May 31, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 PM


Officials Say Fla., Mich. Delegates Will Get Half-Votes (NEDRA PICKLER, 5/31/08, The Associated Press)

Democratic Party leaders agreed Saturday seat Michigan and Florida delegates with half votes into this summer's convention with a compromise that left Barack Obama on the verge of the nomination but riled Hillary Rodham Clinton backers who threatened to fight to the August convention.

"Hijacking four delegates is not a good way to start down the path of party unity," said adviser Harold Ickes.

...that some people aren't fully human...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 PM


Obama Resigns Church Membership (Keith Richburg, 5/31/08, The Trail)

Sen. Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, resigned their membership in the South Side Chicago church that had been their spiritual home for two decades but which, in recent months, had become a political liability in Obama's campaign for the presidency.

The Obamas announced their decision in a letter to Trinity United Church of Christ's Rev. Otis Moss III on Friday, saying, "We are writing to make official our decision to end our membership at Trinity."

...that you have to pretend not to hold for political reasons.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:26 AM


France offers Iraq rebuilding aid (BBC, 5/31/08)

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is in Iraq to offer help in rebuilding the country and promoting national reconciliation.

Mr Kouchner, whose visit began in the southern city of Nasiriya, is holding talks with senior officials.

France was one of the fiercest critics of the 2003 US-led invasion, and this is Mr Kouchner's second visit to Iraq in less than a year.

He told reporters his message was one of "peace and co-operation".

...that the primary effect of W's go-it-alone foreign policy has been for opponents to fall in line behind him. We'll not hold our breath while you try to find one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:24 AM


The Economy: A Reality Check (Michael Barone, 5/31/08, Real Clear Politics)

In the America I grew up in, the political effects of economic issues were clear. Voters, most of whom had vivid memories of the Depression of the 1930s, tended to vote for Democrats when the economy sagged. Political scientists produced formulas for predicting elections that were based largely on macroeconomic indicators: If the economy was growing, the incumbent party's presidential candidate would win; if it was in recession, he'd lose. But those formulas don't work anymore. If they did, Al Gore would have been elected by a comfortable margin in 2000.

Today, few voters remember the 1930s; the median-age voter has lived all his adult life in a period when low inflation economic growth has become the norm. Voters take a good economy for granted and are enraged by any irritation. But who is to blame? The subprime mortgage crisis was brought about by policies encouraging home ownership supported by George W. Bush and members of Congress of both parties. Monetary policy is made by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who has bipartisan support.

Polls suggest votes are not moving in response to local economic conditions. Recent polls in Michigan, the No. 1 state in unemployment, show John McCain running even with Barack Obama, even though George W. Bush lost the state by 3 percent in 2004. And Obama is running much stronger than John Kerry did in Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states with very low unemployment.

But then Obama is advocating fiscal and trade policies -- higher taxes on high earners, more protectionism -- which are the opposite of John F. Kennedy's and the same as Herbert Hoover's. Yes, the economy matters in politics, but not in the way it used to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:19 AM


Killing Her Softly: Hillary Clinton and the contradictions of the West. (Mark Steyn, 5/31/08, National Review)

‘Someone wins, someone doesn’t win, that’s life,” Nancy Kopp, Maryland’s treasurer, told the Washington Post. “But women don’t want to be totally dissed.” She was talking about her political candidate, Hillary Clinton. Democratic women are feeling metaphorically battered by the Obama campaign. “Healing The Wounds Of Democrats’ Sexism,” as the Boston Globe headline put it, will not be easy. Geraldine Ferraro is among many prominent Democrat ladies putting up their own money for a study from the Shorenstein Center at Harvard to determine whether Senator Clinton’s presidential hopes fell victim to party and media sexism. How else to explain why their gal got clobbered by a pretty boy with a resume you could print on the back of his driver’s license, a Rolodex apparently limited to neo-segregationist racebaiters, campus Marxist terrorists and indicted fraudsters, and a rhetorical surefootedness that makes Dan Quayle look like Socrates. “On this Memorial Day,” said Barack Obama last Monday, “as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes — and I see many of them in the audience here today…”

Hey, why not? In Obama’s Cook County, Illinois, many fallen heroes from the Spanish-American War still show up in the voting booths come November. It’s not unreasonable for some of them to turn up at an Obama campaign rally, too.

But what of the fallen heroine?

Nothing Ms Clinton has done warrants invoking the worst song in human history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


U.S. may have overestimated North Korea's plutonium (Helene Cooper, May 31, 2008, NY Times)

An 18,000-page declaration submitted by North Korea to the United States is stirring debate about whether U.S. intelligence agencies previously overstated how much plutonium the Pyongyang government might have produced for its nuclear weapons program.

Bush administration officials have declined to comment on the declaration, which State Department officials say will take weeks to wade through, but they have indicated that North Korea is acknowledging it produced 37 kilograms of plutonium, or about 81 pounds.

That total would be more than the 30 kilograms that North Korea has acknowledged previously, but somewhat less than the 40 kilograms to 50 kilograms that U.S. intelligence agencies had calculated it had produced. Estimates on how many nuclear bombs North Korea could wring from its plutonium program have ranged from 6 to 10.

Yet they have none.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Once, 'international' sounded saintly. Now it means bureaucracy and waste: From Eurovision and the Olympics to the UN and the World Bank, a deficit of accountability drains all true legitimacy (Simon Jenkins, 5/31/08, The Guardian)

Gazing briefly at the Eurovision song contest this week I could not rid my mind of a quite different image, that of Nato's multilateral force headquarters in Kabul. There was the same flag-waving and confusion of purpose, the same small-state rivalry and cynical balancing of interests. There was the same belief that, simply by being international, a so-called community of nations was forged.

For Eurovision and Nato, read the Olympics and Burma, read the Moscow cup final and Darfur. Read the European parliament, Fifa, the World Bank, the Organisation of African Unity, the European parliament. I was brought up to regard "international" as synonymous with saintly. It was a concept to supplant the rude nationalism of the 20th century in a worldwide concord of peace, ruled by a clerisy of selfless bureaucrats; Dag Hammersköld out of Albert Schweitzer.

Today the word "international" suggests tailored suits, tax-free salaries, white Land Cruisers and Geneva. The Eurovision contest is run by the European Broadcasting Union with 400 staff in Switzerland, with no risk of oversight or reform. It takes after the International Olympics Committee, which now charges its host taxpayers $20-30bn for two weeks of extravaganza in the name of bogus world brotherhood. Fifa, the international football regulator/promoter, forces thousands of English fans to travel to Moscow to watch their teams act out an insult to the great game - a penalty shoot-out stunt staged because television cannot bear a draw.

It may seem crude to leap from such mundane activities to world peace, but the ruling assumption is the same, that internationalism legitimises itself. It rises above (never below) the nation state and its rulemakers owe allegiance only to an ideal of global community, which means whatever they choose. The ever-more numerous world bodies to which the British Foreign Office subscribes need never pass the eye of any National Audit Office. to never have believed such nonsense. Our hostility to transnationalism is one of our most distinctive, and healthy, features.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


...what does oil have to do with cars?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:06 AM


Heroin video to be shown to schoolchildren (Andy Bloxham, 30/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

A graphic video diary of a middle-class heroin addict’s failed attempts to give up will be shown to millions of schoolchildren as a warning of the dangers of drugs. the heck out of The Red Balloon

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 AM


Mario Testino puts Margaret Thatcher back in Vogue (Andrew Pierce, 30/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Mario Testino, who took the last memorable official photographs of Diana, Princess of Wales has now softened the image of the Iron Lady.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Job Climate for the Class of 2008 Is a Bit Warmer Than Expected KATE MURPHY, 5/31/08, NY Times)

Given that the economy is flagging, this would seem an inauspicious time to be graduating from college and looking for full-time employment.

Job prospects this year, however, have been better than career counselors and recent graduates had expected. Employers are still extending offers, just not as many as last year.

As Job Surplus Grows, Iowa Workers Are Calling the Shots (JOHN LELAND, 5/31/08, NY Times)
As rising unemployment and layoffs beset workers around the country, Iowa faces a different problem: a surplus of jobs. Or to put it another way: a shortage of workers. A survey of companies by Iowa Workforce Development, a state agency, found as many as 48,000 job vacancies, in industries including financial services — Des Moines trails only Hartford as the nation’s insurance capital — health care and skilled manufacturing. One estimate projects the job surplus to reach 198,000 by 2014, with vacancies increasingly in professional positions. Greater Des Moines alone faces a shortfall of 60,000 workers in the next decade.

The state provides a small, advance view of what some economists predict will be a broader shortage of skilled workers in the next 20 or 30 years, as tens of millions of baby boomers retire from the workplace, and the economy produces more new jobs than workers. Potential consequences include slower economic growth and competitiveness, as well as higher wages for skilled workers and greater inequality.

Estimates of the national shortage run as high as 14 million skilled workers by 2020, according to widely cited projections by the labor economists Anthony P. Carnevale and Donna M. Desrochers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Tourist bitten on penis by deadly brown snake (Nick Squires, 30/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

...the punchline is, "The Doctor says there's nothing we can do."

May 30, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 PM


Facts are for pantywaists: Liberals beware! Stephen Colbert's brand of comic neo-con nonsense is on the rise. (Ben Marshall, May 31, 2008, The Guardian)

Colbert has described his character as a fool. He is in fact something far funnier and more dangerous. Like Bush he is a bright man who embraces ignorance, exuberantly making up for his paucity of knowledge with the stridency and absurdity of his opinions. Indeed Colbert would probably argue, as Hillary Clinton did recently (on the ludicrous idea of gas tax holidays), that being well informed about an issue only helps to cloud it. Just like Colbert, Clinton dismissed experts as elitists. Colbert actually refers to experts as "factonistas" and claims there are more nerve endings in the human gut than there are in the human brain. "I give people the truth, unfiltered by rational argument," he boasts.

...that's a particularly good insight, that Hillary came on after letting loose her inner Colbertian. No one ever lost an election running against intellectual pretensions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:12 PM


Payback Time? Libya May Be Near Victim Compensation Deal (KIRIT RADIA, May 30, 2008, ABC News)

The United States and Libya have agreed to establish a system to resolve outstanding terror reparation payments owed to American victims of Libyan terror acts in the 1980s.

The agreement would lump all outstanding claims together in an effort to settle them all, once and for all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 PM


Just to be clear, folks, it's a novel: There's an emerging sub-genre of Islamotopian fiction, and it's not my fault (MARK STEYN | May 28, 2008, Maclean's)

The thesis of my book is that the Western world is becoming more Muslim, and that this will change the nature of our societies. But an emerging sub-genre of Islamotopian fiction is beginning to delineate some of the options. Robert Ferrigno has just published Sins of the Assassin, the second novel in his trilogy set circa 2040 in the Islamic Republic of America. He recently took time out of his hectic schedule of book promotion south of the border to profess bewilderment at finding himself part of a "human rights" case up north. As evidence of my "flagrant Islamophobia," the Canadian Islamic Congress claims I "asserted" the following:

1. America will be an Islamic Republic by the year 2040 — there will be a Muslim/Islamist takeover;

2. As a result of the Muslim takeover, there will be a break for prayers during the Super Bowl, the stadium will have a stereotypical Muslim name, and the fans will be forced to watch the game in a Muslim prayer posture;

4. As a result of the Muslim takeover there will be oppressive religious police enforcing Islamic/Muslim norms on the population, important U.S. icons [such as the USS Ronald Reagan] will be renamed after Osama bin Laden, no females will be allowed to be cheerleaders, and popular American radio and television talk-show hosts will have been replaced by Muslim imams . . .

Er, no. I didn't "assert" that any of the above will happen. Robert Ferrigno did — in the plot of his splendid novel, Prayers for the Assassin. As Mr. Ferrigno put it, "It's as if that hall monitor saw the two of us walking to class and decided that it was Steyn with the squeaky shoes. Sorry pal, c'est moi." The author was as perplexed as any citizen of any free nation should be at the idea that the plot points of a work of fiction — a creative art form, an act of imagination — apparently constitute a hate crime in Canada. But he took particular umbrage at being described by the Canadian Islamic Congress plaintiffs as a "recognized Islamophobe." "For the record," he says, "I am neither Islamophobic nor recognized."

He's right. The hero of his trilogy — and, as the Islamist enforcers at the CIC apparently aren't on top of this whole fiction-type deal, I should explain that the "hero" is the chap that you the reader are meant to identify with — is a Muslim: Rakkim Epps, a veteran of the Fedayeen, "a small, elite force of genetically enhanced holy warriors." He's a cynical fellow — Joel Schwartz in The Weekly Standard recently described him as a kind of Muslim Bogart, which is the right general territory; he's Philip Marlowe crossed with certain cabinet ministers I've met from Islamic countries — decent fellows under no illusions about the societies they serve. Ferrigno's second novel puts Rakkim undercover in the part of the old United States that didn't go Muslim — the southeastern "Bible Belt," a wild raucous land of rough liquor and cartoon religiosity in which the biggest tourist attraction is the daily re-enactment of the Waco siege. Mr. Ferrigno's Belt sometimes feels like a televangelist theme park writ large. So, if Christian groups were as willing to bandy around accusations of Christophobia, they'd have as much to work with as the Canadian Islamic Congress does. And, to one degree or another, both inheritors of the old United States — the Islamic Republic and the Belt — are societies in decline, living off the accumulated capital of a lost past.

If you're minded to spot Islamophobia in everything, Tom Kratman's Caliphate may offer easier pickings.

...they might realize that such texts aren't driven by fear of Islam but by contempt for secular Europe and American intellectuals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 PM


Afghanistan: How British medic shot suicide bomb suspect then saved his life (Thomas Harding, 31/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

"He was about 15 metres away which for a car bomb is very, very close," L/Cpl Tingle, 28, told The Daily Telegraph. "I thought to myself 'I'm going to turn into red mist' because those vehicle bombs are packed full of explosive. It would have taken out our vehicle easily and probably the other three vehicles, killing a dozen of us.

"He was heading straight towards us so I just fired the shot to stop him." [...]

The vehicle skidded to a stop and was surrounded by troops. The Afghan driver had been hit by the medic's bullet, which had passed through his neck.

"I ran over and thought this is going to go one of two ways – either very severe or he's going to be dead.

"I was just thinking medical – that I have a casualty and I have to deal with it."

Fearful that at any time the wound could suddenly erupt if the carotid artery was torn, the medic carefully applied pressure with a first field dressing.

He classified the Afghan as a T1 injury, the most serious category, and called for a helicopter evacuation but the air vehicle was already dealing with another casualty.

An ambulance was called from the Lashkar Gah hospital but the roads were too difficult for it to get through. With the Afghan still bleeding, the soldiers decided to drive him to hospital themselves and loaded him on the back of a Wimick with an intravenous drip attached to the machine gun mount.

A sand storm blew in, making navigation extremely difficult, but an hour after the shooting they arrived at the hospital.

Reflecting on the events earlier this month, L/Cpl Tingle said he felt guilt and anger towards the Afghan despite the fact that he was not actually a bomber.

"I felt angry because he made me do it. I thought 'why didn't you just stop'. I also felt guilty because I had hurt somebody and then especially when you see the extent of the injuries you caused.

"But I have no doubt that I did the right thing because at that point life was in danger and the shot had to be taken."

Our cultural superiority in a nutshell.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 PM


The end of a neo-con: FRANCIS Fukuyama is the American public intellectual who pronounced the end of history 19 years ago and was a neo-conservative, an idea and an ideology that both suggest he is out of date. (Mike Steketee, May 31, 2008, The Australian)

After the September 11 attacks, he and other prominent neo-conservatives signed a letter to Bush arguing for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But he pulled back before the invasion in 2003, arguing that the US should seek UN Security Council support, that Iraq was the wrong target for combating terrorism and that the administration was underestimating the difficulty of establishing a stable democracy. Fukuyama recanted his neo-conservatism because he saw where it was leading.

Why was it, he asked, that the warnings the neo-cons made about the unintended consequences of social engineering in domestic policy were being ignored in the wholesale reconstruction they were attempting in Iraq?

These days, there are few sterner critics of the war. This is how he summed it up in my interview with him this week: "Even if it comes out right at the end, it was a tremendous waste of resources. We have invested so far five years worth of effort, 30,000 casualties, $1 trillion in overt expenses and probably another trillion in delayed expenses."

That chump change is too much to liberate a country of 21 million from a genocidal dictator and give them self-determination? Sorry, that sort of monstrous selfishness is unAmerican.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 PM


The rise and rise of the New Malthusianism: Fatal Misconception is a thorough study of the history of the population-control lobby – but it fatally underestimates how influential the new green-leaning Malthusianism has become. (Frank Furedi, 5/30/08, spiked)

Population is almost always linked to a problem of one kind or another. Historically, most societies regarded people as the source of economic and political power – so for them, the ‘population problem’ was often not having enough people to work on the land and fight against potential enemies. Consequently, most cultures were pro-natalist; they encouraged people to have large families. Since the emergence of modernity, however, such pro-natalism has been undermined by a new view of population growth as something we should dread. In the nineteenth century, the anti-natalist philosophy of Thomas Malthus inspired a powerful movement for curbing population growth.

The central preoccupation of the Malthusian movement was not simply growth itself, but a fear that the wrong kind of people tend to have the highest fertility rates. The problem, apparently, was one of differential fertility rates; Malthusians were haunted by anxiety that families of the wrong class and the wrong colour might overwhelm those who came from the right stock. Not surprisingly, then, they had a very selective attitude towards population control. They were principally concerned with controlling the population growth of ‘other people’. At the dawn of the twentieth century, the Malthusian agenda resonated with elites who were concerned about the birth rate of the lower classes. The fear that these classes might outbreed others, and contribute to the degeneration of ‘the race’, fostered a new eugenic outlook. Eugenics was seen as a science that could improve the human stock by promoting superior races over ‘less suitable’ ones.

As Matthew Connelly notes in his new book Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population, there where two distinct - if not always unconnected - strands to eugenics. One strand promoted racially motivated policies such as forced sterilisation, immigration quotas and, in the case of Nazi Germany, physical extermination of people deemed to be unfit. The other strand, which Connelly refers to as ‘reform eugenics’, did not ‘reject the mainline idea that more privileged socioeconomic and racial groups tended to display more desirable characteristics’. However, it ‘simply did not emphasise it’. Instead ‘reform eugenics’ stressed the ‘potential for improved conditions to nurture talent and ability at every social level’.

After the experience of the Second World War, eugenics in its overtly racial form stood discredited. Many of those who had been devoted to pursuing population-growth policies now embraced ‘reform eugenics’ and rebranded themselves as family planners. [...]

Where in the nineteenth century Malthusians warned that population growth threatened to cause some people to starve to death, today they denounce people for threatening the planet by consuming too much. Contemporary Malthusianism has taken on an openly anti-human form.

There's a reason the Left insists that Malthus's greatest disciple, Charles Darwin, be taught in school.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 PM


U.S. Cites Big Gains Against Al-Qaeda: Group Is Facing Setbacks Globally, CIA Chief Says (Joby Warrick, 5/30/08, Washington Post)

The sense of shifting tides in the terrorism fight is shared by a number of terrorism experts, though some caution that it is too early to tell whether the gains are permanent. Some credit Hayden and other U.S. intelligence leaders for going on the offensive against al-Qaeda in the area along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the tempo of Predator strikes has dramatically increased from previous years. But analysts say the United States has caught some breaks in the past year, benefiting from improved conditions in Iraq, as well as strategic blunders by al-Qaeda that have cut into its support base.

"One of the lessons we can draw from the past two years is that al-Qaeda is its own worst enemy," said Robert Grenier, a former top CIA counterterrorism official who is now managing director of Kroll, a risk consulting firm. "Where they have succeeded initially, they very quickly discredit themselves." that they'd just handed the GOP all the credit for winning the Cold War a few years ago and this one was always going to be much easier to win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:46 PM


Obama: a man of no substance: He launched his political career in 1995 with a candid memoir, and kickstarted his presidential bid with a ‘political treatise’ stuffed with embarrassing personal anecdotes. Obama takes the politics of personality to a new low. (Sean Collins, 5/30/08, spiked)

It’s easy to forget that only five months ago the chances of Barack Obama becoming president were pretty slim.

At the beginning of the year, Obama trailed Hillary Clinton in the contest for the Democratic Party nomination by what appeared to be an unsurpassable margin: in the first week of January 2008 he received only 24 per cent of support in national polls, versus 44 per cent for Clinton. But in a matter of weeks - by mid-February - Obama had caught Clinton, and soon after he grabbed the lead. Today he is ahead by 10 percentage points over Clinton, and with a majority of pledged delegates he is almost certain to win the nomination. Moreover, polls show Obama leads John McCain and thus is now the frontrunner to be the next President of the United States.

Even saying that Obama is the frontrunner is something of an understatement. For many, he is believed to be a politician unlike any other in recent memory. He is pathbreaking, holding out the possibility of being the first black president. While politics is often perceived to be a dull affair, Obama is widely talked about in terms of his personal qualities, especially how cool he is – good-looking, smooth, self-assured, hip, and with a wry sense of humour. And he doesn’t just win votes, he attracts tens of thousands to his rockstar-like rallies. In short, he’s not just a candidate, he’s a phenomenon.

Obama’s campaign is very much run on the basis of who he ‘is’, his personal story, more than any plans on how he would lead the country. In that regard, Obama has been able carefully to craft his public image by writing two mega-bestselling books, Dreams from My Father (1995) and The Audacity of Hope (2006), both of which are highly personal. And it appears he has used his books to establish a connection with supporters; Obama says people ‘feel they know me through my books’.

Previous candidates for president have presented their biography and tried to spin it to their advantage, but few have focused so much on their own personal background.

...while it may not have been possible to anticipate how completely the activists in the Party would go for him, his Identity and the capacity of black voters to determine primary outcomes in a number of states in the Identity Party had folks talking about him as a serious contender before he'd even won the senate seat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:44 PM


Bahrain's king appoints Jewish woman as ambassador to Washington (AP, 5/30/08)

Bahrain's king has appointed a woman believed to be the Arab world's first Jewish ambassador as the country's envoy to Washington.

Lawmaker Houda Nonoo said she was proud to serve her country "first of all as a Bahraini," adding she was not chosen for the post because of her religion. "It is a great honor to have been appointed as the first female ambassador to the United States of America and I am looking forward to meeting this new challenge," Nonoo told The Associated Press by telephone.

You can do the right thing, rather than the politic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:03 PM


Muqtada's Got a Posse: a review of Patrick Cockburn's new book, Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq (Matthew Duss, May 30, 2008, American Prospect)

Muqtada represents the Iraq we found, which was not what had been expected. Rather than work with that Iraq, the U.S. has continually tried to reshape reality to its liking. From the beginning, the U.S. occupation consistently treated Sadr's movement as a problem to be solved, rather than a genuine constituency to be accommodated, as demonstrated by Paul Bremer's shocking declaration, as recounted by Ali Allawi, that Bremer "didn't care a damn about the underclass and what they [the Sadrists] represented!" It was the inability and unwillingness of U.S. policymakers to deal with this Iraq, rather than the Iraq of neoconservative hallucination, that fed the chaos and led to the years of staggering violence and humanitarian catastrophe which have scarred a generation of Iraqis.

Muqtada and the continued persistence of his movement can be seen as the definitive refutation of Bush's Iraq policy, which held that a new, secular democratic Iraq could serve as a U.S. ally in the war on terror and a bulwark against Iran. "Muqtada epitomized the central dilemma of the United States in Iraq, which it has never resolved," Cockburn summarizes.

True, but odd, because Mookie's insistence on ending the Occupation and Iraqi self-determination jibes precisely with Anglo-American values. But it's quite wrong that we've treated him as a problem all along--he's been treated like part of the solution since he helped lay the pre-conditions of the surge and especially since he called, and observed, a truce.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:58 PM


A New Electoral Map: In the General Election, McCain Leads in Electoral Votes Against Both Clinton and Obama (Michael Barone, 5/30/08, US News)

National elections are decided not by popular vote but by electoral votes. So I decided to take a look at all the statewide polls, conveniently gathered by, that have been conducted starting in February. That seemed to be the best time to start, since McCain effectively clinched the Republican nomination on Super Tuesday, February 5 (though Mike Huckabee continued campaigning until March 4) and Obama became considerably better known after his victories in January and on Super Tuesday. [...]

I will leave it to the Clinton and Obama campaigns (and to commenters) to make the case that one Democrat or the other is stronger overall against McCain. Overall, these poll results show McCain leading Obama by 281 to 257 electoral votes and McCain leading Clinton by 277 to 261 electoral votes.

Any Democrat needs to be ahead by double digits at this point in the cycle, before anyone knows their real views and record.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:28 PM


Is Ireland on Brink of Rejecting EU Treaty? (Siobhán Dowling, 5/30/08, Der Spiegel)

When their entry Dustin the Turkey crashed out of the semi-finals of the Eurovision Song Contest last week, some in Ireland could have been forgiven for thinking it was final proof that their country was losing influence in Europe.

Opposition leader Enda Kenny looked on the bright side, saying Dustin may have been "gobbled up" by the opposition but Ireland just needed to vote 'Yes' to the Lisbon Treaty to ensure it had a presence at the heart of Europe. The question now is whether Irish voters are quite so enthusiastic for Europe or are on the verge of giving the EU Reform Treaty nul points in two weeks time.

The future of the European Union now hangs on how the voters in this small country on the far western edge of Europe vote on June 12.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:25 AM


Harvey Korman of ‘Burnett Show’ Dies at 81 (BRUCE LAMBERT, 5/30/08, NY Times)

A tall man known for his outlandish characterizations, Mr. Korman was nominated for seven Emmys for his television work and won four. He also was nominated for four Golden Globe awards, winning one. [...]

A native of Chicago, Mr. Korman studied drama there and then tried, unsuccessfully, to break into show business in New York City.

"For the next 13 years I tried to get on Broadway, on off-Broadway, under or beside Broadway," he said in an 1971 interview.

Eventually he gave up and returned to Chicago, but he later went to California to try again. After subsisting as a car salesman and movie doorman, in the mid-1960s he began getting minor movie parts, doing voice-overs as the Great Gazoo on “The Flintstones” and winning a TV spot on “The Danny Kaye Show.”

The Kaye show, which he joined in 1964, proved to be a springboard. It went off the air in 1967, but Mr. Korman soon landed a job on the Burnett show, which turned into his breakthrough. He was a natural fit with Ms. Burnett, and their weekly comedy sketches won high ratings for the show and a national audience for him.

Their performing partnership lasted for a decade, and both of their television careers faltered after they split. He became the host of “The Harvey Korman Show,” which ended after one season. Ms. Burnett acquired a new cast member in Dick Van Dyke, but that partnership did not have the same chemistry. Her show ended soon after.

...even if the skits stunk it was funny watching them try to get through them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:16 AM


Inside Obama's Acorn: By their fruits ye shall know them. (Stanley Kurtz, May 29, 2008, National Review Online)

What if Barack Obama's most important radical connection has been hiding in plain sight all along? Obama has had an intimate and long-term association with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (Acorn), the largest radical group in America. If I told you Obama had close ties with or Code Pink, you'd know what I was talking about. Acorn is at least as radical as these better-known groups, arguably more so. Yet because Acorn works locally, in carefully selected urban areas, its national profile is lower. Acorn likes it that way. And so, I'd wager, does Barack Obama.

This is a story we've largely missed. While Obama's Acorn connection has not gone entirely unreported, its depth, extent, and significance have been poorly understood. Typically, media background pieces note that, on behalf of Acorn, Obama and a team of Chicago attorneys won a 1995 suit forcing the state of Illinois to implement the federal "motor-voter" bill. In fact, Obama's Acorn connection is far more extensive. In the few stories where Obama's role as an Acorn "leadership trainer" is noted, or his seats on the boards of foundations that may have supported Acorn are discussed, there is little follow-up. Even these more extensive reports miss many aspects of Obama's ties to Acorn.

To understand the nature and extent of Acorn's radicalism, an excellent place to begin is Sol Stern's 2003 City Journal article, "ACORN's Nutty Regime for Cities." (For a shorter but helpful piece, try Steven Malanga's "Acorn Squash.")

Sol Stern explains that Acorn is the key modern successor of the radical 1960's "New Left," with a "1960's-bred agenda of anti-capitalism" to match. Acorn, says Stern, grew out of "one of the New Left's silliest and most destructive groups, the National Welfare Rights Organization." In the 1960's, NWRO launched a campaign of sit-ins and disruptions at welfare offices. The goal was to remove eligibility restrictions, and thus effectively flood welfare rolls with so many clients that the system would burst. The theory, explains Stern, was that an impossibly overburdened welfare system would force "a radical reconstruction of America's unjust capitalist economy." Instead of a socialist utopia, however, we got the culture of dependency and family breakdown that ate away at America's inner cities -- until welfare reform began to turn the tide.

For obvious reasons, folks have trouble grasping the paradox that the uncaring conservatives want to make the poor affluent and idependent, while the Left needs them to remain dependent on the State, and to expand the ranks of dependency. Analysis of nearly every social issue, from marriage to abortion to welfare to SS privatization and so on must begin from that core dichotomy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:13 AM


Analysts say oil is the new dotcom bubble (Kathryn Hopkins, 5/30/08,

Oil has reached "unsustainable" levels and is heading for a sharp correction, according to analysts at Lehman Brothers, who liken the spiralling price to the dotcom boom and bust of 2001.

In the report, "Oil dotcom," Lehman's Michael Waldron says the correction could come as early as September: "We think that the crude oil market should turn and we think it will happen by the end of the year."

The report predicts that Brent, which currently stands at $126.40 a barrel, could fall to $90 a barrel by the first quarter of 2009.

An ideal time to start cranking federal gas taxes to make up the difference.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:01 AM


Vital Signs: A Fragile, But Growing Economy: ISM indexes for both manufacturing and nonmanufacturing, construction spending, car sales, and the employment report (James Cooper, 5/30/08, Business Week)

What recession? It's a question gaining more attention with every new month's worth of economic data. Through April, at least, reports plainly show a fragile economy but one that's still growing, albeit feebly.

Since the credit-market blowup began last August, consumers have been pulling back on their spending but not as sharply as had been feared, and the same is true for business outlays and hiring. Overall, first-quarter growth in real gross domestic product was revised upward to show a gain of 0.9%, following the fourth-quarter's 0.6% rise. Importantly, the advance reflected a bigger contribution from overall demand, especially net foreign trade, and less from inventories. That sounder mix puts the economy on a little firmer footing heading into the second quarter, just as households begin to collect their tax rebates.

Consumers will continue to provide the litmus test for the economy's resilience, and this week's economic data offers another key reading: the May employment report due on Friday. So far, job losses have been mild, so income growth has slowed, but not sharply. Economists expect nonfarm payrolls to have declined by 50,000 in May, but that projection and other recent losses have been far less than the typical early-recession experience. If the May expectation is on the mark, payrolls will have fallen by about 300,000 since their peak in December, compared to losses of more than twice that size during the first five months of the last two recessions.

May 29, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:24 PM

BACK TO $40:

Probe of Crude Oil Trading Disclosed: Agency Has Been Examining Market For Past 6 Months (Steven Mufson, 5/30/08, Washington Post)

During continued volatility in oil prices, federal regulators said yesterday that they had been investigating crude oil trading, storage and transportation for the past six months with a focus on possible "futures market manipulation."

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which normally keeps investigations confidential, said in a statement that it was "taking the extraordinary step of disclosing this investigation because of today's unprecedented market conditions."

Those conditions have sent oil prices to record heights, adding to the U.S. trade deficit, hurting consumers and companies, and weighing heavily on the nation's economy.

Gregory Mocek, director of enforcement at the CFTC, said five senior trial lawyers, "some of the most experienced prosecutors that we have," and other investigators were engaged in the inquiry. "The scope is quite broad," Mocek said, adding that the commission was looking at the "national crude market," including trades on regulated exchanges, cash trades, storage, pipeline operations and shipping.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 PM

ONE LONG AGO GAVE UP... (via Kevin Whited):

Worse Than BushWhen it comes to foreign policy,: McCain is more of a neocon than the president (Fred Kaplan, May 28, 2008, Slate)

Many foreign-policy mavens have wondered which John McCain would step to the fore once he started running for president in earnest—the McCain who consorts with such pragmatists as Richard Armitage, Colin Powell, and George Shultz; or the McCain who huddles with "neocons" like Robert Kagan, John Bolton, and William Kristol (before he started writing op-eds for the New York Times).

Last month, the Times published a story about the battle for McCain's soul that's being waged by those two factions.

On Tuesday, McCain cleared up the mystery: He's with the neocons. He is, fundamentally, in sync with the foreign policy pursued by George W. Bush for his first six years in office.

...on the possibility of folks like Mr. Kaplan being able to differentiate a theocon from a neocon, but you'd think he'd have at least noticed that, where in 2000 George W. Bush was the candidate of the Religious Right, John McCain was the darling of the neocons, which is why W won. This time around Maverick filled the W role and the neocon favorites--Mitt and the Mayor--augured into the deck.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:47 PM


George W Bush bumps chests with graduate (Daily Telegraph, 5/29/08

Ya ever get the feeling he does this stuff as much to goad his foes as because he's having fun?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:45 PM


White women cold toward Obama (DAVID PAUL KUHN, 5/29/08, Politico)

Barack Obama’s favorability ratings among white women have declined significantly in recent months, particularly among Democrats and independents, presenting an immediate obstacle for the likely Democratic nominee as he moves to shore up his party’s base.

According to a new report by The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, half of white women now have a negative perception of Obama.

Forty-nine percent of white women view Obama unfavorably, while only 43 percent hold a favorable opinion.

The Democratic primaries are a tribal contest--and he ain't their tribe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:41 PM


The Strangest Recession in Economic History (James Pethokoukis, May 29, 2008, US News)

What do you call a recession where the economy keeps going up and up, even if a bit sluggishly? Well, my friends, you call that an expansion. And that is what we seem to have right now, despite all the economic doomsaying about a recession or even a Great Depression 2.0. Today, the Commerce Department revised its first-quarter estimate of gross domestic product upward to 0.9 percent from 0.6 percent. That follows 0.6 percent GDP growth in the final quarter of 2007. The revision also makes it more likely that the second quarter will be positive, maybe 1.5 percent, maybe even higher.

America's gift from Paul Volcker and Ronald Reagan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:20 PM


Our American Mind for War: A review of The Echo of Battle: The Army’s Way of War, by Brian McAllister Linn (Thomas A. Bruscino, Jr., May 26, 2008, Claremont: Writings)

In 1973, as the United States ended its participation in another unpopular war, Russell Weigley published an enormously influential study of American military history. The American Way of War had at its heart the captivating idea that Americans at war preferred above all else to annihilate their enemies through direct confrontation on the battlefield. It was a heritage originated by Ulysses S. Grant in the Civil War, and it reached its pinnacle in the blood-soaked clashes of World War II. Sure, there were other options—campaigns of maneuver, for example—but annihilation, that was the American way of war. [...]

The ways of war, some of which seem to be diametrically opposed, are in fact linked by a common consideration. Professor Echevarria was not wrong in his critique; Weigley's way of war was only a description of how America fights, offering little consideration about why it fought that way. That is true for all the ways of war mentioned here. And this is where the metaphor fails, because the common consideration lies in the "why." Why did Grant seek to annihilate the rebel armies in the field? Why did the wars of the frontier so often turn into wars of extirpation? Why did the small wars for American power fly for so long under the radar? Why did Guardians believe they needed to protect the coasts first? Why did Heroes lean so heavily on charisma? Why did Managers feel compelled to organize and reorganize America's fighting forces?

The answer, at its root, is the same for all of these questions. American political and military leaders have long understood that they must contend with the inescapable and unique reality of the American democratic polity, a population that is collectively quick to anger though individually hesitant to go to war. Americans as a group have a way of life that they jealously defend, so much so that they cannot stand to see it diminished by real or imagined losses. That same way of life that is so worth defending makes the peacetime homefront an enormously attractive place. Americans have from the beginning distrusted standing armies because of the inherent threat such armies present to republican government, but even more so because standing armies require soldiers, and Americans are too caught up in their own lives to be soldiers. If Americans must take up arms to defend what they hold dear, they demand victory, and that it come soon. That consideration, more than any other, is at the core of the American mind for war.

Grant knew it, and he fought relentless campaigns because he understood that in a people's war there was no way to get himself and his men home short of annihilating the rebel armies, particularly Lee's army, in the field. The fighting men on the frontier turned to wiping out Indian villages when it became clear that the Indians would not stand and fight and accept the outcome of ordered battles, and certainly not on a schedule acceptable to farmer-militiamen who had to get back to their crops. Small overseas wars usually did not involve civilians, so Americans did not thoroughly concern themselves with the course of such conflicts, and generally forgot about them when they were over. Guardians saw coastal fortifications, an aggressive navy, and air power as the only available options for protecting America given the polity's aversion to service. Heroes hoped personal leadership and individual acumen could inspire troops mobilized for war, and thus overcome the citizen-soldiers' woeful lack of experience. And at least in the old days, Managers prepared to rapidly and effectively mobilize a society that did not want to prepare in peace and or stay at war for very long.

* * *

Because of this American mind for war, America's conflicts have fallen into two broad types: professional wars and citizen wars. Professional wars were small wars fought by the volunteer standing military, in which professionals were left alone to do their job. Citizen wars, on the other hand, drew in the American public—through conscription, mass voluntary enlistment, or direct attacks on the population—and thus had to be won quickly. That is not to say the American mind for war is amoral, but rather that morality, like so many other aspects of American thought, is pragmatic. If wars can be won by bombing military targets with as few casualties as possible, Americans will seize the chance. If wars can be won by capturing capital cities or winning decisive battles without involving civilians, wonderful. But if not, the American mind for war dictates that attacks grow steadily more devastating to enemy armies and then enemy populations until they have no choice but to give up the fight. The sooner the war ends in victory, the better-for everyone, but especially for us. It is brutal logic, but logical nevertheless.

Another important element here is that we are more willing to wage total war when the enemy's entire society is perceived to be engaged in war against us, at which point we hold the opposing citizenry responsible and treat them as legitimate military targets. Thus, where the Confederacy, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and (at least so far as any of us knew) North Korea and North Vietnam mobilized their entire states for apparently popular war against us, we felt no compunction about giving them the war they sought. On the other hand, wars against guerrillas or terrorists are, by definition, not waged by opposing states and so reprisals against the population in general would be disproportionate, undemocratic even.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:22 PM


Surprise Teams Are All Young Teams (TIM MARCHMAN, May 29, 2008, NY Sun)

One of the emerging themes of this season is the sheer number of surprise teams. Arizona, expected to be good, spent much of the first two months as the best team in the National League. Tampa Bay, which has never lost fewer than 91 games, has taken over first place in the American League East. The Chicago White Sox, coming off a 90-loss season, are running up a lead in the American League Central. Florida, which looked like one of the worst teams in baseball on Opening Day, is lording over the National League East. And Oakland, which looked set for a year of rebuilding, is making a run in the American League West.

Meanwhile, some heavy favorites have been playing miserably. Both New York teams have been flailing about trying to reach .500; Detroit opened the season with seven losses and hasn't righted the ship yet, and Cleveland, which came within a game of the pennant last October, has been nearly as bad as Detroit. And the teams with the worst records in their leagues are Seattle, with a $114 million payroll and a new ace in Erik Bedard, and San Diego, which last year just missed making its third straight trip to the playoffs.

The causes of a given team's record are always overdetermined, but when you class them up, the teams playing above their heads tend to be unusually young. This shouldn't be a shock; younger teams are a bit healthier, have more players at an age where they're likelier to improve than to decline, and have more players in their primes, all of which adds up to a functional definition of the kind of luck that can help a team come out of nowhere. Nor should it be a shock that the under-performing teams are unusually old; teams full of brittle, declining players are of course the least likely to live up to expectations. What is surprising, though, is just how dramatic the differences are.

...the main effect may turn out not to be the increase in year over year performance but the high performance at advanced age of many players. Absent chemical assistance such older guys seem to be having more trouble getting and staying healthy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:09 PM


Rise of Ahmadinejad rival hints at a shift in Iran (Nazila Fathi and Graham Bowley, May 29, 2008, IHT)

The election of a rival to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as speaker of the Iranian Parliament is a strong signal of growing impatience with the president's economic policies and a possible sign of a political shift in the country.

You need to be truly expert in foreign policy to not realize the shift occurred when he got elected and Ayatollah Khamenei put Rafsanjani in position to ride herd.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:07 PM



Real gross domestic product -- the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States -- incre ased at an annual rate of 0.9 percent in the first quarter of 2008, according to preliminary estimates released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the fourth quarter, real GDP increased 0.6 percent.

The GDP estimates released today are based on more complete source data than were available for the advance estimates issued last month. In the advance estimates, the increase in real GDP was 0.6 percent.

...Hoover would still have been president at the end of WWII.

N.B. Friend Brouwer has more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:04 PM


Obama Seeks to Clarify His Disputed Comments on Diplomacy (JIM RUTENBERG and JEFF ZELENY, 5/29/08, NY Times)

The caveats belie the simple answer Mr. Obama gave during a debate last summer, when the issue was first raised in a major public forum. Without hesitation or qualification, Mr. Obama said he would hold direct talks with America’s enemies, drawing strong and immediate criticism from his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

“Would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?” asked Stephen Sixta, a video producer who submitted the question for the CNN/YouTube Democratic debate.

Mr. Obama, the first candidate to respond, answered, “I would.”

Several aides immediately thought it was a mistake and sought to dial back his answer. But on a conference call the morning after the debate, Mr. Obama told his advisers that he had meant what he said and thought the answer crystallized how he differed from his rivals.

“I think that it is an example of how stunted our foreign policy debates have become over the last eight years that this is an issue that political opponents try to seize on,” Mr. Obama said in an interview on Wednesday. “It is actually a pretty conventional view of how diplomacy should work traditionally that has fallen into disrepute in Republican circles and in Washington.”

Even after Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton called his position naïve, Mr. Obama refused to shy away from it, at times speaking explicitly in terms of a potential meeting with Mr. Ahmadinejad.

But in the last few weeks Mr. McCain and the Republican National Committee have attacked Mr. Obama on his position more fiercely and consistently than his Democratic rivals ever did, with an especially acute focus on Mr. Ahmadinejad, who recently called Israel “a stinking corpse.”

...but we're the emptors....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM

NOTHING COSTS MORE... (via The Mother Judd):

Dress for Less and Less (ERIC WILSON, 5/29/08, NY Times)

SINCE 1998, the price of a “Speedy” handbag — the entry-level style at Louis Vuitton — has more than doubled, to $685, indicative of a precipitous price increase throughout the luxury goods market. The price of Joe Boxer’s “licky face” underwear, meanwhile, has dropped by nearly half, to $8.99, representing just as seismic a shift at the other end of the fashion continuum, where the majority of American consumers do their shopping.

As luxury fashion has become more expensive, mainstream apparel has become markedly less so. Today, shoppers pay the same price for a basic Brooks Brothers men’s suit, $598, as they did in 1998. The suggested retail price of a pair of Levi’s 501 jeans, $46, is about $4 less than it was a decade ago. A three-pack of Calvin Klein men’s briefs costs $21.50, only $3.50 more than in 1998. Which is the better buy?

Factoring for inflation, each of these examples is actually less expensive today. In current dollars, the 1998 suit would cost $788, the jeans would be $66 and the underwear would be nearly $24. As consumers adjust to soaring prices for gasoline, food, education and medical care, just about the only thing that seems a bargain today is clothes — mainstream clothes, anyway.

Do we even want to know what licky face underwear is?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


The Wild Card: A Review of Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq by Patrick Cockburn (Dexter Filkins, New Republic)

Muqtada al-Sadr stands for everything in Iraq that we do not understand. The exiles we imported to run the country following Saddam's fall are suave and well-dressed; Muqtada is glowering and elusive. The exiles parade before the cameras in the Green Zone; Muqtada stays in the streets, in the shadows, surfacing occasionally to give a wild sermon about the return of the hidden twelfth imam. The Americans proclaim Muqtada irrelevant; his face adorns the walls of every teashop in Shiite Iraq. The Americans attack; Muqtada disappears. The Americans offer a deal, and Muqtada responds: only after you leave.

Who is Muqtada al-Sadr? What does he want? And how many divisions does he have? That we know so little so late about someone so central to the fate of Iraq is an indictment of anyone associated with the American endeavor there. But it is also a measure of Iraq itself: of its complexity, its mutability, its true nature as an always-spinning kaleidoscope of alliances, deals, and double- crosses. Muqtada al-Sadr is not merely a mirror of our ignorance, he is also a window onto the unforgiving land where we have seen so many of our fortunes disappear.

Patrick Cockburn has tried to get at the mystery of Muqtada al-Sadr. I think he misses in a few places, but it is hard to imagine anyone, I mean any other Westerner, getting a clearer take on this slippery and moody character. In Muqtada al-Sadr, Cockburn thinks he has found not the crazy-eyed zealot often portrayed in the Western press, but a shrewd and nimble guerrilla prince who gives authentic voice to the downtrodden Shiite multitudes -- and sometimes, unfortunately, goes too far. The history of Muqtada's rise that Cockburn recounts here is remarkable, a chronicle of a vast historical current unfolding before a group of bumbling foreign occupiers in a land they do not comprehend. Muqtada did not, as Cockburn rightly remarks, become the leader of Iraq's only authentic populist movement by being an uneducated ruffian. At every turn his enemies have thought him smaller than he is.

Still, the Muqtada al-Sadr whom I came to know in Iraq was a darker figure than the man Cockburn portrays: more malevolent, more reckless. The Mahdi Army did not conquer so much of Baghdad and Basra by its wiles alone. And I cannot so quickly dismiss, as Cockburn appears to do, the stabilizing influences that the American military brings to that wrenching country. By his actions and his manners, Muqtada seems to see himself as a junior version of that other charismatic Shiite leader who so deftly hops between the worlds of politics and violence, Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon. Sheikh Nasrallah, with his unassailable army, his stranglehold on an elected government, his disregard of the frontiers of the state he inhabits -- now there is a Middle Eastern leader to emulate! For Muqtada, on some days, the future must seem very close indeed.

Westerners certainly make the same mistake with both Nasrallah and Mookie, imagining that it matters what we think of them rather than what their fellow Shi'a think of them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


A Religion For Athiests: The ‘death of God’ need not mean an end to the culture he inspired (ALAIN DE BOTTON, JUNE 2008, Standpoint)

The most boring question to ask about religion is whether or not the whole thing is “true”. It’s a measure of the banality of recent discussions on theological matters that it is precisely this matter which has hogged the limelight, pitting a hardcore group of fanatical believers against an equally small band of fanatical atheists.
We’d be wiser to start with the common-sense observation that, of course, no part of religion is true in the sense of being God-given. There is naturally no holy ghost, spirit, Geist or divine emanation. Dissenters from this line can comfortably stop reading here, but for the rest of us the subject is henceforth far from closed. The tragedy of modern atheism is to have ignored just how many aspects of religion continue to be interesting even when the central tenets of the great faiths are discovered to be entirely implausible. Indeed, it’s precisely when we stop believing in the idea that gods made religions that things become interesting, for it is then that we can focus on the human imagination which dreamt these creeds up. We can recognise that the needs which led people to do so must still in some way be active, albeit dormant, in modern secular man. God may be dead, but the bit of us that made God continues to stir.
It was our 18th-century forebears who, wiser than us in this regard, early on in the period which led to “the death of God” began to consider what human beings would miss out on once religion faded away. They recognised that religion was not just a matter of belief, but that it sat upon a welter of concerns that touched on architecture, art, nature, marriage, death, ritual, time — and that by getting rid of God, one would also be dispensing with a whole raft of very useful, if often peculiar and sometimes retrograde, notions that had held societies together since the beginning of time. So the more fanciful and imaginative of thinkers began to do two things: firstly, they started comparing the world’s religions with a view to arriving at certain insights that transcended time and place, and secondly, they began to imagine what a religion might look like if it didn’t have a god in it.

It'd look like a bunch of guys standing around denying the obvious while the rest of us smile.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Hollywood star Cate Blanchett defends art exhibition of nude photos of girls aged 12 and 13 (Daily Mail, 29th May 2008)

Hollywood actress Cate Blanchett has attacked Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd after he branded an exhibition of naked photographs of young girls as "revolting".

Blanchett joined 42 other leading arts figures from Down Under in signing an open letter slamming Mr Rudd over his criticism artist Bill Henson's photographs of naked 12 and 13-year-old children.

One of the practical keys to being a Third Way politician, if you come at it from the Left, is to attack the intellectuals on your own side. Mr. Rudd gets it. Hillary figured it out too late to help. Senator Obama doesn't get it any better than Al Gore and John Kerry did.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Philosophy, Mystery, Anarchy: All Is ‘Lost’ (GINIA BELLAFANTE, 5/29/08, NY Times)

“Lost” is deeply invested in the idea that no belief system is failsafe, no spiritualism entirely benign. The gods deliver and destroy. It is engaged in the conflict between reason and faith, a tension embodied explicitly in the character of Locke (Terry O’Quinn), a pragmatist who comes to the island in a wheelchair, but whose sudden ability to walk turns him into a believer in inexplicable renewal.

Intriguingly, this season we have seen Locke — whose full name is actually, yes, John Locke — both as a little boy and as a teenager, a youngster with impressive scientific aptitude, fingered early on by Mittelos. Here again, spirituality and science are all a jumble; both are ostensibly demons.

Locke, who was, as a boy, given the sort of test used to determine the next Dalai Lama, is apparently perceived as a potential chosen one by a recruiter from Mittelos who is one of the island’s Others. Here’s where the show’s encoded references just send us down circuitous, maddening paths: the recruiter’s name is Richard Alpert, that of the ’60s Harvard psychologist (and friend of Timothy Leary’s), dismissed from the faculty for experimenting with LSD. Mr. Alpert became the spiritual leader Ram Dass, whose name means “servant of God,” and in the context of the show could signify that Alpert, the character, is either not quite as creepy as he seems, or rather that all those who live to serve a higher power are creepily misguided.

In the years since Sept. 11 and the Iraq invasion, television has captured the national anxiety by dismissing the notion of easy resolutions. At its best — on the HBO series “The Sopranos” and “The Wire”— we were shown just how far out of our reach the gratifying conclusion really is. “Lost” is nowhere near as philosophically refined, but it has maximized the potential of narrative uncertainty and made it a beguiling constant.

May 28, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 PM


Italian Investigator Says U.S. Agents Left Obvious Clues in Abduction Case (ELISABETTA POVOLEDO, 5/29/08, NY Times)

A top Italian terrorism investigator on Wednesday described the government’s ease in unraveling an alleged C.I.A. operation to kidnap a radical imam: all that was necessary, the investigator said, was to trace the cellphones in use near the spot in Milan where the imam disappeared while going to a mosque in February 2003.

“The evidence led us to believe that the operative group consisted of Americans,” the investigator, Bruno Megale, the head of Milan’s antiterrorism police force, told a packed court. “Some of the phones had called numbers in the United States, some had called the state of Virginia,” where the Central Intelligence Agency has its headquarters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 PM


'Nixonland,' Chronicling a Political Sea Change (CHRISTOPHER WILLCOX, May 29, 2008, NY Sun)

Mr. Perlstein's use of the elections of 1964 and 1972 as ideological goalposts may be arbitrary, but it is easy to see why he selected them. Could two such different countries really be separated by eight short years? It was as if a great dam broke following Johnson's election. He signed the historic Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965, which led one observer to declare, "There is no more civil rights movement." Five nights later, the Watts district in Los Angeles erupted in one of many major race riots to come. Drug taking, which had been largely confined to the ghetto and the cultural avant-garde, was mainstreamed and celebrated. A tiny antiwar movement mushroomed into a national mobilization campaign, involving the seizure of college campuses (Columbia University) and resulting in the shooting of student protesters (Kent State).

The liberal consensus — represented by Johnson's triumphant performance in 1964, with 61.05 percent of the popular vote and 486 of 538 Electoral College votes — seemed to signal the country's embrace of the great Democratic coalition built by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Two short political cycles later, that coalition was in tatters — a casualty of antiwar and countercultural excesses and the near absolute takeover of the party by elites devoted to a more radical extension of liberal policies than could be countenanced by the voters who normally animated Democratic turnout. The same Mayor Richard J. Daley who ruled the 1968 Democratic Convention with a famously iron fist was challenged for and finally denied a convention seat at the 1972 Democratic Convention in Miami. It must have been sweet revenge for the film stars and other glitterati who disdained Chicago's "Boss," but it came at a price. The Democratic Party had changed, and with it the shape of American politics.

"Nixonland" offers a rich and colorful account of that political sea change, but Mr. Perlstein's remarkable research is assembled around a deeply misleading thesis — that the rise of Nixon heralded and defined the ideological divisions that have given us a red-state, blue-state political map ever since. Like most liberals, Mr. Perlstein labors under a misapprehension that Nixon was a political conservative. While he is too good a historian not to acknowledge some differences between Nixon and such movement conservatives as William Buckley and Ronald Reagan, he is usually stuck in the default position that ignores Nixon's well-documented record.

This record's highlights include wage and price controls in peacetime, decoupling of the dollar from gold, a 10% tariff on all imports into the United States, and the creation of a new and gigantic bureaucracy with the Environmental Protection Agency. He proposed a universal health care system as well, but Watergate got him first. Even his foreign policy, while it may have been adroit, was hardly conservative. Hindsight confirms that his historic embrace of China was the right thing to do, but it involved some shabby, if not dishonorable, treatment of Taiwan. The last American helicopters fleeing Saigon happened on his watch, and that wasn't pretty. His slavish devotion to missile-control talks with Moscow and his generally nonconfrontational relationship with corrupt Soviet leaders may have prolonged the Cold War and certainly encouraged the Soviet fantasy that communism had a future.

One of Friend Perlstein's biggest problems lies in treating 1964 as if it meant anything. If you remove the assassination and its emotional aftermath from the equation and ask only how the 1964 election would have gone otherwise -- JFK feared he'd lose to Goldwater at the time of his death -- the very notion of a consensus is absurd.

-REVIEW: of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein: Author Blames a Divided U.S. on Nixon and His Era (Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 PM


Ronald Reagan's World: a review of "The Age of Reagan" by Sean Wilentz (RONALD RADOSH, May 29, 2008, NY Sun)

In "The Age of Reagan", Mr. Wilentz seeks to assure his readers that he has strived to lay aside his personal views, and to judge "the past scrupulously" by engaging in "a willing suspension of [his] own beliefs." This reader is glad to report that, in this study of the Reagan presidency and its impact on America, Mr. Wilentz achieves this aim, for the most part — although at times, he does drift into the type of anti-Reagan attacks one heard during the 1980s from Reagan's liberal opponents. Above all, what Mr. Wilentz seeks to do is rescue the real Reagan from what he calls the mythological president offered by supporters on the right and critics on the left. In so doing, he makes judgments that will rankle both.

What will particularly upset many partisan Democrats is Mr. Wilentz's conclusion that Reagan stands with presidents such as Jackson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln as a leader "who for better or worse have put their political stamp indelibly on their time." Moreover, he argues, Reagan deserves credit as a president who took ideas seriously, and more than his immediate predecessors, redefined the politics of the era, thus "reshaping the basic terms on which politics and government would be conducted long after he left office." Mr. Wilentz acknowledges and praises Reagan's optimistic spirit, and the way in which he energized the public and made Americans once again proud of their nation, lifting his countrymen out of the doldrums suffered during the Nixon, Ford, and Carter years.

Mr. Wilentz begins his book with a broad overview of the Ford and Carter presidencies. In those years, Democrats depended upon old and outdated bromides. Jimmy Carter won, he suggests, because he broke with the old liberalism. Indeed, he attributes Mr. Carter's slim victory over Ford to his identification with the party's Southern wing, his outsider status in relation to the Beltway crowd, and his being a politician who was clearly not part of the old Humphrey liberal wing. Yet Mr. Carter squandered his opportunity to lead to something new. Instead, he tried to update Wilsonian Southern conservatism, when he might have instead updated and revised liberalism in a way that would grip Americans.

Which had to wait for Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, although, strangely, Democratic nominees since have been hellbent on returning to the outdated liberal bromides.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 PM


At the Movies (Michael Wood, 06/05/08, London Review of Books)

[Robert] Bresson was born in 1901 and died in 1999; he made his last movie, L’Argent, in 1983. Artificial Eye has now released three of his films on DVD: what probably remains his best-known work, Un condamné à mort s’est échappé, literally ‘A man sentenced to death has escaped,’ and two late films, Lancelot du Lac (1974) and Le Diable, probablement (1977). None of these films has the intensity or the authority of the extraordinary Pickpocket (1959), but they are all recognisably made by the same director.

We particularly like A Man Escaped and Diary of a Country Priest. I didn't get Balthazar.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 PM


Assad Must Go (Farid Ghadry, May 29, 2008, NY Sun)

Moreover the Syrian regime under the rule of Bashar al-Assad has cemented its role as an engine for instability, chaos, and terrorism in the Middle East. The core interests of America and democracy in Iraq and the wider region are threatened by the Assad regime's shrewd strategies that have drawn it closer to Iranian hegemonic aims while separately accommodating Sunni extremist groups tied to Al Qaeda.

Syria's role in terrorism faded to the backdrop of public consciousness following the Israeli strike against the nuclear reactor on September 6, 2007. But Mr. Assad's regime was not content in facilitating the deaths of American servicemen and women. Instead, their vision of nuclear weapons showed the immediacy of its threat.

Those who have argued that Syrian acquiescence could be given the right "bargains" must now answer how Syria's development of a covert nuclear program built by the North Koreans figures into such logic. Simply put, the Syrian regime remains implacable and dedicated to rejecting a peaceful world order.

A serious U.S. demarche on this issue is long overdue. While Iran is increasingly confronted in the public arena for its machinations in Iraq, Mr. Assad and company have been granted a free pass.

The Syrians are following a very familiar playbook once charted by Saddam Hussein. As uncovered regime documents have come to demonstrate, Hussein fashioned a complex foreign policy, which relied on terror and the threat of terror as the principle tools of statecraft. Calls for dialogue based on common interests with the West were merely an exercise in denial and deception.

Today's case in Syria is no different. The Syrian threat is a perfect storm of the worst amalgamation of terror threats imaginable.

We and a slew of Arab states have tried bargaining and cajoling to no avail. A renewed policy imperative is needed; one which recognizes that the freedom agenda and American security in the region cannot be ignored.

That we have not regime-changed Syria is the single great failure of President Bush in foreign policy. Its domestic repression is reason enough, but providing sanctuary to Hezbollah, Iraqi and Palestinian extremists is icing on the cake--yellowcake if you want to add nuclear ambitions.

Syria-bound missile components intercepted, claims US (29/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Equipment bound for Syria which could be used to test ballistic missile components was intercepted during a previously undisclosed mission, the United States has announced.

Four member states of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a group of 90 countries who seek to prevent the shipment of weapons of mass destruction, were involved in the operation in February, 2007.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 PM


Jimmy McGriff, Jazz and Blues Organist, Dies at 72 (BEN RATLIFF, 5/28/08, NY Times)

Like other jazz organists of his time, Mr. McGriff spent much of his career working in the clubs of the East Coast organ circuit, including the Golden Slipper in Newark, a club he owned in the early ’70s. He played jazz as dance music, whether it was music by Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Ray Charles or James Brown. Over swing, shuffle and funk rhythms, he played in a focused blues language that built gospel-like intensity through his solos.

Mr. McGriff was born in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, which became a jazz organ mecca in the 1950s and ’60s. His father played piano, and Mr. McGriff learned it from an early age; he went on to play saxophone and bass before settling on the Hammond organ, which became a common instrument in small-group jazz instrument only in the mid-’50s, largely because of the example of another Philadelphian, Jimmy Smith.

During the Korean War, Mr. McGriff served as a military policeman; returning home, he spent more than two years on the Philadelphia police force. Encouraged by his friend Richard (Groove) Holmes, another Philadelphia organist, he took up the organ, playing around Philadelphia, sometimes with the tenor saxophonist Charles Earland, who himself switched over to the organ soon thereafter and became another one of that instrument’s great players.

His first hit, in 1961, was a 45-r.p.m. single of Ray Charles’s “I’ve Got a Woman,” a local jukebox success that was featured on the radio. It led to a full album for the Sue label; it also quickly led to another hit single, “All About My Girl.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 AM


Ahmadinejad Sets Lance Straight: Cookies with the tyrant (Robert Ferrigno, 5/28/08, National Review)

Ahmadinejad nodded. “You are much more knowledgeable than you appear. Yes, Chris Mathews asked Obama about our upcoming talks, and your president said of course there were preconditions, he was going to insist that I first name the Three Stooges.”

“I think that was a joke, dude.”

“You would be thinking wrong, Lance. It was a trap. He didn’t say the original Three Stooges. He left it ambiguous. So if I said Moe, Larry and Curly, your Big O could call off the meeting or embarrass me in front of the cameras, saying the correct answer was Moe, Larry and Shemp.”

Lance reached for another almond crescent. “Or Curly Joe.”

“Indeed.” Ahmadinejad offered the plate of cookies. “What do you think Obama’s true intentions are?”

“Probably just wants to hang out with you. Show people he’s trying.”

“No, no, no,” said Ahmadinejad, finger wagging. “He told the New York Times that he didn’t think my country was a threat, at least not like the former Soviet Union.”

“I got to tell you, Mahmoud, right? I got to tell you, Mahmoud, that was reassuring, because that last guy in the White House, he totally hated on you. Scared me —”

“Lance. Pay attention. Your president, he’s an educated man, is he not?”

“Big O’s Harvard all the way. Dude must have just smoked his SATs.”

Ahmadinejad held up a fist. “We currently have eight thousand centrifuges producing weapons-grade plutonium, and that’s not counting the ones I can’t tell you about.” He raised one finger. “We train Hezbollah, which has killed thousands of Americans and Israelis.” He raised another finger. “We supply upgraded IEDs to Iraqi freedom fighters to kill your countrymen.” He raised a third finger. “We’ve promised to wipe Israel off the map.” A fourth finger. “And Obama considers us no threat? How dare he?”

“I never thought of it that way. He’s totally disrespecting you, dude.”

“You understand, Lance. Try telling that to the Grand Ayatollah, see where that gets you.”

“Someplace bad I bet, right?”

“Your new president is a creation of the CIA,” said Ahmadinejad, expansive now. He stretched out his slippered feet, tugged at his wispy beard. “Obama pretends to be the naïf with the glittering smile, the schoolmarm asking children not to run in the hall: Let’s talk things over. Let’s turn the thermostat down. Let’s share your toys. Let’s be friends.”

“Won’t you be my neighbor?” sing-songed Lance.

Ahmadinejad clicked his teacup against Lance’s can of Red Bull in a toast. “This isn’t the first time the CIA has installed an American president.”

“That Nixon guy?”

“Nixon?” Ahmadinejad had a high-pitched laugh. “No, Ronald Reagan. You’re too young to remember, but the newscasts were full of stories about the handsome but bumbling actor who had been elected president, the cowboy who kept jellybeans on his desk in the oval office and rode a horse every chance he could.” He set his teacup down with a clatter. “One of the great talking heads dismissed Ronald Reagan as an amiable dunce. An amiable dunce. It worked too. Completely fooled Gorbachev. By the time Reagan got through with him, the Soviet Union was in ruins and Gorbachev was out of a job.”


“Wow, indeed.” Ahmadinejad stood up, shook Lance’s hand. “Have you heard about the Hidden Imam?”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 AM


US military scores success in Iraq's former 'triangle of death' (AP, 5/28/08)

The U.S. military says violence across Iraq has reached its lowest level in more than four years after successes this year in breaking al-Qaida's and other Sunni insurgents' hold in western Iraq and, more recently, government crackdowns in the southern city of Basra and northern city of Mosul.

But the success in the Triangle of Death, centered on the town of Iskandariyah, is perhaps the most dramatic. The area's population is mixed between Sunnis and Shiites to a far greater degree than many others, and in 2006 and 2007 militants from each community were killing each other, as well as attacking U.S. and Iraqi forces.

The area has boomeranged to become a bastion of relative peace on the edge of a violent capital, while Sunni militants remain elusive in the north.

One likely reason for the greater success is the logistical support from being close to Baghdad. Mosul, where a major Iraqi military campaign is under way against al-Qaida, is 225 miles northwest of the capital, compared to the 30 miles between Baghdad and Iskandariyah.

Another is the division's success recruiting members of the so-called Awakening Councils, Sunni groups who turned against al-Qaida in Iraq after the terror group began imposing draconian measures to enforce religious discipline in neighborhoods they controlled throughout the Triangle of Death. There are about 36,000 Awakening Council members on the payroll.

A third is a cease-fire ordered last August by radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia is present in the region far more than areas north of Baghdad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


Orders for durable goods edge down slightly (The Associated Press, May 28, 2008)

Orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods fell by a smaller-than-anticipated amount in April with many sectors outside of transportation showing unexpected strength.

The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that orders for durable goods dropped 0.5 percent, dragged down by big declines in demand for commercial aircraft and autos.

However, excluding transportation, orders rose by 2.5 percent last month, the biggest gain in 9 months.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 AM


Ahmadinejad rival takes powerful post in Iran: Ali Larijani, Iran's former chief nuclear negotiator and a prominent conservative, was elected to the high-profile role of speaker of Iran's parliament (Borzou Daragahi, 5/28/08, Los Angeles Times)

A powerful rival to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became speaker of Iran's parliament today, clearing the way for a potential challenge against the hard-line head of state ahead of 2009 presidential elections.

Ali Larijani, Iran's former chief nuclear negotiator and a prominent conservative, won 232 out of 263 votes cast to attain the powerful and high-profile speaker's seat. His victory over former speaker Gholam-Hossein Hadad-Adel, who rarely challenged Ahmadinejad, suggests hostility to the president among the new batch of mostly conservative lawmakers voted into office in the March parliamentary elections.

May 27, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 PM


Reconsiderations: The Fiction of George Orwell (BRENDAN BERNHARD, May 28, 2008, NY Sun)

In the popular imagination, Orwell the icon, the tubercular truth-teller and counter-politician with the spindly mustache, is inseparable from Orwell the writer. Yet perhaps this has become a caricature, since his fiction resonates at least as much on a personal, individual level as it does on an ideological one. His novels are almost all about deeply estranged, lonely people who long to be part of a society they nonetheless despise. As "rebels," they are as alien to the popular Hollywood version as one could imagine. Pickled in self-hatred, they loathe their own separatism, and believe that to live apart from the mainstream is a perversion and a form of willful sterility. This is one reason why Orwell always placed his hopes in the working classes, who maintained their own traditions and rituals and tended to stick together.

A characteristic example of the Orwellian rebel is Gordon Comstock, the middle-class protagonist of "Keep the Aspidistra Flying." Driven by a masochistic desire to steep himself in poverty and the life of "the masses," he quits his job at an ad agency to dedicate himself to poetry, yet remains uneasy in his conscience. "Most copywriters," he reflects bitterly, "are novelists manqués; or is it the other way around?" Like Winston Smith, he too ends by embracing Big Brother, or at least his own knack for writing the advertising slogans that festoon 1930s London. Likewise, the pigs who lead the revolution against their human overlords in "Animal Farm" ultimately befriend their former enemies and become morally and visually indistinguishable from them.

Orwell's radically disconnected heroes who long for connection loom more powerfully than ever because, thanks to new technologies, society increasingly aggregates itself in communities of the like-minded, leaving the non-joiners, the Groucho Marxists who "wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member," out in the cold. Orwell the man was a joiner of a prickly sort, most famously by fighting on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. Yet his fiction expresses a profound fear both of belonging to the group and of keeping one's distance from it.

Despite his reputation as a political writer, the rare happy moments in his novels tend to belong to couples rather than groups, and are usually romantic in nature. Think of the lovers' trysts shared by Gordon and Rosemary in "Aspidistra," or the mythic power of those between Winston and Julia in "1984." Think, for that matter, of the beasts frolicking in the fields with sensual abandon as they celebrate the start of revolution in "Animal Farm."

The happiest moment in Aspidistra is actually the point where Gordon realizes the stupidity of his pretended estrangement from a society he loves:
Our civilization is founded on greed and fear, but in the lives of common men the greed and fear are mysteriously transmuted into something nobler. The lower-middle-class people in there, behind their lace curtains, with their children and their scraps of furniture and their aspidistras--they lived by the money-code, sure enough, and yet they contrived to keep their decency. The money-code as they interpreted it was not merely cynical and hoggish. They had their standards, their inviolable points of honour. They 'kept themselves respectable'--kept the aspidistra flying. Besides, they were alive. They were bound up in the bundle of life. They begot children, which is what the saints and the soul-savers never by any chance do.

The aspidistra is the tree of life, he thought suddenly.

And, just as all Orwell's fiction can be read as a rebuke to his politics, the very title of Coming Up for Air is ironic for a putative Socialist, since it involves trying to recapture life in a pre-WWI English village:
[I]t wasn't that I wanted to watch my navel. I only wanted to get my nerve back before the bad times begin. Because does anyone who isn't dead from the neck up doubt that there's a bad time coming ? We don't even know what it'll be, and yet we know it's coming. Perhaps a war, perhaps a slump--no knowing, except that it'll be something bad. Wherever we're going, we're going downwards. Into the grave, into the cesspool--no knowing. And you can't face that kind of thing unless you've got the right feeling inside you. There's something that's gone out of us in these twenty years since the war. It's a kind of vital juice that we've squirted away until there's nothing left. All this rushing to and fro! Everlasting scramble for a bit of cash. Everlasting din of buses, bombs, radios, telephone bells. Nerves worn all to bits, empty places in our bones where the marrow out to be.

I shoved my foot down on the accelerator. The very thought of going back to Lower Binfield had done me good already. You know the feeling I had. Coming up for air!

Not very "progressive" that...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 PM


Unmasking McCain: His Reactionary Record on Reproductive Rights (Arianna Huffington, 5/27/08, Real Clear Politics)

Since 1983, in votes in the House and the Senate (where he has served since 1987), McCain has cast 130 votes on abortion and other reproductive-rights issues. 125 of those votes were anti-choice [pdf]. Among his voting lowlights:

He has repeatedly voted to deny low-income women access to abortion care except in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the mother's life (although McCain is now wavering on trying to put these exceptions into the party platform).

He voted to shut down the Title X family-planning program, which provides millions of women with health care services ranging from birth control to breast cancer screenings.

He voted against legislation that established criminal and civil penalties for those who use threats and violence to keep women from gaining access to reproductive health clinics.

He voted to uphold the policy that bans overseas health clinics from receiving aid from America if they use their own funds to provide legal abortion services or even adopt a pro-choice position.

Of his anti-choice voting record, McCain has said, "I have many, many votes and it's been consistent," proudly adding: "And I've got a consistent zero from NARAL" through the years. And last month he told Chris Matthews: "The rights of the unborn is one of my most important values."

What's more, McCain has made it very clear that if he becomes president he will appoint judges in the Scalia, Roberts, Alito mold. His big judicial speech earlier this month was filled with coded buzz words that make it clear that, if given the chance, he'd replace 88-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens with an anti-choice Justice who would tip the scales against Roe v Wade. Throw in an additional anti-choice replacement for the 75-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and you can kiss the right to choose good-bye for a long, long time.

That's why the unmasking of John McCain is job Number One between now and November. they're panicking. Mr. McCain staunchly pro-life record does make for a stark contrast with Senator Obama, who's a moral monster on the issues, Obama's Abortion Vulnerability (Philip Gailey, 5/27/08, Real Clear Politics)
[O]bama not only voted against a ban on so-called partial-birth abortion, a procedure the late Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York once called "too close to infanticide,'' but opposed a bill to protect the life of an infant who survived a late-term abortion.

This could be a problem for Obama, who already has tripped over guns and religion. A majority of Americans support the right to abortion with some restrictions, generally approving the procedure in the first and second trimesters and in case of rape or incest, or to save the life of the mother.

Republicans will try to convince voters that Obama is outside this mainstream by focusing on his opposition, as an Illinois state senator, to a state version of the federal Born Alive Infants Protection Act, which passed the U.S. Senate in 2002 by a unanimous vote. The law prevents the killing of infants, usually by denying them medical care, when they are mistakenly left alive, outside the mother's womb, after an abortion.

Speaking against a similar bill in the Illinois Senate, Obama sounded like the constitutional law professor he was before going into politics.

"Number one,'' he said, "whenever we define a pre-viable fetus as a person that is protected by the Equal Protection Clause or the other elements in the Constitution, what we're really saying is, in fact, that they are persons that are entitled to the kinds of protections that would be provided to a child, a 9-month-old child that was delivered to term. That determination then, essentially, if it was accepted by a court, would forbid abortions to take place. I mean, it — it would essentially bar abortions, because the Equal Protection Clause does not allow somebody to kill a child, and if this were a child, this would be an anti-abortion statute.''

And if there's one thing the Democrats demand it's the "right" to kill children.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 PM

Cornbread recipe has a legume surprise (ELIZABETH PUDWILL, 5/27/08, Houston Chronicle )


* 1 cup yellow cornmeal
* 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
* 1/2 cup sugar
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 1 medium onion, chopped
* 1 (15-ounce) can creamed corn
* 1 (15-ounce) can whole-kernel corn, drained
* 1 (15-ounce) can black-eyed peas, drained
* 1 tablespoon baking powder
* 2 eggs
* 1 cup buttermilk
* 1/2 cup oil or bacon drippings

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together. Pour into the prepared dish and bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 30 minutes before serving.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 PM

My Very Own Walnut Bread (Alicia Ross with Beverly Mills, 5/27/08, Dallas Morning News)

2 teaspoons active dry yeast (see note)

3 cups bread flour

1 ¼ cups plus 1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (see note)

1 ¼ teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup coarsely chopped, toasted walnuts (see note)

Cooking oil spray

Extra flour, for forming the loaves

Place first seven ingredients into bread machine in the order listed. Choose dough setting (or the setting that mixes but does not bake the bread). Turn on machine.

Coat a loaf pan or baking sheet with cooking oil spray, and set aside. When dough cycle ends, sprinkle a little flour onto a clean counter or large cutting board. Punch dough a few times with your fist to let the air escape, and remove dough from machine and place on floured surface. Turn dough to coat lightly with flour. Pull and stretch dough into an oblong loaf shape. Cut oblong dough in half, and tap the cut ends in flour. Pull each half into an oblong, baguette shape (or form into two round loaves). Let loaves rise, uncovered, at room temperature for 30 to 50 minutes, or until they reach desired size. (The time will depend on the ambient temperature. If your room is chilly, put loaf in a cold oven with just the oven light on.)

Preheat oven to 425 F. Using kitchen scissors, snip three slashes in top of each loaf – about 1 inch deep and 1 ½ inches wide. Place loaves in hot oven, and spray a little water on the sides of oven. (If you don't have a spray bottle, flick it with your fingers.) Bake, uncovered, until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped, about 25 to 35 minutes. Spray oven with a little water after about 10 minutes if desired. If not eating immediately, remove bread from the pan, preferably to a wire rack, to cool.

Makes 2 loaves, for 6 servings each. (Extra loaves can be frozen, covered with plastic wrap and then with foil, for up to one month.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 PM


Iraqis losing patience with militiamen: Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army militia has provided services and protection to residents, but fighting in recent weeks has endangered their lives. (Tina Susman and Usama Redha, 5/27/08, Los Angeles Times)

As the violence continues, public tolerance for the Mahdi Army, and by association the Sadr movement, seems to be shifting toward the same sort of resentment once reserved for U.S. and Iraqi forces.

"People are fed up with them because of their extremism and the problems they are causing," said Rafid Majid, a merchant in central Baghdad. Like many others interviewed across the capital, he said the good deeds the group performs no longer were enough to make up for the hardships endured by ordinary Iraqis who just want to go to work and keep their families safe.

With provincial elections scheduled for October, a public perception that Sadr loyalists were to blame for the violence could hinder the cleric's hopes of broadening his power and influence in the oil-rich south. It also could extend the violent power struggle between the Mahdi Army and the rival Badr Organization tied to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki -- a conflict that has played out from the southern city of Basra to Baghdad's Shiite neighborhoods.

Security and services are important to his reputation as the family name.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:12 PM


The Betrayal of Judas: Did a 'dream team' of biblical scholars mislead millions? (THOMAS BARTLETT, May 30, 2008, Chronicle Review)

Marvin Meyer was eating breakfast when his cellphone buzzed. Meyer, a professor of religious studies at Chapman University, has a mostly gray beard and an athletic build left over from his basketball days. His friends call him "the Velvet Hammer" for his mild demeanor. He's a nice guy.

The voice on the other end belonged to a representative of the National Geographic Society. They were working on a project and wanted his help.

"That's very interesting," he remembers saying. "What do you have in mind?"

"We can't tell you," was the reply.

That was not the answer he expected.

"Let me see if I understand this," Meyer said. "You'd like me to agree to do a project with you, but you won't tell me what that project is. Is that right?"


He would have to sign a nondisclosure agreement first — which, in the end, he agreed to do. Not long afterward, Meyer found himself locked in an office in Washington, with a desk, a pile of dictionaries and lexicons, and one of the most sought-after religious texts in recent history, the Gospel of Judas. For a week he worked almost nonstop on the 26-page text, translating the Coptic, an ancient Egyptian language written with Greek letters, into English. As he translated, a startling portrait of Judas Iscariot emerged. This was not the reviled traitor who betrayed Jesus with a kiss. This was the trusted disciple, the close confidant, the friend. This was a revelation.

When the Gospel of Judas was unveiled at a news conference in April 2006, it made headlines around the world — with nearly all of those articles touting the new and improved Judas. "In Ancient Document, Judas, Minus the Betrayal," read the headline in The New York Times. The British paper The Guardian called it "a radical makeover for one of the worst reputations in history." A documentary that aired a few days later on National Geographic's cable channel also pushed the Judas-as-hero theme. The premiere attracted four million viewers, making it the second-highest-rated program in the channel's history, behind only a documentary on September 11.

But almost immediately, other scholars began to take issue with the interpretation of Meyer and the rest of the National Geographic team. They didn't see a good Judas at all. In fact, this Judas seemed more evil than ever. Those early voices of dissent have since grown into a chorus, some of whom argue that National Geographic's handling of the project amounts to scholarly malpractice. It's a perfect example, critics argue, of what can happen when commercial considerations are allowed to ride roughshod over careful research. What's more, the controversy has strained friendships in this small community of religion scholars — causing some on both sides of the argument to feel, in a word, betrayed. [...]

In all of its materials, the view of Judas as good guy was front and center. In an online video clip, Meyer calls the text's Judas the "most insightful and the most loyal of all the disciples." In Ehrman's essay, Judas is "Jesus' closest friend, the one who understood Jesus better than anyone else, who turned Jesus over to the authorities because Jesus wanted him to do so." The teaser on the documentary's DVD case asks, "What if this account turned Jesus' betrayal on its head, and in it the villain became a hero?" The discovery of an ancient document titled "The Gospel of Judas" is exciting enough. But the twist of a good Judas — well, that's a great story.

Reporters ate it up. Word of the discovery made the front pages of newspapers around the world. "Ancient Text Says Jesus Asked Judas to Hand Him to the Romans" was The Arizona Republic's headline. USA Today said the gospel "recasts" Judas. The Austin American-Statesman put it this way: "Ancient Judas as 'good guy,' not Jesus' betrayer." More than seven million viewers tuned in to see the documentary (counting the first couple of reruns), and 300,000 copies of the book containing the translation and the critical essays are now in print. The barrage of media coverage, aided by the good-Judas spin, seemed to have the desired effect.

Book publishers were anxious to get in on the action, too. While scholars involved in the project signed contracts agreeing not to publish their own books for six months, three of them — Meyer, Pagels, and Ehrman — came out with Judas tomes once the embargo was lifted. Publishers figured that the public's appetite for Judas information had not yet been sated, and they were right: Pagels's book, which she wrote with Karen L. King, a professor of ecclesiastical history at Harvard Divinity School, became a New York Times best seller. By commercial standards, the release of the Gospel of Judas had been a huge success.

One of the seven million people who watched the National Geographic documentary was April D. DeConick. Admittedly, DeConick, a professor of biblical studies at Rice University, was not your average viewer. As a Coptologist, she had long been aware of the existence of the Gospel of Judas and was friends with several of those who had worked on the so-called dream team. It's fair to say she watched the documentary with special interest.

As soon as the show ended, she went to her computer and downloaded the English translation from the National Geographic Web site. Almost immediately she began to have concerns. From her reading, even in translation, it seemed obvious that Judas was not turning in Jesus as a friendly gesture, but rather sacrificing him to a demon god named Saklas. This alone would suggest, strongly, that Judas was not acting with Jesus' best interests in mind — which would undercut the thesis of the National Geographic team. She turned to her husband, Wade, and said: "Oh no. Something is really wrong."

She started the next day on her own translation of the Coptic transcription, also posted on the National Geographic Web site. That's when she came across what she considered a major, almost unbelievable error. It had to do with the translation of the word "daimon," which Jesus uses to address Judas. The National Geographic team translates this as "spirit," an unusual choice and inconsistent with translations of other early Christian texts, where it is usually rendered as "demon." In this passage, however, Jesus' calling Judas a demon would completely alter the meaning. "O 13th spirit, why do you try so hard?" becomes "O 13th demon, why do you try so hard?" A gentle inquiry turns into a vicious rebuke.

Then there's the number 13. The Gospel of Judas is thought to have been written by a sect of Gnostics known as Sethians, for whom the number 13 would indicate a realm ruled by the demon Ialdabaoth. Calling someone a demon from the 13th realm would not be a compliment. In another passage, the National Geographic translation says that Judas "would ascend to the holy generation." But DeConick says it's clear from the transcription that a negative has been left out and that Judas will not ascend to the holy generation (this error has been corrected in the second edition). DeConick also objected to a phrase that says Judas has been "set apart for the holy generation." She argues it should be translated "set apart from the holy generation" — again, the opposite meaning. In the later critical edition, the National Geographic translators offer both as legitimate possibilities.

These discoveries filled her with dread.

When the marketing campaign comes first the translation is bound to be sketchy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:58 AM


Sydney Pollack, Film Director, Is Dead at 73 (MICHAEL CIEPLY, May 27, 2008, NY Times)

["T]hree Days of the Condor,” another hit, about a bookish C.I.A. worker thrust into a mystery, did somewhat better with the critics. “Tense and involving,” said Roger Ebert in The Chicago Sun-Times.

With “Absence of Malice” in 1981, Mr. Pollack entered the realm of public debate. The film’s story of a newspaper reporter (Sally Field) who is fed a false story by federal officials trying to squeeze information from a businessman (Paul Newman) was widely viewed as a corrective to the adulation of investigative reporters that followed Alan J. Pakula’s hit movie “All the President’s Men,” with its portrayal of the Watergate scandal.

He never made a great movie, perhaps because he was so dependent on stars, but Electric Horseman was pretty good -- though Willie Nelson and the horse carry the film -- and the Redford character in Three Days of the Condor has the greatest job since the age of monasteries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Optimism Grows as Marines Push Against Taliban (CARLOTTA GALL, 5/27/08, NY Times)

For two years British troops staked out a presence in this small district center in southern Afghanistan and fended off attacks from the Taliban. The constant firefights left it a ghost town, its bazaar broken and empty but for one baker, its houses and orchards reduced to rubble and weeds.

But it took the Marines, specifically the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, about 96 hours to clear out the Taliban in a fierce battle in the past month and push them back about 6 miles. [...]

The marines’ drive against the Taliban in this large farming region is certainly not finished, and the Taliban have often been pushed out of areas in Afghanistan only to return in force later. But for the British forces and Afghan residents here, the result of the recent operation has been palpable.

The district chief returned to his job from his refuge in the provincial capital within days of the battle and 200 people — including 100 elders of the community — gathered for a meeting with him and the British to plan the regeneration of the town.

“They have disrupted the Taliban’s freedom of movement and pushed them south, and that has created the grounds for us to develop the hospital and set the conditions for the government to come back,” said Maj. Neil Den-McKay, the officer commanding a company of the Royal Regiment of Scotland based here. People have already started coming back to villages north of the town, he said, adding, “There has been huge optimism from the people.”

For the marines, it was a chance to hit the enemy with the full panoply of their firepower in places where they were confident there were few civilians. The Taliban put up a tenacious fight, rushing in reinforcements in cars and vans from the south and returning repeatedly to the attack, but they were beaten back in four days by three companies of marines, two of which were dropped in by helicopter to the southeast.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Life and death in the Bible: The Power of God for Christians and Jews by Kevin J Madigan and Jon D Levenson (Spengler, 5/27/08, Asia Times)

Theology was dethroned as queen of the sciences two centuries ago. This splendid book supports the case for restoration. How are we to make sense of a world in which the raw issues of life and death - secular society's failure to endure life, and traditional society's embrace of death - overthrow the trifling calculus of political science? The world has buried Karl Marx's economic man and Sigmund Freud's libidinous man, and the shovel is ready for Martin Heidegger's "authentic" man. Levenson and Madigan show instead Biblical man in his confrontation with death, and in so doing hold up a mirror to us.

Resurrection is among a handful of recent theological texts that radically affect our view of the world, including works by Michael Wsychogrod and Fergus Kerr, as well as a new translation of Franz Rosenzweig's chief work. It is doubly remarkable as the joint effort of a Jewish and a Christian scholar. [...]

One might go farther, and assert that the Biblical understanding of life and death still prevails today among most of the world's six billion souls. The materialism of modern political science sadly misjudges the demands of the human heart. Nations are willing to fight to the death because their national life already has become a living death, in just the way the Bible saw it. In their hearts they already have gone down to Sheol, and the world holds no greater terror for them than what they live each day.

Resurrection draws a red line from the earliest response to death in the Hebrew Bible, to the promise of resurrection in the flesh in the 2nd century BC Book of Daniel and in Christian doctrine. Madigan and Levenson show how basic to Jewish and Christian belief is the promise that a loving God will redeem his faithful from death, in the full unity of body and soul. This is the promise of redemption that has sustained Jews and Christians through the centuries, and given them a perception that their life in this world participates in eternal life. Thus they are alive even in death.

But what of those who feel abandoned to death? By the same token, they are dead even in life. From this existential experience of life and death, the authors show how deeply the hope of resurrection in the flesh is embedded in the Hebrew Bible. [...]

For Christians the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the revelation on which the faith is founded. Resurrection in Christian doctrine is the reward of the individuals who leave their Gentile nations to take part in the new people of God and become part of Christ's resurrection. Christian identity is as just as social as Jewish identity, for Christians believed they are saved through adoption into a new people. Madigan and Levenson show that the sacrament of baptism for early Christians was inextricably tied to rebirth and resurrection. Thus Christians rescued themselves from the maelstrom of death that took hold of the late Roman Empire.

It is a conceit of modern materialism that identity no longer is social, but rather individual; we choose our pleasures, and, if the mood strikes us, shop for a religion the way we might choose a neighborhood. We fancy ourselves rational beings. If we are not quite beyond good and evil, for law and custom still discourage rapine and murder, we certainly are beyond sin and redemption, which we have replaced by stress and therapy.

Modern materialism has weaned the industrial world off spiritual food, like the thrifty farmer who trained his donkey to eat less by reducing its rations each day. "Just when I got I had him trained to live on nothing," the farmer complained, "the donkey had to die!" Like the donkey, the modern world has died when its spiritual rations were cut to nothing. We refuse to acknowledge that our deepest needs are no different from those of Biblical man. We fail to nourish them and we die.

What Benedict XVI calls the anti-culture of death will reduce most of the industrial world to a geriatric ward by the latter half of his century, and to ruins to be picked over by immigrants not long thereafter. We experience death in life, but our intellect and our technology enable us to deny the prospect of death.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Sadr Pursues Image to Match His Power: Unexpected Heir Studies, Strategizes to Become an Icon Like His Father (Amit R. Paley, 5/27/08, Washington Post)

Sadrists flocked to Moqtada as the inheritor of his father's legacy. "People understand that Moqtada is the closest to the light of martyr Sadr. So they follow him because of that," Obaidi said.

After the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, most American officials were unaware of Sadr's massive following and the hatred many of his devotees harbored toward the U.S. government. He was quickly seen as the polar opposite of Abdul Majeed al-Khoei, a rival Shiite cleric and supporter of the American invasion, who was hacked to death in Najaf in April 2003. Sadr was accused of ordering the killing; his aides have denied his involvement.

Sadr began speaking out against the occupation and formed the Mahdi Army militia in mid-2003. The militia was grounded in a theological concept developed by Sadr's father, who said that an army of believers would be led by the Imam Mahdi, a messianic figure who Shiites believe will redeem mankind.

The Mahdi Army took part in two major uprisings against the U.S. military in 2004, making Sadr popular as a resistance figure and showing how formidable his fighters were. But the battles also engendered anger from Iraqis who saw him as a hooligan.

The reputation of the Mahdi Army as a militia of killers was cemented after Sunni insurgents destroyed the golden-domed Samarra mosque in 2006 and Sadrists retaliated by killing and torturing thousands of Sunnis. The cycle of revenge triggered paroxysms of sectarian cleansing that pushed the country to the brink of civil war. [...]

By 2007, his aides said, Sadr had decided he needed to take steps to change the direction of the movement, prodded in part by older, more moderate clerics who had studied with his father. After giving a speech at his mosque in Kufa in the spring, Sadr disappeared from public view, Obaidi said.

Over the summer he began discussing a radical idea with his aides: ordering the Mahdi Army to lay down its weapons. Obaidi said he advised Sadr to declare a freeze on violence in exchange for commitments from the government to stop raids and mass arrests of its followers.

But Sadr refused. "He knew that if we rely on the government that they would break their promise, and we would be forced to end the freeze," Obaidi said.

After a battle in late August between Sadrists and government forces in the Shiite holy city of Karbala that left dozens dead, the public image of the Sadrists was further tarnished. Sadr ordered the freeze, despite the objections of close aides such as Shaibani, who thought it would be viewed as a sign of weakness.

Though the precise timing is unclear, it was around this period that Sadr decided to devote himself to religious scholarship.

He has studied for the past year under Shahroudi, the head of the Iranian judiciary, according to Abdul Razzaq al-Nidawi, Abdul Hadi al-Mohammadawi and Hazim al-Araji, three of Sadr's top aides and leaders of the Sadrist movement. Nidawi and Mohammadawi added that Sadr has been studying in Qom, Iran, though Araji, like many other top aides, said he did not want to discuss Sadr's whereabouts for security reasons.

The choice of an Iranian cleric as a teacher is sensitive politically, since Sadr espouses a nationalist philosophy and because of the U.S. military's assertions that Iran is supplying weapons and support to militiamen affiliated with Sadr.

But aides said Sadr chose Shahroudi because he is one of the two most highly regarded disciples of Mohammed Bakr al-Sadr. Shahroudi, a native of Najaf who has run the judicial system since 1999, is seen as a relative moderate in Iran, perhaps best known for speaking out against torture and ordering a sometimes-ignored moratorium on stoning six years ago. Shahroudi's office in Tehran did not respond to a request for comment.

Sadr has said that he is at the third level of clerical study, known as external research, which precedes becoming a mushtahid, a cleric who can issue fatwas, or religious edicts, on his own authority. Achieving this status normally takes many years of study, but several of Sadr's followers, including Nidawi, said they believe that Sadr will be certified as a mushtahid within the next year.

Reprisals against the Sunni laid the preconditions in which the latter welcomed the surge--once they realized the Shi'ites were in power to stay--while co-operation helped it to succeed. Now it's just a question of how soon the surge is drawn down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


The Running Mate Choice: A presidential candidate should be selecting a vice president on the basis of who can help him govern successfully and get him re-elected. (David Brooks, 5/27/08, Der Spiegel)

[A] sensible presidential candidate shouldn’t be selecting a mate on the basis of who can help him get elected. He should be thinking about who can help him govern successfully so he can get re-elected.

That means asking: What circumstances will I face when I take office? What tasks will I need my chief subordinate to perform to help me face those circumstances? [...]

Obama will need a vice president who knows the millions of ways that power is exercised and subverted in Washington. He’ll need someone who can be a senior, authoritative presence in a cabinet that may range from Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to the labor leader Andy Stern. He’ll need someone who can supervise his young reformers and build transpartisan coalitions more effectively than Obama has as senator.

Sam Nunn and Tom Daschle seem to fit the bill. Nunn is one of those senior Democrats (like David Boren and Bob Kerrey) who left the Senate lamenting the dumbed-down nature of modern politics. Daschle was more partisan as majority leader, but he is still widely trusted and universally liked. As experienced legislators, both could take Obama’s lofty hopes and translate them into nitty-gritty action.

Senators generally don't win the presidency because they don't have the executive experience that the position requires, but Mr. Obama should double down and offer an all-Senate ticket? Not to mention that neither of those featherweights would have a prayer of succeeding him and picking a stock old white guy would infuriate the Hillary wing of the Party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Vouchers work: Modest Florida program yielded quick gains (San Diego Union-Tribune, May 27, 2008)

[A]long comes research that makes an empirical case that vouchers work. Princeton University economist Cecilia Elena Rouse and three colleagues took a close look at the results of Florida's A+ voucher program from 2002-2007, aided by a massive, detailed study of practices at thousands of individual schools.

The program was far from ambitious. The only eligible students were those in schools that got a failing grade twice within four years from state evaluators. The vouchers were for limited sums.

Yet thousands of families took advantage of them. One result, according to Rouse's report: The schools that were losing students quickly changed their ways and generally improved on test scores – even though they had lost many of their top students to other schools. Why? Because funding in Florida – as in California – is based on average daily attendance. Money (or a threatened loss of it) motivates.

Alas, there's a depressing twist to this story. At the behest of teachers unions, the A+ voucher program was thrown out by Florida's notoriously liberal Supreme Court on highly dubious grounds. But before its demise, at least the program yielded hard evidence that vouchers work.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


How the Arabs Failed in Bethlehem? (Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, 5/27/08, Asharq Alawsat)

The Palestinian Authority failed last week to attract the interest of Arab governments and major economic establishments to help it develop its economy. No one appears to be willing to consider Palestine more than just an issue of political conflict with Israel. The conference's failure proved that the Palestinians would not get Arab support unless an Israeli shell fell on the Intercontinental Hotel, the conference venue, and Palestinian television showed scenes of bodies, wounded, blood, and shouts. No aid without disasters. This is the only emotional engine. As to the rational engine for confronting the occupation, backing the steadfastness, helping the human being in his daily life, or investing for the future in the occupied territories is something that is totally beyond Arab thinking.

...why should they help?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 AM


The 'fiction of affluence' has Greeks uneasy (Carter Dougherty, May 26, 2008, IHT)

In February, Greece was paralyzed by a nationwide general strike that shut down air travel, hospitals and public transportation. Unions were angry over plans to consolidate more than 170 different pension plans and limit early retirement. Embarrassing for Greek finance, the strike also brought trading on the stock exchange and bond markets to a standstill.

Work stoppages or slowdowns have become a recurrent feature of Greek life. One weekend this month, gas station owners quit pumping fuel to protest government regulation of transport fees, while pilots forced the cancellation of dozens of flights in a contract dispute.

Karamanlis's government pushed the pension changes through Parliament in March, but independent observers warned that the system was still unsustainable. A low birthrate combined with generous benefits means that its cost will balloon to nearly 25 percent of gross domestic product by 2050, nearly double the average in Western Europe.

Still, Greek politicians are cagey about when they might tackle the issue again. "I'm not saying that somewhere down the line in 10 or 12 years we will not need another round," Alogoskoufis said.

This year, the government also began considering plans to sell a minority stake in OTE, the former phone monopoly, to Deutsche Telekom, the mere whiff of which brought OTE workers onto the streets. At one point, they burned and defaced several Belgian flags, mistaking them as German, and plastered Athens with posters portraying Nazis in an assault on Greece.

"There is a perception in Greece, which is fading now but very strong in the past, that whatever is related to public sector is good and what with the private sector is viewed with suspicion," Alogouskoufis said. "And if it's private sector and coming from abroad, then it's worse."

The sale is part of the government's plan to reduce the state share in the Greek economy, which, at slightly under 50 percent, is one of the largest in Europe. The government is also entertaining bids to run Greece's two biggest ports, Piraeus and Thessaloniki, and wants to do the same with airports.

Greek unions have signaled they will fight the plans every step of the way.

...but it won't make you happy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Understanding Salary Caps and Why The NFL opted out (Mark Cuban, May 25th 2008, Blog Maverick)

The idea behind having a cap is that when total revenues for the league go up, then the amount of money available to players should go up as well. Makes perfect sense for a hypothetical league where BOTH local and national revenues per team are consistently equal.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, while national revenues per teams are split equally, the amount of revenues generated locally per team varies enormously market by market. This is a huge problem for salary cap based leagues.

Why does this create a problem ? Because in the biggest of big markets, significant increases in revenues can increase the value of the salary cap by more dollars than some other teams can increase their local revenues.

So in our hypothetical league, lets say there is a team in Metropolis, a big city, that just signed a TV deal for its preseason games, increased their ticket prices, and added a huge video board , that when all is said and done, for the next season, will add a total of $ 40mm in revenue.

Another big market just opened their new stadium, which now seats 100k people and has 200 suites that they are charging an arm and a leg for because their teams is on a roll, having made the playoffs the last couple years, with what appears to be a bright future. In this first year of the stadium, they expect to add 100mm in local revenues more than they had last year.

In BFE, one of the smaller markets in the league, they just had a terrible season. Although they have a stadium they moved into just 8 years ago, they have no pricing elasticity for tickets or advertising, and in fact their attendance is declining. As a result, despite the additional TV revenue they will get from the new TV deal the league has signed, they will see a decline in total revenues of 5mm dollars this year and if they don't have a good season, revenues could decline further in future years.

For the sake of this example, we will assume the other 17 teams had a net revenue impact of zero

Overall the business for this hypothetical league is good. Their national TV deal just renewed, and merchandise and advertising sales are great. At the national level, total league revenues will increase 5mm per team, or 100mm dollars.

So in this hypothetical example, to figure out the how the cap would change, we would take the 40mm increase that Metropolis had , add it to the 100mm dollar change for the 2ND big market team, add to it the 100mm dollar increase from the new national TV deal and then subtract the 5mm decline that BFE had, for a net increase of 235mm for the league. Then to get the salary cap increase, we multiply that number by 50pct ($117.50) and divide by 20 teams. So the salary cap would increase by $ 5. 875k from 50mm to 55.875mm per team.

As you can quickly figure out, for the teams with new, big market size TV and stadium deals, the increase in the cap is no big deal. For those teams from BFE, who don't have pricing elasticity or markets that can support stadiums that seat 100k, things are not so good. Every year seems to bring an increase in the salary cap , which their local fans and their own desire to win pressures them to spend up to, yet their total revenues never seem to keep up with.

Add to this pressure, the design of how contracts are structured so that teams which perform the worst and have the least pricing elasticity, get the highest draft picks and must write out checks for huge signing bonuses for their rookies, who they have no idea whether or not they will preform. Its not that they don't want the high draft picks, but there is no question that their financial risk equation escalates dramatically.

These same teams, also feel the greatest pressure to sign new free agents. Again, which carry significant financial risk with big upfront payments, and on field performance risk. There is no template for winning and the stress levels go way up when its eating up every dollar you have to try to win. always trade your high picks and almost never sign free agents, but that's what bad teams need to do. In fact, that's what the Patriots have done, though even they panicked last year --after losing in a Championship game no less--and signed Adalius Thomas, who was okay but not worth big money.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


A Few Tremors in Oprahland (EDWARD WYATT, 5/26/08, NY Times)

The average audience for “The Oprah Winfrey Show” has fallen nearly 7 percent this year, according to Nielsen Media Research — its third straight year of decline. “Oprah’s Big Give,” an ABC philanthropic reality show, beat every program on television except “American Idol” in its premiere week this winter, but steadily lost nearly one-third of its audience during the rest of its eight-week run, according to Nielsen.

The circulation of O, The Oprah Magazine, has fallen by more than 10 percent in the last three years, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, and the magazine is now seeking a new editor in chief after the announced retirement of its longtime steward, Amy Gross.

And while Ms. Winfrey still displays a Midas touch when it comes to the endorsement of books and products, some of her latest picks have attracted criticism from longtime fans as she has strayed into new-age spiritualism and, perhaps more dangerously, politics. Her endorsement of the presidential bid of Senator Barack Obama appears to have alienated some of the middle-aged white women who make up the bulk of her television audience, many of whom support Senator Hillary Clinton.

Rule number one for talk shows: you can't shape the opinions and interests of your audience, you follow them.

May 26, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:37 PM


Princes and Thieves on DVD (GARY GIDDINS, May 27, 2008, NY Sun)

Re-watching "The Thief of Bagdad," released today in a glorious Criterion DVD transfer, is not unlike rereading "Treasure Island." Conceived to enchant children, they both requite the adult longing for formative influences that withstand disillusionment and fashion. Unlike "Treasure Island," an exemplary display of English prose and plotting, with one of the finest first sentences in fiction, "The Thief of Bagdad" (1940) occasionally sputters, losing tempo and continuity; yet it, too, survives as a model of its kind, reveling in cinematic craftsmanship — not least the then-novel techniques of color and trick photography — and boasts one of the most magisterial opening shots in cinema. [...]

Some of the blue-screen effects and model work in "The Thief of Bagdad" are dated, but the overall display of pastel colors, magnificent sets, and creative energy subsumes them. One episode, in which Abu claims the all-seeing eye, show an oneiric inventiveness that spawned many images of 1950s cinema. The statue, for example, is shot in a montage of angles that anticipates Alfred Hitchcock's approach to Mt. Rushmore in "North by Northwest." The themes of subjugation and obsession — along with the images of a giant spider and giant squid — would become equally familiar during the postwar era.

Instances of these themes abound in four movies produced by Hammer Films, perhaps the only studio name that reignites the adrenalin of those who began attending movies in the 1950s and early 1960s. These films were frequently censored and reviled for their violence and sexuality, inciting revulsion in England, where they were made. Here they were the stuff of Saturday matinees — not family films, like "The Thief of Bagdad," but fare for adolescent boys who could scarcely believe (I bear witness) the sadism, the colors, and the bosomy extras.

Tough to beat Fritz Lang's Indian Epic for same.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:32 PM


Somalia on the verge of collapse, aid officials and residents say : On top of a growing insurgency and a government void, the nation's fragile economy is disintegrating. (Abukar Albadri and Edmund Sanders, 5/26/08, The LA Times)

Along the ghostly streets of Mogadishu, just about the only traffic nowadays consists of starving cats and goats searching for food. They race toward the occasional pedestrian, crying for scraps.

Their owners fled the city's violence long ago, leaving more than half of Somalia's capital deserted. Shops are closed. Burned-out cars sit abandoned by the side of the road. Other than soldiers and militiamen, only the most desperate of people frequent the streets, including orphans and old women who sometimes are forced to compete with the strays for food.

Most others leave their homes only when necessary. In venturing outside, they hurry to their destinations in silence, heads down, avoiding eye contact with strangers. Few dare use cellphones lest they fall victim to thieves or be accused of spying. There's no socializing because it's too risky to stop for chitchat and no one knows whom to trust.

After 17 years of civil war, it's hard to imagine Somalia could get any worse. It has.

These days, this Horn of Africa nation appears on the verge of a total breakdown, aid officials and residents said.

In addition to a growing insurgency, clan warfare and the lack of a functioning government since 1991, Somalia's fragile economy is now disintegrating amid hyperinflation and the local effects of a global food crisis that sparked riots this month.

This one we needlessly broke.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:03 PM


CASE COLD: Icelandic filmmaker delves into the ambiguity of police thrillers (Eric Kohn, 2/28/08, NY Press)

Gorgeously shot against a seaside backdrop and filled with local color, Jar City unfolds like a noir from another planet. The plot is unnecessarily dense and often difficult to follow, but this allows Kormákur to highlight the detective’s personal woes as he sees them reflected in the situation at hand. While forensic evidence piles up, Erlendur grows even closer to unraveling the greater puzzle—namely, how to keep his family together. An early scene finds a young girl dying of the incurable disease at the heart of the enigmatic plot, and the tragedy is later mirrored by Erlandur’s own estranged relationship with his daughter. Frequently in the presence of death and the despair, the cop seems to embrace the bleak environment; but that’s a vice he must curb in order to keep his world in order. The world is a chaotic place in Jar City, but its conclusion—which, predictably enough, reveals everything—suggests there’s logic within the mayhem and a strategy for defeating it.

The book are terrific, but still can't find the movie...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:39 PM


Tom Terrific And His Mystic Talent: The pitching wonders he works did not come swiftly or naturally to Seaver; in fact, the modesty of his skill was the making of the man (Pat Jordan, July 24, 1972, Sports Illustrated)

I don't ever think about it," he says. "Philosophically, that is. Why do I do it? What does it all mean? That doesn't interest me. I only know it excites me. It's the one thing I do in my life that excites me." Tom Seaver, untanned, wearing a gray T shirt and baggy Bermuda shorts, is standing on the sand in Madeira Beach, Fla. He is holding a piece of string to which is attached a kite that is only a speck far off in a cloudless sky. The sky is aswarm with the flap and caw of sea gulls. Big, grayish, heavy-breasted birds, they must beat their wings furiously, stomachs heaving, necks straining forward, so that for one brief moment they can level off and glide with a hard-earned and uncommon grace.

"Aren't they fascinating!" says Seaver. "The way they work at it! I could watch them for hours. I'd love to fly like the gulls. But I can't. So I pitch. If I couldn't pitch I'd do something else. It wouldn't bother me much. But if I could pitch and I wasn't, that would bother me. That would bother me a lot.

"Pitching is what makes me happy. I've devoted my life to it. I live my life around the four days between starts. It determines what I eat, when I go to bed, what I do when I'm awake. It determines how I spend my life when I'm not pitching. If it means I have to come to Florida and can't get tanned because I might get a burn that would keep me from throwing for a few days, then I never go shirtless in the sun. If it means when I get up in the morning I have to read the box scores to see who got two hits off Bill Singer last night instead of reading a novel, then I do it. If it means I have to remind myself to pet dogs with my left hand or throw logs on the fire with my left hand, then I do that, too. If it means in the winter I eat cottage cheese instead of chocolate chip cookies in order to keep my weight down, then I eat cottage cheese. I might want those cookies but I won't ever eat them. That might bother some people but it doesn't bother me. I enjoy the cottage cheese. I enjoy it more than I would those cookies because I know it will help me do what makes me happy.

"Life isn't very heavy for me. I've made up my mind what I want to do. I'm happy when I pitch well so I only do those things that help me be happy. I wouldn't be able to dedicate myself like this for money or glory, although they are certainly considerations. If I pitch well for 15 years I'll be able to give my family security. But that isn't what motivates me. What motivates some pitchers is to be known as the fastest who ever lived. Some want to have the greatest season ever. All I want is to do the best I possibly can day after day, year after year. Pitching is the whole thing for me. I want to prove I'm the best ever."

Tom Seaver is the youngest pitcher in the history of baseball to sign a contract for more than $100,000 a season. He has averaged 19 victories a year for the New York Mets. At the age of 27, after five full seasons in the major leagues, he had won 95 ball games. Walter Johnson, who won more games than any pitcher in this century, won only 80 in his first five seasons. Grover Cleveland Alexander, second to Johnson, won 70 games by the time he reached his 27th birthday; Sandy Koufax, 68; Bob Gibson, 34; Warren Spahn, 29.

Thomas George Seaver has one of those smooth, boyish. Middle American faces that would be a burden to some men. He possesses the handsomeness so prized in the 1950s of Pat Boone and Tab Hunter. It is a temptation to describe his face as having too little character when you would more rightly mean too few characteristics. It is a face of undistinguished parts, which are subordinate only to a single clear impression of uncluttered good looks.

Seaver stands 6'½" and weighs 210 pounds from November to February when he indulges himself with an occasional breakfast of fried eggs and beer, and he weighs 205 pounds from March to October when he allows himself no fried eggs and beer. He has a squarish, heavy-chested body that tends to fat but is deceptively muscled. His arms, shoulders, chest and thighs are thick with muscles acquired from years of lifting weights. He believes, unlike most pitchers and coaches, that a selective program of weight lifting will add speed to a pitcher's fastball. As a high school senior in Fresno, Calif. he stood 5'9" and weighed 160 pounds. He was the third-hardest thrower on his team. He did not pick up speed until he began lifting weights in college and had grown three inches and put on 30 pounds. Because he has worked so diligently in developing those parts of his body that relate to his talent, Seaver is highly critical—one might almost say contemptuous—of less conscientious players. He will say of a teammate whose chest is noticeably undeveloped, "Do you know he hit 20 balls to the warning track last year! Twenty! Another 10 feet and they would have been home runs. I know I'd find the strength to hit those balls another 10 feet."

Although he is not conscious of it, Seaver shows his disdain for men who he feels have not fulfilled their potential. For Seaver, a man's talent is not just a part of the man. It is the whole man, or at the very least a mirror of the whole man. Treating one's talent carelessly is indicative of a weakness in character. He once said of a former pitcher who was reputed to have dissipated a promising career, "What a fool he must be. To throw it all away like that. If you don't think baseball is a big deal, don't play it. But if you do, play it right." Seaver avoids such men, as if their weakness were a contagious disease. He prefers the company of people like Bud Harrelson and Jerry Grote, fellow Mets who have made the fullest use of their talents, no matter how meager.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 PM


a review of The Essential Russell Kirk: Selected Essays, Edited by
George A. Panichas (Alan Wolfe, 07.09.07, New Republic)

As improbable as it may be to find a Stalinist in the
Outer Hebrides, Dr. Jackman's role in Old House of Fear is not to
advance the story, but to give Kirk the opportunity to pronounce on
ideology's dangers. This is also something he frequently does in his
political essays. "Ideology' does not mean political theory or
political principle," he wrote in one of them, "even though many
journalists and some professors commonly employ the term in that
sense. Ideology really means political fanaticism." I can certainly go
along with that. Kirk was not the only modern thinker to warn of
ideology; in fact, the great warnings were the work of modern
liberals. There is something like a fanatic imagination. When it grabs
hold of politics, sectarianism, and sometimes violence, follows.

For Kirk, however, it is not fanaticism in general that gives cause
for worry, but one kind of fanaticism in particular: "the belief that
this world of ours may be converted into the Terrestrial Paradise
through the operation of positive law and positive planning." By this
definition, Jeremy Bentham--Kirk's least favorite philosopher--was an
ideologue, but Edmund Burke--his most favorite one--was not. Reading Kirk, it would seem that there are only left-wing ideologues, and the term "conservative ideology" is an oxymoron that can make sense "only if, with Humpty Dumpty, we claim the prerogative of forcing words to mean whatever we desire them to signify."

Kirk admits of two possible exceptions to his insistence that ideology
is a monopoly of the left, although each of them is cited to confirm
his point. Nazism, too, is an ideology--but we should not forget that
the Nazis, like all ideologues, held "that human nature and society
may be perfected by mundane, secular means." Of all the crimes
committed by the Nazis, the proclivity for human perfectibility is an
odd one to choose; but it is Kirk's choice. And then there is the
"objectivist" ideology of Ayn Rand and her followers, for whom Kirk
expresses deep contempt. Yet Rand, in Kirk's view, is more a
libertarian than a conservative, and libertarians take their
inspiration from that quintessential liberal John Stuart Mill.
Libertarians therefore have nothing in common with conservatives (a
point once made, in reverse, by F.A. Hayek in a famous essay called
"Why I Am Not a Conservative"). "The representative libertarian of
this decade," Kirk wrote in an essay pub- lished in 1981, is, much
like Dr. Jackman, "humorless, intolerant, self-righteous, badly
schooled, and dull." Libertarians are "mad--metaphysically mad.... I
do not mean that they are dangerous; they are repellent merely, like
certain unfor- tunate inmates of mental homes.'" You will not find
many devotees of Russell Kirk at the Cato Institute.

It seems odd for Kirk to vent his spleen against libertarians, since,
to him, ideologues believe in "positive planning," which is the one
thing that libertarians detest. But liberals and libertarians do share
a trait, and for Kirk it is the definitive one: they both substitute
secular reasoning for the divine laws of God. Ideology, you see, is
religion turned inside out. "Ideology provides sham religion and sham
philosophy, comforting in its way to those who have lost or never have
known genuine religious faith, and to those not sufficiently
intelligent to apprehend real philosophy." (Mill once called
conservatives the stupid party. Kirk is merely returning the
compliment.) This is why conservatives can never be ideologues;
possessing faith, and deeply versed in philosophy, they have no need
of any replacements. "Because ideology is by essence antireligious,"
Kirk once wrote, "Christians tend to be attracted to ideology's
negation, conservatism."

The opposite of an ideological mind, for Kirk, is a prudential one,
and conservatives by their very nature are prudential in a way that
liberals can never be. Liberals believe in abstract principles,
conservatives believe in the lessons of experience. Liberals are
extremist, conservatives are moderate. Liberals are universalists,
conservatives are particularists. Liberals insist on perfectibility,
conservatives insist on the limits of human nature. Unfortunately for
conservatives, we live in an age of ideology. Fortunately for them,
the United States is not an ideological land.

Of what value can a critique be that doesn't comprehend that libertarians believe men perfect, else their ideology couldn't function, and the Nazis were just Applying Darwinism to perfect humankind.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 PM


Go ape for easy monkey bread: Texas classic uses frozen dough and pudding mix (KIM PIERCE, 5/26/08, The Dallas Morning News )

1 (25-ounce) package Bridgford frozen Parkerhouse Style Rolls Dough (divided use)

1 (3.4-ounce) package butterscotch pudding (instant or regular)

½ cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

½ cup chopped nuts (divided use)

½ cup butter, melted (divided use)

Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter or lightly grease a 12-cup Bundt pan. Arrange half the rolls in pan; it doesn't matter whether they're frozen or defrosted.

Mix dry pudding mix, sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle half the mixture over rolls. Sprinkle with half the nuts and drizzle with half the melted butter.

Repeat with second layer of remaining rolls, dry ingredients, nuts and butter.

Let rise in a warm place for 3 to 4 hours. Can be made ahead and refrigerated to rise and bake later. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 PM


Peanut butter sandwich a humble hero (Donna Jacobs, 5/26/08, The Ottawa Citizen)

Behold the peanut butter sandwich.

On whole-grain bread, this portable fast-food marvel is a complete source of all 20 protein-building amino acids found in meat, fish, eggs and cheese.

The "PBS" is the modern take on the ancient cultural discovery that has saved mankind over millennia: Mix a grain (wheat, corn, rice, oats and barley) with a legume (beans, peas, peanuts, soybeans) and you get a complete set of amino acids. [...]

Today, the peanut appears in its newest reincarnation as the nutritional powerhouse Plumpy'nut.

As Milton Tectonidis, a Paris-based nutrition specialist for Médecins Sans Frontières, told the International Herald Tribune during Niger's 2005 food crisis, Plumpy'nut can restore a starving baby whose skin sags over tiny bones to normal roundness in two to four weeks.

"This product, it's beyond opinion," said Mr. Tectonidis. "It's documented; it's scientific fact. We've seen it working. With this one product, we can treat three-quarters of children on an outpatient basis."

In his optimistic report, journalist Michael Wines wrote: "Plumpy'nut, which comes in a silvery foil package the size of two grasping baby-sized hands, is 500 calories of fortified peanut butter, stuffed with milk, vitamins and minerals.

"Since the packets came into the hands of relief organizations during the Darfur crisis in Sudan, they have been revolutionizing emergency care for severely malnourished children who are old enough to take solid food, by taking care out of crowded field hospitals and straight into mothers' homes.

"The prescription given to mothers here is simple: give one baby two packets of Plumpy'nut each day. Watch him wolf them down. Wait for him to grow. Which he will, almost immediately: badly malnourished babies can gain one to two pounds a week eating Plumpy'nut."

Ready to eat, it eliminates the need for local water, so often dirty and harbouring disease organisms. It is cheap -- 14 foil packets a week (a four-week supply costs $20). It has a two-year shelf life. It can be given at home, replacing the traditional hospital treatment of vitamin-laced milk.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 PM

ALMOST REVERENTLY? (via The Mother Judd):

A Star-Spangled Banner Yet Waves at Lord & Taylor (JAMES BARRON, 5/26/08, NY Times)

Every morning at 10 a.m., before it allows customers to set foot inside its flagship store on Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor plays the national anthem — an orchestral recording that sounds like the Philadelphia Orchestra from the 1950s. It has lush strings and a full-bodied brass section, but no famous voice to belt out Francis Scott Key’s words over the loudspeakers.

Some mornings, the shoppers-in-waiting in the folding chairs do the singing. Some mornings, they do not. One morning a couple of weeks ago, the final chord was followed by a woman who stage-whispered “Play ball” as she plunged into the store.

Playing the national anthem each morning has become a ritual at Lord & Taylor. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is the same whether it’s a Wednesday in mid-March or a holiday like Memorial Day, which honors those who have died in service to their country.

Setting out the folding chairs just inside the revolving doors is another ritual. Lord & Taylor does that to give early birds a place to wait until after the final chord has soared over the whoosh of the escalators and the soft jazz has come back on.

The morning routine at Lord & Taylor is probably the longest-running daily ritual that can be traced to the 444-day Iran hostage crisis that began in 1979.

Walter Berns, in Making Patriots:
The following story is told by a foreign diplomat who, as he explains, had occasion to visit the United States Embassy in the capital of his country.

'I arrived at a quarter to six, after official office hours, and was met by the Marine on guard at the entrance of the Chancery.

He asked if I would mind waiting while he lowered the two American flags at the Embassy. What I witnessed over the next ten minutes so impressed me that I am now led to make this occurrence a part of my ongoing record of this distressing era.

The Marine was dressed in a uniform which was spotless and neat; he walked with a measured tread from the entrance of the Chancery to the stainless steel flagpole before the Embassy and, almost reverently, lowered the flag to the level of his reach where he began to fold it in military fashion. He then released the flag from the clasps attaching it to the rope, stepped back from the pole, made an about-face, and carried the flag between his hands--one above, one below--and placed it securely on a stand before the Chancery.

He then marched over to a second flagpole and repeated the same lonesome ceremony.... After completing his task, he apologized for the delay--out of pure courtesy, as nothing less than incapacity would have prevented him from fulfilling his goal--and said to me, "Thank you for waiting, Sir. I had to pay honor to my country."

I have had to tell this story because there was something impressive about a lone Marine carrying out a ceremonial task which obviously meant very much to him and which, in its simplicity, made the might, the power and the glory of the United States of America stand forth in a way that a mighty wave of military aircraft, or the passage of a supercarrier, or a parade of 10,000 men could never have made manifest.

One day it is my hope to visit one of our embassies in a faraway place and to see a soldier fold our flag and turn to a stranger and say, "I am sorry for the delay, Sir. I had to honor my country."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


Michel Suleiman sworn in as president of Lebanon: The former army chief of staff takes over a country torn between U.S.-Saudi support and Hezbollah (Borzou Daragahi, 5/26/08, Los Angeles Times)

Both the U.S. and Iran have been fighting for influence over Lebanon through political proxies, but both backed Suleiman for president -- a largely ceremonial position but key to the functioning of the government.

The vote for Suleiman could result in a diplomatic breakthrough between Syria and Lebanon. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, sitting next to his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, was the first Damascus official to visit Lebanon since his country's troops were forced to vacate under international pressure in 2005.

Lebanese of all political and religious stripes praised Suleiman's rise. Giant portraits of the popular general loomed over squares in Christian as well as Muslim quarters in cities and the countryside. Since the deal in Qatar, share prices for Solidere, the firm that developed the city's elegant downtown, have jumped 30% while black-market prices for weapons have collapsed.

"It's like a big dream come true," said Antonie Lahoud, deputy mayor of the coastal town of Amchit, Suleiman's birthplace. "It's a wedding ceremony for Lebanon."

The upbeat mood was a stunning contrast to the gloomy national sentiment less than a week ago, after Hezbollah's takeover set off political and sectarian clashes that pushed the country toward civil war. Six days of talks in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar ultimately produced Wednesday's agreement, in what many analysts described as a defeat for forces friendly to the U.S.

Under Lebanon's power-sharing system, a Christian serves as president while a Sunni serves as the more powerful prime minister and a Shiite as head of parliament. Suleiman must now confer with parliament to appoint a Cabinet that will last until parliamentary elections next year.

The agreement swept under the rug what many analysts consider the underlying causes of Lebanon's strife, including a rising Shiite population with increasing political clout. It also failed to mention Hezbollah's status as an armed political force sometimes overshadowing the power of the Lebanese state in its stated mission to confront Israeli and U.S. supremacy over the region.

General Takes Office As President Of Lebanon: Vote Marks Symbolic End Of Government's Crisis (Anthony Shadid and Alia Ibrahim, 5/26/08, Washington Post)
Often heard in Lebanon, though, is the idea that the country has embarked on a truce, and no more. The question of Hezbollah's arsenal remains pressing for government supporters, who tried to address the issue in the Qatar talks. Suleiman is expected to lead a dialogue over the issue with rival leaders.

The cabinet will remain in power through next summer, when parliamentary elections are expected to again enshrine in power the same leaders, some of them veterans of the civil war with almost-feudal influence over their followers.

Suleiman, 59, was appointed army commander in 1998, when Syria still exercised tutelage over Lebanon. He rose through the ranks of an army that, particularly in the 1990s, worked closely with Syria and Hezbollah, which fought a guerrilla war against Israel in southern Lebanon until its withdrawal in 2000. He emerged as a candidate of the opposition, then drew on the backing of government supporters to fill a post vacant since the term of Emile Lahoud, a Syrian ally and former general, ended in November.

Both sides had their grievances with Suleiman: The opposition was critical of the military for shooting on protesters in January; government supporters were angry at what they saw as the military's acquiescence in allowing fighters of Hezbollah and its allies to enter predominantly Muslim West Beirut this month, where they routed government-backed militiamen in hours, forcing the government into the eventual compromise.

"The gun should only be pointed against the enemy," Suleiman said. "We will not allow it another direction."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 AM


Chinese parents ask why schools crumbled (Jim Yardley, Jake Hooker and Andrew C. Revkin, May 25, 2008, NY Times)

"This is not a natural disaster," said Ren Yongchang, whose 9-year-old son died inside the destroyed school. His hands were covered in plaster dust as he stood beside the rubble, shouting and weeping as he grabbed the exposed steel rebar of a broken concrete column. "This is not good steel. It doesn't meet standards. They stole our children."

There is no official figure on how many children died at Xinjian Primary School, nor on how many died at scores of other schools that collapsed in the powerful May 12 earthquake in Sichuan Province.

But the number of student deaths seems likely to exceed 10,000, possibly much higher, a staggering figure that has become a simmering controversy in China as grieving parents say their children might have lived had the schools been better built.

The government has enjoyed broad public support for its handling of the earthquake, and in Sichuan on Saturday, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon of the United Nations praised the government's response.

But as parents at different schools begin to speak out, the question of whether official negligence, and possibly corruption, contributed to the student deaths could turn public opinion. The government has begun an investigation, but censors, wary of the public mood, are trying to suppress the issue in state-run media and online.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


Mozilla fires first salvo in next wave of browsers (Brad Stone, May 26, 2008, IHT)

America Online, which acquired Netscape, spun off the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation in 2003. Its Firefox browser soon inspired an open-source movement backed by computer enthusiasts. Early versions of Firefox introduced features like a built-in pop-up blocker to kill ads, and tabbed browsing, which lets users toggle between Web windows.

Firefox now has 170 million users around the world and an 18 percent share of the browser market, according to Net Applications. That is especially impressive given that most of its users have made the active choice to download the software, while Internet Explorer is installed on most PCs at the factory.

In addition to giving Microsoft a kick in its competitive pants, Firefox has also reinforced for the high-tech industry the financial and strategic value of the browser. In 2004, Google struck a deal with Mozilla to include a Google search box tucked into a corner of the Firefox browser. According to Mozilla's most recent tax documents, in 2006 Google paid Mozilla $65 million for the resulting traffic to its search listings.

With tasks like e-mail and word processing now migrating from the PC to the Internet, analysts and industry players think the browser will soon become even more valuable and strategically important.

"People in the industry foresee a time in which for many people, the only thing they'll need on a computer is a browser," said Mitch Kapor, the software pioneer who now sits on the board of the Mozilla Foundation and has created a start-up, FoxMarks, that is developing a tool to synchronize bookmarks between computers. "The browser is just extraordinarily strategic."

That notion has helped to rekindle the browser wars and has resulted in the latest wave of innovation. Firefox 3.0, for example, runs more than twice as fast as the previous version while using less memory, Mozilla says.

The browser is also smarter and maintains three months of a user's browsing history to try to predict what site he or she may want to visit. Typing the word "football" into the browser, for example, quickly generates a list of all the sites visited with "football" in the name or description.

Firefox has named this new tool the "awesome bar" and says it could replace the need for people to maintain long and messy lists of bookmarks. It will also personalize the browser for an individual user.

It's nice that the average user can now access and run all these programs via the Internet, but won't the next big thing be migrating your data--music, movies, games, etc.--off of your own drives and onto an Internet accessible location with unlimited storage? And won't the economics of the Internet make that storage capacity free too?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


Divided They Stand: Any lingering bitterness among Hillary Clinton’s supporters about her treatment during the primaries could cost Barack Obama the White House. (Paul Krugman, 5/26/08, NY Times)

[E]lections always involve emotions as well as issues, and there are some ominous signs in the polling data.

In Florida, in particular, the rolling estimate produced by the professionals at shows Mr. McCain running substantially ahead of Mr. Obama, even as he runs significantly behind Mrs. Clinton. Ohio also looks problematic, and Pennsylvania looks closer than it should. It’s true that head-to-head polls five months before the general election have a poor track record. But they certainly give reason to worry.

The point is that Mr. Obama may need those disgruntled Clinton supporters, lest he manage to lose in what ought to be a banner Democratic year.

So what should Mr. Obama and his supporters do?

Most immediately, they should realize that the continuing demonization of Mrs. Clinton serves nobody except Mr. McCain. One more trumped-up scandal won’t persuade the millions of voters who stuck with Mrs. Clinton despite incessant attacks on her character that she really was evil all along. But it might incline a few more of them to stay home in November.

Nor should Obama supporters dismiss Mrs. Clinton’s strength as a purely Appalachian phenomenon, with the implication that Clinton voters are just a bunch of hicks.

Which would be fine, except that it's a core belief of liberals, like Mr. Krugman, that the reason people don't vote Democratic is because they're hicks who've been tricked. All that's changed this time around is that the Bright/Stupid divide is visible within the Party. Barack Obama and the Unmaking of the Democratic Party (Sean Wilentz, May 23, 2008, Huffington Post)
With her overwhelming victory in Kentucky on May 20, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has completed her sweep of the crucial primary states adjoining the Ohio River -- and the fight for the Democratic nomination has entered its final phases. Having picked up a net gain of nearly 140,000 votes between Kentucky and Oregon, Clinton is now well poised to win the Puerto Rico primary on June 1 - and clinch a majority in this year's popular vote, even if the disputed returns from Michigan are discounted. Under those pressures, the Barack Obama campaign and its sympathizers have begun to articulate much more clearly what they mean by their vague slogan of "change" - nothing less than usurping the historic Democratic Party, dating back to the age of Andrew Jackson, by rejecting its historic electoral core: white workers and rural dwellers in the Middle Atlantic and border states.

Without a majority of those voters, the Democrats have, since the party's inception in the 1820s, been incapable of winning the presidency. The Obama advocates declare, though, that we have entered an entirely new political era. It is not only possible but also desirable, they say, for Democrats to win by turning away from those whom "progressive" pundits and bloggers disdain variously as "Nascar man," "uneducated," "low information" whites, "rubes, fools, and hate-mongers" who live in the nation's "s***holes."

It's one thing when your peers want to know what's the matter with Kansas, another when they ask "what's the matter with you?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Earth’s End Is Near Again: Crichton’s Brain Squad Is Back (GINIA BELLAFANTE, 5/26/08, NY Times)

“The Andromeda Strain,” Michael Crichton’s 1969 novel, written while he was still a medical student at Harvard, is like one of the mutations the book painstakingly describes. It can shape-shift into a dozen metaphors. At the time of its publication it spoke not only to cold war fears but also to more up-to-the-minute notions that lunar missions might result in the importation of perilous contaminants from the Moon.

Since the 1980s “The Andromeda Strain” could be read as an AIDS or Ebola or bird-flu novel. In its most recent adaptation, as a four-hour mini-series beginning Monday night on A&E, it quakes with the noise of nearly every threat to our national well-being. [...]

“The Andromeda Strain” packs its suitcase so heavily, it cannot travel. It never grows quite suspenseful enough, and it rests on the rather un-sci-fi-ish idea that the future is a benign force, like a mentor uncle with something meaningful to teach us about our venality and callous disregard for the Earth. What combats Andromeda in the end is something simple and primitive and endangered. “The Andromeda Strain” never terrifies, but it succeeds in feeling like a protracted advertisement for Greenpeace.

...but a nice reminder that the world-ending threats to public health have been rather easily thwarted by decent hygiene practices.

May 25, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


Immigrants and the young: Left behind by Swedish left?: Sweden's political left should embrace free market reforms if it is to achieve its goals for a more equitable society (Nima Sanandaji, 5/20/08, The Local)

The political left should embrace free-market reforms. At least according to the Italian economists Alberto Alesina and Francesco Giavazzi. The argument is based on the notion that some aspects of classical right of centre economic politics, such as de-regulation of the service industry, lower taxes and privatization, clearly benefit the less fortunate members of society. People who oppose these reforms often talk about social justice, but are in fact using centralized economic planning to maintain the interests of various privileged societal groups.

According to Swedish economists Stefan Fölster and Fabian Wallen, this argument holds for a number of free market reforms that have come to the fore in the Swedish public debate. One example is rent control; a policy based on the notion that low income earners should be able to live in the same neighbourhoods as the wealthy. In practice, rent controls subsidize the cost of renting in expensive parts of cities, which in turn leads to less housing construction rent hikes in less affluent areas.

Understandably, those living in rent control apartments in well-off areas are typically far from low-income earners, but are rather wealthy members of society. Here policies of rent control might be viewed as a far-fetched socialist vision of integration between various segments of society, or perhaps simply an example of so called rent-seeking policies that benefit a small group at the expense of the rest of society.

A similar situation exists in the labour market. Regulating the labour market is one of the favourite policies of the left, who claim to be looking out for average workers. But economic studies clearly show that these policies benefit those having jobs, while shutting out marginalized groups of workers – such as immigrants and the young – from the labour market.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


Mr. Chávez’s Unsavory Friends (NY Times, 5/265/08)

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela has been caught. Despite his protestations of innocence, Interpol has corroborated the authenticity of thousands of computer files captured during a Colombian Army raid on a FARC rebel camp in Venezuela. Only a small share of this trove has been released, but it leaves little doubt that Venezuela has been aiding the guerrillas’ effort to overthrow Colombia’s democratically elected government.

The Colombian government released documents from the computers that suggest Venezuelan intelligence officials tried to secure weapons for the FARC and that Mr. Chávez’s government offered the rebels oil and a $250 million loan. Information in the files has already led to the seizure of FARC funds in Costa Rica. [...]

Responsibility means that Mr. Chávez must halt all aid to the FARC — which long ago chose drug trafficking over political liberation — and use his influence to get the rebels to lay down their arms and join the demobilization process that is under way for Colombia’s right-wing paramilitary groups.

Odd that these files don't impose responsibilities on FARC's other friends, Obama And FARC (INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY, March 07, 2008)
The March 1 death strike by the Colombian army against FARC warlord Raul Reyes broke open a trove of contacts in his computer. So why did the name of Barack Obama turn up there? [...]

[T]he little Obama reference within the 15 FARC letters released by the Colombian government signals a disturbing pattern of contacts with rogue actors. It's not the first time, and Obama has yet to distance himself.

In a Feb. 28 letter, FARC chieftain Raul Reyes cheerily reported to his inner circle that he met "two gringos" who assured him "the new president of their country will be Obama and that they are interested in your compatriots. Obama will not support 'Plan Colombia' nor will he sign the TLC (Free Trade Agreement)."

Aside from some interesting possibilities about who these "gringos" are — a congressional delegation did visit Ecuador and an international leftist "congress" was held in Quito around this time — the real question is why anyone secretly consorting with FARC would be able to speak for presidential candidate Obama.

Obama hasn't said a whole lot about Colombia other than to criticize President Bush's good relations with President Uribe.

A FARC Fan's Notes (Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2008)
A hard drive recovered from the computer of a killed Colombian guerrilla has offered more insights into the opposition of House Democrats to the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

A military strike three weeks ago killed Raúl Reyes, No. 2 in command of the FARC, Colombia's most notorious terrorist group. The Reyes hard drive reveals an ardent effort to do business directly with the FARC by Congressman James McGovern (D., Mass.), a leading opponent of the free-trade deal. Mr. McGovern has been working with an American go-between, who has been offering the rebels help in undermining Colombia's elected and popular government.

We need not conclude that there's overmuch collusion amongst the parties, but you can't help but note that FARC, Hugo and the Democrats share a common hatred of our Colombian ally. Well, actually, if you're a Timesman you can help it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


The Bridge That Built Ken Burns: Review of: Brooklyn Bridge (NICOLAS RAPOLD, May 23, 2008, NY Sun)

"Brooklyn Bridge" marked the debut of the popular mythmaker and PBS stalwart Ken Burns. If something's American, and historical, and big, Mr. Burns has "done" it. The Civil War, baseball, jazz, and, most recently, World War II have all received his signature treatment. "Brooklyn Bridge," which made its premiere at BAM 27 years ago, was the start of it all.

"I learned everything" from the five-year production period of the film, Mr. Burns said recently from the offices of his production company, Florentine Films, in New Hampshire. "I learned how to get inside photographs, how to shoot, the patience of looking from every vantage, day and night."

The 58-minute documentary, which is divided evenly between the embattled construction of the bridge and its reception, bears all the hallmarks of Mr. Burns's style, especially his dynamic use of still photos, extensive readings in voice-over from contemporary documents, and an unabashed tone of wonder about the American endeavor. The historian David McCullough, whose book on the bridge inspired Mr. Burns, and a rosy-cheeked Lewis Mumford sit in to join the chorus.

The result is a stirring record of how engineering know-how and valiant persistence overcame what were often petty obstacles ranging from a bait-and-switch fraud scheme by a steel cable manufacturer to Franco-American suspicion.

But the movie is equally significant for popularizing a certain approach to history on film that, for better or worse, has defined the documentary form for millions of viewers and a generation of filmmakers. Mr. Burns is not shy about wearing that mantle and taking responsibility for a cinematic technique of examining photos that famously became a standard tool on Mac software — the "Ken Burns effect."

"No one ever sold a film with first-person narration or still photos to tell a story," Mr. Burns said of his debut, which was nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar in 1982. "But then it became this huge success."

Back then he could tell a story in an hour too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


Israeli PM says Syria Peace Talks to Remain Secret (AFP, 25/05/2008)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Failure to Kick Smoking Habit May Put a Drag on Social Life: A new study tracking health habits in a large social network over 30 years shows that people who smoke are on a track for social isolation. (Nikhil Swaminathan, 5/22/08, Scientific American)

Smokers who fail to kick the habit are not only hurting their bodies but may also be missing a chance to make new friends or, in some cases, keep old ones, according to new research.

Researchers report in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) that an analysis of more than 12,000 smokers (and their friends, families and colleagues) over a 30-year period shows that attempting to quit smoking can serve as a people magnet by becoming a phenomenon among social groups, like a gaggle of college students or co-workers at a small firm.

According to the study, quitting often involves networks of people who spread the word (and behavior) to other cliques with whom they interact. "In a deep way, there's an association between you quitting and the quitting of people that are two to three degrees away from you," says study co-author Nicholas Christakis, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School. "People you don't know personally, their actions ripple through the network and affect you."

Christakis says the effect triggers "quitting cascades" analogous to lights going out down the line on a power grid until ultimately it goes dark. The parts of the grid that are not affected by the loss of power, as in an actual blackout, are usually those on the fringes of the web—in a quitting cascade, it is those who continue to smoke.

...or is that why they smoked to begin with? Does explain why lawmakers want menthols to be cheaper.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


The Skeptical Inquirer: If Only Atheists Were the Skeptics They Think They Are (Edward Tingley, June 2008, Touchstone)

Unbelievers think that skepticism is their special virtue, the key virtue believers lack. Bolstered by bestselling authors, they see the skeptical and scientific mind as muscular thinking, which the believer has failed to develop. He could bulk up if he wished to, by thinking like a scientist, and wind up at the “agnosticism” of a Dawkins or the atheism of a Dennett—but that is just what he doesn’t want, so at every threat to his commitments he shuns science.

That story is almost exactly the opposite of the truth. [...]

There are skeptical theists; Pascal was one. Skepticism and theism go well together. By a “skeptic” I mean a person who believes that in some particular arena of desired knowledge we just cannot have knowledge of the foursquare variety that we get elsewhere, and who sees no reason to bolster that lack with willful belief.

“Believing is not something you can decide to do as a matter of policy,” as Dawkins says—though it is odd that he does so in a discussion of Pascal, who, like him, is a skeptic. A complete misunderstanding of Pascal, however, is crucial to the way that Dawkins and every one of his fellows (past and future) always think.

Evidence is just not available to demonstrate the existence of God, said Pascal, who called himself one of those creatures who lack the humility that makes a natural believer. In that, he was of our time: We are pretty much all like that now. Three hundred and fifty years ago he laid out our situation for us: Modern man confronts the question of God from the starting point of skepticism, the conviction that there is no conclusive physical or logical evidence that the God of the Bible exists.

“I have wished a hundred times over that, if there is a God supporting nature, [nature] should unequivocally proclaim him, and that, if the signs in nature are deceptive, she should suppress them altogether”—but nature prefers to tease, so she “presents to me nothing which is not a matter of doubt” (429). “We desire truth and find in ourselves nothing but uncertainty” (401). “We are . . . incapable of knowing . . . whether he is” (418). This is where the modern person usually starts in his assault on the question, Is God real or imaginary?

This is base camp, above the tree-line of convincing reasons and knock-down arguments, at the far edge of things we can kick and see, and it is all uphill from here. Thus, it is astounding how many Dawkinses and Dennetts, undecideds and skeptical nay-sayers—that sea of “progressive” folk who claim to “think critically” about religion and either “take theism on” or claim they are “still looking”—who have not reached the year 1660 in their thinking. They almost never pay attention to what the skeptic Pascal said about this enquiry.

Instead, the dogmatic reflex, ever caring for human comfort, has flexed and decided the question already, has told them what to believe in advance of investigation and rushed them back to the safety of life as usual.

The modern thinking person who rightly touts the virtues of science—skepticism, logic, commitment to evidence—must possess the lot. But agnostics are not skeptical, half the atheists are not logical, and the rest refuse to go where the evidence is. None measures up in these modern qualities to Pascal.

A Hidden God?

Pascal says that from base camp we must try to find a non-dogmatic route of assault upon the question. Think about it logically, he says. If we do not know that God even exists, we hardly know how he behaves. So we cannot begin this ascent with any dogmatic presumption about his behavior.

Maybe, if he exists, God would show himself directly to our senses. But maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he would hide from us—maybe he is a Deus absconditus, Pascal says, following Isaiah 45: “Truly, thou art a God who hidest thyself.” What evidence do we have by which to rule that out? We can’t be dogmatic, can’t say that God is this way or that way: Everything possible is possible.

But we have, in fact, already tested one hypothesis about how God behaves: that he shows himself directly to our senses. That is what got us up here past the tree-line in the first place. We now have evidence for a conclusion that all our fellow seekers of truth ought to draw: Either God does not exist or he exists but does not show himself to our senses.

Our skepticism rejects the likelihood that things we can see will resolve our doubts; that is progress already made. The Humean idea so nicely put by Carl Sagan—that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”—was hardly worth resurrecting, given that it was passé before Hume was in diapers. “If this religion boasted that it had a clear sight of God and plain and manifest evidence of his existence, it would be an effective objection to say that there is nothing to be seen in the world which proves him. . . . But . . . on the contrary it says that men are in darkness. . .” (427).

A hundred years earlier, Pascal had already ruled empirical theism a dead end, a foolish hope for what we ought by now to know we were not going to get: clear material evidence of clearly immaterial being. By 1660 there were only two options left: Either God does not exist or he is not a gift to our senses.

Pascal the skeptic has ruled out a fruitless path, the path to God via logic or concrete evidence: the easy route to the summit, sought for centuries but never found. The only way forward is up from where we are, onto the icy slopes out past the limit of concrete evidence. If that is possible.

At this point, of course, the venture is not looking especially promising. The mind is made for hard evidence.

At the point where you insist that reliance on the senses is capable of rendering concrete evidence you've already abandoned logic.

May 24, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 PM


Comic superhero muscles in on Macbeth (Marc Horne, 5/25/08, Scotland on Sunday)

The Scottish play has been given a bizarre makeover in a bid to bring the Bard to the Bebo generation.

Macbeth has been transported to a futuristic Tokyo in a comic book version of Shakespeare's masterwork. [...]

Shakespeare expert Dr Andrew Murphy gave his support to the 21st century revamp of Macbeth. The St Andrews University academic, who co-wrote a book which highlighted the Bard's links to Scotland, said the latest version was following a precedent.

"In the past the story has been moved to medieval Japan for the film Throne Of Blood by the acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa.

"The Manga Macbeth retains a reasonable chunk of the original text while simplifying the story.

"My personal feeling is that anything that would be likely to get kids interested in Shakespeare is a good thing and should be encouraged.

"I certainly don't think it demeans the text in any way.

"It's an interesting project and certainly won't stop people from reading the original text. In fact, it might actually turn people on to it."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 PM


Either Allah isn’t on their side, or jihadis are just plain useless (Rod Liddle, 5/26/08, Times of London)

You would think that by now Allah’s message might be getting through. Time after time Muslim fanatics attempt to wreak devastation in Britain – and succeed only in blowing themselves up, or setting themselves on fire, or their explosives refuse to do the decent thing and explode – while we infidel cockroaches look on in bemusement, quite unharmed.

If you were a devout believer, you might put two and two together and begin to suspect that Allah doesn’t entirely approve of blowing British people to bits. He would much rather his jihadis stayed at home and watched the Eurovision Song Contest, or did a spot of gardening, or took the dog for a walk. ridicule.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 PM


Colombian Guerrilla Leader Is Reported Dead (SIMON ROMERO, 5/256/08, NY Times)

Colombia’s defense minister revealed Saturday that officials were trying to corroborate an intelligence report claiming that Manuel Marulanda, the supreme leader of Colombia’s largest rebel group, died of natural causes in March.

If confirmed, the death of Mr. Marulanda, believed to be 76, would be a severe blow for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a Marxist-inspired insurgency that has been waging a guerrilla war to overthrow Colombia’s government for more than four decades.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 PM


Dick Sutcliffe, 90, Dies; Began ‘Davey and Goliath’ (BRUCE WEBER, 5/25/08, NY Times)

“Davey and Goliath” was a stop-action animated show about a boy and his dog finding their way in a world of temptation, filmed by Art Clokey, the creator of Gumby, and his wife, Ruth Clokey Goodell, who were pioneers in the technique known as Claymation.

But the show was not their idea. In the late 1950s Mr. Sutcliffe, a former newspaper reporter, was living in Massapequa, N.Y., and working in New York City for the United Lutheran Church in America as a producer of newscasts and other ecumenical radio programming when he was asked for his counsel on a new project.

“The Lutheran Church was interested in using this newfangled thing called television to reach folks,” his daughter said. The show that the church had in mind was a minister delivering brief sermonettes, “and my father said, basically, ‘The theology is fine but it’s not good for television.’ ”

Instead, using his younger child, Michael, as inspiration, Ms. Sutcliffe said, “Dad asked himself, ‘What would I say to Mike about God? And how would I say it to him?’ And he came up with the idea of these little parables.”

Mr. Sutcliffe hired the Clokeys, wrote the first script and was the show’s first executive producer. The Clokeys eventually made 65 15-minute episodes of “Davey and Goliath” and a handful of long specials, the last one first broadcast in the mid-1970s.

The show, which the church initially provided free to television stations around the country, usually to be shown on Sunday mornings, was known for its high production values and crisp, unpredictable scripts (most of them by Nancy Moore), as well as for its serious lessons in Godliness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 PM


The Wisdom In Talking (John F. Kerry, May 24, 2008, Washington Post)

Instead of backing Bush's toxic rhetoric, McCain should have called George H.W. Bush's secretary of state, James Baker. After years of stonewalling, the administration grudgingly tested the Baker-Hamilton report's recommendation and opened talks with Iran -- albeit low-level dialogue restricted to the subject of Iraq. Is James Baker an appeaser, too?

He's kidding, right? There's no one so evil nor any act too despicable that James Baker wouldn't engage in it if he saw some personal advantage to be had.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:09 PM


Never Mind the ‘Neo’: a review of U.S. VS. THEM: How a Half Century of Conservatism Has Undermined America’s Security By J. Peter Scoblic (NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, NY Times Book Review)

As the occupation of Iraq grinds through its sixth year, many who view American involvement there as a disaster are content to blame the neoconservatives, those operatives and intellectuals inside and outside the Bush administration who once believed they could democratize the Middle East at the point of a gun. Even some right-leaning critics have declared that the neoconservative project in Iraq was both utopian and imprudent, and therefore at odds with basic conservative principles.

Not so fast, says J. Peter Scoblic. In “U.S. vs. Them,” Scoblic, the executive editor of The New Republic, argues persuasively that neoconservatism isn’t the problem — plain old conservatism is. For Scoblic, the Bush administration’s habits of foreign affairs — its distrust of international institutions, its conviction that “good” and “evil” nations cannot coexist in the world — are part of an inglorious tradition of bad ideas that dates to the years of the cold war, when Barry Goldwater lobbied against building a Moscow-Washington hot line.

While it's a truism that neoconservatism is a quite trivial influence on George W. Bush, particularly as compared to classic theoconservatism, the notion that American loathing for internationalism and evil regimes is a recent Cold War innovation is historical ignorance on a massive scale. Ask Woodrow Wilson whether we should tolerate evil or whether Americans used to embrace international institutions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:02 PM


The Only Thing We Have to Fear ...: If you set aside the war in Iraq, terrorism has in fact gone way down over the past five years. (Fareed Zakaria, Jun 2, 2008, Newsweek)

If you set aside WWII, Nazism has gone way down....

But why would you set aside a cause to discuss an effect?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:52 AM


THE FALL OF LEBANON (Barry Rubin, 5//24/08, GLORIA)

May 21, 2008, is a date—like December 7 (1941) and September 11 (2001)—that should now live in infamy. Yet who will notice, mourn, or act the wiser for it?

On that day, the Beirut spring was buried under the reign of Hizballah. [..]

On every point, Hizballah, Iran, and Syria, got all they wanted from Lebanon’s government: its surrender of sovereignty. They have veto power over the government; one-third of the cabinet; election changes to ensure victory in the next balloting; and they will have their candidate installed as president.

The majority side is not giving up but is trying to comfort itself on small mercies. The best arguments it can come up with are that now everyone knows Hizballah is not patriotic, treats other Lebanese as enemies, and cannot seize areas held by Christian and Druze militias. It isn’t much to cheer about.

To the contrary, it is the beginning of wisdom to recognize that the Shi'ites have no love for the artificial Western construct that is The Lebanon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 AM


Assassin's Trilogy: Life and death in the Islamic Republic of America (Joel Schwartz, May 26, 2008, Weekly Standard)

With the publication of Sins of the Assassin, Robert Ferrigno is now two-thirds of the way toward completing a series of thrillers--with plenty of graphic violence, and some graphic sex--that also comprise a serious work of dystopian fiction. [...]

Both Prayers and Sins tell the story of a battle between a Muslim hero and a Muslim villain. It was clever of Ferrigno to make his hero a Muslim: How can his books be deemed "Islamophobic" if they celebrate a Muslim hero? (Needless to say, some readers nevertheless find the books Islamophobic, but their complaint would surely be greater if the books pitted a Christian or Jewish hero against a Muslim villain.) The hero in question is Rakkim Epps, formerly a member of the Fedayeen, "a small, elite force of genetically enhanced holy warriors." In particular, he was a member of the still-more-elite shadow warriors (troops trained to infiltrate the Bible Belt). Shadow warriors are typically discovered and killed within two-and-a-half years of their first mission; yet so great is Rakkim's prowess that he survived six years before leaving his post.

But Rakkim is more than someone with superhuman skills in armed combat. He is appealingly cynical, something of a Bogart figure. (His interactions with his girlfriend and later wife call to mind the byplay between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in their movies.) Most significantly, Rakkim is the quintessential moderate Muslim. Whether or not massive numbers of moderate Muslims exist in real life, a truly impressive specimen inhabits the Assassin novels.

Rakkim is tolerant. His best friend is a Roman Catholic policeman. (Only 70 percent of the Islamic republic's citizens are Muslim, and the remaining 30 percent are almost entirely Catholic.) Rakkim also works closely with a family of Jewish scientific geniuses who live underground to avoid persecution. Furthermore, Rakkim is monogamous: Occasionally he tells acquaintances that he has only one wife because one is all he can handle.

Most of all, Rakkim is horrified by violence in the name of religion: "I believe we have to act as if God is watching," he says. "As if God cares. I believe we have to act as if Paradise awaits the good and the brave, and that the hottest fires of hell await those who do evil in God's name." The as-ifs may explain why Rakkim is said by the narrator to be "a Muslim in name only." On the other hand, he also says the following of himself: "I believe that there is no God but Allah, and that Muhammad is his messenger. That is all I am certain of. I remain a Muslim. Not a good Muslim, but a believer all the same."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:33 AM


German Left Wing May Have Ties to Colombian Extremists (Der Spiegel, 5/25/08)

The Colombian guerrilla group FARC isn't just well connected in the region. According to e-mails found on the laptop of the recently killed FARC commander Raúl Reyes, the group, listed by the European Union as a terrorist organization, also has close ties to the far left in Germany.

Data found on the computer, confiscated following the March bombing raid carried out by Colombia on a guerrilla camp across the border in Ecuador, indicate that Reyes sent his son, Ariel Robespierre Devia, on a secret trip to Berlin in January 2005. It also suggests that while in Germany, Devia, who goes by his alias "Roberto," met with Wolfgang Gehrcke, then a member of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) -- the successor party to the East German Communist party -- and now a member of the German parliament with the Left Party and the party's foreign affairs spokesman.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 AM


What's Taking the Air Out of Inflation: Soaring energy and food costs are pushing up overall inflation. But they're leaving consumers so strapped that businesses lack pricing power (James Cooper, 5/21/08, Business Week)

The point here is that households may expect energy and food to push overall inflation higher, yet consumers' expectations cannot generate a '70s-style inflation psychology because spending on those two items requires so much sacrifice elsewhere. Last quarter, consumer spending outside of energy and food was the weakest in 13 years. This broad slump in demand is cutting deeply into business sales and profits, forcing cost cutting. Unlike the 1970s, wages and prices cannot push each other higher, so inflation remains confined to energy and food.

Even after three years of rapid price growth in energy and food, core inflation—which excludes those two items—is no higher than a year ago and remains below where it was two years ago. In the past three months core inflation has slowed sharply, rising at only a 1.2% annual rate, suggesting weaker demand is already having some impact.

The squeeze on demand will get worse.

A glitch in a discrete segment of the market--even one as important as gasoline--does not inflation make. And glitches correct.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


Sebastian Faulks' James Bond apes Ian Fleming's creation: He has battled a man with a golden gun and gone head to head with villains whose deadly weapons include metal jaws and lethal top hats. (Roya Nikkah, 24/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Faulks’s book is the 22nd authorised Bond novel since Fleming’s death in 1964. The first was penned under a pseudonym by Kingsley Amis. The last was written by Raymond Benson six years ago but only sold 5,000 copies in the Britain. [...]

Faulks, who wrote the book in just six weeks, has said that he wrote it 80 per cent in Fleming’s style. "My Bond is Fleming’s Bond - not Connery, or Moore or Craig, for all their charms," he said. "And yes, my Bond drinks and smokes as much as ever. My female lead - the "Bond" girl - has a little more depth than Fleming’s women, but not at the expense of glamour."

Faulks has described his Bond, who has been widowed, as "more vulnerable" than his previous incarnations, but "both gallant and highly sexed".

"Bond is damaged and ageing and, in a sense, it is the return of the gunfighter for one last, heroic mission".

Gotta love the quintessential British hero in a Western trope.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Nixon, Richard: Lifespan: (1913–1994) (Paul Gottfried - 05/23/08, ISI: Reference Desk)

While Nixon identified himself on most domestic issues with mainstream Republicans, he enjoyed the good will of the Republican Right from his political beginnings in Orange County, California. Seen as a hard-line anticommunist and often reviled by the liberal press, he came to embody for friends and enemies alike the politics of the Cold War era. In his two successful presidential bids in 1968 and 1972, he appealed to the “silent majority,” those who opposed the counterculture and defended, albeit inarticulately, the values of family and country. Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, meanwhile spoke out against “epicene” social protesters who mocked manly patriotism; and Nixon’s campaign advisor Kevin Phillips emphasized the need to court Southern and blue-collar constituencies in creating a new Republican majority.

Despite Nixon’s conservative instincts and patriotic oratory, his actions as president did not always please the Right. Under his administration the federal budget and federal deficit soared, the dollar was devalued, and a New Economic Policy, initiated in August 1971, imposed price and wage controls. Nixon’s major foreign policy accomplishments, the reopening of communications with communist China and the completion of a nuclear arms limitation treaty with the Soviets, further alienated many conservatives. The complaint was heard that the president had moved too far away from his earlier anticommunism. Nor were Nixon’s anticommunist critics at all reconciled when he and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger spoke of dividing spheres of power with the Soviets in a changed world.

When we consider that the only way in which Nixon wasn't "One of Us" was in his domestic anti-Communism and that the Left still reviles him, we have to ponder whether the Chambers/Hiss episode doesn't lie at the heart of their obsession with him. Add in the way the Witch Hunts exposed the divide between the intellectual elites of academia, the arts, government, etc., on the one hand, and the rest of America, on the other, along with the fact that the central crime that folks like Rick Perlstein lay at Nixon's feet is his exploitation of that divide, and it becomes apparent that the focus on his political comeback in the late 60s and the ensuing presidency are rather peripheral to the story of American populism's shift back to the Right.

The specific complaint about current politics by the Left is that American people have rejected the Socialism (even if just of the mild American sort) that their betters think is good for them. Nixon was, if anything, an architect of the New Deal/Great Society welfare state. To the extent he has any significance to conservatism it came in the McCarthy Era.

Indeed, if we engage in a bit of dime store psychoanalysis, the liberalism of the Nixon presidency -- its almost total continuity with that of LBJ -- might be seen as his attempt to be accepted by the intellectual elites. The tragedy of Richard Nixon is that he was a wannabe and what he wanted to be was part of a political cohort that the American people thought they were voting against when they elected him. All he did was to delay the salutary shift of governance back to the Right for twelve years, to the country's very great detriment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Your car can't run on Congress' hot air (MARK STEYN, 5/23/08, OC Register)

I was watching the Big Oil execs testifying before Congress. That was my first mistake. If memory serves, there was lesbian mud wrestling over on Channel 137, and on the whole that's less rigged. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz knew the routine: "I can't say that there is evidence that you are manipulating the price, but I believe that you probably are. So prove to me that you are not."

Had I been in the hapless oil man's expensive shoes, I'd have answered, "Hey, you first. I can't say that there is evidence that you're sleeping with barnyard animals, but I believe that you probably are. So prove to me that you are not. Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence and prima facie evidence, lady? Do I have to file a U.N. complaint in Geneva that the House of Representatives is in breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?"

But that's why I don't get asked to testify before Congress.

The least Congress could do is approve that legal standard for the Gitmo trials.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 7:41 AM


Hillary Raises Assassination Issue: Defends Long-Running Campaign (Geoff Earle, 5/23/08, New York Post)

Hillary Clinton today brought up the assassination of Sen. Robert Kennedy while defending her decision to stay in the race against Barack Obama.

"My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don't understand it," she said, dismissing calls to drop out.

Obama's camp immediately fired back.

"Sen. Clinton's statement before the Argus Leader editorial board was unfortunate and has no place in this campaign," Obama campaign spokesman said in a statement.

Interview with Clinton: One Day at a Time (David Burnett, 3/6/08, Time)

Can you envision a point at which — if the race stays this close [...] enough delegates to get any distance ahead where party elders would step in and say "Senators Clinton and Obama, this is now hurting the party and whoever will be the nominee in the fall. We need to figure this out."

No I really can't. I think people have short memories. Primary contests used to last a lot longer. We all remember the great tragedy of Bobby Kennedy being assassinated in June in L.A.

...considering that she has repeated the sentiment, it's amusing to recollect that her husband drew a direct connection between talk radio and the Oklahoma City bombings on less evidence than this.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Negotiating isn't appeasement: Bush, McCain and other conservatives are on the wrong side of history when they dismiss Obama's foreign policy. (J. Peter Scoblic, May 17, 2008, LA Times)

The modern conservative movement was founded in no small part on the idea that presidents Truman and Eisenhower were "appeasing" the Soviets. The logic went something like this: Because communism was evil, the United States should seek to destroy it, not coexist with it; the bipartisan policy of containment, which sought to prevent the further spread of communism, was a moral and strategic folly because it implied long-term coexistence with Moscow. Conservative foreign policy guru James Burnham wrote entire books claiming that containment -- which, after the Cold War, would be credited with defeating the Soviet Union -- constituted "appeasement."

Instead, conservatives agitated for the rollback of communism, and they opposed all negotiations with the Soviets. When Eisenhower welcomed Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev to the United States in 1959, William F. Buckley Jr., the right's leader, complained that the act of "diplomatic sentimentality" signaled the "death rattle of the West."

Conservatives even applied this critique to one of the most dangerous moments in human history: the Cuban missile crisis, during which the United States and the Soviet Union nearly came to nuclear blows over Moscow's deployment of missiles 90 miles off the American coast. When President Kennedy successfully negotiated a peaceful conclusion to the crisis, conservative icon Barry Goldwater protested that he had appeased the Soviets by promising not to invade Cuba if they backed down.

The Soviets withdrew their missiles in what was widely seen as a humiliation to Khrushchev, but Goldwater believed that Kennedy's diplomacy gave "the communists one of their greatest victories in their race for world power that they have enjoyed to date." To Goldwater, it was far preferable to risk nuclear war with the Soviets than to give up our right to roll back Fidel Castro.

Cubans may have only died in their thousands fleeing across the Gulf, but why does Mr. Scobolic think that sentencing a people to such conditions was a good thing, particularly when regime change in Cuba would have been so easy? The nuclear war risk is, of course, historically inaccurate, former Soviet officials having long ago conceded they had no such capacity at that time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


The True Shame of the Iraq War (Richard Reeves, 5/24/08, Real Clear Politics)

This is what I thought was the American social contract when I was growing up in the land of the free and the home of the brave: You could work your way through college, and if you got a decent job, you could buy a house within a few years.

And, you deserved a bit more if you served in the military: money or loans for college and something of a break on mortgage loans. The point goes beyond the danger of military service; the important fact is that you deserve something more than being underpaid if you give up two or more years of your life while your peers are working on careers, beginning families, or getting educations that will pay dividends for life.

That's the way it was for me, and I think kids today deserve the same.

...ask what your country can do for you?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Key Al Qaeda figure apparently died in U.S. strike in Pakistan: He's believed to be an Algerian involved in training militants and planning attacks on the West (Josh Meyer and Sebastian Rotella, 5/24/08, Los Angeles Times)

An Al Qaeda figure killed in a U.S. airstrike in Pakistan last week is believed to have been an Algerian allegedly involved in training militants and plotting attacks against the West, officials said Friday.

The Algerian, known by the nickname Abu Sulayman Jazairi, apparently died May 14 in the strike that killed as many as 14 people and destroyed a compound near the village of Damadola, an Al Qaeda stronghold in northwestern Pakistan, officials said. A knowledgeable U.S. official and a senior European anti-terrorism official said Jazairi was thought to be dead.

U.S. anti-terrorism forces are targeting front-line planners in Pakistani hide-outs, and Jazairi would be another in a series of recent losses for the Al Qaeda leadership, the two officials said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


The White Stuff: A new NEWSWEEK Poll underscores Obama's racial challenge. (Jonathan Darman, 5/23/08, Newsweek)

Even as he closes in on the Democratic nomination for the presidency, Sen. Barack Obama is facing lingering problems winning the support of white voters--including some in his own party. In a new NEWSWEEK Poll of registered voters, Obama trails presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain 40 percent to 52 percent among whites.

Poll: Kerry leads among minority voters: Bush improving over 2000 election results (CNN, July 6, 2004)
The poll, released Tuesday, found that in a two-way race between Bush and Kerry, 53 percent of white registered voters supported Bush, while 41 percent supported Kerry.

They still don't get the Bradley Effect, huh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


The Appeasement Paradox: Conservatives say reasoning with foreign dictators... (Matthew Yglesias, May 23, 2008, American Prospect)

You're likely to be laughing to hard at that bit of the subheading to read any further. In truth, you won't miss much. But there is this gem.

The truth, however, is that conservatives don't just make this mistake over and over again, they fundamentally don't understand the use of diplomacy. McCain describes Iran as "an implacable foe of the United States" but the truth is that the Iranian government made several post-September 11 overtures to the U.S. seeking to improve relations.

It's hard to know whether he's just unaware that Iran has a different government than it did when that offer was made or mistakenly views Iran as being governed by one monolithic regime, irrespective of internal politics. But, we do know he thinks you can reason with a guy whose delusions that he is in communication with the Hidden Imam have forced Iranian clerics to denounce him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 AM


Fidel Castro attacks McCain and Bush in column (Reuters, 5/23/08)

Cuban leader Fidel Castro blasted Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Friday for his criticism of the Cuban government this week, saying McCain had shown why he finished near the bottom of his class at West Point.

In his latest newspaper column, Castro also attacked President George W. Bush for his speech on Wednesday announcing that U.S. citizens would be allowed to send cell phones to Cuba.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Rebellion Within: An Al Qaeda mastermind questions terrorism (Lawrence Wright June 2, 2008, The New Yorker)

Last May, a fax arrived at the London office of the Arabic newspaper Asharq Al Awsat from a shadowy figure in the radical Islamist movement who went by many names. Born Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, he was the former leader of the Egyptian terrorist group Al Jihad, and known to those in the underground mainly as Dr. Fadl. Members of Al Jihad became part of the original core of Al Qaeda; among them was Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s chief lieutenant. Fadl was one of the first members of Al Qaeda’s top council. Twenty years ago, he wrote two of the most important books in modern Islamist discourse; Al Qaeda used them to indoctrinate recruits and justify killing. Now Fadl was announcing a new book, rejecting Al Qaeda’s violence. “We are prohibited from committing aggression, even if the enemies of Islam do that,” Fadl wrote in his fax, which was sent from Tora Prison, in Egypt.

Fadl’s fax confirmed rumors that imprisoned leaders of Al Jihad were part of a trend in which former terrorists renounced violence. His defection posed a terrible threat to the radical Islamists, because he directly challenged their authority. “There is a form of obedience that is greater than the obedience accorded to any leader, namely, obedience to God and His Messenger,” Fadl wrote, claiming that hundreds of Egyptian jihadists from various factions had endorsed his position.

Two months after Fadl’s fax appeared, Zawahiri issued a handsomely produced video on behalf of Al Qaeda. “Do they now have fax machines in Egyptian jail cells?” he asked. “I wonder if they’re connected to the same line as the electric-shock machines.” This sarcastic dismissal was perhaps intended to dampen anxiety about Fadl’s manifesto—which was to be published serially, in newspapers in Egypt and Kuwait—among Al Qaeda insiders. Fadl’s previous work, after all, had laid the intellectual foundation for Al Qaeda’s murderous acts. On a recent trip to Cairo, I met with Gamal Sultan, an Islamist writer and a publisher there. He said of Fadl, “Nobody can challenge the legitimacy of this person. His writings could have far-reaching effects not only in Egypt but on leaders outside it.” Usama Ayub, a former member of Egypt’s Islamist community, who is now the director of the Islamic Center in Münster, Germany, told me, “A lot of people base their work on Fadl’s writings, so he’s very important. When Dr. Fadl speaks, everyone should listen.”

Although the debate between Fadl and Zawahiri was esoteric and bitterly personal, its ramifications for the West were potentially enormous. Other Islamist organizations had gone through violent phases before deciding that such actions led to a dead end. Was this happening to Al Jihad? Could it happen even to Al Qaeda? [...]

In Peshawar, Fadl devoted himself to formalizing the rules of holy war. The jihadis needed a text that would school them in the proper way to fight battles whose real objective was not victory over the Soviets but martyrdom and eternal salvation. “The Essential Guide for Preparation” appeared in 1988, as the Afghan jihad was winding down. It quickly became one of the most important texts in the jihadis’ training.

The “Guide” begins with the premise that jihad is the natural state of Islam. Muslims must always be in conflict with nonbelievers, Fadl asserts, resorting to peace only in moments of abject weakness. Because jihad is, above all, a religious exercise, there are divine rewards to be gained. He who gives money for jihad will be compensated in Heaven, but not as much as the person who acts. The greatest prize goes to the martyr. Every able-bodied believer is obligated to engage in jihad, since most Muslim countries are ruled by infidels who must be forcibly removed, in order to bring about an Islamic state. “The way to bring an end to the rulers’ unbelief is armed rebellion,” the “Guide” states. Some Arab governments regarded the book as so dangerous that anyone caught with a copy was subject to arrest. [...]

In 1994, Fadl moved to Yemen, where he resumed his medical practice and tried to put the work of jihad behind him. Before he left, however, he gave a copy of his finished manuscript to Zawahiri, saying that it could be used to raise money. Few books in recent history have done as much damage.

Fadl wrote the book under yet another pseudonym, Abdul Qader bin Abdul Aziz, in part because the name was not Egyptian and would further mask his identity. But his continual use of aliases also allowed him to adopt positions that were somewhat in conflict with his stated personal views. Given Fadl’s critique of Al Jihad’s violent operations as “senseless,” the intransigent and bloodthirsty document that Fadl gave to Zawahiri must have come as a surprise.

“The Compendium of the Pursuit of Divine Knowledge,” which is more than a thousand pages long, starts with the assertion that salvation is available only to the perfect Muslim. Even an exemplary believer can wander off the path to Paradise with a single misstep. Fadl contends that the rulers of Egypt and other Arab countries are apostates of Islam. “The infidel’s rule, his prayers, and the prayers of those who pray behind him are invalid,” Fadl decrees. “His blood is legal.” He declares that Muslims have a duty to wage jihad against such leaders; those who submit to an infidel ruler are themselves infidels, and doomed to damnation. The same punishment awaits those who participate in democratic elections. “I say to Muslims in all candor that secular, nationalist democracy opposes your religion and your doctrine, and in submitting to it you leave God’s book behind,” he writes. Those who labor in government, the police, and the courts are infidels, as is anyone who works for peaceful change; religious war, not political reform, is the sole mandate. Even devout believers walk a tightrope over the abyss. “A man may enter the faith in many ways, yet be expelled from it by just one deed,” Fadl cautions. Anyone who believes otherwise is a heretic and deserves to be slaughtered.

In writing this book, Fadl also expands upon the heresy of takfir—the excommunication of one Muslim by another. To deny the faith of a believer—without persuasive evidence—is a grievous injustice. The Prophet Muhammad is said to have remarked, “When a man calls his brother an infidel, we can be sure that one of them is indeed an infidel.” Fadl defines Islam so narrowly, however, that nearly everyone falls outside the sacred boundaries. Muslims who follow his thinking believe that they have a divine right to kill anyone who disagrees with their straitened view of what constitutes a Muslim. The “Compendium” gave Al Qaeda and its allies a warrant to murder all who stood in their way. Zawahiri was ecstatic. According to Fadl, Zawahiri told him, “This book is a victory from Almighty God.” And yet, even for Zawahiri, the book went too far.

When Fadl moved to Yemen, he considered his work in revolutionary Islam to be complete. [...]

Meanwhile, a furtive conversation was taking place among the imprisoned leaders of the Islamic Group. Karam Zuhdy remained incarcerated, along with more than twenty thousand Islamists. “We started growing older,” he says. “We started examining the evidence. We began to read books and reconsider.” The prisoners came to feel that they had been manipulated into pursuing a violent path. Just opening the subject for discussion was extremely threatening, not only for members of the organization but for groups that had an interest in prolonging the clash with Egypt’s government. Zuhdy points in particular to the Muslim Brotherhood. “These people, when we launched an initiative against violence, accused us of being weak,” he says. “Instead of supporting us, they wanted us to continue the violence. We faced very strong opposition inside prison, outside prison, and outside Egypt.”

In 1997, rumors of a possible deal between the Islamic Group and the Egyptian government reached Zawahiri, who was then hiding in an Al Qaeda safe house in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Montasser al-Zayyat, the Islamist lawyer, was brokering talks between the parties. Zayyat has often served as an emissary between the Islamists and the security apparatus, a role that makes him both universally distrusted and invaluable. In his biography of Zawahiri, “The Road to Al-Qaeda: The Story of Bin Laden’s Right-Hand Man,” Zayyat reports that Zawahiri called him in March of that year, when Zayyat arrived in London on business. “Why are you making the brothers angry?” Zawahiri asked him. Zayyat responded that jihad did not have to be restricted to an armed approach. Zawahiri urged Zayyat to change his mind, even promising that he could secure political asylum for him in London. “I politely rejected his offer,” Zayyat writes.

The talks between the Islamic Group and the government remained secret until July, when one of the imprisoned leaders, who was on trial in a military court, stood up and announced to stunned observers the organization’s intention to cease all violent activity. Incensed, Zawahiri wrote a letter addressed to the group’s imprisoned leaders. “God only knows the grief I felt when I heard about this initiative and the negative impact it has caused,” he wrote. “If we are going to stop now, why did we start in the first place?” In his opinion, the initiative was a surrender, “a massive loss for the jihadist movement as a whole.”

To Zawahiri’s annoyance, imprisoned members of Al Jihad also began to express an interest in joining the nonviolence initiative. “The leadership started to change its views,” said Abdel Moneim Moneeb, who, in 1993, was charged with being a member of Al Jihad. Although Moneeb was never convicted, he spent fourteen years in an Egyptian prison. “At one point, you might mention this idea, and all the voices would drown you out. Later, it became possible.” Independent thinking on the subject of violence was not easy when as many as thirty men were crammed into cells that were about nine feet by fifteen. Except for a few smuggled radios, the prisoners were largely deprived of sources of outside information. They occupied themselves with endless theological debates and glum speculation about where they had gone wrong. Eventually, though, these discussions prompted the imprisoned leaders of Al Jihad to open their own secret channel with the government.

Zawahiri became increasingly isolated. He understood that violence was the fuel that kept the radical Islamist organizations running; they had no future without terror. Together with several leaders of the Islamic Group who were living outside Egypt, he plotted a way to raise the stakes and permanently wreck the Islamic Group’s attempt to reform itself. On November 17, 1997, just four months after the announcement of the nonviolence initiative, six young men entered the magnificent ruins of Queen Hatshepsut’s temple, near Luxor. Hundreds of tourists were strolling through the grounds. For forty-five minutes, the killers shot randomly. A flyer was stuffed inside a mutilated body, identifying them as members of the Islamic Group. Sixty-two people died, not counting the killers, whose bodies were later found in a desert cave. They had apparently committed suicide. It was the worst terrorist incident in Egypt’s bloody political history.

If Zawahiri and the exiled members of the Islamic Group hoped that this action would undermine the nonviolence initiative, they miscalculated. Zuhdy said, “We issued a statement in the newspaper that this action is a knife in our back.” More important, the Egyptian people definitively turned against the violence that characterized the radical Islamist movement. The Islamic Group’s imprisoned leaders wrote a series of books and pamphlets, collectively known as “the revisions,” in which they formally explained their new thinking. “We wanted to relay our experience to young people to protect them from falling into the same mistakes we did,” Zuhdy told me. [...]

I went to the office of the Brotherhood to talk to Essam el-Erian, a prominent member of the movement. He is a small, defiant man with a large prayer mark on his forehead. I reminded him that when we last spoke, in April, 2002, he had just got out of prison. He laughed and said, “I’ve been back in prison twice more since then!” We sat in our stocking feet in the dim reception room. “From the start until now, the Muslim Brotherhood has been peaceful,” he maintained. “We have only three or four instances of violence in our history, mainly assassinations.” He added, “Those were individual instances and we condemned them as a group.” But, in addition to the killings of political figures, terrorist attacks on the Jewish community in Cairo, and the attempted murder of Nasser, members of the Muslim Brotherhood took part in arson that destroyed some seven hundred and fifty buildings—mainly night clubs, theatres, hotels, and restaurants—in downtown Cairo in 1952, an attack that marked the end of the liberal, progressive, cosmopolitan direction that Egypt might have chosen. (The Muslim Brotherhood also created Hamas, which employs many of the same tactics now condemned by the Islamic Group.) And yet, unlike other radical movements, the Brotherhood has embraced political change as the only legitimate means to the goal of achieving an Islamic state. “We welcome these revisions, because we have called for many years to stop violence,” Erian continued. “But these revisions are incomplete. They reject violence, but they don’t offer a new strategy for reform and change.” He pointed out that radical Islamists have long condemned the Muslim Brotherhood because of its willingness to compromise with the government and even to run candidates for office. “Now they are under pressure, because if they accept democratic change by democratic means they will be asked, ‘What is the difference between you and the Muslim Brothers?’ ”

According to Zuhdy, the Egyptian government responded to the nonviolence initiative by releasing twelve thousand five hundred members of the Islamic Group. Many of them had never been charged with a crime, much less tried and sentenced. Some were shattered by their confinement. “Imagine what twenty years of prison can do,” Zuhdy said.

The prisoners returned to a society that was far more religious than the one they left. They must have been heartened to see most Egyptian women, who once enjoyed Western fashions, now wearing hijab, or completely hidden behind veils, like Saudis. Many more Egyptian men had prayer marks on their foreheads. Imams had become celebrities, their sermons blaring from televisions and radios. These newly released men might fairly have believed that they had achieved a great social victory through their actions and their sacrifice.

And yet the brutal indifference of the Egyptian government toward its people was unchanged. As the Islamists emerged from prison, new detainees took their place—protesters, liberals, bloggers, potential candidates for political office. The economy was growing, but the money was increasingly concentrated in the hands of the already wealthy; meanwhile, the price of food was shooting up so quickly that people were going hungry. Within a few months of being released, hundreds of the Islamists petitioned, unsuccessfully, to be let back into prison.

From the Egyptian government’s point of view, the deal with the Islamic Group has proved to be an unparalleled success. According to Makram Mohamed Ahmed, the former editor of Al Mussawar, who witnessed the prison debates, there have been only two instances where members showed signs of returning to their former violent ways, and in both cases they were betrayed by informers in their own group. “Prison or time may have defeated them,” Montasser al-Zayyat, the lawyer, says of the Islamic Group. “Some would call it a collapse.” [...]

The premise that opens “Rationalizing Jihad” is “There is nothing that invokes the anger of God and His wrath like the unwarranted spilling of blood and wrecking of property.” Fadl then establishes a new set of rules for jihad, which essentially define most forms of terrorism as illegal under Islamic law and restrict the possibility of holy war to extremely rare circumstances. His argument may seem arcane, even to most Muslims, but to men who had risked their lives in order to carry out what they saw as the authentic precepts of their religion, every word assaulted their world view and brought into question their own chances for salvation. [...]

Fadl repeatedly emphasizes that it is forbidden to kill civilians—including Christians and Jews—unless they are actively attacking Muslims. “There is nothing in the Sharia about killing Jews and the Nazarenes, referred to by some as the Crusaders,” Fadl observes. “They are the neighbors of the Muslims . . . and being kind to one’s neighbors is a religious duty.” Indiscriminate bombing—“such as blowing up of hotels, buildings, and public transportation”—is not permitted, because innocents will surely die. “If vice is mixed with virtue, all becomes sinful,” he writes. “There is no legal reason for harming people in any way.” The prohibition against killing applies even to foreigners inside Muslim countries, since many of them may be Muslims. “You cannot decide who is a Muslim or who is an unbeliever or who should be killed based on the color of his skin or hair or the language he speaks or because he wears Western fashion,” Fadl writes. “These are not proper indications for who is a Muslim and who is not.” As for foreigners who are non-Muslims, they may have been invited into the country for work, which is a kind of treaty. What’s more, there are many Muslims living in foreign lands considered inimical to Islam, and yet those Muslims are treated fairly; therefore, Muslims should reciprocate in their own countries. To Muslims living in non-Islamic countries, Fadl sternly writes, “I say it is not honorable to reside with people—even if they were nonbelievers and not part of a treaty, if they gave you permission to enter their homes and live with them, and if they gave you security for yourself and your money, and if they gave you the opportunity to work or study, or they granted you political asylum with a decent life and other acts of kindness—and then betray them, through killing and destruction. This was not in the manners and practices of the Prophet.” [...]

Fadl’s arguments undermined the entire intellectual framework of jihadist warfare. If the security services in Egypt, in tandem with the Al Azhar scholars, had undertaken to write a refutation of Al Qaeda’s doctrine, it would likely have resembled the book that Dr. Fadl produced; and, indeed, that may have been exactly what occurred. And yet, with so many leaders of Al Jihad endorsing the book, it seemed clear that the organization itself was now dead. Terrorism in Egypt might continue in some form, but the violent factions were finished, departing amid public exclamations of repentance for the futility and sinfulness of their actions.

As the Muslim world awaited Zawahiri’s inevitable response, the press and the clergy were surprisingly muted. One reason was that Fadl’s revisions raised doubts about political activity that many Muslims do not regard as terror—for instance, the resistance movements, in Palestine and elsewhere, that oppose Israel and the presence of American troops in Muslim countries. “In this region, we must distinguish between violence against national governments and that of the resistance—in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Palestine,” Essam el-Erian, of the Muslim Brotherhood, told me. “We cannot call this resistance ‘violence.’ ” Nevertheless, such movements were inevitably drawn into the debate surrounding Fadl’s book.

A number of Muslim clerics struggled to answer Dr. Fadl’s broad critique of political bloodshed. Many had issued fatwas endorsing the very actions that Fadl now declared to be unjustified. Their responses were often surprising. For instance, Sheikh Hamid al-Ali, an influential Salafi cleric in Kuwait, whom the U.S. Treasury has described as an Al Qaeda facilitator and fundraiser, declared on a Web site that he welcomed the rejection of violence as a means of fostering change in the Arab world. Sheikh Ali’s fatwas have sometimes been linked to Al Qaeda actions. (Notoriously, months before 9/11, he authorized flying aircraft into targets during suicide operations.) He observed that although the Arab regimes have a natural self-interest in encouraging nonviolence, that shouldn’t cause readers to spurn Fadl’s argument. “I believe it is a big mistake to let this important intellectual transformation be nullified by political suspicion,” Ali said. The decision of radical Islamist groups to adopt a peaceful path does not necessarily mean, however, that they can evolve into political parties. “We have to admit that we do not have in our land a true political process worthy of the name,” Ali argued. “What we have are regimes that play a game in which they use whatever will guarantee their continued existence.” [...]

Zawahiri’s main problem in countering Fadl was his own lack of standing as a religious scholar. “Al Qaeda has no one who is qualified from a Sharia perspective to make a response,” Fadl boasted to Al Hayat. “All of them—bin Laden, Zawahiri, and others—are not religious scholars on whose opinion you can count. They are ordinary persons.” Of course, Fadl himself had no formal religious training, either.

In February of this year, Zawahiri announced in a video that he had finished a “letter” responding to Fadl’s book. “The Islam presented by that document is the one that America and the West wants and is pleased with: an Islam without jihad,” Zawahiri said. “Because I consider this document to be an insult to the Muslim nation, I chose for the rebuttal the name ‘The Exoneration,’ in order to express the nation’s innocence of this insult.” This announcement, by itself, was unprecedented. “It’s the first time in history that bin Laden and Zawahiri have responded in this way to internal dissent,” Diaa Rashwan, an analyst for the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, in Cairo, told me.

The “letter,” which finally appeared on the Internet in March, was nearly two hundred pages long. “This message I present to the reader today is among the most difficult I have ever written in my life,” Zawahiri admits in his introduction. Although the text is laden with footnotes and lengthy citations from Islamic scholars, Zawahiri’s strategy is apparent from the beginning. Whereas Fadl’s book is a trenchant attack on the immoral roots of Al Qaeda’s theology, Zawahiri navigates his argument toward the familiar shores of the “Zionist-Crusader” conspiracy. [...]

Zawahiri has watched Al Qaeda’s popularity decline in places where it formerly enjoyed great support. In Pakistan, where hundreds have been killed recently by Al Qaeda suicide bombers—including, perhaps, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto—public opinion has turned against bin Laden and his companions. An Algerian terror organization, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, formally affiliated itself with Al Qaeda in September, 2006, and began a series of suicide bombings that have alienated the Algerian people, long weary of the horrors that Islamist radicals have inflicted on their country. Even members of Al Qaeda admit that their cause has been harmed by indiscriminate violence. In February of this year, Abu Turab al-Jazairi, an Al Qaeda commander in northern Iraq, whose nom de guerre suggests that he is Algerian, gave an interview to Al Arab, a Qatari daily. “The attacks in Algeria sparked animated debate here in Iraq,” he said. “By God, had they told me they were planning to harm the Algerian President and his family, I would say, ‘Blessings be upon them!’ But explosions in the street, blood knee-deep, the killing of soldiers whose wages are not even enough for them to eat at third-rate restaurants . . . and calling this jihad? By God, it’s sheer idiocy!” Abu Turab admitted that he and his colleagues were suffering a similar public-relations problem in Iraq, because “Al Qaeda has been infiltrated by people who have harmed its reputation.” He said that only about a third of the nine thousand fighters who call themselves members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia can be relied upon. “The rest are unreliable, since they keep harming the good name of Al Qaeda.” He concludes, “Our position is very difficult.”

In Saudi Arabia, where the government has been trying to tame its radical clerics, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Aal al-Sheikh, the Grand Mufti, issued a fatwa in October, 2007, forbidding Saudi youth to join the jihad outside the country. Two months later, Saudi authorities arrested members of a suspected Al Qaeda cell who allegedly planned to assassinate the Grand Mufti. That same fall, Sheikh Salman al-Oadah, a cleric whom bin Laden has praised in the past, appeared on an Arabic television network and read an open letter to the Al Qaeda leader. He asked, “Brother Osama, how much blood has been spilled? How many innocent children, women, and old people have been killed, maimed, and expelled from their homes in the name of Al Qaeda?” These critiques echoed some of the concerns of the Palestinian cleric Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, who is considered by some to be the most influential jihadi theorist. In 2004, Maqdisi, then in a Jordanian prison, castigated his former protégé Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the now dead leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, for his unproductive violence, particularly the wholesale slaughter of Shiites and the use of suicide bombers. “Mujahideen should refrain from acts that target civilians, churches, or other places of worship, including Shiite sites,” Maqdisi wrote. “The hands of the jihad warriors must remain clean.”

In December, in order to stanch the flow of criticism, Zawahiri boldly initiated a virtual town-hall meeting, soliciting questions in an online forum. This spring, he released two lengthy audio responses to nearly a hundred of the nine hundred often testy queries that were posed. The first one came from a man who identified himself sardonically as the Geography Teacher. “Excuse me, Mr. Zawahiri, but who is it who is killing, with Your Excellency’s permission, the innocents in Baghdad, Morocco, and Algeria? Do you consider the killing of women and children to be jihad?” Then he demanded, “Why have you not—to this day—carried out any strike in Israel? Or is it easier to kill Muslims in the markets? Maybe you should study geography, because your maps show only the Muslim states.” Zawahiri protested that Al Qaeda had not killed innocents. “In fact, we fight those who kill innocents. Those who kill innocents are the Americans, the Jews, the Russians, and the French and their agents.” As for Al Qaeda’s failure to attack Israel, despite bin Laden’s constant exploitation of the issue, Zawahiri asks, “Why does the questioner focus on how Al Qaeda in particular must strike Israel, while he didn’t request that jihadist organizations in Palestine come to the aid of their brothers in Chechnya, Afghanistan, and Iraq?”

The murder of innocents emerged as the most prominent issue in the exchanges. An Algerian university student sarcastically congratulated Zawahiri for killing sixty Muslims in Algeria on a holy feast day. What was their sin? the student wanted to know. “Those who were killed on the eleventh of December in Algeria are not from the innocents,” Zawahiri claimed. “They are from the Crusader unbelievers and the government troops who defend them. Our brothers in Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb”—North Africa—“are more truthful, more just, and more righteous than the lying sons of France.” A Saudi wondered how Muslims could justify supporting Al Qaeda, given its long history of indiscriminate murder. “Are there other ways and means in which the objectives of jihad can be achieved without killing people?” he asked. “Please do not use as a pretext what the Americans or others are doing. Muslims are supposed to be an example to the world in tolerance and lofty goals, not to become a gang whose only concern is revenge.” But Zawahiri was unable to rise to the questioner’s ethical challenge. He replied, “If a criminal were to storm into your house, attack your family and kill them, steal your property, and burn down your house, then turns to attack the homes of your neighbors, will you treat him tolerantly so that you will not become a gang whose only concern is revenge?”

Zawahiri even had to defend himself for helping to spread the myth that the Israelis carried out the attacks of 9/11. [...]

“Dr. Fadl’s revisions and Zawahiri’s response show that the movement is disintegrating,” Karam Zuhdy, the Islamic Group leader, told me one afternoon, in his modest apartment in Alexandria. He is a striking figure, fifty-six years old, with blond hair and black eyebrows. His daughter, who is four, wrapped herself around his leg as an old black-and-white Egyptian movie played silently on a television. Such movies provide a glimpse of a more tolerant and hopeful time, before Egypt took its dark turn into revolution and Islamist violence. I asked Zuhdy how his country might have been different if he and his colleagues had never chosen the bloody path. “It would have been a lot better now,” he admitted.

May 23, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 PM


US drops plans to raid Sadr City after Iraqi forces make a deal with Moqtada al-Sadr (Damien McElroy, 24/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

America has shelved plans to raid Baghdad's Sadr City after Iraqi forces negotiated a ceasefire with Shia militia. [...]

US and Iraqi commanders expressed frustration that the conditions imposed by Sadr will allow his militia to regroup after weeks of damaging fighting. [...]

The ceasefire agreement contains more concessions to Sadr's Mahdi Army than an earlier deal in Basra, where British and American troops entered its strongholds alongside Iraqi forces.

The Jameat is one thing, Mookie's another.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 PM


Josh Beckett Won't Return My Phone Calls: Athletes don't trust reporters, reporters resent athletes, and readers don't know their heroes as they used to. (Pat Jordan, May 22, 2008, Slate)

In January, I got an assignment from the New York Times Magazine to write a profile of Josh Beckett, the Red Sox pitcher. I was excited about this because I had always admired Beckett as both a pitcher and a person. He reminded me of my younger self, when I was a pitcher in the then-Milwaukee Braves organization. He was a big right-hander with a classic overhand delivery. He had a 98-mph fastball and a curveball that broke straight down and was unhittable. My managers used to call my curveball "the unfair one." But that's where Josh and I parted company. As a young pitcher, I was wild (on the mound) and undisciplined (off the mound). I didn't have his maturity at such a young age, or his character, or his guts in important games. I never became Josh Beckett, which is all the more reason why I admired someone who could do with his talent what I was unable to do with mine.

But, alas, in a single-sentence e-mail from his agent, Beckett declined to be interviewed by me or anyone else. I could understand that. Why would he want me poking around in the closet of his life? Maybe I'd spend four days with him, and catch him saying something derogatory, in a moment of weakness or fatigue, about his manager, Terry Francona, or about Manny Ramirez. He was making, what, $10 million a year? He had just pitched superbly in the 2007 World Series after compiling a brilliant 20-7 record during the season. He didn't need a New York Times profile or recognition for anything but his pitching.

Josh is a baseball throwback. He is not into fame, nor is he a custodian of his career in the same way as someone like Roger Clemens. Clemens is very much devoted to his place in baseball history, which is why he was eager to have me write a profile of him for the Times in 2001 (which he later told me he was not pleased with, despite confessing to never having read it) and, maybe, why he allegedly began taking performance-enhancing drugs in the twilight of his career. Clemens wanted nothing less than to be recognized as the greatest pitcher of all time. Beckett wanted only to pitch. He would leave any recognition of his talents and his career to others. Which is another reason why I admire him.

But, still, I thought it was a shame Josh wouldn't let me profile him in the Times. I had a long lunch with him a few years ago, when he was with the Florida Marlins, and came away thinking he was an interesting young man. At the time, and even now, Beckett had a reputation for being a surly, hard-ass, rednecked, Texas country boy in the way of old-timey ballplayers. But the Josh I met over lunch was smart, caustic, funny, sophisticated, and a much deeper and more nuanced man than his public gave him credit for. I would have loved to have burnished his image, to have shown his fans that side of him in a profile. But it wasn't to be. His fans then lost an opportunity to know the real Josh Beckett.

This has become the curse of modern sports journalism. Writers and fans alike no longer get to know the object of their affections in a way they did years ago. Athletes see us as their adversaries, not as allies in their achievements. They are as much celebrities as rock stars and Hollywood actors are. They live insular lives behind a wall of publicists, agents, and lawyers. They don't interact with fans or writers. They mingle only with other celebrities at Vegas boxing matches, South Beach nightclubs, and celebrity golf events, all behind red-velvet VIP ropes. We can only gawk at them as if at an exotic, endangered species at a zoo. [...]

Fans were more personally committed to their athletic heroes in the day when magazine profile writing was king, and the king of all magazines was Sports Illustrated. In the 1970s, every athlete in the world, every sports team, professional and amateur, every Hollywood star, celebrity, politician, industrialist—everyone, it seemed, would sacrifice his firstborn to appear in the pages of SI. I wrote for SI in the '70s. Here's how it worked: just a press corps that treats everyone like the enemy and, therefore, fails at the basics of its profession.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM


Gordon Brown faces ‘quit now’ calls as Labour MPs panic (Philip Webster, 5/24/08, Times of London)

Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, was being earmarked by senior backbenchers as the figure to tell Mr Brown that they had lost confidence in him and that he should step aside unless there was a swift improvement in Labour’s fortunes.

Graham Stringer was the first Labour MP to call for Mr Brown to go, saying that the party needed a new leader to save it from “disaster” at the next election. Ivan Lewis, the Health Minister, said that Crewe & Nantwich could mark the “beginning of the end” for Labour.

Cabinet sources said that a majority of ministers now doubted whether Labour could turn around its current deficit with Mr Brown in charge. Senior ministers were among those who told The Times privately that the party could not do nothing if it seemed to be heading towards certain defeat. [...]

No immediate move against Mr Brown appeared likely. Most ministers believe that he must be given until at least the conference season to reestablish himself. But last night Labour MPs were canvassing the names of candidates – Mr Straw, David Miliband, Alan Johnson, James Purnell and Andy Burnham – who they would expect to step forward if Mr Brown were persuaded to move out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 PM


GOP strategists mull McCain ‘blowout’ (DAVID PAUL KUHN | 5/23/08, Politico)

[T]he contours of the electoral map, combined with McCain’s unique strengths and the nature of Obama’s possible vulnerabilities, have led to a cautious and muted optimism that McCain could actually surpass Bush’s 35-electoral-vote victory in 2004. Though they expect he would finish far closer to Obama in the popular vote, the thinking is that he could win by as many 50 electoral votes.

By post-war election standards, that margin is unusually small. Yet it’s considerably larger than either Bush’s 2004 victory or his five-electoral-vote win in 2000.

“A win by 40 or 50 electoral votes would be an astonishing upset, just a watershed event with all the issues that were stacked against him from the very beginning,” said David Woodard, a Republican pollster and Clemson University political science professor. “But it could happen. I know this seems like wishful thinking by Republicans. I’m thinking that Republicans could win by 40 electoral votes. But I dare not say it,” he added. “Certainly what is possible could come to pass.”

A top strategist with the Republican National Committee, who asked that his name be withheld to speak candidly, explained that by his own examination, “we’re actually sitting pretty well in most states.”

“There are a lot of scenarios that look good for McCain, and I almost would go so far to say that there are a lot more scenarios [than for Obama],” the strategist added. “I don’t think anybody over here wants to let themselves get too excited about it. It is an eternity between now and November. But McCain looks a lot stronger than our prospects as a party.” [...]

Among the 10 strategists interviewed by Politico for this story, there was near-uniform belief that had any other Republican been nominated, the party’s prospects in November would be nil.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:51 PM


No Asset Like the Special Relationship (Paul Johnson, 06.02.08, Forbes)

Among the more brutal experts on geopolitics it is fashionable to sneer at the special relationship, as though it were a piece of antique diplomatic furniture belonging in the Churchill-Roosevelt era. But this is not a view shared by any of those who have occupied the White House or Number 10.

Indeed, a key part of the learning curve of any new President or prime minister is discovering how important this relationship still is, especially when times are bad and perplexing. Ask George W. Bush or Tony Blair and they’ll tell you the relationship is the bedrock on which North Atlantic foreign policy rests. Margaret Thatcher is particularly eloquent on its magic. The phrase itself makes her eyes light up—more so than does any other, except for her favorite: the rule of law. The latest convert to the special relationship is Gordon Brown. Before he became prime minister he used to mutter about the need to “move closer to Europe than to North America,” or some such nonsense. Now he knows better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:26 PM


Joe Lieberman, ideological turncoat: The senator's indictment of the Democratic Party is just as dishonest as his failure to discuss his own evolution as an ally of McCain's. (Joe Conason, May. 23, 2008, Salon)

Lieberman's theme in the Journal essay, excerpted from a speech he delivered at an event sponsored by Commentary magazine, the leading neoconservative journal, is easily summarized and utterly unoriginal: Democrats were once patriotic and strong on defense, when Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy led the party, but they have lapsed (again) into weakness and vacillation during the Bush era. And Lieberman pillories Barack Obama for suggesting that he would sit down and talk with the leaders of Iran and other adversarial regimes and for failing to stand up to the party's overbearing liberal wing.

For someone who once considered himself a history scholar, Lieberman shamelessly falsifies not only the diplomacy of past and current administrations but also, by omission, his own political pedigree. His Journal essay opens with a lament about the condition of the Democratic Party and an idealized glance back at the "principled, internationalist, strong and successful" foreign policy of Roosevelt, Kennedy and Truman.

"This was the Democratic Party that I grew up in -- a party that was unhesitatingly and proudly pro-American, a party that was unafraid to make moral judgments about the world beyond our borders," he writes. "It was a party that understood that either the American people stood united with free nations and freedom fighters against the forces of totalitarianism, or … we would fall divided." (The nuances of Roosevelt's alliance with Stalin and Kennedy's missile deal with Khrushchev escape Holy Joe, but then nuance always does.)

...Mr. Conason is absolutely right that those earlier Democrats were a disaster as well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:56 AM


Obama to 'Post': I'll back Syria talks (HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, 5/23/08, Jerusalem Post)

Leading Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama told The Jerusalem Post that he would fully back Israel's peace talks with Syria and criticized efforts to block such engagement. [...]

The Bush administration, though, has suggested that Syria is not serious about taking the steps necessary for peace - pointing to its ongoing support for terrorism and growing ties with Iran - and that high-profile talks only boost a rogue regime.

The president made that point forcefully in a speech before the Knesset during his trip to Israel last week to celebrate the state's 60th birthday, sparking a political row in the US.

"Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along," Bush said, calling it a "false comfort of appeasement."

...Saddam would still be feeding Kurds and Shi'ites into shredders. At some point we have to accept that he just doesn't care what dictators do to their people as long as they talk to him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:53 AM


Q: Does the government really make more in taxes from the sale of a gallon of gasoline than the oil companies do? (

A: Possibly. Both taxes and profits account for a large share, but which is larger depends on too many unknown factors to allow for a clear answer.

Let’s start with the basics. According to the Energy Information Administration, in February 2008 state and federal excise taxes accounted for 13 percent of the average price per gallon of regular gasoline sold in the U.S.

That figures to just under 40 cents per gallon as a national average. However, the actual amount paid varies greatly by state. Federal taxes are a flat 18.4 cents per gallon of regular gasoline, no matter the price at the pump. State taxes range anywhere from 7.5 cents to 34 cents per gallon, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:46 AM


How Japan Helped Ease the Rice Crisis: Prices quickly fell on Tokyo's call to tap into its huge reserves. But how did the stash get so big, and why does rice-rich Japan import the staple? (Kenji Hall, 5/22/08, Good News Daily)

To understand Japan's role in deflating the rice market, it helps to visit the warehouses rimming Tokyo Bay. It's here in temperature-controlled buildings that Japan keeps millions of 30-kilogram vinyl bags of rice that it imports every year. Tokyo doesn't need rice from the outside world: The country's heavily subsidized farmers produce more than enough to feed the country's 127 million people. Yet every year since 1995, Tokyo has bought hundreds of thousands of metric tons of rice from the U.S., Thailand, Vietnam, China, and Australia.

Why does Japan buy rice it doesn't need or want? In order to follow World Trade Organization rules, which date to 1995 and are aimed at opening the country's rice market. The U.S. fought for years to end Japanese rice protectionism, and getting Tokyo to agree to import rice from the U.S. and elsewhere was long a goal of American trade policy. But while the Japanese have been buying rice from farms in China and California for more than a decade, almost no imports ever end up on dinner plates in Japan. Instead the imported rice is sent as food aid to North Korea, added to beer and rice cakes, or mixed with other grains to feed pigs and chickens. Or it just sits in storage for years. As of last October, Japan's warehouses were bulging with 2.6 million tons of surplus rice, including 1.5 million tons of imported rice, 900,000 tons of it American medium-grain rice.

It's one of the cruel ironies of global trade that poor countries have been paying through the nose for rice while Japan has been sitting on reserves (BusinessWeek, 5/1/08).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:38 AM


Powerful Iraqi cleric flirting with Shiite militant message: Iraq's top Shiite cleric quietly hints at harder views against US forces (HAMZA HENDAWI and QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, 5/22/08, AP)

Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric has been quietly issuing religious edicts declaring that armed resistance against U.S.-led foreign troops is permissible — a potentially significant shift by a key supporter of the Washington-backed government in Baghdad.

The edicts, or fatwas, by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani suggest he seeks to sharpen his long-held opposition to American troops and counter the populist appeal of his main rivals, firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia. [...]

In the past, al-Sistani has avoided answering even abstract questions on whether fighting the U.S. presence in Iraq is allowed by Islam. Such questions sent to his Web site — which he uses to respond to followers' queries — have been ignored. All visitors to his office who had asked the question received a vague response.

The subtle shift could point to his growing impatience with the continued American presence more than five years after the U.S.-led invasion.

It also underlines possible opposition to any agreement by Baghdad to allow a long-term U.S. military foothold in Iraq — part a deal that is currently under negotiation and could be signed as early as July.

Al-Sistani's distaste for the U.S. presence is no secret. In his public fatwas on his Web site, he blames Washington for many of Iraq's woes.

But a more aggressive tone from the cleric could have worrisome ripples through Iraq's Shiite majority — 65 percent of the country's estimated 27 million population — in which many followers are swayed by his every word.

A longtime official at al-Sistani's office in Najaf would not deny or confirm the edicts issued in private, but hinted that a publicized call for jihad may come later.

"(Al-Sistani) rejects the American presence," he told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment to media. "He believes they (the Americans) will at the end pay a heavy price for the damage they inflicted on Iraq."

...once they saved us from the French and Indians.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 AM


More Progressive All the Time: The wealthiest Americans now pay a significantly greater share of federal taxes than they did when Ronald Reagan first took office. (The American, May/June 2008)

According to the CBO, the highest quintile of income earners paid 68.7 percent of all federal taxes—including individual income taxes, social insurance taxes, corporate income taxes, and excise taxes—in 2005, the most recent year for which data are available. To put that figure in perspective, the top quintile paid only 56.4 percent of federal taxes in 1981. The bottom quintile barely pays any federal taxes: its share of the burden has fallen from 1.8 percent in 1981 to 0.8 percent in 2005.

What about the middle classes? Well, the second quintile has gone from paying 6.8 percent of federal taxes in 1981 to paying 4.1 percent in 2005. The middle quintile has seen its burden drop from 13 percent in 1981 to 9.3 percent in 2005. The fourth quintile paid 21.8 percent in 1981 and 16.9 percent in 2005.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 AM


In U.S., a Multitude of Forces Drains the Spirit of Giving (Philip Rucker, 5/23/08, Washington Post)

[I]n the weeks since a cyclone laid waste to Burma's delta region and an earthquake devastated a central Chinese province -- catastrophes that collectively left 184,000 people dead or missing and displaced millions -- Americans have donated an estimated $57 million to disaster relief charities as of yesterday.

Compare that with the $207 million that Americans donated in the first five days after an Indian Ocean tsunami struck southern Asia in 2004. Or the $226 million raised in five days after hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast.

Americans historically respond to natural disasters with an outpouring of giving, but the charitable response to the cyclone that hit Burma on May 3 and the earthquake that struck China on May 12 has been modest at best.

...Americans don't voluntarily transfer their money to totalitarian enemies. Go figure....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 AM


Barack Clinton Obama: What's “change” is old again. (Peter Wehner, 5/22/08, National Review)

[N]ow Obama’s top advisers like Tom Daschle are saying, “I would not say that we would meet unconditionally. Of course, there are conditions that we [would] involve in preparation in getting ready for the diplomacy. . . . ‘Without precondition’ simply means we wouldn’t put obstacles in the way of discussing the differences between us. That’s really what they’re saying, what Barack is saying.” And Obama himself insisted that he didn’t necessarily have President Ahmadinejad in mind when he said he’d meet with the leader of Iran — and, anyway, “this obsession with Ahmadinejad is an example of us losing track of what’s important.”

This explanation is Clintonian. As Robert Novak helpfully pointed out in his column on Thursday, last September Obama was asked at a press conference whether he still would meet with Ahmadinejad. Obama replied, “Yeah . . . I find many of President Ahmadinejad’s statements odious. . . . But we should never fear to negotiate.” And in November, on NBC’s Meet the Press, Obama defended “a conversation with somebody like Ahmadinejad.”

Rather than admit he made a mistake, however, Obama now blames us for our “obsession” with Ahmadinejad. And as is so often the case, any criticism of Obama, on any grounds, is causing us to “lose track of what’s important.” One senses that Obama and his supporters, while happy to pound his opponents, believe criticism of him is indecorous and even illegitimate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:06 AM


Innovation Nation: The EU-U.S. innovation gap is getting smaller, but America still leads in most categories. (The American, May/June 2008)

[T]wo indicators on which America outperforms all other European countries are tertiary education and U.S. Patent and Trademark Office patents.

Still, in several crucial areas the EU-U.S. gap remains sizable. For example, “the GDP share of early-stage venture capital” is “more than 50 percent higher in the U.S.” In addition, “There is a large gap in business R&D expenditures, 1.17 percent of EU GDP as compared to 1.87 percent in the U.S., which is not becoming smaller.” Meanwhile, the United States is expanding its lead in public R&D expenditures and high-tech exports.

And consider the most recent evidence from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). In 2007, the United States accounted for over one-third (33.5 percent) of all international patent filings under the WIPO Patent Cooperation Treaty. Japan came in a distant second at 17.8 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


Vietnam: Historians at War (Mark Moyar, 5/24/08, Academic Questions)

Most of what today is considered the conventional wisdom originated with the triumvirate of Halberstam, Sheehan, and Karnow, journalists who reported on the war as it was happening and afterwards wrote best-selling books. Halberstam began writing books well before the others, publishing The Making of a Quagmire in 1964, Ho in 1971, and The Best and the Brightest, which sold more than a million copies, in 1972.8 Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam: A History, published in 1983, also sold over one million copies and was accompanied by a multivolume PBS documentary that attracted Ken Burns-size audiences.9 Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie arrived in 1988 and promptly won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.10 All three of these journalists were entertaining writers, and awful historians.

The narrative that emerged from their books is relatively straightforward. The United States was wrong to fight the war, the story goes, for American policymakers mistook Ho Chi Minh for a member of an international Communist conspiracy when in reality he was merely a proud nationalist who disdained his Chinese Communist neighbors. American leaders were completely ignorant of South Vietnam and mindlessly optimistic about progress in the war. America’s South Vietnamese allies were corrupt and cowardly, in contrast to the patriotic and dedicated North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. The only real American heroes of the war were the reporters and the few servicemen who recognized that the enterprise was doomed from the start.

Some prominent journalists criticized Halberstam, Sheehan, and Karnow from the early stages of the war. In a September 1963 article, Joseph Alsop likened the American correspondents in Saigon to the American journalists of the 1940s who had denigrated Chiang Kai-Shek and praised Mao Tse-Tung as a “great and humane man,” as well as to Herbert Matthews, the reporter who had idealized Fidel Castro during the Cuban revolution. Alsop accused these reporters of portraying the situation in unduly negative terms, asserting that “it is easy enough to paint a dark, indignant picture, without departing from the facts, if you ignore the majority of Americans who admire the Vietnamese as fighters and seek out the one U.S. officer in ten who inevitably thinks all foreigners fight badly.”11

Marguerite Higgins, who had become the first female war correspondent to win the Pulitzer Prize for her reporting on the Korean War, found that Halberstam’s articles contained many glaring inaccuracies, most of which were intended to tarnish the image of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem. After Higgins authored a string of New York Herald Tribune stories eviscerating various claims Halberstam had made in the New York Times, an editor at the Times went so far as to send Halberstam a letter stating: “Some of what she has been writing would tend to balance the material we have been getting from Saigon recently....I am sure that you will take care of this aspect of the Vietnamese story as soon as you can.” The letter prompted Halberstam to shoot back, “If you send me one more cable referring to that woman’s copy you will have my resignation forthwith by return cable and I mean it repeat mean it.”12 Higgins went on to write a terrific book entitled Our Vietnam Nightmare, which was published in 1965.

Unfortunately, Higgins’s book did not achieve the popularity of the books by Halberstam, Sheehan, and Karnow, and within a few years it faded into obscurity. One reason is that she contracted black fever and died shortly after the book was published. Another is that the turn of the American intelligentsia against the war in the late 1960s made Higgins’s views into the most dangerous sort of heresy.

The orthodox historians of the late 1970s and 1980s largely adhered to the narrative passed down by Halberstam, Sheehan, and Karnow. Histories covering John F. Kennedy’s presidency echoed the journalists in depicting South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem as a hopeless reactionary whose tyranny deprived the South Vietnamese government of legitimacy and whose discrimination against Buddhists brought his government to a much-deserved ruin.13 Those covering Lyndon Johnson’s presidency repeated the view that America’s vital interests were not at stake in Vietnam and that the war could not have been won by any means and hence Johnson should not have intervened in 1965.14 Some of the histories modified the image of Johnson and other top figures as documentary evidence made clear that the media’s portrayal of these figures were gross caricatures, but these changes did not alter the main features of the narrative. Rather, they augmented it and were incorporated into the books by Karnow and Sheehan.15

Historians who addressed American military performance accused the U.S. military of fighting unlawfully and unsuccessfully against a wily adversary that regularly outwitted it, and they alleged that the war inflicted long-term psychological damage on huge numbers of American veterans.16 These claims made the war appear even more reprehensible, which also made draft dodging appear more sensible. Nothing was said about the psychological impact on the enemy, enhancing the impression that the North Vietnamese did no wrong in sending hundreds of thousands of young men to die in countless military defeats in South Vietnam.

A small but strong group of revisionist books emerged during this same period. Although a substantial proportion of their authors had doctorates, few had permanent academic appointments, and the only one of those who worked in a history department was employed in Britain, which has not been as badly afflicted by faculty politicization as the United States. Robert F. Turner, a Vietnam veteran and Hoover Institution fellow who later obtained a non-tenured position at the University of Virginia Law School, disputed the portrayal of the Vietnamese Communists as devoted nationalists in his book Vietnamese Communism: Its Origins and Development.17 In an international history of the war, distinguished British professor Ralph Smith argued that Vietnamese Communism posed a serious threat to the United States and hence the United States was right in trying to hold the line in South Vietnam.18 Norman Podhoretz, the American pundit, made the same argument in a work geared more for the public than academia.19 The works of Ellen Hammer and William Colby, an American scholar living in France and a former CIA director, respectively, charged that South Vietnam was viable under Ngo Dinh Diem and that the United States erred catastrophically in encouraging his overthrow.20 Reiterating points made during the war by senior U.S. military officers, veterans like Harry Summers and former politicians like Richard Nixon argued that the war could have been won had the United States taken more aggressive military actions, such as severing the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and bombing North Vietnam massively from the start instead of escalating the bombing gradually.21 A different group, led by a military officer with a Ph.D. named Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr., concluded that the war could have been won had the United States been more delicate, rather than more forceful. According to the Krepinevich school, the United States focused on fighting a conventional war in the hinterlands because the U.S. military had been designed to fight such a war, when in fact much greater attention should have been given to securing the populous areas.22

The most influential of the early revisionist books was Guenter Lewy’s America and Vietnam, the only work of its vintage that remains highly important to historians today.23 Of Lewy’s many contributions, his greatest was the refutation of antiwar arguments about the immorality, inhumanity, and illegality of American military actions in Vietnam. A political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Lewy never received the open acclaim from academia or the media that he deserved, but he effected great changes to the war’s history in quiet ways. After the appearance of his book, countless fashionable antiwar arguments stopped appearing in the articles and books written by those who continued to adhere to the antiwar orthodoxy.

Since 1990, the quality of scholarship, both orthodox and revisionist, has improved as more documentation has become available and scholars have been able to make use of previous discoveries. The orthodox history, however, has not ventured very far from the Halberstam-Sheehan-Karnow narrative. Much of that narrative has continued to evade serious questioning from orthodox historians, who have preferred to remain focused on a fairly narrow set of questions. Orthodox scholars have continued to assert that Vietnam was not strategically important without examining most of the relevant information that has become available. In one of the most celebrated of recent orthodox histories, Cornell University history professor Fredrik Logevall announced that most scholars, himself included, consider it “axiomatic” that the United States erred in deciding to intervene in Vietnam.24 The United States did not need to fight Ho Chi Minh, proponents of the orthodoxy still maintain, because he would have become an Asian Tito had the Americans not pestered him.25 Hanoi’s dedication to conquering the South, they add, ensured that no American strategy would have succeeded.26 For orthodox scholars, Ngo Dinh Diem remains a poor leader who senselessly antagonized his people.27 The portrayal of American veterans as perpetrators of horrible actions during the war and psychological wrecks after the war has continued.28

The areas that have received the greatest attention recently from orthodox historians possess considerable historical significance but relatively minor import in the orthodox-revisionist debate. Amongst prominent orthodox historians there is an ongoing debate over whether Kennedy would have withdrawn from Vietnam had he not been assassinated.29 They also disagree about why Johnson intervened.30 Their biases and lack of knowledge on other aspects of the war, however, have allowed revisionists to overtake them on these topics. The most lasting orthodox contributions since 1990, therefore, are books of even narrower scope. Although largely wrong about the big picture, these books provide some valuable small pictures. Clemson history professor Edwin Moïse unearthed a large amount of new information on the Tonkin Gulf incidents,31 and George Herring, who recently retired from the University of Kentucky history department, did the same for Lyndon Johnson’s relations with the U.S. military.32 Harold P. Ford, a former CIA officer, incorporated into his history documents that are not normally available to researchers.33 In a relatively favorable history of Ngo Dinh Diem’s nation-building enterprises, Professor Philip Catton of Stephen F. Austin State University went the farthest in challenging conventional views without chopping down the overarching tenets of the orthodox school.34

Some other valuable books have provided new insights into smaller matters while largely steering clear of the big points of disagreement between orthodox and revisionist historians. Of these, several of the best have incorporated important evidence from Soviet and Chinese archives to illuminate the roles of the Soviet Union and China.35 Studies of other countries and regions have enhanced understanding of the international dimensions of the war.36 As Vietnamese and French sources have become more accessible, new publications on Vietnamese Communism have appeared.37 Recent biographies of American leaders have brought new discoveries on strategic decision-making.38

The recent revisionist histories, in contrast to some earlier revisionist works, have generally been backed by voluminous research, captured in numerous footnotes. Although not all of their authors are excellent scholars, they are generally more rigorous in their analysis than their orthodox counterparts, because they are so often challenged that they have become adept at anticipating and countering contrary assertions. Because experience has given revisionists a better understanding of the importance of wrestling with differently minded people, they have also been much more willing than orthodox historians to invite the opposing side to conferences they organize.

The lengthiest contribution of recent revisionism, coming in at over eleven hundred pages, is Arthur Dommen’s The Indochinese Experience of the French and the Americans: Nationalism and Communism in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Dommen had worked as a journalist in Vietnam and Laos during the war, but, as the length of his book indicates, he was closer to a scholar than a journalist by temperament, and after the war obtained a Ph.D. in agricultural economics. Having spent many years gathering information, including a considerable amount on the Vietnamese side, Dommen shot some sizeable holes in the Halberstam-Sheehan-Karnow account. He highlighted nefarious aspects of Vietnamese Communism that orthodox historians had missed or ignored, and concluded that Vietnamese nationalists like Ngo Dinh Diem offered a viable alternative to Communism. He was also among the first to note that the Buddhist protesters, whose charges of religious oppression crippled the South Vietnamese government from 1963 to 1965, had fabricated evidence of oppression and were more concerned with gaining political power than religious freedom.39

Col. H.R. McMaster, a highly distinguished U.S. Army officer who holds a Ph.D. in history, attracted much attention with his 1997 book Dereliction of Duty, in which he showed that Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara disregarded and abused the Joint Chiefs of Staff at a time when they had much sounder ideas on American strategy than the civilian leadership did.40 In the late 1990s, Francis X. Winters, a professor emeritus at the Georgetown University Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, and Geoffrey Shaw, a Canadian with a Ph.D. who has been unable to land a tenure-track position, further advanced the interpretations of Ellen Hammer and William Colby on the Diem government and the 1963 coup.41 Think tank fellow Michael Lind of the New America Foundation and political scientist C. Dale Walton of the University of Reading offered strong challenges to the conventional wisdom, although they did less historical research than other revisionists because they were policy analysts by background rather than historians. Lind’s book was particularly strong on the domino theory, demonstrating that there really was an international Communist conspiracy to take Vietnam and then other countries in succession.42 Walton concluded that the United States would have done much better had it chosen different strategic options.43

As with orthodox historians, revisionists have tended to focus on select aspects of the conflict rather than covering the war holistically. In designing my recent book, Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954–1965, I sought to fill the gap by analyzing every significant facet of the war, from military to diplomatic to political to social, and every country that had a significant influence on the war, of which there were many. Because too few reliable histories had been written previously, I relied almost entirely on primary sources for information, which required much more time than the research for the average general history but also yielded many more discoveries than I would otherwise have found. Some of my research produced solid evidence for assertions that other revisionists had made previously but without supporting facts, for instance the commitment of Ho Chi Minh to global Communist revolution or the feasibility of severing the North Vietnamese supply routes through Laos, the so-called Ho Chi Minh Trail. Other parts revealed new facts that have forced alteration of central interpretations, such as the remarkable success of South Vietnam’s counterinsurgency initiatives in 1962 and 1963, or the strong support for American intervention in Vietnam among the other nations of Asia and Oceania.44

Some of the most important discoveries involved the behavior of Halberstam, Sheehan, and Karnow during the war and its impact on what they later wrote in their best-selling books. In 1963, unlike later, the American journalists in Vietnam generally favored U.S. involvement in Vietnam, but believed that South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem had to be replaced because he was not liberal enough in handling the press and non-Communist oppositionists, especially Buddhist protesters who were calling for huge concessions from the government. They disbelieved Diem’s assertion that the Communists had infiltrated the Buddhists, an assertion that the Communists, much later, admitted to be true.

In the fall of 1963, Halberstam, Sheehan, and Karnow publicly derided the Diem government and suggested that South Vietnam would be better off if Diem were removed from power. Both South Vietnamese and American officials, they claimed, desired the ousting of Diem. Their reporting relied heavily upon biased and dishonest sources, including two who, unbeknownst to the reporters, were Vietnamese Communist agents. Translated rapidly into Vietnamese, their anti-Diem stories were read by the Vietnamese elites, who mistakenly thought they were expressions of official U.S. policy. These articles did much to convince both South Vietnamese generals and U.S. ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge that Diem had to go, and that replacing Diem would lead to major improvements in the war effort. Those generals, with Lodge’s blessing, overthrew and murdered Diem on November 2, 1963.

Instead of improving the war effort, however, the coup resulted in a dramatic downturn, for the new leaders were weak and purged huge numbers of good officers for their past loyalty to Diem. Halberstam, Sheehan, and Karnow now faced accusations that they had helped wreck the South Vietnamese government. They cunningly devised a defense that deflected the criticism and profoundly influenced everything they, and many others, wrote thereafter. They asserted that the South Vietnamese war effort had been ruined before Diem’s death, something they had not claimed before the coup, and therefore their support for overthrowing Diem made little difference. Later, they would use this point to argue that the war was hopeless from the beginning, for in the latter stages of the war they backed away from their earlier support of American intervention and, in Halberstam’s case, denied that they had ever supported it. By sifting through masses of American and North Vietnamese documents as well as American press reports, I determined that South Vietnam was actually winning the war until Diem’s death, and began losing as soon as he was gone.

The books by Halberstam, Sheehan, Karnow and nearly every other orthodox author concentrated on the period from the division of Vietnam in 1954 to the Tet Offensive of 1968, providing minimal coverage of the years 1969 to 1975. Revisionists began fixing that problem in the late 1990s with histories arguing that the South Vietnamese government grew much stronger during this period and that by the early 1970s it had, with the help of the United States, wiped out the Viet Cong insurgents. In my first book, Phoenix and the Birds of Prey, I examined how South Vietnamese and American forces destroyed the insurgency at the village level, and showed that the counterinsurgency programs supported by the United States were not the exercises in indiscriminate murder of antiwar legend.45 Lewis Sorley, a veteran of the U.S. Army and the CIA who also has a Ph.D. but no academic affiliation, addressed both the regular and irregular elements of the war during its latter years in his book A Better War. As American forces gradually withdrew, Sorley showed, South Vietnamese forces improved to such a degree that they were able to defeat a massive offensive by fourteen North Vietnamese divisions in the spring of 1972—an event that orthodox historians have almost completely ignored.46 These revelations have bolstered the interpretation of some earlier revisionists that South Vietnam was a viable country and could have survived had the United States not cut aid to the South Vietnamese government in the war’s final years.

B.G. Burkett, a Vietnam veteran and a stockbroker by profession, demolished most of the mythology surrounding Vietnam veterans in one fell swoop. Burkett’s book, Stolen Valor, extraordinary for both its detailed research and its nationwide popularity, revealed that several hundred supposed Vietnam veterans in the public spotlight were frauds. Many of these false veterans had appeared on TV and in books to recount stories of atrocities and psychological injuries, providing the evidence desired by antiwar historians. In addition, Burkett used statistics and detective work to disprove long-held generalizations of orthodox historians about Vietnam veterans, such as that these veterans had much higher rates of unemployment, homelessness, and suicide than non-veterans.47

Slowly but surely, the revisionist view is gaining ground.

While there's a becoming reluctance by even many on the Right to accept that folks like David Halberstam simply spun a farrago of lies to advance their ideological positions, as you watch the Left start to do the same thing with regards to WWII, it becomes easier to accept that truth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


Rampant Tories crush Labour (Andrew Porter, Political Editor and Nigel Bunyan, 23/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

The Conservatives scored an emphatic by-election victory this morning, wiping out a significant Labour majority in a previously safe seat, and adding to the pressure on Gordon Brown's leadership. [...]

Crewe and Nantwich, with a majority of 7,078, had been considered a safe Labour seat, but Mr Timpson convincingly beat off the challenge of Tamsin Dunwoody, the daughter of the late Gwyneth Dunwoody, whose death caused the by-election.

It is the first Conservative gain in a by-election for 26 years and the first from Labour since 1978. The overwhelming victory will lead to comparisons with the wins that Tony Blair secured in opposition when John Major led an unpopular Government.

The Tories secured 49 per cent of the vote, Labour 30, and the Liberal Democrats 14. The turnout of 58 per cent was higher than expected.

A similar swing in a General Election would give Mr Cameron a comfortable Commons majority.

Eric Pickles, the Tory MP who masterminded the Conservative campaign on the ground, said this morning: "We've won and we've won big."

It's fascinating to watch the respective Left's of Britain and America so decisively reject the Third Way figures --Tony Blair and Bill Clinton--who led them to atypical political glory in favor of the failed Second Way, which led them into the wilderness to begin with. Their utopianism ultimately swamps any pragmatism, which is what makes their politics so dangerous for a country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 AM


The great betrayal (Martin Bright, 15 May 2008, New Statesman)

In Israel, the conventions of the generation gap are reversed, with young people often more hardline than their parents. Military service (three years for men, two for women) means that the younger generation has had experience of far more violent times. The Israeli consciousness is ingrained with death and violence. I will never forget the roll-call of more than 200 dead alumni from Herzliya High School, flashed up one by one on a cinema screen to the whole school during national remembrance day. I was a special guest on the occasion and was also shown a shrine to the dead, with photographs of each fallen soldier or victim of terrorism, which serves as a year-round reminder of the duty of each Israeli citizen to fight for the state's survival. I found the ceremony deeply disturbing - it also involved watching film clips of Israel's military legacy and performances by schoolchildren on the theme of war.

Yet still this does not answer the question: Why do liberals hate Israel so much? That was the question I found myself asking throughout my visit to the country this month.

As the great Israeli journalist Amos Elon wrote eight years ago in the introduction to his essay collection A Blood-Dimmed Tide: "Zionism was a child of the Enlightenment and the ideas of the French Revolution, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the need to separate church and state. Its aim was to provide persecuted Jews with a safe haven, recognised in international law, a National Home." Elon left Israel in disillusionment in 2004.

On the face of it, the answer to my question is simple. The British left hates Israel because it has abandoned its Enlightenment principles and set about the systematic oppression of a people whose land it occupies. The invasion of southern Lebanon in the summer of 2006 was a new low point that caused international outrage. For most people on the left in Britain, support for Israel is out of the question. Solidarity for the Palestinians is synonymous with the anti-American, anti-imperialist stance of the movement that opposed the war in Iraq. Thousands of people who marched in London against British intervention carried Freedom for Palestine placards, even though these were provided by the Muslim Association of Britain, an organisation of the Islamic religious right that supports the terrorist group Hamas.

Mike Marqusee, an organiser of the Stop the War Coalition, wrote in If I Am Not for Myself: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew: "The blame for the misidentification of Jews as a whole with Israel lies principally with the Jewish Establishment, with the Zionists, with the Israeli spokespersons who justify every lawless, brutal act as a necessary part of the battle for Jewish survival. And with all those who've installed the cult of Israel at the centre of Judaism and Jewishness." direct proportion to the degree it's become Jewish rather than Socialist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


Nixonland, Then and Now (Jon Wiener, 05/18/2008, The Nation)

"Nixonland" – that's Rick Perlstein's term for the political world where candidates win power by mobilizing people's resentments, anxieties and anger, where politics destroys is victims. Perlstein's new book is Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America.

Do we still live in Nixonland?

Yes we do. I don't mean that the political anxieties and passions today are as great as they were in the late sixties. But the way Richard Nixon used the sixties to define the ideological contours of American politics is still with us. On right wing radio today, they keep talking about how snobby and elitist the liberals are -- just like Richard Nixon did.

Bad enough to spend as much time immersed in history as Friend Perlstein has without learning any of it--Richard Hofstadter was writing about mainstream America's endemic hatred of liberal intellectualism while Nixon was a footnote, or see Edward Larson's excellent, Summer of the Gods, about the Scopes trial, which even The Nation may not blame Nixon for--but it's even worse to pay no attention to current events. After all, right-wing radio is joined in its talk of the elitist Left by the born-again populist Clinton's, New Republic, etc., who couldn't help but notice that in liberal-activist-dominated caucuses Senator Obama dominates while Ms Clinton wins when the unwashed masses get to vote. Heck, if he still doesn't get that liberals are snobby and elitist he could just look at the title of his friend Thomas Frank's book, What';s the Matter with Kansas, with its condescending assumption that if you don't agree with the Brights there's something wrong with you.

Of course, if these guys are right, and Nixon really does bestride modernity like a colossus, we can't rule out the possibility that he's clouding their minds.....

MORE (from the Archives):
E Pluribus Nixon: A sweeping new social history portrays Richard Nixon as the president his fratricidal country deserved—and perhaps the best we could have hoped for: a review of NIXONLAND: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America By Rick Perlstein (Ross Douthat, Atlantic Monthly)

Seven years ago, Rick Perlstein, a young and decidedly left-wing historian, accomplished a daring feat: he imagined his way into the hearts and minds of the right-wing idealists who made Goldwaterite conservatism one of the most successful mass movements of the 1960s. The result was Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (Out-of-print, available at E-bay), a richly detailed narrative of the 1964 election, and a dense and dizzying account of a moment when America was teetering on the verge of a nervous breakdown but didn’t know it yet.

Now Perlstein has produced a sequel. If Before the Storm was a near-masterpiece, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, which covers the turbulent years from Goldwater’s defeat to Nixon’s 1972 landslide victory, is merely a great success. It labors under handicaps his first book didn’t have: whereas Before the Storm dealt with a circumscribed and neglected moment (who remembers Dr. Fred Schwarz’s Christian Anti-Communism Crusade, or the presidential boomlet for William Warren Scranton?), Nixonland tackles the most obsessed-over era in recent American history. Any book that rolls Woodstock and Watergate, the death of RFK and the Tet Offensive, Jane Fonda and George Wallace, and a cast of thousands more into a mere 800 pages or so is bound to sprawl and sag a bit, to rush too quickly through some topics and linger too long with others.

Even so, Nixonland reads marvelously. Perlstein has the rare gift of being able to weave social, political, and cultural history into a single seamless narrative, linking backroom political negotiations to suburban protests over sex education in schools to the premiere of Bonnie and Clyde. [...]

Nixonland is a historical narrative worth savoring—but one worth ar­guing with as well. Perlstein sets out to challenge what he terms “certain hegemonic narratives” of the ’60s. But, perhaps inevitably, he tends to be tougher on right-wing shibboleths—the notion that all of the era’s violence was left-wing; the idea that the media snatched away victory in Vietnam—than on liberal ones. Nixonland offers a vastly more nuanced account of how the New Deal coalition came apart than the predictable left-liberal story of noble Democrats undone by ruthless, race-baiting Republicans. (I’m looking at you, Paul Krugman.) But while Perlstein criticizes the liberal establishment for its self-satisfaction and naïveté—for believing that “if only Nixon’s people could truly see reason … their prejudices would melt away, their true interests would be recognized”—he still leaves the impression that when it came to public policy, mid-century liberalism almost always did have reason on its side. [...]

[P]erlstein is unsparing in his critique of the political failures of mid-century liberalism; I only wish he had meditated more deeply on liberalism’s policy failures as well, and at least grappled with the possibility that voters rejected liberal governance for pragmatic reasons as well as atavistic ones. But to do so might have required him to give Nixon’s Republican Party—if not Nixon himself—more credit for restoring domestic tranquillity than I imagine he thinks the GOP deserves. Indeed, a minor theme of Perlstein’s book is the extent to which domestic tranquillity has never been restored; Americans, he argues, inhabit “Nixonland” even now.

This argument is one of Perlstein’s weakest—and it’s undercut, time and again, by his own skill as a historian and a writer. The chaotic tapestry he summons up—“hard hats” slugging hippies on the steps of Federal Hall on Wall Street, radical priests hatching bomb plots in the steam tunnels under Washington, D.C., riots consuming city after city, and national leaders going down under assassins’ bullets—is fascinating precisely because it feels so alien to our present political climate. Indeed, the age of Bush, supposedly unrivaled in its rancor, seems like a peaceable kingdom when contrasted with the madhouse in which Richard Nixon rose to power. We have a culture war; they had a war.

It’s true that the political and cultural divides that opened in the Nixon era are with us even now. But Perlstein wants to make a larger claim than this; he wants to suggest that the violent spirit of that time has endured till now as well.

I'm only in the early stages of reading Friend Perlstein's book but am struck by a potentially fatal flaw in his thesis that's implied in the review above. With his expected honesty, Mr. Perlstein initially identifies Nixonland as the sort of Red America that the Adlai Stevenson eggheads found themselves stuck in ad unable to comprehend in the 50s. That this part of the metaphor endures--is indeed a seemingly innate part of the culture--is reflected not just in his own essays about contemporary politics but in books by his friends and fellow Brights, like Thomas Frank's unintentionally hilarious, What's the Matter with Kansas.

On the other hand, the sort of violent divisiveness that he associates with Nixonland rather conspicuously developed at the exact time that Richard Nixon was not a central part of the national political scene. Inner-city riots, assassinations, student demonstrations, radical Left terrorism--all of these social plagues arose during the Johnson/Great Society years, the pinnacle of the Left's ascendancy. Even the initial violent reactions were led by Democrats--like LBJ sending federal troops into Detroit or Mayor Daley breaking up protests at the 1968 Democratic Convention. If anything, as Mr. Douthat suggests above, the return of Richard Nixon --a liberal Republican--in 1968 might be seen as an attempt by American voters to restore the social calm and consensus of earlier eras. Richard Nixon, at least in his final incarnation, should probably be considered an effect of the social breakdown of the Liberal 60s, rather than a cause of anything much.

Of course, this perspective does tend to undermine the thesis that the consensus was never retrieved, but consider too that Nixon was followed by a Democrat who ran to the Right of where he and Gerald Ford had governed. The only other Democrat elected president since 1964 was likewise an Evangelical Southern governor. And, while Carter and Clinton only won very narrowly, several Republicans since have run up pretty big margins. The problem would seem to be a reluctance on the part of Mr. Perlstein and company to accept that the consensus has been restored but has shifted back to where it was pre-Depression, fairly far to the Right side of moderate. Thus, even when Democrats won back Congress in the 2006 midterm they've ended up governing little differently than Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay did.

It is instructive also to look at where the most divisive point in our politics is today: the racial/tribal divide between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This is an entirely predictable function of the identity politics that still characterizes much of the Left, although Mr. Obama tried desperately to run as a cipher, lest voters discover his pastor and his politics and, inevitably, reject him as just another Northern liberal too far out of the mainstream to elect president.

At any rate, the book's a rollicking good read and we'll post a full review ASAP.

-ARCHIVES: Perlstein (Brothers Judd Blog)
-EXCERPT: Preface to Nixonland
-EXCERPT: from Nixonland: "Then No One Would Be a Democrat Anymore": In 1970, Richard Nixon, inspired by a spontaneous construction workers' riot, settled on the political strategy that would win him the 1972 election by a landslide and dominate American politics to this day (Rick Perlstein)
-PROFILE: Sympathy for the Devil: Progressive scribe Rick Perlstein made his reputation finding the good in conservatives. Then they really started screwing up the country. (Harold Henderson, January 24, 2008, Chicago Reader)
-BOOKNOTES: Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus by Rick Perlstein (C-SPAN< June 3, 2001)
-DEBATE: Rick Perlstein and David Frum (, 4/18/08)
-ESSAY: All Aboard the McCain Express (Rick Perlstein, April 21, 2008, The Nation)
-ESSAY: Getting Past the '60s? It's Not Going to Happen. (Rick Perlstein, February 3, 2008, Washington Post)
-REVIEW ESSAY: The Myths of McGovern: Thirty-five years later, what the 1972 campaign can—and can’t—teach liberals today: a review of Why the Democrats Are Blue: How Secular Liberals Hijacked the People's Party By Mark Stricherz and The Liberals' Moment: The McGovern Insurgency and the Identity Crisis of the Democratic Party By Bruce Miroff (Rick Perlstein, Democracy)
-ESSAY: Not in his father's footsteps (Rick Perlstein, February 10, 2008, LA Times)
-ESSAY: Smirk of the Union: A small and beaten man spoke to Congress and the nation last night, convinced in his own mind he's a hero (Rick Perlstein, 1/29/08,
-ESSAY: Chinese Mirrors (Rick Perlstein, June 7, 2007, The Nation)
-ESSAY: Whos Afraid of Peter Boyle? (Rick Perlstein, 2/08/07, In These Times)
-ESSAY: The Best Wars of Their Lives (Rick Perlstein, October 15, 2007, The Nation)
-ESSAY: Will the Progressive Majority Emerge? (Rick Perlstein, July 9, 2007, The Nation)
-ESSAY: Why Democrats can stop the war: Pundits say if the party gets too tough with Bush, it will be blamed for "losing" Iraq. But the real political risk is going too easy on Bush, and losing the trust of war-weary voters. (Rick Perlstein, 1/24/07, Salon)
-ESSAY: Heck-of -a-Job Myers? (Rick Perlstein, January 3, 2007, The Nation)
-ESSAY: Fenced Out: A post–9/11 boom in immigration legislation hasn’t stemmed the border flow, but it has created a flood of new approaches—most with built-in paradoxes. (Rick Perlstein, Jan/Feb 2007, University of Chicago Magazine)
-ESSAY: Look Back in Anger: The Democrats won, but they shouldn't for a second let victory cause them to forget the Republicans' dirty tricks operation (Rick Perlstein, November 10, 2006, American Prospect)
-ESSAY: The Odd Couple: Nixon and Lieberman: Nixon and Lieberman both supported pro-war policies while claiming to be anti-war. (Rick Perlstein, 11/03/06, In These Times)
-ESSAY: Unf***ing the Donkey: Advice for weary, wandering Democrats (Rick Perlstein. July 26th, 2005, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: A Socialist in the Age of Triangulation (Rick Perlstein, 7/06/05, In These Times)
-ESSAY: Party Cannibals (Rick Perlstein, February 7, 2005, The Nation)
-ESSAY: Inauguration 2005: The Eve of Destruction ...:
Four more years to remake the world in his image. (Too bad for us, he already started.). (Rick Perlstein. January 11th, 2005, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The Case of the Ohio Recount: In the whodunit over who won it, the true villain is slipping away. (Rick Perlstein, December 14th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Conviction Politics: One Democratic hero emerged from November 2. His fellow Democrats should study up on why. (Rick Perlstein, November 21, 2004, American Prospect)
-ESSAY: Cast Away: It's the Wealth, Stupid: Right-wing class warfare swung the 2004 election (Rick Perlstein, November 2nd, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: It's Mourning in America: The Ohio debacle and the death of our civic life (Rick Perlstein, October 26th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The Reagan legacy: He was a true believer who moved the country divisively to the right. But compared to the current president, Ronald Reagan looks like a moderate (Rick Perlstein, 6/07/04, Salon)
-ESSAY: The Jesus Landing Pad: Bush White House checked with rapture Christians before latest Israel move (Rick Perlstein, May 11th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Tribal Warfare in America: A 30-year-old book by a progressive journalist finds that the passions of reformers can sometimes betray a contempt for the common sense of ordinary people. Sound familiar? (Rick Perlstein, November 16, 2004, Columbia Journalism Review)
-ESSAY: Sucking Democracy Dry: The End of Democracy: Losing America's birthright, the George Bush way (Rick Perlstein, October 12th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Passionate Conservatism: Karl Rove's Republicans swerve right on the way to the middle (Rick Perlstein, August 31st, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Get Mad. Act Out. Re-Elect George Bush: Protesters risk playing into GOP hands. (Rick Perlstein, August 17th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The End of Republican Rule: Righteous populism holds the key to vanquishing Bush forever. (Rick Perlstein. July 27th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The Church of Bush: What liberal infidels will never understand about the president (Rick Perlstein. July 13th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The Divine Calm of George W. Bush: So Iraq's a mess and half the country hates you. Just keep praying. (Rick Perlstein, April 27th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The Jobs of the Future Are a Thing of the Past: Outsourcing and the sad little movement to stop it. by Rick Perlstein, March 23rd, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Flight of the Bumblebee: Howard Dean May Be Dying, but He Sure Packed a Sting (Rick Perlstein, January 27th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Last Copter Out of Baghdad: Bush Flees Iraq Mess On The Campaign Express. (Rick Perlstein, January 6th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Attention, Wal-Mart Voters: Lost Jobs and Military Funerals Haunt Bush in the Heartland (Rick Perlstein, December 2nd, 2003, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Day of the Spoiler: Inside Joe Lieberman's Kamikaze Campaign (Rick Perlstein, October 21st, 2003, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Patriot Act?: Wesley Clark says he knew the Iraq War was wrong. So why didn't he say something -- before it was too late? (Rick Perlstein, October 15, 2003, American Prospect)
-ESSAY: Come Out Fighting: Boxing George Bush Into a Corner in 2004 (Rick Perlstein, September 16th, 2003, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The Fringe on Top: Extremists Help the GOP Muscle In on the Golden State (Rick Perlstein, August 12th, 2003, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Orange County Anguish: Searching for Someone, Anyone, Who Loves Governor Gray Davis (Rick Perlstein, September 2nd, 2003, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Howard Dean's Youth Machine: Not since McGovern has a Democratic candidate drawn a youth following the size of Howard Dean's - and that's got some in the party worried. (Rick Perlstein, July 16, 2003, Mother Jones)
-ESSAY: The TV Campaign (Rick Perlstein, November 30, 2002, American Prospect)
-ESSAY: As Reviewed on Amazon (Rick Perlstein, November 30, 2002, American Prospect)
-ESSAY: The 'Safety' Trap: Tuesday's loss gave Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt plenty to ponder: Democrats followed the party's center-seeking presidential hopefuls into an ideological no-man's land. (Rick Perlstein, November 11, 2002, Mother Jones)
-ESSAY: A Surrender to Trust: Richard Nixon taught the nation a painful lesson about secrecy and the White House. How soon we forget. (Rick Perlstein, July/August 2002, Mother Jones)
-ESSAY: The Historical Present: What has superseded the academic culture wars of the 1990s? It's not what you think. (Rick Perlstein, July 14, 2002, American Prospect)
-ESSAY: The Two Faces of Ralph (Rick Perlstein, January 15th, 2002, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The Media Muzzled: Vietnam and Afghanistan Show why Limiting Press Access to War is Unpatriotic (Rick Perlstein, December 11th, 2001, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Pundits Who Predict the Future Are Always Wrong (Rick Perlstein, April 23, 2001, The Nation)
-ESSAY: What's the Matter With College? (Rick Perlstein, NY Times Magazine)
-REVIEW: of PRESIDENT NIXON: Alone in the White House By Richard Reeves (Rick Perlstein, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of AMERICAN FASCISTS: The Christian Right and the War on America By Chris Hedges (Rick Perlstein, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of WHAT A PARTY!: My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators, and Other Wild Animals. By Terry McAuliffe with Steve Kettmann (Rick Perlstein, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of FOR THE SURVIVAL OF DEMOCRACY: Franklin Roosevelt and the World Crisis of the 1930s By Alonzo L. Hamby (Rick Perlstein, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: Blumenthals First Draft of History: Princeton University Press has published a compilation of articles by Sidney Blumenthal called How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime (Rick Perlstein, In These Times)
-REVIEW: The Flaw of Averages: How polls obscure America's many social patchworks: a review of The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens, and the Making of a Mass Public By Sarah Igo (Rick Perlstein, Columbia Journalism Review)
-REVIEW: of Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan By Edmund Morris (Rick Perlstein, Village Voice)
-REVIEW: of The Trial of Henry Kissinger By Christopher Hitchens (Rick Perlstein, Village Voice)
-REVIEW: of Views From the South: The Effects of Globalization and the WTO on Third World Countries Food First Books and the International Forum on Globalization and Five Days That Shook The World By Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair (Rick Perlstein, Village Voice)
-REVIEW: of Jane Fonda’s War: A Political Biography of an Anti-war Icon by Mary Hershberger (Rick Perlstein, London Review of Books)
-ARCHIVES: Rick Perlstein (The Nation)
-ARCHIVES: perlstein (Salon)
-ARCHIVES: rick perlstein (Newsweek)
-ARCHIVES: Rick Perlstein (In These Times)
-ARCHIVES: Rick Perlstein (AlterNet)
-ARCHIVES: perlstein (Village Voice)
-ARCHIVES: perlstein (American Prospect)
-ARCHIVES: perlstein (Mother Jones)
-ARCHIVES: "perlstein, rick" (Find Articles)
-Kicking Around Nixon...and more (Alex Beam, 5/06/08, Boston Globe)
-REVIEW: of Nixonland (George F. Will, NY Times Book Review)

In Perlstein’s mental universe, Nixon is a bit like God — not, Lord knows, because of Nixon’s perfect goodness and infinite mercy, but because Nixon is the explanation for everything. Or at least for the rise of the right and the decline of almost everything else. This is a subject Perlstein, a talented man of the left, has addressed before.

In 2001, he published the best book yet on the social ferments that produced Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential candidacy. Subtle and conscientious, “Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus” demonstrated Perlstein’s omnivorous appetite for telling tidbits from the news media, like this one: When Goldwater was campaigning in the 1964 New Hampshire primary, The New York Times ran a photograph with the snide caption “Barry Goldwater, aspirant for the Republican presidential nomination, with the widow of Senator Styles Bridges in East Concord. She holds dog.” Oh, the other person must be the conservative presidential candidate. [...]

Now comes the second installment of Perlstein’s meditation on that era’s and, he thinks, our current discontents. “Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America” completes his inquest into the death of the “cult of ‘American consensus’” and the birth of “American cacophony.” Perlstein’s chronicle, which begins with the Watts riot of August 1965, is itself riotous: even at its calmest, his pell-mell narrative calls to mind a Pieter Bruegel painting of tumultuous peasants; at its most fervid, it resembles one of Hieronymus Bosch’s nightmares.

Do we need another waist-deep wallow in the 1960s, ensconcing us cheek by jowl with Frank Rizzo and Eldridge Cleaver, Sam Yorty and Mark Rudd, Lester Maddox and Herbert Marcuse and other long-forgotten bit players in a period drama? Do we need to be reminded of that era’s gaseous juvenophilia, like Time magazine’s celebration of Americans 25 or younger as 1967’s “Man of the Year”: “This is not just a new generation, but a new kind of generation. ... In the omphalocentric process of self-construction and discovery,” today’s youth “stalks love like a wary hunter, but has no time or target — not even the mellowing Communists — for hate.”

Well, this retrospective wallow does increase the public stock of harmless pleasure, as when Perlstein revisits the 1972 Democratic convention that nominated George McGovern and heard 80 nominations for vice president, including Mao Zedong and Archie Bunker. But Perlstein’s high-energy — sometimes too energetic — romp of a book also serves, inadvertently, a serious need: it corrects the cultural hypochondria to which many Americans, including Perlstein, are prone.

Because the baby boomers’ self-absorption is so ample, there already has been no shortage of brooding about those years. We do, however, benefit from the brooding by Perlstein, who is not a boomer, for two reasons. First, he has a novelist’s, or perhaps an anthropologist’s, eye for illuminating details, as in his jaw-dropping reconstruction of the Newark riots of July 1967. Second, his thorough excavation of the cultural detritus of that decade refutes his thesis, which is that now, as then, Americans are at daggers drawn. [...]

Perlstein repeatedly explains Nixon’s or other people’s behavior as arising from an Orthogonian resentment of Franklins, including establishment figures as different as Alger Hiss and Nelson Rockefeller. Nixon “co-opted the liberals’ populism, channeling it into a white middle-class rage at the sophisticates, the well-born, the ‘best circles.’” By stressing the importance of Nixon’s character in shaping events, and the centrality of resentments in shaping Nixon’s character, Perlstein treads a dead-end path blazed by Hofstadter, who seemed not to understand that condescension is not an argument. Postulating a link between “status anxiety” and a “paranoid style” in American politics — especially conservative politics — Hofstadter dismissed the conservative movement’s positions as mere attitudes that did not merit refutation. Perlstein, too, gives these ideas short shrift.

As the pollster Samuel Lubell had already noted before the 1952 election, “the inner dynamics of the Roosevelt coalition have shifted from those of getting to those of keeping.” Perlstein keenly sees that some liberals “developed a distaste” for the social elements they had championed, now that those elements were “less reliably downtrodden” and less content to be passively led by liberal elites.

The masses bought television sets and enjoyed what they watched. But Newton Minow, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (and formerly Adlai Stevenson’s administrative assistant) declared television a “vast wasteland,” thereby implicitly scolding viewers who enjoyed it. When New York was becoming a lawless dystopia, with crime, drugs and homelessness spoiling public spaces, August Heckscher, the patrician commissioner of parks under Mayor John Lindsay, sniffily declared that people clamoring for law and order were “scared by the abundance of life.”

A Newsweek cover story on Louise Day Hicks, who led opposition to forced busing of school children in Boston, described her supporters as “a comic-strip gallery of tipplers and brawlers and their tinseled overdressed dolls ... the men queued up to give Louise their best, unscrewing cigar butts from their chins to buss her noisily on the cheek, or pumping her arm as if it were a jack handle under a truck.”

Perlstein deftly deploys such judgments to illustrate what the resentful resented. Unfortunately, he seems to catch the ’60s disease of rhetorical excess.

-REVIEW: of Nixonland (The Economist)
-REVIEW: of Nixonland (BuzzFlash)
-REVIEW: of Nixonland (Harry Levins, St. Louis POST-DISPATCH)
-REVIEW: of Before the Storm (Mark Greif, Village Voice)
-REVIEW: of David Greenberg. Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image (Raj Jethwa, H-USA)
-REVIEW: of Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man By Garry Wills (John Leonard, NY Times)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


There's Something in the Air, Other Than Another Ball Headed for the Fence (Thomas Boswell, May 23, 2008, Washington Post)

This spring, for the second straight year, home run totals, like the game's conspicuous muscles, have shrunk dramatically. Last season's 8 percent drop in home runs was welcomed, but with caution. Would the tater barrage simply resume? But now, in the wake of the Mitchell report, home runs have fallen this spring by another 10.4 percent.

Suddenly, a sport that produced 5,386 home runs in 2006 is on pace for 4,442 this year -- a 17.5 percent drop, or a loss of almost 1,000 home runs in just two seasons.

If the current trend continues, baseball might return to the levels at which many students of the game think the sport has been healthiest and most pleasing: an average of a bit more than nine runs and slightly less than two home runs per game.

This season, major league teams have scored 8.98 runs per game. Since 1871, there have been 1,750,230 runs in the majors, an average of 9.11 per game. Warm weather, when fly balls carry farther, might bring the game almost exactly back to its long-term scoring trend.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Optometrist 2 for 2 at Fenway: His only games - last two no-hitters (Gordon Edes, May 23, 2008, Boston Globe)

Brian Rowley is an optometrist who lives in Santaquin, Utah, about 20 miles south of Provo. He has been to two Red Sox games in his life.

The first was Clay Buchholz's no-hitter last Sept. 1 with his wife, Emily, and friends.

The second was Jon Lester's no-hitter Monday night. Rowley was there with his son Nathan, along with his brother Brian, who brought his sons, Jeffrey and Jared.

"People are saying to me, 'Dang, when are you coming out again?' " Rowley said by phone yesterday from his office.

What are the odds? Infinitesimal. Charles Scoggins of the Lowell Sun has been one of the official scorers at Fenway Park since 1978. He has scored 1,465 regular-season games. Lester's was his first no-hitter.

May 22, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 PM


I am the Margaret Thatcher of France, says Nicolas Sarkozy as he defies pension strikers (Henry Samuel, 23/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Tens of thousands of French workers staged nationwide protests yesterday against plans by President Nicolas Sarkozy to make people work a year longer to qualify for a full pension.

France's five largest unions joined forces to fight a government proposal obliging employees to work 41 years before retiring, against 40 years at present. They are also angry at plans to cut the numbers of public sector workers.

Half the country's trains were not running, but the action had less impact on public transport than expected because of a new rule on securing a minimum service during strikes. Paris and Lyon were barely affected and there were no delays on international routes.

British coalminers wouldn't wipe themselves with French public employees.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 PM


At Supreme Court, 5-to-4 Rulings Fade — but Why? (LINDA GREENHOUSE, 5/22/08, NY Times)

Where have all the 5-to-4 decisions gone?

And whatever happened to the “Kennedy Court”?

A year ago at this time, the Supreme Court had decided 13 cases by votes of 5 to 4, out of 41 total decisions. That proved to be an accurate snapshot of a highly polarized term. By the time the court wrapped up its work five weeks later, a third of the cases — the highest proportion in years — had been decided by margins of a single vote.

But so far this term, with 35 cases decided with full opinions, there has been only a single 5-to-4 decision. It came in a low-visibility statutory case, not in a hot-button constitutional one.

The point of nominating Roberts (and Miers) was to improve the collegiality of the place and enable the moderates to vote conservative, which the intellectual bullying of guys like Scalia and Thomas makes less likely. It worked.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 PM


Labour Party forced to rely on trade unions for over 90 per cent of its funding (Daily Telegraph, 23/05/2008)

The Labour Party is being forced to rely on the trade unions for more than 90 per cent of its funding because donations from wealthy individuals have virtually dried up, according to figures from the Electoral Commission watchdog.

Nearly all the £3.1 million raised by the party in the first quarter of 2008 has come from the unions, with the exception of three bequests and around £157,000 from the taxpayer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 PM


Barack Obama and Me: It was the year 2000 and I was a young hungry reporter in Chicago covering a young hungry state legislator (Todd Spivak, February 28, 2008, Houston Press)

On the stump, Obama has frequently invoked his experiences as a community organizer on the Chicago South Side in the early 1990s, when he passed on six-figure salary offers at corporate law firms after graduating from Harvard Law School to direct a massive voter-registration drive.

But, as a state senator, Obama evaded leadership on a host of critical community issues, from historic preservation to the rapid demolition of nearby public-housing projects, according to many South Siders.

Harold Lucas, a veteran South Side community organizer who remembers when Obama was "just a big-eared kid fresh out of school," says he didn't finally decide to support Obama's presidential bid until he was actually inside the voting booth on Super Tuesday.

"I'm not happy about the quality of life in my community," says Lucas, who now heads a black-heritage tourism business in Chicago. "As a local elected official, he had a primary role in that."

In addition to Hyde Park, Obama also represented segments of several South Side neighborhoods home to the nation's richest African-American cultural history outside of Harlem.

Before World War II, the adjacent Bronzeville community was known as the "Black Metropolis," attracting African-American migrants seeking racial equality and economic opportunity from states to the south such as Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Storied jazz clubs such as Gerri's Palm Tavern regularly hosted Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Josephine Baker and many others. In the postwar era, blues legends Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King all regularly gigged in cramped juke joints such as the Checkerboard Lounge.

When the City of Chicago seized the 70-year-old Gerri's Palm Tavern by eminent domain in 2001, sparking citywide protests, Obama was silent. And he offered no public comments when the 30-year owner of the Checkerboard Lounge was forced to relocate a couple years later.

Even in Hyde Park, Obama declined to take a position on a years-long battle waged by hundreds of local community activists fighting against the city's plan to replace the historic limestone seawall along Lake Michigan — a popular spot to sunbathe and swim — with concrete steps.

It would be comparable to representing Barton Creek in Austin, and sidestepping any discussion about conservation.

Obama's aloofness on key community issues for years frustrated Lucas and many other South Siders. Now they believe he was just afraid of making political enemies or being pigeonholed as a black candidate. Lucas says he has since become an ardent Obama supporter.

"His campaign has built a momentum of somebody being born to the moment," Lucas says. "He truly gives the perception that he could possibly pull us all together around being American again. And the hope of that is worth the risk when you look at the other candidates. I mean, you can't get away from old school when you look at Hillary."

Lucas even believes Obama made the right choice by declining PBS talk-show host Tavis Smiley's invitation to speak at this week's State of the Black Union 2008 conference in New Orleans.

"Obama can't bring those issues up if he wants to be elected," Lucas says. "And that's the travesty of the situation that we find ourselves in as African-Americans."

In the presidential campaign, Obama has been criticized for a shady land deal and other past ties to Tony Rezko, the Chicago real estate developer and ubiquitous political donor who now faces federal charges of attempted extortion and money laundering.

In a debate held last month before the South Carolina primary, Hillary Clinton charged that Obama had legally represented Rezko "in his slum landlord business in inner-city Chicago." The issue was turned back on her a few days later when an old picture of a smiling Clinton posing with Rezko surfaced on Drudge Report.

Though it didn't make national news, Obama inflamed many residents in his old state Senate district last March when he endorsed controversial Chicago alderman Dorothy Tillman in a runoff election.

Flamboyant and unpredictable, Tillman is perhaps best known for once pulling a pistol from her purse and brandishing it around at a city council meeting. The ward she represented for 22 years, which included historic Bronzeville, comprised the city's largest concentration of vacant lots.

Just three months before Obama made his endorsement, the Lakefront Outlook community newspaper ran a three-part investigative series exposing flagrant crony­ism and possible tax-law violations that centered on Tillman and her biggest pet project, a taxpayer-funded cultural center built across the street from her ward office that had been hemorrhaging money since its inception.

The series won a national George Polk Award, among the most coveted prizes in journalism. Not bad for a 12-page rag with a circulation of 12,000 and no Web site. I had already left the Outlook and had nothing to do with the project.

In the end, Tillman lost the election despite Obama's endorsement, which critics said countered his calls for clean government. Obama told the Chicago Tribune that he had backed Tillman because she was an early supporter of his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign.

Many speculate Obama only bothered to weigh in on a paltry city council election during his presidential campaign as a gesture to Chicago's powerful Mayor Richard M. Daley, a Tillman supporter. Even so, Obama should have remained neutral, says Timuel Black, a historian and City Colleges of Chicago professor emeritus who lived in Obama's state Senate district.

"That was not a wise decision," Black says. "It was poor judgment on his part. He was operating like a politician trying to win the next step up."

Obama has spent his entire political career trying to win the next step up. Every three years, he has aspired to a more powerful political position. [...]

I moved to Springfield in early 2004 to work for the Illinois Times, where I covered Obama's U.S. Senate bid.

My first assignment was to profile Obama, who was largely unknown in central Illinois.

In fact, at that time just four years ago, Obama was still largely unknown even in his own community.

I followed Obama one wintry morning as he visited several black churches on Chicago's South Side urging people to vote for him in the upcoming primary. Congregants greeted him with lukewarm applause.

I noted in my article that one lady sitting in a pew beside me was noticeably impressed with the young man, and asked to borrow my pen. She wrote on her church pamphlet, "Obama, March 16," then underlined the date.

Over the years, most of my interviews with Obama were conducted by phone. So it felt good when he immediately recognized me and shouted my name from the end of a long, empty hallway inside the church after his speech.

After all, I admired the guy — and still do.

We shook hands and walked outside together. I asked some questions and snapped some pictures before a dark-blue Chevrolet Suburban with tinted windows whisked him off to another congregation less than a mile away. I followed behind in my beat-up Oldsmobile.

My story ran on the cover of the Illinois Times. The more I thought about it, though, the more I thought it was fluff. Obama's own public-relations flack could have produced something comparable.

At the time, the Illinois media had fallen head-over-heels in love with Obama and his squeaky-clean image. "As pedigrees go, there is not a finer one among the Democratic candidates," the Chicago Tribune gushed in its endorsement.

All this predated TV pundit Chris Matthews's more recent comment that Obama's speeches send chills up his legs.

"He's been given a pass," says Harold Lucas, the community organizer in Chicago. "His career has been such a meteoric rise that he has not had the time to set a record."

A week after my profile of Obama was published, I called some of my contacts in the Illinois Legislature. I ran through a list of black Chicago lawmakers who had worked with Obama, and was surprised to learn that many resented him and had supported other candidates in the U.S. Senate election.

"Anybody but Obama," the late state Representative Lovana Jones told me at the time.

State Representative Monique Davis, who attended the same church as Obama and co-sponsored several bills with him, also did not support his candidacy. She complained of feeling overshadowed by Obama.

"I was snubbed," Davis told me. "I felt he was shutting me out of history."

In a follow-up report published a couple weeks later, I wrote about these disgruntled black legislators and the central role Senate President Emil Jones played in Obama's revived political life.

The morning after the story was posted online, I arrived early at my new offices. I hadn't taken my coat off when the phone rang. It was Obama.

The article began, "It can be painful to hear Ivy League-bred Barack Obama talk jive."

Obama told me he doesn't speak jive, that he doesn't say the words "homeboy" or "peeps."

It seemed so silly; I thought for sure he was joking. He wasn't.

He said the black legislators I cited in the story were off-base, and that they couldn't have gotten the bills passed without him.

I started to speak, and he shouted me down.

He said he liked the other story I wrote.

I asked if there was anything factually inaccurate about the latest story.

He repeated that his former colleagues couldn't have passed the bills without him.

He asked why I wrote this story, then cut me off when I started to answer.

He said he should have been given a chance to respond.

I told him I had requested an interview through his communications director.

He said I should have called his cell phone.

I reminded him that he had asked me months ago to stop calling his cell phone due to his busier schedule.

He said again that I should have called his cell phone.

Today I no longer have Obama's cell phone number. I submitted two formal requests to interview Obama for this story through his Web site, but have not heard back. I also e-mailed interview requests to three of his top staffers, but none responded.

Maybe he'll call the day after this story runs. I'll get to the office early just in case. And this time I'll have my recorder ready.

Being a politician is a perfectly honorable profession, unless you pretend you aren't one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 PM


The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: Indy is back — impatient for the chase and predictably entertaining. (Thomas S. Hibbs, 5/22/08, National Review)

I had three worries going into the film. The first had to do with whether Harrison Ford was still up to the task of playing Indiana Jones, whether he would still look the part and play it with the same charming combination of wit and seriousness, innocence and toughness. I’m happy to say that he pulls it off effortlessly.

The second worry was about Shia LaBeouf — whether the introduction of a young sidekick to Indiana Jones would harm or enhance the story. A motorcycle-driving tough kid, Mutt is equal parts James Dean and, well, Fonzie from Happy Days. From the very first scene in which he meets Indy — ending in a motorcycle chase with Indy riding on the back — the repartée and chemistry between Ford and LaBeouf is pitch-perfect. Filmed in New Haven on the Yale campus, the motorcycle chase is one of the most memorable scenes in the film.

Initially skeptical of what use a teacher could be in a dangerous quest for valuable antiquities, Mutt learns the hard way about Indy’s skills. Surrounded in the jungle by unfriendly natives, Indy saves Mutt’s life by reversing the path of a poison dart so that it kills the attacker. An astonished Mutt asks, “Are you really a teacher?” To which Indy responds with a wry smile, “Part-time.”

The third concern about the film was about how fresh it would seem, whether viewers would have a sense of discovery or novelty about the plot or the characters. Here the film comes up short. The first chase sequence, in the desert — which has Indy overcoming not just gunfire but a full-scale nuclear attack — is completely over-the-top. After that, the film settles down a bit, but its eagerness to get on to the next chase scene gives the entire plot an impatient feel.

Who watched Saturday Morning serials for freshness?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 PM


The Syrians Are Clever… And You're Not! (Tariq Alhomayed, 5/22/08, Asharq Al-awasat)

[T]oday I say that Syria has distracted you from the 2006 summer war by resorting to loud-voice policy, and what could be worse than that, without doing anything for the sake of Beirut. And over the past two years, Syria has preoccupied you with the cards: Amal, Hezbollah, and Hamas.

And today we see Syria resuming its saga of accusations, mistrust and insults of Arab states, declaring that the Arab states forfeited the Palestinian cause when they met with [US President George W.] Bush at a time when Damascus was negotiating with [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert over the Golan Heights alone – and with that it will have hurled the Palestinian cause into the abyss.

What is truly amusing is the Syrian description of [Secretary-General of the Arab League] Amr Moussa as a burdensome guest in Doha… Moussa who has preoccupied us with talk of the Arab ranks, Arab rights, and the smoothing over of the situation with Damascus!

Syria did not only preoccupy the Arab world with Lebanon; it also preoccupied the Iraqis with their security and caused them great suffering only to present them on a gold platter to the Iranians who are negotiating with the US over Iraq.

Syria presented itself as a resistance state when it is only a deceptive one. There is no fault in Damascus regaining the Golan Heights, but the question remains: In order to regain its land, must Syria occupy and ravage Lebanon and fragment the Palestinian camp and divide it internally?

The Syrians are clever because they have deceived Arab public opinion, which has already been deceived 60 years ago – and willingly.

The Israel/Assad partnership is appalling.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:16 PM


Kennedy talked, Khrushchev triumphed (Nathan Thrall and Jesse James Wilkins, May 22, 2008, IHT)

In his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy expressed in two eloquent sentences, often invoked by Barack Obama, a policy that turned out to be one of his presidency's - indeed one of the Cold War's - most consequential: "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate." Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Kennedy's special assistant, called those sentences "the distinctive note" of the inaugural.

They have also been a distinctive note in Obama's campaign, and were made even more prominent last week when President George W. Bush, in a speech to Israel's Parliament, disparaged a willingness to negotiate with America's adversaries as appeasement. Obama defended his position by again enlisting Kennedy's legacy: "If George Bush and John McCain have a problem with direct diplomacy led by the president of the United States, then they can explain why they have a problem with John F. Kennedy, because that's what he did with Khrushchev."

But Kennedy's one presidential meeting with Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier, suggests that there are legitimate reasons to fear negotiating with one's adversaries. Although Kennedy was keenly aware of some of the risks of such meetings - his Harvard thesis was titled "Appeasement at Munich" - he embarked on a summit meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna in June 1961, a move that would be recorded as one of the more self-destructive American actions of the Cold War, and one that contributed to the most dangerous crisis of the nuclear age.

The scathing treatment of this summit--well, of the whole JFK presidency as regards foreign policy--in Michael Beschloss's Crisis Years is a must read.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:34 PM


Indonesia: Not yet a dream; no longer a nightmare: A boom in satire marks a decade of sturdy democracy (The Economist, 5/22/08)

Although Suharto's authoritarianism is a distant nightmare, Indonesia is not yet a dream republic, hence the ironic title of Mr Effendi's show. Demos, a Jakarta think-tank, this month published a survey of over 900 Indonesian “experts” on the state of democracy in the country. They concluded that it is now as entrenched as it is in India and that the openness and honesty of state institutions is improving. However, despite the recent victories for press freedom, Demos noted a deterioration in other liberties since its last survey, in 2003-04, notably religious freedom.

A topical example of this is the demand by a semi-official group of Muslim clerics to ban Ahmadiyah, a “heretical” sect. Mr Yudhoyono at first intended to go along with this proposal, to appease the small but aggressive Islamist minority. Now, after an outcry by liberals, the president is dithering—his default mode.

As its parliament shows, Indonesia has a secular-minded and fairly liberal majority. But Eva Sundari, an opposition lawmaker and one of Demos's panel of experts, worries that progressives are failing to find a common voice against a few “very organised and systematic” religious conservatives. These now represent the main menace to Indonesia's development as an open society.

It used to be the army that was the main threat to democracy. In Suharto's day it dominated politics. Not any more. Generals sometimes grumble about modern freedoms, and some may run in next year's elections on a ticket of nostalgia for the strict “order” of pre-1998 days. But Mr Rais reckons the top brass realises democracy is the only option.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 AM


Spreading the word (Claire Provost, 22 May 2008, New Statesman)

It is unlikely that George Soros, Japanese anarchists and William Shatner have much in common - except, perhaps, for their shared study of Esperanto, the "international auxiliary language" now more than 120 years old and being heavily promoted by activists in Hokkaido, Japan in advance of this summer's G8 summit.

Invented in 1887 by Dr Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof, Esperanto is a constructed language with Romanic and Germanic roots, Belarussian phonology, and Slavic semantics. The young ophthalmologist wanted an intermediary language to break through the language barriers that pervaded his home region in Poland, where different ethnic and linguistic groups lived in relative isolation from one another - an isolation that bred fear, suspicion and occasional violence.

There have been many attempts to spread the word (or vorto in Esperanto), but the latest spurt of enthusiasm comes from among contemporary anti-capitalist organisers hoping to use it to facilitate international action.

When the Grandfather Judd graduated from High School he was too young to go to college, so they sent him to Peddie prep school for a couple years and he learned Esperanto. It didn't catch on a hundred years ago and isn't going to now. The Brights couldn't even get America to adopt the Metric System, they think they'll get us to talk gobbledygook?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Iran's surprise package tests waters (Kaveh L Afrasiabi, 5/22/08, Asia Times)

This may well mean that Iran is open to the idea of a temporary suspension of uranium-enrichment activities for the duration of negotiations, as reportedly called for by the Iran Six nations in their new "incentive package" to Iran, due to be delivered shortly by a delegation led by the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana.

Since any such compromise on Iran's part may be negatively interpreted in the region and beyond as a sign of Iran's weakness, it must be linked to certain value-adding, prestige-enhancing results for Iran's foreign policy, otherwise it will be a hard sell at home. As a regional power that is concerned about the prospects of a regional nuclear arms race, Iran can definitely take some of the steam from the engine of proliferation in Persian Gulf and beyond by striking a deal that brings greater stability to the region and, simultaneously, compensates for its nuclear compromise by increasing its regional clout through the arch of "collective cooperation", to cite Iran's package.

As Seif Al-Islam received the credit for bartering away Libya's imaginary nuclear weapons program--thereby strengthening his reform movement--so must we make sure that Ahmedinejad doesn't get credit when Iran "abandon's" its own. In fact, end-running and publicly humiliating him would best serve our ends.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


History in the making for Hezbollah (Sami Moubayed, 5/23/08, Asia Times)

Nasrallah finally got what he had been asking for, mainly a greater say for the opposition in the Lebanese government, and the ability to veto any resolution that runs against the interests of Hezbollah.
True, no early parliamentary elections are going to happen (as Hezbollah had requested) to oust the parliamentary majority of Saad al-Hariri, but the entire issue of Hezbollah and its arms was glossed over at the Doha meeting.

A fighter who often said that he seeks martyrdom in his war with Israel, Nasrallah, like Churchill, would certainly prefer that it be postponed. He needs time to enjoy the fruits of victory taken by Hezbollah in Qatar. He might be idolized by millions of Arabs, seen as a war hero and a charismatic, honest and inspiring leader. He might be hated beyond imagination by his opponents, seen as a terrorist and an Iranian stooge. But setting emotions aside - they don't really count in politics - the man has in every sense of the word proven his intention, and succeeded, in writing history; his way.

When Israel withdrew from South Lebanon in 2000, his opponents argued Nasrallah was finished. The young leader had legitimized himself for nearly 10 years as a freedom fighter, someone who was needed to combat the Israeli occupation. Now that Lebanon was free, theoretically, what was the use for Nasrallah or the arms of Hezbollah? He could not continue to hold arms, fight the Israelis, and appeal to his constituency now that the Israelis had left Lebanon.

Egocentrism makes people view Hezbollah only as it relates to Israel, whereas Hezbollah cares only about Shi'ite South Lebanon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Obama No (Adolph Reed Jr., May 2008, The Progressive)

I’ve never been an Obama supporter. I’ve known him since the very beginning of his political career, which was his campaign for the seat in my state senate district in Chicago. He struck me then as a vacuous opportunist, a good performer with an ear for how to make white liberals like him. [...]

The Obama campaign has even put out a misleading bio of Michelle Obama, representing her as having grown up in poverty on the South Side, when, in fact, her parents were city workers, and her father was a Daley machine precinct captain. This fabrication, along with those embroideries of the candidate’s own biography, may be standard fare, the typical log cabin narrative. However, in Obama’s case, the license taken not only underscores Obama’s more complex relationship to insider politics in Daley’s Chicago; it also underscores how much this campaign depends on selling an image rather than substance.

There is also something disturbingly ritualistic and superficial in the Obama camp’s young minions’ enthusiasm. Paul Krugman noted months ago that the Obamistas display a cultish quality in the sense that they treat others’ criticism or failure to support their icon as a character flaw or sin. The campaign even has a stock conversion narrative, which has been recycled in print by such normally clear-headed columnists as Barbara Ehrenreich and Katha Pollitt: the middle-aged white woman’s report of not having paid much attention to Obama early on, but having been won over by the enthusiasm and energy of their adolescent or twenty-something daughters. (A colleague recently reported having heard this narrative from a friend, citing the latter’s conversion at the hands of her eighteen year old. I observed that three short years ago the daughter was likely acting the same way about Britney Spears.)

Princeton Professor Sean Wilentz, a Clinton supporter, noted that the Obama campaign advisers have tried to have it both ways on the race question. On the one hand, they present their candidate as a figure who transcends racial divisions and “brings us together”; on the other hand, they exhort us that we should support his candidacy because of the opportunity to “make history” (presumably by nominating and maybe electing a black candidate). Increasingly, Obama supporters have been disposed to cry foul and charge racism at nearly any criticism of him, in steadily more extravagant rhetoric.

The campaign’s accusation that the Clinton team made Obama look darker in a photo or video clip than he actually is—and what exactly are we to make of that as an accusation?—and the hysterically indignant reaction to Geraldine Ferraro’s statement that much of Obama’s success stems from the fact that “the country is caught up in the concept” of a black candidacy are no different from the campaign’s touting its “historic” character. Obama supporters fulsomely attacked even Clinton’s attempts to portray him as inexperienced, which is standard fare in political campaigns. They also charged that she was playing to racism. See most recently Harvard sociologist Lawrence Bobo’s characterization that she was “disrespecting” black people, a leftover canard from Jesse Jackson’s campaigns (which, lest amnesia overtake us, were also extolled as historic firsts).

The Jackson comparison points to one of Obama’s key contradictions: Like Jackson, he wants to appeal to blacks with the “it’s our time now” line, and to white liberals with that, as well as with the “I’m black in a different way from Jesse” qualifier and the religious conversion rhetoric. A friend said that Obama’s campaign, in stressing his appeal to rapturous children and liberal, glamorous yuppies, offers vicarious identification with these groups, as well as the chance to become sort of black in that ultra-safe and familiar theme park way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


LA workers swap cars for subway (David Willis, 5/22/08, BBC News)

In Los Angeles, the rising price of petrol is prompting people to travel to work by train rather than by car. According to figures from the city's subway system, the number of passengers increased by more than 14% in the first three months of 2008.

I am going to let you in on a little secret, but promise me please you will not breathe a word, otherwise I may never be able to show my face in certain parts of this town again.

This week I did something which - in nearly 10 years of living in Los Angeles - I have never, ever done before.

Cue the drum roll: I travelled to work on the subway. [...]

Sitting next to me was accountant Chris Peterson, who said he liked the subway because you could always get a seat. Which didn't come as a surprise to either of us, since, aside from not really going anywhere, the network's other failing seems to be a chronic lack of self promotion.

Chris said he had only just discovered there was a subway system in LA - and he has lived here for 30 years.

Part of the psyche

As we arrived in Hollywood, I got chatting with Bradley Chapman, who makes those life-sized cardboard cut-outs of movie stars which cinemas use to promote their films. Like Chris, he had recently taken to the subway because he could no longer afford the price of petrol.

Bradley's new commute is the antithesis of the LA norm. As well as taking the train, another part of his journey actually involves putting one foot in front of the other, a heretical notion that simply will never catch on.

Such re-engagement with fellow citzens is symptomatic of train travel.
You have to use gas taxes to keep the freeways clear though, lest they become an attractive nuisance as delays go down.

May 21, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 PM


Mr. Sammler’s City: Saul Bellow’s prophetic 1970 novel captured New York’s unraveling and remains a cautionary tale. (Myron Magnet, Spring 2008, City Journal)

The year Sammler appeared, Tom Wolfe jeered at the white elite’s embrace of the Panthers in his hilarious essay “Radical Chic,” describing a party Leonard Bernstein had thrown to introduce the paramilitary-garbed black-power group to such friends as Richard Avedon, Lillian Hellman, Robert Silvers, and Barbara Walters in his Park Avenue duplex. But for Bellow, despite his keen sense of the absurd, such antics were no laughing matter. They were part of the reason why New York was falling apart.

Since the nineteenth century, bohemians, writers, and intellectuals have toyed with the “romance of the outlaw,” as Sammler puts it. “He thought often what a tremendous appeal crime had made to the children of bourgeois civilization. Whether as revolutionists, as supermen, as saints, Knights of Faith, even the best teased and tested themselves with thoughts of knife or gun. Lawless Raskolnikovs.” But in Sammler’s New York, and in elite culture generally in the sixties, that romance of the outlaw focused primarily on blacks, whose status as social victims and outcasts transformed their criminal acts (ex officio, so to speak) into manly, quasi-heroic revolts against oppression, however inchoate. Another of Sammler’s nieces, a rich, pretty Sarah Lawrence grad, embodies this prevailing worldview: she regularly sends money to “defense funds for black murderers and rapists.” Her uncle has no patience with this attitude. You can’t excuse a crime by saying it has been committed by a victim. “To whom would this not apply, if you start to say poor creature?” he dryly objects.

But though this exculpatory impulse springs partly from a widespread wish to make amends for centuries of racial injustice and to see “the unity of the different races affirmed,” its roots go deeper than that. The American elite, Bellow saw, had lost confidence in its core values. “The labor of Puritanism was now ending”; the Puritan outlook that had guided America for three and a half centuries, the bourgeois outlook that “formerly was believed, trusted, was now bitterly circled in black irony.” Without faith in their core bourgeois values and in the social order that rested on those values, the old elite had ceased to believe in its own legitimacy. Not surprisingly, “Mr. Sammler was testy with White Protestant America for not keeping better order. Cowardly surrender. Not a strong ruling class. Eager in a secret humiliating way to come down and mingle with all the minority mobs, and scream against themselves.”

Perhaps he had in mind Johnson-administration attorney general Ramsey Clark, son of Supreme Court justice Tom Clark, who was asserting at that moment that white America’s racism and oppression (rather than black criminals) were responsible for black crime and that evil America was the world’s chief perpetrator of “crimes against peace, war crimes,” and “crimes against humanity.” (In later years, he became a defender of Saddam Hussein and the blind terrorist sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman.) Or perhaps he had in mind Mayflower descendant William Sloane Coffin, son of a Metropolitan Museum board president, who as Yale’s chaplain and then as minister of Riverside Church went from being a civil rights Freedom Rider to becoming the country’s leading Vietnam War protester, draft-resistance advocate (for whom civil disobedience seemed to be his creed’s main sacrament), and denouncer of America’s lack of “social justice.” Or hundreds like them, including New York’s then-mayor John Lindsay, whose Dutch ancestors arrived in Manhattan in the seventeenth century.

America’s elites, at least the most vocal among them, no longer believed in the importance or legitimacy of policing their own streets—or the world. As we only later came to grasp clearly, all the resultant disorder that Bellow cataloged—public spaces despoiled by drunks, drug dealers, addicts, and madmen; unchecked vandalism; the stench of human and canine waste everywhere; the sordid parade of prostitutes of all genders around Times Square (whose modern romanticizers either weren’t there or else have a rarefied taste for the squalid and perverse)—all these so-called victimless crimes turned out to be the great incubator of serious crime. Potential wrongdoers accurately concluded from the lack of order-keeping policing that the authorities didn’t care, so they could rob, mug, steal cars, and so on with impunity, right up to a gang of black 14-year-olds shooting another kid to death, as Sammler’s nephew casually reports. To the elites, in fact, all the “victimless” disorder wasn’t just harmless but healthy: drugs were mind-expanding, madmen were marching to the beat of a different drummer, blasting boomboxes were the exuberant expression of what we hadn’t yet learned to call multiculturalism, and restraint was oppression. As Bellow understood, social disorder flowed from cultural change.

Of all the Puritan restraints, sexual restraint was Number One on the elites’ hit list. The opposite of a virtue, it was now deemed harmful, malignant. As the ascendant psychotherapeutic worldview had it, Sammler caustically notes, “the bad puritanical attitudes from the sick past . . . have damaged civilization so much.” In the 1960s, the elites wanted “the final triumph of the Enlightenment—Liberty, Fraternity, Equality, Adultery!” With the “struggles of three revolutionary centuries” finally won and the constraints of church and family cast off, the American elites demanded one ultimate liberation. They clamored for the “privileges of aristocracy, . . . especially the libidinous privileges, the right to be uninhibited, spontaneous, urinating, defecating, belching, coupling in all positions, tripling, quadrupling, polymorphous, noble in being natural, primitive, combining the leisure and luxurious inventiveness of Versailles with the hibiscus-covered erotic ease of Samoa.”

Because black Americans, as elite culture saw it, already enjoyed this sought-for sexual freedom, white Americans, Bellow says, “had formed an idea of the corrupting disease of being white and the healing power of black.” They saw blacks as the mythical noble savages, free from hypercivilized inhibition, their natural potency unimpaired. “From the black side,” Bellow writes in Sammler, “strong currents were sweeping over everyone. Child, black, redskin—the unspoiled Seminole against the horrible Whiteman. Millions of civilized people wanted oceanic, boundless, primitive, neckfree nobility, experienced a strange release of galloping impulses, and acquired the peculiar aim of sexual niggerhood for everyone.” Hence, as Sammler’s pretty niece tells him after a few drinks, “A Jew brain, a black cock, a Nordic beauty is what a woman wants.” And men have similar ambitions, Sammler muses. Did not LBJ, according to an apocryphal but plausible story, expose himself to reporters, “demanding to know whether a man so well hung could not be trusted to lead his country”?

Trouble was, Americans wanted two mutually exclusive things, Sammler observes. They sought “the privileges, and the free ways of barbarism, under the protection of civilized order, property rights, refined technological organization, and so on.” But you can have only one or the other. That is the meaning of the camel’s-hair-clad robber’s self-display. Yes, here is the big black member that everyone wants; but it is attached to a criminal. Its freedom, power, and authority are lawless, ready to make use of anyone, barbaric, bestial. Throughout, Bellow describes the robber as an “elegant brute” with the “effrontery of a big animal.” He is an “African prince or great black beast . . . seeking whom he might devour”—as Saint Peter described that incarnation of evil, the devil. His gesture expresses to Sammler that he has the power and the will to devour him if need be. President Johnson might claim the authority to rule the world; the robber claims the alpha male’s authority to rule the jungle, the state of nature, by force and violence.

As the classical political philosophers held, the civilized order that protects our lives and property rests on restraint. We curb our freedom of aggressive impulse to ensure the safety of all, ourselves included. The resultant freedom to go about our cities unmolested and to channel our energies into the civilized arts and sciences that generate human progress is a higher freedom than the liberty we relinquish. We limit our sexual freedom in order to form stable families that teach children to internalize civilization’s self-restraint and make it part of their character, a process that turns the raw material of nature into human beings. “I thought everybody was born human,” Sammler’s pretty niece tells him. He replies, with this civilizing process in mind: “It is not a natural gift at all. Only the capacity is natural.”

All the old impulses persist in all of us, of course, which requires a perpetual effort of restraint from both the individual and the society. When the curbs break down enough, whether within the individual’s conscience or the order-keeping activity of society at large, what results is the “elegant brute” of a robber or the 14-year-old murderers or the black urban underclass that was forming at the very moment Bellow was writing—a subgroup of blacks whose sexual freedom produced skyrocketing illegitimacy rates and weak families whose children crowded into the ranks of robbers and murderers. For many middle-class people, like Sammler’s pretty niece, a sexual adventurer who “has done it in too many ways with too many men,” the result was an epidemic of divorce that left a generation of wounded children, determined either never to get divorced and inflict the same pain on their own children or else never to get married in the first place. Bellow himself, who had five wives, plus affairs and one-night stands beyond enumeration, came to judge the sexual revolution “a thirty-year disaster.”

The Enlightenment, emphasizing reason, liberation, and dreams of human perfectibility, lost sight of these fundamental truths about human nature and the social order. It expelled the old world’s demons, Bellow says—those imaginary embodiments of the human evil that everyone once knew existed. But the heirs of the Enlightenment notables who freed mankind from superstition and vassalage now threaten to bring the demons back through sheer ignorance of the reality they represented. Sammler wonders “whether the worst enemies of civilization might not prove to be its petted intellectuals who attacked it at its weakest moments—attacked it in the name of proletarian revolution, in the name of reason, and in the name of irrationality, in the name of visceral depth, in the name of sex, in the name of perfect instantaneous freedom.” Ignorant of what they are doing, they hack away at the basic conditions of the civilized order by which they live.

Sound thoughts, confused terms: relinquishing freedom is the source of liberty.

Obama faces an uphill battle to win over Florida's Jews (Jodi Kantor, May 21, 2008, NY Times)

At the Aberdeen Golf and Country Club on Sunday, the fountains were burbling, the man-made lakes were shining, and Shirley Weitz and Ruth Grossman were debating why Jews in this gated neighborhood of airy retirement homes feel so much trepidation about Senator Barack Obama.

"The people here, liberal people, will not vote for Obama because of his attitude towards Israel," Weitz, 83, said, lingering over brunch. "They're going to vote for McCain."

Grossman, 80, agreed with her friend's conclusion, but not her reasoning.

"They'll pick on the minister thing, they'll pick on the wife, but the major issue is color," she said, quietly fingering a coffee cup. Grossman added that she was thinking of voting for Barack Obama, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, as was Weitz.

But Grossman said she did not tell that to neighbors. "I keep my mouth shut," she said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 PM


America's Best Days: 62% of Voters Prefer Fewer Government Services with Lower Taxes (Rasmussen Reports, May 20, 2008)

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 62% of voters would prefer fewer government services with lower taxes. Nearly a third (29%) disagrees and would rather have a bigger government with higher taxes. Ten percent (10%) are not sure.

Those numbers have changed little over the past month.

And Democrats can't figure out why replaying Reagan v. the Great Society every four years doesn't work for them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 PM


Michelle Obama Under Fire for 2004 Letter Defending Partial-Birth Abortions (Steven Ertelt, 5/21/08,

Michelle Obama, the attorney wife of pro-abortion Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, is coming under fire for a letter she wrote defending partial-birth abortions. The 2004 letter, written to help Obama in his campaign for his U.S. Senate seat, opposes the ban on the abortion procedure.

In February 2004, Michelle Obama penned a fundraising letter to help her husband Barack raise funds for his Illinois-based Senate seat.

The letter contends the federal ban on partial-birth abortions "is clearly unconstitutional" and "a flawed law."

Though the three-day-long partial-birth abortion procedure involves the partial birth of a baby during the middle trimester of pregnancy and the jamming of scissors into the back of her head to kill her, Obama's wife describes it as "legitimate" medicine.

Since killing babies is a business, she wants their cut.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:54 PM


The Fall of Conservatism: Have the Republicans run out of ideas? (George Packer May 26, 2008, The New Yorker)

The era of American politics that has been dying before our eyes was born in 1966. That January, a twenty-seven-year-old editorial writer for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat named Patrick Buchanan went to work for Richard Nixon, who was just beginning the most improbable political comeback in American history.

Huh? You can make a convincing argument that the epoch began in 1964, when Barry Goldwater began a systematic Republican (as opposed to conservative) assault on the Second Way or you can argue, plausibly, that it began with Reagan, who was the first successful candidate to run against it and who ushered in an era during which conservatives or Third Wayers have controlled the White House, one or both chambers of Congress, and/or the courts for nearly three decades now. What you can't do is make a sensible argument that Richard Nixon, a pretty standard issue liberal Republican, was the pivotal figure of these times. If anything, the LBJ/Nixon years appear to be an accidental final spasm of liberalism made possible only by Lee Harvey Oswald.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:27 PM


China Blocks Thousands of Hindus From Tibet Pilgrimage (HEATHER TIMMONS and HARI KUMAR, 5/20/08, NY Times)

The Chinese government is refusing to issue visas to Hindus trying to make the traditional summer pilgrimage to what they hold to be the home of Lord Shiva in Tibet, forcing thousands to delay or cancel the trip.

Starting in June, Hindus from Nepal and India embark on a multiweek journey to the 22,000-foot Mount Kailash in the Himalayas and nearby Lake Mapam Yutso, known in India as Lake Mansarovar. The trip, a once-in-a-lifetime event for most who make it, includes treacherous off-road drives and several days of arduous trekking, and is believed to bring the traveler closer to the divine.

This year, though, the Chinese government is refusing to grant any visas for travel to the Tibetan sites from Nepal, tour operators in Nepal say. India’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that the Chinese government had cited unspecified “domestic reasons.”

At the same time, Beijing has retracted permission previously granted to Indian pilgrims who were planning to make the trip in early June. The Olympic torch is scheduled to go through Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, on June 20.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:13 AM


Attuned to fiddleheads: The tender greens are now popping up in Ontario, thanks to the fertile vision of East Coast entrepreneur (Kim Honey, 5/21/08, Toronto star)

Nick Secord was the laughingstock of town when the locals found out the city slicker had bought farmland at the edge of a bog.

"Somebody from the city bought the swamp," went the joke, according to Secord.

When he looked at the property, which was zoned for agricultural use even though it was unfarmable, the entrepreneur didn't see a marsh fit only for frogs. In his mind, he envisioned a sea of fiddleheads, the tightly curled tips of the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris).

A wild delicacy savoured for their asparagus-like flavour, not to mention the first of the season's wild greens, fiddleheads are a signal to winter-weary Canadians that spring is really, truly on its way.

Secord's company, NorCliff Farms, is the largest grower, packer and distributor of wild fiddleheads in North America, shipping hand-picked greens from 1,000 acres of land Secord owns or manages in New Brunswick and Quebec to markets in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. On its best day ever, NorCliff moved 60,000 pounds.

Edible Ferns of New England (ELIZABETH RIELY, 5/08/98, NY Times)
FIDDLEHEADS, so aptly named because they resemble a violin scroll, are as sure a harbinger of the new season as asparagus, shad or fresh morels. These tightly furled young fronds, which in spring appear at the crown of all varieties of ferns, grow throughout the world. Indeed, the woodlands of the northeastern United States are abundant with them.

But it is New Englanders who prize fiddleheads for their form and color. Before cultivated vegetables have emerged from backyard gardens, the crisp texture and fresh flavor of the wild fern sprouts are especially welcome.

Though they grow in many regions and climates, edible ferns prefer an alluvial soil full of nutrients. Some foragers gather them along the marshy banks of rivers and streams - Thoreau's ''ever rich and fertile shores'' - while others may look in secluded thickets and woods. In spring, the bright green fern crosiers are covered with a brownish ''paper'' and surrounded by the dried plumes of the previous year's foliage. As their short season continues, usually lasting a couple of weeks in a specific location, harvesting moves farther and farther north. [...]

The naturalist and wild-food enthusiast Euell Gibbons may have helped to increase the popularity of fiddleheads. In his book ''Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop,'' he wrote, ''Not the least of the pleasures of early spring in New England is the enjoyment of fern fiddleheads, one of the greatest delicacies among wild vegetables.'' He suggested that the best way to find them is to look for tall dried foliage that has persisted through the winter. ''These old fronds are tough and inedible, but summer, when they are conspicuous, is a good time to locate a fruitful spot to come plundering next spring.''

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:05 AM


U.S. to allow Americans to send cellphones to Cuba (The Associated Press, May 21, 2008)

President George W. Bush announced Wednesday that Americans soon will be allowed to send cell phones to Cubans — a move that he hopes will push the communist regime to increase freedom of expression for Cuban citizens.

Addressing recent changes in Cuba, Bush said, "Cubans are now allowed to purchase mobile phones, DVD players and computers and they have been told that they will be able to purchase toasters and other basic appliances in 2010."

"If the Cuban regime is serious about improving life for the Cuban people, it will take steps necessary to make these changes meaningful," Bush said at the White House as he marked Cuba's 106th anniversary of independence this week.

If the Cuban people can be trusted with mobile phones, "they should be trusted to speak freely in public," he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM


You Can't Soak the Rich (DAVID RANSON, May 20, 2008, Wall Street Journal)

Kurt Hauser is a San Francisco investment economist who, 15 years ago, published fresh and eye-opening data about the federal tax system. His findings imply that there are draconian constraints on the ability of tax-rate increases to generate fresh revenues. I think his discovery deserves to be called Hauser's Law, because it is as central to the economics of taxation as Boyle's Law is to the physics of gases. [...]

The interactions among the myriad participants in a tax system are as impossible to unravel as are those of the molecules in a gas, and the effects of tax policies are speculative and highly contentious. Will increasing tax rates on the rich increase revenues, as Barack Obama hopes, or hold back the economy, as John McCain fears? Or both?

Mr. Hauser uncovered the means to answer these questions definitively. On this page in 1993, he stated that "No matter what the tax rates have been, in postwar America tax revenues have remained at about 19.5% of GDP." [...]

What makes Hauser's Law work? For supply-siders there is no mystery. As Mr. Hauser said: "Raising taxes encourages taxpayers to shift, hide and underreport income. . . . Higher taxes reduce the incentives to work, produce, invest and save, thereby dampening overall economic activity and job creation."

Putting it a different way, capital migrates away from regimes in which it is treated harshly, and toward regimes in which it is free to be invested profitably and safely. In this regard, the capital controlled by our richest citizens is especially tax-intolerant.'s just a matter of where we want that fifth to come from. Taxing income, investment and savings seems especially silly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 AM


ALL GROWN UP (Marty Smith, ESPN: The Magazine)

The paint bucket sat across the shop floor, and Dale Earnhardt ordered his kid to pick it up. It was bulky, the five-gallon kind, weighing every bit as much as the boy. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had no hope of picking it up, and he knew it, so the 8-year-old moped across the floor, questioning his old man's direction: How could Daddy ask this? Why does he gotta make me feel bad?

Daddy despised reluctance, especially from blood, and certainly from the boy who bore his name.

Dale Earnhardt—Ironhead, The Intimidator—had built a life, and ultimately a legend, on will. He was raised by a stock car pioneer, Ralph Earnhardt, at a time when even the best drivers raced to put food on the table. Ralph had worked his way through the textile mill and manhandled a hundred secondhand race cars around a hundred crappy little race tracks. So Dale's kids sure as hell weren't about to get off easy. When Dale Jr. did anything less than attack that bucket and grab it by the handle, his father found another way to motivate: He asked a shop hand to move it—right in front of his son.

"The lesson was to try it," Junior says. "Instead of being a quitter and not even attempting it, you should have tried. That was Daddy telling me that. If I can't pick it up, drag the son of a bitch across the floor. But I didn't even go over there to try, and he'd get so disappointed in me for being such a cop-out. Daddy would've been the kind of kid who walked over there and tried to pick it up, without a word. I should've been more like that. And I should be more like that today."

In telling the story, the 33-year-old Earnhardt sounds like a man who still sees himself as that reluctant kid. Thing is, he's not. On June 13, 2007, he announced the ballsiest career move in NASCAR history: Junior would depart the family team, Dale Earnhardt Inc., to join the Cup-winning juggernaut of Hendrick Motorsports. He was leaving for more than just faster, more reliable cars. For the first time since his father died, he'd be getting the guidance of an unquestioned patriarch, Rick Hendrick. And the kid who never felt worthy enough to stand alongside the great champions—his daddy, Richard Petty, the list goes on—now stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the two greatest racers of the last decade, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. And he's in third place, running better than them and nearly everybody else in Sprint Cup. The move has been a true awakening.

"When given the opportunity to do things that are intimidating, that I may think are out of my reach—they aren't," Junior says. "If you met the person who's doing them, you'd find out that you're f—ing better than him."

Junior has never sounded more like his father. Buckets litter his path in every imaginable form: the name, the legacy, the sport's largest and most demanding fan base, the family soap opera played out in blogs and on message boards. It all seems too heavy for one man to carry, but he's grabbing handles like never before. "I think it's important that the fans know the initiative I've had over the past several years to become a grown-up," he says. "I am striving to be the total package: a mature, dedicated, motivated race car driver."

When the Father Judd was a young man he was going to a dance and didn't know how to tie a bow-tie. So he went to his grandfather's apartment and asked if he'd show how it was done. Grandfather told him to watch, tied it, and when Father thanked him his grandfather grabbed an end and untied it. "There, I showed you."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


Hizbollah's Lebanon veto power boosts Iran's Middle East influence (Tim Butcher, 21/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Iran's influence across the Middle East was strengthened today when its close ally, Hizbollah, greatly increased its political power in Lebanon by winning a veto over all government decisions.

The concession to the radical Shia group, agreed after a week of crisis talks hosted by Qatar under the auspices of the Arab League, opens the way to an end to a crisis that has crippled national level decision-making in Lebanon for over a year.

It also lifts the threat of imminent civil war that has hung over the country since Hizbollah gunmen fought pitch battles with rival groups in Beirut earlier this month.

Defend an anti-democratic division of power along confessional lines and you've no coherent basis for complaining about dividing power along confessional lines, which is why the West ought support division and self-determination.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


Rethinking Churchill and the Allied warmongers (Richard Bernstein, May 21, 2008, NY Times)

Now, in this country at least, a current of opinion is gaining strength that stands Churchill on his head. It wasn't appeasement that brought about the disaster of the conflict, but warmongering on the part of the Allied leaders, Churchill first and foremost among them.

The new revisionism makes no excuses for Hitler, but it sees the war through a lens of moral relativism: Yes, the Nazis were evil, but so were the Allies, whose leaders were mendacious, committed unspeakable atrocities and hoodwinked the public into believing that the war was a noble one, fought on behalf of decency and against an evil more colossal than any previous evil in human history.

For those of us, including myself, who have long believed that the Allied war effort was indeed noble, it might seem that such a point of view could only emanate from the dank quarters of some lunatic fringe, perhaps holed up in a Rocky Mountain redoubt and eating conspiracy theories for breakfast.

But on the contrary, the view seems to be the province of entirely respectable and thoughtful people of literary bent. The most visible proponent of the unnecessary war theory is the novelist Nicholson Baker, an accomplished, gentle and entirely civilized man, whose book "Human Smoke" has made him a darling of leftist critics of the American role in the world.

Mr. Bernstein -- who's been unchallenged for title of best writer at the Times since Red Smith passed -- ought to know better by now than to posit a difference between the kooks of the far Right and the Left. The tragedy of WWII, of course, is that the Allies were insufficiently warlike and thus lost the war by not taking it to the Soviet Union. Merely replacing Hitler with Stalin was indeed to treat Nazism as too unique an evil.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


A Theme for McCain's Pudding: Here's how to tie together the campaign's assortment of ideas: a reform agenda for the 21st century. (Yuval Levin, 05/26/2008, Weekly Standard)

A successful McCain campaign would begin with noting what is wrong with the Democrats' main theme: change. In an election year marked by a vague but pervasive sense of anxiety among voters, there is something ironic about the Democratic mantra. Change, after all, is exactly what Americans have been experiencing over the last several decades: changes in the American and the global economy; changes in social and family structure; changes and advances in the technologies of medicine, communication, transportation, and information processing; changes in just about every facet of our lives. Many have been welcome, but all have brought with them unease, especially as they have outpaced the ability of our large public institutions to adapt. Lurking beneath the individual concerns and anxieties that voters express to pollsters is a broad crisis of confidence, grounded in apprehension about the escalating failures of these institutions, from the intelligence community and giant Wall Street banks, to entitlement programs, the immigration system, and beyond.

Many of our public institutions arose to meet the demands of the 20th century. The growth of complex financial markets brought about the Federal Reserve and an evolving regime of financial regulation. The emergence of powerful new technologies brought about agencies, like the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration, to ensure their safe use. The expenses of longer and healthier lives led to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare and to a complicated system of employer-based health insurance. The demands of two world wars and a long cold war brought about an integrated American military and a slew of intelligence agencies. And the challenges of managing and regulating all of this led to vast new institutions of governance: from the career federal bureaucracy and the absurdly complex tax code to the modern federal budget process.

These institutions have always had critics, but in recent years the old debates have begun to seem outdated as the circumstances from which they emerged have changed dramatically and the institutions begun to show signs of serious decay. Grave institutional failures have been behind some of the prominent problems of the Bush years. The systemic sclerosis of the intelligence community led American leaders to underestimate al Qaeda's ambitions and to overestimate Iraq's weapons programs. A disorganized domestic response apparatus revealed itself after September 11 and again in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. An overly rigid military (particularly the Army) designed for the Cold War found it difficult to adapt after early setbacks in Iraq and has even resisted a new and winning strategy more recently.

A health care financing system built for the mid-20th-century American economy has been showing strain for decades--just about everyone now agrees it needs a serious redesign. Old-age entitlements designed for a very different population are threatening to go bankrupt and take the federal government right with them. A legal immigration system enacted four decades ago is far out of touch with contemporary needs, while illegal immigration proceeds at a staggering pace.

Regulatory institutions have not fared better, and in just the past several months, we have seen embarrassing breakdowns at the FAA, signs of severe overextension at the FDA, failures of basic oversight in the nation's financial regulatory system, and new causes to worry about the readiness of the Federal Reserve to contend with unexpected events. Similar signs of trouble are everywhere. Individually, each of these may be dismissed as a modest problem, of the sort that is always popping up somewhere. But seen together, as they are arriving together, these signs point to a decay that may be the governing problem of the moment. [...]

The right is well suited to the task of such reform. The overarching lesson of our failing institutions is not that government has failed to reach far enough into American society, but that life in the 21st century is more complex and less predictable than our 20th-century institutions can readily fathom. The answer is not to expand government so it can rescue people from themselves--which is the underlying premise behind just about every plank of Hillary Clinton's and Barack Obama's platforms--but to make the institutions dynamic and flexible enough to advance the causes of economic growth, cultural vitality, and national security.

"A disposition to preserve and an ability to improve" was Edmund Burke's definition of the statesman two centuries ago, and it remains the hallmark of conservatism. While American conservatives have sometimes liked to think of themselves as revolutionaries (or radical counter-revolutionaries), the most significant accomplishments of the conservative movement have actually been targeted reforms that turned existing institutions to conservative ends. The Reagan "revolution" gave us a tax code better suited to entrepreneurship and growth. The Gingrich "revolution" gave us a welfare system with incentives geared toward encouraging independence and initiative. Conservative reform of urban law enforcement, and early efforts at reform of local education (through school choice), have improved what we have, rather than rejecting it. Reform, not revolution, is the conservative path to supporting strong families and free markets.

A reform agenda would be especially well suited to John McCain, as he himself seemed to see in 1999. McCain's conservatism is not fundamentally ideological. He is not especially interested in political "issues" or in abstract ideas about individual rights or the role of government. Rather, he is moved by large challenges and great exertions, and by the imperative of meeting America's commitments. He is a conservative because he believes the right has a more responsible attitude toward meeting these commitments, and is more likely to keep Americans (as individuals and as a nation) strong enough to do great things.

This makes for an awkward marriage between McCain and the conservative movement, but it is a coupling with more opportunities for joint efforts than the two sides realize. Rather than pretend McCain is a traditional movement conservative or that conservatism is a nonideological honor code, the two should seize an opportunity to work together for their rather different ends, with McCain giving voice to the aims and the urgency of reforms, and conservatives offering him the means. They should seek to reform our governing institutions in ways that would turn them to the cause of America's working families (which are the source of America's strengths), and should understand that cause in terms of upwardly mobile aspiration, not bitter and angry desperation.

McCain should paint a picture for the public of the moment we are in: confronted on the one hand with a justified crisis of confidence in our institutions and on the other with proposals from the Democrats driven by a set of liberal ideological commitments that would exacerbate the problem by carelessly expanding government. The cure for what ails us is not change that is simply more of the same--more bureaucracy, a further takeover of the private and domestic spheres that in the name of offering relief steals away more and more of our independence and initiative. The cure, rather, is to plant in the architecture of our largest public institutions the conservative commitments to individual freedom and initiative, to the centrality of parenthood and the family, and to the cause of American strength in the world.


A McCain reform agenda would begin with an effort to help give American families more say over the institutions they rely on most directly.

America's health care system is a product of 20th-century labor policies, and it is struggling to keep up with 21st-century medicine. It puts too many incentives in the wrong places and creates needless uncertainties and tensions. The care is not itself a problem: It is for the most part advanced, high quality medicine, and those with access to it are very happy with it. The problem is that access to insurance coverage is a function of a tax policy grounded in World War II-era employment laws. Many Americans in our modern economy no longer fit the model--not because they are oppressed or put upon, but because they are pursuing prosperity in different ways. Small business employees, the self-employed, freelancers, and those who change jobs frequently find themselves at constant risk of losing health coverage.

The answer is not a program of government subsidies that slowly drives consumers into public insurance--which is what Senators Clinton and Obama propose--and which would create an even less responsive system than the one we now have. (This would replace a slowly decaying 20th-century model with an essentially bankrupt 20th-century model.) The answer is, rather, to treat individuals as individuals, create incentives for cost containment in the private sector, and help the uninsured find private coverage. [...]

Obviously such an immense reform agenda could not be accomplished by any single president, and particularly not in the exceedingly difficult political circumstances McCain would likely face if he won in November. But by advancing an ambitious agenda--one that if anything is too heavy on specifics--McCain could provide a sensible and coherent explanation for the generalized anxiety of the American public today and a road map toward addressing it head on.

McCain would also be providing conservatives with a new way of thinking about the challenges they confront as a governing party rather than a counterrevolutionary one and a new vocabulary for making the case for limited-but-effective government, for freedom and individual responsibility, and for American values.

New? It's just Compassionate Conservatism/New Democrat/New Labour/Thatcherism, but it is the basis for winning elections throughout the Anglosphere over the past several decades. It is also why he could really use Jeb Bush or Mitch Daniels, who can provide Third Way cred and articulate the remains of W's agenda.

Democrats for School Choice (Wall Street Journal, May 19, 2008)

When Florida passed a law in 2001 creating the Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship Program for underprivileged students, all but one Democrat in the state legislature voted against it. Earlier this month, lawmakers extended the program – this time with the help of a full third of Democrats in the Legislature, including 13 of 25 members of the state's black caucus and every member of the Hispanic caucus. What changed?

Our guess is that low-income parents in Florida have gotten a taste of the same school choice privileges that middle- and upper-income families have always enjoyed. And they've found they like this new educational freedom. Under the scholarship program, which is means-tested, companies get a 100% tax credit for donations to state-approved nonprofits that provide private-school vouchers for low-income families.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


McCain, not Obama, is real reformer (David Brooks, May 21, 2008, NY Times)

If elected, Obama's main opposition would not come from Republicans. It will come from Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill. Already, the Democratic machine is reborn. Lobbyists are now giving 60 percent of their dollars to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The pharmaceutical industry, the defense industry and the financial sector all give more money to Democrats than Republicans. If Obama is actually going to bring about change, he's going to have to ruffle these sorts of alliances. If he can't do it in an easy case like the farm bill, will he ever?

John McCain opposed the farm bill. In an impassioned speech on Monday, he declared: “It would be hard to find any single bill that better sums up why so many Americans in both parties are so disappointed in the conduct of their government, and at times so disgusted by it.”

McCain has been in Congress for decades, but he has remained a national rather than a parochial politician. The main axis in his mind is not beeen Republican and Democrat. It's between narrow interest and patriotic service. And so it is characteristic that he would oppose a bill that benefits the particular at the expense of the general.

In fact, in this issue, McCain may have found a theme to unify his so far scattershot campaign. He has always been an awkward ideological warrior. In any case, this year may not be the best year for Republicans to launch a right versus left crusade. But McCain has infinitely better grounds than Obama to run as a do-what-it-takes reformer.

Senator Obama's race doesn't matter for reasons of racism, but because his election would appear to favor one special interest over the others that make up the tribal party. That's why the Reverend Wright's "nationalism" is so damaging.

The Black-Brown Divide: For every race in America, there’s another racial barrier. Ernesto Quiñonez examines the often contentious divide between Latinos and African-Americans. (Ernesto Quiñonez, 5/21/08, Esquire)

Forty-eight percent of Hispanics checked themselves off as white, while only 2 percent identified themselves as black. We can blame the form -- not enough boxes, not enough choices -- but the bottom line is that almost half of us can’t shake the idea that we’d be better off if we were white. Is it any wonder that some Obama staffers can’t sleep at night?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


John McCain's GOP converts (JOHN FEEHERY, 5/21/08, Politico)

McCain’s maverick image was crafted in those early years of the Bush administration, when the senator clashed repeatedly with the House Republican leadership and, occasionally, with Bush. In the view of House Republican leaders, McCain was all too willing to team with Democrats in both the House and the Senate to stick it to them.

But all of the House Republican leaders from that period — Hastert, Majority Leaders Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, and Rep. Thomas Reynolds — have departed the stage or are about to leave, while McCain is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. And McCain has done his part to mend fences with most House Republicans. He was right on the Iraq war, being the first to complain about the incompetence of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the need to increase our presence in Iraq.

He has come out strongly against tax increases, enough to earn the endorsement of Grover Norquist. And looking back now, McCain was right on some of the issues on which he clashed with House Republicans. He was right in his instincts to be more bipartisan. McCain was right to want to reform earmarks. He was right about the political potency of climate change. He was right to call for more intense oversight. He was right to team up with Lieberman, who has turned out to be a true patriot who cares intensely about protecting this country from terrorism.

Now McCain finds himself in an interesting position, as savior of the Grand Old Party, and House Republicans in particular, amid the doldrums of three straight special election losses in former party strongholds (including Hastert’s old Illinois district).

Historical irony being what it is, a new crop of House Republican leaders are now trying to tie their fortunes to McCain.

Rather than "historical irony": you could just say history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Israel holds peace talks with Syria (Ethan Bronner and Graham Bowley, May 21, 2008, IHT)

Israel and Syria have begun indirect peace talks, mediated by Turkey, aimed at reaching a comprehensive peace accord, the three governments announced in a coordinated statement Wednesday. The announcement is the first public confirmation of the negotiations by all three sides.

The two most senior officials in Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office have been leading the Israeli side and were in Ankara, the Turkish capital, on Wednesday, talking with their Syrian and Turkish counterparts, Olmert's office said.

...should be to thwart this effort. Forget Senator Obama, this is appeasement of the most vile sort, done with disregard for the security of the Israeli, Iraqi, Palestinian and Lebanese peoples and the human rights of the Syrians.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Man admits having sex with 1,000 cars (Daily Telegraph, 5/21/08)

A man who claims to have had sex with 1,000 cars has defended his "romantic" feelings towards vehicles.

Whereas, trains would never be caught up in such tawdriness. Meanwhile, we were just thankful it wasn't one of the autophile commenters here who was arrested.

May 20, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 PM


Basic Naan (Contra Costa Times, 05/20/2008)

1¼ teaspoons salt

1¼ teaspoons sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

4¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup whole milk

1 cup water

1½ tablespoons vegetable oil

1. Place the salt and sugar in an electric mixing bowl. Add baking powder and flour. Stir well by hand.

2. Pour the milk and water into the bowl all at once and mix with the paddle attachment for about 30 seconds, just until the mixture becomes a cohesive dough. Stop the mixer and add 1 tablespoon oil. Turn mixer on for about 5 seconds only. Add remaining ½ tablespoon oil and pulse mixer. Dough should be soft but not sticky.

3. Divide dough into 8 fist-sized lumps. Form into smooth balls by turning each lump inside out, then twisting the bottom area where the seams of the dough come together a few times, until a small bit of dough comes off the bottom. Dip the bottom of the ball in flour and place on a sheet to rest. Cover with plastic wrap to rest for at least one hour.

4. At least 45 minutes before cooking, preheat oven to 500 degrees and place a pizza stone on the lowest rack. Working with one ball of dough at a time, flatten the dough into a round that's about 5 inches in diameter. Press fingertips into the dough firmly, making deep dimple marks. Pick up the dough and toss it between your hands to thin and stretch the dough. It should be about 10 inches in diameter with dimple marks throughout. You can roll the dough out with a pin, but the resulting naan will be flatter.

5. Carefully place the round of dough on a thick pot holder or folded towel. Holding the towel, quickly and firmly place the naan dough on the surface of the tandoor, pizza stone or pan. The dough will stick to the surface and, in a tandoor, begin to bubble on top. If cooking in an oven, let brown on the bottom and finish under the broiler. Naan can also be flipped over, but the bread will flatten slightly.

Potato-Stuffed Naan (Contra Costa Times, 05/20/2008)
1 recipe Basic Naan, prepared through Step 3

1 medium-sized russet potato

½ teaspoon garam masala, or more to taste

2-3 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro

¼ cup frozen peas

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

Vegetable oil

1. Place unpeeled potato in a pan of water and bring to a boil on the stove. Cook until tender all the way through. Drain and cool to room temperature.

2. Peel potato and place in a bowl. Crush with fingers or the back of a spoon until the pieces of potato are about the size of peas (do not use a potato masher). Add garam masala, cilantro, peas and salt and pepper. Mix well.

3. Arrange a pizza stone on bottom shelf and a rack on the top shelf and preheat oven to 500 degrees for about an hour. Press one dough ball into a disc about 5 inches in diameter and place 1 tablespoon potato mixture into the center. Close dough tightly and place on a flat surface. Use a rolling pin to flatten dough into a circle about 10 inches in diameter. (Stuffed naan requires flattening with a rolling pin.) Repeat with remaining dough balls.

4. To cook, place dough on pizza stone and close the oven. Bake for about 4 minutes, or until the bottom begins to brown. When brown, brush surface with vegetable oil and transfer to the top rack of the oven and broil until the top browns. Watch carefully to avoid burning. Serve immediately.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 PM


McCain to Attend NAACP Convention (TIME, May. 20, 2008)

What a difference a nomination makes.

Now that he's wrapped up the Republican nomination for president, Sen. John McCain has decided to attend the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Cincinnati in July. A year ago when he was just one of a pack of GOP contenders, he turned down the civil rights group's invitation.

McCain disclosed his plans in an interview with the African-American publication Essence, which was released Tuesday. Asked how he might reach out to the black community, McCain replied that he would "go to places and venues that would allow me to continue a dialogue with the African-American community. I will go to the NAACP convention."

...they're so partisan that no Republican goes there for a dialogue, just to appeal to suburban white women by seeming nice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 PM

Beef Chorizo Tacos (Contra Costa Times, 05/20/2008)

2 tablespoons oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound ground beef

1 link hot chorizo, crumbled

1 green bell pepper, sliced

1 yellow onion, sliced

1 cup salsa

1 can (16 ounces) refried beans

12 flour tortillas, warmed

½ cup shredded Mexican blend cheese

½ bunch cilantro, chopped

1. Heat the oil in skillet over medium-high heat; cook garlic until golden, about 2 minutes. Stir in the ground beef and chorizo; cook until meat is browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer meat with a slotted spoon to a large bowl; set aside.

2. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the skillet. Cook the green pepper and onion until soft, about 8 minutes. Return meat to the skillet; stir in the salsa. Lower heat to simmer; cook 5 minutes.

3. Spoon beans over half of each tortilla; spoon ground beef mixture on top. Sprinkle with cheese and cilantro. Fold tortillas over the filling to eat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 PM


Cool Academic Tradition of the Week (Peter King, 5/19/08, MMQ:

As incoming freshmen, Colgate University students are led up the tall hill on campus in a processional by upperclassmen. As outgoing seniors, they walk down the hill ... in a really impressive display. On Saturday night, the night before Colgate's annual commencement, the 715 graduates -- including Mary Beth King -- were handed lit kerosene torches at the end of long wooden sticks, and proceeded single-file down the hill, dressed in their graduation gowns, and through a gauntlet of cheering and photo-taking parents, siblings, classmates, friends and townspeople, while traditional bagpipers played. The torchbearers ringed the lake on campus. The Colgate school song got sung. Then the torchbearers threw their torches into a huge bonfire and hugged and cried.

It is one of the many things we've liked about Colgate over the past four years. [...]

Places come and go as you go through life. But driving away from
Colgate Sunday evening, I felt sad that I wouldn't be taking two or
three trips a year there anymore. It's one of the truly great American
spots. You don't often look forward to a three-hour, 40-minute drive,
but I liked every trip we ever made to Colgate.

College, to me, is best when you go to a place where the students have
to make the community, rather than where the students fit into a
larger community. I know lots of people who thrived in city-campus
environments and wouldn't have traded it for anything. But at
tiny-town Colgate, an hour's drive southeast of Syracuse and 90
minutes west of Albany, the bucolic, postcardy campus is everything.
There's only one of Mary Beth's college acquaintances -- out of maybe
30 or 40 -- who didn't love the place.

The Reverend Orrin Bishop Judd graduated from Madison which became Colgate and was a trustee.

His son, Orrin Reynolds Judd, was a trustee of Colgate.

His son, Orrin Grimmell Judd, went to Colgate and was a trustee.

His son, The Reverend Orrin Dolloff Judd, went to Colgate-Rochester Seminary.

His son, yours truly, went to Colgate.

We've toted enough torches around Taylor Lake to burn every witch in Salem and have plenty left to roast weenies. No hugging or crying though. Never should have gone co-ed....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:16 AM


Palestinians demand regular army for new state (Roni Sofer, 05.19.08, Israel News)

Despite previous understandings that a future Palestinian state would be demilitarized, Ynet has learned that in talks held behind closed doors, the top negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, Ahmed Qureia, is demanding the establishment of a regular army.

Especially when surrounded by enemies? Are Israel, Hezbollahstan, Syria and Arabia going to demilitarize too?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:12 AM


No Easy Answers in Lebanon (Council On Foreign Relations, 5/20/08)

Whether Lebanon veered close to "civil war" this month--a question broached by many newspapers--seems purely academic at this point, and perhaps irrelevant. Beirut settled into a tenuous calm after Lebanon's cabinet conceded (CNN) the immediate demands of Hezbollah, but the upheaval resolved none of the many issues destabilizing the country. Lebanon's paralyzed government, Beirut's inability to reform its electoral system, and Hezbollah's broad influence continue to loom as threats to regional stability.

Civil wars occur within a nation--this is between nations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:02 AM


The world eagerly awaits Lady Penelope doing Flashdance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:54 AM


NFL owners cut short deal struck with players' union: Until a new agreement is negotiated, the 2010 season will be played without a salary cap. (Sam Farmer, 5/20/08, Los Angeles Times)

NFL owners didn't wait long to exercise the early-termination clause in their collective bargaining agreement with the players union. They did so first thing this morning.

While free agency has been bad, the rookie salaries are a disaster. Somehow the only sports owners ever to triumph in a labor dispute forgot why they won: players are completely interchangeable--fans root for the uniforms.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:39 AM


Unprepared For Bush's Praise (HILLEL HALKIN, May 20, 2008, NY Sun)

George W. Bush's extraordinarily supportive 60th Independence Day address to the Israeli Knesset last week may not have been a rhetorical masterpiece, but it was well-crafted and had its moments of eloquence.

Above all, it was a demonstration of why Mr. Bush's feelings about Israel have been not only quantitatively, but also qualitatively, different from those of any American president before him. These feelings have to do with his Christian faith, as was already made clear in the opening paragraph of his talk, when he referred to the state of Israel's establishment as "the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David — a homeland for the chosen people in Eretz Yisrael." [...]

And we are certainly not used to hearing the Jews referred to by an American president as "the chosen people." Actually, this is a phrase that most Jews find acutely embarrassing. Except for the Orthodox, who don't make a habit of boasting about it, few Jews in today's world are of the opinion that they have been chosen by anything or anybody apart, perhaps, from bad luck and anti-Semites; the last thing they want non-Jews to think is that they harbor the outrageous notion that God has singled them out for some special purpose.

And that's why President Bush's support for Israel, too, is embarrassing to so many Jews. It's bad enough that as an evangelical Christian the president has all kinds of absurd beliefs, such as that stem cell research is sinful, or that homosexual marriage is an abomination, or that children deserve to have two parents, one of each sex. But that he also should also believe that the Jews are God's people? How kooky can you get?

And most embarrassingly of all, what President Bush believes about the Jews is something that nearly all Jews once believed about themselves.

If Jews were Jewish they'd be Republicans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:33 AM


Koch: I May Back McCain (Phil Brennan, 5/19/08, Newsmax)

Former New York City Mayor Edward Koch, one of the country’s most prominent Democrats, says he may cross over and back Republican Sen. John McCain for president.

In an exclusive Newsmax interview, Koch says McCain “has no equal” when it comes to opposing Islamic terrorism. Though Koch says he disagrees with most of McCain’s positions on domestic issues, he could support him because of his strong national security credentials.

...there is zero chance of Senator Obama carrying especially older Jewish voters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Iranian Clerics Tell the President to Leave the Theology to Them (NAZILA FATHI, 5/20/08, NY Times)

In his almost three years as president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been harshly criticized in the West. But he is increasingly drawing fire from Shiite clerics here, who accuse him of using religion to distract attention from his government’s failure to deliver on promises of prosperity and political freedoms.

In a news conference last week, the president lashed out at those who were “insulting and mocking” him about a Shiite belief that he said was based on Islamic teachings.

The tensions surround Imam Mahdi, the 12th imam in a direct bloodline from the Prophet Muhammad, who the Shiite faithful believe will one day emerge from 1,000 years in hiding to save mankind and bring justice to the world. Tens of thousands of pilgrims go each year to the Jamkaran mosque near Qum, about 75 miles south of Tehran, where they believe that the imam will appear.

President Ahmadinejad, who came to office in 2005 declaring his intention to “hasten the emergence” of Imam Mahdi, said in a speech broadcast nationally this month that Imam Mahdi supported the day-to-day workings of his government and was helping him in the face of international pressure.

That was too much for senior clerics, who contend that they alone are qualified to speak on the topic.

Mahmoud is too much influenced by the West and not enough by Shi'a Islam. You can't immanentize the eschaton, Eschaton Redux: a review of
Eric Voegelin: The Restoration of Order, by Michael P. Federici (Austin W. Bramwell, National Review)
Today's challenge: Try, nonchalantly, to work into an everyday conversation the phrase "immanentization of the eschaton." Obscure to the point of pedantry yet luminous in its wisdom, the phrase bears the marks of its creator, Eric Voegelin, the 20th-century German emigre and political philosopher. In Jewish and Christian religion, the "eschaton" is the end time, when God will make heaven out of earth. Immanentization of the eschaton is thus a baroque term for "utopianism," which Voegelin regarded as the central error of modern times.

There is more to it than that, of course. Any free-market economist can warn you of the dangers of utopianism. Voegelin's formulation does not merely restate conservative chestnuts about human nature or the inefficacy of state planning, but suggests a far more peculiar, if not counterintuitive, conclusion: The crisis of the West is at root spiritual and is precipitated by the misappropriation of its religious symbols. To be more exact, our political problems are in fact problems within our souls, which have lost their capacity to experience the divine.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


How the GOP derailed Pelosi's war bill (PATRICK O'CONNOR, 5/20/08, Politico)

A few hours before the House was to vote on $162.5 billion in emergency funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence (R) approached California Rep. Jerry Lewis (R) on the House floor to tell him that he was interested in bringing down the bill.

Pence is an outspoken conservative who has railed against earmarks; Lewis is the top Republican on the panel that doles them out. But the two men found common ground on the supplemental. Pence thought Republicans would be providing Pelosi a free ride by lending their votes to a war funding bill that many Democratic members wouldn’t support. Lewis was angry that Pelosi had circumvented the regular committee process, including a hearing before his own Appropriations panel.

Lewis, who had been meeting privately with Boehner, told Pence that he’d already asked leadership to help him defeat the bill.

The question was how.

Pence walked to Boehner’s office for a quick, unscheduled meeting with the Republican leader. Boehner was surprised that Lewis would want to bring down the bill and explained that there might not be enough time to organize the necessary opposition.

But then Boehner’s top floor aide, Jo-Marie St. Martin, reviewed the roll calls for previous House votes on clean funding for the war, and she showed both men that 140 Democrats typically voted against them, meaning the Republicans could defeat the funding bill by simply voting present.

“If we don’t vote for it,” Pence told the man he once challenged for the leadership of their party, “they can’t pass this bill.”

The best Democratic election result in 14 years produced a conservative Congress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


World 'more peaceful' in 2008 (Duncan Campbell, May 20 2008,

Iceland is the world's most peaceful country, according to an index measuring internal and external turmoil in 140 countries. Only one of the G8 countries, the world's most economically powerful nations, makes it into the top ten of the survey, which is published today.

While Iraq, Somalia and Sudan unsurprisingly take the bottom three places in the index, the survey suggests that the world is a marginally more secure place than it was a year ago. Angola, Indonesia and India are seen as the nations that have made the greatest strides away from conflict in the twelve months since the previous index was published. All three countries have moved up the table. that the world is becoming more peaceful at a time when the level of conflict is at such unprecedented lows.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Information 'not lost' in black holes (Jon Cartwright, 5/20/08,

The information paradox first surfaced in the early 1970s when Hawking, building on earlier work by Jacob Bekenstein at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, suggested that black holes are not totally black. He showed that particle–antiparticle pairs generated at a black hole’s periphery, known as its event horizon, would be separated. One would fall into the black hole while the other would escape, making the black hole appear as a radiating body.

Quantum entanglement demands that the trapped particle would have negative energy and, because of Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence E = mc2, negative mass. With each successive negative-energy particle the black hole would therefore steadily lose mass or “evaporate”. Hawking argued that even after a black hole has totally evaporated it would leave behind its central, infinitely dense point known as the singularity, in which information would be lost forever.

The significance of the information paradox came to a head in 1997 when Hawking, together with colleague Kip Thorne at Caltech, US, put this argument forward as a bet with John Preskill, also at Caltech. Preskill believed that, in accordance with quantum mechanics, information loss is impossible because it prevents the equations governing the process from being reversible. But in 2004 Hawking conceded the bet, saying he now believed that information is returned, although in a disguised state.

Hawking’s revised stance failed to sway other theorists. Aside from the fact that his new theory was based on mathematics that is not obviously relevant to physical space–time, it did not directly address his original argument about the singularity.

Ashtekar’s group at Penn State claim to have overturned this argument by performing calculations of a black hole model in two dimensions: one space and one time. “In my opinion this remains a very important question to settle,” says Steven Giddings at the University of California in Santa Barbara. “Although Hawking famously conceded his bet, at the time he left his original argument for information loss orphaned but alive. This new work appears to have found improved control over the calculations.” [...]

“It is indeed very interesting,” says Seth Lloyd of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It strongly suggests, although it does not prove, that black hole evaporation in one-plus-one dimensions does not destroy information: all information escapes as the black hole evaporates…[but] it is not clear that the derivation would work in three-plus-one dimensions.”


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


Defensive Stalwarts Set To Clash in East Finals (JOHN HOLLINGER, May 20, 2008, NY Sun)

[S]ome real questions are cropping up about Boston's ability to replicate its regular-season success, from Kevin Garnett's willingness to take big shots to the supporting cast's ability to dial it up in the postseason.

But the biggest question is Ray Allen. The third member of the so-called "Big Three" has instead morphed into the Invisible One. He's shooting only 37.6% for the playoffs and has averaged a meager 9.2 points a game in the Cleveland series. So out of sorts was Allen during the Cleveland series that when Boston coach Doc Rivers benched him for all but 1:38 of the fourth quarter in Game 7, nobody even questioned the move. Other Celtics, most notably Eddie House and James Posey, simply were playing better.

At least Boston's trademark defensive intensity hasn't slackened. The Celtics allowed only 85.1 points a game from Cleveland, after yielding just 87.1 against Atlanta. For the playoffs, their Defensive Efficiency mark of 97.3 points per 100 opponent possessions is easily the league's best, just as it was during the regular season.

Nonetheless, the Celtics' offensive woes are a major story heading into the Eastern Conference finals against Detroit. The Pistons had a few stumbles of their own, falling behind 2-1 in the first round against the lightly regarded Sixers and then being beaten by 25 points in Game 3 in Orlando in Round 2.

But unlike Boston, they appear to have righted the ship. The Pistons won the final two games against the Magic, even with All-Star point guard Chauncey Billups out with a hamstring injury, and have won seven of their past eight playoff games.

Additionally, Detroit would seem to have a couple of matchup advantages against Boston. At the point, Billups has obvious edges in size and experience against the Celtics' Rajon Rondo. Although Rondo is the superior defender, the difference isn't large in that area, whereas Billups's offensive skills are miles beyond Rondo's.

On the wing, Richard Hamilton appears to have a similarly large advantage on Allen. Never regarded as a great defender, Allen will have to chase Detroit's leading scorer through myriad screens to try to neutralize his midrange scoring game. If Allen can't counter with some 3-point bombs of his own, don't be surprised if another Allen -- little-used Tony Allen, a stalwart defender -- sees bigger chunks of playoff time as the series goes on.

The Celtics' struggles are a reminder that, in a sport (like hockey, basketball & football) where it's so easy to make the playoffs, it's very difficult for a team that's been out of the mix for several years to suddenly win a championship. That's unlike baseball, where the very difficulty of making the playoffs means you're likely to have a championship caliber team.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


When Exploitation Ruled the Nation (GRADY HENDRIX, May 20, 2008, NY Sun)

They just don't make pornography like they used to. As television feasted on the corpse of Japanese cinema in the late 1960s and early '70s, the five major movie studios suddenly found themselves willing to do anything to hold on to the few remaining moviegoers. So they turned to sex and violence, which grew increasingly lurid and over-the-top as the studios vied for a shrinking pool of eyeballs.

If you ever want to see how thoroughly the Right won the culture war, just rent any popular movie of the '70s and check out the casual profanity, drug use and nudity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


If Things Don't Improve, Yanks Must Reconsider Future (STEVEN GOLDMAN, May 20, 2008, NY Sun)

The bullpen pitchers are fungible, and the Yankees will probably be overjoyed to see both Farnsworth and Hawkins hit the road, but the two veteran starters are another matter given the problems Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes have had. Pettitte was excellent last year, but his age, injury history, and constant threats to retire make him a risky player to bring back for another year. Further, it remains to be seen if his recent struggles are simply a random fluctuation in performance or an indication that his time is up. On the opposite end of the performance spectrum, Mussina's revival, with his 5-0 record and 2.76 record in his last five starts, has been heartening, but he remains a five-inning, low-strikeout pitcher who will turn 40 this winter.

The Yankees may be able to replace these pitchers internally, even if Hughes and Kennedy never come around. The position players are another matter. The young stars the Yankees need simply don't exist in the farm system, and the free agent market is unlikely to provide them. Likely free agents of interest include first baseman Mark Teixeira, for whom competition will be fierce, outfielders Pat Burrell and Adam Dunn, both born designated hitters who will lose a good deal of their value when they get away from the offense-friendly parks in which they play, and another DH in Manny Ramirez, assuming the Red Sox buy out his $20 million option.

Even if the Yankees can get, say, Teixeira and Dunn, it won't make for much of a lineup. Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter will be another year older, another year more likely to be hurt, and another year less likely to put up a big season. Assuming that the hypothetical Dunn signing results in his becoming the primary DH in place of Giambi (and there is some chance that the Texan native Dunn would not have the slightest interest in coming to New York), an outfield of Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, and Hideki Matsui would be offensively unimposing and a defensive nightmare. Damon and Matsui's contracts end after next season, when the Yankees will still likely be short of necessary replacements.

Further, if this season has shown anything, it's that Robinson Cano is an excellent but very streaky player who can never be counted on to be the center of a team's offense, because his impatience and moderate home run power mean that, when he goes cold and stops hitting singles and doubles, there are no redeeming factors in his offensive game. Finally, for all the scorn heaped on Alex Rodriguez, his absence has shown just how weak the cast around him actually is. The Yankees have hidden a great many sins in his shadow.

The 21st century Red Sox are a tribute to Gene Michael's Yankees--acquiring offensive players who work pitch counts and get into other teams awful-by-definition middle relief corps, while developing a nucleus of great young players.

The 2008 Yankees represent Brian Cashman's similar attempt to ape the Sox and they're a disaster. He has radically misjudged the quality of his youngsters even as he's made the team more dependent on their performances. Phil Hughes and Austin Jackson are the only important pieces in hand of the next good Yankee team.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Kind of Blue: Gay-marriage ruling can help McCain. (Mark Stricherz, 5/19/08, National Review)

The key states are likely to be New Jersey, New Mexico, and Iowa. The first two have no laws defining marriage; in Iowa, last August a judge in the Iowa City area tossed out the state’s ban on gay marriage, before staying his decision an hour later. All three states are likely to be contested this fall.

New Jersey’s 15 electoral votes would be the biggest prize. Although George W. Bush lost the state to John Kerry by 6 percentage points, McCain, as a more centrist candidate, is likely to fare better. He is ahead of Obama by one percentage point, according to Rasmussen. If California-wed gay couples flock to the state, his lead is likely to stay or expand on the strength of support from the state’s Catholics, blacks, and working-class whites, three groups who oppose gay marriage strongly.

New Mexico’s five electoral votes would also be in play. As of now, the state looks to be a Democratic pickup. Obama leads McCain by nine percentage points, according to Rasmussen. Yet this lead is sure to evaporate if the California ruling proceeds, as Hispanics and working-class whites defect.

...with which the GOP can make the brown Red.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Dalai Lama is snubbed during visit to Germany (Judy Dempsey, May 19, 2008, IHT)

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, on Monday ended a five-day visit to Germany that became mired in controversy because only one government minister agreed to meet with him.

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, the development minister, met with the Dalai Lama on Monday. She apparently did so against the wishes of Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the leader of the Social Democrats, Kurt Beck. Both had said that no senior party leaders would meet with the Dalai Lama.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who met with the Dalai Lama in the chancellery in September, was on a weeklong tour of Latin America during his latest visit.

The Chinese Embassy in Berlin spoke out against Wieczorek-Zeul's meeting.

May 19, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 PM


Cancer survivor Lester throws no-hitter vs Royals (JIMMY GOLEN, 5/19/08, AP)

Jon Lester can now add pitching a no-hitter to his already amazing list of accomplishments. The 24-year-old lefty, who survived cancer to pitch the clincher of Boston's 2007 World Series victory, shut down Kansas City 7-0 Monday night for the first no-hitter in the majors this season.

Jason Varitek has really slowed up over the last three years, but that makes him the only guy to catch 4 no-hitters and they were by four different pitchers. He added a homerun for good measure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 PM


The Theologico-Political Problem Revisited: How to Think About the Modern Project: A review of Daniel Tanguay’s Leo Strauss: An Intellectual Biography (Ted McAllister, 05/12/08, First Principles)

One particularly pressing question facing us (judging from the both the volume and tone of recent books on the subject) concerns the relationship of religion to the regime and even of the place for religious faith in the modern world. We are all familiar with the popular evangelical atheists of our time who seem as deeply frightened by religious belief as they are ignorant of the complexity of both theologies and humans. Unlike earlier laments about religious belief in America (one thinks of Walter Lippmann and Joseph Wood Krutch), today’s secular Jeremiahs seem less adrift from the existential comforts of religion than taking umbrage at the fact that others cannot see the most obvious truth of our scientific age. From disillusionment to aggressive claims to knowledge, it seems that the public face of atheism today is much threatened by religious beliefs.

One of the stories many intellectuals tell about our civilization and its future is that it is leading, progressively, toward secularism, scientific management, and expansive personal freedoms. The newest version of this narrative reverses older progressive story-lines that understood the United States to be the future, the paradigmatic liberal society and state. Recently Post-Christian Europe has represented the future, the way of enlightened democracy that blends expansive tolerance for personal choices with a comforting and professional state apparatus that provides just and equitable distribution of goods and services. European advances seemed evident to many observers in such things as supplying universal healthcare, banning capital punishment, organizing Europe toward a post-national identity, and a peace-loving citizenry that is liberated from the oppressive superstitions of religion.

By contrast, the United States seems trapped in an outdated moral/religious order. To make matters more galling still, America during the last three decades has become more religious, more conservative, during the same time that the nation has become the imperial colossus of our age. American intellectuals who tell this story are alternatively angered by the nation’s government and embarrassed by its citizens. American liberal or progressive writers have recently presented their progressive message in a reactionary language. Focused primarily (because of heightened anger and because of political expediency) on the Bush administration, the primary story-line of these thinkers it that America has been hijacked by religious (Christian) extremists (along with an assortment of temporary allies) and that the primary task of the reasonable class of politicians and thinkers is to return the nation to its older course, its traditional ways, its natural path toward the European (universal) model. The future lies in recovering our past, or at least some conception of our past. Most of these reactionary progressives, whose books litter the local Barnes and Noble, appear blind to the irony.

The political passions of our time have thrust a dead philosopher, who in life displayed no political passion, into our contemporary troubles, usually in the role of chief troublemaker. Leo Strauss, according to those observers who display a paranoid style of thinking about politics, was a deeply un-democratic thinker whose teachings, often through other teachers, have shaped the philosophical commitments of powerful neo-conservatives. Like Strauss’s own explanation of Machiavelli as an unarmed prophet who altered the “modes and orders” through his disciples, Strauss himself is the purported unarmed prophet of the new American empire.

Another, and more important, body of literature has emerged in recent years and the authors, usually mining Strauss’s heretofore neglected early works, have exposed a complex philosopher who speaks to our time. These are not political treatments of Strauss and they are often not products of the Straussian industry or even of those of the American right. One such contribution comes from Daniel Tanguay, a French Canadian, whose slim but dense book, Leo Strauss: An Intellectual Biography, is a superb primer on Strauss and, to a degree, the philosophical world he inhabited. Just as important, reading Tanguay’s book plunges the reader into the civilizational conversation of our time, not by any reference to contemporary debates but by the complex presentation of Strauss’s struggle with liberalism, with modernity, with “the Jewish Problem.” One enters into the civilizational conversation in a typically Straussian manner—by reading commentaries on Great Books, and these commentaries lead one back to the human problems as such. But most importantly, Tanguay’s book helps accomplish one of Strauss’s objectives—to escape the provincialism of modern thinking and modern categories and to allow us to approach the issues of our time less captive to conventional assumptions.

The virtue of Tanguay’s book is not found, as he argues, in its originality, but in its concentration on detail and its rigor of analysis. The author asserts that the dominant rubric for understanding Strauss’s work—the conversation between the ancients and the moderns—is misplaced. As Strauss himself asserted, the “theologico-political problem” served as the core of his work and the other major themes should be understood as they relate to this universal “problem” or condition of human existence. I find Tanguay’s claims about the misplaced emphasis in other scholarly treatments of Strauss to be cavalier or oddly selective about the interpretive literature, especially since he supplies no bibliographical investigation of the scholarship (repeating one of the frustrating qualities of Strauss’s own work). This is not a startling new interpretation of Strauss, but it is a refreshingly clear and rigorous interpretation. In that respect, it may be the best single volume on Strauss’s ideas. Someone familiar with Strauss and the literature interpreting him will likely not be challenged in a dramatic way, but fed in a hundred small ways with details and with connections that require enormous effort to expose and understand.

Strauss’s zetetic journey ends where it began, problematically—with the theologico-political problem. Tanguay’s analysis is sharpest when he confronts the political conundrum that Strauss could not resolve, because resolving it would constitute a rejection of his philosophical quest. [...]

The existential source (and hence the beginning) of Strauss’s philosophical quest was the Jewish problem and the purported liberal solution. On this subject Tanguay is often as elusive as was Strauss, but at the center of the Jewish problem stands the twin themes of authority and identity. The Jewish problem is an expression of the never resolved human problem of the relationship between theology and philosophy, and thus is a particular example of the universal theologico-political problem. The liberal solution to this problem was to make matters of religion private, chasing the deepest questions about how to live out of the public realm. Incapable of arguing away religious ontological claims, the modern answer was to leave to individuals the question about how to live well. In a word, the answer to competing religious traditions and claims to final authority was tolerance. In the case of Jews, the creation of an identity outside of the Law, as rights-bearing individuals of a liberal society, constituted a threat to the very Jewish identity as determined by fidelity to the Law and it provided legal equality that fostered assimilation without the means of providing social equality. Disconnected from the most basic form of their Jewish identity, Jews were nonetheless vulnerable to discrimination.

Strauss’s attempt to resolve the problem of Jews in modern society took several early forms but did not gain satisfactory clarity until, through his study of the “moderate” medieval enlightenment in Judaism and Islam, Strauss rediscovered Platonic or zetetic philosophy. Strauss discovered in the Jewish thinker Maimonides, and then the Islamic philosopher Farabi, a via media that resolved, at least temporarily, the tension between revelation and philosophy. If the Law, as discovered through revelation, declared that human flourishing is found in blind devotion to God while the philosophical imperative is skeptical and zetetic and finds human happiness in philosophical questioning, how can they coexist? The Law and revelation concern themselves with the moral and political life and establish the beliefs necessary to satisfy the human needs for a social and political life. The philosopher is not exempt from these needs even if he cannot believe unambiguously in the claims that establish the social/moral life that he so needs.

Farabi understood the different needs of the citizen and the philosopher and therefore noted the important distinction between necessary beliefs (political and moral beliefs that come from revelation) and true beliefs (the beliefs determined by reason). If necessary beliefs are important conditions for the philosopher to devote himself to the theoretical life in pursuit of true beliefs, the philosopher must respect both beliefs and should write in a way that supports necessary beliefs while exposing to other philosophers true beliefs. Strauss embraced this “esoteric writing” because true philosophers pursue their quest based on three assertions: 1) that only very few people are suited to the theoretical or philosophical life and that all others would be harmed by having their religious beliefs challenged; 2) that true beliefs expressed too bluntly to the vulgar poses a direct threat to the life and wellbeing of philosophers as their statements would pose a threat to the health of the city; and 3) that philosophers cannot provide a satisfactory alternative to revelation—that the philosopher has to assume that revelation may be true as well as necessary.

Common to both Jerusalem and Athens—to all the meaningful ancient alternatives—is the assertion of a normative order, to an authority found in revelation or in Nature, that defines the best way to live. The medieval enlightenment—the term given to the development of a political and philosophical harmony in Judaism and Islam—found an accommodation that was moderate. It allowed philosophical inquiry, justified by the religious Law but without any attempt to undermine revealed religion. Philosophers sought to protect the regime and themselves, both of which had in common devotion to a higher good. Strauss found in the modern attempt to resolve the theologico-political problem a much more radical alternative—the goal of eliminating the normative and thereby undermining both theological truth and the philosophical life.

The Bright's terror of authority resides in its exclusive basis for grounding morality. That leaves philosophy naught but to nibble around the less important questions in life.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 PM


Saudis cut back Islamic funding (Richard Kerbaj, May 20, 2008, The Australian)

SAUDI Arabia is significantly winding back its direct funding of Australian Muslim groups to counter a backlash against claims that money from Riyadh was being used to sponsor followers of hardline Islam.

Despite ASIO giving the all-clear for the Saudi embassy to send money to 12 Islamic organisations in Australia, not one of the groups was subsequently funded.

Sources have told The Australian that the embassy is thought to have recast its spending patterns, because its religious contributions were increasingly subject to scrutiny and criticism from academics, the legal fraternity and sections of the Muslim community.

Members of the Muslim community who have missed out on Saudi funding confirmed the change.

"The Saudis are becoming quite concerned about the trashing of their reputation," a source said.

...but now they have to spend as much to Reform it as they did to make it Salafist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 PM


Poll: 56%:33% Prefer war over ceasefire with Hamas (Dr. Aaron Lerner, Director IMRA, 5/10/08, Independent Media Review & Analysis)

Telephone poll of a representative sample of 507 adult Israelis (including Arab Israelis) carried out by Maagar Mohot Survey Institute (headed by Professor Yitzchak Katz for the morning program of Israel Television Channel 10 on 15-16 May 2008.

Statistical error +/- 4.5 percentage points.

What would you prefer for the Government of Israel to do today: reach a ceasefire agreement with Hamas or continue the war against it?

Total: Reach deal 33% Continue war 56% Other replies 11%

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 PM


Israel's 'doom' could also be Europe's (MARK STEYN, 5/10/08, OC Register)

The Western intellectuals who promote "Israeli Apartheid Week" at this time each year are laying the groundwork for the next stage of Zionist delegitimization. The talk of a "two-state solution" will fade. In the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, Jews are barely a majority. Gaza has one of the highest birth rates on the planet: The median age is 15.8 years. Its population is not just literally exploding, at Israeli checkpoints, but also doing so in the less-incendiary but demographically decisive sense.

Arabs will soon be demanding one democratic state – Jews and Muslims – from Jordan to the sea. And even those Western leaders who understand that this will mean the death of Israel will find themselves so confounded by the multicultural pieties of their own lands they'll be unable to argue against it. Contemporary Europeans are not exactly known for their moral courage: The reports one hears of schools quietly dropping the Holocaust from their classrooms because it offends their growing numbers of Muslim students suggest that even the pretense of "evenhandedness" in the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" will be long gone a decade hence.

The joke, of course, is that Israel, despite its demographic challenge, still enjoys a birth rate twice that of the European average. All the reasons for Israel's doom apply to Europe with bells on.

...when the neocons think they're being tough by fighting against the second state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 PM

NOTHING COSTS MORE... (via Kurt Brouwer)

Is This the World’s Cheapest Dress? (ERIC WILSON, 5/01/08, NY Times)

IF rock purists were unsettled last month by the opening of a designer boutique on the site of what once was CBGB, the hard-core Bowery nightclub, imagine how they will feel reading the next sentence: The old Tower Records space a few blocks away on Broadway, for two decades the spot for adolescent reveries of dance, pop and punk, has been leased by Steve & Barry’s, a clothing chain where everything costs less than $10.

Steve & Barry’s, for the uninitiated, is to fashion what Tower once was to music. Steve & Barry’s is manna, a store that sells stylish celebrity-branded clothes at prices that are absurdly inexpensive, lower than those at Old Navy, H & M or Forever 21, undercutting even Wal-Mart by as much as half.

At its 264 barnlike stores in malls across the country, including the perpetually mobbed one at the Manhattan Mall in Midtown, Steve & Barry’s offers an assortment of flowery sundresses designed by Sarah Jessica Parker ($8.98), heart-printed hoodies by the Nickelodeon alumna Amanda Bynes ($8.98) and basketball shoes by the New York Knicks point guard Stephon Marbury ($8.98). Lines at the registers are often 20 deep.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 PM


The Peekaboo Recession — Is It or Isn’t It? (Kurt Brouwer, May 19th, 2008, Fundmastery)

I have lived through a number of economic slowdowns, contractions and recessions and I have to say this is the oddest and hardest to read of any I have witnessed.

Perhaps it is the case that the American economy is just so massive, diversified, and supple that the imbalances in a sector or two don't have the overall effect they used to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM


The heart of Lebanon's strife: Violence is rooted in the flawed 1943 power-sharing pact. (Mohamad Bazzi, May 20, 2008 , CS Monitor)

Lebanon's problems are rooted in a 1943 power-sharing agreement installed when the country won its independence from French colonial rule. The system was designed to keep a balance among 18 religious sects, dividing power between a Maronite president, a Sunni prime minister, and a Shiite speaker of parliament. This system extends from the top ranks of government to the lowest rungs of civil service jobs, and has barely changed since it was put in place 65 years ago.

...can't be an American ally in the long term.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 PM


Nelly Avila Moreno, FARC's 'Karina', captured by Colombian forces in war on drugs (Jeremy McDermott, 19/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

One of Colombia's most renowned rebel fighters, and the guerrillas' senior female commander, has surrendered in yet another victory for the US-backed war policy of Oxford-educated President Alvaro Uribe.

"We have been after this woman for a long time," said Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos, "but she always gave us the slip."

Half-starved and wounded Nelly Avila Moreno, better known by her guerrilla alias 'Karina', surrendered to the secret police, the DAS, ending one of the legends of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

"To become a FARC leader you have to been utterly ruthless and vicious, even more so if you are a woman," said an army intelligence source. "Karina was both."

The Democratic Caucus hasn't been this depressed since Violeta Chomorro was elected.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:58 PM


Piattelli-Palmarini: Ostracism W/out Natural Selection (Suzan Mazur, 5/09/08, Scoop NZ)

Suzan Mazur: In the book you're writing with philosopher Jerry Fodor on evolution without adaptation, do you share his view that we need a new theory of evolution and that the theory of natural selection is “wrong in a way that can’t be fixed”?

Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini: Yes, I do. Of course, there is natural selection all around us (just think of the flu virus, mutating and adapting every year, to our detriment) and inside us (just think of our antibodies and our synapses and the pancreas cells and the epithelial cells). The point is, however, that organisms can be modified and refined by natural selection, but that is NOT the way new species and new classes and new phyla originated.

For that, major changes in regulatory genes and in gene regulatory networks have to occur. All this is perfectly naturalistic and now well documented. [...]

Suzan Mazur: Why has American science been slow to accept a reduced role for natural selection in evolution? Is it the physics that people just can't grasp?

Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini: It’s not just American science, but rather Western science, though indeed France has, in this respect, a different story, not quite a noble one.

Some consider Darwinism to be quintessentially “Britannique” and they had Bergson suggesting a different approach to evolution, then the mathematician Rene’ Thom and his school, stressing the role of topological deep invariants. They may have come to anti-Darwinian conclusions for rather idiosyncratic reasons.

Anyway, even if we take the many, many biologists in many countries who have contributed to the new rich panorama we have today of non-selectionist biological mechanisms (including the masters of the Evo-Devo revolution), they are reluctant, in my opinion, to steer away from natural selection. They declare that the non-selectionist mechanisms they have discovered (and there are many, and very basic) essentially leave the neo-Darwinian paradigm only modified, not subverted.

I think that abandoning Darwinism (or explicitly relegating it where it belongs, in the refinement and tuning of existing forms) sounds anti-scientific. They fear that the tenants of intelligent design and the creationists (people I hate as much as they do) will rejoice and quote them as being on their side. They really fear that, so they are prudent, some in good faith, some for calculated fear of being cast out of the scientific community.

Wouldn't want someone to take away their membership in the Brights....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:45 PM


Court Upholds Law That Prohibits Promotion of Child Pornography (Robert Barnes, 5/19/08, Washington Post)

The Supreme Court today upheld Congress's most recent attempt to prosecute those who would promote child pornography, ruling that the law did not violate free speech guarantees.

The court voted 7 to 2 that the law criminalizing "pandering" of real or purported child pornography over the Internet or through the mail met constitutional standards. [...]

The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and other groups had asked the court to overturn the law, saying it would restrict protected speech and allow prosecution of individuals even if actual child pornography did not exist.

Justice John Paul Stevens, who filed a concurring opinion, said he was convinced that material with "serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value" would still be protected. That is because of the law's requirement that the "defendant actually believed, or intended to induce another to believe, that the material in question depicted real children" involved in sexual conduct.

Justice David H. Souter dissented, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined him.

"Perhaps I am wrong, but without some demonstration that juries have been rendering exploitation of children unpunishable, there is no excuse for cutting back on the First Amendment and no alternative to finding overbreadth in this act," Souter wrote.

Supreme Court upholds law on child pornography (David G. Savage, 5/19/08, Los Angeles Times)
Separately, the court restored the full 22-year prison term for the so-called millennium bomber who was convicted of trying to set off explosives at Los Angeles International Airport.

Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian native, was arrested in December 1999 when he tried to cross from Canada into the United States near Seattle. He had a trunk full of explosives and was convicted of several terrorism offenses.

Last year, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned part of his sentence. But in an 8-1 ruling, the justices restored the full sentence.

It is anticonstitutional to imagine that the First Amendment is even implicated in pornography restrictions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:10 PM


Why So Long to Call a Recession?: The independent National Bureau of Economic Research is the official arbiter of economic downturns. But it takes its time (Tim Catts, 5/19/08, Business Week)

Many people think the definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of decline in the gross domestic product. But that's a misperception. Hall and his colleagues will look beyond such simple metrics, weighing monthly GDP estimates, employment data, income, industrial production, and other factors. To call a recession, they'll look for clear signs of "a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months."

Any call, if it comes, is going to take a while. The NBER usually takes 6 to 18 months to decide when a recession starts or ends. Hall's committee didn't announce the end of the 2001 recession until a full 20 months after the fact. [...]

Hall has heard all of the questions before. He's 64 and has chaired the dating committee since it was formed in 1978. After lunch, as a soft breeze tousles his gray hair and the midday sun glints off his metal-frame glasses, he explains there are good reasons for his group's deliberate pace. First, the committee exists to identify periods of economic expansion and contraction for the historical record, not to comment on them while they're taking place. They're also not involved in policymaking, so whether they call a recession or not has nothing to do with the actions Washington may take to address problems in housing or gas prices.

Caqn't blame them for wanting to avoid embarrassment after the last two they called--1991 & 2001--turned out not to be contractions. Nor does it look like this slow down will be one.

It's funny to read the hysteria on the Left about how this Depression will permanently alter economics and restore the demand for cradle-to-grave social welfare, market economics having failed. The reality is that since the Volcker/Reagan revival of the American economy it has now weathered the end of the Cold War, the S&L mess, both phases of the Iraq War, the Tech Bubble, 9-11, and the Housing Bubble without anything worse than periods of sluggish growth. It is by far the most spectacular 25 year performance of any economy in human history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


A Communist-Made Disaster (GORDON G. CHANG, May 16, 2008, NY Sun)

In Internet chat rooms some are asking why only buildings for officials survived the quake. The attention on substandard construction has been focused largely on schools because of the failure of the Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan, close to the epicenter, where about 1,000 students were trapped.

Children also were buried in schools in Gansu province and Chongqing. The online chatter among Chinese had reached such a point that the Beijing official in charge of disaster relief, Wang Zhenyao, felt compelled to cite the collapse of a government compound in Beichuan county in Sichuan to refute the notion that only schools were constructed poorly.

Schools have been hard hit because of the central government's tactical mistakes. For example, Beijing, seeking to relieve crushing financial burdens on peasants, abolished the centuries-old agricultural tax. Yet the central government did not adequately compensate localities with other revenue. And to make matters worse, Beijing then required schools to provide compulsory education for all children.

Without revenue, officials skimped on construction, even refusing to pay contractors. "Subcontractors are often forced to factor in the risk of not getting paid by compromising quality and using substandard materials," said a rural education consultant in Beijing, Liang Xiaoyan, as reported in the South China Morning Post. And as one angry Sichuan resident said about the Juyuan Middle School in an Agence France-Presse report, "I'll tell you why the school collapsed. It was shoddily built. Someone wanted to save money."

In these circumstances, townships and villages could not meet normal building standards, much less ones for earthquakes. And Beijing did not require the strengthening of older structures to meet a known danger in Sichuan, the area in China most vulnerable to tremors. In view of all these factors, it was only a matter of time before Sichuan schoolchildren would perish. A geologist by training, Premier Wen should have known this.

Yet the school deaths were the result of more than just policy errors — they occurred because of the fundamental flaws of communism. First, officials did not have sufficient resources to build safe schools because many of them were skimming public funds or diverting them to other uses.

Corruption is inherent in communist political systems, and this disease is particularly prevalent in rural areas like Dujiangyan, where local Party bosses are often beyond the supervision of higher-ups. Second, the Party's traditional disregard for the nation's people — no other organization in history has been directly responsible for more unnatural deaths, perhaps as many as 50 million — meant that children were ultimately considered expendable.

Finally, the country's unaccountable political system did not permit the Chinese people to demand safer structures. If China had a free press, for example, the shocking condition of Sichuan's schools would have provoked an outcry that would inevitably have led to tougher building codes, better enforcement of rules, and more quake-resistant buildings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Obama links McCain's Social Security stance to Bush's: The Democratic contender, speaking to retirees in Oregon, continues to essentially ignore rival Clinton. The state holds its primary Tuesday. (Nicholas Riccardi, 5/19/08, Los Angeles Times)

Sen. Barack Obama today continued his efforts to tie presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain to President Bush, contending that the Arizona senator's Social Security proposal was simply a continuation of Bush's failed attempt to privatize the government-sponsored retirement plan.

"Privatizing Social Security was a bad idea when George Bush proposed it," Obama told a forum at an assisted-living facility here. "It's a bad idea today."

Obama also criticized McCain for proposing to raise the age and income eligibility for Social Security.

Perfect! We've just run this race twice--stock liberal senator vs. Southwestern conservative running on SS reform--and the GOP has won it twice. The unwillingness of 40 Democratic senators to modernize a welfare program along the lines of 401k's is not the unwillingness of the electorate to do so. You can't be the candidate of change if you refuse to consider bringing FDR's legacy up to date.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


The dark side of Oz: people who listen to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon while watching The Wizard of Oz claim there's a phenomenal synchronicity between them. Cool. But does it mean anything? The author tests the proposition. (Jim Windolf, 01-DEC-07, W)

Sometime after the invention of home video, the "dark side of the rainbow" effect was born. While watching The Wizard of Oz with the sound turned off, certain people--very likely stoners--first listened to the Pink Floyd album Dark Side of the Moon, being careful to push "play" at the third roar of the MGM lion. The results were astonishing. "It's as if the movie were one long art-film video for the album," wrote Charles Savage of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, who in 1995 became the first mainstream reporter to chronicle the phenomenon. "Song lyrics and titles match the action and plot. The music swells and falls with characters' movements."

As Savage noted, the Scarecrow flops around on the grass just as Pink Floyd bandleader Roger Waters sings, "The lunatic is on the grass." And the thumping heartbeats that punctuate the end of Dark Side of the Moon are heard just as Dorothy puts her ear to the Tin Man's chest. These are only two of roughly 100 documented instances of synchronicity between the 1973 album and the 1939 movie.

Chat-roomers and bloggers have filled countless screens to express their enthusiasm for this psychedelic parlor game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


McCain Exceptionalism: Three developments this past week were promising for John McCain, or what amounts to pretty much the same thing, problematic for Barack Obama. (William Kristol, 5/19/08, NY Times)

1. On Tuesday night, while the G.O.P. Congressional candidate was losing in a Mississippi district George Bush carried in 2004 by 25 points, Barack Obama was being trounced in the West Virginia Democratic primary -- by 41 points. I can’t find a single recent instance of a candidate who ultimately became his party’s nominee losing a primary by this kind of margin. The crucial swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania (whose primaries Obama also lost to Hillary Clinton) have a fair number of West Virginia-type working-class, culturally conservative voters. The Obama campaign can’t be confident about his prospects there in the fall.

2. On Thursday, the California Supreme Court did precisely what much of the American public doesn’t want judges doing: it made social policy from the bench. With a 4-to-3 majority, the judges chose not to defer to a ballot initiative approved by 61 percent of California voters eight years ago, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. In 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court redefined marriage in that state, helping to highlight the issues of same-sex marriage and judicial activism for the 2004 presidential campaign. Now the California court has conveniently stepped up to the plate.

Obama’s campaign issued a statement that its candidate “respects the decision of the California Supreme Court.” The McCain campaign, by contrast, said it recognized “the right of the people of California to recognize marriage as a unique institution ... John McCain doesn’t believe judges should be making these decisions.” Since the next president will almost certainly have one Supreme Court appointment, and could have two or three, this difference on judicial philosophy could well matter to voters -- and in a way that should help McCain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Military culture, pragmatism shape McCain: John McCain's military experience and Senate record show a presidential candidate who values integrity and getting things done. (Linda Feldmann, 5/19/08, The Christian Science Monitor)

What is clear is that McCain beats both Democratic presidential rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton on values, in part because of his military background. In a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 54 percent of registered voters said McCain "has background/set of values I identify with," compared with 46 percent for Ms. Clinton and 45 percent for Mr. Obama. If McCain is going to be elected president, it will be because of values, and in spite of the unpopular Iraq war he supports and a struggling economy, analysts say. [...]

A recent study by the Arizona Republic newspaper found that, since 1999, in cases where McCain cast the deciding Senate vote, he almost always sided with his party. But after 21 years in the Senate, McCain is best known for teaming up with Democrats on high-profile issues that anger conservatives. On campaign finance, he and Sen. Russ Feingold (D) of Wisconsin began working together 13 years ago and, in 2002, produced the most significant reform in a generation, banning unlimited donations to the parties and limiting issue ads.

On immigration, he has teamed up with liberal icon Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts during the past few years and proposed legislation that included a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and a new guest worker program. McCain's unorthodox position nearly sank his presidential hopes, and since last summer, he has generally stuck to the party line, emphasizing border security first.

On climate change, McCain has worked with independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, but has failed to pass legislation. On the campaign trail, McCain has made climate change one of his top issues – a clear pitch to the political center and a swipe at Bush, who opposes mandatory limits – but in the larger arena of environmental issues, McCain's voting record is mixed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


German Special Forces in Afghanistan Let Taliban Commander Escape (Susanne Koelbl and Alexander Szandar, 5/19/08, Der Spiegel)

Under the protection of darkness, the KSK, together with Afghan forces, advanced toward their target. Wearing black and equipped with night-vision goggles, the team came within just a few hundred meters of their target before they were discovered by Taliban forces.

The dangerous terrorist escaped. It would, however, have been possible for the Germans to kill him -- but the KSK were not authorized to do so.

The threat to the international relief workers and the ISAF soldiers stationed in the north may now be even greater than it was before. Warned of ISAF's activities and intent on taking revenge, the man and his network are active once again. Over 2,500 Germans are stationed between Faryab and Badakhshan, along with Hungarian, Norwegian and Swedish troops.

The case has caused disquiet at the headquarters of the ISAF peacekeeping force in Kabul. The current strategy for fighting the enemy is to buy as many Taliban sympathizers as possible, to at least win them over for a while -- and to "eliminate" the hardliners through targeted assassinations.

From a military point of view, the so-called targeting has been a success. Close to one-third of the Taliban leaders, about 150 commanders, have since been "neutralized," meaning they are either dead or captured. Most of the capture-or-kill missions, as the operations are called in military jargon, are undertaken by British or American special forces.

But so far the Germans haven't wanted to take part.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Sunni backlash follows Hezbollah's strike in Lebanon: Sectarianism hardened in Lebanon after the Shiite militants clashed with Sunni groups. Talks in Qatar aim to resolve the crisis between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government. (Nicholas Blanford, 5/19/08, The Christian Science Monitor)

"They said they were resistance against Israel, but now the mask has fallen, exposing their true faces," thundered the sheikh, his oratory just one of many similarly themed Friday sermons from dozens of other mosques scattered throughout the Sunni-dominated Iqlim al-Kharroub district between Beirut and the coastal city of Sidon. [...]

As the fighting flared in Beirut, jihadist websites were abuzz with speculation about a civil war in Lebanon. Fatah al-Islam, an Al Qaeda-inspired faction that fought a bloody three-month battle against the Lebanese Army last summer, vowed to come to the aid of Lebanese Sunnis against Hezbollah. "What has happened in Beirut – the invasion, the killing, the incineration, the humiliation against the Sunnis – is not acceptable," said a statement, the authenticity of which could not be verified.

Sheikh Hammoud, the Hezbollah-allied Sunni cleric in Sidon, acknowledges that there is support for Al Qaeda in Lebanon and that it could grow in the wake of the sectarian battles.

...except to the extent it impinges upon the sovereignty of Hezbollahstan.

May 18, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 PM


Another heartbreak in Boston (Terry Pluto, May 18, 2008, Cleveland plain-Dealer)

For Cleveland fans, it was more sports heartbreak in Boston.

You could see it on the face of Cavaliers star LeBron James as he marched off the parquet court of the new Boston TD Banknorth Garden. He held his head high as he bit down on his lower lip, as if he may have been fighting back a few tears. He didn't want to shake any hands or hear anyone say "Nice game."

All the Cavaliers star knew was the final score: Boston, 97-92, eliminating the Cavs in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

James realized Boston was a heavy favorite in this game, that it was no accident the Celtics won 21 more games in the regular season. Or that home court is an overwhelming advantage (79-19 all time) in Game 7s. Or that the home teams had won 95 percent of the games in this year's second round of the playoffs.

James didn't want to hear that he scored 45 of his team's 92 points. Or that he played all but 72 seconds of this game, and the Cavs were outscored, 5-0, with him on the bench.

He tried to carry the hopes and dreams and even the fears of the city's fans on his wide shoulders, and nearly led the Cavs to what would have been the biggest upset of this year's playoffs.

They came close, but the only cigar lit was by former great Boston coach Red Auerbach in basketball heaven.

It's impossible to justify having so many teams make the playoffs when home court is so determinative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:19 PM


Obama's Big Cross Kentucky Flier (Jake Tapper, May 18, 2008, ABC News: Political Punch)

Voters in Kentucky, where Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., is expected to romp on Tuesday, are receiving a mailer from the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., where the lanky Illinoisan is emphasizing his Christianity.

On the front of the flier is a photograph of Obama speaking from a pulpit with a large cross hanging on the wall behind him.

"Faith. Hope. Change. Barack Obama for President. 'My faith teaches me that I can sit in church and pray all I want, but I won't be fulfilling God's will unless I go out and do the Lord's work'. - Barack Obama"

...while Barack Obama sees himself as the Messiah, Jake Tapper only thinks he's Abe Lincoln.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:29 AM


BEYOND REDUCTIONISM: Reinventing The Sacred (Stuart A. Kauffman, 11.13.06, Edge)

Two fine authors, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, have written recent books, The God Delusion and Breaking the Spell arguing against religion. Their views are based on contemporary science. But the largest convictions of contemporary science remain based on reductionism.

I would like to begin a discussion about the first glimmerings of a new scientific world view — beyond reductionism to emergence and radical creativity in the biosphere and human world. This emerging view finds a natural scientific place for value and ethics, and places us as co-creators of the enormous web of emerging complexity that is the evolving biosphere and human economics and culture. In this scientific world view, we can ask: Is it more astonishing that a God created all that exists in six days, or that the natural processes of the creative universe have yielded galaxies, chemistry, life, agency, meaning, value, consciousness, culture without a Creator. In my mind and heart, the overwhelming answer is that the truth as best we know it, that all arose with no Creator agent, all on its wondrous own, is so awesome and stunning that it is God enough for me and I hope much of humankind.

[R]eductionism, wrought by the successes of Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Planck, and Schrodinger, and all that has followed, preeminently in physics, has, as I will expand upon in a moment, left us in world of fact — cold fact with no scientific place for value. "The more we know of the cosmos, the more meaningless it appears", said Stephen Weinberg in Dreams of a Final Theory. For example, Wolfgang Kohler, one of the founders of Gestalt psychology, wrote a mid 20th century book entitled hopefully: The Place of Value in a World of Fact. And just a few days ago, a conversation with a humanist professor at the University of Pennsylvania astonished me with her account of how we are again a meaningless world in the post modern world view rampant in the North American humanities.

On the other side of this vast divide than those who hold to a transcendent God and His authority for meaning and values, are the innumerable secular humanists, children of the enlightenment and contemporary science, who hold firmly to reality as revealed by science, find values in their love for their families and friends, a general sense of fairness and a morality that needs no basis in God's word. Yet we secular humanists have paid an unspoken price for our firm sense that (reductionist) science tells us what is real. First, we have no well wrought scientific basis for our humanity — despite the interesting fact that quantum mechanics on the Copenhagen interpretation assumes free willed physicists who choose what quantum features to measure and thereby change the physical world. The two cultures, science and humanities, remain firmly un-united. And equally important, we have been subtly robbed of our deep capacity for spiritualism. We have come to believe that spirituality is inherently co-localized with a belief in God, and that without such a belief, spirituality is inherently foolish, questionable, without foundation, wishful thinking, silly.

In turn, we lack a global ethic to constitute the transnational mythic value structure that can sustain the emerging global civilization. We tend to believe in the value of democracy and the free market. We are largely reduced to consumers. Here it is telling that Kenneth Arrow, brilliant Nobel Laureate in economics and friend, took part in a commission to "place a value" on preservation of National Parks and was stymied in his attempt to find a way to calculate that value based on utility to citizens. Thus, even in our enjoyment of the wild, we are reduced to consumers in our currant Weltanschauung. [...]

I would like to begin a discussion about the first glimmerings of a new scientific world view — beyond reductionism to emergence and radical creativity in the biosphere and human world. This emerging view finds a natural scientific place for value and ethics, and places us as co-creators of the enormous web of emerging complexity that is the evolving biosphere and human economics and culture. In this scientific world view, we can ask: Is it more astonishing that a God created all that exists in six days, or that the natural processes of the creative universe have yielded galaxies, chemistry, life, agency, meaning, value, consciousness, culture without a Creator.

It's funny enough that the confidence of such folks in science and fact is entirely dependent on nothing but faith, but it's even more amusing when they completely disregard the scientific method and insist that they can reason back from a result to create a theory that they prefer to reality. Thus, in arguments like these they accept the values rendered by God and then try to contort their own theories until they'll produce the same result. Of course, their initial concession gives away the game and the subsequent complexification of the sublimely simple puts Rube Goldberg to shame.

There's a famous story about Albert Einstein where he needed to clip some papers together. He and his visitor searched for a paperclip but couldn't find one. Then they found a bent one and Einstein tried rebending it into its original form. Finally, they found a box of fresh clips and Einstein promptly took one and began using it as a tool to repair the bent one. Apochrypal or not, it's an apt metaphor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


Death Cab Is Up for the Long Haul (R J SMITH, 5/18/08, NY Times)

His band is named for a 1960s rockabilly parody by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, about a gal, Cutie, who hails a taxi for a fatal night of cheating on her boyfriend. “Baby, don’t do it,” the lyrics go. “Someone’s gonna make you pay your fare.”

Death Cab for Cutie is all about paying the fare. On the new “Narrow Stairs” (Atlantic), its sixth studio album and second on a major label (“Plans,” from 2005, was the first), the band ponders the cost of giving up on hope and decides that depression is just not worth the sticker price. On the surface this is Death Cab’s darkest, noisiest music yet. One love song gets going with the lyric “I’m starting to feel like we’re staying together out of fear of dying alone.” By the song’s end, though, the narrator realizes the problems are his, and fixable. By the album’s end the listener will probably realize that hope is peeking out of a meerkat hole.

The band paid the fare in its career too. Death Cab emerged before blogger buzz could help a nobody get an overnight record deal and a guest spot on “Saturday Night Live.” The members built an initial fan base the way earlier Seattle bands did in the 1990s, schlepping their way across clubland and honing their sound on indie releases. But a few albums in, blogs and social networks began crossing wires and sparking careers, and Death Cab saw both a boost and a backlash.

Nowadays the second release on a major label is often the end of a plot arc for bands that parlayed Internet buzz into a deal. But there’s no flop sweat apparent on “Narrow Stairs,” an unsettling, confident album that reaffirms Death Cab as an increasingly rare thing: a career rock band.

In a postgrunge Seattle, where eclecticism rules — as if there has been a decree that no unifying trend should ever again emerge and bring national attention and thousands of Angelenos to town again — Death Cab’s misty chords and cold steel hooks are as much a musical center as the town has these days. “I marvel at people from other places who identify themselves as rock stars in the press,” the bassist Nick Harmer, 33, said. “Because it is an insult — an insult! — to be known that way here.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Bush to press Arab leaders on democracy and peace (Sheryl Gay Stolberg, May 18, 2008, NY Times)

After a showy celebration of America's close ties with Israel, President George W. Bush was presenting Arab leaders with a lengthy to-do list on Sunday, telling them that if Middle East peace is to become a reality, they must expand their economies, offer equal opportunity to women and embrace democracy. [...]

[I]n a speech to be delivered Sunday afternoon to the World Economic Forum on the Middle East, a gathering of world leaders, diplomats and business executives, Bush seemed to chide as much as reassure.

"Too often in the Middle East, politics has consisted of one leader in power and the opposition in jail," Bush said in remarks prepared for delivery and released by the White House, adding, "The time has come for nations across the Middle East to abandon these practices, and treat their people with the dignity and respect they deserve."

...brown peoples don't want to govern themselves?

Hezbollah Emerges in Forefront of Power in Lebanon: Recent Show of Force Carries Shiite Group To Forefront of Power (Anthony Shadid, 5/18/08, Washington Post)

[I]n the span of just eight days, some of the most tumultuous since the end of the civil war in 1990, the Shiite Muslim movement has refigured, both through its own actions and the repercussions that ensued, the arithmetic of politics in a country once hailed as a centerpiece of the Bush administration's now-tattered vision of a new Middle East.

Hezbollah today stands unquestioned as the single most powerful force in Lebanon. By routing government-allied militiamen in hours last week, as the army stood by, it proved it can occupy Beirut at will. Its show of strength forced the government into a humiliating retreat from decisions that targeted the group. And the group itself has ensured that the independence of its sprawling military, political and social infrastructure -- deemed a state within a state by its opponents -- will remain untouched for the foreseeable future.

The Shi'ite demand for political power commensurate with its numbers is the President's message, even if he's not reconciled to it yet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Table scraps in one country are another country's meal (Andrew Martin, May 18, 2008, NY Times)

As it turns out, Americans waste an astounding amount of food — an estimated 27 percent of the food available for consumption, according to a government study — and it happens at the supermarket, in restaurants and cafeterias and in your very own kitchen. It works out to about a pound of food every day for every American.

Grocery stores discard products because of spoilage or minor cosmetic blemishes. Restaurants throw away what they don't use. And consumers toss out everything from bananas that have turned brown to last week's Chinese leftovers. In 1997, in one of the few studies of food waste, the Department of Agriculture estimated that two years before, 96.4 billion pounds of the 356 billion pounds of edible food in the United States was never eaten. Fresh produce, milk, grain products and sweeteners made up two-thirds of the waste.

Contra the Malthusians, there's no such thing as shortages, just maldistributions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Maverick to the rescue (JONATHAN MARTIN, 5/18/08, Politico)

In a delicious piece of irony, many dispirited Republicans, devastated by Tuesday’s special election loss in Mississippi, now believe their savior to be John McCain — a not-so-constant conservative many of them also have long intensely disliked.

The logic: McCain, the vaunted maverick, can move the party away from President Bush and reinvent a Republican brand that, at the moment, is in tatters.

“The public is prepared to believe that McCain is a different kind of Republican,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Frank Donatelli, McCain’s point man at the committee. “This is not some political idea that was cooked up.”

The even greater irony here is that Maverick has to run on W's politics. He'll win by putting a more popular face on the Third Way/Compassionate Conservatism.

Note that in the following story, GOP struggles to reinvent without losing itself: The party agrees it must change or face catastrophe in November. But that's about all members can agree on (Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten, 5/18/08, Los Angeles Times)

The bad news has come from Illinois, Louisiana and Mississippi -- a string of unexpected Republican defeats in congressional elections that have prompted GOP leaders to say, with candor unusual in politics, that the party is facing an outright catastrophe this November.

Increasingly, top Republicans are calling on their party to reinvent itself or risk driving away more voters and donors. [...]

A senior advisor to the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee, John McCain, was on hand along with the Republican Party's national chairman to make the case for McCain's brand of Republicanism.

McCain's approach -- tough on taxes, but receptive to immigrants and committed to easing global warming -- could help paint the GOP in new colors, more attractive to independent voters, Latinos and women. Some GOP leaders now say that by embracing McCain and his policy platform, Republicans would instantly "rebrand" and reinvigorate their party.

Mr. McCain inherits the general hostility to taxes and an opportunity to shift to consumption taxes under the Soccer Mom-friendly guise of fighting global warming. Meanwhile, he just needs to be more explicit about how open immigration imports Christian social conservatives and, thereby, swells the Red base, which he'll get to demonstrate at the polls in November.

May 17, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Pakistan Defies U.S. on Halting Afghanistan Raids (JANE PERLEZ, 5/17/08, NY Times)

Pakistani officials are making it increasingly clear that they have no interest in stopping cross-border attacks by militants into Afghanistan, prompting a new level of frustration from Americans who see the infiltration as a crucial strategic priority in the war in Afghanistan.

On Wednesday night, the United States fired its fourth Predator missile strike since January, the most visible symbol of the American push for a freer hand to pursue militants from Al Qaeda and the Taliban who use Pakistan’s tribal areas as a base to attack Afghanistan and plot terrorist attacks abroad.

It's a nearly perfect system: Pakistan encourages them to cluster and then we f[ire on] them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Santogold: Kaleidoscopic Pop (World Cafe, May 15, 2008)

Santogold knows a thing or two about pop music. The artist born Santi White worked as a talent scout for a major record label and quickly learned how to produce catchy music. She wrote songs for pop artists on the side, and soon put her talents to the test with her new-wave-influenced band Stiffed.

In 2006, White went solo, adopting her childhood nickname of Santogold. Her first few singles attracted significant online buzz — especially the instantly catchy "L.E.S. Artistes," which she performs live in this session on World Cafe. Her self-titled debut album is a kaleidoscope of punk, reggae, hip-hop, and electro, residing somewhere in the realm of M.I.A. and the Pixies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


McCain's America: John McCain intends to win the presidency by convincing voters he's just more American than Barack Obama. (Harold Meyerson | May 15, 2008, American Prospect)

That is why McCain's first post-primary ad proclaimed him "the American president Americans have been waiting for." Not the "strong" or "experienced" president, though those are contrasts he could seek to draw with Obama. The "American" president -- because that's the only contrast through which McCain has even a chance of prevailing. not get that nearly every presidential election is just a referendum on how closely the candidates adhere to American values.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


The Long Shadow: a review of THE AGE OF REAGAN: A History, 1974-2008 By Sean Wilentz (DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, NY Times Book Review)

[T]he main thrust of Wilentz’s thesis is fair-minded, with a slight center-left tilt. It’s hard to dispute his notion that the current Great Society rollback is straight from the Reagan playbook: tax breaks for corporations, a “unitary executive” theory of presidential power, welfare-state slashing, a federal judiciary bent rightward, and even the promotion of “intelligent design” over Darwinism in some schools. But instead of belittling Reagan, Wilentz — who paints a picture of a desultory Democratic Party in the 1970s and ’80s — offers grudging admiration for his political adroitness. “In his political persona, as well as his policies, Reagan embodied a new fusion of deeply conservative politics with some of the rhetoric and even a bit of the spirit of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and of John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier,” he writes. “This is not to say that Reagan alone caused the long wave of conservative domination — far from it. But in American political history there have been a few leading figures, most of them presidents, who for better or worse have put their political stamp indelibly on their time. They include Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt — and Ronald Reagan.”

Much like James T. Patterson’s fine “Restless Giant: The United States From Watergate to Bush v. Gore,” Wilentz’s book begins with Richard Nixon’s collapse in 1974. Amid the felonies of Watergate, Nixon had nevertheless promoted civil rights, wilderness preservation, détente and other “feel good” Democratic ideals. Rebuking both Brooks Brothers elites like Nelson Rockefeller and cowboy libertarians like Barry Goldwater, he represented the heart and soul of the Republican establishment circa 1972. His resignation — which Wilentz says ended America’s “gravest constitutional and political crisis since the Civil War and Reconstruction” — left a gaping void in the political landscape. The Democratic Party couldn’t find permanent entry, so in walked Ronald Reagan on cue from stage right.

Using John Updike’s satirical novel “Memories of the Ford Administration” as his starting point, Wilentz breezes through Gerald Ford’s 896 days in office, regarding them as essentially failed and even insinuating that his pardon of Nixon — nowadays widely seen as a healing accomplishment — was a mistake. The net effect of Ford’s White House tenure was “to push many ex-Democrats as well as longtime conventional Republicans into the political camp of the pro-Reagan right.” By 1976, when Reagan tried to wrest the nomination from Ford, this actor turned politician had mobilized varied constituencies, including blue-collar whites, evangelical Christians, “Southern strategy” bigots, law-and-order suburbanites and anti-Communist hawks. In foreign affairs, Reagan’s New Right coalition wanted to maintain ownership of the Panama Canal, abandon arms limitation talks, keep American troops in Southeast Asia and flush the very concept of détente into the Neville Chamberlain appeasement toilet. On the domestic front, this coalition held an almost mystical belief in supply-side economics. Reagan may have lost out to Ford, Wilentz argues, but he had cobbled together a powerful army of foot soldiers.

...RWR was still too much the New Dealer to confront the welfare-state, which he saved instead. It took the Pinochet/Thatcher example for Bill Clinton/Newt Gingrich and W to begin reforming it along Third Way lines. This makes the Iron Lady the arguably more influential figure of our era.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Duffy's debut album, 'Rockferry,' is reminiscent of the decade's retro sound and girl group singers. (John Payne, 5/13/08, Los Angeles Times)




* * * 1/2

At 23, singer Duffy brings a wizened depth to the songs on her debut album that belies her youth and roots in a small town in Wales. On "Rockferry," the former waitress deals in wistful, cloudy-day soul -- the title track characteristically frames her razor-thin but warm voice in the widescreen rolling lushness of strings. It's a very early-'60s retro sound, and Duffy's languid vocal precision and economic use of "soul" inflections easily cut through the vast sonic dimensions.

Summoning reference to '60s singers like Ronnie Spector and Dusty Springfield, Duffy makes the airily dramatic "Warwick Avenue" and the slow, funky steam of "Serious" showcases for her low-key vocal tricks.

Welsh Voice Crooning American Soul (JON CARAMANICA, NY Times)
The debut album by the Welsh soul revivalist Duffy, “Rockferry” (Mercury), is an exercise in control. Her voice is subtle, pristine and evocative — there are shades of Motown, more Mary Wells than Diana Ross — and her songs, of which she is a co-writer, are neatly layered and womblike. At worst, her music is successful mimicry, but much more often Duffy strikes notes of blissful languor. She never tests herself, but she doesn’t have to; she teases, she confesses, and she says goodbye. “Rockferry” is, in every way, smooth. [...]

Duffy doesn’t flaunt soul bona fides as heavily as her fellow British retro-belter Amy Winehouse, probably because she doesn’t have them. Her first release was a Welsh-language pop-rock EP in 2004. She was introduced to classic soul just a few years ago, soaking it in at the urging of Bernard Butler, formerly a guitarist for the British rock band Suede, who is one of the producers of “Rockferry.”

And so, while she is now well schooled, she is not distractingly faithful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Barack Obama: the new Great Redeemer: First it was Kennedy... now the US media are prostrating themselves before the saviour (Gerard Baker, 5/16/08, Times of London)

Every decade or so the people who control the way we see the world anoint some American politician the Redeemer of a Troubled Planet.

In the late 1960s the media placed the halo on Robert Kennedy, the tragic dynast whose antiwar and civil rights credentials made him in life - as he remains to this day in death - a kind of devotional figure for most political journalists.

Kennedy at least had charisma and intelligence. But to prove that these were by no means necessary preconditions for the honour, it was conferred a few years later on Jimmy Carter, the plodding nonentity elevated by a willingly compliant press into Everyman, brandishing his steely sword of Truth against the Manichean mendacity of Richard Nixon's Republican legacy.

Partly because of the Carter embarrassment, the 1980s were barren years for the idolators. Try as they might, they couldn't work themselves into much ecstasy over Walter Mondale in 1984 or Michael Dukakis in 1988, though they had little flings with bit-part players Gary Hart and (I kid you not) Bruce Babbitt, a genial former Governor of Arizona.

But by the 1990s a new Democrat, or rather a New Democrat, was come among us, a man the media told us would lift our eyes from our selfish greed and rid the world of the ineffable misery left by 12 years of reactionary rule. It's hard to imagine now, after the battering he's taken from his old friends in the press these past few months, but Bill Clinton was once their idol. His cleverly cynical balancing act - promising a return to high-minded tolerance while executing mentally ill prisoners in Arkansas, for example - was lauded as a brilliant synthesising of traditional liberal ideology with the political realities of the modern age.

The alert among you will have noticed by now that what all these spiritually uplifting leaders have in common. They are all Democrats. was amazing how the press cured FDR's polio.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Young Tibetan spiritual leader on first tour of U.S. (Glenn Collins, May 16, 2008, IHT)

The 22-year-old living Buddha seemed joyfully aware to feel no jet lag whatsoever. So far.

"Maybe tonight," he said in English on Thursday. "But not yet."

He had just arrived at a New York hotel with his security detail after a 14-hour flight from New Delhi to Newark, New Jersey.

"It is the first time I've ever visited the United States, and it's a bit like a dream," said His Holiness, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, one of the most important leaders in Tibetan Buddhism.

Despite his youth, he is revered by followers as a master teacher, and Thursday he began an 18-day visit to the United States, a whirlwind tour of New York, New Jersey, the Colorado city of Boulder and Seattle that ends June 2.
Today in Americas
Does gay marriage still matter in U.S. politics?
Obama hits back at McCain and Bush
Young Tibetan spiritual leader on first tour of U.S.

Yes, he is that Karmapa: the young master who made headlines across the world at age 14 with his daring escape from China to India across the Himalayas in 1999.

His followers regard him not only as the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, who died in 1981, but also as the 17th incarnation of the first Karmapa in the 12th century, in an unbroken lineage going back 900 years. They revere him as leader of the Kagyu sect- called the black hat or black crown sect - one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Karmapa has been traditionally recognized as the third most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism, after the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, said Robert A. F. Thurman, professor of Buddhist studies at Columbia University.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


A working model (Richard W. Rahn, 5/15/08, Washington Times)

Thirty years ago, a young Jose Pinera, who had earned a Ph.D. at Harvard, was Chile's labor minister. He saw the coming disaster in the government old-age pension system.

Inspired by an idea from the late Nobel Prize winning economist, Milton Friedman, he developed a solution that empowers workers and gives them real financial security. Pinera-type social security systems have now been adopted by more than 30 countries and cover several hundred million people — for a very simple reason — it works!

Under the Pinera-type social security systems, workers are required to invest in highly diversified, qualified funds. Because they actually own their pension funds (like 401(k) funds in the United States), workers can choose their age of retirement, whether it is age 50 or 80. The longer they work, the more money they will have — but again each individual determines his or her own retirement age. (The very poor and those unable to work are still covered by a government system.)

Mr. Pinera is here in Berlin, selling his concept to German opinion leaders, as part of a multi-country "Free Market Road Show" sponsored by the European Center for Economic Growth and the Hayek Institute of Vienna, Austria.

The Chilean privatized system began in 1981, exactly 100 years after Bismarck instituted his system in Germany. It has been 29 years since the system went into effect in Chile so Mr. Pinera now can answer his critics, not only with theoretical arguments, but with hard data.

The results are remarkable. Chile's citizens have on average experienced a 10 percent per year, above inflation, compounded growth rate in their pension funds for the last 29 years. The result is most Chileans are no longer poor, but are, in fact, "small capitalists."

The Chilean government, increasingly freed from paying pensions out of tax funds (almost all Chileans have moved into the private accounts, though they could have stayed in the old government system), is now running a budget surplus of 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), which could pave the way for the abolition of the income tax.

The new Chilean system has provided so much investment capital that Chile moved from being a poor country to being a solid middle-income country with the highest per capita income in South America.

...was whack Allende.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Werewolf boy: What is hypertrichosis? (Tom Chivers, 15/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Hypertrichosis – commonly called Werewolf Syndrome – is a rare medical condition that leads to excessive body hair growth.

Extreme, or general, hypertrichosis, in which the condition affects the entire body, is especially rare.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


The Conservative Case for the Environment (John R. E. Bliese, Fall 1996, First Principles)

When considering the implications of the libertarian position on environmental issues, I am not concerned with a radical, anti-government philosophy, but rather with those who focus primarily on economics and the virtues of the free-market. For the libertarian, the free market system is believed to be not only the most efficient means of improving mankind’s standard of living, but also the only sure foundation and protection for political freedom. From the free-market perspective, there should be great interest in solving many of our environmental problems—and indeed, there is a small group of free-market environmentalists, primarily associated with the Political Economy Research Center (PERC) in Bozeman, Montana.

In a free market, producers and consumers negotiate their sales and purchases with no outside interference and without affecting third parties. The market price of a product, which the consumer pays, includes all of the costs of making it and some profit for the producer.

However, the real cost of production in the modern world often includes “externalities,” costs that are not reflected in the price of goods and which must be paid by others, rather than by the consumers of the products. All forms of pollution are just such costs. If, for example, a factory does not properly dispose of its waste but saves money by dumping it untreated in a river, its customers get the products more cheaply, but downstream users of the river suffer damages. Perhaps they cannot use the river any more (say, for fishing or swimming). Or perhaps to keep using its water, they have to pay extra to clean it up first. If the factory processed its waste properly, the cost of doing so would be included in the price of its products and would be paid by their consumers, not by innocent third parties downstream.

As mentioned, the libertarian values the free market as a source and protection of freedom—freedom from interference by government and by others. But your freedom is decreased if someone can impose on you some of the cost of his production, or can invade your property with his pollution. Nothing in the theory of the free market justifies a producer and a consumer forcing an outsider to pay part of their costs. And your payment may be much more than just a few dollars; it may be in the form of acute suffering (e.g., illness from breathing polluted air or drinking polluted water). Wherever there is pollution, the libertarian should be devising ways to make sure that the market works properly. The costs of production need to be “internalized” in the market price of goods in some way that also maximizes liberty. [...]

Finally, from the market perspective, we may take a quick look at tax structures. Current taxes raise revenue but often do economic harm because they penalize jobs and profits. Shifting to “green” taxes (e.g., on effluents or on use of certain raw materials) could raise revenue and do some good at the same time, by protecting resources and making polluters pay the costs that they now pass on to others.

Libertarians should be interested in environmental policy not just because market mechanisms can be effective in reducing pollution, but because pollution itself is evidence that the market is not working correctly. Pollution is also evidence that our freedom is being infringed.

The environ,ment is one of the few areas where the Right is reactionary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Lebanon May Attract Sunnis Seeking to Wage Jihad (Mitchell Prothero, May 15, 2008, US news)

Hezbollah and its mostly Shiite allies faced little resistance earlier this month as they moved to capture and neutralize offices and media outlets supporting the mostly Sunni "Future Movement" in west Beirut. It was a violent step in the progressive deterioration of civil society that began after Syrian troops were forced out of Lebanon in the wake of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri's 2005 assassination.

But their efforts to preserve Hezbollahs military autonomy from Lebanon's pro-western government—as well as to push for what they consider a more fair allocation of political power—might have backfired because the move has been widely seen by the Arab world's Sunni majority as tantamount to a coup by Iranian-backed Shiite militias.

...can the neocons be far behind?

Lebanon Sunnis bitter in Lebanon power shift toward Shiite Hezbollah (The Associated Press, May 16, 2008)

After all, since when does the majority rule in the Middle East?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


The Event That Is Christianity: a review of Tracey Rowland, Ratzinger’s Faith (James V. Schall, S.J., 05/14/08, First Principles)

Rowland’s chapter on “Modernity and the Politics of the West” is a must read. As the pope noted in Spe Salvi, his second encyclical, the history of the West can in many ways be conceived as a gigantic this-worldly effort to achieve the ends of Christianity by politics, issuing from a denial of any transcendent purpose to man or the world. “Ratzinger thus rejects all philosophies of history which would find in the historical process some dynamic outside the theo-drama of God’s offer of grace and the human response to this offer.” The effect of this understanding is to allow politics to be politics and not a substitute for metaphysics. There are the “things of Caesar,” a phrase that clearly implies that many other things, often the most important ones, are not of Caesar.

Rowland cites the following passage of Ratzinger in which he distinguishes between a healthy “secularity,” an understanding that the polity has a purpose, and “secularism,” a closed ideology. “Secularism is no longer that element of neutrality which opens up areas of freedom for everyone. It is beginning to turn into an ideology that imposes itself thorough politics and leaves no public space for the Catholic and Christian vision, which thus risks becoming something purely private and essentially mutilated.” Ratzinger has admired the American founding as a reasonable example of a polity that did not conceive itself to be a religion or ideology, but understood that it must leave space for religion to live and flourish within the limited public order.

Rowland lists several core principles that Ratzinger uses to think of the state. These principles are worth citing in full as they make clear the ideas that Benedict has affirmed about the civil order.

1. The state is not itself the source of truth and morality.
2. The goal of the state cannot consist in a freedom without defined contents.
3. The State must receive from outside itself the essential measure of knowledge and truth with regard to what is good.
4. This outside cannot be “pure reason” however desirable in theory, because, in practice, such a pure rational evidential quality independent of history does not exist. Metaphysical and moral reason comes into action only in a historical context.
5. Christian faith has proved to be the most universal and rational religious culture.
6. The Church may not exert herself to become the state. . . .
7. The Church remains outside the state . . . (but) must exert herself with all her vigor so that in it there may shine forth the moral truth that it offers to the state and that ought to become evident to the citizens of the state.

This is an excellent summary of Benedict’s thought on the nature of the state and its proper relation to the Church. It indicates the limits and therefore the nature of both necessary realities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


REVIEW: of Bella: Director: Alejandro Monteverde; Cast: Tammy Blanchard, Eduardo Verasteguil, Manny Perez and Ali Landry (Christian Toto, Pop Matters)

Bella drew headlines last year for its pro-life message, a rarity in modern films not featuring a snarky teen or a Judd Apatow man-child. The ideological battle lines were quickly drawn, distracting us from what a gentle tale Bella has to tell, even if one disagrees with its final judgments. [...]

Where Bella is an unqualified success is in its loving depiction of Latino culture, a true rarity these days. The characters here hail from several different Latin countries, but the lingering image viewers will walk away with is that of Jose’s welcoming home. The food, of course, is front and center here, but so is the familial warmth flowing from Jose back to Nina, a woman the family only knows by name before the action begins. Even Manny, the cruelest character in the film, reveals a tender side in Bella‘s final minutes that makes the viewer reconsider him from the ground up.

Bella captured the Peoples Choice Award at last year’s Toronto’s International Film Festival, and its stark but emotionally pure story makes it clear why it won over the crowd.

...but the fact is that if the film served the cause of abortion its ending would be horrific.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


My Morning Download 5/16/08 - Dawn Landes (XPN: All About the Music)

When she's not in the studio recording and engineering records for Ryan Adams, Hem, Phillip Glass and Joseph Arthur, singer-songwriter Dawn Landes is making her own music as a solo artist. Originally from Louisville & now based in Brooklyn, word of Landes's work spread when she and the "We Sorta Tried Bluegrass Band" recorded a blugrass version of Peter, Bjorn & John's "Young Folks" in Texas in a house/studio and put the performance of it up on youtube.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Smoothies 'are even healthier than previously thought' (ROGER TAYLOR, 5/16/08, Daily Telegraph)

[Dietician Dr Carrie Ruxton] wrote: "The steady growth of smoothies in the chilled juice market creates an opportunity to help more consumers achieve the 5-a-day target.

"This could be made easier if smoothies were designated as two portions of fruit, rather than being lumped together with juices as just one portion.

"Smoothies are significantly higher in fibre, vitamin C and antioxidants than juices and meet the criteria to make a labelling claim for fibre content. Smoothie recipes contain at least one 80g portion of mashed fruit plus a portion of juice, and are nutritionally equivalent to two portions of fruit."

She said the sugar content of smoothies was no greater than the fruit in its original form.

May 16, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 PM


Voters (Heart) Obama, But Think Like McCain (Paul Bedard, 5/16/08, US News)

This election is starting to look like a tragic play, one where the heart fights the brain. Polls show that voters are passionate about Sen. Barack Obama. Even 23-year-old Meghan McCain thinks he's "cute." But when they consider where the candidates stand on the political spectrum, voters find themselves closer to Sen. John McCain. The latest evidence comes to us from the Winston Group, which just asked voters where they stand ideologically compared with Obama, the Democrat, and Republican McCain.

Winston Group Senior Vice President Myra Miller says most voters see themselves as center-right. On a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being very liberal, 5 moderate, and 9 very conservative, the average voter is at 5.85. Miller says voters put McCain just to their right, at 5.94. And Obama is off to the left at 4.1.

Feeling vs thought is why the parties are divided by gender.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:08 PM


Keep the Immigrants, Deport the Multiculturalists (JASON L. RILEY, May 15, 2008, Wall Street Journal)

Dowell Myers, a demographer at the University of Southern California, calls it the "Peter Pan Fallacy." "Many of us assume, unwittingly, that immigrants are like Peter Pan," says Mr. Myers, "forever frozen in their status as newcomers, never aging, never advancing economically, and never assimilating." In this naïve view, he says, "the mounting numbers of foreign-born residents imply that our nation is becoming dominated by growing numbers of people who perpetually resemble newcomers."

The reality, however, is that the longitudinal studies show real socio-economic progress by Latinos. Progress is slower in some areas, such as the education level of adult immigrants, and faster in others, such as income and homeownership rates. But there is no doubt that both assimilation and upward mobility are occurring over time.

With respect to linguistic assimilation, which is one of the more important measures because it amounts to a job skill that can increase earnings, the historical pattern is as follows: The first generation learns enough English to get by but prefers the mother tongue. The children of immigrants born here grow up in homes where they understand the mother tongue to some extent and may speak it, but they prefer English. When those children become adults, they establish homes where English is the dominant language.

There's every indication that Latinos are following this pattern. According to 2005 Census data, just one-third of Latino immigrants in the country for less than a decade speak English well. But that proportion climbs to 75% for those here 30 years or more. There may be more bilingualism today among their children, but there's no evidence that Spanish is the dominant language in the second generation. The 2000 Census found that 91% of the children of immigrants, and 97% of the grandchildren, spoke English well.

If American culture is under assault today, it's not from immigrants who aren't assimilating but from liberal elites who reject the concept of assimilation. For multiculturalists, and particularly those in the academy, assimilation is a dirty word. A values-neutral belief system is embraced by some to avoid having to judge one culture as superior or inferior to another. Others reject the assimilationist paradigm outright on the grounds that the U.S. hasn't always lived up to its ideals. America slaughtered Indians and enslaved blacks, goes the argument, and this wicked history means we have no right to impose a value system on others.

But social conservatives who want to seal the border in response to these left-wing elites are directing their wrath at the wrong people. The problem isn't the immigrants. The problem is the militant multiculturalists who want to turn America into some loose federation of ethnic and racial groups. The political right should continue to push back against bilingual education advocates, anti-American Chicano Studies professors, Spanish-language ballots, ethnically gerrymandered voting districts, La Raza's big-government agenda and all the rest. But these problems weren't created by the women burping our babies and changing linen at our hotels, or by the men picking lettuce in Yuma and building homes in Iowa City.

Keep the immigrants. Deport the Columbia faculty.

It is also, as implied here, under assault by the nativists who want to deport these immigrant monoculturalists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:03 PM


'Shame' heaped on national game (BBC, 5/16/08)

The violence in Manchester following Rangers' defeat in the Uefa Cup Final causes outrage in Friday's papers.

"Despicable," says the Daily Mirror's front page.

"Once again our national game is left lying in the gutter."

The Sun agrees. "A minority of Rangers thugs have shamed the game, their club and their country," says its leader.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:31 PM


Hezbollah's Defeat (Tariq Alhomayed, 5/16/08, Asharq-alawasat)

If the events in Lebanon today are perceived in accordance with who won and who lost, then the answer is undoubtedly Hezbollah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah are the losing party.

Hassan Nasrallah and his party were defeated the day the divinely-guided leader lost his credibility on the Lebanese street and before the Arab and Islamic worlds. It makes no difference how much he pledges today or tomorrow; the Arabs, Muslims and Lebanese will never forget how Hezbollah turned its weapons against its own people after numerous vows that it would only use them against Israel.

And these guys can't figure out that the only enemy the Shi'a care about is their Sunni oppressors? No wonder they can't win a war...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Redeeming Dubya: The national memory often confuses hubris with greatness. That’s good news for George W. Bush. (Ross Douthat)

[T]o earn the sort of vindication he seems to blithely expect, George W. Bush will have to win over not only centrists but at least some liberals.

Again, stifle that laugh. Bush won over a certain sort of liberal once before, the crusading, hawkish sort that felt the tug of Bush’s moral certainty after 9/11 and was moved—at least until Iraq turned sour—by his confidence in America’s ability to remake the world.

Imagining that these liberals, and others, might be won over again requires two big assumptions. First, assume that the years immediately after Bush leaves office pass without domestic calamity. If the current economic downturn becomes another Great Depression, for instance, his reputation will be buried as deep as Hoover’s or Buchanan’s. If America continues to muddle through, however, Bush’s domestic record—which is lackluster without being nearly as bad as his critics, left and right, often claim it’s been—will probably vanish down the memory hole that has swallowed the domestic record of nearly every president not named Roosevelt or Johnson.

This is the easy part of the equation. The harder assumption involves what will remain after “compassionate conservatism” has faded into the same oblivion that claimed Nixon’s “New Federalism” and Bill Clinton’s “New Covenant.” Foreign policy, that is, where for history’s judgment to turn favorable, America’s intervention in Iraq eventually needs to come out looking like a success story rather than a folly.

This seems improbable, to put it mildly. But the crucial word here is eventually. The Bush administration has often seemed bent on vindicating, in the short run and by force of arms, Francis Fukuyama’s famous long-term prediction that liberal democracy will ultimately triumph. Now Bush’s hopes for vindication depend on the Middle East’s following a gradual, Fukuyaman track toward free markets, democratic government, and the “end of history.” And just as crucially, they depend on American troops’ staying in Iraq for as long as it takes for that to happen. If these events come to pass—if the Iraq of 2038 or so is stable, democratic, and at peace with its neighbors, and if American troops have maintained a constant presence in the country—no one should be surprised to hear hawkish liberals as well as conservatives taking up the idea that George W. Bush deserves a great deal of the credit.

The Left is so deranged by the regime change in Iraq that folks like Mr. Douthat give it a historical importance it won't bear. It is certainly best for President Bush's legacy if thirty years from now the several states that once made up Iraq are thriving democracies -- he already has a huge head start in Kurdistan -- as is much of the Islamic world and Africa (here the head start includes: Afghanistan, Libya, Liberia, etc.), but consider the series of other chains of events that he has set in motion that are far more significant to America and the world:

Third Way: While the big enchilada, Social Security, will be done by a successor (and it will be done), W will have been the one who got the ball rolling and he did accomplish public school vouchers, HSAs (in the prescription drug bill), private retirement account reform, civil service outsourcing, the Faith-Based Initiative via Executive Order, etc.

Courts/Culture of Life: It would have been nice if he'd gotten to appoint John Paul Stevens successor, but even without that he's had time and opportunity to shift the legal system to the Right from top to bottom. A McCain victory would go a long way towards cementing this legacy, but even a President Obama can't undo it too easily. In addition, the silence of the Democratic contenders on social issues suggests just how much Mr. Bush has changed the political climate as regards matters like abortion, embryonic stem cells, gay marriage, etc.

Taxes: By passing at least one tax cut every year of his presidency, with no hikes, Mr. Bush has practiced what Ronald Reagan preached, but proved unable to hold the line on.

Immigration Amnesty: He really ought to just issue a blanket pardon (a la Jimmy Carter and the draft dodgers), but, if not, the next president will legalize them legislatively in his wake--even if it's dressed up in fancy terminology. W has created the political climate in which it is understood that this is just a matter of when, not if. Creating tens of millions of new American citizens is an epic achievement.

Axis of Good: as a foreign policy matter the relationships the President has forged with places like India, Brazil, Indonesia, etc. beggar a little post-colonial brush fire in Iraq.

Palestinian Statehood: it was one thing for Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Yitzhak Rabin to stump for a Palestinian state, but when certified rightwing kooks like Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush came out for it all that was left was determining the borders.

Free Trade: while a reform of the global treaty has been difficult, mainly because of the historical political strength of farmers in the developed world, an accord is likely to be reached within the next couple years and, in the meantime, Mr. Bush has forged a series of bilateral agreements with numerous allies.

Exporting the Third Way: where once the politics of applying free market solutions to the modern welfare safety net was the province of only Chile and sectors of the Anglosphere, the successes of W, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton have made it universal in the English-speaking world and extended the concept even to such unlikely places as France and Germany. For all the talk -- on Left and far Right -- of what a disaster the Bush presidency has been, you have to be willfully blind not to notice that Canada, the Australian Left, Raul Castro, Ayatollah Khamenei, the French, etc. have all adopted his ideology. It's a funny sort of failure that is universally (except for Spain) emulated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


Iran's tool fights America's stooge: A delicate balance between Christians, Druze, Sunnis and Shias has broken down. Reassembly will be hard (The Economist, 5/15/08)

This division is often defined, for simplicity's sake, as a split between Hizbullah, backed by Syria and Iran in the interest of confronting Israel and blocking American influence, against the Western-backed, democratically elected government of Fuad Siniora, the Sunni prime minister. The reality is more complicated.

Mr Siniora's coalition of Sunni Muslims, right-wing Christian parties, liberals, and the main Druze faction led by Walid Jumblatt, did indeed win 72 of the Lebanese parliament's 128 seats in the spring of 2005, riding on sympathy generated by the assassination of Mr Siniora's patron Rafik Hariri, a billionaire and five-term prime minister. But the election was run under rules drafted during Syrian control, before Mr Hariri's fatal falling-out with the Syrian regime. Many Lebanese Christians, who had been the core of opposition to Syria, felt these rules diluted their influence.

Moreover, the winning coalition, which adopted the name of “March 14th” after the date of a large anti-Syrian rally, secured some districts through an electoral alliance with Hizbullah. The Shia party was rewarded with seats in Mr Siniora's cabinet, but also believed there was tacit agreement to provide political cover for its massive rocket arsenal—perhaps, at some distant point, by incorporating its guerrilla force into the Lebanese army.

This alliance quickly unravelled, as Mr Siniora's Western backers pushed him to contain what they regarded as a terrorist group, and Hizbullah responded by forging a growing opposition coalition. This came to include not only its rival Shia party Amal, but also some pro-Syrian Christian, Sunni and Druze factions that had flourished, many with vigorous armed wings, under Syrian tutelage. Surprisingly, it was also joined by the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), the Christian party of Michel Aoun, a maverick former general who had led a rising against Syria at the close of the civil war. [...]

Mr Aoun's abrasiveness, and March 14th's unwillingness to give him the presidency, ensured that the FPM remained in opposition. It was widely assumed that with his anti-Syrian credentials and largely pro-Western Christian constituency, the general would avoid Hizbullah, yet the two parties made an alliance in February 2006. Mr Aoun lost some Christian support over this, but then came the war with Israel.

Most Christians blamed Hizbullah for the fighting. Yet many also credited the FPM, which mobilised aid for thousands of Shias displaced by the war, with healing a historic rift between the traditionally dominant but dwindling Christians and the long-disenfranchised but now formidable Shias. In Hizbullah's view, the alliance with Mr Aoun allowed it to clothe its Iranian-tinted Islamist militancy in Lebanese nationalist colours.

Hizbullah emerged from the war with its prestige enhanced, and speedily boosted it further with a big and efficient Iranian-financed reconstruction programme. By contrast, Mr Siniora's government, reduced during the war to issuing vain pleas to its Western friends to fend off the Israeli onslaught, looked vulnerable.

...used to have a delicate balance of Afrikaans, whites, coloreds, and blacks until it broke down...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Jeremiads (Leon Wieseltier, 5/28/08, New Republic)

[W]right's tribute to Farrakhan's service to black literacy is vitiated by an extraordinary riff in another sermon in the series, called "Faith in a Foreign Land," in which he denounces the usurpation of African traditions by "Babylonian," or Western, traditions in the education of "exiles," or African Americans: "These exiles became schooled in Babylonian literature, from Beowulf to Virginia Wolfe [sic], and their heritage was wickedly wiped away from the tissues of their memory banks. They became skilled in Babylonian philosophy from Descartes to Meister Eckhart, from Immanuel Kant to Jean Paul Sartre, from existentialism to nihilism, from the dialectical materialism of Karl Marx to the wissenschaftlichkeit [sic] of Martin Heidegger. " This whole passage is a little sic. To mock Shakespeare, in a black church in Chicago, as "Babylonian Shakespearean literature"--that is nihilism. To exclude young African Americans from the mental ambition represented by such books is to defeat them. [...]

Yet here is Cornel West, camp follower of all false prophets, including Wright: "The distinctive features of prophetic activity are Pascalian leaps of faith in the capacity of human beings to transform their circumstances, engage in relentless criticism and selfcriticism, and project visions, analyses, and practices of social freedom." Or more concretely, "populist, feminist, trade- unionist, socialist, or Red, Green, and Black politics." What Bible does this son of man read? But contemporary prophecy, you see, is another name for the left. The equally countercultural wrath of John Hagee or Pat Robertson is not "critique." Whereas Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Angela Davis, James Cone, Audre Lorde, Maulana Karenga--they are prophets all. Was prophecy ever so easy? An anti-Petraeus piece in The Nation, a jibe at the Patriot Act on Bill Maher, a rant at the National Press Club, and you are vatic. West also includes himself in the swelling population of the seers: in the eighth century B.C.E., Amos declared that he was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but in the twentieth century C.E., Cornel West declared, in the titles of two of his own books, that he is himself prophetic. Progressivism and the ego: now there is a subject! Sure, there are features of the prophetic temperament that Wright and the other Jeremiahs share--the unceasing excitation, the wild hyperbole, the fantastic promise of total transformation, the impervious radicalism, the imputation of personal election; but these are features of style. What distinguished the ancient prophets (if you believe these things) is that they enjoyed direct access to the godhead. Even their universal vision of social justice owed its authority to a supernatural revelation. But to whom do our prophets speak, except to each other and Bill Moyers?

...Marty Peretz is going to pull the lever for Senator Obama in November?

May 15, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 PM


U.S. economy still world's most competitive: IMD (Reuters, 5/14/08)

The United States remains the world's most competitive economy, though it is possible it will slip into recession, Switzerland's IMD business school said in a report released on Thursday.

The International Institute for Management Development, in Lausanne, ranked the U.S. economy first for the 15th year in a row in its World Competitiveness Yearbook 2008.

Singapore, Hong Kong, Switzerland and Luxembourg followed behind on the measure of countries' economic performance, government efficiency, business efficiency and infrastructure.

Australia moved up five places to seventh spot, just behind Denmark, and Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Ireland and Taiwan all also gained in the ranking.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 PM


Obama apologises to reporter for 'sweetie' remark (Elana Schor, 5/15/08,

Obama's encounter with Peggy Agar, a reporter at WXYZ network in Detroit, was the second time in two months that he raised eyebrows by calling a woman "sweetie".

The row began when Agar asked the Democratic presidential frontrunner, who is putting the finishing touches on a successful campaign against Hillary Clinton, how he would help American autoworkers.

"Hold on one second there, sweetie," Obama told her, adding that she could ask him the question at a press briefing after his tour of the Chrysler auto plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

Those Lincoln-Douglas debates can't start soon enough. He's hopeless without a script.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 PM


Talks set on new government for Lebanon: The deal, brokered by Arab League diplomats, follows a burst of street battles. It appears to be a boost for Hezbollah. (Borzou Daragahi and Raed Rafei, May 16, 2008, LA Times)

The deal, brokered by a visiting delegation of Arab League diplomats, appeared to be a victory for the Shiite Muslim militia Hezbollah, which leads opposition to the U.S.-backed government and the so-called March 14 movement behind it. Hezbollah fighters occupied parts of Beirut last week, forcing concessions from the administration of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

"Politically, it's obvious that the opposition won the first round," said Karim Makdisi, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut. [...]

Top agenda items include a new election law and the composition of a new Cabinet. Both were issues that Hezbollah had demanded be resolved before it and its allies would agree on naming a new president and ending an 18-month civil disobedience campaign that has shut down the capital's glittery downtown and paralyzed the government. [...]

"There's one real issue, and that's the question of Hezbollah's arms," said Makdisi, the American University professor. "That's the only red line. As long as Hezbollah has guarantees that the next government will not tackle the issue of its armaments, all the rest is flexible."

Palestine too continues to fester because the sides engage in such niggling little steps rather than cutting to the chase.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:49 AM


ABC adds 'Opportunity Knocks' and 'Life on Mars' ( Jonathan Storm, 5/15/08, Philadelphia Inquirer)

In what may be an all-time record, ABC announced yesterday that it would introduce only two new shows onto its fall lineup.

Producer David E. Kelley hit the exacta, landing the fantasy/detective series Life on Mars in the prime Thursdays-at-10 slot, following Grey's Anatomy, and returning Boston Legal to the lineup (Mondays at 10 p.m.).

...what an utter hash they're likely to make of a nearly perfect tv series. Why not just rebroadcast the original?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:34 AM


Bush Charges ‘Appeasement’ in Knesset Speech (WSJ: Washington Wire, 5/15/08)

Bush said: “The fight against terror and extremism is the defining challenge of our time. .. Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”

Obama says Bush falsely accuses him of appeasement (AP, 5/15/08)
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama accused President Bush on Thursday of launching a "false political attack" with a comment about appeasing terrorists and radicals.

It's telling, maybe even dispositive, that when Mr. Obama hears appeasement of terrorists he assumes the speaker means him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


Mississippi Special: Why Childers Won and Why Davis Lost (Stuart Rothenberg, 5/14/08, Real Clear Politics)

Some of the things I have said over the past few weeks about the Mississippi 1st district special election I now think were wrong. [...]

Hypothesis No. 3: Republican strategy in the race was flawed. They made a mistake by going negative on Childers too strongly and too quickly, and the effort to tie Childers to presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) failed.

I believe that this probably is correct. While Davis’ first TV ad after the primary runoff was positive — an endorsement spot that featured quotes from Gov. Haley Barbour, former Congressman Roger Wicker and Sen. Thad Cochran — knowledgeable observers close to the race agreed that Davis should have made much more of an effort to connect with district voters before attacking Childers.

“They never told voters what Davis stood for. They never built a foundation about who Davis was [as a person],” said one Democrat, who believes that Childers’ TV ads with the candidate talking “to camera” helped sell him to conservative voters.

Republican attempts — both by the Davis campaign and by the National Republican Congressional Committee’s independent expenditure — to polarize the race merely by calling Childers a liberal and linking him to Obama and Pelosi simply didn’t work. That approach was sufficient to produce a victory at one time, and it may have resonated with GOP voters in this race. But they weren’t the swing group in the contest, and those sort of generic messages seem less effective now.

Because Childers already successfully defined himself as a pro-life, pro-gun conservative Democrat, the GOP attacks bounced off him. Conservative Democratic voters didn’t believe the generic Republican attacks that Childers was a liberal.

To one smart Mississippian, the special election is easy to explain: “Travis Childers got the Bubba vote. He’s more like Bubba than is Davis, who hails from the Memphis suburbs.” need incumbency or bigger race above on the ticket.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


Demise of al-Qa'eda in sight, US official says (Alex Spillius, 15/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

A senior United States counter-terrorism official has declared that the demise of al-Qa'eda is in sight, as the terrorist group's failure to adapt its violent ideology and tactics has provoked growing dissent across the Islamic world.

The uprising by Sunni tribes against al-Qa'eda in Iraq, combined with protests in northern African countries against suicide bombings and dissent from clerics and former terrorists have put the group's leadership on the defensive as never before, said the official.

"If al-Qa'eda maintains its current state of play of attacking civilians and Muslims, and continuing to not change its philosophy, it will start to fizzle," the senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

...that's nothing compared to how badly folks scared themselves about the potential appeal of totalitarian Salafism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


Interview with President Bush (WHITE HOUSE TRANSCRIPT, 5/13/08, Politico)

Q Mr. President, I know you're going to hate this, but I'm hoping that we may twist your arm and talk about baseball for just a moment. (Laughter.) Mr. President, you're a Major League Baseball team owner again. Everyone is a free agent. You have a Yankees-like wallet. Who is your first position player? Who's your pitcher?

THE PRESIDENT: That's a great question. I like Utley from the Philadelphia Phillies. He's a middle infielder, which is always -- you know, they say you have strength up the middle -- there's nothing better than having a good person up the middle that can hit. And Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays is a great pitcher. He's a steady guy, he burns up innings.

Hanley Ramirez.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Historian bridges left-right divide (J. PATRICK COOLICAN, 5/15/08, Politico)

As Perlstein points out, there’s great irony here, as long-forgotten right-wing violence was also common during this period. Here, for instance, he describes a spontaneous riot of construction workers who mobbed a group of hippies in New York City: “The riot began. Workers singled out for beating boys with the longest hair. The weapons of choice were their orange and yellow hard hats.”

Nixon, Perlstein says, had a “subterranean political sense” and understood the potential power of backlash. He ordered the Labor Department to study the mood of the white working class.

Though it had been tried before, Perlstein writes, Nixon was the first to successfully exploit a devastating new narrative: the Democratic Party as enemy of the working man.

Perlstein says Nixon understood the anger and frustration of working-class people, the humiliation of being looked down upon by elitist, liberal betters. Why did Nixon understand this “deeply sedimented cultural narrative,” as Perlstein calls it? Because he’d faced it all his life.

In describing his dual roles — unbiased historian of the rise of conservatives, brutal lefty polemicist — Perlstein offers a hint of how interesting the political and intellectual dialogue might be if he could attract some mimics: “I’m riveted by the fact that there’s people who live among us but think differently than me, who live differently than me, who experience different things than me.”

The love affair may soon end, Douthat noted. “The closer he gets to the present, the more there’ll be to argue with. He likes conservatives more when they’re out of power.”

Not only is the "right-wing violence"--the hard hat riot, Chicago '68, Kent State--recalled, and fondly, but it's worth considering whether one reason the modern anti-war movement has been so feeble is because they recognize the lesson of the 60s/70s, that the majority is hostile and ready to give the authorities carte blanche to put them down. Of course, given that they never learned anything from Salem, the Draft Riots, the WWI sedition acts, the Red Scare, McCarthyism, etc., it's dangerous to assume they ever learn anything. Derangement may make them impervious to knowledge.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Hezbollah says it will return things to normal in Lebanon after government reversed decisions (AP, 5/14/08)

Hezbollah's deputy leader Sheik Naim Kassem says the group will "return things" to normal after the government reversed key decisions that had triggered days of conflict.

One problem with being oppressed for so long is you may not have the gumption to fully utilize your eventual victories. Kind of like Taiwan's failures to tell China and the world to kiss off.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM

SHYSTER WARMING (via Jim Yates):

(Legal) Climate Change (INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY, May 13, 2008)

Tort Reform: Three years ago, Missouri capped the damages a jury can award in a malpractice suit. The result has been a significant decrease in claims against doctors — and fewer of them leaving the state. [...]

While doctors' insurance premiums have not decreased as fast as they rose, malpractice claims against them fell immediately. From 2005 to 2006 (data from 2007 is not yet available), they decreased 61%. It seems a lot of trial lawyers and potential plaintiffs looking for an easy payout decided that their allegations weren't meritorious enough to take to court.

Before the system was reformed, Missouri was a target-rich environment for trial lawyers filing medical malpractice suits. Insane though it might seem, they could literally sue anyone on the plaintiff's hospital floor, from doctors to therapists to assistants, who came into contact with the plaintiff. Now liability can be assigned only to defendants who are 51% or more at fault.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Iraqi forces hunt for al-Qaeda militants door-to-door in Mosul (AP, 15/05/2008)

Al-Maliki's flight to Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, is a repeat of a trip he made in late March to the southern city of Basra, where government troops fought radical Shiite militias to a standstill. That fighting later spread to Sadr City, where Mahdi Army militiamen have been fighting U.S.-backed Iraqi troops for seven weeks.

Mosul is considered the last important urban staging ground for al-Qaeda in Iraq after the terror group lost its strongholds in Baghdad and other areas in central Iraq during the U.S. troop buildup last year.

"We are closely linked with Iraqi security forces and will support operations that the prime minister is developing over the next couple of days," U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner said Wednesday about the Mosul campaign.

Iraqi troops, he said, had arrested more than 500 people and captured five weapons caches. He said the operation was shifting gears.

In western Iraq, a senior U.S. commander has given fresh credence to the widely held belief that while al-Qaeda has been weakened over the past year, it remains active and capable of staging major attacks. Marine Maj. Gen. John Kelly, the commander of U.S. forces in Anbar province, said a group of al-Qaeda fighters recently infiltrated the area, went to the homes of 11 Iraqi police officers in the Anbar town of Husayba and beheaded them and one of their sons.

The insurgents crossed from the Syrian border, talked their way through a checkpoint and then went around the town grabbing police individually, he said.

...until we regime change Syria.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


Rocketman's maiden flight over Alps in Buzz Lightyear-style jet pack (Daily Mail, 14th May 2008)

Some people go fishing on their day off. Yves Rossy likes to jump out of a small plane with a pair of jet-powered wings on his back and loop the loop above the Swiss Alps.

The self-built contraption took the former fighter pilot five years to build and perfect - and yesterday he gave it its maiden flight.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM

May 14, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 PM


The McCain Doctrines (MATT BAI, 5/18/08, NY Times Magazine)

Among his fellow combat veterans in the Senate, past and present, he is the only one who has continued to champion the war in Iraq; by contrast, Kerry, Webb and Hagel have emerged in the years since the invasion as unsparing critics of American involvement there. (In a new book, Hagel, who voiced deep concerns about Iraq even as he voted for the war resolution in 2002, predicts that the war will turn out to be “the most dangerous and costly foreign-policy debacle in our nation’s history.”) This divide among old allies may be the inevitable result of a protracted war that has cleaved plenty of American households and friendships. But it may also be that the war is revealing underlying fractures among the Senate’s Vietnam coalition.

There is a feeling among some of McCain’s fellow veterans that his break with them on Iraq can be traced, at least partly, to his markedly different experience in Vietnam. McCain’s comrades in the Senate will not talk about this publicly. They are wary of seeming to denigrate McCain’s service, marked by his legendary endurance in a Hanoi prison camp, when in fact they remain, to this day, in awe of it. And yet in private discussions with friends and colleagues, some of them have pointed out that McCain, who was shot down and captured in 1967, spent the worst and most costly years of the war sealed away, both from the rice paddies of Indochina and from the outside world. During those years, McCain did not share the disillusioning and morally jarring experiences of soldiers like Kerry, Webb and Hagel, who found themselves unable to recognize their enemy in the confusion of the jungle; he never underwent the conversion that caused Kerry, for one, to toss away some of his war decorations during a protest at the Capitol.

Not for nothing is Chuck Hagel considered one of the dumbest guys n the Senate (maybe the dumbest, since Rick Santorum lost). A rudimentary grasp of history would inform him that the democratization of Iraq should have occurred after WWI--along with innumerable other colonies that Wilson betrayed. Indeed, WWII, the cold War and the WoT are all just functions of what was actually the most dangerous and costly American foreign policy blunder.

As if that bit weren't funny enough though, the idea that John McCain is still a hawk because he had it so much easier than these other guys in Vietnam is just priceless.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 PM


Lebanese Cabinet Reverses Anti-Hezbollah Decisions That Sparked Fighting (Challiss McDonough, 15 May 2008, VOA News)

The opposition has been demanding a government of national unity that gives Hezbollah and its allies enough cabinet posts to wield a veto over any decisions.

Political analyst Patrick Haenni of the International Crisis Group says since the fighting broke out, Hezbollah has confined its demands to the reversal of the two government decisions. "At the same time, you have temptation by Hezbollah allies to capitalize on its military action in broader political terms, meaning extending their vindications to the second level of the crisis, which is political participation, government, president, electoral law and things like this," he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:48 PM


The Reason for High Oil Prices: It's not a supply crisis that explains the sharp spike in oil prices. It's unregulated commodities markets and greed (Ed Wallace , 5/13/08, Business Week)

So how to explain the May 6 report from Reuters (TRI) that Goldman Sachs (GS) announced that oil could in fact be on the verge of another "super spike," possibly taking oil as high as $200 a barrel within the next six to 24 months? Forget the fact that few other oil analysts agreed with that position, "$200 a barrel!" was the major news story on oil for the next two days. Arjun Murti, Goldman Sachs' energy strategist, predictably laid the blame on "blistering" demand from China and the Middle East, combined with his belief that the Middle East is nearing its maximum ability to produce more oil. While the outside chance exists that Murti is right, his prediction certainly isn't backed up by the EIA's Short-Term Energy Outlook, or by Lehman Brothers' report from 10 days earlier. As for the Middle East being tapped out on oil production, there might be one more thing to consider.

On May 2, the Friday before this prediction made news, Bloomberg had reported that Iran is again storing its heavy crude on tankers in the Persian Gulf because the country has run out of onshore storage tanks while awaiting buyers. Further, Saudi Arabia has extended discounts on its sour crudes to $7.45 for Arabian Heavy. Doesn't sound like there's any real supply problem with that grade of crude, does it?

It is an understatement to say that over the last five years the media have rained reports predicting an impending energy Armageddon. But those reports have tended not to disclose their sources—which often were individuals heavily invested in the oil futures market.

For example, Goldman Sachs was one of the founding partners of online commodities and futures marketplace Intercontinental Exchange (ICE). And ICE has been a primary focus of recent congressional investigations; it was named both in the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations' June 27, 2006, Staff Report and in the House Committee on Energy & Commerce's hearing last December. Those investigations looked into the unregulated trading in energy futures, and both concluded that energy prices' climb to stratospheric heights has been driven by the billions of dollars' worth of oil and natural gas futures contracts being placed on the ICE—which is not regulated by the Commodities Futures Trading Commission. one with no free competition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:40 PM

Omelette fit for brunch (Kim Honey, 5/14/08, Toronto Star)

Tortilla Española

8 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8-inch thick (about 2 lbs[...])

1-3/4 tsp salt, divided

1/2 cup + 2 tbsp olive oil, divided

1 cup chopped yellow onions

1/3 cup chopped red bell peppers

1/3 cup chopped green bell peppers

1-1/2 cups prosciutto, diced [...]

10 large eggs

Toss potatoes with 1 teaspoon salt in large bowl.

Heat 1/2 cup olive oil in large, non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add potatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes soften but don't brown, about 5 minutes.

Add onions, peppers and prosciutto. Cook 10 minutes until potatoes are tender and ingredients well blended. Transfer to colander placed over bowl and drain off liquid. Clean pan.

In large bowl, beat eggs. Stir in potato mixture and add 3/4 teaspoon salt.

Return pan to medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil; pour in egg mixture when oil is very hot. Tilt pan so eggs evenly cover bottom. Reduce heat to low. Cook, shaking pan once or twice, until omelette has set, about 10 minutes.

Cover pan with large plate. Invert so omelette is cooked side up on plate. Slide back into pan and cook other side until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

Slide omelette onto plate. Cool to room temperature before slicing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:09 PM


You'll see it all over ESPN tonight, but Manny Ramirez just made a brilliant over the shoulder catch, stopped himself by climbing the outfield wall, high-fived a fan while he was up there, came down and doubled the runner off first. Even the other players ran to the cameramen to watch replays.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:41 PM


NARAL backs Obama, angers Emily's List (Mark Murray, 5/14/08, NBC: First Read)

But NARAL's endorsement didn't please Emily's List, the pro-choice, Democratic group backing Clinton. “I think it is tremendously disrespectful to Sen. Clinton -- who held up the nomination of a FDA commissioner in order to force approval of Plan B and who spoke so eloquently during the Supreme Court nomination about the importance of protecting Roe vs. Wade -- to not give her the courtesy to finish the final three weeks of the primary process," said Emily's List president Ellen Malcolm. "It certainly must be disconcerting for elected leaders who stand up for reproductive rights and expect the choice community will stand with them.”

Abortion is just one of many issues where Ms Clinton sounds emotionally distant, whereas Senator Obama sounds like he'd volunteer to smack the kid's head on a rock..but only because he cares so much...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:36 PM


U.S. cigarette legislation overlooks menthols and critics ask why (Stephanie Saul, May 13, 2008, NY Times)

Some public health experts are questioning why menthol, the most widely used cigarette flavoring and the most popular cigarette choice of black American smokers, is receiving special protection as Congress attempts to regulate tobacco for the first time.

The legislation, which would give the Food and Drug Administration the power to oversee tobacco products, would try to reduce smoking's allure to young people by banning most flavored cigarettes, including clove and cinnamon.

But those new strictures would exempt menthol - even though menthol masks the harsh taste of cigarettes for beginners and may make it harder for the addicted to kick the smoking habit. For years, the public health authorities have worried that menthol might be a factor in high cancer rates in blacks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:49 AM


Is Obama Too Far Left on Taxes?: Centrist Democrats to Obama: Bring Tax Talk to Center (TEDDY DAVIS, May 14, 2008, ABC News)

The centrist Democratic group instrumental to former President Clinton's rise to the White House in 1992 has some advice for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.: get to the center, starting with taxes.

"In the fall, our nominee will have to do what John Kerry had to do in the 2004 debates, which is turn to the camera and say, 'No, I will not raise taxes on people making less than $200,000,'" said Bruce Reed, the president of the Democratic Leadership Council, in an interview with ABC News.

Running on tax cuts was just one of the ways Bill Clinton got to GHWB's Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:46 AM


McCain seen as cure for House Republicans (Stephen Dinan, May 14, 2008, Washington Times)

In the wake of their third special election loss in three months last night, House Republican leaders are rushing to embrace their presumptive presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, as their hope for staving off disaster in November.

"Candidates who hope to succeed must show that they're willing and able to join McCain in a leading movement for reform," House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican, said in the wake of Democrat Travis Childer's victory in Mississippi's first congressional district — a seat that had been firmly Republican.

Seats like the one lost last night will be particularly easy for Maverick to carry on his coattails in November, but the goal should be regaining the majority in the House.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:44 AM


A shaky truce takes hold in Sadr City (Associated Press, May 14, 2008)

Army Lt. Col. Steven Stover, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said Tuesday that the Sadr City fighting was caused by "special groups," Shiite factions that have broken with cleric Muqtada Sadr. Many are said by the U.S. military to have been trained and armed by Iranian forces. Iran denies the allegations.

Nevertheless, pro-Sadr clerics negotiated the new cease-fire, and one said Tuesday that it was taking hold and would be enforced.

Thus speaketh the law in Sadr City.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:42 AM


President George W Bush quits golf in honour of the US soldiers killed in Iraq (Daily Telegraph, 14/05/2008)

US President George W Bush has revealed that he quit playing golf in 2003 out of respect for the families of American soldiers killed in Iraq.

"I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal," Mr Bush said in an online interview for Yahoo and Politico magazine.

"I don't want some mum whose son may have recently died to see the commander-in-chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be in solidarity as best as I can with them."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:27 AM


Lebanon: Islamic Sunni Groups Start Military Bloc to Confront Hezbollah Sawan al Atbah, 5/14/08, Asharq Al-Awsat)

Former Lebanese Deputy Khalid al-Dahir has revealed that the Islamic Sunni movements in north Lebanon have started to form a political and military bloc capable of confronting what Hezbollah had done in Beirut and other Lebanese areas.

Dahir told Asharq Al-Awsat, "We held today(yesterday) a meeting away from the media, which included at least 50 hawks from the Islamic leaderships and was aimed at taking action against the coup of the so-called Hezbollah militia. We agreed on an escalatory and programmed campaign to reject the attack on the Sunnis, the mufti of the republic, the ministers, and the deputies, and in particular Deputy Saad al-Hariri."

The Salafists are the common enemy of America and the Shi'a.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:17 AM


Iraqi prime minister in Mosul to direct offensive against Sunni militants (The Associated Press, May 14, 2008)

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki arrived in the northern city of Mosul on Wednesday to supervise a military offensive against al-Qaida in Iraq called Lion's Roar, a defense ministry spokesman said.

Maliki's flight to northern Iraq mirrors a similar trip he took almost two months ago to the southern city of Basra, where government troops fought radical Shiite militias. That fighting spread to the Shiite slum of Sadr City in Baghdad, where a cease-fire to end that fighting was only reached on Monday. show up and take credit for the ones you can win, but avoid the ones you lost.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:37 AM


Consumer prices rise smaller-than-expected 0.2% (Reuters, May 14, 2008)

So-called core prices, which exclude volatile food and energy, were up just 0.1%, half the increase analysts had forecast.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:29 AM


Studies show immigrants are assimilating (San Diego Union-Tribune, May 14, 2008)

First, despite what many of us like to think, previous waves of immigrants – from Germany, Italy or Ireland – were in no great hurry to dissolve into the melting pot. Instead, in many cases, they tried to hold on to their native languages, heritages and customs even while impressing upon their children the need to learn English in order to succeed in this country.

Second, there is a stack of evidence suggesting that recent immigrants are assimilating. In fact, some studies find that the immigrants of today, who are likely to come from Asia and Latin America, are actually blending into our society more quickly than did their counterparts a century ago.

That stack of evidence got a little bigger this week with the release by the Manhattan Institute of its first annual Index of Immigrant Assimilation. The study, authored by Duke University professor Jacob Vigdor, examined three types of assimilation: economic, cultural and civic. He also looked at more than 100 immigrant groups. He found that Mexican immigrants have relatively low rates of economic and civic assimilation, but that they're actually more culturally assimilated than immigrants from China, India or Vietnam. He also found that, contrary to stereotype, immigrants from developed countries do not necessarily assimilate better than others. And, in one of the most disturbing findings, he also learned that immigrants who speak English don't necessarily do better economically than those who don't. Better news was that America's capacity to assimilate immigrants is stronger than ever.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:26 AM


An NRO Q&A: Don’t Freak Out: Bjorn Lomborg speaks climate sense to nonsense. (Kathryn Jean Lopez, 5/14/08, National Review)

Lopez: What could the planet do instead of Kyoto?

Lomborg: We need to make carbon-emissions cuts much easier. The typical cost of cutting a ton of CO2 is about $20 right now — but we know that the damage from a ton of carbon in the atmosphere is about $2. We need to reduce the cost of cutting emissions from $20 to somewhere nearer $2.

We can achieve this by spending dramatically more researching and developing low-carbon energy. Ideally, every nation should commit to spending 0.05 percent of its gross domestic production exploring non-carbon-emitting energy technologies — be they wind, wave, or solar power — or capturing CO2 emissions from power plants. This spending could add up to about $25 billion a year, but it would still be seven times cheaper than the Kyoto protocol, yet increase global research and development tenfold. All nations would be involved, but the richer ones would pay the larger share.

Today, solar panels are ten times more inefficient than the cheapest fossil fuels. Only the very wealthy can afford them. Many “green” approaches, right now, do little more than make rich people feel like they are helping the planet.

We can’t solve climate change by just forcing more inefficient solar panels onto people’s rooftops. The solution is to dramatically increase R&D so that solar panels become cheaper than fossil fuels sooner. Imagine if solar panels became cheaper than fossil fuels by 2050 — we would have solved global warming then, because switching to the environmentally friendly option wouldn’t be the preserve of rich Westerners.

Caps and taxes are just a way of forcing the private sphere to do the R&D instead of having central government do it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 AM


Can McCain appeal to Hispanic voters maintain? (RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR., 5/14/08, THE UNION-TRIBUNE)

For many conservatives, John McCain is not their favorite Republican. They think he's built a career at their expense, painting them as fools and bigots. They resent his holier-than-thou attitude. And they're not inclined to trust anyone who has been so fawned over by the national media.

Curiously, a lot of liberal Democrats feel the same way about McCain. He isn't their favorite Republican, either – but it's because they know he'll be tough to beat in November. They would have preferred to run against someone more extreme and easier to demonize. That's not John McCain. [...]

In 1998, while Texas Gov. George W. Bush made headlines for earning an impressive 49 percent of the Hispanic vote in his re-election, McCain walked off with an unheard-of 65 percent in his Senate re-election bid. Six years later, he did even better, earning around 70 percent of the Hispanic vote.

Most political observers don't expect McCain to match those numbers in a national election, but half of that – 35 percent – is a definite possibility. With that kind of support among Hispanics, McCain could win the White House.

He'll beat W's number.

Obama needs to be cautious with Latinos (GEBE MARTINEZ | 5/14/08, Politico)

Republican presidential candidate John McCain — going against the grain of his party’s conservatives — used Cinco de Mayo to reach out to Latinos and unveil a new Spanish-language website.

Clinton got more popular votes than Obama in Arizona, California and Texas, and she won the Nevada caucus because of her huge margin of support among Latinos.

So Obama’s delicate courtship of the Hispanic lawmakers — who favor Clinton by a 4-1 ratio — underscored how vital Latinos will be in picking the next president. When Obama comes calling again, Hispanics will demand that Latino faces and issues be at the forefront of the Democrats’ fall campaign.

Compared with Clinton, Obama will have to work at winning Latino support “probably twice as hard to have significant success,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and key Clinton ally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:56 AM


'Entire generation wiped out' as China counts toll of earthquake on nation's one-child families (Daily Mail, 14th May 2008)

Fears were mounting today that almost an entire generation may have been wiped out in the China earthquake as the death toll leapt to at least 20,000.

China's one-child policy, an attempt to curb the nation's soaring population, means the quake will have robbed many families of their only hope of a future.

With thousands caught in school buildings as the quake struck in the middle of Monday afternoon, children are among its most conspicuous victims.

And people wonder why conservatives are at war with Reason?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


What can Boris learn from the classics?: The new London mayor, Boris Johnson, has been accused of lacking experience and political nous, but he has always boasted one qualification for government - a good grasp of Latin, Greek and classical history. So just what lessons can a modern politician learn from antiquity? (Finlo Rohrer, 5/14/08, BBC News Magazine)


Johnson is not alone among modern politicians to have suffered controversy because of a tendency to talk volubly when it might have been better to remain circumspect.

In the classical world there was a great value placed on not saying too much. Many of the great aphorisms that have made it to the present day are the most pithy. "Veni, vidi, vici" or "I came, I saw, I conquered" - famously uttered by Julius Caesar - has been drummed into many a British schoolchild's head.

As Plato once said: "The wise man speaks because he has something to say, the fool because he has to say something."

But the masters of classical pithiness were the Spartans of Greece. It is said Philip of Macedon once sent a hostile message to the Spartans saying something along the lines of "if I bring my army down to Sparta, I will knock down the walls and kill everybody". The Spartan oligarchs reportedly sent back the one-word reply "if".


Supporters of Johnson have long denied that he has affected silliness in order to disguise his considerable intellect. But this was not unknown as a tactic in the ancient world.

"They conceal their wisdom, and pretend to be blockheads, so that they may seem to be superior only because of their prowess in battle." So Socrates, as quoted by Plato, described the Spartans.

And pretending to be stupid is supposed to have saved the life of the emperor Claudius when all his relatives were being murdered in a political merry-go-round.

...ape W.

May 13, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 PM

You can stream the new Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs at AOL's Listening Party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 PM


Clinton posts dominating W. Va. win (BILL NICHOLS, 5/13/08, Politico)

West Virginia had 28 delegates at stake, to be awarded proportionally according to the popular vote.

According to the Associated Press, Obama began the day with 1,875.5 delegates, to 1,697 for Clinton, out of 2,025 needed to clinch the nomination at the party convention in Denver this summer.

...could provide a nice moment for her to concede.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:00 PM


The Mysteries of the Suicide Tourist: Why the same things that attract millions of happy visitors to New York—the glamour, the skyline, the anonymity—also draw people from around the world to kill themselves here. (Phil Zabriskie, May 11, 2008, New York)

In a sense, New York City is unremarkable when it comes to suicide. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 32,637 people died by suicide in the United States in 2005, the most recent year for which figures exist. It’s the third leading cause of death for Americans ages 15 to 24, the fourth leading cause for Americans 18 to 65. New York State had the country’s third-lowest per capita suicide rate in 2005 (6.2 per 100,000); only New Jersey (6.1) and Washington, D.C., (6) had lower rates. (Montana tops the list, with a rate of 22, followed by several other western states.) Between 1990 and 2004, suicide rates in cities such as Miami, Las Vegas, Sacramento, and Pittsburgh dwarfed New York’s, according to a report called “Big Cities Health Inventory 2007” from the National Association of County and City Health Officials. Of the cities included, only Boston, Baltimore, and Washington ranked lower in 2004. Within the city, Manhattan had a rate of 7.6 suicides per 100,000 people in 2005, higher than the other boroughs (Brooklyn had the fewest, at 4.64), but lower than many upstate regions.

Recently, however, researchers stumbled on a striking fact about suicides in New York: A surprising number of people who kill themselves in the city come here from out of town, and many appear to come expressly to take their own lives. In a report published last fall called “Suicide Tourism in Manhattan, New York City, 1990–2004,” researchers at the New York Academy of Medicine and Weill Cornell Medical College found that of the 7,634 people who committed suicide in New York City between 1990 and 2004, 407 of them, or 5.3 percent, were nonresidents. More strikingly, nonresidents accounted for 274, or 10.8 percent, of the 2,272 suicides in Manhattan during that time (the numbers did not include college students, who were considered residents for the purposes of the study). The researchers didn’t look at comparable data from other cities, but, says the study’s lead author, Charles Gross, “One in ten people that commit suicide in Manhattan don’t live here. That’s a big chunk.”

The New York City chief medical examiner’s office won’t release the files it allowed the NYAM researchers to review. But an informal survey of suicides in New York over the past twenty years reveals a bleak tapestry of out-of-towners who took their own lives.

It's all skyscrapers [and cars] are good for and the soul-killing atomization of the urban setting makes for an ideal venue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:55 PM


The Uneven Playing Field (MICHAEL SOKOLOVE, 5/11/08, NY Times Magazine)

If girls and young women ruptured their A.C.L.’s at just twice the rate of boys and young men, it would be notable. Three times the rate would be astounding. But some researchers believe that in sports that both sexes play, and with similar rules — soccer, basketball, volleyball — female athletes rupture their A.C.L.’s at rates as high as five times that of males.

Anthony Beutler, a major in the U.S. Air Force and a professor at the School of Medicine of the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md., is among the cadre of doctors, scientists and researchers trying to crack the code of A.C.L. injuries. In 2001-2, he was a sports-medicine fellow at the Naval Academy, where he served as the physician for the women’s soccer team. Seven women were lost that season to A.C.L. ruptures. Beutler, already immersed in A.C.L. research, was still stunned. “I thought to myself, What in the heck is going on here?” he said. Last season, the women’s team at Navy suffered three torn A.C.L.’s. “They thought that was great, a fortunate year,” he told me. “Think about that. Just three. It’s bizarre.”

Men also tear their A.C.L.’s, most frequently in football and from direct blows to the leg. But even football players, according to N.C.A.A. statistics, do not rupture their A.C.L.’s during their fall seasons at the rates of women in soccer, basketball and gymnastics. The N.C.A.A.’s Injury Surveillance System tracks injuries suffered by athletes at its member schools, calculating the frequency of certain injuries by the number of occurrences per 1,000 “athletic exposures” — practices and games. The rate for women’s soccer is 0.25 per 1,000, or 1 in 4,000, compared with 0.10 for male soccer players. The rate for women’s basketball is 0.24, more than three times the rate of 0.07 for the men. The A.C.L. injury rate for girls may be higher — perhaps much higher — than it is for college-age women because of a spike that seems to occur as girls hit puberty.

If you are the parent of an athletic girl and live in a community that bustles with girls playing sports — especially the so-called jumping and cutting sports like soccer, basketball, volleyball and lacrosse — it may seem that every couple of weeks you see or hear about some unfortunate young woman hobbling off the field and into the operating room. The first time, you think: What a stroke of bad luck. But you figure it won’t happen to your daughter because, after all, what are the odds?

After a couple of more A.C.L. tears in the neighborhood, you get worried and think, Gosh, we must be in a really bad cluster for these injuries. Why here? But in all likelihood, what you are witnessing is not a freakish run of misfortune but the law of averages playing out.

The Injury Surveillance reports include commentary as well as data, and in 2007 the authors stated that an A.C.L. rupture is “a rare event” and advised against making too much of the tears sustained by male and female collegiate athletes across a range of sports. But a young woman playing college soccer can easily generate 200 exposures a year between her regular season in the fall, off-season training in the spring and club play in the summer. Plenty of younger players, girls in their early through late teens, will accrue well in excess of that number between their high-school seasons, their club seasons — which often run year-round — and multigame tournaments on weekends and soccer camps in the summer. (The same is true in other sports in which girls play school and club seasons, including basketball, lacrosse, volleyball and field hockey.)

So imagine a hypothetical high-school soccer team of 20 girls, a fairly typical roster size, and multiply it by the conservative estimate of 200 exposures a season. The result is 4,000 exposures. In a cohort of 20 soccer-playing girls, the statistics predict that 1 each year will experience an A.C.L. injury and go through reconstructive surgery, rehabilitation and the loss of a season — an eternity for a high schooler. Over the course of four years, 4 out of the 20 girls on that team will rupture an A.C.L.

Each of them will likely experience “a grief reaction,” says Dr. Jo Hannafin, orthopedic director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. “They’ve lost their sport and they’ve lost the kinship of their friends, which is almost as bad as not being able to play.”

Marshall says he feels a sense of urgency, because without a better understanding of the injury, the situation will get worse in coming years with the great numbers of girls playing sports — and the frequency and intensity of their play. In 1972, at the dawn of Title IX, about 300,000 girls participated in high-school sports. The number is now three million. Thirty thousand women played college sports pre-Title IX; about 205,000 now play.

“We’re studying an elite population at the service academies, but the big concern for me is the girl down the street who wants to play soccer on the rec team or the travel team,” Marshall told me. “They’re ripping their knees up, and they shouldn’t be. There’s got to be a way to prevent it. And we’re really on the up curve of this, because it’s still relatively recent that girls played sports in these large numbers. . . . So if you think we have a problem now, 10 years from now we’ll have a much bigger problem.”

...girls playing soccer is two of them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:51 PM


Dice-K 2.0 (Jim Caple, ESPN)

In addition to his extraordinary talent on the mound, Darvish is a demographer's dream: young, 6-foot-5 and slender, with the sort of strikingly exotic face that is seen more often in Calvin Klein ads than on baseball cards. Features like this -- a blend of his Iranian father, Farsad, and his Japanese mother, Ikuyo, who met (where else?) in the U.S. -- are practically sui generis in Japan.

The full family name is Darvishsefad. Yu's grandfather was a travel agent in Iran who encouraged Yu's father to explore the world, partially by finishing his high school education in the United States. Farsad did and went on to college in Florida, where he played soccer -- or at least he did until 1979, when Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, kidnapped 52 embassy workers, changed the course of American politics, launched Ted Koppel's career into orbit and instantly made things rather unpleasant for young Iranians studying in America.

"My coach put me on the bench for two years," Farsad says without any apparent bitterness. "But then again that made me strong, because I never gave up. I told Yu once how it was, because in the sports world there are people who won't like you."

Farsad eventually wound up at Eastern Washington University in the small town of Cheney, Wash., which is where the Seahawks used to train each summer. "When I was working in the cafeteria, I used to watch them carry two trays -- one was a milk tray, one was a food tray, so it was very huge," he recalls. "And, of course, I cheered for the Seahawks."

Sadly, though, Farsad missed out on the Stan Gelbaugh era when he and Ikuyo moved to Japan to raise a family in Osaka. The Darvishes spoke English at home for the first three years of Yu's life until Farsad gained proficiency in Japanese. Yu visited Iran twice as a child but says the country has had no influence on him: "I'm Japanese. I grew up as a Japanese. I'm 100 percent Japanese."

Which is not to say that is how others view him. Darvish starred at the Koshien national high school baseball tournament -- like Dice-K, he threw a no-hitter in the event -- but Nippon Ham somehow was the only team that drafted him (the Japanese draft system allows multiple teams to choose a player). Just as Farsad felt discrimination in America, Yu's Iranian background in a very homogenous society, Valentine says, prevented at least one team from drafting him. "My scouting director here didn't think he was what our fans really would like to root for," Valentine says. "That scouting director is no longer with us."

Darvish's enormous popularity clearly proves that director's view was completely wrong.

Yet his background is an issue. "[The Japanese] really do like to have their star players from their community, from their prefecture, from their area in the country and, lastly, at least from the country," Valentine says. "And sometimes when a guy isn't of the same model as every other guy, there are some old heads in the country [thinking], 'I don't want that guy on our team.'"

Nippon Ham has a reputation for signing players considered untouchable by other teams. This past winter, for example, the team signed Kazuhito Tadano, the pitcher who appeared in a gay porn movie while in college and briefly pitched for the Cleveland Indians. If any team was going to sign Darvish, who also had a reputation as being a little wild and undisciplined in high school, Nippon Ham would be the one.

And Darvish began his pro career in Japan with an American manager, Hillman. "When he was drafted his father was outstanding," Hillman says. "He said, 'Trey, he's all yours. I know that you'll treat him like he was your own son.'"

Darvish progressed quickly and steadily with the Fighters. He lowered his ERA from 3.53 as a rookie in 2005 to 2.89 in 2006 to 1.81 last year. But the 2007 season ended on a down note. Despite allowing only one run in the final game of the Japan Series, Darvish took the loss when the opposing team pitched a perfect game. He is 5-1 with a 1.46 ERA so far this season. "Yu is tremendously gifted, and he's developed a great work ethic," Hillman says. "I didn't have a lot of conversations with Yu, because there wasn't a need for it. He understood that he needed to start working harder. Actually, after the 2006 season, he was so dedicated and committed to his workout program that he [chose] to forego the team trip to New Zealand."

"I don't need much motivation," Darvish says through an interpreter. "I'm never satisfied until I win all the games and have an ERA of 0.00. I want to throw a faster fastball. I want a sharper curve. I want to improve all my pitches."

Most observers feel he either is already as good as Matsuzaka or soon will be. "I think his numbers in Japan are going to be equally as phenomenal as he continues to move on, barring injury, as Dice-K's were in Japan," Hillman says. "He's got a different type of frame. Dice-K's got a more powerful frame, but Darvish has looser levers and a taller frame with more whip, and I think that gives him an opportunity to have more powerful and more electric secondary pitches as well as a fastball.

"The curveball is just not fair. Honestly, it's just not a fair pitch."

When Ichiro first came to America, rumors flew that there was a $1 million bounty for a naked photo of him, and he took the rumors seriously enough to dress in a private section of the clubhouse. Darvish, on the other hand, willingly posed nude for a magazine last year (though it did not reveal his genitals). He was embroiled in a national controversy when he was caught smoking a cigarette (gasp!) while still in high school. He clearly has grown comfortable with public, ahem, exposure since then, so much so that one night last season he promised his fiancée that he would win the game so he could use the postgame news conference to announce their impending wedding and her pregnancy. To cultivate his image, he hired an agent who normally represents entertainers. In a humble society famous for the expression "the nail that sticks up is hammered down," Yu is cocky enough to say things such as, "On a scale of 1 to 10, I can bring a 10 to any important game."

Hillman compares Darvish's marketability to Tiger's and MJ's. "He understands how cool people think he is. He understands the adulation and the mystique." [...]

Most everyone says if Darvish is posted, the bidding will easily top the $50 million the Seibu Lions received in exchange for the rights to Dice-K. After that, Johnson says, "The sky is the limit as to where the big-money teams would go." Given the usual escalation in baseball contracts, it isn't crazy to think the negotiating fee could go to $75 million.

While America is a verboten subject, Iran is not. Farsad Darvish says he is involved with a program to promote baseball in his native country, and Yu wants to help bring the game -- President Bush's favorite sport -- to Iran. "Yes, of course, because Iran is my father's country, I'll help him make baseball popular there," Yu says. "I know how much it means to him."

...what would Darvish be worth to a weak Yankee one?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:30 PM

Tapioca Pudding With Strawberry-Rhubarb Sauce (Contra Costa Times, 05/13/2008)


¼ cup quick-cooking tapioca

6 tablespoons sugar

3 cups milk

2 eggs, well-beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1 basket (1 pint) strawberries

½ pound rhubarb, cut in ½-inch widths

6-8 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1. To make pudding: Combine tapioca, sugar, milk and eggs in a saucepan. Let stand 5 minutes. Cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a rolling boil. Immediately remove from heat, transfer to a bowl and stir in vanilla extract. Let cool without stirring, then cover and chill. Pudding will thicken as it cools.

2. To make sauce: Hull and quarter strawberries. In a saucepan, combine strawberries, rhubarb, 6 tablespoons sugar and orange juice. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cover, adjust heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until fruit softens and forms a sauce, about 10 minutes. Watch carefully to make sure mixture doesn't boil up and spill over the pan. Uncover, stir well, then taste. Add up to 2 tablespoons
more sugar if necessary, then transfer to a bowl to cool. Cover and refrigerate until cold.

3. To serve, put a generous tablespoon of strawberry rhubarb sauce in each of 6 balloon wineglasses or compote dishes. Top with ½ cup tapioca. Any leftover sauce may be refrigerated for up to a week.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:06 AM


The Big Race: Obama and the psychology of the color barrier. (John B. Judis, 5/28/08, The New Republic)

Many social scientists had long rejected the possibility that humans might harbor unconscious attitudes different from their conscious behavior. But, in trying to explain the persistence of racial prejudice, political psychologists were forced to hypothesize different levels of awareness and motivation. On the highest level was public moral reflection guided by social norms--which led to Trent Lott being pilloried when he famously said in 2002 that, if Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond had been elected president, the country could have avoided "all these problems." Beneath this, however, was a realm of knee-jerk opinion that might contradict a person's moral reflections; and still beneath that were unconscious attitudes, which, like a person's knee-jerk opinions, were often at odds with his or her public moral reflections. If racial prejudice persisted, it was on these deeper levels.

Political psychologists devised new tests to uncover these sentiments. First, they crafted survey questions aimed at unearthing what they called "symbolic racism," "modern racism," and, most recently, "racial resentments," which ascribe to blacks as a group certain negative attributes or undeserved advantages. For example, researchers asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with statements such as "It's really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites" or "Over the past few years, blacks have gotten more economically than they deserve."

Experimenters then inserted questions like these into the American National Election Studies (ANES), extensive biennial surveys funded by the National Science Foundation. The answers revealed a degree of racial resentment that wasn't apparent from more explicit questions about racial bias. In 1986, for instance, 59 percent of respondents agreed that blacks were not trying hard enough (only 27 percent disagreed), while 67 percent thought blacks should work "their way up ... without any special favors." Psychologists David Sears and Donald Kinder, as well as others, found that this racial resentment was the single most important factor--more important than even conservative ideology or political partisanship--in explaining strong opposition to a host of government programs that either directly or indirectly benefited minorities. Of course, that doesn't mean there couldn't be principled conservative opposition to government-guaranteed equal employment or urban aid. But, according to the political psychologists, racial resentment played the largest role in fueling public skepticism.

The answers also revealed which groups within society continued to harbor racial resentment. With the help of Harvard doctoral student Scott Winship, I looked at the levels of racial resentment in ANES data from 1988, 1992, and 2000 (the questions were omitted in 1996). What Winship and I found was that resentment was highest among males rather than females, the middle class rather than the wealthy or poor, those lacking a college degree, those who worked in skilled or semi-skilled blue collar jobs or as laborers, and residents of small towns in the Midwest and South. Does that profile sound familiar? It's more or less a description of the white working-class voters who have spurned Obama and with whom John Kerry and Al Gore had trouble. The only groups that didn't evince racial animosity toward blacks were voters with post-graduate degrees and, of course, African Americans. Hispanics were nearly as prejudiced as whites, and a group labeled "other" that includes Asian Americans was even more so--a partial explanation, perhaps, for why Obama fared so poorly among these groups in California. Clearly, racial resentment persisted--just in a more nuanced form.

In fact, the structure of this modern racism was even more complicated than the ANES data suggested. In a study published in 1995, four psychologists from Indiana University recounted taking a group of subjects who had earlier taken the racism test (the questions had been interspersed among scores of other questions) and giving it to them again. This time, however, a black experimenter conducted some of the tests and a white experimenter the others. The psychologists discovered that, when the interviewer was black, white respondents scored substantially lower on the racism scale than before. This meant that gut-level reactions could be easily influenced by moral reflection and social norms. What psychologists needed was a method of measuring prejudice that elicited immediate emotional reactions rather than the products of deliberation.

Toward that end, they devised tests that measured racial attitudes without subjects knowing what was happening or being able to adjust their responses to social norms. In a study that appeared in 1989, University of Wisconsin psychologist Patricia Devine flashed words on a screen faster than her subjects could recognize them. Some of the words, like "blacks," were associated with African Americans; others were neutral. She then asked subjects whether a person's actions in a deliberately ambiguous story about a customer wanting his money back signified hostility or not. After words associated primarily with African Americans were flashed, the subjects rated the person's actions decidedly more "hostile" than after predominately neutral words were flashed. This suggested to Devine that terms associated with blacks were priming unconscious stereotypes about aggressiveness or hostility.

Another kind of test--known as an implicit association test--used the time it took to complete word association exercises to unmask stereotypes. Psychologists would ask subjects to associate positive and negative adjectives with African American and European American faces by pressing different keys on a computer. At each interval in the experiment, subjects would be told which kind of adjectives to pair with which subject. If a subject regularly took longer to pair positive words with a black face than he did negative words, that indicated unconscious racial bias.

Using data from more than 15,000 self-selected subjects who took the test on a website, psychologists Anthony Greenwald, Mahzarin Banaji, and Brian Nosek found that the same sorts of respondents who had registered higher on the racial resentment scale were more inclined to associate negative adjectives with an African American face. For instance, subjects who had not graduated from college displayed more prejudice than those who had. Men also were more prejudiced than women.

In addition, according to questions they answered before taking the test, there was a sharp disparity between what subjects said they believed and what the test showed. For instance, only 32 percent of high school graduates said they favored whites over African Americans, but in the test 64 percent did. This disparity suggests that, in answering questions about what they believed, subjects opted for prevailing norms over private sentiments. They did not want to appear racist, even though, at some level, they were.

...that just asks likely voters what ethnicity Mr. Obama is. It wouldn't be surprising if a significant percentage don't know.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:35 AM


I wanted to let you know about our White Sale which goes through May 31st.

For more information, please visit:

We are offering up to 80% off on more than 1,000 titles in all subjects. (There are some really great deals).

I hope this will be of interest to you and your readers. Please feel free to pass the word to friends and colleagues.

Thank you and please let me know if you have any questions.


Columbia University Press

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 AM


McCain’s Assault on Reason (Roy Spencer, 5/13/08, National Review)

What worries me is the widespread misperception that we can do anything substantial about carbon emissions without seriously compromising economic growth. To be sure, forcing a reduction in CO2 emissions will help spur investment in new energy technologies. But so does a price tag of $126 for a barrel of oil. Finding a replacement for carbon-based energy will require a huge investment of wealth, and destroying wealth is not a very good first step toward that goal.

We have wealth. Our enemies have carbons. It's not a hard call even if you use only Reason.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 AM


France to introduce breathalyser tests in bars (Hugh Schofield, 12/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

France is to introduce compulsory breathalyser tests in late-night bars and clubs as part of a new effort to cut down on road deaths.

The announcement by the environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo came after a particularly bloody holiday weekend on the roads with 19 people killed.

"I am going to introduce a decree in cabinet under which all drink outlets that stay open till two in the morning will have compulsory electronic breath-tests, so that everyone can test his own situation as he leaves," Mr Borloo said yesterday.

When I was in college they were going to put one in the Pub--yes, colleges used to have their own pubs--until the Administration heard about the contest to see who could blow the highest number.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM

Gennie's pie is peanut butter perfection (JOYCE SÁENZ HARRIS, 5/12/08, The Dallas Morning News)


2 cups flour (divided use)

½ teaspoon plus 1 pinch of salt (divided use)

¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar (divided use)

½ cup shortening

2 to 3 tablespoons ice-cold water

3 egg yolks

2 ½ cups milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup smooth peanut butter

1 cup whipped cream

½ cup roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped

Pie shell: Sift together 1 ½ cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons sugar. Cut in shortening until it resembles corn meal. Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with fork until moist enough to hold together. Shape into a ball. Wrap in wax paper and refrigerate 1 hour.

On lightly floured board, roll out chilled pastry dough until large enough to line 9-inch pie pan. Dust top of rolled dough lightly with flour, line pan, then prick dough all over with fork. Flute edges and place in freezer 15 to 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450 F. Bake until golden brown, about 10-12 minutes, and cool.

Filling: Combine egg yolks, pinch of salt and milk and mix well. Place in heavy saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring until warm. Combine 3/4 cup sugar and 1/2 cup flour in bowl; gradually add to milk mixture in saucepan, stirring constantly until thickened. Boil 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and peanut butter. Let cool slightly.

Pour filling into cooled pie shell. Chill thoroughly. Top with whipped cream and garnish with chopped peanuts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


In Lebanon, A Bitter Lesson (HILLEL HALKIN, May 13, 2008, NY Sun)

It would be an exaggeration to say that Hezbollah's taking over the streets of Beirut these past few days has been an armed challenge to Lebanon's government. Lebanon does not have a government. It has not had one since its civil war of the 1970s and 1980s. It has a prime minister, a cabinet, and a parliament, none of which can, by any stretch of the imagination, be said to govern. It used to have a president, an office that has been empty for many months with no noticeable effect on anything. And it also has a small and poorly equipped army that, although it has on rare occasions been known to fight, has mostly preferred to cede the field to others, as it did in recent days to Hezbollah.

Lebanon has been governed, ever since all central authority in it fell apart several decades ago, by shifting coalitions of militias and warlords belonging to the country's different ethnic and religious groups, and by foreign countries allied with them, mainly Syria, Iran, and Israel until its withdrawal from the Lebanese south in the year 2000.

For a long while Hezbollah has been one of these factions, and the military show of strength it now has put on is first and foremost a challenge to the others.

It is a dare to them to step up and fight, and the fact that none of them has chosen to do so — neither the Sunnis, nor the Christians, nor the Druze, nor the Palestinians, nor Hezbollah's erstwhile rivals among Lebanon's Shiites, the now virtually defunct Amal party — is a sign that the old balance of power in Lebanon has been broken.

Hezbollah now has become so much better armed, trained, organized, and motivated than any other armed group in Lebanon that there is no one left to resist it. It may not be strong enough to seize control of the entire country the way its ally, Hamas, seized control of Gaza, but it is certainly strong enough to keep expanding its domain of a state-within-a-state without fear of being checked by counterforce. In a country of militias, it has become the one super militia.

It is a nation. The Lebanon isn't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


1968: the year the dream died: The jig was up, and social revolution fell apart (Gerard DeGroot, May 13, 2008, CS Monitor)

In Europe and America, romantics are celebrating 1968. It seems that every hotel in Paris is booked for this month's festivities – even the Ritz. Anniversaries have a way of cleansing the past of unpleasantness.

But what was 1968? In New York, Chicago, Mexico City, Berlin, Paris, and London young people rose up in protest against social and political confines of the time. The ubiquity of revolt encouraged illusions of righteous solidarity.

In truth, instead of being the time when "the movement" came together, 1968 was the year it flew apart, its pieces scattering weird directions. The year was more a death rattle than a glorious birth.

Isn't that what we celebrate?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Pitching Separates Yankees From Rays (STEVEN GOLDMAN, May 13, 2008, NY Sun)

The reason for the gap, at its most basic level, is that the Rays have scored more runs than they have allowed, while the Yankees have basically broken even. In the Rays' case, last season's major weakness — a bullpen that verged on the historically pathetic — has made a 180-degree turn. The team's gamble on closer Troy Percival, retired two years ago, has paid off, and this unusual stability at the end of games has allowed manager Joe Maddon to actually structure his bullpen, rather than run a continual fire drill.

The starting rotation has been less of an advantage than advertised at season's start, largely because Scott Kazmir failed to make his season debut until May 4 and has pitched just twice. His return leaves the Rays still looking for an elusive third solid starter to follow Jamie Shields. Edwin Jackson has shown signs that he can least hold a job, which is more than could be said for the veteran 24-year-old in the past. Other candidates, including Andy Sonnanstine, Matt Garza, and Jason Hammel, have been subpar without being disastrous — not in the way, say, that Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy have been for the Yankees.

Almost the whole difference between the two clubs is embodied in the difference between Sonnanstine and Garza and Kennedy and Hughes. All four are young pitchers, generally untried. There are even some broad similarities between Sonnanstine and Kennedy, who both succeed by throwing strikes rather than burning batters with nuclear-powered stuff. Simply, even though they have not always pitched well, they have done enough most nights to give their team a chance to win. The Rays are 6-2 in Sonnanstine's appearances. They were 2-3 in Garza's, pending the outcome of last night's game. Compare this to the Hughes and Kennedy starts, where the Yankees were 2-9. The difference is that the two Rays, while sometimes battered, have not been beaten past the point that good run support would save them. That has not been the case with the Yankees.

More significant than the current performance difference between similar youngsters is that the rest of the Ray rotation is: 24 (Kazmir); 26 (Shields); and 24 (Jackson). More significant still, while the teams can match up prospects like Jeff Niemann, Eduardo Morlan, Jeremy Hellickson vs. Brackman, Marquez, Horne in the minors, the Yankees have no one on a par with David Price, Wade Davis, & Jake McGee once you count Hughes, Kennedy & Chamberlain as major leaguers.

It's certainly conceivable that the young Rays won't hold off the experienced and deep-pocketed Yanks all season in '08, but the age and talent gap is so huge that it is hard to imagine that over the next five years the Rays won't be the better team, possibly even the best team in baseball.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Ben Stein Provokes the Liberal Wrath (Phyllis Schlafly, May 05, 2008, Townhall)

Liberals are particularly upset because the movie identifies Darwinism, rather than evolution, as the sacred word that must be isolated from criticism. But that semantic choice makes good sense because Darwinism is easily defined by Darwin's own writings, whereas the word evolution is subject to different and even contrary definitions.

The truly funny part of the movie is Stein's interview with Richard Dawkins, whose best-selling book "The God Delusion" (Mariner Books, $15.95) established this Englishman as the world's premier atheist. Dawkins is a leading advocate of the theory that all life evolved from a single beginning in an ancient mud puddle, perhaps after being struck by lightning.

Putting aside the issue of evolving, how did life begin in the first place? Under Stein's questioning, Dawkins finally said it is possible that life might have evolved on Earth after the arrival of a more highly developed being from another planet.

Aren't aliens from outer space the stuff of science fiction? And how was the other-planet alien created? According to Dawkins, life must have just spontaneously evolved on another planet, of course without God.

Central to the creation myth of the cult of Darwin is the canard that he came up with a revolutionary theory by the exercise of intellectual brawn. The reality, of course, is that he and his theory were just a product of the cultural milieu. Darwinism was accepted because it fit so well within the set of accepted pre-existing ideas that dominated society. All he did was apply Adam Smith's economics to Creation--which is, after all, an evolutionary story. The problem lay in his removal of intelligence from the equation, which is why the theory doesn't work in practice, unlike capitalism. and why the leading defender of Darwinism here advocates Intelligent Design via aliens.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Study Says Foreigners In U.S. Adapt Quickly (N.C. Aizenman, 5/13/08, Washington Post)

The study, sponsored by the Manhattan Institute, a New York think tank, used census and other data to devise an assimilation index to measure the degree of similarity between the United States' foreign-born and native-born populations. These included civic factors, such as rates of U.S. citizenship and service in the military; economic factors, such as earnings and rates of homeownership; and cultural factors, such as English ability and degree of intermarriage with U.S. citizens. The higher the number on a 100-point index, the more an immigrant resembled a U.S. citizen.

In general, the longer an immigrant lives in the United States, the more characteristics of native citizens he or she tends to take on, said Jacob L. Vigdor, a professor at Duke University and author of the study. During periods of intense immigration, such as from 1870 to 1920, or during the immigration wave that began in the 1970s, new arrivals tend to drag down the average assimilation index of the foreign-born population as a whole.

The report found, however, that the speed with which new arrivals take on native-born traits has increased since the 1990s. As a result, even though the foreign population doubled during that period, the newcomers did not drive down the overall assimilation index of the foreign-born population. Instead, it held relatively steady from 1990 to 2006.

"This is something unprecedented in U.S. history," Vigdor said. "It shows that the nation's capacity to assimilate new immigrants is strong."

Because globalization is Americanization these folks are American before they ever get here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


A deadly miscalculation in Lebanon (Sami Moubayed, 5/14/08, Asia Times)

Veteran Shi'ite cleric Abdul-Amir Qabalan, deputy chairman of the Higher Shi'ite Council, contacted the Lebanese government and advised it to back down, warning that Nasrallah must not be provoked and that he would not stand by and watch his security system being torn down. Qabalan said, "Touching this [communication] system affects our nationalism, integrity and loyalty to the nation."

The government refused to change course, arguing that security must be monopolized by the state and that it was inconceivable that a non-state party like Hezbollah could run a parallel security system at Beirut Airport.

In this stubbornness, the government failed to anticipate the value Hezbollah places on what it believed its key rights. Worse, Defense Minister Elias al-Murr, Interior Minister Hasan al-Sabe and Public Persecutor Said Mirza were tasked to create a team to look into other security violations committed by Hezbollah.

Engineering the escalation was Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a one-time Nasrallah friend now turned enemy, who knew that within 48 hours the United Nations Security Council was due to discuss resolution 1559, regarding the disarmament of Hezbollah, which has yet to be fully implemented.

They can't be Shi'a nationalist and loyal to Lebanon. That's the incoherence that division fixes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Clinton Eyes a Big Victory That May Come Too Late (RUSSELL BERMAN, May 13, 2008, NY Sun)

In West Virginia today, Senator Clinton is poised for one of her most lopsided victories, but it comes at a time when the voice of Democratic primary voters arguably matters the least to her chances of overtaking Senator Obama.

A poll released yesterday showed the New York senator 36 points ahead of Mr. Obama in the Mountain State, an edge that would represent her widest margin of victory in any state but Arkansas, where she served as first lady for more than a decade.

Five things to watch in W. Va. (KENNETH P. VOGEL, 5/13/08, Politico)
So, how to know whether West Virginia is on its way to giving Clinton a narrative-changing win that will sway superdelegates, or at least prolong their decision-making process?

Here are five indicators that the pros will be watching:

She needs every bit of a 30+% win after stumbling last Tuesday.

May 12, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 PM


Already, Obama and McCain Map Fall Strategies (ADAM NAGOURNEY and JEFF ZELENY, 5/11/08, NY Times)

In a sign of what could be an extremely unusual fall campaign, the two sides said Saturday that they would be open to holding joint forums or unmoderated debates across the country in front of voters through the summer. Mr. Obama, campaigning in Oregon, said that the proposal, floated by Mr. McCain’s advisers, was “a great idea.”

This has the smell of disaster for Senator Obama. His only chance of becoming president was to make it to November on nothing but the gossamer image that he and the adoring media had crafted. Every time he speaks without a script or a fact about who he really is makes it to the surface he loses ground. The exposure this would bring is way to high a risk to almost no potential reward, unless Maverick actually had a stroke during one of the debates..

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 PM


The chasm within: A stripped-down welfare state plus migration have opened up ominous new divisions in Israeli society (David Landau, 5/13/08, The Guardian)

[B]ibi is the frontrunner for prime minister again, and all his old allies are lining up in the hope of clambering back into power. But a lot has changed in Israel's sectorised society. [...]

The Russians - and there have been more than a million migrants in the past 20 years from the former Soviet Union - are on the make, with the classic profile of the Jewish migrant: determined, hard-working and studious. There are enough of them to sustain a flourishing culture - attracting a new respect from other Israelis.

Such confident multiculturalism helps explain an easing in the perennial Orthodox-secular strains in Israeli society. The downside is the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. Bibi had hacked away at the welfare state with a vigour that made Thatcherites pale. Many economists say he saved the country. But a million or more poor Israelis have yet to feel the promised trickle-down effect, while the super-rich soar into the stratosphere. Silver-tongued Bibi may bamboozle with a bridge of words. But the chasm between rich and poor yawns dark and menacing.

It was, of course, the multiculturalism that made it so easy to finally kill off the socialism. Where Jews might not mind taking care of Jewish have-nots, they aren't going to take care of Arab have-nots and the situation is exacerbated by the demographics which trend towards an eventual Arab majority. That majority may well not leave them any choice in the matter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 PM


McCain Campaign Eyes California (Paul Bedard, May 12, 2008, US News)

Having succeeded in raising huge amounts of money in California and generating GOP enthusiasm with the help of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sen. John McCain's team is considering playing big for the state in the fall election. "The McCain people out here actually think they have a shot at getting California," says a McCain adviser in the state.

Associates say McCain believes that his reputation for being a maverick, his moderate immigration reform stance, and his push for global warming changes will be attractive to California voters, as will his status as a western state Republican.

Obviously if it's in play in October it means the Obama campaign pancaked, but just keeping it (and the Catholic Rust Belt) in play all Summer means he never gets off the defensive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:51 PM


Obama on Zionism and Hamas (Jeffery Goldberg, 12 May 2008, Atlantic Unbound)

Obama and I spoke over the weekend about Hamas, about Jimmy Carter, and about the future of Jewish settlements on the West Bank. He seemed eager to talk about his ties to the Jewish community, and about the influence Jews have had on his life.

JG: You’ve talked about the role of Jews in the development of your thinking

BO: I always joke that my intellectual formation was through Jewish scholars and writers, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Whether it was theologians or Philip Roth who helped shape my sensibility, or some of the more popular writers like Leon Uris.

His politics is as self-absorbed as Portnoy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:11 AM


Could Obama Be Another Dukakis? (Susan Estrich, 5/12/08, Real Clear Politics)

It is a thought that sends shivers down the backs of Democrats, a name that brings to mind memories of an election lost that might have been won, against a war hero once referred to in headlines as a "wimp" who won not so much by his own strengths but because of the skill of his operatives in painting his lesser-known opponent as an out of touch "liberal" who refused to salute the flag or admit his mistakes, not to mention his supposedly unpatriotic wife.

Could Obama be another Dukakis?

It isn't just die-hard Clinton supporters who are pointing out the similarities. Even some Obama backers who believe that the nomination fight is over see the possible parallels, and are determined to avoid them, or at least try.

The only point at which the comparison doesn't work disfavors Mr. Obama: Michael Dukakis was a successful technocratic governor while the Senator has done nothing but vote the liberal line in Congress. At least the Governor had a record to fall back on.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:02 AM


Domestic spying far outpaces terrorism prosecutions: As more Americans are watched, fewer cases are made. The trend concerns civil liberties groups as well as some lawmakers and legal experts (Richard B. Schmitt, 5/12/08, Los Angeles Times)

The number of Americans being secretly wiretapped or having their financial and other records reviewed by the government has continued to increase as officials aggressively use powers approved after the Sept. 11 attacks. But the number of terrorism prosecutions ending up in court -- one measure of the effectiveness of such sleuthing -- has continued to decline, in some cases precipitously.

Because, after all, if we were winning the WoT there'd be a lot more terrorism, right?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Hasty truce with Moqtada al-Sadr tests his sway in Baghdad stronghold: A cease-fire deal between Mr. Sadr's representatives in the Iraqi government and members of the leading Shiite bloc aims to end weeks of fierce battles in Sadr City (Howard Lafranchi, 5/12/08, The Christian Science Monitor)

The truce was hastily reached as Mr. Maliki's government announced a new offensive in Mosul against forces affiliated with Al Qaeda in Iraq. Maliki has said since January that he would take the fight against Al Qaeda to the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, believed to be the group's last urban stronghold in Iraq. Some Iraqi government officials have suggested that Maliki wanted the battle with Shiite militias quieted before the Mosul offensive.

The Sadr City agreement does not call for the disarming or disbanding of the Mahdi Army, which was Maliki's demand that touched off fighting between his forces and the militia in late March.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Israel Considers Truce Offer From Hamas: A Middle East ceasefire could be in the offing during a week of high diplomacy. But Israel has mixed feelings, as we hear from Robert Berger at the VOA bureau in Jerusalem. (Robert Berger, 11 May 2008, VOA News)

Israel is considering a truce offer from the Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

The proposal will be presented by Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who is due to visit Israel on Monday. It calls for an end to Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli border communities, while Israel would halt all military action in Gaza and lift its crippling blockade of the territory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Sit Back, Relax, Get Ready to Rumble: He's taken everything in stride, it seems. How Obama and his team will battle the GOP onslaught. (Richard Wolffe and Evan Thomas, 5/10/08, NEWSWEEK)

[T]he real test is yet to come. The Republican Party has been successfully scaring voters since 1968, when Richard Nixon built a Silent Majority out of lower- and middle-class folks frightened or disturbed by hippies and student radicals and blacks rioting in the inner cities. The 2008 race may turn on which party will win the lower- and middle-class whites in industrial and border states—the Democrats' base from the New Deal to the 1960s, but "Reagan Democrats" in most presidential elections since then. It is a sure bet that the GOP will try to paint Obama as "the other"—as a haughty black intellectual who has Muslim roots (Obama is a Christian) and hangs around with America-haters.

Except that the GOP needn't do that because the Democrats already have. The authors do though, accidentally, reveal one of the GOP's greatest assets: the Left's general inability to come to terms with the fact that the conservative return to power of the last thirty years has not been a function of bamboozling the yokels but of enlightened self-interest on the part of the voters. Set aside all questions of ideology and consider only the defeat of communism, decline in social pathologies, and incredible level of p[rosperity] -- irrespective of who deserves credit or why -- and that this has all occurred during a span when Republicans controlled the Presidency, the Congress, or the Courts or some combination thereof for nearly every day of that time. Now ponder the thesis that the primary reason the GOP has been rewarded with votes over that quarter century is because it scared the electorate out of voting rationally. The argument is absurd on its face, but, please, God, don't let them realize it....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Taking Out the Junk (Science) (Bill Steigerwald, 5/12/08,

When Al Gore and his global warming alarmists take over, one of the first citizens they'll slap in a prison and charge with crimes against the (green) state will be Steven J. Milloy, founder and publisher of the popular Web site

Q: What is and what’s its purpose?

A: Junk Science is a Web site I started about 12 years ago and the purpose is to spotlight bad science that is being used to advance special agendas -- like activist agendas, environmental agendas, regulators, politicians, trial lawyers, companies that are using bad science to sell products to consumers.

Q: What’s the most important example of junk science or bad science that needs to be exposed because of the danger it poses to our economy or our freedoms?

A: Well, the most important junk science issue right now is global warming because it’s going to affect our freedoms and it’s going to affect our economy. It’s all based on the unproven notion that human emissions of carbon dioxide are affecting global climate. As a matter of fact, just last week some U.N. scientists said, “You know, there’s really no global warming that’s going to be occurring for the next 10 years, because Mother Nature is driving the climate.” Of course, the big secret here is that Mother Nature always drives the climate, no matter what humans are doing. There’s much at risk. Global warming regulation means higher energy costs, and it means reduced freedom. Remember that Al Gore wants you to take colder showers, dry your clothes outside, turn the heat down, turn the air-conditioning down, drive less -- they want to impact your lifestyle. Now Congress has passed a law saying you’ve got to buy compact fluorescent light bulbs, which a lot of people don’t like -- they contain mercury; they’re more expensive; they don’t provide any environmental improvement. Yet incandescent light bulbs are going to be phased out in four years. They are reducing consumer choice.

Q: What are your politics and how do they tie in with your junk-science debunking efforts?

A: Politically, I am a libertarian. I believe in individual freedom and limited government. I’m against junk science because junk science reduces individual freedom and increases the role of government in our lives. It’s pretty straightforward. No one complains about government using sound science to expand its role and to actually produce benefits. But junk science, which doesn’t produce any benefits, just results in higher costs and reduced freedom. We object to that.

Q: Is there a smaller example of junk science that is harmful?

A: Global warming is obviously the up-and-coming issue. The biggest and probably the most lethal form of junk science so far has been the DDT controversy. Tens of millions of people in malaria regions have died needlessly because the U.S. -- based on junk science -- banned DDT in 1972 and the ban was promptly exported around the world. It wasn’t until just two years ago or so that the World Health Organization rolled back its ban on DDT -- or at least said they did. DDT use really hasn’t expanded all that much and millions continue to die. That’s the environmentalists’ handiwork and that’s just the warm-up for what’s going to happen with global warming.

Darwinism has been quite a bit more lethal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Are L.A. freeways the roads less-traveled?: A sampling of residents, traffic reporters and technical data indicates that as gas prices climbed and the economy faltered, there were notable traffic decreases on some freeways. (Steve Hymon and Jia-Rui Chong, 5/11/08, Los Angeles Times)

[A] sampling of residents, traffic reporters and technical data indicates that as gasoline prices have climbed and the economy has faltered, weekday congestion has softened in some areas over the last month. There are notable decreases in commuting times on some well-traveled freeways.

Other drivers say their commutes are still bad, but that the roads are more lightly traveled at midday and evenings -- the times of day that people make discretionary trips.

...are the inalienable right of the selfish.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Lebanon's Sunni bloc built militia, officials say: The Future movement used a security firm to assemble a private force, officials say. But the fighters were no match for the Shiite group Hezbollah (Borzou Daragahi and Raed Rafei, May 12, 2008, LA Times)

For a year, the main Lebanese political faction backed by the United States built a Sunni Muslim militia here under the guise of private security companies, Lebanese security experts and officials said.

The fighters, aligned with Saad Hariri's Future movement, were trained and armed to counter the heavily armed Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah and protect their turf in a potential military confrontation.

But in a single night late last week, the curious experiment in private-sector warfare crumbled.

Attacked by Hezbollah, the Future movement fighters quickly fled Beirut or gave up their weapons. Afterward, some of the fighters said they felt betrayed by their political patrons, who failed to give them the means to protect themselves while official security forces stood aside and let Hezbollah destroy them.

"We are prepared to fight for a few hours but not more," said one of the Sunni fighters in the waning moments of the battle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


Dalai Lama refused invite to Downing Street (Rosa Prince, 12/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

The Dalai Lama will not be invited to Downing Street during his upcoming visit to the UK as Gordon Brown seeks to repair relations with China over Tibet.

Instead, the Prime Minister plans to hold talks with the Tibetan spiritual leader at Lambeth Palace, the official home of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The arrangements will allow the Government to claim that Mr Brown is meeting the Dalai Lama in a spiritual, rather than a political capacity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Bobby Jindal for Vice-President? (T P Sreenivasan, May 12, 2008, Rediff)

Till a few years ago, the greatest dream of every immigrant Indian mother in the United States was that her son should become a doctor, not of philosophy, but of medicine. After all, PHD stood for "poor and hungry doctor", while MD stood for "moneyed doctor".

A joke in the community was about an Indian mother, who was invited to witness the swearing in of her son as the President of the United States. She was happy, but not too excited. As she sat in the front row of VIPs, she was asked how she felt, now that her son was going to be the President of the United States. Did she expect her son to rise so high? She just could not understand the fuss. "Look," she said, "his brother is already a doctor, a medical doctor."

Bobby Jindal's parents had the same hope. They expected him to be a doctor and the only leeway they gave him was that he could choose any specialty. But Jindal broke the glass ceiling to become a Congressman first and a governor afterwards, at one time the preserves of lily white people in the United States. [...]

To see Jindal just a heartbeat away from the US Presidency should gladden our hearts. If he makes it, it will be a jewel in the crown for Indian Americans. His loyalty will be to his country of adoption, but it will be a dream come true for Indian Americans.

May 11, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 PM


Lebanon facing threat of civil war (Carolynne Wheeler, 11/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

At stake is whether the factional violence will break down into the full-fledged civil war that plagued Lebanon for 15 years until 1990.

The pro-government forces, backed by the West, include Sunni, Druze and Christian factions. Allied with Hizbollah, which is also backed by Iran, is the second major Shi'ite faction, Amal, and smaller Christian and Druze factions.

So far the Christian groups have stayed out of the fighting. As a result, East Beirut, which is predominantly Christian, has seen life continue almost as normal. But the spreading violence has pitted Sunni against Shi'ite, Shi'ite against Druze, and Druze against Sunni as the factions collide.

Fierce Fighting Breaks Out East of Beirut (NADA BAKRI, 5/11/08, NY Times)
Hezbollah’s military dominance, and its continuing blockade of the main road to Beirut’s airport, have raised pressure on the governing coalition to accept a resolution of Lebanon’s 17-month political crisis on terms favorable to Hezbollah and its allies in the opposition.

Supporters of the Druse leader, Walid Jumblatt, who is allied with the government, and Hezbollah gunmen and their Druse allies exchanged machine gun fire and rockets in several villages, a day after Hezbollah accused Mr. Jumblatt’s followers of killing two of its members and kidnapping a third. There was no word on casualties.

Several hours after the clashes erupted, Mr. Jumblatt urged Talal Arslan, a rival Druse leader allied with Hezbollah, to mediate an end to the mountain clashes and allow the safe deployment of the Lebanese Army in villages where there was heavy fighting.

Mr. Arslan agreed to a cease-fire, but sporadic fighting continued on Sunday night.

Ah, the neocon version of a good guy, Walid Jumblatt:
In June 1982, Israeli forces invaded Lebanon and quickly occupied the Shouf region. For a few months, Jumblatt remained at his home in Mukhtara and maintained contact with occupying Israeli forces, hoping to broker a deal whereby Israel would keep the Palestinians out of the Shouf and recognize Druze autonomy. To his consternation, however, Israel facilitated the entry of the Christian Lebanese Forces (LF) units commanded by Samir Geagea into the area. Frustrated, Jumblatt left his home and moved to Damascus to secure support against the LF. Since the new Lebanese regime of President Amine Gemayel had forged political ties with the Arslan clan, Jumblatt was more than willing to join the National Salvation Front, a pro-Syrian alliance of militias opposed to the central government and the May 1983 non-belligerency agreement it signed with Israel.

Armed with massive amounts of Syrian-supplied Soviet weaponry, Jumblatt's militia began driving LF forces out of the Shouf in the fall of 1983. When Israeli forces pulled out of the area in August-September 1983, Jumblatt's forces overran sixty Maronite villages, slaughtering around 1,000 people and driving 50,000 out of their homes. in the mountainous areas east and west of Beirut.

Hizballah's Christian Soldiers? (ANDREW LEE BUTTERS, 8/06/07, TIME)

Khoury's victory is a reflection of the popularity of his patron, Michel Aoun, a charismatic and enigmatic former general who heads the country's largest Christian political party, the Free Patriotic Movement. Aoun's popularity confounds any attempt to read Lebanon as a battlefield in a "clash of civilizations," because he and his party are openly allied with Hizballah, the Iran-backed Shi'ite Muslim political party and anti-Israeli militia that leads the opposition.

What could Lebanese Christians possibly have in common with Hizballah, the Islamist resistance movement? Perhaps it is the fact that Aoun's Christian supporters and Hizballah's rank and file are motivated by a shared animus towards Lebanon's political elite, a handful of families such as the Gemayel, whose progeny resurface in government after government. In fact, many of the supporters of the current government are civil war-era militia leaders, who accommodated themselves rather nicely to the years of Syrian occupation, but who have now emerged wearing business suits and talking U.S.-friendly language about democracy and independence.

Of course, neither Aoun nor Hizballah is a poster child for democratic civil society. Aoun, as head of the Lebanese army in the early 1990s, launched a series of disastrous civil conflicts, while Hizballah sparked a pointless war with Israel last summer that resulted in the deaths of almost 2,000 Lebanese, many of them children. Still, both popular movements tap into the general resentment of average people who have watched as a relatively small number of Lebanese — well represented in the anti-Syria ruling coalition — have cashed in on the post civil-war reconstruction of the country.

The latest election results and the wider campaign against the government reflects not so much an attack on democracy as it does the failure of the country's sectarian system to resolve internal disputes. The system, which reserves the presidency for the Maronite Christians, the Prime Minister's job for a Sunni, the speaker of parliament for a Shi'ite and generally distributes power on the basis of ethnicity and sect, was originally created to achieve stability through a careful balance of power. Instead, it has produced political deadlock and a system dominated by leaders whose domestic power is based on alliances with foreign powers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:49 AM


Latin Lasagna (Ingrid Hoffman, 2008, Food Network: Simply Delicioso with Ingrid Hoffmann

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup milk
2 cups shredded pepper-jack cheese, divided
6 ounces raw Mexican chorizo, casings removed
1 pound ground turkey
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 to 6 ripe black-skinned plantains, peeled, halved horizontally and thinly sliced lengthwise
Paprika, to taste
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for serving

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 13 by 9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Stir in the flour and cumin and cook for 1 minute to remove the raw starchy taste of the flour. Gradually add the broth, stirring to prevent lumps. Once all of the broth is added, stir in the milk. Continue to stir constantly until the sauce thickens, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add half of the grated cheese and stir the sauce until the cheese has melted. Turn off the heat and transfer the sauce to a bowl. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the sauce to prevent a skin from forming.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the chorizo. Cook and stir until it starts to brown, about 4 minutes, using a wooden spoon to break up any large pieces while it cooks. Add the turkey and continue to cook until both meats are browned 8 to 10 minutes. Drain out excess oil from the pan, if needed. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, oregano; season with salt and pepper.

Line the bottom of the prepared baking dish with 1 layer of plantains (about 1/3 of the plantain slices), making sure that they don't overlap. Top the plantains with half of the meat mixture, spreading it out into an even layer so it covers the plantains. Top with half of the cheese sauce, spreading evenly with a spatula. Add another single layer of plantain slices side by side and cover with the remaining meat mixture and the remaining sauce. Add the final layer of plantains and sprinkle with the remaining cheese and a dusting of paprika over the top. Bake until the sauce is bubbly, about 45 to 60 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:40 AM


Gas prices send surge of riders to mass transit (Clifford Krauss, May 11, 2008, NY Times)

Mass transit systems around the country are seeing standing-room-only crowds on bus lines where seats were once easy to come by. Parking lots at many bus and light rail stations are suddenly overflowing, with commuters in some towns risking a ticket or tow by parking on nearby grassy areas and in vacant lots.

"In almost every transit system I talk to, we're seeing very high rates of growth the last few months," said William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association.

"It's very clear that a significant portion of the increase in transit use is directly caused by people who are looking for alternatives to paying $3.50 a gallon for gas."

Some cities with long-established public transit systems, like New York and Boston, have seen increases in ridership of 5 percent or more so far this year. But the biggest surges — of 10 to 15 percent or more over last year — are occurring in many metropolitan areas in the South and West where the driving culture is strongest and bus and rail lines are more limited.

It's just a bad habit. Laziness, really.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 AM


Pasta With Walnuts and Parsley (Contra Costa Times, 05/06/2008)

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 (16-ounce) box whole-wheat pasta

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced

2/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish


Freshly ground pepper

1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1. Have all ingredients measured out and near the stove. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to boil.

2. In a large skillet over medium-high, toast the walnuts until fragrant, stirring frequently, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove walnuts from skillet and set aside.

3. Add pasta to water.

While it cooks, add olive oil and garlic to skillet and stir over low heat until the garlic is soft and fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes (be careful not to burn it).

When pasta is just short of al dente, fish it out of the water using tongs or a spider (Chinese strainer), and add to skillet along with ½ cup of the pasta-cooking water, all but 3 tablespoons of the walnuts, the parsley, salt and pepper.

Toss to combine, cooking over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes.

Turn off heat.

Add ¾ cup of the parmesan and toss to combine.

Pour into a serving bowl, or divide among 4 individual bowls. Top with the remaining grated cheese, the reserved walnuts and more parsley, and serve.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


Darwin's Dystopia? (Dr. Benjamin Wiker, 5/08/08, To the Source)

One doesn't need to see the film to make that link. Simply read Charles Darwin's The Descent of Man and Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf.

Darwin's Descent of Man applies the evolutionary arguments of his more famous Origin of Species to human beings. In it, Darwin argues that those characteristics we might think to be specifically human—physical strength and health, morality, and intelligence—were actually achieved by natural selection. From this, he infers two related eugenic conclusions.

First, if the desirable results of strength, health, morality, and intelligence are caused by natural selection, then we can improve them by artificial selection. We can breed better human beings, even rise above the human to the superhuman. Since human beings have been raised above the other animals by the struggle to survive, they may be raised even higher, transcending human nature to something—who knows?—as much above men as men are now above the apes. This strange hope rests in Darwin's very rejection of the belief that man is defined by God, for "the fact of his having thus risen" by evolution to where he is, "instead of having been aboriginally placed there" by God, "may give him hopes for a still higher destiny in the distant future."

Second, if good breeding gives us better results, pushing us up the evolutionary slope, then bad or indiscriminate breeding drags us back down. "If…various checks…do not prevent the reckless, the vicious and otherwise inferior members of society from increasing at a quicker rate than the better class of men," Darwin groaned, "the nation will retrograde, as has occurred too often in the history of the world. We must remember that progress is no invariable rule."

Now to Hitler. The first, most important thing to understand is that the link between Darwin and Hitler was not immediate. That is, nobody is making the case that Hitler had Darwin's eugenic masterpiece The Descent of Man in one hand while he penned Mein Kampf in the other. Darwin's eugenic ideas were spread all over Europe and America, until they were common intellectual coin by Hitler's time. That makes the linkage all the stronger, because we are not talking about one crazed man misreading Darwin but at least two generations of leading scientists and intellectuals drawing the same eugenic conclusions from evolutionary theory as Darwin himself drew.

A second point. We misunderstand Hitler's evil if we reduce it to anti-Semitism. Hitler's anti-Semitism had, of course, multiple causes, including his own warped character. That having been said, Nazism was at heart a racial, that is, a biological political program based up evolutionary theory. It was "applied biology," in the words of deputy party leader of the Nazis, Rudolph Hess, and done for the sake of a perceived greater good, racial purity, that is, for the sake of a race purified of physical and mental defects, imperfections, and racial inferiority.

we could say Nazism was Applied OliverWendellHolmesism or Sangerism...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


Thanks to Iowans, ISU one of state's great assets (Gary L. Maydew, 5/10/08, Des Moines Register)

Iowa State University students who receive their diplomas at Hilton Coliseum today enjoy the distinction of graduating from a great university as it celebrates its 150th anniversary.

Much of the credit for that greatness goes to the citizens of Iowa and their strong, unwavering support for the state's colleges and universities through the years. [...]

ISU has had its share of missteps as well. Among them: [...]

-Abridgment of academic freedom. In the early 1940s dairy farmers in Iowa wanted to forbid the publication of a report that oleomargarine was just as nutritious as butter. Ted Schultz, an agricultural economics professor, insisted that the report be published in the name of academic freedom. The administration did not support him. He eventually resigned in protest and went to the University of Chicago, where he had a stellar career, winning the Nobel Prize in 1979.

More recently, ISU failed to grant tenure to Guillermo Gonzalez, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, though his research record was solid. Failure to attain tenure is a familiar occurrence at strong research universities. However, the circumstances surrounding his tenure denial were troubling. Gonzalez stirred controversy by advocating the study of intelligent design, which theorizes that the complexity of life suggests the existence of a higher being.

Great universities need to support academic freedom and encourage thinking outside the box, regardless of whether faculty subscribe to prevailing wisdom. ISU's refusal to grant Gonzalez tenure creates a perception that academic freedom at ISU applies only to those holding main stream religious or agnostic beliefs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Nixonland: How The Right Stole Populism

What: Panel and Book Signing

When: Tuesday, May 20
5:30-7:30 PM

Where: National Press Club
529 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20045

Who: Rick Perlstein, Campaign for America's Future
Helen Thomas, Hearst Newspapers
Chris Hayes, The Nation
Ross Douthat, The Atlantic

Moderator: Robert Borosage, Campaign for America's Future

E Pluribus Nixon: A sweeping new social history portrays Richard Nixon as the president his fratricidal country deserved—and perhaps the best we could have hoped for: a review of NIXONLAND: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America By Rick Perlstein (Ross Douthat, Atlantic Monthly)

Seven years ago, Rick Perlstein, a young and decidedly left-wing historian, accomplished a daring feat: he imagined his way into the hearts and minds of the right-wing idealists who made Goldwaterite conservatism one of the most successful mass movements of the 1960s. The result was Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (Out-of-print, available at E-bay), a richly detailed narrative of the 1964 election, and a dense and dizzying account of a moment when America was teetering on the verge of a nervous breakdown but didn’t know it yet.

Now Perlstein has produced a sequel. If Before the Storm was a near-masterpiece, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, which covers the turbulent years from Goldwater’s defeat to Nixon’s 1972 landslide victory, is merely a great success. It labors under handicaps his first book didn’t have: whereas Before the Storm dealt with a circumscribed and neglected moment (who remembers Dr. Fred Schwarz’s Christian Anti-Communism Crusade, or the presidential boomlet for William Warren Scranton?), Nixonland tackles the most obsessed-over era in recent American history. Any book that rolls Woodstock and Watergate, the death of RFK and the Tet Offensive, Jane Fonda and George Wallace, and a cast of thousands more into a mere 800 pages or so is bound to sprawl and sag a bit, to rush too quickly through some topics and linger too long with others.

Even so, Nixonland reads marvelously. Perlstein has the rare gift of being able to weave social, political, and cultural history into a single seamless narrative, linking backroom political negotiations to suburban protests over sex education in schools to the premiere of Bonnie and Clyde. [...]

Nixonland is a historical narrative worth savoring—but one worth ar­guing with as well. Perlstein sets out to challenge what he terms “certain hegemonic narratives” of the ’60s. But, perhaps inevitably, he tends to be tougher on right-wing shibboleths—the notion that all of the era’s violence was left-wing; the idea that the media snatched away victory in Vietnam—than on liberal ones. Nixonland offers a vastly more nuanced account of how the New Deal coalition came apart than the predictable left-liberal story of noble Democrats undone by ruthless, race-baiting Republicans. (I’m looking at you, Paul Krugman.) But while Perlstein criticizes the liberal establishment for its self-satisfaction and naïveté—for believing that “if only Nixon’s people could truly see reason … their prejudices would melt away, their true interests would be recognized”—he still leaves the impression that when it came to public policy, mid-century liberalism almost always did have reason on its side. [...]

[P]erlstein is unsparing in his critique of the political failures of mid-century liberalism; I only wish he had meditated more deeply on liberalism’s policy failures as well, and at least grappled with the possibility that voters rejected liberal governance for pragmatic reasons as well as atavistic ones. But to do so might have required him to give Nixon’s Republican Party—if not Nixon himself—more credit for restoring domestic tranquillity than I imagine he thinks the GOP deserves. Indeed, a minor theme of Perlstein’s book is the extent to which domestic tranquillity has never been restored; Americans, he argues, inhabit “Nixonland” even now.

This argument is one of Perlstein’s weakest—and it’s undercut, time and again, by his own skill as a historian and a writer. The chaotic tapestry he summons up—“hard hats” slugging hippies on the steps of Federal Hall on Wall Street, radical priests hatching bomb plots in the steam tunnels under Washington, D.C., riots consuming city after city, and national leaders going down under assassins’ bullets—is fascinating precisely because it feels so alien to our present political climate. Indeed, the age of Bush, supposedly unrivaled in its rancor, seems like a peaceable kingdom when contrasted with the madhouse in which Richard Nixon rose to power. We have a culture war; they had a war.

It’s true that the political and cultural divides that opened in the Nixon era are with us even now. But Perlstein wants to make a larger claim than this; he wants to suggest that the violent spirit of that time has endured till now as well.

I'm only in the early stages of reading Friend Perlstein's book but am struck by a potentially fatal flaw in his thesis that's implied in the review above. With his expected honesty, Mr. Perlstein initially identifies Nixonland as the sort of Red America that the Adlai Stevenson eggheads found themselves stuck in ad unable to comprehend in the 50s. That this part of the metaphor endures--is indeed a seemingly innate part of the culture--is reflected not just in his own essays about contemporary politics but in books by his friends and fellow Brights, like Thomas Frank's unintentionally hilarious, What's the Matter with Kansas.

On the other hand, the sort of violent divisiveness that he associates with Nixonland rather conspicuously developed at the exact time that Richard Nixon was not a central part of the national political scene. Inner-city riots, assassinations, student demonstrations, radical Left terrorism--all of these social plagues arose during the Johnson/Great Society years, the pinnacle of the Left's ascendancy. Even the initial violent reactions were led by Democrats--like LBJ sending federal troops into Detroit or Mayor Daley breaking up protests at the 1968 Democratic Convention. If anything, as Mr. Douthat suggests above, the return of Richard Nixon --a liberal Republican--in 1968 might be seen as an attempt by American voters to restore the social calm and consensus of earlier eras. Richard Nixon, at least in his final incarnation, should probably be considered an effect of the social breakdown of the Liberal 60s, rather than a cause of anything much.

Of course, this perspective does tend to undermine the thesis that the consensus was never retrieved, but consider too that Nixon was followed by a Democrat who ran to the Right of where he and Gerald Ford had governed. The only other Democrat elected president since 1964 was likewise an Evangelical Southern governor. And, while Carter and Clinton only won very narrowly, several Republicans since have run up pretty big margins. The problem would seem to be a reluctance on the part of Mr. Perlstein and company to accept that the consensus has been restored but has shifted back to where it was pre-Depression, fairly far to the Right side of moderate. Thus, even when Democrats won back Congress in the 2006 midterm they've ended up governing little differently than Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay did.

It is instructive also to look at where the most divisive point in our politics is today: the racial/tribal divide between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This is an entirely predictable function of the identity politics that still characterizes much of the Left, although Mr. Obama tried desperately to run as a cipher, lest voters discover his pastor and his politics and, inevitably, reject him as just another Northern liberal too far out of the mainstream to elect president.

At any rate, the book's a rollicking good read and we'll post a full review ASAP.

-ARCHIVES: Perlstein (Brothers Judd Blog)
-EXCERPT: Preface to Nixonland
-EXCERPT: from Nixonland: "Then No One Would Be a Democrat Anymore": In 1970, Richard Nixon, inspired by a spontaneous construction workers' riot, settled on the political strategy that would win him the 1972 election by a landslide and dominate American politics to this day (Rick Perlstein)
-PROFILE: Sympathy for the Devil: Progressive scribe Rick Perlstein made his reputation finding the good in conservatives. Then they really started screwing up the country. (Harold Henderson, January 24, 2008, Chicago Reader)
-BOOKNOTES: Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus by Rick Perlstein (C-SPAN< June 3, 2001)
-DEBATE: Rick Perlstein and David Frum (, 4/18/08)
-ESSAY: All Aboard the McCain Express (Rick Perlstein, April 21, 2008, The Nation)
-ESSAY: Getting Past the '60s? It's Not Going to Happen. (Rick Perlstein, February 3, 2008, Washington Post)
-REVIEW ESSAY: The Myths of McGovern: Thirty-five years later, what the 1972 campaign can—and can’t—teach liberals today: a review of Why the Democrats Are Blue: How Secular Liberals Hijacked the People's Party By Mark Stricherz and The Liberals' Moment: The McGovern Insurgency and the Identity Crisis of the Democratic Party By Bruce Miroff (Rick Perlstein, Democracy)
-ESSAY: Not in his father's footsteps (Rick Perlstein, February 10, 2008, LA Times)
-ESSAY: Smirk of the Union: A small and beaten man spoke to Congress and the nation last night, convinced in his own mind he's a hero (Rick Perlstein, 1/29/08,
-ESSAY: Chinese Mirrors (Rick Perlstein, June 7, 2007, The Nation)
-ESSAY: Whos Afraid of Peter Boyle? (Rick Perlstein, 2/08/07, In These Times)
-ESSAY: The Best Wars of Their Lives (Rick Perlstein, October 15, 2007, The Nation)
-ESSAY: Will the Progressive Majority Emerge? (Rick Perlstein, July 9, 2007, The Nation)
-ESSAY: Why Democrats can stop the war: Pundits say if the party gets too tough with Bush, it will be blamed for "losing" Iraq. But the real political risk is going too easy on Bush, and losing the trust of war-weary voters. (Rick Perlstein, 1/24/07, Salon)
-ESSAY: Heck-of -a-Job Myers? (Rick Perlstein, January 3, 2007, The Nation)
-ESSAY: Fenced Out: A post–9/11 boom in immigration legislation hasn’t stemmed the border flow, but it has created a flood of new approaches—most with built-in paradoxes. (Rick Perlstein, Jan/Feb 2007, University of Chicago Magazine)
-ESSAY: Look Back in Anger: The Democrats won, but they shouldn't for a second let victory cause them to forget the Republicans' dirty tricks operation (Rick Perlstein, November 10, 2006, American Prospect)
-ESSAY: The Odd Couple: Nixon and Lieberman: Nixon and Lieberman both supported pro-war policies while claiming to be anti-war. (Rick Perlstein, 11/03/06, In These Times)
-ESSAY: Unf***ing the Donkey: Advice for weary, wandering Democrats (Rick Perlstein. July 26th, 2005, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: A Socialist in the Age of Triangulation (Rick Perlstein, 7/06/05, In These Times)
-ESSAY: Party Cannibals (Rick Perlstein, February 7, 2005, The Nation)
-ESSAY: Inauguration 2005: The Eve of Destruction ...:
Four more years to remake the world in his image. (Too bad for us, he already started.). (Rick Perlstein. January 11th, 2005, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The Case of the Ohio Recount: In the whodunit over who won it, the true villain is slipping away. (Rick Perlstein, December 14th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Conviction Politics: One Democratic hero emerged from November 2. His fellow Democrats should study up on why. (Rick Perlstein, November 21, 2004, American Prospect)
-ESSAY: Cast Away: It's the Wealth, Stupid: Right-wing class warfare swung the 2004 election (Rick Perlstein, November 2nd, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: It's Mourning in America: The Ohio debacle and the death of our civic life (Rick Perlstein, October 26th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The Reagan legacy: He was a true believer who moved the country divisively to the right. But compared to the current president, Ronald Reagan looks like a moderate (Rick Perlstein, 6/07/04, Salon)
-ESSAY: The Jesus Landing Pad: Bush White House checked with rapture Christians before latest Israel move (Rick Perlstein, May 11th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Tribal Warfare in America: A 30-year-old book by a progressive journalist finds that the passions of reformers can sometimes betray a contempt for the common sense of ordinary people. Sound familiar? (Rick Perlstein, November 16, 2004, Columbia Journalism Review)
-ESSAY: Sucking Democracy Dry: The End of Democracy: Losing America's birthright, the George Bush way (Rick Perlstein, October 12th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Passionate Conservatism: Karl Rove's Republicans swerve right on the way to the middle (Rick Perlstein, August 31st, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Get Mad. Act Out. Re-Elect George Bush: Protesters risk playing into GOP hands. (Rick Perlstein, August 17th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The End of Republican Rule: Righteous populism holds the key to vanquishing Bush forever. (Rick Perlstein. July 27th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The Church of Bush: What liberal infidels will never understand about the president (Rick Perlstein. July 13th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The Divine Calm of George W. Bush: So Iraq's a mess and half the country hates you. Just keep praying. (Rick Perlstein, April 27th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The Jobs of the Future Are a Thing of the Past: Outsourcing and the sad little movement to stop it. by Rick Perlstein, March 23rd, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Flight of the Bumblebee: Howard Dean May Be Dying, but He Sure Packed a Sting (Rick Perlstein, January 27th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Last Copter Out of Baghdad: Bush Flees Iraq Mess On The Campaign Express. (Rick Perlstein, January 6th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Attention, Wal-Mart Voters: Lost Jobs and Military Funerals Haunt Bush in the Heartland (Rick Perlstein, December 2nd, 2003, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Day of the Spoiler: Inside Joe Lieberman's Kamikaze Campaign (Rick Perlstein, October 21st, 2003, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Patriot Act?: Wesley Clark says he knew the Iraq War was wrong. So why didn't he say something -- before it was too late? (Rick Perlstein, October 15, 2003, American Prospect)
-ESSAY: Come Out Fighting: Boxing George Bush Into a Corner in 2004 (Rick Perlstein, September 16th, 2003, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The Fringe on Top: Extremists Help the GOP Muscle In on the Golden State (Rick Perlstein, August 12th, 2003, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Orange County Anguish: Searching for Someone, Anyone, Who Loves Governor Gray Davis (Rick Perlstein, September 2nd, 2003, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Howard Dean's Youth Machine: Not since McGovern has a Democratic candidate drawn a youth following the size of Howard Dean's - and that's got some in the party worried. (Rick Perlstein, July 16, 2003, Mother Jones)
-ESSAY: The TV Campaign (Rick Perlstein, November 30, 2002, American Prospect)
-ESSAY: As Reviewed on Amazon (Rick Perlstein, November 30, 2002, American Prospect)
-ESSAY: The 'Safety' Trap: Tuesday's loss gave Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt plenty to ponder: Democrats followed the party's center-seeking presidential hopefuls into an ideological no-man's land. (Rick Perlstein, November 11, 2002, Mother Jones)
-ESSAY: A Surrender to Trust: Richard Nixon taught the nation a painful lesson about secrecy and the White House. How soon we forget. (Rick Perlstein, July/August 2002, Mother Jones)
-ESSAY: The Historical Present: What has superseded the academic culture wars of the 1990s? It's not what you think. (Rick Perlstein, July 14, 2002, American Prospect)
-ESSAY: The Two Faces of Ralph (Rick Perlstein, January 15th, 2002, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The Media Muzzled: Vietnam and Afghanistan Show why Limiting Press Access to War is Unpatriotic (Rick Perlstein, December 11th, 2001, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Pundits Who Predict the Future Are Always Wrong (Rick Perlstein, April 23, 2001, The Nation)
-ESSAY: What's the Matter With College? (Rick Perlstein, NY Times Magazine)
-REVIEW: of PRESIDENT NIXON: Alone in the White House By Richard Reeves (Rick Perlstein, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of AMERICAN FASCISTS: The Christian Right and the War on America By Chris Hedges (Rick Perlstein, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of WHAT A PARTY!: My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators, and Other Wild Animals. By Terry McAuliffe with Steve Kettmann (Rick Perlstein, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of FOR THE SURVIVAL OF DEMOCRACY: Franklin Roosevelt and the World Crisis of the 1930s By Alonzo L. Hamby (Rick Perlstein, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: Blumenthals First Draft of History: Princeton University Press has published a compilation of articles by Sidney Blumenthal called How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime (Rick Perlstein, In These Times)
-REVIEW: The Flaw of Averages: How polls obscure America's many social patchworks: a review of The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens, and the Making of a Mass Public By Sarah Igo (Rick Perlstein, Columbia Journalism Review)
-REVIEW: of Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan By Edmund Morris (Rick Perlstein, Village Voice)
-REVIEW: of The Trial of Henry Kissinger By Christopher Hitchens (Rick Perlstein, Village Voice)
-REVIEW: of Views From the South: The Effects of Globalization and the WTO on Third World Countries Food First Books and the International Forum on Globalization and Five Days That Shook The World By Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair (Rick Perlstein, Village Voice)
-REVIEW: of Jane Fonda’s War: A Political Biography of an Anti-war Icon by Mary Hershberger (Rick Perlstein, London Review of Books)
-ARCHIVES: Rick Perlstein (The Nation)
-ARCHIVES: perlstein (Salon)
-ARCHIVES: rick perlstein (Newsweek)
-ARCHIVES: Rick Perlstein (In These Times)
-ARCHIVES: Rick Perlstein (AlterNet)
-ARCHIVES: perlstein (Village Voice)
-ARCHIVES: perlstein (American Prospect)
-ARCHIVES: perlstein (Mother Jones)
-ARCHIVES: "perlstein, rick" (Find Articles)
-Kicking Around Nixon...and more (Alex Beam, 5/06/08, Boston Globe)
-REVIEW: of Nixonland (George F. Will, NY Times Book Review)

In Perlstein’s mental universe, Nixon is a bit like God — not, Lord knows, because of Nixon’s perfect goodness and infinite mercy, but because Nixon is the explanation for everything. Or at least for the rise of the right and the decline of almost everything else. This is a subject Perlstein, a talented man of the left, has addressed before.

In 2001, he published the best book yet on the social ferments that produced Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential candidacy. Subtle and conscientious, “Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus” demonstrated Perlstein’s omnivorous appetite for telling tidbits from the news media, like this one: When Goldwater was campaigning in the 1964 New Hampshire primary, The New York Times ran a photograph with the snide caption “Barry Goldwater, aspirant for the Republican presidential nomination, with the widow of Senator Styles Bridges in East Concord. She holds dog.” Oh, the other person must be the conservative presidential candidate. [...]

Now comes the second installment of Perlstein’s meditation on that era’s and, he thinks, our current discontents. “Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America” completes his inquest into the death of the “cult of ‘American consensus’” and the birth of “American cacophony.” Perlstein’s chronicle, which begins with the Watts riot of August 1965, is itself riotous: even at its calmest, his pell-mell narrative calls to mind a Pieter Bruegel painting of tumultuous peasants; at its most fervid, it resembles one of Hieronymus Bosch’s nightmares.

Do we need another waist-deep wallow in the 1960s, ensconcing us cheek by jowl with Frank Rizzo and Eldridge Cleaver, Sam Yorty and Mark Rudd, Lester Maddox and Herbert Marcuse and other long-forgotten bit players in a period drama? Do we need to be reminded of that era’s gaseous juvenophilia, like Time magazine’s celebration of Americans 25 or younger as 1967’s “Man of the Year”: “This is not just a new generation, but a new kind of generation. ... In the omphalocentric process of self-construction and discovery,” today’s youth “stalks love like a wary hunter, but has no time or target — not even the mellowing Communists — for hate.”

Well, this retrospective wallow does increase the public stock of harmless pleasure, as when Perlstein revisits the 1972 Democratic convention that nominated George McGovern and heard 80 nominations for vice president, including Mao Zedong and Archie Bunker. But Perlstein’s high-energy — sometimes too energetic — romp of a book also serves, inadvertently, a serious need: it corrects the cultural hypochondria to which many Americans, including Perlstein, are prone.

Because the baby boomers’ self-absorption is so ample, there already has been no shortage of brooding about those years. We do, however, benefit from the brooding by Perlstein, who is not a boomer, for two reasons. First, he has a novelist’s, or perhaps an anthropologist’s, eye for illuminating details, as in his jaw-dropping reconstruction of the Newark riots of July 1967. Second, his thorough excavation of the cultural detritus of that decade refutes his thesis, which is that now, as then, Americans are at daggers drawn. [...]

Perlstein repeatedly explains Nixon’s or other people’s behavior as arising from an Orthogonian resentment of Franklins, including establishment figures as different as Alger Hiss and Nelson Rockefeller. Nixon “co-opted the liberals’ populism, channeling it into a white middle-class rage at the sophisticates, the well-born, the ‘best circles.’” By stressing the importance of Nixon’s character in shaping events, and the centrality of resentments in shaping Nixon’s character, Perlstein treads a dead-end path blazed by Hofstadter, who seemed not to understand that condescension is not an argument. Postulating a link between “status anxiety” and a “paranoid style” in American politics — especially conservative politics — Hofstadter dismissed the conservative movement’s positions as mere attitudes that did not merit refutation. Perlstein, too, gives these ideas short shrift.

As the pollster Samuel Lubell had already noted before the 1952 election, “the inner dynamics of the Roosevelt coalition have shifted from those of getting to those of keeping.” Perlstein keenly sees that some liberals “developed a distaste” for the social elements they had championed, now that those elements were “less reliably downtrodden” and less content to be passively led by liberal elites.

The masses bought television sets and enjoyed what they watched. But Newton Minow, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (and formerly Adlai Stevenson’s administrative assistant) declared television a “vast wasteland,” thereby implicitly scolding viewers who enjoyed it. When New York was becoming a lawless dystopia, with crime, drugs and homelessness spoiling public spaces, August Heckscher, the patrician commissioner of parks under Mayor John Lindsay, sniffily declared that people clamoring for law and order were “scared by the abundance of life.”

A Newsweek cover story on Louise Day Hicks, who led opposition to forced busing of school children in Boston, described her supporters as “a comic-strip gallery of tipplers and brawlers and their tinseled overdressed dolls ... the men queued up to give Louise their best, unscrewing cigar butts from their chins to buss her noisily on the cheek, or pumping her arm as if it were a jack handle under a truck.”

Perlstein deftly deploys such judgments to illustrate what the resentful resented. Unfortunately, he seems to catch the ’60s disease of rhetorical excess.

-REVIEW: of Nixonland (The Economist)
-REVIEW: of Nixonland (BuzzFlash)
-REVIEW: of Nixonland (Harry Levins, St. Louis POST-DISPATCH)
-REVIEW: of Before the Storm (Mark Greif, Village Voice)
-REVIEW: of David Greenberg. Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image (Raj Jethwa, H-USA)
-REVIEW: of Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man By Garry Wills (John Leonard, NY Times)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Where in the world is Flat Stanley? Tom Long, May 11, 2008, Boston Globe)

Flat Stanley may be a paper doll, but he's no couch potato. He has gone dog sledding in Antarctica, sat behind the controls of a U-2 spy plane in Texas, visited Mount Everest, and marveled at the Taj Mahal. He has been to all seven continents and met world leaders like President Clinton. And he has the pictures to prove it.

"He has taken me to places I never imagined," Dale Hubert, creator of the Flat Stanley Project, said recently.

Since the Internet site went online in 1995, the peripatetic Stanley has inspired thousands of grade-schoolers to pick up crayons and create their own version to send on vicarious adventures through the mail.

"It's a way of learning geography, but he can also be used to teach math and social studies as well as other subjects," said Hubert.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Revisiting the New Deal (Gary Scott Smith, May 11, 2008, Washington Times)

[R]oosevelt served as senior warden of the St. James Episcopal Church in Hyde Park, N.Y., the entire time he was president. Before each of his four Inaugurals and every year on the anniversary of his inauguration, Roosevelt held a special worship service at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington.

After his death, Eleanor declared that her husband always considered religion "an anchor and a source of strength and guidance." She added that he could not have made critical decisions as president "without faith in spiritual guidance."

Franklin Roosevelt repeatedly emphasized the importance of the Bible, prayer and Christian morality. He often urged Americans to pray, thanked others for praying for him and included prayers in his addresses. He lauded the Bible's "prevailing and persistent power" and insisted that Scripture played a major role in shaping the republic.

In numerous speeches and letters, Roosevelt urged Americans to work for spiritual renewal, promote social justice and strive to achieve a more abundant material and spiritual life. He considered himself to be God's agent, frequently asserted that God directed history, and insisted the United States would prosper only if its citizens sought divine guidance and followed biblical principles.

Ronald Isetti challenges the contention of other historians that the temper of the New Deal was secular and had little in common with the more religiously oriented Progressive Movement of the early 20th century. Many historians have ignored or downplayed the "moral and religious flavor and content" of the New Deal and have missed its continuity with the more liberal phase of social Christianity.

For all its secular spirit, the New Deal "was firmly anchored in the moral-religious tradition of earlier reform movements in American history." It was "highly moralistic, prophetic, and even biblical in its inspiration and tone." Mr. Isetti contends that Roosevelt strove to defend, maintain and advance a "regulatory Progressive state based in political liberalism and Christian humanitarianism, which for Roosevelt were pretty much the same."

Friend Perlstein and company would be better off considering why Progressivism was popular only from 1930 to 1942, with a brief renaissance thanks to Lee Harvey Oswald.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Republicans forced to turn to their nemesis: John McCain (Albert R. Hunt, 5/11/08, Bloomberg News)

The party's fundamental situation is terrible: Republicans are saddled with an enormously unpopular president, a war, a troubled economy and a Democratic opposition that's being energized by important constituent groups.

"The generics are as bad as anytime since I have been here," said Representative Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican and one of the most politically astute members of Congress in either party. Davis, a 14-year veteran, is retiring this year, frustrated with his party's long-term prospects.

In a delicious irony, the one bright spot is McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. A few months ago, McCain spoke to the party's caucus in the House of Representatives and said that he would campaign in any district where he was wanted and stay out of any where he would be a liability.

"I don't know of anyone that doesn't want him in," said Representative Ray LaHood, an Illinois Republican who is also retiring.

...for every time someone claimed the Right would never accept Maverick....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


U.S. military hits a wall in Sadr City: Despite last year's troop buildup, cleric Muqtada Sadr's influence remains strong and clashes are frequent in his militia stronghold. (Tina Susman, 5/11/08, Los Angeles Times)

As gunshots and grenade blasts raged in the night, the two Iraqi construction workers accompanying the troops quit.

Army Capt. Alan Boyes wasn't worried. None of his men were injured, and at $500 a day, he knew that the contractors hired to operate a crane to install 6,000-pound slabs of the wall would be back or that others could be found to replace them. But the violence that night and several attacks since highlight the hurdles American troops face as they try to take on fighters loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr without plunging into the heart of his stronghold and sparking an all-out uprising of his heavily armed followers.

"Everyone knows we won't go past Route Gold," Boyes said, referring to the street along which the wall is being built, separating more than two-thirds of Sadr City from a rectangle where U.S. forces occupy a smattering of small bases. "It's a political thing."

It is also the same position the U.S. faced 15 months ago, when the first of 28,500 additional American troops arrived in Baghdad to help quell violence. At the time, commanders opted to not pour troops into Sadr City as they had done in other trouble spots, fearful that it would spark a bloody backlash from Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.

Little has changed in the 11-square-mile corner of northeast Baghdad, but the stakes are higher now. An Iraqi military offensive launched against Shiite militias in late March has drawn in U.S. troops and has led to near-constant fighting in Sadr City. Sadr has threatened "open war" if the offensive does not end. U.S. troop deaths have climbed to their highest level in seven months, mainly because of the clashes in and around Sadr City, and the additional American troops will be gone by July. On Saturday, the Iraqi government said it had struck a deal with Sadr's aides to halt the fighting, but the two sides disagreed on its terms and it was unclear what it would yield.

Sadr stays, we leave.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Barack Obama faces an untested set of hurdles
: If he's chosen as the Democratic nominee, his race might be an issue, but experience and social issues loom much larger. (Doyle Mcmanus and Peter Wallsten, 5/11/08, Los Angeles Times)

A survey released this month by the independent Pew Research Center found that most voters described Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, as "a centrist whose views are fairly close to their own," even though McCain describes himself as a thoroughgoing conservative. The same voters described Obama as the most liberal of the candidates still in the race, well to the left of what they saw as the midpoint of American politics.

And Obama ranked below both McCain and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, his rival for the Democratic nomination, on the question of whether the candidate was "tough enough" to protect the nation's security.

Obama has "handicaps and potential problems, race being one of them, [but] it's not the only one," Pew Center President Andrew Kohut said. "He is perceived as a liberal. He is perceived by many voters as not well grounded on foreign policy and not tough enough . . . and he has a potential problem, distinct from race, of being seen as an elitist, an intellectual."

Taken together, that's a formidable catalog of vulnerabilities.

...was mostly in the Democratic primaries, where it obscured the fact he's just another Northern liberal and alienated the other tribes.

May 10, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 PM


Brown hits all-time low in shock new survey (Andrew Rawnsley and Jo Revill, 5/11/08, The Observer)

Based on internet responses from a 5,000-strong panel taken over the past five days, the survey shows that Brown's overall satisfaction rating has crashed to minus 55 per cent. Fewer than a quarter of voters now think he is the best person to be in Number 10. And 43 per cent choose Cameron as best Prime Minister against just 23 per cent for Brown.

The panel was also asked to say what sort of government they would prefer if forced to choose between a Brown-led government and a Cameron one. This is often a better predictor than party shares of the outcome of general elections. A Tory government is preferred to a Labour one by a margin of 50 to 32 per cent. There are more voters who think the Conservatives would do a better job of governing than there are voters who think they would do a worse job.

In every key leadership category, Brown is now seen less favourably than his rival. Cameron is seen as more caring, competent, decisive, effective, fair, forward-looking, in touch with normal people, intelligent, likeable and moderate. He is also rated as stronger, more reliable and more trustworthy.

More damage was done to Brown's leadership last night as John Prescott revealed in his memoirs that he had urged Tony Blair to sack his Chancellor, but that Blair was 'scared' of him. The former Deputy Prime Minister described Brown as 'annoying, bewildering and prickly'.

Brown is also fighting demands for Scottish independence, and last night said: 'I will do whatever is necessary to ensure the stability and maintenance of the Union.'

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 PM


Gen.Vang Pao’s Last War (TIM WEINER, 5/11/08, NY Times Magazine)

The wars of the 20th century destroyed many millions of people who once lived in the hillsides and valleys of remote rural worlds. Few were hit as hard as the Hmong, an ancient tribe whose members hewed out rough lives upcountry in Laos, west of Vietnam. Half a century ago, Laos became a cockpit of the cold war. The Hmong, led by a charismatic soldier named Vang Pao, sided with the United States in the fight against Communism in Southeast Asia. They lost everything — their land, their way of life, their country.

Now the war on terror has engulfed Vang Pao in his land of exile, California. It has given him cause to question his faith in America. Last year, the United States indicted the 78-year-old general as a terrorist, accusing him of plotting to overthrow the Communist government of Laos. [...]

It has also dismayed a number of American intelligence officers who worked with the Hmong against the army of North Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s. “We taught him how to do these things — to fight political warfare, to try to defeat the enemy,” I was told by Larry Devlin, a former C.I.A. station chief who worked with the general in Laos. “We helped Vang Pao learn to do some of the things that he and his troops are now charged with.”

The United States forged a bond with Vang Pao and his people decades ago. The pact was created after North Vietnam began carving the Ho Chi Minh Trail through the jungles of Laos in 1959 to send its soldiers and spies southward. The Central Intelligence Agency set to work installing a pro-American government in Laos and building guerrilla forces to attack the trail; the North Vietnamese, in turn, infiltrated Laos and backed the local Communists, the Pathet Lao. In 1960, the C.I.A.’s Bill Lair recruited Vang Pao, an officer in the Royal Lao Army, to lead the agency’s paramilitary fight upcountry. Vang Pao had said, “ ‘We can’t live with the Communists,’ ” Lair recounted seven years ago in an interview for the Vietnam Archive Oral History Project at Texas Tech University. “ ‘You give us the weapons, and we’ll fight the Communists.’ ” In the final days of the Eisenhower administration, the C.I.A. began shipping weapons and military materiel to the Hmong, a mountain tribe whose members were an isolated minority in Laos. (The country’s dominant Lao are largely lowland dwellers.) Within a few months, Vang Pao had organized some 9,000 tribesmen to join the battle. Leonard Unger, the American ambassador to Laos under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, has a vivid memory of Vang Pao saying at the time: “It is I, Vang Pao, and my people who certainly have to keep the Vietnamese from moving into and taking over our country.” His force grew threefold over the next eight years, to some 39,000 Hmong guerrillas.

Recently I met Vang Pao in his lawyer’s office in San Francisco. The ex-general, who is out on bail, has an upright bearing and an impassive gaze and talks in formal and rehearsed sentences; he seems weighed down by decades of political warfare and by the burden of speaking for an entire people. “There were three missions that were very important that were given to us and to me,” he recalled. “One was stopping the flow of the North Vietnamese troops through the Ho Chi Minh Trail to go to the south through Laos. Second was to rescue any American pilots during the Vietnam War. Third, to protect the Americans that navigated the B-52s and the jets to bomb North Vietnam.” Many thousands of Hmong died on these various missions, which were an official U.S. government secret throughout the 1960s and remain one of the least-known chapters in the annals of the American experience in Vietnam.

When Hmong soldiers died, their sons picked up their guns, and when the elder sons died, their younger brothers took over. In 1969, Richard Helms, then the director of Central Intelligence, sent a downbeat report to the White House about Vang Pao and his soldiers. They had “borne a major share of the active fighting” against the Communists in Laos, Helms reminded President Nixon. “These irregular forces are tired from eight years of constant warfare,” Helms wrote. Vang Pao “has been forced to use 13- and 14-year-old children to replace his casualties.” And the secret war in Laos went on for six more years, until the final collapse of American forces in Southeast Asia. “The U.S. put the Hmong into this meat grinder, mostly to save U.S. soldiers from fighting and dying there,” says Lionel Rosenblatt, president emeritus of Refugees International, who has followed the plight of their exile for three decades. “The U.S. had no compunction about putting the Hmong into this role, which saved thousands of American lives.”

By all accounts, Vang Pao did not lose confidence during those difficult days. “Honor with one another, sympathy for one another, faith for one another, that’s how we survived,” he told me. His American counterparts felt the same. “This guy was like a brother,” said Devlin, the C.I.A. station chief, who worked with Vang Pao from 1967 to 1970. “He was an extremely good leader. He was worshiped by his troops. We all admired him. Respected him. Liked him.” The C.I.A. and Vang Pao had an understanding about what would happen if the war went badly. “I had been told when I went out there to tell the Hmong we’ll back them to the end, and if we have to pull out, we’ll pull them out too,” Devlin told me. But that was not how things worked out. The end came 33 years ago this week, in May 1975. It was a disaster. Saigon had fallen; the final rout of American military and intelligence officers from the war zones of Southeast Asia was nearly complete. The C.I.A.’s last outpost in Laos was its mountain air base at Long Tieng, the hub of the paramilitary operation. Tens of thousands of Hmong gathered at the primitive airstrip, looking for planes. Very few came, for there was no coherent evacuation plan after 15 years of secret missions. As Dan Arnold, the last C.I.A. station chief in Laos, later recounted, authorization for an airlift had to come from Washington. In his words, the request met “delays at the highest political levels.”

The evacuation was abandoned after a chaotic race against time. “Of course, most of the Hmong wanted to fly along with me to Thailand, but they couldn’t because we only had enough aircraft to lift the officers and family members,” Vang Pao said. At least 50,000 Hmong, including many fighters and their families, were left behind in and around Long Tieng even as Vang Pao and his C.I.A. case officer flew to safety. Thousands were killed by the victorious Communists, according to survivors. Tens of thousands fled into the jungle and wound up as refugees in Thailand; many became boat people, cold-war flotsam, forsaken. Vaughn Vang, now a 50-year-old school counselor in Green Bay, Wis., and chairman of the Lao Human Rights Council, an organization seeking to bring attention to the plight of the jungle Hmong, became a teenage refugee when Laos fell to the Communists. “I ran through the jungle for two years,” he said. “We were 260 when we left, and 39 of us made it out to Thailand.”

The luckiest of the refugees made their way to the United States. Their traditions were hunting and gathering; they had been slash-and-burn farmers who cultivated opium as a cash crop, animists who believed in the spirit world. They were not well suited for life in Sacramento. Today more than 200,000 Hmong live in the United States, mostly in California, Wisconsin and Minnesota. More than half are under 18. While many of the second and third generation are adapting to life in America, overall a quarter or more of the Hmong live in poverty and speak little English, if any.

...if we don't, you're a terrorist.
Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 PM


Brown faces disaster in Crewe by-election as poll shows 10% swing to Tories (SIMON WALTERS, 11th May 2008, Daily Mail)

The Tories are poised to achieve their first parliamentary by-election gain since the heyday of Margaret Thatcher, dealing a hammer blow to Gordon Brown's hopes of survival.

That is the remarkable finding of the first opinion poll conducted in the Labour stronghold of Crewe, where a by-election to be held in 11 days' time could seal the Prime Minister's fate.

The ICM survey for The Mail on Sunday puts the Tories on 43 per cent with Labour trailing on 39 – a dramatic ten per cent swing in the Cheshire constituency since the last General Election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 PM


Fetishist convicted for molesting bicycles (The Local, 11 May 08)

A 40-year-old man from Östersund in northern Sweden was convicted on Friday on three counts of sexual molestation for satisfying himself on the saddles of women’s bicycles.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:32 PM


The Taint of '68 (Rich Lowry, 5/10/08, Real Clear Politics)

'WHY don't we just vote to strike tonight - and we'll decide to morrow what we're striking for?"

Those were the words of a student protester thoughtfully deliberating at Yale University, as recounted by Roger Kimball in his book on the left, "The Long March." It was a question that captured much of the heedless spirit of the student demonstrations of the 1960s, for which "May 1968" is shorthand.

That spring 40 years ago saw a radical takeover of Columbia University - eventually duplicated at other elite campuses - and student protests around the world. In France, the government was rocked to its foundations; in the Eastern Bloc, a crevice was opened up in the Berlin Wall. Here at home, campus life became synonymous with a straitened leftism, and the post-World War II political consensus shattered.

Before we had our long national nightmare (Watergate), we had our long national temper tantrum. In America, student protests were an indulgence of the privileged, a wail by baby boomer kids raised in unprecedented affluence against their parents' authority.

Effect, not cause.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:11 PM


In mortgage market, ‘walkaway’ homeowners may be urban myth: Bankers and housing analysts say many homeowners, owing more than their homes are worth, are defaulting on their loans even when they can afford payments. But no hard numbers back up their claims. (Michael A. Hiltzik, 5/10/08, Los Angeles Times)

[T]here's a major problem with all this talk about the phenomenon of solvent homeowners "walking away": There doesn't appear to be any hard evidence that it's actually happening.

When pressed for the number of borrowers who could afford their mortgage payments, major banks and lender groups could not produce numbers figures.

Nor could the Mortgage Bankers Assn., the leading trade group for housing lenders. Spokesman John Mechem said he believed that walkaways by homeowners who could afford their payments were "becoming more prevalent." But he said that was based on "anecdotes we're hearing from our members and what we're reading in the newspapers."

Wachovia's Truslow acknowledged during the bank's conference call April 14 that walkaways were "hard to quantify." A bank spokesman said this week that "we have heard anecdotally that people are walking away" but that Wachovia had no hard numbers.

Bank of America Chairman and Chief Executive Kenneth Lewis, whose company is acquiring mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp., complained about "a change in social attitudes toward default" in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in December.

In response to questions from The Times, Bank of America spokesman Terry Francisco said the bank had seen indications that some homeowners were taking pains to keep their credit card accounts current at the expense of their mortgage balances, often by raiding their home equity lines to pay their cards, a reversal of traditional customary customer priorities.

But he said the bank did not have "firm figures" on how many homeowners were unnecessarily defaulting on their mortgages.

"We are working hard with our analytics to get at how much that is happening," Francisco said. Others suggest that it may be impossible to find out.

"How would you know what someone's true ability to pay would be?" asked Todd Sinai, an associate professor of real estate at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. "I'm not sure you could even come up with a definition."

At Fannie Mae, the government-chartered company that owns or guarantees billions of dollars in home mortgages, Senior Vice President Marianne Sullivan conceded that there was growing "folklore" about residential walkaways but said that the phenomenon was more likely connected to investors than people who live in their homes, or "owner-occupants."

"The vast majority of borrowers we find have been acting in good faith," she said. "If they get behind, they are interested in working with their lender."

Bruce Marks, CEO of Neighborhood Assistance Corp., a Boston-based nonprofit agency that helps strapped homeowners, says flat out that the notion that legions of borrowers are simply deciding not to pay is an "urban myth" that largely reflects the mortgage industry's desire to blame homeowners, rather than their lenders, for the surge in problem loans.

...people pay even the debts they shouldn't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:21 PM


Iraq, Sadr agree to end fighting in Baghdad (Alexandra Zavis, 5/10/08, Los Angeles Times)

Word of the possible breakthrough came as the Iraqi military announced the start of a long-promised crackdown against Sunni extremists in the northern city of Mosul. [...]

Under the terms announced by the cleric's spokesman, Sheik Salah Obeidi, Sadr's Mahdi Army militia would lay down its arms and allow the government to pursue individuals wanted for attacks, provided that there is a warrant. In return, he said, the government had dropped its demand that the militia disband and surrender its medium- and heavy-grade weapons.

"The document doesn't contain any item which refers to the dissolving of the Mahdi Army or handing over of its weapons," Obeidi said.

You can't beat Sadr, but you can the Salafists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:41 AM

50-0 FILES:

West Virginia could spell trouble for Obama: Scant support among white working-class Democrats, especially men, could dog him into November. (Stephen Braun, 5/10/08, Los Angeles Times)

In Hardy County, Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2 to 1. But there is little enthusiasm for Barack Obama in this mountainside enclave, a portent of trouble for the Illinois senator in next week's West Virginia primary and the general election beyond.

Nearly 97% white, the county is as conflicted as any rural and working-class Democratic bastion as it struggles to adjust to the likely prospect of the party nominating its first African American presidential candidate.

Obama may have emerged from his double-digit victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton in North Carolina and his razor-thin loss in Indiana on Tuesday with a virtual lock on the Democratic nomination. But his performance did little to reassure political leaders here concerned by his sagging numbers among once-loyal white Democrats, who have steadily abandoned their party over the last several presidential elections.

"I'm not yet convinced that Barack Obama is more substance than fluff," said Clyde M. See Jr., a former Democratic speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates and two-time gubernatorial candidate who heads a small law practice in Moorefield, the county seat. "He's a fine speaker, mind you, but I'm still not sure he's got the right stuff to win the general election."

How many states can you really expect to win when all you have is Brights and blacks?

May 9, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 PM


'Over 140,000 caught re-offending within year' (Richard Edwards, 10/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

More than 140,000 criminals are caught re-offending within a year of being freed from jail or sentenced to a community punishment, official figures have disclosed.

The Ministry of Justice figures show that the most serious adult re-offending – including killings and sex crimes – has risen by 12.5 per cent in five years.

The data also showed that criminals were less likely to re-offend after serving longer jail sentences.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 PM


Let Them Eat Arugula: Hillary sure has become a populist these last few weeks--a conservative populist. (Jonathan Chait, 5/08/08, The New Republic)

The dying days of the Hillary Clinton campaign have brought the breathtaking spectacle of a candidate lashing out at every element of public life that has nourished her career. The über-wonk has disparaged economists and expertise. The staunch ally of black America has attacked her opponent for lacking support of "working, hard-working Americans, white Americans." People who thought they knew Hillary Clinton have gazed in astonishment: What has she become? The answer is, a conservative populist.

Conservative populism and liberal populism are entirely different things. Liberal populism posits that the rich wield disproportionate influence over the government and push for policies often at odds with most people's interest. Conservative populism, by contrast, dismisses any inference that the rich and the non-rich might have opposing interests as "class warfare." Conservative populism prefers to divide society along social lines, with the elites being intellectuals and other snobs who fancy themselves better than average Americans.

Consider this analysis recently offered by Bill Clinton in Clarksburg, West Virginia: "The great divide in this country is not by race or even income, it's by those who think they are better than everyone else and think they should play by a different set of rules." This is precisely the dynamic that allows multimillionaires like George W. Bush and Bill O'Reilly to present themselves as being on the side of the little guy. A more classic expression of conservative populism cannot be found.

...the central question to be answered will be: why did it take her so long to run as Bill's wife?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 PM


Hizbullah success in west Beirut replaces impasse with uncertainty (Ian Black, 5/10/08, The Guardian)

The Hizbullah takeover - described by some as a coup and others as a "show of force" - broke months of political deadlock that reflects Lebanon's deep internal divisions and the ambitions of neighbours such as Syria and Israel, as well as Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US. But, as an uneasy calm returned to Beirut yesterday, it was unclear what the change would mean.

The political situation in Lebanon has been paralysed for months, with government and opposition at odds over the choice of a new president. "These events will make it harder to agree on that," said Nadim Shehadi, an analyst at Chatham House, London. "Hizbullah enjoys a lot of legitimacy as the group that led resistance to Israel. Now it has shown another face." [...]

"This is Hizbullah showing it will not tolerate the government interfering in what it considers its affairs," said Shehadi.

No sovereign can tolerate such foreign interference.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 PM


Out-thought by the Tories: Labour is flailing in the face of new Conservatism. The fightback has to start with reclaiming fraternity (Jon Cruddas and Jonathan Rutherford, 5/10/08, The Guardian)

We could be at a turning point in the political life of the country. The electoral alliance that brought New Labour to power is disintegrating. Popular indifference towards the government is hardening into outright dislike.

While the government pretends nothing is wrong, David Cameron's new Conservatives are staking out ground that once belonged to the left, talking about a social recession, taking the ideological initiative, hungry to win. Look at some of the rightwing thinktanks and you discover a profound shift in Tory thinking. It seeks a break from Thatcher and Hayek. The project is significant: to build a basic emotional connection with the people. Last week's results suggest it is beginning to work.

This new pro-social, compassionate Conservatism is intellectually backed up by a focus on fraternity. The left, they argue, is wrong to think fraternity is another word for equality. And the Thatcherites are wrong to think that liberty will take care of fraternity. Fraternity is about society, wellbeing, and relationships. The Labour government, it argues, has failed because it has abandoned the fraternity of ethical socialism in favour of state management.

Compassionate conservatism is Thatcherism, but with a smiley face.

Can things get better for Cameron?: In a week of triumphs for David Cameron and his party, work is intensifying behind the scenes to ensure the dawn is not a false one. (Rosa Prince, 10/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Emboldened by success in the local elections, Mr Cameron had travelled to Crewe earlier in the week to campaign in the by-election triggered by the death of Gwyneth Dunwoody, Labour's longest-serving female MP.

Activists made a childish attempt to embarrass him by sending two people dressed in frock coats and top hats, but it fell somewhat flat – after all, people had already shown themselves more than prepared to back another Old Etonian in the form of Mr Johnson.

In fact, by the time the two chums met up at the Spectator party, it had become apparent that the new mayor intended to dispel from the start the idea that he would prove lazy or ineffectual.

His first policy announcement, banning the consumption of alcohol on buses and tubes, played well with Londoners and the press. Posters detailing the ban appeared within hours.

Over at City Hall, enthusiastic young men in bright ties debated Mayor Boris's plans for his first 100 days in office, with a zero-tolerance approach to crime at the top of the agenda.

The energy and enthusiasm of the new mayor were proving infectious, and a new generation of Tories was keen to mark its dominance over the newly claimed territory, with various Cameroons, including the Carphone Warehouse co-founder David "Rosso" Ross dropping in.

And there was fresh cause for delight the day after the Spectator bash.

As Mr Cameron joined the athlete Paula Radcliffe in Battersea Park to start the Race for Life, in which several of his young assistants were taking part, news trickled out of a YouGov poll for The Sun the following morning, giving Labour its worst ever rating and the Tories a massive 26-point lead.

Earlier, the Tory leader had finally persuaded Andrew Feldman, his closest friend since Oxford and a businessman upon whose common sense he has come to rely, to take charge of running Conservative HQ.

With that appointment, Mr Cameron neatly sidelined Lord Ashcroft, whose money he relied on but whose interference over policy he never quite welcomed. He now feels he has a team to take him through to the general election.

So far, so perfect for David Cameron and his party: secure on the home front, party organisation in place, in charge of London and riding high in the polls.

And yet, and yet…Describing himself as "permanently paranoid" as a result of the Conservatives' long years in the electoral wilderness, Mr Cameron has had to remind himself over and over again during his perfect week to avoid appearing to "gloat" over Labour's seemingly terminal unpopularity, given that it is related to an economic outlook which is causing genuine anxiety in large parts of the country.

The Tories do have much to gloat about, and have in London a meaningful opportunity to show what it means to have a Conservative in power. But the question remains as to whether Mr Cameron can really win over the electorate: it has certainly fallen out of love with Labour, but may not yet be ready to transfer its affections to the Tories.

At the weekly meeting of the party's backbench 1922 Committee on Thursday, Mr Cameron put in a rare appearance to thank his happy troops. But he warned them not to be complacent: "The hard work starts now," he said, before delivering a short sermon about the need for discipline.

But has he taken that on board himself? Many were alarmed to see him boast in an article in the Independent newspaper yesterday that the Conservatives were now the "true progressives", and argue that those who cared about equality and social justice no longer had a home with Labour.

Using words that echoed Neil Kinnock's famous "I warn you not to grow old" attack on Margaret Thatcher in 1983, he said: "If you care about poverty, if you care about inequality, if you care about the environment – forget about the Labour Party. It has forgotten about you."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 PM


The Stupidity of Dignity: Conservative bioethics' latest, most dangerous ploy. (Steven Pinker, 5/28/08, The New Republic)

This spring, the President's Council on Bioethics released a 555-page report, titled Human Dignity and Bioethics. The Council, created in 2001 by George W. Bush, is a panel of scholars charged with advising the president and exploring policy issues related to the ethics of biomedical innovation, including drugs that would enhance cognition, genetic manipulation of animals or humans, therapies that could extend the lifespan, and embryonic stem cells and so-called "therapeutic cloning" that could furnish replacements for diseased tissue and organs. Advances like these, if translated into freely undertaken treatments, could make millions of people better off and no one worse off. So what's not to like? The advances do not raise the traditional concerns of bioethics, which focuses on potential harm and coercion of patients or research subjects. What, then, are the ethical concerns that call for a presidential council?

Many people are vaguely disquieted by developments (real or imagined) that could alter minds and bodies in novel ways. Romantics and Greens tend to idealize the natural and demonize technology. Traditionalists and conservatives by temperament distrust radical change. Egalitarians worry about an arms race in enhancement techniques. And anyone is likely to have a "yuck" response when contemplating unprecedented manipulations of our biology. The President's Council has become a forum for the airing of this disquiet, and the concept of "dignity" a rubric for expounding on it. This collection of essays is the culmination of a long effort by the Council to place dignity at the center of bioethics. The general feeling is that, even if a new technology would improve life and health and decrease suffering and waste, it might have to be rejected, or even outlawed, if it affronted human dignity.

Whatever that is. The problem is that "dignity" is a squishy, subjective notion, hardly up to the heavyweight moral demands assigned to it. The bioethicist Ruth Macklin, who had been fed up with loose talk about dignity intended to squelch research and therapy, threw down the gauntlet in a 2003 editorial, "Dignity Is a Useless Concept." Macklin argued that bioethics has done just fine with the principle of personal autonomy--the idea that, because all humans have the same minimum capacity to suffer, prosper, reason, and choose, no human has the right to impinge on the life, body, or freedom of another. This is why informed consent serves as the bedrock of ethical research and practice, and it clearly rules out the kinds of abuses that led to the birth of bioethics in the first place, such as Mengele's sadistic pseudoexperiments in Nazi Germany and the withholding of treatment to indigent black patients in the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study. Once you recognize the principle of autonomy, Macklin argued, "dignity" adds nothing.

Goaded by Macklin's essay, the Council acknowledged the need to put dignity on a firmer conceptual foundation. This volume of 28 essays and commentaries by Council members and invited contributors is their deliverable, addressed directly to President Bush. The report does not, the editors admit, settle the question of what dignity is or how it should guide our policies. It does, however, reveal a great deal about the approach to bioethics represented by the Council. And what it reveals should alarm anyone concerned with American biomedicine and its promise to improve human welfare. For this government-sponsored bioethics does not want medical practice to maximize health and flourishing; it considers that quest to be a bad thing, not a good thing.

To understand the source of this topsy-turvy value system, one has to look more deeply at the currents that underlie the Council. Although the Dignity report presents itself as a scholarly deliberation of universal moral concerns, it springs from a movement to impose a radical political agenda, fed by fervent religious impulses, onto American biomedicine.

The report's oddness begins with its list of contributors. Two (Adam Schulman and Daniel Davis) are Council staffers, and wrote superb introductory pieces. Of the remaining 21, four (Leon R. Kass, David Gelernter, Robert George, and Robert Kraynak) are vociferous advocates of a central role for religion in morality and public life, and another eleven work for Christian institutions (all but two of the institutions Catholic). Of course, institutional affiliation does not entail partiality, but, with three-quarters of the invited contributors having religious entanglements, one gets a sense that the fix is in. A deeper look confirms it.

Conspicuous by their absence are several fields of expertise that one might have thought would have something to offer any discussion of dignity and biomedicine. None of the contributors is a life scientist--or a psychologist, an anthropologist, a sociologist, or a historian. According to one of the introductory chapters, the Council takes a "critical view of contemporary academic bioethics and of the way bioethical questions are debated in the public square"--so critical, it seems, that Macklin (the villain of almost every piece) was not invited to expand on her argument, nor were mainstream bioethicists (who tend to be sympathetic to Macklin's viewpoint) given an opportunity to defend it.

Despite these exclusions, the volume finds room for seven essays that align their arguments with Judeo-Christian doctrine. We read passages that assume the divine authorship of the Bible, that accept the literal truth of the miracles narrated in Genesis (such as the notion that the biblical patriarchs lived up to 900 years), that claim that divine revelation is a source of truth, that argue for the existence of an immaterial soul separate from the physiology of the brain, and that assert that the Old Testament is the only grounds for morality (for example, the article by Kass claims that respect for human life is rooted in Genesis 9:6, in which God instructs the survivors of his Flood in the code of vendetta: "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God was man made").

The Judeo-Christian--in some cases, explicitly biblical--arguments found in essay after essay in this volume are quite extraordinary. Yet, aside from two paragraphs in a commentary by Daniel Dennett, the volume contains no critical examination of any of its religious claims.

How did the United States, the world's scientific powerhouse, reach a point at which it grapples with the ethical challenges of twenty-first-century biomedicine using Bible stories, Catholic doctrine, and woolly rabbinical allegory?

At least his title is exactly right: Dignity is Stupid in the most profound sense of the word. It is also the basis on which the United States is Founded, so it would be downright bizarre if it did not inform debates over mere scientific experimentation. Of course, it's unsurprising to find a Darwinist so hostile to human dignity--that, after all, is the point of the ism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:25 PM


Jews bend over backward to stay neutral in U.S. vote (Anshel Pfeffer, 5/09/08, Ha'aretz)

"During Bibi's last visit to the United States, Jewish leaders were continuously coming up to him and telling him how worried they are about Obama getting elected," said an aide to opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu. He refused though to go on record or name any of the concerned grandees.

Everyone knows the rules. The American Jewish leadership cannot allow itself to be seen taking any particular side in a political contest. They have to be capable of working both sides of Congress and enjoy good relations with whatever administration is sitting in the White House.

When the head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, slipped up in a Jerusalem press conference, and expressed concern about the atmosphere around Obama's campaign, he was roundly criticized by other Jewish American leaders and tried to deny he had ever said such a thing.

Barack Obama sacks adviser over talks with Hamas (Tom Baldwin, 5/09/08, Times of London)

One of Barack Obama’s Middle East policy advisers disclosed yesterday that he had held meetings with the militant Palestinian group Hamas – prompting the likely Democratic nominee to sever all links with him.

Robert Malley told The Times that he had been in regular contact with Hamas, which controls Gaza and is listed by the US State Department as a terrorist organisation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:21 PM


Belgian prime minister survives showdown on regions (Reuters, May 9, 2008)

Prime Minister Yves Leterme of Belgium survived a showdown in Parliament on Friday, winning time to avert a fresh crisis for the linguistically divided nation and to forge a deal to give more powers to the regions.

Flemish lawmakers, including Leterme's Christian Democrats, carried out their threat to advance a bill to redraw the electoral boundaries around Brussels after Leterme failed to persuade French-speaking parties to accept the demands of the Flemish.

The Dutch-speaking Flemish majority pushed the bill onto the agenda in a vote in the early hours of Friday, but the session was suspended before debate could begin after French-speaking parties introduced stalling amendments.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:57 PM


The War for Lebanon: It's on, again. (David Kenner, 05/09/2008, Weekly Standard)

[W]hat we have witnessed, in the span of barely more than 24 hours, is the routing of pro-government forces at the hands of Hezbollah and its allies. West Beirut, a mixed Sunni and Shia area of the city, is nearly completely under the control of Hezbollah and its allies. Primarily Sunni areas such as Hamra and Verdun, where virtually no Hezbollah supporters actually live, have nevertheless been invaded by militiamen loyal to the opposition. They are currently stationed at checkpoints throughout the area, stopping incoming cars and civilians. All reports indicate that they are better equipped and better trained than the Lebanese army. They have been careful not to antagonize the local population, and a fragile sense of order has been re-established. However, nobody doubts who is really in control of these large swathes of Beirut.

The Lebanese army seems to be employing a "see no evil, hear no evil" strategy. Soldiers have largely refrained from confronting the gangs of militiamen roving the city, though there have been scattered cases across the country of soldiers clearing obstacles set up to block major roads. They are clearly outgunned by Hezbollah, and probably by the other militias as well. Furthermore, using force against the supporters of one faction risks splitting the army, which is made up of soldiers loyal to both the government and the opposition.

Nevertheless, the impotence of the Lebanese Army--long considered the last functioning national institution in Lebanon--has been one of the most heartbreaking developments. The army continues to maintain a presence in West Beirut, though with little effect. Army tanks rumble through the neighborhood of Hamra--but only pause at the checkpoints of Hezbollah and its allies to chat, before continuing on their way.

The situation is grim, and while the government is still refusing to back down, this is largely a technicality if they cannot enforce their will on the street.

The political confrontation in Lebanon has been clarified: it is a struggle between those who want to build a democratic nation with control over all regions within its borders, and supporters of Hezbollah. Now more than ever, the Sunni, Druze and Christian communities are firmly aligned on the side of the central government.

They support the central government precisely because it isn't democratic. The reality is that if they had free and fair elections for all offices the Shi'a would win them all. It is the side we're backing that can't afford democracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:47 PM


Sticking Points for Obama (Michael Gerson, 5/09/08, Real Clear Politics)

The Obama narrative is intellectual and ideological (not social) elitism. Humble roots have never been a guarantee of intellectual humility, especially when a mind comes to flower at Columbia and Harvard. Obama's dismissal of small town views and values as "bitterness," "fear" and "anger" -- his dismissal of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as the relic of an angry generation -- come across as, well, dismissive. His first instinct -- the academic instinct -- is to explain and analyze, which is impressive to political writers who share that particular vocation. But this approach always places the explainer in a position of superiority. The arrogance of the aristocrat is nothing compared to the arrogance of the academic.

The issue of the lapel flag pin is a good illustration. Obama's explanation for its absence -- that it had become a "substitute" for "true patriotism" in the aftermath of 9/11 -- is perfectly rational. For a professor at the University of Chicago. Members of the knowledge class generally find his stand against sartorial symbolism to be subtle, even courageous. Most Americans, I'm willing to bet, will find it incomprehensible after 20 additional explanations, which are bound to be required. A president is expected to be a patriotic symbol himself, not the arbiter of patriotic symbols. He is supposed to be the face-painted superfan at every home game; to wear red, white and blue boxers on special marital occasions; to get misty-eyed during the most obscure patriotic hymns.

The problem here is not that Obama is unpatriotic -- a foolish, unfair, destructive charge -- but that Obama has declared himself superior to an almost universal form of popular patriotism.

One of the things that makes James Joyce such an awful author is his willful obscurity, the conceit that people should spend their entire lives studying him in order to understand a couple crappy novels rather than he express whatever his point was with any clarity or write in an accessible, enjoyable manner.

Mr. Obama, like many Brights, imagines himself to have unique depths that likewise warrant our exploration. He is another of those candidates of nuance.

Fortunately, America is Stupid. We don't do nuance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 PM


Sen. Clinton and the Campaign (NY Times, 5/09/08)

The United States needs a clean break from eight catastrophic years of George W. Bush. And so far, Senator John McCain is shaping up as Bush the Sequel — neverending war in Iraq, tax cuts for the rich while the middle class struggles, courts packed with right-wing activists intent on undoing decades of progress in civil rights, civil liberties and other vital areas.

There's a delicious symmetry in the Times taking as long as the Right t figure out that John McCain is conservative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:42 AM


Those of you who have been through the process, either yourselves or with a loved one, will be aware that one of the steps required of addicts is that we: Admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Well, over the past several weeks my incorrigibly nosy Wife and Kids have noticed the omnipresence of bags of sour candy both half-eaten in my desk drawers and empty and hidden under other trash in the garbage can. After a series of interventions I have acknowledged that I am powerless before the seductive might of the new Sour Twizzlers in particular. So I have begun a truly courageous cold turkey campaign to break the cycle of gluttony and despond.

Suffice it to say, after four days I'm jonesing like Sid Vicious on a bad day and it has started to scare the young 'uns. To the degree that the Daughter last night scored me a bag of Peach Rings when her Mother took her shopping. Of course, I hate peach and so suspect this was a ploy by The Wife to make me think help was on the way while denying me the tangy taste that I'm so desperate for.

At any rate, I went to Wal-Mart to get a kid's birthday present for a party this weekend (big ups for the Lego Indiana Jones collection). I cleverly avoided the food section altogether, but forget about the candy gauntlet they make you run to get to a register. As always, they had about a quarter of the cashiers they needed (where are all these supposed job-plundering aliens when you need them?) and the wait was interminable. I stood there, the colorful bags of sweet and sour manna just taunting me, drool puddling in the aisle ("Clean-up at register 7!"). It doesn't seem adequate to say that my resistance was super-human--after all, Superman is vulnerable to Kryptonite while I stared down my weakness and spat in its eye. It seems not at all unlikely that people who witnessed this demonstration of willpower rushed home to tell family and friends.

And just then, like the heavenly beam that illuminated Jake Blues, there shone forth a confection that could not rightly be called a sour candy, though even a Darwinist would have had trouble classifying it as a separate species. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you:

Clearly, no one eating a bag of these bad boys could be accused--at least not justly--of having succumbed to temptation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:34 AM


Land of the free?: Liberty in America is not quite as revered as its leaders pretend (Lexington, May 8th 2008, The Economist)

Founded in 1941 by a group of Americans who were worried about the advance of fascism, Freedom House is now the world's leading watchdog of liberty. The fact that “Today's American: How Free?” is such a thorough piece of work makes it doubly significant.

The judicious tone of “How Free?” will undoubtedly disappoint leftists. Freedom House bends over backwards to give the authorities the benefit of the doubt. Other countries have recalibrated the balance between freedom and security in the face of terrorists who want to inflict mass casualties on civilians. America's recent sins, however, are minor compared with those of its past. Newspapers have published highly sensitive information without reprisals. Congress and the courts have repeatedly stepped in to restore a more desirable constitutional balance.

But the verdict on the Bush years is nevertheless sharp. “How Free?” not only details and condemns the administration's familiar sins, from Guantánamo to extraordinary rendition to warrantless wiretapping. It reminds readers of its aversion to open government. The number of documents classified as secret has jumped from 8.7m in 2001 to 14.2m in 2005—a 60% increase over three years. Decade-old information has been reclassified. Researchers report that it is much more difficult and time-consuming to obtain information under the Freedom of Information Act. [...]

“How Free?” also has some hard things to say about America's criminal-justice system. The incarceration rate exploded from 1.39 per 1,000 in 1980 to 7.5 in 2006, driven, among other things, by the war on drugs. America now has one of the highest rates of imprisonment in the world: 5.6m Americans, or one in every 37 adults, has spent time behind bars. Even though prison-building is one of the country's great growth industries, overcrowding is endemic, with federal prisons operating at 131% of capacity. America is also one of the few countries to ban felons and, in some states, ex-felons from voting. At any one time 4m Americans—one in every 50 adults—is disenfranchised because of past criminal convictions. This includes 1.4m blacks, or 14% of the black male population.

Incarceration after failure to use your freedom as universally required of the citizenry is perfectly consistent with liberty. Likewise the incarceration of non-citizens bent on the mass murder of the citizenry.

On the other hand, while it has little to do with freedom, classifying government data is a terrible mistake and only serves to make the already inefficient state bureaucracy even less functional.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 AM


Six books a week: Harlem parents are voting for charter schools with their feet (The Economist, 5/08/08)

THOSE who had won whooped with joy and punched their fists. The disappointed shed tears. Some 5,000 people attended April 17th's Harlem Success Academy Charter School lottery, the largest ever held for charter schools in the history of New York state. About 3,600 applied for 600 available places, and 900 applied for the 11 open slots in the second grade.

The desperation of these parents is hardly surprising. In one Harlem school district, not one public elementary school has more than 55% of its pupils reading at the level expected for their grade. And 75% of 14-year-olds are unable to read at their grade level. So Harlem parents are beginning to leave the public school system in crowds.

If a charter school gets more applications than it has space for, a lottery must be held. Hence April's event. Joel Klein, the chancellor of New York City's schools, attended, describing it as a “transformative night” that would “go down in the history of school reform”. Mr Klein said he thought Harlem's public schools were getting better, but noted that a little competition helps everyone run faster. Last November he announced a plan which, in effect, would “charterise” the entire New York City school system, which has 1.1m children.

Harlem now has the most charter schools per square mile in the United States, yet demand still exceeds supply.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:27 AM


U.S. trade deficit narrows unexpectedly (Reuters, May 9, 2008)

The trade gap shrank to $58.2 billion in March, down 5.7 percent from a revised estimate of $61.7 billion in February. [...]

A $6.1 billion drop in the value of imports to $206.7 billion was the biggest on record. It was also the biggest percentage drop since December 2001, only months after the attacks on the United States and when the U.S. economy was in a downturn.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Code Pink Protesters Try Witchcraft at Anti-Marine Rallies (Jana Winter, 5/09/08, Fox News)

Code Pink is now resorting to witchcraft to beef up the number of its supporters protesting Berkeley's controversial Marine Corps Recruiting Center.

The women's anti-war group has told ralliers to come equipped with spells and pointy hats Friday for "Witches, clowns and sirens day," the last of the group's weeklong homage to Mother's Day.

Such self-knowledge is all too rare a thing on the Left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Founding Faith: a review of Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America By Stephen Waldman (David Forsmark, 5/12/08,

In a lengthy article in The Nation in February 2005, Brooke Allen trotted out the Deist argument, proclaiming "the Founding Fathers were not religious men," in order to argue that would make them likely to ban Christianity from the halls of government. Facile anti-religion know-it-alls like Bill Mahr trumpet this as Gospel.

While he later proves this to be untrue, Waldman argues that the personal faith-- or lack thereof-- of each Founder may be an interesting to study, but it's beside the point.

"…(I)n the heat of this custody battle over the spiritual lives of the Founding Fathers, both sides distort history. Each has embraced a variant of the same non-sequitor. In the eighteenth century it did not follow that one's piety determined one's views about separation of church and state. Being pro-religion didn't mean one was anti-separation. And being pro-separation didn't mean that one was anti-Christian. In fact, the culture wars have so warped our sense of history that we typically have a very limited understanding of how we came to have religious liberty. Freedom of conscience, as the Founders liked to call it, is one of the most important characteristics of American democracy, and yet the real story of how it happened is rarely told."

And Waldman does tell that story. His opening anecdote shows American-style religious freedom owes its success to a political alliance between Jefferson, the most secular politician of his time, and the era's most fundamentalist pastors, Baptists inspired by the evangelical revival known as the Great Awakening.

Another remarkable relationship was that between George Whitfield, the primary Great Awakening evangelist, and Franklin, another Founder often tagged with the Deist label. Whitfield's sermons, Waldman contends, prepared the way for revolution as he preached that free men had the God-given "insight, and right, to connect directly and interpret God's will… his first target was the Miter, the Scepter was not far behind."

Whitfield was as "media savvy as any televangelist," and Franklin, the publisher of the Pennsylvania Gazette, gave him front page coverage and serialized his sermons. A cynic might argue that Franklin merely found Whitfield provided good copy or recognized the political advantage in freeing colonists from the yoke of the Church of England. Franklin, however, later wrote about the civic usefulness of religion chosen freely and argued that America's success would depend on God's favor —e ven if Franklin had grave reservations about the divinity of Christ.

Waldman contends that the American Revolution probably would not have happened had countless evangelical pastors not given their parishioners permission to rebel against tyranny — which, in their mind was as much represented by the Church of England as by colonial governors or British generals. The rhetoric was so ubiquitous that a Hessian mercenary in a letter home called the Revolution, 'the parson's rebellion."

Try to find that in your kid's history text.

Waldman argues that the persecution of Baptist preachers in Virginia in the 1760s and '70s was highly influential in forming Madison's strong opinions against the church having any support from the state. Ultimately, the same denomination formed an alliance with Jefferson (against whom pro-Adams election rhetoric framed the choice as between Jefferson and God) to separate the institutions in ways unprecedented at the time.

That's right: Separatimg church and state was a fundamentalist Baptist thing.

Anyone who really wants to understand the constitutional arguments about church and state should read Waldman's excellent account of the debate over the First Amendment. It deals a blow to both those who say that the idea of the separation of church and state is purely a "20th Century invention," and to those who argue aggressive secularization is what the amendment requires.

Both arguments become untenable in the face of the fact that a versions stating advocating everything from merely stating that the government was merely prohibited from favoring one denomination over another, to Congress being prohibited from even "touching" the subject of religion were offered and voted down. Interestingly, the arguments over what the ultimate compromise really meant, began as soon as it was ratified.

Even though he (rightly) considers it beside the point, Waldman takes the time to explode the Deist Founders myth. Even Franklin and Jefferson who toyed with the faddish label -- though neither could be described as any kind of orthodox Christian -- both wrote extensively of a God who was active in the affairs of men, and believed that the success of their republic depended on his favor. That's the direct opposite of Deism, which believes God created the world and left it to its own fate.

The funniest thing about the Deist argument is that if those who insist that the Founding was Deist are correct they have demonstrated that America is a Judeo-Christian Republic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


As Baghdad grapples with Sadr City, Iraqi Kurdistan busily builds 'Dream City': The Kurdistan Regional Government is briskly pursuing oil and gas contracts and economic development, a drive that is chafing Iraq's central government in Baghdad. (Sam Dagher, 5/07/08, The Christian Science Monitor)

But as the government of this semiautonomous region, home to about 4.5 million people, forges ahead with its ambitions to transform this long deprived part of Iraq, it must maneuver through many external and internal challenges.

For average Iraqis, and some in the central government, Iraqi Kurdistan's actions are nothing short of its efforts to lay the foundations for independence. In many neighboring countries, particularly Turkey, which is waging a war with its own separatist Kurdish rebels, sometimes in Iraqi Kurdistan, this is cause for alarm.

They're Kurds, not Turks or Iraqis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


'Blue Dog' Democrats Join GOP in Opposing War Bill (Paul Kane, 5/09/08, Washington Post)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday postponed consideration of a bill that would continue funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a bloc of conservative Democrats balked at the high cost of including several of Pelosi's favored domestic spending programs.

Pelosi (D-Calif.), who also faces Republican stalling tactics in protest of unusual parliamentary procedures, predicted that the complaints of "Blue Dog" Democrats would be addressed and that the bill eventually would receive unanimous support from Democrats. [...]

The Blue Dogs have objected to the creation of a program that would guarantee veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan a year of in-state college tuition for each year served in the war zones. The Blue Dogs said the House had not found any additional money, through spending cuts or tax increases, to pay for the program, a violation of pay-as-you-go rules imposed by House Democrats in early 2007. [..]

Either way, the Senate is expected to strip the provision calling for troop withdrawal and, if Democrats can round up the 60 votes needed to fight off GOP objections, send a bill with war funds and domestic spending back to the House.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Broken eggheads make no omelets (Wesley Pruden, May 9, 2008, Washington Times)

Hillary Clinton, who suddenly couldn't push a crippled child's wheelchair across a busy street without taking severe criticism for how she did it, learned yesterday that she broke the brass rule of American politics, that "race," except for meaningless and insincere platitudes, is the great unmentionable.

"I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on," she told USA Today. "The Associated Press found how Obama's support among working, hardworking Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me. There's a pattern here." Note how careful the lady was in even saying that much, all but tripping over the word "white."

Paul Begala, one of her trusted spinmeisters, was a shade blunter: "Obama can't win with just the eggheads and African-Americans. That's the Dukakis coalition. He carried 10 states." His opposite in the CNN spin room, Donna Brazile, retorted that it was such notions that divide Democrats. "Go sit with Bill Bennett," she told him (presumably in the back of a bus).

What Hillary is talking about is what every thoughtful Democrat in Washington, including Mzz Brazile, is talking about, that the slash and burn primary campaign has set up the kind of presidential campaign that everyone thought impossible only weeks ago. The exit polls from Tuesday night had to sober Mr. Obama's wise men. Hillary won about 6 of every 10 white voters in both Indiana and North Carolina, and Paul Begala's remark that nobody can win a national election in America with "only eggheads and African-Americans" is merely to state the obvious. how many of the eggheads ideas either intentionally (abortion) or accidentally (high rise housing, welfare, divorce) tended towards the destruction of black America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Europeans get drunk 'to have sex' (BBC, 5/09/08)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Hezbollah fighters overrun West Beirut and media HQ (Times Online
May 9, 2008)

Hezbollah fighters seized control of rival pro-government strongholds in Beirut today as gunbattles rocked the Lebanese capital for a third day, edging the nation dangerously close to all-out civil war.

The Shia Muslim group, the most powerful armed movement in Lebanon, has also forced the shutdown of all media belonging to the family of Saad Hariri, the parliamentary majority leader, while a rocket hit the outer perimeter of his Beirut residence. [...]

Witnesses said that several Sunni neighbourhoods in west Beirut considered bastions of Lebanon’s ruling bloc had been overrun by militants from Hezbollah and its ally Amal.

Fierce gunbattles also raged in the mixed Sunni-Shiite-Christian neighbourhood of Hamra where opposition militants also appeared to be gaining ground, AFP correspondents saw.

Hezbollah Unleashes a Coup Bid (Mona Alami, 5/09/08, IPS)
"We are witnessing the creation of the state of Hezbollah at the expense of Lebanon's democracy," said Ramy Rayess, PSP spokesman in a phone interview with IPS. "The Party of God manipulated the Labour Union call (for a demonstration) to attempt a mini coup, which could eventually lead to a bigger one."

Hezbollah fighters impose control on Beirut (Reuters, 09/05/2008)
Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah took control of the Muslim part of Beirut on Friday, tightening its grip on the city in a major blow to the U.S.-backed government.


Saudi Arabia, a strong backer of the governing coalition, called for an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers over the crisis, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television reported.

A pro-government leader called for dialogue. "The party, regardless of its military strength, cannot annul the other," Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Druze minority, told LBC television station from his home in Beirut. "Dialogue alone brings results. Running away from dilogue is not useful."

It's long past time to pretend these are differences between parties and acknowledge they're between nations, that's the only way order will come to the area.

Clashes between Shiites and Sunnis intensify in Beirut (Nada Bakri, May 9, 2008, IHT)

Nasrallah left open the door for negotiations by saying that Hezbollah would back down if the Sunni forces left the streets of Beirut and the government reversed its decision to try to shut down the telephone network.

After Nasrallah's speech, the leader of the largest bloc in Parliament, Saad Hariri, a Sunni, proposed a deal to end the fighting and called the government's decision on the telephone network a misunderstanding.

Hariri said the decision should be left up to the army command, effectively taking it out of the government's hands. He also urged the immediate election of the army commander, General Michel Suleiman, as president and the convening of a national dialogue among the rival factions.

Later on Thursday night, Al Manar television, which is run by Hezbollah, said the group had rejected Hariri's proposal.

Hezbollah fighters take much of Beirut: U.S.-backed security forces protect government buildings but avoid street clashes. "The situation is chaotic," says one official. (Raed Rafei and Borzou Daragahi, 5/09/08, Los Angeles Times)
The Shiite militia Hezbollah today handily took over much of the capital in a dramatic escalation of the months-long confrontation with the Western-backed government, security officials said.

As Hezbollah swept through West Beirut, Lebanon's security forces, which received more than $270 million in U.S. aid last year, mostly stood by, protecting government buildings but stepping back from the clashes.

May 8, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:10 PM


Anne Robinson has a Julia Roberts moment (Daily Telegraph, 08/05/2008)

Anne Robinson turned up for the Spectator magazine’s 180th birthday party last night with unshaved underarms, usually considered the ultimate grooming faux pas for women. [...]

The Weakest Link presenter joins Julia Roberts in the ranks of famous women who have put their underarm hair on public display.

The Hollywood actress showed film fans more than they expected when she raised her arms to wave at well-wishers at the British premiere of Notting Hill in 1999.

It's not a faux pas for Eric.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:00 PM


Jobless claims post sharp decline (Martin Crutsinger, 5/08/08, AP)

The number of newly laid off workers seeking unemployment benefits dropped much more than expected last week.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that applications for unemployment benefits fell to 365,000, a decline of 18,000 from the previous week. Economists had been looking for a much smaller decrease of around 5,000.'s impossible to buy an apple or a pencil on a city street corner...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:45 PM


Hezbollah leader denounces Lebanon's pro-West regime: The government declared war on the opposition group by outlawing its telecommunications network, Hassan Nasrallah says. Fighting between Sunnis and Shiites rages a second day. (Borzou Daragahi, 5/08/08, Los Angeles Times)

Hezbollah fought Israel to a standstill in a summer 2006 war, thanks in part to the group's underground fiber-optic communications network, Nasrallah said today. Though Hezbollah claimed victory in that conflict, the war upset Lebanon's fragile sectarian balance and precipitated the ongoing political crisis.

The country has been without a president since November amid a deadlock between the two camps.

Pro-U.S. politicians loyal to the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora announced a decision Tuesday to target the telecommunications network and said it had ordered that a Hezbollah-allied official be removed as head of the airport. Nasrallah accused the government of wanting to turn the airport into a base for Israeli and American intelligence.

It remains unclear how the government intended to enforce its decisions to remove the fiber-optic network and the airport official. Lebanon's security forces have vowed to remain neutral in the ongoing political dispute.

...what chance would the Lebanese have?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:28 PM


Police shooting suspect caught, arraignment today (Barbara Boyer and Andrew Maykuth, 5/08/08, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Liczbinski was shot while pursuing three men, including Floyd, after a bank was robbed inside a Port Richmond ShopRite. Howard Cain, 34, was killed by police after he allegedly used a high-powered SKS rifle to shoot Liczbinki. Levon T. Warner, 39, was arrested after Saturday's chase.

Floyd, who had been on the run since Saturday, was sleeping upstairs in a front bedroom at 5432 Windsor Ave., a boarded-up middle-of-the-block rowhouse, when police got him, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said early this morning.

Crime scene tape cordoned off the two-story, middle-of-the-block rowhouse on Windsor Avenue this morning, as investigators stood by a police van parked outside.

Capt. Daniel Castro this morning described the scene last night when Floyd was captured.

Castro said: "We went inside and we found the individual on the second floor in the front bedroom."

Castro said he called for Sgt. Liczbinki's' handcuffs to be placed on Floyd. Floyd was handcuffed by Liczbinski's partner, Sgt. Tim Simpson, who formally made the arrest.

"He was completely emotionless. He was cold-blooded," Castro said of Floyd when he was apprehended.

Thomas Whitney, 58, who lives next door, couldn't describe the scene last night, because he slept through all the noises made by helicopters and police.

He and his mother apparently also missed their chance at the $150,000 reward, he joked. "She said she heard something Sunday night, because the dog kept barking," he said.

Lois Clayton, 50, who lives nearby, was awakened and saw police, but didn't see the arrest. "I was relieved," she said. "It's a good thing."

Police received a tip late yesterday that led to the Floyd's capture. It was one of a string of tips throughout the week that led investigators to believe he remained in the city.

They were close to a capture Tuesday night in West Philadelphia, but Floyd slipped away as he had on at least one other occasion with investigators close behind.

"It was just a matter of closing the circle," Wilkins said. "He kept moving around."

More details of the capture are expected later today. Ramsey was with commanders this morning for his weekly meeting that started at 8 a.m. At police headquarters, detectives were relieved the have the suspect in custody, but expressed the sorrow remains deep as services begin for the officer tonight with his funeral and burial tomorrow.

In capturing Floyd last night, police beat a self-imposed deadline to nab him before services.

The takedown of Floyd came at 11:10 p.m. in Southwest Philadelphia. He was unarmed and offered no resistance, Ramsey said.

For the next hour, Floyd was held in Southwest Philadelphia, waiting for Homicide detectives to bring Liczbinski's handcuffs for him to be restrained for the ride to Police Headquarters. A police tradition is to use a slain policeman's handcuffs on his suspected killer.

...but congratulations to the Brother-in-Law, one of the Philly homicide squad who got to make the arrest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:24 AM


London's American Mayor (R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., 5/8/2008, American Spectator)

The most momentous political story of the hour is not what you might think...whatever you might think. It has to do with an American politician now living in London and his aspiration to become president of the United States. His name is Boris Johnson. He, an exemplary conservative, has just beaten one of the most rebarbative left-wing reactionaries in the United Kingdom, to become mayor of London. Johnson ran a very fine campaign, an amalgam of high intelligence, sound principle, rollicking good humor, and energy that could be branded New Tory. Mind you, New Toryism will arrive on these shores in due course. [...]

[U]sing a governorship or a Senate seat as a stepping stone to the presidency is not new. Using City Hall in London is. Geographically speaking, Johnson's presidential campaign will make him the most ambitious carpetbagger in American history. He was born in New York General Hospital, New York, New York, on June 19, 1964--the year remembered by American conservatives as the Goldwater Year.

It is now faintly circulating through American media that Johnson was born here, but so is the report that he gave up his citizenship in 2006 after encountering passport problems with fussy U.S. immigration authorities. The report is in error. I can now reveal that The American Spectator in another of its world exclusives has discovered (see the June issue) that the newly elected mayor of London never terminated his citizenship. He is as American as Barack Obama.

At least none of Mayor Giuliani's mistresses aborted one of his kids (that we know of). Not to mention that the prior Johnson's were two of our worst presidents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:04 AM


Conservatives Happier Than Liberals (Jeanna Bryner, 5/07/08,

Regardless of marital status, income or church attendance, right-wing individuals reported greater life satisfaction and well-being than left-wingers, the new study found. Conservatives also scored highest on measures of rationalization, which gauge a person's tendency to justify, or explain away, inequalities. [...]

If your beliefs don't justify gaps in status, you could be left frustrated and disheartened, according to the researchers, Jaime Napier and John Jost of New York University. They conducted a U.S.-centric survey and a more internationally focused one to arrive at the findings.

"Our research suggests that inequality takes a greater psychological toll on liberals than on conservatives," the researchers write in the June issue of the journal Psychological Science, "apparently because liberals lack ideological rationalizations that would help them frame inequality in a positive (or at least neutral) light."

The results support and further explain a Pew Research Center survey from 2006, in which 47 percent of conservative Republicans in the U.S. described themselves as "very happy," while only 28 percent of liberal Democrats indicated such cheer.

How can they happy when their political ideology forces them to deny reality?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 AM


American Dreamers: Pete Seeger, William F. Buckley, Jr., and public history (William Hogeland, May/June 2008, Boston Review)

The eighty-nine-year-old musician and activist Pete Seeger, who is largely responsible for connecting folk music to the American left, joined the Communist Party in his twenties. Seeger has been candid, if at times self-serving, about his early support for Stalin, but the recent PBS “American Masters” documentary on Seeger is so disingenuous, when it comes to his and the Party’s activities, that it gives an impression of 1930s communism as a program for nothing more than peace, equality, and down-home music. The young Seeger comes across as a cheerleader not for Stalin’s Russia, but only for the sorts of social reforms any progressive might advance today.

Equally misleading in its portrayal of an unsettling early position has been press coverage of the career of William F. Buckley, Jr., who died in February. Buckley made his name by providing intellectual leadership to those who did much, in the 1940s and ’50s, to punish Seeger, other former Party members, fellow-traveling liberals, and certain bystanders. Appreciations of Buckley’s contribution to conservatism blur not his embrace of McCarthyism—some of his admirers remain fairly proud of that—but his support for white Southern efforts to prevent black citizens from voting.

Buckley and Seeger share, along with fake-sounding accents and preppie backgrounds, a problem that inspires forgetfulness, falsification, and denial in their supporters. Fired by opposed and equally fervent political passions, both men once took actions that their cultural progeny find untenable.

But these two men—their careers strangely linked in the hunt for communists, the struggle for equal rights, and the emerging “culture wars” of the postwar era—are worthy of consideration without air-brushed reminiscence. Their names alone may evoke, for those who lived through it, the anxiety and turmoil that marked American cultural and political life during the Cold War. Mutual hostility between Seeger types and Buckley types devolved on fears of imminent, world-ending invasions; plans for preventing evil from ever recurring on a mass scale; and stark disagreements over what is legitimately American. When the Soviet Union was annexing its neighbors, filling gulags, and making swaggering predictions of world dominance, and the United States was toppling elected leaders in favor of authoritarians and hounding domestic dissenters, all amid the stockpiling of nuclear weapons, the division among Americans could feel, to those on both sides, like the last battle for humanity’s soul. What Seeger and Buckley’s youthful actions meant in their time, deliberately obscured by today’s lionizers, continues to mean something crucial now. [...]

That strange relationship between homemade music and left politics was further complicated in the 1930s by changes in both the U.S. government and the Comintern. In 1935 Stalin announced “The Popular Front”—a worldwide coalition of communism with liberal politics that the Party had formerly excoriated. A goal was to restrain the rise of Nazi-allied fascism at any cost. The Daily Worker started encouraging communists to collaborate with liberals. Many leftists—some of whom were disaffected by Stalin’s nationalism and dictatorship in Russia—found a place in the New Deal government. Among them were Charles Seeger and Alan Lomax, a left-wing folklorist who gave Pete Seeger a job at the Library of Congress.

But the coalition of communists and liberals did not last. In 1939 Stalin made a nonaggression pact with Hitler and repealed the Popular Front, leading many to flee the Party in disgust at the alliance with fascism. In this new ideological environment, Pete Seeger’s career blossomed. Having traveled in the South and become adept at five-string banjo, the younger Seeger put his music to the service of the new Party line, which now opposed New Deal liberalism and U.S. war against Germany. In 1940 and ’41, with the approval and guidance of Party elders (against whose dictates Seeger sometimes chafed), the group that would become known as the Almanac Singers, most notably featuring Seeger on banjo and Woody Guthrie on guitar, yoked “people’s songs” to the Party agenda in a way that neither the philosophy of Charles Seeger, nor the musicians of the Southern backcountry, ever could. As stars of Party-inspired organizing, playing for strikers and at New York rent parties, the Almanac Singers invented the music that leftists had failed to find among the actual folk.

The Almanacs gave the old songs new lyrics, celebrating unions and mocking FDR as a warmonger. (In his book Where Have All the Flowers Gone, Seeger is refreshingly self-deprecating about his “peace” verses’ doggerel and thin satire.) They began the vogue for wearing work clothes—overalls, jeans, denim shirts—to denote membership in the people. According to Joe Klein, in his definitive biography of Woody Guthrie, they adopted fake Southern accents and concocted biographies of hard travel. Most importantly for American music, The Almanacs invested their sound, which was far smoother than the real thing, with a mood of authenticity that the real folk never aspired to. Heads thrown back and mouths wide open, strumming and “singing out” with rousing, clean-cut intensity, they conjured a communist American future that was a fantasy of the rural American past.

Seeger was playing a rent party in June of 1941 when somebody rushed in with the news: Germany had invaded Russia. The pact was broken. Another reversal of the Party line immediately ensued. [...]

In the edit, there is no mention of the Party’s decisive role, which had Seeger singing against the war, then had him singing in favor of it, well before Pearl Harbor. Lost with all salient fact is any feeling for the high political emotion of the period. Nor is there any mention of Stalin or the pact, although Seeger himself has not been afraid to discuss these issues before. When he says, for example, that the communists wanted to quarantine Hitler, he is probably reviving an argument he made in his book: the great powers were actually hoping Hitler would knock out communist Russia; when ambassador Litvinov asked, in the late 1930s, for a plan to bottle Hitler up, the liberal democracies turned their backs. While some might take a more critical view of Stalin’s hope for quarantine, in the book Seeger is making a point with a basis in fact. An authorized biography by David King Dunaway (who appears as a talking head in the film) presents the young Seeger as unhappy about the pact but taking a “wait-and-see attitude.” As recently as last year, in a widely published letter to the conservative Ronald Radosh, Seeger discussed his delusions about Stalin.

In the film Seeger’s comments become meaningless. His declaration that strikes would have to wait until after the war only makes sense in a context that the film cannot give, as doing so would reveal Seeger’s tailoring his music to Communist Party instructions. [...]

But in one area—the civil rights movement—Buckley conservatives were decisively not on the winning side. “Why the South Must Prevail” is the title of a 1957 editorial by Buckley addressing efforts to enforce federal laws ensuring blacks the ability to vote. The piece argued in part:

The NAACP and others insist that the Negroes as a unit want integrated schools. Others disagree, contending that most Negroes approve the social separation of the races. What if the NAACP is correct, and the matter comes to a vote in a community in which Negroes predominate? The Negroes would, according to democratic processes, win the election; but that is the kind of situation the White community will not permit. The White community will not count the marginal Negro vote. The man who didn’t count it will be hauled up before a jury, he will plead not guilty, and the jury, upon deliberation, will find him not guilty. A federal judge, in a similar situation, might find the defendant guilty, a judgment which would affirm the law and conform with the relevant political abstractions, but whose consequences might be violent and anarchistic.

The central question that emerges—and it is not a parliamentary question or a question that is answered by merely consulting a catalogue of the rights of American citizens, born Equal—is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes—the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.

At the time, Buckley had been editing The National Review for only two years, having founded his magazine at twenty-nine. Though the editorial is unsigned, there can be little doubt that it is his work: editorial policy was his domain; more tellingly, its idiosyncratic blend of elegance and provocation was already becoming a Buckley trademark.

The National Review would reject the very term “civil rights movement” as “ludicrous,” insisting instead on “the Negro revolt” as late as 1964. Not only did the effort to keep blacks from voting fail, Buckley’s carefully articulated justification for illegally denying them the vote failed too, so utterly that today’s Buckleyites, celebrating the great sweep of the man’s pervasive influence, can’t seem to recall a thing about it.

The New York Times obituary did mention, briefly, that Buckley supported the segregationist South on the grounds of white cultural superiority. More typical of mainstream assessment was the long summation of Buckley’s career in Newsweek, which said only that Buckley “tolerated” segregation and supported white southerners’ “protesting.” That characterization, misleading in its vagueness, softens the conservative position on integration—the defining issue of the day, along with the Cold War. Readers of recent articles on Buckley’s career could be forgiven for having no idea that The National Review described Martin Luther King Jr. as a “rabble-rousing demagogue” who taught “anarchy and chaos” and identified integration with Soviet communism.

The more textured, less temperate discussion of Buckley’s politics developed online, where some bloggers and commenters loudly celebrated Buckley’s death as the end of an evil phony, whom some called, among other things, a racist, citing part of the ’57 editorial. Buckley fans responded that the civil-rights position was a glaring exception to a tough, not bigoted program; that the position amounted to states-rights advocacy, not racism; that Buckley later took a more enlightened view (Newsweek said that too); and that he’d acknowledged and taken responsibility for his error. Many defenders cited Buckley’s answer to a question in a 2004 Time interview: “Have you taken any positions you now regret?” Buckley’s answer: “Yes. I once believed we could evolve our way up from Jim Crow. I was wrong: federal intervention was necessary.”

There Buckley admits to having been wrong about a position far different from the one he took in “Why the South Must Prevail,” quoted above, which asserts a right—even a duty—of southern whites to preserve Jim Crow, on the basis of the white race’s supposedly greater advancement. [...]

The essay’s occasion was the recent success of Senate conservatives in preventing passage of legislation that would have required federal judges, not juries, to render verdicts in prosecutions of political operatives who failed to count black votes. The law was meant to hamper white juries’ tendencies to free such defendants regardless of evidence. A striking feature of the essay is Buckley’s outright support for jury nullification. Even more daringly he identifies a right for white southerners, when in the minority, to “take such measures as are necessary to prevail.” He presents that right as beyond the law, which he associates with “political abstractions,” and beyond even the Constitution, which he calls not adequate to cope with issues raised by Jim Crow and the struggle against it.

Buckley is making the kind of “natural law” argument for rights transcending charter and legislation that late-18th-century Americans made against the British Parliament’s incursions on their liberties. It was a case that Bilbo and Byrd, sunk in hysteria and ignorance, needed a Yale man to make for them. Instead of denying or glossing over the consequence of the bill’s defeat, Buckley announces it: “The effect of it is—and let us speak about it bluntly—to permit a jury to modify or waive the law.” Buckley calls the supposed fact that whites are morally entitled to prevail by any means necessary a “sobering” one, admits that it is “unpleasant to adduce statistics” proving the white race superior (and does not actually do so), and appeals to the better angels of southern nature, closing with a veiled threat that, if the South does not behave as Buckley expects it to, his support may have to be withdrawn:

[The South] must not exploit the fact of Negro backwardness to preserve the Negro as a servile class. It is tempting and convenient to block the progress of a minority whose services, as menials, are economically useful. Let the South never permit itself to do this. So long as it is merely asserting the right to impose superior mores for whatever period it takes to effect a genuine cultural equality between the races, and so long as it does so by humane and charitable means, the South is in step with civilization, as is the Congress that permits it to function.

That is the evolution Buckley was calling for in 1957: not that “we could evolve our way up from Jim Crow,” as he said in 2004, but that “the Negro” might, during some period determined and overseen by the superior race, evolve upward from the backwardness that had made Jim Crow not only permissible but necessary.

While this early entry is characteristic of Buckley’s lifelong approach to argument, his fans and protégés cannot claim and celebrate it, because its most important theme—about which Buckley is also blunt, and which bears on his conservatism as a whole—comes down to the three-part statement that undergirds the essay and that few conservatives today would want to affirm:

The claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage . . . If the majority wills what is socially atavistic, then to thwart the majority may be, though undemocratic, enlightened . . . sometimes the numerical minority cannot prevail except by violence: then it must determine whether the prevalence of its will is worth the terrible price of violence.

Civilization over democracy, even at the calculated, possibly tragic price of violence, taken up more in sorrow than in anger and then fought to the finish. That is the stance with which Buckley began creating a persona that may be unique in our cultural history. [...]

An important difference between Seeger and Buckley is that Seeger suffered for his beliefs.

To the contrary, while it is entirely appropriate to recall this great intellectual error in the long career of WFB, the important difference is not only that he was more often right but that he did recognize that this argument was wrong, indeed recognized it long ago. Moreover, it is especially unfair to compare him to Pete Seeger who more or less didn't acknowledge being wrong about Stalin and the USSR until that letter to Ronald Radosh in 2007 and who was generally both wrong and unrepentant on issues other than civil rights for blacks. Meanwhile, the notion that supporters of Stalin shouldn't have suffered is downright bizarre.

What might be instructive here is to examine why WFB got this question so wrong. When we do so, we discover that, strangely enough, this long time champion of conservatism and Christianity (but I repeat myself), fell into error when he adopted a Darwinian worldview. Mr. Hogeland is quite wrong that the principle of restricting suffrage is indefensible, but Buckley was tragically wrong about the basis on which it can be restricted and be consistent with the culture. In a republic Founded upon the principle that all Men are Created equal, there can be no morally just basis for treating men differently solely on the circumstances of their birth. It can not matter that one man is white, one black, one brown, one yellow, because they all have the same Creator and are endowed by Him with the same rights. Peculiar notions about superior and inferior races, while they make sense from a Rational perspective, are antithetical to Anglo-American religious and political ideology and are, quite literally, unAmerican.

On the other hand, because the Republic eschews the sort of egalitarianism that the French model insists on, it is appropriate to treat men differently on the basis of what they make of themselves. To take the most commonly accepted example--though the Left rebels even at this nowadays--we generally consider those who transgress against social norms so severely that they end up being sent to prison to have forfeited the right to vote. This is not a function of who they are, but rather what they've done. To take a less popular example, but one that would tend to elevate preservation of the culture above the cant of universal suffrage, it would be appropriate to deny the vote to non-tax payers (anyone who receives more in benefits from the state than they pay in) because they are essentially dependents whose vote is compromised. In a system that so carefully guards against the accretion of state power there is obvious danger in a situation where the state controls the livelihoods of ever more citizens and, thereby, gains power over same.

Note that the reason such restriction is permissible under the rubric of the Founding, but that Mr. Buckley's restrictions are not, is that the former conforms to the basic tenets of republicanism while the latter don't. The republican conception of liberty identifies freedom with not being dominated by the arbitrary will of others but allows for restriction on freedom so long as it is universally applied to all individuals. There is poetic justice, though little comfort, in the way that Mr. Buckley's deviation from classical conservatism and flirtation with the isms led him into the biggest mistake of his career. On the other hand, he should have known better than to accept Darwinism, even if just of the Social sort.

We Shall Overcome (Lyndon Baines Johnson, Address to a Joint Session of Congress on Voting Legislation)

There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem. And we are met here tonight as Americans -- not as Democrats or Republicans. We are met here as Americans to solve that problem.

This was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose. The great phrases of that purpose still sound in every American heart, North and South: "All men are created equal," "government by consent of the governed," "give me liberty or give me death." Well, those are not just clever words, or those are not just empty theories. In their name Americans have fought and died for two centuries, and tonight around the world they stand there as guardians of our liberty, risking their lives.

Those words are a promise to every citizen that he shall share in the dignity of man. This dignity cannot be found in a man's possessions; it cannot be found in his power, or in his position. It really rests on his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others. It says that he shall share in freedom, he shall choose his leaders, educate his children, provide for his family according to his ability and his merits as a human being. To apply any other test -- to deny a man his hopes because of his color, or race, or his religion, or the place of his birth is not only to do injustice, it is to deny America and to dishonor the dead who gave their lives for American freedom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


New Film to Center on Memoir of Life in North Korean Gulag (Kurt Achin, 08 May 2008, VOA News)

The Aquariums of Pyongyang, by North Korean escapee Kang Cheol Hwan, gained fame as one of U.S. President George W. Bush's favorite books. Mr. Bush is reported to have handed out copies of the book to staff and friends and invited Kang to the White House, three years ago, for a lengthy one-on-one chat.

Now, the story of Kang's childhood in a North Korean punitive labor camp is scheduled to become a motion picture.

Oh, wait,'s being made in South Korea.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


The cult of 'Death of a Racehorse' (Gare Joyce, 3/03/08, ESPN)

"Death of a Racehorse" is not even a thousand words long, but any abridged version insults it. Heinz kept it short, what turned out to be a favor to a couple of generations of sportswriters who tried to memorize it over the years. And in keeping it short, Heinz probably made it easier for a couple of his other longer stories to appear alongside it in the "Best American Sports Writing of the Century," a collection edited by David Halberstam. Heinz was the only writer that Halberstam rated as deserving three entries in the anthology.

I first read "Death of a Racehorse" as a college student. I spotted a copy of his collection, "American Mirror: A distinguished writer on courage," in a used-book store. I didn't recognize his name, but I did recognize the photo of Graziano standing over a thoroughly knocked-out Johnny Greco, and I did recognize the name of the fellow who offered the foreword, Red Smith, The New York Times' Pulitzer Prize winner. On those two counts, I figured the book was worth a the risk of a couple of bucks.

Truth be told, it was Smith's foreword that I wanted to read. He had died not long before my purchase. "My admiration for his work is older than our friendship, which can be dated only with carbon 14," Smith wrote.

I figured the praise Smith heaped on Heinz owed more to that friendship than the quality of the friend's work. Not even close. If the stories in "American Mirror" had been written by a complete stranger and dropped on Smith's desk, he'd have blushed.

A couple of years back, I set about re-reading "American Mirror" and only then did I think about the title. When I bought the book, one of my life's great bargains, I presumed that it was your basic metaphor: the author holding up a mirror to look at brave men. That, it turned out, was too obvious, too easy. No, what Heinz did was a little more complex: He handed the mirror to others and captured them looking in it.

When Heinz handed the mirror to Graziano, the fighter saw himself as a nervous wreck in the hours before Tony Zale nearly punched a hole in him. When put the mirror in the hands of Jenkins, a hard-living boxer realized that the recklessness that made him a champion also made himself old before his time.

When he put the mirror under the nose of Bummy Davis, there was not a wisp of fog because the journeyman pug had died the way he lived, "willing to go the distance for whatever he believed or whatever he was." In Davis' unfortunate case, that meant he died throwing his signature hook against a guy with a gun.

Heinz was at his best with brave men, whether it was in the ring or on the front lines. If he had never covered a fight or a game or a race, he would have left a tidy archive of great reporting about war and civil rights. Even without his newspaper and magazine work, he left a couple of pretty big marks in the book world. He was one of the co-writers of "M*A*S*H*," not the movie or the TV series, but the book that started the ball rolling. He also wrote a novel, "The Professional," that Hemingway praised as "the only good novel about a fighter."

That would be something you could dine out on. W.C. Heinz deserved more. The Red Smith Award is to sportswriters something like the Oscar for lifetime achievement for actors. The Associated Press Sports Editors hand it out to those who have made "major contributions to sports journalism." They gave the first one to Red Smith himself. In a ridiculous oversight over a couple of decades, the APSE never got around to handing one out to his good friend Bill Heinz. So a couple of years ago, a bunch of sportswriters put together a petition lobbying the APSE to give the award to a writer who had Smith's seal of approval, to a friend of the ol' redhead. The group was something like the cult of "Death of a Racehorse."

Death of a Racehorse (WC Heinz, 1949, NY Sun)
They were going to the post for the sixth race at Jamaica, two year olds, some making their first starts, to go five and a half furlongs for the purse of four thousand dollars. They were moving slowly down the backstretch toward the gate, some of the cantering, others walking, and in the press box they had stopped working on the kidding to watch, most of them interested in one horse.

"Air Lift," Jim Roach said. "Full brother of Assault."

Assault, who won the triple crown ... making this one too, by Bold Venture, himself a Derby winner, out of Igual, herself by the great Equipoise ... Great names in the breeding line ... and now the little guy making his first start, perhaps the start of another great career.

They were off well, although Air Lift was fifth. They were moving toward the first turn, and now Air Lift was fourth. They were going into the turn, and now Air Lift was starting to go, third perhaps, when suddenly he slowed, a horse stopping, and below in the stands you could hear a sudden cry, as the rest left him, still trying to run but limping, his jockey -- Dave Gorman -- half falling, half sliding off.

"He broke a leg!" somebody, holding binoculars to his eyes, shouted in the press box. "He broke a leg!" [...]

They moved the curious back, the rain falling faster now, and they moved the colt over close to a pile of loose bricks. Gilman had the halter and Catlett had the gun, shaped like a bell with the handle at the top. This bell he placed, the crowd silent, on the colt's forehead, just between his eyes. The colt stood still and then Catlett, with the hammer in his other hand, struck the handle of the bell. There was a short, sharp sound and the colt toppled onto his left side, his eyes staring straight out, the free legs quivering.

"Aw--" someone said.

That was all they said. They worked quickly, the two vets removing the broken bones as evidence for the insurance company, the crowd silently watching. Then the heavens opened, the rain pouring down, the lightning flashing, and they rused for the cover of the stables, leaving alone on his side near the pile of bricks, the rain running off his hide, dead an hour and a quarter after his first start, Air Lift, son of Bold Venture, full brother of assault.

-OBIT: W.C. Heinz, 93; He Broke New Ground in Journalism (Matt Schudel, 3/05/08, Washington Post)
-TRIBUTE: Clack-Clang-Z-z-z-i-i-i-p: Music From a Maestro (DAVE ANDERSON, 3/02/08, NY Times)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


McIver charged with ethics violation (ANGELA GALLOWAY, 5/08/08, Seattle P-I)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


Man drives pickup onto friend's roof as a stunt (JACK HOPKINS, 5/27/00, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER)

As Dave Anthony's pickup truck sank slowly through the roof of a one-story house yesterday morning, he popped a Spin Doctors CD into a player and reached for a can of Budweiser.

"It wouldn't be a good life without a challenge," he said. "If you don't break something, you aren't trying very hard."

Just how Anthony's truck got on top of the house was a tale that had police and firefighters shaking their heads in disbelief.

It began with a few beers and an offer to help tear down a friend's old house.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM

GOTTA GROW UP SOME TIME (via Bryan Francoeur)

Koalas under threat from toxic eucalyptus leaves (AP, 5/07/08)

Koalas are threatened by the rising level of carbon dioxide pollution in the atmosphere because it saps nutrients from the eucalyptus leaves they feed on, a researcher said Wednesday.

Ian Hume, emeritus professor of biology at Sydney University, said he and his researchers also found that the amount of toxicity in the leaves of eucalyptus saplings rose when the level of carbon dioxide within a greenhouse was increased.

Man skins deer’s head in front of pre-school (The Local, 8 May 08)
Shocked pre-schoolers witnessed a man skin a deer’s head outside their pre-school in Sundsvall in northern Sweden on Wednesday afternoon.

It's been a rough couple weeks since Earth Day, what with the 6 year old telling me I'm destroying the planet because I run the water while I brush my teeth. But the other day, the Daughter won a special Vermont Teddy Bear at school and explained that money from the bears goes to save endangered species, like the moon bear. So I told her they were going extinct because Vermont Teddy Bear kills them and stuffs them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Gordon Brown told to revert to New Labour (Andrew Porter, 08/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Gordon Brown needs to go back to the principles which secured Tony Blair three election victories, one of the key architects of New Labour warned the Prime Minister today.

Peter Mandelson says in an interview that Labour could lose power if the central pillars of New Labour's successes are not built on.

They are fiscal discipline, investment and reform in public services, helping the poor and maintaining strong partnerships with Europe and the USA.

Like the Democrats across the pond and their post-Clinton losses, his is a result of distancing the party from Tony Blair.

The Five Mistakes Clinton Made (KAREN TUMULTY, 5/08/08, TIME)

1. She misjudged the mood
That was probably her biggest blunder. In a cycle that has been all about change, Clinton chose an incumbent's strategy, running on experience, preparedness, inevitability — and the power of the strongest brand name in Democratic politics. It made sense, given who she is and the additional doubts that some voters might have about making a woman Commander in Chief. But in putting her focus on positioning herself to win the general election in November, Clinton completely misread the mood of Democratic-primary voters, who were desperate to turn the page. "Being the consummate Washington insider is not where you want to be in a year when people want change," says Barack Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod. Clinton's "initial strategic positioning was wrong and kind of played into our hands." But other miscalculations made it worse:

To the contrary, she fall irretrievably behind when she ran to the Left and recovered when she ran as Bill. Enough of the Third Way remains to be effected that she could easily have run as the candidate of conservative change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Brains dance ad pulls the right strings (Mark Sweney, 5/08/08,

Tracey Island never saw anything quite like this. Brains, Thunderbirds' bespectacled scientific genius, has joined the rave generation in a TV ad set to 1990s club hit Rhythm is a Dancer. No strings attached.

There was never any doubting Brains' intellectual capability, having designed a chess-playing robot called Braman and a spaceship that flew almost to the heart of the sun.

But he was never asked to show off his best dance floor moves in the classic 1960s Gerry Anderson TV series. Until now. What next? Lady Penelope advertising Victoria's Secret?


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Sunnis and Shiites clash for a second day in Lebanon (The Associated Press, 5/08/08)

The political crisis exploded into violence Wednesday when supporters of the Hezbollah-led opposition blocked roads in the capital to enforce a strike called by labor unions protesting the government's economic policies and demanding pay raises.

The strike quickly escalated into street confrontations between supporters of the rival camps. About a dozen people were injured, mostly by stones, but no deaths were reported.

On Thursday, the violence spread outside the capital. Sunnis and Shiites exchanged gunfire in the village of Saadnayel in the eastern Bekaa Valley. Four people were injured, said security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations.

The area is on a major crossroads linking the Shiite areas of Baalbek, a Hezbollah stronghold, with central Lebanon and Beirut.

Also, supporters of the militant Shiite Hezbollah kept the road to the country's only airport blocked, effectively closing the airport for a second straight day.

Lebanon's national carrier, Middle East Airlines, said it was canceling flights until noon Thursday because of the road closures and will reassess the situation later.

The clashes have taken on a sectarian tone, bringing back bad memories of the devastating 1975-1990 civil war that has left lasting scars on Lebanon.

It's not a scar, it's a fracture. It won't be healed, so just divide it permanently.

Hezbollah Piles Pressure on Lebanese Government (Reuters, 08/05/2008)

An opposition source, declining to be identified, said protests would go on until the government rescinded decisions affecting Hezbollah, including action against a telecommunications network operated by the group. Government sources ruled that out.

"It's double jeopardy: the cabinet can't retreat or it is practically finished and can't go through with it to the end because of the balance of power on the ground," columnist Rafik Khouri wrote in the newspaper al-Anwar.

"And Hezbollah can't step back from its position because it would be agreeing to getting its wings clipped and can't go all the way because of the dangers sectarian strife poses for everyone."

May 7, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 PM


Gordon Brown is helpless as the blows rain down (Andrew Gimson, 08/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

[P]erhaps the most agonising blow was Mr Cameron's reference to the Prime Minister's even more recent defeat in Edinburgh: "He was quite a good political fixer and he's now lost control of the Scottish Labour party."

As we peered into the Caledonian mists we could descry the figure of Wendy Alexander, leader of the Scottish Labour Party, raising the standard of revolt against Mr Brown in his native land: an astonishing demonstration of his disintegrating authority.

In Mr Cameron's words, "It is not much of a leadership if no one is really following him."

Mr Brown accused his tormentor of "slick salesmanship", provoking the response: "The Prime Minister talks about salesmanship.

"We all know his brilliant salesmanship: this is the man who sold gold at the bottom of the market. That is the problem with the Prime Minister: he has got nothing to sell and he is useless at selling it."

For half an hour, Mr Brown insisted he is a man of substance, as if by constant repetition he could force us to believe this.

But the effect was to suggest he is suffering from intellectual exhaustion: that the stupendous effort needed to run the Treasury for 10 years has hollowed him out and left him with nothing more to say.

How does this government last until 2010?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 PM


Some Palestinians see a future with Israelis: Frustrated by years of failed peace talks for a two-state solution, some are giving up hope of independence and pushing the idea of a single democratic state with equal rights for all (Richard Boudreaux and Ashraf Khalil, 5/07/08, Los Angeles Times)

Frustrated by years of on-and-off peace talks with Israel, Palestinians are losing hope for an independent homeland, and some are proposing a radically different cause: equal rights for Palestinians and Jews in a shared state.

A "two-state solution" has been the basis for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for nearly 15 years and remains the declared aim of both groups' highest elected leaders and the Bush administration. But its advocates are increasingly on the defensive, and not just against militant Islamists and Jewish settlers who have long opposed partitioning the land.

Majorities on both sides dismiss the current U.S.-backed peace talks as futile. And a small but growing number of moderate Palestinians contend that Israel's terms for independence offer less than they could gain in a single democratic state combining Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

This, of course, is exactly the eventuality that Ariel Sharon was trying to avoid by forcing a state on the Palestinians. He understood the demographics and the Anglospheric ideology as his successors do not and that were the Palestinians to demand only their rights as Israelis they'd get them and soon outnumber Jews within the single state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 PM


Friend Kurt Brouwer consoles himself about $4 gas, but ends with a suggestion America should opt for.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:40 PM


Pre-order sales of Bella DVD Make it #1 Selling Romantic Movie on Over Weekend: Response to Bella 10 Campaign says yes to slogan, "Can a movie really save a child's life?" (Steve Jalsevac, May 5, 2008,

Confirmed reports of the movie Bella so far saving at least 13 mothers and their babies from abortion (two more reports yet to be confirmed) has spurred its producers to recently launch their bella 10 campaign. The campaign is an unusual, grassroots targeted promotion strategy designed to give individual fans of the movie lots of practical advice and tools to convince 10 people to order a Bella DVD who would in turn convince 10 others to do the same. The campaign asks the rhetorical question, "Can a movie really save a child's life?" to emphasize that by promoting or even giving away purchased copies of the movie lives will be saved.

In an interview with LifeSiteNews today, Bella producer Leo Severino explained the rationale of the DVD promotion strategy. Severino related that he and the rest of the Bella team see the movie as "the entertainment ultrasound" which through its storyline and characters heightens the awareness of expectant mothers of what is living inside of them.

It's rather predictable and the pregnant woman is deeply annoying, but the fable is moving and the story of the three brothers and their parents works. Plus, two of the brothers are dreamy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 AM


Al-Qaeda on a Slippery Base (Mona Alami, 5/07/08, IPS)

According to a report by the Saban Centre at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, Islamist militancy in Lebanon merged with Salafism -- a movement built on the belief that Islam's purest form was practised during the time of the prophet Muhammad -- when local and foreign Salafist jihadist leaders penetrated the generally non-violent Lebanese Islamic community. [...]

According to a high ranking Lebanese security officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, what makes Zawahiri's message particularly relevant to Lebanon is his call for transforming the country into a new theatre of operations for extremists. However, the officer maintains that the fractionalisation of the country would greatly limit the ability of fundamentalist groups to freely manoeuvre on Lebanese soil.

"Lebanon has been historically considered by al-Qaeda as a land of logistic support and not one of jihad," the officer said. "Its pluralistic social structure, consisting of various religious communities, allows for a more tolerant approach to religious practice."

Moreover, the officer stresses that the 2007 victory of the Lebanese army against Fatah el-Islam, which is allegedly linked to al-Qaeda, was a hard blow to extremist groups, and reduced the chances of another conflict. "This (defeat) will undoubtedly make them (terrorist groups) wary of plotting any new attacks."

The source explains that Lebanese security forces have been able to curb the steady flow of jihadists from the Ain el-Helweh Palestinian camp in the south to Iraq in recent months. The refugee enclave, known for its connections to al-Qaeda, is home to rival extremist factions. According to the officer, Hezbollah's influence over certain Islamist factions in the Palestinian camps has caused them to shift their support away from al-Qaeda, further weakening the group's power in the area.

...proposing Salafism in an area where Sunni Muslim are a minority.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 AM


The Air Force Above All: We rarely stop to think of the asymmetrical advantages enjoyed by the military—the overwhelming advantage in firepower, mobility, and technology. This has created what can only be called an empathy gap. (William J. Astore, May 6, 2008, Mother Jones)

Our capability to deliver damage and death across the globe—at virtually no immediate risk to ourselves—gives extra meaning to the words "above all." But with great power comes great responsibility, a tagline I learned as a teen from Spider-Man comic strips, but which is no less true for that. The problem is that our "global reach" often exceeds the grasp of our collective wisdom to employ "global power" responsibly.

Listen to the Air Force's own pitch for its "global reach" and "global power," and you know that today's service is indeed an imperial instrument focused on "power projection" and "dominance" (with nary a thought of how others may respond to being dominated). Worse yet, our "capabilities" have so detached us from delivering death that it's become remarkably close to a video-game-like exercise.

Twenty-five years ago, I watched a recruiting film that predicted the coming age of remote-control warfare. And where would the Air Force find its new "pilots," the narrator asked rhetorically? The film promptly cut to a 1980s video arcade, where young teens were blasting away with abandon in games like "Missile Command."

I remember the audience laughing, and it tickled my funny bone as well, but I'm not so amused anymore. For what was prophesied a generation ago has come true. Using unmanned drones, armed with missiles and "piloted" by joystick-wielding warriors, often thousands of miles away from the targets being attacked, the Air Force need not risk any aircrew in "battle." Our military speaks blithely, even with excitement, of "killing 'Bubba' from the skies"; but, in actuality, what that means is: from air bases tucked safely far behind the lines, whether in Qatar on the Arabian peninsula or outside of Las Vegas. (In this case, what happens in Vegas definitely does not stay in Vegas.)

I'm not suggesting that our Global Hawk, Predator, and Reaper (What a name!) pilots are anything less than dedicated to their assigned missions, including minimizing "collateral damage." Rather, the technology of unmanned aerial vehicles itself serves to detach them from their targets. Tracking the enemy, often with infrared sensors that show people as featureless blobs of heat-light, how can they not become human versions of the ruthless alien hunter that blasted its way through Arnold Schwarzenegger's unit in a movie coincidentally named Predator?

As our weapons technology weakens ground-level empathy and understanding, it simultaneously emboldens the Air Force to seek (deceptively) "clean" kills. It's well known, for example, that, in the opening days of the invasion of Iraq, in March 2003, the Bush administration tried to "decapitate" Saddam Hussein and his inner circle with precision weapons. (In fact, only Iraqi civilians were killed in these coordinated attacks aimed at the Iraqi leadership as the war began.)

Terrorist networks like Al Qaeda provide even fewer and more elusive "high-value" targets than do organized governments. Yet, when the U.S. succeeds with "decapitation" strikes against such networks, new heads often emerge, hydra-like, especially when "collateral damage" includes dead civilians—and live avengers.

The Air Force's vision of total domination used to stop at the stratosphere. Yet, according to its grandiose website, it now extends "to the shining stars and beyond." I hesitate to ask what lies beyond. God? Certainly, there's something unbounded, almost god-like, in the Air Force's space fantasy.

When it turns to space, the Air Force readily admits its desire to dominate all potential foes. As Peter B. Teets, a former Air Force undersecretary and director of the National Reconnaissance Office, declared back in 2002: "If we do not exploit space to the fullest advantage across every conceivable mode of war fighting, then someone else will—and we allow this at our own peril."

...but at the point where you think it's a bad thing to dominate the enemy you need medication.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Productivity Shows Resilience (Brian Blackstone, 5/07/08, WS Journal)

U.S. productivity started the year on surprisingly firm footing thanks to a big jump in manufacturing productivity, suggesting U.S. firms are adjusted quickly to the economic slowdown by shedding workers and cutting back on hours worked.

Labor costs, meanwhile, grew at their slowest annual pace in four years, which should provide some relief to Federal Reserve policymakers that the foundations for noninflationary growth remain in place despite a severe housing slump and record-high energy prices.

U.S. Worker Productivity Increases More Than Forecast (Courtney Schlisserman, 5/07/08, Bloomberg)
U.S. worker productivity in the first quarter unexpectedly accelerated as companies cut payrolls and hours worked to reduce costs during the weakest pace of economic growth in seven years.

Productivity, a measure of efficiency, rose at a 2.2 percent annual rate after a 1.8 percent gain the fourth quarter, the Labor Department said today in Washington. Labor costs climbed at a 2.2 percent pace, down from a 2.8 percent increase in the last three months of 2007.

Slowing sales and soaring expenses for raw materials like fuel prompted companies to trim staff hours by the most in five years last quarter. The weakening job market will probably keep a lid on increases in pay, indicating there is little risk that escalating wages will boost inflation.

...nearly every job is a boondoggle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM

WHEN ENDIVES CRY (via Jim Siegel):

The Silent Scream of the Asparagus: Get ready for 'plant rights.' (Wesley J. Smith, 05/12/2008, Weekly Standard)

You just knew it was coming: At the request of the Swiss government, an ethics panel has weighed in on the "dignity" of plants and opined that the arbitrary killing of flora is morally wrong. This is no hoax. The concept of what could be called "plant rights" is being seriously debated.

A few years ago the Swiss added to their national constitution a provision requiring "account to be taken of the dignity of creation when handling animals, plants and other organisms." No one knew exactly what it meant, so they asked the Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology to figure it out. The resulting report, "The Dignity of Living Beings with Regard to Plants," is enough to short circuit the brain.

A "clear majority" of the panel adopted what it called a "biocentric" moral view, meaning that "living organisms should be considered morally for their own sake because they are alive." Thus, the panel determined that we cannot claim "absolute ownership" over plants and, moreover, that "individual plants have an inherent worth." This means that "we may not use them just as we please, even if the plant community is not in danger, or if our actions do not endanger the species, or if we are not acting arbitrarily."

The committee offered this illustration: A farmer mows his field (apparently an acceptable action, perhaps because the hay is intended to feed the farmer's herd--the report doesn't say). But then, while walking home, he casually "decapitates" some wildflowers with his scythe. The panel decries this act as immoral, though its members can't agree why.

Well, as Friend Siegel points out, Switzerland is synonymous with cuckoo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


In Iraq, U.S. walks tightrope with Sadr: The military is battling militiamen loyal to the cleric, but takes pains to not blame his Mahdi Army, whose political and social services role make it immensely popular (Tina Susman, 5/07/08, Los Angeles Times)

The U.S. military has tied itself into a verbal knot as it tries to avoid further inflaming tensions with Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr while confronting members of his Mahdi Army militia.

U.S. forces battle almost daily with Shiite militiamen in Sadr City, including Sadr loyalists, but commanders are careful to avoid blaming the Mahdi Army for the violence.

"This is focused on the criminal groups," the chief U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, said at his most recent news briefing on April 30. When U.S. commander Gen. David H. Petraeus alluded to violence in Sadr City during a visit to London on Thursday, he did so without naming any group, only referring to "the militia in and around Sadr City."

The evolution in words used, or not used, by military officials when discussing Sadr and his fighters reflects the United States' turbulent relationship with the Shiite cleric and his own reinvention of himself as a political player. The United States, which in 2004 considered arresting Sadr in connection with the killing of a rival Shiite leader, began softening its tone early last year after Sadr agreed to not confront extra U.S. troops deployed by President Bush to Baghdad to quell violence. [...]

The Mahdi Army has roots in Baghdad and serves as a local social service organization. Sadr loyalists hold 30 seats in the national parliament, and the Mahdi Army is part of the political movement known as the Sadr Trend.

"The Mahdi militia is a political organization," said Army Capt. Alan Boyes, whose base is a former butcher's shop in Sadr City's Jamila neighborhood. "Now, do I believe political groups should have militias? No, but that's the way things are in Iraq."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Deep Fissures Among Democrats Apparent With Ind., N.C. Voters (Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta, 5/07/08, Washington Post)

Fewer than half of Clinton voters in both states said they would support Obama over McCain in the general election should that be the matchup. More than half of those backing Obama said they would be unhappy with Clinton as the party's standard-bearer.

Overall, Clinton eked out a close win over Obama in Indiana last night, a much narrower victory than she recorded recently in Ohio and Pennsylvania -- states with broadly similar demographics to those of the Hoosier State.

According to the Election Day exit poll, Clinton won among white women, seniors and those with lower incomes. But among some of her core support groups, her advantages appeared to have been attenuated.

Clinton's 20-point margin among whites in Indiana is slimmer than it was in Ohio or Pennsylvania. And some of Obama's advance may be due to a better showing among white voters looking for a candidate who understands their problems. In Indiana, Obama did about 10 percentage points better among "empathy voters" than he did in Ohio or Pennsylvania.

As they have in almost every state, white women in Indiana went for Clinton by a wide margin, but her 20-point win among these voters was considerably more narrow than it was in Ohio or Pennsylvania. Moreover, Obama scored a double-digit win among white voters under 30 in both of last night's primaries, better than he has done in recent contests.

Obama may also have benefited from changing the tenor of his campaign. After a decisive loss in Pennsylvania two weeks ago, Obama attempted a more positive stance, and voters in Indiana and North Carolina may have noticed. While half of Democratic voters in Pennsylvania said he had attacked Clinton unfairly, that slipped to about 40 percent last night. By contrast, two-thirds of voters in both states said Clinton had targeted Obama unfairly.

More broadly, a closely watched divide among white voters extended to Indiana, with Clinton winning by 30 points among white voters without college degrees but running even with Obama among those with college degrees. Clinton prevailed among both groups in North Carolina, winning non-college whites by more than 40 points and those with college degrees by seven points.

Driving your opponent's negatives up drives your own.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Myanmar courts political disaster (Brian McCartan, 5/07/08, Asia Times)

Initial FAO figures indicate the areas hit by the cyclone comprise 50% of all irrigated farmland, which produce about 65% of Myanmar's rice. The storm also is expected to have wiped out much of the area's livestock and damaged fish and shrimp farms.

The government will need to import massive amounts of rice at a time of skyrocketing global prices to feed the cyclone victims as well as millions of other Burmese who depended on the rice grown in the delta for their sustenance. This is an expensive proposition for one of the world's poorest nations, but one which the generals will need to undertake if they hope to keep protesting and hungry people off the streets.

Prior to the cyclone disaster, tensions were already running high in Myanmar due to massive political pressures imposed on the population to vote in favor of a new constitution during a May 10 referendum. The government announced the date for the referendum only in February and on Tuesday postponed the vote until May 24 for 47 of the worst cyclone-hit townships.

This means almost half the population will not cast ballots in the initial voting and that the junta expects about 24 million people to have recovered enough with scant government assistance to participate in the referendum. The United Nations Security Council released a presidential statement on Friday urging the military regime to make the referendum vote "credible and inclusive". Making the referendum credible or inclusive will be almost impossible after the cyclone if the junta pushes ahead with a vote this month.

Instead, the generals may find their supposedly democratic exercise is met with a popular backlash. Before the cyclone disaster, the population was already feeling the pinch from runaway inflation for basic foods and commodities. Rising costs, particularly for fuel, sparked last year's mass demonstrations, which later morphed into anti-government protests.

Natural disasters may trail only America in destabilizing regimes.

'Nature Has Dealt the Burmese Junta a Devastating Blow': The cyclone that hit Burma over the weekend has killed tens of thousands and made more than a million homeless. The Burmese government has asked for international help -- and the consequences could be remarkable. (Der Spiegel, 5/07/08)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


US trains Pakistani killing machine (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 5/07/08, Asia Times)

A longstanding disconnect between the Pakistan and United States militaries is largely responsible for the inability of the "war on terror" to nail key targets such as al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, as well as military failures against the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan.

Former US ambassador to Honduras, Mexico and the Philippines and presently Deputy Secretary of State, John Negroponte, aims to change this by creating special Pakistani units, trained by the US, to go after key figures. [...]

According to other security contacts who spoke to Asia Times Online, the conventional fight against insurgents - that is, large deployments of the Pakistani army in the tribal areas - will be set aside and the newly trained special operations teams will go after irreconcilable hardline militants. The newly elected government in Islamabad at the same time will negotiate with reconcilable elements.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Obama wins big in N. Carolina as Clinton narrowly wins Indiana: Results give Obama's campaign a boost (Jeff Zeleny, May 7, 2008, NY Times)

Senator Barack Obama won a commanding victory in the North Carolina primary on Tuesday and lost narrowly to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in Indiana, an outcome that injected a boost of momentum to Obama's candidacy as the Democratic nominating contest entered its final month.

The results from the two primaries, the largest remaining Democratic ones, assured that Obama would widen his lead in pledged delegates over Clinton, providing him with new ammunition as he seeks to persuade Democratic leaders to coalesce around his campaign. He also increased his lead in the popular vote in winning North Carolina by more than 200,000 votes.

Pretty much the opposite of what she needed. Getting George W. Bush numbers among black voters was too big an obstacle. If the American electorate were 33% black he'd have a real shot at the presidency.

Clinton's Hard Road Gets Harder (MICHAEL SCHERER, 5/07/08, TIME)

While more voters than ever before in a Democratic primary this year pegged the economy as their number one issue, an emphasis that traditionally favors Clinton, she lost North Carolina by a decisive 14 point margin and only eked out a two point victory in Indiana. When it was all over, Clinton ended the night no closer to winning the nomination than when she began the day—in fact, she emerged an even bigger mathematical long-shot to taking the lead either in pledged delegates or the popular vote.

Not that she would ever admit to such harsh realities. "Thank you, Indiana," she declared just before 11 p.m. on Tuesday night, at a time when most news organizations still considered the race too close to call. "It's full speed onto the White House." For a moment, it seemed, even she had embraced the audacity of hope.

But assuming Clinton resists more calls to drop out, such a rosy outlook will not long remain her campaign's theme. All year, Clinton has been the Democratic candidate of the concrete, the one focused on the tangible transaction between voter and politician. Her stump speech is built not on a story as much as a laundry list of the things she will give to voters. "This is not some abstract exercise for me," she told a crowd in Evansville late Monday night. "This is hard work."

And she certainly makes it appear so.

Obama's Next Big Challenge MASSIMO CALABRESI, 5/07/08, TIME)
Despite his talk of bringing Americans together, his outreach to blue collar voters and even the North Carolina victory he had under his belt as he boarded the plane that evening, despite all of that, Obama could at best hope that between now and August he will take the leadership of a deeply divided party.

The contests ahead will not help. After her dispiriting, two-point victory in Indiana, Clinton seems to have the lock on two of the next three primaries, in West Virginia and Kentucky, which have strong contingents of older and blue-collar voters that play to her strengths. Obama is expected to fare better in the west, in states like Oregon, Montana and South Dakota, but those will require work. And Clinton is in a strong position in Puerto Rico.

May 6, 2008

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 8:07 PM


Irvine Robbins, 90; co-founder of the Baskin- Robbins ice cream empire (Valerie J. Nelson, 5/06/08, Los Angeles Times)

Irvine Robbins, co-founder of Baskin-Robbins whose penchant for creating unusual ice-cream flavors helped push post-World War II America far beyond its chocolate-vanilla-strawberry tastes, has died. He was 90.

Robbins, who opened his first ice-cream shop in 1945 in Glendale, died Monday of complications related to old age at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, said his daughter, Marsha Veit.

With his brother-in-law and partner, Burton Baskin, Robbins displayed a keen sense of fun and a flair for marketing that helped turn some of their frozen treats into cultural touchstones.

The man was a genius….especially the invention of Jamoca Almond Fudge and Pralines and Cream. His only misstep was Pink Bubblegum….I worked at a B&R one summer, and my job mostly consisted of scraping the bubblegum off the floor after kids would spit it out…

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 PM


Bluff or blunder? Scottish Labour's call for a vote on independence is the biggest miscalculation in recent British politics (Ewan Crawford, 5/07/08, The Guardian)

The Scottish Labour leader, Wendy Alexander, in a genuinely jaw-dropping moment, has signalled support for a referendum on Scottish independence. And she wants it now. The calculation is that the SNP would lose a popular vote on the constitution, putting to bed any debate over independence for a generation and skewering Alex Salmond into the bargain. It's also precisely the opposite of what Alexander has be