guards Took Part In Tibet Crackdown (RICHARD SPENCER, 4/09/08, The Daily Telegraph)

The Chinese guards of the Olympic flame who fended off protesters in Europe are members of the paramilitary units that crushed dissent in Tibet, a Hong Kong newspaper said yesterday. Officially described as "volunteers" by Beijing, the 30 guards were recruited from specialist squads in the People's Armed Police, a 1 million strong force dedicated to maintaining public order. The PAP has moved into Tibet and Tibetan-settled areas since the protests against Chinese rule began last month.

...we didn't let the SS patrol our streets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Mexico's Calderon seeks to overhaul Pemex: The move, which he insists would not privatize the oil firm, is a huge political gamble for him (Héctor Tobar, 4/09/08, Los Angeles Times)

President Felipe Calderon on Tuesday called for a sweeping modernization of Mexico's state-owned oil company, outlining a series of reforms that would allow private firms to assume a greater role in the petroleum industry. [...]

The proposals announced Tuesday, finally laid out in detail after weeks of speculation, amounted to Calderon's biggest political gamble since taking office in 2006.

The Mexican Constitution forbids direct foreign investment in the oil industry or private ownership of it. The country nationalized the industry in 1938, after expropriating U.S. and European companies. Public ownership of the country's most lucrative natural resource remains a highly emotional issue.

In response to Calderon's initiative, leaders of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, known as the PRD, announced that they would launch a massive campaign of civil disobedience against the "privatization" of Pemex.

April 8, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 PM


Stem cell research may not find wonder cures (LINDSAY MOSS, 4/08/08, The Scotsman)

Even the head of the UK National Stem Cell Network has now conceded that stem cell research may never deliver new treatments. [...]

Lord Patel of Dunkeld, chairman of the UK National Stem Cell Network and chancellor of Dundee University, said the current signs were that research involving stem cells would lead to therapies for patients.

But he said there was also a chance such treatments could prove too risky for human use.

Speaking to The Scotsman, Lord Patel said it could be five to ten years before stem cell treatments were widely available, with trials starting shortly in the UK and US.

"But we have to be cautious," he said. "It may not deliver therapy for anything. We may find that stem therapy is quite a risky business."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 PM

The Best Meat Marinade in the World (Contra Costa Times, from The Shameless Carnivore by Scott Gold)

Makes about 31/3 cups

11/2 cups vegetable oil

3/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons dry mustard

21/2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon cracked black pepper

2 teaspoons fresh parsley, chopped

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

n Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and place over low heat until simmering slightly (not foaming!), then cool completely. Place meat in a zip-top freezer bag, pour in the marinade, then seal tightly. Let sit in the refrigerator at least 4 hours, although overnight is best for tougher cuts or game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 PM


Michelle Obama speaks at presidential rally in Skibo Gym (Andrew Peters, 4/07/08, TartanOnline)

While the crowd was indeed diverse, some students at the event questioned the practices of Mrs. Obama’s event coordinators, who handpicked the crowd sitting behind Mrs. Obama. The Tartan’s correspondents observed one event coordinator say to another, “Get me more white people, we need more white people.” To an Asian girl sitting in the back row, one coordinator said, “We’re moving you, sorry. It’s going to look so pretty, though.”

“I didn’t know they would say, ‘We need a white person here,’ ” said attendee and senior psychology major Shayna Watson, who sat in the crowd behind Mrs. Obama. “I understood they would want a show of diversity, but to pick up people and to reseat them, I didn’t know it would be so outright.”

Of course, that'll be their plea on Election Day too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 PM


Ramadi from the Caliphate to Capitalism (Andrew Lubin, April 2008, Proceedings)

The peace and prosperity enjoyed in Ramadi today was earned primarily by the leadership and initiative shown in the 2006-2007 time period by three men: Colonel Sean MacFarland of the Army's 1st Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 1st Armored Division, known as "The Ready First," Lieutenant Colonel William Jurney of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines (1/6), and Sheikh Sattar Abdul Abu Risha and his Sons of Anbar, the first organized group of Iraqis to turn on AQI.

In 2006, the Army was fighting to control the Shia areas in Iraq, and the Marine Corps was given responsibility for al Anbar province. Major General (now Lieutenant General) Richard Zilmer arrived in June to take command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) (Fwd) and began to develop the strategy to secure Ramadi.

"Ramadi was the missing key to Anbar province," Zilmer said in a January 2008 interview with Proceedings, "but we needed to stabilize the security situation first."

But Ramadi needed more than security if it were to again be thought of as viable city. There were no basic services. Two years of constant IED blasts, 70-ton M1 Abrams tanks barreling through the streets, and Marine counterattacks had left the city devastated. Raw sewage ran down the streets from shattered pipes. There was little-to-no city-supplied electrical power. Shops and other businesses had long ceased to open, and the school system had collapsed. Those citizens who had not fled the city huddled in their homes as Marines and insurgents fought through the streets day and night.

With General Zilmer responsible for all of al Anbar province, responsibility for gaining control of Ramadi fell to Colonel MacFarland of the "Ready First" as it assumed area responsibility in early June 2006.

The situation was grim; the Army had control of the outskirts of the city through its "bookend" camps to the west and east (Camp Ramadi and Camp Corregidor). A tank company operated in the southern part of Ramadi, and the 3d Battalion, 8th Marines (3/8) under Lieutenant Colonel Steven Neary were based at Camp Hurricane Point, in the far western end of the city. Neary had established three tenuous outposts within the city limits; one at the Government Center, another in the Iraqi veterans affairs building known as OP VA, and the third, OP Hawk, close to the Government Center.

"2006 needed to be the Year of the Iraqi Police (IP)," Zilmer said. "We needed to build up their army and police so that governance could follow." But for this to occur, the local Iraqis had to be convinced that the Americans would stay and fight—just as the Americans needed to be convinced that the Iraqis would stand and fight with them.

Enter Sheikh Sattar Abdul Abu Risha.
Sattar Delivers
Shortly after the "Ready First" arrived in June 2006, Lieutenant Colonel Tony Deane, commander of Task Force 1-35 Armor, approached Sattar to recruit his tribesmen to the police force.

To accomplish this, Colonel MacFarland's deputy, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Lechner, and his Police Implementation Officer, Marine Major Teddy Gates, decided to change the location for IP recruiting. They wanted a more secure location close to Sattar's house, as this would enable them to build a police station north of the Euphrates River in an area where many potential recruits lived.

Having already had his father and three brothers killed by AQI, Sattar liked the idea, and the Iraqi response was overwhelming at the next week's recruiting drive. Sattar promised even more recruits for August—and with AQI's help, he delivered.

In August, the new Jazeera police station north of the river, manned mostly by Abu Ali Jassim tribe members, was attacked and the sheikh of the tribe killed. AQI then hid the sheikh's body so it was not found for several days, a gross violation of Islam's strict burial rules that call for interment within 24 hours.

The attack on the station killed several Iraqi police and also caused a number of burn casualties. MacFarland offered the police evacuation to Camp Blue Diamond, an American Army camp outside of Ramadi, while they repaired the station, but the Iraqis refused to abandon their post. Instead, in a scene reminiscent of Iwo Jima, they put their flag back up, and began patrolling again that same day.

With the locals outraged by AQI's disregard of Islamic funeral laws, the charismatic Sheikh Sattar stepped forward to continue the push toward working with the Americans. He began as the spokesman for what is now known as the Anbar Awakening movement, and soon became the leader. McFarland attended the meeting when the sheikhs officially began the Awakening, and the next week he and they agreed to a list of principles and requirements.

McFarland later said, "I told them that I now knew what it was like to be in Independence Hall on 4 July 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:58 AM


Darwin's Kool-Aid (Matt Barber, April 08, 2008, CNSNews.com)

There's a shakeup in the cult of neo-Darwinist pseudo-science, and that endearing, monotone high school teacher of "Ferris Bueller" fame is doing the shaking.

With his new feature documentary, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" (opening in theaters April 18), Ben Stein - actor, economist, presidential speechwriter and all around really smart guy - squares off with some of the world's most prominent anti-theist elites as he gets to the heart of the question, "Who are we, and how did we get here?"

This is not your father's documentary. "Expelled" rocks the house both literally and figuratively. It's gripping, music-packed, comically wry and always entertaining. But its entertainment value is yet surpassed by its educational merit. Throughout the film, Stein boldly shines a light of honest inquiry, revealing time and again that Evolution's Emperor has no clothes. In his trademark deadpan fashion, Stein skillfully debunks the dogmatic neo-Darwinist programming we've all had relentlessly rammed down our throats ever since "Big Science" went bananas over that cute little Scopes Monkey.

Unlike Michael Moore's anti-Bush propaganda flick "Fahrenheit 911" - which sold us a lemon with deceptive editing techniques and staged confrontations - "Expelled" is intellectually honest, cerebrally stimulating and delectably provocative.

Darwinism is so discredited at this point that it almost smacks of bullying to go after it with a feature film, especially one that subjects it to the ridicule it warrants but can't withstand. At least when the cultists rage against the enduring relevance of God you tend to give them points for punching above their weight, though futilely.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:54 AM


Obama's Wife And Their Spiritual Adviser (Stuart Taylor Jr., April 7, 2008, National Journal)

Weeks of brooding over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Michelle Obama eruptions have severely shaken the hope I expressed in January: "If Barack Obama can show he is tough enough and pragmatic enough to win the presidency and serve with distinction, it would be the best thing that could happen to America and the world."

What should we learn about Obama's judgment and fortitude from the fact that he sat passively in the pews for 20 years and gave money and took his children while Wright, his friend and "spiritual adviser," spewed far-left, America-hating, white-bashing, conspiracy-theorizing, loony, "God damn America" vitriol from the pulpit? [...]

[I]t also appears that Obama shares the unfortunate tendency of many liberals to see far-left extremists (and of many conservatives to see far-right extremists) as kindred spirits. And there may be some resonance between Wright's angry vitriol and Michelle Obama's bleak vision of America.

Most important, perhaps, Obama's assertion that "I can no more disown [Wright] than I can disown the black community," together with his acknowledgment of "shocking ignorance" among many blacks, implies what other Wright apologists have said more directly: White-bashing, far-left rhetoric, and paranoid racial conspiracy theories are commonplace in many black churches and among many otherwise sensible black people.

Obama won't disown these people, because that would be inconsistent with his lifelong quest to belong to the black community, movingly detailed in his 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father. And because he needs their votes.

All of this is understandable. But would the same Obama who lacked the fortitude to break with Jeremiah Wright be a good bet, if elected, to take on his party's own special interests? To break, when circumstances warrant, with the across-the-board liberal orthodoxy he has long embraced? Curb entitlement spending? Temper excessive affirmative-action preferences? Tame the lawsuit lobby? Assign the teachers unions their share of the blame for what Obama calls "crumbling schools that are stealing the future"?

Could he get tough, when necessary, with fashionably leftist foreign dictators, highly politicized international institutions, and sanctimonious European America-bashers? Or would he instead heed such soothing platitudes as his wife's February 14 assertion that "instead of protecting ourselves against terrorists," we should be "building diplomatic relationships"?

I have a hard time believing at this point that Obama is up to these tasks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:37 AM


Lord Coe blasts 'horrible Chinese thugs' who barged their way through London as IOC considers scrapping the relay (SAM GREENHILL, GWYNETH REES and PETER ALLEN, 8th April 2008, Daily Mail)

The head of London's 2012 Games described as "horrible" the burly henchmen who barged their way through the capital, shoving the public and even police out of the way.

His trenchant remarks followed those of former Blue Peter presenter and torchbearer Konnie Huq, who revealed the Chinese minders barked orders at her and pushed her arm up to hold the flame higher.

Sunday's scenes, which were repeated in France yesterday, brought accusations that Britain had imported Chinese police state tactics to control the supposedly showcase relay.

...wake up with thugs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:12 AM

'80 REDUX:

Boehner sees coattails for GOP in McCain bid (Sean Lengell, April 8, 2008, Washington Times)

"When I talk to my members, and you look at the polling and you get out on the road and listen to people, there's no question McCain is bringing all the Republicans together, and frankly a big chunk of independents," Mr. Boehner told a gathering of journalists last week.

"I'm not here suggesting to you that it will be an easy walk back for us to earn our majority. I understand the difficulty, but I am here to suggest to you that it's going to be a far better Republican year than most people realize."

The Ohio Republican says Mr. McCain's presence on the party ticket in November will particularly help mobilize the conservative electorate in the 61 Democrat-held House seats in districts that voted for President Bush in 2004.

"I believe John McCain will win more than 61 Democrat-held [House] seats" nationwide, Mr. Boehner said.

Republicans had been out of power for so long back in 1980 that the candidates running against entrenched Democrat veterans were the halt, the lame and the brain dead. But they won because of the top of the ticket.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:59 AM


Brazilian dwarves who are giants of football (Lucy Cockroft, 08/04/2008, Daily Telegraph)

...just without any entertainment value.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 AM


Charlton Heston: as you won't remember him (Andy McSmith and Ciar Byrne, 7 April 2008, Independent)

From 1966 to 1971, he was president of the Screen Actors' Guild, following in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan. He opposed the Vietnam War, but went out to entertain the GIs there. He thought that Richard Nixon was a disaster for America.

But as his 50th birthday approached, a change came over Heston's screen career – and, following on quickly, his politics. The roles as a leading man dried up and he had to settle for supporting parts, even playing a bad guy for the first time, when he appeared as Cardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeers. And there was the Dynasty spin-off, The Colbys.

He also watched from a distance as his friend Ronald Reagan carved out a political career in the Republican Party. In 1981, Reagan offered him a job as co-chairman of the President's task force on arts and humanities, which he accepted with some reservations.

Then in 1987, Reagan nominated a conservative legal scholar, Robert Bork, to the Supreme Court. Senator Edward Kennedy reacted with a speech that warned: "Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions [and] blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters." Gregory Peck fronted a successful campaign to block the nomination.

In his younger days, Heston might have been there campaigning with them. Instead, he reacted to this public humiliation of President Reagan as if his own face had been slapped, and joined the Republican Party. Heston felt he was still battling for civil liberties, except that now he was standing up for the liberty of the average white middle-class American male against the spread of "political correctness".

It was also clear that, in Heston's mind at least, the very fact that he had spent his life bringing heroes to the screen such as Moses or Ben-Hur, or geniuses such as Michelangelo, gave him political authority.

A famous speech that he delivered to the Harvard Law School in February 1999, a cry of rage against gun control, gay rights, violent lyrics in rap music and other Heston bugbears, opened with the observation: "If my creator gave me the gift to connect you with the hearts and minds of those great men, then I want to use that same gift now to reconnect you with your own sense of liberty, your own freedom of thought, your own compass for what is right."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:37 AM

DOG BITES MAN FILES (via Kevin Whited):

EU suffers defeat in banana wars (BBC, 4/07/08)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 AM


Delegate for Obama quits over remark (ABDON M. PALLASCH. 4/08/08, Chicago Sun-Times)

Linda Ramirez-Sliwinski, a Carpentersville village trustee, was elected as an Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention. She sports an Obama sign in her front yard.

On Saturday, two neighbor children were playing in the tree next-door to her house.

Ramirez-Sliwinski "came outside and told the children to quit playing in the tree like monkeys. The tree was not on Ramirez-Sliwinski's property," Carpentersville Police Commander Michael Kilbourne said.

Ramirez-Sliwinski admitted she used the word "monkeys," but said she did not intend racism. She said she was only trying to protect them from falling out of the tree.

Is this the sort of PC policing we'd have to look forward to?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Boys and their toys? It's biological, not social (Nic Fleming, 07/04/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Dr Kim Wallen, a psychologist at Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia, studied a group of captive, mainly juvenile male and female rhesus monkeys.

The animals were offered two categories of toys - ones with wheels such as wagons and other vehicles, and various dolls and cuddly toys including such as a Winnie the Pooh.

In a series of videoed experiments one of each type of toy was placed 30ft apart to see which monkeys would be attracted to which category.

In most cases the monkeys formed a group around one of the toys and eventually one of them would snatch it and run away.

Dr Wallen and colleagues, found the 11 males spent more time playing with wheeled toys, while the 23 females played with both the cuddly and wheeled toys equally.

Their conclusion contradicts those of the dominant psychological theory that the preference of boys for vehicles and toy soldiers and that of girls for dolls is down to social rather than innate influences.

Haven't they ever seen what you can do with a doll and an M80? Of course, it does demonstrate that homosexuality is a learned behavior.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


The Shape of the Race to Come (WILLIAM KRISTOL, 4/07/08, NY Times)

McCain’s comeback should begin just after Labor Day, on Sept. 4, with a strong acceptance speech at the Republican convention. The presidential debates will also provide an opportunity. Expectations for Obama will be too high, people will forget he isn’t as good a debater as he is a speaker — and McCain could well rise to the occasion.

More fundamental will be the question of the discrepancy between the image of Obama the uniter and the reality of Obama the liberal. That hasn’t been much of a problem for Obama in the Democratic contest, since Clinton hasn’t attacked from the right or even the center.

But Republicans will. Last week, over drinks, one Republican strategist not affiliated with the McCain campaign mused about how an independent advertising effort against Obama might work. “Barack Obama: He’s not who you think he is” would be the theme. The supporting evidence would come from his left-wing voting record in Illinois and Washington, spiced up with fun video clips of Reverend Wright.

Who ultimately wins? In politics, as in life, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Many Republicans I know see the weaknesses of their party and of the McCain campaign all too clearly, and assume Obama will prevail.

But a surprising number of Democrats with whom I’ve spoken expect a McCain victory. One told me he was struck by the current polls showing a dead-even race, suggesting both a surprising openness to McCain among Americans who disapprove of Bush and a striking hesitation among the same voters about Obama.

...Senator Obama would need to have a double digit lead now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Boris Johnson is 'formidable', says Ken Livingstone (James Kirkup, 08/04/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Ken Livingstone said yesterday that Boris Johnson was a "formidable opponent" after a new poll put the Conservative candidate for London mayor 13 points ahead of him.

The YouGov poll, which gave Mr Johnson 49 per cent and Mr Livingstone 36 per cent, came amid a new round of personal attacks between the two main candidates in the May 1 election. Mr Livingstone said Mr Johnson's high public profile helped his candidacy.

April 7, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 PM

YOUK KNOWS THE TIME ZONE RULE (via Bryan Francoeur):

Day in the majors (Kansas City Star, 4/06/08)

"We’re ready to go home. All these different countries, different currencies, I’m kind of sick of it.”-Kevin Youkilis

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 PM


I and My Brother Against My Cousin: Is Islam the best way to understand the war on terror? Tribalism may offer a clearer view of our enemies' motivations.: a review of Culture and Conflict in the Middle East By Philip Carl Salzman (Stanley Kurtz, 04/14/2008, Weekly Standard)

It is a major event: the most penetrating, reliable, systematic, and theoretically sophisticated effort yet made
to understand the Islamist challenge the United States is facing in cultural terms. A professor of anthropology at Montreal's McGill University, Salzman specializes in the study of Middle Eastern nomads. He, too, is something of a last survivor of a once proud band. What Salzman has managed is to have preserved, nurtured, deepened, and applied to our current challenge a once-dominant anthropological perspective on tribal societies: the study of tribes organized into "segmentary lineages." It was one of the great achievements of modern anthropology. Yet, over the past 40 years, scholars have largely rejected and forgotten the study of segmentary lineage systems.

Nearly a century after Ishi's surrender, the United States finds itself locked in a struggle with fierce jihadi warriors shaped by the pervasively tribal culture of the Islamic Near East. Whether hidden in the mountain sanctuaries of Waziristan or in the fastness of the Iraqi desert, the heart of the jihadi rebellion is tribal. The classic tribal themes of honor and solidarity inspire and draw recruits to the cause--from among lowland peasants and educated urbanites as well. Yet tribalism has been vastly overshadowed by Islam in our attempts to understand the jihadist challenge.

The anthropological understanding of tribal social structures--especially in Africa and the Middle East--has been shunned for 40 years as exaggerating the violence and "primitivism" of non-Western cultures, discouraging efforts at modernization and democratization, and covertly justifying Western intervention abroad. Decades of postmodern and postcolonial studies have conspired against the appearance of books like Salzman's. That an academic, "on the inside," could have worked in relative concealment long enough to produce this book is testament to the possibility of cultural survival. Indeed, fully appreciating what Salzman has to teach us will first require us to dust off our records of his all-but-forgotten language, and trace the trajectory of its destruction.

As with other fundamental sociological terms like "state" or "class," it is difficult to provide a precise meaning for the word "tribe." Whatever their similarities, there are important differences between relatively small hunter-gatherer Indian bands in the California hills like the Yahi and large Middle Eastern tribes professing a world religion and interacting in complex ways with nearby states.

In the Islamic Near East, however, the term "tribe" has a fairly specific meaning. Middle Eastern tribes think of themselves as giant lineages, traced through the male line, from some eponymous ancestor. Each giant lineage divides into tribal segments, which subdivide into clans, which in turn divide into sub-clans, and so on, down to families, in which cousins may be pitted against cousins or, ultimately, brother against brother. Traditionally existing outside the police powers of the state, Middle Eastern tribes keep order through a complex balance of power between these ever fusing and segmenting ancestral groups.

The central institution of segmentary tribes is the feud. Security depends on the willingness of every adult male in a given tribal segment to take up arms in its defense. An attack on a lineage-mate must be avenged by the entire group. Likewise, any lineage member is liable to be attacked in revenge for an offense committed by one of his relatives. One result of this system of collective responsibility is that members of Middle Eastern kin groups have a strong interest in policing the behavior of their lineage-mates, since the actions of any one person directly affect
the reputation and safety of the entire group.

Universal male militarization, surprise attacks on apparent innocents based on a principle of collective guilt, and the careful group monitoring and control of personal behavior are just a few implications of a system that accounts for many aspects of Middle Eastern society without requiring any explanatory recourse to Islam. The religion itself is an overlay in partial tension with, and deeply stamped by, the dynamics of tribal life. In other words--and this is Salz-man's central argument--the template of tribal life, with its violent and shifting balance of power between fusing and fissioning lineage segments, is the dominant theme of cultural life in the Arab Middle East (and shapes even many non-Arab Muslim populations). At its cultural core, says Salzman, even where tribal structures are attenuated, Middle Eastern society is tribal society.

In reviving and updating classic anthropological studies of tribal kinship, Salzman is implicitly raising one of the great unresolved problems of political philosophy--one whose implications in today's environment are anything but theoretical. When anthropologists first decoded the system by which lawless and stateless tribes used balance-of-power politics to keep order, they quickly recognized that their discovery cast new light on Thomas Hobbes's "state of nature" theory.

From one perspective, Middle Eastern tribal structures completely contradict Hobbes's notion of what life in stateless societies must be like. Far from being "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short," life outside the state turns out to be collective, cohesive, and safe enough to generate a stable and successful world-conquering civilization. Man as such is not, therefore, inherently individualistic, as Hobbes, the founder of modern liberalism, presumed.

Yet scholars have noted continuities between Hobbes's account and the conditions of life in segmentary tribes. Edward Evans-Pritchard (1902-73), the anthropologist who first described these societies, called them systems of "ordered anarchy," implying that, kin-based organization notwithstanding, life in segmentary systems necessitates endemic, often preemptive, low-level violence and neverending mutual distrust: what Hobbes might have recognized as the state of nature's "perpetual and restless desire of power after power."

And despite collective guilt and powerful group-based pressures for conformity, anthropologists commonly characterize segmentary tribal systems as intensely individualist, egalitarian, and democratic. This is arguably the central paradox of Middle Eastern social life. Muslim tribal society is both fundamentally collectivist and profoundly individualist. In the absence of state power and formal political hierarchies, no man of the tribe can, by right, command another. All males are equal, free to dispose of their persons and property and to speak in councils that determine the fate of the group. This tribal tradition of equal and open consultation is singled out by those who argue that democracy is far from alien to Middle Eastern culture.

So which is it? Are Near Eastern tribes laboratories of individualism and democracy or generators of kin-based loyalties that render the Middle East refractory to modern, liberal governance?

...is that Islam has been to weak to break this tribalism and establish the sort of universalism that distinguishes Christendom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 PM


Clinton says Bush should boycott Olympics opening ceremony (The Associated Press, April 7, 2008)

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday called on President George W. Bush to stay away from the Olympics opening ceremonies in Beijing, a fresh sign that politics, not sports, may take center stage at the summer games.

The Democratic presidential candidate said a boycott of the opening ceremonies by Bush would underscore U.S. concerns about the recent unrest in Tibet and questions about China's relationship with Sudan.

Maverick should have been the first, but it's right no matter who's doing so

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 PM


Leading Pro-Life Group Supports John McCain, Says Abortion Contrast Significant (Steven Ertelt, 4/07/08, LifeNews.com)

On abortion issues, McCain has a strongly pro-life voting record and has supported bills to ban partial-birth abortions, respect parental involvement regarding teenagers and prohibit tax-funded abortions in a variety of situations.

The Arizona senator has also repeatedly called for overturning Roe v. Wade, said he would appoint judges who won't legislate from the bench, and says he will keep the pro-life plank in the Republican Party platform.

"Senator John McCain has consistently taken a strong pro-life position against abortion, has a strong pro-life voting record against abortion and opposes Roe v. Wade," NRLC said in its statement of support.

Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have 100 percent pro-abortion voting records with the group and have pledged to only appoint federal judges who will keep unlimited legal abortions in place for another 35 years.

NRLC officials said pro-life voters should be very concerned about an Obama or Clinton presidency.

"Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton have strong positions and voting records in favor of abortion on demand and strongly support the appointment of only U.S. Supreme Court Justices who favor Roe v. Wade," the pro-life group explained.

Those differences are so significant and will affect so many lives of women and unborn children that NRLC officials told LifeNews.com supporting McCain made perfect sense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 PM


No doubting Thomas (A children's story about friendly tank engines has become something of a religious experience (Giles Foden, 4/08/08, The Guardian)

Easter being so early has caused many children either to be at home when they should be at school or, depending on the institution and region, at school when they should be at home. Such havoc would not please Sir Topham Hatt, of Thomas the Tank Engine fame, confusion being one of "his least favourite things". So Sir Topham, aka the Fat Controller, tells us in the current touring production of Thomas and Friends, a live stage performance already more or less sold out across the country. In the show, Thomas and his friends, James, Percy and Gordon, share a story that encourages life lessons such as discovery, friendship and cooperation.

Along with thousands of other children, as my enemies might put it, I attended a recent performance of Thomas and Friends at London's Hammersmith Apollo. The experience was a salutary lesson in strong branding and the pulling power of Thomas, whose name was with terrifying fervour chanted by the waiting audience. No wonder. The deep structure of the stage narrative reveals Thomas to be nothing less than the new incarnation of our Blessed Master.

The characterisation of Thomas as Christ is focused in an advent song: "He's the one, he's the one, he's the really useful engine we adore, he's the one, he's the one, he's the number one, Thomas the Tank Engine!" It's also demonstrated in the pattern of the story itself. Thomas is the saviour. Banishing the confusion and delay abhorred by the Fat Controller he saves the day.

...had God chosen to incarnate Himself as a train.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 PM


This police state hysteria: Fanciful libertarians are promoting an idea of freedom that is really the right to do as one pleases (David Selbourne, 4/08/08, The Guardian)

In the current debate about the need for a bill of rights in Britain, it is overlooked that no civil society can rest upon the possession of rights alone. And in the hysteria over the supposed need to protect our freedoms from "attack" it is now even stated that Britain is proceeding towards the condition of a "police state".

Some familiarity with real recent police states - East Germany or Romania - would teach those who bemoan the "rolling back of individual liberty" to temper their paranoid arguments.

Instead, modern free societies, the freest history has known, are gradually disintegrating from abuse of their freedoms. The harms being done to them by exploitation of their liberties are real; the harms being caused to them by the erosion of those liberties are largely imaginary.

It is here too that most of the left, whose socialist ideals have largely been displaced by an open-ended libertarianism, should take care. For the vacuous notion of liberty they now espouse is really a claim to the right to do as one pleases.

A decent democratic society must have liberty, but must abhor freedom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 PM


Protesters climb Golden Gate ahead of Olympic torch run (John M. Glionna, 4/07/08, Los Angeles Times)

Three activists protesting Chinese human rights violations in Tibet climbed a suspension cable of the Golden Gate Bridge today, two days before the Olympic torch relay is scheduled to arrive here. .

Officials said the activists began climbing the suspension cable about 10:30 a.m., just after morning rush hour. The climbers were tethered together by rope. One carried a suitcase and unfurled a banner that read, "One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 PM


Iranian Public Sees Reduced U.S. Threat (Jim Lobe, 4/07/08, IPS)

While still distrustful of U.S. intentions, the Iranian public believes that the threat posed by Washington has diminished over the past year and favours increased exchanges between the two countries, including direct talks on stabilising Iraq and other issues, according to a major new survey released here Monday by WorldPublicOpinion.org (WPO).

The poll, which included person-to-person interviews with more than 700 people across Iran during the first half of February, also found strong domestic support for Iran's nuclear-energy programme, with more than eight in 10 respondents insisting that it was "very important" for Tehran to master the uranium enrichment process to produce fuel for its nuclear plants.

But only 20 percent said Iran should develop nuclear weapons, while two-thirds said they agreed with the government's official policy that it should not, and 58 percent said that the production of nuclear weapons would violate Islamic principles.

The same percentage said they would support a deal with the U.N. Security Council whereby Iran could have a full-fuel cycle nuclear programme in exchange for "permanent and full access" by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to all of Iran's nuclear facilities to ensure that the programme was limited to energy production.

"While it is not clear if the Iranian government would accept permanent and full U.N. access to ensure Iran is not developing nuclear weapons, most of the Iranian people are ready to accept it," said Steven Kull, director of WPO and its associated Programme on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), who helped design the survey and participated in focus groups in Tehran to test its findings. "Most Iranians are ready to foreclose developing nuclear weapons."

The public is quite estranged from its president, if only the Reformers will take advantage at the polls.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 PM


The Patriotism Problem (JOE KLEIN, 4/03/08, TIME)

[T]here was still something missing. I noticed it during Obama's response to a young man who remembered how the country had come together after Sept. 11 and lamented "the dangerously low levels of patriotism and pride in our country, the loss of faith in our elected officials." Obama used this, understandably, to go after George W. Bush. "Cynicism has become the hot stock," he said, "the growth industry during the Bush Administration." He talked about the Administration's mendacity, its incompetence during Hurricane Katrina, its lack of transparency. But he never returned to the question of patriotism. He never said, "But hey, look, we're Americans. This is the greatest country on earth. We'll rise to the occasion."

This is a chronic disease among Democrats, who tend to talk more about what's wrong with America than what's right. When Ronald Reagan touted "Morning in America" in the 1980s, Dick Gephardt famously countered that it was near midnight "and getting darker all the time." This is ironic and weirdly self-defeating, since the liberal message of national improvement is profoundly more optimistic, and patriotic, than the innate conservative pessimism about the perfectibility of human nature. Obama's hopemongering is about as American as a message can get — although, in the end, it is mostly about our ability to transcend our imperfections rather than the effortless brilliance of our diversity, informality and freedom-propelled creativity.

Patriotism is, sadly, a crucial challenge for Obama now. His aides believe that the Wright controversy was more about anti-Americanism than it was about race. Michelle Obama's unfortunate comment that the success of the campaign had made her proud of America "for the first time" in her adult life and the Senator's own decision to stow his American-flag lapel pin — plus his Islamic-sounding name — have fed a scurrilous undercurrent of doubt about whether he is "American" enough.

It is, of course, easier for conservatives to love America, because some flaws are to be expected in any human endeavor, so a few imperfections are hardly worthy of notice. Likewise, it is impossible for liberals to love reality--never mind their country--because every blemish puts the lie to their utopian delusion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM

Candy-cane pie isn't just for winter holidays (ELIZABETH PUDWILL, 4/07/2008, Houston Chronicle )

* Crust:
* 2 cups vanilla-wafer crumbs
* 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
* 1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
* 6 tablespoons melted butter
* Chocolate layer:
* 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
* 1 cup heavy cream
* 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
* Peppermint layer:
* 1/2 cup crushed candy canes or peppermint candy
* 1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
* 1/4 cup milk
* 1 cup heavy cream

To make crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine crumbs, cocoa, sugar and butter in a bowl. Press into 9-inch pie pan. Bake for about 10 minutes.

To make chocolate layer: Bring 3 tablespoons water to a boil. In a medium mixing bowl, mix water and chocolate chips, stirring constantly until all the chips are melted and smooth. Cool to room temperature.

In a large, chilled mixing bowl, whip cream with sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold in the chocolate mixture with a rubber spatula. Spoon into the crust; chill.

To make peppermint layer: Break the candy into chunks. In a blender, pulse the candy until you have a fine powder. Combine the marshmallows and milk in a large dutch oven or wok. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the marshmallows are melted. Cool until you are able to touch the mixture.

Whip the cream to stiff peaks. Fold in the peppermint candy and the marshmallow mixture. Spoon onto the chocolate mixture. Chill or freeze for at least 4 hours.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:16 PM


Iraq: Al-Mahdi army offers to lay down its arms (James Hider, 4/07/08, Times of London)

His announcement today was the first time that the rebellious junior cleric had offered to disband his forces, and came as US and Iraqi troops were poised for a big offensive into his Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City, home to 2.5 million poor Shia, which has been under absolute militia control for years.

Streams of refugees were pouring out of Sadr City on foot today, as automatic gunfire and mortar blasts ripped through the giant slum. Terrified residents scuttled down side streets as Iraqi and American tanks trundled along the main thoroughfares, shooting at guerrillas.

A massive American and Iraqi security presence had ringed the area, with police and soldiers guarding every exit as many people here predicted a final, bloody showdown with the Mahdi Army, which appeared to be losing popular support.

The position of Hojetoleslam al-Sadr, whose fighters had fought government forces to a standstill in Basra, was looking increasingly precarious today. His erstwhile ally, Nouri al-Maliki, the Shia Prime Minister, who led the Basra crackdown personally, saw his popular support bolstered by his tough stance on lawless militias.

Despite the inconclusive results of his Basra offensive, Mr al-Maliki has refused to back down and this weekend stitched together a rare consensus of Kurds, Sunnis and Shias to back a draft law banning any party that maintains a militia from running in future elections.

“A decision was taken . . . that they no longer have a right to participate in the political process or take part in the upcoming elections unless they end the Mahdi Army,” Mr al-Maliki said.

That united stance has put the Sadrists on the back foot, while even in Sadr City itself support for the militia was waning as government forces and their US allies pushed ever deeper into Mahdi Army territory.

Ali Nema, a 45-year-old bureaucrat, was pushing his frail, elderly parents out of Sadr City on a wooden market barrow that he had hired to remove them and his young children.

“I had to get them out now because almost the whole of my sector has left, more than 80 per cent of the houses empty now. The Americans are attacking, the Mahdi Army mortars are falling and the Iraqi Army are fighting too,” he said, as gunfire rattled a few blocks away. “We believe things will get worse in the next few days.”

Beating Maliki and company was easy. The US military? Not so much.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:44 PM


Bush Sends Congress Colombia Trade Pact (MARTIN CRUTSINGER, 4/07/08, AP)

President Bush on Monday sent Congress a controversial free trade agreement with Colombia — a move that will force lawmakers to vote within 90 days on the pact, which is heavily opposed by Democrats.

It's an opportunity for Democrats to vote against capitalism and a democratic ally and in favor of a special interest that holds them captive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


The Surprise Effect of Rev. Wright (Floyd and Mary Beth Brown, 4/07/08, FrontPageMagazine.com)

The plan to woo evangelicals was masterful and working until his minister, Jeremiah Wright, hit the TV news channels. It appears support from this newly converted group is slipping away in the aftermath of the disturbing revelations about his pastor of 20 years, Rev. Wright. Wright’s hate-filled, racist, anti-American ranting, profanity and taking the Lord’s name in vain doesn’t sit well with most Americans, but they are especially distasteful to Christians. Such venomous and hateful words go against the basic tenets of evangelical Christianity.

Barak Obama’s church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, is dedicated to Black Liberation Theology and income redistribution. This liberal theology goes hand-in-hand with the liberal politics which Obama espouses. Obama’s faith is heavily based in the social gospel, meaning an emphasis is placed on the humanitarian example of Jesus. Humanity’s need for a savior to pay the debt due because of sin, which is satisfied by Christ’s death and resurrection, is relegated to the sidelines.

Obama’s theology is now the subject of intense review on several Christian Web sites. What is raising eyebrows with evangelicals is what Obama said while speaking at a town-hall forum in North Carolina on March 26, 2008. When asked, he spoke about his Christian faith and then mentioned his late mother who was “not a believer.” He continued, "But she was the kindest, most decent, generous person that I have ever known," Obama said. "I'm sure she is in heaven, even though she may not have subscribed to everything that I subscribe to."

A basic tenet of evangelicals is that people believe in Jesus Christ in order to go to heaven. Evangelicals do not believe the door of heaven is open to every “kind” and “generous person.”

The plan wasn';t going to withstand his support for infanticide, stated willingness to kill Terri Schiavo and his own grandchildren anyway.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


A Persona Carved in Stone: On-Screen and Off, Charlton Heston Embodied a High-Minded Code (Stephen Hunter, 4/07/08, Washington Post)

He was the hawk.

He soared. In fact, everything about him soared. His shoulders soared, his cheekbones soared, his brows soared. Even his hair soared.

And for a good two decades, Charlton Heston, who died Saturday at 84, was the ultimate American movie star. In a time when method actors and ethnic faces were gradually taking over, Heston remained the last of the ramrod-straight, flinty, squinty, tough-as-old-hickory movie guys.

He and his producers and directors understood his appeal, and used it for maximum effect on the big Technicolor screen. Rarely a doubter, never a coward, inconceivable as a shirker, he played men of granite virtue no matter the epoch. He played commanders, biblical prophets, Jewish heroes, tough-as-nails cowpokes, calm aviators, last survivors, quarterbacks and a president or two.

Later in his life, he took that stance into politics, becoming president of the National Rifle Association just when anti-gun attitudes were reaching their peak. Pilloried and parodied, lampooned and bullied, he never relented, he never backed down, and in time it came to seem less an old star's trick of vanity than an act of political heroism. He endured, like Moses. He aged, like Moses. And the stone tablet he carried had only one commandment: Thou shalt be armed. It can even be said that if the Supreme Court in June finds a meaning in the Second Amendment consistent with NRA policy, that he will have died just short of the Promised Land -- like Moses.

Was he a great actor? Many think not, and few would rank him with contemporaries like Brando, Dean, even Widmark or Wayne. But at the same time his talent was much underrated, as it frequently is for people who enjoy the blessed gift of great beauty. For the purposes of the movie industry in the '50s, at the height of its patriotism and Western-centrism, he was a perfect fit and always gave solid, professional work. Can anyone imagine either "The Ten Commandments" or "Ben-Hur" without him?

Note that having just said that his political crusade resembles one of his movie roles, the diminishment of him as an actor depends on the contradictory notion that such characters -- no matter how well he fit the parts -- don't exist in real life. As if there were a Stanley Kowalski or a Vito Corleone somewhere....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


Iraq's Shiite power vacuum: Sistani's clout is diminishing. Sadr is eyeing his spot. (Mohamad Bazzi, April 7, 2008, CS Monitor)

Compare Sistani's recent performance with his actions in August 2004, when he brokered a cease-fire between the Iraqi government and the militia of renegade cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. That deal averted a US attack on Shiism's holiest shrine in the city of Najaf and paved the way for Mr. Sadr to join the political process a year later. It was an extraordinary feat by Sistani, who negotiated the deal within two days of returning to Iraq from a hospital in London. For a cleric who eschews the limelight and politics in general, Sistani affirmed his position as the most important player in Iraq's stability. [...]

Sistani's diminishing clout – and the absence of an apparent successor – will ultimately bolster Sadr, the enfant terrible of Najaf who is working to burnish his religious credentials. In December, Sadr's aides announced that he is studying to become an ayatollah and is on track to attain that status within two years. That would be a remarkable fast-tracking of the normally rigid system of Shiite scholarship. Once he's an ayatollah, Sadr can issue his own religious rulings and he will no longer have to defer to senior clerics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Self-effacing McCain gets frank with voters (Stephen Dinan, April 7, 2008, Washington Times)

[I]it could just as easily have been called the "imperfect public servant" tour — words he used to describe himself to students at his former high school on day two of the tour — as he found himself apologizing for not always living up to what those heroes expected:

• At Episcopal High School in Alexandria and again at the U.S. Naval Academy, Mr. McCain acknowledged "all-too-evident flaws," including a surfeit of pride that caused him to rebel against both schools' discipline systems, leaving him with more demerits than academic accomplishments.

• In Pensacola, Fla., where he was stationed after graduating from the academy, he said he was a "rather callow, conceited and [an] often stupid" fellow, with a self-centered idea about his military duty, in his early Navy days.

• On Friday, he acknowledged a bigger public failing, saying he was wrong to have voted in the 1980s against establishing a federal holiday for Martin Luther King: "We can all be a little late sometimes in doing the right thing," Mr. McCain said, drawing some boos from his audience, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

• On Saturday, he told his home-state supporters he was too green when he first ran for Congress, and in his two terms in the House, he developed "the reputation of an often confrontational partisan."

...one at peace with himself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Horror and humiliation and Chicago (Spengler, 4/08/08, Asia Times)

It is a measure of the inherent good-heartedness of Americans that they evince a low threshold of horror. Three hundred thousand Confederate dead and millions of ruined African-American lives are too awful to contemplate. Some part of Senator Barack Obama's appeal derives from America's revulsion over the destruction of a generation of young black men; electing an African-American president would assuage part of the guilt.

From this great suffering arise two genres of American popular culture, the Gone With the Wind ilk of Civil War epic, and the "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" brand of gangsta tale. Both try to take the edge off the revulsion and placate the dishonored dead by turning them into folk-heroes. That is understandable, but also unfortunate, for America still has a great deal of killing left to do around the world, and might as well get used to it.

"Get Rich or Die Tryin'" would have been a good epitaph for the Confederate dead, who fought for land and slaves, not for "states' rights" or the sanctity of their soil. Slave-owners along with want-to-be slave-owners had it coming. The Union general William Tecumseh Sherman who said after he burned Atlanta, "I fear the world will jump to the wrong conclusion that because I am in Atlanta the work is done. Far from it. We must kill three hundred thousand, I have told you of so often, and the further they run the harder for us to get them."

Given the sad history of racial oppression in the South for a century after the Civil War, the only thing to regret is that Sherman didn't finish the job. I stopped watching the film version of Gone With the Wind after Scarlett O'Hara saved her plantation from the tax-collector. I wanted her to pick cotton until her back broke.

It is appalling that the criminal justice system has devoured one out of three young African-Americans, to be sure, but the number must be too small, because the police will have failed to apprehend some who still commit crimes. I did not attempt to watch the film Get Rich or Die Tryin'. I want the police to incarcerate such people before they commit enough crimes to fill a screenplay.

...folks would at least feign horror.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Musharraf fears US strike on Pak if he quits: Report (PTI, April 07, 2008)

President Pervez Musharraf believes that if he steps down, the US will launch direct military attacks on Pakistan's restive tribal areas and take away disgraced nuclear scientist A Q Khan for interrogation about his proliferation activities, a daily reported on Monday.

Khan doesn't matter as much as giving India the green light to send in teams to secure and remove Pakistan's nukes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


Officials Extinguish Olympic Torch During Protests (John Ward Anderson and Molly Moore, 4/07/08, Washington Post)

Protesters temporarily halted the Olympic torch relay in Paris today, forcing officials to lower or extinguish the flame and put it inside a security bus just minutes after its entourage left the Eiffel Tower.

More than 3,000 French police lined the torch route along the Seine River and through the heart of the French capital in anticipation of demonstrators protesting China's crackdown on Tibet and its human rights record in general.

The heavy security presence turned an event intended to be a joyous celebration of the Olympics into a tense scene of athletes surrounded by so much security they could barely run.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Ahmadinejad Faces Stormy New Parliament (Kimia Sanati, Apr 7, 2008, IPS)

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can expect considerable opposition in the newly elected parliament -- set to be installed on May 27 -- that has a considerable number of representatives from rival hardliners, conservatives and a stronger reformist minority.

Hardliners and conservatives critical of Ahmadinejad’s economic and foreign policies are likely to unite with the reformists to exercise more control on the government, analysts in Tehran say. [...]

For the speakership of the next parliament, the Comprehensive Coalition of Principlists is expected to support Ali Larijani against incumbent speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel who is favoured by the pro-Ahmadinejad coalition, a spokesman for the coalition told reporters.

Larijani had originally been on the joint list of Principlists’ candidates from Tehran but changed his constituency to Qom, Iran’s religious capital, where he won a landslide victory against his pro-government rival.

"Reformists will most likely support Larijani’s speakership. This will make him a mighty rival for Haddad Adel who is criticised for having made the current parliament a tool in the hands of the government, helping grant it whatever it wishes with least resistance even when everybody knows he is going wrong," a reformist politician, who did not want to be quoted by name, told IPS.

"They are also likely to help the hardliner and conservative rivals of the government group to prevent Mohammad Reza Bahonar, the vice-speaker, from holding the same position again. Bahonar and Haddad Adel jointly blocked every effort in the current parliament to control the government," he said.

In the parliamentary polls reformists managed to nearly double their votes, compared to the elections for the seventh parliament four years ago, in spite of losing the majority of their high-profile and even second and third class candidates to pre-election vetting by the country’s election watchdog, the Council of Guardians.

Had the Reformers invested themselves more heavily in the elections they'd be in even better shape.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Not-So-Alter Ego of Kenneth the Page, Still Soaking It In (DAVE ITZKOFF, 4/06/08, NY Times)

“The first words out of their mouths would be, ‘Can you lose the accent?’ ” Mr. McBrayer, 34, recalled in a recent interview. “And, unfortunately, I can, but it sounds like I’m making fun of people.”

Yet as Mr. McBrayer honed his skills in the improvisational comedy theaters of Chicago, he realized there was no reason his inflection should impede his career. “We could be anyone and say anything,” he said, and he became more comfortable playing other characters or “just playing a heightened version of myself.”

And what would a heightened version of Mr. McBrayer look like? “Well,” he said, “it’s pretty much Kenneth the Page. ”

Kenneth the Page is, of course, Mr. McBrayer’s character on “30 Rock,” a wide-eyed, blazer-clad naïf who works the most thankless of thankless jobs at the sitcom’s fictional incarnation of NBC yet remains in rapt awe of colleagues like the self-important executive Jack Donaghy (played by Alec Baldwin) and the harried producer Liz Lemon (Tina Fey).

In that sense Mr. McBrayer really isn’t too different from his inexperienced alter ego. “People in television can get a little jaded a little quickly,” he said. “Fortunately, I have done so little of it that I have not had the opportunity to grow weary of it.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


The presidential race might come down to issues -- or not: The Democrats' policies rank high, but polls show a GOP edge on traits like honesty, strength, decisiveness. (Jim Tankersley, 4/07/08, Chicago Tribune)

Voters want government to do more to fix the economy. They also want U.S. troops out of Iraq. The presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, sides with a distinct minority on both counts.

But on less tangible questions of leadership, strength and trustworthiness, polls show McCain beating Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, the Democratic candidates.

Obama and Clinton are increasingly attacking one another on a personal level, which could boost McCain's advantage.

A recent Gallup survey suggested that Obama, in a general election, would be most vulnerable on experience; Clinton, on trustworthiness; and McCain, on Iraq and other issues.

Not that the GOP needs any help, but the duty of showing Senator Obama to be a garden variety liberal gets even easier if he turns his focus to skedaddling from the WoT and pimping big government/big tax economic schemes.

April 6, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 PM


Margaret Thatcher 'would win election today' (Philip Johnston, 07/04/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Margaret Thatcher at her peak would sweep to power in a general election held today, according to an opinion poll for The Daily Telegraph.

The YouGov survey emphatically confirms the enduring political appeal of the country's first woman prime minister, who left office undefeated 18 years ago.

Baroness Thatcher comfortably surpassed Tony Blair when people were asked who they would pick to lead the country at the height of their powers if they had the choice. David Cameron, the Conservative leader, trailed far behind both - but was still ahead of Gordon Brown.

She'd be elected president too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:28 PM


Anti-McCain groups lag in fundraising (BEN SMITH, 4/6/08, Politico)

Democratic talk of an early, hard-hitting campaign to "define" and tar Arizona Senator John McCain appears to have fizzled for lack of money, leading to a quiet round of finger-pointing among Democratic operatives and donors as McCain assembles a campaign and a public image relatively unmolested.

Despite the millions of dollars pooling around Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, anti-McCain funds have fallen far short of the hopes set in November, when a key organizer, Tom Matzzie, reportedly told the Washington Post that the "Fund for America" would raise more than $100 million to support the activities of a range of allied groups.

The Democratic National Committee, too, is organizing an anti-McCain campaign, but a spokeswoman, Karen Finney, said fundraising to support that effort has met "mixed" results.

John McCain heads into the campaign with a firmly entrenched image as a maverick conservative, beholden to no one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:19 AM


SXSW 2008: R.E.M.: Hear the Complete R.E.M. Concert (NPR.org, March 12, 2008)

After 25 years as one of the most beloved and acclaimed bands in rock music, R.E.M. needed a shot of adrenaline to get fans excited again. In advance of its 14th studio album, Accelerate, the group performed a bracing and even blistering set at South by Southwest, webcast live on NPR.org from Stubbs in Austin, Tex., on March 12.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:10 AM


Gavin Bryars' 'Sinking of the Titanic' in Concert: Hear the Complete Performance (WNYC, March 31, 2008)

Originally written in 1969, Gavin Bryars' first major composition, The Sinking of the Titanic, still sounds just as vital, fresh, and forward-thinking now as it did then. In a concert from the Wordless Music Series, recorded by WNYC, the piece was performed live by the Wordless Music Orchestra on Jan. 16, 2008, at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York City. Conductor Brad Lubman led the ensemble.

Inspired by firsthand accounts of the event, The Sinking of the Titanic is a multimedia piece centered on a report of a "band having played a hymn tune in the final moments of the ship's sinking." That tune was the Episcopal hymn, "Autumn," performed here by strings and echoed throughout the orchestra.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:05 AM


Darwin Was Right: Natural Selection Speeds Up Speciation (ScienceDaily, Apr. 6, 2008)

[UBC post-doctoral fellow Patrik] Nosil studied walking-stick insects in the Santa Barbara Chaparral in southern California. Stick insects cannot fly and live and feed on their host plants. Different "eco-types" of walking-stick insects are found on different plants and exhibit different color patterns that match the features of their host plants. For example, insects of the cristinae eco-type, which feed on plants with needle-like leaves, have a white line along their green bodies.

By displacing some eco-types away from their customary host plants and protecting others from their natural predators, Nosil found that color pattern alone could initiate speciation, while natural selection on additional adaptive traits such as the ability to detoxify different host-plant chemicals are required to "seal the deal," or complete the speciation process initiated by differences in color pattern.

Hard to decide which is the greater concession, the way he had to design the change or the fact that it isn't speciation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:57 AM


Ramps bring signs of spring throughout Appalachia: Wild leek festivals signal the start of the season (Ben Moyer, 4/06/08, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

To most Americans, a "ramp" is a reminder of humdrum high-speed highway commutes. But to those tuned to the simpler ways of hill folk, the sprouting of ramps -- Allium tricoccum, wild relatives of leeks, garlic and onions -- is a rite of spring celebrating a time of reconnecting to the land. The season is celebrated at several ramp festivals held in small Appalachian towns south and east of Pittsburgh.

Right now, in woodlands across Appalachia from New York to Georgia, ramps are thrusting their deep green twin leaves up through last fall's dead litter.

"It's the season and ramps are the reason," says renowned ramp chef Walt Danna of Avella, Washington County. "They talk about that groundhog being a weatherman, but I'll tell you exactly when it's spring -- when the ramps poke up. And they are."

Ramp Casserole (Pittsburgh Post Gazette)
* 1 lb. pork sausage
* 4 eggs
* 2 cup milk
* 10 potatoes
* 15 ramps
* 2 cups Cheddar cheese

In metal skillet, fry sausage.

In mixing bowl, with blender on medium, combine eggs and milk.

Slice potatoes. In a large baking dish, layer potatoes, sausage and chopped ramps. Pour blended eggs over layers.
Top with grated cheese, baked at 350 degrees until potatoes are tender.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:00 AM


Obama's illusions on foreign policy (Joseph C. Wilson IV, 4/06/08, Philadelphia Inquirer)

When Saddam Hussein's troops invaded Kuwait in August 1990, I was in charge of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, responsible for the safe release of Americans held hostage, and I personally confronted Saddam to persuade him to depart Kuwait peacefully. It was axiomatic in our approach that the only way to influence Iraqi behavior would be to threaten military action in the event Saddam did not respond to diplomatic demands. If we were going to make those threats credible, we would have to be prepared to act on them, which we were, and which we did, with full international backing.

What would Obama have done differently in the first gulf war from what he claims he would have done in 2002 had he been in the Senate at that time? In 1990, Saddam was deemed a threat by the first Bush administration. Senior administration officials threatened military action while working toward a diplomatic solution. Congress was ultimately faced with a vote to support the president's approach. Some Democrats, including then-Sen. Al Gore, voted with the administration, while a majority voted against.

Obama claims that an antiwar speech he made while running for state Senate in the most liberal district in Illinois is proof of his superior intuitive judgment. But if Obama had been in Washington at that time, participating in the national debate, he would have come face to face with Secretary of State Colin Powell, the same Colin Powell who, as Gen. Powell, was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the first Bush administration, the one Obama wishes to emulate.

Powell would have told him, as he told the other senators he briefed at that time, including Sen. Clinton, that the president wanted to use the Authorization for the Use of Military Force resolution not to go to war but, rather, as leverage to go to the United Nations to secure intrusive inspections. George W. Bush repeated this claim publicly. [...]

In fact, Obama's understanding of foreign policy is extraordinarily limited. He has had one job in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: chairman of the Europe and NATO subcommittee. He has not held a single policy hearing in that capacity because, as he said in a debate, he has been too busy running for president. He has not even taken a fact-finding trip or provided any other oversight.

...anyone who didn't realize W was going to take Saddam out, even when he was running for president in 2000, has such bad judgment they oughtn't be trusted with a position where they're expected to understand other leaders.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


A conservative about-face on Mitt Romney: A McCain-Romney Republican ticket would be 'utterly unacceptable,' says an ad signed by social conservatives including onetime Romney backer Paul Weyrich (DON FREDERICK AND ANDREW MALCOLM, April 6, 2008, LA Times)

Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Moral Majority, made a splash last November when he endorsed Mitt Romney for president. Now he's part of an organized campaign urging the man who bested Romney in the Republican primaries and caucuses, John McCain, to not make the former Massachusetts governor his running mate. [...]

The ad, which those paying for it say will shadow McCain in papers in various towns in visits to come, expresses skepticism about candidate Romney's sincerity in embracing a host of conservative positions on social issues that previously he had rejected.

Says the ad:

"To be clear, we all welcome anyone who has come around to the cause of life and family. However, Romney's actions as governor flatly contradict both the values widely associated with his faith as well as his pro-life and pro-traditional marriage campaign rhetoric."

These guys thought Republicans would reject the conservative candidate in favor of their pets--Mitt and Rudy--just because Maverick won't bow and scrape to them? The Beltway is an awful long way from Kansas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 AM


Bloggers in Iran push limits of government tolerance (Neil MacFarquhar, April 6, 2008, NY Times)

Troll through the Iranian blogosphere and you can find all manner of unexpectedly harsh critiques denouncing the government of the Islamic republic, from reformists who revile it as well as conservatives who support it. [...]

The study, conducted over the past year by the Berkman Center, was financed by the U.S. State Department and is part of a larger and longer project on the impact new communications media are having on democracy and democratization in several countries. The research being released Sunday documents what types of blogs are being posted in Iran.

Researchers used computer software to analyze more than 6,000 blogs by subject matter to get a general sense of what issues Iranians were discussing; then the team, which included Persian-speaking students, read more than 500 of the postings.

To build a fuller picture of the Iranian blogosphere, the researchers also used the results of a parallel study that documents what blogs were being blocked by the authorities in 60 countries, including Iran. That study is also being done at the Berkman Center in collaboration with universities in Canada and Britain.

The researchers' general conclusion was that, "despite periodic persecution," many Iranians are able to use blogs to express "viewpoints challenging the ruling ideology of the Islamic Republic."

The study found, for instance, that fewer than a quarter of blogs pushing for change, including those written by expatriates, were blocked. In addition, conservatives of all stripes maintain a lively debate about Ahmadinejad.

"Arguing about stuff, arguing about public affairs, is taking root in the blogosphere on the conservative side, on the reformist side, all over," said John Kelly, the founder of Morningside Analytics, a New York company that took part in the study and created the software that helped researchers group blogs together by subject and social networks.

"We don't know if the government is not trying or not able to block as much as we thought," said Kelly, who wrote the study with Bruce Etling, the director of the project at Berkman. "They may allow a certain amount of online discourse to be there because it seems to underline the legitimacy of the system."

Political groups bash each other with gusto from both sides of the political divide. One conservative blogger mocked reformists for pretending to care about economic matters. "The nature of the reformists is actually extremism," wrote a blogger under the name Shahrahedalat or the Highway of Justice, adding that the Iranian people would not be deceived.

Reformist supporters give back as good as they get. Even if supporting reformist politicians is nearly futile, wrote a blogger under the name Inharfha or These Talks, it is "much better than sitting back and watching how our country is being taken back to the ruins of Medieval times."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


Muqtada al-Sadr has Iraq's future in his hands: a review of Muqtada al-Sadr and the Fall of Iraq by Patrick Cockburn (Con Coughlin, 4/06/08, Daily Telegraph)

[A]s Patrick Cockburn explains in his biography of Muqtada, the forces challenging Iraq's post-Saddam political settlement are just as well organised and are determined to mould the new Iraq in their, and not the West's, image.

Of all the Iraqi political figures to emerge following Saddam's overthrow five years ago, Muqtada is by far the most charismatic and, if Washington is to be believed, the one who poses the greatest threat to Iraq's survival as a democratic and secular political entity.

Born in 1973 into one of the country's pre-eminent Shia clerical families, Muqtada experienced first-hand the brutality of Saddam's dictatorship as his family paid a heavy price for daring to challenge the Baathist regime. In 1980, when Muqtada was seven, his grandfather Baqir, and Baqir's sister Amina, were hanged by Saddam for refusing to condemn the Iranian revolution.

Cockburn reveals that the family were told that Saddam's torturers had hammered an iron nail into Baqir's head, and raped Amina in front of him, before they went to the gallows.

Nineteen years later, Muqtada's own father and his two brothers were gunned down by Saddam's assassins for trying to organise effective resistance against the regime amongst the oppressed Shia community of southern Iraq.

According to Cockburn, Muqtada himself only escaped the attentions of Saddam's henchmen because the regime thought he lacked intelligence, and did not regard him as a serious political player.

Muqtada was therefore left alone and allowed to inherit the elaborate underground network of Shia militants established by his father and brothers, which was to come into its own the moment coalition forces succeeded in their objective of overthrowing Saddam's regime in April 2003.

Like the overwhelming majority of Iraqis, Muqtada and his Shia supporters were delighted to see the back of Saddam, but they were less than enthusiastic about the prospect of their liberators becoming occupiers.

As Muqtada himself remarked after the coalition's military campaign had ended, 'The smaller devil has gone but the bigger devil has come.'

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


Desert Bloom: Awash in oil money, Persian Gulf emirates are striving to shift the intellectual heart of the Middle East (ZVIKA KRIEGER, 3/28/08, The Chronicle Review)

With more than a dozen American universities opening branches and campuses [in the Persian Gulf], the oil-rich emirates of the Arabian peninsula are threatening to dethrone cities like Cairo, Baghdad, and Beirut as the academic centers of the Middle East. Wealthy, safe, and relatively stable, these emirates are vying to become the new intellectual heart of the region, spending more than $20-billion on cultural and educational projects annually. Many Arab scholars, as well as American ones, are counting on their success. Myriad symposia, independent media, art shows, book fairs, film festivals, and other hallmarks of intellectual life are flourishing in these countries, transforming the coast of the Persian Gulf into what Daniel Balland, director general of Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi, describes as "a modern-day Andalusia."

Many of the gulf countries see the traditional centers of Arab education as past their prime. "Yes, Baghdad had its time, Cairo had its time. But things don't work the way they did 100 years ago, or even 10 years ago," says Abdulla Al Karam, director general of the Dubai Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the recently established government branch charged with developing the emirates' educational institutions. "Times have changed, and the gulf needs to exploit this opportunity."

It certainly is, propelling the region into the international spotlight — even at the expense of neighboring Arab countries — and dramatically changing the intellectual landscape of the Middle East.

The academic locus of the Middle East has been in the area known as the Fertile Crescent — spreading from Egypt through Lebanon and Syria to Iraq — since the Islamic Golden Age, which lasted from the eighth through the 13th centuries. Baghdad was the first major intellectual capital of the region. At its heart was the Dar Al-Hikma (House of Wisdom), the academic home of such seminal scholars as the astronomer and mathematician Mohammad Bin Mousa al-Khwarizmi, whose book Kitab Al-Jabr laid the ground for modern algebra.

In the 10th century, Egypt became an academic center as well, boasting its own opulent House of Wisdom in Cairo, the Great Library of Alexandria, and the world's oldest university, Al-Azhar, founded in AD 975 — a full century before some of Europe's most prominent universities.

Even in modern times, the relatively liberal, secular, and cosmopolitan nature of cities like Cairo, Beirut, and Baghdad made them magnets for the region's intelligentsia, their back-alley coffee shops buzzing with erudite debates and their printing presses churning out the latest revolutionary tracts. Universities started in the region by American missionaries — like the American University in Cairo and the American University of Beirut — nurtured and spread influential ideologies in the Middle East, including socialism, nationalism, and pan-Arabism. The countries' indigenous universities, like Cairo University and the University of Baghdad, became the breeding ground for many of the region's anticolonial movements.

But in the past three decades, academic life across the region has deteriorated. "University libraries are in a sorry state, laboratories are old and cannot accommodate increasing numbers of students, and classes are overcrowded," lamented a 2004 report by the United Nations Development Programme. The document sent waves across the Arab world with its blunt characterizations of the region's universities. Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, the program's regional director, characterized Arab universities as "either buried in dust or smothered by ideologies."

That assessment is echoed by a World Bank report released last month, which described educational institutions in the Middle East as "not yet fully equipped to produce graduates with the skills and expertise necessary to compete in a world where knowledge is essential to making progress." And a 2005 Unesco report identified the Arab region as the least research-and-development-intensive area in the world, spending a staggering trillion dollars importing technology over the past three decades.

"I am afraid the Arab and Islamic world has not provided new knowledge in a long time," says Daniel R. Alonso, dean of Cornell University's new medical school in Qatar.

Academe has been particularly susceptible to the violence and political strife that has overtaken the region. The war in Iraq has essentially destroyed almost all remnants of academic life there. Lebanon's civil wars have fractured its universities along sectarian lines and unleashed waves of violence that have paralyzed the country. Egypt's swelling population has overwhelmed its once-stellar universities, with an increasingly authoritarian government clamping down on the last vestiges of free speech and academic autonomy.

As a result, scholars have left in droves. The United Nations estimates that in the past 30 years, 23 percent of Arab engineers, 50 percent of Arab doctors, and 15 percent of Arab bachelor-of-science degree holders have emigrated. Roughly 25 percent of the 300,000 graduates from Arab universities in 1996 emigrated from the region, and between 1998 and 2000, more than 15,000 Arab doctors left as well. Until recently, most went to Europe or the United States; now, more and more of them from the traditional academic centers of the region are going to the gulf.

"These people left for a reason," says Cornell's Alonso. "They didn't have the capability of doing excellent work, and they're not going back to their home countries any time soon."

Their new destination is markedly different from those countries, to say the least. The small Arab emirates that line the Persian Gulf have lived much of their history in relative isolation from the rest of the Middle East, their treacherous desert landscapes home only to scattered Bedouin tribes until recent decades. The various sheikdoms that became a protectorate of the British in 1853 did not gain their independence until the 1970s — around the time that the first paved roads were being built in many of these emirates.

The discovery of oil under the sands of the Arabian peninsula in the 1960s forever transformed these states.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


'Larger than life' actor Heston dies (Bob Thomas, April 6, 2008, Washington Times)

"Charlton Heston was seen by the world as larger than life. He was known for his chiseled jaw, broad shoulders and resonating voice, and, of course, for the roles he played," Heston's family said in a statement. "No one could ask for a fuller life than his. No man could have given more to his family, to his profession, and to his country."

Charlton Heston, Oscar-winning star of Ben Hur, dies (Times of London, 4/06/08)
The actor assumed the role of leader offscreen as well. He served as president of the Screen Actors Guild and chairman of the American Film Institute and marched in the civil rights movement of the 1950s. With age, he grew more conservative and campaigned for conservative candidates.

In June 1998, Heston was elected president of the National Rifle Association, for which he had posed for ads holding a rifle. He delivered a jab at then-President Bill Clinton, saying, “America doesn’t trust you with our 21-year-old daughters, and we sure, Lord, don’t trust you with our guns.”

Heston stepped down as NRA president in April 2003, telling members his five years in office were “quite a ride. ... I loved every minute of it.”

Later that year, Heston was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour. “The largeness of character that comes across the screen has also been seen throughout his life,” President Bush said at the time.

Charlton Heston dies at 84 (Reuters, April 06, 2008)
In his heyday, Heston's rugged features and conservative lifestyle seemed to belong to another age. As director Anthony Mann said: "Put a toga on him and he looks perfect." Frank Sinatra once joked: "That guy Heston has to watch it. If he's not careful, he'll get actors a good name."

Between super-spectacles (The 10 Commandments, Ben Hur), science fiction movies (Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green) and disaster epics (Earthquake), Heston pushed for screen versions of Shakespearean plays, directing one, Anthony and Cleopatra.

Heston's most controversial role was not in a movie but as leader of the National Rifle Association, the gun-rights lobby group, from 1998 to 2003. He often stood at the podium at conventions, holding an antique flintlock rifle above his head and telling gun-control advocates they would not get his gun unless they could pry it "from my cold, dead hands."

Born John Charlton Carter (Heston was his stepfather's name) on Oct. 4, 1923, in Evanston, Illinois, he made his theatrical debut as Santa Claus in a school play at age 5 and studied acting at Northwestern University.

After a World War Two stint as a gunner in the Army Air Corps, Heston headed to Broadway, where he briefly supported himself with nude modeling between acting jobs.

In 1944, he had married fellow Northwestern drama student Lydia Clarke and their marriage lasted 64 years until his death. They had two children, Fraser and Holly Ann.

Heston gained attention in 1947 in Anthony and Cleopatra, which landed him a job in the Studio One television series that re-enacted famous plays.

The television work led to movies and Cecil B. DeMille put him in The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), portraying a circus manager determined that the show must go on.

In 1956, DeMille cast Heston as Moses for The 10 Commandments, saying the actor reminded him of Michelangelo's statue. The $7.5 million epic was the most expensive film up to that time and became the second-biggest money maker of the time, behind Gone With the Wind.

In addition to playing Moses, Heston did the voice of God in the film. His 3-month-old son, Fraser, played the baby Moses floating down the Nile in a basket.

-SPEECH: Winning the Cultural War (Charlton Heston, 16 February 1999, Austin Hall, Harvard Law School)

Charlton Heston, 84; Oscar-winning actor played larger-than-life figures: The Oscar winner played Moses and Michelangelo, then later became a darling of conservatism (Robert W. Welkos and Susan King, April 6, 2008, LA Times)

Late in life, Heston's stature as a political firebrand overshadowed his acting. He became demonized by gun-control advocates and liberal Hollywood when he became president of the National Rifle Assn. in 1998.

Heston answered his critics in a now-famous pose that mimicked Moses' parting of the Red Sea. But instead of a rod, Heston raised a flintlock over his head and challenged his detractors to pry the rifle "from my cold, dead hands."

Like the chariot race and the bearded prophet Moses, Heston will be best remembered for several indelible cinematic moments: playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with Orson Welles in the oil fields in "Touch of Evil," his rant at the end of "Planet of the Apes" when he sees the destruction of the Statue of Liberty, his discovery that "Soylent Green is people!" in the sci-fi hit "Soylent Green" and the dead Spanish hero on his steed in "El Cid."

The New Yorker's film critic Pauline Kael, in her review of 1968's "Planet of the Apes," wrote: "All this wouldn't be so forceful or so funny if it weren't for the use of Charlton Heston in the [leading] role. With his perfect, lean-hipped, powerful body, Heston is a god-like hero; built for strength, he is an archetype of what makes Americans win. He represents American power -- and he has the profile of an eagle."

For decades, the 6-foot-2 Heston was a towering figure in the world of movies, television and the stage.

"He was the screen hero of the 1950s and 1960s, a proven stayer in epics, and a pleasing combination of piercing blue eyes and tanned beefcake," David Thomson wrote in his book "The New Biographical Dictionary of Film."

Heston also was blessed by working with legendary directors such as DeMille in "The Greatest Show on Earth" and again in "The Ten Commandments," Welles in "Touch of Evil," Sam Peckinpah in "Major Dundee," William Wyler in "The Big Country" and "Ben-Hur," George Stevens in "The Greatest Story Ever Told," Franklin Schaffner in "The War Lord" and "Planet of the Apes" and Anthony Mann in "El Cid."

"Four or five of those men would be on anybody's all-time great list," Heston said in a 1983 interview. "And if I picked up one scrap, one piece of business, from each of them, then today I would be a hell of a director."

-OBIT: Charlton Heston dies, aged 84 (Bonnie Malkin, 4/06/08, Daily Telegraph)
-OBIT: Charlton Heston, Epic Film Star and Voice of N.R.A., Dies at 83 (ROBERT BERKVIST, April 6, 2008, NY Times)
Every actor dreams of a breakthrough role, the part that stamps him in the public memory, and Mr. Heston’s life changed forever when he caught the eye of the director Cecil B. De Mille. De Mille, who was planning his next biblical spectacular, “The Ten Commandments,” looked at the young, physically imposing Mr. Heston and saw his Moses.

When the film was released in 1956, more than three and a half hours long and the most expensive that De Mille had ever made, Mr. Heston became a marquee name. Whether leading the Israelites through the wilderness, parting the Red Sea or coming down from Mount Sinai with the tablets from God in hand, he was a Moses to remember.

Writing in The New York Times nearly 30 years afterward, when the film was re-released for a brief run, Vincent Canby called it “a gaudy, grandiloquent Hollywood classic” and suggested there was more than a touch of “the rugged American frontiersman of myth” in Mr. Heston’s Moses.

The same quality made Mr. Heston an effective spokesman, off-screen, for the causes he believed in. Late in life he became a staunch opponent of gun control. Elected president of the National Rifle Association in 1998, he proved to be a powerful campaigner against what he saw as the government’s attempt to infringe on a Constitutional guarantee — the right to bear arms.

Charlton Heston, hero of American movies, dies aged 84 (Xan Brooks, April 6, 2008, guardian.co.uk)
In a career spanning 60 years, Heston provided the world with a seemingly inexhaustible roster of resolute screen heroes, from Michelangelo to Moses, El Cid to Judah Ben-Hur. "If you need a ceiling painted, a chariot race run, a city besieged, or the Red Sea parted, you think of me," he once explained.

-OBIT: Legendary US Actor Charlton Heston Dies at 84 (VOA News, 06 April 2008)
Actor, Activist Charlton Heston Dies at 83 (Adam Bernstein, 4/06/08, Washington Post)
Compared with acting peers such as Marlon Brando, Paul Newman or Burt Lancaster -- all of whom would downplay their brawn to convey a character's anguish or vulnerability -- Heston portrayed men of action who seldom displayed flaws.

Important exceptions were "Will Penny" (1968), in which he played an aging, illiterate cowboy, and "Number One" (1969), as an older gridiron star. Of the second, New York Times film reviewer Howard Thompson wrote that Heston "tackled a starkly unadorned role in one of the most interesting and admirable performances of his career" and called the film a "brooding, scorching and beautifully disciplined tour de force for the actor."

Poorly marketed -- the advertising focused on his body -- "Will Penny" and "Number One" did not do well in theaters. The commercial failure of those movies bothered Heston, who said the loner character in "Will Penny" came closest to how he saw himself.

Heston wrote he was deeply saddened by the critical and popular failure of his starring roles in "Julius Caesar" (1970) and "Antony and Cleopatra" (1972), movie adaptations of Shakespeare. He directed the second and called Shakespeare "the measuring stick against which you measure an actor's work."

He said doing those smaller pictures with limited audiences made it important for him also to star in high-salaried 1970s projects, including "Earthquake" and "Airport 1975."

He lost at least one important part because of his screen image. Director Steven Spielberg reportedly chose Roy Scheider over Heston in the thriller "Jaws" (1976) because Spielberg felt it would ruin the suspense to have "Moses" battle a great white shark.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


Afghan Forces Arrest Taliban Commander, 15 Rebels Dead (Reuters, 4/06/08)

Police captured Taliban commander Abdul Jabar on Saturday, the Interior Ministry said.

Jabar, who the government said organized attacks in the south, was captured while on his way towards Pakistan. He was a deputy of Mullah Mansour Dadullah, a prominent Taliban commander captured in Pakistan in February, it said.

"He was involved in Taliban insurgent operations against the Afghan state and coalition forces," the ministry said in a statement.

Also on Saturday, 15 insurgents were killed in two clashes about 40 km (25 miles) west of Kandahar city, the Defense Ministry said, in an area where NATO and Afghan forces have repeatedly battled the Taliban in recent years.

The Taliban, ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001, have vowed to step up their violent campaign to expel foreign forces and bring down the Western-backed government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


A passage to Tibet (Roger Cohen, April 6, 2008, IHT)

Remember how we had to learn about the Shia, the Sunnis, the Kurds and all the smaller agents of Iraqi fragmentation? Over the next four months, until the Beijing Olympics open, the world is going to get a crash course in China's various ethnic and religious minority groups and their resentments.

Violent stirrings in Tibet are just the beginning. With the world as stage, the Uighur Muslims of the northwestern Xinjiang region, the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement, Mongols and Kazakhs and whoever else wants his moment in the sun will have a dream opportunity to rail.

I hope violence is contained, and the Chinese authorities show flexibility, but I'm not optimistic.

Why should violence be contained where people aren't allowed basic rights of self-determination?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Pro-Tibet protesters try to wrestle Olympic torch off Konnie Huq during London stage of relay (Daily Mail, 6th April 2008)

Campaigners for a free Tibet attempted to wrestle the Olympic torch out of the hands of Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq during the British stage of the relay today.

As anti-China demonstrations broke out along the route, police piled in to stop the spectacle descending into chaos.

However, as the Blue Peter presenter - who at one stage was rumoured to be boycotting the parade - carried the torch, some of the protesters broke through her escort.

Scuffling with police, one attempted to extinguish the flame but was dragged away.

Every step of its procession should be made a humiliating ordeal for host and China.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


A battalion's worth of good ideas (John A. Nagl, April 6, 2008, IHT)

Based on American experiences in Korea, Vietnam, El Salvador and now in Iraq and Afghanistan, an advisory strategy can help the Iraqi Army and security forces beat Al Qaeda and protect their country. (Obviously, these are my personal views, and do not represent those of the U.S. Army.)

However, doing so will require America's ground forces to provide at least 20,000 combat advisers for the duration of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - soldiers specially equipped and trained to help foreign forces bear a greater share of the combat load.

Unfortunately, America's military did not have the advisory capacity it should have had after major combat operations ceased. The first attempt to create a new Iraqi Army was farmed out to private contractors. When that effort failed, and it became clear that the assistance needed to help the fledgling Iraqi Army far exceeded the capability of the U.S. Army's Special Forces, regular army troops were called on to fill the gap. Given their lack of training, these soldiers did remarkably well, but it was always a stopgap measure.

Fortunately, the advisory effort has been improved in the last couple of years. Since 2006, all U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force adviser training has been centralized at Fort Riley, Kansas, under the army's First Infantry Division, where I lead one of the training battalions engaged in this effort.

Graduates deploy in 10- to 16-person teams that embed with Iraqi and Afghan security forces, assist in their training and accompany them into combat. Not only does this give those foreign troops exposure to our tactics, it also provides a critical link to American artillery, air support and logistics during operations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Planetary Influences: The hidden meaning of the Chronicles of Narnia. (Tom Shippey, Books & Culture)

[T]he "hidden key" to the "Narniad" is extremely prominent in Lewis' works, both academic and fictional. It is perfectly clear that from an early age he was fascinated by what would be called, in the title of one of his posthumously published works, "the discarded image": the old geocentric universe, with the Earth encircled by Sun, Moon, and the five planets known to the ancients: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. These seven heavenly bodies still determine our days of the week (though some unknown mind long ago converted four of them, in the Germanic world, to their counterparts in his own mythology), and Lewis considered them and their traditional attributes with great care on many occasions. A good guide to his thinking is his 1935 poem, "The Planets," written in the old native English alliterative meter. In his 1938 novel Out of the Silent Planet, the hero, Ransom, kidnapped and taken on a spaceship to Mars, and so very clearly not in the old geocentric universe, nevertheless finds the experience of "space" so different from what he had been taught to expect that "he found it night by night more difficult to disbelieve in old astrology." Seven years later, in That Hideous Strength, Lewis has the presiding demiurges of the five planets come down to Earth to destroy the schemes of the devil-worshippers: Earth is "the silent planet" because it alone does not join in the heavenly "music of the spheres," and its presiding demiurge, princeps huius mundi, the prince of this world, is Satan.

In the old view, carefully and concisely expressed in "The Planets," each of the heavenly bodies, with the quasi-deity for whom it is named, had its own set of characteristics, including a particular metal: silver for the Moon, gold for the Sun, copper for Venus (whose traditional home was Cyprus, the copper-isle), iron for Mars, lead for Saturn, mercury, obviously, for Mercury, and—to modern minds rather disappointingly—tin for Jupiter or Jove. Ward's belief, very concisely expressed, is that each of the seven volumes of the "Narniad" belongs to a particular planet/deity, and that these determine its atmosphere, its individuality, even its Christological significance.

...that there was that brief mental spasm where even normally sensible folks disbelieved in the geocentric universe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


The America of Benedict XVI, a Model for Catholic Europe (Sandro Magister, April 4, 2008, Chiesa)

For Benedict XVI the United States is a model to be imitated by all. It is the country born and founded "on the self-evident truth that the Creator has endowed each human being with certain inalienable rights," among the first of which is liberty.

With this pope, the United States is no longer held up for scolding by the Vatican authorities. Until a few decades ago, it was tasked with being the temple of Calvinist capitalism, of social Darwinism, of the electric chair, with a hair trigger in every corner of the world.

Today these paradigms seem to have been set aside to a great extent. The Church of Rome vigorously contested the military attack on the Iraq of Saddam Hussein. Even Benedict XVI. But it is not now pressing for the withdrawal of the soldiers. It wants them to remain there "on a peacekeeping mission," including the defense of the Christian minorities.

In any case, the general judgment on the United States has shifted to the positive, to the same extent that judgments on Europe have become more pessimistic. To ambassador Glendon, Benedict XVI said that he admires "the American people's historic appreciation of the role of religion in shaping public discourse," a role that in other places – read, Europe – is "contested in the name of a straitened understanding of political life." With the consequences that stem from this on the points that are most crucial to the Church, like "legal protection for God's gift of life from conception to natural death," marriage, the family.

The Church of Rome has more often found itself in harmony with the Republican presidents, from Reagan to Bush Sr. and Jr., than it has with the Democrat Clinton, precisely because of the greater dedication of the former to safeguarding life and promoting religious freedom in the world. In Cairo in 1994, and in Beijing in 1995, at the two international conferences convened by the United Nations on the demographic question and on women, both held during the Clinton presidency, the delegation of the Holy See fought tenaciously against the United States and Europe, which wanted to incentivize abortion in order to reduce births in poor countries.

And who led the Vatican team in Beijing? Mary Ann Glendon, a former feminist, a law professor at Harvard University later appointed by John Paul II as president of the pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, and today a United States ambassador. Her speech in Beijing fell like a sharp sword: "Does the conference want to combat the violence suffered by women? Very well. Then let's take note of this. Among these forms of violence are mandatory birth control programs, forced sterilizations, pressure to abort, sex selection and the consequent destruction of female fetuses."

In a collection of her essays just released in Italy, published by Rubbettino, Mary Ann Glendon again criticizes what happened in Beijing and in the following years. She accuses rich countries of cutting off financial aid, preferring the shortcut of abortion and zero cost population curbs. Above all, she accuses the secular Western elites of replacing the "full, rich, balanced" language of the universal declaration on human rights with the "mediocre jargon" of individual desires without duties or responsibilities. Her indictment has been republished by "L'Osservatore Romano."

For these same reasons, on multiple occasions in recent years the Vatican authorities have criticized the UN and the European Union.

The final success of the Reformation can be seen in the fact that he's most at home here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Saudi Mufti Calls for Moderation in Islam (Turki Al-Saheil, 4/03/08, Asharq Al-Awsat

The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdulaziz al Sheikh, reiterated his call for moderation* in Islam and condemned extremists saying, "Fanatical zeal cannot be considered part of religion, even if they [extremists] falsely pretend to be devout."

During a meeting with the press that followed a workshop at the headquarters of the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Chair for Contemporary Islamic Studies at King Saud University, the Mufti stressed the need for moderation and tolerance which he said lie between "extremism and estrangement, and excess and renunciation."

He added that moderation "protects the youth of the nation and guides then towards the good whilst warning them against perversity, fabrication and ideological, moral and behavioral deviance."

Furthermore, Sheikh Abdulaziz al Sheikh emphasised the importance of self-reform before embarking on reforming others.

The Sa'uds need to back such calls with as much money and effort as they did Wahhabism in the first place.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


The Demise of the Euro: Tensions between inflation-obsessed Germany and growth-hungry Latin countries will spell its end. (Avi Tiomkin, 04.21.08, Forbes)

It is only a matter of time, probably less than three years, until the euro experiment meets its end. The financial crisis in the U.S. is hastening the process, as investors flee the dollar, pushing the euro to a price of $1.59. But it will not stay high for long. Countries like Spain and Italy will withdraw and return to their old currencies. Once that happens, get ready for the return of the deutsche mark and the French franc.

What will undo the euro: the mounting tension between the inflation-obsessed German bloc (including Austria, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) and the Latin bloc of France, Italy and Spain. The Germans, saddled with memories of the hyperinflation that brought the Nazi Party into power, remain singularly focused on fiscal and monetary discipline. Despite core inflation in the euro zone of only 2.4% and a slowing global economy, the Germans insist that the European Central Bank maintain a tight monetary policy. In direct opposition to Germany, the Latin bloc, joined by Ireland, wants the ECB to lower interest rates.

Spain's worsening real estate slump dramatically illustrates the problem faced by the Latin bloc.

It will be undone by nationalism. What does Germany matter to a Spaniard?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Project Trinity: The perilous mission of Obama’s church. (Kelefa Sanneh , 4/07/08, The New Yorker)

“Christianity is the white man’s religion.” That was Malcolm X’s verdict, and though he meant it to be final, a generation of black Christian leaders decided to treat it as provisional. In 1969, a thirty-one-year-old theologian named James H. Cone published “Black Theology & Black Power,” a short, astringent book that Wright would use as a blueprint for Trinity. Cone proposed a reciprocal arrangement: just as the Black Power movement could find redemption in the Church, so the Church—dominated and distorted by generations of white men—could find redemption in the Black Power movement. He wrote that there was “a need for a theology whose sole purpose is to emancipate the gospel from its ‘whiteness’ so that blacks may be capable of making an honest self-affirmation through Jesus Christ.” And he argued that, since African-American suffering was such a powerful metaphor for the suffering of Christ, color-blind Christianity was a contradiction in terms. “To be Christian is to be one of those whom God has chosen,” he wrote. “God has chosen black people!”

Like many brash-sounding manifestos of the era, this one came with fine-print qualifications. Throughout the book, Cone was careful to explain that a black-centered Church need not be a black-separatist Church. And even the simplest phrases—“black people,” for instance—turned out to be slippery. It wasn’t about being “physically black,” he wrote. “To be black means that your heart, your soul, your mind, and your body are where the dispossessed are.” In his view, blackness was as radically inclusive as Christianity itself, and just as demanding.

Cone, now sixty-nine, is a professor at Union Theological Seminary, in New York; he has a high, emphatic voice and a tendency to slide to the edge of his seat when he’s about to make a point. On a recent afternoon at his faculty apartment in Morningside Heights, which is decorated with African art, he explained the genesis of black liberation theology. He was following the lead of the National Committee of Negro Churchmen, a group that in 1966 had purchased a full-page advertisement in the Times which endorsed—and, in a sense, tried to coöpt—the goals of the Black Power movement. Cone wasn’t among the signatories; his formative experience came the next year.

“It was the riots in Detroit, in Newark, both in ’67—that was what shook me,” he recounted. “I said to myself, ‘I have to have a theology that speaks to the hurt in my community. I want a theology that would empower people to be more creative. To be just as aggressive as they are in the riots, but more constructive.’ ”

The doctrine he laid out was a response, too, to the paradox at the heart of black Christianity: the new religion of enslaved Africans was also the old religion of the American enslavers. In abolitionist tracts (like David Walker’s “Appeal”) and slave narratives, black writers struggled to find a way to distinguish between righteous Christianity and its monstrous opposite. Frederick Douglass, in an appendix to his “Narrative,” earnestly assures readers that he is not an atheist, then redoubles his attack on the theology of slaveholding America: “Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked.” (Or, rendered into cable-news crawl: “CONTROVERSIAL MEMOIRIST ATTACKS RELIGION. DOUGLASS: AMERICAN VALUES ‘WICKED.’ ”)

There was, for Cone, another motivating force in the rise of black liberation theology. In black neighborhoods across America, the spiritual marketplace was getting crowded, and churches seemed in danger of being edged out. Politically inclined young people who wanted no part of “the white man’s religion” could turn instead to Marxism, or to various strains of black-nationalist thought, or to Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, the group that groomed Malcolm X. Cone found himself on the wrong side of a growing divide—as he puts it, “We were Martin Luther King, Jr., people”—and he realized that not just the sales pitch but the product had to be changed; the urgency in his prose reflected his anger but also his fear that the black Church was becoming obsolete. Preachers who had helped lead the civil-rights movement were being outflanked by black nationalists who mistrusted any belief system that claimed to be universal. The historian and theologian Gayraud Wilmore contends that the Nation of Islam “kept fire at the feet of the historic black churches.” It’s no coincidence, he observes, that the black liberation-theology movement cooled after 1975, the year Elijah Muhammad died. But the effect lingered. [...]

The rise of Jeremiah Wright, in the seventies and eighties, coincided with the rebirth of the Nation of Islam under Minister Louis Farrakhan. In fact, the uproar over Obama and Wright has been, in part, an uproar over Farrakhan, who keeps sneaking into the frame. He and Wright were twinned at the Democratic Presidential debate in Cleveland, on February 26th, when Tim Russert, of NBC, ascribed to Wright the claim that Farrakhan “epitomizes greatness.” (Actually, the statement came from an article by Rhoda McKinney-Jones in Trumpet, a Trinity-associated magazine published by Wright’s daughter Jeri L. Wright; as has been widely noted since then, Farrakhan was given a lifetime-achievement award at a Trumpet banquet in November.) Last summer, the Trinity Bulletin reprinted an open letter by a Farrakhan ally convinced that Israel and apartheid South Africa had “worked on an ethnic bomb that kills blacks and Arabs.” Yet Wright seems to have a complicated relationship with Farrakhan, whose national headquarters are in the South Shore neighborhood, a few miles from Trinity. His remarks about Farrakhan veer from the fulsome (the minister’s analysis of America’s racial ills is “astounding and eye opening”) to the equivocal (he is “sincere about his faith and his purpose”), but for the most part Wright chooses his words with tactical care, the way Cone did when he wrote about Elijah Muhammad. It is the language of a respectful, and possibly anxious, rival. Like Cone in the nineteen-sixties, Wright may have worried that he would be judged, and found wanting, by purer and less forgiving forms of black nationalism. Farrakhan represented the threat; his followers—particularly the young black men whom churches sometimes had trouble reaching—represented the prize.

Wright attended (but didn’t address) the Million Man March, the 1995 gathering in Washington that Farrakhan convened to promote self-reliance and “spiritual renewal” among black men. In the months afterward, Wright delivered a series of sermons that were reprinted in a book, “When Black Men Stand Up for God,” which presents a Christian response to the challenge posed by the Nation of Islam. In it, he lambastes the preachers who opposed the march on political or religious grounds: they had missed a prime opportunity to present their case to African-American men. And, by way of establishing his bona fides, he reminds readers that he studied Islam at the University of Chicago. “I have a different perspective on Islam than the average preacher,” he writes. “Islam and Christianity are a whole lot closer than you may realize. Islam comes out of Christianity.” That’s interfaith dialogue, served with a hint of one-upmanship.

It seems apt that an American pastor who was eager to discover his African past should have crossed paths with a community organizer of Kenyan (and Kansan) descent, who was eager to discover his American future. If Obama felt attacked by Wright’s stormy sermons and prickly politics, he may also have felt flattered to be part of a congregation rooted in the righteous history of a civil-rights struggle that he himself had missed, except as a beneficiary. Nor was the decision to join innocent of strategic calculation

The church has been thriving for 2,000 and they radically alter its teachings to compete with nuts like Farrakhan?

April 5, 2008

Posted by Matt Murphy at 2:57 PM


White Guys Are Back (Gail Collins, 4/5/08, New York Times)

It was probably inevitable. The historic contest between a woman and an African-American for the presidential nomination is now all about white men.

Not that the white male voters asked for this. They’ve been uncommitted, supporting Hillary in one contest and Barack in the next. But all that hemming and hawing has turned them into the deciding factor in the big upcoming primary in Pennsylvania.

Reporters are spread all over the state, searching for white men to interview. American Legion halls under siege! Both campaigns engage in extensive research, which reveals that white men are very concerned about the economy. Duh.

Courting them is extremely tricky. It’s not like you can promise that under your presidency, more white men would be appointed to the Supreme Court.

The candidates’ desperation to make contact is showing.

In Ex-Steel City, Voters Deny Race Plays a Role (Paul Vitello, 4/4/08, New York Times)

Ask whom she might vote for in the coming presidential primary election and Nash McCabe, 52, seems almost relieved to be able to unpack the dossier she has been collecting in her head.

It is not about whom she likes, but more a bill of particulars about why she cannot vote for Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.

“How can I vote for a president who won’t wear a flag pin?” Mrs. McCabe, a recently unemployed clerk typist, said in a booth at the Valley Dairy luncheonette in this quiet, small city in western Pennsylvania. [...]

Americans have a long tradition of voting against candidates rather than for them. But in the first presidential campaign with an African-American as a serious contender, there may be a new gyration in the way voters think, the need to explain the vote against the candidate who is black.

“I don’t say this because he’s black, but the guy just seems arrogant to me, the way he expects things to go his way,” said Harry Brobst, a truck driver who had never registered to vote until this year.

Mr. Brobst said he would vote in the primary “not so much for,” but against.

People are not shy about dismissing out of hand Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York for her supposed untrustworthiness or Senator John McCain of Arizona for what is described as his “100 years” approach to the Iraq war.

But when dismissing Mr. Obama, voters in this former steel center, whatever their racial feelings, seem almost compelled to list their reasons, if only to pre-empt the unspoken race question.

Unspoken? Anybody out there think this reporter wasn't peppering his interviewees with leading questions?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM



I've been reading Robert Ferrigno's very entertaining sequel to Prayers for the Assassin:


Listening to the almost orchestral bluegrass of Punch Brothers:


Watching the extremely funny Flight of the Conchords, which folks recommended here last time:


The last I saw was the predictable, but likable Bella:

How about you?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


The Micromagic of Microcredit (Karol Boudreaux and Tyler Cowen, Wilson Quarterly)

Yes, microcredit is mostly a good thing. Very often it helps keep borrowers from even greater catastrophes, but only rare